Interview with Stef - Textures / Exivious (October 2009)


When a Metal musician becomes inextricably linked with his instrument of choice as much as he is with his band, you know he has achieved great things. Case in point is Stef Broks, well-known as the drummer of Textures, Dutch purveyors of a very particular brand of Metal. What might be less known is his involvement with a unique Fusionmetal project called Exivious.

I recently interviewed Stef in an attempt to find out more about his involvement in music and about what makes this person tick. The interview took place in a fast food restaurant at the heart of London’s live scene and in between fast-vanishing morsels of burger and chips, Stef offered me some words of wisdom on his bands, drumming and… Yes, cooking. Confused? Then read on….. 

Chris:             Stef, what convinced you to do the Exivious album?

Stef:              The guitarist and founder of Exivious, Tymon, had e-mailed me – I think it was in 2004 – and told me: “Hey Stef, I heard the Textures you want to play in my album?” So I asked him to send me some MP3s, which he did. The first samples that he had sent me were recorded using a drum machine and I thought they were totally incomprehensible. I could understand the guitar parts but frankly the drum parts were incomprehensible.

I told him: “You really have to get rid of the drums as they’re recorded here and then I’ll listen to it again.” [When he did that] suddenly it all made sense and I told him that I definitely wanted to be on his album.

After that something really weird happened: Tymon joined Cynic. So you have a Dutch band called Textures which is named after a song by Cynic. A random guy from Holland who can play guitar very well asks a member of Textures to record an album with him and after that, that guitarist becomes a member of Cynic. As a result you have Cynic, Textures and Exivious in a perfect triangle.

C:                   Although I hadn’t been certain, I did suspect that the name Textures came from the first Cynic album…..

S:                   For us the name made sense not just because it’s a song of Cynic but also because our music, lyrics and concept are layered and the word ‘textures’ denotes layers.

C:                   What about the moniker ‘Exivious’…..what does that mean?

S:                   Oh, it’s a fantasy word created by Tymon himself. It’s still a suitable word though.

C:                   As a drummer, what were the challenges you faced in doing the Exivious album?

S:                   Well the cool thing was that when we first started rehearsing as Exivious, I was studying at the Conservatorium, the University For The Arts in Rotterdam, Holland. My teacher at the Conservatorium is one of the best drummers in Europe – his name is Hans Eijkenaar. He’s really awesome, one of the most well-known drummers in Holland. Hans is very much into Fusion so when I showed him the MP3 demos of Exivious, he told me “You really must do this record.”

So I worked a lot on these different ride patterns and foot patterns. It’s wasn’t really a ‘Jazzy’ approach but my ultimately goal was to develop a Fusionesque approach combined with Metal. In fact combining a Fusionesque style with Metal was the goal of all the band members of Exivious. And it was kind of hard, you know, because in Metal everything is usually played rough and although I always used to play around with dynamics, with Exivious I really had to expand my dynamics range by something like 200%. It took some time but in the end I feel I got there.

C:                   While we’re referring to Fusionesque approaches to playing, are there any improvisations in the recording?

S:                   Yes. 50%, maybe more, of the drums in the album are improvised. For example, Tymon, who also produced the album, would push the [record] button from the control room while saying: “OK, Stef, Take 2” [Stef then plays air drums while mimicking a series of drum rolls with his voice….]  “Wow, yeah that sounds cool Stef, but maybe we’ll have to do it again.” That’s how it went.

C:                   The phrase ‘rehearsing an improvisation’ might sound like an oxymoron, so how does one actually prepare for an improvisation?

S:                   The main thing about improvisations is that you have to know the song well. You have to know where the parts are where you have to do your improvisations. The other thing is that you have to have skills. It’s like cooking – you have to have the spices to cook with but you have to know where and how to put them in.

So yeah, you do have to put in a few rolls and other techniques but you also have to make it musical. The peculiar thing is that I can sing you an improvisation on the same theme like this…..

[At this point Stef starts clicking his fingers to a particular tempo as a representation of the ‘theme’ while singing ‘a cappella’ how he might do his drumming. He then the changes the ‘drumming’ but keeps the same theme.]

And all the kind of spices would be in there. All the techniques, all the musical ideas that I learnt…..I just have to put them in in the right way.

C:                   The predominantly positive feedback that Exivious’ debut has been receiving must surely justify a follow-up…..

S:                   But it’s kind of hard with 2 of the guys playing with Cynic [guitarist Tymon and bass player Robin Zielhorst] - who play way more shows than we do with Textures. There are, however, ideas for a new album, though not in the short term. It’s going to be totally different. The only thing I can say is that it’s not going to be done with this Fusionmetal approach.

C:                   How come?

S:                   Because we want to do new stuff for ourselves. You have to consider, of course, that Tymon is also playing Fusionmetal kind of thing with Cynic. We all share interests in other genres of music, even non-technical stuff such as in singer/songwriting type of music, in Radiohead, in atmospheric soundscape music.

C:                   How can the listener detect your tastes for music such as Radiohead in your playing?

S:                   I listen to a big range of bands that includes Queen, The Beatles, Radiohead.....U2 maybe to a lesser degree. Those bands are kind of…..well not just ‘kind of’ but really great in making every song sound like a new experience. Most bands just have a few spices, or skills, that they put into their music. But bands [such as those I’ve just mentioned] have a shitload of spices in their music. So every song that bands such as Queen have recorded have different melodies, different vocals, different attitudes, different atmospheres, different drums, different guitars, different whatever.

And that’s also the kind of approach we try to adopt with our music. Every song has to have a totally new approach – not always with the same ingredient because that’s too easy. Most bands, especially in Metal, take the same ingredients and try to cook with the same 4 spices every time.

C:                   One aspect that the songs of Textures might have in common is an element of darkness and melancholy, at least in my opinion….

S:                   Yes, I like listening to melancholic music. It’s not depressive though. Maybe sometimes it sounds melancholic to you but we always have this positive approach to it.

C:                   So the roots of these moods do not lie within the personal experiences of Textures’ band-members?

S:                   No. Maybe it’s the inspiration coming from other [non-Metal] bands…..

C:                   We mentioned the forthcoming plans of Exivious….what about Textures….what is the situation with the next album?

S:                   We’ve just signed with a new record label [Nuclear Blast]. We might also sign with a new booking agent though we’re not sure about that yet. But that’s all business stuff, not very interesting.

About the new record, it’s hard to say really ‘cause we’ve only just started writing it. I myself am curious about how it’s going to sound. We’ve just got some sketches so it’s still premature to say which direction it’s going.

C:                   I think that the first 3 Textures albums owed much of their qualities to the band’s independent approach. Do you think this will be compromised after the contract with Nuclear Blast? 

S:                   No, not at all. We shall continue to be involved with all the artistic aspects of Textures…production, artwork, merchandise…whatever. It’s only for business reasons that we signed with Nuclear Blast and they know it. They’re in it for the business and we’re in it for the music.

C:                   Can fans look forward to a tour with new label-mates such as Meshguggah, Darkane, In Flames….?

S:                   Yeah that would definitely be cool. But there are lots of bands that we would like to tour with, such as Dredg, a band from the States.

C:                   Will the next Textures album be produced by Jochem [Jacobs, Textures guitarist], as was the case with the band’s previous albums?

S:                   For the next album, yeah. The last album was produced by Jochem who was helped by Bart, our other guitarist.

C:                   Don’t you think that bringing an external set of ears would provide the band’s music with a fresh perspective?

S:                   It could be, yes, but we’re not going to do it. You see, we try to be as aware as possible of the horizons we are working towards when making a new album. Since this [system] has been going on very well, why change it? Plus getting other people in the music also involves potential stress and conflict. Until now we have had nothing at all of that. Of course sometimes we do have arguments but not on big issues.

C:                   It’s hard to pigeon-hole the music of Textures…..and maybe that is a good thing. But does Textures see itself as part of a particular scene, such as Progressive Metal, Death Metal…...?

S:                   Not really. Possibly ‘Modern Metal’. Definitely not Thrash or Death or Math or whatever subgenre crap there is. That’s all stuff for the media.

And why should music always be one genre? What kind of genre is Radiohead? Pop? Rock? And The Beatles…..what kind of music is The Beatles? It’s too hard to define them.

C:                   I think that in a way, by pigeonholing music, you define a band’s musical limits, thus limiting what they can do with their music…..

S:                   Yeah, I guess so. And music is not there to be defined but to interpret feelings. I’m proud, actually, that our music is hard to label.

C:                   Let talk about the performing side of Textures. I’ve read that you’re scheduled to perform in India and Dubai soon – there seems to be a big expectation for you there as not many foreign metal bands go to those countries. What are you expecting from those dates?

S:                   We don’t really have any immediate plans to play in Dubai although I’d love to play there.

What am I expecting from the gig in India? Happy people. We’re not asking for, say, 2 million people to come and see us. We just want people to feel good at our shows, even if it might be 10 people. Actually I think it’s more likely to be 10,000 or 8,000.

Of course there’s going to be a culture shock. I’m reading a book about India now and I’ve even downloaded some BBC documentaries. Their whole culture is so different but I try to understand it, I try to understand their way of thinking, the way their people behave. We’ll see how it works.

I think the people over there are more enthusiastic because they are not spoilt like people in Western Europe. Every band plays here, as you can see from the venues’ billings. It’s easy, especially in the UK, where you can go to a concert of a big band almost every night. It’s not like that in India. There is more hunger for Metal there…and also more people, 1.3 billion.

C:                   More than any other band I know of, Textures really seems to have embraced technology. Examples include podcasts, the portal band-members use to communicate, the iPhone Application…..

S:                   ……..Twitter…..

C:                   Is this a conscious strategy or do you simply feel very comfortable adopting technological tools?

S:                   Both. We feel comfortable and we feel it’s a cool way to keeps fans informed and to be as much in contact with fans as possible. It’s weird, you know. Until 10 years ago the band was so unapproachable and that gave us a more heroic aura of Rock stars. Now we totally took that away. We’re not Rock stars, we’re just normal guys from Holland. You can easily talk to us. Lately a bunch of guys from India came up to me on Facebook and told me: “Wow, am I really talking to Stef from Textures? Is it true?” It happens every day. And I just say: “Dude, I’m just a [normal] guy, you know.”

C:                   What’s the best praise you received as a drummer?

S:                   The thing that strikes me most is when some young guy comes up to me and says: “I learnt something from you.” And sometimes it’s not even about drumming, but about the way I, or we as a band, behave on stage. The positive vibe we convey.

C:                   To conclude, a straightforward question….what are you listening to right now, apart from Textures or Exivious?

S:                   A lot of stuff. Most of it not even Metal. I download CDs these days and use the MP3s in my car. What am I listening to? Paul Simon, Lhasa, from Portugal. Lhasa released a CD called “La Llorona” – the band’s first album - and it’s amazing. There aren’t even any drums in it. I listen to a lot of ethnic music.

What else? Oh, and I also have Type O Negative in my car. I had never listened to that band and have only just discovered them and they’re really great. There’s tonnes more music I’m listening to…Sam Cooke, the founding father of Soul, is another. And also Chimaira – just for my drum students, when I want some new material for them to play along with. And Jeff Buckley, Ennio Morricone soundtracks…..

I’m also listening to Jazz stuff, though not so much Fusion. Many people come up to me and refer to my ‘Jazzy’ approach and I understand it. But people, that’s not Jazz, Jazz is as in Swing, and the stuff I play with Exivious is not as in Swing at all, it’s just from straight Western music. It’s important to make that distinction. Most of the time Jazz is like…..

C: […..Once more Stef gives an impromptu ‘a cappella’ percussion performance using finger-clicking with his voice mimicking the cymbals. As the sound of those ‘cymbals’ trail off and the interview comes to an end I cannot help smiling at the passion Stef has for what he does. If you, the reader, haven’t yet heard either Textures or Exivious, a word of warning: his passion is highly contagious.]


© Chris Galea (2009)

Textures  line-up:
Stef Broks – Drums
Eric Kalsbeek – Vocals
Jochem Jacobs – Guitars / backing vocals
Bart Hennephof – Guitars / backing vocals
Richard Rietdijk – Synths
Remko Tielemans – Bass

Textures album discography:
“Silhouettes”  [2008 – Listenable Records]
“Drawing Circles”  [2006 – Listenable Records]
“Polars”  [2004 – Listenable Records]


Exivious  line-up:
Tymon (Cynic) – guitar
Michel Nienhuis (ex-Sengaia) – guitar
Robin Zielhorst (Cynic) – bass
Stef Broks (Textures) – drums


Exivious discography:
“Exivious” (2009 – self-release) 

Related websites:  (Textures official site)  (Textures MySpace page)  (Exivious official site) (Exivious MySpace page)  (Stef Broks MySpace page)