Heroes & Villains: Thijs Van Leer


Who are your heroes?

There are many, the biggest being Johann Sebastian Bach. My favourite composer of the modern era is Béla Bartók. And for jazz it’s Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Weather Report. [Mime artist] Marcel Marceau is another big favourite of mine. A lot of my heroes were writers, for instance Sartre and Kierkegaard. When I first started to take my reading seriously those were the existentialists that made a very big impression on me.

Going back to Bach, how did you get into classical music? For younger people it’s quite unfashionable.

It’s not for everybody. My father was an excellent flute player. Every night when he came home from work he would take out the flute and play Bach. So I took up the instrument when I was eleven.

How did you end up incorporating the flute into rock music?

My big inspiration with non-classical flute playing was [late American flautist] Rashaan Roland Kirk. The flute became an instrument that could be played alongside louder ones like guitar, bass and drums.

Something that not my people know is that the roots of Focus are also into R&B. We do have a classical background, that’s completely true, but we also owe a debt to Earth Wind And Fire, The O’Jays and Kool And The Gang.

You once credited God with the idea of yodelling on your hit single Hocus Pocus, so he must count as big influence?

I really believe so. Hocus Pocus was born during a jam session. I had never yodelled until that day, so maybe He really was looking down from Heaven.