THE EX: TURNING BRAINS UPSIDE DOWN
Arnold de Boer: I’m definitely not preaching. I’d rather trigger people to start thinking for themselves about something. It’s not one direction—not how I think is how everybody should think. That’s not it. Actually the opposite! We talk a lot, we travel a lot, we have ideas and dialogue and that already gives a good basis for what fits the Ex and what not. But yes, in the end it’s what I come up with: stories, observations, views that I put in such a way that they are never pedantic but rather challenging the mind—turning brains upside down and convictions inside out.
Is there any pressure to maintain the momentum and experimentation the Ex has had through the years? Or does it just come organically? There have been countless projects everyone is involved with at any moment. Is it ever exhausting?
Arnold de Boer: No, no—it’s the opposite of pressure. It’s the freedom you experience and the freedom you take to do whatever comes up in your mind and out of your fingers and voice and hands. The music especially … if there’s no pressure and no obligations, it gives a lot of energy. It’s the opposite of feeling burned out. If you ever feel tired, I advise people to start making music and they’ll get a lot of energy.
So re-energizing the soul?
Arnold de Boer: Definitely! Cars could run on music, I think!
Probably your music! You’re a thrilling live act. Have you had any favorite moments on tour? Or met any crowds that struck a chord with you?
Arnold de Boer: The amazing thing about touring how we try to do it is to make every concert different from any other concert. So to not have something like … to feel like it doesn’t matter where you are? We always say immediately yes when there’s an invitation from a country that we’ve never played before. Because that always gives an extra chance to a complete new experience. That makes it hard to choose! If every gig is the same and there is one with one person clapping really loud, you might choose that one as being special. But because we play in Romania and Ethiopia and Russia and Brazil and the U.S. and Scotland and Mexico, the excitement is in the fact that the people in the audiences are really different. Maybe in Finland during the gig, the people are a bit cool, and you think, ‘Ah, I don’t know if the gig is so good?’ But afterwards, people come up individually, completely raving and buying all your CDs! It’s completely different from Mexico where people climb on the stage like, ‘Arg-rg-rg-rg-rg-rg!’ And it’s both great, and the fact that it’s different is great.
Where would you like to play that you haven’t been? What places should invite you?
Arnold de Boer: Antarctica, I think. And Japan. We haven’t been in Japan yet. We are very curious. Sometimes there’s an invitation, but it doesn’t seem to work out. In Asia, the only country I’ve been … like the Asian part of Turkey we’ve played, and in Lebanon. That’s the Middle East. We’ve not been to the Far East yet.
How frequently do you find yourself experimenting with new instruments? Do you pick up instruments as you travel?
Arnold de Boer: It’s not really in the instruments. The Ex started 37 years ago and Terry still plays the same guitar! But it’s the way of playing that’s different. We’re quite simple with the instruments, actually. The only thing that’s changed in the last ten years is Andy plays a baritone guitar also, but he changed it a bit to his liking. The  Catch My Shoe album is the first one that doesn’t have a bass player—it’s Andy playing the baritone guitar.
You joined the Ex as a singer in 2009, but you’d collaborated with them before that. How did you first start working with them, and how did you end up their frontperson?
Arnold de Boer: We met once in 2004 when we were playing a concert—I was playing with a duo Zea and the Ex was playing, so we met, blah blah blah. It was great, actually! When the Ex had existed 25 years in 2004, they did this amazing big convoy tour with lots of musicians, including Getatchew Mekurya from Ethiopia and Mohammed Jimmy Mohammed, many Ethopian musicians, but also musicians from France and Italy. And they also invited us—me and [co-founder] Remko—to come and play, so we went with the convoy tour. And that’s really a good way to get to learn each other much better! After that, we did some tours together more and more. Then in 2008 … the Ex has been doing lots of projects in Ethiopia, and they thought it would be a good idea to bring me and Remko to Ethiopia, and that was really fantastic. I also played with Terry and Andy in the Ex. That’s a quick history of how we met and performed together before I joined the Ex. When they asked me, I was surely into playing with three amazing musicians and starting something new. I asked my mom and my girlfriend and they said that I should do it, so I did. We started from scratch making all new songs—it felt like a new band.
And you still perform as Zea as well?
Arnold de Boer: That’s right—that’s only me solo, it’s very simple!
Especially because of the amount of people often involved with the Ex—a list that goes from Dadaist sound performer Jaap Blonk to American jazz saxophonist Ken Vandermark, who’s on tour with you this year. How do you choose your collaborators? Is there something unique you’re looking for?
Arnold de Boer: It always goes through the music. We meet people at festivals for example, and then when we seem to have a good connection on a musical level and in the way we do things … if there’s a connection and both ways an idea of doing something together and there is the opportunity, then it goes like that. Blonk is from the Netherlands, so every now and then you bump into him. It’s a very normal thing that you talk together and at one point you decide, ‘Hey, Jaap, we think it’s a great idea that you do some of the sound poetry in Ethiopia.’ And that was an amazing experience for everybody involved!
I watched footage on YouTube—it’s captivating.
Arnold de Boer: A super experience. And also Jaap was of course doing something he never did before. If there’s a challenge of a project like that, you think of the people you like most and if there’s a good connection, things go quite naturally, in a way.
What artists have you collaborated with recently?
Arnold de Boer: This year we’ve been on tour with a group from Ethiopia called Fendika. It’s really fantastic to play with them. We’ve released a 7’ with them. They play their own set with Ethiopian music, but they’re also really good improvisers and fantastic dancers, so next to doing a short set of our own music, we’re also playing together. That set was really growing, and that’s fantastic. I think there will be more of this connection. We’ll be on tour again with Brass Unbound as well, and when we play live with them, we always work on the new Ex stuff as well—always a challenge. And then with the four-piece, we’re always busy making new songs and new stuff. You never know what happens tomorrow! If we’re playing somewhere and we meet somebody and there’s an opportunity to do something really nice … we don’t plan too far ahead. We keep open space for these kind of things.
What are your music consumption habits like? How do you find new music, and on what formats?
Arnold de Boer: A lot of music we discover through playing live and meeting people. At festivals its easy to discover new music. That’s quite an important way. Then you exchange albums, mostly vinyl these days, actually. I listen to a lot of vinyl. But I don’t buy so much! I exchange a lot—it goes like that. If you’re enthusiastic about a band that played on the same night we do, then you decide to swap records with them. Another way of discovering new music is … there is an amazing internet radio station in New Jersey WFMU—for example—that’s a great way of discovering new music because they play it! Every now and then if I time, I listen to it. So does Andy. It’s a really good source for new things. On our tour, we’ll also play a venue connected to WFMU—that’s fantastic t meet the people there.
You have so much history—how do you put a set list together?
Arnold de Boer: It’s always the new songs that we play. The newest set we have. We don’t go back in history too much. Now we will be playing with Ken Vandermark and we’ll rehearse with him and also adjust the set a bit. It’s more the fact that when we play with Ken, maybe we think about the set a bit different than yesterday or last weekend. But it’s always focused on new songs.
Arnold de Boer: Nostalgia is like a drug—like Ritalin. Maybe nice at times, but it slows you down. We always have new ideas and new things to say and that gives loads of energy and so we can continue. New ideas and new music are the best drugs—that’s why.
THE EX WITH KEN VANDERMARK AND SURPLUS 1980 ON FRI., OCT. 30, AT THE ROXY, 9009 W. SUNSET BLVD., WEST HOLLYWOOD. 8 PM / $15 / ALL AGES. THEROXY.COM. THE EX’S THE EX AT BIMHUIS IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM EX RECORDS. VISIT THE EX AT THEEX.NL.