It is a good thing to be invited by a record company to come visit a popular band in their hometown in Belgium. I had to think it over. This phone thing wasn't working too well. There were always changes and mess-ups. It was a long flight. I felt like Lemmy Caution visiting Alphaville. I journeyed to the exterior lands. It was chaotic and damp. My hotel room was bleak and neat. Nothing made sense till I met the band.
Hooverphonic was born when Alex Callier met Frank Duchene in film school. Then their influences ranged from Massive Attack to Angelo Badalamenti. They were called Hoover for a year, then they got sued. That's what you get for naming yourself after a vacuum cleaner. Their first album came out in 1997, but it wasn't until Blue Wonder Power Milk, a year later, and when Geike Arnaert joined the group that they seemed to get noticed. Now their music is everywhere, including several TV ads. They have toured with bands such as Snowpony, Moloko, and Massive Attack in Europe and the US.
The band is good-looking and striking. Their English isn't always so good. I met up the band in a dark cafe near the center of town. They were waiting for me at a table. Geike is the singer. She looks like a model. Definitely the hood ornament on the limo that is Hooverphonic. Raymond Geerts is on guitar. He's quiet and moody. He's the blurry boy in the back of a few band photos. And their leader is Alex Callier. He writes most of the songs and plays bass on stage. He is intimidating and shy.
Controversy hit the band when founding member Duchene left the group before this album. I was wondering if that would affect the band chemistry. But songs like "Mad About You" and "Jackie Cane" represent some of their strongest work.
I saw them recently at a CMJ show. They look really fashionable. Their new album is called The Magnificent Tree, and it really delivers. It is one of the best albums of the year. After years of being somewhere in the vicinity, they seem to be on the verge of stardom. They are on a US Tour with BT. We should be hearing more about this band soon. And hearing their music on TV ads. I ordered a drink.
AL: Guten Morgan!
Alex: We are not a German band.
AL: I know. When did you start recording The Magnificent Tree?
Alex: We started in March of 1999. We wrote all the songs in three months. We went in the studio and it was quite a struggle. After throwing out a few people and finding the right producer, we started working in October and ended in February. We had troubles on our previous album, so we learned our lesson. We got Roland Harrington as a co-producer who worked on our first album. Then there were things like Geike becoming ill and Raymond becoming ill. There was all that stuff.
AL: You people still look sort of anemic. But "2 Wicky" was a popular song in the United States? Was that because it was included in a film soundtrack?
Alex: It was actually. All over but especially in the United States. We have been on a few movie soundtracks like Stealing Beauty, The Real Blonde, and I Know What You Did Last Summer.
AL: So there was a lot of tension in the band over the years, then Frank Duchene left, and now you seem to have a winning formula. Can you talk about the changes?
Alex: The problem was that there was an ego clash, like there always is in bands. Then Frank left. That was a good thing because it was like Hooverphonic was reborn. We found a lot of energy. We wanted to make a new album and we were enjoying ourselves again. That's why we think this album is our best album. It sounds very relaxed, and it sounds mature, and you can tell that we were enjoying ourselves in the studio. That's what it's all about: you have to enjoy what you're doing. It took us five years to find a band format that really worked. We had just formed a band, then a month later we signed a deal. That is unlike most bands where they play together for five years then sign a deal.
AL: Geike has been a good change.
AL: You are looking forward to this tour with BT?
Alex: Yes. It's a big tour. Six weeks. Then we go over to Europe for a few months.
AL: What about your influences? We always hear about the comparison to Portishead. I don't know how they became so original?
Alex: Really it was my Dad's record collection, which was an eclectic taste. One day it was jazz. He had all the Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, and Dizzy Gillespie records. The same day you could hear Bach or some classical record. Then there was French music like Serge Gainsbourg. He liked Latin music. As a kid I didn't like it all. By the time I was seventeen there was a switch. Oh, what he's listening to is interesting. It's a typical rebellious thing. You can never like the records your parents like. I was surprised that an old geezer like him had such good taste. My girlfriend says, "You're always talking about your Dad, but what about your Mom?" But people aren't as interested in my cooking as in my music. But thanks Mom for being supportive.
AL: What about the music scene in Belgium? There's like ten million people here. Antwerp is a very fashionable city. Hooverphonic is an internationally known band from a small country.
Alex: We're from outside Antwerp. That's why we are so dressed up like this. Geike is from another part of Flanders, which is close to the French border. We live closer to the Dutch border. The music scene is quite interesting. There's a bunch of different bands with their own style. There's a plenty of techno bands. That's what we were known for like bands like Front 242. From that scene there's a whole new generation. There's a lot going on.
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