Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Sunday Conversation With . . . Fire Down Below

When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkel, the first time I ever heard Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphany's since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears. What have been your musical epiphany moments?

Bert: One of the most profound musical epiphanies in my life was hearing Sleep’s Dopesmoker for the first time. To me, that song/album just proves that there are no rules or boundaries when you’re riffing out. You can make it as long, as loud, as heavy as you want and people will still be able to connect to it. You can just do your own thing and if it’s good, people will get it. Maybe not all the people, but the right people will.

Kevin: For me it was hearing Tool’s Aenima for the first time. It was literally the first album I ever bought. The heaviness, the odd time signatures, the melodies, … it really all came together. None of my friends at that time were listening to that kind of music, and I loved it even more just because of that!

Sam: I know this is going to get some frowning but hearing Metallica’s Saint Anger for the first time was a kind of epiphany for me. Many people hate it, but I love it haha!

Jeroen: The first time I heard Neil Young’s solo in ‘Like a Hurricane’ it sent shivers down my spine. He makes his guitar speak with so much pain and sorrow in its voice. It made me realise the power of music and the way it can be used to translate emotions and feelings.

Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?

Jeroen: We all bring riffs and ideas to the table, it’s not like we have a single person writing the songs. Then we discuss and everyone has input on each other’s ideas and we see where it goes from there. We take our time to get everything just right. As long we’re not all convinced every part is 100% spot on we keep thinking, adjusting. That makes for a slower process, but on the other hand we know that if all four of us are sure a song kicks ass, it really does.

Sam: When we wrote our debut album, Viper Vixen Goddess Saint, we had the songs roughly finished and then thought about how we could fit the parts of the puzzle in such a way that the total would be more than the sum of the parts. We really wanted the album to feel as a whole, not just a collection of tracks. Transitions, building and releasing tension throughout the album, that kinda stuff is important to us too. With the new album we’re writing now, we have sort of a background story to work with. It helps to focus our ideas and choose directions, but it’s still loose and vague enough for us to be able to fit in a great idea that seems to want go somewhere else entirely.
Jeroen: Lyrics are usually the last step in completing the song, I often only finalize on them days before recording, or even in the studio.

Who has influenced you the most?

Kevin: I don’t have one particular guitar player or band that I admire the most. What really influences me most are musicians that are able to convey emotions, whatever emotion that may be really… When I’m listening to Rage Against The Machine or Nine Inch Nails for instance, I can really hear the outrage and aggressiveness in the music and lyrics. It’s genuine, it’s awesome. Kyuss just oozes cool. Frusciante’s ability to let his strat really weep ... Layne Staley’s vocal melodies bring chills down my spine, even after listening to their entire catalogue a zillion times. I’m also a sucker for big, epic, larger than life songs. Mastodon’s song The Last Baron comes to mind, or The End by The Doors, and anything Tool has ever made should be mandatory in any music class. If any band has influenced me the most, I would say that has to be Tool.

Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?

Kevin: When sitting down with my guitar to write new riffs, I kinda always start out by wondering what kind of song I want to make. I very often work with images. For instance, what kind of music would I like to hear when cruising through the desert? Or what kind of music would fit a scene with an astronaut floating through space for all eternity, fully aware of the impending doom he brought upon the world? Or what riffs and solo’s would be appropriate for a raging mammoth coming down the hill? I’m very happy with how we nailed that last example on the album.

Sam: I always try to come with something new, try some grooves that I haven’t played before and that no one would expect.

Bert: A cool riff, a great groove, a good melody … hearing great music motivates me to make music … And seeing how easy it is to discover great new music nowadays, I’m basically always motivated :-). We're all a product of our environment. Tell us about the band's hometown and how that reflects in the music?

Kevin: We’re all from different places in the Belgian province of West-Flanders, but I guess you could say the band’s hometown is Ghent. Ghent is actually a really nice place. It’s an old city, with a medieval center, but there are a lot of young people that stick around after they graduate from university/college which makes for a fresh, youthful atmosphere. Music-wise there’s a lot going on in all sorts of genres, there are places where you can go see a metal band on one day and then the next day there’s an electronic pop band on the stage. I guess you could make the point that our music also mixes different influences in an effort to keep things new and fresh.

Where'd the band name come from?

Bert: The insatiable fire in the loins of a drummer Jeroen and I used to play with back in the days. Then sometime later, we found out it was actually a Steven Segal movie, but at that point we didn’t want to abandon the name. Then later still, we found out that it’s also the name of a porn flick. Guess that just proves there’s a certain ring to the name.

You have one chance, what movie are you going to write the soundtrack for?

Kevin: Lost Highway by David Lynch. A true masterpiece that defies definition. It’s such a distorted picture that you can literally go anywhere with the soundtrack. Creepy, check. Fuzzed out, check. Doomy, check. Jazzy, check. But the soundtrack already has Bowie, Trent Reznor, Rammstein and Marilyn Manson on it, so it’d be a pretty tough challenge to do better than that ;-)

You now write for a music publication (The Ripple Effect?). You're going to write a 1,000 word essay on one song. Which would it be and why?

Bert: I would choose the song ‘Simple Things’ by the Belgian band Cowboys & Aliens. They were the first Belgian band to explore music in the style of Kyuss. They’re pretty damn amazing, but they never quite got the major breakthrough they deserved. Do yourself a favor and go listen to their album ‘Love Sex Volume’ (it’s on YouTube), you will not be disappointed!

Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?

Jeroen: One time, during an afternoon gig in a bar, an old lady walked in with her dog. She approached the stage, gleamed at us for a few seconds, then started yanking out cables at random. She called us hellspawn and minions of Satan and claimed our music was terrifying her dog. After she was removed from the stage by the bar owner she hung around complaining some more, until we started blasting out riffs even louder. The dog seemed to be doing just fine, but granny threw one last fit, then finally left. Twenty minutes later, just as we were finishing our set, the cops dropped in. Turns out she had called the police and told them we had harassed her dog and attacked her. Things were settled quickly though, with the bar owner and a couple dozen of witnesses backing us up.

Tell us about playing live and the live experience for you and for your fans?

Bert: The best gigs that I’ve seen, and what I’d hope to achieve when playing live, is where band and audience can feed off each other’s energy and trip on the music together. There’s some kind of communal sensation when all those heads are bobbing up and down in sync with the grooves.

What makes a great song?

Bert: A great song is one where, the first time you hear it, your jaw drops and you go blank, just trying to soak it all in. Then when it’s finished, you think “I don’t know what the hell that was but I need to hear it again right now” and hit the repeat button for the rest of the day.

What piece of your music are particularly proud of?

Kevin: I really love all of our songs. Perhaps I connect the most with Universes Crumble due to it’s more psychedelic nature, and because we really take our time to build to a climax that I think is really awesome. On a personal level, I’m also pretty stoked about the solo’s in The Mammoth, as they all are one-take and completely improvised on the spot in the studio. It was the end of an intense day of recording and I just let it rip and it felt really good, so that eventually made it on the record.

Bert: I really love how The Mammoth, the last track on our debut album, turned out. It’s an intense 11 minute trip that has everything: it’s slow and fast, quiet and loud, melodic and dissonant, aggressive and soothing … I’m really proud of that one.

Who today, writes great songs? Who just kicks your ass? Why?

Bert: Any project with John Garcia or Brant Bjork involved will get my undivided attention, they’re living legends as far as I’m concerned. I always look forward to any new album Mastodon is releasing. They get a lot of flak with each release for not making another Leviathan or Blood Mountain, but I think they’re just an amazing band any way you look at it. The Italian band Ufomammut will be releasing a new album soon, I’m a big fan of those guys. They have their own thing going on, synth-layered psychedelic doom aiming at pure sonic destruction. I’ve also discovered quite a few great bands going through the Ripple catalogue. Bands like White Light Cemetery and Gozu write kick-ass songs.

Kevin: Trent Reznor can’t do anything wrong in my book. Neither can Josh Homme, even though I really prefer early QOTSA over the stuff he’s doing right now.

Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?

Jeroen: For me, definitely vinyl. I have been a collector for quite a few years now, and there’s something about that crackling vinyl sound that you just don’t get with CD’s. It’s the whole experience of slipping the record out of the sleeve, placing it on your turntable en seeing the needle go down to the grooves that appeals to me. Also, the artwork simply looks better on 12”! Vinyl will withstand the test of time. Only downfall is that I can’t fit a turntable in my car.

Whiskey or beer? And defend your choice.

Sam: Well, it’s hard not to go for beer since we live in Belgium and we have all these world-class beers available at every corner. But then on the other hand: during our rehearsals it’s always and exclusively whiskey.

We, at the Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. What's your home town, and when we get there, what's the best record store to lose ourselves in?

Jeroen: When you’re in Ghent be sure to stop at Music Mania, they always have a great selection of rock, psych, stoner and doom vinyl available. They’re also really cool guys to chat with.

What's next for the band?

Jeroen: There’s a lot happening for us, but we’re really counting the days until the Ripple release of our debut album Viper Vixen Goddess Saint in June, especially the limited edition vinyl release. That’s just a dream come true!

Kevin: Over summer we’ll be playing festival shows in Belgium and the Netherlands, sharing bills with the likes of Monster Magnet, Acid King and some of our heroes that we can’t announce just yet. Hard not to get excited over that!

Sam: We’re also working hard on a new album, which is scheduled for recording in October. We’re returning to Much Luv Studio, where we recorded our debut, because we had so much fun there and Tim De Gieter is such a cool guy to work with. So we’re really looking forward to that as well. The new album should be available around April 2018.

Any final comments or thoughts you'd like to share with our readers, the waveriders?

Sam: We were amazed to see how quick people all over the world embraced our music. When we released our album in September we were hoping to score some nice local gigs, maybe get a few reviews … It’s still overwhelming to think how well the album has been received. We are extremely grateful for the support!

Jeroen: It’s still hard to believe that we’re part of the Ripple family now. Great things are happening and we promise the best is yet to come! Peace and love to all of you, and keep it fuzzy!

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