They have just released their fourth studio album called “Freakazoid”, an album that shows a new and refreshing side of Mennen. Furthermore they will be playing a lot of live gigs in the near future and they will officially present their new album at the first Rock Inc. Festival in the Bosuil in Weert (The Netherlands) on 21st March. So lots of things to talk about with Alex, bass player of Dutch rockers Mennen.
Martien: Why did it take five years to make/release a new album?
Alex: Well, actually “Age Of Fools” is already six years old…. Our second guitar player Hille left just after the release of that album and so we sat down and had a discussion on how to go on now. What should we do, hire a new guitar player; Joss and I said we needed a new guitar player, but Eric disagreed. Finally after several discussions Eric managed to persuade us, so we started to rehearse and there was chemistry right from the start. So we decided to record this “new feeling” on a live album and with that live album we got great feedback from abroad and so we spent much time playing gigs in France and Portugal. In the mean time we had lots of ideas for new songs, in fact we could have “filled” a complete new album, but we threw them away. They simply were not good enough! Then we built a new rehearsal room and we started to jam, write songs, re-write songs and so in the end it took a complete year to record the new album. I must say that if you listen to the record that you can hear that we worked very hard on it.
Martien: Fourteen songs were composed, but there are only 11 on the album. What happened to the other three ones?
Alex: They are on our hard disc. We are planning to use them in the near future; we could use one track as a bonus for our Japanese release and maybe we will use the other two as an extra gadget on our Internet site, so that fans can download them.
Martien: Why did you choose to leave out the three specific ones, where they not good enough?
Alex: No, absolutely not. It is just very difficult to choose; actually one of my favourite tracks is not on the album… At two minutes to midnight, so to say, we decided what to put on the record. “Wicked White”, the last track on the album, was not supposed to be on the album in the beginning, but we finally decided that this was the absolute best track to end the album with.
Martien: Then, if it was so difficult to choose, why didn’t you put all the 14 tracks on the album?
Alex: I think that the album would have become too long then. I feel that the strength of the album lies in the fact of the diversity of the songs which is perfect now. You have some hard tracks, some experimental stuff and a couple of quieter songs, so the balance is perfect as it is.
Martien: “Down” will be the first single?
Alex: Yes, it will be released as a so-called double A-side; the other track is the ballad “Above The Waterline”. Maybe that radio stations will be willing to play our single with this approach. “Down” was chosen because it really is a catchy song, and I really would not have known what we could have released as another single? “Down” is also a perfect example of the “new” sound of Mennen.
Martien: The vocals of Joss are always very recognisable and are in fact typical for the sound of Mennen; or am I wrong?
Alex: Of course that’s true. Joss really sings fantastic on the new album, his voice is crystal clear and he has really put a lot of emotions in his vocals. A time ago when we played at a festival in France – just after the attacks in New York and the explosion in the plant in Toulouse – Joss sang “River Of Tears” with so much emotion and conviction, that I thought, yeah, this is Joss Mennen at his best, really awesome. In fact, he is still growing, the complete band actually, we have not reached our musical peak yet.
Martien: You came up with the rather “strange” title?
Alex: Yes, I did. The work title for the album was in fact “Band of Brothers”, but in the end that did not work out very well; furthermore we had lots of discussion about the title. Anyway, when I was in France I saw an equivalent of the American cartoon net on TV and that was called Freakazoid…. My first reaction was, this the title for our new album; fresh, catchy, cool. So I mad this to the other guys and they approved right from the start, they liked it as well as I did. So we went along with Freakazoid; which actually means nothing…..
Martien: How did you guys come into contact with Erwin Musper again?
Alex: Joss was busy reclaiming the rights for the Zinatra albums. And in the basement of the Universal Studios in Hilversum he ran into Erwin and they had a talk and later on when we were on the point of mixing the album we thought, well why not ask Erwin for the job because Peter de Wint was not able to do the job. We mailed him to ask what his possibilities were and he had some open space in his diary, so he took the job.
Martien: What did he “add” to your album?
Alex: He did a wonderful job. He actually put our individual talents more in the spotlight, without neglecting the overall sound of Mennen. The greatest compliment we got so far was that the album sounded American; so go figure…. His approach was really refreshing and also educational; we learned a lot for our future albums.
Martien: All the songs on the album differ musically a lot from each other, of course this was intentional.
Alex: We really are a four-piece rock band now, in all respects. On the other albums Joss and Eric composed all the songs and came up with all the ideas. I could not accept that; I also have ideas and so we all came up with ideas and started to rehearse. I think we sound more modern now, musically speaking we have grown, without any doubt. If we had just made another hard rock album, with “only” guitar riffs, that would not have worked. So this time we tried something new and all the reviews are fantastic. Of course we were a bit anxious how the fans and the critics would react; but I have not seen or read a negative review so far.
Martien: “The World Stopped Turning” is about the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, why did you choose to deal with that topic?
Alex: It made a real impact on the band, and me and I still know exactly what I was doing that day. We just returned from Portugal and Theo Samson (Rock Inc) called us and said put on the TV. So we did and we thought that a plane hit the airport of Lisbon, a few minutes later we saw that the attacks were in New York and we were baffled…… I think it is one of those “events” that you will never forget, the emotion is still there, so why not use it in a song…..
Martien: Eric Phillipe did the artwork for the cover, how did you come into contact with him?
Alex: Eric also made the cover and the logo for the first Mennen album. We met him again at Graspop, backstage, where he “showed” his work, and we started talking. He actually made three concept covers, and we decided in the end to go for the modern Mennen logo, with tongue piercing!!!
Martien: Touring plans?
Alex: At the moment we are negotiating with the management of Europe, to go on a tour with them. We always loved Europe, we grew up with “Out Of This World”, it was our tour record. I feel that the actual music of Mennen and Europe lies very close to each other, so we thought we would give it a try. Joss and I did some background vocals on the new Scorpions record, so maybe we can work out something there as well. On 22 May we will be playing at the Borstrock festival together with Thin Lizzy and of course on 21st March the first Rock Inc Festival in Weert.
Martien: Graspop, Bospop?? Alex : I wonder if we would fit in with the bands that will be playing on Graspop… maybe on the Friday with White Lion. Graspop is maybe the best festival in the world, cosy, relaxed, extremely well organised, yeah, we would love to play there. We have not been asked for Bospop yet….. It is difficult in The Netherlands with Dutch bands if you are not called Kane or Direct, if you know what I mean.
Martien: Are you guys full time musicians now?
Alex: Joss is fully occupied with Mennen and Rock Inc., Eric still has a full time job, Fons is a full time drummer and I still have a part time job. So it is going into the right direction…Needless to say that we cannot live from Mennen, all the profits we make go right back into the music…..
Martien: Did you never regret joining Mennen?
Alex: No. I saw them once before I joined the band actually. They played with Gotthard in Landgraaf and I was not really convinced then…. I got a call from one of the roadies who asked me if I still played the bass and still had long hair, and if I would be interested in “joining” Mennen. Later I had a talk with Joss and with the new songs for Age Of Fools he convinced me to join the band. So I stayed, now we are friends for life. I am a real live man, I love performing on stage, recording is also nice, but not too long. I think and hope that with this new record Mennen will have a good future ahead. See you all on 21st March in Weert.
Martien: Thanks for your time and good luck with the album and the band.
for Rockunited by Martien Koolen