Marnix Visscher is a well-known face in the bustling Dutch band circuit. This unprecedentedly productive musician has been involved with bands such as Korfbal, Creepy Karpis and most recently The Industry, a unique occasional formation of like-minded figures from the Dutch indie world. Visscher's capricious personality is most apparent in Price, the quartet he forms with Sjors Schaap, Nigel Slaa and Leon Harms. The debut Timesaver is a constantly changing form, switching from bombastic guitar violence to minimalist sound experiments.
Written by: Jasper Willems
Photos: Cheonghyeon Park
On November 2, 2019, a sweaty Popronde evening in Rotown ends with a fizzle. At least, for Marnix Visscher and his band Price, who were allowed to close this evening. This time, fate is not in favor: an amplifier is destroyed, a microphone is cut and a string is broken. Visscher is unable to disguise his disappointment. In order to save what can be saved, he decides to perform some songs solo. This is not exactly Visscher's comfort zone: he prefers to squeeze three or four earwigs into a number and fly from scratch.
Despite all the chaos, the audience continues to listen attentively. Visscher's voice hits to the bone and his guitar playing enchants. It doesn't seem to bother him at all. Everything that could go wrong during a show actually went wrong… and yet there is a strange kind of tension in Rotown. Visscher has developed a reputation with his occasional band Korfbal as a riff gun that continuously shakes up catchy melodies. It is a reputation that he once again lost. This made the performance memorable despite the technical debacles. After all, a good song is a good song, and that comes into its own in any form. Visscher remained the tantrum himself afterwards: that just went really bad.
"It's kind of becoming a statement record. I wanted to make something that is really heavy with the band."
About a year later, on the terrace of the same Rotown, he can laugh about it again. “When I dread a certain show, nine times out of ten it becomes a very good show,” he puts into perspective. “While it often turns into a bad show if I'm really looking forward to it myself. Maybe that's a little laziness, or something? I've been in Rotown many times, they're my people. I have many friends here and it always feels like coming home. Of course it will all go wrong.”
Visscher does not yet have a good explanation as to why fate always seems to play a cat and mouse game with him. “I think good music generally comes from dissatisfaction. That is why I always get on well with Jaap (van der Velde, ed.). Neither of us are ever satisfied with things. Continuously let's hear gritted new material together. At the time, Jaap came up with those new The Homesick songs. As soon as we started listening, he started shouting 'We're going to do this differently', 'I don't think this has become what we wanted it to be'. Exactly the same with Price: then I have the video master to give to Leon (Harms, ed.), so that he can listen to it when I'm not there. Then Jaap says: 'Put it on then'! And then I go wild again: 'This is fucked up', 'this is really not possible'." Visscher sighs. "I think I'm just really strict... and three times as strict on myself actually."
Traveler of train and time
Marnix Visscher was born and raised in Zwolle, but apart from a job as a sorter at DHL, he didn't have much to look for there. In Groningen you had De Gym and VERA, two breeding grounds for the better guitar noise, his great preference. Visscher went to concerts frantically and saw little or no daylight as a teenager. “I then got to know Jesper (Vos, ed.) through Jeroen Klootsema (Real Farmer, ed.). Jeroen and I were very good friends, we constantly exchanged music. At one point he said, "I know someone and you should get to know him too because you guys are going to click so well." He had apparently said the same to Jesper. At first I thought, "Uh, okay, so I must like this person?"
In retrospect, Klootsema was just right: Jesper and Marnix clicked from the first tap, and Creepy Karpis arose on the spot. It was the year 2014, the period when garage rock was booming. The threshold for bands that work somewhat bored and sketchy was suddenly manageable. The same goes for Creepy Karpis. As soon as Marnix had picked out a handful of chords, he started writing songs at a rapid pace. A bit like Michael J. Fox at the end of Back To The Future, he was more or less assigned the role as bandleader, without explicitly looking for it.
Funnily enough, the dynamics in Creepy Karpis were right. Jesper Vos was the free soul who seeks spontaneity to the point of irritation, while Sjors Schaap is more of a pragmatic routine. Visscher found himself in between: enthusiastic and unaffected, but somewhat uncomfortable in that classic role as frontman. Mitchell Quitz, drummer of The Lumes and then booker with Cloudhead in Rotterdam, was enthusiastic and arranged more performances for the band on national stages. From then on, everything quickly got out of hand. In addition to Creepy Karpis, Visscher was avid tinkering with drum computers and lo-fi recording methods for his own project Fisscher Price. With enough material in stock, he knocked on the door of Purple Noise Record Club, the DIY label of the clique around The Homesick and Yuko Yuko, to maybe release an EP. Long story short: The Homesick bassist Jaap van der Velde ended up in Visscher's student room in Zwolle, both with the guitar on their lap.
“Korfbal was literally created as a joke”, Visscher grins. Quite a joke that got out of hand. The quartet Visscher, Van der Velde, Harms and Vos grew almost entirely word-of-mouth into one of the best national live phenomena. Legendary was the show in the foyer of De Gym during the Zadelpijn showcase, on January 12, 2017. The band started with an erupted version of Pink Floyd's 'Interstellar Overdrive', and in no time the space ran - all the way to the stairs. – over into a sea of sweaty bodies. The fact that Korfbal suddenly 'happened' was strange in terms of timing for both Van der Velde and Visscher, who were both much more deeply invested at an artistic level in The Homesick and Fisscher Price respectively.
Korfbal was in fact a short-lived love affair with a “limited best before date”, as Visscher succinctly describes it. He regarded the band playing so many shows as an invaluable learning process. “I think the overall corniness around it contributed to Korfbal's success. Every performance was really…” Marnix interrupts his sentence with one of those typical super-villain cackling laughs. “All four of us soon realized that we could do a lot on stage as long as we could close with 'Attak'. Then everyone has achieved their goal and we can all go home satisfied. At a certain point, Jaap and I couldn't care less and we started playing the song as dissonant and noisy as we could. As long as it rippled a bit on the riff, we could fly off the rails completely.”
Visscher experienced the buzz and hectic surrounding Korfbal with healthy nonchalance. He often catches himself in his own boredom, sometimes even during the shows. “I almost didn't see the sun anymore. Only the inside of a car, the backstage, the stage or the sorting hall of DHL Zwolle. My world became a succession of small dark rooms. And piloting. That is actually still the case: I am a traveler of train and time.”
There wasn't really time to get Price on track during the Korfbal years. The band could not find a suitable permanent second guitarist, so Visscher took the reins himself to write a lot of material. Some of these songs would eventually find a place on Timesaver. In Korfbal he could not really lose his love for writing and arranging stories: with that band more of a 'the-first-idea-is-the-best-idea' philosophy applied. Visscher nods: “Korfbal wrote within a certain pattern. With Price I wanted to try to write an entire song myself. That the band all work for a purpose. And leave room in the compositions for narrative. I didn't have to write choruses at Korfbal, because the reef was often the chorus. Price is completely different in terms of the writing process: I was going to write out very drawn-out parts.”
What both bands had in common is that they were casual and playful. But there was also a difference in nuance there, explains Visscher. “With Price, it's about being able to continue making music without obligation. With Korfbal it was just that we could make music together.” The Korfbal affair came to its natural end with the excellent Special Agent. According to Visscher, the company between people was always more important than artistic ambitions. ”Leon, Marrit (Meinema, ed.), Jesper and Jaap really became family during those Korfbal years. It also felt weird when we didn't see each other for a week. I had a longing to be with them, that family feeling when we weren't rehearsing. When Korfbal dropped out, that feeling remained. We always make a day off around the holidays so that we can all spend Christmas together eating and exchanging presents. That feels very nice and I'm not sure if that would have been the case if Korfbal had continued."
The way in which Marnix Visscher stands on stage – at both Korfbal and Price – is typical for the way his creative mind works. The role of booster who wins the audience for himself with crazy kamikaze jumps is never for him. Rather, he looks a little bored, a little bit suspicious of the whole rock 'n' roll thing. Often you get the impression that he would rather be somewhere else. It forms a special contrast with the music he writes: dynamic, always just that little bit higher than expected, with an enormous talent for shrill melodies. It is often spectacular, but not as over the top and flashy as, for example, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. Visscher sometimes resembles Tim Presley (White Fence), especially when it comes to the clumsy, casual way those songs seem to flow from him.
"I want the songs to be so naked that it becomes a dimension in itself. Or that it has been dressed up in such a way that it has taken on a life of its own."
Like Presley, you can call Visscher a dreamer, someone who likes to chase his fantasy. “Back in primary school, a friend of mine was in scouting where they always played Dungeons & Dragons. But because I wasn't in scouting myself, I was allowed to watch, but not play along. So then I sat there while all that happened. The Scout Leader who was the Dungeon Master was very very good. I tried to go every week to get a sense of what was happening in that story. I find it fascinating how things grow. I had always had in my writing style that it is a small story.”
In Price he finally has a vehicle in which he can give those impulses and neuroses a place. “'Lycan' is a good example: that song is a story about a man who is suppressing lycanthropy (the delusion that you turn into an animal, ed.) and tells himself that he is still a civilized man. At one point, I also sing of him holding back from biting the hand that feeds him. But he has a kind of inner urge to do it anyway. That equates to people in my life having a bad drink. They are people who apologize after such a night out. Sometimes I am guilty of that myself.”
Those fantasy elements of D&D games shine through on Timesaver several times. Visscher is fully embracing that nerdy side of himself these days; in Price, he is, as it were, the Dungeon Master who determines the outcome of the game. "(Text Based Dungeon Crawler)" is an inside joke between Visscher and drummer Nigel Slaa, about a specific genre of computer game (see the Bandersnatch episode of Black Mirror for reference) led by an omniscient narrator - the storyteller with the all-seeing eye. 'New Quest' is another clear reference to Visscher's fascination with D&D sessions. Casting something into story form allows you to explore the extremes freely. “'New Quest' has really become a march. That's actually a recurring thing at Price: sometimes it's heavy and sometimes very light. Sometimes very beautiful and sometimes very ugly. That is why the cover is also black and white. Thinking in gray has become a bit easier in practice. But I used to think very "black and white". Either something was crazy or completely shit. There was never something in the middle.”
Visscher wanted to display a more pronounced sound on Timesaver. “It's kind of becoming a statement record. I wanted to make something that is really heavy with the band. I felt that that was something that was missing a bit in the environment of the Dutch scene. For example, you have The Sweet Release of Death, which is also very heavy. They have that melancholic, all-is-fucked, fuck life kind of heaviness. But Scott Walker, for example, has that whole theatrical and baroque that's heavy in a whole different way. Emotionally tough… and I wanted to do the same with Price.”
The most catchy, frivolous track on Timesaver is undoubtedly 'Medic', but even on that track appearances are deceiving. “I wrote that song at a time when my ex-girlfriend was diagnosed with MS. In those few months she had to do all kinds of MRI scans: she had all kinds of problems with her muscles and we didn't know exactly what was going on. It was a very uncertain period. I put that number on paper in the waiting room of the hospital. That's what I like about music: you can give it so much color yourself. That can sometimes turn out to be very insidious.”
The majority of Timesaver was shot in the anti-squat home/studio space in Culemborg, where Jaap van der Velde, Leon Harms and Marrit Meinema usually camp. The marble hall in that office building provided much of the natural reverberation that you hear. The title song – in which Visscher deliberately keeps it small and simple – was recorded in this space. “You suddenly have to expose yourself and then that space suddenly becomes very small. Then it doesn't matter at all that everyone is suddenly five meters away. They will then be right in front of you. Everyone hears you. You can't hide. That goes a bit like that during the writing process: I want the songs to be so naked that it becomes a dimension in itself. Or that it has been dressed up in such a way that it has taken on a life of its own.”
'Mute City' is one of the most impressive songs on Timesaver, a subdued composition in which different parties go against each other. It sounds super elaborate, but according to Visscher the arrangement came about very spontaneously. “I wanted to throw some kind of curveball to the rest of the band prior to recording. Mute City was initially intended as an instrumental track. But I hadn't given parts to anyone and hadn't heard anything. I put everyone in the band on the spot a bit: 'This is my part, come up with something on the spot!'” Visscher wanted 'Mute City' as the end point of the album, because the song Price in its current form embodies. Visscher no longer takes the lead himself: the creative input of the rest of the band now largely determines the musical direction. He reveals that Price has already made a completely new record during the lockdown, which is ready to be recorded. The band has their eye on a new space in Groningen to be able to test the material. So, “I'd rather feel more comfortable with the process than with the final product.”
Rest and routine
While making Timesaver, Marnix Visscher got a little better idea of the kind of situations from which his creativity flows: “As soon as I see the walls approaching me a bit, when I see the space getting smaller and smaller. I have to feel like I have to do something.” That penetrating feeling – having to change gears quickly – also bubbled up in Rotown, but then black-and-white thinking still took over. Visscher is more aware of that gray area. Those who put things into perspective realize that all the twists and turns of fate were necessary to be able to tell the complete story. “I want Price to stick with the rest of the band members as well. We can make that anything we want, to our heart's content. ”
Moving between the open daylight and the dark spaces, Visscher now thrives. “During the day I am a nanny. I studied pedagogy and then I worked for a while after school care in Groningen. Those were perfect times, the opposite of the night shifts in Zwolle. We only worked in the afternoons from one to seven. I did that for a few days. Now I work for a family, three days a week. I make sure the children eat, sleep and learn new words all day long.”
Through his work, Visscher is much more aware of his own position in life. “When I worked at the out-of-school care facility, I was often at Betonbos. That is a kind of squatted ground that has been around for years... There are all kinds of squatters. There were also children who came from there. They just lived in mobile homes. You'd think, "Well, that's totally fucked up." But those kids were awesome! Super creative, playful and positive. Not spoiled, not always 'I want', or something like that… These children lived at a level where I thought: ``I wish I had been taught that at that age.”
Earlier in the interview, Visscher said he recently read David Stubbs' book Future Days, a wonderful reference book about the influential West German krautrock movement. He talks enthusiastically about Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit, who consciously exchanged the countless possibilities of free jazz for minimalism and endless repetition. Somehow that is a nice metaphor for Visscher's own development, from slightly derailed daydreamer to someone who takes inspiration from daily reality and routines. “Who does not honor the small, has not withdrawn the great, right? It's super rewarding work. I think everyone needs that in their life, that someone thanks you for something. Because I don't get that at all from music, because I'm always punishing myself so much. So I do get that satisfaction from my job.”
Price's Timesaver is out via Subroutine Records. Editor's note: this article was originally published in Dutch. Some quotes may have been altered in the translation.