"I've never made anything where I wanted to achieve something in particular," admits Soulwax's Stephen Dewaele. "I never know what we're going to make as a band or as DJ's, but I think we have a really good idea of what we don't want to do and so it's narrowed down until you end up with a result, and you may not even know what that is," he muses.
The process of creativity is a hot topic as Soul Shine chat with Soulwax guitarist Stephen Dewaele backstage at the Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms.
Having spent the best part of three years working on perfecting their latest album "Any Minute Now", a disc critically appraised as everything from near genius to aimless and lacklustre, Dewaele is naturally reflective as he reclines in the dubious comforts of a tiny backstage office.
"Soulwax is never going to make an easy album," he exclaims, "We're always looking for different ways to try songs and we inevitably end up choosing the hard road. " The need for experimentation forms the essence of Soulwax, and indeed the 2 Many DJ's alter ego Stephen shares with brother and Soulwax front man David Dewaele. "Any Minute Now" is the latest product of their perfectionist nature and eclecticism, an album that retains the distinctive sound of Soulwax without compromising the originality or diversity.
Recorded in London, New York and their home in Ghent, Belgium, Any Minute Now sees the band fusing symphonic electronica, country fuzz, and emo-funk whilst glazing it with a coat of straight up rock n' roll.
With renowned producer Flood at the helm, the recording was an experience that pushed an already eclectic group still further.
"Having Flood as our producer meant that we explored every song in, like, 45 different ways, and that takes time " comments Dewaele, "It was like going back to school, we worked for three years with Flood in the studio and learned to write and record songs in a different way. Ultimately though, we were exploring all these different avenues to end up at virtually the original result."
Dewaele speaks with an understandable mix of both enthusiasm and weariness, describing the experience as "often frustrating, but it was cool to work like that". The process of recording can be a breaking factor in any band, especially when approached in such a fearless manner. Couple it with an uber-commercial DJ side project and the impatience and anxiousness of the fans is totally understandable. Three years is a long time in the music business, trends and fans can sparkle and fade in the blink of an eye.
Soulwax took a big risk in effectively removing themselves from the public eye as a band, something Dewaele seems constantly aware of as he reflects on the album. "We went into the studio without any songs and cut ourselves off. We go in just to create stuff, it's a formula for a long but it aids the creativity" he remarks, " It was hard, 2 Many DJ's was hitting off pretty big. It had to be a double thing for the band, which it always had been for my brother and me. It's two different worlds so it was tough juggling them as well as being in the studio environment we were."
Despite reviews ranging from 'near genius' to 'aimless and lacklustre', the fans did not seem disappointed with "Any Minute Now"; seeing the album to a top twenty chart position in the UK. Whilst many bands tend to get preoccupied with their own hype and pay cheques, charts and play-lists are secondary to the art with Soulwax. "We wanted to make a record where you couldn't immediately say which year it was from, something that wasn't contrived or contemporary," explains Dewaele, "I think we've made an album which in five years time people will still listen to and say 'Why? What were you thinking?' I find it really hard to categorize bands and we've had so many labels. It's nice to subvert them."
Ending the sentence with a wry chuckle, it's obvious Dewaele has a devious streak when it comes to critics and trends. The music press today is far too quick to place increasingly elaborate labels on bands and attempt to pigeonhole them to suit their own needs, and of course those of the record companies. Such segregation could be a great cause for concern for the true music connoisseur, the fans to whom the genres are irrelevant.
"I can't categorise bands as I feel anything I say will do them an injustice. We've had so many labels, so many bands we have been compared to but essentially music is music, unfortunately that philosophy doesn't make album sales. When I was sixteen or seventeen I was into hip hop, listening to metal, anything that was fun or got an emotion from me. The industry is getting better and better at segregating their audience and playing to that. It's definitely not a good thing."
Dewaele makes a very good point. There are guys like Zane Lowe, the late John Peel and indeed Stephen Dewaele himself who want to promote as much music as they can, but they can't change the play-lists, they don't have a say anymore and have just become more of the faces. There is a worrying lack of people like the aforementioned in music today, no one to challenge an industry that is growing far too comfortable and apathetic.
"More and more kids have the Internet and access to a wide range of music today," observes Dewaele, they get into music in different ways which will spawn a lot more underground music the mainstream won't really notice."
What it boils down to every time is creativity. The artistic talent lies where people are sadly choosing not to look. Soulwax's "Any Minute Now" may have charted but the record company largely ignored it, with barely any promotional force being put behind it. Stephen Dewaele and co. have achieved an amazing feat with the album, bridging the gap between the underground and mainstream÷it's just a shame that the majority are not ready.
"I'll always end somewhere else from where I start, though it's often very close; most artists struggle and don't know how they got there, that was definitely the case with the album." Whether they meant to or not, Soulwax may have started a new evolution, the question is whether we'll have to wait for them to continue it themselves.
Writer: Dave Hardwick