Bert Ostyn (Absynthe Minded)

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Bert Ostyn is the front man of Belgian indie rock band Absynthe Minded. Their debut ‘Acquired Taste’ was released in 2004, followed by strong successor ‘New Day’ just one year later. In those days, the vinyl revival was still a ways off, which explains why neither record was ever pressed onto vinyl. Ostyn himself, though, did begin collecting records somewhere halfway into the noughties. Having received a pick-up as a gift, he started wheelbarrowing in loads of black gold, most of it scored while touring the European continent with Absynthe Minded.

Ostyn enthusiastically frets over which records to dig out of his cupboard in the den of his gorgeous 60s bungalow, where he lives with his girlfriend and two kids. The house and the large garden are just outside Ghent’s city centre, yet smack in the middle of a protected nature reserve. Best thing he’s bought in his entire life, Ostyn says, clearly relaxed and happy to be here. He fetches a small stack of records from his music studio containing everything Absynthe Minded has ever released on vinyl.

During each zealous introduction, Ostyn talks about his collection like a well-seasoned radio host. He routinely puts the needle on the record, lets it spin for a bit and then goes on about the next favourite which he’s already prying loose from its sleeve. It’s a gorgeous trip through genres and continents.

Can you remember what your first record was?

Bert Ostyn: “I have no idea. As a teenager, I inherited a small stash from my parents, featuring bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Beatles. But when I started to listen to loads more music in the 90s, it was all CDs. And so I put together quite the collection. Today, though, I don’t buy CDs anymore. A vinyl record just does so much more to me. It’s tactile, has eternal value and just looks better. I like the ritual, the effort it requires you to make.”

When do you listen to records?

Bert Ostyn: “Regularly, but mostly when I’m home alone. What I like, is that one side of a record will go on for five or six songs and you’ll suddenly realise you’ve been sitting in silence for a while when they’re finished. I love books, movies and records. As a musician, I think it makes sense for me to collect music and to be able to experience it physically. I like to return to my own collection. My John Coltrane records, for instance, those just make me really happy. I love taking them out of the racks, looking at them, listening to them. I often buy records after a concert, too, which makes the object a powerful memento. I once saw Colin Stetson play at De Roma. He was on stage, all by himself, with a sax out of which he pulled an incredible sound. He uses his pads as a percussion instrument and even sings through his instrument. I bought his album ‘New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges’ that night. It’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before.”

How important is vinyl to Absynthe Minded?

Bert Ostyn: “Our third album ‘There is nothing’ was mastered at the Abbey Road studios in London, with a separate master made for the vinyl release. Since then, we’ve released all of our albums on vinyl too, plus a few extra’s. Our fourth album was the first release ever on Music Mania Records, by the way, the Ghent label and record store. We recently released a 10-inch with a few songs that didn’t make our last album. I’m quite proud of our vinyl discography. It’s great that all these records can now travel from owner to owner in the second-hand cases.”

Your artwork is always either photographic, with a picture of the band, or designed by an artist. Tell us some more about the artwork of your latest release, ‘Jungle Eyes’.

Bert Ostyn: “That drawing was made by Kasper Bosmans, a good friend of mine. He’s an artist from Limburg who’s working hard to get somewhere, and actually has been doing quite well for himself, recently. He has a gallery in London and one in New York where he has an upcoming solo show planned. I’d sent him three texts and some ideas, which he used to make three paintings. He always makes the same sort of small tableaux, he calls them legends. I ended up buying the painting that we chose for the cover. I’m still looking for a nice place in my house to hang it, though.”

You have a record player set up in your music studio. What do you use it for?

Bert Ostyn: “I sometimes sample bits and pieces from records. In ‘Envoi’, for instant, there are sampled drums from a Serge Gainsbourg song. And ‘Little Rascal’, a track I made for a movie called ‘Turquaze’, is based on samples of oriental orchestras from a record I once bought at Vinyl Kitchen in Ghent. I like to let fate decide how something ends up sounding. I even like slowing the record down or speeding it up just using my fingers. Maybe I’d like to get into that a little deeper, someday. We once did a couple of shows with dj Grazzhoppa. Seeing the way he handles vinyl was mesmerising to me.”

Is there a record that has shaped you as a musician?
Bert Ostyn:  “Miles Davis’s ’Bitches Brew’ is a very important record to me, as it is to many musicians of my generation. I discovered the record when I was at the conservatory. Before, I’d been listening to rock music like Jimi Hendrix or Nirvana, but once I heard Miles, a whole new world opened up to me. Miles Davis reinvented himself for the umpteenth time on that record and blended jazz and rock before fusion was even a thing. To me, he is one of the greatest. He’s taught me to be more relaxed as a musician. I learned that you can improvise, it’s not always about song structures. I still cherish that album.”

Does your collection have some sort of logic to it?

Bert Ostyn: “It’s hard to tell, really. I have a very broad taste in music. Radiohead, Kurt Vile, Marc Moulin, Peter Tosh, Juana Molina, Laurie Anderson, The Fall, my guilty pleasure France Gall (Ella Elle L’A and Babacar!), the latest Arctic Monkeys… I’m also nuts about Aphex Twin’s electronics. I have the whole ‘Analord’ series. Then I like minimalist techno like Rhythm & Sound and ambient artists à la Brian Eno. I recently bought Daniel Lanois’ ‘Goodbye to Language’ album. In the liner notes, he explains that he has made the record using a gadget he knew about thanks to Brian Eno. It doesn’t say which gadget, but I know which one: you can use it to make every string resonate. That album is so beautiful.”

Your collection doesn’t stop with Western or Anglo-Saxon tunes, does it?

Bert Ostyn: “Non-Western music really fascinates me. I’d buy anything from the Finders Keepers label, for instance. And in a decent second-hand record shop, I usually end up browsing the exotic finds pretty quickly: Bollywood, Arabic records, gypsy music… This Gheorghe Radulesco record, for instance, is entirely made with a cymbalum, an instrument I love. The liner notes say the man is from Bucharest. I find that intriguing. Gypsy music and oriental influences were a major thing for the early years of Absynthe Minded. So were Django Rheinhart’s jazz and Hot Club De France.”

Do you spend a lot of money on records?

Bert Ostyn: “I don’t go after the collector’s items or those super expensive originals. For me, it’s about the music. So if I can buy a cheap re-issue, it’s just as well. Sometimes there’s this record that I need to have, just for the sake of having it, rather than to listen to it. The soundtrack of Suspiria is a good example: it’s a 70s Italian horror movie — a genre I love. Goblin made the prog rock soundtrack and I just had to have it. But it’s not something you’d play for a cosy atmosphere.”

Text: Koen Galle - Pictures: Thomas Sweertvaegher