New York based multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer Timo Ellis, of The Netherlands band, took time out of his busy schedule to talk to ThisIsNotAScene‘s Christine Hager. They talked about collaborations, naming the band, video promotion tools, recording and much, much more…
Timo, as someone who is obviously very multi-talented, would you ever be able to choose just one vice as your full time career (producer, musician, composer etc.) or is each a necessary outlet of your personality in order to feel creatively complete?
(Thanks, btw!) At this point, “producer/musician/composer” is all part of one larger creative phenomenon for me, so yes each is a necessary outlet. Generally I’m obsessed/afflicted with making music, so it works (food, sleep, water = overrated.)
Do you ever get tired of being known mainly for your collaborations with the likes of Yoko Ono, Cibo Matto, The Melvins and Sean Lennon? If so, what would you rather be known for?
I mean, I’d rather be be known for all that stuff than not being known for it (but yes of course I’d rather be known for the visionary power of my own crushing rock, etc. etc.) It’s also maybe worth noting that I do a lot of other (dramatically varied!) kinds of music besides Netherlands, so eventually I’d also like to be recognized for the rest of it as well.
Was there ever a concern when naming the band, that in this age in intense online media marketing, it might be too general of a moniker to make yourselves accessible? Perhaps this was intentional… Why Netherlands?
Yeah… I wasn’t thinking about the “Google-abilty” of the name when I came up with it. Oops! Netherlands was appealing to me based on the English meanings of the word “nether”, i.e. “beneath the earth’s surface”, “infernal”, the subconscious, the underbelly… plus it sorta had a classic “rock group” sound/ feeling to it, almost like a 60’s vocal group or something, which I liked. And it wasn’t meant to (primarily, anyway) be making reference to Holland (or smoking pot, which I don’t do anymore, btw!)
As a Canadian, I have to ask, how did Bob and Doug Mackenzie manage to make your short list of artists you also like? Do Netherlands identify with these brothers from the great white north?
I love that movie!!! Max Von Sydow and Paul Dooley are also great in it… Strange Brew (along with Top Secret!) are up there in my all time faves (for goofy comedy.) Wait, is liking that movie offensive to Canadians?? Jesus, I hope not!! Plus Geddy Lee sings on “Take Off!” and I was a big Rush nerd back in the day so that was another major plus.
Was there anything you learned in college that helped you get where you are today? Is it something you would promote to musicians that are trying to make this a career?
When I was in college (at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington) I was lucky enough to be a part of the early 90’s Olympia/Seattle music scene and got to see/hear/absorb so much amazing art and music (and regularly see bands like Nirvana, Melvins, Bikini Kill, Unwound, Beat Happening, Heavens To Betsy, Fitz Of Depression, loads of others…)
At that time there was way more of an emphasis on having fun and being as creatively authentic and fearless as possible than on being “commercially successful”; so that was hugely influential on me. In other words achieving commercial success wasn’t really the prevailing goal/ ethos of the music scene at all.
To young musicians I’d say just make the best art you can, build up your name, and just don’t stop doing it if it’s what you really want to do with your life. Also, today kids are so much savvier about how to brand/promote/market a band than I ever was. Frankly I’m still trying to figure it out too.
With the impending death of MTV as a central hub for music videos as primary promotional tools, what advantage is there to still creating one today in your opinion?
Making videos = um, still means making art, right!? I might be wrong about this but it seems like people actually NEED to experience music audio-visually these days first before they’re willing to just listen to music without an accompanying visual narrative. and videos obviously still do function as “promotional devices” even without MTV’s once behemoth-like-corner on the market. So…viva YouTube! (I mean, at least for now until that somehow gets ruined too??)
I was completely captured by the video created for your new single “Tabitha” with its morphing animal heads and vibrant splashes of color that suited the energy of your music brilliantly. Tell me a bit about that track and the concept behind the video.
To me the song is just one of our, like, “mean spirited mid-tempo numbers”; just a fun ass kicker with some wistful/ vaguely anti-social lyrics! And the amazing Kenny Curwood is entirely responsible for that video. I did a few rounds of notes with him to get the pace I wanted worked out but he created all the imagery, did all the sculpting/animation/filming on it. He’s incredible and I’m definitely gonna work with him again soon. You can see more of Kenny‘s work here.
What was the recording of “Silicon Vapor” like? Take me through the studio process with John Davis (Moby, The Roots) at Bunker Studios.
We rehearsed for maybe 2 weeks and went in and did all the basics in 3 days. We did 17 songs in a day and a half, and then I did all the guitar overdubs in another day and a half. The Bunker is a beautiful studio and John Davis is a lovely guy and a fuckin’ recording wizard so tracking was super easy.
I recorded all the vocals in 2 days with Tyler Wood, another musical genius and producer who currently is in Joan as Police Woman (it took me about a week to recover from that vocal session as I was more or less screaming all day for 10 hours straight, for 2 days!).
The amazing Bryce Goggin mixed it all in 9 days and he’s also a true wizard and a warm and hilarious guy, so it was a blast. And finally my longtime production partner Ron A. Shaffer mastered it all in 2 days, and he killed it as well. All told the entire recording process only took 16 days, as we’re all pros (but primarily because we were on a budget!)
How does the new album differ from last years release, “Fantasmatic”?
“Fantasmatic” is essentially the culmination of all of the songs I’d written for the band up until that point; its kind of like our “greatest hits”, in a way. “Silicon Vapor” is all new songs, and is maybe a little moodier, a bit more introspective. But it’s still pretty goddamn mean and punishing though (I think, anyway.)
After already sharing the stage with acts such as Melt-Banana and Valient Thorr, any news on who you might be touring with to promote “Silicon Vapor?”
Working on all that now, nothing earthshaking yet!! Just playing locally and regionally in support of the record.
What was the first concert you ever attended as a kid? Could you still cite that band as an influence or part of your current taste to this day?
The first real mindblower for me was The Cars in 1980 (the “Panorama” tour, and XTC opened!) at Madison Square Garden. I was and still am a total Cars fanatic. After that it’s Van Halen (who I saw in ’82) and I still am a super fan of them as well. And Michael Jackson. And Devo. And Earth, Wind, and Fire. And Slayer. And Ray Charles. And Diamanda Galas. And Flipper. And The Wipers. And Buffy Sainte-Marie.