The Homesick. Ah, The Homesick… Who? Legends in their own bedrooms, and a 20 mile radius around their home, Dokkum, in Friesland. A place which is a bit like Morecombe, or Wigtown.
The Homesick tell all and sundry that they like to drive decommissioned military vehicles, eat snack bar food, pose with the Frisian flag, and doss about outside the local Chinese in their footy shorts. That’s the “myth” anyway. We can say for sure that The Homesick are three Frisian scallies in, or barely out of, their teens who have a penchant for dicking about with perception. They turn the things they do into a cult; in the process making everyone who falls in love with their image come across like a gauche bunch of no-marks. Nobbers from the Big Dutch Cities. The band deny it, of course.
Most importantly, The Homesick are one of the most exciting, assured, cocky, funny, head-banging, rabble-rousing bands you’ve never heard of. Ask yourself, when was the last time you lost it to a bunch of 18-19-20 year olds from the arse end of nowhere making an unholy gonzoid/Postcard/Nuggets pop racket? 1968, 1979? 1988, 2002? High time to ask some questions. We sat down in the upstairs room of Groningen’s brilliant O’Cealliagh’s bar, the three Elias (singer, guitar) Jaap (bass, vocals), Erik (drums) slouched around me. I press record, and off we go.
LTW: Music! Fancy that! I want to talk to you about music. No-one ever talks to you about music in Holland. It’s always about Dokkum, or frikandels [a kind of deep-fried meat-based snack] or the fact you are young… What really is the musical drive for The Homesick?
Erik: Well, music that is challenging
Jaap: Probably what any musician feels, music that you think is great.
LTW: But “great music” isn’t enough to answer my question.
Jaap: Ja, well, I dunno. Rock. Well okay it’s a combination of lots of things that move us whether consciously or unconsciously.
LTW: You have a specific sound; it’s rock and roll. It’s about sex and power, maybe?
Erik: That is true, sure.
Jaap: We need drive, the drive is really important, but you know we really love pop music. We think pop music, good pop music, is very important. We like the weirder kind of things, it’s true…. Ach I don’t know, it’s a bloody difficult question. it’s too vague and too big a question to ask! (Laughs)
LTW: Yeah but you always get easy questions here. You can get out of everything by talking about Friesland and snack bar foods. So today I thought, that’s not enough…
Jaap: Yeah… but that’s because most people here don’t seem to find reading about music interesting. To be honest, sometimes I find reading about other bands talking about music boring too.
Elias: You’re often better off going to see the band or listening to the record rather than reading what a band has to say about their own music.
Jaap: Yeah, because it’s not always that easy to explain what is going on when you make music. That process can be a very unconscious one. How you create as a band. I know that for us, we don’t spend too long thinking about how the music comes together.
LTW: But you have a specific approach, there are very specific pointers in your music; 60s guitar pop, Kanye West, someone you’ve openly referenced in the past. So there must be an idea of a path here.
Jaap: Ach yeah everyone likes things; we have lots of things we listen to and think, that’s something we want to explore… from Shoegaze, Krautrock… all the Krautrock bands… to Daniel Johnston. And yes, Kanye West. But with him it’s often more about his methods and presentation that we find inspiring, sometimes more than the music itself.
LTW: Personality, then, is something you look to?
Jaap: In terms of Kanye West, yeah, he is interesting because of that, the bizarre way he does things. And another example is Daniel Johnston, where you feel that he isn’t the nicest personality, but he is a very fascinating one, and that personality is more interesting than the music itself.
Elias: What you can say – about the way we make music – is that we come together in the practice room, and we swap things that make us laugh or things we’ve listened to, and we throw stuff in. If I’ve been listening to Daniel Johnston all week then it’s certain that a melody line might have something of Daniel Johnston in. But everything changes. It’ll change in a year, because then I’ll be doing, or listening to something else. If I listen back to old tapes, I think what we did then is completely different.
LTW: What is so special about Daniel Johnston?
Jaap: What we really like about him is that he can’t really play or sing, but the way he does things is brilliant. Three chords, or less, super minimal. You can just discover things, using that manner of playing
Elias: What he also does, which is a source of strength, is that he is straight. We use irony. Like lots of other bands. If you look on Facebook, you can see that. But what he says and sings is straight. No irony. He is deadly serious, that guy.
Jaap: But you hear that he’s real, and there in the moment.There’s nothing else added.
Who are the Homesick? Are they thick hicks or smart bluffers?
LTW: OK maybe that’s a question back at you. Are you super real? You often play irony off against feelings…
Erik: Erm, ach. I don’t know.
Jaap: Super real, that’s a difficult one to answer! I don’t think super real is for us. We’re just normal kids, Richard.
Erik: I can’t say anything.
LTW: You are very trendy in the Netherlands now. And you project an image of total confidence. Do you find that weird that everyone thinks you are cool? This is a country that doesn’t really like cockiness…
Erik: But there is nothing behind what we do. We are straight.
LTW: You have no doubts?
Erik: It’s very easy. If we’re not happy with some music we make, then it’s simple. We don’t play it live, and we don’t record it.
LTW: That attitude is also rare.
Elias: It comes from … well.. what you see from many bands in the West here… [I’m pretty sure Elias was talking about the west of the Netherlands] many are formed with support from the industry, or with support from the (rock) schools, maybe with press, or a bit of local council money, or maybe encouragement and guidance from well connected teachers. I don’t know, But we come out of a provincial place that no-one’s heard of and to get anything we need to have something to kick; to get attention. To take the mick out of the industry a bit. Otherwise we get nothing back, and we’re brushed to one side.
Erik: (Voice rising) Yeah… and we also hear from these people that we have to sound like so and so… and then we’ll “be a good band”. I have to add to what Jaap and Elias said earlier. A lot is very unconscious with us. We don’t listen to something and say, “oh we can get inspiration from here”. I’m more busy with trying to make a beat simple.
Jaap: Simple is also effective eh?
LTW: Of course! I like the fact that you seem to have no interest in being liked. This self assurance… I find it very interesting, the fact that you can take or leave the smarm. And keeping your distance.
Jaap: That’s why we get on so well with Rats on Rafts. They also shut themselves off from all of that. And when we got to know Rats well we noticed they had their group and didn’t really go outside it. And that is similar to us too. We have our friends for sure, but we keep ourselves to ourselves. You see loads of groups of bands hanging out together, but we don’t do that.
LTW: OK let’s talk about pop. You are a classic pop band…
Elias: (Staring blankly) Who, us?
LTW: Yeah! You are your own self creation.
Jaap: That’s from Dokkum, I think. But we can stay there and be connected. You have that phrase you use all the time, what do you say, Provincial-international.
LTW: Yeah that.
Jaap: I think that attitude really counts when you are a starting band.
LTW: Doesn’t the fact that nearly every review or interview ends up talking about where you are from piss you off?
Jaap: I like it. You see, loads of people who write about music can’t actually write about music very well, so when they do, you get, “oh, a pop band that sounds like 60s garage rock and a bit 80s a bit like the Cure and have chorus guitar”. And then it’s really boring to read. And if this is the way you are written about no-one is interested, you don’t stand out. And that’s true for the media, too. That’s the way it is.
Elias: I never read any articles when some musician starts talking about their own music. I would much rather read that Kanye West wants to be US president. Much better.
Erik: I think sometimes it can be cool, but then we aren’t that aware of what people write about our music, because if you paid too much attention, you’d get annoyed because no-one writes well.
Jaap: For sure that’s the case with live reviews, we really couldn’t give a fuck about reading them. We get really stupid live reviews where they say our lyrics are basic English and therefore no good. And you think, why the fuck are you here? What weird kind of argument is that then? That our English is basic and the lyrics are hard to understand, so we must be crap. You get a lot of that kind of journalism here.
LTW: But you’re playing a double game here lads! You say you’re proud of talking about your roots and you don’t give a fuck about what people think, but then, you get the hump about the attitudes of “big city journalists”.
Jaap: Hey; we’re Frisian, hey!
Elias: Watch it!
Jaap: But that thing is if you are a Dutch band, normally you get told “you sound English or American”. And that is really irritating. So when you sound “Dutch” that is a bit weird. As long as there aren’t too many patronising things said, I’m happy they make the connection! (Laughs)
Elias: With the country…
Elias: Today everyone nicks sounds. Look at The Strokes. Sounding like Brits from New York.
The Homesick – a real band?
LTW: I’ll change tack slightly here. What do you want as a band? Lots of Dutch bands are hobby bands, they split, go and do their day jobs… But you are so different, or seem to be, it makes me think that you really mean it. So I am asking you, do you really want to be in a band?
Erik: Well to me, we want to play and make a great record.
Jaap: Well yeah of course (laughs), but there are ways of doing what you want to do as a band here. You can do it in the Dutch way. And hang out with other bands and play on specific events like Eurosonic. And everyone here brings out their records round that kind of event. We’d never do that. These stage events are just another set of gigs for us. That sort of stuff – for us – shouldn’t get in the way of our music, or making a good record. We want to make a great LP, and a great single.
LTW: Very Joy Division! One LP, one single and split. I read somewhere that that was what Ian Curtis wanted for Joy Division.
Jaap: Yeah but I think Closer is miles better!
LTW: Here you see one problem about being in a successful band; it’s not about you is it. Because you have a sort of growing unwritten contract with other people, or your image. The reason for this interview is that I thought you’d had it too easy and wanted to see what you all really wanted.
Elias: (Waking up from a reverie) I find this a typical question, a bit of a boring question actually. Actually you hear this a lot; what do you want, and bands often say stuff like “we want to play Glastonbury, or “we want to make a nice record”, or, “we want to be the best live band in the land, or the world”. And of course we want that.
Jaap: We already are the best band in Holland.
Elias: Yeah, yeah fine. But this is a lazy question because it gives us an easy way of avoiding an answer!
LTW: I want to see your souls. [Your interviewer is a bit tired and emotional at this stage]
Jaap: We are super ambitious of course. But there is no plan or goal. We don’t have any plan.
LTW: So you are the beautiful enigma. You could stop tomorrow…
Jaap: Absolutely. Why not? But (and here Jaap outs on an “adult voice”) “our Frisian sobriety” sort of pushes ideas of Glastonbury or a tour in Africa to the back…
LTW: Do you see yourselves becoming a band like the Ex?
Elias: A band that never stops, you mean?
Erik: They do what they like though.
Jaap: The Ex is a very good example of a band who are durable. Those people do everything through a simple passion for music. And the band is like Daniel Johnston – super true. That guy Terrie [Hessels], you talk to him and he means it. And he wears those strange wavy pants, and doesn’t give a fuck. And the public get that. They get he means it. We’re not all fans of The Ex. I find them great, Elias doesn’t outside of the odd number…
Erik: OK, when you talk about what kind of band you are, if you take making a record, the only concern for us is to express ourselves….
Jaap: Better than the English! (Laughs)
Erik: …and you also see that in us live, playing live.
Elias: Maybe playing too much! (Laughs)
Jaap: That concerns all our projects [Yuko Yuko, Waalbert, Purple Noise Club. They are busy lads]. But it’s great that all the things we do are picked up by young people, our age, and from our backgrounds. We are really happy about that. Not just old gits like you! (Laughs) No, we’ve seen you in the audience. You are like a young goat! (The band laugh at me)
Bloody music (again) and pop and being super cool… and Deerhunter
LTW: Changing tack again, I am struck that there’s always a hook in your music. Hooks drive your music.
Elias: You mean a poppy song? There’s lots of those in Holland.
Jaap: No, I know what you mean. You mean in the underground here, there are too many bands obsessed with sounds, but they can’t write songs. The songs are flat.
Elias: But you know in general, I think all the most beautiful melodies and hooks are in underground music. People like Deerhunter, underground and catchy.
Jaap: Alternative bands are always better at being catchy because they go further in their music than mainstream bands. Look at My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, which is really catchy.
LTW: I think Isn’t Anything is better, like Revolver by the Beatles turned up to 11. If you play the two side by side you see there is something in common. A spirit.
Jaap: That is a typical thing we all like. All pop songs, but really tough sounds. When we started we all tried to copy Deerhunter or Shoegaze. It’s really easy music to listen to but lots of great things happen in that music.
LTW: And another thing, you let the audience in your sound. You keep them guessing in a classic pop way. Suggestive sexy pop. (All laugh)
Elias: What I really love is the fact that the bands everyone initially compares us to in Holland are noisy bands; like WOLVON, Those Foreign Kids, or Rats on Rafts. All good bands and all have good songs. But we are younger, and poppier, and more open with our image. And we get the girls wanting to have their pics taken with us! (Smiles) There is a weird dividing line actually in The Homesick; we sort of straddle the line between pop and underground noise. I love that. (Smiles)
Jaap: We get a different response from crowds, that is true. The underground fans here like the experimental side we have, but at the same time we have this 60s and 80s vibe which is very poppy, AND the girls like us and think we’re nice lads! (Laughs)
LTW: Image is king in the Netherlands. But you have a sound and songs that allows you to mess about with your image
Jaap: All the bands we like, they have a good image. Take Deerhunter. That Cox guy is super creepy and weird but nevertheless it looks great! It is confrontational but cool!
Elias: I asked my girlfriend recently who was the most attractive, Ariel Pink or Bradford Cox. And she said Bradford Cox, hands down. Not just because Ariel Pink is dirty, but Cox is charming. Ariel Pink is a good example of someone who has a powerful look precisely because he is genuinely weird.
LTW: And you play that game, you are really charming and play at being confrontational, or very cheeky.
LTW: Yeah, you.
Erik: I think I know what you mean. But that’s because we do lots of things unconsciously. And everything we like influences our sound. But we don’t plan.
Jaap: We don’t copy.
LTW: I’m not saying you do but you have strong personalities. And you use them.
Jaap: Yeah but “our Frisian sobriety” means we keep our feet on the ground. We don’t sit in the park and get stoned and write tunes like a bunch of hippies.
Elias: Ah you know, I think your idea of us is more underground than it actually is. You definitely underplay our commercial value. (Stares blankly at the interviewer)
LTW: I want you to be bigger than Caro Emerald and do commercials for supermarkets. Why all the stuff about snack bar food?
Erik: We really love frikandels. We are not making that up.
Jaap: We like the fact that people write about it, approach us in that way. I don’t take anything I read about me personally.
Erik: You must realise that we love frikandels and we find them fucking tasty. But we don’t expect anyone else to like it.
Jaap: It’s not bloody marketing! We don’t want people to write we’re a bloody snack bar band! (Laughs) It helps writers I suppose.
Elias: Nearly all the articles on us have a weird angle. With Yuko [Yuko Yuko, Elias’s other band] everyone says I write bedroom music. Bedroom this, bedroom that. I don’t record in my fucking bedroom, I record in a studio!
LTW: No-one’s got a handle on you lot have they?
Jaap: (Laughing) I like the fact that everyone is still working us out. Like Zorro. I see us as the Zorro of the Netherlands. We are mysterious!
Elias: (Suddenly getting animated) Now this is what great! Just think, we are described here as a band who come out of Dokkum, in the province of Friesland. And we are often photographed with a Frisian flag and we like snack bar food and write commercial pop songs. Now that sounds miles better than reading about a band from Amsterdam, who say they like the Smiths. Or Echo and the Bunnymen or The Stone Roses. Now; which band are you interested in? It’s great to reflect your roots.
LTW: And that doesn’t come from nothing does it?
Jaap: No. It’s from the internet.
I give up. It’s time to hit the bar. Later that night The Homesick blaze up a converted disco, walking on like they’ve just got back from football practice. The place goes nuts for their adrenaline charge, a riot of cocky Small Faces hooks and Postcard gaucheness. Someone’s nicked some bowling balls and I break a rib. Somehow that’s fine. Fitting, and the perfect physical riposte to me trying to unlock what makes this bunch tick.
Big thanks to Isolde Woudstra for the pics