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Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

Take this Mountain Bike out for a spin

Aurélien is a big fan of the Beatles. He is Mountain Bike’s own version of George Martin

Interview Diederik Decroix
Photographs Boris Görtz

You might think a mountain bike is a vehicle with two wheels, some gears and ugly tires. And while we cannot really contradict that theory using any solid arguments, we would make the case that the above statement does not count as the whole truth. For in our experience, Mountain Bike are four guys with little prejudice toward garage rock, who just might have been the love babies of Beck, Ty Segall, Deerhunter and Grandaddy if at least one of the aforementioned had been a girl.

Almost three years after their debut Mountain Bike, the band are ready to release their second long player. Half of the band grew up on the country side around Tournai, the others spent their days in the sun, roaming the lavender fields bordering Toulouse. Today, all four are Brussels-based, making them ketjes by adoption. Make some room on your shelves for Too Sorry For Any Sorrow, which will hit the shelves on March 3rd.

Dirty shirts make for good band names

You’d think maybe their name was picked while browsing a mail order catalog or a dictionary. But no, it’s an entirely different type of randomness that’s at the root of the band’s epithet. After crashing at a friend’s place after a party, Stefano aka Billy Joe founf himself in dire need of a clean shirt, as his own appeared to have a big mountain bike drawn on the front.

Later on, a picture was snapped of Stefan looking decapitated but still sharp in his revamped T-shirt. And because “Why not?” is the question that justifies pretty much every rash decision, the writings on the T-shirt were adopted as the band’s given name. “No regrets”, the band says, even though their manager wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to pick another name. Any other name.

Countryside studio time

When making songs, it’s usually Etienne who comes up with fresh ideas while the others fill in the blanks. But the real mastermind is Aurélien, thus charged with writing all the arrangements. Charles: “Aurélien is a big fan of the Beatles. He is Mountain Bike’s own version of George Martin. He works like producers used to do in the sixties, recording drums with only four mics.”

Too Sorry For Any Sorrow was recorded at Charles-Antoine’s parental farm, amid the quiet countryside of Tournai. Stefano: “We could go there as often as we wanted, so we really took our time to record. If it took a day to find the right sound for the drum, well then it would just have to take a whole day. There were no compromises, we did everything the way we wanted to. Unlike some of the recordings we’ve done for Thee Marvin Gays and Warm Toy Machine, this time we were extremely satisfied with the songs and the way they were produced.”

“The mixing was too hard to handle by ourselves, though. We tried, but at a certain point, we got stuck. Luckily Staf Verbeeck (BRNS, Metal Molly, dEUS, Melanie De Biasio, Drums Are For Parade) joined in. With his help, we found the perfect sound for our songs. We loved the familiar atmosphere in his Stiff Studio.”

Have you ever looked a sheep deep into the eyes?

Making artwork and making music are two very different things. Charles: “When you listen to music, images spring to mind, but these are different for everyone. That’s why it was difficult to find an image that suited us all. The one we all agreed on was this close-up of a black sheep taken by Laurent Grenier.”

Etienne has even more of an in-depth relation with the fluffy picture animal: “I thought it was interesting to face an animal and move into another dimension through its eyes. This transition is the same feeling I get when I listen to an album on vinyl.” But to Stefano, the sheep represents something else altogether. “The black sheep refers to the fact that we don’t merely follow what others do. For this album, we’ve altered our musical trajectory. We’ve added more poppy accents and ended up sounding more clean and mature.”

Just like the picture, the lyrics were only decided upon late in the production process. Etienne is the band’s appointed word smith, yet he only puts pen to paper after the songs are finished. “Mostly I use my voice as an instrument, so the lyrics are pretty vague and can be interpreted whichever way you like. Just like the artwork, the text aims to create images in people’s minds. There is no underlying message. As we had some extra budget, the lyrics will be printed on the sleeve, so would-be singers can sing along with the correct words.”

“They nick-named me Nerveux to make fun of me.”

As you may have noticed, in this band, you’re not part of the team unless you have a nickname. Etienne’s refers to his DJ alter ego Kinkle, aka the resident jockey at the infamous Madame Moustache in Brussels. Aurélien is called June Moan, after his solo project (do take note, for he will be releasing his first EP soon). And then there’s Billy Joe, Stefano’s side project, and Nerveux, a moniker Charles picked up during his teenage years for being nervous. The poor bastard.

This Lonely Place was released as a single and video about a month ago. The album itself is released on Humpty Dumpty Record and distributed by PIAS. “Humpty Dumpty was a no-brainer, as Christophe Hars was the first and the only one to believe in us since the beginning. We like his DIY approach and the fact that he loves so many different bands. For Christophe, it’s all about the music.”

In addition, this album is co-released with Teenage Menopause Records, Elzo Durt’s weird Punk and DIY record label that operates from both Brussels and Paris and should put Mountain Bike on the map in France. A limited red vinyl will be sold at shows, while in stores you will only find the regular black one. Patience is mandatory though, dear record lovers, as the vinyl release is postponed due to the big demand of pressing plants by Record Store Day releases.