Jinte from Balthazar kindly agreed to send me answers to my questions a second time round after technology failed me and left me with a distorted mess of a recording (every journalist’s nightmare).
Luckily the singer and songwriter took the time to respond, this time from the comfort of his home rather than on the road.
Tell us about “Sand” and “Sand Castle Tapes” – what’s the connection, what’s the difference?
Jinte – Well the connection of course is that it's basically the same songs, but the big difference is the way we played them and how it sounds. Sand was finished during the pandemic, so we were supposed to be together in studio, especially after the lively tour we had, that was the plan.
We were in a good place and we wanted to capture the atmosphere that we were having on stage. But, as how things transpired, we couldn't, so it turned out to be quite a solitary, more electronic producing process. That's okay, but of course it's different to when you're making stuff alone and sending it through email or Dropbox or doing zoom meetings about finishing an album compared to playing it together.
When we released it, we had to promote the album but we couldn't showcase it live, so we organized The Sandcastle Tapes.
It’s like a ‘documentary concert’ idea of a completely live session, to really do a sort of studio session mixed with documentary footage. But to us it felt really, really, really different. It was the first time we played the songs and it surprised us a little with how cool the vibe was when we played together again, or how different the songs felt.
We put together different variations on songs, for example, On A Roll is almost a piano ballad compared to the more electronic version on the Sand album. So the connection is the songs, and the difference is just it's the two complete opposites of Balthazar, in a way.
It's us as a duo, together with our producer Jasper, compared to Balthazar in a more lively collective. And I mean, we like them both, but we wanted to release The Sandcastle Tapes as well to show how different things can get when you change the circumstances.
Sand was written pre-pandemic, on tour, and produced during the pandemic, which impacted the recording process and changed the way the songs came to life. Will the pandemic shape any future creations as well?
On one hand, the way it shaped Sand, it was fun in a way, it surprised us. Most of the time by the fifth album you're already super bored with how you create an album. So in a way we were kind of inspired by having to do it completely differently. On the other hand, I think now we long even more to shape a future creation as a collective. For example, having a solo project is really just following one vision. But that's the cool thing about playing in a band...you have so many different musicians who add their own wild ideas, or their own imagination to it, and the songs can become something totally different. So I think now, having made Sand the way we did, we'll return to our original plan for the next album.
Vaguely connected in a thematic sense, but to what extent can you separate the art from the artist, or from the environment?
Maybe we'll see to what extent you can separate the art from the artist, the art from the environment, or the art from the artist? It depends on how you look at what the artist is. Because I mean, that's a good question when they have political ideas. Can you still like their music? It's a difficult question. I think yes, you can separate the art from the artist if the art is good. But the art from the environment… from personal experience, no.
You don't have any control over your environment, so it strongly influences your album, in a way. But that's why you make music, to be inspired or influenced. Otherwise, it's science. It's mathematics. Art is nothing like that, so maybe you can't separate anything, In that sense.
What helps you create that “home from home” feeling when you’re on tour? (favourite tour snack?)
Well, you know it helps having a bus so we each have our own bunk. That's your kind of sleeping space. That's your only private territory. Very, very tiny, very claustrophobic. But because you're always with that bus, it becomes your house, with your own little room.
I used to be more sensitive, but not anymore. Snacks… I learned to not eat too many snacks, and I think what helps is enough exercise. I run and I go biking, things like that. How do you keep your sanity? Because otherwise you just get into the bubble of alcohol and partying too much, and that doesn't help, that makes you feel isolated. So you do the most normal things you would do at home, and that helps to have that home from home feeling. It sounds really boring, I'm aware of that. We still party a lot but sometimes you need to find that balance.
How do you compare making music at the beginning of your career versus now?
In the beginning, you need to have a lot of control over the whole process. We even produced it ourselves because we didn't trust another producer to touch our music. We were control freaks, looking back at it. I don't think it was the best idea, but it helped us a lot to become the musicians we are now. Now we’ve made so many albums, we can just let go more. For example, the album the pandemic made: the original plan didn't work, so we had no control about how our album was going to sound like suddenly. But we kind of liked that, and that's a feeling we didn't have in the beginning of her career. Because in the beginning, you only have your debut album, which is so important to put you on the market. So your profile is so fragile, you're kind of … nothing. You have so much to prove that it is pretty normal that you want to control everything.
I think every artist is stressed out on their first album because you never know. If you have a producer you don't like or something, it totally ruins your album. But now, it's our fifth, and we've also done solo projects. So in the end, you’re getting into your Bowie phase of life, you know? Trying to change and evolve your profile. You add something, or try something new, or you surprise yourself, and hope not to repeat yourself all of the time because that would be boring for everyone.
So yeah, when you make music, you have to have less control then in the beginning of our career, because you start to do the same things over and over again. You need some other input or other people, that's why we work with the producer now.
You’ve mentioned you sometimes have ‘mental fights’ in order to produce you best work. Talk to us about the, perhaps sometimes fiery, collaborative creative process!
In the beginning, we were just teenagers, so we were starting out as songwriters, and we had ambitious minds, but when we wanted to finish a song, we struggled. And it wasn't until we worked together to finish each other’s songs that one plus one made three. It took the song to a whole other level. So in the beginning, we really needed each other and we elevated each other's level of song writing. I think there's so much of Martin's song writing in my song writing now, and so much of my song writing in Martin's. Even in solo projects, you can really hear the other, actually.
But of course, year after year, that balance changes. We need the balance of being able to do whatever we want on our own, which can be a solo project, working with other people, being inspired, and ending up somewhere totally different. It's really like your own ego versus a collective. And to us, being sort of humble Belgians – after we blew up our ego with a solo project – we took it down a notch and hid ourselves within a collective, because it's a totally different feeling. I mean mentally it's really healthy, also for your song writing it's the variation that keeps you going. If I would make only solo albums from now on, I would probably get bored and maybe the same with Balthazar.
We adapted a sort of working method of having a collective band, and having solo projects, just because it works the best for us. And it's cool to see that after so many years, we're still making albums and still touring together. Of course, you don’t have the same ideas or the same vision on what every album needs to be, but that's part of being a collective. I don't believe in democracy in a band, which is why we stick to two songwriters, but I don't believe in too much tyranny either. It depends on what phase you're in.
Sometimes it can be a fight, but then, for example, you can have a song, which you're really proud of, and then you go to the other song writer, and he's like: ‘Yeah, okay, but I think you can do better.’ That's the sort of criticism that has you be like: ‘Oh really? Well, I'll show you!’ And then you just write a better song. So in the end it keeps you on your toes. It's a little bit of competition, I guess? But it's also criticism you accept, because it's from a person you’ve worked with for so long, and you just understand each other. Where you can push a little bit or, you know, where you can work together to finish some songs.
What, in your opinion are the most important bands shaping music, past and present? Why?
To begin with, we're not the best music listeners. So when we started out we really like didn't know any bands. We hated the 80s. We were in love with Gorillaz and LCD Soundsystem, that sort of stuff. And then suddenly, we started discovering the classic singer songwriters like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave.
It was only after the first album that we really, really discovered these guys. Serge Gainsbourg, the French singer influenced our second album a lot. It also totally changed our songwriters process because it became more ‘classic’ song writing.
But throughout all the years, there are so many influences. When you go to the supermarket and you hear Rihanna it influences you. What changed after coming back together again, for the Fever album, was that we got really into more extrovert music, because we had worked with more melancholic tones previously. So the shows were, you know, just ‘listen’ shows.
But now with Fever, we were really like eager to have more of an extroverted reaction to our music, and that really came from listening to The Talking Heads, 80s, Bowie … suddenly the 80s were cool again! And up until now we're still discovering more music we used to hate or dislike because it had a beat or something, like Prince, for example.
That's like a whole music history, but I can't think of any specific bands, really. To be honest, it's just constantly evolving, which is normal. I mean, you need to evolve what you listen to, and you evolve with it.
Balthazar play den Atelier on Tuesday the 23rd November.