If there’s one album from the golden eighties you’d prefer, people would surely vote for “The Trial” by PROUD EXISTENCE from The Hague. Virginkiller Entertainment went into the vaults and tracked down some of the former band members and wondered if it would be possible to release “The Trial” on CD with some cool bonus stuff. And guess what? Last year, this Holy Grail has been released. There might be one or two people, who have been living under a rock and don’t know PROUD EXISTENCE. Well, shame on you and try again. Thanks to Koen Bakker, we were able to fire some questions at drummer René Vletter, which resulted in the following interview. Ladies and gents, please all rise, because we proudly present you PROUD EXISTENCE…..
How did the members of PRE EXISTENCE get together in 1980. How did you get in touch with each other?
Rene: “PRE EXISTENCE was a rock band from the The Hague area that responded to my 1982 advertorial which said “drummer with a new drum stool is searching for a new rock band”. Together with some other drummers, I was invited to do an audition and was chosen to become Gerard Thalen’s replacement. Thalen preferred playing weddings and party’s and therefore he decided to leave the band.”
Rene, why did Aad Vermeulen en Gerard Thalen leave the band after two years and how did you team up with Jan Horjus?
Rene: “PRE EXISTENCE’s setlist was kind of incoherent with songs such as “Rebel Rebel” (DAVID BOWIE), “Roll Over And Lay Down” (STATUS QUO) and some stuff the band had written themselves. With my arrival and my musical background, the band’s direction changed to hard rock and heavy metal. Aad Vermeulen felt he no longer fitted within the new course the band was heading and therefore he left the band. In an earlier stage in my career, me and singer Jan Horjus played in a band called TRAUMA and we asked him to join the band. This must have been at the end of 1982 or the beginning of 1983.”
Did you know by then already that the sound of the band would be changing from rock to metal and which other bands can we see as the major influences for this change of styles?
Rene: “As I said before, the band kind of played a pop/rock style. After Jan Horjus and myself joined the band, the musical direction changed to hard rock/heavy metal. The rest of the band was eager to explore that style as well!”
Who decided that the name had to change from PRE EXISTENCE to PROUD EXISTENCE? And why did you choose for PROUD EXISTENCE?
Rene: “In my opinion, PRE EXISTENCE was kind of a woolly name, just like their musical style. Both didn’t have a “bite”. Back in the days, the band already had a good looking logo with the letters PXE, so I started looking for a word beginning with a “P” to replace the word “Pre”. I thought “Proud” was a good sounding word and the rest of the band liked it as well, so PROUD EXISTENCE it was!”
How did you get on the “Metal Power V” compilation and did you choose the song “Blindfolded” yourself?
Rene: “Honestly, I can’t remember this exactly. We received a letter in which we were asked if we wanted to be on the “Metal Power V” EP. Based on that, the whole band visited T. van Stiphout from the Iceberg label and closed the deal. Why we chose “Blindfolded”? I don’t really know, being presented on an EP was just a good next step in the direction we were heading to those days.”
Another line-up change occurred when Ron van Dijk became the new bass player and Alex Roest, an ex-punk rocker became the new vocalist. Wasn’t it strange to add a punker to your line-up and weren’t you afraid that Alex wanted to introduce his punk roots to the sound of the band?
Rene: “Back in April 1985, Ron van Dijk joined the band as our new bass player. His influence provided more stability and quality within the band. Jan Horjus decided to leave the band in early 1987, because he was becoming a father and recently started his own company. So what to do? Searching a new singer back in the days wasn’t an easy task and we had to hurry, because the “The Trial” album was already recorded instrumentally as well as vocally.”
How was it to re-record the vocals for “The Trial”? After all it was written for another vocalist’s voice, who actually did his job on it already.
Rene: “I already knew Alex Roest from several bar visits and he suggested he would do the job. He practiced a lot on his vocal lines and the lyrics and delivered the goods. We were very grateful we could release “The Trial” anyway. Alex adopted our approach and turned out to be a great front man as well.”
How did you deal with the situation, when you heard that the record label that would release “The Trial” (Metalloid) went bankrupt all of a sudden?
Rene: “The people at the Silvox Studio already had put an enormous amount of money and effort in “The Trial” and therefore decided to release the album themselves and Paladyn Records was born.”
The album was released by Paladyn Records. How were the reactions of the press on the album?
Rene: “Aardschok magazine did a nice review and we also got some good reviews from local newspapers. Outside Holland, we also got some good press.”
What’s your favorite PROUD EXISTENCE song and why?
Rene: “I would say that “Deliver Or Kill" is my favorite, because it has all the ingredients one could wish for: a nice intro, a lot of speed changes and great soloing. Some other great PROUD EXISTENCE songs one should definitely hear are the title track “The Trial” as well as “Castles In Black”.”
Who is responsible for the artwork of “The Trial”, and did he also create the idea himself or did you provide him with the idea of the artwork yourself?
Rene: “We came up with the idea of the artwork ourselves and started searching for people that could create it for us. A friend of us, Marcel Fens, who nowadays is a well-respected artist in Bulgaria, created a new logo for us as well.”
Let’s talk about your live shows here, if we may. With which bands did you share the stage as a live band?
Rene: “Well, not too many are worth mentioning here, but I think the following names will appeal to the readers of Holland Heavy Metal: BODINE, PICTURE, HIGHWAY CHILE and MESSIAH (from Switzerland).”
What was your biggest gig with PROUD EXISTENCE?
Rene: “We didn’t play for a shitload of people, but our first ever gig on Christmas eve 1983 at the Open Lucht School in The Hague was sold out and made a huge impression on us. We also played at the Paard van Troje (the biggest club in The Hague) three times and supported PICTURE twice. Those gigs were pretty huge for a band like PROUD EXISTENCE.”
Did you also play covers during your live shows and if yes, which songs did you play?
Rene: “We occasionally played a cover song. I remember “Run Silent, Run Deep”, originally by RAVEN and IRON MAIDEN’s “Number Of The Beast”, but we preferred playing our own stuff of course.”
Did you use any show elements during your live shows or was it pure music, rock and a whole lot of sweat?
Rene: “When we played we always used a fogger, a strobe and an occasional lightning bomb here and there and there was always a lot of energy on stage.”
Maybe you can share some hilarious or funny stories about life on the road during the live shows you played?
Rene: “Not really. We sure had a lot of fun, but it was also hard work!”
Do you have any idea how many copies were sold of “The Trial”?
Rene: “As far as my information goes, 1000 copies of “The Trial” were pressed and they were all sold.”
A stabile line-up, an excellent album, great reviews. I would say a great future ahead of you, let the fans get ready for the announcement of a second album. But instead of this PROUD EXISTENCE disbanded. What exactly happened there, and was this decision to be foreseen?
Rene: “Let me say this: it was not my decision to quit the band. To me, it was like heaven struck me down. Musical differences, unspoken irritations towards each other. It must have been a combination of that.”
Where there any leftovers of “The Trial”?
Rene: “No, everything we recorded for “The Trial” was released. We had sufficient material to record a second album though...”
Alex Roest, Coen Petri and Ron van Dijk joined forces again in PARTNERS IN CRIME. Was there never any talk about a PROUD EXISTENCE reunion in that period of time?
Rene: “No, due to the aforementioned musical differences and unspoken irritations towards each other, we never talked about it.”
What did you do after you left PROUD EXISTENCE? In which bands did you play and are you still active in the music scene nowadays?
Rene: “During my presence in PROUD EXISTENCE I already jammed a lot with blues musicians in the bar circuit and kept on doing so for many, many years. The blues bands TRIPLE DOUBLE and ONE WAY TROUBLE I played in were quite successful actually. With my current job it is quite impossible to combine rehearsals and gigs, so I’m not active within the music scene anymore. “
What was the ‘The Hague Metal Scene” like in the heydays of the band. How was it like to be part of that and were there many clubs where you could play live?
Rene: “In my opinion, there wasn’t a heavy metal scene but a hard rock scene back in the eighties in The Hague. Of course, BODINE was the biggest and most important representative in this scene and I was definitely impressed by them. The band LOST GRAVITY was our main competitor, but when we started to put more heavy metal elements in our music, I think we gained more popularity. The venues I mentioned before in this interview, Open Lucht School and Paard Van Troje were the place to be. We also did our album release party at Paard Van Troje.”
What was it like to be part of the “Dutch Steel” compilation, put together by Robert Haagsma, with the rendition of “The Trial”?
Rene: “It was very cool, when Robert Haagsma asked us, if he could one of our songs on the “Dutch Steel” compilation. The project gives a good insight in the early hard rock and metal scene in Holland.”
“The Trial” is now out on CD, finally. It’s remastered by Caspar Falke. What do you think of the final result?
Rene: “Myself and Koen Bakker, the founder of Virginkiller Entertainment and chairman of the ‘The Hague Heavy Metal Alliance’ went to the Silvox Studio, where we originally recorded “The Trial”. Caspar Falke initially produced the album and with some instructions from us, he remastered the original tapes. The final result is far above our expectations. The overall sound is very much improved and the different sources from master tapes, the demo tape and the aforementioned EP were mixed as a whole. I’m very satisfied with the CD!”
The work that Koen Bakker has done to get this release done is unbelievable. You must be very proud of all the hard work that he had put in this, because everything is so perfectly arranged that it’s a real joy to see the gatefold sleeve, the many pictures and the detailed bio that he worked on. How long did it take to get things all together that perfect?
Rene: “I think, that it took about two years from the initial idea to release “The Trial” album including the demo tape on CD to its final release. Together we slogged ourselves through a lot of articles, pictures, reviews to see what we could use for this CD release. Myself, Alex Roest and Koen Bakker also talked a lot about the history of the band so the latter could compose a good and thorough biography of PROUD EXISTENCE. Due to his enthusiasm and the hard work he put into it, this re-release actually happened.”
What do you think of the fact that people are still interested in PROUD EXISTENCE after all these years?
Rene: “The idea that people are still enjoying the music me and my band mates created so long ago gives a feeling of accomplishment and happiness.”
Do you still follow what’s going on in the metal scene and if yes what are your favorite bands nowadays?
Rene: “I’m not in deep in the scene currently, but I’m still enthusiastic about hard rock and heavy metal. Occasionally, I do visit festivals such as Very ‘Eavy and Westland Metal Meeting.”
What do you think of the fact, that people pay a lot of money for an original copy of “The Trial” on vinyl? And do you still have hidden copies on your attic of this masterpiece?
Rene: “Apparently, people are willing to donate lots of money for collector’s items nowadays and evidently “The Trial” is one of such items. I do only own two copies of the vinyl myself.”
Do you have anything that you want to add to this interview? There may have been topics that we forgot to cover here or questions that were not asked?
Rene: “No, not really. I think the interview perfectly sums up everything PROUD EXISTENCE was about way back when.”
What do you do differently, when you could redo the career of PROUD EXISTENCE right now?
Rene: “Nowadays it’s better, faster and a lot easier to interact with fans, record companies and promoters with the help of social media. This gives a lot of opportunities for bands. Opportunities we didn’t have thirty years ago!”
Do you have any personal messages for all the diehard PROUD EXISTENCE fans out there? You know there are still a lot of them, including myself.
Rene: “During the seven years of our existence we had an overwhelming metal trip. It makes me proud everything we ever recorded is compiled on this fine re-release. It is heartwarming that people are still enjoying our pleasant-sounding legacy. Thank you for that!”
In the range from zero to one hundred percent, how big would you rate the chance that PROUD EXISTECE will reform, even if it was for old time's sake and for one gig only?
Rene: “That’s a question we have been asked many times the past few months. PROUD EXISTENCE exited thirty years ago and not all of us are in pretty good shape, if it comes to playing heavy metal. Of course I mainly talk about myself here. Heavy metal drumming isn’t easy and you need endurance to do it well. The chance of PROUD EXISTENCE reuniting however is zero to nihil, so just enjoy the re-release!”
The last words in this interview are for René Vletter and PROUD EXISTENCE……
Rene: “Enjoy the band. Bang yer head and show yer fist! Let the music take you higher and thanks for the support!!!”
Interview by: Toine van Poorten, exclusively for Holland Heavy Metal, 2016.
Visit their official Facebook page at: www.faebook.com/ProudExistence/