*by Maria Kouvarou (Mouv)
*για ελληνικά πατήστε εδώ
When they took the stage of Into the Limbo 2019 they definitely shook us with their energy-loaded, fiery and immaculate performance. It goes, then, without saying, that when we heard that “the Belgians return”, we were eager to smoothen the time of anticipation with an interview. So, less than two weeks prior to their February 15th appearance at Savino Live, we share with you the results of our interesting and honest Q&A sequence with the singer and lyricist of this legendary stoner rock band, Henk Vanhee.
“Horses of Rebellion” is the title of your last album. What does rebellion mean to you, musically and/or socially? How rebellious are Cowboys & Aliens?
Cowboys & Aliens are not a rebellious band in the punk kinda way, we are more into giving our audience stuff to think about. That is also pretty rebellious in these troubled times. People sometimes ask me about the meaning of the song titles but they can fill in with their own perspective, as far as I’m concerned. Nothing has to be too obvious. There is always a twist to things.
Do you have a favourite Cowboys & Aliens album? One that “means more to you” than the rest?
Maybe our debut album “A Trip to the Stonehenge Colony”. It’s a spontaneous album, made on a tight budget. It was received with enthusiasm and was distributed worldwide. Before we knew what happened we found ourselves on stage with Monster Magnet and Queens of the Stone Age. Great times, but I love “Horses of Rebellion” too. There’s a lot of passion in it.
How has your music-making process shifted over time? Do you follow the same music-making routine to the day? What was different in the making of your recent album in relation to the previous ones?
We don’t have a special routine, but most of the time we start from the work John (our guitarist) produces at home. I pick it up and write lyrics and melodies. Then it becomes a group effort, everyone has got his say to it. We have an open spirit to write songs and we don’t limit ourselves in genres or styles. This one was more organic in a sense of looking for the best version of the song by playing it over and over again in the rehearsal room. Returning to the roots of the band, like we wrote songs back in the days. It was a great feeling.
Being around since 1996, you have also experienced glimpses of the pre-internet-mediated era. Are things easier or more difficult for bands now that we live our lives online, in terms of promotion and visibility? How about music-making?
Yeah, we made our debut in the dark ages where you had to work with cassette recordings which were hardly audible in order not to forget what you wrote. Things are much easier now, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Loads of bands are skipping steps and are losing time recording stuff on amazing software instead of spending more hours to the quality of the song. But hey, I understand the young musicians nowadays. They grew up with social networks and they always wanted to be a rock star, so they use to the tools to become one as soon as possible.
Many people seem to think that “making it” as a musician requires more of “good promotion” rather than “good music”. What is your opinion on this, and which is your advice for new bands?
Like I said before: take your time. Don’t be impatient. Surround yourself with great musicians and become friends so you can freely talk about what you think is important in the music that you make. A good band picture and a cool website is ok, but I’d rather listen to your songs. When image is more important than the opening track of your album, you lose me.
In the studio or on the stage? Where do you feel more “at home” and why?
Both, really. After all these years I became an experienced live artist and I have skills in the studio too. I know exactly what I want and I hear things before I record them. But it can be frustrating not to get to that point where you want to go. Also with live performances. You sometimes suck when you want to shine. I can really be pissed off, then. But that is the magic of being a musician: you don’t always keep it under control.
In what occasion of your career have you felt like “Cowboys”, whether on stage, on the road, or any other instance?
In southern Spain, on the Tabernas Desert Rock Festival, we all felt like cowboys because we played in front of a saloon on a site that was used to make those old Hollywood movies “ The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” and “For A Few Dollars More”. We had a great time. We always have, actually. There’s a lot of friendship in the band.
…and what occasion made you feel like “Aliens”?
Now and then it occurs that you play in a venue or on a festival where you are a bit of an outsider and where people look at you as if you come from Planet Shithead. And then we play a haunting set and people don’t really know what to think of it. That is kinda funny. Being an outsider or alien suits us fine.
Stoner Rock is a broad genre, with numerous followers worldwide, and Cyprus could be no exception. Being active for so long, where do you position yourselves within the stoner rock universe?
We are pioneers from a time it wasn’t that obvious to display the legacy of Kyuss or Fu Manchu. But that changed very quickly over the years and now most of the bands here in Belgium and worldwide had enough of it and took things further to sludge, doom or post metal/ post rock. We stay true to the sound that is the soul of our band: old school stoner rock ‘n roll with a metal and grunge twist.
Your appearance on the stage of Into the Limbo 2019 confirmed every one that praises you for your heated, energetic and immaculate performances. But what happens right before you get on stage? Do you have a pre-stage routine?
I don’t have a ritual and I presume my fellow band members don’t have either. We focus and then we go on stage. I, for my account, turn into a maniac that is in need of catharsis. My lyrics mean a lot to me and I intend to bring them with full emotion. I need to let things go as I turned out to be not the easiest man to live with. It helps me understand myself.
What should we expect for 15/2?
We shall give the audience exactly what is expected from us. A loud and heavy rock show with a blend of songs out of all our records we ever made. Even though this is a one off show in Cyprus this year, we shall not behave as tourists :)
And what are the band’s plans for the immediate future?
“Horses of Rebellion” is still a fresh album, we will give a few shows with focus on that record. A new record is to be discussed as John goes on the road with his side project Rawdriguez and I am involved with a band called MyGun. Time will tell.
Many thanks for taking the time for this interview. If there is anything else you would like to share with us, we’d be more than happy to read it!
Stay cool, open minded and rock ‘n roll as you obviously are in Cyprus. We had a great time last year and we are looking forward to be with you again. So come and join the heavy rock show, gentle people.