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Gijs Wilbrink

Gijs Wilbrink, if the name doesn’t ring any bells, maybe the bands that he plays/played in do? A Step Apart anyone? Tenement Kids? He also briefly played drums for Birds Of A Feather. And aside from that Gijs was one of the persons that was there when I (in a co-production with our guitarplayer) trashed the door of my parents car on my way to my first Cro Mags show. Oh wait, that hopefully doesn’t ring any bells. Good times, uhuh. Anyway, we talked about the future Tenement Kids plans, past bands, religion, Free Bird etc.

So, let’s start this with your favorite question: “If you could change anything in the world right now, what would it be?”

Paper towels man, when will anybody fix the paper towel problem? They’re too thin. Always have to use at least three. I especially hate it when you try to grab one but reach right through it with your wet little fingers. What a mess.

Paper towels man, when will anybody fix the paper towel problem?

But can you imagine how they managed before that? Taking a leaf to wipe off doesn’t sound ideal either?

It’s not like that’s your only alternative. They’ve got these hard-ass hand dryers nowadays that get the job done. In a world where people use technology 24/7, is it really that hard to get your hands dry in a decent way?

Haha great, you should write a protestsong about it. Anyway, let’s dive right in. Who’s Gijs Wilbrink? What defines you?

I grew up in a small town but moved to the city when I was nineteen. I can appreciate both and so I hate it when people have an opinion about something they don’t know anything about. That applies to anything. Music, areas, movies, books, religion, people, et cetera. I too have a history of being stubborn and sometimes narrow minded but I try to improve that every day. Not that I’m much of a positivist either. But in general, momentary exceptions and mistakes aside, I think it would be best if everybody did their best to look for the good in things.

PMA right? So going back as far as you can, what’s the first memory of your life? I do sound like Rasti Rostelli right now don’t I ?

I guess it’s my third birthday. Got a BMX, pretty rad. There’s footage of me being absolutely ecstatic about my new bike, my “kwosfiets”. Maybe that’s why it’s my earliest memory, because I saw it on tape afterwards. But I’m pretty sure I also remember it from first person point of view. Am I boring you yet?

I think it would be best if everybody did their best to look for the good in things

No not at all. I don’t think I have any video footage of me being a little kid, there’s photo’s though, which might be even nicer, because you can fill in the blanks yourself. Kinda why a book can be better than a movie, know what ‘m talking about?

Most books I like were never turned into a movie. But maybe that’s because I always watch the movie if I have a choice. Too busy, gotta keep up.

Haha okay. So how was your youth in general?

Great. No worries, no pretensions.

And when did music enter your life?

Probably the same birthday I mentioned earlier. On the same video you can see me singing The Final Countdown and rockin a broom as a guitar. Guess that’s it.

Not a bad start. Not at all. So you were a rockstar early on. What are the highlights of your life at the moment? Are you happy?

I’m excited about marrying my long-time girlfriend Arja pretty soon, the new Tenement Kids stuff and my new blog, It’s in Dutch. Me, Arja and four friends pick a song that we love and write about it. One song each day. Some good stories in there.

That blog is awesome indeed, read some great stories on there already. I’ll probably love the Tenement Kids record but the news about you getting married is even better, big steps man. Aside from the excitement, do you feel like you’re growing in life with steps like that?

Yeah man, definitely. 2010 was a horrible year for me and so far 2011 is looking pretty good. Growing is the right word. Getting serious. Haha, try saying that without vomiting in your own mouth a bit. Getting serious…

I’m excited about marrying my long-time girlfriend Arja pretty soon

Stop fucking around man! (Picking up the Beyond reference?) This is serious business! So we talked about the good stuff, but you just said 2010 was a horrible year? In what way?

Well, losing my grandfather in February was a pretty big hit for me. He was my hero, a huge musical talent and a respected man in our town. But of course it was much harder for my grandmother. To see her pain was… I don’t know, just very terrible. Me and my family did everything we could, but eventually the pain and loneliness was just too much for her, and she deceased in December of that same year. I felt so powerless. We had always been very close and I’m still not really over it. Most people I know have lost someone one time in their lives, and most of them seem to take it very well. Especially with grandparents, cause you know they’re gonna be gone one day. But I don’t know, it really messed me up. They were something else, both of them.

Damn dude, my condolences. Both my grandfathers died too. One I didn’t have much of a connection with, but with the other one I did though. Also a musician, not a huge talent or anything, but still haha. He was suffering from cancer, pretty heavily at the end so in a way it felt good when he passed away. He looked a lot more peaceful. That’s what kept my grandmother going too, I think. Think about it, in a way it’s beautiful Gijs, your grandparents stayed together their whole life and when one of them slipped away, the other one followed… Together again. That’s a strong bond, a strong love for eachother.

Thank you.

Hardcore is cool. Probably the only genre that will never be uncool.

I hate it when something like that gets brought up and I have to change the subject. Whatever you say it always sounds stupid after talking about something like that. But uhmm, let’s brighten up a bit… Let’s talk music. How do you feel about hardcore at the moment?

I used to go to shows every week, now I probably go twice a year. It’s always fun to see some people again, hang out, see some good bands. I’m not really aware of what bands are hot or not right now, every once in a while somebody’s like “hey man listen to this shit” and I’ll go for it. Hardcore is cool. Probably the only genre that will never be uncool.

Yeah I know what you’re talking about. I do try to keep up, but I go to shows a lot less. So what are the bands you still listen to? If any? And more importantly, why those? Not that interested in a list of bands, more in the reasons behind your picks.

The pure, true stuff. Hardass shit like Integrity still gives me goosebumps, because they sound so damn uncompromising on their early albums. And then there’s the gritty, energetic, old stuff like Bad Brains and Minor Threat which I’ll always like. And the more dramatic bands that managed to add an extra layer to the hardcore punk sound without sounding too obviously melodic or technical, like Abhinanda’s “Senseless” record and of course Chain of Strength. I still loose my shit to all of those bands, because they’re dealing with direct emotions. Emotions that speak to me from time to time and emotions that they’ve transformed into sound with very little means. It’s the pure stuff. I don’t really care much for hardcore when it’s got the best production or the best arrangements in the world. I like good productions and arrangements in other genres, but for me hardcore has no use unless it’s as direct as possible.

Play Free Bird. You’re good when you can play Free Bird.

What defines a good band according to you? What is it that separates the good, from the bad. Not from the ugly, they’re good most of the time, no matter what the movies say.

Play Free Bird. You’re good when you can play Free Bird.

Haha nice answer. So what’s up with the Tenement Kids?

We’ve been living like hermits for the last two years, trying out all sorts of things and writing tons of new songs. It’s been really exciting, because the four of us have been listening to so much new and different shit that it’s been a huge musical adventure for us, both discovering new bands and writing material in a way we didn’t know before. I used to be the main songwriter in Tenement Kids but lately we’re mostly jamming and writing shit together. Last month we finally did some shows again, got a chance to play our new stuff live, didn’t play any old songs. And man, people were into it. I’m so glad. The music’s kind of different, since we’ve been listening to all this different stuff, mostly southern rock, soul, country, old stuff. But people dig it. That was really important to us, since we hadn’t played live for such a long time. We’re gonna record a new album in October, which will probably come out early next year. We’re taking our time as always.

The demo’s I’ve heard sounded great, can’t wait to hear it all. Normally I don’t really care about a question like this, but who’s going to release the new album? Any ideas on that yet? I could see you make the jump to a biggger label?

We’ve been talking to some labels last year, but no definite plans. We’re gonna fund the recordings ourselves, and then we’ll see exactly what we’re gonna do with it.

Good luck with that! Be sure to send me a review copy. Anyway, before the Tenement Kids you played In A Step Apart, a straight edge band. Instead of asking you about it, let’s see what you want to say about it first.

I loved playing in that band. It was one of the few bands I ever played drums in and it did so much for me as a person and as a musician to play so many shows and meet so many people. I still love those guys to death, as well as the music we made. Especially the second 7”, which was a lot more personal and a lot deeper in many ways. Kind of like I talked about earlier, about the type of hardcore that still appeals to me. Wish we could have been bigger though, you always wish you could have been bigger. But there were already so much great bands around that time.

We’ve been living like hermits for the last two years, trying out all sorts of things and writing tons of new songs.

True, true. That was a good time for hardcore. Any good A Step Apart stories? It’s been a while, so it’s safe to tell now haha.

Haha, well compared to some of our contemporaries we were pretty boring I think. Lots of pranks and rude behavior, but very few real adventures. I remember girls were always an issue, we would always fight over girls and talk shit about eachothers suave ways and whatnot. Jasper always joked that the band would eventually break up over a girl. Glad it didn’t come that far.

What did break up the band though? Don’t know if I ever read that somewhere? I figure it was people wanted to go different ways musically? Since all band members explored pretty different paths musically.

Yeah that was mostly it. We were all getting into different stuff I guess. To be honest I don’t really remember exactly why we split up. There was no clear breaking point, no arguments or whatsoever. It just kind of… ended.

You didn’t say anything about the straight edge aspect of the band by the way. You’re not straight edge anymore right? What happened?

I’ve had the straight edge for about eight years and at the time it was really important for me. When I was young I was diagnosed with a mild version of Tourettes syndrome, and one of the side effects is that I react extremely badly on drugs. Also on alcohol, when I was younger. So at first, straight edge was kind of a health decision. I felt really at home with all these people who didn’t want to take narcotics to feel better. It was a great scene and I still cherish those times. When I got older it became more of a good habit and less a conviction. Ironically, the same Tourettes syndrome that made me abstain from drugs and alcohol also makes me very depressed from time to time. So in one of those depressions at a later age I grabbed the bottle. Not too proud of that particular moment, but in the long run I haven’t regretted the decision either. I’m doing great nowadays and enjoy life to the fullest. Salute to everyone who still doesn’t want to touch any of the stuff, for whatever reasons they got.

Good to hear that man. Never know. Something kinda A Step Apart related, were you part of that Clear demo (A Step Apart side project) as well?

Yeah I was. On our first UK tour Arjan switched bass with Mark (Westerveld) and he sung a Hands Tied song. On that night we all thought he sounded incredible. So we decided to do this fun band, record a demo. I wrote half of it and Cesco wrote the rest. In the studio it was just A Step Apart, Jasper even wrote most of the lyrics. Arjan sung again, his voice being a litle more high pitched than we anticipated, haha. It was great fun. We did one short set on Light The Fuse, with me on guitar, Mirko from Abusive Action on drums and Niels from Blood Red on bass. Good times.

Salute to everyone who still doesn’t want to touch any of the stuff, for whatever reasons they got.

And Glory Bound? I don’t remember anymore if you were in that band or not. I’m on trip down memory lane, sorry…

No I had nothing to do with Glory Bound. I met those cats when they had already started A Step Apart and they needed a new drummer.

Anyway, how about bands before A Step Apart? I know you were in more bands, but I forgot their names.

I started my first band when I was thirteen, played guitar and sung. We had goofy punk names like Cleverdick, Shit Happens, Pacific Paintball and Kingpin. All with the same guys, and we learned eachother to play music, write songs and sing. Then I learned to play drums in Smash The Statues and with that instrument I eventually ended up in A Step Apart. After A Step Apart I played for Birds Of A Feather for a short while and after that I never played drums again.

And what happened to your LOUD project man? I remember you talking about it and I always loved the idea. Not particulary you doing it, but just a talented musician doing everything himself, everything exactly how he thinks it should sound like. No compromises for once.

After A Step Apart, Kris Coorde from Dead Stop asked me and Arjan if we wanted to do something more early eighties. I was busy as hell with Tenement Kids and Birds of a Feather, but I was into it. We called ourselves Sound The Alarm. I also wanted to do a solo project and liked the name LOUD. We asked Tim (Meijer) to record our demo, but eventually only I could show up on the recording day. So I recorded the four songs myself, and pretty soon it became clear that I couldn’t rehearse with that band anymore because of my schedule. We didn’t even have a singer. So then I figured, since I wrote and recorded the material, I would just add some vocals and then that would become the LOUD 7”. As of this day, I still haven’t recorded the vocals, nor have I written any lyric haha. But the music’s still on tape and I tell ya, these are four very cool songs. It sounds like a mixture of Scream and every band Ian MacKaye has ever been in. Old uptempo punk with a nice twist. I promise you I will finish it one day.

Still sounds awesome Gijs, DEW IT! (I’ll stop with the Beyond references now). Let me know when that day comes, would love to hear it. So what are you future goals as a musician, what’s left on your to-do list? Write your own Free Bird?

Haha, it would be nice to write a classic like that. Well on a smaller scale I guess you’re right. Our goal is to reach as many people as we can with our music. Good and honest music deserves to be heard by more than a hundred people. We just wanna be heard.

Good and honest music deserves to be heard by more than a hundred people. We just wanna be heard

What’s the best question you ever read in a zine? My favorite is the classic one from Antimatter ‘When was the last time you cried?’.

Someone asked me that one a while ago, and I must say I wasn’t a big fan of the question. It only happens once in a little while when a journalist gets so close and personal with an interviewee that such a question is appropriate or relevant. But to answer your question: I’m obsessed with music and especially the stories behind the songs. So the interviews I love the most are the ones where the journalist manages to get a hold of a story that nobody had ever heard before. The nature of these questions and the answers of course differ with each artist, so I can’t really think of my favorite interview question. But that’s exactly what makes these kinds of interviews good: the questions are tailormade and could not have been applied to any other person. You don’t go around asking Charles Manson about his favorite color, you ask him what he was thinking when he sent out a couple of hippies to kill Sharon Tate.

You’re totally right about the interviews and I get what you’re saying about the personal questions too, and that’s why I always tell people up front (and sometimes even during and after the interview) that if there’s anything they don’t want to talk about, they should say so. Also goes the other way around, if there’s something they DO want to talk about just bring it up. While we’re on it. Anything you want to talk about?

I just got back from my vacation in Ohrid, Macedonia so I guess that’s the only thing on my mind today. Everybody should visit that place. It’s so beautiful, sunny and unspoiled. Sorry, maybe some other day I’ll have some more interesting contemplations for ya.

Yeah uhmm.. Right… I have no idea what to ask about that haha. I’m not going to ask if you managed to get a good tan or something haha. But we do agree upon tailormade questions being better, but I always use some standard questions, to get the ball rolling you know. To avoid talking about the sun in Macedonia for instance. To get the most out of a person, most of the time they never did a personal interview and only talked about their bands etc. So how about the question about religion and / or spirituality. Any place for that in your life?

I was raised as a, quote unquote, good catholic schoolboy, but I’m not religious in a traditional sense. I guess I’m somewhat spiritual and I pray from time to time, but more or less as self-reflection. It’s kind of hard to define, these things. I’m definitely not an atheist. Maybe agnostic. With all the sweet people I grow up with, my grandparents, who were always hardcore believers in God, how can I be so absolutely sure that there is no God? Going around saying that would be an insult to them, and in a way, to myself. Which is why I hate it when people look down on religion, act as if the believers are extremely unintelligent. I always picture my grandmother when someone talks about religion that way. Makes me wanna bite their fucking noses off, man. Like I said earlier, have some respect for people who do stuff that you don’t understand. I respect the intellectuals and the scientists, and of course the arguments against religion are very convincing, if not rock solid. But the patronizing tone that goes along with it is not for me.

You don’t go around asking Charles Manson about his favorite color, you ask him what he was thinking when he sent out a couple of hippies to kill Sharon Tate

Respect (that word lost so much meaning) is the key, but that goes for anything, not only for religions. I respect the people that get strength from their believes, if they think it’s good for them, who am I to judge it. Who am I to judge anyone anyway… And I hope to get the same in return. That last remark of yours got me wondering though, isn’t that patronizing tone you talk about the thing that the Church itself used over years?

Yes of course, the church has done many horrifying things that I condemn even more. I’m always up for debate, and there are many many arguments against religion. It’s just that when you explicitly imply that religious people are dumb, narrow minded or whatever, that’s just rubbing me the wrong way.

Point taken and you’re right. And how about politics? What’s your opinion on the current situation in the Netherlands?

It frightens me to see that parties with very scary ideas are running this country right now. I wonder how it ever came this far. All the issues they’re talking about, I share none of their ideas. I’ve always loved living in the Netherlands, had a very pleasant childhood and also life in the city has been perfect for me. I just don’t get it. What exactly is the problem, why are politics so radical all of a sudden?

I don’t get it either. But I don’t know if it’s all that sudden, seems like it has been going on for quite some time and only gets worse every day. People seem to think for themselves less and less. So if you simplify and scream your nonsense loud enough people will start to repeat it. Couldn’t that be the problem?

Yeah sure this shit’s been in the pipeline for some years but I still didn’t expect it to become bigger than the opposition. This is politics now and it’s harsh and rude. And indeed, too many people seem to repeat it and believe without thinking twice. Hope it will blow over, in the history of this country it always has. Every government in The Netherlands has always corrected the previous government, which keeps things nice and balanced. But somehow this feels different. Gives me the creeps.

I can totally relate to that… To go back to an earlier question again, I keep jumping back and forth in this interview haha. You mentioned loving it when an interviewer gets a story from the interviewed person that nobody has ever heard before. I agree, that should be the intention for all interviews. So what’s your story? What’s the thing that nobody heard before? Sorry for taking a shortcut like that by the way.

Haha, nice try. I think there’s already some stuff in here that’s new to lots of folks. Out of the blue I’m not really sure of what to add. Oh yeah, I’m learning the accordion and the Macedonian language. So maybe one day I’ll come up with a Balkan folk record. Who knows. But I gotta stop making assumptions like this in interviews. With all the stuff I’ve done I’m still kind of feeling bad about the things I didn’t do. I did more interviews about LOUD than I put time into completing that record. After doing one issue of a zine called Think Again I went on an on about doing a second issue but never even wrote one page. Then I did an online version, called Think Twice. Pretty clever name. Only wrote three pieces. Well I guess that’s just how life goes.

It frightens me to see that parties with very scary ideas are running this country right now. I wonder how it ever came this far.

Learning the Macedonian language? Fill me in?

My fiancé is partly Macedonian and we still visit her grandparents there every year. So I learned a lot about that culture over the last few years and I’m into it. Gotta learn the language. Grandma doesn’t understand a word I’m saying, and I’ve got a lot to say, hah!

Haha nice, didn’t know that! And as for starting things and not finishing them, don’t we all do that sometimes? I remember starting a zine called Glory Days, I even talked to people about it and I should even have some questions for A Step Apart somewhere. The beauty of stuf like that is, that you can always go back and finish it, or start over and improve. That’s what Some Will Never Know became later.

Congratulations on the new website man, looks far out. Thank you for saving a spot for me with this interview.

Thanks man, anytime. I guess that’s it Gijs, the end of the ride. So when you’re done answering these last questions and life goes on, what’s up next? Tackling another coding problem? Writing a new blog for Starting on that Free Bird song?

Definitely gotta catch up on my blogging, deadlines are breathing in my neck. About that Free Bird song, I still gotta write three or four good songs for the next Tenement Kids album, so fingers crossed. You never know, haha.

Thanks Gijs!

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