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

Jorrit Kleijnen playing the piano. Photo © Loes Braam

In this second part of the interview, Jorrit Kleijnen will tell you what was the song that he composed the fastest, what’s the story behind the gorgeous “We Are”, what’s his routine when he is doing new music and many more interesting facts about music.

Oana: What was the most difficult song for you to compose in terms of feelings?

Jorrit Kleijnen: “Where the Heart Is”. You won’t believe it, but I think we had the most troubles making this song, because it was only one and a half minute and we didn’t know how to write a verse for it, we didn’t know how to make an introduction. And when we first put the piano part in the beginning it felt harsh and it felt weird to start a song so loudly and busy, you know and now it feels natural. But back then it felt weird. I think that was the problem with “Where the Heart Is”: that we just had one minute and 30 seconds, we had made it for a film and it was very good. We also thought it was good, we loved it, but we couldn’t touch it again to make it longer and better and create new parts for it. But we succeeded. I remember it as being the toughest cookie.

Oana: You know, Jorrit, there are only two kinds of love songs: one is “I love you and you love me” and this is boring, it doesn’t go anywhere. And then there is “I love you, but you love somebody else”. And this is interesting. It’s painful, but it’s interesting. “We Are” – what kind of love song is it?

Jorrit Kleijnen: It’s a very personal one. I think Marijn tuned in on my love life for that song and it’s a song about the complete weird feeling that the bigger part of you wants to be together with someone and you don’t know why, but there is another force that is not embracing that feeling. There is another force that is not able to draw a circle in full round. And I’ve been in such a relationship with someone I still love very much, someone I still speak to a lot, still important for me, but we couldn’t be in a relationship anymore and that’s just “baby, we’re lost”…

Oana: This is actually my favourite HAEVN song.

Jorrit Kleijnen: There you go. Well maybe it’s mine as well.

Oana: It makes you think and feel a lot.

Jorrit Kleijnen: Well, thank you. You know, the lyrics are quite simple and I think that’s the strength of it. And that’s where the film composer comes in, because the song starts with cars driving from left to right. People have been asking “why the hell have you done this? It’s so disturbing”! And I said “no, it’s not disturbing, it’s putting you on the street in the middle of the night “. This car sound is like you are walking on your own, by yourself in the rain, on the empty streets, in the middle of the night and I wanted to emphasize that feeling by putting in the car sounds.

Oana: Marijn told me that a composer cannot write a beautiful song when he is really happy. But the composer can find the channel to someone else’s feelings. Do you think that you need a bit of drama in your life to make a beautiful song?

Jorrit Kleijnen: Yeah and it’s not only that I need drama to make songs; I just need drama in my life. It’s horrible but I’m at an age where I’d rather acknowledge it and live up to it than trying to ignore it. We have all strong senses and these senses are here to be used and I think Marijn is true in what he says. I think Marijn is very happy in a lot of ways and he is one of the best listeners to me because I have a lot of drama in my life. My love life is often a big mess and he is so eager in hearing all those stories because it also inspires him a lot. But it’s true; at least you cannot write an authentic love song when you are feeling super happy. Then you are trying to imitate a feeling. My personal favourite song ever is “Wicked Game” from Chris Isaak. Marijn told me that Chris Isaak wrote it one evening to a girl who was coming over to his place and he knew she was on her way and that she was trouble and he wrote that piece. I also love the song behind it because that’s exactly why songs like that exist.

Oana: What was the song that you composed the fastest?

Jorrit Kleijnen: “Fortitude”. It was ready in one hour, I think. It was just there. Boom!

Jorrit Kleijnen. Photo © HAEVN
Jorrit Kleijnen. Photo © HAEVN

Oana: When did you touch a piano for the first time? Do you have musicians in your family?

Jorrit Kleijnen: I don’t know, I think when I was 4 or 5 years old. My dad really insisted on my receiving piano lessons. There is a beautiful story to it. My granddad was one of the ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) patients; it’s this disease where all your muscles stop functioning. He was a carpenter and he built a house for my dad’s family, he was in a wheelchair, close to his death, so he sold the house and one day he said to my dad “son, can you lift the carpet rug right there, in the corner?”. And my dad did and it was an envelope with money. He said to my dad “I want you to buy Jorrit a piano with this money because he needs to have a piano”. So yeah, everything I do is a little bit in his memory, because he gave me the chance to play the piano. To me, the piano has always been my best friend. You can talk to someone and someone can reply to you in a very understanding way, but if you touch the piano on a certain way it gives you something back that’s not in words, but you feel it in your stomach and that has always been a very important partner to me in my emotions.

Oana: This is a nice legacy.

Jorrit Kleijnen: Yeah, yeah, it is.

Oana: Have you ever thought of taking your piano and go in an unconventional place to sing? Maybe somewhere in the mountains?

Jorrit Kleijnen: No, I’ve never thought of it. I know a video of Ludovico Einaudi where he was playing the piano between the icebergs, I really appreciate that idea, but I’ve never thought of myself. The only thing that I would like would be to leave Amsterdam more often and I would love to live in a house in the south of Europe, with the crickets. And I will do that a lot more in the future, in the south of France, or in Italy.

Oana: Monsieur, parlez-vous français?

Jorrit Kleijnen: Oui, oui, pas de problème.

Oana: This is a really nice idea. Uhm, tell me one song which is not from HAEVN that you could listen to over and over again?

Jorrit Kleijnen: I have so many songs that I love and most of them will surprise you. I love a few songs of Madonna, such as “Frozen”. I think I love that because there is also orchestra in it. “A Secret Between You And Me”: it’s not a secret anymore when I say it on the radio that “No Man’s Land” is kind of an homage to Madonna’s “Frozen” and “The Power Of Goodbye”. I also love Celine Dion with the song “On ne change pas”. She keeps on going higher and higher in such a beautiful way. And it’s also a bit of African. And I’ve been listening to the “Lion’s King” soundtrack last week a lot because Hans Zimmer has done the soundtrack again for the new movie and there is this song “He Lives in You”, the last track and I turn it up to the maximum volume. I have a very strong connection with “African Flavors”, with the guitars, the drums, that’s why I love the gospel choir and stuff like that. But I’ve mentioned already Chris Isaak with “Wicked Game” – if I could play one song for the rest of my life, it would be this one. I never get tired of it.  

I postpone making music. And it’s not because I don’t want it, but I’m afraid of doing the right thing.

Jorrit Kleijnen

Oana: What is your favorite place where you can feel all the creative energy to compose?

Jorrit Kleijnen: It’s my own studio in the middle of the night where I am happy enough.

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: What is your routine when you are doing new music?

Jorrit Kleijnen: I do all kind of stuff that has nothing to do with music. I like vacuuming the studio, cleaning the kitchen, doing groceries. Most of the time I’m hungry, so I go eat something, I postpone making music. And it’s not because I don’t want it, but I’m afraid of doing the right thing. Also to quote Hans Zimmer again, he said “If you ever, ever lose your fear to do the right thing, you won’t do the right thing anymore”. It’s good to have a little fear in you. As soon as you think “Oh, you know, I’m gonna handle this, I’m going to do it, you know, with one finger in my nose I will fix it”. You won’t do beautiful things anymore. So I’m constantly postponing and most of the time I’m waiting until it’s 1AM, the kitchen is clean, the studio is clean, I’ve eaten well and there is nothing else that I can do other than making music and then I create music until 5 or 6AM. And as I said, it’s not because I don’t want to, but because I have to finish everything in my head and then get to the music.

Oana: You are just like me! I cannot write if there’s a mess around me.

Jorrit Kleijnen: No, no, no, I can’t!

Oana: Oh, move to Vienna, come to my place!

Jorrit Kleijnen: Yes, put a piano in your apartment.

Oana: Have you ever considered composing something in Vienna?

Jorrit Kleijnen: No, the only direction where I’m thinking is towards France.

For me it was super sure that I wanted to do music.”

Jorrit Kleijnen

Oana: France is always a good idea. Let’s talk a bit about movies. How did you become interested in film-music?

Jorrit Kleijnen: I remember being 4 or 5 years old, seeing “The Lion King”, seeing Simba with his dad, his dad dying and I was crying my eyes out. And then seeing “Gladiator” and I was crying my eyes out, then  “Pearl Harbor” and I was crying my eyes out again and then I was that guy who realized it was because of the music. And I found out it was Hans Zimmer who did the music for “Pearl Harbor” and I thought “I know that name!” and I found out that he was the guy who also did the music for the “Lion King” and  “Gladiator”. And then I thought this is what I need to do, this is what I want, I want to make music for film and it got in my head I think when I was 14 years old and it never got out of it. I never did anything else in my life than achieving the goal of being a film composer. I never thought of anything else. I was horrible in languages; I graduated with a very bad grade for Latin and with a very bad grade for French. But I was good in Economics and Mathematics and stuff, but I never considered it even for a second. For me it was super sure that I wanted to work with music, but at the same time I was also very though on myself and thought “When I’m that crazy to pursue a career in music, I have to give everything”. I cannot do it just in half, because then I will be unhappy. It’s gonna sound cheesy, but I’ve never worked a day in my life, never!

Oana: What’s the biggest film you’ve worked for?

Jorrit Kleijnen: I worked for a little while in Los Angeles for the movie “Spider-Man 3”. I was interning for the composer there. So that was the biggest movie I worked on. I also did a movie in the Netherlands called “Gluckauf” (Son Of Mine, 2015), it was a beautiful story about a father and his son who were having a very difficult poor life in the region where I was born. It was very personal to make music for this movie. It was nominated for 13 Dutch film prizes, including the music. We didn’t win, unfortunately, but that was a very important and beautiful project, I became close friends with the director.

Oana: That’s nice.

Jorrit Kleijnen: Yes.

Oana: What do you usually start with when composing? Do you see a story?

Jorrit Kleijnen: What I am trying to do when I compose music for a film is to create themes. It’s about implanting a recurring feeling in the viewer’s mind. And to give an example of a love story, there is always a first time when two main characters see each other. Maybe it’s the first time in a bakery or on a street. And if you put four or five notes on that moment when their eyes first meet, and you develop that the first time they go out and then you put those exact notes, but played on a cello or an orchestra on the moment they kiss, the viewer is gonna connect these moments on a subconscious level because all the while, the music was playing the same theme. So when I see a movie for the first time I try to map the movie, I always have a pencil and a paper and I try to note for myself what moments are important and how can I connect to them. And when there is an evil guy, the film has also a theme for him, for every time he enters the room and stuff like that. And it is very interesting to make a drawing of the film, how it looks on paper actually. We have to create themes. Sometimes we’ve been lucky enough to create and record the music with an orchestra. And when the music that you’ve thought of in the middle of the night, at 5AM after cleaning the studio is being performed by 50 people of an orchestra it is amazing! That’s also why we did “Symphonic Tales”.

Oana: It was a very beautiful idea to make “Symphonic Tales”!

Jorrit Kleijnen: I am happy you like it

Oana: I really do!

Jorrit Kleijnen: It’s still “We Are” your favourite on “Symphonic Tales”?

Oana: Yeees!

Jorrit Kleijnen: Mine too. Did you like the conductor? He’s a bad ass!

Oana: He is amazing, he was born to be there.

Jorrit Kleijnen: That’s what I mean by being a badass. He is so good in what he does.

Oana: Do you plan to work with him again for the second volume of “Symphonic Tales”?

Jorrit Kleijnen: Of course, yeah, yeah, yeah!

Oana: That’s nice. See, this is also a love story.

Jorrit Kleijnen: Hahaha, yes, it is true.

Tom Trapp guiding the orchestra. Photo © HAEVN

Oana: What was your first film ever to score for?

Jorrit Kleijnen: It was “Valentino”, a movie about a Moroccan guy who was pretending to be Italian, because Moroccan people are often discriminated against. So he got a job as a car salesman and he falls in love with his boss’ daughter and then he has to pretend again that he is Italian. They are gonna get married and he is gonna keep up with his lie. It was a very funny and romantic movie. It was a cool first start. The music is on Spotify.  

Oana: How was it to score for Riverdale?

Jorrit Kleijnen: The song “Fortitude” was out and there are music supervisors in Los Angeles, New York who get long lists from Spotify with all kinds of suggestions and there was our song. They liked it and they wanted to have it. We didn’t make it specifically for the series or for a movie.

Oana: I haven’t seen “Riverdale”, but I know that “Fortitude” is on the first episode of season 2. I have only watched that part.

Jorrit Kleijnen: We were very glad to see how it was placed, because you never know this. You just get an email “can I use this song?”. I was very surprised that it is the opening of the second season.

Magic stuff can happen. Those over 2 million viewers on YouTube are an example of that. I really want to spend more time on the project.

Jorrit Kleijnen

Oana: What other projects do you have coming up in terms of movies?

Jorrit Kleijnen: I try to slow down on movies because I am really looking for artists like Ólafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm. I cherish all these artists a lot and I admire them for touring Europe and the world. And I have one goal, to take Marijn and tour the world. I think we have to spend more time on doing that and trying to achieve it, so that’s why I try to slow down on film music. I was hesitating on doing that for a few years because I thought that I have spent 11 years on achieving what I’ve achieved in film music and I couldn’t ruin it, but I am at that point where I just know what I want: to work hard on HAEVN. Magic stuff can happen. Those over 2 million viewers on YouTube are an example of that. I really want to spend more time on the project.

Jorrit and Marijn. Photo © HAEVN
Jorrit and Marijn. Photo © HAEVN

Oana: Do you think that fans will have a beautiful surprise to hear that you are going to Europe soon?

Jorrit Kleijnen: I hope! It depends on the people we meet. If we meet the right people in music, who believe in us, I know for sure that one day we will go on an European tour. The question is when.

“Let no one ever discourage you and don’t try to fit in, don’t try to sound like everyone. Be stubborn!”

Jorrit Kleijnen

Oana: What’s the purpose of music?

Jorrit Kleijnen: I just received a very special quote from someone saying “Music is the medicine of the mind”. I think we invented languages all over the world but there is one language that everyone speaks. I love doing interviews, I love talking about music, but some stuff about music you can only feel. You can try to find the words, but no words will do just this: to explain what music makes you feel like. That’s what music feels to me, it’s the most sophisticated and the strongest language that I can speak. And I am very thankful that I can speak that language together with so many people and so many people wanna hear it. For me it’s like breathing.

Jorrit Kleijnen and Oana Cernat in Caprera Open Air Theatre. Photo © Oana Cernat
Jorrit Kleijnen and Oana Cernat in Caprera Open Air Theatre. Photo © Oana Cernat

Oana: Do you have any advice for a younger one who is dreaming of composing music for the piano one day?

Jorrit Kleijnen: Let no one ever discourage you and don’t try to fit in, don’t try to sound like everyone. Try to be stubborn. Be stubborn! Whatever you feel is right and everyone who changed the world, even if it’s Steve Jobs, Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa – they were all very stubborn. What I mean is the people who are changing, improving – they are all being called crazy at a certain point, until they prove themselves. In all honesty, we just stayed close to ourselves. We had to learn that lesson as well. My advice is to stay true to yourself. Don’t try to sound like everyone else already sounds, find your own voice in whatever you do and work so hard on it that it becomes undeniable.

I just received a very special quote from someone saying ‘Music is the medicine of the mind’. I think we invented languages all over the world but there is one language that everyone speaks.”

Jorrit Kleijnen

Oana: Tell me one thing about you that nobody knows.

 Jorrit Kleijnen: Ha-ha-ha, if nobody knows it there is a reason for it. Uhm, that I am a huge Lego fan?! I spend a big amount of my money on big boxes with Lego and I built them in my spare time. It’s the only way that my mind can calm down. Otherwise when I’m in bed I always think a lot. When I’m building Lego it stops.

HAEVN in Caprera Air Theatre. Photo © Kim Balster

Oana: What was the most wonderful moment that you’ve experienced with HAEVN and that you will never forget?

Jorrit Kleijnen: I was the happiest with HAEVN yesterday night. I truly was, and you were there, Oana. I was super happy yesterday. Really! It was the best moment. And you know what else was also beautiful? We were nominated for the most important Dutch music prize, called “The Edison Award”. We’ve been nominated for the categories “Best Pop” and “Best Album”. And we didn’t win them, so that night I was super disappointed and a little bit sad and that changed my life forever, because I thought that I have to stop wanting this. And the result of that evening is that I got stronger with my intuition and what I share with Marijn is that the happiness must be found within us, within the room we are walking in and not one in a tuxedo, holding a little statue, a little prize. You shouldn’t be dependent on that. I remember reading an interview with Matt Damon – you know Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t win an Oscar for a long time and he was super eager to win it and Matt Damon said that “I was lucky enough to win it at a very young age in my life, so I’m so happy about it because I knew that having that statue on a shelve, in your living room didn’t change a single thing “. And in all honesty I really wanted to win that prize and when we didn’t win it I was too disappointed and I protected myself from that and then I thought that happiness comes from within from now on. And I’m really succeeding on that.

Oana: You have a prize in every person that’s standing there, at the concert, in front of you.

Jorrit Kleijnen: Yes, exactly. Beautiful words.   

HAEVN in Caprera Air Theatre. Photo © Kim Balster
HAEVN in Caprera Air Theatre. Photo © Kim Balster

Oana: Still going to play venues for 500 to 2.000 people or do you want to go further with this for the upcoming shows?

Jorrit Kleijnen: No, I’m not saying that we will never do it because you are going to pick that in five years and tell me “hey, you said once…” so I’m gonna be careful with that, but what I can say now is that we truly like the intimacy and let’s say that if we would be in a fortunate position of being able to ever play for 20.000 people, I’d still rather play five or six shows than one bigger show because the music we make is not to be played for someone who is 150 meters away, somewhere on a balcony with a big bucket of popcorn. But maybe it would be beautiful if we did it once, that’s why I’m not saying that we will never do it. But for now I would rather do more intimate concerts.

Oana: How was it in Visby? Did you manage to finish any song for the new album?

Jorrit Kleijnen: Yes, we played it yesterday.

Oana: Oh, so that one was made in Visby!

Jorrit Kleijnen: Yes! You liked it?

Oana: A lot! It was love at first sight.

Jorrit Kleijnen: Well, tonight is love at second sight. Did you like the way we placed it? Someone said it was nice, but it was wrongly placed because it’s so quiet it shouldn’t be played after you come back, after the show is over.

Oana: No, it was perfect! I couldn’t find a better place for this new song. When I least expected, I heard it, fresh and beautiful! I wouldn’t place it differently. When are we going to hear a new album from HAEVN?

Jorrit Kleijnen: I have an idea but I am not gonna say anything. I can tell you that we are gonna work the whole winter. A new album I don’t know, but new music definitely early next year. I can promise you that.

Oana: Let’s hope we don’t have to wait three years.

Jorrit Kleijnen: No, no, no. But I promise you it will be good and we cannot release something that’s not completely perfect. Before we even do it, we have to listen to it at least a thousand times and if we still like it after a thousand times, we are gonna launch it. But if, when we are halfway through the process thinking “we are bored with it already”, then we will not release it, because it’s not good enough. I can still enjoy playing “Back in the Water”, “Finding out More”.

Oana: And you will be able to play them, let’s just say… in 15 years as well.

Jorrit Kleijnen: Yes! There is nothing worse than having a big hit that you don’t like yourself because then you have to play it your whole life and you hate it. It’s like with the Radiohead, I think they don’t like playing “Creep”, so you can hear this song once in every 50 shows and you don’t know which show it is. So when they start playing it everyone is going crazy.

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

Oana: Because you are a film composer, if this interview were a movie, what would be the soundtrack of it?

Jorrit Kleijnen: Nils Frahm – My Friend the Forest. Because you are a very calm person, you are very in touch with yourself, you put out a lot of peaceful energy and I think that song represents the energy you are giving to this interview. So I am curious what you think of it when you play it. I think you will be playing this song a lot after this interview. Ladies and gentlemen, here is Nils Frahm – My Friend the Forest. Ha-ha-ha!

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

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 & Oana Cernat.