After a mammoth arena tour of the US with hip-hop duo Twenty One Pilots last summer, 2017 is all about coming homefor Chef’Special. The talented five-piece are excited to be back in their native Netherlands for the release of their eagerlyanticipated third album, Amigo. Recorded in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Haarlem, Amigo is a cocktail of musicalinfluences from reggae to rock, and highlights the band’s elevation to world-class status. They may be conquering theUS charts, but Chef’Special will never forget their roots, as we found out when we spoke to lead singer Joshua Noletabout life as the frontman of Haarlem’s hottest musical export.

Chef’Special’s sophomore album PassingThrough debuted at the top of the Dutchcharts in 2014, while hit single In YourArms reached triple platinum status, soit is fair to say expectations are high forthe upcoming Amigo. Recording was alengthy process, with work on the albumbeing tailored around the band’s hectictour schedule over the past couple ofyears. “The writing and recording process keptstopping and starting,” begins singer-songwriter Nolet, who makes up one fifthof the band alongside Guido Joseph (guitar), Wouter Heeren (keyboard), Jan Derks(bass) and drummer Wouter Prudon.Tracks featured on Amigo were writtenin various locations, from New York andLA, to Seattle, as well as the band’s hometown of Haarlem. “I think that was a good thing. It made thealbum what it is. You zoom out, you stopand do something else. You do a tour andthen you look at the songs with some dis-tance and fresh ears.” 

Upping their game
Working with new American producersand songwriters on their third album had an important impact on Chef’Special. Theband are already known for combining awealth of diverse musical influences, andopened their minds further still in the mak-ing of Amigo“It made us grow, especially me. Youbecome less over-protective about yourmusic. Over the years, you feel safe andcomfortable in your studio, but then whenyou are in a different studio with a differentproducer in a different place, you just haveto bring your own creativity and your ownidentity to wherever that place is and writeand make it happen,” he explains. “I learned how much richer you get whenyou just open up in a new spot instead ofbeing closed off. It also made me be morecritical of myself and ask more questions,like, ‘Okay, what do I actually really wantto say?’” It appears that the band has a lot to say,with the album being finished a couple oftimes before new songs would come tothem. “When all the pressure has gone, it’s like‘Ah we’re done!’ Then all of a sudden wewould write something new and be like; ‘This is cool. This deserves a home on thealbum’,” recalls Nolet.

Opening up
“The best example of that is the openingtrack, Because I love you. The album wasfinished, it was literally mixed and mas-tered. We were ready to go. Suddenly Iwas by myself at night writing the lyricsto this song and it felt like I didn’t have tothink about it at all. It was very true. “It’s about how you can try hard to be agood person, try to share and spread asmuch love as you can – but you can makeit so hard for yourself, or we as societymake it hard for ourselves to truly openup to love.” On the track, Nolet references the band’shuge hit In Your Arms, which was writtenabout the loss of his own father in 2012.The musician’s talent for penning hisemotions has played a large role in Chef’Special’s success, a factor that he some-times struggles with. “I feel guilty every now and then – like wemake money out of that song and my fa-ther died for it. But that doesn’t make anysense. In the end, it comes from the heart and that’s what matters. He’s up thereand proud,” he smiles. In fact, it is when performing his own songsthat Nolet feels the most comfortable onstage. “That way I know it’s real, there’s nodoubt about it. I’m behind it and I can backit up. When a song comes from a very trueplace, it always feels like home.”
A lifelong passion
Nolet began singing at a young age, al-though his early performances were inpacked-out cathedrals rather than arenas.“My parents put me in choir school ataround the age of six or seven,” he recalls.“I was an alto. I really discovered my lovefor singing and music there. Then when Igot to like 11 or 12, I had to be cool andgo into a different direction – but that’swhere it all started.” The community ele-ment of the choir particularly appealed toNolet, and he has been surrounding him-self with musicians ever since. “I alwaysloved singing together, I think it’s a verypowerful human connection. I surroundmyself with people who inspire me to bebetter.” Would he ever consider a solo career? Itseems unlikely. “It’s Chef’Special domi-nating my world,” he grins. It should notbe long before Chef’Special are domi-nating the world too. The band have al-ready cracked the US charts, a notori-ously competitive market. For Nolet andhis bandmates, supporting the ubiquitousGrammy award winners Twenty One Pi-lots was a career-defining moment. “The first show we did on that tour wasCincinnati. The fans would come early,they were in front of the door for literal-ly three days. When the doors opened,they would all storm in. When we playedat eight o’clock it would be full house -20,000 people. We’d be like: ‘Okay, we’regonna do this now, and they just wentwith it. They started partying and we werelooking at each other like: ‘Are we dream-ing? This is real. Let’s enjoy this!’ And wedid! It was insane every night.” 

The new rock and roll

The shows themselves may have beenwild, but the debauchery typically associated with rock and roll is all a bit passé in theeyes of Chef’Special. In fact, you would bemuch more likely to catch Nolet meditatingthan stumbling out of a nightclub. “This last year I’ve been discovering med-itation. It keeps you sane. It’s awesomefor eliminating all the noise and beingwith yourself in silence. You discover whyyou’re doing what you’re doing,” he ex-plains. “I work out, meditate, eat healthily.It really helps in keeping you alert and fo-cused. It’s the new rock and roll!” That is not to say the boys, who began theircareer by touring Europe in a van, have notenjoyed their fair share of partying. “Welearned the hard way,” laughs Nolet. “On the first tour, you act like differentrules apply because you’re away fromhome and away from your loved ones andyour routine. Then you can lead this wholedifferent life. But very quickly you realisethat this is not something out of the ordi-nary, this is your life and you shouldn’t for-get what was important before. You needto uphold those values.” With such a wise approach to stardom,it is clear Chef’Special are in this for thelong haul, something that their fans onboth sides of the pond will be thrilled tohear. “I think we had the privilege to learnfrom all these rock stars who went beforeus. We’ve seen all the documentaries andit’s real: it can mess you up very quickly,”concludes Nolet. “That’s not the idea. Weall want this for a long time.”
TEXT: ANNA VILLELEGER

PHOTO: RONA LANE