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Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

180 grams of integrity, 200% passion. Uncut D.I.Y. Now Dance.

My synth needs an hour to warm up

Interview Diederik Decroix
Photographs Jan-Pieter Snoeckx (studio) & Eva Vermandel (band)

It's their first interview ever, I'm told when I meet up with the band Paper Hats in Ancienne Belgique's Huis 23. While introducing myself to the band members and trying to figure out who's who, it's already obvious that this is a band that puts the collective before the individual. 

There's no room for ego's in this band. We inspire each other and the sum of all parts is way bigger than any of us could be on his own.

Paper Hats has its roots in electro project Eau Terminale, after one band member was impressed as a teenager watching Orbital live at Pukkelpop in 1999. It was the time of the legendary Galaticamendum cd's. Luc Janssens en Eric Smout, in those days in charge of the Studio Brussel radio playlist for the 'Krapuul De Lux' show, weekly received an anonymous Galaticamendum track: just one, brief but quite explosive track. Punk made by electronic music instruments. It all inspired that very same teenager to go out and buy his first synthesizer. Soon after he was joined by a guitar and bass player and a drummer and the eponymous band Killed by Soto (later: Syn Soto) was formed. 

"We learned a lot during those early years while experimenting with all different styles of music: post-rock, dub, Krautrock and electro à la Death in Vegas. But also more psychedelic ventures in the way of Velvet Underground and early Pink Floyd stuff. Without Syn Soto we would never have gotten where we are today. We spent all those years getting to know our own instruments and finding the right set-up. This learning process was as important to our development as all the styles and music genres we were trying to emulate in those years. We wrote a lot of material but that hardly found its way out of our rehearsal room. Instead of going out there and trying out our stuff on stage, we just stuck to ourselves and kept on experimenting. That was also the beauty of Killed by Soto: those endless jams in a foggy rehearsal room. A great time that's part of what became Paper Hats; we still prefer trying out stuff in the studio rather than playing live. Though we also enjoy the latter thoroughly nowadays."

The beauty of Killed by Soto happened entirely in our rehearsal room

"The band name Paper Hats was picked from a track by This Heat. First we didn't really need a name because we would never leave our rehearsal room. We didn't take our music out there. Only after all those years of making music we felt the time had come to release some stuff we made. We finally had something worth of releasing to the world out there. Before we were never 100% happy with our material, although we surely recorded some good stuff. But with these songs all of us finally had the feeling there were good enough to release."

"Since we were all devoted vinyl collector's we decided our album had to be released on vinyl. We all had daytime jobs and sometimes it wasn't easy to find the time to get together and make music, but that turned out to be an advantage as well. We had to take our time, slowly building up our song material. Believe me, we had no other ambition in life than making music. Our daytime jobs also made it possible to financially support our music dreams. This album was entirely funded by us. Even if we manage to sell all 300 copies, we're still in debt to ourselves. But we don't care."

"We didn't go to a studio just like that, we asked our good friend and sound engineer Ruben Hoogewys to help us out. With his help we recorded and mixed all our material in our rehearsal room. Again, we took all the time we needed. We went for high quality and chose to press the album on 180 grams vinyl. 

Our ambition also shows in the meticulous way we took care of the artwork and sleeve design. The sleeve is basically a print of a folded paper hat: black on the front, white on the back. We wanted to bring back the paper hat theme in an abstract way and took a quick sketch to Valentijn Goethals of graphic design studio We Became Aware. He took it to another level, delivered some great work."

The band jokes that this design turns out to be iconic sleeve that would fit properly in Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier pt 2.

"The album title, PH02, is merely the catalogue number. First we wanted no specific album title, even the song titles on it are merely working titles cut short. We used our gut feeling, and played and recorded everything live. Because we mixed it ourselves without any experience on that field, the record sounds the way it does, pure and simple. The mixing process was an experiment as well, we had absolutely no reference frame to base upon, just our gut feeling. Starting from a basic mix there were just three guys and six hands on the mixing table, playing with the multitrack and building all moves (volume, panning..), effects and layers on it gradually in one take. Hence, the final tracks are a result of not just an organic recording process, but also of the special mixing attitude we chose for. If there were some minor errors, we considered them part of that unique process. Although the really bad ones definitely made us start all over again, we must admit."

In this lab, on this evening, we're storm chasers No ego, only synergy And that inevitable pulse. Bend. Break. Bounce. Believe.

"There was three of us working on this record, but there's actually four of us in the band. The sole female band member just had a kid and had to withdraw to the background for a while. Not fair, but she took care of it and found people to help her out taking care of the baby, so now there's the four of us again rehearsing our material."

"The entire band worked out all the details and small issues, it had to be perfect. Just like our music had to be perfect. We're control freaks. Even the music video for the track Zie we made ourselves. Soon we realized there's a lot of time and effort required to make all this happen, so for the music video of OSH we got Margarita Maximova involved, a young artist we trust entirely."

"In the meanwhile we already had our very first live gig. On stage we sound completely different, even more electronic in a way. Watching a live show and listening to an album, they're totally different experiences. Same goes for our attitude as a band. We mentally change completely when we go on stage."

"Since the way we work and record in the studio is based upon experiment, it's rather impossible to take that same process on stage. A lot of instruments we use in the studio just can't be used on stage." 

"For instance the Roland Jupiter-4 synthesizer. A magnificent piece of work, but totally unstable, so we can't take it with us on stage. It would be wrong to try and emulate that special synth sound on stage with a different synthesizer, so we just try and play those songs differently, try to create the same intense feeling with a different approach and different instruments. On this record we also experimented with tape recordings, which we don't use live either. We're no songwriters as such, it's all about the experiment. Without compromising. Not in the studio, not in stage. We'll always be an analogue band in that way." 

We could chose the easy way out and use computer recorded back-up, but then again, none of us is very handy with a computer.

"Rehearsals are extremely important to us as a band. Don't forget there's always six synthesizers that have to be adjusted and tuned in between tracks. We never use presets, because that's just not the way we record our music. So it would be wrong to use them live."

"Soulwax is a huge example for us. All four of us are huge fans of the two guys. They do it their way with a obvious love for the art of music, their sound, the instruments, the working process and most of all their fantastic music. You could say we don't make it easy on ourselves, but that's an essential part of who we are as a band. There's no other way to do it? Well, at least to us there isn't."

And Now Dance.

Bandcamp
Paper Hats are: Glenn Croughs, Yannick Desmet, Mich Leemans en Ann Verbruggen