Grafjammer - Interview
Why is Dutch the predestined language for hatefully sung black metal? Is Utrecht the ugliest city in the world (after Herne and Gelsenkirchen, Germany)? How does the band deal with their recent popularity? I asked singer Jorre of the Dutch band Grafjammer (who released their third album "De Zoute Kwel" via Folter Records last December, review here) these and many more questions. The result is the very interview below - dank je wel, Jorre!!!
Hey Jorre, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Everything good with you guys?
Hello. You are welcome. Thank you for taking an interest in Grafjammer. To answer your question, 'Everything' is quite a lot but we're doing well all things considered. How are you? We are satisfied about how 'De Zoute Kwel' turned out and the positive reviews and attention it gathered until now. Even during a pandemic. For obvious reasons it has been mainly an 'online' affair last year and in terms of shows it was a bit dull. For a nearly 6 months we were not even able to rehearse properly because of the lockdown. Still we have no real reason to complain. Nobody close to us died or became seriously ill, we didn't become jobless or go bankrupt, the fridge is full, the roof doesn't leak. And in an unprecedented scientific triumph we're all vaccinated. So, while I am aware that it is neither very KVLT or NEKRO to say, we're reasonably positive.
You made it with your new album "De Zoute Kwel" on a well-known label, Folter Records from Germany. How did it come about?
The honor for bringing that deal home goes to our guitarist and general fixer, Jouter. Networking is very much his core business. Recently he even started his own promotion company called 'Dead Mill Media', if you allow me a bit of candid advertising by proxy. Jouter came in contact with Joerg from Folter and managed to coerce him into releasing De Zoute Kwel through Folter Records. We're really happy with how that turned out. Joerg is a kind and down to earth guy devoid of 'bla bla' who runs a professional and tight ship. Folter Records has great renown and reach especially in the BM underground which got us with Grafjammer on more people's radar than with our earlier releases. Together with that I would also like to point out that De Zoute Kwel was simultaneously released on tape through our good 'friend of the band', Matthias Frenzel on his Black Tapes label. As were our previous albums. So coincidently now, both our record tycoons are from Berlin.
Because of that your level of popularity has increased quite a bit. Are you surprised that you got so much (good) feedback in the media?
Well, we are certainly flattered by the many positive reviews we received from around the globe. In all modesty we were (and still are) quite happy with how De Zoute Kwel came out of the oven. But it is certainly rewarding to read that a lot of other people are enjoying it as well. We consider ourselves still an obscure band, so all this attention feels like a lot of big shiny peacocks' feathers planted firmly into our unwashed asses. If we were into Instagram, we would start using hashtags like #blessed and #humbled.
You always mix your traditional black metal with a pinch of punk'n'roll and also Folklore. What are your musical influences that contribute significantly to the songwriting?
For Grafjammer in general the most influential to our sound are –probably not surprising - bands like Darkthrone, Carpathian Forest, Venom and Mötorhead. Close behind that comes more punkish stuff like The Exploited, Discharge and Carnivore. For the lyrical part I'm an avid fan of Nick Cave and how he is able to conjure complete worlds and stories in the course of his songs. Apart from those more obvious influences there are a myriad of other bands and artists that we wholeheartedly steal shit from. Most of us in the band are not exactly teenagers anymore and we've been listening to tons of stuff of nearly every variety in the last decades. That ranges from 60's and 70's rock, old punk, surf, prog, every flavor of heavy metal and traditional music and much more. All that forms us in conscious and unconscious ways but at the bottom line we don't really think or talk about it all that much. We have an instinctive mutual feeling how Grafjammer should sound, and more importantly, how it definitely should not sound so usually we just start with a riff and then look for another one. If it works, it works and we don't really care from what influence it comes.
Lyrically, the new album is about dark stories from Utrecht, partly fairy tales from the Netherlands. Quasi an anti-travel guide for your hometown. Please tell us something about the background of the lyrics.
Thank you for asking and at the same time, be careful what you ask for. I find it hard to really say something general about the lyrics, so I better talk you through it song by song. 'Jajempriester' translates as 'Jenever Priest' in old Dutch slang. It mainly deals with a fictitious, unlicensed bar where fornication, violence and alcoholism run rife. It's both a tribute to 2 bars of ill repute in Utrecht that unfortunately no longer exist and at the same time dedicated to one of our favorite bartenders in dB's, the place where we drink and rehearse. 'Affreus. Infaam. Abjec' means something like 'Despicable, Vile, Unwholesome' and deals mainly with the horrors of depression, anxiety disorder and the apocalyptic battlefield that can occur between your ears when you really could do with some forgetful sleep. 'Zelfverminkers & Spiritusdrinkers' or 'Selfmutilators and Paintstripperdinkers' is first an anthem to the junkies, homeless and insane that used to live in and around the Utrecht Central Station, especially before the great renovation a couple of years ago. Secondly it also deals with their medieval counterparts for beneath the fundaments of the station lie the remains of a cemetery for deplorables like the unbaptized, executed prisoners and witches. 'De Bijlman Van Trecht' is the 'Axeman of Utrecht'. A pattern in the medieval waterways and streets of the city that seems to resemble a man brandishing an axe. The historical consensus is that this is purely coincidental and a form of psychological projection but there are some old and arcane sources that suggest otherwise. That gave me a basis for a dark and rotten walk of the town. 'De Bakboordshand' means 'Portside Hand' and is a maritime ghost story loosely based on the legend of the Flying Dutchman and some stuff I stole elsewhere. The title refers to the old superstition that lefthanded people were seen as prodigies of the Devil and that captains of ships hesitated to employ lefthanded sailors among their crew. 'Bijbelgordelgesel' is a play on words and means 'Bible Belt Whip'. It's situated in the forests east of the city where in the villages their Christian worship is still a big thing. We've racked that up to medieval and Old Testament extremes in terms of religious madness, flagellation and burnt offerings. 'De Kinderen Branden' or 'The Children Burn' smells of moldy thrift shops and the bleakness of the '50's. It's mainly about the supposed curse of the kitsch paintings of weeping 'gypsy children' that where once very popular in working class households. The story goes that these paintings provoke depression and suicide, cause fire and burn down your house. 'Maak Het Kort' means 'Make It Short'. Supposedly it were the last words of the Dutch first minister, Johan van Oldebarnevelt whispered to his executioner right before his head was chopped of as the outcome of a political fake trial staged by his former friend, the Prince of the Netherlands in 1619. We turned into a big 'fuck off and die' from the scaffold on behalf of this man who was unceremoniously betrayed by the Dutch state to which he dedicated his entire career and life. 'Kolkgat' translates as 'Whirlhole', a small lake beside a dyke that remains as a scar in the landscape when a dyke breaks through. It's about a particular piece of dyke a little to the south of the city that is nearly 1500 years old and represents centuries of battle against the water and drowning in floods as has been custom in the Lowlands since time immemorial. As you can see, lyrically it goes in different directions. I like to read a lot and collect stories and trivia about local history, Dutch folklore and old forgotten words which I enhance with some personal experience and imagination. What ties them together - I hope - is a general feeling of dread and typical Dutch bleakness. We try to stay away a bit from the more traditional 'Satan will kill you very dead!' antics that you see a lot in metal.
I think your voice really fits perfectly to the sick stories. This is partly because of the sick performance you deliver, but also because I think Dutch is a great language to "vomit out" black metal vocals in. Would you agree with me on that?
You smother me with praise, how could I possibly disagree? I certainly concur with that Dutch suits our type of music very well. Dutch is a rough, guttural language with al lot of hard consonants and little finesse, so there you go. It also helps a lot I think to sing in my mother tongue and to keep it literally as close to home as possible. It effects a certain directness without the barriers a second language might create. On the risk of coming across as a pretentious dick I really try make an effort to feel what I am singing about and put a lot of emphasis on pronunciation and intelligibility. Glad that you like it.
I have the impression that the Dutch BM scene is getting stronger and bigger. On the one hand there are the old bands like Funeral Winds or Countess, but also many innovative bands like for example Fluisteraars, Urfaust or Weltschmerz, where your drummer also plays, who also integrate other influences into their music. How do you see the development in your country?
There is certainly a lot going on for sure, although I might not be the greatest expert to ask. Our guitarist Jouter or drummer Jahwe can probably make much better observations on the subject than I can. I do try to keep in touch with the Dutch scene as much as I can every now and then in terms of new releases and bands. But to be completely honest there is not much that really gets me going. Although I recognize that it is often good stuff, I find personally that I get more and more drawn to the older things from the '70's, 80's and 90's and much of it not even metal. The reason for this is most likely that I'm turning into a reactionary old fart. I'll probably will tell you next that we only had hot summers and cold winters when I was young… If I may crack one critical note about a lot of contemporary (black) metal, not especially Dutch, it is that I often miss the 'song'. There is undisputed great musical ability and complexity, but it often lacks some proper hooks for my taste. And sometimes a bit of healthy self-mockery. I find that everybody takes themselves so bloody serious these days. What I really do like is that more and more Dutch BM bands start singing in Dutch and garner attention for forgotten words and the Dutch language in general.
Are there bands (not only in the Netherlands) with whom you have a special friendship?
Absolutely. The most obvious one being the Swiss Chotzä from Bern with whom we did a couple of splits and even more gigs in the last few years. They are without doubt the most disgusting, unhygienic and intoxicated bunch of individuals we ever came across. They are also extremely sympathetic guys who play their BM like the extramarital child of GG Allin and Jerry Lee Lewis. Be sure to check out their album, Tüüfuswärk from 2020. Just wash your hands afterwards.
Do you know the guys from Kwade Droes? Did they break up now or was their EP "Met Onoprechte Deelneming" just a bad joke?
To be honest I had no idea whatsoever what you were talking about. But Google and Metal Archives are your friends. So, I just listened to that EP you mentioned. Great eerie sounding stuff, I like it! Thank you for bringing my attention to it. And that EP title is quite brilliant, I think. Concerning the second part of your question, I wouldn't know the answer to that to save my petty life. Sorry.
Your FB-page says that there will be a 30th anniversary Folter Records Festival in September where you will play? Do you have any other plans for the rest of the year or 2022?
Yes, we have been invited to the Folter Festival indeed, deep into the woods of Friesack. We're really looking forward to that one. It will be our first live performance in more than 1,5 years. 2 weeks later will be our album presentation in dBs in Utrecht, also nearly a year overdue. Apart from that we have some more gigs planned in the last part of 2021 and the beginning 2022. If they can all find their way through. The situation in Europe and the rest of the world is still volatile as fuck so I am not putting money on anything. Delta variants of Covid, global thermonuclear warfare, alien invasions…nothing would surprise me anymore.
Finally, coming back to Utrecht, what (besides the train station) should you maybe have seen? The Nederlands Spoorwegmuseum, haha???
There is a lot to be seen in Utrecht beside the Railway Museum, which is actually very nice, but I hesitate a bit to talk about it here publicly. Mass tourism has in the last decade already reduced great cities like Amsterdam, Barcelona and Rome to open air museums and theme parks for stag parties and idiots galore. Lately smaller Dutch historical cities like Utrecht, Amersfoort and Haarlem have been listed in Tourism guides and websites as 'off the beaten track/ best kept secret' alternatives for Amsterdam. I shudder to think what hordes of backpackers and braindead city trippers will do to my town together with the Nutella shops and Madame Tussauds. So, let me be clear. There is NOTHING to see in Utrecht. It is the very mouth of Hell. The main cause of death is boredom. We've been having a massive outbreak of Ebola for decades. We charge you 20 euros for a small glass of warm beer that tastes like piss. Stay away.
The last words belong to you!!!
Thank you for having us. Anyone interested in De Zoute Kwel or other Grafjammer stuff, get if from Folter Records or our Bandcamp or other independent web shops or record stores. Fuck Amazon in the ass. Furthermore, get your bloody vaccine if you have the chance. Read books, not memes. Trust science, not YouTube. Cheers!
Heel erg bedankt voor het interview!!!
Het genoegen was geheel aan onze zijde, mijn beste.
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