Lucas Palmans

28 Feb
Music

Interview: Balthazar Think Their New Album ‘Sand’ Sounds Like a Coconut

Mental fights in the studio, coconuts, and the sand in an hourglass … the process of Balthazar’s fifth studio album was very interesting. After their temporary break, Jinte Deprez and Maarten Devoldere returned with a bang. ‘Fever’ was good and opened a whole new world. A world called ‘Sand’. We had a Zoom date with the duo and talked about their newest musical baby, which sounds a lot more electronic than any other work they’ve made.

How are you?

Jinte: I’m very good actually. We have these digital interviews all the time, which is very strange to promote a new record. Now I can wear my pajamas during an interview, so that’s fun. (laughs)

Don’t you think it’s a bit sad to release a record without being able to tour?

Jinte: It’s not the way we are used to, but we knew this was going to happen if we would release music during this pandemic.

The release of Sand is also quite quick after Fever.

Maarten: Right after our break (editor’s note: Maarten and Jinte worked a few years on their solo projects Warhaus and J. Bernardt), we started touring with Fever. That ensured a really nice vibe, which gave us the energy to create a second one. When we played the songs of Fever, we had the feeling we didn’t push some things far enough. It was the first time we used some groovy influences. By pushing that a bit further, new songs started to flow out.

You say you didn’t push it far enough, does that mean you weren’t completely satisfied last time?

Jinte: No, we were satisfied, but I think every record is some kind of a reaction to the previous one. Because we just came back from our solo projects, we started to play together again. Thanks to the Fever tour, it became clear that we wanted to go further with this sound.

Maybe it would be more remarkable if COVID didn’t exist. Then we could just continue as we worked during the tour: be interactive as a band and letting the songs come alive. Because of the pandemic, we rearranged our approach. We worked from home and that resulted in a quiet electronic album. That’s also cool.

Do you think the electronic influences are coming from your work with J. Bernardt?

Jinte: We made our debut album this way, so I think we always had this in ourselves. That was a long time ago, so obviously there are way more possibilities now. We weren’t afraid to work this way. When we’re on tour, we also write on our computer. We were already a bit used to it.

Maarten: It was fun to find creative solutions for all the things we couldn’t do thanks to lockdown. That kept us sharp. I don’t think it’s bad to sound more electronic. It’s a fun direction and if we didn’t take it this way, we would have repeated ourselves too much.

So it was more like a work in progress? Did you miss dancing so much that you made dance music?

Jinte: No, we didn’t even look at it that way. (laughs)

Maarten: When you work from home with your computer, everything automatically sounds more electronic. We always played our music in a studio with the whole band, but now we skipped that step. It’s not like we were looking for something new. It was always clear we wanted to make this.

Jinte: It’s not like we weren’t familiar with electronica, but it was fun to pour it into a Balthazar context. When it became clear we couldn’t go to the studio, we were quite enthusiastic. We didn’t want to make a gimmick out of it. It’s more like an evolution of searching for a new direction. Some songs turned out completely different, in a good way. I’m really looking forward to playing them live.

Do you still have the urge to prove yourselves then? Because you always try something new.

Maarten: Prove ourselves … I don’t know. It’s rather so we aren’t getting bored. It’s more fun to try something new then.

So Balthazar is becoming some kind of leisure activity?

Jinte: It’s not like we make albums to keep ourselves busy. It starts within ourselves, especially when you know you have to tour for a minimum of a year with the record. You have to make something you believe in, something that surprises you. In that way, COVID maybe was a good thing to happen, like a sixth musician. It wasn’t all negative.

We surprised ourselves. It’s always fun when there’s something you can’t control. We allowed it in our lives and we were very happy with the way it influenced our work.

If COVID didn’t exist, Sand would sound totally different?

Maarten: It would’ve been the same songs, but they would sound different.

Even if you started again today?

Maarten: An album is actually just a snapshot.

Jinte: There are a lot of different versions of every song. It depends on the moment which version is on the final cut. That’s the beauty of making a record.

Maarten: I’m very happy about the fact that we made Sand at the beginning of lockdown. Everything felt new and exciting, in a perverse way. (laughs) If we made the record now, it would sound way more jaded.

Can you still be objective about your own music?

Maarten: I don’t know if I can. Like I just said, an album is a snapshot. You make music in a certain phase of your life, based on a taste you have at that moment. I never look at it in a conceptual way. Once you start making a record, it’s all hands on deck. I’m in full Balthazar mode then, and I can’t afford to focus on other projects.

We can also hear some women sing on Sand, that’s new.

Jinte: Yes, that was something new. I think we all know what our capacities are as a band. It’s fun to invite some friends then. We also have some wind instruments on the record. We just needed people with the right color. Especially on your fifth album, you need others to pull yourself out of your comfort zone.

Maarten: Yes, like Jinte says, it’s like adding a new color to your palette.

Do you see Sand as a painting then? Like in a synesthetic way?

Maarten: I don’t know actually … Jinte, do you? I’m not very visually established. Jasper (editor’s note: Maekelberg, their producer) looks at it that way. When we’re in the studio, he can ask to make the drums redder or something. (laughs) I’m quite color blind in this field. (laughs)

Talking about Jasper, it’s the second album you made with him. Is the chemistry that good?

Jinte: No, last time really sucked! (laughs) We made a lot of records with a lot of people we didn’t know. We lost so much time thanks to communication, agreements, etc. It’s a blessing to work with Jasper because he knows us very well.

Maarten: We really are control freaks, and we know that we can trust Jasper with our lives.

So he slowly became a member of the band?

Jinte: He surely is like the twelfth guy! (laughs) We influence each other all the time, so there’s chemistry. It’s also positive for us because we’re a duo. He can always make the …

Maarten: Like a referee!

Does he have to tear you apart sometimes?

Maarten: If we don’t agree with each other, there’s always the third one to make the decision. There’s always a majority in a conflict.

Jinte: But if we both think Jasper is wrong, we also make it clear. (laughs)

Do you fight in the studio?

Jinte: No! (laughs) We’re very peaceful. We rather have mental fights, but that’s necessary when you make an album. It’s useful when you have to defend a vision. I think Balthazar is good as a band because we bring out the best in each other. If one criticizes the other’s idea, you just want to do better. In that way, we improved our songwriting throughout the years. We put trust in each other’s criticism.

And then every piece falls in the right place: the sand in the hourglass.

Maarten: We noticed that a lot of the songs we made had something to do with time. Sometimes we talk about restlessness, not being able to live in the now … The missing link was always time. Then we made “Hourglass”, in which we sing about an hourglass, so we made the metaphor of sand. It’s a short and sweet word, just like Rats or Fever.

Jinte: It’s also a bit ironic. We have to sit still, waiting for the end. The artwork also fits in that story. We saw the photo a long time ago, and it felt very intriguing. When we finished Sand, it quickly became clear it was going to be this picture. Awkwardly waiting … This happened before lockdown, so in a way, it was very prophetic.

Time for another metaphor: if Sand was some kind of fruit, what would it be?

Jinte: Maarten, you eat a lot of fruits. You can answer that. (laughs)

Maarten: Shit. Maybe a coconut. The hard husk stands for the electronic part. It grows on a palm tree and then falls in the sand. On the inside, you have some juice that … (laughs) Lifeblood, which is the soul of our music … Wow.

Jinte: You forgot the flesh Maarten. Is a coconut even a fruit?

Maarten: There’s also the hair on it because we passed puberty.

Do you consider yourself also a coconut?

Maarten: No, more like a pious West-Flemish boy. That’s also some kind of fruit.

Jinte: I can’t think of a better answer than that.

What’s the perfect spot to listen to Sand?

Maarten: I find it very fun to listen to music in my car, in general. On the highway. It has to be dark. Maybe some rain or something. Fog.

Jinte: Coincidentally, that’s the exact way I listened to the record.

Were you satisfied?

Jinte: It’s too soon to answer that question. When you just finished an album, you’re still very close to it. I’m really looking forward to playing it live. That’s the moment you can start celebrating. It’s the end of a long process when you can finally take some distance from it.

Maarten: I’m happy to finally release the record. We can’t postpone the release forever. Finally, something that happens in our lives. Being able to share music with people … it may not be live yet, but it’s something.

Balthazar will go on a European Tour to promote their new album.

Pictures by Alexander D’Hiet

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