Members: Reinhard Vanbergen, Charlotte Caluwaerts, Mo Disko
Current Release: Atlantis Atlantis on Music For Dreams
Recommendations Lisse Declercq’s paintings, they have a very unique and specific hyper real style / Bela Bartok ‘Concerto for Orchestra’
If you enjoyed this interview with Rheinzand, visit their bandcamp page to buy their music.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Charlotte: I started at a very early age inventing songs and stories, sometimes in the form of journals and other times in drawings. During my teenage years I started composing more on piano. These little pieces were inspired by my classical training. It was only later that I combined lyrics and stories with piano and then real songs took shape. I was a huge fan of Blondie and one of my earliest memories is me as a three-year-old, dancing in our living room to ‘Denis Denis’. I still love the eighties rock-pop sound and sense of style. I don’t always consciously go looking for it, but I find myself many times arriving there. Eighties synth sounds seem to always find me. When I’m in the studio you’ll probably find me close to the Juno, DX 7, D 50.
Mo: I was drawn to music at a very young age, mesmerised by the juke-box in my mom’s bar. That turned into playing records in front of people at the age of 14 and that hasn’t stopped. I started remixing around 2000 with my long time DJ partner David and as The Glimmers, we did some nice ones over the years for Roxy Music, New Order, Freddie Mercury, The Killers, The Chemical Brothers, Adamski, Block Party, Snow Patrol, Shirley Bassey, Phoenix.
Reinhard: I started playing violin when I was 8. That was a perfect fit. A natural born Fidler! I started my own band when I was 14 and from there on things kind of happened. I started producing for other bands when I was 23. In the early days, I wasn’t so much influenced by other bands, but more by genre. I started playing guitar when I was 14 because the violin wasn’t really impressing the girls at that age. Later I studied jazz violin at the conservatorium of Ghent, so as a violinist and guitarist I came in touch with a lot of different genres, going from Irish folk, to Latin, to jazz, nu-classic, rock, pop and even flamenco. To be honest, I didn't have a lot of time to listen to music because I was spending all my free time making it.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Charlotte: Although I am now very happy with classical piano and singing training and a sense of discipline and craftsmanship, I felt very out of place as a young child and especially as a teenager. I was looking for pop and rock music, but at that time couldn’t find a way in. Jazzy songs like Cole Porter felt closer so I took my time listening and playing those songs and I still have a deep love for these kinds of true, classic, structured songs. I was always drawn to great lyrics and that has been a constant throughout my path as a musician. So much that I have skilled myself in several languages and write in six. It takes a while before you are comfortable enough and immersed yourself enough into the culture, poetry and literature to write in another language. I think the base of discipline and long-term development comes from my initial classical training.
Reinhard: A violin has its limitations. Some genres are very logical, but others are very hard. As it happened, those less natural genres were my main interest, being rock and pop music when I was younger. The search to give the violin a place in those genres forced me to look for my own voice early on. Rheinzand opened another door, new genres that I discovered through Mo and his music knowledge as a DJ. Finding a place for the violin and a whole bunch of other instruments finally seemed to hit ground with Rheinzand.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Reinhard: When I write, I try to just open the tap without thinking too much (a bit like drinking). If I think about things like identity while writing, playing or recording, it limits me somehow. So, I don’t. That results in a very eclectic catalogue, and must be a bit hazy for an audience, but I guess that’s nevertheless also an identity. I am kind of happy about that because my creativity can go wherever it goes. I always say to my students: if you have a polka in your head, you might as well write it down, even if you are a heavy metal guitarist. You never know when it might come in handy. Don’t let it go to waste.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Charlotte: For a time, I was really bored writing solemnly about my own experiences. Having had the opportunity to write for TV and movies, that broadened my way of writing and freed me of any possible writer’s block. I believe writing is like a muscle you can train, you get better at it every time you do it. Once you’ve written a few pieces, the pressure is off to write that one special track. It feels very freeing to just start with an open mind and see where the track goes. When you’ve trained your muscles enough, you end up surprising yourself quite often. It’s important to not take yourself too seriously. Everything you make or record is just a moment in time and then you go on and make something new. And some things you will like forever, other things less. And that’s ok.
Mo: There’s always a new challenge lurking around the corner. In Rheinzand, the easy bit for me was creating and steering the tracks to what I wanted to hear but then my extra challenge was that I had to sing on top of it. Felt a bit strange but in the end it turned out ok.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Charlotte: The piano and keys are still my go-to instruments for writing. I switched to producing tracks in Protools to shake things up a little and get different inspirations through beats or synths. You come up with different ideas through different sounds. I won’t write the same track on a Rhodes than I would on a piano or a harpsichord. It’s cool how you can keep it interesting for yourself that way. Writing is a lonely job, so it’s nice to feel a fresh and dynamic dialogue between you and an instrument. During my pregnancy, I started with guitar and wrote a whole country album for my then unborn son. Although I like classic country music and especially the stories in them, it was more of a technical limitation that shaped the songs into country songs: I was limited to six chords and when you only use three, you quickly end up with country. I just bought a new piano. It was a rental that I played on during a concert. I loved it immediately when I touched it. It made me think of my first piano at my parent’s place and remarkably enough it led me to writing more jazzy and classical inspired pieces for voice and piano. I think like life in general, inspiration is circular. So you might come back to things you recognise from the past, but everytime more skilled and experienced so you deepen and broaden the palette.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Charlotte: I do like the fact that not everyone needs to be a skilled musician to make music and enjoy themselves. The availability of free software has a democratising effect on music making and that is something I am all for. On the other hand, it creates a very generic sound that can feel flat and unimaginative. Generally, I feel like most of this kind of music makes it to mainstream radio nowadays, which influences other people to make the same safe and flat music again. I have the feeling that mainstream music was more diverse 10 years ago and that is something I miss. On the other hand, with global radio and Spotify you are one click away from underground sounds and niche tracks. This made me realise that there is an audience for every kind of music and freed me from the idea that a song should have a certain structure or sound a certain way.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Mo: If I look back, I have always been collaborating. As a DJ, as a visual artist, as a band member. I love collaborating. You need to approach it in a sensitive way. It’s not all about you but if the understanding between the collaborators is good and egos are left in the cloakroom, then magic can happen.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Reinhard: The studio is in our living room. So, work and life is one thing. Right now, my schedule is filled with 70% work for others, and 30% my own music. I hope to change that gradually into the opposite, but that will depend on the financial side to make that possible. I also teach a day in the week at the Ghent Conservatory. Being a musician is a lot less glamorous than one might think.