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Interview: A Singer of Songs

Wir waren mal wieder neugierig und haben a Singer of Songs gefragt (der am 8. Juni auf unserer [Lautschrift]-Abschiedsfeier beim Tübinger Bücherfest spielen wird) wie er nun eigentlich zum belgischen in Barcelona lebenden Singer-Songwriter wurde und wie das so ist.

Und eines ist schon mal klar: er ist ein ganz feiner Storyteller.

We were curious and so we sent a few questions to a Singer of Songs (who will play at our goodbye party on the Tübinger Bücherfest on the 8th of June) and asked him how he became the Belgian singer-songwriter living in Barcelona and how this life is like.

One thing is certain: he’s a very fine storyteller indeed.

When did you move to Barcelona, Spain and why?
I moved here in 1998, right after I graduated from university. I didn’t really know where I wanted to go, I just knew I had to leave Belgium. I had spent the past four years reading way too many sad & beautiful books and had become a very sad young man myself. I just felt the city was too small for me. The grayness, the silence of northern life, the melancholy of it all… It just got to me. Life lacked color. So I was planning to move to France, but when my brother and his boyfriend told me they were moving to Barcelona, I didn’t doubt a second. So a couple of weeks later we drove all our belongings over the Pyrenees in an old van and tried to find our way in a big city we didn’t know. Everything seemed possible at the time, not in the least the fact that we would never stay for long. Almost fifteen years have gone by, and I still live here.

Did the foreign city and the strange language add to your musical/creative choices or did it, on the contrary, interfere with your creativity?
Absolutely. It changed everything. I came from a small place where everyone knew me and I knew everyone. And then all of a sudden I was dropped in this big strange place where people said things I didn’t understand. And they said them fast. But it was hard at the beginning. I didn’t find my way in the city, I didn’t understand a word people were saying. So I just nodded and smiled along with the majority, as a fool. I ended up in some pretty embarrassing situations, and it was all pretty embarrassing and degrading. Cleaning in a perfume shop at 5 in the morning, trying to make ends meet. But then that was what I was looking for. Get away from the certainties I had in Belgium. Try to become a man rather than be a spoilt boy. Those hard days changed me. And they helped me become a better songwriter. I didn’t have to make stuff up anymore. Stuff was happening to me now. Stuff I could use in songs and stories.

Tell us a little bit about your music, what influences your lyrics and your music the most?
It may sound cliché, but life is my biggest source of inspiration. Everything goes really. The sound of a loose tile when you ride over it with your bike (one of the most beautiful sounds in the world), going back to my parents’ house now that I live so far away, a hot summer day that never ends, the cuts and dots on a face you think you’ll never forget… I never sit down to write a song, it’s never a decision. I don’t seek the song, the song seeks me. Words come out when I have something to tell. If not, I just keep quiet.
Of course other singers are great influences as well. People like Bonnie Prince Billy and Mark Linkous never cease to inspire me. And writers. Every time I finish a Cormac McCarthy book, I end up with words scribbled on the pages.

What is your daily routine as a musician?
I do not consider myself a musician. I earn a living in another way, so I don’t really think I have a routine. When I feel a song knocking at the door I sit down with my guitar and start playing. Then I try to get the words in the right rhythm and order. After that first draft I always go for a walk, usually to the sea. The little gaps that still exist in the song are always filled and fixed on those walks. Things fall into place as soon as I start thinking about other things. Then I come home and record it, trying to keep the first feeling of the song. Because if you let time go by, compromises are made.

When is the best time to write a song?
Anytime, when you have the time. My favorite songs were written at night, but that’s not a fixed rule.

What’s your favourite place in Barcelona?
I have many favorite spots. I’m always drawn towards the sea, and there are some pretty amazing hills where life is impressively quiet all of a sudden. I love it when I find a quiet spot in busy surroundings.
But one spot… One day I was just walking through the city center at night and it was a warm and damp night and I was all alone and listened to the music in my headphones. All of a sudden I was standing on a corner of two streets I had never seen. I remember standing on that abandoned corner and there was a Vic Chesnutt song playing in my headphones and I felt all alone and at peace and it was as if all of a sudden everything was in its right place, myself included. I would have stayed there forever, built my home on that corner there and then. Then I walked on. Every time I pass that corner now (it’s in the Gothic neighborhood) I try to relive that same moment, but it isn’t there anymore. The corner is still there, but the feeling is someplace else now. I just need to find it.

-> Kommt unbedingt zu unserer [Lautschrift]-Feier am 8. Juni um ihn live zu erleben!

Samstag, 8. Juni 2013.
20 Uhr
im Gewölbekeller von Art-Tempto, Haaggasse 3, 72070 Tübingen

When did you move to Barcelona, Spain and why?
I moved here in 1998, right after I graduated from university. I didn’t really know where I wanted to go, I just knew I had to leave Belgium. I had spent the past four years reading way too many sad & beautiful books and had become a very sad young man myself. I just felt the city was too small for me. The grayness, the silence of northern life, the melancholy of it all… It just got to me. Life lacked color. So I was planning to move to France, but when my brother and his boyfriend told me they were moving to Barcelona, I didn’t doubt a second. So a couple of weeks later we drove all our belongings over the Pyrenees in an old van and tried to find our way in a big city we didn’t know. Everything seemed possible at the time, not in the least the fact that we would never stay for long. Almost fifteen years have gone by, and I still live here.

Did the foreign city and the strange language add to your musical/creative choices or did it, on the contrary, interfere with your creativity?
Absolutely. It changed everything. I came from a small place where everyone knew me and I knew everyone. And then all of a sudden I was dropped in this big strange place where people said things I didn’t understand. And they said them fast. But it was hard at the beginning. I didn’t find my way in the city, I didn’t understand a word people were saying. So I just nodded and smiled along with the majority, as a fool. I ended up in some pretty embarrassing situations, and it was all pretty embarrassing and degrading. Cleaning in a perfume shop at 5 in the morning, trying to make ends meet. But then that was what I was looking for. Get away from the certainties I had in Belgium. Try to become a man rather than be a spoilt boy. Those hard days changed me. And they helped me become a better songwriter. I didn’t have to make stuff up anymore. Stuff was happening to me now. Stuff I could use in songs and stories.

Tell us a little bit about your music, what influences your lyrics and your music the most?
It may sound cliché, but life is my biggest source of inspiration. Everything goes really. The sound of a loose tile when you ride over it with your bike (one of the most beautiful sounds in the world), going back to my parents’ house now that I live so far away, a hot summer day that never ends, the cuts and dots on a face you think you’ll never forget… I never sit down to write a song, it’s never a decision. I don’t seek the song, the song seeks me. Words come out when I have something to tell. If not, I just keep quiet.
Of course other singers are great influences as well. People like Bonnie Prince Billy and Mark Linkous never cease to inspire me. And writers. Every time I finish a Cormac McCarthy book, I end up with words scribbled on the pages.

What is your daily routine as a musician?
I do not consider myself a musician. I earn a living in another way, so I don’t really think I have a routine. When I feel a song knocking at the door I sit down with my guitar and start playing. Then I try to get the words in the right rhythm and order. After that first draft I always go for a walk, usually to the sea. The little gaps that still exist in the song are always filled and fixed on those walks. Things fall into place as soon as I start thinking about other things. Then I come home and record it, trying to keep the first feeling of the song. Because if you let time go by, compromises are made.

When is the best time to write a song?
Anytime, when you have the time. My favorite songs were written at night, but that’s not a fixed rule.

What’s your favourite place in Barcelona?
I have many favorite spots. I’m always drawn towards the sea, and there are some pretty amazing hills where life is impressively quiet all of a sudden. I love it when I find a quiet spot in busy surroundings.
But one spot… One day I was just walking through the city center at night and it was a warm and damp night and I was all alone and listened to the music in my headphones. All of a sudden I was standing on a corner of two streets I had never seen. I remember standing on that abandoned corner and there was a Vic Chesnutt song playing in my headphones and I felt all alone and at peace and it was as if all of a sudden everything was in its right place, myself included. I would have stayed there forever, built my home on that corner there and then. Then I walked on. Every time I pass that corner now (it’s in the Gothic neighborhood) I try to relive that same moment, but it isn’t there anymore. The corner is still there, but the feeling is someplace else now. I just need to find it.

 

-> Make sure you come to our [Lautschrift] celebration on the 8th of June to hear him live!

Saturday, 8th of June 2013.
8 pm
at Art-Tempto, Haaggasse 3, 72070 Tübingen

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