Interview with Marijn van der Meer, the velvet voice of HAEVN: “There’s something about writing and recording at night, it unlocks different feelings”

Marijn van der Meer in concert. Photo © Kim Balster

If you are just like me and you often find yourself thrown into the deep emotions of music, let’s play a heart-warming game with our imagination. First, press Play to “The Sea” song, then close your eyes and listen to it with your soul, see where it takes you.

I have discovered HAEVN’s music on a sleepless night in Vienna, when I was seduced by this song from the very first delicate notes. I had it on repeat for a while and then I heard “We Are” and I was again in awe, so I had to find out who that beautiful voice of HAEVN is and who touches that piano so gently. This is how I met Marijn van der Meer and I was honoured and happy when he texted me back and accepted to do an interview with me.  


The story of the Dutch band HAEVN began when the film composer Jorrit Kleijnen was introduced to Marijn van der Meer, along with whom he had to create advertising spots for Volvo and BMW. Together, they have composed “Where The Heart Is” and “Finding Out More”. Only 30 seconds of one song were enough for them to seduce the audience and to reach the international charts of Shazam.

In the fall of 2015, Marijn and Jorrit joined guitarist Tom Veugen, drummer David Broeders and bassist Mart Jeninga, along with whom they had their first live appearances. Together they easily conquered the hearts of music lovers from all over Europe and it was just a matter of time until Marijn and Jorrit released their first album, for which they worked intensely in their studio in Amsterdam. From the beginning they teamed up with producer Tim Bran, the talented brain behind the famous Birdy and the London Grammar trio.

Today I am taking you with me on a nice trip to the Netherlands, where we will meet the singer and songwriter Marijn van der Meer. I strongly believe that his gentle and soft voice can have the power to stop wars and heal the world.

Oana: Hi, Marijn. How was “Eyes Closed” born?

Marijn van der Meer: Our first release was “Finding Out More” and it was a big hit in the Netherlands, it was on every radio station and then we decided that we have to write more, because we just wrote a song together and we didn’t think that anything like that will happen. We were already selling out the halls in Amsterdam because of one song and then we thought “Oh my God, we have to just write enough material to play it”, so we decided that we wanted to have a document of this period of us and we decided to record an album and finish all the demos that we had. It took us two and a half years and we’re really glad that people were kind enough to wait for us. Normally, when you have a song on the radio, there is already an album, but for us it was the other way around, we had to make an album while we were touring and while we were having success in the Netherlands.

Marijn van der Meer and Jorrit Kleijnen in Caprera Theatre. Photo © Kim Balster

Oana: Why the name “HAEVN”?

Marijn van der Meer: That’s because when we recorded “Where the Heart Is”, we were getting e-mails from people who wanted to know who it was from and we didn’t have a name. When people were listening to this song they were saying to us that it sounded like heaven and it sounded like coming home and then we decided to combine the word “heaven” with a word that stands for coming home, which is “haven”, when the boats arrive in the port. And then we thought let’s combine those two words in one word and that’s HAEVN, a weird way of writing it, but we really like it, because it stands for us and the people who found us are really into our music, because it takes a while to really find us as well. We are really happy that we have chosen that name also because at the beginning people didn’t know from where we are and it’s also an advantage. It was a compliment that people from the Netherlands didn’t believe that we are from here and we like that. We are embracing it and we love how the name HAEVN came to us.

“And all our lives we’re told

The stream will take us home”

Recently, Marijn and Jorrit went to a recording studio in Belgium to fulfill one of their greatest desires: to record their favourite songs with a symphonic orchestra.

Oana: Tell me about the Symphonic Tales (Songs for strings orchestra). When and where was this idea born and how many people were involved?

Marijn van der Meer: Symphonic Tales was a dream of us, we released our album almost one year ago and there are a couple of tracks on the album that we wanted to have more attention and then we decided to record them with a 50 piece orchestra in Belgium and so we did. We recorded four songs of the album and we also recorded new songs to have something new for the fans and it was like a dream come true, of course. Jorrit is a film composer, so he knew exactly what to do with those songs and we had a really exciting day because we had only four hours to do the recording and the result was really nice. We also filmed it, so you can check it out on our YouTube channel and on our website. And we hope that one day we will perform with that 50 piece orchestra live, but that’s another dream.

Marijn van der Meer and Jorrit Kleijnen working on "Symphonic Tales". Photo © HAEVN
Marijn van der Meer and Jorrit Kleijnen working on “Symphonic Tales”. Photo © HAEVN

Oana: What can be expected of this experience when your fans will listen to your “Symphonic Tales”?

Marijn van der Meer: I always hope that the fans will get goose bumps, because that’s exactly what we’ve got when we were recording it. Because we were recording it live and I was in a focal booth and I was looking at the orchestra through a window and I got goose bumps when I’ve played the first part, because I could hear them and I really hope that someone who listens to the CD will also get that feeling.

Oana: What’s your secret? It’s so natural for you to touch people’s minds and emotions.

Marijn van der Meer: Thanks a lot. I don’t know if there is a secret. The only thing that I know is that when I just sing what comes to my mind, when I hear different choirs and when I just play piano and I sing it’s my subconscious coming up with lines and with melodies and I trust on that. And that’s exactly what Jorrit does as well. When he plays, he doesn’t know what he’s playing, but he is playing it from his subconscious and that’s really powerful.  

Oana: Which of your songs do you think is the most loved one?

Marijn van der Meer: I like the most “Back in the Water” and it changes, because for me it started with “Finding Out More” but now it’s “Back In The Water”, especially because we played it live with an orchestra and with a gospel choir. In that situation it is always really nice to have that song at the end of the show. We come together with everyone on stage and we play that song and it has a special meaning for us. And about the audience, we get a lot of e-mails about “Where the Heart Is”, because that song somehow connects people in different ways. It’s the first song that we wrote together. People are e-mailing us that they are really connecting to the song in different ways. Some people are using it at their weddings and some people are playing it at funerals, for instance. So it means something different for the people and that’s what we actually like, that it connects the people in different ways and I think “Where the Hearts Is” is one of our most popular songs.

“When you are really happy, it’s hard to write a good song”

Oana: My favorite song is “We Are”.

Marijn van der Meer: That’s also a song that’s dear to us and it’s because we recorded it during the night, I think it was 3AM. Jorrit had a girlfriend at the time and it wasn’t really going well and in that moment I also felt that we should write a song about that. There’s something about writing and recording at night, it unlocks different feelings and I think we have to do it more and more often, writing and recording at night. I like that this is your favourite, it’s a nice compliment.

Oana: I’m glad, thank you. I could listen to it over and over again. So if you have a broken heart, you can turn it into a masterpiece for the fans.

Marijn van der Meer: Yes, that’s what a lot of writers always say, when you are really happy, it’s hard to write a good song, but it’s also a good channel in someone else’s feelings. Because I felt what Jorrit was feeling at that moment and he told me about everything and then we decided to write a song together. And it worked really well and the funny thing is that we recorded it as a demo that night, but we kept the first take, because we couldn’t record it well. Because the first time when we recorded it, it was the best take and we stayed with that one.

Marijn van der Meer and Jorrit Kleijnen. Photo © HAEVN
Marijn van der Meer and Jorrit Kleijnen. Photo © HAEVN

Oana: Have you noticed patterns in the people who love your music?

Marijn van der Meer: Yes, I think. We never thought that it would be so many people that would listen to us online as well and we got different e-mails from different countries and they all say similar things about our music: that it’s helping them and that it’s giving them some sort of hope or they listen to it at night. And that’s the nice thing about the Internet, that it gets you to meet new people who are listening to your music and it means something for them, it gives them hope and it takes them through a hard period and that’s a nice thing that we embrace. There isn’t just one type of person who comes to our shows – it’s a variety of people. We have people of all ages, including in their 70’s and 80’s.

Oana: What are your emotions when you turn on the radio and you hear your music is being played?

Marijn van der Meer: That’s really nice to hear. More than two years ago, while I was riding my bike next to a store I heard some music and I though “Oh, that is nice” and then I realized that it was our song. So it’s really nice that the song pops up every once in a while when you are in a shop for instance. No one knows that it is our band or that I am in the band while I am in the shop and that is a really nice feeling to hear my music on the radio. I am really proud that people are listening to us. We really like to hear it, but we also like to play it live for people, which is another dimension.  

Oana: Marijn, how was it to sing under water?

Marijn van der Meer: It’s a funny thing, when we are writing the lyrics we never think about the videos. I mean ok, you write “Back in the Water” and the director eventually will say “you have to sing under water”. We never thought about it, of course, but the funny thing is that it really happened and then I saw on the script “Marijn will have to sing under water” and I was like “Oook, how are we gonna do that?”. But the hard part was that I had to sing two times faster than normal because that’s the kind of effect you get if you record it and they slow it down for a half, for the effect. So I had to sing it twice as fast as normal and the hard part is that you have to sing under water, but you can’t hear a thing under there and I had to hear the music in my heads because I had to lip-sync. The only thing I had was a click track so I heard the metronome under water. And then I had to go down with a diver and I dove with a mask on. I had to take off the mask and sing for a short while until I didn’t have any breath left and I had to put the mask on again to get some air and to concentrate again, to really focus and then again I had to take off the mask and sing again.

Marijn van der Meer singing under water. Photo © HAEVN
Marijn van der Meer singing under water. Photo © HAEVN

Marijn van der Meer: It was actually a really hard thing to do. I always wanted to dive on holidays, but now I’m over that, I don’t want to do it again because it was actually pretty scary to do it. It was pretty deep, it was four meters down. My feet had to be under something heavy so I wouldn’t float upwards and I had some weights on my belly because I had to stay down, but the initial feeling was that I had to go up, to have air. But then a diver is next to you and he gives you the air that you need, but it’s such a strange feeling to do that. In the end, it turned out well. The song is about someone who is under water and it’s the hope that someone will reach her and will drag her out of the bad situation and that’s why I had to sing under water.

Oana: How many hours did it take to do this video?

Marijn van der Meer: It took us one day to record everything and the models also had to be under water a lot of time and actually it was really cold. I had a special suit under my clothes, but the actors didn’t, so it was really hard for them. After a while you get blue lips and you are really cold. They did a great job.  

Oana: Wow, you did an amazing video! Looking forward for your next big project.

Marijn van der Meer: Ha, ha, I will not write about water anymore, but maybe we can think about the video first and then write a song for that. We are already writing some new stuff but at the moment we are focusing on our tour, of course and afterwards or in between, we will write again, which is also really nice.   

But the music path was not easy for Marijn. When he was just 23 years old and had an endless inspiration to make music, gloomy news shattered this dream. For three years he was bedridden because of a serious illness. The guitar was the only thing that softened those heavy moments, because he did not let go of it even for a moment. Fortunately, Marijn was reborn in 2009, the moment he was able to get out of his sickness bed and start to live again. You can feel this in every note of his songs, loaded with hope and warm, delicate tones. The scar left by the disease gave Marijn an important lesson, that time should not be wasted.

Oana: The Other Side Of Sea. What’s the story behind this beautiful song?

Marijn van der Meer: This is a really old song, I wrote it when I was 23 years old or something. I wrote it while I was lying in bed because I have been ill for three years. I had a condition where I had many blood vessels in my side that had to be removed and I needed many surgeries. For a while, everything that could go wrong went wrong for me. It wasn’t a nice time, but in the end I got better and the nice thing about it is that the doctor who did all the operations on me is coming to the show on Saturday in Utrecht. So he will watch the band for the first time and I’m gonna tell the audience that he is here and I reserved a seat for him. I am really happy that he’s gonna be there and I’m happy that he can see me performing that song. It’s like a really nice thing for me to do for him as well and the nice thing is that Jorrit also recorded a really nice piano piece on “Symphonic Tales” and he embraced the song fully, which is really an honour for me. I love to play this song in concerts because I can tell something about myself and I can tell you where I came from and that I am really grateful that I can play that song in front of the audience. I’ve never expected that I will be able to do it, it’s a nice feeling.

Oana: To be able to make a song from such a story, this is true talent.

Marijn van der Meer: This is good for me as well. Because it’s good to remember that you had a bad time: either someone dies, or gets really ill or sad. And when you are happy again, sometimes you forget that you were in a worse situation and sometimes it’s good to realize that everything you had it’s not for granted. That’s why I still play that song because it gives me the feeling that yes, I’ve been really ill when I was younger and I am really glad that I am not sick anymore. 

Oana: You are a fighter. What made you fall in love with music and when did this happen?

Marijn van der Meer: It was really early, because my mother always played music on vinyl and we had a large pile of Michael Jackson vinyls. I was listening to him and my first CD that I bought was also a Jackson Five album, I had to save money for it and my hobby was to go to the CD store to listen to new CDs or to save for, and that’s what I did every time. We had a piano at home and I had some lessons but I didn’t like it, but after a while I just started to play songs that I heard on my radio and then I decided that I also wanted to play my own songs and I started to write piano pieces. Later, after I saw an artist performing in Germany I decided to buy a guitar. Now I play both (piano and guitar) and move from one to another in order to write a song and that’s what I love to do. The hard part is to finish all those songs because that’s sometimes like a puzzle. But that’s also a nice thing: when you have to finish the song and afterwards it takes a while to record it and to perfect it, which is where Jorrit is really good at. He doesn’t stop until the song is perfectly recorded, perfectly produced. And that’s how we combine, I usually start the song and then we finish it and record it together. That’s why maybe it takes so long, but that’s also why you can listen to it longer, we hope.  

Marijn van der Meer in concert. Photo © HAEVN
Marijn van der Meer in concert. Photo © HAEVN

Oana: If you could go on a stage right now, with whom would you like to perform? It doesn’t matter what era. For example, if I would be as talented as you are, I would be singing “Love of My Life” with Freddie Mercury.

Marijn van der Meer: Cool. Have you seen “Bohemian Rhapsody?”

Oana: I saw it for several times already.

Marijn van der Meer: Ha, ha, cool! I saw it as well, I really loved it and after that I went to see the whole Live Aid concert on YouTube to check it and it was really done well. Our dream is to have a concert with a big orchestra because “The Symphonic Tales” is hopefully the starting point of that, so that’s one of our goals, to perform with an orchestra.

Oana: So you should definitely come to Vienna, because it’s the Capital of Music. 

Marijn van der Meer: Yes, it would be great. It’s actually a dream of ours to travel to different cities, to have these concerts with the symphonic orchestra one day and we’re working on it, it would be really cool.

Oana: Are there any cities where you’re especially excited to play?

Marijn van der Meer: We played once in Paris, which was a really nice experience and we played once in Germany, at a festival and we hope to visit all the cities in Europe with our show, which would be another dream. So I think every city in Europe would be nice. And there are also people from Brazil who are e-mailing and telling us that they are listening to our music. It would be really cool to travel there once. But first, we are starting with Europe, which is already a big goal of us. Maybe next year, that would be cool. 

Oana: What have been some of the highlights of your career so far? Your number one moment with HAEVN.

Marijn van der Meer: We had many highlights because at the beginning everything went really fast, as I told you, and then we played in a really nice hall called Carré, I think it’s the most beautiful hall in Amsterdam and we played there three times and last year we got to perform for the Queen, which was also really nice, because it was an honour to do it. This was a big highlight, so when I talk about them, that would be the Carré experience. When I talk about Jorrit and I, then I am always thinking about the moments when we are finishing a song, or when we are writing a song together, or when we’ve recorded something that we wanted to listen to over and over again. That’s actually a nice feeling, to make something that you like yourself. It’s actually our main goal, just making songs that we will listen to ourselves and we hope that all the people will listen to as well.

Marijn van der Meer and Jorrit Kleijnen in their studio in Amsterdam. Photo © HAEVN
Marijn van der Meer and Jorrit Kleijnen in their studio in Amsterdam. Photo © HAEVN

Oana: When are we going to hear a new album from you?

Marijn van der Meer: We don’t know when it’s finished. All I can say is that we are ready to write and to record again and to do new stuff, because you can always do a new album this way, but we want to do different things again or combine new things in our music and we are really looking forward to that. The only thing that we say is that we are working on new stuff. We don’t have a dead line, the target is just to work hard and finish the songs and we’ll be done when it’s done.

Oana: When you are not in the studio or on stage, do you spend your spare time together?

Marijn van der Meer: No, not that much because we see each other a lot. It’s really intense, we have to rehearse before a show because we want to do a different one every tour, we want to have a completely different show and play all the songs in a different way – when you will come to our show, you will see that we are trying to do things differently and it’s a really intense contact that we have and we see each other even more than we see our friends sometimes. So we don’t hang out together while we are not touring or while we are not recording, because we are already seeing each other during the year. And yeah, I really hope that we can tour together abroad, which would be a cool dimension. That’s one of our goals and we really connect together in the band and definitely we will be eager to tour with the guys in Europe for a couple of months, which would be great.

Marijn van der Meer and Oana Cernat in Caprera Open Air Theatre. Photo © Oana Cernat
Marijn van der Meer and Oana Cernat in Caprera Open Air Theatre. Photo © Oana Cernat

If you want to listen to HAEVN’s music Live, you can go to their shows in the Netherlands, Germany (München, Köln, Frankfurt, Leipzig and Berlin) and Sweden (Zürich). You will surely enjoy an experience that your soul will never forget!

If you loved this interview, you may also be interested in:

Interview with the producer Jorrit Kleijnen: “Music is the most sophisticated language that I can speak” (Part 1)

Interview with the producer Jorrit Kleijnen: “Music is the most sophisticated language that I can speak” (Part 2)

Interview with the producer Rui Reis Maia: “When I create music I try to make it from some kind of feeling and I want people to just feel it”

Roo Panes released two songs from his next EP

All images are under copyright © HAEVN, Kim Balster and Oana Cernat.