Nobody has the balls to make a rock album that sounds like that anymore"
Guitarist and Vocalist with Dewolff, Pablo van de Poel, talks to us about their new album, influences and more...
WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO ABANDON STUDIO RECORDING FOR THE TASCAM TAPES ALBUM?
We thought it was time for a change: for about 12 and a half years we’ve always been trying to make our best album. So every album we released had all different “shades” of DeWolff on it: some heavy songs, some quiet songs, a long song with lots of solos… it wasn’t a preconceived concept, it just happened naturally. But in a way, every album has its own “Love Dimension” or “The Pistol” or “Medicine” and with every album that came out, we’d think that this new one is our best. With the release of THRUST in the rearview mirror, we started thinking about our next record and we thought: wouldn’t it be great to just do something completely different? Come up with a weird concept, a set of limitations, and make a full album with that concept in mind. So we came up with this idea of recording an album on the road, inspired by certain stuff we listen to like old Beck or Unknown Mortal Orchestra or Wolf People’s first album (that was also recorded with a drum sampler). Something with that lofi sound that we love so much but we would never really go for on a “Hammond/guitar/drum” record. So we went on the road, took this old Tascam cassette recorder with us and wrote and recorded music in moments that we’d normally spend napping or reading or doing stupid stuff. When we came back from tour we didn’t even know if we had an album’s worth of songs! All the material was scattered over a dozen cassettes, some of which were missing. Then we listened back to all the material and we realized: hell yes we’ve got an album!
DID YOU EVER FEEL LIKE THE PROJECT WASN'T GOING TO WORK AND YOU'D END UP BACK IN THE STUDIO?
Yeah, definitely. Many times during the tour I thought we were just gonna end up with 3 or 4 good songs. It didn’t matter to us at the time: we could put those songs on an album and go into the studio to write and record the rest of the record. It wasn’t until we came back from the tour that we realized just how cool all of this material was. We had about 15 songs of which we chose the best 12.
DID YOU HAVE MUCH WORK TO DO IN MASTERING THE ALBUM EG OVERSUBS ETC?
We recorded most of the album in very non-ideal situations: most of the time what we were recording played back through 2 speakers we put under the seats of our van! We just went for that immediate “fuck yeah this feels good” feeling instead of sonic perfection. Sometimes during mixing we really had to resort to sonic wizardry to get rid of all the noise, hum or weird cassette side-effects. With other records, what we normally started mixing with sounds way better then what we had now, so in the mixing process a lot more tweaking than normal was involved. We mixed it together with Wessel Oltheten and he also mastered it, so with mixing he really mixed toward something that already sounded finished. I don’t think the mastering was a lot of work.
When we came back from tour we did add overdubs that didn’t fit on the 4 tracks of our Tascam cassette recorder. We added bass to “It Ain’t Easy”, a tambourine or backing vocals here and there, we re-recorded Blood Meridian I & II… But songs like “Made it to 27”, “Awesomeness of Love” and “Rain” don’t exceed the original 4 tracks that we recorded on tour.
WHAT WAS THE STRANGEST PLACE YOU RECORDED?
“It Ain’t Easy” was recorded on battery power in the back seat of our van in the 20 minutes we had before arriving at the venue, “Made it to 27” was recorded by the roadside near Carcassonnes, during one song (I don’t remember which one) I was sitting on the shitter while singing it. The vocals for ‘Awesomeness of Love” I recorded right after walking off stage in Rennes because I could only reach those high notes on that adrenaline rush you have right after getting off stage. Is that strange enough?
DO YOU THINK RECORDING THE ALBUM MADE YOU MORE CREATIVE MUSICALLY?
Definitely: ever since we made this album I get ideas for songs all the time, causing me to write a song at least twice a week or so. That’s because I had to un-learn second guessing myself in the writing process of this album. That’s what I normally do: write something and then just add and add and change and change stuff because the original thing can’t be good enough. Whatever idea comes to me now, I just go with it, record it and try not to criticize it. Most of the songs I’m writing now are just G, C and D and I love it! We learned that a song doesn’t always need to be dissected and put back together 3 different ways to be good: sometimes the most simple songs work best.
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU FACED RECORDING IN THIS LO-FI WAY?
To just go with that first idea, that first spark of inspiration that pops up in your mind. I always found that really hard, I always want to change stuff and make it “more difficult”. But maybe the biggest challenge we faced during the recording is keeping the spirit up, haha. Because we started that tour with a lot of enthusiasm and a constant urge to make stuff. Then as the tour evolved, as the hangovers started getting worse and more frequent and we grew more tired, we really had to force ourselves to hook up that recording setup, sit down and write stuff. That’s also when the thought that we didn’t have enough good material started coming to us: but that’s just because we wrote most of the good stuff in the first 2 weeks of the tour!
BLOOD MERIDIAN PARTS 1 AND 2 DEAL WITH DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES OF A DEEP SUBJECT, WHAT INSPIRED THAT THOSE TRACKS?
Different things inspired that song. The riff just happened when I plugged my acoustic guitar(!) into the Tascam and cranked the gain knob. The inspiration for the lyrics came from two books: “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” that I read some years ago and of course the Cormac McCarthy book “Blood Meridian”. The first one being an actual description of all the truly horrible things the white man did to the Native Americans. It’s shocking and it really gets your blood boiling… The latter is -largely fictional- story from the writer of “No Country For Old Men” and “The Road” and it describes a band of outlaws that set out on a vicious killing spree hunting down Native Americans. Blood Meridian 1 tells the story through the eyes of the Native American and Blood Meridian II through the eyes of the bad guys.
ARE YOU GOING TO PLAY THE TRACKS DIFFERENTLY LIVE, OR TRY AND KEEP THE SOUND AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE?
No, live these tracks are totally different from the album! Luka didn’t drum on this album and Robin didn’t play any Hammond, so we had to totally re-arrange these songs to play them live. I mean, we’re gonna step on stage with a sampler and a mini-synthesizer: we’re a rock n roll band!
"nobody has the balls to make a rock album that sounds like that anymore"
THERE'S OBVIOUSLY A BIG 70S FUNK VIBE TO YOUR MUSIC, WHO ARE YOUR MAIN INFLUENCES?
That’s probably because all of the drum samples you hear come from 60’s and 70’s funk records! We’re very influenced by that New Orleans funk by artists like Betty Harris, the Meters, Dr John and Allen Toussaint. We used some drum samples that have never been sampled before because they’re just too obscure! Apart from that we also let bands like Unknown Mortal Orchestra or Beck’s Odelay album inspire us. And of course, there’s early Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and all that great late 60’s British blues rock: that’s just in our DNA. And artists like Leon Russell, Little Feat, Townes van Zandt and The Band are also big influences. That’s all very different music, but they all share this urgency and deep beauty that really chills us to our core!
YOU USED SOME RARE FUNK AND SOUL SAMPLES ON THE ALBUM TOO, WHERE DID YOUR LOVE FOR THAT MUSIC COME FROM?
That’s Luka’s influence: he got into all that stuff many years ago. Probably because of the signature rhythms of this music. He knows a LOT about old soul and funk music and he influenced Robin and me to listen to it too. Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, all that great Southern Soul. Luka’s also very knowledgeable about Afrobeat music from the 70’s. He even has an Afro beat side project called Akula Rhythm Band!
WHAT'S NEXT? - MORE LO-FI RECORDING OR POSSIBLY A BIG BAND, OR ORCHESTRA SOUND?
We have no idea: the vibe I’m getting for the next record is to make an album that sounds just like those late 60’s Jeff Beck albums or those early Faces albums. Very British and very vintage. Because everybody loves that sound but nobody has the balls to make a rock album that sounds like that anymore! Everybody’s always like “yeah, we LOVE that 1960s sound but it’s gotta sound like 2020” and they end up making something that totally lacks any identity.