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slow #2/summer 1998

Where the heck do I find these bands eh? Well. with Dutch trio Caesar I was just sitting around the house when label foolishly offered to sling me in a hotel for the night if only I went along to see them on that Melody Maker-sponsored tour of dodgy Firkin pubs. Everybody has their price you know; and it's boiling Camden boozer here I come! Luckily the band have a sweet and spiky album in No Rest For The Lonely – coming across on a kind of Delgados meets Pavement tip. They have a mutual appreciation society with the latter (more of which later), and singing guitarist Roald Van Oosten kindly came down by the river for a chat.

(predictably) Is this your first time playing in the UK?
It is. The tour's been going pretty good I guess, we've been playing well. It's a weird tour, all these pubs, it's not like the regular circuit for indie bands. But at first we haven't had a choice, so for us it's like a good start to find ourselves an audience. We're kind of aware of what an opportunity it is – all the bad circumstances and all the shitty experiences that come alone with it, like playing during a football game and stuff. We'll survive that. No – we're enjoying it.

No Rest is your second album – when did the first appear?
It came out in '95 I believe — I'm not sure — and was restricted just to Holland. We tried to get it over the borders but it failed, unfortunately. Not sure why because it was a great album, just like this one!
Is there a marked difference in sound between the two?
Yeah. I think at that point we were basically an energy-based band, trying to write songs that give you some kind of vitamin B feeling. They were especially based on rhythm, simplicity. This new album is a lot more subtle I think and we even tried to make it a little danceable, so that was new for us, and that's really something we want to continue. I think that's what makes us a bit different from a lot of other guitar bands (in Holland) who mainly are influenced by bands like Husker Du. We try to be influenced by a lot of thing; try to make it a bit more groovy.
What would you say your prime influences are then?
It's very hard to say because we're not the type of band that spends a lot of time together apart from when we have to work for the band, so it's like when you get together to go to a gig you hear what other people are listening to. For instance Sem (David Bakker – bass) goes to see the Jesus Lizard again, which I wouldn't dream of going and seeing, you know? I like musical stuff, my favourite album is Jesus Christ Superstar – which by the way is a great album as far as grooves are concerned – and then we all share our preferences for bands like Pavement, Sebadoh of course, Beck. Ween – for their humour. A lot of Nirvana I love as well, which we dare to say. It's not very fashionable but it's there. I like the old REM stuff. Lots of things.

The album released here is different to the Dutch version.
Yep. We thought it was a bit too long for a debut album (which it is here). In Holland we can get away with a lot of things. so we put on 14 tracks, among which were some really strange tracks as well, some of my favourites. A couple have been left out now so it's just a bit shorter and a bit more easy to comprehend I think. And they're put it in a different order – we like to keep the good things for the end but in the UK they like to start off with them, because people will listen to the first one or two. The tracklisting in Holland was something we chose after working with the album for too long a time. Over here they had fresh ears and they've put it in a really brilliant order. They took away some songs which is a shame, but they've already put them back on the single. so we're happy with it.
Which do you prefer?
I must say I prefer the English version. I mean I can hardly listen to the album anymore – I'd never play it anymore — but the fact that it's shorter makes it easier for me to listen to it.

Why do you only have half the song lyrics on your sleeve?
It's not like those are the best lyrics or anything, it's just that these are the hardest to understand when you're listening to it, the others are easier to follow.
I'd have thought the lyrics to Stains (a Lee & Nancy style duet with drummer Marit de Loos) would be on there.
Aren't they? I've not seen what they've done with the sleeve over here... (has a peep) It's stupid. It's a choice you make and with Stains there's a lot of repeating, the verse comes like five times and there are only two choruses. We thought it's quite easy to follow, they'll get it. Or keep it mystical! There's been a lot of gossip going around in Holland, where we are just a slightly bit more famous, so people tend to get more interested in the private things behind the band.
What sort of level are you at in Holland?
We're at the level where you play at the main festivals and get some national TV. It's been a big thing that we won this prize – it's called the Silver Harp – which is a lot of recognition for the album, and where we sell about 5,000 albums. I always tend to compare to bands like us, for instance that equals the sales of Pavement, we're really happy with that. We're not a big commercial band, but it's like we're a big underground band, especially at the moment, it's been going on for like two months. We've had so much press it's kind of ridiculous. And now they've also put our single on daytime radio which is great for us because radio in Holland is like tile worst, maybe apart from Italy. Even in Belgium they have proper radio stations.
Speaking of Pavement, you appear to have bonded with them
It's gone through varying different stages, it's not like we're friends or anything, but we've met up with them a couple of times. When we were their support act at the Paradiso they came to watch us and they liked it a lot. Then at the Lowlands festival the singer said something about us from the stage and as you can imagine we went to see them backstage and then Sem used a lot of ecstasy with them and they started driving their bus around the festival area, sitting on the roof. Apart from that there's nothing really much, but I'm sure we'll meet them again.

Did you specifically ask for the album to be released on my birthday?
Yes we did.

Visions of Mars — would you go into space if you could?
Oh yeah, I mean it's hardly an original thing to be into but I've been reading sci-fi novels since I was about 10, and I've got this big collection of sci-fi things. I've seen the Star Wars movies about 20 times and I'm a bit of a Trekkie as well. But this song about space travelling is more of a parody of what's been going on all the time, with all the Foo Fighters, and Frank Black started it all. so it's more like I wanted to have a space song on the album too. You don't know this, but we have a series in Holland which is called Beertje Collargol ("little bear Collargol") and he has this colour book where he builds his own rocket and it's all really cosy and cute and it's really nice. You put a couple of bins up and you've got a spaceship – it's more like that sort of space romanticism than the real sci-fi hi-tech stuff.
Is it a cartoon or puppets?
It was both. It was on TV as puppets. but they made it into beautiful colour books — sometimes that sort of thing can be really magical and beautiful. I love that.

Have you always sung in English?
Uh, yeah I have. I tried French and that was alright. A lot of people wonder why all these Dutchies have to sing in English. but there are a lot of scenes. It would be easier to sing in Dutch because when you sing in Dutch we'd sell at least 20,000 albums because English is a slightly smaller market back in Holland, but for us it's only natural — the only thing we listen to is Anglo-Saxon music. When you really go and think about it, it's strange to have to do that but apart from that we like to go abroad with our music, and it's the easiest way. Even in Germany you can sing better in English than in German.
Do you face criticism in Holland for that?
Well it's not like people criticise you, it's more like they don't tend to like it very much when you do that. There is a big scene for that kind of music, it's just a less commercial one than there is for Dutch music. The most popular music right now is straight rock Jon Bon Jovi-like music with Dutch lyrics, it's like the biggest thing they have at the moment, sometimes it's like prehistoric but you just have to deal with it. In Holland we have a strong movement of regional bands who sing in their own dialects and that's really popular. Maybe it's got something to do with the Euro thing, you know. where some people try to hang on to their nationalities, but it's not something for me: the music that goes along with it is like farmer music. But it's a lot better than trying to be an American rock band. because that's not what we're about. I don't think we're totally British or totally American or totally Dutch, but somewhere in the middle.

The verse structure on Before My Head Explodes (debut UK single) sounds like You Showed Me by The Turtles – how do you plead?
You're kidding. I'm really amazed by what people get away with and if it's true... I mean there hasn't been a Turtles revival in Holland so I would have no idea. The song you refer to is part of a traditional song – it's all open chords – it wouldn't surprise me if there were a lot of songs going similarly. Is it the chord progression or the melody It's a great melody. I'm really happy with that song.
Have you ever tried to get away with ripping someone off?
I remember two bands ago, in 90-91, that we were really eager on writing our own Nirvana song, of course like everybody else. Since we're on a label with a couple of bands who are always in each other's way you tend to quote the others in an ironic way, which is kinda funny. Like Visions of Mars as a title is a joke about the band Johann. They were called Visions of Johanna and they had a song called Life on Mars, which sounded by the way exactly like David Bowie. We're really bad at covering actually – we can't play anyone else's songs, so no, the easiest way is to write our own. This Aint a Song (Dutch album track/UK B-side) is a song where we let ourselves be inspired by Pavement, the way they use melodies to push tile vocals up a I little bit. That's what we try to do as well and we tried to write a Pavement song. Actually it was called This Aint a Pavement Song but we took that out because it'd be so obvious it wouldn't be funny. It's only once so you can get away with it – it's funny when you try to re-create someone's sound.

What's a Philcordia?
It's an organ from Philips. Its a Dutch organ, it's got this really eerie sound. But I don't know if the song we played on it is on the British version of the album. We put a lot of little things on different songs, so I really don't remember.

Mayonnaise with chips – are you Dutch folk insane??
It's very hard to find mayonnaise around here; it's been one of our main problems because we've had chips every night and we can't get any mayonnaise. Have you seen Pulp Fiction? "They fuckin' drown 'em in that shit!" It is true, we love it.

And you should have seen the hotel they put me in – nine floors up in Kensington High Street and freaking out so much I couldn't sleep for hours, just watching the cabs and the tourists. Well, they say there's no rest for the lonely, after all.

 

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