in the Category: music
Not conforming people’s expectations can almost be seen as something activist in these times
Since 2013, Ghent-based jazz/improv trio Steiger have always been one of Belgium’s stand-out acts in the seemingly endless new wave of (Belgian) jazz. From mixing acoustic and electronic sounds in a distinct, intuitive, organic way on their debut album And Above All (2017), to incorporating field recordings and site-specific acoustics on their sophomore album Give Space (2018) to their freshly released theme-centered and pop-structured single Malinka from their upcoming EP Brick Smoke Basement (out November 20th), Steiger never ceased to impress or to surprise. Let’s talk activism, playing in different bands, upcoming live-sets and the state of Belgian jazz!
Interview by Dries Robbe
Photos shot by Thor Salden
So, what have you been up to lately?
Gilles: Currently we are preparing for our upcoming live-sets, after working on our upcoming EP and LP. We started recording the EP in May, which was in collaboration with Joe Talia, an external musician/producer based in Berlin. After sending him our recordings, we skyped a lot and came to a ‘remodelling’ of our songs. This resulted in both some details to spice up the songs, as well as some profound restructuring, leading to almost cut-up versions of our original recordings. It was the first time we worked together with someone we’re not that close with, which was pretty enriching, combining our backgrounds with his, resulting in a beautiful symbiosis.
I think I know your faces from many different bands; in what bands do you all play besides Steiger?
Kobe: Simon and I are active together in Mòs Ensemble, a large band with different female vocalists and horns, and Kids In The Waiting Room, an indie rock band from Ghent. Without Simon I’m active in The Milk Factory, a band that played at Jazz Middelheim last summer, and Kreis, a trio consisting of double bass, accordion and baritone sax.
Gilles: I’m a member of Peenoise: a band consisting of my brothers, Karel Naessens and Simon, in which we’re playing a totally different genre than Steiger, and whom we joined the collective Zuidpark with lately. I’m also a member of Uma Chine (together with Simon too), a psych-synth band that’s playing the finals of Humo’s Rock Rally, and Future Old People Are Wizards, a synth-driven Ghent-based psych/stoner rock band.
Simon: Apart from the six named above, I’m also active in indie-pop band Ivy Falls and jazz quartet Yskan. (What makes 8!, ed.)
Steiger is the outfit in which we're the most ‘active’
Then, what place takes Steiger?
Simon: To me, Steiger is the outfit in which I’m the most ‘active’. In the other bands, I’m merely following, while in Steiger, I am writing music as well as arranging non-musical stuff.
Gilles: Peenoise and Steiger are - to me - the two bands in which I’m taking part from A to Z. Just as Simon, in the other bands I’m more like an ‘executive’ musician.
Kobe: Steiger is also my longest-running project and has gone through a clear evolution, which is not the case in my other projects.
So you’re all composing; how does that shape the creative process?
Gilles: It depends. Sometimes we bring very detailed compositions to the rehearsals, sometimes we just improvise on a theme and create something along the way. But for our upcoming releases, we worked in a structural way, resulting in more ‘songs’, and less improvisation.
You can hear that in your latest single Malinka – which felt like quite a shock to me; no more meandering improvisations but a clear-structured ‘pop song’. Is the whole upcoming EP like that?
Gilles: The clearly structured songs are just one aspect of the new EP, we will never stop experimenting and improvising. Our general work frame can shift a bit, but there’s a core that won’t change. Also; releasing a single from an upcoming record can result in a weird, out-of-context-taken moment because you can’t see the whole story of the album. This story is always very important and definitive for Steiger.
Simon: To me, structure-wise, the EP stays pretty close to our previous record, although there’s a lot more electronica on it and, there is, of course, the clear influence of Joe Talia.
In recent years, the international jazz scene somehow exploded. Is it possible for Steiger to surf along on this international wave?
Gilles: I see the bigger picture, but the problem is that Belgium remains Belgium. Our scene is very strong for the moment but hasn’t taken that much steps on the international level. There have been some respectable efforts, but Anglo-Saxon countries are way ahead of us in terms of promoting, networking and investing in internationalization. Still, there’s a lot of goodwill and know-how, and we’re hoping to surf along in the end.
Gilles, you joined Zuidpark in The Importance of Being Flemish, which had a clear activist tone. Is there something activist about Steiger?
Gilles: In a way there is, but not in an explicit way. To keep on experimenting, not conforming or following people’s expectations can almost be seen as something activist in these times: some bands forget what’s the core of their existence because they’re spending to much time being ‘a product’. We consciously focus on the musical part, try to grow and want to keep on challenging ourselves. In that way, we can be seen as a little bit activist, maybe.
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