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Interview: Alex Callier of Hooverphonic

Hooverphonic is a Belgian band most recognizable for their specific sound which is the mixture of alternative rock, indie pop, electronica, trip-hop, and other genres. Current band members are Alex Callier (bass guitar, keyboards, programming), Raymond Geerts (lead guitar) and Luka Cruysberghs (lead vocals). I got the opportunity to chat with Alex Callier right before their concert at Kombank dvorana in Belgrade, Serbia. This was the first time they performed in Serbia.

How’s the tour going?

Tour is going really well. It’s quite exciting to play for the first time in Serbia; and tomorrow we’re going to Macedonia, Skopje. We never played there before, so it’s kinda exciting. After 23 years, we’ve played in so many places but we never played here before. It took us 23 years to get here, so it’s going well. The crowds are really good, very enthusiastic.

How are you feeling knowing that you have fans all over the world; even here in Serbia?

It’s great! It’s quite unbelievable, you know. Somebody asked me today: “So when did you start thinking about a career as a musician?” So, when I was 10-year old I wanted to become a musician.

It’s a dream come true…

So, it’s a dream come true, yeah. It’s quite funny, you know. Of course, I had a talent, you know. But it’s not enough to have talent. You need more than that; you need talent, you need a vision, you need to know where you wanna go, and at the same time, you need a little luck, so… But we already had luck a couple of times; we’ve already had a couple of hits, so it’s great to see that. This year we’re even going to play in China. We’ve never played in China before. Like last night as well. You see people know Anger Never Dies and Mad About You and Eden and Jackie Cane, you know. And you play new tracks Romantic and Uptight and they know them as well, so… And that’s the thing I’m most proud of, I think. After all these year’s we’re still making singles that people like, you know. It’s not just about two tracks and then the rest… It’s way more than that.

You released the 10th album. What makes this record special and different from the previous ones?

Well, first of all, we have a new singer, so that makes it already different.

And she’s only 18.

She 18 years old. I’m a coach at The Voice in Belgium and I met her there. She chose me as a coach and we won the competition. And at first we weren’t actually thinking about working together, we were just thinking about like, maybe recording a single for her or whatever. So, I sent her 10 tracks and one of them was “Romantic” and I knew I wouldn’t give it to her because I knew it was like meant as a single for Hooverphonic. And of course, she chose that track! She’s like “That’s the one wanna do.” And I was like “No! That’s not possible! That’s the Hooverphonic single, the first one.” And then she said like “Then I’ll have to join the band if I wanna sing that song, you know.” And then I’m like: “Yeah. Well, let’s try it, you know; see what happens.

And I recorded it already with three singers before and I recorded it with Luka and it was always not exactly how I wanted it to be. It was always like something was missing. And she sang it, like a couple of takes, and it was perfect. And that was the first time when we started thinking Wow, that’s quite special… being a Hooverphonic singer, you need to have a certain vibe and certain atmosphere in your voice, it needs to kinda match with the music. It’s not just finding a good singer; there are plenty of good singers. But you’re not looking for a good singer, you’re looking for the right singer and that’s a completely different story. So, there we had a match and then we tried some more demos. I think we tried “Horrible person” and “Paranoid affair”, a couple of tracks on the album. And it all worked; we did well, and she always made them better than the demos, which is kinda cool because it’s not quite easy. Sometimes demos are really good already and now they’re special, you know. Like, everything sounds good. And sometimes I write with singers that are really good singers, so sometimes you need to kind of like, do better. And she did! And then I thought “Okay, so she can sing new songs.”

So when we’re on the road, like tonight, we’re gonna play 8 new songs and the rest is like 15 old songs or even more old songs so it’s like back at old as well in our case because we’re already for 23 years on the road. So, we organize a little kind of like a showcase, only for friends, some people from business, some people that are really into Hooverphonic… Also kinda people that dare to tell me the truth, that dare to tell me: “Alex, this is really shit, this is really bad!” Because I want the truth, I want honest people, you know… So, we did that. We gave her three weeks to study classics and she did really well. Everybody loved it. And that’s the moment when we said like – she can sing the back-up, she can sing the new stuff, so she’s the one! I have to admit, I did hesitate for a moment because she’s only 18. That’s really young, you know. But then again, I thought like- our first singer was 17 when we first started. It’s not that different. And in the end, my wife said: “Is she talented? Yeah! Is she doing a good job? Yeah! So what are you hesitating? Age is not important.” And it’s true, you know. So yeah… That’s a big difference. But also, on this album, we have a couple of influences. Singles are a bit more pop…

It’s more popular…

Yeah, that’s it! But, if you listen to the album, like “Lethal Skies”, “Paranoid Affair”, “Concrete Skin”, “On And On”, “Feathers and Tar”, “Long Time Gone” – there’s a lot of dark slow tracks; electronic tracks on the album. I love programming again. And it’s been a while because we left the programming a while ago. We played, I think, from The President of the LSD Golf Club, we were already playing everything live and we stopped programming. We didn’t do it on The President, we didn’t do it on The Night Before, we didn’t do it on In Wonderland, you know; most of the stuff was played. So we went back at the electronic side of Hooverphonic, and that combined with the young voice it makes a bit more “hip” or whatever…

Most of the time, I’m madly in love with strings; but lately, I always try to do an album with and an album without… So this one is without strings, without orchestration. I wanted it all to be about her voice and not about the orchestra. So, we’re on tour now; it’s six people, small band. We can tour with just eight on the road and that makes it possible to tour a lot. And we were missing that a bit because we were playing a lot of big orchestras in Belgium and Holland, but it was impossible to export it; it was too expensive. So, we tried to export it; in Prague, we did a little orchestra and we did it in Holland, but at the time nobody wanted it, and now we’re touring without strings and everybody’s like: “How did you come back with strings?” So, we played a couple of sold-out shows in Istanbul, a couple of weeks ago; and I’ll probably do it without an orchestra again. That’s gonna be the next step for Luka to see how she copes with that. So, it’s nice to be on the road again, and it makes it possible to play in smaller clubs or places where we’ve never played before.

So, which one do you prefer – smaller clubs or bigger shows?

It’s not good for my bank account, but I prefer smaller clubs. Most of the time, we do it on purpose. Like, in Istanbul we sold out a club of 800 people three nights in a row, so that’s like 2400 tickets. We could’ve easily done it with a big club. But, I like the intimacy of a small club. I like that I can talk to the audience; that I can see their faces, that I can see their reactions. I like the interaction, you know. So I really enjoy playing in small venues. Who cares that it doesn’t make me rich? It’s all about fun as well. But sometimes in Belgium, we played for like 5000 capacity; so we do play at big venues. But after the big venue, I said to Raymond: “It’s 5000 capacity, but if we played for 800, we could’ve probably sold out 3 times. And then we’d play 3 nights in a row and that’s more fun, you know. So, I like small venues probably because of my background. I’m an alternative kind of guy; I only listen to alternative music, so I only go to alternative gigs myself.

What musicians are your biggest influences?

There’s a lot… John Berry, of course. But also people like Scott Walker. Scott Walker died on Monday. He was a big influence for me; and also Neil Halstead. But at the same time, I like Dig Deep and all the Guitar Hero. And then you have like Hank Marvin, you know.  I’m a big fan of Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine and that kind of stuff. So, if you listen to The President of the LSD Golf Club, there’s a lot of inspiration from psychedelic bands like The Electric Prunes and Pink Floyd.

So, it’s always the weird mix. And that’s how’s tonight’s gig gonna be. You start with like some kind of dark mood, then some classic songs with strings, then you have some very inspired James Bond tracks like “Anger Never Dies”. Then you have “Eden” which is very intimate and kind of turn down. And then we go into the whole spectra of sound and we do “Mad About You” and before you know we play disco. So, it takes you to a lot of places, but I like that. I don’t like that nowadays everything is so labeled.

I really love Cigarettes After Sex, and I went to see them, but they only had one record, so they played for like 40 minutes. And I asked myself like, would they make a second record in the exact same style; but then they’d play for an hour and a half and it would become boring. I like variation. That’s why I like 60s records a lot, I guess. On The White Album by The Beatles, you have “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” which is a beautiful pop song and then you have “Bungalow Bill” which is somehow funny, humoristic kind of folk song. On the same record, you have “Helter Skelter” which is kinda hard rock; you have “Rocky Raccoon which is a folk song; “Back in the U.S.S.R.” which is rock ‘n’ roll… I like that; I like variation.

And that’s what is Hooverphonic about. We don’t wanna stand at the same spot; we wanna move and evolve… I was a big fan of David Bowie for that reason. Although I didn’t like every record he made, I had a lot of respect for him because he dared to kinda change.

I always try to compare it to a chair. If my voice is a beautifully designed chair and you put it in a room; and year after year you keep it in the same room, after a while you get fed up with it. We were smart enough to work with other producers, sometimes really extreme. We take different producers and the producers will completely redecorate the room – the chair would stay, but the room would be completely different, so you look at it as a new chair ‘cause the environment is completely changed. It’s really smart to every 2-3 years redecorate your room, to get a new producer, you know.

Are you already thinking about the next record and what should you change again?

Not yet. I’m always working and when I’m on a road I write music. But it’s like a boat floating on the river and the motor is not on yet, but at some point, it gets a direction. At some point, you put an engine on it and go for it; like this is the direction we want. So, it’s always an on-going process. That’s a fun thing about being a musician – you always know where you are today, but you never know where you’ll end up tomorrow. For some people it’s frightening. Some people are like: “I couldn’t live like you.” The future is one big question mark, but that’s probably the thing we’re kind of addicted to… like insecurity. And it triggers you, and it’s also good for creativity, I think.

What record are you the proudest of? Is there any specific song that will always be your number one favorite?

It’s difficult. It’s like asking to choose between your kids, I guess. I don’t have kids and I don’t want kids but if I tried to imagine if I would have kids, you can’t say: “This is my favorite.” But I like “Stranger”- it’s a beautiful song, both lyrically and musically. And also “Someone” is a song from the first record that we don’t play anymore, but it’s still special to me. But on the last record, I love like “Paranoid Affair”. We don’t play it live tonight. And on every record there is the song I like and we don’t play it live and most of the time people don’t know it, but that’s how it is. My dad says that “Eden” is the best song I’ve ever written and probably a lot of people would agree. But again if you ask the crowd they will say “Mad About You”. It makes me proud that people wanna hear all these songs and it gives me a lot of energy night after night.

And lastly, do you have any message for your fans?

Just keep on showing up at our gigs, ‘cause that’s what we like to do! We like playing gigs and being on the road. We’ve been on a road for a while now and it’s something I really like. It’s also the only way to see how popular you are in some countries. In Skopje we sold out 800 capacity for two nights; I was amazed! Tonight as well… More than 700 tickets; it’s good for the first time. So keep on showing up, and next time we’ll sell it out.

About Jelena Jelisavcic

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