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Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

Why have one guru when you can have two?

For the first time, I sang more than I yelled.

Interview Diederik Decroix
Photographs Geert Braekers (studio), Eva Vlonk (band)

If we’re to believe The Guru Guru’s Siemon Theys and Tom Adriaenssens, a new wind is rustling the leaves of Flanders fields. A storm, some say, known by many names such as It It Anita, Kapitan Korsakov, Cocaine Piss, Hypochristmutreefuzz and Brutus. One thing all of the aforementioned bands have in common: they think compromises are the worst.

Even Spotify got it all wrong.

Initially, The Guru Guru had two Guru’s but no ‘The’. Yet as some confusion arose between these Guru’s and a German Krautrock band formed in 1968, an article was added. Not that it’s really helped, though: the band still receive Facebook messages in German and Spotify has gotten it all wrong, too. Many managers would go through the roof over this. The band, however, wouldn’t lose their sleep over such bagatelles. 

The Guru Guru’s first bleep on our radar dates from 2015, when they released a split with Brutus. This gorgeous EP features a Brutus song played by The Guru Guru and vice versa. Next, both bands played mix-up and covered Sinéad O'Connor’s Troy. “Actually, the plan was to do Frozen by Madonna”, Siemon explains, “but not everyone was in favour of that choice.”

For the first time, I sang more than I yelled.

About two years later it’s finally happening: the first long player has materialised and it’s called P C H E W. The first track, Making Waves, kicks in the front door with gusto, while Sleepy must be an interpretation of Alice in Chains on acid. You could say they sound very melodic, we guess, but then again, you can’t. These guys are hard to pin down, but the energy they’re drawing on all through these ten tracks is clearly what sets them apart.

Thanks to producer Wouter Vlaeminck and his trained ears, there was some serious pruning done on the vocals. “For the first time, I sang more than I yelled”, front man Tom Adriaenssens says. P C H E W (we asked) is the sound a bullet makes as it leaves the barrel. In that case, our first reaction after hearing this album is to shout “bullseye!” at the top of our lungs. 

All five band members were students at the PXL rock school in Hasselt. Jan Viggria gets the credits for bringing together Siemon Theys, Moreno Claes, Emiel Van Den Abbeele and Tom Adriaenssens. He’s also the one who decides what direction the music will take. Adriaenssens, on the other hand, is a Belgian Maynard James Keenan in that he only makes an appearance once the music has been completely written.

Adriaenssens writes his lyrics based on what he feels when listening to the tracks. This makes them very intense, yet not necessarily true. “The emotions are important to me”, Adriaenssens explains. “They reflect the way I am when I’m on stage. I don’t do an acte de présence, when I sing about fear, it needs to come from deep down inside. But where lyrics are concerned, I’d rather the listeners interpret what I’m saying.” Theys appreciates Adriaenssens’ qualities. “As a band, we’re always surprised at how spot on Tom is with his lyrics.”

The album cover features a Harry Potter look-a-like and was taken straight from bass player Moreno Claes’ picture album. “There’s nothing more to it. It is what it is”, Theys reassures us.

My life is a mess

After a 7-inch with Consouling Sounds and the BRUTU ♥ GURU EP on Funtime Records, the band’s first long player is being released on their own label Rumble Heap Records. For the distribution, the band signed with Suburban in The Netherlands.

“While we were looking for a label, we often felt like the odd man out”, Theys recalls. “We didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. A lot of labels like to play it safe. If you have a look at Suburban’s release list, you’ll see our name stands out even there. But it didn’t scare them from giving us a chance, which made us decide in their favour. By releasing the record ourselves, we had much more control over the whole process.”

Adriaenssens: “Siemon has a saying. ‘Mijn leven is een puinhoop.’ Literally translated, it means ‘My life is a rumble heap’. We thought it sounded great and voilà, our label was born.”

Producer Wouter Vlaeminck was instrumental in getting the record made as well. Adriaenssens: “Wouter forces you outside your comfort zone and pushes each of us to a higher level in our respective disciplines.” Theys goes on: “When I first heard the mix of Lissabon, I was kind of panicking. I thought it sounded really bad. But it was the first track we heard and later on, this style of mixing seemed to be a good fit with all the other songs. Now I’m very happy with the mixing of that track. Making a record is an emotional rollercoaster.”

Another name that keeps popping up in every opportunity for thanks-giving is Thomas Coene aka The Sound Guy. Coene has become a full band member. He was there during the recordings so he could get a feel of the songs and his input has allowed the music to grow when played live. Having turned a bunch of knobs for bands like Glints, High Hi and Brutus, Coene definitely knows what he’s doing.

Let’s talk favourites

Theys doesn’t nee a minute to think things over. “Mine is Sleepy, by a mile. Mostly because I get to play the drums kind of like Limp Bizkit. The groove is harsh and straightforward and so deep at the same time. It’s great!” Adriaenssens has different preferences. “I really went all out on the last track, The Sun Is Number One. As I had over eight minutes, I used the lyrics to tell a story from beginning to end. It’s the most cheery song on the record. Just like with the EP, we thought it wise to end on a happy note.” Not being impartial to cheery notes and happy endings ourselves, we’re exhibiting big smiles knowing P C H E W is available on white vinyl as of this week. Yeah!