“Being me is like constantly triggered by different stuff,” says Alex Callier. His consciousness and versatility for the music identify him as an artist and with this force, he never stopped exploring new ways of music making. Inspired by melancholy, Callier becomes main composer, producer and musical force of the Hooverphonic. Besides cult hits such as “2 Wicky” and “Mad About You” Hooverphonic make a big contribution to the music scene with 10 studio-albums, numerous gigs, outstanding performances. Their sophisticated way of production is beyond dispute but it is always inspiring for us to learn more about inner dynamics and old memories while they are on their way to their performance in Istanbul on 27-28th & 1st of March of February at Zorlu PSM.
Though Hooverphonic originally categorized as a trip-hop group almost 25 years ago, you non-stop expand your sound and create unique textures. What is the secret under staying original for 25 years?
It’s about trying to find the right balance between exploring new boundaries and at the staying true to yourself. It’s a very difficult kind of a balance to look for. Always trying to do something different. But yet staying true to yourself. From the beginning that is something that we are trying to do. When we listen to the first and second album you can see us trying. I guess it is also in my nature to consistently do different things. Because I am an eclectic kind of person. When I wake up in the morning, I put different music every day. Sometimes it is jazz, sometimes I am in a classical mood and there are times that I want to hear electronic music. The main thing, which is always constant, I like atmospheric and melancholic music.
Since I was a kid, I listened to melancholic music. When I was a kid, during my piano lessons teacher always gave me Bach and Mozart and I didn’t enjoy them a lot. But one day he gave me Eric Satie and I suddenly fell in love with the music. Suddenly, I liked the sadness and melancholy of the music. That was always the case. When I was young I listened to the sad songs of Depeche Mode, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine more kind of shoegaze style. And of course, I was a big fan of The Smiths. The songs or melody may sound kind of happy but the lyrics are melancholic. That is similar to us when you listen to the Uptight from the last album, the song sounds happy but the lyrics have depth. I like the contrast. So yeah, the point is being me is like constantly triggered by different stuff.
As we are talking about melancholy, do you think directing hard emotions into an art piece helps you to get over it?
Sometimes it does, it is kind of like a therapy. But not always. To be honest, sometimes, I can be in a very happy mood but I can write sad songs. But who knows, maybe subconsciously it helps. Also, you can be happy while writing sad songs too. I am definitely aware of the fact of music. It does something with human beings. I have to say that it can create really big emotions. When you are in a gig, watching a band and suddenly, there is that connection between you and the band! It can be quite strong. I have this weird connection with my music as well if it’s new. The first time when I write it, record and mix it than I have this weird connection… It is like falling in love with a woman. You feel the light, you feel the happiness. You feel intense. I am quite addicted to that feeling. When I write something new, I got addicted to it. This is what I like about me making new music.
I have my own studio and I try to make new music all the time. Sometimes they are for me sometimes they are for the other people. But this is also what I like being an artist. I don’t have to mix all the time or I don’t have to record all the time. I have friends who do nothing but writing or mixing. I think to be able to stay open-minded you need to do different things.
Nowadays, individual bedroom production is getting popular. How do you think playing and production as a band affect the musical career?
I was kind of a visionary behind the bedroom production. We were one of the first bedroom bands ever! I was 15 when I recorded my first demo, in the studio. I was 15, playing guitar in a band and I was trying to talk to the engineers like “I want the sound more dreamy” and they were asking me back “What do you mean by dreamy?” and we couldn’t get along so well. In those ages, I realized that I have to learn this language. Because a lot of things gets lost in the translation! Two years later, I went to a film school in Belgium. It is a film school that you can study sound recording and production. I met Frank, the first keyboard player of the Hooverphonic and we formed the band after we finished school. First of all, there was a professor who got me into the soundscaping. The soundscaping combined with the pop songs that I wrote gave the Hooverphonic as a result. Here I come to the bedroom production.
Frank and I were engineers ourselves who do everything. The first album was recorded in my apartment, in a tiny apartment. We recorded the vocals in my bedroom with a microphone that I lend from Belgium Television that I was working with. We mixed our first demo in that apartment. But in the early ’90s, we realized being a musician would not be enough in the future. You can be a musician but you have to be more. You can be a producer, you can be a songwriter, it is a combination of all of them. You also need to take good pictures to tell the director how your music video will look like and so. It is being an artist. I am a musician, but more like an artist.
Now, when young kids ask me what is the secret, I tell them because you have a studio and all those options and possibilities sometimes limiting your options can be more creative. Try to write your song first, then produce it. When you produce it try to not to have too many options. Try to stick with the couple of machines that you know.
If you look at our first albums it was the same… We had like two synthesizers a drum machine and a sampler. That was it. We made the album with only those. That is a good thing. So, I think nowadays technology is useful, but it also contains the danger of being lost. It’s not only in the music. When you see young kids of nowadays, they have the stress of choosing all the time. In the music it is quite similar, having stress from too many options.
To choose or going with the flow?
I think you should make a choice. You have to choose, it is good to limit your options. When you have too many options, it may be hard to see. That is the problem. Also, making choices is part of the job. I am choosing all the time. What kind of album do I want to make? How the sound should be. What story do I want to tell? You need to make decisions.
How do you define unity? What is the importance of unity in a production?
I’ve got the say I am not the best example of unity. There is only one guy who sticks with me from the beginning of the band. To me, unity is having something in common but also being different at the same time. If you take a look at me, Luka and Raymond at this moment to our band, we have something in common. We all like Massive Attack, Trentemoller that stuff. But we have also differences, I am into shoegaze, Luka likes Ariana Grande, Raymon is into Kiss, 70’s Glam Rock. But we have stuff in common. That is really interesting because we are 3 totally different generations in one band. Basically what I see, when 3 of us like our production, it makes it very universal. It just shows the song is likable by everybody. When we were playing a gig in LA, there was a young kid, I guess he was 13 or 14… He was singing along with every song! After the show, he came to us with his parents and said “My father was a huge fan. I listened to the records and I became a fan. I love your music.” So we see that we are uniting more generations now.
In 2018 you published Looking for Starts with your new vocal Luka. How would you describe her touches to the new album?
Basically, I wrote 3 albums one of them was based on Trip-Hop, the second one was more soundtrack based and there was one with more pop sound. She came along, listened to the all of them and picked the songs that she wanted to sing. She came with an eclectic album. That is always the case with Hooverphonic, singers always decide which songs that we are going to play. I don’t want to force a track. If somebody is not feeling the track I am not going to force them.
She has a very beautiful voice, she is young and a little naive at the same time. She has some diva quality to it. I guess, whenever I look for vocals, I look a certain type of tone that fits our music. Some people ask me “How is that possible?” “How can you keep your fans with four different singers?” Let’s be honest, singers are really important. You know I coach at The Voice of Belgium and she won with me, in my team. Everybody said you already knew she is going to be a Hooverphonic singer. Oh no! When the finals were over we didn’t decide that we are going to work together on our band.
I wanted to write songs for her and launch her solo carrier. I wrote her 10 songs, she listened to them and she picked the only song for that I wrote for Hooverphonic. In the end, we decided to try together. 3 singers tried that song before Luka and I didn’t like their version. When Luka tried there was magic and I thought okay, this could be interesting. When we try more tracks we saw that she can sing new songs. But can she sings Hooverphonic classics? Because in the end, when you come to a show, for example in a couple of weeks we will be in Istanbul, you don’t want to hear the new album all the time. You want to hear some of the classics like Mad About You or 2 Wicky…
I said let’s organize a small showcase, just under the radar people that we know from the business, producers, mixers, and friends. So we did it and gave 3 weeks to study all those Hooverphonic classics. It was quite a lot because we have lots of radio hits here in Belgium. And she did it perfectly! Everybody loved it! That’s how she became a singer. Just to explain, I don’t pick a random girl to come and sing with Hooverphonic. I am being super picky. That’s the reason why we are still popular even though we had 4 different singers.
It is like falling in love with a woman. You feel the light, you feel the happiness. You feel intense. I am quite addicted to that feeling.
Your tracks had been featured on several films and television shows. What are the differences between reaching people through this kind of media and through concerts?
It is completely different! To be honest, I need to explain our live shows. In Belgium we are extremely mainstream, whenever we go play in the different city suddenly we are an indie band. Suddenly we are underground. So we are schizophrenic, when we play in Belgium we play the hits and the catchy tunes and when we go to another country people are asking us to play dark stuff. It is quite different. That is also what we want to learn for Istanbul. What do people want to hear?
So like you said, when people come to a concert they do an effort. They buy a ticket. They are coming to see “us” in a venue. But If you are hearing it from commercial or a movie it’s just a track. But publicity is also a great way to find your audience. I have that all the time when I watch a movie or series I hear a song and Shazam…
It’s a great way to find the authentic music because in movies they want atmospheric music, in radios they just want a cool track. It doesn’t have to be radio-playable. So most of the time the interesting stuff that I learn is most of the times from movies, commercials or recommendation of streaming platforms.
As our final question, there is a special connection between you and audience in Istanbul. After the release date of the gig, it just got sold out! Do you have any memories in Istanbul for us?
I love Istanbul! It’s a very cosmopolite city, it has great clubs and restaurants. It has a lot of history. Luka is now with us, she is 18 and never been to Istanbul. We will definitely take her to Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia but we will also take her to the clubs! I like the mixed culture of the city.
So yeah, we came there before. One of the memory which sticks me we were playing at Galatasaray University and I still remember it! The students were singing along every song! Even with the songs which are not well known! Like how is that possible! We played so many gigs in so many countries but I have never experienced that before. During the other global interviews, they ask me which 3 concerts do you still remember, one of them is always in that concert in Istanbul.