Three years after “By Absence Of The Sun”, the greatest rock band from Belgium is back with the magnificent “Colossus”! Time for us to have a little chat with the charming Ruben Block, who plays guitar and sing in the band, about this record, David Bowie and, obviously, Johnny Hallyday.
Welcome back! You took like a year off everything before coming back with this record. Was it a need or a consent choice?
Ruben Block (vocals/guitar): We’ve been touring for a very long time and it was pretty intense. We recorded the previous album like in between tours. We took two months off to write and record songs and then we hit the road again with summer tour and festivals. But this time, we felt that we needed more time to do this record. Just to settle down a bit. The last tour we did in Canada was amazing and we did it because we knew it was the last thing that we had to do. And then, from January to April, I didn’t do anything! I just finished a little studio into my house. Because we didn’t have a rehearsal room or something. So, I put out all the materials that we bought over the years into this room and, I started making demos.
We felt that “Colossus” is more “produced” than your previous albums. It’s more a “studio album”.
Ruben: Yeah totally! Before, we were obsessed by catching the live feeling between the three of us because it’s something that really works. But we felt that we did some really cool things with that and it’s time to go to the next step and see what we can do.
Weren’t you scared about losing this kind of magic by working that way?
Ruben: It’s always a little scary to start a new album. Because you never know if you’re going to write cool songs again. But yeah, I think that’s how you come up with cool things if you allow yourself to get out of your comfort zone. In a way that’s strange because we didn’t fix an idea where we needed to go. We just felt that we needed to be adventurous. And it was something that we can already felt in the demos. We just had to look on what was already there. We recorded these demos with very cool gear so, it was already sounding very well. We just had to keep things here or there, like a bass line, a vocal line or a keyboard line. So, we decided to start the album on the base of the demos and see where it goes. When we went to Santa Monica to record the album, Mitchell said “okay, let’s re-record live what’s already on the demos and if the demos are better, we’ll see what we get from”. Like a combination if you want! And that’s exactly what we did. A song like “Afterglow” contains vocals, guitar, keyboard and percussions from the demo! And for the rest we just played again what was on the demo.
Mitchell was a big part of this way of work. Why did you chose him for the record?
Ruben: We had some producers in our mind, to work with. Nick Long, who made a lot of the lasts Nick Cave’s album. We actually had a meeting with him in Paris, in a restaurant across Gare du Nord. We had a very interesting meeting with, he was interested by working with us but he couldn’t because his schedule was full. And Mitchell was actually the first to react to our manager’s mail. He liked the music and he was very interested to work with us. We went to Santa Monica in June last year to meet with him, just to talk about music and show him our demos. And we had a very cool vibe going on, from the beginning.
And when did the “Colossus” idea came?
Ruben: Actually, it was like the fifth demo I wrote I think. I started with that bass line, then the chorus and the groove. And after wrote a chorus, the next step is to double the guitar. But we’ve done that a lot of times so I double it with another bass line. And once I made that, I just wanted to shout “Colossus”! I didn’t feel the need to have another vocal, just to shout “Colossus” again and again!
So, there’s gonna be Mr. Paul and a hologram of Mr. Paul playing this double bass line on stage?
Ruben: (laughs) No! I’m going to play that bass line with an effect on my guitar amps. But it’s a cool idea!
Have you ever thought adding musicians with you on stage?
Ruben: Actually, it might be another guy with us on stage for the next tour, to play keyboard, percussions and many other things. We could definitely play the new songs just the three of us, but there is some very cool part that worth the fact adding a new guy with us.
We felt that this record could be in the Bowie legacy. Is that a stupid idea?
Ruben: Oh no! Actually, there was like a period where I found interesting watching what other musicians did, especially Iggy Pop and Bowie. Around 76 or 77 they made albums together, Iggy made “The Idiot” and “Lust For Life” and Bowie made “Heroes”. Both of them were looking for like a new way to make music and for the next step. That influenced me like a guideline.
We were scared about telling you this idea and maybe, you could think “David Bowie?! But they didn’t listen the record or what?”
Ruben: No! That’s the cool thing about music. If someone else came with a totally different idea, it would be cool to because, in music, each person can hear something different than the guy next to him.
OK so it reminds us Gojira too. No, it’s a joke.
Ruben: Yeah, we are a bit death metal sometimes. (laughs)
Speaking of the devil, two years ago you played at the Hellfest. How was it to play in the middle of black, death and power metal bands?
Ruben: It was amazing! People are a bit like fixed on the idea that it’s only metal bands but, this year, this oldest blues band alive, ZZ Top was on the festival! Killing Joke was there, Slash too! And the show we played there was an amazing one!
How do you feel about playing with rock bands, metal bands or pop bands every day? Isn’t that too hard to keep a straight line?
Ruben: I think I like it. It delivered us a wide area of dynamics we can get. We have very heavy songs and other ones that are very sensitive so, it’s cool to play with dynamics.
It’s like France is like a second home for you guys. You’re almost as French as Johnny Hallyday is!
Ruben: Oh man, that’s a huge compliment, I drink to that! (laughs) It has taken a while for us to build something up. It has been a steady grow. And it’s cool, we liked it. We had been helped by Veryshow and Verycords that are our agent and our previous label now. And that’s the hardest part on changing label. We were signed on different labels through Europe and, some of them worked very well and some other weren’t as reactive as they needed to be for us. But we needed an international structure. When we’re having a problem in Germany, we talk with one guy and it’s the same guy that we’re talking to if we have a problem in Belgium or in another country.
How can you explain that you’re having a big success in France, despite the fact that we’re not a rock n’roll country?
Ruben: It’s hard to build something quickly in music. In France especially, it’s hard to have a place on radio if you’re not singing in French. But, PJ Harvey or Pixies are very successful here. So, I think that if you keep working on your thing, maybe it’s not bad that it doesn’t happen in a short time. If you’re high very fast, you can be low very fast too so, it’s maybe better to build something up step by step.
In another hand, we have bands, like Rush for example, that are Gods everywhere in the world, except in France. We don’t understand our country.
Ruben: (laughs) Man, you also have a huge music legacy. A lot of the music that came out in the sixties are so motherfucking inspiring! There’s so much cool things that were recorded. They still sound amazing.
Are you listening to French music?
Ruben: Yes, sometimes I do. Especially the oldest stuff.
What are your goals with this record?
Ruben: We’re really looking to playing these songs live and to hit the road again. We have the feeling that this record could open some other doors. We can carry on and explore further what we can do in music.
Last but not least, as we are “RockUrLife”, what rocks your life?
Ruben: The music, the band, my family, my two kids rock my life! I feel lucky to be able to do what I do and it’s thanks to my family so yes, they’re rocking my life.