“We developed our own musical identity”

Exactly ten years ago, Wouter Heeren, Jan Derks and Guido Joseph met at Codarts’ Pop Department. It is almost unbelievable how much has happened since. Together with the two other members of Chef’Special—Joshua Nolet and Wouter Prudon—they have played festivals such as Pink Pop, Lowlands and Sziget and have sold out the Heineken Music Hall twice. In addition they have released two albums and two EPs. Recently, they added another milestone: a contract with the American record label Atlantic and a tour of the US.

After having spent nine months in the United States with Chef’Special, we find Wouter, Jan and Guido back in their recording studio in Haarlem. They absolutely loved touring the States. “We’ve had a tiny taste of what life as an international artist is like. It’s really weird to live in a bus for so long and to play in a different place every night”, says keyboard player Wouter. The band has managed to gain a foothold at the other side of the Atlantic. “Our single In Your Arms is a hit in Denver and Seattle, while Los Angeles and Manhattan are among the top three places where the song has been streamed the most, worldwide”, he continues. Not many Dutch bands have managed to both tour the US and sign with a major overseas label. How did these boys pull that off?

“All start-up bands know how difficult it is to get gigs”, bass player Jan explains. “Things were not any different for us in 2008, so we started a tour of surf spots in France and Spain. We went to campsites and walked into bars and asked if we could perform there, in exchange for a place to sleep. We often had a camera with us and said that we were filming a video. That always got their attention, ha ha. Anyway, this is how we built our reputation as a live act. Our manager, Paul Heijnk, then thought it would be a good idea to take that approach a step further.” In the Netherlands, Chef’Special came, played and conquered many a beach bar too, gradually building a name for themselves in the surf scene. “ In hindsight, that was an excellent choice: the surf scene is very tight, it is a large network of people who are really into music and like discussing it. For a beginning band it is important to know which audience you want to reach with your music. That audience will then start following you and support you”, Guido adds.

Soon after, in the summer of 2010, Wouter and Guido graduated from Codarts, but there was no dip after that: one month later, they started recording their first album One for the Mrs— named after the bus ‘The Mrs’ in which they toured the coasts of France and Spain. To record the album they collaborated with Jasper Zuidervaart, a producer they had met while studying at Codarts. “At Codarts we started what we continued to do after graduating”, says Guido. “Not only did we learn to raise our musical ‘ceiling’, we also acquired valuable contacts. And we started to develop our own musical identity”, adds Jan.

The album was part of a long-term plan that they outlined step-by-step with their manager Paul Heijnk. “Every step we took since 2008 was carefully planned”, says Wouter. In 2009, they participated in the Popronde, followed by the first appearances on radio ‘first on local stations and then, finally, on 3FM’; their performance on the TV show DWDD was a smashing success and in 2011 they reached the main goal of the first long-term plan: Chef’Special played at Lowlands. “That was a magic moment. We played in the Charley, a relatively small tent, but it was packed; people were literally standing everywhere. We all felt that the seeds we planted in the years before, were all blossoming simultaneously”, says Jan.

And of course the band is already busy drawing up a new long-term plan. There is a new album in the making that will be released in both Europe and the States. “It will be a happy mix between Chef’Special’s signature live energy and recent electronic influences”, reveals Guido. Also, the band would like to make more inroads in the US. “We have toured there now for a couple of months, which of course was awesome, but there are plenty of great artists who tour for two years continuously. That attitude, always looking ahead and always wanting to look further, is typical of us and has brought us where we are today”, Guido concludes with a smile.