WHEN THE BULLET HITS THE BOX:
For over fifty years, Golden Earring has been Holland’s greatest Rock band, yet they have only scored two bona-fide hits in the U.S.: “Radar Love” (1973) and “Twilight Zone” (1982). While they’ve managed to maintain their popularity in other European countries, their unique brand of Rock ‘n’ Roll has largely been overlooked by American audiences. Their career trajectory closely followed that of the similarly-fated iconic UK rock band Status Quo: from flowery Psych Rock band in the ‘60s to Rock titans in the ‘70s (and beyond). However, the band has remained virtually intact throughout their entire career, in this way echoing the longevity of The Rolling Stones. These comparisons aside, Golden Earring has always done things their way. Staying largely out of the spotlight in the U.S. has allowed the band to travel their own path and create music without having to cater to the American market like so many other bands have been forced to do. Ironically enough, the music that these four gents create (Barry Hay, George Kooymans, Cesar Ziderwijk and Rinus Gerritsen) has always been exactly what America needs. Pure, honest Rock ‘n’ Roll that acknowledges but never gives in to current trends.
Those that are only familiar with their two American hits will be surprised to find out Golden Earring has released twenty-six studio albums alongside nearly a dozen live albums, as well as several compilations for those who only want to hear the hits. The four members of Golden Earring celebrate their huge catalog by playing all the favorites to their adoring fans, yet they seldom take the time to celebrate the many milestones that have paved their road to success. Although they are currently acknowledging their Silver Anniversary by hitting the road (again) this year, the band did not intend to put together yet another hit collection to commemorate the occasion. Instead, their record company worked behind the scenes and put together the ultimate tribute to the band: a twenty-nine CD box entitled THE COMPLETE STUDIO RECORDINGS, a glorious set that contains all twenty-six studio albums plus three CDs of non-album tracks. An absolutely astounding set, this release is an important part of Rock ‘n’ Roll history. Forget about biographies, Wikipedia entries or magazine articles. This box tells the real story of Golden Earring in the most honest and passionate way – through their music. Listen to it and weep, because it doesn’t get much better than this.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Barry Hay, who graciously took time out of his busy schedule to discuss the release of the box and other things Golden Earring-related…
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: THE COMPLETE STUDIO RECORDINGS box set is now available. How are you feeling about the package and the way it turned out?
BARRY HAY: With this box, we weren’t really aware that they were putting it together. In a way, it is herculean that they got it together with Sony and Universal and all these companies that we were with. They finally started communicating with each other and that’s an achievement in itself. For me, it’s a trophy in a way. I’m not the kind of guy who sits down and listens to his own stuff.
SPAZ: You’re fifty years deep into your career and you manage to reinvent yourselves while still retaining all of the great elements that define the Golden Earring sound. What keeps you motivated and creative after all of this time?
BARRY: I think it’s the live shows. We get together and we blow everybody away. It’s fun to blow everybody away! (Laughs) Being on stage together is the fun part of everything. That’s the only thing I like to do and want to do. That is what keeps us together. We all have our side projects. But when the four of us get together, there is something magical happening and we realize this. We do stuff on our own but it’s not the same – not as successful. When the band comes together, something happens and it’s great to be a part of this band.
SPAZ: The Rolling Stones might be the only other band that has remained together, partially intact, longer than Golden Earring.
BARRY: It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?
SPAZ: There’s really much more to Golden Earring than just being a great Rock ‘n’ Roll band. You are not afraid to add different musical passages to the songs and take them in new directions, much like a Prog Rock band would. The way that a Golden Earring song starts is not necessarily the way it will end…
BARRY: (Laughs) Right!
SPAZ: However, you always take the song back to its Rock roots. After all of these years, how would you categorize Golden Earring? Or do you prefer not categorizing the band at all?
BARRY: We’re not thinking about what’s going to sell. There’s always been this integrity about the band. There are some places we won’t go musically because we don’t want to ruin that integrity. There’s a lot of honesty in this band. We hear what’s going on in the world but we won’t conform. We stick to our guns. People have attacked us and said that we’re not really progressing as much as we should. Do they think that we should get into electronics or something? (Laughs) This is the way the band is. Fucking take it or leave it!
SPAZ: Is it frustrating to think that you’ve released twenty-six studio albums and some live albums as well, yet you are only known for two songs here in America?
BARRY: No, not at all. I think those are two pretty good songs. I was a bit frustrated that “When The Lady Smiles” (1984) didn’t do well. I think it was one of the best songs we ever did. It was such a huge hit over here and in Europe. We expected it to be a big hit in America but they said that they couldn’t format it. But we started thinking that maybe it was a bad idea to start pushing to make it big in the States, because we get homesick all the time as well.
SPAZ: Do you think that being out of the spotlight in the States actually helped you creatively in the long run? Or do you feel that you should have focused your attention more over here?
BARRY: There was talk years ago about moving to the States. We were looking at Seattle, Austin… But everybody would have had to move their entire families over. I didn’t have a family at the time. All I had was a dog. But we couldn’t have handled stardom. It’s not for us. We’re good in places that hold 2,000, maybe 3,000 people. If there is 10,000-15,000 people, we start getting nervous! (Laughs) Basically, we’re still amateurs. Golden Earring was never built for stardom. Contemporaries like Aerosmith, Bon Jovi and Kiss were really seeking stardom and they were clever about it. I admire and respect that. But that’s never been for us. We just follow our instincts.
SPAZ: Do you all still get along pretty well? And how have you maintained your relationship over the years?
BARRY: I decided to make a move to Curacao in the Caribbean years ago because I fell in love with the place. I felt really comfortable there. I told the guys beforehand I was thinking about it. It’s a nine hour flight, so I could fly to and fro, but I didn’t want to do it for just one concert. I said, “Let’s do three or four weeks of gigging at a time and then take a few weeks off.” Management said that this would be the end of Golden Earring. But gradually, we worked ourselves into this schedule. After half a year, everybody felt really comfortable with the deal. The way it works now, we never grow tired of seeing each other. After three weeks of not seeing each other, we’re happy to get together and do it all over again. There’s no chance of hating each other’s guts. It’s perfect the way it works. We all get together and talk about what’s happening. When we have three weeks off, we get to recharge our batteries and then we look forward to getting together again.
SPAZ: Looking back at this enormous body of work, apart from the box set, do you feel that there is a particular album or string of albums that really defines what Golden Earring is all about? I’ve heard many people swear their total devotion to MOONTAN…
BARRY: That’s a tough one. I think it would have to be a live album, which is not in the box set! I think 2nd LIVE is a brilliant live album. It has the charm and the adventure of the band. It’s simple and complicated. The thing about a live album is that it is coherent – it’s a show! It represents the band without any of that studio shit. That is how the band should sound.
SPAZ: Speaking of the studio, any plans to head in and record new music?
BARRY: For us, it’s a job to put an album together. It has become an expensive hobby. I suggested to George that it would be a smart idea to go back in time and release singles…but only when you’re satisfied and you think something could be a single. When you make an album, everyone gets together and decides what will be the single. But going in to record just singles makes sense now.
Thanks to Barry Hay
Special thanks to Marcel Hietbrink, Alex Jimenez and Nick Kominitsky