Day 8, you’re nearly there. And amid all the New Year’s festivities we want to throw another amazing interview your way to keep you busy. We already had the pleasure of interviewing Colin H van Eeckhout once this year (read the interview on his Absent in Body project here) and now he was so nice to spend some time wondering with us what it means to be Belgian or rather Flemish. We touch upon a lot of topics and he gives us some detailed information on his view of roots and why he doesn’t like separatism in his home country. Enjoy!
More or less exactly half a year ago, on July 1st, Simon Segers, Maarten Marchau, Thomas Hoste and CHVE released a really interesting record called De Manen Opzij (here you can find our review) via Consouling Sound (orders can still be made here) and while the record is really interesting in itself it also led me to ponder how a person like Colin would define his “Flemish-ness” or how being from Flanders has shaped him. And the ever-wonderful guy he is, he really gave us a lot of his spare time to talk about all of this, how the collaboration came to be and why a community center played a big part in it.
Do you yourself identify more as Belgian or more as Flemish?
Both really. Or even more. West Flemish first, then Flemish second, Belgian, European, Citizen of the World, Human… Depends on who you are talking to. It’s a means to put yourself in the Universe. Nothing more.
What does it mean for you to be Belgian? To be Flemish?
I have no idea. It’s such an abstract matter. I suppose it means I was born in Flanders, Belgium. And I grew up with the culture and morals that go with it, although that is already very diverse.
Which legends or traditions from your home region impressed you most, when you were a child/teenager?
None, I never saw anything happen that could be considered as a legend or tradition. I started reading about it later.
When thinking about Belgium and Flanders especially, I often come back to Flemish painters because there are so many awesome ones, van Eyck, the Bruegels, de Coninck, Bruegel, Rubens but also Magritte, Ensor, Tuymans, Panamarenko, Khnopff – why do you think has the country and region “produced” so many famous painters? How does this rich history of great visual art influence your work as an artist?
I have no idea. I would suppose that it started with the big harbors, and the world trade bringing a lot of colors and impressions back to this territory and the wealth here was able to stimulate arts as a meaning of installing their status. I am not schooled in art history so I would just express assumptions. No truths. It definitely inspired, we’re surrounded by tons of fine and contemporary art here in this little country.
Many cities like Ghent or Bruges feature some of the most splendid architecture which can be seen in a very ambiguous light as either very dark or as very bright – is that ambiguity also somethings that shapes Flemish culture?
I would assume so, even in the old Flemish painters colorful paintings there is a sense of darkness or at least that’s what I make of it. Medieval architecture has a robust nature, refined yet monolithic. It demands a respect of its viewer.
Musically, Belgium and Flanders has had and is having one of the most thriving scenes for several decades now – I know you and your bands have been a huge part of the H800 scene. Can you describe that time and how you experienced it?
I look back with melancholy. I praise myself lucky to have been a part of it. It came hand in hand with a skateboard scene. Everyone was full of positive energy and it just spread like wildfire. Even though here as well lyrics and themes were rather dark and smeared with teenage angst, there was a positive undertow. The vegetarian or vegan straight edge lifestyle got promoted among its ranks and was followed blindly. Like all teenagers we all wanted to be a part of something bigger. We wanted to identify ourselves. Put ourselves in the world. We started bands not being able to play any instrument, some persevered and are still around in some musical form. But it was the energy that made it spacial, the sense of community, togetherness. It was “us” against “them”. The DIY mentality got installed in that era, if you wanted something you needed to get it yourself, by going hard at it. Do it yourself, together with friends, be the best version of yourselves and work hard for it.
(Spineless was the root of Amenra back in the H800 days)
How can it be that such a “small” country has such a vivid scene? Does the government do something to support artists better than in other countries, e.g. Germany?
I doubt that.
I think the keyword here is the “small” in your question. The fact that we operate on a small scale, made sure that we all got to see “it” and each other. You very easily saw or heard about what was going on, and happening and you were able to connect with key figures very easily. It was very welcoming. And therefore very inspiring. So all helped each other out, instead of elbowing each other out of the way. Obviously the government supports the arts to a certain degree, but not really “our kind of art”.
But then you started Amenra and it changed again – I know you incorporate a love for many different Belgian artists like Zjef Vanuytsel. Which other Flemish artists influence your band’s work and your own?
Sculptors like Georges Minne, Constantin Meunier… the list is endless..but also contemporary artists like Berlinde de Bruyckere, Wim Vandekeybus, Peter Verhelst, Stephan Vanfleteren, Anne Demeulemeester.. Sculptors, writers, choreographers whatever.. there is some thing that that connects us all. Everyone shines its light on it from a different angle, and that automatically gives you another impression of “the thing” you work with.
Musically, I have to say the list is rather thin, people tend to step around the darkness, and aim for what is easily made more popular, more lighthearted, entertaining music.. Early Amatorski, Tamino or Ikraaan now, are things I resonate with.. I can’t say I dove headfirst into the kleinkunst artists, some writing is extremely deep, yet their over the top production sometimes killed it for me.
Flemish always sounds like a miraculous language to listen to, as it has a certain “rootsiness” to it, would you agree with that? Is sounds like a language well-connected to the soil where it comes from?
I would hope so, It’s something I always wonder about. When I ask foreign friends what we actualy sound like when speaking Flemish to one another. I had the theory of ‘sounding like Elves’ tossed in my face a couple of times, can’t say I got really warm of that idea :)
You use your mother tongue on several songs straying away from the regular English language – do you feel as if there are certain words that you can only express in Flemish? If so – is there a certain red thread running through these songs for you?
Yes definitely. For every expression or metaphor there is one language that takes home the grand prize. Something just make more sense, and sound deeper or more beautiful than another. You kinda have to hover from one another and feel how it translated to you.
But what that language is differs. It was extremely interesting to put focus on our mother tongue. Obviously your affinity and feel with your own language is way more elaborate or explored than any other. So I would assume you can go deeper with it, more layers, subliminal even. Saying more with the silence in between the words even sometimes. That’s a whole other story, the significance of silence in different times and forms.
When listening to your versions of Vanuytsel’s songs it becomes clear how melodic the Flemish language can be if used in a certain way – did you have to learn that for yourself?
I don’t really think it’s ‘more’ melodic that another. But in our culture you quickly forget about your own language. Often it was perceived as not being very credible on a larger scale. It sounded “dumb” on a superficial level. That because we here have been used to English or French being the more popular music. You automatically assume that stories need to be told that way. But if you start translating those lyrics, you quickly realize that sometimes they’re also drenched in banality, yet they do the trick. They get the story told.
Nowadays the region is known for a wonderfully diverse metal-scene as well – which newer bands should we check out that keep that free spirit alive?
I have no idea, I am very much oblivious to what is going on around me in heavy music. The last band that really drew my attention was Psychonaut. The Psychonaut off-spin Hippotraktor. Bands like Pothamus, Modder, Mother,.. they’re all worth checking out. We have a lot of new side projects getting formed. DOODSESKADER and PREDATORY VOID…but like I said. I am no reference.
How important were/are labels like Good Life, Funtime Records or nowadays Consouling Sounds and Hypertension Records for the development of the scene?
Very. The most important role.
Let’s talk about the historical character of the region – Belgium is a country that had to fight twice for its independence – once against the Spanish/Austrians and then against the Dutch. Do you see certain traits in your country fellowmen that come from those fights?
I don’t know. People that are deprived or that are being kept under the thumb will tend to fight harder for what they think they are entitled to. That’s probably what happened with this small country.
Can you understand secessionist views that want to separate Flanders & Wallonia?
No. I love the Belgian national “slogan” or “motto” or whatever its called: Eendracht maakt macht / l’Union fait la forçe - Strength through Unity
Now let’s come to your latest work “De Manen Opzij”, a real display of Flemish artists! Can you tell us something about the record title and the vocals that you brought to the table?
De manen opzij holds a reference to the theme that was the underlying start of the project. It was an old saga Paerdje Maleghys of our are. What in short was a tale told to keep the youth at bay, restrain them of excess. Like most tales legends or fairy tales were old means to install morals amongst its people.
Manes aside reference the manes of a horse, but in Flemish it has added poetic value, as it also means, “The moons aside”. Like you would be able to push the moon away, disregard the Light in the Darkness. I wrote a poem in flemish to hold that thought. I will not even attempt to translate it.
How did the collaboration happen?
It was Steven Reynaert, director of folkcentre Dranouter whom was so kind to bring us together. He had this idea to bring traditional folk musicians and more contemporary musicians together and see what would come from that. So you have Maarten Marcheau on traverso, mouthharp and bagpipes, Thomas Hoste an hurdy gurdy, Simon Segers is a jazz drummer and percussionist, and I was doing bass guitar, hurdy gurdy, percussion and vocals.
You had a residency at a music center for some time to write the record, is that correct? How important was that residency?
Defining for the project. I loved it. It made me grow as a musician, working with those talented people challenged me as a non schooled artist to find my place in there. Make my presence “valuable” as well.
Is the free spirit that is on full display on this record something uniquely Flemish?
All music is universal. Once in the airwaves it belongs to everyone. The spirit runs freely.
(Photo Credit: CHVE picture by Guy Kokken)