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Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in”

I really think more bands should do it this way

Interview Diederik Decroix
Photographs Anton Coene (cover, band photo) & Thijs Bliki (Pieter-Paul crowd surfing)

While Kapitan Korsakov’s newest album 'Physical Violence is the least of my Priorities', is available on black vinyl, they also sell exclusive blue vinyl copies at their live shows. But that’s not the only reason you should make your way to their next gig. Their latest album is an absolute killer record and on stage these folks make it all sound even better, as they proved at their launch gig at Handelsbeurs recently. 

KKK, as the band is known, released its third album late November, having previously put out an album in 2009 and 2012. Though the latter were released for the first time on vinyl (musicmaniarecords) on Record Store Day earlier this year.

When the band left for Chicago, the new record was almost entirely rehearsed to the bone. Studio time is expensive, you know. All tracks on the album came into being in a different way. Pieter-Paul, who writes the songs and lyrics, always carries along a little note book, so he can write down whatever springs to mind and inspires him. Or he just sings it out aloud and records it on his cell phone. The again, other tracks like Friendly Fire and Strobo Stripper were the outcome of a jam session. The band has absolutely no rules for this, the only constant factor is that every band member has his input. Working with Steve Albini also worked out smoothly, as far as the band even finished recording the album a day sooner than expected.

Pieter-Paul: “Mind you, Steve Albini isn’t really a producer. I mention this because that’s a very common misunderstanding. As a band you play your songs like they were written and Albini just records them. He barely gives any remarks, doesn’t impose his will. Since we knew that from Raketkanon’s last album, we decided to ask him for this record. He never wants to affect the sound of the band, he wants the record to sound exactly as the bands wants it. This allows a band to blossom artisticly. I really think more bands should do it this way.”

Pieter-Paul: “With a ‘real’ producer you should lay it all out before him and he then gets his way with it. I don’t necessarily disagree with this way of working, but for us, for this album that just wasn’t the way to do it. Our previous records were produced respectively by Bart Vincent from Thou (Well Hunger) and Wouter Vlaeminck from Tomàn (Stuff & Such). Myself, I pre-produced the latest album of Brutus. I really enjoyed that, by the way, and would love to do more stuff like that.”  

So please check out the latest Brutus record. When I ask about other bands we should keep an eye out for he mentions instantly Hypochristmutreefuzz, Elefant and Lee Anderson. Pieter-Paul: “Lee Anderson is the best songwriter I know. He just made an album, you should really watch him. He’s going to cause some stir, believe me. You won’t hear me saying there has been a lack of good Belgian bands in the past though. But recent years saw a true boom of original bands and artists with a lot of personality as well. And it’s still happening as we speak, I love it.”

There were no babies hurt or abused in the music video. On the contrary: the scene was shot in 3 minutes, but that was long enough for the baby to pee on my lap

Physical Violence is the least of my Priorities was released on the equally christened KKK Records label. Yet another of many bands self-releasing their record and seeking a distribution deal afterwards. For Kapitan Korsakov this turned out to be with N.E.W.S., which is why the band also took care of the artwork and pressing of the record. The sleeve is basically a picture taken by Pieter-Paul, while Liesbeth Bonner took hold of the graphic part of the process. Even the music video for Caramelle, directed by Wim Reygaert (Drums Are For Parades) is based on an idea by Pieter-Paul. The latter want to make clear there were no babies hurt, let alone abused in the video. On the contrary, he adds with a wink. “The scene was shot in 3 minutes, but that was long enough for the baby to pee on my lap”, he laughs. “The audio was recorded on double speed so we could play it back slowed down afterwards, creating a semi slow motion effect. Hence the baby only got half the time to enjoy sitting on my lap”, he jokes.

The pictures on the back side are part of a project Pieter-Paul set up with Anton Coene. The latter joined the band on its trip to the US as well and was responsible for that epic ‘I peed my pants’ band pic. Pieter-Paul: “The overalls you see in the pic, it’s what all of Albini’s sound engineers were wearing. We took that picture on the very last day, had it printed in the local print shop and hung it in the restroom next to the studio. We figured it would serve as a nice goodbye present to Albini.”

This year Kapitan Korsakov, originally a one-man-project, celebrates its tenth anniversary. Pieter-Paul: “I met Pieter Van Mullem in a bar. I’d known him since he was in the band Rye Jehu and after a night chatting away I asked if he wanted to join my band. We immediately clicked as far as attitude goes and although he was initially a guitar player without having played one note together I knew he was my new bass player. He agreed there and then. Pieter’s musical style is so important for KKK. The awkward little sounds and effects from his guitar just don’t make you think of a bass guitar. The intro on Strobo Stripper, for instance, is Pieter doing his magic with his bass guitar.

Drummer Bert Minnaert is the only band member that was properly schooled in music. Bert aka Sigfried Burroughs can really play anything. One moment he’s grooving the hell out of a tune, full of power and really pushing it, next he’s creating the mos subtle tunes you’ve ever heard. Just like that other Bert form Dans Dans, our Bert is a schooled musician who can easily shake off the theory, enabling him to excel on a technical side without losing the emotional bit.

Pieter-Paul: “As a non-schooled musician, I can’t relate to this. I can’t even read music. As a musician I rely much more on my instincts. That’s also the way I listen to music.”

We don’t do encores unless the crowd actually cheers for them. But even then, there are times we refuse to play encores. If we have the feeling we’ve given our everything, that it just can’t get better, then that’s it. I prefer no encore to a bad one, if you know what I mean.

Just like Dans Dans, KKK is a band that’s so much more than the sum of all parts. It’s a joyful collaboration between the guys in Kapitan Korakov. Though Bert Minnaert is also part of other projects like Onmens (frontman) and The K and Pieter Van Mullem creates very cool stuff at home which he doesn’t want to expose yet, they focus totally on KKK for now. 

Pieter-Paul: “It’s going to be a challenge to play all the tracks on the album live. Apart from the logistic problem of getting a piano on stage for Hearts too Hard, you have to be able to change in attitude and atmosphere as well in between songs. In the studio, every song was recorded on another day, as a matter of speaking. But live on stage it’s very difficult to switch instantly from a loud track where you just screamed your lungs out and hurt your fingers playing guitar to a soft and gentle introvert song, if you catch my drift. I experience my music intensively, so it’s quite the challenge to be able to translate that immersion to our live set and take the diversity in our album tracks with us on stage. We like to try new things though, so our next record could easily sound acoustic all of a sudden. We love taking risks. Apparently quite a few people are put off by the bended auto-tune we use on Suicide Limp. But to me creating music is all about triggering emotions, so even when people react in a negative way to it, I consider this a mission accomplished. When everybody likes everything, that means you haven’t been able to touch nerves sufficiently. We don’t make music to please, and those who do are generally the worst musicians. For the same reason I can also put bad reviews in to perspective, even enjoy them.”

Pieter-Paul: “My art is dear to my heart. Obviously it’s nice to be acknowledged and loved, but that shouldn’t be your objective. Hence we look upon the commercial and the artistic aspect of our music as two separate things. But we do have a plan on how to market our music as soon as it’s finished. We tie up with Thomas van Dingenen from Devil In A Box for that part of the story.”

Pieter-Paul: “Studio or live on stage, they’re something completely different really. Heck and Monotonics are live so overwhelming and unique they easily exceed their album sound. Live we also try to get everyone on board of our trip. Apart from a few overdubs we recorded everything live. I did the solo on Pussy Scars in overdub, so we have to replace that live with a different approach. The mixer plays a very special part in all of this. He can make sure a guitar sequence gets drawn to the front of the sound. That’s why we opted for our own mixing guy. A good mixer can push a band to the next level. That counts for all of the technical crew, as a matter of fact. Light and sound, a live show is more than just a band playing on stage, you know.”

“I don’t want to get stuck in a pigeon hole, I’d go crazy and break out”, says Pieter-Paul when I ask him about his favourite music genres. “Genres come in handy when you have to look up a record in a library or music store, but that’s about it. To me they are completely useless. I never find what I’m looking for in a music store anyway. I search in the punk section, only to find out that what I was looking for was classified as metal. I think you always have to listen to music to find out if you like it or not. Unfortunately, nowadays everything has become to futile and shallow. It makes everybody biased and defers people from actually giving music a chance by listening to it before judging it. I would prefer music being categorised by attitude. I could decide to write music in a way so that I know the mainstream crowd in Sportpaleis are definitely going to sing along to it. I’m not judging, it’s just an attitude. It’s that same attitude that counts, it doesn’t matter if it’s jazz or black metal. A genre is but the colour of the attitude of the music.”

Genres come in handy when you have to look up a record in a library or music store, but that’s about it

Pieter-Paul: “I often buy records just by the way they look. Though there were a few occasions I ended up with some really shitty because of that, most of the time it turned out okay. I remember when I was sixteen, I bought two records merely judged on their sleeve: Nothing’s Shocking from Jane’s Addiction and Electriclarryland by the Butthole Surfers. I still listen to those two albums. A record sleeve can actually take an album to the next level, like Flipper’s Generic. Music is so much more than what you hear.”

Pieter-Paul: “I just love relaxing in my sofa listening to a record while looking at its sleeve. The little bit extra, the way it makes the music tactile is very important to me. A thumbnail of a record sleeve on a computer screen, or even worse: a small music note symbol, it just doesn’t work for me. It actually devalues, depreciates music. That’s the reason why I don’t use streaming services like Spotify or Deezer. I only ever use these platforms because music critics ask for a link to add to their article. I only ever buy vinyl records or cd’s. I never listen to the radio either. I discover music by reading about it. An interview with a band I like, the bands they were influenced by, band they toured with… I’d lie if I said I never actually discovered new music through the internet but it’s just too overcrowded, too full for me. I can’t find my way around in that dense forest full of trees. It doesn’t match my way of thinking, I guess.”

Pieter-Paul sits up right and puts on another record. We say goodbye to the sound of Serge Gainsbourg. A shortlist of bands mentioned by KKK in this and previous interviews so worth to check: Mogwai, Melvins, Fugazi, Ministry, Flipper, This Heat, Wilco, Heck, ...

Kapitan Korsakov is:
Pieter-Paul Devos (vocals, guitar)
Pieter Van Mullem (bass)
Sigfried Burroughs (drums)

KKK Soundcloud
Kapitan Korsakov