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HERDER: to the infinite!

I met up with the Dutch blackened sludge / doom metallers from HERDER, right after their recent tour with DOOMRIDERS and BEASTMILK to talk about their newest work called “Gods”! One of the hottest releases from Reflections Records this year has received great reviews and should be definitely considered as the strongest album the band has ever released. Sludge, doom, stoner, black metal… it’s all in the grooves that HERDER followers have come to expect. Learn everything about this solid record, their plots for the future, the recent touring trek, their view on Catholic Church and a lot more – the full interview is available below. Enjoy!

Photo by Martin Mayer.

Hey guys! It’s a pleasure to have you here! How are you?

Marc: Pretty good, thnx for having us.

Tom: All has been very for us lately.. We just got of a tour supporting beastmilk and doomriders. The response has been great. Also, we just released our new album GODS – released on Reflections Records – of which we are very proud. This is our most epic, hard and relentless record we’ve released. It is best reflects how we as a band want to sound. So yeah, like Marc said, we feel good.

You’ve just returned from a nice trek with DOOMRIDERS, haven’t you? How was it? Tiring? :)

Che: Yep, we just did a day 10 day tour in (mostly) the Western part of Europe, together with BEASTMILK and DOOMRIDERS. The package was pretty diverse. Due the the mixed package all of the turnouts have been great. A couple of sold out shows. Every show during this tour has been great for us, we had a great reception every single night. We got along well with the other bands and for us the tour was one big party. That made it kinda exhausting, but worth it. I think we all aged 5 years in those 10 days of debauchery.

Marc: Haha definitly, but it was well worth it though. We’ve had the most fun ever, so it wasn’t too tough too handle. People showed up and seemed to dig our stuff, it was cool.

Che: I am going to speak for all of us, I think with all our tour experience, this was the best and most fun tour we ever did. Touring can be either the best time or the worst time you will have. Cramped up in a van with 6 others. All of the pieces fell in place. It was quite the experience and I think we portrayed this on stage as well. That is why we appealed to most part of the crowd, even though we were by far the heaviest and hardest band on this tour.

How is Nate and the rest of the DOOMRIDERS pack? Did you make friends with them?

Che: They were awesome guys, both DOOMRIRDERS and BEASTMILK let us have our own “party” every single day and night. Of course the guys in Doomriders have been around the block several times for more than a decade (with different bands well). It is always a question of “is there something that binds us?”. It took some time to get used to each other. We are the most sarcastic bunch of misfits in the band who like to party a lot, so opening up these shows gave us enough time to drink before the show AND after. They simply let us. I think there were some moments where they thought: “WTF are these guys doing?”, but it all worked out fine.

Haha, nice! And what exactly were you doing? :)

Marc: Pretty much just being ourselves actually, hanging out, getting drunk and obnoxious.

Che: Tom quoted and screamed the line “You lie in the snow, cold but not dead” from NEUROSIS. Really loud. Really obnoxious.

Alright, you obnoxious types ;) Let’s move forward then.

One of the biggest news regarding the band over the last couple of years was the vocalist replacement. Do you already feel like one family? How stable is the current line-up, and how does it compare to the one from “the old HERDER times”?

Marc: Owyeah, we got tight pretty fast actually. Our previous singer Nico came up with the idea of asking Che. We hit it up really good and really fast. Even though the band dynamics have changed somewhat both on and off stage, we feel we couldn’t have a better new frontman than Che. That being said, Nico is still a part of the family and we had him do some vocal parts on the new record while he is is living in Melbourne right now. It turned out great for everyone involved, so we’re stoked on the current lineup.

Che: Of course replacing a vocalist is one of the hardest and most difficult changes a band can undergo. When Nico decided to leave to live in Australia, Nico and JB saw a video of one of my old bands at Hellfest and they thought I would be the right guy for that spot in HERDER. They were not thinking of looking for a same front man Nico was, but someone different, with a different voice and approach. Before they even asked me I received an email through Facebook from Johan (Reflections Records) asking what I thought of HERDER and that they were looking for a replacement for Nico. So I was kind of prepared when JB sent me a message. I thought about it for a split second and decided I would go and rehearse with HERDER somewhere in late 2012. The only person I actually really knew, was Marc (who, back then, was 1 of the 3 guitarists). I had to learn 13 songs for that rehearsal, and it definitely was not the best thing I did. But hey, it worked and the guys and myself were convinced it worked.

In December of 2012 we played our first show, with me doing vocals for the HERDER “Horror Vaccui” release in Groningen, the place where Nico used to live. It was probably the hardest show I ever played in my life. It was either swim or drown. I like to believe we delivered, although again, it was not the best performance I did during my career as a vocalist.

It took quite some time for me to get used to others, and the other way around as well. It was a totally different band from anything I had ever done. It was an organised chaos, but it was all fun. The first show I felt really totally comfortable in the band was the Roadburn show, when we headlined the green room. After that things went better and better. I could not see myself not screaming and fronting HERDER anymore. We grew as a band. After this last tour I can honestly say, this line up is the best band I haver been in, definitely people wise. Even though Blitzer left some time ago, and JB does not play every show, due to ABORTED obligations, it is the coolest and most diverse bunch of people ever.

I do consider HERDER as my family and much, much more than that.

And of course what Marc said as well…

Awesome! And how did working on “Gods” compare with your previous recording experiences?

Marc: Even though JB is pretty much the master of puppets when it comes to herder productions this has been more a group effort than the previous recordings. The music is still mainly JB, the theme, lyrics, aesthetics and general feel of the record has been a group effort. We’ve all put in our ideas and it turned out great. Another great difference towards the previous stuff is that JB and I have been recording stuff in parallel, while JB was doing the music I was doing all the vocals together with Che and Jeroen. This way we’ve had more time to focus on how the lyrics would fit the songs and how it all would all fit within the central theme. This all worked out really well and we’re really happy with how it all worked out.

Do you have any special rituals, or is writing and recording something you just have to simply do, kind of rattle through?

Tom: JB writes all the songs. Because we live in different places, spread over the country, we don’t really rehearse. He makes pre-productions of the songs and sends them over to the rest of the band. When JB and I went into the studio to record drums for GODS was the first time I played the tracks. It’s a very efficient and fast way of working. But it also allows us to have some distance to the songs and therefore we’re able to be critical of the stuff JB writes and which songs should be on the album. We don’t have rituals when it comes to recording. Though, the overall theme of every recording is hard work and too much beer.

How about the lyrics? Did you write your thoughts down earlier, during work, or does it all come to you later when you have all the music more or less prepared and you simply sit down and start writing lyrics?

Che: The lyrics on this record are either written by myself or Marc. We worked on a theme as a band before and that was the starting point for the lyrical concept.

To me the song has to speak to me in a way, I always let the atmosphere of the song influence my lyrics and the way I sing the words.

Sometimes I sit down and focus on my writing, but my best work I write when I am in a writing flow, which sometimes happens.

Marc: Yeah, we worked around the central theme which we had in mind when choosing the songs for the record. This central theme is that we are the Gods we create, and those entities we created have nothing to say anymore. It’s up to us and all we seem to proclaim is destruction and annihilation. Even though all lyrics are written from a strong personal point of view, there is also a socio- political undercurrent which supports the general idea of the record.

I wrote mainly with the concept in mind and not really thinking about which lyric to fit which song. Che and I took quite some time together to work out which lyrics would work with which songs. Not all written lyrics did fit the bill or a song, so later on I wrote some lyrics for specific songs which were left without any lyrics. Together Che and I worked on the final lyrics to have a perfect fit within the songs. All vocal lines and figuring who would sing certain parts was worked out by Che, Jeroen and myself. Even though Che and I wrote all the lyrics in principle by ourselves, the final outcome has been a collaboration between the three of us.

In the end we also did decide to not put the lyrics into the artwork, we thought it best that the listener would have its own take on the things we sing and thus we decided to use a quote of Henry Miller on the inner sleeve of the record to convey the feeling and vision we have with this record.

OK, so obviously you’re into social criticism, surreal reflection and mysticism. Apart from Mr Miller, how else do you keep yourself inspired?

Marc: I think I can only speak for myself on this one, but Henry Miller is the biggest influence on me for writing lyrics and in a sense also how I would like to lead my life. His sense of freedom and carelessness really appeals to me. Another specific writing influence on me has been Edward Gibbon who wrote “Decline and fall of the roman empire” in 1776. It’s a scientific historical book about the roman empire obviously, and in my opinion it’s the most beautifully written historical work ever. His diction, phrasing and choice of words has been and is a definite influence on me.

Beyond the specific writing influences mainly I get influenced by daily life actually, there’s so much stuff going on that gets me pissed beyond reason and also so much which is just really nice or beautiful as well. All those impulses of information and little things creep into my head when I’m either writing lyrics or music. For Herder I don’t write much music, but I do my other projects and all that is me comes together in it. A thing to keep myself going and interested is simply discovering new stuff: music, authors, photographers, movies, documentaries, artists, etc. etc. whatever hits home with me in either a positive or negative way. I try to read and listen as much as possible to keep my mind going and pushing myself forward in an “intellectual” sense, keep myself interested and forcing to not become an apathetic nobody who just watches stupid tv after work until they go to sleep and do it all over again the next day.

Che: For me personally Henry Miller does not have effect on my writing. My inspiration on a socially critical level comes from my dad. He was pretty active in the local political “scene”, where he still does some volunteering.

Another influence for me comes from everyday life and personal issues, things I read in the papers, items I read on the internet (not sponsored by the big multinationals) and my common sense. For a long time I was interested in conspiracy theories. Lately my interest as changed, and my biggest concern and influence nowadays is based on the effect of the Catholic Church on Western society.

Interesting. Apart from all the negativity, what do you think the Catholic Church does best and doesn’t get much credit for these days? Is there a positive aspect to it?

Che: When you look at most of the wars the Catholic Church has been a big part of it. It is based on a book, people are willing to follow blindly, with a set of rules based on a story. When you look it up in history books, the Catholic church has been the instigator for a lot of sorrow and grief. And still is.

Of course there are good things about it, it is an institution of binding people or a place where people find hope. A place where people find solace. But it is based on nothing, an empty shell.

I personally do not see anything wrong with being religious or spiritual for that matter though.

Marc: I actually do. There is this really strict and numbing rule set created around a historical novel (which the bible essentially is) and of which is has been pretty much proven that any form of divine inspiration is clear nonsense. It was written, edited and redirected over a period of more than 1300 years and it does contain some solutions to questions and problems which might have made sense at the time. These solutions have been outdated for a long while and better ideas and solutions have been given. Aside from that, you don’t need that book for living a good life, just some basic common sense should suffice. For anyone to take the bible as an unshakable truth is clearly wrong and plain dumb in my view. It is just too easy to take it at face value so you don’t have to think about anything yourself. Besides this obvious thing, the real problem is what Che also brings up, people are willing to kill and die for such an idea, and that is not restricted to Catholicism of course, this goes for all the major religious views which have their origins in the old testament.They all believe in the same silly idea, but will draw blood because one might have a different interpretation of the story. It just goes beyond me why someone should think and act that way.

Che: Church basically is the big oppressor throughout history.

Do you tend to preach and discuss these matters at shows, or do you try to avoid mixing the message and your point of view on such hard cases with good clean fun during gigs?

Che: Every once in a while I make a statement but it is the music and live experience for the crowd that should do the talking. I am not a “preaching” kind of frontman myself anyways. During our live set I am so caught in the moment and the show that I tend to forget everything around me.

It is the lyrics that make us standout on record compared to other bands I guess.

Marc: I agree, I wouldn’t want HERDER to be a “political” band on stage, even though I love those kinds of bands and even the speeches they do, I do not want Herder to be a vehicle for anyone’s personal political or religious views on stage. We will handle stuff in the lyrics and even then not really in such a direct manner as the discussion we are having now. We’re definitely a band with something to say, but during a live show we’ll let the music and performance do the talking.

Fair enough :) Speaking of live shows, what are your plans for the nearest future? Did DOOMRIDERS invite you to the States? :)

Marc: Well, we’ll have some club and festival shows coming up [Hellfest / Ieper Fest] and besides that not much really. We all have fulltime day jobs so we are limited to the number of days we can get off in a year. We didn’t get an invitation yet, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what will happen on that front.

How about your next releases? Are there any incomplete recordings you’ve set aside? Do you have a strategy for your upcoming records? Any EPs, splits coming up sometime soon?

Che: During tour we decided and asked Mat from BEASTMILK to do guestvocals for a future record, he is up for it. So we decided we would start working on new songs again, probably an EP we want to do by the end of this year (Johan, when you read this, you know it’s coming). JB already wrote 2 songs for it. We have not decided on a central theme though.

We at least want to release something every year, to keep the flow going.

Marc: We also have a backlog of stuff which did not make it to the recordings we have right now, JB continually writes new stuff.

Cool. I guess touring is a perfect way to make friends and eat your way through the ”business”, huh? What are some of the prons and cons of being on the road?

Marc: Not that we really care about the “business”, but yeah, touring is great. We get to meet a lot of new people, hang out with them and simply do what we love most: making and playing music with friends. The definite pros are meeting new people and opportunities opening up for doing and playing more and extend our reach as a band internationally. The cons … hmmm … maybe the lack of sleep hahaha.

Che: Touring is the best way to be away with best friends, and not think about everyday stuff like your job, house amongst other thing. You sometimes make new friends, sometimes you meet up with old friends, and sometimes you simply party a lot backstage. You do not spend as much money as when you’re home, because there always are food and drinks for the grabs. Sometimes tours are not as well organised as this one, you either have to bleed financially or on hospitality. And sometimes even both. Being away from home makes it harder then. The only thing I need during tour is decent food, enough drinks, a place to crash and a shower.

Alright buddies. Thanks so much for taking some time with me. Is there anything you feel we should discuss here? Feel free :)

Che: HERDER = HARDER!

Marc: I’ll second that :)

Haha, it’s not possible guys! :) With every single record, every single show and tour it will be harder and harder to keep this “harder” ratio. What should you do when you hit the ceiling? An inevitable end?

Marc: It doesn’t matter how high you will ever go, you can always add one, the definition of harder is thus infinite.

Che: It can always get HARDER!

So be it! :) Thanks for the chat guys! Best of luck!

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