Detonation interview (08/2007)
|With:||Koen Romeijn (guitars, vocals)|
|Conducted by:||Marcel Hubregtse (in person)|
Since 2007 sees the 10th anniversary of Detonation and their latest effort Emission Phase is still one of the top albums released this year I thought it appropriate to meet up with guitarist/vocalist/spokesman Koen Romeijn and talk about the band's history, views on certain aspects of the business, music and everything related.
Because of the length of the interview it is split up into two parts.
1997 - 2000 An Infernal Dream Detonates
Infernal Dream left to right: Thomas, Koen, Mike.
2007 Means that Detonation has been going along for ten years now. So this seems an appropriate moment to look both back on that first decade and to look forward as well.
As you just said the band is ten years old this year, and to celebrate that fact we'll be doing a 10th anniversary show in dB's, Utrecht, on October 26. We started in the summer of 1997. I think it must have been around May of that year, but I am not 100% sure, but it certainly must have been the beginning of summer that we started off as Infernal Dream. Otto (Schimmelpenninck, bass) only joined in 1998. We didn't have a bass-player before he joined.
Why did you decide to change the name Infernal Dream into Detonation?
Okay, we started off as Infernal Dream but during that first year we didn't really do anything. We were more like: "We need a name and it doesn't really matter what it is." But when Otto eventually joined we started writing songs, more or less, and along the way we realised that we were getting increasingly serious with the band. Loads and loads of bands already had the word Infernal in their name and, to be honest, we actually thought it to be a bit of a pathetic name. It didn't really fit. When Otto joined in 1998 we were still called Infernal Dream. Our first ever gig was even under the Infernal Dream monicker.
So you actually see Infernal Dream as Detonation?
Yes, because it is the same band but we only started without Otto. So, Thomas (Kalksma, drums), Mike (Ferguson, guitar) and I started like that.
But how did you guys find Otto? He is a couple of years younger than the three of you, and when you're that young that age difference is actually quite big.
That certainly is true. We had put an add in Aardschok Magazine, or some other magazine, that we were looking for a bass-player and Otto responded. I remember well that we had agreed to meet each other in Stairway to Heaven's (local rock pub/club) on a Thursday evening, or something like that, and first meeting Otto, still a kid. Okay, we weren't too old either, around twenty, but he was like 15 or 16. That was quite an age difference at the time. But he was a head taller than the rest of us. At the time we weren't all that serious about the band. All we wanted was a bassist so that we could play. We didn't even hear him play at all, so go figure. He just responded to the add, we had a couple of beers together, we hit it off, and he became our bassist. I realise only now that we never had him do an audition. He came over and he joined.
[addition 24-08-07 how Otto really joined the band according to Martijn and Otto]
Martijn: At the time I had put an ad in Hardside (which doesn't exist anymore) for Eureka! Distro. Otto reacted to the ad and placed an order for a couple of items. Because Otto lived in Utrecht we decided to meet in Stairway To Heaven where he would collect the items. So that I wouldn't have to send them via the mail. We got talking and he said he played bass but that the band he was at the time part of wasn't really his sort of thing. Then I told him that my brother and two friends more or less had a new band/project where they played black/death metal but that they were still a bassist short. I then got Otto in contact with Koen, Thomas & Mike and the rest is history.
Otto: Earlier that summer I had cut my knee with a knife by accident. I was at home with my leg in plaster and the mother of a friend of mine gave me a metal magazine to kill the time and that magazine had an ad for Eureka! Distro in it. And the rest is like Martijn just said. I remember meeting the rest of the guys for the very first time on my birthday, August 28, in Stairway.
And you guys apparently hit it off well, because all four of you are still together.
Yeah, that's quite funny, actually.
So in 1998 Otto joins.
Yes, early 98. When he joined we immediately started writing and recording songs for the Crushed Skull compilation which was released in 1999. We recorded two songs for that (Life In Hell, Slaying The Serpent). And shortly after we recorded Lost Euphoria. At the time we wrote a lot of songs.
But as Infernal Dream you recorded a demo with the same two songs that appeared on the Crushed Skull compilation.
Yes, that's right, we released that as a tape. Just a normal cassette tape. But never as an official release. An inlay we had printed ourselves, you'll know what I am talking about, containing a photocopied band picture. Have you ever seen that picture of us with corpsepaint?
Yes, either on your website or your Myspace profile
Myspace. That's the corpsepaint picture, there were still only three of us, when Otto hadn't joined yet. That's the one we used.
How many copies did you actually sell of that Infernal Dream demo?
We didn't sell that one at all, we only gave a couple of those away. It only really started getting interesting when we appeared on Crushed Skull.
Did you guys rerecord the songs for Crushed Skull or did you use the same recordings as they had appeared on the demo?
Let me think… I can't really remember that much in great detail of that period, for some reason. I think I just didn't really grasp it back then. Which is strange. Because I do, however, remember that those songs that we recorded for the Crushed Skull compilation that we recorded those in one take. Before that time we had never recorded at all. So the demo will most probably have been rehearsal recordings. They must have been.
Because on Crushed Skull the band name is already Detonation.
Yes, that's true. Because we had changed our name for those recordings, just before them. Reason for it being that we would appear on a proper cd and if there ever was a moment in time to change the name this was it before anything else would be released. That was actually our reasoning behind it all. Okay, we did have those rehearsal recordings, but those were more or less just for us.
Who else was featured on that Crushed Skull from 1998?
had two songs, every band had two songs featured. Bloedhoest, with George Oosthoek on vocals, of course there was Whispering Gallery with two songs off their 1997 debut demo. They started just like us in 1997. And they were already friends of ours back then. Freak Face was also featured, but would never be heard of again.
That was on Skullcrusher Records, if I am not mistaken?
Yes, that was Rik's very first release. Rik (Boersema) started the label while we were in Engorge. His aim was to release those compilation albums. So, Crushed Skull 1 and 2, he then released Lost Euphoria of ours, the old Engorge cds. Around 1999 2000 Skullcrusher Records was still serious business for him. He also released the first Virulent mini-cd. Iscariot was also released by him and all the Engorge cds. But that was all, he hasn't released anything else. At a certain point in time the label just slowly died. He was way too busy with other things. Rik became tour manager for Within Temptation and he didn't really have any time left any more at all by then. The very last release he did was our second cd with Engorge, 50 Megatons Of Armoured Steel. With a bit of luck the next cd with Engorge will see the light of day early next year. It is taking this long because we're doing everything ourselves. We've finished writing all the songs and Jurgen is busy with the drums. All recordings are done at home. I have a nice little recording set at home and will record all my guitar parts there, so I won't have to come over to Utrecht every time. Eventually all that would have to be done is the final mixing, which will probably be done by Bas again just like 50 Megatons. This will be the last ever cd by Engorge and then we'll quit. At least we won't be recording ever again. Maybe we'll still be doing some concerts here or there.
Detonation's debut mini-cd Lost Euphoria was quite well-recieved if I remember correctly. At least it was in the Netherlands, I wouldn't know how it was received in other countries though.
Over there it was received just like over here, so, all in all quite well.
The songs on that mini are way more thrash than on your later releases.
We are clearly searching for a style of our own on that release, although the songs themselves are quite alright.
By the way, who did the artwork for the cover?
That was done by Karin Brouwer. I didn't know her at all. But when we started recording Lost Euphoria we were looking for someone who would be able to draw a cover for us. We went to the Pit-evenings in Zaal Brouwer at the Biltstraat at the time. I don't know if you can remember those, or if you've ever been to one?
Yes, I did only go to one or two of those evenings back in the day but I did however one time see Cannibal Corpse in Zaal Brouwer.
Exactly, before that we did the Crushed Skull compilation night at Zaal Brouwer. Rik had rented the place. It was really his thing, together with Josje, of course. And via other people we were introduced to Karin Brouwer. She was an artist of some sort. But totally not album cover art. We got talking, didn't have much money to spend on the artwork, and one thing led to another.
Nowadays, artwork such as that won't get accepted by anyone any more, not even when it is used as artwork for a demo.
But back then in 1999 you could still, just about, get away with it. There actually were people who really liked the cover of Lost Euphoria.
Talking about ugly covers people really love: The cover art of Storm Of The Light's Bane by Dissection, you most certainly will know, is considered great by a lot of people. Whilst in my opinion it is butt ugly.
You really think so?
Yes. Totally hideous.
I don't like the light blue colouring of it. But I really do dig the drawings.
Oops, my mistake, I meant the cover of The Somberlain. That one really reminds me a lot of King Diamond Abigail.
I think it also has to do with the time frame it was released in back then, in 1993. Back then it was considered to be great but now you won't get away with it anymore, I agree. I, however, prefer Storm Of The Light's Bane. Wasn't that done by Necrolord? The same guy who did In The Nightside Eclipse.
2002 -2003 The Dawning
An Epic Defiance era Detonation: Mike, Otto, Koen, Thomas
Wasn't An Epic Defiance first released by yourselves?
Yes, but between Lost Euphoria and An Epic Defiance we had recorded a promo cd in 2001. That promo featured three songs, which all appeared on An Epic Defiance later on. Those were Starve, Forever Buried Pain, and Voices Beyond Reason. Those versions are the exact same version that were to later on surface on Epic, but they were only rerecorded. We had 300 copies printed of that promo and sent it around, so it wasn't for sale. Our goal at the time was to do a lot more concerts and to really get things moving along, to see what we could achieve and to score a record deal because we had noticed that with Rik's label it was more a distribution deal. Okay, so he had a record label, but that was more of a friendly turn and didn't really help us along. The first couple of new songs we had written we thought that they were so much better than anything we had done before that we said to each other: "Let's try and score a proper record deal."
I can imagine because your sound had evolved from thrash to more of a melodic death metal one, Göthenburg, more towards a Dark Tranquillity type of sound, to state the obvious that's been said a thousand times before.
The strange thing is that we even didn't realise whatsoever that we even remotely sounded like Dark Tranquillity.
The self financed version of Epic was that released with the same artwork as the Osmose version?
It is in principle the same artwork because we had the artwork all ready and done. In October 2002 we released it ourselves and the following January 2003 I got a call that Osmose wanted to sign us. About half a year later, in about June, it was released once again, but now by Osmose. We said: "Since it is going to be released and printed again we might as well make a few adjustments to the artwork". Niklas Sundin did the cover artwork and the backgrounds for An Epic Defiance.
How did you come into contact with Niklas? Because he was already well-known for his cover design and you guys were just an unknown unsigned band.
We wanted to take the professional approach. The twelve songs we had written we thought to be so cool and therefore we were so immensely enthusiastic that we said: "We can let some unknown entity do the cover and we'll release it ourselves but then we might get the same effect as with the Lost Euphoria cover art." By this time we were already thus far in our evolution that we realised that Lost Euphoria was actually thoroughly ugly. So we really wanted to do it right this time. Martijn, our drummer Thomas' brother, was really deep into that scene. He's an extreme enthusiast of everything to with that scene and he said: "You've just got to ask a well-known artist and see if he's got anything laying around. Because to have someone design the cover art especially for you that'll cost you a few thousand euros. But when he has anything laying around you might be able to get it for much much less." We started mailing and only later did we send some music over. The first thing we mailed was: "Hey Niklas, sorry to bother you, but would you happen to have anything laying around for a nice price? Our budget happens to be a couple of hundred euros." Actually Niklas thought that our budget was quite a bit on the low side and usually he wouldn't do it for that price. But he asked us to send him some music of ours so that he could judge on the basis of that. Niklas more or less already knew Martijn because Martijn's a Dark Tranquillity fan from the beginning. From the time of the 1991 Trail Of Life Decayed demo. So, he really is a fan from the start. Niklas probably knew that. Martijn functioned as a go-between between Niklas and us. We sent Niklas a rehearsal recording with five or six songs which we had tried to record as professionally as possible under the guidance of our sound guy Maarten, who is still our sound guy nowadays. That cd we then sent to Niklas and he liked it that much, he was really impressed, that he decided to make the cover for us for just the amount we could spend. But we did have to do the lay-out of the inside ourselves. Martijn set all the text, lyrics, lay-out and so on. Niklas only supplied us with the artwork for the front and back cover.
The Osmose release, you have, has a slightly different inside. In the original booklet Martijn had used somewhat older pictures. And for the Osmose release Martijn added the tribals and our "D".
Weren't you the guy who had originally drawn the "D"?
Yes, just by coincidence. I was messing about with Paint, not even Photoshop, on my computer. I wanted to design a "D" because we needed a logo that would be recognizable. Because the name Detonation is just in standard blackened logo, which is one of the standard fonts. The other guys still like the Detonation logo though.
But with Portals To Uphobia I already tried to get the rest of us to switch to a new logo. But I am still the only one who really wants to do that. I really don't like the Detonation logo at all. But on the other hand, we have had this logo right from the start. The reason why I wanted to design that "D" was so that we would have something special. I really dig that "D", you can do so many things with it. On every album that "D" can be found in a different way, On Portals it has all those curly tentacle-like things attached to it. And on Emission Phase it can be found in the fireball.
Osmose got more or less a totally finished product from you guys. Didn't they remaster or remix the original recordings?
No, the two versions of An Epic Defiance are exactly the same soundwise.
To be honest, I thought that Osmose had beefed it up a bit because it sounds so goddamned good.
That's the way we wanted it to sound at the time. We wanted to make a cd as well as possible, release it, and then, because we had failed to score a record deal with our promo, we wanted to do everything ourselves, do everything right, not leave anything to chance at all. So, we spent almost 4,000 euros of our own money on those recordings, and the cover cost us a further couple of hundred, subsequently we released it ourselves, also had it printed ourselves, so that cost us a further couple of thousand, send it to magazines and labels, sold between 500 and 600. Got good reviews. The advantage of releasing it yourself is that all the money you earn with it flows back into your own pocket.
Osmose got a ready to go product, which was our intention. We offer a totally finished product, all they have to do is print it again, they won't have to worry about a thing. And we succeeded at that.
The thing I noticed when An Epic Defiance was released by Osmose was that the overall sound was a lot better than that of most other Osmose bands. Melechesh had a crappy sound on Djinn and, relatively speaking, also on Sphynx, Enslaved had a crappy sound. I've always found that surprising for such a quite well-known record label.
Okay, I can more or less see your point. But a band such as Melechesh would gain a lot from a good clear sound. A band such as Enslaved is a lot more atmospheric so something can be said for that sound there...
But they of course recorded at the Grieghallen in Bergen at the time. There you'll always get a very weird sort of production but then again it is always very atmospheric. For me personally though Melechesh Sphynx sounds better than Emissaries, but the volume is way too low. The mastering wasn't loud enough.
But that's what bothers me about most of the Osmose releases that the mastering volume is way too soft.
But Sphinx was produced by Andy Larocque, if I am not mistaken. He did play a guest solo on that album, though. What I do remember is, we were of course already on the Osmose roster when Sphinx was released, is that it took Melechesh a long time before Sphinx was finally finished. They had some problems. But I think the case is that Proscriptor had recorded the drums in the US and the rest had recorded in Sweden. And they put those two together.
When An Epic Defiance was released by Osmose it was received really well worldwide. But then again you guys worked on your album a very long time, relatively speaking, since it was your debut.
That is what is always said about debuts, and that certainly is the case. One writes the songs without any form of pressure whatsoever. The spontaneity and creativity are at that point still unlimited because there is never that voice at the back of your head saying: "we have to do this, we have to do that." You're just playing for fun, just for the heck of it. At a certain point we had twelve finished songs and we wrote those over a period of three to four years, I think. Some songs got ditched and others surfaced. That is the great thing about Epic, you can clearly hear which are the older and which are the more recent songs. Starve, for example is one of the oldest songs on the album. You can clearly hear that since it is chock-full of riffs, all sorts of styles. The Collision Of Despair and Sword Carved Skin are the most recent songs on the album. They possess a slightly different style.
2004 - 2005 Into Sulphur I Descend
Portals To Uphobia era: Thomas, Koen, Mike, Otto.
And then it takes quite a long time before the second album is released. When looking at when the first two albums were released it seems to be two years apart but in reality it is more like three years when taking into consideration you released An Epic Defiance yourselves half a year before Osmose did.
Epic was, of course, released in October 2002 and Portals To Uphobia September 2005. But the problem was that Thomas was injured, he had huge R.S.I. problems with his shoulder because of work. At the time he did administrative work and had been drumming fanatically and just didn't look after his shoulder properly. Because of that we weren't able to rehearse for half a year. So that's half a year you lose. And it was during the last phase of the recordings for Portals. So we had to postpone the recording sessions and we actually still had to finish two songs. The title song Portals To Uphobia and The Source To Delve we finished in the studio.
Portals To Uphobia turned out really well. I thought of the middle part on the spot. Whilst Thomas had already recorded the drums I thought of that part. Thomas thought that it sounded cool and that we could use it. I then played that rhythm over it and Mike taps. And it turned out really cool. But The Source To Delve, which was the last song for the album could certainly have turned out better. Now it is somewhat chaotic. Normally, you really have to have all your songs finished before entering the studio. Of course we had had loads of problems and we hadn't done a thing for quite some time and that's why we decided we couldn't wait any longer since Epic was already from 2002 and we only started recording at the end of 2004. It was supposed to have been finished by then. Thomas could eventually record the drums himself. At one point we even thought of using Stef of Textures to record the drums for this album. He even came by. We told him that Thomas wasn't doing well and asked him if he would do the drums for us on Portals To Uphobia because Stef was the only drummer who Thomas gave his okay to to do it. But eventually Thomas was so motivated that he did it himself. That was at the end of 2004, the start of 2005. Portals was supposed to be released in April 2005. We were totally ready for it, the artwork was done, we had had problems with the mastering. Three weeks before the initial release date everything was finished. But we had forgot that promos also had to be sent around. So Osmose decided that it wouldn't work and that the album would be released in September. We were sick to death of that because from April until September is a further five months difference. As you can imagine, we were really pissed off, really angry. But we could also understand Osmose's decision because in summer they don't do anything. From May till August they release next to nothing because that wouldn't work because it is festival season that time of year, magazines have July/August issues instead of their monthly ones so there's no chance of appearing in those. That was a bummer because the album finally hit the stores in September 2005 and that's some three years after An Epic Defiance. So, that sucked for everything was done by April, we had already planned our promotional campaign and were rearing to go. "Yes, let's do this." But if you have to wait for half a year that feeling just ebbs away. You really don't feel like doing it any more. And when the album is finally released relatively little attention is paid to it.
And once again Portals To Uphobia features the artwork of Niklas Sundin. But not totally the way you expected it to be at first because you thought Portals would also be released on vinyl?
Really late we found out that we wouldn't be getting a vinyl version of Portals To Uphobia. First we thought there would be one because we also got one for An Epic Defiance so we thought we'd get one for Portals too. But something like two months before the deadline we found out we wouldn't. So, we were like: "What are we gonna do now?" A digipack was allowed, the funds were present for that. The booklet by Niklas was in its final stages except for the other artwork, so what to do? Because Niklas was extremely busy touring and also with the artwork for Arch Enemy Doomsday Machine and he was also working on Dark Tranquillity or had just finished that, I can't remember. So he had to rush it and it actually turned out quite alright.
What I found strange is that the booklet that comes with the cd comes detached from it and there is no pocket on the inside to hold it. Did something go wrong in the printing plant?
There was absolutely nobody who could explain that to us. I think that the printing plant in Austria had made a mistake. Osmose also didn't know the reason. I asked around as to what went wrong and never got an answer. All I heard was: "Oh yeah, we see." But subsequently no-one ever did anything with that information.
So, in retrospect, everything concerning Portals To Uphobia just went wrong, even the tour. We had a shitty tour right after the release. Right after the album hit the market we went on tour with, amongst others, Gorerotted but we left the tour early because of lack of space on the touring bus. Not only did things go wrong with tours, but also with the distribution of Portals. When Portals was finally released in September 2005 it took quite a while to find its way to the stores. The reason for that being that the first batch of cds had somehow got lost. That batch had been sent from Austria, where it had been printed, but no-one knew where the cds were and it took about one and a half months before someone found out that they were still in Austria somewhere. The cds were rotting away in a box at a distribution office somewhere. At a certain point someone saw the box, opened it and saw the cds. But at that point all the momentum had gone. Concerts had been done, the reviews had been printed, so nobody pays any attention to it anymore. That was a major disappointment.
And, in my opinion, you really do notice that this is your second album where in comparison to your debut you spent less time working on than your debut. The songs are just a little less scintillating.
That's true, it is less scintillating. But I am still very happy with this album. The production isn't fully... you're missing something here, something I can't put my finger on. So that also didn't go as planned. Hans Pieters of Excess Studios did the production of this one, just as he had for An Epic Defiance. When he did Portals he was also very busy with the latest After Forever, and La Muerte by Gorefest. So he didn't have that much time and he had problems with the number of people working in the studio. The mastering had to be done by someone else and that was done by Robbe K. of Disavowed, the mastering didn't go perfect either. So, all in all something went wrong with every possible little thing concerning this release. When you add that all up I think we should still be glad that so many people really dug Portals To Uphobia.
As you mentioned Niklas did the artwork again. So you mailed him once again asking if he would do the artwork for Portals?
We did everything in the same way. But this time around the budget for the artwork was a bit bigger. Because now we also wanted him to do the inside, the lay-out, and everything. He also set the texts, the entire inside of the booklet was als done by him.
How was Portals To Uphobia received?
It was received very well. There was clearly an upward trend in comparison to An Epic Defiance. Most of the reviewers that gave Epic a bad review were much more positive when it came to Portals. Especially because we had more of an own identity on Portals than on the earlier work, although production-wise it was a little less. But we've bumped into people who actually prefer Portals' production. The main difference was that we heard that Portals was a lot more technical. Which is the case. And Emission Phase is even more technical, but in a different way, more rhythmic.
To be continued in Part 2...
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