Willem Heijmans, Riekus van Montfort, Toon van Kouteren
Bird Attack Records, Redfield Records, Fusa Records, Waterslide Records
on August 16th, 2016 at Brakrock Ecofest, Belgium
Antillectual are one of the torchbearer bands for political punk in Europe. Their most recent effort Engage! is only a couple of weeks old, and is their sixth album already. One of the good things about Engage! is that it’s packed with fresh ideas and songs about hot issues, thus avoiding a pitfall of the genre: hitting the same nail over and over again. We had a talk with the Dutch punk rockers on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Brakrock ecofest. There really couldn’t have been a more fitting moment for a chat about Engage! and the songs on it, about European politics and about taking the stage at Punk Rock Holiday for a second time.
ThePunkSite: Hi, thanks for taking the time to talk us, we really appreciate it. Let’s dive right in. You just had a release party for your new album “Engage!” That show included Such Gold and Strike Anywhere, how was it?
For a video version of this interview, see bottom
Willem Heijmans (guitar, lead vocals): It was great. Really amazing. A lot of people showed up.
Toon van Kouteren (bass): I think it nearly sold out.
Willem: We had so much fun, people already knew the newer songs. There where people stagediving and crowdsurfing, there were even little kids stagediving. And we were on the Strike Anywhere show, which is amazing. Good to see them play after such a long time not having toured in Europe. It was a matinee show, a Sunday afternoon, but we had so much fun.
Riekus van Montfort (drums): It was nice to see people show up early on a Sunday. The first band, Smash The Statues, was on at 4.30 pm and it was already pretty packed.
Willem: We couldn’t have hoped for a better way to launch our new album.
You launched quite a few songs already ahead of the album. Did you do that so you can have more fun at the release show?
Riekus: That’s one of the reason why we put them out ahead of the release. People want to see you play songs that they know. So they might as well know the songs beforehand.
“Engage!” has been out for about a week. How’s the response?
Willem: Pretty good, actually. We got some reviews, some are better than others obviously but in general they’ve been positive. And the response from people that heard the new songs and already got the album is even better, I guess. People are enthusiastic about it.
Riekus: Also people who’ve known our music for a while. Maybe they’re just being nice to us. But a lot of people have come up to us and said: “This is the best album you’ve made, ever”. I mean, personally, I agree. It’s been more than a year since we started recording, and usually when you finish the entire process of recording, mixing and mastering you don’t necessarily want to listen to it anymore. Because you’ve heard it so many times. But with this album I still really enjoy listening to it. I’m proud of it.
Toon: And we definitely enjoy playing the newer songs. For me it’s my first release with Antillectual and it’s so great to see so many people respond enthusiastically towards it. It couldn’t have been better.
I read you did a few things different in the process of recording this album. Can you tell us more about that?
Riekus: That’s one of the reasons it took a long time to release it.
Willem: It took more time to write and pre-produce the album. Usually I just write songs, I make demos and we rehearse with the three of us. When we know the songs we go to the studio and record them. This time it started out with demo’s as well. But then we consulted friends and people who know about songwriting and what music is about. We asked them about what we were working on. They gave us feedback, some of it was really good, things that we could work with. Other feedback were things we didn’t feel comfortable with and we didn’t end up using that. That was a big, big change. We had never done that before.
Riekus: We should have done it earlier.
Willem: Yeah, in hindsight definitely. It’s something I really enjoyed.
Riekus: It’s pretty confronting as well. Going up to someone and saying: “These are our songs, please tell us what you like and what you don’t like.” That’s a pretty intense process.
Toon: It was definitely for the better. It’s not like we had people co-writing the songs. Overall, it helped us to get more compact and catchy songs that work really well.
What was the background of those people giving feedback?
Willem: We got all sorts of people. We asked friends of ours, girlfriends but also people working as music producers that do it for a living. I’ve been writing songs for forever but I’m not educated in writing good or poppy songs, or whatever it is you want to aim at. So it was very nice to work with people who actually have an educated background in making music. That doesn’t mean we copied everything they said to us but it was very interesting to get that feedback and to see what direction you can go into.
Riekus: But even if they are people that do it for a living, it was all people who were familiar with ‘louder’ music in general.
Willem: Yeah of course, we didn’t go to jazz musicians or orchestras. It was people with a ‘heavy music’ background or punk rock or whatever you want to call it.
Riekus: We recorded the last three records with Nico, my brother, and this was the first time we went to another studio called Split Second in Amsterdam. That was also part of the new approach. That was a good choice.
To be taken out of your comfort zone maybe?
Riekus: Yeah, in a way.
Willem: And the way of recording that we’re used to. Just to do it differently. In the end it might not be as different as you think in advance, but still the changes that are made are significant. It really feels different working with other people, working in a different studio, in a different city, you know. It changes the whole dynamic of creating an album and that really worked.
Riekus: People are going to listen to the album and say: “These guys are full of shit. It just sounds like you always sounded.”
Willem: Of course, we’re still the same band. It’s not like we recorded a pop album. But to us the process and the result feel really different. So I hope people hear it, understand it, and appreciate it. It’s in the eye of the beholder.
Toon: For us it feels like a step forward.
The first single of “Engage!” is called “I Wrote This Song” and it’s a pretty radio friendly tune. Was that something you intended to do when you wrote it?
Willem: It’s very dangerous to say “intended”. We don’t write a song because we want it to be catchy or radio friendly. It’s just a riff that I came up with and that I liked. When I worked it out as a song it turned out to be catchy or poppy or radio friendly if you like. It wasn’t written to be that. But since it turned out that way, we thought: “If we’re going to make a music video for our new songs, lets pick that one.” Let’s use the advantage of it being accessible.
Riekus: I guess on every album there’s one or two of those songs. There’s quite a few faster songs on Engage! which I’m very happy with. But it’s more difficult to have a fast song to be very catchy than a mid tempo song. We did also release Racist Rash as a video which is a faster song. So I guess we just wanted to let people know that there’s fast songs and there’s also more catchy songs.
You tried to cover all grounds?
Willem: Exactly. Represent the whole album by what you release in advance.
In Belgium for instance, punk rock on the radio, that’s never going to happen. But when I heard “I wrote this song” I thought, this is something that could be played.
Willem: It should happen! (laughs)
Riekus: I don’t think it has been played on the radio so far.
Willem: Internet radio maybe. But it’s the same in Holland. You guys still have Studio Brussel which is an awesome station compared to Dutch radio.
Riekus: I have no illusion of our songs being on heavy rotation on the radio.
Willem: So you’ll have to buy the album to hear it.
That’s a good segue. I’ll put a link to the album below the interview (you’ll find that right here).
All the songs on your bandcamp include liner notes, they provide some context to the songs. Do you agree that your message doesn’t stop with the songs, and that it is more important to you than it is to a lot of other bands?
Willem: I definitely think that the ‘message’, the content of our lyrics, is a big deal. Maybe more so to us when you compare it to other bands. Not that I’m judging other bands, I can’t speak for them but I know for us it’s a big part. That’s why these notes are included on bandcamp but also on the artwork for the LP’s and the CD’s. So yeah, it is very important to us, that’s true.
I picked a few songs of Engage! Can you tell us what it’s about and why the song is important to you.
Riekus: This is where I sit back (laughs).
The first one’s “Priest Without Religion”, it’s the opening track and it’s already pretty hefty.
Willem: Yeah it is, and that’s why it is the first song. Because it’s a broad subject. It’s about morality and how it seems to have disappeared from our lives and our communities because of the withdrawal of religion. People aren’t religious anymore and I think that’s where a lot of moral standards have disappeared as well. I don’t want morals to be the monopoly of religion. The last thing I want is the return of religion because I’m not too fond of that. But the way you act, your behaviour should be guided by morals. In the vacuum that came about after the disappearing of religion, there should be a different kind of morality based on humanistic views. It’s a bit vague perhaps but it’s very important to me. There’s a song on our previous album called Every Crisis Is A Moral Crisis and I think that the source of a lot of the problems in our world, be it economic or humanitarian, are morals and people not having a moral consciousness. If there’s a return of morality, a non religious morality, that could help create a better world. Basically, that could be the sentence after explaining every song on the album: “That could create a better world”.
Riekus: And a Dutch band comes to mind, New Morality.
Toon: Antillectual, for a better world!
Willem: I hope that answers your question a little bit.
To summarize, it’s the fear that when you lose god, you also lose the moral compass that’s included in religion?
Willem: I would hate to see morality being lost simply because we’re losing religion, to quote other bands. But I think it has happened and I don’t think there’s a substitute for that religious morality yet. I think that’s a loss for our world.
But isn’t the other way around a big problem as well. When you use religion as a base for morality there isn’t much leeway to change your ideas or to think about those kind of important moral issues for yourself.
Willem: That’s why I wouldn’t want to see religion and dogmatic views return. I don’t say there’s only one morality that everyone should stick to. If everyone has a different type of morality I’m not sure that would work. If everyone is forced to have the same, that doesn’t work either. But we need a return of morality in general, in stead of the individualistic lifestyle and consumerism. Because that seems to be what our lives are based upon now. I don’t see that bringing us solutions, I see it brings problems and crises. That should be changed.
So it’s a plea to be conscious about morality, always.
Toon: We live in a world with a lot of people surrounding us and what we do has great impact on other people, or just the planet itself, ecosystems. All the small things you do in life have consequences.
Willem: Everything you do affects other people and the world around you. We have this legal framework that says what we can and cannot do. But just because something is legal, doesn’t mean that it is favourable to do. That’s where human morality comes into play.
Toon: That’s pretty much a great way to describe the current situation, that the mainline of our current morality is based upon legislation, upon what is legal and what is not.
Willem: And not on what you think is right individually, personally, or socially.
Let’s do maybe one more. Because I’m getting short on time before the next interview.
Toon: Yeah, that was a very elaborate answer.
Riekus: That’s why we write liner notes (laughs). It’s a lot shorter in the liner notes.
I selected three songs, I’ll let you pick which one to elaborate on: “Europe, This Is Your Final Countdown”, “From Hipster Kids to Hardliners” and “Appetite For Construction”.
Willem: Oooh, that’s difficult. The easiest song to say something about could be Europe, This is Your Final Countdown, because it’s very specific.
Riekus: I think Appetite For Construction has an overlap with the Priest Without A Religion-theme anyway.
Willem: That’s true. Let’s talk about Europe, This is Your Final Countdown because it’s very concrete. It’s about the European Union and about things that are happening in Europe. First we had an economic crisis, a financial crisis with banks fucking up everyone’s monetary system. But when we thought those were big problems, all of a sudden there was a refugee crisis, and people in Europe thought: “Money, that’s not our biggest problem”. And then that refugee crisis led to a humanitarian crisis and people came into our welfare system and were threatening that and people thought: “That’s a way bigger problem.” And I think neither of those problems is coped with in a good way. The European Union should not only be about fighting financial conflicts. The way that they’re handling the humanitarian crisis is fucked up as well. The union itself is based upon solidarity and countries sticking up for each other, but that doesn’t mean that if other people need your help you should throw away that solidarity. For some reason, the basic idea behind the European Union doesn’t apply to people that are not from the European Union. That sucks. And even within the European Union there’s so many people not profiting from the benefits that Europe gives. That’s why a lot of people are against the EU, but I don’t agree with that view either. It’s better to have a union that doesn’t work perfect than to have nothing at all. It’s one step closer to having a world union, and that’s something that we should work towards in the end. The more unity there is, the better it is. The more we can fight useless boundaries and borders, the better this world looks like. That’s why we wrote that song. It sounds very specific but it’s about a lot of processes that are going on in Europe. That didn’t start with the economic crisis, it started way before that. It became very visible because two crises followed each other. But it’s in the core of the European Union that they’re not taking care of people in and outside of Europe in the right way.
People living in Europe should get what it’s about. Maybe for people across the globe it’s more of a difficult matter to grasp.
Riekus: Thomas Barnett*sort of got what it’s about (laughs).
*e.d. Thomas Barnett of Strike Anywhere does guest vocals on this track.
Willem: No, it’s true. But then again, a lot of people outside of the European Union don’t really get what the Union is about, why it came about, what it is doing and what it’s fighting for. They look at it as a United States of Europe.
Toon: Which it is not.
Willem: It isn’t. Maybe it should be, if it’s going to be a federal state that could help conquer a lot of problems. But I’m not even sure people in Europe really fully understand the concept of the union, the commission, the parliament. Let alone that people outside of Europe can fully grasp it. I mean, I don’t. But I have an idea of what’s going on.
If you want to be informed, I guess it’s doable.
Willem: Of course, yeah. If you look it up and do some studying. But there’s not that many people really digging deep into it. I’m not saying I am, but maybe I can write a song about it and bring it to people’s attention.
Try to raise some awareness.
Willem: It’s one of the reasons why you write songs.
So, the Brexit is a step back?
Willem: Seriously, ask anyone younger than 45 and they will agree with you.
Toon: How can a nation make such a decision based upon such a small majority, that’s ridiculous.
Willem: The referendum wasn’t about being in the EU or not being in the EU. It was about politics in general and about UK politics more specific. It’s the same with every referendum, we had one in Holland as well.
Toon: People are misinformed.
Willem: Or the referendum is misused as a way to express anger and fear. That’s the same for every referendum. Giving people the right to express themselves is great, but I don’t believe in a binary referendum: yes or no, pro or con, one or two. That’s not going to solve any issues. With every referendum I’d like to see the issue your voting for, and next to that: “Do you support or don’t support the current government?” Because if you would do that a lot of people would vote against the government and maybe give their real opinion about the issue at hand. But that’s just laying it out there.
Let’s take on another topic. You’re a European band in a scene that’s heavily dominated by North American and maybe also British acts. Does that make things harder?
Willem: Well, I could talk for hours about this topic. But in short, it does sometimes make things harder. In Europe festivals and show organisers tend to prefer American acts in favour of local or European acts. Whereas for us, it’s super easy to show up and play a show near home, so it doesn’t always make sense. The quality is there, though, also in Europe.
Isn’t a problem concerning the popularity of European bands that we’re not very chauvinistic. I feel like we tend to be harsher on local acts, whereas American or even British bands seem to get more credit for their work.
Willem: Well, the further away from where you are, the more exotic it feels. If it’s from the US – the grounds where it’s all from originally – it’s cool, it’s the good stuff. That’s the way it works maybe. But it’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy, if there’s no European bands that get promoted by cool labels or booked by festivals they don’t get the attention that those labels or festivals are drawing. So they don’t become popular. If you don’t break that cycle it’s very hard to change that.
Riekus: I think there’s a positive thing happing. For instance this Festival, Brakrock has a great mix of bigger and smaller American bands and European bands. And Punk Rock Holiday is a festival that takes their responsibility towards the local community and puts local or ‘relatively’ local bands on their bill. Oh man, this whole talk is about the European Union and love.
How do you experience touring in America compared to touring here, in Europe.
Riekus: Compared to the States, we’re spoiled in Europe. Getting a decent meal, stuff like that is the most normal thing over here. Touring in America is harder. A lot of American bands learned the hard way and just become touring machines.
Willem: There’s so many aspects to it as well. It seems like there’s only great bands in America when you watch bands that come over to Europe. But only the good ones makes it over. Of course, there’s shitty bands in the US as well but you don’t get to see them. You do see the European ones.
Riekus: To answer your question, it’s definitely tougher for us touring in the US. It’s tough for everyone but as a European band it isn’t always easy.
So let’s do a few short questions to wrap it up. What’s a song you love to play live?
Willem: For me it’s The Players and the Game. Because we haven’t played that live yet.
Riekus: I would say I enjoy playing songs of the new album most. I really like Appetite for Construction, because it’s fast. I don’t know, I like playing faster songs more than playing slower songs.
Toon: Yeah, I think I can kind of go with that answer as well.
Propagandhi or Bad Religion?
Toon: Wow. Why not both?
Riekus: I know what Willem is going to say so I’m going to say Bad Religion. I’m a big fan of Propagandhi, but I’ve been a fan of Bad Religion for a longer time and they’re more or less the gateway band that got me into punk rock and louder music so I’m going to stick with them.
Willem: I’ll make it quick, Propagandhi for me.
Toon: I would love to say I’m in the middle of this but I’m more of a Propagandhi fan than I’m a Bad Religion fan.
A tricky one: Stella or Heineken? (e.d. Stella is Belgian lager, Heineken is Dutch)
Riekus: Stella, anything over Heineken.
Willem: And Cara* for Toon. (laughs)
Toon: No, no!
*e.d. Cara pils is a cheap store brand lager with a cult-like status in Belgium
The last one: Groezrock or Punk Rock Holiday?
Riekus: Punk Rock Holiday.
Willem: Yeah well, I’d love to play Groezrock as well. But we’re going to play Punk Rock Holiday for the second time. And it’s just the atmosphere and everything surrounding it. You don’t name your festival Holiday for no reason… It’s very, very awesome.
I’ve never been there but it sounds amazing.
Willem: It is.
Toon: It’s going to be my first time at Punk Rock Holiday so I don’t know man.
I’ll keep that question for the next interview and we’ll get your answer. Is there anything you want to add or plug before we end the interview.
Riekus: I should really give this kind of thing more thought.
Willem: You should have asked us before the interview (laughs). No, thanks for having us, and thanks for plugging the album already. It’s been out for a week so we’re happy if anyone wants to check it out.
And you have also 10 record labels putting it out right?
Willem: No, only four this time (laughs). We kept it down this time.
Once again, congratulations on your new album and thanks a lot guys.
Video version of this interview
Visit ThePunkSite’s YouTube channel here
Antillectual’s “Engage!” LP or CD is available through
Watch ‘I Wrote This Song’ on YouTube.
Find out about Brakrock Ecofest here.
Photography by Roos de Huu
Live photography by Tom Roelofs