Interview

Sergeant

And then suddenly it’s there. There, under the Christmas tree, that peculiar-shaped present with the unusual wrapping paper. You talk about it with the whole brotherhood, counting down the days, fantasising about what it is and hoping that this oddity will eventually come your way. Yes, we’re going down the whole metaphoric rabbit hole to describe the feeling we had when we discovered this newborn baby called Sergeant. You can’t find anything about these weirdos on the web – no words, no sounds, no band pics. We’re lucky enough to have seen them live twice already and all we can tell you about their performance is that it was minimalistic, wild pop and lyrics such as, ‘All my friends wear jeans, and I don’t know what that means.’ Time to hook up with band leader Ferre Marnef to bring them out of incognito mode.

Interview by Dries Robbe
Photos shot by Aurélie Bayad in Schaerbeek

We really want to focus on that live part, because I have the feeling that it’s really overlooked by a lot of bands these days

So, who are you – if you want to tell us?
Sergeant is my brainchild and a vehicle to perform all the songs, demos, bits and pieces of sound that I recorded in the past four years. After the split of my former band, Soldier’s Heart, and since I left Glints, I missed making music a lot so I thought this was the perfect moment to start something new.

That didn’t result in releasing anything to date?
No, my main focus was to play live. I think it’s important for a band to be able to play live before you pretend you can play live, which somehow now is a trend. So I asked Benjamin Cools and Jasper ‘Japie’ Segers – both ex-Soldiers’ Heart – if they would join me, since we’ve played together a lot and know each other so well. We’re aiming for January for a release, recording everything ourselves.

Can you tell me about the creative process?
Firstly, I make loop-based demos in Audacity and then we rehearse them together. Live, 50% of the set is fixed; the rest we improvise. We really want to focus on that live part, because I have the feeling that it’s really overlooked by a lot of bands these days. I personally enjoy that the most, and I never enjoyed it more than now.

Sure. A lot of bands focus on marketing before playing live, but in the case of Sergeant, by not doing that you also sort of create a buzz. Is that deliberate?
Ha-ha, not at all, it’s just because we’re lazy. I believe when you try to create that artificially, you can forget it. The now ‘standard’ procedure of having a première, releasing your video at the right time, etc. is just not what interests me at this moment..

Can we see that move as a commentary on the musical landscape
Somehow, yes. We also made a very conscious choice by not using Ableton; otherwise, I believe you start sounding like everyone else. I’d rather work with limits to get to the essence. For instance: I have to be able to listen to every single  line for ten minutes straight without getting bored – without all the ‘producing’.

Can we see the lyric ‘All my friends wear jeans and I don’t know what that means’ in that light?
Ha-ha, strangely you can. A lot of bands just try to get radio air time and way too few are looking to get past that, which is totally understandable. The problem is that there’s no real scene or platform for those under-the-radar bands that don’t get this air time. There’s an underground scene, but that is immediately very niche.

Music somehow stays in the ‘entertainment sector’, while theatre for me is more human, social based

Did you have in mind what you wanted your music to be when you started Sergeant?
In the beginning, I didn’t. Now it’s getting clearer: I want it to be organic and repetitive, rhythm-based. We had a big discussion about whether the output should be a collection of structured songs or more free, self-contained flows; I think we have to go for a hybrid form – pop music, but with experimental touches. The challenge is to get this organic feeling on the recordings.

The two times I saw you live I was impressed by the unusual way you perform, which probably has a link with your background as an actor. What about that part of your life?
I make money with it and not with music – ha-ha. I started acting pretty young, got selected for Theater Aan Zee (with De Snor) and rolled very organically into the theatre scene. Lately, I’m playing a lot with Tibaldus. That’s why I’m probably more conscious about the performance side of a music gig.

Any bands you look up to regarding this performance aspect?
The Birthday Party did a killer job by playing with their backs to the crowd. But I can’t do that anymore. Borokov Borokov is doing a superb job too.

Is there a clear difference between theatre and music?
I think theatre is way more political. By doing an infinite range of things on or off stage you can let people think and fantasise about what they’re watching. They have to make something from it. Music somehow stays in the ‘entertainment sector’, while theatre for me is more human, social based. You can try to break free from the norm or reflect on it and when you do that, I think you’re dealing with power and politics.

Can I see this in the traditional discussion of form vs. content?
Yup. The form has to change and not the content. That’s what has to happen with the world too: banning plastic straws is okay, but it’s not the point. The general form has to change. That is something I learned in theatre, and it’s what I’m trying to do that with my music too.

Any finally, any Christmas presents you’re hoping for?
I recently saw a speaker that you can place in the shower. Look no further.

 

Sergeant + Borokov Borokov
31 Jan – VOLTA, Brussels
20.00 – €5 – free for members