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Interview conducted June 10 2022
Interview published July 20 2022

"We got on like a house on fire as soon as we met each other."

Metal Covenant spent some time with guitar player Tino Troy and drummer Hans in 't Zandt of hard rocking unit Praying Mantis as the band came to Sweden Rock earlier this summer.

Tobbe: The new album Katharsis was out in January and in what way do you look at that album, if you don't see it as a new album, but rather just one of the albums in the Praying Mantis catalogue?

Tino: It's just like an evolving history of the band and, like, we are looking to the future with every release. And this is great, because this is our third album with the Dutch guys. So that's a record for this band. [Laughs] Will you pardon the pun?

(Hans:) It's the third record with Jean-Pierre [Kerkhofs], in Belgium. You know, orchestrating everything around it. And this time I recorded the drums in my studio in my house. You know, we sent tracks back and forth.

(Tino:) With the Covid thing, obviously. We didn't see each other once. (Hans:) I'm sure you heard it before, with other bands and so. Yeah, we've been exchanging the demos, and working on it together, and this is the outcome. And we're very happy with it, with the way it sounds, the choice of the songs. I think it's a really cohesive album, don't you think?

(Tino:) Yeah, yeah. Sometimes it can be difficult, because, for instance, if you're not in the same room with somebody, and especially John [Cuijpers], our singer. You know, you say, "Oh, come on, John! I think you can do a little bit better than that." and he goes, "What? What's wrong with it?" over the phone, and you can't put your arm around him and say, "Listen, man! I know you can do better.". And it's just that personal touch that is missing sometimes, you know. I mean, we got there in the end.

Tobbe: About the album title. Why did you choose to spell it with a K and not with C which would be standard English?

Tino: Yes, C is cathartic and catharsis. Yes, that's the English way of spelling it. But we were looking for a name for the album, and it just so happened that the artist, Rainer Kalwitz, who did the artwork… We said, "What is the name of this piece of artwork?", and he said "Katharsis", and, you know, he wrote it with a K, and that's the Greek way of spelling it, in fact. So we said, "Well, we'll leave it like that, 'cause it makes it a bit more of a talking point.", as you've already experienced. [Laughs]

Tobbe: There have been a few guys coming and going over the years. Why was it so hard to keep the old lineup and so easy to keep the new lineup?

Tino: I mean, we weren't working that much during many years. Nowadays it's very easy for bandmembers to, like, go and play with other bands, and guest with other bands, and whatever, have different bands going. So it's hard to sort of keep someone occupied, you know. Unless you're working all the time. So these people need to work, and that's why I didn't sort of hold together.

But this has been a very stable nucleus. We got on like a house on fire as soon as we met each other. And we haven't looked back since. So it's great! And we look forward to more. And the great thing is, with Hans being based in Europe as well, and England being brexited, we can keep the equipment at Hans' house and don't pay for carnets and things like that. So, we're not gonna be using them, really. [Being ironic/Laughs]

(Hans:) You can always look at it from a point of view where you say, "Oh, is this gonna work? It's gonna be difficult.", but at the same time you also look for ways how to make it work and to your advantage. So this is one of them, you know. When the guys come over to stay at my house, we record, we rehearse at my house, get in my van, up on the road, and the whole packed lunch bag. You know, boom, boom, boom! [Snaps his fingers thrice.] Or if it's a one-off you're just a flight ticket away, right? Just convene at my house, and off we go.

(Tino:) Yeah, it's very easy now, isn't it? We just get a flight. And from London, where we are based, it's like 5 hours door to door, you know. (Hans:) Yeah, exactly. I get in the car, and by Calais, France, go into the tunnel, and 6 hours later you are smacked down in the middle of London. It's a matter of perception to how you approach things. If you think in possibilities or if you think in impossibilities. It makes the whole difference. Same theme though, but makes the whole thing work.

Tobbe: The band has been on quite a journey from the beginning, and if you wouldn't know, you could never tell that Time Tells No Lies from 1981 and Katharsis are both Praying Mantis album. I mean, more or less heavy metal back then and melodic hard rock today.

Tino: I think it's just, sort of, musical maturity. I mean, I still love playing the old stuff as well. (Hans:) Yeah, me too. Even though I wasn't there when it was conceived, I do too. I really dig the old songs. Absolutely, absolutely.

Tobbe: There are still 3 or maybe 4 staples in the setlist from Time Tells No Lies. That album must obviously mean something to you.

Hans: Yes, it does. It's the same with Jethro Tull. They can not play Locomotive Breath. They can't do a show without Locomotive Breath. They have to play it. And we have the same luxury. Well, I call it luxury.

(Tino:) But it's still the same. I mean, it's still the same flavor. It's still the same stamp that we do. A lot of harmony guitars, and the vocals as well. You know, with multi-part vocals, which was already established in those early days, because we had influences of Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy, you know. When I heard Wishbone Ash doing the twin guitar stuff in there, and the vocal harmonies as well, I said, "We'll have some of that.". [Laughs]

Tobbe: If today's recording techniques would have been available for you guys in 1981, would you have gone earlier onto playing more melodic?

Tino: No, it was just the period of time in our lives where we just picked up our instruments and just had very, like, early influences. Like, Status Quo first of all. I made my first guitar in my last year at high school, and a friend of mine taught me this 12-bar riff, like Chuck Berry sort of thing.

And then I picked up on Status Quo. I formed the band with a guy at college, and we haven't looked back since, you know. That was many years ago. That was 1973. And from there we just started listening to Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash, and we took it from there. He went to live in New Zealand eventually.

But we're still in contact. He's leasing out, like, a covers band there. We're talking about maybe doing a comeback gig. Just a really surprise gig, you know. Chris Hudson, remember? The drummer. (Hans:) Yeah, yeah. I met him a couple of times. The original drummer. I mean, it's good to hear the stories.

Tobbe: I realize that you guys do not do this for the big money. It's the way it is. Is having fun just simply a good reason to keep doing this?

Tino: I mean, many a time, especially if you're on tour and really feel a bit tired. The older you get… It gets a bit more difficult, you know. So I'm like, "Why am I still doing this?". And then you get on that stage, and the adrenaline hits, and you see that crowd. It just lifts your spirits to another level, you know.

(Hans:) Sometimes on the road you have to overcome certain things that you didn't expect. You have to deal with it. You know, it doesn't really go the way you expected, or anticipated. But then, like Tino says, when you go on the stage, and you hit the first notes, and the crowd goes yeah, it all disappears like snow before the sun. That's how it is.

Tobbe: Not that many people get that appreciation from work.

Tino: It's actually hard to describe to people who aren't musicians or artists. To actually have that feeling. You know, that elation on stage. And any pain you've got… I remember going on stage once. I had gastric fluid. I had been vomiting and everything. I just went ahead and did the gig. Every pain went in… It was just like swoosh. And after that was over the pain comes back to you, you know.

(Hans:) Playing with high fever. You know, sweating it all out Done!. (Tino:) You can stuff your recreational drugs. Just give me adrenaline every time. [Laughs]

Tobbe: What else do you guys do besides playing with Praying Mantis?

Tino: I'm retired now. [Laughs] I was a furniture maker, actually. I also made guitars and things like that. Cabinet maker. I was running two things sort of parallel, you know. I mean, had it been back in the day, like when we were touring with Iron Maiden… They went stellar, and we didn't, you know. It was, like, down to a bad management thing.

But yeah, I just accepted it and I just carried on with life, obviously. I got married, had children, and, you know, a musicians life can't support that, so you've got to do other things. Like Hans, he teaches drums as well.

(Hans:) I only do drums. It's playing, and teaching drums, and recording drums. I did the Los Angeles Music Academy a while ago. And, you know, this is the life I chose, and luckily I have a family, the wife, that supports it, so. (Tino:) He's got two great sons who's musicians as well now. And my daughter as well, Cherry.

Tobbe: No disrespect, but that's a narrow path working with.

Hans: It is, it is. (Tino:) But, you know, with what's available now with social media and everything. The way they can elevate themselves. They do it so well. I mean, my daughter, she's got, like, about 11, 12 million hits on Spotify with one of her songs. 'Cause she's in a punk band, The Oozes.

Tobbe: If we sit here again in, let's say, 5 five years. Where do you see the band at that point?

Tino: Well, I'm gonna keep on going until I… Rock 'til I drop, would be the best way of describing it. [Laughs] You know, I had two knee replacements. I've got really bad tinnitus, you know. So it's getting harder and harder to hear. Sometimes I start to go, "Well, that sounds a bit discorded.", but what it is is that I've got 7 and a half cade, like, ringing away in my ears, so. So as long as I can still keep going, then I'll give it my best shot.

(Hans:) I don't really look that far ahead, no. I go by the view that I'll try to do my best today and then the rest will follow. Because everything else is out of my reach anyway. And yesterday doesn't matter. That's past then. Tomorrow? Well, that depends on how I perform today.

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