zondag 18 november 2018

Sieben: The European Union are kinder overlords than the ones we may well inherit, out on our own, pretending we are not part of the world.

Brexit causes huge debate. One of the people who do not get over it is Matt Howden from Sieben. It resulted in a great album: 'Crumbs', a collection of songs about the state of affairs in the world. An angry disc, for sure, diluted with a generous portion of humor. We did our best to calm him down…

‘Crumbs’, your latest CD, is without doubt the most politically motivated one you made. Up to now, you had an approach that was more purely artistic. What made you choose to make an overt political stance in your work?

With previous Sieben albums, I would head off to my studio, shut the door and leave the world behind. The aim was to create my own world, and a particular vibe that suited the theme of the music. With Crumbs, world events, the news and the bad smell of current world politics followed me into the studio. I couldn’t shake it. Nor the anger that I feel.

More artists seem to rediscover the power of engaged music. But there is certainly an opposite movement. Political movements preaching xenophobia, isolationism, conservatism, vulgarity, authoritarian leadership, warmongering and nationalism are on the rise. Trump in the USA, the Brexit in the UK… What do you think are the causes of this ‘populist’ movement?

The world is at a point of immense change. It has contracted and shrunk. Border walls are up. Populists thrive on division, division of people. Of attacking the intellectual, denigrating sanity and calm. It’s an easy and dangerous route to power and control. For instance, who would have thought we could be back to a Cold War scenario, with the click of a finger? Almost as if two nations had decided to ‘ramp up’ pressure in order to garner popular support for themselves at home, to push their own agendas, to profit massively from the chaos that ensues.

One aspect that critics of politically motivated songs point out, is that they are not ‘timeless’ music. I would reply that if you look at classic, ‘timeless’ albums, they are all very well connected to the time in which they were recorded. What would you comment on that?

A good song is a good song. But as you say, also connected to the time it was recorded, both in its sound, its production, and in lyrical content.


One must love a title as ‘I Will Ignore The Apocalypse’ with the sentence ‘A better nature will endure’. Or the Satire of ‘Here’s The News’. You make good use of humour on ‘Crumbs’. Do you try to take up the role of jester in order to spread your message?

Humour is really important to me. And its something that I’ve been unable to squeeze into previous Sieben work. On the whole. It didn’t fit with the style of works such as ‘Ogham Inside The Night’, or many of the earlier albums. ‘Sex & Wildflowers’ and ‘Desire Rites’ had some sneaky humour in them, I suppose. With ‘Crumbs’ I’m laughing and making a joke, otherwise I would scream and wail. It is ‘gallows’ humour.

‘Crumbs’ is of course an angry and ‘Dark Enough’ CD, but you seem to end it with a positive note. Songs as ‘Liberal Snowflake’, ‘Forge A Better World’ and ‘We Will Be Alright’ are very optimistic. In short, you believe we will be able to confront all the wrongs you mention on the CD. Where does your hope come from?

Crumbs can roughly be divided into three types of songs, all with a bit of tongue in cheek: Angry. So outraged that I can only take the piss. Positive. My hope is decent people speak up and act decently against a tide of fear-and-hate-mongering.
You are obviously angry about brexit, but I have the feeling that opponents of the brexit tend to idealize the European Union. The Union gives much power to the unelected European Commission and allows only restricted power to the Parliament. People have the feeling that they are ruled by technocrats who – at the end of the day – are closer to big business than to the people. What would you tell them?

I would agree, to some extent. I don’t see the European Parliament as by any means perfect. Big business is still allowed to run unchecked; contracts may well be secured by dubious means etc, as with all governments. But they are better than what we had, from either side, here in the UK. Better spreading of wealth to poorer areas, better environmental laws, better labour laws and so on, in many other ways. Second, that Europe’s combined voice has been and is more sensible and rational that current US, Russian, Korean, Arab voices, on the world stage of politics. Third, that leaving the Union is economic suicide in so many ways. Europe is our neighbour, our main point of trade (both ways), and the ‘union’ makes economic sense on so many levels. Overall, the world for sure needs to overhaul ‘big business’, the notions of ‘shareholders’ and ‘economic growth’. I would agree. And that 20 people owns half the world’s wealth (to quote myself) “is a sickness”. They are kinder overlords than the ones we may well inherit, out on our own, pretending we are not part of the world.


You have visited different countries in Europe, and they have influenced your music. I think about the Norse, Lietuva and Briton EP-series, later merged into the ‘The Old Magic’ CD, in particular. Coming from a background in the neofolk-scene – you have worked extensively with Sol Invictus and Tony Wakeford – in which the idea of a ‘European culture’ is very important, what would you say unites this diversity of countries? Is there an European culture?

There are many cultures, and many ways in a global world. We must recognise this. I think we perhaps have more in common with each other than we do with those further afield, but there is not A European culture. Nor should there be. We are beautifully disparate. But with a union we are stronger. And we are less likely to pick fights with each other, too.

Speaking about the EP series. The Belgian artist Empusae recently made his version of ‘Užupis’, a track featured on the Lietuva EP (and also featured as ‘On The Other Side Of The River’ on ‘The Old Magic’). What did you think of it?

I really Love what he’s done with it. Always nice to hear someone else’s take on your own work, and what they add of themselves and omit of you. I’ve done the same, the other way round, remixing Nicolas’s work, Sieben-style, and was really fun to do.

You played at the Rebellion festival this year, the biggest punk festival in the world. I think it’s great that you were invited, but our reporter at the festival wrote that you were an outsider at the festival and that many of the attendees didn’t know you. How did your participation at the festival occurred and how do you look back at it?

I love playing at Rebellion. And I love the challenge of an audience that is new to me- and I’m new to them. This year I played 2 shows at Rebellion, and once a couple of years before. Its sometimes a little difficult to get people to your shows as so much is going on at the same time, and also because such events tend to be nostalgia-based for many people attending- so they’ll obviously go to the stuff they know. Not the best place to have your music ‘discovered’ perhaps, but a fabulous event that I always enjoy - been 4 times, played 2 of those - and always relish playing at. And a nice new audience for me, with Crumbs more accessible to them than previous albums.

Like many other independent artists, you chose to distribute your music via bandcamp, which means that everyone everywhere can listen to your music for free and only a few will buy the download or the physical record. What do you think are the benefits and the disadvantages of bandcamp?

I find bandcamp quite empowering. For starters, you can set the number of times people can listen for free until they need to buy. I’ve set mine to 3, so you can hear the entire album 3 times before deciding if you’ll purchase it. I release on Bandcamp in tandem with digital release through a distributor - in my case AWAL - who add the release to 250 or so sites, for purchase. If someone buys it from Bandcamp I get 85% of the payment. If someone buys it from iTunes - or most of the others - I get around 60%. With such small margins these days it adds to a very meagre income for a ‘niche’ - not very successful financially, shall we say, politely - artis
t such as myself.

Pictures: Mal Michelow

dinsdag 13 november 2018

The Names 40 Years: We're lucky to have everyone still alive and well, unlike many of our friends of Factory records.

40 years of new wave is also 40 years of The Names, the Belgian band that signed with the legendary Factory Records of Joy Division and New Order fame and had hits with ‘Calcutta’ and ‘Nightshift’. The jubilee is celebrated with a grand anniversary concert with numerous surprises on 24 November in Drogenbos. Singer Michel Sordinia already lifted a tip of the veil for us ...

You celebrate your 40th anniversary this year. What feeling do you have when confronted with the fact that The Names are already 40 years old?

It's a very sweet confrontation, since The Names are still making recordings on a regular base (every two years), and touring around Europe (next destination is Italy -again!- in March 2019). The feeling is: Let's celebrate! Let's share these emotions with our friends and our wonderful audience, who's giving us so much each time we are on stage somewhere! 

To celebrate the jubilee, you will do a special anniversary concert: The Names in Quarantaine. You have invited the original members from the line-up that recorded ‘Swimming’. How easy was it to convince past members Christophe Den Tandt and Luc Capelle to participate, and how was it to work with them again after all those years?

I got everybody's enthusiastic response in no time. I was very moved by that. Last night (October the 29th), we just started rehearsing with the original line-up (Marc, Christophe, Luc and I). For the first time in 37 years... It was like we never stopped! Great music, great drive, very tight. And a lot of jokes like in those early years...

I heard you will play with the current line-up also. Will these be two separate shows, or will the musicians play together in one show?

There will be two separate sets, with totally different songs (no duplicate, each song played once by one of the two line-ups). But with a few (big) surprises awaiting you...

Even more spectacular is the reunion of The Passengers, the punk band that preceded The Names from 1977 to 1978. It must have been difficult not only to reform the band, but also to learn the old songs again, which I presume you haven’t played for a long time…

Like with The Names, everybody was immediately enthusiastic. Of course we're lucky to have everyone still alive and well. Sadly, so many died among our friends of Factory records, and also here in Belgium (there will be a tribute to them during the concert)... When we started playing together again, it clicked just like in a dream. The songs were like pristine, waiting to be played again. It gave me shivers down my spine. Very emotional moments. With Isabelle singing like if time didn't exist.

With The Passengers, you even recorded some of the old material. Two singles will be released by Les disques du crépuscule: ‘All Through The Night’ and ‘Queen Of Weird’. Can you tell us more about these records?

My idea of recording with the band (something that we sadly didn't do back in the 1970's, except for a demo) was welcomed by James Nice, who is managing both Factory Benelux (releasing recordings of The Names) and Les Disques du Crépuscule labels. So the two singles in limited edition and in coloured vinyl (one clear, one red) will be released on Crépuscule the day before the concert. The recording happened in June at our regular "lair", Noise Factory studio in Wierde, near Namur. With Thomas Neidhardt at the mixing desk and in a very "analogic" spirit (no effect, no overdub, like if we were recording in 1977/1978). There are four original songs, three old ones ("All Through The Night", "New Life", "Danger Zone") and a brand new one that I wrote in the spirit of those early days: "Queen of Weird". Certainly one of the very best songs I ever wrote.   

To complete the jubilee, there will also be an exhibition with work from Philippe Carly, Marcus Portée and Peter Staessens. Why did you decide to include their photos in the event?

Philippe, Marcus and Peter are not only our dear friends, they are very talented artists, who have tons of fantastic pictures of The Names both then and now. I could not imagine the event without them and their pictures!

maandag 12 november 2018

La Scaltra: Our lyrics are written by life. They tell about pain, grief, farewell, but also about hope.

Fans of gothic rock, your attention please! If you haven’t heard of La Scaltra yet, then you have to listen to them urgently. The band has already released two fine albums and will play at the 25th Dark Entries Night at the Kinky Star in Ghent.

La Scaltra started out as a duo of Aeleth Kaven and Dae Widow. How did you meet and how did you decide to make music together?

Dae and I met 2014 at a concert. Dae was doing merchandise for aeon sable and we learned to know each other there. We soon found out that we are very similar and that we share a love for music, so we spoke about how it would be to do a project together. That´s when the idea was born.

Solar Lodge, one of the leading labels in the gothic rock genre, releases your CDs. How did you get signed with Solar Lodge?

Since Dae knows Artaud and Jawa Seth from The Merciful Nuns well, they paid close attention to La Scaltra and we got the chance with our ‘Ghosts EP’ to join Solar Lodge in 2016 after we published ‘Cabaret’, our first CD without any label. Therefore we are still very thankful for this opportunity given to us and happy to be part of Solar Lodge.

The music you make can be characterized as gothic rock, but the focus is more on synths than on guitars. Isn’t gothic rock meant to be dominated by guitars?

I guess that's because we have those elements of gothic rock in our music, but it is not essential. ‘Cabaret’ and also ‘Freakshow’ were dark medleys of what came to my mind. It was very experimental, with different dark styles and sometimes not really definable. All in all it is witchy and gloomy, and that´s what will always be in our songs, whether there is more gothic rock with guitars in them or more synths and wave or mostly all combined and mixed.

You started out and you build your image as two girls making music. I remember an interview I did with Bettina Köster is which she said it was very important for her to work with women, as they have another feeling for rhythm. How important is it that the music is played by women?

Hmm, I cannot say it is different. If you have a real musician in your band, it does not matter whether it's a woman or a man. You can have boisterous girls as well as you have feminine boys in your group... in my opinion, it is the spirit of music that matters and how it all works together in the end, not the gender.

Where do you find inspiration for your lyrics?

First and foremost: Life and its experiences. What could be more instructive und informative as our lives? And what is more destructive than life? Everything we went through, whether good our bad, forms our further person, our further paths. It becomes part of us and often it is not easy to accept. This struggling with life is one part of creating my songs, on the other hand of course being a hardcore fan of Horrorfilms and -games, so I guess there will be a creepy story or a link with a genre game on every album of La Scaltra.

In 2016, you released ‘Cabaret’ as a digital album, but also the ‘Ghosts’-ep consisting of 4 songs from ‘Cabaret’ on Solar Lodge. Why two different releases?

Yeah, that's right. We were a little bit too early with 'Cabaret', haha. The Solar Lodge deal was a few months later, so they did a lift from the album and created the 'Ghost EP' with a special booklet and 4 songs.

2017 saw the release of your second full album ‘Freak Show’. It got very good reactions. Are you happy with the record and the reactions?

Of course we are! Every inch of happiness about something you created with your time and heart makes you proud, or should make you proud. But I would never take it for granted! It is sometimes still like ‘What? Do they really mean us?’ When it comes to compliments... sometimes all of this is far, far away and sometimes it is right next to you and looks you in the eyes and goes like ‘bam, in your face!’

‘Freakshow’ saw the participation of Jay Sharpe as producer and guitarist. I believe he is now a full member of the band. What is his role in the band?

Jay Sharpe is a full member of La Scaltra and is also the guitarist and Din-Tah Aeon of aeon sable. He is my beloved life mate and boyfriend and a high valued partner. All of those song ideas - which I prepare all by myself - are being finished, mixed and mastered by him. And of course he creates all guitar lines, except I have ideas before he can speak out loud, haha.

You recently added another member to play bass: Saeda Moreau. Was she included in order to perform live?

Saeda Moreau is a full member of La Scaltra, not just a live performer. Before she came to La Scaltra, I did bass and vocals, but I feel better as a standalone singer. More movement, more interactions... bass playing needs an own position in our music. Our songs are mostly built on our vocals, and it is extremely hard to do dancing, playing bass and singing altogether with such bunch of vocal parts. I am happy Saeda is with us to completely fulfil those bass lines and she does a great work, way better than I did. Now I can dance, sing along and concentrate on those parts (and nudge the others on stage, haha!)

Will the growth of the band from two to four members affect the music you make?
Of course our bass lines will be more intensive, I guess. In our new songs the bass lines are “more” than on the albums before, that much I can tell. But I hope you will listen yourself then.

You did several concerts during the last months including the Amphi Festival. How would you describe the La Scaltra live experience?

La Scaltra live is a dark journey into memories that are both beautiful and ugly. Our lyrics are written by life. They tell about pain, grief, farewell, but also about hope. Seeing La Scaltra live should be a sea of feelings combined with a little bit of Rock Music and Dark Wave Synth to dance along. Yeah, dancing with the witches! And we are really looking forward to playing in Belgium. Finally!

I heard you are working on a new album. Can you already tell us something about it?

I can tell this much: There will be the same gloomy atmosphere, but with more power, more magick, more expression and passion. La Scaltra continues to evolve and we will show that on the next album. We will also do collaborations with male singers again, but yet I cannot tell you who it will be. Time will tell…

La Scaltra: bandcamp / facebook / website