Search for Belleruche and you will find them everywhere. Yep. On each prestigious venues’ listings, in Festivals, in Germany, America, France, Czech Republic…heck. These guys are the real deal I can hear you thinking.
Well they are. But in contemporary Britain, finding anything on the Anglo-Australian trio Belleruche is as likely as a digging up a 1940 bombshell. Blame the fact that they got picked up in France and Canada as first exposure. Well, I’ve found you one and it turns out to be rather explosive. But now they have released their fourth album and shed some light over their, hum, 6 years’ success.
What I first discover is that the trio has made it to telly in 2008 with single Northern Girls that came on the background of a BMW advert. Offered the spot – something they barely believed – it helped them financially stabilize the large vessel of Jazz eclectism that is Belleruche. Two albums followed and I am handed a copy of Rollerchain (2012), sitting in their East London mansion, a crisp smell of overcooked biscuit floating in the air. Having rocked not only La Scala but also worldwide musical den for the last few months: here is how I met with the voice of Kathrin deBoer and the guitar of Ricky Fabulous.
V: Compared to your previous albums, there is something different in Rollerchain. You’ve creatively taken things further.
Kathrin deBoer: We’ve written this album over a 6 months period which was uninterrupted by gigs or day jobs. This was our primary focus and it gave us time and freedom.
Ricky Fabulous: For this album I had started to listen to a lot of different music. During a tour in America, I came to listen to a load of stuffs I didn’t use to like Gaslamp killer or Flying lotus. It absolutely blew me away and I thought I wanted to do stuffs that sounded a bit like that. It’s a kind of digital soft that has such an organic feel to it, without the oxymoron. It’s not just samples and breaks, you can tell it’s made from a drum machine and also that there’s a synth. By coincidence, Tim (DJ Modest) started to get into that too. (to Kathrin) You seem to like it…
K: Naaah, I just tag along…hah hah hah. No, it’s difficult to describe how we write and how our sound change, it’s like describing the kind of music we make; I find it really challenging.
R: We all like different kind of music: Kathrin likes jazz and I like rock…
K (giggling): Death Metal! It’s quite unique the way we listen to music; we generally find a common ground in, say, a piece of music…
K: Hahaha, totally…
R: Yeah, spiritual yeah…But we all kind of musically share something. It’s spiritual in the way that we are people having fun.
K: Tim often does get the dustiest fingers; he’s always trying to find weird and obscure creative music. (to Ricky) While at the moment you are mostly clipping digital of things sounding like a video game…
V: Beside the release of your fourth album Rollerchain how come we’ve never heard so much from you but for the last few months?
K: We are not a very sociable band… No that’s not true. Its’ odd really. It is the first time we hire someone to work on Rollerchain.
R: I wouldn’t say that.
K (ironical): This is when it gets political, you see.
R (ironical) : Yeah, there are a whole lot of stuffs which piss me off! Let’s go through them! (giggles) No, seriously, there are bits on the internet about us but things have been quite sort of… organic I guess? We’ve never had like huge PR machine behind it.
R: We never really capitalised upon what we’d done and it just happened. We didn’t really know the relevance of what was going on. We never planned success; it just happened. We went to France and in interviews people were like “oh, but you got a French name…” Hum…yeah, we never thought about it; it’s just a name. I think because of that there’s never been some sort of pressure to do huge amount of interviews. It’s more of a “we make music; we put it out and we’re fortunate people buy it”. For example: being on “Queen’s Of Pop” competition, they came to us and asked us to do it, we thought: “So, let’s go on TV it’ll be really cool.” We did and it was just really weird.
K: Ricky summed it up really well. We never really had a huge plan. We’ve been on the radio and didn’t really capitalised on that or do anything to consolidate those things. We just went back and wrote more music. It’s kind of nice that way.
V: Is it, really?
R: After the first album , obviously working on that second album, it felt that we thought to knock out something else like doing another version of Minor Swing or another swing/Jazz tune…In fact not really. We didn’t work on some kind of electro swing because that ‘s what the public was asking; for our second album we thought of a blues album…
K: I think Media exposure gives you some kind of responsibilities and obligation. We make the music we want to make; we write for ourselves, producing it. If people buy it, it’s cool. When we gave this album to our record company they like it and don’t ask us to change anything. If there was more PR machine there will be more vested interest behind it. We have freedom and that’s very good. We write music because we want to write.
V: Freedom…hum… How do you survive?
K: Yeah, we’re able to survive on it…for how long we don’t know but at least there is some integrity in what we do…
R: I’d like it if someone came along and expose some ideas to find a way to get us “out there”, I would listen but if someone comes and says “you guys have chance to be buried in the middle but make some money,” well I’d rather make less money and do something I find fun. Being a mainstream pop act doesn’t really appeal. I love money but I want to make it my way.
V: Creative you are, and you’ve managed to keep it going for four albums. How did you manage that?
K: I don’t think we can be defined in a certain way: we’re not electro, we’re not blues, we’re not jazz: we are lots of things that have been thrown in.
V: Tell me about the process of making music.
K: Well, if the idea is working, it just works. It’s when we want to make it different and go through the different processes of making it different; if we’ve got a different image or a sounding in mind as to how we want it to sound, we consider that it doesn’t just have that power or that thing that makes you say “oh, that’s how it was meant to sound”, and that can take a long time. We’ve written songs in minutes and some in months…
R: For songs that come really fast – which we’ve done this time – it’s kind of cool to go back over and say “well, could we actually change this bit because maybe, it pieces together a bit too well…”
K: Or “how can we fuck it up!”
R: Yeah. There is that one song on the album called Under Fire and we based it with too much scratch and drum but it just sounded too normal. We started throwing another sub bass into it, and put this weird broken effect on; chopped up the guitar and made it simpler… by then we’d completely fucked with the idea until we then felt that it actually sounded differently.
K: We’ve written 23 songs for the last album and cut it down to 13 and to make it really difficult we change the names halfway through the process. There was this song we called Four Types of Cat food, then Queen In Charge…
R: …yeah, the studio we used to rent was pretty nasty and there was this big bowl full of cat food and so “we call it Four Types of Cat Food” but it was hard to think of another working title.
K: Yeah, we’ve got a lot time on our hands these days…
V: How does one prepare for a tour?
K: Well, we’ve baked and burned a load of flapjacks; drunk a lot of booze…We’ve tried to get use to each other, sitting in a very small space together and do that for hours and end… No, seriously, we’ve been rehearsing and this time was different.
V: Looking at your experience on tour: good or bad moments?
K: Wow really, there’s so many good and bad; and sometimes they are the same moment… (to Ricky) Was it Slovenia? No, Germany…
R: Stupid story…Someone had put a monitor in front of the stairs to the stage and we went back for an “encore”; the stage lights were out and basically I tripped over the monitor, I had this bottle of beer so I hit the stage and I heard the audience go “OOOOOooooh”. When the lights went on I was lying on the floor with this beer fountaining and…
K:…and I was laughing in the background and when he put his hand up and said “am alright”…
V: What motivated you to building a band? I mean you, Ricky, you started to jam with Tim and then suddenly, Kathrin came along?
K: Yeah, I did come along, one day and listened to what they were doing and they were really nice guys and said “do you want to have a jam!” I was just really interested in having a jam.
V: What were you doing before?
K: Errrrrr, I did quite a few jazz gigs and I was really into my “trad” jazz but then after moving to London my mind just opened up by listening to an enormous different genre and style of music. I did feel a little bit limited.
R: We’d met and that day, I played what Tim and I had done and I remember Kathrin started to sing along with the tune under a breath. We both thought she was really good…
K: Wow, they never said that to me!
V: Ok. How about the rationale behind Belleruche ? Why that kind of music? Why electro swing?
K: We didn’t start by making electro swing. At first it was all sampled bass until we got together and we made our own samples.
R: Originally, we were sort of like DJ Premier and kind of sampled loads of Soul. At the time there was a real tendency to what was called New Jazz which is kind of smooth and…
K:…we kind of “bulldozzed” through that.
R: Yeah, hahaha, we did get “pingeonholed” New Jazz at first because of our samples and of course Kathrin’s voice lent itself to it very well but we never really embraced that kind of scene. We always kind of saw ourselves like a rock band playing Jazz music. We wanted to be like a rock gig but we were playing more of Soul or Jazz so we didn’t completely buy in that sort sound. Our beats weren’t like that (Ricky beatbox a blues drum) they were more like that (Ricky beatbox the same rhythm with much heavier bass). Then we turned glitchy but we also kept it minimal we didn’t want layers and layers of instruments.
K: Or strings.
R: Yeah, or some horns!
K: Then we’d a band like anybody else…
V: I really liked the drum loops on Rollerchain. It’s fresh, it’s new.
R: Thank you.
K: We don’t like to repeat ourselves.
V: You’ve even added instruments.
K: During the writing of the album we weren’t thinking to play it live; we just made music as we wanted to hear it. Once we finished the album we came to figure how to play it live but we were missing a band player… or I had to learn bass. It’s new and I love it. Ricky spoon-fed me all the shortcuts to learning bass.
R: I like the idea of having two bassists in a band it’s like “double-the- bass” (silence)… errrr … well, you don’t see that very often. A male bass player and a female bass player…
K: and a DJ doing subbass underneath it just to, you know, bed it! Would like another burnt flapjack?
V: Belleruche, thank you.