A collective surviving through punk
Shht is more than merely a band; it stands as one of the most satisfyingly bizarre and mind-boggling cultural phenomena in today’s music scene. Space rock for the Now Generation delivered by five wired men from a sonic spaceship – that’s the musical force known as Shht. The sound of this quirky bunch is an orchestra of authentic avant-garde otherworldliness but their lyricism is a mindful reflection on the ethos of modern society, both overwhelmingly absurd and humorous, yet highly intelligent and philosophical in nature. With their second album in the works, the dynamic quintet of Shht is crafting their own unique path in the contemporary musical landscape. To get a glimpse into their peculiar universe, we sat down for a talk before their upcoming performance at Micro Festival in August.
Interview by Silvija Daniunaite
Lead photo by Jayles Booty
Music is about personal growth; it’s a form of therapy & meditation
What drew you to music?
Michiel (vocals): I think it’s just trying to circle around the usual system of work and trying to use creativity as an excuse to have a nice life.
Wouter (drums): It’s the only thing I can do with no limits. I can start in the morning and do it until I go to sleep without getting bored. Not even that. You just get so much from it, you get excited. You can feel yourself developing. There’s so much life in making music and practicing an instrument. It’s also about control. If you’re playing an instrument, it’s really about getting to know yourself – your body, your muscles. It’s quite physical.
Michiel: It’s about personal growth and having fun.
James (bass): I agree with what you said about personal growth. It’s a form of therapy, a form of meditation, I suppose. It’s the ideal combination of doing something physical but also intellectual at the same time.
Existential and experimental search of body & soul
How would you describe your sound?
Michiel: Unpredictable. Space-pop. Macho-rock. Some say it’s a bit absurd sometimes. An existential and experimental search of the soul.
Wouter: It’s all about the body as well. In all of the songs, I try to put rhythms that speak to the body.
Nathan (guitar): It’s also eclectic. There’s a lot of humor involved. Not taking yourself too seriously.
Michiel: Because we are very conscious of the meaningless situation we’re in, all of us.
Meaningless in what sense?
Nathan: The universe is indifferent. That’s what Nick Cave said in one of the latest editions of Red Hand Files, the letters he publishes on his website as answers to his fans’ questions. This is what he wrote: ‘I think this world is indifferent and indifference is not cruelty. What connects me to you (…) is that the universe simply does not care about us; (…) If one acknowledges this state of affairs, then it sets up a situation that allows us to make a simple choice – either we respond to the indifference of the universe with self-pity and narcissism (…) and live our lives in a cynical, pessimistic and self-serving manner; or we stand tall, set our eyes clearly upon this unfeeling universe and love it all the same – even though, or especially because, it doesn’t love us. This act of cosmic defiance, of subversive optimism, of unconditional and insubordinate love, is the greatest act of human beauty we can perform.’
Wouter: It’s more about putting things in perspective.
Absurdity is the core of life; truth is funnier than fiction
You’ve mentioned that there’s an element of absurdity in your music, something that also translates into your visuals. Why is absurdity so appealing to you?
Wouter: It’s the core of life – absurdity. Truth is funnier than fiction.
Nathan: We love confusion, the way people react to absurdity. It’s just a part of our personality, I guess, and so it automatically goes into our music too.
Michiel: If you confuse people, they get out of their comfort zone. They have to rethink a part of the world, reality, their thoughts about life. I think that’s what we want to do – to be critical about how people live and behave. There’s no right or wrong.
Mathijs (keys): Our music is not built around absurdity, though; the absurdity has to fit the music.
There’s a lot of duality to our music – the constant field of tension between yourself & the world around you
There’s a lot of humor involved in your music, but your lyrics also touch upon societal issues. There’s also quite a bit of philosophy in there, too. It’s interesting how these elements come together. Can we talk about that a little?
James: There’s a lot of duality to our music, I suppose. It’s just the constant field of tension between yourself – the I, the ego – and the world around you. It’s ambiguous, because we’re singing about society.
Nathan: But we are part of society.
James: We’re singing as commentators, but we are part of what we’re commentating on. Everybody is a hypocrite as well, because the moment you make a statement about something, you’re most likely to be guilty of doing it yourself. To some degree.
Wouter: It’s like traffic. Everybody hates traffic, but everybody is traffic.
If you confuse people, they get out of their comfort zone; they have to rethink a part of the world
Your band is willing to take risks, you’re not afraid to speak out. What’s the idea behind the title – Shht? Isn’t it a reference to silence? It’s quite an interesting contrast – between who you are and how you call yourselves.
Michiel: Camus once said ‘all great beauty lies in risk.’ But silence… I think the Shht part was a spontaneous idea.
James: The contrast element was there from the start. Now, we’re a lot less loud, perhaps, than we used to be. We were just a loud band, making harsh music. We liked the contrast of silence and making loud music.
Nathan: I also like the band name because it’s not really language, it’s something universal.
We’re singing as commentators, but we are part of what we’re commentating on
There’s a lot of playing around with languages in your music as well. What’s the story behind that?
Wouter: You’re used to hearing music in English. It stands out when you throw in another language. Using parts from other languages usually starts as a joke. Someone has an idea and it just sticks because it’s interesting or funny.
James: To me, it’s got a lot to do with having experienced the 20th century and the start of the 21st century musically. Well, not experienced it, but having all this heritage, and being in this culture where sampling is still very prominent, starting with the cut-up technique. To me, the collage and the cut-up element is a huge part of our music, and we do that with language as well. We pick sentences from somewhere, we mash them together and a new meaning comes forth. That’s part of it as well.
We want people to take away some form of self-reflection
So what is it that you want people to take away from your music?
James: Some form of self-reflection.
Wouter: [laughs] It’s true, but it sounds so pretentious.
James: You’re allowed to have some pretention to have the intention to instil or instigate some form of change.
Nathan: I just love that people can come to our concerts, listen to our music and just feel happy.
Wouter: It’s a mélange of fun and confusion.
Michiel: It’s a get together, a collective dance.
Any music recommendations for our readers?
Michiel: David Byrne has an album In Spite of Fishing and Wanting. Probably one of the best pieces of music ever written. BCUC – a very cool band from South Africa. Also, Ariel Pink and The Voidz.
James: There’s a really cool band called Lip Service. And Partners. Just some shameless self-promotion [laughs].
Nathan: This Heat by This Heat. Mister Heartbreak by Laurie Anderson. The Idiot by Iggy Pop. Deerhoof.
Mathijs: That’s Not How You Do That Either: Yet Another Instructional Album for Adults by Jean Grae, and everything by Niels Destadsbader is pretty amazing, incredible really.
Wouter: My biggest influence is Mr.Oizo, he’s also a very good film director. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Infest The Rats’ Nest. It’s coming out in August, but the singles sound very promising.
Shht will be performing at Micro Festival
3 August – Liège
The festival is free for Subbacultcha members with a reservation
at firstname.lastname@example.org before midnight, 26 July.
Become a member here.