BARST is the biggest discovery of 2016. Mixing post-rock and metal with drone and ambient, acoustic instruments with electronics, Bart Desmet (Belgium) creates an exceptional synergy between organic and digital. Plunging into a blackened well and lifting up, the debut album The Western Lands features guest artists such as Mike Armine (Rosetta), Dehn Sora (Treha Sektori) and Mathieu Mathlovsky (Mathlovsky). I cought up with Bart to explore the birth, creation and meaning behind The Western Lands.
"I was working on the album for 6 months to make it into a synergy of organic and electronic.. I have to admit it was not something that I had planned. One night I got an epiphany - I heard the album in its entirety in my head."
E: We know you from collaborations from Treha Sektori and RM74. But you were playing in bands too?
Bart: It’s over now. I didn’t find myself in there. The music I did sucked. My real musical life started two years ago.
I am not a classic musician. I don’t think in notes or chords and in bands that I played previously this was essential. So I decided to do my thing, just for me. I was not thinking of getting my music out, playing gigs. I didn’t care about what people think, I just did it for myself to have fun. One day I did a gig at my place, set up all my gear and played for my friends. Mike and Nele from Counsouling Sounds came over, saw me and said “let’s make records!!” This is how it all happened.
photo: Jonas Leupe
E: Recently, you were asked to name 5 songs that influenced you on Merchant of Air. I guess it was hard to choose only 5 [Massive Attack: Saturday comes slow; Koreless: Sun; Amenra: The Pain It Is Shapeless; Sonic Youth: Protect me you; Mogwai: Music for a forgotten future]. What other bands have influenced you?
Bart: My Bloody Valentine, Russian Circles, Cult of Luna, Sonic Youth, And So I Watch You From Afar, 65 Days of Static, all of these are very influential to me.
"I think about music in vinyl. It is a concept and it is a conceptual album."
E: Tell us more about the journey towards The Western Lands?
Bart: If you listen to the tape I released, The Downfall, you will see that the some themes are on The Western Lands but presented in another way. I was already playing that shit [laughing]. After I recorded Tri’Muerti withTreha Sektori and RM74, I played a lot of gigs. And while I have recurring themes, I am always trying to surprise the audience. Then I met Mike Armine (Rosetta). I saw his solo project where he did drone and I asked him if he would like to share his drones. He did, Mike sent me a lot of drones and drums. Electronic drums in the beginning of the album are by Mike as well as you his vocals in the title track The Western Lands.
I tried to build a cohesive story on 2x22 minutes, because it is a vinyl. I think about music in vinyl. It is a concept and it is a conceptual album.
"No two gigs will be exactly the same."
E: How does it differ when you are playing live?
Bart: When we are playing live, we take much more time. In the The Western Lands everything is squeezed. I could have released a double vinyl, which would be the same but longer. But for a debut, I guess it would be arrogant to start immediately from a double vinyl [laughing].
Depending on the venue, depending on who joins the show, live performance will always be different. Of course, you will recognise the album in a live performance but it would not be exactly the same. You know, when you go to a gig of a “classical” rock band, you know the songs, 1,2,3,4 - and now what is going to happen. It won’t be like that with me. No two gigs will be exactly the same.
E: What about the vocals of Mike Armine, I guess he might not be able to join you for live gigs?
Bart: It would be possible for me to trigger the vocals of Mike in the right moment if he cannot come. But I prefer to have somebody else to do the vocals on that song if Mike is not in Belgium. Yet, we will see what future brings. I have not performed The Western Lands in its entirety yet.
"Mike Armine recorded vocals on another song. But when I heard his voice, it was so amazing! Just perfect! So I wrote a new song for his vocals."
E: Looking forward to the release show! Let’s talk more about the contributions of other artists, starting with Treha Sektori.
Bart: Side A, the song The Passage has vocals of Treha Sektori. He recorded his vocals in Paris. Mike Armine screams in the title track, The Western Lands. He recorded his voice in Philadelphia. Actually, he recorded vocals on another song. But when I heard his voice, it was so amazing! Just perfect! So I wrote a new song for his vocals. This track mixes metal with electronics. Mathieu Mathlovsky, a breakcore musician, added beats to the track. With Karen Williams it was different, she came to my place and I gave her just one drone sound and let her play. Yet you can’t hear Karen playing live in the album, as I have cut, changed and put everything in different places with Cubase. It was similar with Nicolas Van Meirhaeghe who plays bodhran, a tribal drum. I did the same thing, I cut it up and put it where I wanted to. When I’ll play live, Nicolas will join me and play live. Both Karen and Nicolas came to record to my place for one day… and I was working on the album for 6 months to make it into a synergy of organic and electronic.. I have to admit it was not something that I had planned. One night I got an epiphany - I heard the album in its entirety in my head.
Returning to the question, An-Sofie De Meyer also contributed to The Western Lands. She is a singer. She sings on the first track, but you almost cannot hear it. Her voice dissolves in music. Do you know My Bloody Valentine? There is a reference to My Bloody Valentine in the first track, The Threshold, with vocals of An-Sofie. Tokyo Oyo is a multi-instrumentalist. She plays violin, saxophone and guitar. In the last song The Fields she plays the guitar. We recorded it and again cut it up. Herr Man plays bass. Herr Man is the one who will be playing with me live in 99% of the gigs.
You know Massive Attack? Their album Heligoland? In Heligoland you have a singer Damon Albarn of Blur, Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio, the guitar of Portishead. I did the same thing in The Western Lands, but in my own role.
photo: Niels Verwijk
"This is my thing and I am in charge… It is not a democracy."
E: Have you ever thought of having permanent members in Barst?
Bart: No, this is my thing and I am in charge. What I have learnt from the past, from all the years, that it is very hard to find people with whom you are connected musically. It is really a matter of luck to find them. Amenra is a good example of that. They are together for so many years and they don’t kill each other. It is rather unique. My past in music showed me that I can only count on myself. I was working too hard to get to this point, so it will be my thing. I invite musicians to participate but I don’t want any discussions about how music should sound. It is not a democracy [laughing]. I also perform in other bands and I will do their thing. BARST is me and guests.
"The album is my personal search for immortality. I can die in peace now, which is a relief."
E: What about the artwork? And the reference to American novelist William S. Burroughs?
Bart: Yes, there is a reference and not only to his novel The Western Lands, but to his whole approach, to what he stands for. There is another novel by him that he cut up and then put everything back together. This is what I do with my music. Moreover, in Egyptian myths The Western Lands is the land of dead. When you die, your soul will go to western lands, which means immortality. The album is my personal search for immortality. I can die in peace now, which is a relief.
The artwork was done by Niels Verwijk. He is also our photographer. I asked Niels to get into William S. Burroughs’ vision, to cut things up, make something up from different pictures. And he really captured that!
E: What about future plans? Any thoughts of coming to the UK?
Bart: Two more experimental projects are coming in 2017. Touring has not been planned yet. Let’s see how the world responds to The Western Lands first. But I hope to come to play in the UK.
photo: Stefaan Temmerman