Sultry London NITES
In anticipation of new band on the Euro block ‘Warhaus’ and their second London gig on 22nd June at PIAS NITES (also playing is Happyness, J Churcher) being held in The Lexington in London town, we caught up with singer Maarten Devoldere (also in Begian indie pop and rock group Balthazar) about the gig and their excellent sultry, seductive and sexy forthcoming album ‘We Fucked A Flame Into Being’ (out in September).
Check out the excellent video for their great new single ‘The Good Lie’ too.
What was the catalyst for the birth of Warhaus and the origin of the name?
I started working on the project 5 years ago right after the release of the first Balthazar album. Back then I already wanted to make a record in the style of the classic songwriters of the 60s. Opposed to our more contemporary Balthazar album which was influenced by Gorillaz and LCD Soundsystem and such. Over the years Jinte and me put more of our love for the 60s in the later Balthazar albums as well, but I found out I could push myself further lyrically and conceptually in the Warhaus project because it was a solo project instead of a band. In Balthazar we learned to reduce our egos in function of the band. I mean this in a good way, you find out what your band is about and you work in service of the strength of that cooperation. In Warhaus I exaggerate my ego which sometimes can be a fun exercise.
Last summer I spend a couple of months on an old boat in Ghent where I wrote and recorded the actual framework for the album. It’s an old tugboat which has the name Warhaus painted on it. I liked the idea of it sounding like it could be an actual family name
You and Jinte (Deprez) are also in Balthazar, while Sylvie (Kreusch) is lead singer in Soldier’s Heart. What themes/emotions does Warhaus allow you to explore that the other bands could not offer that opportunity?
It’s more personal writing and you can think of an album as a personal concept from beginning to end. In a way it’s good that John Lennon started writing about this mother or Yoko Ono after the end of the Beatles. You can’t imagine Bob Dylan writing a break-up record like Blood On The Tracks with an writing companion. If we would title a Balthazar album “We Fucked A Flame Into Being” it gets a completely different meaning. Something homosexual Fleetwood Mac alike, haha.
Another difference is that you can work with whoever you like. I invited six different guitar players and sampled all of them minimalistic into my own atmosphere. Playing in a band has another vibe. You have the sound and attitude of one guitar player which is great as well but different.
What (if any) albums were you listening to in preparation for recording the album?
To be honest I don’t know that many music. If you know three records you really like to think hat’s enough to start a band. With four it already gets complicated for the creative spirit to cope with all that information. I also tend to love albums with lots of evergreen songs on it that are in the collective mind. It strikes me that most of my friends know way more off-center music than I do. That’s because at work, they listen eight hours a day to new music while I’m working eight hours a day on my own egocentric soundscape, haha.
Here are three albums I do know:
Lou Reed – Coney Island Baby
Roxette – Joyride
Sonny and Cher – The Best Of Sonny And Cher
You and Jinte have previously produced a couple of the Balthazar albums, did you also produce this album?
Yes. I felt too protective about my baby to put her into somebody else’s hands. Although I worked with a thousand musicians. It was fun to be able to invite musicians I never played with before and see what comes out of the cooperation. That was kind of new to me. Jasper Maekelberg coproduced an mixed the album and I’m very happy to have him in the live band. He’s an incredible talent.
There are hints and echoes of credible luminaires such as Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Robbie Robertson, Serge Gainsbourg, Mark Lanegan and even composer John Barry, Tricky or The Jesus And Mary Chain throughout the album and even mood elements such as David Lynch movies. What other influences (particularly European) where the backdrop/melting pot to Warhaus?
This kind of sounds corny, but I try to make grooves that I wanna see my girl dance to. I love the kind of psychedelica you get without using a tape delay or other production effects. The voodoo needs to come from the bones of the orchestration. African percussion helps to get that vibe. Dr John – Gris Gris is a great example. Or Venus In Furs by the Velvet Underground. But most of all I think all songs reflect on a feeling I shared some night with some person. I tried to recreate that feeling in a healthier way, only musical excess.
The album is called ‘We Fucked A Flame Into Being’ which is a quote from Lady Chatterley’s Lover and in reference to the themes of adult sensuality, lust and escaping wilfully into the moment. Did the direction, theme and blueprint for the album come before the formation of the band?
Yes. I read the book a couple of years ago and knew from the moment I read that sentence that someone should make an album that goes by that title. Back then ~ I thought I’d make a corny crooner album with lots of easy listening songs that pretend to be evergreens. That developed over the years in an other fashion. Mainly because I think I don’t have the maturity yet to make a good corny crooner album. It’s my ultimate goal though, I hope to get there one day.
Even though there is adult content and maturity, there is still a playfulness such as in the lead single ‘The Good Lie’ and mischievous swearing. How much is of the work is based on personal life experience as opposed to an alter egos/creative fiction?
It’s all based on personal experience. Of course you romanticize and exaggerate some experiences. But I can pinpoint every song to a certain thing that happened to me. I love the idea of using pop songs to romanticize little shameful moments right up into the stars. It has a healing effect and it’s a tool of power I use to stay on top of what life throws at you.
What is the background to ‘Against The Rich’ which seems to be a battle against conformity after success?
It’s not a battle, it’s a it’s a confession that I arrived at a certain point where all of a sudden I have a tailor and an accountant working for me. I mean fuck, we ask a single malt before the show because we think we deserve it, just to do what we love to do in front of an audience. It tastes a bit bitter but at the same time I’m at ease in that position. It’s saying sorry to the younger idealistic me.
There’s something hilarious about it all. You can write a song in an old fashioned poet-muse way about what the curves of some woman’s breast suggest and pour it into lyrics and melody. When the song is finished, you go play it all around the world an you expect people to pay you for it. Or you find yourself playing the song in a stupid sterile tv show. I guess the song reflects on that theme. It’s a weird balance but I’m not looking with disdain at it. The contrast between writing something romantic and then advertise it into something that pays the rent is quite funny. I learned not to take it too seriously and enjoy the ride.
How is playing the songs live, with the focus just on the three members rather than a larger group that you all are used to? There’s an emotional exposure and vulnerability in the smaller group.
It’s a lot of fun. We’ve been looking for a way to approach the big orchestral sound of the album in a very small setup. Although we don’t sound very contemporary, we’re very happy to use lots of technology to get there. Most musicians choose between a truthful live rock setup or a more electronic sample based sound. We’re looking for the crossover. With the use of laptops etc we try to sound organic and warm. We loop a lot of different instruments and vocals till we got some layers that you normally don’t hear in a band setup.
We decide the structure of the songs while playing. It’s cool to give cues to the other musicians to which part we’re going. There are a few songs on the album that are based around a the same hypnotic groove which are cool to improvise upon. The only rule is no guitar solos, that’s too obvious, or maybe because we just can’t play well enough for that kind of stuff.
We’re still in the middle of the process. We just added a drummer to the band, and each day we find new tricks to create sounds.
How much improvisation is allowed into the live set? There seems to be plenty of opportunity to bounce off each other like jazz musicians during the live performance, and at times a sweeping off into a glorious cacophony of sound, embracing or encouraging the audience to be seduced by the seemingly chaotic moment.
I’m writing lots of new verses to the existed songs. The idea is that I can break down a song and add a few verses on the spot whenever we feel like it. I only recently discovered how great it is to alter songs and arrangements to the crowd you have in front of you. It keeps things exciting and I believe the crowd can feel it when something happens exclusively for them. With Balthazar we play a 150 shows a year and I learned you better leave some space for improvisation and alteration or you’re gonna get bored very soon repeating the same trick night after night.
You played a short set in Oslo Hackney recently in London. You will be returning (with a longer set) in June. Given the time, are there any covers you would bring the Warhaus seduction to?
Not really. I don’t really like playing covers. Although I once played with a street musician I discovered on the subway in Brussels. He had a violin with a trumpet horn on it. He dragged a cart behind him with a sound system on it. He played violin solos on karaoke versions of smash hits such as ‘The Final Countdown’. I had a show that day and asked him to play the intro, an intermezzo and the outro of the show. In a weird way that worked really well to hear these instrumental kitschy classics before and after my humble songs so I might give him a call someday to ask if he wants to join me on tour.
It’s early days, but what would you like to see in Warhaus’ future? Any collaborations or people you would like to work with, or even film scores for particular directors?
See previous, haha.
I’m not that much into film scores because I’m not very good in writing in service of someone else’s story. One of my best friends, Wouter Bouvijn, who directed my first video for the Good Lie is writing his first movie and I already promised to write music for it. It would be great if someone asked to use a song I wrote because he thinks it fits the movie he made though.
There are lots of people out there whom I admire but I don’t know if I would want to work with one of them. I rather just listen to their records/watch their movies. I’m trying to create my own Warhaus world around me and I’ve got the feeling I still got lots of boarders to push. When I have the feeling I start to repeat myself I’ll probably cry out for some collaborations. So maybe one day…