Zita Swoon backstage at Den Atelier, photo © Elise Marchetti, 2002

This was a transcription of a Stef Kamil Carlens interview led by Elissa & Dude, on November 30th, 2001, in the dressing room of Den Atelier, Luxemburg, just before a Zita Swoon show.
Dude would like you to know he has a website at: http://www.zongarecords.com. Thank you for visiting it, every once in a while.


Dude: So, how do you feel, tonight?
SKC: Ill.
Dude: Oh yes?
SKC: yeah... the nose....
Dude: You seemed in pretty good shape, yet, judging from what we heard at the soundcheck...
SKC: yeah, but we have three shows in a row. Today is the first.
Elissa: First, we would like to know how did you all meet?
SKC: How did we all meet? Me and Aarich were in school together, and the other guys I think we met in bars.

E: How did you get the idea of the name Zita Swoon?
SKC: First we were called Moondog Jr. , we had to change the name, because... you know the story? So we came up with Zita Swoon, which is... just a name...
D: Is there a meaning?
SKC: It means : 'to desire intensely'.
E: In what language?
S (smiling): In my language ! (laughs)
D: So when are you going to write songs in your language?
SKC: Oh, good question... Good idea !
D: Do you really have your own language?
SKC: No...
D: ...or is it just some words, or expressions?
SKC: Just some words...

Zita Swoon at the Borderline, London, photograph © Mandi Collingridge, 2002

D: We knew about you, and about Belgian music, with dEUS, and then we learnt about other bands, like Moondog Jr., Zita Swoon, Kiss My Jazz...
E: ...DAAU. What do you think of the other Belgian bands?
SKC: All the bands you named now I really like. That doesn't mean all the Belgian bands, but those bands I really love.
D: You were involved in many of them...
SKC: Yeah, but not in Die Anarchist, not in dEUS anymore...

D: We, in France... Seeing it from France, we had a feeling that, suddenly, a lot of Belgian bands appeared, mostly in the area of Antwerp. We suddenly discovered it. Was it something that was always there, or did it happen, you know... just like this ?
SKC: I think from Antwerp there weren't really any band that came out before us. In Belgian we had bands... the national bands were a band called Vaya Con Dios, we had Front 242, TC-Matics, maybe... or Arno...
D: We know them by name...
SKC: But you know Arno ?
D: yes.
SKC: so... we had The Neon Judgement, maybe... mostly New wave bands, from the 80's. But yeah, I think the music industry in Belgium wasn't really developed for exporting bands. Cause for exporting a band, you need to support the band financially, but they have to play in the same game as English bands or American bands who come with a very developed record industry background, you know. So... Now, it has changed a little bit, in Belgium, you know. People get the money to make a video, we have more recording facilities, the quality of the recordings gets better. But many European countries have this problem, you know.
UK and America are really dominating the European market, and I think it's changing now a little bit with bands, certainly coming from France, bands like Air, or Daft Punk, who make it all around the world, or like Manu Chao, who doesn't make it the UK or the USA, but anywhere else, you know, like in South America...Sweden has always been a country where a lot of bands came from. They had Abba, and ever since Abba, their recording studios are very flourishing, you know...

E: Germany?
SKC: Germany is still a very closed market, every now and then there is a band coming out, but it's not so often. Sweden is the only country where a lot of bands came out, and have, you know, world hits. But in the rest of Europe... France is now following, not really in the rock music, but in electronic, and hopefully... but it's still very hard, you know? The answer is so simple: you can have the greatest ideas, but if you have a video that costs, let's say 200 000 French francs (note: approximately 20 000 £), that has to match with a video from Madonna, or from any small US bands that costs 20 times as much, it's very hard to stay on the same list. It's changing a little bit, but the fight is not equal... ...well, if you can call it a fight, because it's not really a fight... but still, the bigger part of the audience, certainly young people, are very much influenced by MTV, or other stations like this, or commercial radio stations and the UK and the American bands or industry already have their net all other Europe. So, they launch a band on their net, and it goes everywhere, you know, in one go. And the record companies in France, or Belgium, or Holland, they don't have the same power. So... it's not really an artistic problem, it's more like an industry problem.

D: And couldn't the Internet maybe change this situation, now?
SKC: Yeah, maybe in the beginning, but the Internet is losing its power. I mean, the new is gone. The pilot thing, that started, I don't know maybe 10 years ago or 15, it was very very rebel. In the beginning they were no law, you could do what you wanted to, and that's changing a little bit. You can see a lot of Internet firms going bankrupt, or lot of sites just end. Because it's a lot of work to keep a site interesting and keep it going, and make people wanna go there and maybe buy things on the site...
...And also you have the piracy, of course, so it's not safe to do... I hope it's gonna change, but things like Napster, or similar sites have been working partly for the artists, because you can spread your songs all around
the world without having to pay, but in the same time, they've been working against the record industry. And it's not affecting the big bands, it's more affecting the smaller bands. On Napster, when I type "Zita Swoon", I can find anything we've ever done, on the site ! It's not a problem for me, you know, I also download things from Napster, but I'm saying that it really affects us more. Like the copying of CDs, it also really affects small bands like us, it doesn't really affects Madonna or the Chili Peppers.
I don't know, I'd love to think the Internet is a friend, but I don't think so. (He smiles.)

D: Still, there is this side of the Internet that you described, but there's also the kind of 'underground' side, where you can still find amateur sites where you can access information, I mean, 20 years ago, if we heard about any band or artist, the only way to get in formations was in magazines, or radio, but now...
SKC: I totally agree, that's true. There's a guy in Antwerp
[Mandi's note: Quinten van Wichelen] making a site about Rudy Trouvé, called 'Rudy's great ideas', this site is amazing ! It's so detailed! And I talked to Heyme, the guy from Kiss My Jazz who makes the official site, and he told me that this guy from 'Rudy's great ideas' knows things before Heyme knows it, you know?
He does not know how he does it, but this site is so updated. Yes, sites like this are very nice. I've seen some Zita Swoon sites, maybe I've seen your site...

D: Can we talk about music a bit? If you like?
SKC: I prefer to talk about the music !
D: When we listen to your albums, and we kind of have a look at your whole discography, maybe we can have the idea that they are some radio-friendly albums, and there are some experimental albums, and it seems it's 'each-one its turn', you know? Did you do this on purpose?


Zita Swoon at the Borderline, London, photograph © Mandi Collingridge, 2002

SKC: Certainly for the last album, we really decided it just has to be for the radio. It was very very much on purpose. And I don't mind to say it, you know, I hate artists who say: "Oh we don't care about the radio..." and the songs sound so much for the radio ! It's not a shame, we have to live from our music. But each time we made an experimental album, this was not on purpose. It's just something we do, I guess. And I have to fight hard with the record company to get them to bring it out: "Please ! Bring it out." They go: "oh you're killing your own career!".

E: So, how about the forthcoming album?
SKC: The next one? I don't know. We're not gonna make an album straight away.
D: Are you now in the middle of a tour, or is the tour over?
SKC: No no, I think we're going towards the 18th concert now. And we go on till next year September or something. We're touring a lot right now.

D: We were in the Nancy (France) show last time, and, it's a shame, but they weren't many people there and...
SKC: It's hard. That's why we will keep on touring. That's why I don't feel like making a new album straight away. We can make so many albums, but now we have to stay on the road and try to get a reputation. Cause we're a good live band, when we play it's good... ...but we have a very big record company problem now. But it's going to get better in the near future, I hope.

D: I'm thinking of questions, not in the right order but it doesn't matter... Josie, the character (that appears in many songs, on different albums), is she based on a real girl?
SKC: Yes.
D: Do you want to talk about it?
SKC: No. (laughs) I want to sing about it, not talk.

E: Can you tell us more about the skulls and the rabbits (that appears on album covers or shows)? Is there a story or something behind it?
SKC: It means that everybody has to die someday, and that's what it means. It says: Everything we do is not so important. We're gonna die anyway so, don't be too serious. That's what it means. It's from a Mexican artist, from the revolution, in the beginning of the last century, called Posada. He's an etching artist, and in Mexico they have the Day of the dead - Dia del muerto, or something... In Belgium there's also a catholic day where everybody goes to visit their ancestors, but in Mexico it's more like a party. It's very colourful, there are lots of skulls everywhere, with colours and flowers, they have candy skulls... ...it's a party day, to honour the dying, and also to remind ourselves that death is a part of life, it's not something to be afraid of, it's something that's natural. But in the european context, it's a bit more serious.

D: Talking about dying, we heard the sad news today of the death of George Harrison, we heard Björn playing some of his guitars lines during the soundcheck...
SKC: It's a sad thing. I heard he was suffering, so maybe it's better now. I always felt attracted to this man, his guitar playing and all... but yeah. Shit happens. Everybody's gotta go someday. It's a pity he had to die from cancer. It's a terrible disease.

Zita Swoon at the Borderline, London, photograph © Mandi Collingridge, 2002

D: Do you have something to say about each of the Zita Swoon releases? Maybe anecdotes or comments...
SKC: I don't see so much difference actually. We never sat down and say "now we're gonna change our sound completely". We never did this. It just happens anytime... The only thing I said on the last album, I asked the guys... I really wanted to play very tight. That's the only thing I asked. For the sounds I didn't say: "Now I want synthesizers !". It just happened, you know ? We're music fans also, so we listen to music and we are attracted to some things. On the 'Plage tattoo' album, for example, I was very interested by the Fatboy Slim album, the way it sounds and the way the samples are used. Not everything, but most of it is programmed on an Atari computer with Midi and samples, so... 'Cause I worked many many weeks on this album, in my house, in my home-studio.

 

D: You mentioned Fatboy Slim, are there other influences you might think of?
SKC: Yeah, there are so many influences... ...and when we make an album with the five guys together, everybody brings his own thing, you know...
D: When you start to write, do you do it together, is that a democratic process?...
SKC: Yeah... I used to play the director, like in the movies or something, but there's a lot of other input. It's always marked on the album cover who wrote the songs. It's usually two or three people, and the rest of the guys add to the arrangement. But the guy who's marked on the album is really the guy who wrote the song.

E: What is the album, or the song you are the most proud of? ...if there is any?
SKC: I don't know... I've read an interview with Tom, from dEUS, a recent interview, you know they're releasing an album with a new song, 'Nothing Really Ends' ? And, he said that was the best song he ever wrote. He said that in this article and I really recognise the feeling, you know, the last song you wrote is always the one you like the most. You're so excited that you made that. I really like the song, but I don't think it's his best one. But to him, it was his best song. And with me it's the same: the best song I think I wrote is the one you haven't heard yet ! (laughs)
E: Can we know the name?
SKC: Oh there's a few... There's a song called, we'll probably play it tonight, it's called 'Dare to love', 'Oser aimer'.
[note: they did play it, that night] I wrote a song with French in there, it's half in English and half in French, it's called 'I hate myself'. And the French part in the lyrics, it's gotta be a girl's voice, but I don't know who... I'm looking for a singer for it. I'm the guy who hates himself, and then an angel's coming, and she sings in French, very angelic: 'Don't hate yourself'. (laughs)


Zita Swoon at the Borderline, London, photograph © Mandi Collingridge, 2002

E: And do you have any idea of the girl who's going to sing that?
SKC: Yeah... I want to ask Françoise Hardy.... We'll see.
D: She may accept because she did a song with Blur, the UK band...
SKC: Now that I have said it to you, I have to call her ! When we were recording 'Life=a sexy sanctuary', it was one of the songs that I wrote for the album, and thought straight away about her.

D: Is there a song you really like to play live?
SKC: I really like to play acoustic. When we play electric I don't really feel the playing. But when we play acoustic I really enjoy playing, you know? I don't stand up, I sit down, I don't dance or something, I just go playing, listening to the music... When we play electric, I try to find a good energy, try to get the people being involved.

E: And why don't you play more instruments...
SKC: Cause they 're (pointing to the other members of the band) a lot better than I !
E: The first time I saw you, it was in Charlerois, and played some piano, some guitar, drums....
SKC: I don't know, maybe I'm a bit lazy... ...but the band is so good, they do it, and they're always good. Also, I like more air in songs, now. Before I liked a lot of information, now I like more space. I'm 31 now, maybe I'm too old, you know...

D: What you just said makes me think of something... When you look at artists that have had, let's say, a long career, it seems that their first music is always full of information, and the more they get older, the more their music gets empty, or more relaxed, or...
SKC: I guess it's normal. Also, I've been playing for more than fifteen years now, and when we started out, I was very attracted to everything, you know,: 'I like that sound. I love that sound ! Let's put them all in one song !'. And now I still like all those sounds, but I'm saying now: 'That sound is so nice, we're gonna give it a room, in one song, just one song.' Before that, we would take everything in the same song, or everything in the same album, some very experimental songs, and then some poppy songs. On the Moondog Jr. Album there are very poppy songs, 'TV song' is a very poppy song, 'Love is a heavy brick', the one we've been rehearsing, is a very poppy song. But there were also some very experimental songs on the same album. And then after that we started to a little bit. 'Plage tattoo' is a very experimental album, all of it, and 'Life = a sexy sanctuary" is very poppy, all of it.

D: 'Wedding dress' had some nice poppy songs too....
SKC: Yeah.
D: I remember when I heard the first song from 'Wedding dress' for the first time, you know, with the backwards cymbals and all, I said 'Wow !'. You know I really enjoyed it...

SKC: A lot of people said... We get a lot of reactions now saying: 'You guys are getting too commercial.'... (inaudible bit, due to the low-fi nature of this recording) ...we've been working so long already on this thing, for years and years. We don't have any other jobs, this is all we do.

D: My first reaction to "sexy sanctuary" was what you said. I thought: 'what's going on ?'. And then after two or three hearings, I started to really enjoy it.
SKC: And it's the first album we made... 'Plage tattoo' also, but 'Plage tattoo' was our own production. We didn't go into a studio, only for the mixing but not for the recording. But 'Life = sexy sanctuary' was the first album we made that was really, from Day One to the last where every day was a nice day. We always had good times, everybody was very relaxed and it was great, perfect. So, for me, I wanna keep on working that way, not with an American producer, or... fuck off, everyone... I know how to do it right.


Zita Swoon at the Borderline, London, photograph © Mandi Collingridge, 2002

D: I think that's the best thing to do.
SKC: But we have to fight our way, you know, every album is a bit of a stress situation. You're never ready when it's done, you always say: 'Oh we have to change that, and we have to change that...'.

D: You're also a painter, do you have the same stress than the one you're describing, when you're creating a painting ?
SKC: Then I work really alone, there's nobody working with you. So that's the big difference...

D: You're the master...
SKC: You're the master and of course there is a lot of stress, but if I ask for some help, it's really people, helping to help out, not really to put their own thing into it, so it's different, I think. Have you seen the exhibition in Brussels?
E & D: No. We've seen some paintings on the website...
SKC: I had some friends helping out with that. Cause I had a lot of puppets with roller skates. So we bought the roller skates on Free Market and they were really dirty, cause they were used. So we had to clean them all, forty roller skates, with four wheels on every skate, so we had to clean them all. And that's a lot of work, so I was really granted to have some friends who came out and help me a little. It was a lot of work. We had twelve monsters, with human skin, taken from magazines, so we had to cut out from all the magazines.
But that's a different way of working together, cause there's one guy with a master plan who just needs very practical help. With the band it's different: I have an idea, then I put it in the band, and they change it a lot, with their own input, so that's very different. But it can go in all directions.
E: Maybe then it's more difficult to paint, because you're all alone, with the band, you're not alone...
SKC: No, because there's a lot of information, sometimes too much information, with the band. And you have to choose things, but in a gentle way, cause every idea is a good idea. So you have to be careful not to throw away the wrong thing. So you have to search and listen, and talk to people... ...it's nice to do, but it demands a lot of energy to really get to the song.

D: Ok. Maybe we're gonna let you take a rest ...
E & D: Thank you very much for sharing your time with us. It was really nice.
SKC: Thank you.