In lieu of their new album Lightfare we spoke to founding member Yves Schelpe with Marieke Lightband and Ben Van de Cruys of Psy’Aviah about the future, pop and how to bake a club hit.
“I like a good dance track but it doesn’t mean you [can’t] inject a message into it.”
Q: Can you give us some background on Psy’Aviah like how did it all begin?
Yves: I’ll keep it short, as nobody likes a boring history lesson.
I started making music with Psy’Aviah in mind around 2003. [I] did some performances here and there and won a contest on national radio – but it wasn’t until 2008 when we finally started recording our first album [that] landed [us] on Alfa Matrix records. This was what I call the band format of Psy’Aviah. Where all songs were sung by the live vocalist (Emélie back then) and the guitars were done by the then live guitarist Kristof.
Fast forward to 2013. I wanted to shift the project [in a new direction] due [to] various reasons. This is what I call the Collaboration Era of Psy’Aviah, with the first record in 2014 called The Xenogamous Endeavour, a long and cryptic title just to say cross pollination or a journey to work with different genres and vocalists. I tend to overthink album titles. [In] 2016 we started performing live again, but now with Marieke Lightband on vocals and Ben Van de Cruys on guitars. I had to search for solid musicians who could really feel Psy’Aviah. Ben is a versatile guitarist who I’m lucky to have as well as Marieke who has a very strong [and] soulful voice that can handle any song you hear on the records and bring it to life [during] a live concert.
Q: Tell me about the new album Lightflare what can we expect.
Yves: Expect a journey and an experience of sounds and vocalists from around the world. An open-minded approach to electronic music in a coherent package that tells [of] mankinds’ balance with depression and happiness in its stories. At least that’s what I sat out to do. I followed my recipe; Let me share the secret to bake a Psy’Aviah Lightflare cake: => take one third trip-hop, one third synthpop and one third electroclash. Mix it with vocal chords from USA, Belgium and UK – take a sniff of Belgian and German guitars. Cook it in Belgium but mix it in France. Serve with attention to detail and a love for synthesizers, storytelling and with a good stereo or headphones. Close your eyes and be prepared to take a journey that delivers a melange of these genres.
It’s a maudlin ride where even with the club oriented tracks, their lyrics and melodies, can be enjoyed just relaxing in a chair. At least that’s what I’m aiming for. I like a good dance track but it doesn’t mean you [can’t] inject a message into it.
“How can you understand one chapter if you haven’t read the book? How can you understand a song if you haven’t heard the album?”
Q: The album is filled with collaborations. It’s very humble. How do you make them work in a live setting. Are there different flavours of Psy’Aviah songs when you play live?
Marieke: The album is a strong collection of collaborations with various artists who each have their specific voice colour and intonation and I try to bring all the stories together on stage as one book. Diversity works for the album but on stage it becomes a more harmonious endeavor where all the different stories are brought together by one voice. I try to respect the specific sounds created in each song by the executive artist but I still to stay true to myself and my own sound. This is what makes seeing Psy’Aviah live so interesting: the differences between the album versus the live settings!
Ben: For me/guitar-wise, every rehearsal or performance is different. The guitar parts are rarely the same twice. When there are recorded guitars (and the parts are mine,) those riffs become the backbone for me to start adding stuff – like little nuances or I’ll simplify them because it’s too much. For the most part there aren’t any guitar parts written for the songs when we play them and I have to build them completely from scratch. Sometimes I’ll prepare something at home before the rehearsal and during the playthrough Yves or Marieke will tell me what’s good or stood out, so I’ll continue building around that. It’s a process. I can write a part now and in four weeks come up with something better that’ll serve the song in a different way. It’s great that way and no performance is ever the same.
Yves: What’s unique about the live performances is that it brings the sounds and stories on the albums to life in a way that allows us to draw the listener more into our world through a coherent but varied set with different emotions and tempos with a consistent sound and a soulful voice with raw emotion backing it up. With Ben & Marieke the music really opens up and comes alive. In case you aren’t aware we basically try to hypnotise you and bring you under a trance when performing.
Q: Do you write songs with a collaborator in mind?
Yves: I usually start out making a track and then write the lyrics and vocal melodies on there. Then I record that as a vocal guide, which most vocalists find hilarious because I can’t sing. Either way – that vocal guide is their starting point. Some collaborators have writen their own lyrics and vocal melodies like Michael Evans of MiXE1 and Ellia Bisker of Sweet Soubrette but I like writing my own stories.
Once I have the first rough demo with my vocals – I either send it to a voice that I have in mind or I’ll have to start searching for someone that can tell the story whose vocals will fit perfectly. For example with “Lost At Sea”, I immediately knew that Mari Kattman was the voice that could tell that story and same for “Ghost” with David Chamberlin. For “Lonely Soul” however the search was longer and the song was finished half a year before I found Phoebe’s voice to tell it.
Q: A lot of effort goes into making an album a complete package. Album covers can be as prolific and memorable as the music itself. How do you feel about the way music is consumed today?
Marieke: As many music lovers of my generation I enjoy the entire experience of buying an album. I want to hear the album in full and enjoy all the songs but I also want to be visually drawn into the world with the artists. Music is so much more than an auditory experience, the visual aspect of what inspired the artists is every part as important to understand and grasp the entire creative flow behind the songs. Album covers can do so much and sadly enough today have been neglected. Lets hope that will change soon!
Ben: This is funny because a couple of days ago I was asked what got me into electronic music and I was thinking about it: I realised that back then music videos made as much an impression on me as the music. In the 90’s/early 00’s MTV was a big medium for kids to discover new music and the visuals created a bigger impact for the song. Nowadays that medium is pretty much gone (at least to me,) I will watch a videoclip when it appears in my feed on social media but I will not actively look for them which is a shame really. I also have the impression people buy/stream songs only, they hardly buy a complete album. I look at an album as a book. You won’t read just one chapter of a book. How can you understand one chapter if you haven’t read the book? How can you understand a song if you haven’t heard the album?
Yves: I fully agree with Ben & Marieke – so as I prepare to put out an EP or Album I find it extremely important to let the artwork reflect the stories being told. Our newest album Lightflares’ album cover really tries to convey both the intense emotion of hopelessness and the storm you can fall into. It’s a different perspective on life. Where Struggle is allegorical to the girl on the boat crying for help. Yet with land in sight won’t she survive and if she does how will she come through the struggle? I haven’t gone lightly on an album cover since the beginning of the new era of Psy’Aviah (2014, beginning with The Xenogamous Endeavour) as I feel it needs to reflect the stories being told on the album and the same goes for our music videos. Even with a tight budget we try to be creative and stay true to the story. Making a visual extension or fourth dimension to the song.
“…it is still my philosophy to be as diverse as I can be [when] exploring new things…”
Q: Music is a powerful transport for ideas. Do you think mainstream pop music reflects our global culture or could it just be propaganda/marketing from a desperate industry?
Yves: I don’t mind that some bands follow a formula of success in songwriting, or stick to genre rules – but it does sometimes make me cringe when I hear a vocal tracks without any substance; without emotion and just empty lyrics devoid of meaning. If music is not the product of passion you can hear [it]. A lot of pop music still comes from the heart. However unfortunately a lot of it is brewed up and/or stripped by either the label or the producer to make a hit song – to desperately cash in and score that one hit. I think it’s a phenomenon that’s been there from the very start when people could record music, same with TV shows and the same with YouTube vloggers. You can easily see who’s real and who’s not. It’s your choice to buy into it or not. Everyone has the right to make music.
Q: What was your first synthesizer and how did you become interested in making music?
Yves: The Oberheim OB12 a.k.a. The Blue Analogue Sounding Beast was my first synth. I was drawn to this synthesizer because it could make complex sounds as well as replicate the type of sounds I heard on the songs of the artists that inspired me, namely Underworld, Praga Khan, Faithless and Moby.
Those [artists] had one big similarity which I found very interesting, they were making albums with dance tracks for the club but also had more down tempo or reflective songs on there as well. And when they performed, or when you listened to a song, they were telling a story. For me this was eye-opening. Techno combined with trip-hop elements and songwriting. To this day it is still my philosophy to be as diverse as I can be [when] exploring new things while always trying to get a message across in each song – be it a dance track; Or an ambient piece; Or a trip-hop/synthpop song.
Coming back to the synthesizer, the coolest and most unique piece of kit I have is the one of a kind Psy’Aviah branded x0x0xbox machine designed and given to us by one of our fans! It’s essentially a TB-303 with built in MIDI capabilities, and what makes it so special is that the x0xb0x synths are full reproductions of the original TB-303 synths. It sounds awesome and it looks awesome as well modelled after our artwork of the Electric album.
Marieke: I have been in love with music for as long as I remember. I was born singing! My first instrument was the violin which I started aged four with the Suzuki method – this gave me the flexibility to approach music in a different way. At fifteen I finally broke free from the constraints of classical music after being introduced to the guitar. The revelation opened a whole new world and instantly I started composing and singing and this was the beginning of my life as a singer songwriter.
“Everyone has the right to make music.”
Q: Tell us a random fact about Psy’Aviah. Anything at all.
Yves: That’s a difficult one. Since 2003 so many cool things have happened that it’s hard to pick one thing. Be it from receiving touching letters and words from fans about specific songs to people making music videos, to remixers going totally awesome and making a full complete cover song in stead of a remix (Chaos All Stars,) a scam book [an unauthorised biography – Ed] being written about us, getting banned on YouTube, playing an supporting Praga Khan for their 25th Anniversary concert, getting in touch with Prof. Miguel Alcubierre after making a song about his theory “Alcubierre Drive”, and in the beginning all these interviewers trying to poke our nose for what Psy’Aviah actually means and for which we have plenty of answers, just google it!
The one thing I think that sticks out now is how the internet can be such a damn good thing. On this album I collaborated with Fallon Nieves two times but I met her because she uploaded a cover version of Sweet Hard Revenge. She didn’t have a remix kit so she did it all herself. I found out a year later and by then her contact info was out of date, so I couldn’t find her, and I was impressed by the expressive parlando in her voice. I wanted to make music with her so I went on twitter and facebook to shout out “please if anyone knows this person, let me know!” Finally someone mentioned that she knew her and now, once a fan, she’s part of the story. I find such things fascinating. I love it!
Q: Thank you for your time and have a great day!
All: Thank you for having us and we hope to see and hear everyone on our journey. Feel free to say Hi via facebook, twitter, etc.. – we love conversations with our fans!
This is an edited transcript of our correspondence with Psy’Aviah