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What if it happened to you: you're a beginning popgroup with hardly any success, then someone comes up who thinks it's very interesting, your first single is released and look there: entering the tip 30 on 26, next week onto 17 and then to 9. We're talking about The Nits and their single 'Yes or No'.
by Ton Vingerhoets
In spring 1974 The Nits was founded with members from groups that had fallen out. Michiel Peters, Henk Hofstede, Alex Roelofs and Rob Kloet decided to try it together.
Alex: 'We write all our songs, and sometimes songs really start taking shape after two years, especailly because in the beginning there are a lot of influences from others. We are also influenced, like every musician. By old English popmusic (The Beatles, yep) and these days also by 10CC and a little bit Steely Dan'.
'Already a year and a half ago The Nits had contacts with record company Phonogram and the people there liked our music, but were thinking more in lines of an LP. Then we met Jean-Pierre Burdorf that somehow had gotten a tape from us, and he thought it was OK.' Burdorf found an English producer, Alan ('I hope you're spelling the name correct, it's written wrong everywhere!') David and the choice was made for 'Yes or No'.
'It clearly is a commercial song', Alex says, 'and in the beginning we were feeling a little bad about it. We aren't that commercial. But in the end we all were convinced that it would be a necesity for a new group to have a single out and pick a song that fits the ear and everyone would like.'
About the planns for the future Alex is very positive: 'Next week there's a meeting with Alan David about the successor of this single. We decided that we want to get a little known with releasing several singles and after that we'll start on an LP. That needs to be prepared very well, especially since the songs on the album will be very different from 'Yes or No'. The big dream of the four is once to have a recording studio of their own. 'When the money starts getting in a little, we won't buy expensive cars or houses', Alex says determined, 'First a studio, where we can record for ourselves'. And that's the way it is.
Their first concert about 15 years ago in Amsterdam's Paradiso alerted many ears in the audience, but it was to be some time before The Nits had fans - as they do today in Amsterdam, Paris, New York and Moscow. Still, this most Dutch of pop groups stood out from the very beginning, presenting themselves both intellectually and artistically on a much higher level than most other young pop groups. Despite the danger of isolation from the ruthless and inexorable television and radio hit machine, The Nits went on to develop a highly individual style, devoid of any contemporary pop moves and no longer anchored in the dominant Anglo-Saxon rock tradition.
Their stubborn individualism may not have brought The Nits a string of top 40 hits, but it did give them 12 CDs which stand on their own; productions with a narrative feel which have to be listened to right through and, like a book, have a clear beginning and end. These days, their CDs are not only followed closely by hundreds of thousands of fans throughout the world but also by the international pop scene, placing them among the foremost ambassadors of Dutch pop. They have also received recognition in their own land having recently been awarded their fourth Edison, Holland's top award for recorded music. One of the reasons for The Nits' success is their development of a typically European pop style marrying highly symbolic lyrics with subtle melodies. This European pop, refined and with an often wistful undercurrent, is the subject of scrutiny not only in virtually every European city but also among the avant-garde of the American pop scene, proving the validity of the special space The Nits have created for themselves within the trend-sensitive pop business.
Another notable feature of the group is the striking visual nature of their live performances, regularly translated into stylish video clips. Singer, guitarist and keyboard player Henk Hofstede studied Amsterdam's Rietveld Art Academy before going into music, and his strong visual orientation also surfaces in the songs themselves, weaving ironic observations into almost visible narratives. Balancing between prose and poetry, the songs contain a wealth of references. Adieu Sweet Baanhof is a response to the variety of languages in Europe and Dapper Street is an ode to, the well-known verse of the same name about an Amsterdam street by Dutch poet Jakobus C. Bloem. Finally, there's the humorous title In the Dutch Mountains, the paradox underscored by its video clip which involves trip by rowing boat through the utterly flat polder landscape of Holland. Despite all the symbolism and refinement, the musical language of Henk Hofstede, Robert-Jan Stips and Rob Kloet is anything but pretentious. Rather, their restrained and sometimes even quiescent musical observations display a deliberate simplicity in which melancholy and lightness of touch balance one another at exactly the right moments.
Presented by the lead singer of The Nits, Henk Hofstede (left on )
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In their 20 year history as a band, there has only been one of their albums released in Japan, their 7th, 10 years ago.... But this cult-band has a huge popularity in Europe, especially in their homeland Holland. Their latest(15th!) album has been finally released in Japan. They have many enthusiastic rock-mania fans because of their experimental pop sense and with good hooks like XTC and Talking Heads. We talked to the band who played for "WOMAD-94" in Yokohama.
Q: What kind of impressions about Japan did you have before you came to play?
Henk: I had an impression that Japan has an old history and a culture for good food. I love Japanese food. It's very attractive in my country. For example, if we want to have a supreme meal, we go to a Japanese restaurant.
Robert: Besides, I think Japanese magazines are really beautiful, the magazine covers are nice too. I'm very jealous of it. I'm always complaining to my record company, "why can't you do it like the Japanese do?" They always make excuses like it costs too much and that it's that way only in Japan. I sometimes feel envious about it.
Q: What type of music have you ever listened to?
Henk: I used to listen to British 60's stuff mainly. When symphonic-rock was popular, we were probably the first Dutch band who wrote new-wave songs at that time. We wrote short songs with a 60's feeling, that was the beginning. In 1980, we got a contract with CBS and we made our 1st album to start our pro careers. In 1981, we started touring outside Holland. We went to many countries. Our country is located very well for travel. It only takes a few hours to get to Paris. Now we have travelled from Athens to Helsinki and every country between them. I think we went all over Europe. We also played New York and Canada. Then, we finally came to Japan (laugh).
Robert: We also went to Senegal, didn't we?
Henk: Yeah, we went to Africa.
Q: Where you influenced by the new-wave movement in the late 70's?
Henk: We where influenced by new wave.
Q: What bands?
Henk: XTC....and David Byrne. and classical music.
Robert: Stravinski and........
Henk: Frank Zappa!
Q: Who mainly writes a song?
Robert: Henk mainly writes the lyrics. Composing is the job of the whole group.
Q: So do you usually start composing with the whole band?
Henk: Yes, we always start in a mixed situation at first. We have our own studio in Amsterdam. It's not a standard studio, it used to be an old school gym. It's messy but it has a 24-track digital recording system. Besides, our engineer who also takes care of our live-recordings, is always working with us so he can record anything we play from noise to music even if we decide to start our job in the morning. We review that tape at the end of the day and keep the parts that we liked. The next day, we play, making use of yesterday's parts. That is, our policy is "creativity is born from chaos".
Robert: Yes, this way is better than playing with too much thinking. Important things happen when they happen, something like that.
Q: In your 20 year career, there has been amazing developments in instruments. What do you think about it?
Robert: I think we shouldn't fool ourselves. Even only the piano, it's worth life while playing it. So we should take several years with an instrument to see its possibilities. That's the start. You must be more interested in it than only knowing it on the surface. That especially applies to a synthesizer.
Q: Do you check out any new gear very often?
Robert: Not everything, but I'm always paying attention to what's going on in the market. I try to get the information from instrument companies and the people who I can trust but I need to find a balance so not to be confused by new information. New stuff doesn't always mean "interesting". But it's important to catch the innovative first step like when the first polyphonic synthesizer appeared. I usually try to get great stuff like that but it depends on good luck. I think I was the first keyboard player who could get a polyphonic-synthesizer in Holland because I was lucky at that time. The first poly-synth was released when our manager was in the U.S.. At that time, There were only two brands, Oberheim and Prophet on the market. He called me and said "which poly-synth do you want me to bring back?". I didn't know anything about either one so I decided on Oberheim by only my intuition.(laugh) I was very lucky. I got my first sampler in a similar way. I'm using PPG and I like it.
Q: According to the album credits, You played a Mellotron. Was it a real model?
Robert: Yes, it was.
Henk: It was about to burn, though. It blew blue smoke.(laugh)
Robert: So we sampled its sound lastly. I had remembered there was a Mellotron in the studio in which we had sessions before, and that it's condition was as if it was left in the attic and was very dusty. When I asked them where it was, they finally found it and an engineer fixed it somehow. Some keys and tapes were missing, but it's used in our session anyway. We now use its sampled sound at live performances.
Q: To what degree do you use computers and sequencers for your music?
Robert: Almost nothing. We used to try them as a kind of an experiment. That was interesting but we like the same old artisan spirit.
Q: So you play everything with just your hands?
Q: Your synth sounds have a unique human-touch effect, would you tell me the secret?
Robert: It is just to love my own instruments.(laugh) That's the point. It's important to me not to use factory-preset sounds as much as I can. Making private and original sounds gives a more personal touch. Because of that, it depends on the taste of each player. I'm using EMAX III mainly. There are some sounds which I want to use as they are, but I don't leave them and I edit them on purpose. Then, I make my own sounds by humanizing it to fit my own playing. Like that, I make my sounds by myself. And other important thing is, you don't have to wait until mixing when making sound effects. You should arrange the tone and volume control by yourself in recording. I absolutely recommend this way, in my experience.
Q: I'd like to ask about your lyrics. Their pretty cynical, aren't they?
Henk: Well, there's few love songs. I think my lyric is like a diary. A diary is a really personal thing, isn't it? So I can say it's almost a diary.
Q: Are you careful not to make your music too political?
Henk: We might be social but we are careful of not being political. It's not a musician's job and it's very difficult for me to write a political song. A political song's life is generally short and it's easy to be out-of-date. The other day I saw the Woodstock film again. There's some messages like "no more Vietnam war". It looked funny to me. It was true that the message shined at that time but it will be dead in 2,3 or 10 years. Of course some songs last like the life-span of a "bicycle" (laugh) It's not just an irony. We write songs about bicycles often. I guess some band writes about BMWs but we like to write about bicycles.(laugh) It's much more humane, especially in Amsterdam!
Q: Recently, many new good bands have come out of northern Europe. Of course Holland, too.
Henk: They had been waiting for this time to come. From the 50's, European countries were influenced from England and America. Every country used to have an Elvis Presly of its own. Once we were forced to play that role like Cliff Richard in the UK. So we tried to separate ourselves from that. I don't mean I don't like the Beach Boys though, we just want to search for our cultural background and identity. Because of it, the band Kraftwerk used to be exciting. They had a mood of the European continent.
Q: Do you have any producers and musicians who you want to play with?
Robert: I think we have a little fear for "producer".(laugh) I don't think we need a guy who makes too many request from this team.
Henk: But Brian Eno is a very interesting person. The person who we want to play with first is Leonard Cohen! I would be very happy if we could have a dinner with him at a Japanese restaurant at first.(laugh)
Robert: Peter Gabriel and Youssou N'dour, so that's it.
Q: Please tell me about your knack for running a long lasting band.
Robert: The knack is "don't tell anybody the knack about that."(laugh)
Henk: One thing is that we don't take a business-like approach. We started our music without a big ambition for being world-famous. We don't have that kind of atmosphere living in Holland. We couldn't say that if we were living in New York. In Holland, I can ride a bicycle even now with a professional career and I like it that way. If somebody decides to be an artist, in spite of a painter or a poet, it must be a lifetime job. It's not temporary like a soccer player. And I think there was the image that a rock'n'roll musician must die young, but that image is over. We don't need to die anymore, fortunately.
Robert: We are in the first generation who should certify it.
Henk: There have been many old-aged painters like Monet and Picasso, right? That's the same thing. So we have to be a witness to see what Mick Jagger will look like.
Robert: I have a sympathy for Pete Townsend because he sang that "I hope I die before get old". But they get older now. It's ironic, isn't it. We have to keep our friendship and we shouldn't restrict each other to continue the band for 40 years. I think we can do it because we don't live together on a big farm.
Henk: You mean we can keep a proper distance between us because we don't make potato and goat cheese together, huh?
Robert: Yeah. Maybe we should have such a life style. Mmm, that's not really bad.
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The Nits are one of the world's finest pop bands. Ever. Period. No doubt about it. Convincing pop fans of this fact is the easy part (there are very few pop fans who are not smitten by the Nits once they've actually heard them). Finding their back catalog is a whole different ball of wax. The Nits, from Holland, began life in the mid-70s, but did not release their debut album (on an independent label) until '78. Signing to CBS Holland, they released some of the finest albums of the 'new wave' era (or any era, for that matter), with each album sounding different from any thing they'd done before (or since). This was an art-pop band, with a sound not too dissimilar from a an XTC and Elvis Costello hybrid, but with a more Beatle-esque slant. As they progressed, they toned down the quirkiness, and settled into a more earthy pop sound, making sure they never stood still, musically. Each Nits album is a hook-filled feast, but you never knew what you were going to get! It could be upbeat guitar pop, or soft piano-based pop, or even a mixture of the two. If you have a chance to experience the Nits, any album will do. (EDITOR'S NOTE: We will be covering all of the Nits albums in depth next issue.)
Nest may be the best starting point, although it is by no means a definitive retrospective. The band's first 3 albums are ignored, while only one song from their 4th album makes an appearance here So, basically, this compilation highlights their career from roughly '83 onwards (with most tracks spanning the years '87 to '95). What is here, though, is superb.
Starting the set off is one of two new songs, Broken Wing, which actually rocks a bit harder than usual. Not one of their best, but it takes a few spins to really sink in. From that point onwards, you get the cream of the Nits. Each song oozes with melody, wit, and intelligence, and will seduce you into a dreamy state of pop bliss. Tracks like In the Dutch Mountains, Sketches of Spain, and Bike in Head are so charming and original, you'd be a fool to resist. Kudos to the compiler who chose to include the live version of Mask, which turned the very Costello-ish horn-pumped studio version into a soft piano ballad. (The other live track here, Home Before Dark, is actually inferior to the studio version.) The album closes with one more new track, Road Not Taken, which is a very touching song, and a perfect way to end this collection.
The limited edition Quest box contains the Nest CD as well as a video compilation called Vest and a bonus CD entitled, you guessed it, Quest . The bonus CD contains b-sides, unreleased songs, and 'working versions' of songs that eventually turned up later in a different form. The quality of the songs is far from substandard, with this being a wonderful collection that could actually stand on it's own as a Nits album. Hardly a stinker in the bunch.
The limited edition Broken Wing single contains the title track, three live songs, and a bonus CD featuring 3 Beatles cover versions. There is also a French version of Nest which deletes three songs, and has two of the remaining tracks sung in French.
The Nits. If you haven't heard them, you've been missing out on pop music's best kept secret.
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The Nits are pop music's best kept secret. Here's four reasons why they will unfortunately remain a secret: 1). they hail from Holland, 2).They are a chameleon-like band, changing direction and sound with every release, 3). they've only released one album in the US, and 4). they don't play by rock's rules. We will now show you over a dozen reasons why they shouldn't be a kept a secret any longer.
In the beginning there was Henk Hofstede (vocals/keyboards), Michiel Peters (vocals/guitars), Alex Reolofs (bass), and Rob Kloet (drums/perc.). After an independently distributed debut (not available on CD), they signed with CBS and released Tent, a jawdropping mixture of British Invasion influences and art-rock quirkiness. Musically, it's all over the map, with no two songs in a row being similar, yet every track having a hook that could snag Moby Dick. Born during the 'new wave' boom, this album seemed to be making an effort not to be pigeonholed Hofstede and Peters complimented each other vocally, with Hofstede sounding like a cross between Lennon and Costello, while Peters' thin reedy voice was soothing and strange. If your preferences are Beatles, early Costello, and especially early XTC, here is a close musical relative. (The CD adds three bonus tracks.)
On New Flat, they stripped back the Beatle-esque melodies a bit, and went top-heavy on the art-pop angle. Almost every track was hooky, but in a different way than their debut. Maintaining their distance from the 'new wave', they borrowed ideas from Devo, Roxy Music, and others, and made a new kind of musical stew. It's an extremely fun album, never standing still, but they stretched themselves to far. They settled into an uncomfortable niche, and tried hard to dig themselves a new one.
With Work, the Nits had dug a niche so deep that it caved in on them, producing this dark, almost frightening album. Death reared it's head in some of the lyrics, and most of the songs, while being melodic, offered only dark shadows where there once was light. Not a bad album by any means, just a depressingly bleak one, saved by the inane goofiness of Tables and Chairs. (The CD adds two tracks.) Exit Alex Roelofs.
Enter RJ Stips (formerly of Supersister). Stips, who produced a good portion of the Nits' output thus far, joined on keyboards, and brought the band's sound to a new dimension. After a two year layoff, Omsk took the Nits to a new plateau , adding more textures to their now keyboard-dominated sound. Peters' guitars blended beautifully with other instruments that sweetly tried to outdo one another, while the melodies resembled aural paintings basking in the twilight. The musical neighbor of XTC's Skylarking and Costello's Imperial Bedroom. (The CD adds three.)
Then came Kilo. On this ballad dominated EP (which is included on the Henk CD), the arrangements were more controlled and spacious, sounding full and engrossing, relying on the gentle tones of the piano to guide you through your emotions. A very beautiful experience. These songs are worthy of the repeat play button on your CD player. Almost as heavenly as a Nillsson/Costello collaboration.
Without selling out, the Nits then made the extremely commercial Adieu, Sweet Bahnhof, an album that would have sold by the truckoads if it had been released worldwide. By smoothing out the arty quirks, and bringing in a horn section for a few tracks, the melodies finally play the primary role. Synthesizers took up a bigger role as well, but were far from dominating. The songs were passionate, and sometimes quite touching. The Nits were maturing, yet were no closer to compromising their art for money's sake. The same musical references are appropriate here, with a very European touch. (The CD adds two tracks.) Exit Michiel Peters.
Now down to a trio, the Nits reshaped their sound, relying mostly on keyboards and percussion, and released Henk. The Beatles' influence seemed less dominant, with their songs becoming more earthy. Gone is the smooth sound of Adieu, replaced by an even stronger European flavor, and gentle touches of the quirkiness of old. Apart from a bit of guitar and banjo, this album relies on sampled sounds (as opposed to samples), with Stips wonderful keyboard work making every sound have an honest depth to it. Synthesizers never sounded so useful and necessary. Hofstede has a melodic, commanding voice, but the interplay between he and Peters is missed. (The six song Omsk EP was added to this CD.)
Enter bassist Joke Gereats just in time for the In the Dutch Mountains album. Hofstede had moved to guitar, and the band chose to record the album live in their rehearsal studio. Featuring the European hit title track, this was (and is) the most raw Nits album yet. The songwriting is top-notch, and the arrangements are inventive and never less than inspiring. It's also the first time that the Nits were standing still, with a good portion of the songs sounding quite similar to each other, making it a far more cohesive project. Where the Nits had been quirky and unpredictable before, they had dug another musical niche for themselves, and were standing knee deep in it. This is also the album that introduced the band to a wider audience across Europe.
Standing still may work for some, but for Hat, the Nits had seemed to hit a wall. With six songs, this EP expanded upon the ITDM sound, with cleaner sounding results, but not much else.
The live Urk was even more of the same, spread over two CDs. Most of the previous two releases were well-covered, with very few older gems performed during these shows. The live versions didn't add much to the originals (apart from the beautiful version of Adieu's Mask), while there was only one unreleased song in the set. Not the best place to start. (EDITOR'S NOTE: This was the first release under the new, artier monicker, Nits. Just where did the 'the' go, anyway?) Exit Joke Gereats.
Back to a trio, and artistically back on track, Nits released the wonderful Giant Normal Dwarf, a keyboard based album full of haunting melodies and more inventive arrangements. In Nits' scheme of things, if you don't notice something is missing, then they've accomplished their art. It's very difficult to notice on GND (and the earlier Henk) that there is very little instrumentation apart from keyboards and percussion. There is so much going on within each song, and so much feeling and passion, that they've essentially reinvented keyboard based pop. A real gem.
With Ting, Nits once again destroyed their musical floor plan, and started from scratch. Like Kilo, the songs were vast piano terrains, with gentle percussion, and impassioned vocals. The songs are less immediate than before, but offer great rewards over time. Gentle, moving, and original. Hjuvi is a self indulgent classical 'concept' album performed with the Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra, arranged by Stips. There are two alternate versions of songs from Ting, and two new vocal tracks (Moved by Her being wonderful). The rest is interesting, but dull.
Enter Martin Bakker (bass) and Peter Meuris (assorted instruments), and the return to classic pop with dA dA dA. Mixing the guitar based pop of ITDM with grand, full production and a batch of crackling tunes, Nits rebuilt themselves yet again, and delivered another fine album. This earthy pop fest garnered them their first US release (with different artwork), and introduced them to a whole new world of fans. dA dA dA was entirely different from their previous releases (as per usual) yet contained enough pieces of their past to entice new fans to investigate their vast output. Nest and Quest (which were reviewd in POPsided #1) were career compilations concentrating on post-ITDM material, but did dip back as far as '83.
Exit R.J. Stips and Martin Bakker, who left the band at the conclusion of the Nest tour. Without Stips, any Nits music will be different, but as you can tell, they react very well to change. In fact, change is good, and its kept the Nits at the top of the pop heap for well over a decade. When pop music finally breaks down it's barriers and becomes one global community, it will be then that the Nits will be universally accepted, and they will be regarded as trendsetters and leaders. Until then, they'll be our little secret
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In consult with his recordcompany Columbia (a daughter of Sony) made this known to Paul Simon at the end of last year. The Nits-singer: I have written this with respect for the original and with admiration of Pauls songs. The enclosed music-tape shows that a didn't have an easy rip-off in mind. Simons name would be mentioned on the cover. And of course we would pay him his share of the copyrights.
According to lawyer Eric Boom, a Dutch copyright specialist, Hofstede has the right to use the lines, and Paul simon cannot prevent the re-use of his own songs. Hofstede: But Columbia/Sony doesnt dare to let it end up in a court-case. There apparently is an enormous fear for the power of the American publishers and management. So I will have to change these few lines on our CD Alankomaat (Finnish for the low lands) in a degree that Simon cannot make any claim. The record won't be in the shops before march 7.
On a number of websites on the Internet there are still original versions of Robinson, as the Nits-song is called. Hofstede: The fun has been spoiled a bit, but live we will play the song in the original version- this is a thing that Paul Simon cannot forbid. My opinion is that the fact that I changed the lyrics doesnt close the argument about the second use of lyrics. Bertold Brecht wrote his Dreigroschenoper on the basis of John Grays A Beggars Opera. The issue here is the freedom to develop an existing idea.
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The essence of the Nits, for almost a quarter of a century one of Hollands most proper band, has however remained. Surprisingly not all the little jumbles, the samples and the counterpointic decorations invented by Stips have been stripped away. Between april and november 1997 a new repertoire of mainly intimate songs was created and recorded with the help of some Finnish friends, and strikingly named Alankomaat (low lands).
The main characteristics of the typical Dutch sphere of thoughts is from the Nits point of view almost literary or cinematografic. This is found in themes as vulnerability, alienation, lonelyness and depature. In the present theatre tour these themes are strikingly illustrated with the help of backgroundprojection of films, that were also made by Henk Hofstede. Stationary cameras show trams in Eastern Europe, sea-lions in a zoo, freightboats on the Amsterdam-Rhine-canal, the Helsinki-train station, fake goldfishes in a deceitfull realistic slow-motion.
For the live setting Hofstede and Kloet are assisted by two fresh musical women. Arwen Linnemann can play bass and groove functionally, Laetitia van Krieken is not a Stips-clone, which makes songs like Three Sisters or Hold me Geneva sound like the repertoire of Dylan or Leonard Cohen. The somewhat unpretentious fun that was especially exposed by Stips has disappeared, but this doesn't mean that the playfullness also disappeared. So is a Talking Heads-like funky gospel to be heard in Rainfall Again and is the Paul Simon remake (see frontpage) a fantastic patchwork of Bo Diddley's junglebeat and David Byrne-like irony. A set of tablas and an Indian bul-bul (a sort of autoharp) embellish a daring version of Dutch Mountains. In another older song, The Dream, sounds an echo of Lou Reeds Walk on the Wild Side. Lou Reed, by the way also took his ideas from singers like Brook Benton and Jimmy Smith. A varied and well-styled concert, that proves that the Nits have nine lives.
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Bij het verschijnen van het carrièreoverzicht Nest in '95, zei je dat je wel eens iets anders wilde, dat je de tijd wilde nemen om te gaan schilderen.
Henk Hofstede: Ik heb één schilderij gemaakt. Eén. Maar wel een vrij groot schilderij. (lacht) Het is nog niet eens af ook. Toen ben ik toch weer gaan muziek maken. Het verlangen was te groot.
Het verbaast me dat de nieuwe cd een popplaat is geworden, een typische Nits-plaat. Ik had gedacht dat je het verdwijnen van toetsenist Robert Jan Stips zou gebruiken om een nieuwe kant op te gaan.
Henk: Het is gebeurd zoals het gebeurd is. Ik ben ook niet op zoek gegaan naar andere mensen. Dan is de kans veel groter dat je iets anders maakt. Drummer Rob Kloet en ik hebben besloten om het met twee mensen op te nemen. Op zoek naar kaalheid. Minder symfonisch. Terug naar: een liedje schrijven, en dat op een paar sporen opnemen.
Henk: Zeker niet. Toen ik de liedjes begon te schrijven, zomer '96, waren we net met de oude groep gestopt. Daarvoor hadden we heel veel in het buitenland opgetreden. Waren we naar plekken teruggekeerd waar we al van '81-'82 regelmatig gespeeld hadden. Het was een beetje een raar afscheid: dit, wat we al die jaren met elkaar hebben gedaan, dit gaat stoppen. Hele simpele dingen: het in Genève verblijven, kijken naar de fontein... In die periode hebben we ook eindelijk ons uitgebreid video-archief in de computer gezet. De stapels banden die ik vanaf 1980 gemaakt had, geordend. Een chaos van tapes. Al die dingen hebben me beïnvloed bij het schrijven. Die wereld die verdwijnt. De steden, contacten met vrienden die we over de jaren hebben gemaakt. Een soort voorlopige afscheidsbrief. Nu begint het weer opnieuw natuurlijk, maar dat kon ik toen nog niet weten.
Henk: Met mijn dagelijks leven heeft het niet verschrikkelijk veel te maken. Mijn huiselijk leven is heel burgerlijk. Met familie, kinderen, het leven in Amsterdam, tussen school, spelletjes, dierentuin, park, bioscoop en Pipi Langkous. Daar recht tegenover staat het bandleven, het gereis, de hotelkamers, de eenzaamheid ook. De mensen die je tegenkomt, die vaak last hebben van moeilijke levens, dingen die maar niet willen, huwelijken die stranden, vrouwen die weglopen, nachtelijke telefoongesprekken...
Henk: Ik ben als als muziekmaker erg aangetrokken tot die wereld. Daar schrijf ik graag over, want die klopt op of andere manier ook met de muziek. Ik kan mijn dagelijks leven bijna niet beschrijven. Dat past niet. De wijzer gaat helemaal naar die andere kant. Naar de kant van de angsten.
Henk: Bovendien: ik vind het heel moeilijk om een opgewekt, up-tempo liedje te schrijven. Dan wordt het heel gauw eng. Een soort Middellandse Zee-disco. Iets fouts. Iets waar ik ook niet in pas. Dat is zoals de verkeerde kleren kopen. De weermannen-jasjes, noem ik dat. Van die rode of blauwe, heel felle. Je ziet ze ook bij vertegenwoordigers en zakenlui. Vaak door de vrouw gekocht. Zo van: trek nu es een modern jasje aan. Dat moet je dus niet doen. Dat werkt bij mij als songschrijver ook niet.
Eén van de nieuwe liedjes had een ode moeten worden aan Paul Simons Mrs Robinson. Je wilde zijn tekst gebruiken en er mee spelen. Maar dat is uiteindelijk niet gebeurd.
Henk: Het mocht niet. Ik heb het grootste deel van de tekst dan maar veranderd. Daarmee is het charmante er echter van af. Ik vond het juist leuk om ermee te spelen, met alle dingen die ik mooi vond. Het had een collage moeten worden met alle lof voor Paul Simon.
Henk: Maar er is nog steeds een advocaat in Nederland voor mij mee bezig. Want ik ben het er niet mee eens. Ik vind dat je binnen het domein van de schone kunsten van elkaar moet kunnen kopiëren. Filmers doen het, schilders, toneelauteurs. Waarom mogen muzikanten het dan niet?
Henk: Ik voel het als een enorme beperking. Ik vind het een mentaliteit die hoort bij autoverkopers. Je hoeft maar één keer naar de Midem-muziekbeurs in Cannes te gaan, en je weet precies wat er allemaal mis is. De mensen daar, dat zijn zelfs geen autoverkopers meer, maar bijna wapenhandelaars. Dat klopt niet. Ik zal me altijd heftig blijven verzetten tegen die sfeer.
Als je na al die jaren eindelijk je videofilms geordend hebt, heb je nog iets ontdekt?
Henk: Dat ik de camera veel te veel bewoog. (lacht) Om zeeziek van te worden. En het valt soms om van saaiheid. Eindeloze beelden vanuit auto's. Het geeft perfect weer wat reizen en muziek maken is. Een beperkte ruimte om je heen, en je verplaatsen. Waar je ook bent ter wereld, toch altijd hetzelfde. In die saaiheid zou je het eigenlijk ook moeten monteren. De schoonheid ligt niet in de opbrengst van het beeld. De schoonheid ligt in de saaiheid. De allesoverweldigende gelijkheid. Ik ga nog een keer iets proberen, daarmee.
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Samenstelling Joost Niemöller. Scan of original article
The Nits, begin jaren 80 successvol met hits als Nescio, bestaat nog steeds. Serker nog, The Nits brengen nieuwe cd's uit en gaan in Nederland en in het Europese buitenland op tournee. Op de radio worden The Nits verzwegen, maar je hoeft hun website maar aan the klikken om daar beslist geen dood fossiel te vinden. Tom Telman (44), de lichtman van The Nits, is de webmaster en in zijn sfeervolle woning niet ver van het vroegere Ajaxstadion wil hij best enige relativerende woorden kwijt.
'Ik ben er helemaal vanuit het niets aan begonnen. Begin 2000. Op een gegeven moment kwam m'n vrouw van d'r werk met een eenvoudig programma waarmee je wenbsites kon maken. Je leert zo heel efficient werken. Er zit geen luxe aan en daardoor blijft de site lekker snel. Past de laatste jaren heb ik geprobeerd er wat sjiekere dingen in te verwerken. De voorpagina heeft bijvoorbeeld een roll over: je gaat met je muis over een plaatje hen en dan komt er een ander plaatje tevoorschijn. Roll over stelt voor een beetje websiteontwerper niet zo veel voor hoor. Die vindt dat je minstens Flash moet hebben, zodat je filmpjes kunt maken. Vaak is het enorme onzin. Dan zit je een minuut te kijken naar een punt en een tekst die vervaagt. Net zoals vroeger; toen moest elke band laser op het toneel hebben. De hele zal vol met rook blazen en dan zag je een bibberig groend lijntje waarmee een woord werd geschreven. En duur!'
Gekke dingetjes zijn er wel te vonden op de site van de The Nits. Zo find je er een wild drummende Hank Hofstede, de zanger, en als je ob zijn trommels klikt, dan zie je vage plaatjes. Tom: 'Daarbij dacht ik aan wat ik op de site van Radiohead had gezien. Dan krijg je iets mysterieus; een aafbeelding die ik niet goed begreep en een tekst die ik ook niet goed begreep. Maar toch wel prikkelend. Links naar dingen die geen relatie hadden met muziek, maar wel een sfeer neerzetten. Mijn hoop was dat Henk zelf ook met dat soort dingen aan zou kommen. Maar dat is nooit gebeurd, dus ik ben zelf maar dingen aan elkaar gaan plakken. Henk kan heel lang nadenken over bijvoorbeeld een cd-hoesje. Hij is echt een perfectionist. Ik vind dat je voor een website toch iets losser moet durfen te zijn.'
Soms grenst dat losse aan het lullige, zoals cartoons van de Nitsleden. Tom: 'Dat is eigenlijk een beetje over de rand. Dat had een Duitse fan getekend. Eigenlijk had ik hem er allang afmoeten halen. Aan de andere kant moeten we ook een beetje af van het idee dat al heel lang over The Nits bestaat, dat wij van die strenge jongens zijn die kunstgeschiedenis hebben gestudeerd. The Nits mogen onderhand ook wel iets gezelligs hebben. Zo vind je ook fotodagboekjes van de tournees, met melige backstage-scenes.' Grappig op de timeline zijn ook de weergegeven stencils van die allereerste tournee, nog samen met The Tapes. En fotootjes met de vroege bezetting; nog geheel in eind jaren 70-outfit. Maar het lijkt alsof er op die site met tegenzin aan de nostalgische impuls wordt toegegeven. Tom: 'Dat is ook een beetje door de teleurstelling dat onze laatste cd zo weinig aandacht kreeg. We willen graag laten weten dat we nu een leuke band hebben. Met drie meisjes die heel goed zingen en spelen. Dat krijgt te weinig aandacht. We zijn tenslotte The Buffoons niet die met hun dikke buiken de successen van toen herhalen.'
Ik vraag me af of de Finse Nitsfans wel eens vragen wie Nescio was. 'Nee, nooit. Eigenlijk willen fans alleen maar weten wanneer we weer in de buurt spelen en of ze nog oude platen kunnen kopen. En uit verre landen krijg je vaak de vraag wat ze moeden doen als die nieuwe plaat bij hun niet te koop is. Tegenwoordig kunnen we ze doorsluizen naar een webshop. Al wordt het dan toch vaak en duur met de verzendkosten. De eerste Nits-websites zijn door fans gemaakt. Ooit is een Duitse jongen met een fansite begonnen en een Belgische jongen zette daarna een mailinglist op. Daarvoor meld je je aan en je krijgt dan post als iemand er iets op zet. Een soort prikbord. We verwijzen mensen die ons een e-mail sturen vaak door naar de fansites. Die verzamelen alles en wisselen bandjes uit. Er zijn een stuk of vijftien fansites. Zo is er een jongen uit Zwitserland die lijsten maakt met ieder nummer dat ergens opgenommen is. En wie waroop meedoet, via een onnavolgbaar system dat geloof ik alleen door hemzelf begrepen wordt.'
Dat maakt nieuwsgierig hoe de hedendaagse Nits-fan eruit ziet. Tom: 'De meeste fans gaan inmiddels wel tien jaar mee. Voor de rest zijn ze, wat je verwacht, redelijk studentikoos. Tegenwoordig ook ouders die hun kinderen meenemen. Bij concerten is er een enorm verschil tussen wat er in Nederland komt kijken en in het buitenland. We spelen in Nederland veel in theaters. In het buitenland spelen we in clubs. Daar kunnen ook hanenkammen tussen staan.'
Tegenwoordigm zegt Tom heel eerlijk, gaat het zakelijk gezien niet meer zo goed met The Nits. 'We hebben een enorm hoogtepunt gehad zo rond de plaat In The Dutch Mountains, in 1987. Sindsdien gaat het langzaam omlaag. Dat is ook niet zo'n schande verder. Je recensies krijg je nog wel. Zo werd onze laatste cd Wool in Frankrijk door de schrijvende pers heel enthousiast ontvangen. Maar als dan vervolgens je videoclips nergens vertoond worden en je krijgt op de radio geen airplay, dan houdt het op.'
Time doesn't seem to get grip on the Nits. The group's history --by now a trio- goes back to 1974, but every association with qualifications as 'veterans' or worse, rock dinosaurs, won't stand up the Amsterdam triad. Although singer, guitarist and composer Henk Hofstede's three daughters sometimes --affectionately- call their father 'old rocker', the Nits stay who they are: lively, renewing, self-willed, full of quality and above all things original.
Nits' new tour is dominated by their new album: 'Doing The Dishes' that will be released on January 21. "A lighthearted record" Hofstede says. "Quite different from its predecessor 'Les Nuits', the gloomy and solemn record, partly inspired on the murder of Theo van Gogh -- which happened literally around the corner. According to Hofstede 'Doing The Dishes' is more poppy orientated; with a wink to Talking Heads en XTC. But: "Also a bit from two Dutch groups from the sixties: Q65 and the Outsiders with Wally Tax. Their echo still sounds here in Amsterdam-East. I even took out the banjo".
Not only the cover (a spheric, almost primitive painting of the recording studio adjoining the surrounding areas of Amsterdam Sloterdijk made by Hofstede), but the title also may be called typical Nits. "Leonard Cohen once said: "Music is for weddings, funerals and during doing the dishes. And so it is. Frank Boeijen (a Dutch singer/songwriter) once told me that he, as a little boy already in bed, listened to his sisters, singing while doing the dishes. He called it the dishes song.
In the studio Hofstede said that 'the songs fell out of the sky'. "Meanwhile we can fill six cd's with songs". Obviously we are of the same mind and we complement each other well. Few words are enough for us: no endless meetings or conceptual straitjacket. We play and record, preferably all in once.
The Nits were never deliberately outsiders. We have a kind of casualness in regard to movements and trends. We don't have the drive to be trendy. We choose our own direction.
The concert tour also will bring Nits to Germany, Finland, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxemburg and France again; countries who like to see the group from way back. "In France", Hofstede says, "They are fond of our culty image. And besides the Netherlands, Germany is the country where we perform most".
During the coming tour 'Doing The Dishes' will be the central part ("We play 15 new songs"), but other songs of the rich history of the Nits also get a chance. Hofstede: "Recently a boy called: "Why don't you play Two Skaters? I think it's your best song". "Well, I thought, that's another song we have. We did put it on the setlist".
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