We want a cohesive story, a story that feels right, a story that feels genuine and it has to earn its existence.
Cathartic, immense, purifying and life affirming are just a few of the feelings used to describe the music of Amenra both on record and in a live environment. Listening to the band’s music is more akin to a cleansing experience due to its all encompassing nature and the feelings it instills in you. The band’s latest album De Doorn is another stunning addition to the Amenra musical arsenal. Gavin Brown caught up with the band’s vocalist Colin H. van Eeckhout to hear all about the album, its creation and the event that inspired it as well as the band’s new line-up, covering Nick Drake, the Belgian H8000 hardcore scene and his work as a solo artist.
E&D: Your new album De Doorn is out now. Have you been happy to get the album out there for people to immerse themselves in ?
Colin: Yeah, of course. We already had postponed the release for a couple of months and we were discussing putting it out a little sooner, but we felt that the time was right, this sketchy time in our lifetime, it makes sense for us to put out records in times of distress or whatever you may call it.
E&D: Did you approach the creation of this album differently to the Mass series?
Colin: Yeah, we did. We were oblivious to the fact that we were actually writing an album. We started writing it like a commission thesis for life lessons that we had to specifically write stuff for like these commemoration ceremonies that we had to write music for here in Belgium and things like that and we ended up with an hour of music and then we realised that we had written an album. The Mass albums were really a conscience process of writing an album against a certain deadline for a specific release on a label. Well, this wasn’t that aim, so it made it possible for us to write very freely without already subconsciously answering to possible expectations.
E&D: Did you have any ideas to do Mass VII or did it evolve into what became De Doorn and it felt right to follow that path?
Colin: Well, we specifically wrote for those nights where there were big, big fire rituals for specific reasons, to burn and acknowledge the loss of the city’s inhabitants, so we had a clear idea of what this evening and that piece of music would be about. If we were to specifically write for a Mass album is because one or more of us have lived with something that was very intense or dramatic like being in a depression for a long and stuff like that, so that involves the Masses and the commission pieces evolve in this album. It was a totally different approach for us.
E&D: Can you tell us about the meaning of De Doorn and the themes that it deals with? You mentioned the ritual there. Can you tell us about that?
Colin: As we are we writing music, I always try to visualise what I’m hearing or what does it make me feel and what possible image could translate that to an audience, so I became fascinated by different kinds of thorns and plants. I started thinking about that, and then I realised that, you’ll have all different kinds of thorns and it was a weapon constructed by nature for its creations to protect themselves and their fruits. I really loved that idea, and then I transposed that idea onto human beings, that we also keep our guards up in our own specific way, to protect us from our outside armour, this dressing almost everyone around us these days, and so in a way, that’s what we do. We all have our own specific way of protecting ourselves and pain and trauma is always a topic for our music, so it all made sense to me. Then it became De Doorn, which means The Thorn, then there’s this artwork that I made. It’s bronze and it’s like five different thorn branches and it symbolises every musician that took part in writing the album. I made it all and it has its own specific thorns to protect himself or herself.
E&D: How was the experience of playing the initial version of De Doorn when you did it live first and how has it evolved since then into the album?
Colin: Yeah, it was totally different to what we were used to because we a had a visual thing that captured the attention like the fire or there was a dance piece happening, or there was a sculpture that was being revealed and things happening around those things, so we were merely being the audio for that thing, although we were on the stage out there, but were in the spotlight necessarily. I was addressing the people who were there in our own language, because it was in Belgium and the voice wasn’t necessarily coming from the guy on stage. It was like a voice that spoke to you from above or whatever. It was just talking into you and kinda directing itself to your subconscious, it was like a voice that you hear in your head, but that didn’t necessarily have a starting point. It was interesting to have that dynamic when we were playing it. We have had a lot of good feedback, but then, as we had those three different pieces of evenings when we brought it together, we kind of moulded it into a bit more of a cohesive thing. We structured a little bit or made changes to the length of certain parts of songs. We thought about having our friend Caro on board as well, so we kind of moulded her in there as well! But not a lot of changes were made. I mean, we wanted to respect the initial feeling of the thing. With our music, even playing it a couple of times you become more accustomed to it and it grows onto you and you can actually deliver it better and better, so it’s always kinda hesitant if you do it the first time.
E&D: Did you want this album to be as intense as your previous material, but also show another side to Amenra?
Colin: We never really aim for things to be intense in the way that we compare it to our former albums. We want a cohesive story, a story that feels right, a story that feels genuine and it has to earn its existence. It’s an enormous story and it makes perfect sense for us to make this album, it’s good for us. There wasn’t an aim to answer to a certain intensity of our previous albums. It was just the music that came out of us in that period of time pretty much, but like most of our albums, it has smaller, vulnerable parts and It has bigger and more stronger parts that are very intense. It answers to the check point of what an Amenra album sounds like. It was a genuine story that was told at that point.
E&D: It’s the first album you have sung entirely in your native Flemish, is that something that you’ve always wanted to do?
Colin: Not really, we always had an aversion towards our own language because we grew up with a very annoying pop music culture in, in Belgium, everything that was in our language, for our generation was always ridiculous. It didn’t really make sense or it sounded stupid. So that’s why we, we never reached the words, our our own language. That’s why we never used our language, and obviously English is like the musical language to use, but Amenra have always taken our heritage and where we come from in Belgium and we always out that in our aesthetics, things that we see around us here in our villages and in our area. We never really reached our own language, which is kind of weird that we never thought about that, but then, then it all clicked together. It made sense, especially as those nights that we were writing, we were in Belgium and there were Flemish people there and it made sense to address them in our own language because it’s a more direct line. It grew organically, you know and then I realised that I had to draw the vocabulary and I was able to play more with my own language and move in more in depth.
E&D: Is that something you’d explore again in the future with the music?
Colin: Yeah, probably. I mean, I’ve written another album with a friend of mine that’s also in our own language but it all depends. I’m also sure that we’ll write English lyrics again at some point, especially for those who have been following us for a long while who don’t speak our own language. I don’t want them to feel like I have taken something away from them as well, so I think I’m going to look for a balance somewhere.
E&D: Are you happy with the response that the album has had so far?
Colin: Yeah, it kind of blew our minds, we were scared because it was towards the international public and what that language change might do, and obviously it’s album number eight and if you’ve been going that long for a band, you always have this fear of letting people down, but people embraced the decision and it gave it totally different dynamics to the music. You really look at the sounds more and what it does to you musically. The contents kinda flow and only come later if you go and look for it, it will always be an emotion driven music, so language is not necessarily the most important thing you hear in that kind of music.
E&D: You’ve just released a cover of ‘Days Done’ by Nick Drake. What was it about that song that made you want to do your own version of it and is Nick Drake a big influence on you as an artist?
Colin: Not necessarily. I’m not the kind of person that sticks to an artist and embraces everything they do. I’m more of a song guy, you know, a couple of songs or an album. I hardly have bands or artists that I like several albums of. There’s always one thing, and then the next one up, I don’t like for some reason or whatever. I can’t say I’m a Nick Drake fan, but that song has always had an impact on me and for the band itself, content-wise and lyrically. There’s this thing in there that is in our opinion, also in our music and that is that sort of melancholy or sadness in there, like a contemplation of a young man trying to find his way in life. I really loved how he translated that in that song for me, it’s an incredibly simple, but extremely effective song.
E&D: Going back to De Doorn, It’s the first Amenra album to feature Caro from Oathbreaker, who you mentioned earlier, on dual vocals. How did her vocals fit into the album?
Colin: We have pretty much on every album, had another voice in there. Most of them are friends of ours or people who we have spent time with in that timeframe or where some of them were just friends that were visiting us for the time that we were in the studio and we said you should do that or whatever, but in this case Caro has been a friend of ours since forever, and we’ve lived in the same city for years. Out guitar player played in Oathbreaker with her for for several years, and since he was the main songwriter of this album suddenly, you know, the light bulb came on in my head and I always loved female and male voice combination, the dynamic. We asked her if she was willing to contribute her voice and put her stamp on the album with us. It kind of felt like it the time was right to ask her and to do it on this one.
E&D: Will she work with you in the future again?
Colin: We don’t really plan ahead, album wise, but I mean, if our agendas allow it, I’m pretty sure that we will be onstage together performing some of these songs, at some point. She lives in the States now so it’ll probably be there sooner than it is in Europe, so we’ll see and if it coincides with a tour or something, I’m pretty sure that it is going to happen at some point.
E&D: De Doorn also marks Tim De Gieter’s debut on bass, how does his sound fit into the band?
Colin: He has been playing with us since 2017, when he replaced our former bass player. He was touring a lot with his other band and we were writing so we asked him to help us out, we were writing these things and asked to play this show because we were writing together and then suddenly we had two bass players for a while until he said it would be better to be working on my own project so there’s no difficulties with agendas anymore and no one has to feel guilty about not being there enough whatever and we had the same idea too, you know, it would be better for everyone, so that’s how it went. After three years he became our official bass player. He’s a good friend of ours and has his own studio in his house and then that’s where we recorded the album as well.
E&D: Going back to your early days, do you feel that your time with your first band Spineless and that whole Belgian H8000 hardcore scene is a big influence on what you do with Amenra?
Colin: If that wouldn’t have been there, we wouldn’t be where we are now that is a certainty, especially how we work. The hardcore bands we had then, we learned how to be a band and if you want to do something, you have to work really hard and get it done, rather than wait for something to fall into your lap. You make alliances with other creative people and other bands, help each other out, we learned that in the hardcore scene at sixteen years old. Ideals wise as well, it wasn’t a destructive scene or something. It was meant to be constructive and build something up. Above the screaming and loud guitars, there was a lot of positivity and that is still in as well and in us, as human beings.
E&D: Do you have good memories of those those times?
Colin: Whenever we talk about it, it was like going on camp together, we saw each other every weekend. Like a youth club. There wasn’t any venom or poison in there, it was really a warm environment. I really love to look back at that time.
E&D: Amenra have just played the Alcatraz Festival, how did that show go and how was the experience of playing live in front of people again?
Colin: Yeah, it’s weird. It’s hard to analyse because we’ve been extremely busy for the last twenty years and as we live in Belgium, we have this constant flow of concerts. Like every weekend we’d drive to wherever and there’d be a concert going on, so had been doing nothing for a year and a half and everybody’s been so constrained and distance from one another. Then suddenly we were there on the festival grounds, with like 10,000 people there, no masks, you know, hands were shaking again, hugs were given. It was really weird but in a good way, it was nice to see that as soon as we will be allowed to, and it will be possible, will snap back into normality I think. Already that afternoon, you kind of saw people being out there. It was nice to see, although I feel it after summer, we may be strained again, I don’t know. It’s been hard to get back into the saddle after all that time. I’m just trying to feel my place onstage again. The physicality of being onstage and singing. The first one back we did was in Holland and I had a fit I wouldn’t be able to do it anymore. I was really stressing about it.
E&D: How did you feel once you’d done the gig, when you came off the stage, how did you feel having done it?
Colin: For me, after the show, it’s in the past but you do experience an extreme gratefulness of being allowed to do this again because it really has been taken away from every one of us and that’s a weird thing. Then if you do it, you really feel like, oh, shit we’re fairly lucky if you compare us to all the musicians in the world, we were part of the lucky ones that were allowed to play a show for a live audience, without them sitting down at tables, looking right at you, yeah , it was, it was very heartwarming to feel that again.
E&D: Are you looking forward to getting back out on the road as soon as you can? The acoustic tour first and then your full tour next year.
Colin: Yeah. Especially hitting the road together with a bunch of old friends. That’s the biggest thing that we miss I think, the experiences and spending time in different cities and in other cultures or whatever, that stuff, thats the main thing I miss even more than the being on stage.
E&D: Do you still feel that playing live is a cleansing and cathartic experience, both for you and the band and the audience?
Colin: Definitely, especially in our case, our band, it will always be a live band experience, more than we were a studio album band. It’s a necessary part of our existence. The light shows and the energy that is being portrayed at our concert. We always aim to get there at some point, the music has its effect, when you, as a listener or a spectator of a concert, need it the most. It depends on how you feel, if you will get those goosebumps, or will be touched by what you are hearing or seeing, how hard you need it or what mental state you are in. In my case I was very consciously, on that stage, trying to get used to it again, you know, I was thinking a lot more than I normally do when I’m used to being out there. I think for the audience, it’s even more intense to have that again, the volume and the energy of being in the proximity of other people and having a collective experience. I think for the audience now, the experience is enhanced because it has been so long.
E&D: You are performing music as CHVE for the Dance aid The Seven Veils soon. Are you excited about that and will you be doing that again in the future?
Colin: Definitely, we embarked on that project during lockdown and it’s like a mixture between contemporary dance, opera and theatre, and obviously I’m one of the three musicians in there. There’s me and a female opera singer and a double bass player. We’re acting and it’s really nice to see all those different art forms come together with their own specific languages and aesthetics and approach. It’s really nice to be a part of that project, you learn a lot and it inspires you immensely. We played Switzerland twice and that was pretty much it since we have written it a year ago now, so we have one in Holland, in Rotterdam and then slowly but surely, we’ll get it out there as much as we can eventually.
E&D: With that and Amenra, you’re just keeping busy as much as you can.
Colin: Yeah, it was nice that I had that during the lockdown period because I was able to pay my bills as well. It’s just nice to be involved in different projects, even though it’s not really handy for the agenda, but it inspires you very much with this crossbreed of things happening and you take everything you learn with you. I know all the others in the band do that as well, and then you have new new ideas to work with.
Photo by Jeroen Mylle