As an artist you want to leave something behind. Your legacy to the world. A proof of what you have done in life. A sign that you have lived, left something behind, that you left a mark.
Last year Belgium’s BARST released their critically acclaimed debut full length album The Westerns Lands through Consouling Sounds. When BARST played in Antwerp at Het Bos as support for Mirrors For Psychic Warfare, Dave Mace caught up with Bart Desmet of the band to talk about how The Western Lands came together, influences such as Sonic Youth and more.
(((o))): Welcome and congratulations on your first full length album. So many amazing reviews have been written for The Western Lands. How does the way it was received make you feel?
Bart: ….[Silence]…. Speechless. I can die in peace now. I have gained my peace of mind. I am relieved, it’s done. I’ve reached such a fantastic personal milestone, now I won’t leave the planet as a failure. I’ve been making music all my life, but it really is my magnum opus. Looking at my previous record, this new album had to be the one. But of course now I want a new one and make an even better one. [laughs] Like I said, I am relieved now and I’ve found my inner peace knowing that I’ve put it out there.
(((o))): Can you remember what the origin of your passion for music was?
Bart: When Daydream Nation by Sonic Youth was released in ’88. We were hanging out with some friends in a garage, playing table tennis. Beside the table we had a ghetto blaster and a cassette tape of Daydream Nation. We pressed play and I heard ‘Teenage Riot’ for the first time and I was sold. Those guitars were sounding so different than anything I heard before. Until that point I was listening to punk and new wave. I always had a creative spot, but when I heard this, it changed it all. I knew then that you don’t have to be able to play classical guitar music, but that you are able to make fantastic music in a free and unconventional way. Shortly after that I bought my guitar and never missed a Sonic Youth concert in Belgium from that moment on.
(((o))): Where do you get your inspiration from when you are writing your music? From a certain feeling? Or from influences of certain bands?
Bart: It starts with looking for a certain sound and after that I try to find myself in some sort of a trance while playing. When that happens, a certain flow will be born. I was just talking to someone here at the venue a minute ago and he told me that The Western Lands easily could have been a 4x LP because it was so compressed as a whole together that kept on going and going and there’s some truth in that. These 44 minutes could also have been 176, but it would have been too early for that, now I wanted it to be like a slap in the face. But yes, it is the trance that I’m looking for. A listening session needs to be a kind off transcendental experience.
(((o))): What are the influences for the sound you are looking for? Bands like Sonic Youth?
Bart: There are all sorts of influences actually. Mostly guitar sounds and not so much the vocals. For example: if you listen to My Bloody Valentine – Loveless, those vocals are so deeply interwoven in the music that they’ve become an instrument in the sound and not a vocal texture. Same with the vocals of Mike Armine from Rosetta. His vocals also are a perfect example of how he uses his vocals to blend in with the music so it becomes an instrument that thickens up the music. Layer on top of every layer. So I have to say that the sound of something has the main influence on my music.
(((o))): Are you looking to create a wall of sound?
Bart: I see it as a box where you are standing in. A thick mass of music will be poured into it. Layer on layer the music will be stacked up in that box. Filled up to the top until the music is everywhere around you, encloses you.
(((o))): Niels Verwijk made the cover of the album. [an excellent cover btw] How did that work? Did you give him carte blanche or did you have some guidelines for the cover design?
Bart: Everything fell into place when we were working on the album. As an artist you want to leave something behind. Your legacy to the world. A proof of what you have done in life. A sign that you have lived, left something behind, that you left a mark. Then the idea of The Western Lands came up. According to the Egyptian Book of the Dead, ‘The Western Lands’ is a place where Egyptian souls go on a quest for immortality after they’ve died. The cut up techniques of William S. Burroughs also are a part of the cover design and of course, layering, since that is also what the music does. Those were the topics that had to be part of the cover design. We started off with a whole different concept, but from the moment we knew that it would be The Western Lands everything fell into place. Niels just hit it on the right spot immediately.
(((o))): I see different people and instruments in your line up this time [Mathlovski, Tokyo Oyo, Herr Man]. Can you explain about that? Does this line-up change depends on the set you will be playing?
Bart: Well, when I get dates for a gig I notify all of them and it depends who is available that evening and the nature of the venue. Too bad Nico [Empusae] couldn’t make it tonight, but most of the time we play with the same members. But again, the venue plays a part in that. Let’s assume that someday we’ll play in a discotheque, the line-up of the members on that evening also will be different [laughs].
(((o))): Many of the additional vocals are recorded in different studios. How those the process of international collaborations work in your case?
Bart: I wrote the most part of the record in the period of six months. After that I looked at the tracks and thought: this is perfect for Armine, this part for Dehn Sora [Treha Sektori]. With Dehn it was BAM! and he immediately hit the right spot. Mike Armine’s part was initially for another track, but when I heard his vocals, I wanted to do something else with it and I just created a totally new piece of music for his vocals.
Nico, Tokyo Oyo and Herr Man came over to the studio for a one day session to record their parts and after that it was like doing the whole writing process all over again. It needed to be just perfect. But, it’s about working with the right people, next to the contributing artists I definitely wanted to work with Tim De Gieter from MuchLuv Studio again. We worked with him for the Tri’Muerti, and I just clicked with the guy. There’s so much love and he totally understands what I have in mind, his technical qualities are at such an high level, no doubt that my next releases I’ll be working with him again.
(((o))): You’re playing Dunk! Festival again? Any other gigs planned?
Bart: Well, things are getting organised and we’ll get those dates out there at the right time.
(((o))): You collaborate with so many people, anyone that you really want to work with? What would be your dream collaboration?
Bart: That is not the way that I work. I won’t sit together with someone and start building something. I have done that in the past, but that doesn’t work for me. I will create something, send it to someone and maybe something will happen or not. Of course I would love to do something with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, but I prefer to keep that as a fantasy, maybe the guy is an asshole and then the whole picture I have of him will be flushed down the drain and I don’t want that. I think in time other collaborations will present themselves spontaneously, when I see how the album has been received. When I look at the Consouling scene, there are so many people involved in that scene. Everybody knows each other, there so much possible, so new collaborations will be inevitable in time. It has to feel good, you cannot force it. There has to be a certain click. A natural flow.
(((o))): I cannot help it, but I also hear and feel a certain Mono vibe when I listen to BARST when I’m only focussing on the guitar.
Bart: Ah Mono….. yes I’d also would love to make a record with Mono. I understand your feeling. Indeed. They give you a whole experience. Maybe even similar to what we do.
(((o))): We talked about it in private so I already know the answer, but any potential plans for merchandise and if so, what will it be?
Bart: The concept is ready, but now we just have to sit down for a moment and say: let’s do this.
(((o))): Can you tell me something about the gear you use on stage?
Bart: That’s classified info [laughs]. That will remain a mystery. That is also the reason there was blowing smoke on stage [laughs again]. But jokes aside, we add and fit new gear in there when we have extra money. So the gear we use constantly changes. One thing is for sure, you can never have enough loopers and volume faders.
(((o))): Let’s end with a funny anecdote about how we met for the first time 1.5 years ago. Without your help I would still be locked out of a parking lot in Ghent. What was so special about that evening that would be relevant for your album?
Bart: [laughs] That evening Mike Armine (Rosetta) and Michael Wohlberg [tFk! Illustration] had a special ambient/drone closing session of the Rosetta tour at the Consouling Store, where they presented artwork that they created for that evening. After that they spend the night at my place before I took them to the airport and that was basically when our collaboration for The Western Lands started. We immediately had a special connection. Don’t underestimate his effort on what he did on the album. He did more than just vocals on the album. He also created beats and drones. I’ve heard him play some drones during the closing session and I was thinking: “Wow I really want those.” So before we hit the studio, during the entire creation process Mike Armine was really involved as a kind of soundboard. I send all drafts and try-outs to him during those six months of the creation process, he was like my guide and mentor for the album.
Short live review of their show at Het Bos in Antwerp:
This was the second time I had the pleasure to see BARST perform live. It was a dark venue with lots of smoke, which was a perfect fit for the setting of the evening. It was a whole different experience than the first time I saw them. The album tracks sounded so different than the original album version tracks. The vocals of Mike Armine on the track ‘The Western Lands Pt1’ were resampled and it felt like he was in the same room.
You could feel the layers being stacked on top of each other, building its way to a climax. An unexpected climax happened when a techno bass started to kick it. (not the same as on ‘The Western Lands Pt1’, but a different kick that was being morphed. All of a sudden the legendary acid bass of the TB-303 started to play with that bass kick and became an acid techno intermezzo that surprised the audience in a nice way. It kept on going and you could see how much BARST frontman Bart was enjoying himself while he was in that special zone. The techno sounds faded out and samples took over from there and the start of the next track was born.
Bottomline: whenever you will see BARST live, no set will be the same and that really is BARST’s power. Keep on doing your thing guys!!!
Photography credits go to: Koen de Gussem.