June 2012: Pilots & Waves Interview
Pilots & Waves is a noise-pop-doom-metal-rock band based out of Belgium featuring Julie Hecquet and Jan Van Woensel on guitar and vocals, Ed van der Ven on bass, and Michael-John Joosen on drums. The brainchild of Van Woensel, Pilots & Waves began as a solo project and expanded into a creature all its own.
There’s this Wuthering Heights line the band’s songs remind me of where she talks about creating from your gut: “hewn from a wild workshop with simple tools.” Pilots & Waves is certainly cultivating from such a space. Heading to castles in Belgium’s backwoods and gritty underground caverns, they craft a distinctive sound that leaves heaps of bashed instruments and unburdened souls in its wake.
Maria Anderson: First off, how was Pilots & Waves born? How did you guys first connect? Could you tell me about the dynamic between group members?
Jan Van Woensel: Initially, Pilots & Waves was supposed to be a solo project, but it turned out differently. Being a Teenage Jesus and The Jerks and God Is My Co-Pilot fan, I love the combination of heavy, uncontrollable, dissonant guitar noise and a female singer's voice. So, I put up an announcement on a local music blog to find a singer and Julie emailed me. The subject line was: "I'm the one you're looking for," and she was right. Julie was in a metal band, but wanted something more experimental. One October afternoon, she auditioned in our studio. We did some weird, improv new wave stuff that sounded very cool and dark. We wanted to start a different band that I wanted to call Kelly Green or Magazine Ghost or something like that, a band all about noise. Soon I realized Julie should take a leading role in Pilots & Waves instead.
Around the same time, Ed, a bass guitar player, emailed me too. He was brilliant from the get-go. Ed talks a lot, and is constantly thinking about improvement and change and he constructively worked on the songs I had written. He made himself very important, so I had to keep him too. (Laughs) Soon, I realized that this thing I wanted to do solo was going to be way more exciting with Julie and Ed. So, with half of a band ready to write songs, we needed a drummer. Sophie, a good friend of my younger sister and a very talented jazz singer, brought in Michael-John, our drummer. He has unlimited energy, so it seems. Our current loudest and probably most intense song to play, Ashley, is his favorite. He definitely adds power, headbanging and volume to the band! The four of us form the core of Pilots & Waves.
Anderson: You guys just played The Fern Mountain Show last month, a private concert set in the suburban wasteland of a northern Belgium metropolis. The show doubled as a photo shoot with photographer and producer Britt Guns. What was the atmosphere like at the concert?
Julie: The vibe of that day happened to turn out better than expected. We played in a dark, old industrial space and the acoustics were terrible. People were easygoing and open to the dark concept of our live show; it ended up being wild, totally decadent, and our music rather inviting to let go; girls were dirty and wet from black paint that was being splashed on them. They were having one hell of a good time. The boys were equally messed up and enjoying the view of the girls' soaked dresses. We once again would like to thank them all for allowing this concert to be an absolute success.
Anderson: Do you have plans for more private shows like Fern Mountain?
Ed: We plan to play as many shows as possible now, in general. If we'd be invited to play a private show again it'd be cool to do, but real plans, no, not as far as I know...
Julie: I Believe this might be the first of many private fan shows; there is nothing better than to perform on the same level than the crowd. It is our way of having a party and it is with them that we have the best vibe. This will probably happen again but with different show titles, depending on the location of our underground illegal fan party show.
Anderson: That sounds like a lot of fun. You guys are recording an album, right? How’s the recording process going?
Jan: We recorded our EP album recently, and we're now working on the vocals that will go on tape very soon. By the time this interview gets published, our EP will probably be out. We're shooting for mid-April, and releasing four songs: "This Is," "D.C. Five," "Night in L.A," and "Ashley," for which we're doing a music video.
Anderson: Do you have any rituals or strange things you do in the studio?
Jan: Rituals or strange things we do in the studio. Well, we play, record, listen, play, record, listen, and so on. Each time we agreed that one version of a song is close to perfect and exciting musically, we played that song again but with less care, more attitude and more show, so to speak. Those versions turned out to be the best and those are the songs we'll release. Other than that, we always keep a poster of Jenna Rose in the studio. She motivates us.
Michael-John: We do like to complain about Ed a lot. All in good fun though. I don't think he hates us for it.
Anderson: Who writes the lyrics? Do you come up with them as a group, or individually?
Michael-John: The songs we made, up until now, all originated from Jan. He wrote the lyrics and laid down the basics for the sound. With the rest of us joining the band, the songs all changed into something more. We all added something original, which created a cool vibe. I think the songs we will be making the next couple of weeks (in preparation for our first stage-gig the 29th of April) will sound and feel more natural, because we will be starting 'from scratch' as a real band. We are really starting to discover what direction we want to go to as a band, and it tends to be a bit heavier than the first songs we made. We have already grown towards our first EP, and now it's time to take it a step higher. This means writing lyrics and creating new songs together, to got that raw rehearsal flavour and bring it to the stage and, in time, to a full album. We still have a lot of work to do, but the energy we have in rehearsals and put into every jam-session will surely lead to more awesome Pilots & Waves songs.
Jan: Julie and I will evolve to closer collaboration and interaction when it comes to writing or improvising lyrics. She comes up with great titles for songs too, like "Murder to the Bulls." We often depart from a raw feeling rather than from a concrete idea that we want to express in our music. The lyrics I wrote for our songs are based on my memories from having lived in NYC, L.A. and San Francisco.
Ed: Julie already added some lyrics here and there in secret, when nobody paid attention. At least I didn't. Sometimes I have to focus on my fingers to make sure they still obey me, that's why. Now our music can't do without those textual additions. I get the feeling she has a scrap book full of material she can use if needed, and in general, she definitely knows how to improvise with her voice.
Anderson: Could you tell me a little bit about the Belgian music scene? How do you guys fit into the context of music happening there, and what is unique about Pilots & Waves?
Jan: To me, Pilots & Waves is a unique combination of creative, open-minded and talented people who have nothing to lose. We share a DIY mentality and a good amount of craziness. We're not afraid to fuck things up. There's this energy that bursts loose whenever we get together to play our music or work on new material in the studio. I don't think of Pilots & Waves in a Belgian context. I don't know much about the Belgian music scene but I think it is OK. There are lots of local festivals that we're gonna play.
Michael John: I feel like the music scene here is full of talented people. There are a lot of new, young bands that make great music, in very different styles. I personally don't know another band over here that sounds like Pilots & Waves. Our style is pretty versatile, some songs could be called poppy, and then in other songs Jan comes crashing down like a noisewave. Ed plays the dirtiest distorted bass I've ever heard, which gives me a good reason to beat my drums even louder, which gives Julie a good reason to unleash vicious screams. A pretty cool domino-effect.
Anderson: I hear you recently filmed a video with David Matorin. He gave me a three-word preview: blood, castles, and models. How does the film interact with your music?
Jan: The video for our song "Ashley" is a weird collage of unclear scenes and transgressive situations that I find important and interesting to link to our music and profile of the band. A lot of what I do relates to my life in the USA, which will have a second breath soon as I’m preparing new art projects in NYC and L.A. and maybe Miami and Detroit too.
I've been curating my Bad Moon Rising exhibitions since 2007. They are shows about disturbance in US politics, religion and society and were often disturbing and upsetting the visitors. I feel like a lot of BMR's concept mirrors in Pilots & Waves and Ashley, for me at least.
Anyway. Apart from Pilots & Waves' band members, the video features two young women who both play the role of Ashley, a super-vicious, schizophrenic, and overall sick bitch. She is Satan's new whore. She spraypaints the word "Detroit" on the Stars and Stripes and burns the flag. Her lips are seductively red. She has mental breakdowns and momentary eruptions of aggression. She plays trashy guitar noise in a chapel and vomits blood before committing suicide. Sounds like one to watch, right? I admit that Cinema of Transgression, the infamous 1980's underground movement of NYC, forms a great source of inspiration for me, but, our music video is at the same time also colorful and sunny with pretty girls wearing light summer dresses. At first sight they look sweet and sexy, but when you look closer you'll notice that they're just fucking sick and disturbing. They are Ashley!
Anderson: What are your plans for the next year? How do you see Pilots & Waves growing and evolving?
Julie: The pilots are definitely rising since they have been together, and each time we are into a project, it seems to turn up more than expected, involving competent interesting people at all steps, fulfilling our ideas and our scene-surfing through our music waves makes it an incredible flight where we feel never want to land from. This year will be filled with surprises, new songs and concepts; this year the pilots rise on to pure freedom of expression.
Jan: I am proud of our first achievements and I think we're only going to grow more awesome and inventive as a band. To me, Julie is the perfect embodiment of a merging of Kim Gordon, Lydia Lunch, and Courtney Love, with an extra touch of Betty Page. She's the best front woman I can imagine. In terms of our plans there's just a lot going on for us. We all have the feeling that stuff is going to happen soon and in the meantime we're working in our studio on new material, new sounds, new musical challenges and sonic adventures. That alongside playing live shows is our driving force. We are DIY. We don't wait to get what we want; we just go for it.
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Maria Anderson is a Montana-born writer with a degree in literary arts from Brown University. She wins her bread working for various publications. She also writes for Curbs & Stoops, a Brooklyn-based art accessibility think-tank, where she does featured artists and interviews. Much of her fiction and nonfiction work takes inspiration from the outdoors and from the fine arts world. She can be contacted at email@example.com
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