Photo: Elza Zijlstra
Dutch sax-drums duo Dead Neanderthals will release their latest album, Worship the Sun, on September 11 through Relative Pitch Records. The two-track disc showcases some changes to the group’s sound—saxophonist Otto Kokke is playing soprano for the first time on record, and drummer René Aquarius is playing with brushes. But don’t go in thinking they’ve mellowed. Worship the Sun is every bit as intense as Prime, their 2014 release on which they were joined by saxophonist Colin Webster. (Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes to Prime.)
The duo have more projects in the works already, of course; they’re currently touring the UK with Orthodox, and recently recorded with Dutch techno producer Drvg Cvltvre.
Stream Worship the Sun:
The duo answered some questions about the album, and what’s going on in the world of Dead Neanderthals generally.
You’ve done a lot of collaborations on recent releases: bringing Colin Webster into the group, working with Nick Millevoi, Machinefabriek, Sten Ove Toft, all the guests on Endless Voids…was this album a deliberate attempt to strip back down to just the duo?
Well, not super deliberate. It’s been great working with all these people. We learned a lot, we opened up and it really broadened our horizons. It was good to get back in the studio as a duo and work on Worship the Sun. It was all fresh and we felt free to try out new stuff.
That being said, we did not stop our collaborating efforts. We started a new band (Fantoom, Dutch for phantom) with Belgian experimental guitar legend Dirk Serries and his wife, Martina Verhoeven, who is an excellent double bass player. We’ve finished our debut album, which will be released in October or November by A New Wave Of Jazz, a sub-label of Tonefloat Records.
We also just finished recording an album with experimental Dutch techno producer (!) Drvg Cvltvre. We’re currently tweaking the masters; we are very happy how this album turned out.
What changes have you made to your playing here? It sounds like Otto is playing a soprano, and René is playing with brushes—that’s a pretty big stylistic shift! What inspired it?
If you state it like that, it sounds like we got all sentimental, but we dare you to put on this album on date night. Otto plays like he wants to drill a hole through your head and René is creating a dense abyss of rhythm. There’s just no end to it.
We think the biggest accomplishment of Worship the Sun is the abstract nature of the album. The sax/drum thing might sound familiar, it certainly has been done before, but in the end it’s hard to wrap your head around it. There’s music but it’s devoid of melody, standard rhythms or leads. So despite the use of different techniques and a more subtle approach, it’s still an intense album.
At the very end of the second track, there’s a quiet sound that almost seems like a loop or a sample of Rene—was that something you played live, or was it a post-production effect? How much studio magic was applied to the music here, generally?
Yes, René played that live. He was rubbing one of his drumsticks over the head of the snare drum. We turned up the volume of that particular section in the mixing stage. For the rest it’s pretty pure: no cuts, just balancing volumes and some equalization.
The two tracks are each roughly the length of an LP side. Will this be released on vinyl? Is that your format of choice?
We didn’t really consider having Worship the Sun as an LP release. We wanted to work with Relative Pitch Records, and they only do CDs. We like CDs: affordable, easy to ship, and you can play them in your car. We don’t really have a preferred format. They all have pros and cons, so we just try all of them. Still hoping to do a laserdisc release in the near future 🙂
You guys tour quite a bit at this point—what advice can you offer other musicians about shipping or traveling with saxophones?
Yes, as we are answering this question we are about to embark on a UK tour with Orthodox from Spain. Touring is really great! You meet a ton of cool people, you see a lot of cool bands and you play a lot of music. How bizarre is it that we are sharing the bill with Alienist, the solo project of Nicholas Bullen (founding member of Napalm Death!!)? This is the stuff that dreams are made of.
Regarding traveling with your sax: it’s an issue for many sax players. We just solve it by driving everywhere. Driving 17 hours for one show: no problem, we just do it. We like to explore the continent and we don’t like to risk damage to a baritone saxophone. Colin always flies, but he will only bring his clarinet, soprano, alto or tenor sax because he can bring those as hand luggage. Best advice: avoid the luggage compartment if you love your sax (or any other precious belonging)!