Dutch rock magazine Rockportaal interview Rites - Recently the first full-length album was released by the Middelburg hardcore punk band RITES, consisting of Louisa Steenbakkers (vocals), Chris Marijs (guitar), Ronald Lokerse (guitar), Nous Davidse (bass) and Rick Hutjens (drums). We were very positive about the album. So positive that we wanted to get to know the band a little better and invited Rick and Louisa for a conversation.
RITES has been active since 2014. Unlike many other bands, the line-up has remained very stable, apart from some regular substitutes at live shows. Then you wonder how they manage to do that.
Louisa thinks, “Humor anyway. I think it's nice to know that before we got together I didn't know anyone very well apart from Nous. I once went to a show with him that Rick organized.”
Rick adds, “I knew Nous and Chris quite well, but I first spoke to Ronald in the practice room. Nous actually brought everyone together. He had been playing in a band with Ronald and Chris for some time. When they broke up, they continued to make music together. I said if Chris wanted to play guitar I would come and play drums. We thought we should ask someone to do vocals, so Louisa came along."
Louisa: ''I sometimes sang with other bands, but I didn't have anything permanent. It was difficult to find band members in Zeeland with the same musical interests.”
Rick: “She came to practice on a Monday and never left.”
Louisa: “Maybe that's the secret. Starting a band with people you didn't know before."
Rick and Louisa agree that it is important that ambitions are aligned. That, and creative differences are often the reason a band falls apart. Rick: “Some of us were still in other bands, but together we decided what we wanted and how often we wanted to play. Then your first ambition is to play a show, then make a demo, then the offers come, you try to arrange things yourself... But we always do this with the question whether everyone can agree with it. That keeps relationships within the band healthy.”
Louisa: “It is important that it remains fun and does not become a chore. We all have the same natural drive to put energy into it, because we also get it back from each other.”
DEMO, EP AND ALBUM
Over the years, the band's sound has been developed and tailored to the spirit of the times. But not only that of course, Louisa explains. “I notice that there is quite a big difference in my voice and what I can do compared to the first demo. So there is certainly a musical development that you hear again. You also hear what we were enthusiastic about at a certain moment in the music around us.”
After a series of EPs, there is now a full album. Yet that was not the immediate idea, as Rick tells us. “It's actually a kind of mini-album of seven songs. When we started writing, just before the pandemic, we still had the idea that it would be another EP. My experience with albums is that you rarely reach the last track when listening. So we thought, let's go for short and sweet without fillers. But when we were ready to go into the studio we had a choice of ten songs. We ended up cutting three that didn't seem like perfect songs to us."
Louisa agrees, “We prefer quality over quantity. We also wanted to release a 12-inch on vinyl, so this was a great opportunity for that."
The quality over quantity also applies to the performances. As befits a hardcore band, they are short but very powerful. “Some bands have songs that are longer than our entire set list,” says Louisa, laughing.
"I'd rather see a band that makes you think 'damn, I would have liked to hear more songs' than looking at your watch and wondering when the next band is going to start," says Rick. “We usually play around thirty minutes and we also use that principle on our releases.”
Louisa: “You feel that the songs are coming, and that the audience still has enough energy.”
The new album has cool album art. The tattoo style, the pink color stands out nicely. Rick gives us some background. “We were looking for a traditional tattoo style supplemented with our own elements. We found the artist in artist and tattoo artist Pim in Middelburg, a friend of ours. We told him what we were looking for and he started working on it with enthusiasm. When the drawings were finished, we looked at how we could incorporate them into the album. The idea was always that the record should jump out in the record bin. We have had black and white artwork before and we received good reactions to that, but you see that more often. A pink cover like now stands out more, you don't come across that as standard in the hardcore scene.”
“I usually have a specific idea in my head and then make a mood board. Pim's sketches were exactly what I had in mind, which was very cool. Each song on the album has its own illustration. We were all very much on the same page,” says Louisa.
In addition to those tattoo influences, the band members are also fans of the pop culture of the eighties. This translates into references to Wednesday Adams and Neverending Story on the merchandise. Also very cool are the stickers where we see the Critters monsters. Rick: “We have always tried to convert film ideas into shirts and T-shirts. The idea for Critters came from Chris. The sticker design originally started as a T-shirt design. The great thing is that you can also make RITES from the letters of Critters."
POP ROUND FEST
In 2021, RITES participated in the pop round. Unfortunately, that was not the most favorable time due to the turbulent Covid period. Yet it was not a complete failure, Louisa explains. “It was an exciting edition, in the beginning it was the first Popronde in which everything was allowed again, and then again it was not. People had a huge urge to have a blast, so that was fun. But a seated punk show is a challenge of course. We thought it was great to participate and experience the atmosphere in all those cities, but we were left with a bit of an unsatisfied feeling that we were not able to get the most out of it.”
Rick: “A hardcore punk band in a Popronde is not always a good combination anyway. We played some really nice shows and made some great contacts and press moments, but I think garage bands get more out of it. Friends of ours, Rats & Daggers, have played many shows there. That is a band that works well in a café and a large venue. Also, due to the increasing vinyl waiting times, our new record was not yet out when we started the Popronde. We were able to play all the songs from that record, but we were not able to sell them there."
The band managed to do a nice, small tour in England. Rick tells us how that worked out. “Our third EP was released there on the English label Cult Culture of the singer of Group Of Man. We have played shows with them before in the Netherlands and Germany and he thought it would be a good idea to arrange a few shows in England. We played four shows there which were very enjoyable. We definitely plan to go back again as the new record has also been released on an English label, Engineer Records.”
The band's lyrics are quite easy to understand, which is not always the case with this type of music. It is a bonus, but not necessarily a requirement, as Louisa tells us. “I like it when people can understand what it's about, but I don't really pay much attention to that. I am mainly concerned with getting it technically right. The lyrics are emotion-driven and we always look at whether it works better to sing or shout a passage. I really enjoy shouting live, because you can put all your energy and emotion into it. When I sing clean, I have to be careful that, when I am in such a state of energy and emotion, I take my moment to portray it well. I'm quite mobile on stage. I once read that the singer of Paramore practices by singing on a trampoline. Screaming comes easier to me personally, although it would certainly be tough if I had to do that for an hour straight.
Rick: “Our songs certainly have a message and sometimes it is a bit more pronounced than with other songs. We don't emphasize it, but if people delve into the texts they will really find out. The bands and labels we work with also make no bones about the fact that they embrace everyone, wherever they come from and whatever their sexual identity is. No Change Without Me in particular makes that clear."
Louisa: “I'm quite a positive person, but I also see things that make me less happy and I like to write about that and express that frustration on stage. Sometimes a bit more direct, like at the end of Free. Sometimes it is more woven into things and I like it when people ask questions about that. Then we can talk about it and I sometimes discover something new about what I have written. Sometimes it is more of a look inward and sometimes more outward.”