As part of the Consouling Sounds collaboration EP series, Italy’s post rock / post metal act VANESSA VAN BASTEN and Belgian doom / sludge / post metal hybrid HEMELBESTORMER have teamed up for an amazing transcendental split record I decided to share with you here. Both bands should be no strangers for fans of post metal and post rock, having released a few exceptional records. I sat down with VANESSA VAN BASTEN and Filip Dupont representing HEMELBESTORMER to discuss this truly unique collaborative effort reaffirming their commitment to metaphysical and very atmospheric compositions. Read the full interview below.
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Thank you for agreeing to this interview and taking some time with me, guys! A lot of people are really excited about this new collaborative release of yours. How do you feel about it once it’s finally the big time of the grand premiere? :)
Vanessa: I feel good and I’m very satisfied of the job done.
Filip: Of course we are satisfied it has been finally released. We are trying to grab as many possibilities to promote it; through reviews, interviews and live shows.
Whose idea was this particular concept and the shape of the track listing?
Filip: Mike and Miguel (from the label) brought forth the idea of releasing a set of collaboration albums of artists who are somehow connected to ConSouling Sounds. HEMELBESTORMER is a new band, but in the past the label released albums of my disbanded previous bands. It’s more than a split release. It’s Vanessa Van Basten and HEMELBESTORMER working together on one lengthy track. We didn’t write a track “together” but sought a way to connect our songs. Vanessa Van Basten and we made a plus twenty minutes lasting track with hard parts and ambient intermezzos. Both songs had more or less the same structure. It was Morgan, from the Italians, who came up with the idea of connecting our tracks through the ambient parts, hence the titles “Portal I” and “Portal II”. It feels very natural, and even though we make more or less the same music, there’s a huge difference between their more soft and our more heavy approach.
Vanessa: Since the bands involved are quite different, I thought that the tracklist was very important. At the end I suggested this strange set, with our part in the middle and HEMELBESTORMER opening and closing the album. The cooperative tracks works like portals to other dimensions, they are the marginal land.
Bands in split albums are usually kept separated. This album is slightly different although it maintains some of this classic intention. The cooperation came after the invitation of Consouling Sounds to an anniversary release and their intention was to match two very different projects and see what could happen. Our contribution to the split consists of two complete songs, recorded in Genoa in 2013 and taken from a larger session. Two more parts has been expressly created to be mixed together with the most ‘ambiental’ parts provided by HEMELBESTORMER. After some email exchanges we’ve finally found the right balance and the cd took his definitive form.
I simply love the cover art for the release. Do you mind sharing your thoughts on this amazing picture? Is there more of it inside the physical package?
Vanessa: I think it’s a sort of iperrealistic Magritte… but please ask to the makers.
Filip: bass player Kevin is responsible for the artwork. It’s a combination of self-made photos, alterings by drawings and computer editing. Our music balances between darkness and light, so does the art. Inspired by grand artists such as Magritte, Friedrich and digital artists like Dave Mckean there are clear and obscure parts in the artwork. The empty, lonely landscape is our mind and the floating mountain is the truth. The truth cannot be questioned. It’ll lead us to new point of views. It’ll open new worlds. It’s a portal to the universe. The album is released as a digifile CD. That’s like a gatefold release for a CD. Inside it’s simple with just extra text and more information.
What struck me most on first listening to this album was your ability to the larger world of experience. I mean it guys, it’s really transcendent in a way. Damn, maybe it’s because I’m tired, but it really took me into a distant place ;) Do you think these particular genres you’re specialized in allow you to best create this connection?
Vanessa: Sure. When I started VANESSA VAN BASTEN back in 2005, my real goal was to make music strictly for myself, for meditation, for smokin’ pot. Then I discovered that I wasn’t alone and there was a lot of interesting bands trying to do the same thing, even in my country. I think that this musical scene reflects a will to escape from our materialistic society.
Filip: that’s a huge compliment and we gratefully bow our heads to you! HEMELBESTORMER isn’t a thirteen in a dozen band. We knew that from the very beginning. And you’re right our different musical backgrounds play a grand role here. I’m the main songwriter and I’m firmly rooted into black metal. In fact the whole sludge and doom scene is pretty much new to me. More than “Portal to the universe” the other songs are embraced with obscurity. Instead of following the typical post-rock schemes our songs emerge from shady black metal. Thus instead of being a sweat sounding minor chord post-band, we use dissonant, less common scales and create an atmosphere which is focussed on darkness (and on light).
Do you have a philosophy about post-rock and post-metal music these days? What do think about the idea that post rock is done and it’s not possible to invent anything new in that field?
Filip: I’m not that familiar with the post-rock scene. I only know the most familiar bands and standard post-rock cannot hold my attention very long. It’s very predictable. I think invention lies in the hybrid forms of the genre. You want names? DARK BUDDHA RISING blends post stuff with psychedelics, TERRA TENEBROSA mixes with creepy and weird dark music, Mgła plays black metal with some post elements and YEAR OF NO LIGHT adds a lot of atmosphere to their post sounding sludge. And there are plenty more of those bands to discover. Though there will always be a (huge) scene for classic post-rock such as MOGWAI and MONO. That part of the scene does not explicitly want to hear new things and I can’t blame them. Not everyone is up for innovation. When the bread you eat is tasty, you don’t go to another baker. It’s as simple as that.
Vanessa: I agree with it, the season of ‘post’ is over. Since 2010 we’ve started to fight the ‘bore’ adding vocals, making shorter songs with faster riffs, even if we were always at the borderline, considering our very strong ambient and shoegaze influences. I don’t want to look insolent, but let me say that I’m proud to belong to the first wave of Italian ‘post-metal’ scene, I mean here in 2004 there were probably 100 people ordering ISIS or PELICAN cds. I was likely the only one listening to SWANS in a town of 800.000. And I’ve seen all these bands at their first European tour, before their real explosion. Even more successful acts like UFOMAMMUT or ZU emerged from the same audience, they were there, at the gigs, listening. The critics were unable to define these records at the time, this is the proof of how genuine and creative was the scene. I take the occasion to suggest you one of the best Italian band of that period, they are quite unknown, I’ve always loved them. Check out JAGANNAH please!
I will, thanks so much! But following my last thought, please tell me, how do you feel about the general reception of your work? Do you care?
Vanessa: We didn’t have any promotion, except interviews and cds exchange. I don’t know if we made mistakes, but we don’t care so much. I’m happy when someone write to me saying he’s still deeply moved by my music. This is the greatest satisfaction. We don’t have many fans, but they’re really conscious about what VVB are focused on.
Filip: The feedback (from individuals through the net and in real life) we get is very positive. Thus far like 2 or 3 reviews were published. I don’t know if more will follow, but such a low quantity does not give a proper view on written feedback. I don’t really care about what’s told about our work, because I do believe we did something good and worth listening to. Yet I do care about our name getting spread and get the band noticed. At the moment we’re hard working on fixing some dates in Germany. Obviously it would work better if more people heard us or at least remembered the name from some review or alike.
Musically, who is your personal muse?
Haha, nice. And lyrically? Who are the best ones writing today?
Vanessa: I’m unable to recognize a good English writer, simply because a real English education in Italy began after the year 2000… at the time I was 20 and already out of school! On the other hand, we don’t have distractions from lyrics while listening to the music. In general it’s not a good thing but anyway interesting for creativity.
Filip: It’s hard for me to form a good opinion about it. Sure, I can tell you what I like and dislike, but that doesn’t mean I’m right. I like it when lyrics tell something and form a concept. My personal taste and interest go out to occult and esoteric themes, often with a historical undertone. Art, lyrics and music need to have a strong connection. It’s the whole picture that’s important. There are bands with good music and excellent artwork. But without good content my attention fades away.
Do you feel that you have much more freedom when writing experimental music as compared to more standard compositions?
Vanessa: Yes, of course, by definition. I don’t like limits and I love strong contrast in music and art. In addition I’m intrigued by lo-fi production and home recording, so I’m forced to make experiments with original sounds, even if bad, rough and dirty in most cases.
Can you tell us more about your writing and recording process? Is it a struggle? Or does it come in a flash?
Vanessa: As I’ve anticipated in the past question, I use to record the stuff by myself, then I call the technician for the mix, the mastering or simply when I look for an external point of view. That means unprofessional audio but great freedom and no deadline in the recording process. In many cases, the recording session coincide with the creation. In my opinion, the chance to listen over and over the same song during its creation is basic for a good result.
Filip: I practically write all music, but as a collective we shapen the songs during rehearsals. Ideas get changed and improved untill it’s 100% good. It takes time. We want everything to be perfect. All music for our upcoming record is basically written. However, it will take quite some time to get these tracks well balanced. Most the time I have ideas floating in my head. It’s just a matter of time to make some demo recordings at my home studio and introduce it to the drone squad. For “Portal” we did all recordings ourselves. Former synth player Joris (he moved to the UK) and I have got years of experienced doing low-budget home recordings. This time Joris took care of everything; from recording the drums and other instruments, mixing and mastering (the videoclip). Marco (from Vanessa Van Basten) took care mastering the CD. It took a lot of time and was quite hard actually. We are very satisfied about the result, but will go to a professional studio next time. It was just too intense like this.
Do you ever feel other activities distract from the creative writing? What are your addictions and other areas of interests?
Vanessa: I’m formerly a rock dj and I always liked to take care of music in parties, even very commercial stuff. My second passion is for cinema, especially art movies, horror and sci-fi. I don’t read many books and I hate sports and fast food. I also like to drink Italian wine, Belgian and Austrian beers (La Chouffe and Wieselburger are my fav), to smoke cuban cigars and of course some pot when the night comes.
Filip: There’s nothing really interesting to tell here, as I live a traditional life and don’t yearn for living every moment as it’s the last one. I detest the western capitalistic hedon way of thinking and find joy in the small things every day, as in nature and tranquillity.
Ok guys, let’s discuss your touring plans. What live shows do you have planned for this year?
Vanessa: No shows of Vanessa since 2010, sorry. But our bassist Stefano plays in a new band called ‘Mope’, they make gigs, check them out.
Filip: We aim for quality, not for quantity. We’ve got a few shows listed. We will be supporting Esoteric and Conan on their Belgian date. Also HMBSM will be storming the Alps on a local festival in Austria. That’s it. Expect a few German dates to follow later this year. Perhaps a Dutch one too. Next year there might be a short European tour, but because of job related issues, touring is almost impossible. Though we will try to set something up with out friends of DEUIL. Many ideas, but nothing for sure yet.
How do you try to make each of your live shows engaging and different?
Filip: Thusfar we did only one live show. Afterwards people told me they didn’t notice we don’t use vocals. Which is good. It’s the music that must punch people into a deep trance. A dark atmosphere and suiting visuals are set up to stengthen that mood.
Ok, besides touring, recording-wise, what’s on the horizon for you?
Filip: Live, we play three songs of which “Portal” is one. In total we have four unreleased songs to be shaped, altered, studied. I guess recordings will take place next year, so a new album could be put out at the end of 2015, early 2016.
Vanessa: I’m rehearsing for a new project in order to be able to reply to the previous question… I miss the stage but we live 500km far so now we are barely able to record our music. Beside this, only music, in other forms. This summer we’ll release a ‘lost tapes’ album covering 10 years of activity.
Ok then, what else? Is there anything more you would like to share with the readers?
Vanessa: Thank you for reading. Please buy many cds and vynils of underground bands and download all the shitty rest.
Filip: let the music do the talking and open the portal to our universe.
Thanks so much for your time! All the best!
Filip: Thank you as well!!! Your support is highly appreciated.
Vanessa: Thank you! Bye!