Tusky are the Dutch punk band from the beautiful city of Alblasserdam, near Rotterdam. The quartet feature two original members of seminal group John Coffey – frontman Alfred and bassist Christoffer – alongside Sjors Bompa and fantastic drummer Bas Allein Richir. Sébastien Gamez sat down with Alfred & Sjors to discuss the writing process as a newly formed group, new EP Love Love Love as well as their thoughts on touring as Tusky.
Hi guys, how has the musical life been holding up for you guys so far?
Alfred: Well, we’ve been at it for 13 years now, but in 2006 we decided with John Coffey to “take it serious. Let’s do it for real now.” So far it’s been really good. Lot of hard work, lots of shit but that’s part of it, right. But up until now it’s been good.
Sjors: I’ve been at it seriously for about eight years now.
So let’s get the elephant out of the room and discuss the changeover from probably one of the biggest punk rock bands in the Netherlands – John Coffey – to what you guys are now, which is Tusky. How has it been to start from fresh, rebuilding a fanbase from scratch?
Alfred: It’s been great. There were many reasons as to why we quit with John Coffey, but one of the main ones was that the work was ‘done’. There’s obviously always more work to be done, though. Back then we talked about it a lot. The feeling with a band like this is that when everything’s in front of you and you’re just hoping that’s it going to happen, you never know if it’s actually going to happen. That feeling is magical – you’re working very hard, you’re very naïve, and you’re giving everything you’ve got. That’s the same feeling we have now with Tusky. Of course we had a big advantage and we do use the John Coffey legacy we all share with Tusky – Chris & I were in that band, Sjors has been touring with us as well and Bas has toured with us for the last two years. We’re basically all John Coffey. We use that because we’re proud of that legacy. Then again, however, we were so nervous starting this project because we had no idea what we were doing. Were people going to like this new spin on things? If it’s shit, we were bound to fall very deep. That whole “you used to be cool but now you suck” mentality.
Sjors: It was a very big leap, but for the rest it was working hard and all about having fun. The basic principle of starting this band was having fun. No more bullshit, no more fights.
Alfred: We’ve had that [band fights], but we’re too old for it now. Fights suck. We had our first one last Saturday actually, in the van. It was a hilarious band fight, because I woke up sober. The bus wasn’t sober. They were screwing around and within ten minutes it escalated and it was good quite quickly after that. So far it’s been really fun though, because everything started to fall into place pretty quickly. Two weeks after John Coffey stopped we started rehearsing, and our first recording session was 2 months after that. Our first single came a month later and then we had some time for the first shows.
Sjors: In the time that we wrote our first record (Rated Gnar) we also got selected for the Popronde, which was a big point. For us also to be able to play a lot of shows in places that weren’t even closely related to what John Coffey was. We went back to the small bars, the small venues and everything, which is what we wanted.
I suppose that’s something you couldn’t really do with John Coffey anymore at the level you were at?
Alfred: Well I mean, if we were ever to play again as John Coffey, which is not going to happen, it would be small shows to start with. Those 200 capacity venues, just killing it. That’s why a couple of those Popronde shows were cool, especially when we played at Café België in Utrecht. It was madness, people were jumping off the bar, crowdsurfing into the toilet and the PA system almost fell down. But now we’re doing big shows with Tusky as well and it’s only been one and a half years. We’re doing big shows again, as well as small shows.
So far you’ve got an EP and a pretty ground-breaking debut album (Rated Gnar) under your belt. You guys have also supported some relatively big bands such as Fu Manchu in Patronaat and even Enter Shikari in Tilburg. Has the traction that you guys have generated lived up to the expectations you had starting Tusky?
Alfred: It’s been higher than I expected because we sold out our release show in EKKO (Utrecht) a year ago, a 300 capacity venue, and we had barely started. Then we sold out a couple of the shows on the tour we did for the album which, albeit having been small shows, was still quite an achievement. The festival response was also great. We did some European shows – we got to tour with our buddies from Black Peaks, 12 shows all across Europe.
Sjors: We also did a few festival shows in between that, Anti-Fest with Anti-Flag springs to mind, which was really cool.
Alfred: The response is great, I must say. Sometimes people need to get a little nudge before they start slamming and moshing, but most of the times we get it done.
When it comes to the writing and recording process, how does an average day creating a song look like?
Alfred & Sjors, simultaneously: Lazzzzzzyyyyyyy!
Sjors: I mean, we are the laziest band ever but also the most efficient one, we feel. In everything we do, that is our ethic, not just in music but also with social media, for example. Everything is planned and gets created real quick since we love deadlines. We love to work to a deadline, and we love to work so close to them that it becomes uncomfortable, yet we get it done.
Alfred: I don’t think we ever missed a deadline, even though we do nothing for months leading up to it. Sometimes we even get to our rehearsal space, sit down, have a beer and then end up not doing anything all day. But ultimately, when it has to happen, it happens. So far we’ve gotten away with it. So we’re very efficient, very effective but also very lazy.
Your new EP, Love Love Love comes out tomorrow, Friday the 3rd of May. Do you feel that you’re deviating or experimenting with new sounds on this EP? Do you see yourself moving away from the sound you’ve created on your first record in future releases?
Alfred: I wouldn’t call it ‘experimenting’, but there was a change in sound and approach. I mean, the album was really punk rock based, not heavy and without any screaming, just clean vocals. Then Chris joined the band, and he’s a screamer. We thought “ah, so now we can do a bit more rough stuff.” Which is something we really wanted all along. I like punk rock, but I also love what we do on the new EP so much more than what we did on the album. Musically it’s a bit closer to what we did with John Coffey, which I really love. It’s a bit Every Time I Die-ish. Just more balls, you know?
Sjors: The cool thing about the EP as well was that it’s a 5 song EP, and I feel every member of the band wrote one of the tracks. We got the space and time for ourselves to put something on the record that we all finished writing with each other. The initial idea was always that one of the band members brings something to the table and then the band work together on it to create the ultimate version.
With everything you do, from music to social media, there’s a certain artistic element and uniqueness in the way you portray yourself. There’s an artistic theme that recurs throughout the band’s brand. Who do you guys work with and how does the art get created?
Alfred: Justin, our former bass player, creates the art. When we sit together we think, “ok, what kind of sound do we have, what kind of band are we, what kind of songs do we want?” and then Justin really wanted to do his own thing, which was Thrash Talk. It’s kind of gory stuff, NoFX-like humour and little drawings. He does it. We create ideas together, we say to him “ok, we want this” and then he goes “leave it to me.” He goes off and draws it and comes back a few days later with something that just blows us away every time. At one point we decided we wanted to have a spokesman for the band, which became Chase, the dude with the tusks. The Tusky guy actually has a name. It’s a really fucking cool name for a really cool dude. Chase sort of feels like a friend to us now.
With that artwork, is there some sort of plot or story that follows the band and the releases?
Alfred: All of the artwork displays what the songs are about, or what the tour is about.
Sjors: Each piece of artwork has a small theme directly related to the music, and it works with the songs, EP or album together.
Alfred: For example with our new release, Love Love Love, the first thing you notice when you look at the cover is two dogs fucking each other on the street, which is hilarious, but around the corner there’s Chase. His heart is broken. You see it on his mobile phone on the floor, his girlfriend just broke up with him. That’s the duality in the image, the two kinds of “love”.
Coming back to touring, you guys have toured and supported quite some big bands. Is there a particular band that you guys want to tour with, if you had the opportunity to?
Alfred: Well we actually got offered a Cancer Bats tour for three and a half weeks through Europe, and we would have loved to have done it, but it was shit pay. We would love to have joined them, but we also have to think about the relation between costs and getting paid. We can’t afford to go on tour and lose so much money, so we just said “not gonna happen.” If we had the choice of any band though? Foo Fighters, we definitely want to tour with Foo Fighters. I mean, they’re the biggest rock band in the world and we feel a bit affiliated with them. Maybe a bit through sound, maybe a bit through the songs. They’ve been quite a big inspiration for us, I guess. PUP would also be quite nice, actually, we would love to tour with PUP. They’re a very hard working band.
So what would you say to any young musicians out there that is just starting and is in the same position as you guys were when you started John Coffey?
Alfred: I would say, because I work with a lot of bands for my occupation as well, don’t get disheartened, don’t get disappointed. It sounds lousy, but if you do what you really love and you’re really happy with the songs that you’re making and the shows you do, that’s the most important part. It’s so easy to get disappointed with not getting the right booking agency or a label or not getting on the right tour or hell, not even touring at all. If the fun’s there you never stop playing.
Sjors: Get fun out of the shitty situation. In the beginning you don’t always play for a lot of people, or in the best venues. If you can turn such a situation into a fun evening or a fun show, you’re golden.
Alfred: We’ve had shit shows with 10 people, which were the best because we decided, “they’re here, we’re here, let’s make a fucking party.”
Sjors: And I think that had been the philosophy for John Coffey as well as Tusky. Bas [drummer] played in a few bands that played a lot of shitty shows as well. We always have the mindset, “regardless of whether there’s 5 people or 500 people, we always play to the best of our ability.” Love Love Love is out now.