Interview Gerrit Koekebakker en Remco den Hollander (Downriver Dead Men Go):

"Since the atmosphere of our music is dark, shallow lyrics don't fit in well"

(August 2018, text Michel Stolk, edited by Peter Willemsen. Pictures by Ron Kraaijkamp from Progwereld)

The Dutch band Downriver Dead Men Go (DDMG) hails from the area of the cities of Leiden and Katwijk aan Zee. The band plays music in the vein of post-rock, post-prog and even cinematographic music. They have delivered two outstanding albums so far, namely Tides (2015, see review) and Departures (2018, see review). Their latest album was for Background Magazine a good reason to contact the band and to learn more about their music. On a very hot summer evening I travelled to Katwijk aan Zee to do an interview with founding member and guitarist-singer Gerrit Koekebakker and with Remco den Hollander, who is the keyboard player since a few years.

When were DDMG formed, and how did the members came together?
Gerrit Koekebakker (GK): “I previously played in a band called Caitlin that played music in the vein of Placebo. In that period we had some quieter songs that didn't fit in well Caitlin's live set. We then decided − it was around the year 2010 − to start a side project for the quieter songs. This eventually became DDMG.”
Gerrit Koekebakker (vocals/guitars)

So in DDMG you play with other people than you did in Caitlin?
GK: “Certainly, only Fernandez Burton played in Caitlin as well. I knew Peter van Dijk (keyboards) and Andy de Zeeuw (drums) for a long time and they both wanted to play in DDMG.”

I've been in the music scene for quite a long time and I saw many different band names pass by, but to me Downriver Dead Men Go is a very special one. Could you tell me who came up with this name? What does it exactly mean?
GK: “For me a band name must mean something or attract attention or just a thought. That's why I find the band name ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead just fantastic. When I came up with a name, I naturally mentioned Downriver Dead Men Go. It has something mysterious, it means something and you can think of all sorts of ideas that could behind it.”
Remco den Hollander (RdH): “If you read reviews of the albums on the internet, you'll get the most extraordinary stories about our band name. Fantastic how people give their own explanation.”

Let's go back to 2015 to the album Tides. How were the reactions then, and have you been able to promote the album through live performances?
GK: “The reactions on that album were surprisingly good; we were very happy with it. We have also been able to provide a number of performances. Being a musician, you want to play anyway!”

The band's line-up has changed considerably since 2015. Peter van Dijk was replaced by you Remco and Andy de Zeeuw by Manuel Renaud. In addition, you have a second guitar player in Michel Varkevisser. How does such a line-up change occur?
GK: “Peter van Dijk became a father, so he wanted to spend more time with his family, while Andy de Zeeuw was a bit tired of drumming. Michel and I know each other for a long time and he regularly took care of DDMG's opening act. Musically, he had much affinity with DDMG. He was simply more than welcome to play with us. When you have a second guitar player you have more possibilities on stage to do some other things. Remco also plays in Sarah Phymm, Michel's other band, and his participation in DDMG went very quickly. Thinking about those changes, it all flowed so naturally into each other. It felt really good. By the way, we found Manuel through a call via the internet.”

Remco den Hollander (keys)

How did people react to Departures, your newly released album?
RdH: “For our second album we got highly-acclaimed reactions. From the feedback we got on the first album we learned that, according to some, all songs sounded a bit alike, they lacked variation. We certainly didn't want to repeat ourselves and we took the feedback seriously since we are willing to learn. So the new songs offer more variety, but we remained in our style of music. The reactions we got also reflect that; we're very happy with the things we are doing now. We recently played at the Progdreams Festival in Cultuurpodium Boerderij (Zoetermeer), and in Gebroeders De Nobel (Leiden).”

Well, talking about Progdreams. This is one of the biggest indoor prog festivals in Europe. You weren't scheduled there but because of the dramatic weather in England some bands were not able to come to Zoetermeer. How were the reactions, since you're not a prototype prog band?
GK: “I'm a fan of the Norwegian band Soup and they came to play at CP Boerderij. We sent them an e-mail asking if we could be their support act. For that reason we came into the picture. Moreover, we once were the support act for The Aurora Project. It was also essential that Peter Lindenbergh from our record label FREIA Records also mediated to let us play on the Progdreams Festival. We're living in the neighbourhood of Zoetermeer and we were available that day, so it could be arranged quickly. Eventually, we got again highly-acclaimed reactions. We sold quite some CDs and people asked us to put our signatures on the cover, something we hadn't experienced before. Really awesome that people can be so enthusiastic about our music. It's really an honour!”

DDMG on stage

The cover of Departures shows a dead bird which in my opinion is very symbolic for the central theme, namely loss. Who came up with such a theme and how about the writing process? Would you please share something about the content of the lyrics with us?
RdH: “DDMG practices weekly because we like to play together. We prefer to practice and jam in a rather dark room attractively lit in a melancholic atmosphere. In that atmosphere all band members contribute to the songs, so we decide together. Often a composition starts with just one chord, one touch on a guitar or one note from the keyboard and from there we develop the song. For example, you can feel the atmosphere a lot in the long instrumental part of Uncertainty. During performances we never know how long we play that part. That has everything to do with our state of mind, how we feel. It's very special that we all go towards the end of the song at the same time in spite of the fact that we sometimes play this part minutes shorter than at other times. Apparently we are well-attuned to each other.”
GK: “So we write the music together, but the lyrics are always my responsibility. We always create the music first and when that's finished, it's up to me to write the lyrics. That's not always easy, because I think thank lyrics have to be profound. Since the atmosphere of our music is dark, shallow lyrics don't fit in well. You'll never hear a simple love song by DDMG. We're just not the kind of band to sing love songs. The lyrics on Departures are rather personal, which I prefer to keep to myself. People who read the words may of course give their own interpretation of the lyrics. We all experience things in live that are difficult, so it's possible that you recognize some passages in the lyrics that refer to things that happened in your own live.”
Michel Varkevisser
(guitar/ backing vocals)
Manuel Renaud
Fernandez Burton

I read that on the title track Stone Gees Christensen plays along on the duduk. How did you come to use this instrument and who is Stone Gees?
RdH: “Every now and then I'm surfing on YouTube and so I stumbled upon the Danish musician Steen Gees Christensen. He had posted a video of his playing on the duduk, a woodwind instrument made of apricot wood. We wanted to use this piece of music for the album, so I contacted Steen Gees and one thing led to another. For Departures he played this little gem. We didn't change anything and we're very happy with the result.”

What can we expect from DDMG? What plans do you have for the future?
GK: “Well, we have already finished some songs for the third album, but we don't know when that will see the light of day. We have a new bass player, so our line-up is complete again. We assume that this line-up will continue for the coming years. We hope to play a lot, because making music is and will remain our passion!”

Finally, do you have something to say in particular to the readers of Background Magazine?
RdH: “We hope that the readers of BM will appreciate our music. Anyway, we find it an honour to do this interview.”
GK: “I don't have anything to add to that.”

Thank you for doing this interview for Background Magazine. We wish you all the best for the future!
“You're welcome. It was our pleasure.”

More info about Downriver Dead Men Go on the Internet:

       review album 'Tides" (2015)
       review album 'Departures" (2018)

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