Interview with Wanheda — “We have had highs and lows, but that’s what makes you stronger.”

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In February, Belgian post-rock outfit WANHEDA released their debut effort, “Desert of Real.” We chatted with guitarist Jan Boucké about the release of their new album and much more! Watch the interview here or read the entire transcript below…

Hi! First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. How are you doing?

Thank you for having me, Laureline. I’m doing pretty good. We’ve released our new album last week, and so far, we received some positive reactions to it. So far, so good, I think. I’m doing fine. Thank you. How are you doing?

I’m doing fine. There’s a lot of snow here in Finland. So just staying inside, trying not to go anywhere. Obviously, you released your new album, “Desert of Real.” You mentioned that the reactions so far have been good. What I was wondering was, what your expectations were while releasing your new album? I looked at your Spotify stats, and it seems like a lot of people from the US found out about your band.

Indeed. We didn’t really have any expectations because I told the guys that it’s not like half a million people were waiting on our album to get released. It’s been, I think, almost 4 years since our EP in 2018 came out. So we worked very hard for the past few years. And yeah, obviously we’re very proud of the end result and of what we have made with this album. So to see that other people across the world are enjoying it is just awesome to see. So we did not expect that at all. It’s not that we set a goal that if we would reach this, we would be happy. No, we didn’t have any expectations. So we are very glad actually a moment.

Our magazine is based in Finland, so there might be a lot of folks over here who haven’t heard about WANHEDA yet. Can you briefly talk a little bit about your history?

Yeah, so WANHEDA is six guys. We started back in 2014. Actually, the idea of starting a band again started in December of 2014. When Jan Peeters, a longtime friend of mine – we’ve been friends since kindergarten, so we have known each other for all our lives now – we played in other bands, more metal bands, metalcore bands in the past, also with another guitar player, Jan Verduyckt, so we’re three people that are [named] Jan. Sometimes we call ourselves JANHEDA. [laughter] When our previous band came to an end, we just felt that it was time to start a new project. We started jamming in the basement of my parents’ house, me and Jan Peeters, and then we picked Jan Verduyckt up. He already wrote some stuff and that’s how it started. Then, I think with the full band, we started rehearsing in 2017. So first, we just wrote the three of us and then Jappie, Jasper, on the keys joined us. We had a drummer, Mauritz, back at the time, and that’s how we got together and we started rehearsing. Then in 2018, we released our debut EP, and 4 years later our first album.

I’m always curious to find out why instrumental bands decide to keep things instrumental. I actually remember that you listened to mostly metalcore back in the day, so I was quite surprised that you guys chose post-rock as a genre. Did you pick that merely because you just listen to that a lot yourself? Or is it because you want to put certain themes in your music to stay open for interpretation, which might not be possible if there would be a vocalist with lyrics?

Yeah, it was not a conscious choice to make post-rock or just instrumental music because actually our guitar player, Jan Verduyckt, he can sing very well actually, like Matthew Bellamy of MUSE -style, he has those kinds of vocals. So it’s not that we don’t have the option in the band, it just evolved that way somehow. First of all, we had the idea to start a band that was more like stoner rock, QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE-style, but somehow Jan Verduyckt had already written post-rock -styled songs, and we just went on from there. It was not something that we chose consciously. It just evolved that way. But Jan Verduyckt obviously listened to post-rock bands like SIGUR ROSS, EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY, MOGWAI. We all loved these kinds of bands and then we got to know other bands like IF THESE TREES COULD TALK, or post-metal bands PELICAN or RUSSIAN CIRCLES, we really enjoy them, and I think bringing back all these influences is what made WANHEDA WANHEDA.

You mentioned before that there were already some songs written by one of the Jans. I’m assuming that those songs were part of the EP. How did the writing process change, considering you now have your debut album? Were there any changes?

A little bit, yeah. So Jan Verduyckt is obviously the main songwriter so he comes with the main ideas. And then with the band, we just fine-tune them and we have our own opinions and he creates something. He is just the main writer and then we add our own stuff in it, and then that’s the end result basically. So we didn’t really change anything big in comparison to the first EP. We had a lot of time because of COVID. I think the album… we were thinking of releasing it a year earlier, but because of the coronavirus, we decided to postpone it. Of course, corona is not gone to this day, but you have to release it at some point, and we thought it was the perfect time to do so. So I hope corona will go away this year and we can play a lot of shows.

You’re an independent band. Is there any reason that you decided to release this album by yourselves? Or did you try to shop for labels?

Yeah, we tried but not a lot. We just tried one but they were already full. We were pretty confident to release it ourselves because it works with our EP. I really think that a label can contribute a lot, but we just thought we will not postpone our release because we want to shop for other labels, and just keep on postponing it. We just wanted to release it, which we did.

Now, the theme is about social media addictions. Jan Verduyckt is probably the one to ask, but could you elaborate a little bit more?

JV is really the brain behind the theme, he had the idea for quite a long time to do a concept album about social media. I think at that time, there were a lot of documentaries and series about social media, social networking, the negative impact on how Facebook works, and all that stuff. So it was kind of obvious for him to build the concept around that and he is also very interested in ancient stuff like Greek mythology. After reading about the Judgment of Paris, he thought that it was really nice to integrate that into the story as well. We just think that social media is like a poisoned chalice. It really is a gift because as a small band, you put your music online and it’s mindblowing to see that it’s picked up by people all around the world. Without social media, we could not do that. So we’re aware that it is a gift, but sometimes it’s really toxic because there are so many negative things about it as well. And that’s what we wanted to highlight with this album as well. It’s not that we think it’s important to have a theme on an album, we don’t want to push it through and have people to agree with us. They can feel whatever with this album because I think one song can evoke a lot of emotions, someone can be happy about it or melancholic, or just sad. It’s something you have to feel yourself.

What are your personal thoughts about using social media? Did you get any new insights on it?

I wish JV would be here and he could talk about it for hours. He’s more like the philosophical guy, more than the rest of the band. So I think it’s difficult for me to answer really.

No worries! What I really enjoyed about the actual songs is that there were also some kind of classical elements, if you will, including for instance, strings and trumpets, and they’re woven into this typical post-rock sound. I was wondering if that was maybe also partially to reflect on the theme… taking this classical story and placing it in the modern world?

We always wanted to record real strings on the new album. That’s something we didn’t do with the EP. I think that was a financial choice back at the time because yeah when you first release something with a band, you don’t have that amount of money to record real strings and thus we set that goal for this album because we really like to hear real strings. So we invited Jolien en Griet, from Ma’at quartet to deal with the violin and the cello. And they really did a great job. So they had a rough idea of how we saw it, and so we’ve written down parts, but we don’t play those kinds of instruments. So it was difficult for us to put it all together, so they did an amazing job. The trumpet was also an idea of JV, it came to his mind, and yeah, why not? Maybe the next album will include bagpipes, I don’t know. We’re always open to new stuff.

What is the recording process usually like? Do you record things separately or did you rent out a studio?

That’s something new as well. This time we went to a recording studio for everything actually. So with the EP, we just went to the studio for drums and recorded the guitars at home. But now we went to play music in the studio of Stijn Debontridder, who also produced the album. We recorded it back in September 2020 already, so we were really eager to release it last year, but unfortunately, we didn’t. We did it separately, we started with recording the drums a few days, then the bass, then guitars I think, then piano, and then the strings, and the trumpets afterwards. Everything was recorded at Stijn‘s [recording studio]. We did some guitars at home in the studio of our producer/guitar player Jan Peeters as well. We walked into the studio whenever we wanted, it was recorded within one month, I think, which is a really long time. But we went to the studio separately to record our instruments.

How was that experience for you, considering you mentioned it was new.

It was quite nice, especially to work with Stijn. He is a really nice guy. But also he has a lot of experience. He plays in bands himself… a lot of bands actually. He worked for Universal as a manager. So he knows a lot about music, but not a lot about post-rock, so that was something new for him, but I think you really can hear that on the album as well. He put other elements in it that you would maybe not expect in post-rock and we are very glad that we worked with him. I think the recording time was… of course, we have had highs and lows, but that’s what makes you stronger, I think. It was a nice experience.

I read a short interview that you did at the end of the year with some other webzine. You mentioned that it was very challenging to create this record and I was wondering what were some of the challenges that you experienced while making this?

We started writing back in 2019 already after we released our EP in 2018. After our EP we went on tour in 2019. We played that Dunk!festival, which was a very nice experience, and then we already started working on new materials because we thought it was important to release new stuff pretty soon, but I don’t think 4 years is pretty soon. We just wanted to take our time to deliver something we really love ourselves. And we think that that’s still the most important thing because if you don’t write what you love, what are you doing then? I forgot the question already. [laughs]

Challenges.

We started writing in 2019. I think a year later we had to switch the drummer, so that was already challenging because there was a new member to join in and at that time, we almost finished the whole album and it was difficult for him to already record it in the studio. So yeah, we asked Bastiaan Jonniaux, who is a very good drummer to help us record the drums. It took more time than we expected, so we got frustrated in the beginning. So because we booked the studio for this amount of time and we were stressing out that we would not make it. So it was actually, in the beginning, it was a very stressful time, but we’re very open-minded in the band and we think it’s very important to talk about everything, to say your opinion towards each other. That’s what made us stronger on this day.

Were there any lessons you learned from releasing your EP that you took into account while releasing this record?

Yeah, on a promotional basis, I think I did more research about what’s important because we released it independently. We are all working full-time. So it’s like a second job that you’re doing but you just love doing it and that’s why I’m the main guy who did all the promotional stuff and social media, together with Nick who was more of our designer and he delivers everything design-wise, except for the album design, which was done by Flesh & Bone Design. I think writing other people to ask to do a review, as I did with you. I think as a small band, you cannot expect to release an album and just that it will be picked up by every magazine and that they will write about it. So you have to do it all yourselves. But I think it paid off to this date and people are enjoying it and writing beautiful things about it. So yeah, I think I learned since the EP.

I just read that Belgium is maybe opening up a little bit again. Do you have any plans to play live shows?

I think this Friday, the government is coming together to talk about the new measures. What I’m reading is very hopeful, I don’t want to jinx anything, but I hope that concerts or rather standing concerts without the mask will be possible again from next week on and that would be wonderful because we have a release show planned. The 26th of February, it’s a Saturday in our hometown, Leuven. So that wouldn’t be awesome. If we can just play in front of some people and maybe, I hope, without the masks and that everybody can enjoy live music again. We have some other concerts planned. Normally, last Saturday, we would have been playing in Gent at The Kinky Star but it was postponed to the 26th of March. In May, we have some other shows, and at the end of this year, we’re planning to go on tour again. But we’re not going to Finland. [laughs]

Someday maybe, who knows? However, I do not recommend doing a winter tour here. [laughs]

It would be in November.

It’s pretty dark here, so probably for the best that you’re not stopping by. Alright, thank you so much for your time, that’s it for my questions. Do you have any last thoughts you want to share with your fans?

No, if they have already heard our album, thank you for listening and if they’re eager to listen now, thank you. Thank you for your time too, Laureline!

Written by Laureline Tilkin