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vrijdag 31 augustus 2018
PRAYING MANTIS: The Dutch/English connection

Interview with vocalist John ‘Jaycee’ Cuijpers by Vera in August 2018

Praying Mantis got a taste of success in the eighties; surely their debut album ‘Time Tells No Lies’ can be seen as a classic one. Since the release of the album ‘Legacy’ (2015), a fresh wind blew through the line-up of the Troy brothers. Two Dutch guys were recruited to invigorate the melodic hard rock of the English band. With one of them, vocalist John Cuijpers - Jaycee for the friends - we had an engrossing conversation now that their eleventh studio album ‘Gravity’ has hit the shops.

How did you ended up in Praying Mantis as Dutch guy?
The drummer is Dutch as well. Hans and me are playing together in bands for eighteen years. Together we play in an Iron Maiden tribute band called Harris. Now and then, we do gigs where Dennis Stratton is invited as guest, the former guitarist of Iron Maiden. Dennis Stratton has also played in Praying Mantis, many years. So we know Dennis pretty well. We got to play on a festival with Harris and Praying Mantis played right before us. The guys of Praying Mantis saw me and Hans performing with Harris. At that time things already did not run smooth with Mike, their former singer. Thus they decided: ‘We want that singer’. Because the drummer used to be the best friend of the singer, they were afraid that they would lose him as well when they fired the vocalist. Indeed, that was exactly what happened. Next they also asked Hans to join and of course he said yes. We have been playing together for so many years, so it was only natural. That’s how the story goes.

I found out that you sing in many tribute bands…
That’s true, at the moment I have ten bands. It demands a lot of planning. My actual job is logistics and planning, so it is not so weird for me. At evening I work as vocal coach and recently I started to work as postman. And I have three kids. Only my free time is dedicated to music. I have been working for 32 years at offices, sometimes it was hard to combine this with my passion for music. Well, now I have ten bands, but it would be amazing if I had only one band which is able to pay my bills. That is still my dream. Well, I don’t manage to get my bills paid with Praying Mantis only, thus nine other bands extra.

Were you a fan of Praying Mantis in the early days?
I did not know them. I was more a follower of bands like Saxon and Metallica. Then we had glam rock. Bands such as Whitesnake, Bon Jovi and of course Iron Maiden. In those days I had my weekly visit to the record shop, listening to music. One way or another they did not make me buy their albums early eighties.

You did the vocals on the previous album ‘Legacy’, your first cooperation with them. What was next? Did you play live often or not so much?
That was rather disappointing. The problem with Praying Mantis is that they do not have a management. We have tried to arrange some gigs from time to time, but it takes a lot of time and effort to do that. You can never replace a good management. In countries like Italy, Spain and certain parts of Germany we are quite popular. There we see a proper amount of people coming to the shows, but for instance in the Netherlands, that’s a bummer. It is not our fault, because I even went to Tyketto and Winger to ask some advise – I still know the guys from the early days - and they only have 200 to 300 people per gig as well. Another example: I have seen Whitesnake in huge venues with 15,000 fans. These days they play in venues of 2000 people. It is the sign of the time.

It seems that you were more involved in the writing process of the new album ‘Gravity’. Is that true?
Yes and no. They gave me more freedom in creating my vocal lines. That’s why you will hear things which are pretty different from the vocals on ‘Legacy’. When we were writing all together, we had some doubts because we were afraid that it would be too mellow compared to ‘Legacy’. We just did not write heavy songs this time. In the end we decided to go for it and just release the things we had written. We are already writing the next album too and I think that will be heavier again. But for this one we wanted to show our softer side. By the way, many hard rock bands scored a chart buster with their slower songs, so who knows. Maybe they will finally play Praying Mantis on the radio and that’s how we can draw some attention. That would be nice. We don’t give up!

These days the majority of the bands have negative or pessimistic or even violent lyrics. It was refreshing to hear that Praying Mantis is still singing about love and partying…
Why not? David Coverdale still sings about love as well. Blues – for years I have been singing in a blues band – it is all about love, the joy and the sadness it brings. The kind of music we make does not fit with negative lyrics. For me it is very important that everybody can find themselves in the lyrics. Usually my lyrics are very open for interpretation, so that people can find their own link with the words I am singing. When that happens, people will like the song more and more.

’The Last Summer’ was a song that instantly haunted me…
Those lyrics are written by Chris (Troy – bass – Vera) and he has told me what it is about. This is very important. I want to know the meaning of a song. Only then you can sing it with the right emotions. I always try to bring over the feeling of the lyrics. When you sing ‘the bitch must die’, that’s completely different from when you sing ‘I still love you’. Phil Lynott was very good in that, when Dio sang ‘evil’, he was evil. That’s how it should be.

By the way, the last song ‘Final Destination’ reminded me a bit of Dio…
(laughs) These are the true icons. We are all born and raised with them. It is logical that we are not sounding like Five Finger Death Punch for instance. We love melodic music, harmony vocals, great melodies, twin guitars… long ago it was standard, think of The Doobie Brothers… Not so many bands do that anymore. Five (backing) vocalists in the band.

What about the making of the video clip for ‘Keep It Alive’?
That was the first video clip I ever made. It was amazing to do, but it is hard work. From morning till evening you are waiting for the next action, but it was very interesting. By the way, tomorrow we will shoot another video clip. I will not tell you for which song, but tomorrow evening we will play acoustic live on the radio in ‘On The Rocks’ in Tilburg. Next is Oberhausen and Munich. It is sold out. In Germany we are always welcome and people are always so thankful and friendly. We really like to play there. There are really interested in music. Diehard metal fans.

What about the popularity in Japan, since they were ‘big in Japan’ in the past?
They are still famous in Japan. I have been there with Praying Mantis two times. In 2015 and in 2017 in July. It was incredible. I had never been in Japan before. Japanese people are crazy! I felt like being Jon Bon Jovi! People are waiting at the airport for the band. I have no clue how they know that we will arrive, but they are present. They are waiting at the hotel, you get presents. They are everywhere. When you come out of a restaurant, when you leave the record shop Tower Records,… they all want your autograph. One week later you are back in your village where nobody knows you. Very strange! I hope to go back to Japan next year.

Isn’t it difficult to find your habitat in such a settled band?
No. Not at all. Well, I am not so young either and I have been through a lot of things, that helps. You have to build up a friendship. You are on the road with those guys, so you get to know them better and better and that went perfect. You are in faraway countries, sometimes you have to share hotel rooms, you eat together, the whole day you are in a tour bus, and that is only fine when you can approach each other as friends. That is the most important thing in a band. I love music, but it is all about having fun. From the moment I do not have fun with it anymore, I will stop. Same goes for a normal job. From the moment you enter the working floor reluctantly, you better quit. Regarding this, you are responsible for your own happiness. Sometimes there are choices to be made. But for now, it is really a debonair band and an amazing adventure. I love it!

Geplaatst door Vera op vrijdag 31 augustus 2018 - 22:56:39
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