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

Jorrit Kleijnen playing the piano. Photo © Loes Braam

When I first heard the music of HAEVN I was amazed not only by the soft voice of Marijn, but also by every instrumental piece of the band. Who was touching that piano like it was a Fabergé egg? I had to find out and this is how I have discovered Jorrit Kleijnen, a talented producer and film composer from Kerkrade, Netherlands.

Born in 1986, he learned how to play the piano from a very young age. The piano was actually always his best friend, the one to always respond to his emotions and the one to also decide Jorrit’s path in life.  

After he graduated the HKU University of the Arts in Utrecht, Jorrit worked for the American film composer Christopher Young in Los Angeles, where he made music for “Spider-Man 3” movie. In his unique style, when Jorrit came back to the Netherlands he also composed music for more than 40 movies and drama series, such as “Gluckauf” and “Valentino”, but now, he is dedicating his time and soul to HAEVN.    

I have met Jorrit on a summer night in Bloemendaal (Netherlands), after an unforgettable concert in the Caprera Open Air Theatre. Up to that point, we only knew each other through e-mails and I was inpatient to talk to him face to face about music.  

Oana: How was the first night on the stage of Caprera Theatre? I know for sure that for the audience it was magical.

Jorrit Kleijnen: It was a mesmerizing night. It truly felt like the best concert we ever gave and I must say with all modesty that all the big concerts we give feel like that, so it’s really cool that there is always progress and I have the feeling that we grow bigger. But what’s supper nice about this place is that it is in the middle of the woods, it’s a supper quiet place and everyone was super quiet, so it felt like a bigger honor for so many people to gather. Everyone had to make a journey to get here, in this very special intimate theatre and that’s different to giving a show at a festival, you know, where people are just walking in a tent and see what’s happening. It felt like there was a little club of HAEVN fans and it felt very intimate and very connected.

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

Oana: How many people came to the Caprera Theatre?

Jorrit Kleijnen: There were 1.300 people.

Oana: Do you know how many countries they came from?

Jorrit Kleijnen: I don’t know. You already add one and there were people from France, from Germany as well, so that’s a good start. It’s a big honor for everyone who’s coming. People were making a really long distance travel, you cannot even imagine that people are willing to do that for music, but it’s a beautiful thing. 

Oana: What is your favorite song to play LIVE from the album “Eyes Closed”?

Jorrit Kleijnen: Oh, that’s a very hard question. I still enjoy “The Sea” truly – I know that’s your favorite. I enjoy it because it’s multilayered, it starts so quiet, but we have played new songs yesterday and that is connecting to different parts of your brain because you are paying way more attention if you are playing the right notes. Because I am the band leader, I am also paying attention to everyone in the band, if they are doing right and that’s a beautiful mixture of anxiousness and happiness, you know. Anxiousness if everyone is doing it right and joy because everything is going right and that’s super cool.

Oana: How is it going with the “Symphonic Tales”? Did you receive the reactions that you were hoping for?

Jorrit Kleijnen: Yes. We really took a leap of faith by doing “Symphonic Tales”, because there were people who said that there were a lot of known songs out there and no one would wait for this. We had also been advised to do a lot of remixes of our songs, because those were going to make them more suitable for the radio. But the truth is that HAEVN exists through a song writer and a film composer who write mostly quiet songs. That’s where our heart and our core are, so it felt that the right thing to do was to record with an orchestra.

And the amount of responses is way bigger than what we have ever expected. To give you an example, the version of “We Are” has over 2,2 million YouTube viewers now, in one month and those are just the ones watching your video from the first second until the last one. What’s great is that success is not determined by people in offices who like it, but by the people who are viewing and loving it. YouTube is also great because it recommends our videos to other people. So really, my heart grows so warm when I see the comments like “Thank you, YouTube for making my day better” or “Thank you, YouTube for recommending me this”.

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

Jorrit Kleijnen: We also started a web shop to sell “The Symphonic Tales” CD’s and we have Marianne who is managing it and she is busy every day packing the CDs. She already made a little map with the places where the CDs were ordered or transferred to – it’s all over the world and it’s amazing! I don’t want to say things, I don’t want to make promises, but this is definitely not the last time when we are going to record with an orchestra. There will be “Symphonic Tales, volume 2”.

Oana: Maybe in Vienna…

Jorrit Kleijnen: Yes, we should. But it’s also very intimidating, right? With all those big composers coming from there. But I hope that one day we will do an European tour with the “Symphonic Tales”.

“Our music comes from the soul. It’s just the soul of the creators, massaging the soul of the listener.”

Jorrit Kleijnen

Oana: “No Man’s Land” was a nice surprise on the “Symphonic Tales”. What’s the story of it?

Jorrit Kleijnen: The story of it is that we always loved the song, but it wasn’t finished enough to put it on “Eyes Closed”. We had a deadline for this album and we really wanted to launch it and we also thought “Maybe, you know, let’s not put all the good things on it and leave something in the drawer”. We had doubts whether or not to put it on “Symphonic Tales”, because it’s more pop that the other five tracks that are just orchestra and Marijn, but there is a huge orchestral influence. The orchestra still plays a big part in the song and we decided that it would be a great extra bonus track. I think you should hear the story of the song yourself. It has been a favourite of ours and it was the right time to put it on the album.

“All my life I’ve been searching for music with emotions.”

Jorrit Kleijnen

Oana: Your music is like a massage to the soul. Where do you pull all those really deep and beautiful notes from? How you do it?

Jorrit Kleijnen: Thank you. It’s coming from the soul, you know. It’s just the soul of the creators, massaging the soul of the listener. And for the same reason it speaks to you in a way that you cannot completely describe or catch. I also cannot describe or catch where exactly it’s coming from. All my life I’ve been searching for music with emotions. I’m a big fan of film composers like Thomas Newman and Hans Zimmer and I remember Hans Zimmer saying a very true thing: “people are saying to me or even complaining that my music is too simple and too easy. I’ve spent all my life searching for music that touches my heart and it turns out to be not the most difficult music”. And that really encouraged me to have the self esteem to create music that can be simple as long as it moves you.

To give you a silly example, I was buying a piano with a friend of mine and we went to different piano stores and the seller was playing the piano. He studied more piano than I did and he went so fast but it was no emotion in it. It was just quick notes, very difficult but it didn’t move me at all.

Oana: I like the way you touch the piano!

Jorrit Kleijnen: Thank you very much. I’m not even able to play faster or louder, but the only thing that I’m looking for is to play it in a way that it moves people. So I think Marijn and I are a very good combination. We trust each other completely; we’ve got each other’s back. His voice and my film music background are just a very good match. A match made in HAEVN.

Oana: Yeah! Last night at the concert I stood near a couple and I made a joke. They said about you two “Oh, they are a match made in heaven” and I said “No, no, no, in HAEVN”.

Jorrit Kleijnen: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly!

Oana: I really love the piano piece that you made for the song “Other Side Of Sea”, it is really nice.

Jorrit Kleijnen: Thank you! It’s so nice to talk to someone who knows so much about our music. I feel honored.

Oana: Thank you too. How was it for you to compose this piece and what did you felt when you heard this song for the first time and you found out its story?

Jorrit Kleijnen: It felt like one of the most important thing that I had to do within my collaboration with Marijn. Because all the other songs existed together, we were both there when a song was born. But Marijn wrote “The Other Side of Sea” on his own even before we met each other. So this song belongs to a different part of his life, a time that is very important to him, because it made him the man he is.

Jorrit Kleijnen playing "Other Side Of Sea". Photo © HAEVN
Jorrit Kleijnen playing “Other Side Of Sea”. Photo © HAEVN

But I also felt that it shouldn’t be only with guitar, as he always plays it, so I thought yeah, I have to make a piano part for it, but as I said, I had to honor Marijn’s idea. The song has to honor Marijn’s phase of life that it represents, so it felt like a very big responsibility. But with all modesty, I did it on one night, I think I started it at 3AM and I finished it at 7AM. And I just remember finely tuning this part and I’ve spend a lot of time on it. I remember sending it to him at 7AM in the morning and I wanted to go to sleep and I thought “Oh, I hope he responds well” because I send it in the morning, he wakes up mostly at 7AM. So I wake up and I have a message “Jorrit, you’re a mother fucker, it’s breathtaking!” and that’s what I was hoping for, I was so happy! Because like I said, it’s his song so it’s different than all the other ones and I had to completely respect and protect his idea while embracing it. And hopefully I did.

Oana: Yes, he’s really honored for what you did with the song. He told me this when we recorded an interview together. He’s in awe!

Jorrit Kleijnen: Yeah? Oh, that’s so cool!

Oana: How was your life before HAEVN?

Jorrit Kleijnen: Different. Very different. In all modesty, I can’t even believe the life after HAEVN or during HAEVN. Actually every time we hit the stage, it’s like “Waw, all these people are here for us?”. I still can’t believe it when there is a line of people who want to get an autograph.

But there are two differences, because I have been working as a film composer for over 11 years. There is the social aspect, because being a film composer means the only person you see is the Director, sometimes a musician, a cellist who’s going to play a part, but most of the time you are spending it alone. Being in HAEVN means, in the first place, working with Marijn, but also with a lot of producers, writers. We’ve been traveling to London and Sweden to work with other people. Playing like this we have 25 people, we do a concert with a gospel choir of six people, with a string quartet, so that’s another four people, we have six people in the technical crew so it’s a very social thing. And I never realized that Marijn and I were also the directors of this company. Sometimes I find myself in a position where something goes wrong and my intuition wants to go to the director of the company and ask “hey, what the hell did just happened?”. But then I realize it’s me that I have to be mad at, or that I have to take responsibility, so sometimes I find myself in a position where I’m not even used to being in that position.

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

Jorrit Kleijnen: And the second thing is the recognition, the contact you have with your listeners or with the audience. Because as a film composer, if you do a great job and make beautiful music for a film and the people are crying in the cinema, you don’t even want them to think that they are crying because of the music. They are crying because the movie is beautiful, supported by beautiful music. For example, “The Intouchables”, you’ve probably seen it, with music by Ludovico Einaudi – it’s a very emotional movie – a beautiful marriage between music and film. But as a film composer, you have to put yourself on the 7th or 8th spot. You’re not part of the show, you are supporting the movie. That’s your job, no one is coming to you to say “oh, that was beautiful music”, you just have seven minutes on the end credits, there is your name in a font size five on the poster and that is your position. You get paid very well, but that’s it. So being in a band and receiving applause when you go up the stage and again at the end of every song, receiving a huge round of applause at the end of the show, that’s recognition and it’s just beautiful that stuff like that happens. I never knew the difference because I never played in a band, but now I will never want to go back and miss this kind of connection with people because it’s beautiful. And as I said yesterday during the concert, this is not you asking us to give a concert for you. This is you giving us this concert by showing up and that’s really how it feels.

“Everyone involved with HAEVN has such a beautiful soul and there is no ego, there are no people who think so highly of themselves that they will treat other people different.”

Jorrit Kleijnen

Oana: What did you feel when you heard Marijn’s voice for the first time?

Jorrit Kleijnen: I went crazy and that’s no bullshit or strong story. We all know the feeling of having goose bumps, right? I had goose bumps underneath my hair. I had it on top of my head and like never before, it’s no joke! I thought “what the hell!?” and I called him and I said “what the hell did you just do?” and he still remembers that it was this crazy guy on the phone and I went completely crazy. And I also told my dad “dad, you know, I’ve discovered this guy and he has an amazing voice” and my dad said “oh, yeah, that’s nice”. And two years later he told me: “you are my son, I love you and when you tell me stuff like that I take you seriously, you know. But you have been more enthusiastic in your life before, so when you called me all excited, I took you seriously but I was also like yeah, yeah, we’ll see about it. But you were so right when you called me. You had this idea the whole time”.

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

Jorrit Kleijnen: I really asked Marijn to quit his job and take this adventure and Marijn still praises me for being pushy and believing in stuff that no one believed in. And then in the end it works out and I have such a strong sense of… if something moves me, my biggest strength is that I can put myself in the shoes of the listener. There are so many musicians who want to make difficult stuff and they are challenged in doing it and the only thing that I can do is to transpose myself like that and see if I am attached or not. And I am trying to create that.

Oana: If you don’t have a beautiful soul, you can’t go there. But both of you can! And going on stage with the gospel choir is something beautiful.

Jorrit Kleijnen: Ah, thank you. Yes, yes. And you know, I’ve never fully read the book of “The Secret”, but there is this thing called frequency, you know. Everyone involved with HAEVN has such a beautiful soul and there is no ego, there are no people who think so highly of themselves that they will treat other people different. Everyone here in the group and in the crew is nice, as well as the gospel choir. We didn’t know the guys, but after we met them for the first time I just send a text message to the leader of the group and I said “You are the fireworks in our show, right? Making the fireworks”. It’s amazing. We really feel blessed to have this opportunity.

Oana: I was paying attention to the audience yesterday, to see what kind of people are joining your music, because knowing this will help me in my radio shows as well and I am impressed of the quality of all those people. They are all nice and they came from different generations.

Jorrit Kleijnen: Yes, it’s crazy. Yesterday I spoke with a lot of couples and I said that it’s such an honor for us. Normally, you know, when there is a couple, the man didn’t want to go, but he goes for his girlfriend or his wife. And there are couples where both wanted to come and it connects people. There are also a daughter and a mother who are coming to every concert and I spoke with the mother yesterday and she told me “I didn’t use to have a connection with my daughter this way, but now we have a shared passion and we spend hours in the car going to the concerts”. And this brought them closer to each other. Come on, there is nothing more beautiful than that, right?

Oana: That’s true. And when you are talking to your fans you also find out so many interesting facts about your music. You said in one interview that Marijn would have never been friend with you if you would’ve meet in a bar. What do you mean by that?

Jorrit Kleijnen: Ha, ha, ha! Let me first say this, Marijn is one of my best friends at the moment. He is a super important person in my life and he taught me a lot. To give you an example, if we miss a train, I am cursing because I hate to be late and out of control and Marijn is the opposite. He doesn’t need to be in control, he is a Buddhist. And I’ve learned a lot from him, because when one thing goes wrong I’m trying to tune in on his energy and I can see that the World still turns and that’s a beautiful thing. But Marijn and I couldn’t be more different. We are yin and yang, I am very forward, I am very busy, I’m also very anticipating, trying to think ten steps ahead, Marijn doesn’t. He is always here and now and he is happy. I think I’ve said that in a funny way, that Marijn and I are very different from each other and if music hadn’t connected us, I think we would have had troubles tuning in to each other. So that’s another example of how strong music can be and build a bridge between two people.


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All images are under copyright © HAEVN & Kim Balster