The Dutch band Nice Beaver formed in 1997 when Scotty!, a band that guitarist Hans Gerritse and bassist Peter Stel had been playing in collapsed. Erik Groeneweg soon joined with them on keyboards and vocals. He joked that he got the gig strictly because he was managing a theater that gave the band some place to rehearse. The last piece of the puzzle is drummer Ferry Zonneveld, who had played with Erik and Peter in an earlier band called "For Cryin Out Loud".
All of the new members of Nice Beaver had been in and out of other bands for years. It soon became apparent that they were going to do things differently with Nice Beaver. They decided to work on recording their jam sections and piece things together. After three years, a couple of demo's and a few gigs, the band decided to make a serious album. On Dry Land was released in 2001 and re-issued by Cyclops in 2002.
Nice Beaver's new CD, Oregon, shows the growth and maturity that has come during the additional 3 years of playing and recording together. Erik Groeneweg discussed Nice Beaver and the state of prog-rock during a phone interview on January 19th.
SoT: Good morning Erik. Glad we finally got to talk.
Mr. Groeneweg: My pleasure Steve.
SoT: One of the things that I noticed is that Nice Beaver has this serious 70s vibe running through their CDs. Is this something you keep in mind when writing your songs?
Mr. Groeneweg: It just comes out that way. It's not by accident, since we are pretty old and we come from the 70s. You can tell by our influences. We try not to sound like anything when we write material. What we do is go into rehearsal and just jam until there is another structure and then develop that into the song. And most of the time it sounds like the 70s. That's how it happens.
SoT: Is that how the song writing is handled? I notice that everyone gets credit for the music. Do you come in with music first or lyrics?
Mr. Groeneweg: We come in blank. Always first is the melody. We try very hard to write all the stuff together. So everything we do comes out at the moment. We record everything. And if there is a singing line, when I develop a melody for the vocals, I use meaningless phrases that sometimes have a clue what the song will be about but other times those come out differently.
SoT: Your new CD is titled Oregon, which seems cliché, but I understand there is a deeper meaning for the band.
Mr. Groeneweg: Obviously it is the Beaver State, but I saw a document about Oregon being the first goal of the American gold rush, which meant that people had to conquer the Rockies to get to Oregon.
We first had an idea for this band called Oregon that would go through everything you have to go through to get famous so their manager, if you look at the lyrics, says "If you change your name to Wham we'll get some merchandise and you, the lead singer, why don't you go solo and drop the guys, and my sister can play slide trombone." And the booking agencies try to screw you over and do everything wrong and the riff-raff that calls you junkies and all that.
In a way, it's what we have encountered with our long struggle to get noticed over the years. You have to push an awful lot of bullshit around before you can get your music heard or before a record label is remotely interesting. So, combined with seeing the documentary about the gold rush and choosing the name Oregon, because it is natural, gave us the idea for the lyrics. The lyrics are sort of pushed in that direction. The ideals and dreams of the band, particularly the band leader, the parts that Hans sings and then everything that goes on in the middle, which is the part that I sing. More or less the trouble you have to go through. Somewhat compared with what the gold rush settler had to go through.
SoT: I find that your lyrical style is interesting because it combines story telling without the standard verse-chorus repetition.
Mr. Groeneweg: I think it is more or less what happens when you write the way that we do. Sometimes, like with "Any Other Day" there is chorus-refrain-chorus-refrain, because the song happens that way. But other times, if we are just telling a story there are different pieces that we are putting together, so there is no refrain, so we try to get a theme and diverge and go away from that and then come back to it in the end. That is how we try to do most of our songs.
SoT: Any plans for a live tour? Any chance of Nice Beaver coming to the US?
Mr. Groeneweg:We can't get there. We would love to, but it just doesn't happen. We have played in England. We have played in Belgium. But so far no one in America seems to be interested. You know what happened at Nearfest when they finally decided to have Knight Area. I think that Knight Area is a bit more easy going than we are. We find that a lot in Ireland and Holland as well. These are style of bands that are more what fans expect to hear. There is Richocet and Knight Area that are more in the mode of what you'd expect in a prog band. We do stuff that is not the same. Our stuff is a little more difficult to get around.
We are not touring as much as we like. We currently do not have one gig planned. The reason for this is that it is just very, very difficult to get noticed.
SoT: I have reviewed both On Dry Land and Oregon, and although I like the first, the maturity on Oregon is very noticeable. Do you attribute this to a change in style or just being together longer?
Mr. Groeneweg: What happened is that of-course we have been together longer and we took almost three years to write the material for this album and we had more chances to test the material. After On Dry Land we played in Holland and of course through Europe, and we had a chance to try out those songs on a live audience. Also, we took much more time and effort to record it and I think it sounds better.
And of course we got better just by playing with each other more. Using each others strengths more, we know now how to do that, and I think that happened. Because we write everything in rehearsal, we got to know each other better and the music got better as well.
SoT: It's just hard to get noticed in prog-rock. How did your signing with Cyclops come about and are you seeing any of the benefits?
Mr. Groeneweg: What happened is that we released On Dry Land on our own because we couldn't find anyone who was interested. But we kept trying, and I think Cyclops was the 2nd label to answer with a serious offer. So they re-released the CD with a different cover, because they wanted to release it with something different.
So that helped us get some gigs and get noticed in other places then we knew. If you start googling the web, there is only so much you can find. There are lots and lots of places we didn't know about but were introduced to by Cyclops.
But I don't think they sold that many copies of the album. In spite of that they were happy to release the 2nd one. We are very proud of that. Getting noticed by Cyclops is an accomplishment in itself. So yea, it helped.
SoT: One of the things in prog-rock that everyone enjoys is the amount of guesting that goes on. What is your list of dream players to jam with?
Mr. Groeneweg: (laughs) Well, apart form the guys in the band, I don't think I could ask for better friends to play with, which is one of the goals of Nice Beaver, to play music with people you respect and like. They would be my first choice, but if I could have anyone, I think I would probably ask Neil Morse for vocal help.
I guess I would ask Jordon Ruddess from Dream Theater to play keyboards.
SoT: That's interesting because he has such a different style on keyboards than you do.
Mr. Groeneweg: Well the difference between us, first and foremost, is that he is good. (laughs) I am just struggling to keep up. I can be very honest about that, I'm not that good of a keyboard player. It suits the ideas we have and the ideas that I have. I wouldn't want to be like that Nolan guy from Arena who just fills it out all the time. I mean, I like Arena, but I wouldn't want to be that kind of keyboard player. I think that would be just fiddling around when the chorus is done.
Bass? Maybe that guy from Karmakanic.
SoT: Jonas Reingold?
Mr. Groeneweg: Yea, that's him.
SoT: A great bassist. But I have to tell you that your bassist, Peter Stel is an amazing talent also.
Mr. Groeneweg: He is. He is great. The funny thing is that he is more interested in Simple Minds and that kind of stuff. He is the least "proggy" person in the band. And in some ways that somehow gets him noticed more. He is very prominently there when we jam. He can play very many notes in one beat so he is very prominent. But he is a fun guy to play around with and he is very, very good.
The thing is; that he and the drummer are very in tuned together. They seem to anticipate what the other one is doing. That is a great strength for a band to have. The rhythm section is just not there to keep up with the singing. But more often than not they drag us along. That is because they are as much a part of the writing process as we are so they have this huge say how the song is going to come out.
Let's see, where were we, drummer? I think Portnoy in the way he plays with Transatlantic. He is a bit more mellow there than with Dream Theater. I like that a lot. Either him or maybe Maitland, who used to play with Porcupine Tree. That drummer was tremendous. I saw him live and he was just great.
SoT: Have you had a chance to open up for any of these bands?
Mr. Groeneweg: Yea, we opened for Iona in England. And Tantalus. It was great with Iona. We didn't have very much to do with one another, but it was a great lineup. It was great fun to do. Well the British came for Iona and when they saw us it was kind of like chickens reacting to fireworks. (laughs) They didn't believe what they saw, but it went over very well.
I don't think we really care who we play with. We would open for anybody. As long as we can play.
SoT: What are the future plans of Nice Beaver? What do you have in the works?
Mr. Groeneweg: Obviously promoting Oregon as much as we can. We have already started writing new material. So I think we will always be a band that writes and records stuff. At the ages we are in, with all our different careers, and the difficulty of playing prog live, I think we will always be much more comfortable and able to record music than to play it live.
Keep a look out for the solo project from our guitarist, Hans Gerritse. It's a solo project called King Eider. It's Hans and a keyboard friend of his and some guests. They've worked on this now for about six years. And it is about ready. They are mastering the CD now. That is an album to look out for.
SoT: Well thank you for your time. Is there anything else you would like to say to your fans?
Mr. Groeneweg: Everybody, thank you very much, for taking an interest in Beaver… (laughs) That didn't come out right.
SoT: (laughs) That is kind of the mystic of the name isn't it?
Mr. Groeneweg: Yea, isn't it. Well, thank you everyone and we hope to see you live someday.
Photos courtesy of Frédéric Loridant