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Co and Steve

Steve with Co de Kloet


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An Interview with Co de Kloet

Most people know you as the man behind The Aching Hunger, as the ’creative catalyst’, but your history with Steve goes way further back than that, and it’s also related to Frank Zappa. Could you introduce yourself a little bit to us?

Ok, I’m Co de Kloet, I’m a producer with NPS Radio in The Netherlands, I’m a music producer. Besides my work as a producer, I also write and record music and I’ve been working with NPS now for 12 years and before that I was a freelancer, record producer, arranger, performer. I play saxophone. And various jobs in the music industry. And now my days are filled with projects for NPS. And I’m 46.

So you are musically educated?

Yes, conservatory for flute and saxophone.

Do you still perform a lot?

I don’t perform, but I do record, with my Friend Menno Kalmann and we still write and record a lot of music, but that’s totally separate from my radio work.

What was your connection with Frank Zappa and how did that come about?

Part of that is secret, but the bottom line is that I was introduced to Frank when I was 14 and even though he always claimed that he didn’t have any friends, he always was very kind to me and even before I worked for radio, I’d see him every year at least 3 or 4 times and he started inviting me to his house. When I started to work for radio, he supported me, and I tried to play his music on the radio as often as I could. And I’ve been doing that for the past 28 years. Still doing it, even this week. So we became sort of friends, to the extend that you can be friends with Frank Zappa, but he was always kind to me and supporting me, and I tried to support his music as much as I could. Also because it was for me a privilege being in the music industry to be aquatinted, rather than being friends with one of the geniuses of our time, because he’s probably one of the greatest musicians that I ever shook hands with. And a very kind man, very kind.

There are still a lot of interviews from you with him online...

Yes, on there are 35 little snippets of interviews I did with him on tape. Not everything I did with him was recorded, but a lot of it was. And there’s still some new stuff that could come out that I have in my archive, but for now I play his music as often as I can, but for other stuff I now focus on different artists.

So I assume that you met Steve through Frank?

Yes, in 1982. We have a mutual friend called Susan Rubio, who was Frank’s secretary, so we were in touch through Susan. And we were in touch through a lady named Laurel Fishman, who I knew. So with Menno, who I mentioned earlier, we had a little production company, a little studio, and we tried to make some money by importing interesting music. Because of course the example of Zappa and Vai, having a cottage industry was important to us, so we decided to have our little cottage industry and because we didn’t have enough product of our own, we started importing Zappa stuff.
Then Vai sent me a letter, that he had guitar lessons, an album, pictures and T-shirts. And that I could import them exclusively for the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg). And since he was little and I was little, it was nice to have an exclusivity contract for a semi-large area of Europe to be the exclusive sales point for Steve Vai material. Well, of course Luxembourg was a no-go, I didn’t know anybody in Belgium, so we focused on the Dutch market. But in those days, we were the first to seriously sell the album Flex-able. So we knew each others name, but we lost contact and we never had contact again until 1997 in Ahoy, Rotterdam where Steve did G3 and that was the first time we actually met in person.

That’s when you did the Supplement Radio special?

Yes. "The Missing Link Between Contemporary Music and the Rock & Roll Guitar Solo." That was the first special I did with him. I flew to Sacramento to tape that. I think it was presented by Henk Westbroek. I did all the interviews. So then we connected again, in 97.

You’re obviously a big supporter of his career in various forms. Besides the obvious, playing his music on the radio and the projects you do with him, what other forms of support are there?

Most of the support comes from the things I’m able to do within the frame of my work. But I’d like to say why it’s a little bit different. You see, I know a lot of people through my work. And some of them I know really well, because they have become friends. Mike Keneally is a very good friend of mine. Also his manager, Scott Chatfield is a very good friend of mine. Bryan Beller is a friend. Tom Trapp, Chris Opperman, they’re all friends.

But without saying anything negative or diminishing about those friendships, the thing I have with Steve is different, because we both have the feeling we go back a long way. And it’s something that he and I can’t really describe. And I don’t say it’s important, I don’t say it’s important to Steve, I don’t want to imply that, but the thing that’s obvious to me is that there is, among other things, artistic grounds that I can only cover with him. And I feel that’s mutual. There are certain things that he can do with me. Like I said, there’s no value that I give to it, but I think it’s there. And that’s very rare in my career. As a matter of fact, I never had it with this depth. Even with Keneally, I was the first person to play Keneally’s music on the air in Europe, and my bond with Mike is extreme, but still it’s different to what I have with Steve. And one is not better than the other, but it’s different, definitely.

So what does Steve and his music mean to you in general?

It’s very challenging, because he’s a perfectionist, I try to be in my own way, and the challenge is what I just described - there is something happening. I’m a little bit of a control freak, so I like to describe things and know where they are and where they will take me, and with this I just don’t know. It might be over in a week, it might last for another 30 years. So you never know, but it’s challenging. He’s a challenging personality. He’s a nice guy, he has a gorgeous, beautiful, lovely wife and a gorgeous lovely beautiful manager, so... And we’re both vegetarians, so that helps!

How did you came up with the idea for "The Aching Hunger"?

That’s very simple. After I did the supplement special with Steve, the 4 hour show, we stayed in touch. So when he toured with his own band, which was with Mike Keneally and Philip Bynoe, he was going to play in Nijmegen. So I said to him, how about us, 4fm, recording the show? The deal was that I would record the show, he would mix it, I would have the rights to broadcast it a couple of times and he would get the multitracks and the rights to it. Some people may not know that one of my recordings, as I call them, made it on the double album Alive In An Ultra world, the song “Devils Food.” That’s from that session.

But I also would mix a radio version by myself and I would present it to him. So he was on the road and then few week later he was in Dusseldorf, Germany. So I went up to him and we were sitting in the tour bus and we were just talking. I interviewed him for radio and we already felt that we had a nice thing going. He said something in the interview so when the recording was done, I asked him "Do you have any dreams, artistically speaking?" and he said that he wanted to write a musical.

So I asked, “if you want to write a musical, you might also want to work with an orchestra?” And he looked at me and said “of course, but that’s impossible.” So I said, ”well, wouldn’t it be nice to work with a unique orchestra?” And he said “yeah sure, but what’s the deal? I’m a rock & roll guitar player.” I asked him: “How long will it take you to write a musical for an orchestra?” and he says “what do you mean?” I said “well, I can commission you. Why don’t I give you an orchestra, two weeks of rehearsal?” And we made the plan and he immediately went crazy, he went all over the place. So we developed a working scheme and a financial scheme for a musical, which was going to be called The Throwdown Church.

And then some other stuff happened in his career and we kept talking and later he said he wanted to change it, he wanted to go in a different direction. And that’s when we really started to communicate, artistically. And we came up with a new idea which was called The Aching Hunger and, I suggested to him that it would be a completly instrumental show and he suggested that it would be a completely instrumental show with him only playing half of it. And we agreed on that.

And then the work came, I had to go find funding, venue. Of course I had the orchestra, because I knew he had to work with the Metropole Orchestra, so I had a talk with the conductor. So then my ’Creative Catalyst’ function started. And in the meantime, I did the project with Mike Keneally and the Metropole Orchestra, and so everything fell into place. And then it became more hectic. He brought in Chris Opperman, Bryan Beller and Tom Trapp.

And then he really scared me, because just before he had to come down here for his first rehearsals he called me he says “I’m finishing this album”, which I thought was going to be Real Illusions. He said he wanted me to supervise the rehearsals the first week, because he wouldn’t be there. And I was horrified. How can we possibly do this without Steve? But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we could then prepare the orchestra for him, so when he came they already knew their parts quite a bit. Because he was a bit nervous when he first stepped in, everybody was nervous. We all knew this was going to be something special.

So the tour bus in Germany was where the idea was born. It was the result of a conversation we had in there. It was then when he decided to be a composer for an orchestra. Even though he already had written for orchestra, but this was that he would go out in public to be a composer of that stuff, rather than being a guitar hero.

It seems to me that this project is a major turning point in his career, because it’s obvious that he decided for himself to go out and do something diffrent.

Well, he has never been ‘normal’, but I agree with you. I don’t want to speak on his behalf, but as far as I’m concerned, I feel privileged. You know, music history is always something from the books. But it’s really nice to be witnessing some music history being made, because the fact that the famous artist he is, decides to take a chance and go out and be a composer. It gives him a lot of work, and he should do that work. He has created a new episode that only he can fill. If he doesn’t do it, for good reasons maybe, then that’s a shame. But it could be very interesting.

And of course it’s a nice paradox to see an established artist in a discipline that presents him as a newcomer. He’s a new kid on the block in composer land. A promising newcomer.

Let’s talk about the NPS for a little bit, because the organization you work for, the NPS, is in grave danger due to government plans. Downstairs, in the foyer of the building I saw a big banner hanging with “NPS = Nederlands Politiek Speeltje”, which translates to "Dutch Government Playtoy". First of all, what’s your take on the current situation and what do you think lies behind this idea?

I think it’s the result of a political deal that has nothing to do with culture or music. I think it’s a political deal and the lady that had to present the plan, because she’s the secretary of state, wasn’t even allowed to be present when the deal was made. But I have to say to you, I’m not a politician. I’m very glad that within the NPS I have two bosses, and one of them is now head of a steering group that is going to coordinate the lobby against this ridiculous decision. He’s a very good strategist. So I put my hope, and I put my money on him and the rest of the team of directors that we have that have to deal with this.

And of ourse I will do whatever I can from my standpoint to change this, because I think it’s very important that especially today with all the religious and political tension and tastelessness being very popular. I mean, we’re both Dutch, we know that there’s a lot of bad taste going on. And I don’t mind that it’s there, I think bad taste should be available to those who like to consume that stuff, but I think it should never mean that the cultural interesting and adventurous stuff should disappear. And it’s people like Terry Bozzio, Steve Vai, Mike Keneally, Brian Eno and George Duke tell me: “Make sure that you keep this, because where we come from, it’s already non-existent.” And the threat is that when it disappears, it will never come back. Because it’s a culture and historic heritage that you have as a cultural part of the world.

I don’t think that the politicians we have today, especially the Christians, respect that. And mind you, I’m an old Frank Zappa freak - so Christian politics is very unpredictable to me. I respect every religion, I really do. But I think it should be regarded as a hobby and not something that you try to implant in normal life. I think politics should be done by people who try to be fair to everybody, especially the poor and sick. I think it’s pretty cool to say that your shop is closed on Sunday because you want some recreational time, but I think it’s pretty poor that you close your shop on Sunday because it’s in a book.

The decision isn’t definitive at this moment, so there’s still hope, right?


If the worst case scenario happens and the NPS will go away, what will become of Co de Kloet?

Well, I’m an optimist. I believe there’s always something to do. I’ll probably be Steve Vai’s driver, because I’m a very good driver and very good vegetarian cook.
And I’d probably get a better salary from him than that I get from the NPS

Nobody can ever accuse you of having a lack of vision. Given al the drastic plans, what is your vision for the future?

One of the great things we could learn from Frank Zappa is that it’s ok to be a failure and it’s not ok to be a miserable failure. So as long as you take your chances and you try to do stuff that is adventurous and you do it with your own form of integrity then I think you can always find something new.
And there’s always new stuff and new idea’s. Every time I sit down with a person, there’s a new idea. Every time I sit down with Steve, there are 5 new plans. And you know that only a very small percentage can be made for real because of the logistics, money, other people involved and stuff like that. But there are always new ideas.

Sometimes people laugh at me. Especially with Steve. We have these long car rides, and he’d just laugh at me when I say "Steve I have an idea" he just goes "Oh yeah really?" And he has all these ideas too, so we exchange ideas. And I get paid to do this, but I don’t do it for the money. It’s just challenging to see how far you can go. And with the Metropole Orchestra being what it is, I think there’s a lot of new ground to cover and that’s a fun job.

Working for radio and especially for me, working for public music radio where you can do stuff like this, that’s probably one of the nicest things I can think of. I think it’s nicer than being in a tourbus with six smelly musicians for four months. I have my own office here, so what if I’m not rich and famous.

I don’t know about your richness, but famous, you never know. In certain realms by doing these things, you are building a name for yourself. Maybe not as a goal, but it’s a side effect.

Yeah. Well it’s nice that people know you and say “hey man, are you Co?” or “Thank you, I was at the concert, it was nice”, it’s very flattering and it’s very nice. But of course I’m a little bit modest because it’s not my music. But it is my idea. Modesty sometimes is like a lie. When you’re modest at the wrong moment, it’s like a lie. Of course I’m proud of what I do and I’m proud that people like it. You where there when we did The Aching Hunger Phase II, with two sold out nights, 1200 people all having the same good vibe.

In a world where people are entering a bus to blow themselves up, it’s pretty deep to have such a positive vibe with so many different people. People of all ages, colors, religion, whatever. And the total effort of that is what makes it very very nice. And I would be fool to say that I don’t like the fact that Steve gives me credit on his new album. Of course, I’m proud of that! It doesn’t pay my bills, but it’s recognition. And if you work in media, you’re addressing yourself to people. So you’re not modest in the first place. You take the chance of talking to people and confront them with your ideas, what you think is nice. And that’s not a modest thing to do.

Besides the NPS and The Aching Hunger, Favored Nations joined forces with the NPS Output label. Can you tell a bit about that?

Well, it’s not that they joined forces. The NPS Output label didn’t exist. I was having a conversation with Steve and I said to him that we have this wonderful stuff coming up, and there is for me a possibility to release it through labels in Holland. But how would it be if Favored Nations (because that’s definitely a label with a vision) would join with NPS Radio & Television? And together we would have a baby, called "NPS Output".

So it was not an existing label. And Steve jumped to the idea and liked it. I said it would be easy to start with someone extremely famous, but why don’t we take the chance and start off with the Metropole Orchestra and Mike Keneally? And we had great reviews, the artwork is fantastic, the album is fantastic because Mike is an unbelievably talented musician and composer and a very nice guy.

So we did that, and now we have a second one coming out, which is also with the Metropole Orchestra, with Terry Bozzio, which will come out in September.

Steve and I are the last step in the artistic routing. My boss Willem van Beusekom and Steve are the executives, being the head of NPS and the head of Favored Nations. And I’m the Creative Catalyst, so I just fool around with stuff. It looks nice and we get great responses, good reviews. We hope we have very good sales also in the future. It’s really a joint effort.

The Mike Keneally record of course being The Universe Will Provide.

Yes, and Terry Bozzio’s record is called Chamber Works.

Can we expect The Aching Hunger as well?

Well, I don’t want to talk about that, because that has to do with Steve’s business. And I never talk about Steve’s business. But I wouldn’t mind!

Is the NPS Output label in danger as well?

Not necessarily. There might be a way. But that’s all very technical. There’s a lot of legal stuff involved, so that’s very technical, but if the legal status of the NPS changes, it will not mean that it will disappear completely. It’s more than just a legal setup. It’s not just a piece of paper. There’s people, programs, plans, future. Those will find a new place and I think that the label would find a new place too.

The Aching Hunger Phase II was a monumental success. You mentioned you can’t talk about Steve’s business, so I’m not sure if this one goes, but can we look forward to a Phase III?

Hmm. I don’t know if there will be an Aching Hunger Phase III, but I think there will be a follow up on the cooporation between Steve and I. And I think it will definitely involve an orchestra. Or large ensembles. But I think, and Steve can either confirm or deny it, but I think that Steve and I have a feeling that we are not at the end of something, but at the beginning, definitely. I won’t do it, but I could state you 25 new ideas that I have for my cooperation with Vai alone. It involves video, film, orchestra, studio work. So there are a lot of ideas. But like I said earlier in our conversation, only a very small percentage of ideas can be turned into reality, but there are a lot of ideas. And these are only mine, Steve probably has a lot of ideas too!

But for now there’s just a lot of work to do. Because we have to mix Phase II. We have to prepare it for television and radio, so there’s a lot of work now. So I think if there’s going to be a next presentation, it will not be in 2006.

I noticed on the NPS site that the television broadcast is planned for somewhere in December.


And of course there are the webcasts, with one more to go this coming Thursday (August 25, 2005). Without spoiling any surprises, can you tell us a bit what that one is going to be about?

Oh, that’s easy. There’s very important competition, called "Prix Italia". My program won it once. And we ended high in the ranks a couple of times. So I was asked by the Dutch assembly of broadcasters to make a presentation for the category Radio/Music. Since I had a lot of work in the Aching Hunger Phase I, I decided to make a little radiophonic presentation that deals with the paradox between Steve Vai, the famous guitar player and Steve Vai, the new composer. So I took the recordings of the world premiere, and I took some studio recordings from Vai and I took an interview that I made and then I made a 40 minute presentation. So it’s mainly music, but you can hear him talk about his new identity and you can hear the music as an illustration. Or vice versa, you can hear the music and it’s illustrated by his comments, so its 50/50 importance of the music and the spoken word and it’s just a nice program to listen to, I think. I like it.

Well, we’ll of course enjoy the webcast and have our usual listening party over at


Besides with Steve, you’ve done a lot of other programs with (somewhat) related artists, such as Bryan Beller, Mike Keneally, Tom Trapp. Any more of those to look forward to?

There’s going to be a next phase in the cooperation with Tom Trapp. In December there will be a next step with Mike Keneally. And I think that we will probably do a phase II with Terry Bozzio. Maybe there will be some with some Vai related people, that I cannot mention yet because it’s still just an idea. People who have a connection with Vai might be interesting to work with.

Sometimes I’ve been accused of presenting only ex-Zappa members. But I think it would be fair to say that over 400 people have been a musician connected with Zappa. And the amount of people I wanted to work with personally is limited to a figure lower than 10. So that accusation is not exactly accurate. I can even name them. It’s George Duke, Terry Bozzio, Mike Keneally, Steve Vai, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Bruce Fowler.. I think that’s it.

They’re all great artist and musicians, so who cares if they are Zappa alumni.

That’s right. Go to a jazz festival and try to avoid people who played with Miles Davis. You have Duke Elington, Miles Davis, Frank Zappa and Charles Mingus, these people were like breeding nests for talent. They could pick talent. They would develop talent, so that’s why there’s so many of them. If you go to the North Sea Jazz Festival, there will be people who have either played with Miles David or Frank Zappa.

I think we’re almost done. Is there anything you’d like to address?

I think it would be really interesting to have a Mike Keneally solo piano version of the complete Aching Hunger.

Oh yeah! He’s certainly one that could pull it off!

I can’t tell you how many times I played the piano album on my radio show. If I did not play it, one of my colleagues would come to me and ask me if I was ok because I forgot to play the album this week. That’s how much I played that record.

I don’t have any closing statement because it’s all still in progress. It’s work in progress and that’s the name of the Prix Italia show, The Aching Hunger, A Work In Progress and that’s what my feeling about it is, there’s a lot of work to do.

Co, thanks so much for this interview!

I want to thank you and Mikey for supporting us the way you do because in a world like we are in, I think it’s very good to team up with people who working in a positive field.

You’re very welcome!

Interview by Jeroen Noordhuis, 23 Augustus 2005


Related links:
NPS Output
NPS Output site at Favored Nations

Supplement Radio special, "The missing link between contemporary music and the Rock & Roll guitar Solo". The interview that Co de Kloet did with Steve is still available online, right here.

Interview snippets with Frank Zappa, by Co de Kloet are here.

Please also visit the Nps action site. NPS petition
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