New music: Hooverphonic on perfect imperfection

Summary

Flemish band took recording for their latest album to a host of unlikely venues in search of a different sound

Patchwork approach

This spring in the Champagne region of France, a lorry driver smashed into the gates of a listed house. It was an accident, but still: It wasn’t part of the plan when Hooverphonic chose it as one of the houses where they were going to record their new album, Reflection. Luckily, it wasn’t as dramatic as it first looked.

“We feared our stay in France would end before it had started," recalls singer Noémie Wolfs, “but the caretaker of the neighbouring house reassured us that it was not the end of the world.” And it wasn’t. The recording went ahead as scheduled.

The recording of Reflection also took place closer to home: in a house in Ghent; in a loft that used to be a brickworks in Boom, Antwerp province; in an old farm in Hasselt and a church in Hoeselt. The band had good reason to choose such a laborious recording process.

“Over the years, things have changed a lot on a technical level: It’s much easier to record and mix your music yourself,” points out Alex Callier, the band's leader. “But it also leads to a standardisation. Everything sounds the same because all over the world everyone is using the same digital plug-ins, which create the same effects. Reflection is a reaction against that."

Callier stresses that he has nothing against the use of computer or plug-ins, “but on the new album, we wanted a sound that no one else could create. So the starting point was: We’re going to record in spaces where a recording has never been made before.”

Follow your instincts

They didn’t do it for financial reasons, Callier notes. “It would have been less expensive if we had just used one professional recording studio. We had to move four times and record much more than we needed."

Everything sounds the same… Reflection is a reaction against that

- Alex Callier

During an earlier interview, he continues "someone pointed out that The Rolling Stones recorded an album in a villa in the south of France, but that’s not what we did. We recorded all the songs at each different location and afterwards we made, for each song, a patchwork of the different recordings. Our approach led to a particular atmosphere: a perfect imperfection.”

At first, their record company wasn’t convinced by the idea of people hosting the band. Callier says: “They feared we would end up with freaks.” They didn’t, but surely they screened their hosts? “Almost not at all. We had one conversation, we listened to the room and that was it. In a case like this you have to follow your gut feeling. All our hosts turned out to be great people and that’s not surprising: Only open-minded folks would give their key to strangers and let them work in their house.”

Constant change

I first met Hooverphonic, then still called Hoover, at the beginning of 1996 when they were mixing their debut album in the now defunct Whitfield Street Recording Studios in London. Callier was the great talker of the bunch, and that hasn’t changed.

Maybe the next one will be a fully digital album. Or not. Only time will tell

- Alex Callier

The line-up, however, has been shaken up several times. Callier founded the band in 1994 with Frank Duchêne, who left after four years, and Raymond Geerts, who is still the band’s guitar player. Wolfs, who joined in 2010, is the band’s fifth singer. The most famous was Geike Arnaert, who held the post between 1998 and 2008 and went on to pursue a solo career.

“I wasn’t really prepared for what was going to happen to me,” Wolfs says, looking back on her beginning with the band. “Those first weeks I almost didn’t eat, that’s how stressed I was. But after playing and surviving the first show, at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels, I knew it could only get better. And it did.”

The surprises of Reflection are the three male voices that have been added to the music. Callier explains: “I wasn’t something we set out to do, but while writing and demoing the songs, we realised they asked for it. Live, I or one of the extra musicians used to sing backing vocals. We’re not the greatest singers in the world, so we went to look for some young singers. It’s not so surprising that we have replaced strings with singers, because strings are the instruments that are the closest to the human voice.”

If you want your gate smashed by a famous band, I’ll have to disappoint you: It’s not going be Hooverphonic. Callier “We’re not going to repeat this. It’s typical for Hooverphonic to keep changing. On No More Sweet Music we worked with an orchestra of 40 musicians. And we followed it up with The President of the LSD Golf Club, a trippy psychedelic album with no singles. Then we opted for pop songs with the grandeur of the 1960s. Reflection contains short songs – 15 for 42 minutes of music – without many frills. And maybe the next one will be a fully digital album. Or not. Only time will tell.” 

On tour from 23 March
Across Flanders
See website for dates

Photo: Matthias Therry

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