THE ROCKET (from l-r): Stijn Debontridder (guitar/backing vocals), Frederik Meuris (synth/backing vocals), Tom De Ridder (vocals), Joris Goetstouwers (bass/backing vocals), Bastiaan Jonniaux (drums)
INTERVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN
Having first formed in 2009, Belgian five-piece The Rocket spent the next four years developing a synth-driven pop-punk sound full of contagious melodies, heavily influenced by the likes of Weezer and Motion City Soundtrack, and illustrious live sets.
These, along with two acclaimed albums, resulted in the band gaining a devoted fan base and stellar reputation in their home country, leading to them playing on the main stage at Groezrock, Europe’s biggest punk rock festival, in 2013, alongside such outfits as Rise Against, Pennywise and Hatebreed.
After taking some time out to pursue other musical endeavours, the quintet recently made a triumphant return with a new single, ‘Chain Reaction’, which is taken from their eagerly-anticipated third album, coming out this April.
The collective’s synth player, Frederik Meuris, chatted with me about all of this, how it felt for him and his bandmates picking up from where they left off, the experience of working with esteemed producer Marc McClusky, and what can be expected from the upcoming release.
How did the band initially get together?
Our singer Tom and our former synth player Geoff had plans to make a punk rock musical called ‘The Incredible Ninja Attack’. Sadly, it never became a reality, but The Rocket was a direct result of those plans. We kept the stage outfits though.
From where did the name The Rocket originate?
It simply popped up. I think Tom just blurted it out one time, “What about The Rocket?” and it stuck.
What would you say was your songwriting approach?
Most of the time, either Tom or Stijn will bring an idea to the table and we build on that. We almost immediately record a demo version of the idea and then we start “sculpting” the song. We add parts, we remove parts, we play around with the structure of the song.
When the demo is finished, we move on to the next song and revisit the previous one at a later time, when we can listen to it with fresh ears again.
What influences the band lyrically?
Just life, really. Sometimes Tom or Stijn write the lyrics for a whole song at once, and at other times, we work on the lyrics together. Based on one or two sentences, we all kinda feel what the song is about without so much as discussing it, and come up with lyrics that fit the overall theme.
Most of our lyrics are about the rough patches in life, though. There’s always something going on with someone, and writing about it is a healthy way of dealing with it.
You have so far brought out two albums and an EP. How well did you all think the reaction was to them?
All of our music has been received exceptionally well so far. When we play a show, we notice that people sing along to songs from all of our releases, which is the biggest compliment a band can get. It’s been quite a few years since our last album, but we’re very happy to see that people are also singing along to our new single, ‘Chain Reaction’.
In 2013, the band played the main stage at Groezrock, Europe’s biggest music festival, in their home country. How was that as an experience?
That was amazing. Groezrock is one of the goals you quietly set for yourself when you set out to play pop-punk rock, but you never really dare to say it out loud.
Playing the main stage and sharing the backstage with some of our biggest musical heroes was unreal. We remember how big the tent and stage were, but the rest of the day is all a haze now. It was a great experience and we can only hope to achieve something like that again.
After that, you all took some time away from The Rocket. What were the main reasons behind that?
The main reason was probably that we were all moving at different speeds. Everything was going great for the band, having played Groezrock and receiving some airtime on national radio, but for some reason, we were struggling to take advantage of all the opportunities we got.
We felt it would be better to put the band on hold, rather than to risk it and stop being fun, because that’s why we play music in the first place.
Was the break always meant to be temporary, or did any of you consider making it permanent at some point?
We never really talked about the break in terms of it being temporary or permanent. We simply decided to not be The Rocket anymore. We still remained friends, and we all had our own musical projects almost immediately after.
However, The Rocket was always in the back of our minds, but we just needed to take some time out. When Tom talked about maybe giving it another go, there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation in any of our minds.
Now, the band are back with a new single, ‘Chain Reaction’, which you recorded with Marc McClusky, who has also worked with the likes of Weezer and Motion City Soundtrack, two outfits that you consider to be key influences. How was the experience of working with him?
It was great, and we definitely learned a lot from working with Marc. He had a different approach than what we were used to and he really pulled us out of our comfort zone. The new album would most certainly have sounded a lot different if we worked with someone else.
As he had worked with bands such as Motion City Soundtrack and Farewell, he knew how to fit synths into pop-punk songs, and he has a gift of being able to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong with a song when it doesn’t really sound right.
Did you all find it easy to slot back into the recording process after some time away?
Yes, absolutely, but that wasn’t really a surprise. We’re all pretty experienced when it comes to recording music, and when we put The Rocket on hold, we all had our own musical projects, and when we first came back together to write songs and rehearse, everything just felt the way it did before. We simply picked up where we had left off.
That track is taken from the band’s third album, which will be coming out this April. What can be expected of it?
Catchy, synth-driven pop-punk songs! It’s got our signature sound, but more evolved and probably more American thanks to Marc’s influence. You can expect upbeat melodies and vocal harmonies, contrasting with gloomy lyrics about life. If anything, we hope that it will turn out to be a lot of people’s soundtrack to the spring and summer of 2018.
What are your plans once the album has been released?
We hope to play a lot of shows, and maybe do a small tour or two. Plus, we’ll keep writing new songs.
In fact, we only stopped writing when we were recording the album. I think we already recorded about 10 new demos, and we still had 10 other songs that didn’t fit into this album, so maybe we’ll head back to the studio sometime after the summer. We want to make the most of this in every way possible.
THE ROCKET’S NEW SINGLE, ‘CHAIN REACTION’, IS AVAILABLE TO STREAM, DOWNLOAD OR PURCHASE FROM SPOTIFY & APPLE MUSIC.
THE BAND’S THIRD STUDIO ALBUM WILL BE RELEASED THIS APRIL.