Reaching Forward, Razor Crusade, Modern Life Is War and since recently No Turning Back… You know the bands, you know the man. Here’s a conversation I had with Harm in April 2008… This is a re-print of the interview in Some Will Never Know #1
Let’s start at where it all began. You were raised in Cuijk (a small town in the Netherlands) right? What’s your favorite memory from that place?
Actually I was born and raised in a town kinda near there, Mill. I’m always associated with Cuijk because I was part of the small punk rock and skate scene they had there in the 90’s and I put on shows there and in played in bands that came from that town. But I was actually always from Mill. Now Mill is a very small town, it doesn’t have a train station (Cuijk is the nearest town that has one, another reason I was there a lot), so basically up until I turned 12 my world consisted of those couple streets. There’s lots of forests around Mill, there’s a small river and a canal, both of which were part of this defensive barriers against Germany before the war happened so there’s abandoned bunkers just about everywhere. I lived right across the street from where this big forest starts and deep within those woods there’s a bridge over the canal with tons of bunkers surrounding it and a railroad with traces just everywhere from when the army derailed the German panzertrain when Germany crossed the border. Now they made this place into a monument and restored it to the way it supposedly looked right before the train derailed but it wasn’t like that when I grew up. The bridge was all rusty and old, there was a big mess of bent rails, shot up bunkers, you know, basically a warzone still. That was my favourite place in the world and I used to play there all the time. Literally all the time, every day. I would take friends there but I would be there by myself a lot too. Up till I was 16 or so I would go there all the time.
But the spot I was just talking about held positions for over two days. Now it’s a monument with a plaque and info on the whole train-thing and it’s boring and stale.
The place is interesting and dear to me, whenever people talk about Germany invading Holland they talk about Holland surrendering almost immediately, hardly putting up a fight and they talk about a cowardice disposition.
Right at that spot they derailed the train entering from Germany and slowed down the advance, since the train was bringing in troops. The defence line was a secondary defence line, meant to put up little fight and fall back as soon as Germany would invade, but the men in those bunkers didn’t and held positions against orders and thus were one of the last places to fall after the invasion, even though they were right on the front, where Germany first invaded Holland, literally only a couple miles from where the first bridge fell. One bunker is known for still fighting even though Holland officially surrendered and the Government fled. Knowing that happened at a stone’s throw from where I was born makes me proud and humble at the same time.
Great way to start this of Harm, glad you shared that. I love those stories. Anyway, In this area almost everyone gets raised in a ‘safe’ Christian way. Did you get the same treatment?
Yup, I’m baptized, had my first Holy Communion and Confirmation. My grade school was catholic school but the teachers weren’t monks or anything. But we did have Ash Wednesday, we prayed every morning and had classes on the bible and stuff like that. My grandma was very religious and some of it rubbed off on my mom. My dad was from a reformed family but not really religious when I grew up so I wasn’t in church as much as some of my cousins. But yeah, I still know about the whole catholic thing, all the saints and everything.
How about now, are you a believer? Any kind of religion that you feel attached to?
This question always makes me feel uncomfortable.
As in, I don’t want to answer?
Basically what it is, I was raised catholic but then punk rock and adolescence came along and you start to question things. I don’t consider myself religious or anything but in the end if I had to pick one Catholicism seems most comfortable to me but I also realise it’s because of the way I was brought up. I tend to just steer clear from religion, it doesn’t have a place in my life and I don’t feel it needs a place in my life.
“I am always insecure”
Same here. So where do you live at the moment?
I live in Rotterdam. I moved back here from Iowa almost two months ago. When I came back I had no place to live, but two weeks ago me and my girlfriend found an apartment so we’re in the process of fixing it up and moving in right now. We were very lucky to find a place for the two of us in Rotterdam this quickly. I lived in Rotterdam before I moved to Iowa and I consider this city my home.
Your girlfriend is from Rotterdam right? Did you consider moving back to Mill or anything nearby?
No never. I left Mill when I was 17 I think, lived in Tilburg for a while, then lived in a small town again for a while and then moved to Rotterdam. For some reason this city feels like home. I missed Rotterdam while I was away, it’s weird. I was already living here before I met my girlfriend.
Lets see, before Reaching Forward, you played in a punk band (that later transformed in Reaching Forward) right? Can you tell a bit more about that?
Now, you have to understand we were all from small towns and getting into punk right before the second punk explosion happened, like probably millions of kids around the world if you wanna take record sales at the time into consideration. We were finding out about the first UK and US punk bands, we were finding out about what punk kinda meant. So we were bored, young and very rebellious. To us punk was all about hating the world, looking different, rebelling against our parents and society. It was about mohawks, rip clothing, safety pins you know? So our punk band was hardly a band, it was more of an excuse to destroy our instruments, or make our own instruments out of stuff we stole like traffic signs. It was about getting together in the weekends, get high, drink, make noise, yell in a microphone and later go out and destroy whatever we could find in the streets. We were basically kids running wild. It was the most fun I ever had but musically it didn’t turn into anything serious until straight edge came around.
From a drunk rebellion to a straight edge ‘warrior’ haha. How did that change go, how did you experience it?
It was me and some friends getting into it at the same time and I remember it being kinda funny, our friends saying we would never last. I think it took ‘m a good year to realise the straight edge thing was gonna stay and we were getting more and more into it. A lot of those old friends bailed haha. Personally I felt being straight edge was the most sensible thing to do for me at the time and it felt natural and comfortable. I was sick of drinking and drugs and I needed some focus in my life I guess.
You played hundreds of shows in front of a lot of people, rocking out confidently, but there must be times you do feel insecure. When? And don’t say never, cause everyone feels insecure now and then.
I am always insecure. But unlike most people I was never nervous or insecure before I had to go on stage, no matter the amount of people there would be. You can’t afford to, if you believe in your music there’s no reason to be nervous about playing it and if you feel insecure about your music you are gonna play insecure and sounds insecure and look insecure and you will get slaughtered. And I always believed in and felt strongly about my music or else there wouldn’t be any reason for me to believe there would be a reason for any kind of audience to listen to my music you know?
However, there’s this strange thing with me that has bothered me in every band I did after Reaching Forward where that particular band I happened to be in at the time would get a good reaction and I would have a hard time dealing with it.
Like it messes with my head and I become a little paranoid, like all the compliments you can get after a good set, they make no sense to me, I didn’t do anything but play my guitar. Like, do people wanna talk to me because I just played a set where lots of people got into it or because they are interested in me as a person? And why would they be interested in me as a person, I’m just a normal average guy? Why does our band get such a better reaction than these other bands on the tour that are way, way better and work way, way harder? I don’t wanna sound like a whining baby and I realise I kinda do right now but it’s hard for me. I work really hard at writing songs and when people like them I don’t get why they like ‘m and wanna stagedive to ‘m and not go off for bands that I personally look up to and admire. Am I making sense? Also, theres the fact you just gave everything you got for 30 or 40 minutes and I really don’t know what to do with myself once it’s over and it takes a really long time for me to come down from that high of being on stage. All the energy you get from the crowd for 30 or 40 minutes is cut off immediately and I have a hard time dealing with that, it almost hurts physically. It’s weird but there’s been times in my life where I came off stage and just be lost, panicking on the phone with my girlfriend, not knowing what to do. This sounds so dumb.
“For years straight edge functioned as a moral platform to be able to control myself”
It doesn´t sound dumb. You’re just a normal person and some of those people put you on a statue and worship you. As for that panic, do you still have that? Or did you learn to deal with it?
I don’t know, I haven’t been on stage in almost six months which is the longest I’ve gone in over 10 years and to be honest it feels really good. I do panic when I think about getting back on stage, I don’t wanna do it just yet. But then again I also panic at the thought of going to shows or party’s where there’s gonna be a lot of people, I don’t know what it is. Ever since I got back I tend to avoid crowds it seems like. But I’m fine with it.
Something else, Razor Crusade did quit rather suddenly. How did you feel about that back then? Were you at peace with it, or did it feel as a letdown, plans you wanted to realize etc.?
I was kinda whatever about it you know? Whatever band I am in I always wanna go full throttle and I know I can’t expect the same from other people even though I would like to. Whenever I am in a band and I can’t give myself 110% for whatever reason I always quit and that’s what people in Razor Crusade did too, you can’t blame them for it but in the instance of Razor Crusade it happened to break up the band. I was bummed at the time because we had a lot of good stuff lined up but in retrospect the band breaking up paved the way for me joining MLIW, so it’s all good. I have realized my own personal goals anyway, however selfish that may sound.
During the busier periods with Razor Crusade or later on during Modern Life Is War, did you have jobs in between? How did people, like your co-workers react when you told them you were in a touring band?
I’ve worked off and on, the longest I’ve held a job was 4 months and that was in between razor crusade and Modern Life Is War. I’ve always been poor but it never bothered me. I didn’t have a job the entire time I was in Modern Life Is War, none of us really did. There was just no time, we were on the road constantly. At my current job everyone’s in a band and a lot of them tour so nobody looks at me weird but at other jobs it got kinda weird sometimes. It’s hard to explain there’s no glitter and glamour being in a touring hardcore band.
Everyone is in a band over there? What kinda job are you doing now?
Right now I work at this music store in Rotterdam, I haul instruments around all day long. It’s pretty cool, it’s really chill. But I started doing job interviews trying to become a social worker. I got a degree in social work and I kinda wanna get back into that. We’ll see what happens.
Normally bands get asked about the difference between the USA and the European scenes, but they only played here (or there) a couple of times. You lived at both sides of the ocean. What are the biggest differences according to you? Or are there more comparisons?
People always ask me this question and I always find it really difficult to answer. There aren’t really that much differences and the once there are, are real easy to understand. Like to Europeans it’s weird everybody has a car over there but I lived over there and didn’t have one and it sucked.
I was stuck on getting rides. Like to Europeans it’s weird supermarkets and diners are open 24 hours, but people work shifts and need there groceries. Rotterdam has 24 hour diners… I’m trying to say a lot of things seem kinda crazy at first but in fact they aren’t that crazy, it’s just different. The biggest difference to me always seems that Europeans live a more laidback lifestyle, they’re more chill, there’s more time for leisure and stuff.
Recently you did quit Modern Life Is War, a decision that came as a surprise to me personally. Why did you make that decision?
Oh man, there’s a lot of different reasons. One of them being the dollar being so weak right now that I would lose a lot of money exchanging my dollars to euros, thus making less and less.
Also I was missing my friends and family at home, I had a girl in Holland and that was hard obviously. Also the constant traveling was wearing me down, even though there’s a lot of downtime on tour there’s hardly any chance to do something substantially with that time. I could write songs but would forget them after a couple days. I just really needed to be in one place that felt like home for a while, and the van didn’t feel like home anymore for whatever reason. I was in a different city every day for months and months and in between tours I would be in Iowa which never got to feel like home, so even in between tours I would feel like I was traveling. When I quit I felt like I needed to be at just one place for a while, get up in the morning and not have to pack my bags, go off on my own for a little bit, do my own thing you know? After a while of touring the excitement wears off, the excitement about being in California, about being in New York and for a small-town guy like me to not be excited about playing Webster Hall in New York to a thousand plus people might be a sign you need to go do something else. It’s not fair to me, my band and most importantly the people you play to.
“I feel I’ve had to hit rock bottom all over again to realize why I got into straight edge”
Yeah I get what you’re saying. Looking back, what was your favorite band you played in? And more importantly, why?
This question is impossible to answer, it’s like asking who your favorite kid is. Even bands I was in only very briefly or bands that I was in that never did anything I hold very, very dear.
You’ve been in quite a lot of bands, what bands people probably don’t know about were you involved with?
I guess nothing worth noting really. There’s a reason people don’t know about those bands haha. Oh wait, I was in The White Suicide for a while. I’m not on any of the recordings but I started up that band with two dudes in Rotterdam. That band quickly gained some kind of notoriety around time. I quit them to join MLIW and I always kinda regret it. It was a straight up rock n roll band, it was fun.
A lot of people after they ‘drop their edge’ kinda turnaround, drinking a lot etc. I hope I don’t come off too judgemental or anything (I mean I’m a drinker myself), but I don’t think you were an exception to that. Why do you think that is? Redefining the boundaries?
I’ve come a long way from dropping the edge to sitting here answering these questions with a glass of wine (it’s Friday and I finished my 40 hour work week so I’m allowing myself a treat). I’ve had my struggles with different kinds of substances and when I dropped the edge I thought I had gained enough discipline to be able to control whatever urges I might have had in the passed. Turned out I was wrong. For years straight edge functioned as a moral platform to be able to control myself and when I took away that platform I plunged pretty deep. There’s different reasons why and how that I don’t wanna get into too much but it’s been only a couple months since I regained that control and it took a lot of soul searching, harsh decisions and interventions to reach this point where I can have a glass of wine and leave it at that and not down the entire bottle at once haha. I can’t speak for other people why they get pretty wild, I had my own personal reasons. I guess a lot of people experience a sense of freedom after dropping the edge, I felt that freedom for a little bit before addictions and urges came rearing their ugly head again.
I’m glad to hear you came out stronger dude. Something else, how do you feel about the current state of hardcore, or maybe better… How do you feel about hardcore at the moment? What does it mean to you?
To be really honest, I’m not very in touch with the current state of hardcore. All I know about hardcore is what I saw on tour with MLIW. But at the same time most of my best friends I’ve made through hardcore so I always stay somewhat connected to it, even though I hardly check out new bands I will somehow end up at a show or conversations with friends will always touch on hardcore in some shape or form. I have very ambivalent feelings about current hardcore and I don’t really wanna go into it all too much cause I have the same complaints I heard from older people when I just got into hardcore and I am full aware of how dumb I found those complaints when I was a kid. I’m pretty standard, I got old at an early age, got jaded, but could never fully let go haha. I still enjoy going to shows but I hardly know anything about the bands that are playing, they’re all new young kids which is awesome, it’s the way it’s supposed to be.
I feel I’ve had to hit rock bottom all over again to realize why I got into straight edge when I was sixteen and to learn how to be in control without any help from ‘outside’ influences like straight edge. It made me stronger.
Did you ever make any choices in favor of a band you were playing in that you kinda regret now?
No regrets. I feel my personal decisions worked out well for me personally. However I do regret leaving behind some musicians and stop working with them because circumstances didn’t allow it, people that I feel are awesome musicians that should be heard but never were offered the right vehicle. Not that say that I could or should be part of that vehicle, but I sometimes regret not being able to play with those people more.
“I do regret leaving behind some musicians and stop working with them because circumstances didn’t allow it.”
So what do you plan on doing in the future? Got any bands coming up? Or do you plan to settle down like you wanted to do after Razor Crusade? I read something like that in an older interview you did.
In a way I am settling down right now. Me and my girl are moving in, I found a steady job, I’m not planning on joining a touring band in the near future, but never say never. I am writing a lot of new music as of lately, I finally wanna do my folksy band with lyrics in dutch which has been a dream for a long time and now it seems I finally get around to it. I’m getting together a pool of awesome musicians who want to collaborate with me which is really really exciting, these people are so talented it sometimes frightens me but they seem to dig my ideas so that’s really cool. Even though I’m taking it slow right now I’m sure a time will come where I will put everything I have into that new venture. It feels good not being in a band for a while, not worrying about shows and tours and loud guitars, life is pretty chill and simple right now and I like it.
I also started a band with my girl, it’s our lazy Sunday afternoon outlet, we’re called Flock Of Steven Seagals. We’re electronic and totally in touch with the hipster boy/girl bands of these days.
Thanks for being so open to these questions Harm, is there anything you want to get back at or add? Now’s the time.
Not really, hope to see you soon dude.
Same here. Get your ass back to Brabant.Back to interviews overview