Alex Roeka, singer of life, love and death (interview, part 1 of 3).


A beautiful Friday afternoon in Amsterdam, in December 2023. Space and time for a conversation with the best singer-songwriter in the Netherlands. Alex Roeka may not be convinced of this himself, but his albums speak volumes. And now, to celebrate more than ten years as an artist on the Excelsior label, a collector, Nachtcafé, is released, a beautiful release on vinyl. For the first time Alex on vinyl. The accompanying tour starts immediately after his current tour for New Dreams. There is not really a break between the two tours. With the enthusiasm that Alex knows how to put into his music, it was time to start talking together about Nachtcafé, about music, about life, love and about cycling, the passion that has kept Alex busy from an early age. This is part 1 of a three-part interview. The second and third parts will be released on February 10 and 17.

WiM: Nice to talk to you. And especially during a busy period. You are still touring with Nieuwe Dromen and now a collector is coming with a tour immediately linked to it. How does that work for you? Didn’t you want a break in between? Actually no, no, no break. The compilation was intended for release in January, to coincide with the start of the tour. But precisely because the holidays were around the corner, Excelsior indicated that they wanted to release the album earlier. So that’s why I think it’s actually a bit early. Now things are getting mixed up. After the performances of Nieuwe Dromen, I generally sell that album as well. And if this collector also comes along, that’s a bit much. I do have it with me and if someone really insists, that will eventually be possible, but I actually only want to sell it from the new tour.

There is so little time between the two tours, on the one hand due to the aftermath of Corona, and on the other hand due to winning the Poelifinario prize. That meant that my agency was able to extend the tour of Nieuwe Dromen. We are in the middle of that now. Normally that wouldn’t have happened, then we would have had a little more time. Precisely because the new dates were already planned, the time between the two tours became shorter. You cannot avoid that. I don’t mind that too much.

WiM: How do you look at that yourself? Well look, I’ve been working on those songs for a long time, including the new program, precisely to write the connecting lyrics between the songs. So that doesn’t really matter to me. I do have it in my head. We’ll start with a few tryouts and then we’ll see how it goes. We’re going to rehearse some more and then we can start. I have good musicians and with a few rehearsals that will work.


WiM: If you look at the choice you made for the composition of the album, there is a lot of Zachtelijk Vergooid, your first album with Excelsior. How did you look at the distribution of the numbers? I mainly looked at the songs that I liked. I listened to those records and if I liked a song, I chose that. There were only 23 allowed due to the playing time of vinyl, 25 minutes per side. I had to limit myself. I still think they are all good songs that I relate to and that I could also make a program with.

WiM: Did you already have the program in mind? No, I first put together the album and then thought about how I wanted to make the program, thought about which songs could best form a program together.

WiM: You have written some very beautiful songs about cycling. These will not be returned to the collector. How did that work for you? Yes, yes, did you write that? In retrospect, I might have wanted to add I Am A Renner (from the aforementioned Zachtkelijk Vergooid). In retrospect, maybe. That’s quite a good song. I have something to say about that. I think I subconsciously felt that it didn’t fit the setting, with Night Café as the title. Then that number would be atypical. The songs have a completely different character. Unrest, longing. I think it was there for me. But when you wrote that I thought, “Maybe it should have been included, it’s part of me after all.”

WiM: Cycling is more than a fascination. I think it’s also a bit of a philosophical song. I do know that I once said to Bert Wagendorp – he thinks De Rode Vod is the best cycling song ever written – that I really like this one better. But hey, if you make choices, you can always look back on them differently afterwards. Or regret it. All in all, I think this collection contains some really nice songs.

WiM: Would you like to collect your cycling numbers? Also The Wall Of Geraardsbergen and Maar Ik Feel are indeed very beautiful. The latter is indeed not on an album. I also wrote The Unknown Rider. Maybe I should actually collect those songs again and then release them. Frans Hagenaars from Excelsior is also a cycling enthusiast, so he will probably think that is a good idea. We’ve already recorded some of them. So releasing it together could be a nice choice. Good of you to say so. I’ll think about it.

WiM: Was cycling also a challenge to the Catholic Church for you? It wasn’t done for a while. In certain circles, yes. It was a Catholic sport par excellence, especially in the south, but primarily a sport for the working class. If you were of higher descent, you didn’t cycle, you played hockey. I still remember that Gerben Karstens, the son of a notary from Leiden, was actually the first cyclist from a different social class. It’s very crazy. My father liked cycling, but I don’t think he ever encouraged me to take up cycling. He didn’t play sports himself, but we did go to the track competitions in the Olympic Stadium.

There has been a huge change in cycling. I came to Nijmegen in 1963 to study. As a child I had always been very fascinated by cycling and because I didn’t feel very comfortable in Nijmegen, I cheered up when at one point I saw a Motobécane racing bike in a shop. I told my father that and he lent me the money for that bicycle. I was the first student in Nijmegen and perhaps in the Netherlands to take up cycling.

Later, Tim Krabbé came out with his book, De Renner, and if you look at it now, almost every cyclist has been a student. This is certainly the case to a large extent in Belgium.

WiM: What has cycling brought you in your life? A lot and that is still the case, yes. I have crashed a few times on my bike. But it did bring me something, yes, health. I’m quite old but I’m very fit. As long as it lasts. This is partly due to cycling. I do that at least a few times a week. Not right now, because I go to the gym more often now. If I do have 1.5 hours, I can add more variety to my exercise in a gym. Arms, legs, abs. Cycling is a fairly one-sided movement, isn’t it? And in the gym there I do everything. I’m doing well and I feel better after the gym than after cycling. But what are we talking about? Well, of course you cycle too.

WiM: If you look at your collaboration with Reyer and with Jeroen, how would you characterize it? Yes, we’ve been playing together for a long time. It fits like a glove. When we play together, I don’t have to think or anything. It’s a warm bath. I love it: they are very dedicated and involved. And they are musically adventurous. Also from show to show. It’s simply fun playing with them. I have been playing with Reyer since Voort! and Jeroen also joined Excelsior quite early.

WiM: When you look at your life, how do you see yourself? Do you see yourself more as a poet, writer, singer, musician? I see myself as a combination of all that. Not necessarily one more than the other.

WiM: You have also sometimes indicated that there are books by you that have never been published, how do you view that now? No, I don’t dare look at that, to be honest. They’re all in boxes. I think it’s better to throw them away.

WiM: You are critical of yourself. How did that happen? Well, somehow I don’t think highly of myself, yes. That is also doubly natural. Sometimes we do, when we have done a good performance and it was crazy and the audience is enthusiastic. Or when winning a prize. I’ve had quite a few by now, just not the Nobel Prize yet (laughs). But it will still come. Two Edisons, so I really shouldn’t complain. My sense of self is not like a Mick Jagger or something, you know, with a very strong ego with a very strong self-image. I always remain a little doubtful.3b77971045.jpg1706974758_208_Alex-Roeka-singer-of-life

WiM: At the same time, your music and your lyrics are widely appreciated. I only have a relatively small group of fans and I mainly continue to play in small venues. Of course, the nice thing about small venues is that we always play with a certain intimacy. That’s nice. Once, due to circumstances – a glowing review by Jacques D’Ancona – we ended up in the main hall of De Oosterpoort. That’s a whopper of a room, isn’t it? We were actually in the small room, but because of that review it was too small. An American singer who was programmed in the main hall then exchanged views with us. So she was there with a very large bus and her entire crew and I just had my car. I thought that was funny.

You can read part 2 of this interview with Alex Roeka here from February 9.

Want to know where you can see Alex Roeka live? You can find the playlist here.

Podium photo Alex: Theo Audenaerd

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Alex Roeka singer life love death interview part


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