In 2015 Koen Herfst released his debut album Back to Balance. You can read our review of that album here. Now he is back with his second album, called Leo. Recently DutchMetalManiac’s Glenn van der Heijden interviewed him. We also are giving away two Leo CD’s, you can see more info about this below the interview.
Hey Koen, congratulations with your new album. I have listened to it and it’s amazing.
I understand that the album is a very personal one for you, can you elaborate on that?
Yes, it is. The album actually is about life and death, mostly about death. My father passed away when I was at a young age. I was ten months old at that time and I am now 35 years old. Now I finally made an album about it.
What was the direct reason for you to start making an album about it now?
I found some stuff from my father during my mother’s move to another house, his agenda, his glasses, that kind of things. We also moved his piano to my studio and I composed this album on that piano.
How did that process go?
First, I wrote the album in its entirety. I did that every Sunday. When that was finished, it was time to record it. The guitars I mostly did myself, the same goes for parts of the vocals. Leo is a concept album with four characters: Myself, Death, my Mother and my Father. My Mother is sung by Anneke van Giersbergen. I have toured with her a few years back. I met Merijn through Joost van den Broek. Then I went to a Navarone show and I let him listen to some demos. He was excited about it.
Of course Anneke and Merijn are two very outspoken and versatile artists.
They sure are and I am also fan of them. When you ask two people to play your parents, then you want the best.
I understand. Did you just started writing and then new things came up, or did it go differently?
I just started writing and then everything came pouring out. I had feelings like “is there more than this?”, “is he out there somewhere?” or feeling down, for example when people post the same things over and over again on Father’s Day for example.
I know what you mean. I myself can really relate to that right now, because my father passed away almost a year ago.
I can understand that people can relate to it. I never knew my father, I am not religious, but the question whether there is more than this or not keeps coming back in my mind.
In one song you indeed literally say “are you out there somewhere?”.
Yes, it is kind of a shout to the universe. I hope he hears it or there is nothing and then at least I’ve tried.
Due to these emotions you surely delivered an amazing album.
I am really proud of it.
I can imagine, you worked on it for a long time, didn’t you?
Indeed, three years. It’s not like I worked on this album every day. I also have a job, I was on tour with other bands, I have my drum festival and I moved to another house. A lot happened, but I did this in between those things.
You released the album on your father’s birthday, right?
Yes, I did. I thought that that would be more festive than the date of his passing.
I can understand your reasons. That probably says everything you can do with music. I think that delivering such an album with so many emotions is a good way to release your feelings, isn’t it?
It sure is, I probably want to do more with that to let people know how healing it can be to express yourself in such a way.
Did it help you?
It is not like it kept me busy that much in my life. I never missed something, it was a given for me. But at a certain point in life, when for instance your sister gets kids, you get in another phase of your life. Besides that, I started drumming when I was thirteen years old. Since then, I was only busy with wanting to drum, wanting to play everywhere, trying to become famous and wanting to travel all around the world. Now, I have done all those things. To call yourself famous is a bit weird, but let’s just say that things are going fine. I’ve played in more than 40 countries. It’s like “what’s next?”. I wanted to do something with that feeling. I just do something, you know? We all are just simple people trying things. I also try something, I just follow my gut and convert that to music, making something nice of it.
I should say do so more often.
I do, I started writing more, also other kinds of music while I was writing this album. Back to Balance, my first album, of course was something very different, sort of all things together. I wrote that entire album with other musicians. I promise you that there will be more music in the near future. However, I don’t know whether that will be only metal or not.
So, it can go in a lot of different directions?
Yeah, I write all kinds of music.
In my opinion it also is quite a heavy album instrumentally. You already mentioned that you’ve done most of the guitars yourself and of course you also drummed on it. It is very instrumentally oriented, besides the fantastic vocals of course.
It indeed contains many parts without vocals. Those parts literally are my feelings about some moments. It’s a snapshot, a feeling you express. It also contains a leitmotif, that is introduced in the beginning of the album. It also ends with that, with the choir and the same melody. That leitmotif comes back during the entire album, I am also proud about that.
That indeed stands out. You really succeeded, to me at least, in transferring those emotions through the instrumentation. I think that is the power of this album.
It indeed is a very emotional album.
I think it is fantastic, I listened to it three times now. I asked Tim if I could please do something with it, because I really like it. I knew who you were since your time in Epica, when you were their live-drummer before Ariën van Weesenbeek became their drummer. So, I only knew you as a drummer.
This is what happened during the last ten years. I started writing music. Ten years ago, I started playing guitar for a bit and I developed myself during those years. I also started singing, which I didn’t expect.
That indeed also stands out and fits in this album quite well, combined with the vocals of Anneke and Merijn.
That also was something special. I only realized that I worked with two of the best singers of The Netherlands when it was done. I hadn’t thought about that for a second, the concept was the most important to me.
How was working with them?
It was very relaxed. Merijn is a super nice guy. I was there the whole day. I already had the musical parts, lyrics, vocal lines and melodies in my mind. I already figured them out and sang them. With Anneke as well as with Merijn I sang them to them and then they sang them with some additions. That all went very smoothly. Both their vocal parts were recorded in one day.
I think they are two very professional people who sing quite easily, right?
Indeed, they are, but I also really am a fan of them. Just like I am a big fan of Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater. I grew up with Dream Theater, those guys are my heroes. The fact that he also made a contribution to this album is really something.
That must feel fantastic. Did everyone you asked immediately say yes?
Of course I first let them listen to the music. As soon as they heard the songs they said yes. That’s fantastic.
What are the reactions on the album you get so far?
The reactions are very nice. There are quite some reviews online so far. Of course, now it is the holiday period, but I definitely wanted to release the album on that day, because of the story, that perfectly fits. The reactions are all very well, being an 8 out of 10 and being in the top 4 of release of the month in the Aardschok, to “masterpiece” and “fantastic”. I can’t complain. However, to be honest it isn’t very important to me, but of course it’s nice to hear that other people also like it. It would be different if people would say something like “what’s this noise?”.
Are you saying so because you mainly made this album for yourself?
Yes, that indeed is the reason. This kind of albums you don’t make to get rich from, it almost always costs money rather than making it. I wanted to express my feelings and create art with that.
Creating art, that’s what is the most important thing for an artist, right?
Yes, that’s the higher goal. You can create what you want, because you do so yourself. It doesn’t get any purer.
I listened to it and I also was emotional while listening. Then you know that you are listening to something good.
That’s something else that’s new to me, people reacting emotionally to my music. This album mainly is about me and my healing process. That sometimes feels a bit egotistic. Of course, it’s worth a lot when you hear people say that they can relate to it and like it. That results in me creating more music. That’s also new to me. Most of the time I am just the drummer and now people are really reacting to my own music.
Now you’ve made something that complete comes from yourself.
Indeed, besides that I also played the guitars. It just happened that way, the guitars, the singing, the drums, I did everything myself, that’s very special.
It’s no wonder then, that it took some time before this piece of art was finished.
When it was finished, were you still critical about it or were you completely satisfied?
You always hear something that can be better. I am pretty perfectionistic, but I also learned, with my last album, that you have to let go at some point. At some point you have to say to yourself that this is it and that you have to go on. Otherwise it will keep you busy, you will keep on wanting to improve it. Once you let it go, at first you can’t listen to it for a while, then you know that it is good and you are happy with it. I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I gave everything to make it as good as I can. I will probably hear some other points of criticism in a while, but we’ll see how to improve those with the next album.
So, you already listened to it again?
Yes, now I can enjoy it. It’s not that I listen to it every day, but to celebrate the fact that it’s released now I sometimes play it very loudly in my car. It’s always going to be there, that’s nice about it.
You have created this; it’s not going to disappear. That seems something very nice, very tangible to me.
That’s what I like most, creating things. The fact that it’s always going to be there. I am very much switching from being the drummer in a band to creating things that are always going to be there.
Now that you’ve discovered this side of yourself, is that also something you like to do and want to keep doing?
It surely is. I really like the fact that my father also can be heard on this album. You hear him play the piano.
That indeed is very special.
The track Leo, the title track, took the longest to make. That track ends with a fade-out and him playing the piano. I found those recordings.
You also found those during your mother’s move?
Yes, then I digitalized them hoping I would find something like this. Which I did.
So, you found those things and started writing?
Yes, I just started with the feeling I had with it.
You didn’t think about a concept first?
No, it all started with the opening track, the instrumental part being quite heavy. That of course stands for the drama of the death. From there on, the entire album emerged.
Is there something you want to say to our readers?
I’m also really proud of the artwork, a rest in piece cross combined with his name. In the booklet you can find all the lyrics, you can order it on my website.
Want to win Leo? We are giving away two copies. The only thing you have to do is to fill in the form below and maybe you are holding the Leo CD in your hands soon! We will pick two winners Monday September the 2nd.