Hello Maarten, Powerstroke is ten years old. Did you guys a drink on it?
Maarten: A band like Powerstroke takes every opportunity to drink. We have done a lot of nice shows but it has not all been sweet and fragrant in recent years. What does not kill you, makes you stronger. Not? Powerstroke was founded in 2007 with me as a guitarist and only a drummer. The rest of the band arrived half a year later when the first record was already half ready. The guitar sound was not so great. Especially during the solos is was like it felt into a hole. Frederiek Nuyt then joined as second guitarist. He already had a solid death metal past and that is always something that keeps on sounding. I expect from the band members that they are enthusiastic and motivated and that they always stay positive. They need to move forward and actively search for constructive solutions if problems arise. Unfortunately, that did not always seem possible. It kept on dragging a bit and that continued on the rest of the band. But we never did folds or canceled shows. Each time we looked for solutions (interim drummers etc ...). But now we are finally well. Niels Matthijs joined as drummer and at the very last Mark de Smit as bass player. It was an intense search and I even planned to play the bass myself. When Mark joined, the bass lines had not yet been written. And that was three weeks before we went into the studio. I was from the thought to solve it in the studio at the moment. I did not worry about it either. I left Mark completely free and he has played so well that the bass on 'Omissa' is prominently present. Marc and Niels both live just across the border in the Netherlands and that gives the band some extra international allures. Our singer Bavo lives in Waregem (Belgium) and that is the furthest away.
How much time and energy was spent on 'Omissa'?
Maarten: In time it was less like the previous records. I mean mainly the basic work the approach itself was completely different this time. We were without a drummer and despite that we decided to release a new album within the year. There were plenty of ideas and we could record demos with a drum computer. The songs slowly took shape, but without a real drummer is not always that easy. You can program drums, but during live shows the drummer must also be able to make it happen. That always played a role in my mind. Then Niels came by. He came to rehearse with just me. In one hour the opening number was almost ready. Some melody lines were added and Bavo came with the vocals. Mark completed everything with his bass playing. That sounds very cool and that was what we have always missed.
Mark: 'There were no more Belgians to find who wanted to play with Powerstroke. That's why they only took a Hollander.
Maarten: Damn, two Hollanders in the band.
What has changed in the recording process compared to the previous albums?
Frederiek: More individual work was done from home. Each worked out his ideas and that we put together and was later worked out into a finished number.
Maarten: There is a world of difference between 'Omissa' and our previous records. They were all written in the rehearsal room and 'Omissa' from home. That saved lots of time. Making songs during the rehearsal is fun, but as we have done it now, everything worked much better and more professional. Especially our singer Bavo Coene has surpassed himself. What a performance that he has delivered. To start he already has three good voices: grunt, clean vocals and a hardcore/scream roar. The vocals now sound much more aggressive and all vocal lines were done by Bavo himself this time. Sometimes he telephoned me and he was singing his vocal lines through the telephone. Then I searched for a suitable guitar melody and adapted something here and there. That may sound strange, but the result was there. The final recordings then took place in the Oakwood Productions studio in Kaprijke (Belgium) and in the Markonsound studio in Westdorpe (Netherlands).
Your mix of thrash, death metal and hardcore works great. Is this the ultimate Powerstroke sound?
Niels: I have just joined the band so as an outsider I can say that each album sounded better and better. And now it sounds perfect.
Mark: Hardcore elements, death metal melodies, thrash metal, drum parts and then the versatile vocals. You'll even find alternative metal pieces on 'Omissa'. Everything is allowed in Powerstoke. It just has to sound good.
Maarten: The intro was sung by a bunch of grinders from around eighty years old. They had never seen a micro or a studio before, but they liked it a lot.
Bavo: They are members of the church choir and acquaintances of my parents. The whole song is a tribute to my mother who died in March this year. The track, the text and the underlying message is dedicated to her. It may sound a bit dark, but that is my personality. In any case, these men have amused themselves very much. As a warm-up they sang an Ave Maria. I am rather anti-Catholic but it was very amusing to see those people busy in the studio.'
Even with opener 'Earth and Beyond' you are simply blown away by the energetic content and flow. It starts with the intro that sounds very original. On a short film fragment it seems that you have collected all the men from the local Okra (Belgian organization of retired people).
Maarten: 'The intro was sung by a bunch of grinders from around eighty years old. They had never seen a micro or a studio before, but they liked it a lot. '
Bavo: 'They are members of the church choir and acquaintances of my parents. The whole number is a tribute to my mother who died in March this year. The number, the text and the underlying message is dedicated to her. It may be a bit dark, but that is my personality. In any case, these men have been very amused. As a warm-up they sang an ‘Ave Maria’. I am rather anti-Catholic but it was very amusing to see those people busy in the studio.
Another catchy song is 'Cannot Change The Time'. Even hip-hop star Slongs Dievanongs participated on it. How does a metal band actually come into contact with a rapping youth idol?
Maarten: Two years ago we were invited by Body Count to go on tour with them. Ice-T thought us pretty good and wanted to participate on our next album. We had to let him know something. However, when we were busy with 'Done Deal', he did not have time. He was working on film recordings and a Body Count album. We also let him know something for 'Omissa'. He was back in film shooting and his wife Coco Austin was chosen as miss with the most beautiful ass or something that he had to go with her everywhere. I am a big Ice-T fan. Keeping waiting was not an option. It sometimes happens. Bavo came down with Slongs.
Bavo: 'I knew that Slongs Dievangongs could tolerate a bit of metal and I just sent her an e-mail. A little later I got an answer and she sounded wildly enthusiastic. One thing led to another and she came to rehearse with us. In the intro and the outro she raps in English. The middle part is in Antwerps. She still had to keep some of her authenticity. In the meantime she has already become good friends with us. She stands with both feet on the ground and we still hear her at regularly base. She refused a lot of other guest projects. Only Raymond van het Groenewoud, Urbanus and Powerstroke not. That is a nice list. On the bigger performances she even wants to be on stage with us with one condition. And that is that there is brown Havana rum present. Ha-ha .. Nice.
You end up with 'Cross My Heart'. Who speaks that solemn outro?
Bavo: The speech is a war speech. It deals with the victory with yourself. I control my own will and life. I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul. I am very busy with history and occult matters. This is how I encountered 'Invictus' by William Ernest Henley. The sample was so good that we used it on the album.
Now that we are talking about the songs. Do you follow a kind of concept or how do you proceed when making a number?
Bavo: I am rather concerned with emotions and the dark side of life. I write everything from a fairytale, sometimes 'satanic' and energetic angle. They are mainly metaphors. So do not take it literally.
Maarten: Compared to Bavo, my English knowledge and structure and vocabulary is much less. I have therefore completely let him do his thing. Sometimes I had to restrain him or we went all the way black metal direction. It still has to sound somewhat light. Without being vulgar. Preferably with some depth. Omissa is the female side of the past participle Voltari: she who has been abandoned.'
With Bavo you have found a very strong and divers vocalist. But he is only member of the band since 2014.
Maarten: Before making 'Done Deal' I was looking for a suitable singer. I was chatting through Facebook with Kat from the music cafe Elpee in Deinze. She had two possible singers in her mind for us. One was Bavo. We agreed and I must say that the first rehearsal sounded really bad. He followed too much the style of our previous singer and that was just the point we wanted to avoid. I knew through recordings from his previous band what he could do with his voice and I wanted that voice in Powerstroke. He then made the click and started doing his own thing. You can clearly hear the result. He sings rather dark lyrics. But with the music we give it a more positive vibe. 'Cross My Heart' has rather heavy and dark lyrics. But the melody makes it a lot easier to listen.’
The album was mixed by Joe Cincotta (also known from Obituary and Suffocation) and mastered by Jacob Hansen (Volbeat). Yet no small names. How did you get in touch with them?
Maarten: Joey was the soundman of Body Count. When we did their supporting show, he came up with the proposal himself. We have been working together with Jacob since our second album 'Awaken The Beast'. He asked to become our permanent mastering man. Even Joey has already asked if he can do our next album. We were very lucky with those two. Over the years, we have been able to make a lot of contacts and get to know the right people. That has certainly paid off.’
You are a typical example of the authentic inhabitants of the Meetjesland (region in Flanders, Belgium). Work hard and never give up. How much time, courage and self-sacrifice does it take to maintain a bond like Powerstroke?
Mark: The last few months have been quite hectic. Just take fifty to sixty hours a week. Create notes, mail to the United States. By the time we had done with our day job, Joey woke up there and was able to do his job. This also meant that you were chatting through the computer until three o'clock at night. The batteries were completely empty after the recordings. But the result is really worth it.
Maarten: Really authentic Meetjeslands isn’t Powerstroke anymore, is it? Two Hollanders now in the band and a singer who lives in Waregem. Only Nuyt, me and our rehearsal room in Zelzate are authentic Meetjeslands. Let us say: A typical example of healthy farming.’
And then you signed with the German label Bret Hard Records. Was that a huge difference with the previous Mighty Music / Spinal Records label?
Maarten: In any case, we have obtained a good contract. Those men have good global promotion and distribution for us. Our record will be released in Europe one month later than expected because we were offered an improved contract last minute by the label. It will be somewhere in the end of January that the CD will be in stores everywhere. But during the release on December 2, 2017 in the Elpee in Deinze, you can already buy the album. There will be some other new merchandise available.’
Very strange to believe but this rehearsal room is shared with bands like Pro-Pain, Agent Steel and Possessed. You should give a little more explanation about that.
Maarten: I have been a fan of Pro-Pain and Pantera since childhood. The fixed soundman of Pro-Pain was at that time from Lembeke. I am originally from Bassevelde and that are two small communities lying through each other. He phoned me one day and said Pro-Pain was in the country. However, they were looking for a place to sleep and rehearse and he asked if it could be my home. One was lying here in the seat, another one on an air mattress. But they had a rehearsal room. The only thing I had to do was drive to the store very often to get some beer. ha-ha .. With every European tour, they ended up at my house. In the meantime more than ten years already. At the end I rolled into the music business and I became their manager. That is how I came into contact with Agent Steel and Possessed as a tour manager and these men came here too.