Mention the name Focus and there are very few of a "certain" age who don't remember the hit single "Hocus Pocus"...even my wife, who is not what you would call a Prog Fan, knows the song. So it was a pleasure to chat with the band's guitarist and hear what they've been up-to recently in light of the band's release of their 10th studio recording.
Jerry Lucky: What's the response been to the new album so far?
Menno Gootjes: All great! The press just loves X, stating it's
the best Focus album in years, so it feels good.
JL: It's called "X" I'm supposing because it's the 10th studio release...did you approach this recording any differently than the others?
MG: We basically recorded it ourselves, as in Bobby Jacobs producing it. The
basic tracks we're recorded in one week at Wedgeview Studios, which is Roeland Jacobs' studio, Bobby's brother. Bram Bol, who mixed
the record, works there too. Overdubs were done at Geert Schreijgrond's studio, he's our live mixer. So all very close to home so
to speak. I think the last two albums were done quite the same way. Itís the way to go nowadays isn't it? Financially it's also more
clear what you're doing then, making the record and then search a label to release it.
JL: I like the fact that the first track on the disc has kind of "signature" Focus riff...was that intentional?
MG: Thank you. Yeah it really sounds like Focus doesn't it?
It kinda was intentional and it kinda wasn't. I had the riff lying around, but it was with a halftime beat under it, more funk/bluesy.
Bobby wanted to have a couple of short rock songs for the album, to get the same contrast between songs as the old Focus albums
have. You know long epic pieces next to short fun tracks. So I suggested the riff, put some other pieces into it that I hadn't used
yet and we completed it in ten minutes. As soon as Pierre started playing along, he made it a double-time beat and that just made
it totally old style Focus. And it worked. Thijs wrote the flute-bits by the way, which is the best final touch we could wish for.
JL: How would you say the Focus sound has evolved over the years with the different musicians involved?
MG: Well for me Focus started
out as this crazy experimental rock outfit, with a lot of European classical and folk influences. A real European sound. The freedom
they took was heavily inspired by Zappa I think. The progressions they improvised on were inspired by Miles Davis. Once they toured
America, they became intimidated by all the jazz-rock greats you know. After that they lost their European sound, which made them
stand out in the first place, so it became more of a fusion-band with a slicker sound. And I think Thijs chose his musicians on that
basis. More traditional jazz people, all great and inspiring to me by the way, but with a more intellectual approach as opposed to
the intellectual contra rock craziness that they started out with. As for the latest line-ups, I think it's growing back to the
crazy mix again, with a less slicker, rougher sound. Which is the way to go for me.
JL: There was a pretty long period (1985 - 2002) where Focus was inactive...was the band still together in some form or had everyone just decided to take a break?
MG: Well every original band member had his own thing going on, They had gone through a lot of tensions so it's not weird to go out and do your own thing then. I played a reunion show in 1997, with Thijs, Bert Ruiter and first Focus drummer Hans Cleuver. That's the only Focus show in that period you're talking about, that's it.
JL: What was it that brought about the reunion in 2002?
MG: Bobby Jacobs
started a Focus cover band with Jan Dumee and Ruben van Roon, and I think Roeland Jacobs. The story is that Thijs wound up crying
outside of the rehearsal studio when he accidentally stood there and heard them practicing. He ended up joining the cover band. Hehe!
JL: Had you realized how much you were missed...or how many fans loved the band?
MG: Well Bobby missed Focus, and the great music that they made, and from that came the realization that all kinds of people all over the world had missed them. So initially maybe not so much, but the wakeup call came pretty fast! We have people coming up crying after the show, it's important music to so many people.
JL: For such a small country the Netherlands has produced quite a number of progressive rock bands over the years, why do you think that is?
MG: Mmm, because it originated quite close, in the UK, and those bands were very popular in Holland from the sixties,
beginning with Soft Machine and bands like that. A lot of households have those albums, so kids grew up with it too.
JL: You've always been a very active live band...is performing live as much fun as it used to be?
MG: Performing live is always fun and exciting,
Focus never does or has done the same thing twice, so you can have all the free fun that you want every night, and that's
one of the reasons it stays fun and exciting.
JL: How much time are you able to devote to touring these days?
MG: All the time
we have, it's important to us. Making music and playing live is in our musician's blood, and we have to make a living too. Hehe!
JL: You've participated in a number of prog festivals...what's your take on these types of shows?
MG: They keep the scene alive,
and they keep the music alive, the public needs them, the bands need them. They are of the uttermost importance. Besides that, they're
great fun and I always have a great time. Because it's all a fan thing you know, very warm and welcoming.
JL: Clearly Focus would be classed as one of the "elder statesmen" bands with a rich history; I'm interested in your take on the progressive rock music scene these days?
MG: Well it's alive, and a lot of young people delve into it, so I think it's all good. As long as it's creative,
with new music being made, it's all good. Thijs thinks nothing of progressive rock though, he thinks it doesn't exist. To him it's
all symphonic rock. And he also states that Focus is more of a RE-gressive rock band, because of the old classical, folk and
jazz influences. He's certainly got a point there.
JL: Are there things about the music scene today that trouble you?
MG: The record industry is kind of dying, less money being made, new bands that don't survive because of that. You know, the usual complaints. It's a shame that the fans killed it, because of the downloading thing. And in the media music has become sort of a karaoke show, with all the contests and shit. It's the only way the industry can make a buck, and the audiences get used to second-rate quality because of that, which is degrading the arts in a huge way. Like in old Roman history, we're wrapping up our culture.
JL: Desert Island disc question: If you were stuck on a desert island with only 5 CD's...what five would they be...and why?
MG: For me it would be:
Glenn Gould- Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. Bach is the greatest of all time for me, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual. Being a classically trained pianist myself also, this one stands out.
Frank Zappa- Joe's Garage, bought it when I was 10 years old, huge influence on me.
Adam and The Ants- Kings of the Wild Frontier, I was a fan when I was a boy. It made me feel I could be whoever I wanted to be. Besides it would make a great soundtrack on a deserted island, with the Burundi tribe beat and pirate outfits. Hehehe!
Mew- And The Glass Handed Kites, just a wonderful album, dreamy with a lot of atmosphere.
Focus- Moving Waves, just to know where I came from, and because of the brilliance of it.
Oh and besides that, perhaps an mp3 player with all my old school Kiss albums, the first band that got me into music when I was 5. Hehe!
JL: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat.