Talking vinyl with Amenra

Pictures by Stephan Vanfleteren & Le 7e Oeil

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When the MASS VI album was released last year, Amenra added yet another impressive chapter to their vigorous MASS series. The album not only was mentioned dozens of times in The Vinyl Frontier's 'Best Vinyl Record of 2017' Facebook poll, the band was equally nominated for three MIA’s (Alternative, Band and Artwork). Time for us to have a sit-down with frontman Colin H. van Eeckhout, who has been in charge of the band's artwork for over fifteen years.

We find Colin over the moon with Amenra's latest album cover, which features a photograph by Belgian artist Stephan Vanfleteren. “I generally know exactly how I want a cover to look long before it's due, but not in this case. For years, I have been intrigued by the desolation and gloom in Stephan Vanfleteren's oeuvre. When I heard him talk about his practice, full of spirit, during some television programme, he won me over completely. We got in touch and while the both of us were browsing through his vast archive, we came across this specific series of dead animals. The image that struck me the most was the one bearing a lifeless swan. In one single frame, Stephan captures both the grace and strength of the swan during its life as well as the bewildering peace and beauty radiating from its demise. Looking at that animal, it's our music I hear.”

One mustn't look far to find a reference to the band's future enclosed. “We have constantly been strongly aware of the fact that every record could be our last”, Colin explains. “We haven't got any intention of calling it quits at this moment. Nevertheless, the prospect always lurks around the corner. Hence the allegory of the swan song: if it all should end here, a fair ending it would be.”


Anderson versus Shirley

The MASS VI album comes in many guises. Discogs.com counts no less than seven different versions on vinyl, partly due to the fact that MASS VI was released by two record labels. While the US edition was issued through Neurot Recordings, Amenra produced the European release in-house, backed by the people behind Consouling Sounds. There is more to this story, however.

“When we had to decide upon a producer, it became clear that we all had different opinions about which direction to take. Since we were able to gather some means over the course of the past fifteen years, we decided to take our chances on a two-pronged approach. Jack Shirley took care of the European release, while the US version ended up in the hands of Billy Anderson. Even though the distinctions are strong in their subtlety, Shirley's arrangement for MASS VI is the more outspoken one, featuring sharply pronounced guitar and drums. In turn, Anderson aims for the gut, smoothly mixing it all together to a whole.”

Along with the arrangements, Amenra altered the artwork for both releases. The LPs for the European market both fit into a custom sleeve and come in black, blue as well as clear vinyl, whereas the US edit involves a gatefold copy with black vinyl and a limited edition of whites. In addition, an alternative cover circulates the US vinyl scene, featuring an image of a dead rat, equally signed Stephan Vanfleteren.

Longest. Queue. Ever.

To top it all off, Amenra had another limited edition in store for the release show hosted by Ancienne Belgique. This time, the artwork was taken care of by Le 7e Oeil, a France-based studio which specialises in silkscreen record covers. When you consider just how hardcore Amenra's fanbase is, one shouldn't be surprised that the above resulted into the longest queue at the AB doors since — well, human history.

Releasing on vinyl can mean risky business in other ways too, says Colin, who lived through the first-hand experience last year. “Getting the records delivered to us in time for the release show turned out to be a close call. The company responsible for the pressing was unable to meet the set deadline, causing us a great deal of stress and frustration. The production process is still rather non-industrialised and things can go wrong in many ways, I know, but that wasn't the problem.”

“Due to the high amount of orders coming in, the company was unable to process them on time. Worse: they didn't bother to share that information until the very last moment, afraid they might lose the commission. The whole thing ended up into us not being able to send out the pre-orders. Fortunately, our sweet-tempered fan base accepted the situation with patience. Much of the merit goes out to Mike and Nele at Consouling Sounds, by the way, who kept a quick and clear communication running at all times.” 

A little further back in time

During recent years, Amenra proved itself a highly productive band. Along with their acoustic record, various split albums bore their signature and the band never failed to go experimental on the accompanying artwork. “We see vinyl as the ultimate medium to enhance the story we're telling with our music”, Colin says. “You can go all the way, be it while designing the cover and sleeve or trying out different colours of vinyl. A record cover is an amazing thing, the size of it alone refers to a canvas and it can have the appeal of a painting. We have always tried to use that impact to its full extent."

For the split with Madensuyu, for example, Amenra joined forces with Berlinde De Bruyckere, the Belgian artist widely known for her uncanny installations and sculptures. "Madensuyu is one of the most enthralling Belgian bands around”, says Colin, “and Berlinde De Bruyckere's work has triggered my imagination for years. Her art melts together, spreading out over the album's picture disc and sleeve. This split embodies a critical moment in time where Ghent-based artists have crossed each other's path.”

“For the Raketkanon split, we found an artistic match for the cover in Michaël Borremans and tried to extend the cover's atmosphere to the actual vinyl record. With design agency WeBecameAware at our side, we created a new kind of vinyl dye that came as close as possible to the original painting's colours. The first couple of samples came out a mess, which lead to quite a few headaches and eventually even a postponed release date, but in the end everything fell into place and the result was fascinating."

Nowadays the Amenra / Raketkanon split is irrevocably sold out and only a couple of the Madensuyu collab splits are to be found at Consouling Sounds. Do stop by, as recently, Consouling stocked up on the US edition of MASS VI. Alternate artwork, completely different audio mix, reasonably priced, get yours.