Interview: Soothsayer Orchestra AKA Pieter Hendriks

Having spent years traversing the stages of Europe’s hardcore circuit in the back of vans as drummer for the likes of Born From Pain, multi-instrumentalist Pieter Hendriks stepped out from behind the kit, and struck out to clear his own musical path as the Soothsayer Orchestra on the release of a debut Self-Titled album. A thrilling, cinematic journey through the dark night of the soul with a cinematic feel, it proved to be a gripping first instalment.

Soothsayer Orchestra / Pieter Hendriks
Soothsayer Orchestra / Pieter Hendriks

Jamie caught up with the talented Mr. Hendriks to discuss the album’s creation, concept, and the joy of isolation.

Pieter, let’s start right at the start – I know you are best known for your involvement in the hardcore scene over the years,  but obviously the Soothsayer Orchestra is very far from that style, sonically and aesthetically. Can you take me back to the genesis of the project? Was it a case that the music came before the formation of the Soothsayer entity, or were you perhaps disillusioned with the hardcore scene and looking to do something new anyway before the songs came together?

The very first recordings I made myself started in 2007 when I got my first Macbook with Garageband, I started messing around with it and recording all kinds of music and samples. Over the years I’ve written a lot of music for various projects, mostly heavy music and some vague weird triphop/electronic stuff. I think around the time I left Black Bottle Riot in 2015 (which is a blues rock band I played drums for) the first foundation for Soothsayer Orchestra songs where written. It was not that I was looking to do something new with SSO, it just happened, I started writing lyrics and the music just came with it naturally. Over the last twenty five years I’ve done a lot of different things music wise, all those experiences shaped me and came together with SSO.

Yes I wrote, recorded and mixed everything myself which was a liberating thing to do, everything is exactly the way I want it to be…

My understanding (please correct me if I’m wrong) is that you wrote and recorded these songs yourself, and subsequently have assembled a band to help you play live. I was wondering how you decided to bill yourself as ‘The Soothsayer Orchestra’ instead of maybe just releasing the album under your own name?

Yes I wrote, recorded and mixed everything myself which was a liberating thing to do, everything is exactly the way I want it to be and after twenty five years of playing in bands making concessions, this was a welcome new way of working. Don’t get me wrong, I still really enjoy creating and working in a group, it’s just a different dynamic.

Well at the time I had a couple songs finished and was sending them out to some friends so they could check it out and I had to name it something. I was working on a song called The Soothsayer, so without thinking I named the file The Soothsayer Orchestra, and it just stuck. I thought the Orchestra part was cool to add, since you know, I’m not an orchestra. When I came in contact with Laybare Recordings, we got talking and the subject of doing this in a live setting came about. So I reached out to some of my favourite musicians I ever worked with and the line-up came together very quickly.

I have to ask about this – the word is that you wrote a lot of the album in a caravan in the countryside. How was that experience? How long did you spend there and did you have much of the material on the album written before you isolated yourself?

My wife had the idea of buying a caravan spot in the forest of the Eifel in Germany a couple years ago. It’s a beautiful peaceful remote place with bad cellphone reception and clean air. It’s surrounded by mountains filled with forest and an old castle on top of one of the mountains. At night it’s super dark and quiet, almost creepy. So every now and then I go there by myself to work on our property, take long walks and sit somewhere and write lyrics or I come up with concepts for songs. Sometimes I have some music written already or sometimes I record some basic parts in the caravan or in the forest and work it out in a studio setting.

Soothsayer Orchestra / Pieter Hendriks
Soothsayer Orchestra / Pieter Hendriks

Do you feel like that act of isolation helped focus/influence the album overall, for example do you think the music would have taken a different run had it all been written in your house in an urban setting for example? And is it a method you would go through again to write an album in future?

Yes it shaped the concept of the album completely, for me when I listen to it I hear and feel the forest and remember where I wrote or thought about parts. For the next album I’m going to work a bit different, I’m in the process of building my own studio. And I wrote most lyrics for the next album in the Lockdown situation at home, so it will have a different approach and vibe. But still nothing you want to play at a party.

There’s a strong hint of the Southern Gothic to much of the album. What is it about that aesthetic that draws you to it and can you remember a particular moment (could be a song or movie for example) that first drew you to it? I know that’s more often associated with America, but obviously you’re living in Eindhoven. Is there such a thing maybe as a ‘Dutch Southern Gothic’?

Well I never associated myself with gothic or folk or Americana. I don’t really listen to anything in those genres, so I don’t know about a Gothic scene in Holland, but it sounds like a fun party. It’s only recently that people in reviews started comparing me with some acts that I went on Spotify and check them out. So when people started labelling my music in genres, I was kind of surprised because I never went out and said ‘oh I’m going to write music in that style’, like I said earlier, it just happened that way. I normally write really heavy guitar music, when I pick up a guitar I mostly just shred riffs. But this just happened when I started writing lyrics and I started writing more on the piano. Most of these songs on this album started out with lyrics and a piano or an acoustic guitar.

it shaped the concept of the album completely, for me when I listen to it I hear and feel the forest…

You mention you write on guitar primarily but have a history as a drummer – is there any particular instrument you feel is your ‘main’ instrument?

I’ve been a drummer since I was 6 years old, so that is my main instrument, drumming/percussion. But with SSO nothing starts with drums, drums and percussion are added last in the writing process, maybe because with everything I write on piano or guitar the drums are in my head, if the song demands drums or percussion. Sometimes I use metal chains, broken buckets or whatever to create drum sounds, just to get different sounds.

Each song feels a little bit like a sort character study or scene from a movie, and there’s a very cinematic vibe to the album overall. I was wondering if there were specific films or soundtracks in particular that resonated with you and helped steer the project? For example I know you’ve mentioned the TV show ‘Carnivàle’ as one. Also were there any authors that helped influence the stories you’ve written the album about?

Yes film is a huge influence on my writing. Carnivàle was a huge influence vibe wise. I get really influenced by visual artwork, old church stuff or Hindu temples and their artwork triggers me as well. I like to surround myself by it, so my recording space at home is also almost like a voodoo altar. I like to dive into that vibe and get creative. Every song for me tells a different story, and in the end they all fit together.

Soothsayer Orchestra - S/T

Can you talk about the concept behind the album a little?

The concept for this album is a spiritual journey, a deep search between good and evil. What is good and evil and where do we (or in this case I) belong. I was raised Catholic and in my teenage years came across the Hare Krishna movement through bands like the Cro-Mags/108/Shelter, I was always drawn to the search of a higher power, or trying to find answers if there is a higher power at all. I tried to understand and I sometimes thought I felt something, and sometimes I felt nothing at all and it all seems complete nonsense. It was always more the artwork and the vibe that drew me into religion, not so much the writing, because most of the time it made absolutely no sense to me, all those rules and punishments for ‘sinning’. But anyway, that is what this album turned out to be about.

In terms of the storytelling aspect, have you ever considered furthering it beyond music into, say writing or film, to bring the kind of stories and images you cover in Soothsayer further to life? I know you’ve made a couple of videos for the songs, would you like to expand into that realm more?

I always really wanted to write a poetry book, but until now, I didn’t have the balls to openly admit it and come public with my writing. Singing in the beginning was also really weird for me because I’ve always been the drummer or guitarist in a band. I wrote lyrics for some bands I was in, but I’ve never really been a singer. But to answer your questions, yes I hope to one day to write something other than music, but in what form, I don’t know.

I always really wanted to write a poetry book, but until now, I didn’t have the balls to openly admit it…

I know it’s perhaps a strange question to be asking given the current pandemic situation as gigs are basically off the menu for a while, but has the Soothsayer Orchestra played live yet? I had read that you had, or were hoping to, assemble a live band, and I was wondering (if you’ve had a chance to do that yet) if the live approach will change the songs at all, or how you write in future? Will Soothsayer always be a solo project or is it the kind of thing that you’d like to involve other musicians in permanently?

I came together with some friends in a studio to start rehearsals, but like everything else in this pandemic we had to postpone everything. I had to adjust some parts of some songs to make them work, but most of them stayed as they are. They sound fuller maybe because it’s in a band situation, I really enjoyed it and look forward to dive into it and do it on stage. But because rehearsals and shows are off, I went back into writing mode. So at the moment I’m in a creative bubble, I have a lot of new lyrics and concepts wrote and actually recorded drums in a studio for six new songs. I hope to finish the new album this year.

Soothsayer Orchestra
Soothsayer Orchestra

I have to ask a little bit about the hardcore background as aside from anything else, it’s something we both seem to share! There’s a whole lot of different musical elements at work in Soothsayer, and while I know a lot of people have tagged you as ‘dark folk’ or ‘Americana’ I think it’s very clear that there’s some punk rock in there too, for example The Rooster Calls has a sort of garagey feel to me on one hand, and on the other parts of Black Velvet Deathbed  or Amidst The Coiling Snakes almost remind me of something like Neurosis. In terms of having part of the hardcore scene for a long time, and considering you literally made the album yourself, is it fair to say that the DIY approach is important to you in terms of how you operate? Do you still play in HC bands or is that something you feel like is in the past for you now?

Hardcore/punk influenced me hugely, not just in a personal way but also in work ethic when it comes to music. The DIY thing has always stuck with me. I still enjoy playing hardcore/punk and I enjoy listening to it. I actually come together with some long time friends every now and then to work on songs, but we haven’t come around to finish them. We recorded some songs last year. It’s a project with some former and current Born From Pain, Backfire and No Turning Back members. I also play drums and write songs for a group called The Establishment, which has a more dark new wave approach to punk. We just recorded a new album which will be released later this year through Shield Recordings.

I wrote a lot of new songs already. I have the concept for the new album thought out, lyrically I have material for at least ten new songs…

Although it’s only coming out on vinyl now, I know the album was finished in 2020, which leads me to wonder have you begun thinking about new material or a new album yet? Have you been able to stay creative during the whole COVID lockdowns/restrictions etc?

Yes I wrote a lot of new songs already. I have the concept for the new album thought out, lyrically I have material for at least ten new songs. I’m going to build my own studio in a couple months, so when that’s finished I’m seriously going to sit down to record and mix everything. I’m taking a different approach this time, so it’s going to sound and feel different. It will be a very dark album, and reflects the vibe of this pandemic really well. It’s a terrible thing happening in this world right now, and that triggers my creativity. It will be a more personal album compared to the album that just came out, that was a more spiritual journey for me.

I’ll end with the question I’ve been secretly dying to ask – is it true you have played in a Johnny Cash tribute band?

Yes I played drums for a Johnny Cash Tribute band. We had a yearly festival in our hometown where all bands from the region mixed up members and did a one time tribute to a famous act. One year my friend Mark asked me to play drums for him as he wanted to do Johnny Cash. One thing lead to another and we played a lot of shows in three or four years, it was a really tight group of friends and the rock n roll was definitely there on and especially off stage at that time. It could get pretty crazy. It was fun. But I was never that into Johnny Cash, I like his work with Rick Rubin when he was an old man.

Pieter, thanks for your time, feel free to add your last words here…

Thank you very much for supporting SSO. The album is up on Spotify and can be ordered at Lay Bare Recordings.

Label: Lay Bare Recordings
Band Links: Bandcamp | Instagram

Interviewed by: Jamie Grimes