Words: Miljan Milekić
Hailing from the ashes of their previous band Beans, the Utrecht, Netherlands four-piece Bitter Grounds are bringing new energy, new ideas, and new music. Personally, I discovered them just recently, after the release of their second album ‘Two Sides of Hope,’ and instantly became a fan. Their energetic and explosive combination of punk and ska needs to be heard, so we hope we can help a bit. We teamed with vocalist and guitarist Ronald Huiskes to find out more of what they’re up to.
Hey there! I’m pretty new to you guys, and I think it’s safe to say some of our fans are too. So, can you tell me a bit more about the band?
Ronald: We are four guys from Utrecht, Netherlands, who’ve been into listening to and playing punk and gritty ska music for over 20 years now. Three of us were in a punk/ska band called Beans from the late 90s to around 2005. We did pretty well but decided to call it quits after about eight years. We went on to form other bands and/or pursue other interests, but we’re all still best friends and heavily into this type of music. So when our drummer returned from a three-year stint in South Africa, we decided to form a band again. We never felt like playing any of our old Beans songs, though, and we don’t like band “revivals” anyway, so we wrote new ones and decided on a better band name. (laughs)
So, you recently released your sophomore album ‘Two Sides of Hope.’ How is it going so far? Are you happy with the reactions and the feedback you’re getting?
Ronald: Yes, the album’s been out for about six weeks now, and the first reactions are very positive. We seem to be filling a gap of sorts in punk music: aggressive and sort of dark, but melodic and upbeat at the same time. Although even our ska songs have a gritty edge, they’re still danceable, and the new songs seem to go down very well live. The crowd responses have been great wherever we go.
I got instantly hooked to the record because of its insane energy, but also all the different influences you embrace – from punk rock to street punk to ska. Where do you draw your influences from, and how hard is it t blend it all in a cohesive piece of music, and develop your own style?
Ronald: We do indeed listen to – and draw influences from – a variety of styles, and not all of them punk, but what keeps things cohesive is most likely the vocals. We have two pretty distinctive singers, and listeners tend to focus on the vocal melodies, this immediately identifies a Bitter Grounds album as a Bitter Grounds album. Also, we like to focus on writing actual songs, not on showing off any technical prowess we may possess, which keeps things focused and forces us to really distill things down to their bare essence. But speaking of prowess, we’ve heard it said that your shortcomings may actually end up creating and defining your style, so we probably have a few of those!
It’s a popular belief, that to be a good punk band, you have to come from a place with a lot of bad things going on. That punk itself is a reaction to poverty, injustice, and tyranny. However, to a lot of people from the outside, Netherlands seems like one of the best countries in the world to live in. Is there a “dark side” of your country that you want to show, that can only be seen from the inside?
Ronald: Nope, not really. Like in any country, there are things that you could rally against, but for the most part, we try to deal with more universal themes in our songs, not just topics that apply to the Dutch situation. We don’t really subscribe to this popular belief anyway, at least not in the political sense. To us, punk represents the ‘outsider perspective’ first and foremost. This can be applied as broadly or as narrowly as you like, but either way, it brings with it a certain kind of energy and urgency. As people – and as a band – we latched onto all of these aspects, and never let go.
You come from Utrecht, a city that’s, at least to me, known for its drum and bass scene and the massive names like Black Sun Empire and Pythius, but I don’t know much about the punk scene. How would you describe the scene in your hometown at the moment?
Ronald: Well, for our part, we had to google those names, because we never heard of ‘em. (laughs) But seriously, the scene in our hometown per se is not very lively, at least where more rough-around-the-edges punk music is concerned. There are a few bands that adhere to a more polished punk-esque sound that are doing pretty well, but it seems like the more rough-sounding bands and the more poppy bands don’t really mix all that well anymore. We do have a few really awesome clubs that book cool bands and are well worth a visit for anyone into underground music that is visiting Utrecht. Most notably dB’s, which is also where we rehearse. Awesome spot on the edge of town!
With the record out, what’s next for you guys?
Ronald: Well, touring the damn thing for starters! We are currently working on our touring schedule for the first half of 2019, and we have almost fully booked all of our available days, so things are looking good on that front. Other than that, we’re currently writing new songs again, a few of which we may release before we write an entire full-length album again, so keep your ears tuned!