Dutch progressive rock band Mangrove recently released the simply stunning album Beyond Reality, and Sea of Tranquility staff writer Steven Reid had the chance to talk to three members of the band, Roland van der Horst (Guitar and Vocals), Joost Hagemeijer (Drums, Backing Vocals) and Chris Jonker (Keyboards) to find out their thoughts on music and their plans for the future.
SoT: Hi guys, could you please start by explaining a bit about how the band came together and the journey that has brought you to this point?
Roland: Joost (drums, vocals) and myself (guitars, vocals) started in 1995 a project called "Brainstorm". Result of this project was the unreleased CD "Cold World" and bass and keyboard parts were filled in via multi track recording. Driven by the passion for writing exciting music and longing for the stages to show our ability to perform it we felt in 1998 that the time was right to form a band and bring our project "Brainstorm" to life. The first demo recording "Massive Hollowness" was our first achievement. The group was then renamed "Mangrove".
The year 2001 secured the perfect band: some months after Pieter Drost (bass) completed the rhythm section with his distinctive bass sound, Chris Jonker (keyboards) completed the sonic palette with the keys. Writing sessions started and resulted in the rather successful release "Touch Wood" in 2004. The foundation for the typical Mangrove sound was built. But it was the 2005 concept album "Facing The Sunset" which grabbed the attention of many fans of pure progressive rock within the scene.....
SoT: The response to Beyond Reality has been very positive, including a five star review from Sea of Tranquility, you must be pleased with how everything is going so far?
Roland: Indeed we're very pleased with that! We receive many very positive reviews from all over the world. We're pleased with how attention is growing on Beyond Reality but we think that's only the beginning. We feel a strong urge to promote the album more than ever and do our utmost to display it every way we can. Interviews can be very helpful, like this one, but we also plan to play live as much as we can because we believe that's very good promotion. So we're pleased but we also feel that we have to put more effort in promoting the album to give it the exposure we think it deserves.
SoT: I have to admit that up until I did the review for Beyond Reality, I had only heard your band's name but never your music. Reading some of the comments about your early work, Genesis were mentioned a lot as an inspiration, however with this album I heard everything from ELP, King Crimson, The Beatles, Yes, and indeed amongst many others, Genesis. Who would you guys site as major influences in both your desire to play music and the style of music you chose?
Roland: Funny to hear that you've heard our band's name but not our music. When we play live a lot of people who haven't heard the name Mangrove before are positively surprised by our music and wonder why they didn't hear from us before. For us this means that we have to put more energy in spreading our music! Regarding your question I think all band members have their own influences. We do all love bands like Genesis (the old stuff), Pink Floyd, YES and King Crimson. Some of us are more into straight rock music and others into progressive bands like Flower Kings, Porcupine Tree and Spock's Beard. Some band members get a lot of inspiration from classical composers like Stravinsky and Holst.
SoT: I am especially interested to hear who your vocal influences are. I heard everything from Dennis DeYoung of Styx, to John Lennon, to Ken Hensley of Uriah Heep.
Roland: I think main influences for me are not any of the singers you name. Sorry for that (laughs!). I get vocal inspiration from singers like John Wetton, Ian Gillan, Peter Gabriel and Robert Plant and trying to improve my vocal skills I practice singing along with recordings of the artists mentioned before. But most of all I try to develop my own style which fits the music of Mangrove best.
SoT: One of the aspects of the music that really impressed me was that it doesn't belong to an "era", yes as I said earlier there are 70's influences; however it sits well with releases from bands like The Pineapple Thief, or Porcupine Tree and covers everything in between. Did you want to avoid being viewed as a retro band?
Roland: Although we like the music of the 70's very much we don't want to be copycats. What we like about 70's music is the passion and emotion that shines through the compositions and the choice of sounds like Mellotron and Hammond and the longer instrumental parts. So we use a lot of these ingredients composing our music. But we try to compose good music with our own Mangrove ingredients. Some reviewers notice what they call "the Mangrove acceleration" and dynamic contrast.
SoT: The quality is remarkably high throughout the whole album, however are there any tracks or passages that stand out more than others?
Roland: Thanks. We believe all songs are of equal quality but everyone has his one personal preference. We think that songs like "Beyond Reality" and "Love and Beyond" are suited for a larger audience than progressive or symphonic rock lovers. At the other hand a song like "Time Will Tell" is more complex in terms of song structure and will please the more progressive music lover. So we can't say there are tracks that stand out more than others.
SoT: A lot of progressive music shies away from having catchy choruses, however I found myself singing a lot of the songs long after I had stopped listening, was this something you worked hard on?
Roland: We are very critical on what we do and what we did. One of the things we thought could be improved comparing to previous releases was vocals in general and vocal lines more specifically. We put a lot of time and effort in this and perhaps that's why we have more catchy choruses than before. We also put a lot of time arranging the "close" harmony vocal parts which probably contributes to how memorable they are.
SoT: The lyrics on the album are very intense and personal in places. Are they autobiographical in any way and if so is that an easy thing to do?
Joost: The lyrics on this album are not really autobiographical. It's a bundle of observations of human behaviour when dealing with time space related issues. It's all about here and there, me and you, now and then, in short the ingredients of human pie.
SoT: Is there a concept running through the songs?
Joost: Not exactly a concept. It's more like looking at the power of the human mind from different points of view. It's about having memories, dreams and fantasies providing us the opportunity to change our goals or to escape from everyday life. It's also about our sense of time and space. It's typically human to use those parameters to measure our progress in life, or to set our goals. We divide our consciousness in history, present and future and determine where we come from, where we are now and where we are heading for. In all of these processes we are in fact looking at ourselves like in a mirror and wondering if we are what we would like to be. It's all in our heads, untouchable, invisible, but still our main source of human behaviour. That's kind of beyond reality.
SoT: The album artwork is quite striking and unsettling in places and also ties in very well with the lyrical themes, how hard was it to produce the whole package?
Joost: Not so hard, we were lucky enough to have two very talented graphic designers/photographers to cooperate with. We brought in some ideas the lyrics were based on and then we started layering and editing some beautiful pictures from their databases. Time and space of course had to be returning elements.
SoT: Whose idea was it to print the lyrics backwards in the CD booklet? I liked it, however some of the feedback suggests it is a bit annoying!
Joost: It was my idea! Since the mirror is some kind of window to a world beyond reality, we tried to emphasize the lyrical themes by printing the lyrics in mirror writing.
SoT: Considering how strong the message behind both the lyrics and the music on the album is, how do you guys write the songs? Is it jam sessions, or do complete works get brought into the session?
Chris: Most of the time the music is written by the whole band. So it is really an effort done by the collective. However, sometimes someone brings ideas or even a complete work into the session. But even then the group may transform it into a group composition by making changes to the original ideas. The lyrics are most of the time written afterwards. But indeed we always try to fuse all elements to one cohesive product: music, lyrics, artwork.
SoT: There are theories that people don't have time in their lives to listen to albums anymore. There are four songs that could be described as "epic" in length on Beyond Reality, did you ever think that was quite a risk to take, or were you confident enough that the strength of the material would shine through?
Chris: We have never bothered about that. We have always had the confidence of knowing how to write the long songs that are kept interesting from the beginning to the end. We are pleased that this is recognized by the listeners as we can read in the many positive reviews. Composition has always been a keyword to Mangrove, I do not believe in the theory that people don't have time to listen to albums. I consider it as a movie, there are always people that love to enjoy a good movie or a good album. There have always been people who like to enjoy a journey 'beyond reality'…(laughs). And there will always be. Maybe even more these days…
SoT: You have received a lot of praise for your live show. How much time do you see the band spending on the road to promote the new album?
Chris: Never enough!! Yes, we got indeed a good reputation based on our live performances. That is something which you may consider as a 'unique selling point' of the band. We have always loved performing live. The feedback of the audience has always been fantastic! In that respect we are the opposite of a 'studio project'. It's about making music, and it's all about performing your art to the public. In that respect Mangrove is still a 'real band'. Slowly our gig list is expanding to the better known venues, which is cool and we continue doing our utmost to expand our gig list. We did great gigs in the UK as well as Poland, Switzerland, Belgium and Germany. We like to spend more time on the road than ever before. We are very eager to promote the new album in a broad sense, as we feel the interest in Mangrove with this new album is bigger than ever. Performing live is the best advertisement nowadays.
SoT: What are the main changes in the music industry since the band started? Do you see downloading as a way of gaining exposure, or as a way of losing sales?
Chris: One of the main changes is indeed the 'downloading' culture, but there are also the possibilities the internet offers. Well, our sales have increased since the band started, but I guess that has nothing to do with the increase of downloads but with the gradual growth of the band. But it could be true that we could have potentially more sales. However, we never investigated this issue and therefore it is difficult to say what the impact really is. In general we always try to look at possibilities instead of restrictions.
SoT: Has the internet made it easier for Mangrove to gain some recognition for the music you produce?
Chris: As I said, we always try to look at the possibilities. And indeed the internet offers so many possibilities which we would like to utilize as much as we can. At the same time we are aware of the fact that we have to do much more than we do now to get our music more well-known. We are convinced that the album has much more potential. But it is also a matter of time, the time we need for expanding our promotional activities. But I feel there's something bubbling below the surface…
SoT: What do you think of the current music scene in general, but especially current progressive music? Are there any bands that stand out to you?
Chris: To be honest I am the only one in the band who is aware of the current progressive rock scene. As we are always busy with Mangrove we do not have much time to look at other bands… But in general I have the feeling that there's nowadays a growing interest for new, and not so new, progressive rock bands. That's a great thing!
SoT: So what does the future hold for Mangrove?
Chris: Well, we very much believe that the future looks bright for Mangrove. We are pleased with a great new album which we believe holds a lot of potential to make Mangrove better known than ever before. As said, we are doing our utmost to expand our live gigs, so in combination with that we are ready for that future…!
SoT: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Chris: We are very happy with the 5-star rating on 'Sea of Tranquility'. We would like to say to everyone: read the review and buy the album! Thanks a lot!
SoT: Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions guys, I hope that Beyond Reality is a huge success for you as it deserves to be heard by a wide audience.
(Click here to read our review of Beyond Reality