The Homesick on “The Big Exercise” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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The Homesick on “The Big Exercise”

Levelling Up

Feb 18, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

While guitar music might be going through a bit of a lull in the UK right now, it’s quite the opposite across mainland Europe. Particularly in The Netherlands, which has unearthed a wave of original and exciting guitar bands over the past few years.

One of the first to emerge were The Homesick, a trio from the Friesland province of Dokkum. While this unlikely setting is far removed from The Netherlands capital city of Amsterdam, it’s their rural background that’s created the landscape for two of the most uniquely innovative records that have landed our way in recent times.

If 2017’s debut Youth Hunt provided a launchpad, this year’s follow-up The Big Exercise unleashed The Homesick’s full potential. Now signed to Sub Pop, the trio-Jaap van der Velde (bass, vocals), Erik Woudwijk (drums), and Elias Elgersma (guitar)-are about to embark on their biggest round of headline shows to date.

Before the tour kicks off later this month, Under the Radar spoke to Van Der Velde about planning ahead, not being phased by the music industry, and how Brexit might level the playing field for touring bands throughout Europe.

Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): When did you first start writing The Big Exercise?

Jaap van der Velde: In terms of writing the songs, we started working on it in 2017. Then our first record came out and we didn’t have enough songs in our live set to fill a headline show. So the first song we wrote was “Male Bonding,” which we’d already started working on in 2016. The rest of the album came together over the course of the two years after the first record. We toured a lot over this time and ended up playing a lot of the songs live, which eventually became The Big Exercise. We finally recorded the album towards the end of 2018. It took a long time because we wanted to test everything live first.

Which was the most recently written song on the album?

That would be “The Small Exercise,” which is also the shortest song on the album. Elias [Elgersma, guitar] made a demo for it a while before we recorded it in the studio. Then we improvised around the song and changed it quite a lot so it was definitely the freshest one when we recorded it. Before that, we wrote the first three songs on the album so those four are the most recent.

Did you approach making this album differently to your debut, Youth Hunt?

This one was definitely more of a studio record in a lot of ways. Which is kind of strange as the first one was recorded at home. We did Youth Hunt over a whole summer and would take weekends then work in small chunks. It was recorded over a period of about two months, whereas this one was done in 12 days! Afterwards, we did some overdubs and mixing. On Youth Hunt we approached it in the same way we do our live sound. We pushed it to the next level with distortion, reverb, and effects, then recorded it as lo-fi as possible on tape. With The Big Exercise, we wanted to change our sound to create a different sonic spectrum for these songs. A lot of the choices we made for this record were the complete opposite of what people liked on our first album.

I’d agree with that. The last time I saw you play live would be at Ritual Union in Oxford towards the back end of 2018 and the set was almost exclusively brand new material.

I remember that tour when we played in Oxford. We ended up road testing all of the songs that became this record so a few of the sets would have been exclusively Big Exercise tracks back then. We wanted to play those songs for three weeks then go into the studio immediately after that tour.

What influenced the songs on The Big Exercise, as there seems to be a concept running through the album? Musically if nothing else.

I find it really hard to pick influences after because it’s such a weird process to be making a record. On one hand it would just be the three of us creating songs in a rehearsal space. That’s the biggest difference because in the past we’d just make a lot of demos on our computers, try to create a song and then start to play it live. Whereas all of the songs on this record were made in our rehearsal space and we always took quite a long time to make one song. We definitely listened to a lot of different stuff to when we made Youth Hunt. I think Youth Hunt sounds like a lot of other bands that were also around at that time. There’s definitely a lot more obvious influences on that record. On this one it’s a whole different set up. We were listening to a lot of big, ‘60s orchestral pop and bits of progressive rock as well.

To me, The Big Exercise sounds totally unique and actually quite timeless in many ways. It’s a definite progression from Youth Hunt both sonically and structurally.

We tried to aim for something that’s not mimicking someone else. We don’t want to do something that another band already does. Of the 10 songs on the record, each one maybe has a specific influence you can hear but its never the same all the way through.

In the interim period between Youth Hunt and The Big Exercise you signed to Sub Pop. How did that come about? What’s the difference between being on an internationally recognized label like Sub Pop and a small independent such as Subroutine who put out your first record?

We signed to Sub Pop when we were recording in the studio. That was also quite a long process. We got an email from Sub Pop two weeks after we put out Youth Hunt. They somehow came across the album on Spotify and really liked it, so for the next year and a half after that we kept in touch. Then we met a couple of times and at some point ended up signing a record deal, but it was a really long process. So I don’t think it influenced the making of The Big Exercise. It does sound like a really big deal but by the time we actually signed to them we were already friends with the label. We kind of expected it to happen at some point. We were also a bit scared because they signed us off the back of Youth Hunt, whereas the record we wanted to make was a lot different.

Do you feel there’s any pressure or expectation to live up to some of the artists who’ve been on Sub Pop’s roster?

I don’t know. Everyone in the band is looking ahead to making a third Homesick record. That’s where most of my focus lies. Working hard on trying to write new songs. But then we’re also going to be playing a lot of shows this year so it would be nice to fill the set with a lot of new stuff. Not just to keep it fresh but also to keep us moving forwards. Which again is quite a strange thing, because we have a new record coming out on a really big label yet already find ourselves looking ahead to the next one.

Are there any new songs ready? Will any of them feature in the live set this year?

We have three new songs ready for the shows we’re playing in February and March. We weren’t that busy last year after we finished the record, so we had a lot of free time to start working on new songs.

There seems to have been a deluge of great bands coming out of The Netherlands in recent years. People like yourselves, Pip Blom, Canshaker Pi, and The Sweet Release of Death, for instance. Why do you think that is?

Maybe it’s easier now for Dutch bands to become recognized elsewhere? At the same time, I also think it’s a really good period for Dutch guitar music. We’ve only been doing this for five years so I don’t know how the music scene was before that. People ask that question a lot! All of those groups you mentioned are also very separate to each other. They all sound very different as well, but with the music industry being what it was I guess it’s easier to throw us all together and call it a scene. It is beneficial for all of us as it means we get to play a lot more. I hope it will last and everybody keeps doing their own thing. That’s what’s most important.

Brexit is already starting to have implications for UK artists being able to play and tour in Europe. Is it something The Homesick have thought about when it comes to playing the UK in future?

I know for the first year it doesn’t really have any consequences but then in 2021 it starts. I don’t really know what’s going to happen. It will probably end up being more expensive to travel in and out of the UK because of visas and carnets. Bt then at the same time, I’m hoping it will also lead to a lot more European bands getting recognized elsewhere. The music industry tends to be focused on the UK and an English band playing in the Netherlands gets a lot more attention than a French band playing here. So maybe that will change in the future? That’s also because the UK music industry is big in the Netherlands rather than the French music industry. If that becomes more levelled as a result it might not be such a bad thing. Also, a lot of Western Europe and American bands don’t play in Eastern Europe, which is a real shame. So again, maybe the whole Brexit thing will make the touring community even stronger. There’s already a massive cultural difference with the UK compared to the Netherlands or Germany. There’s a lot more venues in the UK but also a lot less money. So maybe Brexit will make everybody more supportive of each other.

You mentioned earlier that The Homesick would be playing a lot of shows this year. Will you be coming over to the UK?

We’re planning to come over in the spring but nothing is confirmed yet. We have a small release tour of the Netherlands in Germany at the end of February and beginning of March but aside from that, there isn’t anything else scheduled for now.

What advice would you give to a new band just starting out?

Maybe it sounds like a cliché but just make music that you want to make. Make music you want to listen to. Use your imagination. There are no limits. You can do everything yourself. Those kinds of things. Of course you can be influenced but don’t try to copy other bands.

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