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Interview: The Arch

by François Zappa

A deaf boy in the moment when he hears for the first time features in the cover of Engine In Void, one of the records of The Arch. We are sure that the band has produced the same effect in a lot of people thanks to songs like their amazing “Ribdancer.” We talked with The Archeel who will be playing at DarkMad, that will be take place in Madrid, next year on the 26 and 27 of March. 

—How were the beginnings of the band? Some of you were already friends in 1985, right?

—CUVG, Ivan DC and Ian Lambert were getting to know each other in the seventies, at a very young age. We were playing in different obscure bands, from which The Arch emanated in 1985. Mr Pierre joined the band about 13 years ago.

—The band’s first reference was the EP As Quiet As from 1987. It was a bit more rock than the rest of the band’s material. Was The Arch more into rock back then? How did you decide to turn to a more electronic sound?

—The evolution of our music was not (and is not) a conscious process with rational decisions. It just happens. We are slaves of our fantasy. Or to put it in another way: being creative is about realizing the music we hear in our minds. Like a painter, trying to put his visions on a canvas.

—”Babsi ist tod,” the last song from the album, is based on a character from the Christiane F. book (that’s the autography of the person with the same name). She is a friend of the main character Christiane and she died when she was 14. How did you choose to write about this? Did you have similar cases among your acquaintances?

—Reading the book, we were impressed by the fact that a young, charming girl was going deeper than down, at the age of 14. So we made a song about it. And as they say, even in our small village of Breendonk, Belgium, the same stuff happened with friends of our age, who are now sleeping forever on the churchyard. We don’t want to be morality priests, but it is a fact: if you consume “pleasure providing matter,” you will pay for it, physically and psychologically. And your close relatives will join you in the misery. You can go for it as an adult, but not really as a girl of fourteen, in our humble point of view. The seventies and in a lesser way, the eighties, were times of strange freedom, almost everything was allowed, except murder. Riding a car as fast as you wanted, sexual practices, fighting at parties, a teacher with a cigarette in front of the classroom, going out for 48 hours, playing music at 140 dB, it was all normal. We enjoyed the freedom but it made many victims.

—The band’s first album is A Strange Point of You, from 1988. How was the writing and recording of the album?

—In the old days, we were picked up by Ludo Camberlin who became our much loved producer. He managed a studio in Brussels, where we recorded the LP on an analog sixteen-track recorder. After the recording, Ludo mixed and mastered it on a 2-track analog recorder. On an analog desk without any memory, with one reverb machine. Very artisanal, completely different from the digital abundance of today. Nevertheless, we are still amazed at the sound quality that Ludo could achieve in what can be labeled as primitive conditions. We remember the recording went smoothly until we discovered there was one song too short to fill the LP. So we had to make a brand new song in the studio, together with Ludo, which became “Under Attack.”

—What were the influences of the band?

—A long list of new wave bands, the so-called progressive rock bands, punk bands, and so on. Stuff like Joy Division, The Sisters of Mercy, The Cult, Bauhaus, Wire, Nine Inch Nails, Pink Floyd

—The EP from 1989 includes Stay Lay, a song with a more new beat/EBM sound: was the band interested in these genres?

—Once again, it was an evolution that happened on a natural flow, born out of our fantasy. It just happened and we let it happen. On the other hand, we obtained new musical instruments with new technical possibilities, and we could explore in the direction of EBM. That way, we discovered new ways to translate our fantasy in music.

—In The Messier Album, the LP from 1990, there is a song called After Orgasm and there is also a compilation called Sex. Would you say that the music of the band is good for sex?

—Of course. Our advice to everyone is: give it a try. The text of “After Orgasm” is about two bodies, being together at the closest distance, leading to an explosive orgasm. Regrettably, that trip in higher happiness will not be eternal. After flying high, you will have to return to reality. It will be even more painful when you have to say farewell to the other one, at a ferry house, in the song.

—What happened with In sofa that you said that it was a disaster? I read something about problems with the mastering, any plan of remastering it again?

—It was our first album without Ludo Camberlin. So we had to handle the recording and the mixing ourselves. We also joined a new record company, Novatekk in Germany. They promised to do the mastering of the tracks, but after we received the CD, we discovered to our horror… that they did nothing. No mastering at all… Many years later, we tried to remaster the CD tracks, but we gave up immediately. It was hopeless.

—How did you get the idea of doing a cover of “I can’t live in a living room” with Peter Slabbynck? Red Zebra was the first band we interviewed for the W-Fest.

—We met a long time ago. We also did (and still do) some gigs with them. We covered the song and invited Peter to do the vocals on it. So, one night he came to us to sing… it was a cosy night we will never forget.

—The cover of Engine In Void is great, it’s the portrait of a deaf boy hearing for the first time. Is this the way you would like people to react the first time that they listen to The Arch?

—We hope so. The picture was made somewhere around the year 1900. Ivan DC picked it up.

—In your album Fates from 2016 there is a song about the singer of Spear of Destiny, how did you get the inspiration for this?

—February 9, 2013… first we had to go to the funeral of the father of our former manager, Lou De Buyser. Quite depressing! After the ceremony, we traveled to a venue, Das Bett, in Frankfurt. We had to play as a support band of Spear of Destiny. Backstage, Kirk Brandon was telling us about the health problems he had. His body was a jail for years. But on stage, he was full of power and energy. It was an impressive contrast. Back home, we decided to make a song about this fascinating contradiction. Kirk was very pleased on it.

—In Fates, KGB of Simi Nah did the mixing and the mastering. He was also doing the live mixing of the band. Are you still working with him? How did he influence the album?

—Kenny was a technical mastermind, he did a lot of good jobs for us. But one day, Simi and Kenny decided to move to the south of France. So we had to look for a new FOH-mixer for our gigs, and found Hendrik. But we are still working with Kenny. He also mixed VIII and XII.

—We want to ask you also about another of the collaborators of this period: Is Chiffons Tale still collaborating with the band?

—We were working with her for many years. She did not only vocal tracks but also collaborated on composing the music and writing the lyrics. But she left because of personal problems, a divorce and so on. Nowadays, we have lost contact. Unfortunately…

—Repeatedly, I have read that the band is not as famous in Belgium as it should be, do you think it’s because of the press? In Spain the band was big at the beginning of the 90. If you check the comments of the “Ribdancer’s” video, most of them are in Spanish.

—When you make a song and you release it, you lose control. It starts its own life, you don’t know where it will lead to and where it will end. It’s anarchy. Also the birth of a song can be strange. “Ribdancer” was originally an embryonal synth line. No one liked it. But one afternoon, we decided to pick it up again to transfer it to a guitar riff. It was the spark in the pan. When Ludo Camberlin heard our “Ribdancer” demo, he decided to record it immediately. It turned out a difficult song to record in the studio. But eventually, it became popular in Spain, and this was completely unexpected. Songs, going their way, are not stopped by national borders. Of course the press is very important, but after all there is no control about what a song will do. In Belgium, we are probably one of the best kept secrets ever…

—You said that your favorite writer is Jack Vance, an American science fiction writer, and some of your lyrics belong to this genre (i.e. Robot Sapiens) but others are rooted in reality. What is easier for you to write something reality-based or just let the imagination run?

—Both. No limits about that. There are so many themes to write music and words about. Just give it a go.

—The albums of the Arch have been very scattered/spread in time. Why?

—Maybe because we are quite lazy. We take our time to make it cosy and keep it relaxed. Deadlines and The Arch… it is like birds, singing under water in an aquarium.

—The new album XII was created in a different way. Each song was to be finished before the next one, and was to be released as a single each month of the year. At the end, you only released nine singles, right? Has the band been too busy touring to finish the plan?

—Normally, a band will compose a series of songs. Then, they will go to the studio and record them. We decided to try it another way… making a song, the lyrics, the recording, the mixing, the mastering and the video clip, track by track. One song with a rhythm of one month. It would have worked if one month counts 66 days. It was too much work for us, to finish a brand new song every month. Also, in the meantime, we had to do our live shows. So we decided to leave the monthly deadlines. And it all took longer than expected…

And all these singles had a video, all of them made by the band, right? How was the process of doing them?

—It was quite intensive, it took a lot of time and energy. But we are lucky, CUVG is a professional video director. He directed the recording and the editing of the videos.

—In this album there is a collaboration with Blaine L. Reininger in the song “Cadaver Synod.” How was this collaboration born? Have Tuxedomoon been an influence for the band?

—It was Mr Pierre who came up with the idea. He presented the song to Blaine who accepted to do the vocals and his violin acrobatics. Indeed, Tuxedemoon is a long time influence. Even Ludo Camberlin was close to them.

—Three of you have being together for very long, and you said that the band has lasted for so long thanks to being friends, but is not difficult to be friends for so long?

—Of course there are tensions and discussions about music. What about rhythm? How do we handle chords? What’s the best sound? Simple or complex? Do we have to add one more track or not? Everyone has his opinion. But we try to see those differences as a source of inspiration. Everyone is trying to get the best results from his own insights. Being friends is essential.

—How has the band lived these strange days of pandemic? I know that your tour had to be rescheduled, and I guess The Arch could not rehearse for some time?

—In Belgium, we had a lockdown for 3 months. It means that we could not rehearse or make music together in real life during this period. But we made new songs at home and sent it online to each other. Every week we did a zoom call with a beer, to see what we could do. We made a new version of “Cocks Populi” for online release only… All our concerts were cancelled or postponed to next year. After 3 months we came together again, so we started to make new music and rehearsed again. Which was very nice after such a long time!

—The band performed an online concert in Le Foyer Culturel in Montigny le Tilleul, how was the experience of playing in an empty venue? You have also performed a “normal” gig. How was it?

—It’s true that we‘ve played two gigs. The first one was open-air and sold-out. It’s a little bit strange to have an audience who has to sit down and was asked to wear a mouthcap all the time. We couldn’t see any emotion on their faces. We couldn’t feel their energy at all, but we liked it because we were glad to play live again after such a long time. And apparently the audience liked it too, but it was rather strange.

The second gig was a live stream gig with no audience in the venue, just a camera and the technicians. This was also peculiar, but we imagined the camera was the door to our live audience at home. We had more energy on stage with this second gig and we know that there were almost 3000 viewers at home. So, in these times it’s important to do such live gigs. That’s the only way to give some live music to our fans. But to be honest, we hope to go back to ‘normal’ gigs as soon as possible.

—What can we expect of the band’s future concert at DarkMad?

—We are more than excited to play at Darkmad in Madrid. It’s been more than 8 years since last time. We will play the new album, but of course also some older classics. We will give as much energy as we have on stage and hope that we can reach a lot of people with our music. There will be new visuals on stage during the concert. We hope to see you all!!

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