Belgian Psy’Aviah is driven by the creative spirit of Yves Schelpe. The project is already busy for several years now and this year unleashed its seventh full length album. “Soul Searching” –released on Alfa Matrix, can be easily considered as a conceptual album for its lyrical content, but still for the renewed experience with multiple guest singers. Sound-wise the work remains a truly sonic enigma, which might be simply called ‘electro-pop’, but when you listen more carefully you’ll notice an amazing amount of influences. But more than the result of multiple influences, Yves Schelpe has for sure released his most mature work to date, which might appeal for lovers of Delerium, Conjure One, Lunascape and related bands. On stage Yves Schelpe (electronics) has been joined by singer Marieke Lighband and guitarist Ben Van de Cruys. (Courtesy by Inferno Sound Diaries)
Q: When you’ve a new album out, do you consider it as the best one you’ve ever released? Where do you place “Soul Searching” in your growing discography?
Yves: Honestly rating your own work, I think most musicians will tell their latest is the best as it sounds fresher to their ears, because as a musician you grow in technique, songwriting and taste. Hence why most musicians would rate their latest work as either their best or among the best if they’d had to choose. But in the end it comes down to the listener, I do my thing in my small bedroom studio, try to learn every day, try to bring new ideas, fuse genres and create stories.
As for where I place it in my discography, that’s an interesting one. I think it’s on the list of albums between 2013-present vs 2007-2012. As of 2013 with “Future Past” I radically changed in both style and wanted to bring the EBM and electro into different genres from jazz, to trip-hop, to classical, to pop.. Always with a dark hint and with a wink to the past. And that’s why I split my discography in those two ‘eras’ internally in my head. Since 2013 it’s also more focused in stories per album, as well as inviting guests to sing instead of just one lead vocalist.
Honestly maybe this could be the start of a third era in Psy’Aviah’s discography, where I go even further and incorporate even more other sounds and songwriting styles. Who knows, an artist always evolves… That’s so fascinating about music.
Q: What have been the influences and challenges to write and accomplish “Soul Searching”?
Yves: Writing the basic songs wasn’t the biggest challenge -as I always write the basic chords and melodies on piano first. You have to know that with “Soul Searching” it was the intention to create a soundscape that is radically different and alienates the listener from the daily Western sounds they hear -both so the sound from song to song is coherent, even if ‘styles’ change, and as well to transport the listener in a different ‘space’. Pull them out of the traditional Western sounds they’re so familiar with, I wanted to introduce something fresh. So finding those right instruments to tell the story was a big challenge. We have all the tools available: samplers, effects, digital instruments…
But I went for a radical approach to use real instruments, either pre-recorded or played by real people.
Q: I can imagine finding the right match between the songs and guest singers must be one of these challenges, but how did the final selection happened? Is there something like a cast? Are there specific criteria to choose a singer? What about the lyrics and how did the recording with The guests happened?
Yves: I always write the songs first on piano sounds, then the search for the ‘sound’ begins. Once I have a rough demo then I send either one or more demos to the singer I think they match with. About 90% of the time I have a strong feeling of how the melody of the lead vocals and backings should sound and I prerecord those with my own voice. But some guests do write their own lyrics -I do always give them pointers how I want it to sound or what lyrics need to deal with to match the story and to inject my ideas as well. But for Mark Bebb and Lis van den Akker they wrote their lyrics, vocal melodies and harmonies. Sometimes I co-write, as with Roeland van der Velde and Ellia Bisker -exchanging lyrical notes and adapting them.
The fact is that for each song I know the tone of the vocalist, and know what they can bring to the table by listening to their work and -with most of them -knowing them already for a long time. It’s a collaboration in the end, of course I do have my veto, as do they if they’re not happy. I always brief them of the concept of the album, the intent of the song -it’s maybe very over the top micromanagement sometimes, and maybe taken too seriously, but when you’re that passionate about what you do, you can’t help it (lol).
As for recording, most people record at their own home studio, or the studio of the band they play in. We exchange via the internet, and I give my feedback whether I want some extra adlibs, or extra shouts or harmonies… I once did a video with Mari Kattman on how we collaborate: [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_NMFZZ9a-A ] -it’s explained how she works, and how I work -it’s generally 95% the same for each song…
Q: Sound-wise, I don’t know if “Soul Searching” is my favorite Psy’Aviah album, but it for sure sounds as the most mature one! I get the feeling you’ve found ‘your’; sound while other albums were more like the exorcism of ideas and influences. How does it feel at your side and what did you finally try to achieve with this work?
Yves: Every album has a different sound, but it always has the ‘Psy’Aviah’ stamp on it. Maybe the reason why it sounds more mature is the fact that I wanted to draw people out of this world and this gave every song the alienated Eastern vibe -and that gives an extra layer of coherency. As for an eclectic approach on other albums, that’s part of the deal with Psy’Aviah. And I’m not alone -check for example the mélange of trip-hop to ambient to ballads to electroclash and to pure dancefloor driven tracks to even rock tracks by Moby, Praga Khan, Bowie, Die Antwoord, Junksista or Faithless on a single album, that mix given with their own take on it and their own sound, as I do as well, is not so weird in my mind… So I don’t get why people are so hung up on the fact a band has to stick to one genre, for me that is boring and hence why the bands listed before are prime examples why I’m a big fan of their albums, they can be on repeat for days because of the diverse take rather than a rehash of 12 tracks in the same genre with the same sounds being reused over and over again…
Q: The opening song “Becoming Human” is for sure an essential track from the album. I get the impression this song with spoken words by the famous and mediatized Flemish psychiatrist Dirk De Wachter is the heart from the album to understand the concept, right? Tell us a bit more about this surprising guest vocalist and how did you get in touch with him and finally convinced him to contribute?
Yves: I saw some of his lectures online, then started reading his books “Borderline Times” and “De Wereld van De Wachter”, as well as his newest work “De Kunst Van Het Ongelukkig Zijn”. There were so many ideas in there that it already inspired my work on “Lightflare”, when writing songs for the EP “Looking For The Sun” I wrote a mini essay in the booklet (PDF in bandcamp release) on how these ideas are reflected in the songs on the EP, and by then I did contact Dirk to get his approval, because when you mention someone -I feel it’s only appropriate to ask for advice and approval. Later that year I met him at a lecture he gave at the University of Antwerp, and by then I had already written half of the songs for “Soul Searching”. We talked about the ideas, and then set a date via mail to meet & record -he lives just two blocks away so that was easy. We talked about the concept of the album, the reason behind those words, not a lot of convincing was needed -you have to know Dirk is a really nice and warm person.
The poem I wrote as an introduction to the rest of the album’s lyrical content as you understood correctly, but his deep voice as well as his attachment to the lyrical content, for me was a trigger to ask and include him. Recording was fun though, at his cabinet, cosy, greeted with a smile and coffee. Talking about each other’s interests, and then record. I’m grateful to have him included in this concept album as it really makes the journey complete from start to finish. But that fact is essential for each vocalist, the match in voice and passion for the lyrics has to be there -otherwise it does not work.
Q: You mentioned Dirk De Wachter’s book “Borderline Times” where he makes an interesting link between BPS (Borderline Personality Disorder) and the Western World we’re living in. I realized there also is a possible link between this psychiatric disorder and the music business from today. What does it inspire to you as an artist?
Yves: You are correct, he essentially goes through each of the symptoms of BPS and then diagnoses our Western lifestyle to come to the conclusion that we live in ‘borderline times’. Every part of it, from medical institutions, business world, politics – and of course the music business. It is the whole of our Western world that is affected by these symptoms, and especially when it comes to the ego: everything revolves around the ‘I’, the ‘Me, Me, Me’ culture. I see it a lot in this music business from small to big; it hurts the way we interact with each other unfortunately.
As an artist I try to break that cycle by not making this project about me alone, although I do have ambitions and try to put ‘myself’ into each and everything of what Psy’Aviah is -that in essence is no problem. But you should never ever forget the people around you that are helping you around the way, I guess that’s what I try to hold in higher regard after reading his books. Being a lot humbler towards achievements, because what are you with achieving something when you can’t share it but yourself. At the end a good relationship with the musicians I work with, the artwork artist, the live band Marieke & Ben, the fans… that relationship is important. Not for sales, but to stay grounded. And if you can help out other bands, then why not. I have no interest in beef or drama, so that’s how I try to act in this business as an artist. To give a concrete example, we played a benefit concert at the British American Theatrical Society (or BATS in short, yeah, they’re a bit gothic too then ;-)), as the theatre is in need of funds to move location (as their rent is being raised). We played there for free, [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ROR9lWOCXo ], we helped them out, they helped us out reaching a new audience. We had fun, it was a concert that’s on my high all-time list because of this fact. There is a ‘Great Disconnect’ in this society at the moment, and not only in the music scene. So looking out for each other is something that I take away from it, without devaluing/patronizing the person or organization you’re helping or listening to. Doing small good things should become a natural habit again instead of the ‘bol.com’ instant delivery for the ‘me me me’ society we are creating.
In that sense you could say that Psy’Aviah lyrics are of great importance to highlight these issues as well: “Voodoo Love”, “Becoming Human”, “Hold On” (as written by Mark Bebb) or even “City In Flames” are prime examples of that.