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Interview: Lavvi Ebbel

by François Zappa

Before Britpop there was BelPop, the Belgian equivalent of the punk and new wave rebellion from the late 70s and early 80s. Lavvi Ebbel was one of the most important bands of the scene, debuting in the classic compilation Get Sprouts and recorded some of the hymns of the time. We have talked with Luckas Vander Taelen, singer and frontman of the classic band that reveals some details from the band career and his own too. They will be opening the Batcave stage this weekend at Belgian W-Fest that will take place in the beach of Ostend.

Honestly, I did not realize until last week that my wife said it, that the name of the band sounds like La Vie est belle. Maybe because I am not French. Why did you choose such a name for the band?

—When I was talking with the guitarist about starting a band, I noticed there was an ashtray where in French was written “La Vie est Belle”. It gave me the idea for the band’s name, written in a phonetic way. It made some people think we were a group of Jewish Sicilian folk!

Although you are from Aalst, most of you met at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. How was the atmosphere there at the time? A few other bands came out from there, didn’t they?

—We met in Aalst, not at the VUB. I studied there and met with Jan Weuts, who played trumpet and Eric Michiels, who changed his name to Eric Sleimich and played saxophone. They became Lavvi Ebbel’s horn-section and also played with Allez-Allez

—The band formed in 1977. How were the first years before the release of the first single?

—We played a lot all over Flanders and composed many good songs. There were so many that we only played the new ones and forgot the older. Now, in 2023, listening to old tapes, we discovered these treasures and play them again!

—What were your influences back then?

—The obvious: Sex Pistols, The Clash but also Devo and Talking Heads. Short songs, played fast, punk, but with organ and horns!

—Do you consider Lavvi Ebbel as pioneers of the BelPop “scene”? Do you like the term?

—We were part of a wave of very creative groups, like Luna Twist and Arno’s TC Matic, with whom we toured a lot. There was certainly a Belgian spirit, so BelPop is a very good term.

—I guess the compilation Get Sprouts, where Lavvi Ebbel appeared for the first time, was important for the band. The Kids said that it had a distribution of 80 000 copies. You recorded a special song for the album. How do you remember the recording and what happened after?

—It was the first time we worked with Jean-Marie Aerts as a producer. He was then TC Matic’s guitar player. He gave us a very original sound. We worked with him after this session on the single with our “hit” Victoria.

—Do you think that the band shared the sense of paranoia/restlessness of the time in its music? Give me a gun and its first sentence could be an example: it’s 1981, and the world is getting worse every day.

—I studied history and was very involved with politics. We read several newspapers a day and many books. So, the injustice in the world seemed enormous in my eyes. That what “Give me a gun” is about, although the text of the chorus came to me after a friend killed himself and it’s more about the ‘sense of life’. I tell his story also in “No Place to Go” on Get Sprouts.

—What happened in Belgium in 1981 that Lavvi Ebbel and Allez Allez released their first single meanwhile TC Matic published their first album? Were you friends with them? Did the record companies open their arms to new bands?

—We all knew each other; we shared the same energy. The record companies began to see the commercial possibilities. We drew a huge audience. But there were no rock radios and TV did not talk about the BelPop. That put a terrible break on record sales. It would lead to the end of the first BelPop-wave…

—Talking again about TC Matic, J-M Aerts was the producer of most of your works. You just said that he gave the band a very original sound. Do you think that he added anything else to Lavvi Ebbel?

—He was a very good musician and a magical guitarist; he still is. We were very creative, but not really good musicians. He put our energy in a very authentic and new sound.

—What happened after the release of the album Kiss Me Kate?

—We were supposed to play at the Werchter festival and that would have been the perfect promotion and breakthrough. But a few weeks before the concert, we were cancelled by the festival. Our record company was furious.

—Why did you record a song in Mexican Spanish called “Telepatia”? Can you please tell us more about this?

—I had made a trip to Central America and tried to speak Spanish. The lyrics are partly taken from a book I used to study Spanish.

—What happened that the band split?

—A lot of reasons, but mostly the fact that it seemed impossible to make a career with a Belgian rock band. There was no industry, and no rock-media; the radios did not play our music. This explained why about all the groups split: TC Matic, Luna Twist

—After the split of the band, you were part of La Cosa Nostra, a band a bit more funk. What can you please tell us about this project?

—The difference with Lavvi Ebbel was that the musicians were really very good, but the band never had Lavvi Ebbel’s joyful creativity. And again : La Cosa Nostra started at a very bad moment, when the BelPop wave was over and out.

—I want to ask you about a couple of things that I think got from a Kloot Per W’s interview translated with the translator of Google: there was a kind of supergroup called LSP, there you played with him some Lavvi Ebbel songs, right? This led to more collaborations with him according to what I understood. Can you please tell us more of this? There was something similar called the BelPop Basterds, wasn’t it?

—I played a few times with LSP; Kloot never did. We formed together The BelPop Bastards with a lot of musicians from the early BelPop. I performed some Lavvi Ebbel songs.

—Apart from working as a journalist, you have worked in the film industry, directing but also acting. Do you think that your time with Lavvi Ebbel has influence your posterior career in other arts?

—Sure. I worked a lot with Kloot Per W as a musician. Lavvi Ebbel even performed a song in my last monologue.

—You have been in politics and part of the European Parliament. Did your colleagues know that you were a singer?

—Some Flemish knew, but politics are a very different world. A lot of European politicians have a very different and sometimes artistic past, but that remains mostly hidden.

—In 2013, the band came band, thanks to CC De Werf . Did you feel like playing again with the others? How did you feel during the first rehearsals?

—We had not met for thirty years! But we all felt like playing again. The first rehearsals were pretty complicated after so many years, but our performance at De Werf was as good as ever.

—Kloot Per W was the substitute for the late Francis Gheys. He is quite famous in Belgium, right? He was with the The Employees, another classic band of the period, right?

—Kloot does not play anymore with us. There were about 12 different bass-players with the band. They all had their influence.

Wir Schaffen Das! was you last single. Why do you choose as a title some Angela Merkel’s words?

—It was just funny to use some soundbites and make it look like the song was about Merkel and a political statement, which it was not. Just playing with words…

—How did you develop your way of performing? Did you have any artist as a reference?

—I think I was very much influenced by David Byrne, who I admire a lot.

—What can you advance of the future of the band? When are we going to have a new album?

—I think we will record some of the punk songs we unearthed. I would love to perform more , so we will stream songs to tell everybody we are still around!

—What can we expect of you concert at W-Fest?

—We play the best of ourselves and better! Greatest Hits and forgotten pearls!


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