What I always find very interesting is that most people within the hardcore and punk rock scene are wired dfferently from what I would call everyone else. There’s a certain connection we have regardless of our cultural background, age or gender. Daan Pleunis is the singer of a, well small, Dutch hardcore band, but his actions are big. He pours everything he has into it, together with his bandmates in Hometown Crew. Nothing Lasts Forever the band’s debut album got released last year and it did raise a few questions I just needed to ask.
Interview: Martijn Welzen
MM: What are your thoughts about the current state of the hardcore scene in Europe? To me it feels like things are gradually improving again.
Daan: Personally I think hardcore was never gone or on its last legs. It is obviously a scene which moves in waves and trends, but as long as some people are really vested in it and continue working on it all will be fine. Even if shows are less crowded or if hardcore is commercially less successful. It still is about the ‘hard core’ in hardcore. It does depend on what part of the scene we are talking about.
That tends to shift quite a bit. It’s all about what is currently ‘hip’ and if this will help with some new offspring of young people who have an interest and a drive to create great things, play in bands and just generally can be bothered with putting energy into it without expecting any immediate result. So it all comes in ups and downs, and hardcore is no exception, but I do focus on the people who are around when things are seemingly down. If these people are about to move on I’ll start being worried.
MM: Your sound is leaning towards the American sound of quite some years ago, like Ten Yard Fight, Champion or Bane, even though you do hail from the (greater) region of Backfire! and No Turning Back. How did this all come about and do these giants of Dutch hardcore have any influence at all?
Daan: When we formed this band we were actually quite young. Nick (bassist – ed) and I were 19 and the oldest of the band. Our drummer was just 14 when he joined. We didn’t know anyone outside our local scene and didn’t know anything about writing music. I had recently passed my driving test and went to shows in the Netherlands and Belgium with Nick, if only to support other local bands who were playing. What I noticed, at the time, was the tendency for bands to be as brutal and loud as possible. Shows were quite aggressive at times. To each his own, obviously, but we wanted to approach things differently. The only thing we wanted to do, in the beginning, was starting a band to which people could stage dive, sing-along and two-step. We wanted to be a band which would make everyone feel at ease. A band that had something to say and which would make people move, inspire or just happy.
I used to have quite a ‘youth crew’ obsession, and because we lacked the experience in songwriting to make things more complex, we decided to go against the grain and have this youth crew sound. As time went by got more of a melodic angle to it. It’s not entirely that classic style anymore, but a band like Bane is indeed an example of a group we really look up to. Like said, as we hardly knew anyone outside of our small local scene, we just went ahead and did our own thing, and never had the idea of looking at what the bigger bands were doing. It also is not about being a copy, but keeping things close to yourself. However bands like Backfire! and No Turning Back have been very supportive when they got to know us, and we owe them quite a bit for paving the way all these years.
MM: That’s all about musical influences, how about the lyrics? Can anyone put American felt emotions blindly on your Dutch background? Or do you aim for that universal feeling?
Daan: With hardcore I always found it very important to be credible. For me that’s the number one thing I demand from hardcore, or music in general. Doesn’t matter if you play aggressive hardcore like Kickback or have a more sensitive grunge / emo blend. I want to see you mean what you say and are willing to give a piece of yourself. I never wanted us to be something we are not! We’re not tough and do not come from a ghetto. If that would automatically mean we’re ‘more Dutch’, I can’t tell you. I’m not sure what would make a band typically American or typically Dutch. There are so many styles, but when you’re good enough it doesn’t matter where you come from.
I write lyrics from my perspective and experiences in a way they might mean something for someone. If that’s really the case I cannot tell. I do look at other bands in the way they try convey a certain message with power and am inspired by that. The musicians who are a major influence, are usually guys who are, or have been, in a similar situation. Even if they are from a different continent. Hardcore is universal! When you are sincere in what you do, you can easily reach people on the other side of the world.
MM: Your music is pure energy which will give the listener a positive vibe, but (most of) the lyrics portay a different emotion. How does this work in your head? You put your frustrations to paper, put that to crushing hardcore and let it go?
Daan: I always think it sort of funny when people call us a ‘posicore’ band. That is understandable when you listen to the music, but our lyrics are not always very ‘posi’. Life is simply not a fairytale in which everything is perfect all the time. This definitely goes for the thoughts in my head. First I look at what I think a song should be about. When a rough set up is done I link that so a song, which usually is ready instrumentally. That content is important in hardcore. I tend to look at my own experiences and observations on how people interact with each other or with life in general. At times this can result in heavier or even existential subjects.
I like giving a more philosophical twist to everyday life, but I also try taking a step back putting things in perspective in which it will become a confrontation with your own position in this situation. The last thing I would want is to just write about how angry, depressed or disappointed I am. In my opinion that sounds forced fairly quickly. I cannot believe people are this one-sided. With these challenges there’s an entire train of thoughts in my head. When I write the words I always give myself that ‘advise’, and it can maybe push someone in the direction they need. I think that this is often perceived as that positive message.
MM: Nothing Lasts Forever is released by Positive & Focused records, a name which also has that drive we talked about earlier. Is that also a reason for them being the best label for you currently?
Daan: In all honesty; Daniël and Toni of Positive & Focused Records were one of the few would would even give us a chance. Youth Crew was just ‘not cool’ at the time. For the past few years it’s starting to come back again. When we started working with the guys we had just recorded our 7″EP ‘The Score’ which we really wanted to release on vinyl. We were still in the process of learning how to write music, how to create our sound and how to record everything. This whole development can definitely be heard on this record. A lot of labels were not interested in working with us. We were not heavy, unknown, inexperienced and simply not popular enough. On top of that was our sound which was hardly heard anymore, which made us a bit of an outsider. For the average hardcore label we were just too different. Plus we also weren’t a true straight edge band, which was never something we had set out to be. Some true underground labels, who still released youth crew records, we were not an option either.
And truth be told, when you get dozens of young bands offered for your label almost daily, it was not all too interesting. So we did not have that many options. The only real thing we had was a lot of friends in the Netherlands who we got to know over the years and had seen us play. They saw something and believed in what we were doing. A few of them had pushed us a bit with Daniël and Toni and that way we got in touch. Our cooperation just continued after our first 7″. We can simply count on each other, and I know Daniël and Toni are proper good guys.
MM: When you look at the current state of the world, and also take in mind the current state of the hardcore scene. Did Nothing Lasts Forever arrive at a prefect time?
Daan: That message did arrive at a bit of an ironic moment for sure ha.ha. The whole album is written with the idea that everything will, by definition, change tremendously. It’s very naive of people to think everything will remain stable and the same forever. This is something we not only know from personal experiences, but also see, like now, in the entire world. It’s all about ‘turning points’ for us. This can go from negative to positive, but also the other way around. It’s mostly about accepting. Letting go of that idea you can create your own reality.
At times you’re just a feather on the winds of circumstances. It’s also good to know that eventually anything, good or bad, will end. It’s might sound a bit semi-nihilistic, but finding peace in that very fact can be very valuable. I can’t tell if people have found some support in ‘Nothing Last Forever’ the past year. I do get the occasional message from people telling me the impact our album had. That’s all on a personal level though. Several friends did however used the album title as a reference to last year haha.
MM: Would you say that Nothings Lasts Foreveris a positive or a negative? It’s not just beautiful things that come to pass, the same goes for bad things…
Daan: You’ve hit the nail on the head, with what I wanted to say with the album. For me the main theme of the record is ‘transcience’. This is something which can be both positive and negative. When I was in my early 20s I have encountered quite a few medical issues and that really changes your outlook on things. I can accept that nothings lasts forever, which might sound depressing to some. It can however also be quite liberating letting your expectations on life go a little. On a short term things seemingly drag on endlessly, or when you have lost something very dear it can have a tremendous impact. But looking at things from a long term perspective the whole world is constantly moving. This whole idea fits in with many aspects in life. If you are able looking at it this way many things which seem huge and overwhelming become a lot smaller and easier to digest.
MM: The reviews I have read so far are raving…. Did you expect this? Even the well-known record store CoreTex in Berlin made you ‘Album of the Week’. That has to feel special…
Daan: We are sincerely surprised by how the record has been received. Being ‘album of the week’ and reaching #8 in the CoreTex top 20 is extraordinary. It’s suprising, but we still feel touched when someone is saying something nice about the band. We have always had a certain ‘drive’ to work hard and create something cool, but we still had to pass this phase in which people were not interested or even ignored us. We have just never been a ‘cool’ band. There have been many nights in which we tried contacting people for DIY tours which were either turned down or we didn’t get a reply at all. It’s rather surreal to notice so many people are raving about the new album. I do think this is the first release which makes clear what we want to achieve as a band. Still I am speechless, and grateful, to notice how things have been picked up.
MM: So one more thing about the lyrics. In Lighter Fluid you say: “Out there you can only count on yourself”, which is a rather lonely outlook on this world. However in Guard Up you say: “If you choose to stay in solitude. You’ll never fucking know that there is more to people than you know.” Is that the foundation of a struggle we maybe all face; who are we and who do we trust?
Daan: I have to say that’s a great view on our songs, which I can also agree to. You know, when I am in this writing process I tend to become side-tracked, and in my head I am taking more abstract exits to the original message in the lyrics. Later on I always find it hard summarizing what a song is about. I do think this will leave a bit of space for personal interpretation. A relationship in itself is a subject I often look at from different angles. That can be my own experience or I observe how things unfold with others. There’s more to how people treat themself or each other than meets the eye. Trying to figure out what is going one in someone’s heart and mind can be a challenging puzzle. So that ‘struggle’, as you call it, is a good description of the things I write about. All is mostly a way of solving that puzzle personally and to share that experience.
MM: So how important is your music to maintain your sanity? It’s not just a release valve I think but also a way of meeting kindred spirits…
Daan: Wow, touchy subject man…. ha, ha. Let me put it this way; a lot of people I hang out with often say: “you do not just stumble into hardcore for no reason”. Knowing most of my energy has been poured into this for years has to say something. This past years has, again, made it painfully clear why I am here. This will probably ring true for a lot of people, who all have their own reasons. It’s indeed a release valve which helps me create, and maintain, peace in my head. It can also give you selfworth or, more often, help you restore it.
Through hardcore I have got to know a lot of people who have similar views and it’s easier to bond with them, something I hardly see at other places. It obviously does appeal to this sort of people. Having said that it also is a place for all walks of life, not everyone is the same, but the beauty lies in that notion we can learn from eachother’s differences and put them aside a bit. It’s most likely a bit of an idealistic view on our scene, but still one I believe in. Hardcore is where I belong, and I am more at shows than I am at home, under normal circumstances. So yes, you can say it’s extremely important!
MM: In your lyrics you keep things close to home… friendship, sadness, fears and you seem to steer aways from political or social topics. Is that on purpose? Hardcore has ofcourse always had a social critical background.
Daan: Well yeah… like said earlier hardcore has to be sincere and convincing. When I write lyrics from my own reality I can achieve both goals the easiest. There is an angle of social critisim, but mostly focused on how we treat eachother. It’s more aimed at individual experiences than the big picture. Even though we, as a band, mostly agree on our political convictions we can have our differences in how to view certain details. We’re just trying to be welcoming and friendly towards everyone. That is what we are all about. It’s also something many hardcore bands are fighting for, but I just want to go back to the foundation of trying to be a decent individual and continue to work on yourself.
MM: In hardcore you also see a lot of support for causes such as Sea Shepherd, Animal Truth or HC Help Foundation. It that also something you are involved in? Is hardcore still ‘more than music’ in 2021?
Daan: We are definitely involved, but it’s just not something we carry out as much. There’s also not just one cause we work for, but if there’s something we can get behind we love looking into supporting that cause. In the past a friend and I set up a ‘Hardcore Benefit’ for KWF (Dutch cancer charity – ed.). We have also collected clothes, locally, for the homeless. These actions are very labour intensive, and it is noticable that the further along we get, as a band, the less energy we have left getting involved. At that point you have to come up with other means of contributing. Luckily we have a network of friends who set things up which we can support.
We can play a benefit show, which others have set up, distribute promo stuff for certain organisations (e.g. animal rights) through our merch table. We can support causes financially or give music for compilations for a charity. Last year we contributed to a compilation of which all benefits will go to ‘Sea Watch’, and another one which supported suicide prevention and care for addicts. Hardcore is certainly ‘more than music’, also in 2021! Still you are already well on your way when you’re just willing to help others without expecting something in return. And this can be something very small to start with.
MM: So now what… The record is released, a video online, new merch for sale, but no gigs in sight. How do you ‘experience’ your own music and hardcore in general at the moment?
Daan: yeah, it currently all sucks for sure. We have kept busy with a lot of online promotion and getting our merchandise and vinyl sorted. We do miss touring and playing tremendously. We can even rehearse only sporadically, so we have missed that too. There’s a few things for which we can do some preperations, but it’s not like usual. Furthermore are we currently focussing on album two. which we don’t have to combine with touring anymore once that is given a go again.
Social media is a blessing when it comes to staying in touch with the scene these days. Many of the people we got to know over the years have become close friends and it’s nice being able to stay in touch. Other than that it is just listening to a lot of music and watching shows online. We can only hope we can get back to doing this thing. Nothing beats a cup of cheap gasstation coffee, sleeping on a kitchen floor and hugging your friends wearing a shirt which you have been sweating in for three days straight.