This past week, Balthazar had not one, but two shows in Control Club. It was the Belgian quintet’s first time in Romania and the closest I ever got to resembling a groupie, as I’ve attended both live performances and their soundcheck on Wednesday. But I snapped out of it pretty quickly and met almost half of them for an interview, just before their gig on Wednesday night.
Now, most of Balthazar’s interviews star the two front men Maarten Devoldere and Jinte Deprez. But this is not your regular Balthazar interview. I’ve instead had the pleasure of interviewing bassist Simon Casier (the one responsible for the magic bass lines in title track ‘Fever’) and multi-instrumentalist Tijs Delbeke (the newest addition to Balthazar, whose talents include smoothly going from one instrument to another as if he was born playing them all).
So, I’m leaving you with a written version of the interview, even though I have my doubts that some of the conversation is actually translatable from audio to text. Casier has a good poker face and almost never answers a question seriously. I found myself doubting most of what he said, even when he seemed to be serious. Tijs, on the other hand, was generously trying to figure out how to give the most earnest answers, even when I asked the stupidest questions. (And if you haven’t listened to ‘Fever’ yet, Balthazar’s fourth studio album, please make time for that now. I promise it will be worth it. It is the band’s warmest album to date.)
Alexandra: You’ve been touring for a while already with this album. How has this tour been treating you so far?
Tijs: The food was great everyday (laughter). Besides the food, the shows were alright.
Simon: We started four weeks ago, so this is the end of the first part of the tour. It’s been great actually.
Tijs: The show has been evolving in a good way. It’s my very first Balthazar tour.
Alexandra: Your touring schedule for February looked insane to me. You had shows almost everyday, travelling to three or four countries a week. How do you keep sane through all of this?
Simon: Sleep, sleep, you have to sleep a lot!
Tijs: Getting sick now and then.
Simon: I just slept for 12 hours last night. So that’s how you do it. Sometimes you sleep four hours and next day you sleep 12.
Tijs: Yeah, it’s true.
Simon: Sleep and alcohol!
Tijs: But if you get excited to do the new show – in the beginning you are still trying to make a good show out of it, I think we kind of found it right now – you get the joy by just playing.
Simon: Even if you’re very tired, once you’re on stage, there’s so much adrenaline…
Tijs: I’ve been sick for at least a week. And the only one and a half hour that I felt OK was on stage.
Simon: He has the fever. Get it?
Alexandra: When did you guys realize that ‘Fever’ was going to be the title track of the album?
Simon: During recordings it became obvious that the song ‘Fever’ should be the opening track for the album, and then we thought we should also name the album Fever.
Tijs: But wasn’t it like one of the most representative songs as well?
Simon: That’s right.
Alexandra: I got the feeling that you made that song and then somehow the entire album was built around it.
Simon: Yeah, kind of.
Alexandra: When did you realize that this was where you wanted to take the album?
Simon: It was on the 12th of May 2018!
Tijs: It was probably when everybody started dancing to the song and it maybe opened up a new direction for this new album, a new Balthazar era. It was something that was different enough to devote the other new tracks to it.
Alexandra: Tijs, tell me about your experience joining the band.
Tijs: I got sick so it’s completely horrible! No, it is great. I knew most of the other band members already, ‘cause I played with Warhaus, Maarten’s solo game. And now it’s wonderful. I haven’t toured like this yet, the team is great.. And I’m on the tour bus now. I ‘m liking it. Absolutely!
Alexandra: Did you guys have any trouble translating what you did for the studio versions of the songs into the live show?
Simon: No. I don’t really remember it. It was last month!
Tijs: It was difficult in the beginning, not necessarily the translating of the album, but just, you know, figuring who does what.
Simon: Now we’ve got three guitar players in the band, we used to have two. So they fought all the time: `No, I want to play that song.’
Alexandra: Is that true or are you joking AGAIN?
Simon: I never joke. (he says with a straight face)
Tijs: He’s never joking.
Simon: But this was really a thing: we had so many different options, many instruments on stage that we could use, and we tried out different possibilities.
Alexandra: Yeah, Tijs, you play a bunch of instruments: the guitar, the keys, the violin, the trombone…
Simon: And that’s only half of what he can do, actually.
Tijs: It’s fun, I like to mess around with a couple of different instruments. But actually everybody plays multiple instruments. But I’m ‘the chosen one’. I can choose whatever I want while the rest has to stick to their main instrument. They can really play and I can pretend that I play everything a little bit.
Simon: Actually our drummer Michiel is one of the best saxophone players in Belgium. But it’s cool to not play it on stage.
Alexandra: „Don’t let your morality affect your imagination” – I love these lyrics on the new album. Can you each give me an example of a time you didn’t leave your morality affect your imagination?
Tijs: Oh, that’s really easy!
Simon: What song is that? It’s a hard question. Because this is not the time or place…for it, my dear. (this is actually how the lyrics continue in ‘Wrong Vibration’)
Tijs: Wait. What was the question?
Alexandra: If you can give me an example of a time when you did not let your morality affect your imagination.
Simon: Well, I always let… We didn’t write those lyrics, Maarten did. But I disagree. I always let my morality affect my imagination…
Tijs: Morality first!
Alexandra: Aha, so you are the good guys.
Simon: But that’s just for imagination. We don’t let morality affect real life.
(a few quiet moments)
Alexandra: Wait… you don’t let your morality affect your real life? How exactly?
Simon: Shit! I knew that was coming.
Alexandra: Yeah, you walked right into that.
Tijs: You’re making it too hard for us. But it’s an interesting thing to think about. Sometimes we’re trying too hard. And then you are not enjoying life as much as you should, I think that’s what he means. And there’s some sense about it. In Maarten’s case, probably that division is somewhere else. Let’s put it that way.
Alexandra: What do you think about right before you go up on stage?
Simon: Not much. Our tour manager always does this little dance and it’s like ‘Alright, now we can start!`.
Alexandra: I saw him dance at the soundcheck earlier. Do you guys join in or just watch him?
Tijs: We just try to ignore him. But it helps that he does that.
Alexandra: Tijs, you told me before that you liked the audience last night. `It was a good crowd`. What does actually mean? Artists always say that: ‘You guys are great’…
Simon: Yeah, that’s just being polite.
Alexandra: What makes an audience great, though?
Tijs: When they’re responsive to the songs. You kind of feel it from the first second. You can feel if an audience is like in the mood or just waiting and I think yesterday that was the case, they were really in the mood of watching the concert and they were quiet enough during the soft songs, and they were dancing and cheering on the more upbeat songs. Even when things go wrong, you can still have a good concert when the audience is great. It’s not always like that, but yesterday it was good.
Alexandra: What do you do if you feel like the crowd is not responsive?
Simon: We try harder. We try to make the show better for ourselves and be more interactive with the audience. Just try harder.
Tijs: It can be anything, like dancing harder. But usually not playing better. That isn’t really the case anymore. Just entertain more.
Alexandra: We live in a share-obsessed culture, with people posting live from concerts, and taking a bunch of photos and seeing the concert through the screen of their smartphone. Does this ever impact what you do on stage and you connection with the audience?
Simon: Oh, no. Personally, it does not bother me.
Tijs: It’s not like everybody is filming all the time. It’s kind of nice. And nowadays a band depends on it as well: when it gets shared and other people see it, they get maybe tempted to come next time. So I don’t think it’s that bad of a thing. It doesn’t bother me either.
Alexandra: `Fever’ has to be the most playful album you did so far. How did you manage to find that ease and that playfulness?
Simon: How? Hmm, I don’t know. Just trying to have fun making it.
Tijs: It was a little more groove-based than the previous records and maybe that makes it again more danceable and more playful. So the starting point was a little bit different. But it’s a process..
Simon: We didn’t let our morality affect our imagination. (laughter all around)
Tijs: He got an example.
Simon: Just trying to go full circle.
Alexandra: Simon, was the break that Balthazar took useful, the time you allowed yourselves to work on your solo projects?
Simon: I think it was good for us. We had been touring for 6 years nonstop, since 2010 til 2016. We were all tired. Not of each other. Well, maybe that too. We could have made a fourth album then, but I think it would have killed us. Not literally. So it was a good thing to take a break and we were already working on more personal songs, that we all knew we should do something by ourselves and we will see afterwards. It’s not like three years ago we planned that we would be back on 2019. It could have been an year later or a year earlier. But in the end, doing that was a really good thing. ‘Cause we’re all back now, one big happy family. We all missed each other, in some way. Of course, we all saw each other in the last years as well.
Alexandra: Did you ever fear that you might not come back as Balthazar?
Simon: No, not really. Because everything overlapped a bit. We played the last show with Balthazar in 2016. And in 2017 we all did our thing. We already started working on ‘Fever’ in the first part of 2018. So actually for us it was only a one year break and not three years. On paper it looks like three years, but it wasn’t that long.
Alexandra: Tijs, you have also played with Warhaus. What’s the main difference between the two, from your perspective?
Tijs: There’s two people that I have to listen to now. (generous laughter on his side) Two people that tell me what to do. Well, actually there’s more. I’m the new guy so everyone’s telling me what to do. Apart from that, the venues are a little bit bigger, it’s a stronger concept already, it’s a band that’s been touring for a bunch of years. The music is different and my role is different.
Simon: You played marimba with Warhaus. Not anymore.
Tijs: Yeah. There’s no budget for marimba anymore.
Simon: It’s too big.
Alexandra: How do you guys act when you are in the crowd, and not on stage? So, when you see other bands perform.
Simon: Well, we’re from Belgium so…
Tijs: Yeah, we’re like this (they both demonstrate standing still, with their hands crossed on the chest)
Simon: That’s true actually.
Tijs: And we get angry if our crowd is like that.
Simon: Yeah, but in Belgium.. we can’t help it.
Tijs: But if we do move, it’s usually really good. I’m joking. I’m not a big dancer. I just stand there, nodding my head.
Alexandra: Just feeling the music on the inside.
Tijs: Of course. I try to figure out all the chords and what gear they are using. And laughing when the bands are making a mistake.
Alexandra: I will ask you one last question that has nothing to do with music.
Alexandra: If you were to choose a superpower, would you go for being able to fly or be invisible?
Tijs: How fast can you fly?
Simon: And how high?
Alexandra: Like an airplane.
Tijs (excited): Oh yeah, I would definitely fly.
Simon (pondering): What about being invisible? What can you do with that?
Alexandra: You can sneak into every place you want.
Simon: But if the door is closed, you won’t be able to get in without opening the door… and people would be like: is this an invisible guy or..? so maybe flying is a better option. I don’t see any negative parts there.
Tijs: And flying would reduce our ecological footprint as well. I’m an ecological guy so I would choose the flying.
Simon: But would we have wings?
Alexandra: Do you want wings?
Simon: If there were wings involved, then maybe I would choose being invisible.
Tijs: But if you can take off the wings, I would still go for flying.
Simon: So many options! I’m still gonna go for dinosaurs.
Alexandra: I didn’t expect to get such a complex answer to this question.
Simon: But now you know, for the next band you are interviewing, you have to ask: do you want to fly, without wings, or if you have wings, you can take them off, speed, height, or if you are invisible, then you are also able to walk through doors, and then you will definitely get a shorter answer.
Alexandra: This is definitely how I will ask the question the second time around.