Handsome Poets, ‘We’re addicted to playing’

Courtesy of Flor-Ann Estiler / FDRMX
Courtesy of Flor-Ann Estiler / FDRMX

No strangers to the Olympics or the Netherlands’ Megahit Charts, Dutch indie pop band Handsome Poets have smashed the scene with a string of hit singles and world-class gigs. Gaining wild success almost overnight and almost by accident, they have since earned 3FM’s Serious Talent Award, a performance slot at both the London and Sochi Olympic Games, a film feature, and a number one hit single, “Sky on Fire.”

FDRMX met up with them last night for their very first show in the states, an acoustic set for a private party. The event was hosted by Selfie.com, the social media platform that also sponsored the recent CMJ Music Marathon. Founder Alexander Lasky welcomed us into the Club Room at the Soho Grand in Manhattan to chill with the Poets. What ensued was some fascinating insight on Sochi, Sushi, and Spotify, and a more charming and authentic pronunciation of “the Netherlands” than I could ever cook up (“the Neh’lands!”).

Lead singer Tim van Esch expressed their excitement about their U.S. debut. “We’re from the Netherlands and we play there like 150 [sic] shows a year. We’ve been to some parts of Europe but never to the states. It’s great to be here. Actually, it’s a coincidence because we were just here on holiday and then Alex from Selfie asked us if we could play.”

“In the Netherlands that’s the big thing, everyone wants to go here. There’s one band called the Golden Earring who had a big hit here, but for the rest of the Dutch bands, it’s difficult. Because for the dance scene, they’re all over the world, but for the rock and pop scene, it’s harder.”

“If you had a number one song back in the day, you could buy a mansion with it. All we can buy with ours is sushi,” he laughed.

Van Esch also told us about their rapid rise to fame. “Actually, it’s a funny story. In the Netherlands, we wrote one song when we formed the band, and that one song got accidentally picked up by coast-to-coast radio. But we only had one song! We played in bars or places like this for 50 people maybe. And in four months, we played at Lowlands and Pinkpop for 60,000 people, all from one song. It was totally crazy, it went really fast.”

He added that they are happy to be reaching more and more listeners worldwide through streaming services like Spotify. When asked what he thinks of the recent controversy and catalogue pulls, he explained that they do not worry about royalties because they are so devoted to their live performances.

“If they are coming to the shows, that’s the best part, and that’s the way I learned it,” he said. “So, maybe 20 years ago, artists would make lots of money from selling CDs. But these days we can’t, and for me that’s normal.”

“Sometimes it feels crazy when you give away your music for free, and maybe other people will make money from that, and that feels crazy. But we’re still happy to have our stuff on Spotify, because I want you guys and everybody here to have the opportunity to listen to the music.”

“The biggest thing is to connect and play because we’re addicted to playing. I want to play every night! As long as it’s honest, and as long as we make enough money from playing.”

Keyboardist Nils Davidse then joined us to discuss their experience at the Olympics, for which they performed the Dutch anthem. When asked about Sochi, both of them had the exact same answer for me: the word “crazy,” followed by a guarded laugh.

Davidse gave me the scoop. “When you’re getting together for the whole Sochi part you can still see the – how do you call it? Crappy towns?” “Like ghettos, slums?” I asked. They nodded.

“Have you seen The Truman Show?” asked Van Esch. “It felt like a big video inside the dome. Outside it there were really poor people so it was kind of contradictory.”

Davidse explained, “It was super fake, because when you enter Sochi, you never leave the Olympic area. The highways were built just for the Olympics and they had really high walls so you couldn’t see the slums. The grass over there was painted green, because it was at a time when the grass didn’t set in good. It died a little, so they made it green.”

“They tried to make the best of it, I guess,” said Van Esch. “We expected it to be worse, but in the end, it was really good, and the Netherlands our athletes did a great job. In ice skating we had the gold, silver, and bronze, three times!”

“Everyone hated us there!” laughed Davidse. “When we said we were from the Netherlands, they were like ‘Well, give us a medal, man!’”

Van Esch added, “The experience was great. The Olympics are such a big thing and we’re glad to have joined twice already for London and Sochi.”

You can learn more about Handsome Poets on their website. You can listen to their latest album, Sky on Fire, on Spotify.