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Interview: Blaak Heat Shujaa

mit Thomas Bellier vom 18. Juli 2013 via Mail
Wie kann man heutzutage zwischen den unzähligen Bands noch auffallen? Scheinbar im Minutentakt wird irgendwo ein im Laufe der Zeit mehr oder weniger ernsthaft betriebenes Musikprojekt gestartet. Dieses kann durch die unzähligen technischen Möglichkeiten in Eigenregie bereits nach relativ kurzer Zeit ein eigenes Album produzieren und damit an die breite Öffentlichkeit treten. Heute ist jeder Keller- oder Garagen-Rocker ein professioneller Producer, sofern er mit einem Audio-Murcks-Programm seiner Wahl umgehen kann.
Somit ist natürlich klar, dass man als Konsument von der schier niemals enden wollenden Flut an Musik förmlich erschlagen wird. Das Problem ist heute - mehr als je zuvor - irgendwie nachhaltig aufzufallen. Kleinen Tierchen die Köpfe abzubeißen wird sicherlich Anno 2013 nicht mehr den gewünschten Erfolg erzielen, doch was bleibt sonst noch übrig, was nicht gleich als Kopie der "guten alten Zeiten" abgetan wird? Das dürfte wirklich schwierig werden! Eine bewährte Möglichkeit, die es aber nicht erst seit Facebook, YouTube und Co gibt, ist die Wahl eines ausgefallenen Bandnamens.
Dead Brain Cells, Dinner auf Uranos, Dream of an Opium Eater, Make a Change… Kill Yourself, The Man-Eating Tree, Secondhand Child oder Panzerballett sind Namen, die man sich unweigerlich merkt. Die subtil vermittelter Botschaft kann humoristischer Natur sein, oder auch bierernst sozialkritisch. Auf jeden Fall wird so etwas wie ein Programm oder ein thematischer Schwerpunkt solcher Truppen schnell deutlich. Dann gibt es auch noch andere schräge Namensgebilde, bei denen man meist keine Ahnung hat, was das bedeuten soll, geschweige denn, wie man sie korrekt ausspricht. Siissisoq, NME.MINE, Kivimetsän Druidi, TT-34 wären hier als Beispiel zu nennen.
Auch die Jungs der ursprünglich aus Paris stammenden Psychedelic Rockband Blaak Heat Shujaa dürften wohl zu dieser Kategorie Musiker gehören. Was ihr exotisch klingender Name bedeutet, wie sie gerade an ihrem großen Durchbruch werkeln und was man von ihrer Musik überhaupt erwarten darf, das erfahrt in unserem Interview mit Sänger und Gitarrist Thomas Bellier. Natürlich darf dabei ein Blick auf das kürzlich erschienene dritte Studioalbum The Edge Of An Era nicht fehlen.
Viel Spaß beim Lesen!

The Interview:

Alex: Hey Thomas! How are you doing?
Thomas Bellier: Hey there! Pretty damn good. We just finished a month-long European tour with our friends Spindrift to support our new album, The Edge Of An Era. We played 26 shows in 14 different countries, and the response was beyond great.
Alex: Can you please describe your role in the band?
Thomas Bellier: I play guitar and sing. My band mates are Mike Amster (drums) and Antoine Morel-Vulliez (bass).
Alex: What does the name of your band mean?
Thomas Bellier: The Shujaa is a mystical warrior found in some swahili-speaking cultures. He is afraid of light and the cold, so he usually hangs out in the Blaak Heat. Makes sense?
Alex: At June 23rd you played a show at the Bassy Cowboy Club in Berlin. Did anything special or especially memorable happen?
Thomas Bellier: I had already played Berlin twice, but never with Blaak Heat. Berlin is always a high point of a tour, and it definitely was a high point for ours. The people and the response were great, as always. Did anything special happen? Yes. Should I mention it in an interview? Probably not.
Alex: Do you actually notice a difference between the crowds of different countries?
Thomas Bellier: Absolutely, but it seems like the differences are related to the club, the vibe, and the day of the week rather than to actual cultures and their approach to music. We’ve had awesome shows in the most unexpected locations.
Alex: What part of playing live do you enjoy most?
Thomas Bellier: So many things have to go right in order to have a good set: your playing, your tone, the stage sound, the room sound, the turnout, the crowd reaction, the general vibe ... I like the challenge of making sure all these stars align. And when they do, you know you’ll have a great show, even before you get on stage. More specifically, I like being on stage with my band mates and trying new things. We enjoy surprising one another with an unexpected tempo change, or a new part. You always have to be on your toes in this band, which is great!
Alex: Does one have to be more entertainer nowadays when compared to twenty years ago? What do you think?
Thomas Bellier: I have no idea! I am 26 and started gigging live when I was 18.
Alex: The last years it seems to be trendy, to play cover songs on stage. Do you play any covers?
Thomas Bellier: On this tour, we’ve been covering a Dick Dale song, The Victor. It’s a classic Dick Dale tune, but isn’t as famous as, say, Misirlou. Of course, we re-wrote the song a bit, and applied our own “sound” to it. It works well on cold audiences, who tend to wake up when they hear familiar riffs and start interacting with us more. This cover also serves the purpose of showing the audience where we come from, musically. Dick Dale is a major influence to us. We also recorded a cover of “Fusil Contra Fusil”, a 1968 piece from Cuban guitarist Silvio Rodriguez, on our last EP (The Storm Generation, TeePee Records, 2012).
Alex: What can you tell us about the bands history? What are the main stations?
Thomas Bellier: We formed in Paris in 2008, released a first album in 2010 on a French experimental label, Improvising Beings, and started playing around Europe. We then signed to TeePee Records in 2012, relocated the band to Los Angeles, did our first US tour, and released The Storm Generation EP. Our second full-length album, The Edge Of An Era, came out last April on TeePee Records. Since then, we’ve played another 41 shows: 15 in the US and 26 in Europe.
Alex: What would you say makes a band professional? Is it the fact, that the members can live from their music, or is it all about the skills to play their instruments?
Thomas Bellier: Rather than an income or a skill, I would argue that professionalism lies in an attitude towards music. If you decide that music is your main focus in life, and that you record albums and tour regularly, then you are a professional musician, no matter how good or bad, rich or poor.
Alex: It's quite hard to get the talented young musicians out there, because they need money to built up a crowd, but they haven't got any money ... so, what can they do?
Thomas Bellier: Being a full time musician is extremely hard. I would say that a good approach is to have a flexible job that allows you to take time off for music. Then, when you are playing music, do it the right way and make the most efficient use of that time. By this, I mean don’t jam for hours in your basement in front of your hamster who is doing bong hits, but play out as much as possible in order to build a following, record some stuff at a professional studio, try to meet as many other musicians and bands as possible and, if possible, sign to a small label.
Alex: What's the reason you started with music and what makes it so special for you?
Thomas Bellier: I love the process of writing and playing music as a band. When you’re with the right people, it’s extremely rewarding. A band is more than just the sum of its musicians – a superior entity comes out of the collaboration and makes each member sound better than if he was playing by himself.
Alex: Does your music really come from your heart and are you doing this whole music thing for yourself or do you try to feed the fans with a certain output?
Thomas Bellier: When composing, we never think too much about what people are going to think. However, we write the music that we would like to hear as fans of our own band, in a way. In that respect, we have an objective approach and strive to always keep things interesting for the listener.
Alex: What can you tell us about your latest album „The Edge Of An Era“?
Thomas Bellier: The Edge Of An Era is our latest release on TeePee Records. After spending the whole month of July 2012 in a hot practice studio in Echo Park (a part of Los Angeles), we went to Scott Reeder’s studio in the desert to record everything we had. We invited our friends Mario Lalli (from Yawning Man, Fatso Jetson, and The Desert Sessions) and Ron Whitehead (the gonzo poet from Kentucky who was nominated for a Nobel Prize in 2006) over to record some guest vocals. We were extremely happy with the outcome of the Reeder sessions.
Alex: Has there been something special about the production or the songwriting process?
Thomas Bellier: We had to write enough music for a full length and an EP, in less than a month, with a new drummer! This prospect sounded extremely stressful. But the ideas kept flowing, the new material quickly took shape, and everything was ready in time. The month of July 2012 was definitely the most creative period of my life, it was insane. Great memories.
Alex: What do you think is the most difficult part of it?
Thomas Bellier: Writing and recording an album is always very hard. You have to embrace the fact that the songs probably won’t sound the way you originally envisioned them. Once you are OK with that, you can move forward.
Alex: How do you know when you are finished? Today, one has so many possibilities to put more and more into a song and rework it over and over again until it's literally “produced to death”.
Thomas Bellier: A simple answer to this question is: deadlines. The record label gives you a due date for the masters, which means you have to plan and book everything (recording session, mixing session, mastering session) ahead of time. In addition, since funds are pretty limited in underground rock, we can’t book 2 months in the studio, like some major artists do. In a way, I enjoy the deadline, because it forces you to make decisions fast. That way, you don’t overthink or overdo it.
Alex: Is there a point where you might lose objectivity when looking at your own work?
Thomas Bellier: Absolutely. When you record, mix and master a song, you end up hearing it hundreds of times in a limited period of time. After a while, your brain simply can’t process the sound waves! This is the reason why it’s good to have a producer, who brings in an outside opinion.
Alex: Are you already working on new material?
Thomas Bellier: We haven’t written any new songs, but we do have a bunch of ideas that we have been messing with lately. We’ve been extremely busy recording and touring this past year, which means we haven’t had a lot of jam time in the practice studio.
Alex: What's your formular to keep the band clean of conflicts?
Thomas Bellier: We are three down to earth guys. We know to keep the drama out of the tour van.
Alex: If you could change one thing in music industry, what would it be?
Thomas Bellier: I wish there were more people in the music business who would be willing to take risks. There are so many awesome underground bands who, in my opinion, would do great in the mainstream. Just because they started as underground acts does not mean that they cannot have a worldwide appeal.
Alex: What do you think about internet piracy?
Thomas Bellier: At our level, I don’t mind it too much. Album sales are only one of multiple income streams for musicians like us. In addition, I’m happy if more people get to check out our band, and then maybe come to a show, or buy the album, or at least spread the word.
Alex: Is there anything a band can do against it?
Thomas Bellier: One idea can be to offer the possibility to stream the albums for free, so that listeners can check out the whole album and maybe buy it. All three Blaak Heat Shujaa records are available for streaming on the major streaming websites.
Alex: What's planned for the near future of the band?
Thomas Bellier: We are currently working on our next tours! Expect to see us again pretty soon, hopefully in Berlin.
Alex: Thank you very much for the interview! Maybe a few final words for the people out there?
Thomas Bellier: Thank YOU. To the people out there: if you’re into psych rock, surf rock, heavy rock, prog rock, or metal, check us out! All our releases are available online for streaming. We are extremely proud of our new album and hope you will dig it too. If you do, spread the word, buy a vinyl, come to a show!
Moderation: Alexander Kipke

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