So what do you do when your chart-topping band takes some well-deserved time off? Do you take up cheese producing, perhaps indulge that passion for archery or take a tour of the world’s wonders? If you’re Balthazar lead singer Maarten Devoldere, then you’ll be making an idiosyncratic reassessment of what rock music means in increasingly disposable times. “In Belgium everyone’s making albums which are very contemporary,” he tells me. “So I tried to make something timeless. I was afraid that everyone would find it old fashioned.”
Five years in the making, We Fucked A Flame Into Being presents an earnest and deeply personal record for the Belgian singer. Rather than a disparate assembly of tunes deemed unsuitable for a Balthazar album, it’s a work that comes from the heart. The elements were recorded whenever there was time. At home, on tour or even on a boat that Devoldere found himself living on. With a range of musicians coming in for each song, some didn’t truly know what they were working on. It might have been the simplest way to produce an album, but without a schedule or ultimate goal to work towards, everything was given the space to develop its own identity. “I put a lot of pressure on myself. I know many examples of people who made solo records which aren’t very good. But it was mainly something for myself. I wanted to get the best out of myself.” It’s a markedly different approach to his day-job with his enormously successful indie-rock act. There’s no need to suppress his ego, but all the pressure is on him to create something worthwhile. At the same time the record completely reflects his persona, and what he’s spent his career hoping to create. To an extent the album’s big room dynamics belie its almost DIY production. It’s testament to the love and attention put into this work that everything sounds so expansive and intriguing.
We Fucked A Flame Into Being takes its title from a line in DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. It’s a phrase that’s simultaneously packed with both brutality and romance. “That’s something I look for in music. I want to write romantic songs, but I don’t want them to be super-sweet. In a song you should able to write about the stars, but at the same time about the toilet or shit on the bedsheets…” There’s a certain poetic feel to all of the album’s lyrics. Rather than mere rhyming couplets, each successive line bolsters the overall drama. As a complete work it is graced with a dark sensuality and sensitivity that’s missing with the majority of his contemporaries. Its sophisticated mixing of causticness and warmth provides a soundtrack for late night drinking sessions, confessions and personal reflections. Everything is presented with a certain swagger. The album is utterly cinematic, as it travels through this mysterious and moonlit world of Devoldere’s creation. You might pick out shades of Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave and Serge Gainsbourg across his art, each of these song-writers being capable of finding glorious romance in the minute of life.
Always touring and recording with Balthazar, he found himself partying perhaps a little too much in his spare time. So moving onto a boat was an ironic attempt to regain some stability. “I don’t know how it influenced the album. But I had to be very focused to get it right.” Whilst drawing on age-old traditions of rock music the album shines amongst hordes of artists who are afraid to reach out in other directions. In a way what he’s created sounds almost rebellious in its intent, despite his embracing of traditional recording techniques and analogue.
Reproducing the album’s dense multi-layered sound might not seem like an easy task. But using tricks, like looping trumpets to replicate a brass section, means he and his three musicians can do justice to the album’s complex recording. “We’re not able to have 25 musicians onstage, so you have to be creative. It’s kind of cool because you come up with lots of interesting solutions.”
Warhaus play Brighton’s The Hope and Ruin on Sun 9 Oct. The album, We Fucked A Flame Into Being, is available now via Play It Again Sam.