Really Rockabilly: RJ, who are you?
RJ: My original name is Hans Nelemans. I’m a professional musician in Holland, where I play around 180 times a year with my acoustic duo. Since 1989 I have been making rockabilly music: first as a rhythm guitar player and than since the late 1990’s upright bass.
RR: What do you know about rockabilly?
RJ: I can’t say that I know everything about rockabilly, but I know what I like about it. It should have fire in it, to make your blood move faster. Must be a little aggressive but not to loud, danceable and I know how to play it right.
RR: How does it feel to be a r’n’r musician? If you could possibly re-live you life what would you change in it?
RJ: If you ever felt the happiness around you when the band is rocking and people are dancing, seeing all those happy faces, than it’s the best there is. If I had to relive the last 20 years I would start to play rhythm guitar and be a lead singer some years ago instead of backing up others with my bass.
RR: Where did you find those Russians, The Phantoms?
RJ: Sometimes in your life when you meet people you feel right away, this is it. I played in Estonia with a Dutch band on the Valga Cruisin’ festival. On that festival I saw for the first time a Russian rockabilly band playing live (I have to say that I never thought anything out of Russia could ever play authentic rockabilly). From the moment they started to play I was knocked of my shoes. My blood started to pump two tempos higher and I had the idea I wanted to dance all night long. A lot of energy came into me. Since then we kept in contact. I helped them with some small gigs in Holland and when I was in Russia the first time, they backed me up. Our friendship grew strong and we started to work together on occasion.
RR: Well, everybody knows that Russia was long time hiding behind the “iron curtain”, so how those people can play the “right” rockabilly without knowing what it is about?
RJ: Lucky enough I had a chance to meet a lot of rockabilly musicians in Saint Petersburg. Some of them already made this music while there was still this communist regime. For me they are true heroes. For them it was the same as for me. From the first time they heard rockabilly music they were rockabilly. It is in the Russian character to find everything about rockabilly and than buying the instruments and started to practice endlessly. They won’t stop till it’s perfect. I know Russians also listened to Elvis, Beatles & Stones. People smuggled this music into the U.S.S.R and they copied it illegal. Their knowledge of rockabilly is at least as big as ours or maybe even bigger.
RR: What is so special about co-operation RJ and ex U.S.S.R band(s)?
RJ: You already said it. The special thing about it is a Dutch guy working together with Russians. That’s made it special. You have of course the distance, so to practices every week is impossible. Then - the language. My Russian is not good at all and also their English is not that good. Last but not least. Strangely enough we seem to fit each other perfectly. I need a band I can work with. They need a singer/entertainer to give more flair to their music.
RR: So who is actually your “official” backing up band?
RJ: I used to work with the Phantoms. The last one and a half year I also performed with the Neva River Rockets, because the Phantoms were busy with their own program. Now I'm more open to work also with other bands. The result is that I'm now making a tour next year in August/September with Karling Abbeygate and Neva River Rockets as back up for the first two weeks of the tour, after this The Tri-Tones from Estonia will join up for the last two weeks..
RR: How about, in the near future, to find backing up band from Iran or Iraq, for example? There should be a lot fire in them…
RJ: Never say never. I think culturally Russians are not so far from western people. They live their lives pretty the same as we do. With people from Arabic country’s it is going to be a little more difficult to set up such a program. I don’t see myself doing the bop in Marrakech!
RR: Can you rely on Russians... with their known qualities like being un-punctual, drunk and unexpectible not the best for having business with?
RJ: Through the last few years I worked with different bands as The Phantoms and The Neva River Rockets. I know them as hard working, honest and reliable. But you have always to expect things worked out differently as you agreed. But if you are prepared to this it is possible to work with them. Over all I can say that Russians are good reliable friends.
And I believe every country has its own drinking behaviour. The bands I work with they are not drunk on stage. I can’t say this about some colleague’s from Sweden or Wales. For me it is very important to be sober on stage. If you respect your audience you give them your best shot.
RR: How is, by the way, the rock’n’roll scene in Russia? There are some rumours that after your shows in Saint-Petersburg people went on dancing for weeks and girls were making visas to move to Holland, make groupies and follow you all over the World. Is it true?
RJ: The scene in Russia is small, but very devoted. There are a lot of good bands playing around and the scene is growing every year. Russians like to dance and that’s why I like to play in Russia. If I play there, then for them something different is happening and they come to see me. I like to make jokes and try to fool around a bit with the audience and especially girls. Through the years I like to join the scene in their party’s also when I don’t have to play.
In my dreams I have a lot of fans and girls travelling all over the world to see me. Too bad for me it isn’t true. But in Russia I always have more girls’ attention than in Holland or other European country’s.
RR: You are playing only couple times a year as RJ. So let’s say, almost no practise. Does it show you being very professional so you don’t need any rehearsals?
RJ: As a musician I always want the best out of myself and the band in total. If I could I practice more with the band. But this is also exactly why I want to work with Russian bands. In Holland I don’t have time to practice a lot with a rockabilly band. Also Dutch musicians have a bigger ego than their Russian colleague’s. To perform with Dutch is much more work. I give my songs to my Russian friends, they study and when we meet we practice the songs basically. My experience shows that Russian rockabilly bands are better in working together than most of the Dutch bands.
RR: Why have I never seen RJ playing at big festivals? Too huge competition, huh?
RJ: If I have one frustration then it would be that I like to perform on a bigger festival. As a rockabilly artist I want to perform on the highest level. So I have to say there are so many good rockabilly bands that it isn’t so strange that I’m not playing on this kind of festivals. Also I know if you have the right connections it is easier to play and some bands/people you see every year on the same festivals and of course they are good in what they are doing but being friends helps them a little further down the road.
And if to talk about competition, in my opinion, with my project, I don’t have any. Nobody thinks that in Russia there are good rockabilly bands, so nobody works with them. That’s why, what I am doing is so different and special among those thousands rock’n’roll bands.
RR: How came to you the decision to make you own RJ project? Isn’t it too late for a new start? I mean you are not 20 any more…
RJ: I don’t see it as a new start but as a continuation of what I always did. Maybe for a lot of people the R.J project is new but my opinion of rockabilly or what I believe in isn’t.
RR: What is the aim of that project? Honestly.
RJ: My aim is to reach as high as possible level of making music and finish my career in a few years as a rockabilly musician on a nice big festival.
RR: What are your plans so far?
RJ: My only plan is to take as much as possible benefit out of it. And I don’t mean money. But pleasure, experience, new friends and travelling. As you said I’m not twenty anymore so I give myself some years to accomplish my goals and than it’s up to a younger generation of rockabilly musicians. I don’t see myself as an old man on stage playing rockabilly music.
RR: Well, thanks so much for the interview and good luck in the future.