“..but we’ll take our time for that. The quality of it must be at least equal to this first album, so, that’s a challenge!”
mwe3: Tell us about Old School Band and about the band on the album. I remember you speaking earlier about looking forward to your Old School Band recording project you planned out with Norbert Sollewijn Gelpke. Norbert’s bass sound is great. What did you two guys set out to achieve on the Old School Band album and tell us who else is in the band?
Marnix Busstra: I know Norbert virtually my whole life. We went together to kindergarten, primary school, high school, where we played in the school band and the Conservatory. He is definitely like a brother to me. He is an amazing bass player and also a fantastic producer and technician. He produced and mixed all my latest albums. After our school band we played in several other bands together, and our band Second Vision. With that band we recorded three albums, and on the last one with vibist Mike Mainieri from Steps Ahead as a guest soloist. That’s how I met Mike. After that we formed the band Mike Mainieri/Marnix Busstra Quartet, without Norbert, because we wanted to use an upright bass.
Second Vision stopped in 2003, so we didn’t play together for a decade. A few years ago we sat down and we came up with the idea of the Old School Band. Key for us was that it should be as funky as possible! So we asked the most funky drummer, Mark Stoop and organist Eric van de Bovenkamp of The Netherlands. And I do think they did a helluva on this first album.
mwe3: When you mean “Old School” I thought you were talking about some of the great legends of 1970s European instrumental fusion but then I read the liner notes and I found it was sort of referring to your old music school teacher Martijn Breebaart who also wrote the album’s liner notes. I like it when he wrote that your music was even ahead of his. Was that 40 years ago? Is this all possible because Holland is such a small country where everyone knows each other?
Marnix Busstra: (Ha ha) Holland is small indeed, but with 17 million people it’s not that we all know each other, of course. But indeed, our high school music teacher Martijn Breebaart played a crucial role in my / our development as a musician, and as a person too. I was a very shy boy at that time, insecure about myself and about my music skills. I was honestly and totally surprised that he asked me for his school band. That was in 1981, almost 40 years ago indeed.
We started playing his compositions, typical ‘80s fusion, with a lot of unisono-licks and over-constructed grooves. But for us it was very instructive and inspiring, we learned a lot! One day he said to me: ‘why don’t you try to compose a song for the band?’ I just thought: ‘why did he ask me!, I can’t write music…’ But looking back, I think he was a good teacher indeed and saw my potential, way before I was aware of it myself.
mwe3: How would you compare Old School Band with you other album Firm Fragile Fun? Is Old School Band jazzier than your earlier works? So, how would you compare the two albums and two lineups? Have you done concerts in Holland with both bands and how many albums have you made as a solo artist and other albums.
Marnix Busstra: Firm, Fragile, Fun is the last album of my other band, The Marnix Busstra Band. That band is very different from the Old School Band, although we play my compositions in both bands. I think you can call the Marnix Busstra Band my ‘acoustic band’, with upright bass and acoustic piano, and the Old School Band my ‘electric band’, with bass guitar and organ. And the Old School Band is definitely more ‘funk’, the Marnix Busstra Band more ‘jazz’. Through the years I made 14 records with my different bands.
When I choose musicians for my bands, key for me is always that they dare to take risks in the music. My compositions are not very complicated, but are ‘playing pieces’, meant to be starting points to go on an adventure together, live and in the studio. And I feel lucky to play with these great musicians, who have the right mindset to do this!
I did a lot of concerts with my different bands, mainly in The Netherlands, but also abroad in Europe, Asia… I’d definitely love to come to the USA to do concerts there, because I’m pretty sure there is a potential audience for our music there too.
mwe3: What’s new in Holland 2017? It still seems like Holland is still one of the more underrated countries in Europe. For example you don’t nearly hear as much news or current events from Holland as you do from say, Germany or France or even Sweden. Is that because Dutch musicians are more reserved or reverent about their music and not so much looking to exploit their art? It always seemed more pure or distilled there.
Marnix Busstra: I think you’re right… Holland is kind of underrated, there are a lot of very good musicians here. It’s a small country, but so is Sweden or Norway, so that cannot be the reason. What might be a reason is that there is not a specific style or sound which is typically ‘Dutch’, and that makes it harder to sell it abroad. But there are some successful Dutch musicians playing around the world, like Yuri Honing, Ben van Gelder and Michiel Borstlap.
mwe3: The album artwork for the Old School Band CD is fascinating. It looks like Broadway and there’s the Flatiron building there or is it in Holland? I see the For Rent sign outside but what’s the back over art with the Steel Pier sign? The hi-res images are jaw-dropping.
Marnix Busstra: Yeah, the album art is fantastic, I agree! It was made by photographer and designer Rob Becker. He has made almost all my artwork through the years. His specialty is to combine all kind of different things and create a kind of new reality with it. To be honest, I don’t know all the buildings he used for it! I’ll ask him, if you want to know it exactly…
mwe3: Can you tell us where you recorded the Old School Band album and what’s the studio like? I see Brooklyn Studio, boy, there’s a lot of New York connections between New York City and Holland. Isn’t there a city in Holland called Brooklyn? Maybe that’s why your music has such a strong New York groove to it. Yet, there is another NYC connection the album was mastered at Sterling Sound by Will Quinell.
Marnix Busstra: There is indeed a lot of connection between New York and Holland, for example the small city of Breukelen, the origin of Brooklyn. The recording studio, Brooklyn Studio, is in Breukelen. Actually it was, a few months ago it closed his doors.
The mixing of the album was done by bass player Norbert Sollewijn Gelpke in his backyard, in his own Nopol studio. Sometimes he also does the mastering himself, but in this case he realized the music needed an approach he cannot produce with his equipment. And there is in Holland not a mastering studio that works at the same level as Sterling Sound and of course nowadays the distance is not a problem anymore. I think it worked out really well, the album sounds fantastic.
mwe3: You were talking last time about how Facebook and the internet in general hasn’t been completely fair to the artists. True to form, Facebook has been implicated in the last US election. Seems like the internet is still kind of the wild west!
Marnix Busstra: There you hit me on my weak spot. Social media and myself are not really good friends. Maybe I’m too overly sensitive, but I just can’t deal with all the nonsense you find online. And the amount of nonsense is bigger than. So, I do work with Facebook but on a very minimum level.
mwe3: Any new guitar news? Did you use your famous Howard Roberts on the Old School Band sessions? But I didn’t hear any of your electric sitar work this time on Old School Band. Amps were the same for the Old School Band album too? Would you consider going back to the sitar sound or other ethnic tones or sounds in the future?
Marnix Busstra: Indeed, on this album I only used my Howard Roberts guitar and my two Bogner Duende amps. In the Brooklyn Studio there were a bunch of very nice classic amps. I tried them all, but realized again I just love my own sound with the Bogners.
In the funky environment of the Old School Band repertoire, my electric sitar just doesn’t work, the sound is too ‘slow’. And the sound of my bouzouki has got nothing to do with funk… but I still use them for other projects. At the moment I’m busy writing for a duo project, guitar and piano, I’ll use these instruments for sure for that.
mwe3: One of the coolest cuts is the “Ten Euro Skunk” track which has funky fusion meets Focus! How did you come up with the title? You use Euros and Dutch money too in Holland right? Do you come up with your own titles too?
Marnix Busstra: Haha, to be honest, I think it’s a pretty Dutch title…‘skunk’ is a common name here for a specific type of cannabis. As you know, in Amsterdam you can buy it in coffee shops. So you can buy ‘ten euro skunk’… we use euros here, to have a good time. And indeed, all the titles are mine…
mwe3: “No Solution” has a kind of Focus feel to it. I was also thinking Pekka Pohjola slightly with the cool bass solo by Norbert. Is that considered a kind of romantic European / Dutch type chord progression? How did you sequence the chords? Then there’s a kind of build up progression in the bridge.
Marnix Busstra: That’s always hard to say about your own compositions. I think you can compare it with a poem, analyzed by a teacher in high school or university… they see things in a poem that the poet never thought of when he wrote it.
So, for me it’s just the right chords with the melody. I never thought of it being typical European or Dutch. But I understand when you say there is a ‘classical’ vibe in those chords, especially the second and fourth chord of the first part, it immediately creates a special mood.
mwe3: I’m amazed at the amount of talent out there these days but it’s been harder to unite behind an invincible music business as it’s all so wild west, ala facebook, etc… I guess life in 2017 is a two-sided coin. You say there will be more Old School Band albums coming at some point so that’s encouraging news. Any other plans up coming for the year? As long as you write music this good there will always be reasons to record.
Marnix Busstra: Thanks for the compliment about my writing… And I totally agree, it’s really hard to accomplish things nowadays in the music business, for almost everybody. The good thing about it is that it must be very clear for yourself whyyou make music. If you do it to get famous or for just being successful, then you better stop and I know a lot of very good musicians who are very bitter and don’t make records anymore. But if you make music, purely for the sake of music itself, then there is always a reason to go on and make as beautiful music as possible.
As I said, I’m busy writing now for a duo project, piano and guitar that is totally different from the Old School Band, but very inspiring to compose for. And there will be a second album of the Old School Band for sure, but we’ll take our time for that. The quality of it must be at least equal to this first album, so, that’s a challenge!
Marnix Busstra offers his Track by Track notes for Old School Band
Medium Rare – This song actually sounds like a tune for a tv-program or something like that. The drum/guitar battle makes it less commercial.
Ten Euro Skunk – A typical guitar song, cool and firm at the same time.
No Solution – An introverted ballad with some nice, chic chord-progressions. I love the drum arrangement, very tasteful.
Out Of The In Crowd – A very upbeat piece, I always get a smile on my face when we play it.
Little White Lie – A very funky, and a little old-fashioned with the unisono licks. But always fun to play, and the Phaser on the guitar sound works very well for the melody.
Too Hot Tub – A lazy, sultry song. Indeed expressing the feeling when you stayed in the hot tub for too long.
A Good Day – A very basic composition, but not easy to play. You have to play every note very precise to make it work.
New Canal Of The Emperors – To explain the title, this is the name of the street in Amsterdam I used to live in (Nieuwe Keizersgracht). It’s a kind of constructed composition, with the weird chords and the non-melodic melody. But I love the specific mood it creates.
F*cking Speedbumps – The most ‘fusion’-like piece, high-energy and virtuoso. But still very funky and a joy to play!