Music
Interview

Happy Camper

Music should be a magical experience

Job Roggeveen asked well-known Dutch artists to sing his lyrics for his musical project Happy Camper. But on his latest album, which he made with Leine, he takes the microphone himself.

Job Roggeveen used to be the lead singer of Omski, a band that combined French pop by Air with Britpop. They had very different ambitions and disbanded in 2006. ‘I felt quite vulnerable without my trusted group members around me,’ says Job. ‘It felt safer to ask other people to sing my new, more personal songs. So I started looking for guest vocalists to give me a protective layer. That project evolved into Happy Camper.’

Why did you suddenly not feel confident singing?
‘It’s got something to do with a sort of perfectionism that I developed when I was young. My mother sang in a professional choir, so the bar in our house was very high. There was a lot of talk about geniuses and talented people too. The main thing was to achieve, rather than to enjoy making music or acknowledge your creativity. This pressure to achieve interferes with your pleasure, while music should be a magical experience.’

What makes your songs for Happy Camper more difficult to sing?
‘They’re more like chansons, with more lyrical melodies. I was struggling with my perfectionism, so I asked other Dutch vocalists to interpret them. First I approached Bouke Zoete, singer with The Kevin Costners. The song was about doubts and not daring to be yourself. With Bouke singing it, I could distance myself and the song became stronger. To my mind, works of art shouldn’t be private. Artists should compile a universal narrative, which other people can relate to.’

Happy Camper was a great success thanks to guest vocalists like Tim Knol, Blaudzun, Eefje de Visser and Janne Schra.
‘Yes, that definitely helped. We performed at Noorderslag, Lowlands and ITGWO, and were featured on DWDD TV programme. And we won an Edison. Large-scale collaborations on stage (like Kyteman) weren’t unusual in those days, so it was to be expected I suppose. And you mustn’t forget: a lot of people just loved Happy Camper’s frivolous music with melancholic undertones.’

We need to talk about your mascot: Manfred.
‘Yes, Manfred definitely contributed to our success. The promo for Happy Camper is done at Job, Joris & Marieke animation agency, where I happen to work too. The band had eleven guest vocalists, but no front man. Until we found Manfred, the Yeti. He was projected onto a screen during gigs to distract people from looking at me. He shielded me, filled the boots that I wasn’t ready to fill.’

Why a yeti?
‘We usually think of a yeti as an abominable snowman, but Manfred is really sweet. One of the Happy Camper video clips shows him walking around a campsite. Audiences were enthralled by this mystical creature strolling through everyday surroundings. He now has the role of an imaginary friend, someone who’s there when you need support. Perhaps I’ll manage without him one day.’

You’ve taken the first step: after three albums featuring guest vocalists, you’re doing some vocals yourself on the latest Happy Camper album. Why now?
‘I was really nervous. It’s like being a director and acting in your own film. But this was the right time. I’m not worried about whether my voice is good enough anymore. I know what it’s capable of and I know how to use it. I don’t necessarily have to demonstrate all the scales. And I’ve noticed that people appreciate my story. Knowing that someone has overcome something in themselves is heart-warming.’

But you haven’t completely let go. You still sing some of the songs with Leine.
‘Yes, I still need Leine’s support. I wrote the new album with her, which gives it much more body. Her voice enriches the album too. With regard to my voice: it might sound a bit stylised, but I’m not trying for an ‘authentic’ voice on this album. I wanted to project this dreamy sound. This is an uphill slope, I’m gradually finding the courage to be more open and honest. I recently listened to something I’d done in the past, when my recorded voice sounded much starker and more direct. I quite liked it. Perhaps that will be my next project.’


The latest album by Happy Camper is called The Both of Us. The band is doing a theatre tour entitled Around the Campfire. Happy Camper will perform in TivoliVredenburg on 9 December

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