December 13, 2019 Interview – Hendrik Jan de Jong of Nemesea
First coming together back in 2002, the Netherlands’ Nemesea has sustained their share of trials and tribulations. Initially a Symphonic Gothic Metal styled band with the release of Mana in 2004, they would soon shape shift to something different with subsequential albums such as 2007’s In Control, 2011’s The Quiet Resistance, and 2016’s Uprise. Then, to the surprise of fans, 2016 saw the departure of long-time Vocalist Manda Ophuis, thus leaving the band’s future in limbo.
Fortunately unwilling to put Nemesea in the grave, they would recruit Sanne Mieloo as their new voice, going on to craft the impressive 2019 album White Flag. Further proof that Nemesea is a force on the International Hard Rock/Metal scene, White Flag could be one of their finest works. Proud of their efforts, founding Songwriter Hendrik Jan ‘HJ’ de Jong took the time to break down the long, interesting story of Nemesea, their perseverance, White Flag, plus more.
Cryptic Rock – Nemesea came together nearly two decades ago and has established themselves as a respected name in the international Metal community. What has the journey been like for the band to this point?
Hendrik Jan de Jong – Well, where to start? (Laughs) I’m afraid there is no short answer to this question. I’m sorry! (Laughs) Best to start with is saying that the journey has been very interesting in many ways with lots of ups and downs.
When we started the band all went very quickly: a solid/good band, a record deal, a tour with After Forever that brought us a dedicated fanbase. So the first few years were great and our goals/wishes came true. After the first release, Mana (2004), some things changed. We noticed the label we were signed to lacked experience/power to bring Nemesea to that so important next level, so we started to look for a new record company. With that we also felt we should do something different musically. This Gothic/Symphonic Metal thing we did on Mana and bands around us (After Forever, Epica, etc.), in our minds, needed a fresh addition so we could get our own ‘style/signature.’ We felt like ‘one of the …’ but we wanted to be ‘the one.’
The result was new/different music on the In Control (2007) album through a new/innovative company called SellAband, not a record label but the first crowdfunding platform. With that conscious choice to change, success came again. We were the first band that could release an album through this platform so the band got worldwide attention, and this was a chance for us to spread our (new) music to a broader audience. The whole album process was great and something to hold dear to our hearts. Working on music on a very professional level was a dream come true.
Live performances followed and we started to build a bridge between a Metal, Rock and Pop audience; something that Evanescence and Within Temptation were doing swell during that time. But dark clouds were heading in the band’s direction. Although SellAband was a great concept, the platform also lacked experience and didn’t seem to happy about the fact a Metal/Rock band was their first product to be ‘out there,’ so they quickly focused on other artists more and more that were more ‘commercial.’ Because the platform was very open about being against the standard/traditional music/record label industry there weren’t any collaborations possible with labels, but seemed very needed since SellABand bands were only connecting with a relatively small group of followers worldwide. So basically the concept had its flaws, so none of the bands really had success on a bigger scale.
We, Nemesea, knew it was a risk but as we always say, “Life without risks isn’t living,” so we just went for it. Okay, what to do next? We had two albums out, but no concerts to play/no booking agent, no record label since everybody was associating us with SellAband still. This haunted us for a couple years, so we started to get out of the picture and it got harder to keep on going. Some members, myself included, were really disappointed about the band’s career, because we did everything to build Nemesea into a professional band and pursued our dream in playing, writing, producing music for a living. We all studied music, so for us it was an obvious choice and passion to follow, but luck didn’t seem to be on our side. Being in this situation, people start to do different things, different jobs, and the band simply cannot be number one anymore, which is understandable but often deadly for a band.
We wrote good songs but didn’t find any opening at the record labels, a very frustrating process to be honest. The way the industry is means different parties wait on each other. So, for example, a label wants to sign you, but then there needs to be a dedicated manager involved or a booking agency. When this is (was) not the case, the label won’t take action. But when you go to a management or booking agency with this story, they won’t work with you because you are not signed to a label or booking agency. As an artist you are caught in the middle, and there just isn’t anything happening.
A light started to shine when we were asked to join an interesting live surround concept. We could play two live shows in 9.1 surround sound and this fitted us perfectly. This got the creative fire back, and although the band lineup changed here and there, we had a great group at that time – Manda (Ophuis) on vocals, me on guitar, Sonny (Onderwater) on bass, Lasse (Dellbrugge) on keyboards, and Steven on drums. We decided to record the concert and release this live album on our own, no record company attached to it. With the limited promotion we got good reviews, but there wasn’t a real follow up so we had to accept this was probably it.
A couple of years later Napalm Records contacted us about working together. To be honest we weren’t sure about signing to a pure Metal label since we were more Rock-oriented already, but with this deal and Napalm being a well established name, we could make music again and see from there where to go. This resulted in the album The Quiet Resistance (2011) that contains a lot of songs and lyrics that describe our ‘pain’ in not accomplishing our goals/dreams with Nemesea. The Quiet Resistance did quite well in sales (so good for the label), but we still weren’t very active with live concerts. We still weren’t able to find the right booking agency that understood what Nemesea was about and where we would ‘fit’ best.
When discussing The Quiet Resistance follow up album, the label really wanted the same concept and sound as done before. This was something we couldn’t agree to because we wanted to progress, evolve, so there was some discussion back and forth with Napalm Records during that time. We also wanted to make a more mellow/mainstream album because it felt natural that way. But before we could start working on the album private issues raised so this meant the whole recording process was being moved.
After we recorded and released Uprise (2016) – again related to our feelings about the band’s career – Manda made the decision to leave the band, leave a singing-career behind and focus on being a full-time teacher, something that made/makes her a lot happier. So there you are: we released, in our/my eyes, the best album so far, but without having your lead singer, and with a label that has difficulties promoting the music … What to do?
Then Sonny and myself were really questioning everything. Without Manda it almost impossible to keep Nemesea going, so better quit. But we still were under contract with Napalm Records, we still had written some good songs, and still felt Nemesea wasn’t over yet. We decided to look for a new singer but with a different voice and appearance when compared to Manda, because she was and is one of kind and irreplaceable. After auditions we found Sanne Mieloo and she brought a different vibe to the band, so for this third and last Napalm Records release we decide to work on the music together. This resulted in our latest release, White Flag.
To this day, when looking back I personally still have the feeling we didn’t accomplish what we aimed for, unfortunately. We learned a lot about all facets within the music industry, on a musical level, running a ‘business’ etc. When being realistic, tour lives are totally different from when we started the band; everybody has to stay alive, make a living, etc. So at this point in time it’s simply not possible to spend all our time and money on the band and that’s okay. We still enjoy writing, recording, and producing music and this will probably never stop.
Cryptic Rock – Wow, that is quite a journey. It seems like you endured a lot of growing pains and learned a lot in the process. All this in mind, the band’s sound has certainly morphed through the years. Originally more of a Symphonic Metal act, you have spread your wings in recent years to a more Rock sound, as you mentioned. How would you describe the progression of the band?
Hendrik Jan de Jong – We think it’s normal that music taste, and songs/sound changes along the way. For us it’s not possible to repeat ourselves, so this explains why all our albums sound different. Next to that, we were always fans of different styles of music, so it’s natural you can hear that in our music; commercially not the best choice, I’m afraid, but it’s about what feels right creatively.
Cryptic Rock – You have to do what you feel is right artistically. Early on, some compared Nemesea’s sound to that of your countrymates After Forever. Did you think that was a fair comparison? That said, what are your thoughts of where the Symphonic Metal scene stands in 2019?
Hendrik Jan de Jong – I think so. Our Mana album was heavily-influenced by the female-fronted bands during that time. We had the ‘format’ those bands had being female, slightly classical vocals, strings/orchestra/choir, Metal guitars and double bass drums. Because of this comparison and our interest in other music styles, we changed the music.
To be honest I don’t listen to that music style anymore, because it often sounds the same to me and my taste in music has changed a lot. I still believe Within Temptation and Nightwish are leading and interesting, and I have to say Amaranthe is a nice addition to the scene.
Cryptic Rock – Agreed. So, yourself and Sonny Onderwater have been at the front of Nemesea since the start. As you spoke of, there have been lineup changes through the years, but you two have stood strong. How would you describe the working chemistry you share?
Hendrik Jan de Jong – We are good friends, so this is the chemistry at its core. We also divide our tasks very well. Sonny gives me all trust in the songwriting/creative area and this is very comfortable for me. I’m not happy when there are too many opinions, too many musical wishes that create a long, difficult album process. In Nemesea I have to be the one in control, and I don’t mean this in an egocentric manner but purely on a functional basis.
Cryptic Rock – Understood. Speaking of lineup changes, long-time Vocalist Manda Ophuis departed from the band following the 2016 Uprise album as you mentioned. Were you surprised to see her departure and do you keep in touch?
Hendrik Jan de Jong – We were not really surprised but hoped for the best, meaning Manda would stay, but she chose different and all the best/love to her. People have to choose what makes them happy, and music/Nemesea didn’t make Manda happy anymore. She is doing well. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – Well it is good she found happiness. Stepping in, Sanne Mieloo took over on vocals and has done a fantastic job. How did you decide that Sanne would be the new vocalist in Nemesea?
Hendrik Jan de Jong – We had auditions and Sanne brought something different to the table like Manda: an amazing voice, but different; professional attitude and creative. It felt right to go for Sanne.
Cryptic Rock – Well, she is doing a great job. The band recently released the exciting new album White Flag back in August. This album is a dynamic mix of heavier and lighter songs. What was the writing and recording process like?
Hendrik Jan de Jong – When lining up some songs we had written it was quite clear this would be a diverse album. Basically it reflects Nemesea as a band and also Sanne, because she too was interested in many styles. You could say we used the album to figure out what Nemesea should sound like in the future.
Cryptic Rock – It works! The lead track “The Storm” really kicks off the album on a high note. Topically about the history of male chauvinism, what inspired this particular song?
Hendrik Jan de Jong – Exactly that: male chauvinism, misogyny, woman not being treated equal to men. Sanne feels, and we do also, very strongly about this as you can hear. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – Yes, it is a great tune with an equally great message. There are currently no tour dates planned for the band. Is it possible to expect more in 2020, and perhaps in the USA?
Hendrik Jan de Jong – No, and that’s too bad. As mentioned above, it’s currently impossible for us to be on tour due to many different reasons. Maybe in 2020, but there is nothing certain yet.
Cryptic Rock – Hopefully things will change so you can tour North America. Last question. If you are a fan of Horror and Sci-Fi films, what are some of your favorites and why?
Hendrik Jan de Jong – I’m a fan of Sci-fi, not Horror. My favorite Sci-Fi is Alien vs. Predator (2004). I really like that clash between titans. Same goes for Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). I like all Predator and Alien movies. The Matrix (1999) is still high on my list, and Blade Runner 2049 was my favorite movie in 2017.