Jade Wright meets hot new Belgian band Balthazar
FAMOUS Belgians are thin on the ground. In a straw poll the other day we managed to name Audrey Hepburn, Rene Magritte and Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, before we started to struggle.
But hot new band Balthazar may be about to burst onto the music scene as the biggest thing out of Belgium since posh chocolates.
The band was born when Maarten Devoldere and Jinte Deprez met as teenage buskers, both trying to earn a few Euros.
Beginning on opposite sides of the town square as strangers, the pair came to realise that there may be a more productive way to make money.
“We had three songs each which we would play in a loop”, Maarten explains, “And I was wondering whether he was making more than me with his three songs.”
“I was a teenager and shouting for attention,” continues Jinte.
“But I started to wonder if, with six songs and the chance to sing harmonies we would make more money.”
“And we did”, concludes Maarten. Enter Patricia Vanneste who made the introductions and became the third member of the newly formed Balthazar. “From there things went very quickly and we started the band,” adds Jinte.
Balthazar songs are always begun by either Maarten or Jinte before being brought to the band to be fleshed out and finalised. So while one song will see Jinte’s voice to the fore, another Maarten’s, the truth is that Balthazar have two frontmen, two songwriters but one purpose.
The band now numbers Maarten, Jinte, Patricia, Simon Casier and Christophe Claeys.
For four years the pair honed their songs and worked their way through mainland Europe, releaseing their debut album which saw them tour extensively on the continent.
This month they play their first Liverpool gig.
“We've never been to Liverpool before, so guess we'll do the Magical Mystery tour first, is that a good start?” asks Jinte.
“I heard you have the oldest symphony orchestra in the UK. We love that, so we'd like to collaborate with famous Liverpudlians (beautiful word) – namely the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra – if Ringo isn't in town...”
What can we expect from their Kazimier gig?
“Well, we're a band where everyone sings and plays different instruments, sounds very folky, but it's not, don't worry.
“It's kind of pop noir, the songs are pop but not with a lollypop, that's where the 'noir' comes in, there's a twist.
“On the album we're quite subtle, and when we play live it's a little less subtle – compare it to eroticism versus porn.”
The album – Rats – emphasizes Balthazar’s love for classic pop productions.
“Most contemporary pop productions sound too ‘noughties’”, Maarten shrugs.
“There’s no depth. We’ve tried a different approach”.
Maarten and Jinte dived headfirst into Leonard Cohen’s back catalogue and Serge Gainsbourg’s sixties output – it made them think differently about rhythm, about orchestration and mixing and, tempered with a love of the likes of Dangermouse and hip hop production they aimed to create a record that sounded both classic and contemporary.
“In the past we just wanted to write cool arrangements. Not this time. We wanted the emotions to surface,” says Jinte.
The band have an eclectic mix of influences.
“Things that happen to us in general, mustn't be dramatic, as long as it's interesting,” says Jinte.
“Influential topics women, paranoia, guilt, love, nightlife and all the beautiful things to compensate. So maybe a Liverpool story on the next album...”
Their backstage rider is impressively healthy.
“Everything to keep us healthy, like fruit, but when the vodka is absent, that's when people start to moan really. Apart from that we do need towels – our drummer can be sweaty.”
The band seem to get on well – very well in some instances.
Jinte laughs: “The girl violin and keyboard player has a boyfriend in the band. Nobody learned from what happened to Fleetwood Mac.”
The band say they’re looking forward to making Liverpool their favourite new gig city.
“We love France, since the venues are getting bigger and bigger there. But I think the most fun so far has been in Germany – people give a lot of love in return, swinging their heads and hips,” says Jinte.
“We once played at a festival in South Africa, in the middle of a jungle, don't know if it was the location or something else, but people went crazy, we have lovely memories of that gig.”
Balthazar play The Kazimier on February 18.