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By: Writer Name
Photography credits: Amenra 2015, Fribourg CH by Stefaan Temmerman
I started my writing career at Echoes and Dust with my review of Amenra’s Live I album, which propelled my interest in this band and the Church of Ra scene enormously, turning me into a big fan. When Amenra was announced to play this year’s Damnation Festival in Leeds I couldn’t resist the opportunity to sit down with Amenra’s enigmatic singer Colin H. van Eeckhout (CHVE) and we had an interesting conversation about the band, Church of Ra and the band’s aesthetics.
(((o))): Colin thank you for taking the time to talk to me. How are things? Are you happy to be back in the UK?
CHVE: Things are fine, thank you. Yes, it is good to be back, I don’t know how long it’s been. Was it Beyond the Redshift in London? It could be. I think the festivals like Beyond the Redshift and Temples Festival have all been good for us.
(((o))): It’s been 3 years ago now I think when you played the small stage at Damnation?
CHVE: I think so. I remember the stage was really small. We were joking about it: “We’re playing in the toilets?”
(((o))): So what’s going on these days with Amenra? It’s been a while since your last album Mass V was released. You’ve done a couple of little releases and tracks here and there, but any progress on Mass VI?
CHVE: We did an awful lot, we made a short film, we did a lot of film scores for movies and docs, dance performances, but that happens under the radar, so it might look like we haven’t done a lot more than playing live, but we have never stopped creating. We thought it was time now to dive underground again and write our new album. Because if we play live we don’t get to write, so we felt it was time to stop playing live and write until we’re satisfied, and come out again.
(((o))): Earlier today I heard a rumour when a colleague of mine was saying that today’s (Damnation) show might be one of the last times we can actually see Amenra live?
CHVE: No, no, it is not our intention to stop at any point in our lives, but it’s been 3 years now since we released the last album and we could still keep on touring on that album, but we feel the time has come to write new songs, and see what goes from there.
It’s time to resource.
(((o))): You all have loads of other obligations besides the band as well, right?
CHVE: Yeah, we all still work full-time and most of us are fathers. We have an exact limited amount of days off a year for instance, so we can really do no more than we can handle. Familywise and jobwise. We have to keep everything in balance, that’s also why we can’t do everything at the same time, projectwise. But I think that’s also our strength as a band. We take the time. That’s why we’ve existed for 15 years already as we make time to do everything that needs to be done at a certain point.
(((o))): You don’t think you could make a living from your music?
CHVE: No, probably not. We invest a little bit too much and then we have to buy projectors every couple of months, do the travelling and the filming for the live visuals, artwork and what not. They are small things that kinda take up a lot of money and we also end up paying more than your average on merch or artwork as we always try to do something special or do the extra mile. But you don’t know if it pays off in the end, but it’s better to have something you’re proud of than something that’s worth nothing and you end up throwing away. It’s a bit like your legacy so you want it to be precious to everyone.
(((o))): But you’ve not been sitting still as you’ve just released your side project Harlowe (available through here), and there’s a solo record coming out on December (pre-order available through here). Is that going to be and acoustic album?
CHVE: The solo album is more like drone inspired. It’s just me with a hurdy gurdy and effects, percussion and my voice. It’s more like a ritualistic approach of drone, folk, whatever. It is hard to pinpoint. It’s more music to live, than to listen to. It was a challenge for me, to be alone. In what I do, mostly I created within my head and I work from there in groups with friends. My uncertainty is my biggest weakness and strength at the same time.
Harlowe was a darkfolk project we did some years ago, with Tim (TBHR/Hessian), Lennart (Ra, Oathbreaker) and Lucy. We ended up jamming a couple of times, and I had written some blueprints already for an acoustic EP. So then the pieces fell together and in a rather short time we had it done. It’s nice to have it out now.
The time was right.
(((o))): Is it similar to Mathieu (Vandekerckhove)’s drone with Syndrome?
CHVE: Yeah, but he’s based around his guitar, so that’s quite different. The hurdy gurdy is a totally different instrument. I just wanted to go back to the more traditional, old style way of making drone music and getting it out of a wooden instrument instead of getting it out of a computer. That’s the idea I started with. From there came looped rhythms, melody and vocals. Whenever I play, it feels like drowning to me. Fire to the flames, water to the drowned.
(((o))): Coming back to Amenra, I consider Amenra more than just a musical band. It touches upon various levels of art.
CHVE: That’s our way of translating of how we see the things happening around us. It sounds a bit cliché as we see it as a diary, but it is a diary of everything that we see around us. It is our story.
(((o))): Is your view a very ‘bleak’ view? Because that’s the feeling I get sometimes when I listen to Amenra and watch the videos and so.
CHVE: No it is a very realistic view in a way. It’s not that we’re pessimists or whatever. But I mean there’s a lot of bad things happening in a human life. Those tend to leave a bigger mark or weight, and we focus on them and we go from there. Those are the moments in a human life that are crucial and dangerous. How you cope with the severe shit happening and how you work with that. How it translates itself into how you will pursue your way as a human being. Will you go under, or will you get stronger out of it and that’s the thing that we want to explore. That’s why we say we walk from the darkness on towards the light. And that’s kind of the core. Of everything we do.
(((o))): People definitely pick up on that as well. When I talk to people about Amenra and the music their feelings are usually very similar to mine. I’ve only seen Amenra once before at Beyond the Redshift in London and I was with a group of friends who were not convinced about seeing your set there as they are not big fans of the type of music. After you played they all thought it was amazing though as it touches you deep within.
CHVE: That’s because there’s a universal core. Even if it’s not your exact style of music the starting point of what we do is something you can’t deny of being a part of you of everyone. And I think that’s why we reach different people, from people who aren’t into heavy music at all, to metal fans, to folk lovers to whatever. I think it’s the sincerity and honesty that makes it truthful, it’s base is the essence we all know we carry within us.
(((o))): It’s also the live experience, with the backdrop and the films playing in the background while you’re playing play an essential part. Without that it would be a completely different show.
CHVE: Yes they are. It would be different yes. Because we want the people to be able to focus on what works best for them. If you want to close your eyes and just listen to our music, good. If you want to look at us and how the energy manifests itself, that’s cool. If that doesn’t do the trick we want you to be able to find yourself in the abstract movements or images. We want to be able to reach our goal by any means necessary basically. And that’s why we have everything under control and attack all senses at the same time.
(((o))): You work together with various people coming from various levels of arts, like photographers, film makers, writers etc. Do these people approach you or do you or anyone in the band pick up on something?
CHVE: Our Paths cross at a certain point, in some way or another. It’s not like we look for someone we need or someone who could make a video for us, or we look for someone who could do an album cover or something. It just happens. From that moment that we meet, something new is born. Or sometimes we create in function of this “meeting”. In a way all those people individually are doing the same thing as we are in their trajectory towards getting answers to what they are seeking. And that’s what we do and we realise that and with one look in each other’s eye, we realise we’re looking for the same thing in our own means. And that’s where we meet each other and force each other to be able to dig even deeper towards the things that we look for.
(((o))): Let’s talk about Ghent for a bit, where the majority of Church of Ra originates from. It is a very small place and I’m sure loads of people have never even heard of it. But Amenra and the whole Church of Ra family have basically put it completely on the map. Do you know of any other places in Belgium where similar things are happening?
CHVE: Not that I know of. And Belgium is so small. There surely will be good things happening in other parts of the country, but maybe we just work a little harder to be heard or something. Or longer and harder.
But we’ve all been around for a long long while. We’ve been playing shows with Wim (Wiegedood) since 10 years ago for example. He played with his band, we played with ours. We saw each other every weekend from then on. I went to school with Lennart. I come from the same little village as Mathieu. So we all know each other really well, and we all have a long history being musicians as well. So automatically we all have our luggage or baggage that we built in the past. And our friendship to carry the load.
(((o))): What I loved about seeing Wiegedood’s set earlier is that whole Church of Ra family feeling that was noticeable. I spotted Amenra members watching the show from backstage and you were actually on stage during the set making sure everything was okay.
CHVE: Well, you got to help out where you can. We all aim for the maximum impact of our energy. Then it’s best for everyone to bundle. We want to reach and touch as many hearts as possible, strangle if necessary.
(((o))): Consouling Sounds is now the official place where people can buy Church of Ra merchandise, online as well as in their Consouling Store in Ghent. Mike and Nele’s store seems to be the go to place for musicians in Ghent or not?
CHVE: We get together there a lot. We meet each other there on breaks or when something gets arranged we meet there. Mathieu and I work pretty much 500 meters from the store, so we’ve been there a lot. But Ghent, it lives you know. From one thing comes another and that’s how the spiral goes upwards. And I’m pretty sure we’re not at the end yet of the possibilities. Nele and Mike are really good warm-hearted people that we met along the way and who appreciate us and completely understand us for what we do. And they let us do our thing without interfering and that’s really nice. And in our ways we want to keep it close to home. Because that way we are most in control. And it stays true.
(((o))): Mass V was released on Neurot Recordings. How did this connection get established?
CHVE: I think through the years we started playing with Neurot bands. There was like Red Sparowes and Made Out of Babies. That probably reached out to Neurot and said ‘hmm, there’s something happening out there that you should know of’. And Scott Kelly had a radio show around that time called Kombat Music Radio and then he started picking up on the things we did and we got in touch and then he came on tour and we played together for the first time with Blood & Time and Amenra. From then on there was a kind of a click you know. In a way we’re kind of similar to each other, Neurosis and Amenra. We lay low and do our things the best as we can. We worship the same altar.
(((o))): And Neurosis comes from a similar hardcore background as you guys maybe?
CHVE: They come more out of the crust punk scene and most of us come from the sxe hardcore scene. But we have a similar lifeline I think. Growing up, playing in the squats in the beginning, and being outcasts fought hard to find a place somewhere and to belong somewhere. Then suddenly they reached out and that’s where felt understood, where we belong. They understood and we appreciate each other’s hard work, which is really rewarding as a band.
(((o))): Scott Kelly also played at your official Mass V release show and he joined you on stage for ‘Nowena | 9.10’, which must have been amazing or not?
CHVE: At the moment of your release show you’re stressing so much that you don’t really have the time to take everything in how you should. But it is an amazing moment in time, even more that he wanted to contribute on our last album. That gives it the full circle feel, you know. It’s really nice to have the blessing or the appreciation of someone that you think has paved the way.
(((o))): But I understand you guys don’t play in the US?
CHVE: No. We have toured there twice in the past, but we haven’t really considered to do another tour in the US anymore as the culture is so different there. I mean, like I said we’ve been around for a very long time and we don’t really feel the urge to crawl around on our knees begging to play, to be received in some shithole or without people doing promotion for you and you end up playing for the bar tender or owner who looks pissed off at you. We had a lot of help on those tour, bands like Zoroaster, Battlefields, Made Out of Babies. They made it possible for us to travel the country and meet lots of nice people. Anyway, we got expelled out of the country so we couldn’t enter the country anymore either, haha.
(((o))): How did that happen?
CHVE: The first tours we started off like all hardcore punk bands so you don’t earn anything and the investment is huge. Now it’s even worse, you can’t afford to pay for visas for 8 people and the plain tickets and the van and backline rental. So we didn’t have that kind of money so we started off as tourists, starting the tour in NYC (Thanks Brendan!) And left from there after the tour was finished. But the second time we made the mistake to take the tour into Canada. And then we had to re-enter the border and we had all the gear with us, we had 2 bands in the van plus tour passes, posters, flyers etc. You could see them make the connection and that kinda fucked us over. And nowadays they’re not as dumb anymore than 10 years ago. I mean, they go online and they can see you have shows promoted and you’re fucked. The risk is too high. We might try and get up there again someday, but we have to be certain it will work out and we don’t lose too much money.
(((o))): You’re in the UK now for 3 shows, which is kinda like an exception, isn’t it? Doing a mini tour like this?
CHVE: For a decade we tried to play every little city possible in Europe, but times change and our time schedules don’t allow it anymore so we appreciate people also coming our way. We go there and they come to see us, which works best for us. So we limit it, at least we try to. In a country like the UK 3 shows is enough for the whole country if you want to come and see us.
(((o))): But 3 English dates is not the UK and you have never played in Scotland!
CHVE: We would love to play everywhere, but we have to make choices. And then a festival like Damnation is good for us as it draws people in. We have to limit ourselves to the bigger things to reach to as much people at once as we cannot afford it anymore to do more. And it’s nice Wiegedood and Oathbreaker play here as well as it’s always nice for us to be together, we can always count on each other and help each other out. The more control we have, the more we like it really. And it all makes more sense.
(((o))): Are there any release you have done and you wish you could have done them again so you would do something different?
CHVE: Yes, everyone of them. Because that’s how we work. We look at something and when it’s done, we’re somewhat happy and then we’re starting to look at things that could have been done better. Obviously production wise as we did things ourselves for the first 4 albums, in our rehearsal rooms, in our bedrooms, etc. You can imagine recording our first album in a decent studio to start off with, you know everything would have been better. And you learn along the way, from mistakes and from experience. But I like to evolve from shitty production to better and better instead of having your first one as the best one and everybody’s saying that everything following is the same. Or worse.
(((o))): So, Mass VI. Any idea when that will happen? Anywhere in 2016, or more like 2017?
CHVE: I think right now side projects are going to get attention over the next 6 months and we’re writing the album. We’re writing a full acoustic album as well. So we don’t know when what will come. Probably 2017. Who knows.
(((o))): Thanks a lot for this great conversation Colin!
CHVE is going on a European tour with Scott Kelly in January to promote his new solo album.