June 5, 2024

Llumen interview: ‘The Breaking Waves’ album acts as a reflection of inner turmoil

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Belgian multi-talented artist Pieter Coussement recently released the 3rdLlumen album. A very diversified piece of work where emotional intensity merges with poignant melancholic vocals and addictive dark synth melodies. Pieter opened us his door for an open-heart conversation revealing the abyssal depth of “The Breaking Waves”…

You can get the album on Bandcamp, from the Alfa Matrix webstore as a 2CD set and all other platforms.

SL: “The Breaking Waves” explores themes of internal turbulence, health crisis, and introspection. Can you share some personal experiences or inspirations that influenced the creation of this album?

P. For as far as I remember there’s always been an uneasiness within me when dealing with this world. For a long time I thought I handled it well and kept on living my life, but this somehow caught up with me (like these things tend to do) about a decade ago. Since then it’s been a rollercoaster of events and emotions that on many occasions brought me to my knees and that have felt quite a few blows to me. It started with my mother’s passing which shook my whole existence and I never really felt with it in a healthy way. A few years later I had 2 (minor) heart attacks (and heart surgery). As you can imagine this was a huge disruption and completely numbed me. Prior to these heart attacks I was writing music for my second album Polygon Heart but that process suddenly stopped for the better part of two years because I was completely broken.

The song “Lifeline” got me through it in the end and life went on its merry way again. The biggest thing I learned through all of this is that I needed to be true to myself, something that very much inspired my writing process. Where lyrics used to be more fictional almost everything these days comes from within and has a close connection to moments where I deeply felt what I’m singing. Personally I think it has been beneficial both in life as in music to get in touch with your true self. In that respect, The Breaking Waves is a sincere collection of deeply felt emotions that I’ve put to music the best way I could.

SL: Your music draws from old-school EBM, gothic, techno, and future pop. How do you balance these diverse influences to create a cohesive sound in “The Breaking Waves”?

P. I’ve searched long and hard for that particular LLUMEN sound. I often fall back on old-school EBM for its ice cold sequences and driving beats, but also find myself drawn to melody and chord progressions. Because of this, there are a lot of future pop or even trance influences in my music. Above all things, however, I like good songs and meaningful lyrics, most of which have a very deep melancholic layer, which comes from my (early) goth days. I try to tie all of this together using many layers and meticulous mixing. A tedious process I must add.

SL: You’ve mentioned influences from iconic acts like FRONT 242, HAUJOBB, and DIORAMA. How have these artists shaped your musical direction, and how do you incorporate their influence while maintaining your unique sound?

P. I take inspiration from many different things. The bands you mention are just a few out there, but all bands that I have a deep respect for. They say that plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery and I’m very interested in how other bands bring their music to life. But I’m easily distracted and every stylistic exercise that I try eventually fails and becomes a LLUMEN song.

SL: Tracks like “Desire” and “Bring Me Flowers” showcase a range of emotions and musical styles. Can you talk about the creative process behind crafting such varied yet emotionally rich songs?

P. Thank you for mentioning these songs and especially appreciating the variance and emotionality within the songs. In many of my songs, I seek some kind of contradiction between melody or musical theme and the lyrics to accentuate the emotions I want to convey. Often this leads to a complex writing process where I want to set the mood first before bringing in all the different elements. I’ve struggled a lot with Desire because the leading piano melody really pulled at me for a long time into a direction that I didn’t want to go to. It’s only when I started playing with the instrumentation that it fell into place. Bring Me Flowers on the other hand, was a song that almost instantly fell into place. The musical idea was very much to have a typical EBM feel to it and the sentence “she brings me flowers to ease the pain” had been running around my brain for months before (I think I picked it up from a Brendan Perry song). I wrote the chorus and tied it to the music.

SL: The album features collaborations and remixes with various artists such as GRENDEL, AESTHETISCHE, and IMPLANT. How did these collaborations come about, and what do you feel each artist brought to their respective reinterpretations?

P. The collaborations come from some kind of connection with my fellow artists. For starters I need to like what they do musically, if not there is no sense in handing your babies into their skillful hands. Next it helps when there is a good connection on a human level, Len (Implant) has been a good friend throughout the years and I know he’s going to do a stellar job from the get go. When playing Mechanismus in Seattle last year, I had a few long talks with JD from Grendel and I thought we hid it off quite good, so I asked him to remix Die Stille which he did brilliantly. Many of the remixers are friends or become friends throughout the process. It’s one of the things in this scene that always warms me, every fellow musician is very eager to share their insights and knowledge, even if it’s a constructive critique.

SL: “The Breaking Waves” concludes with the track “Harbour,” symbolizing life’s ebb and flow. What message or feeling do you hope listeners take away from this final track?

P. There’s always a push and pull in life, an ebb and flow. The metaphor of the ocean, a harbor and a ship has been used to illuminate how people and feelings change over time. What once was a safe place can become very threatening and violent. At heart, I believe that we as people try to do what is best for each other, fighting the same struggles and living with the same amount of insecurities. At times you can be someone’s harbor, a safe haven for them to rest, but there is always going to be turmoil just beyond the bend. The main feeling people should get from this track is one of hope, everything is possible if you manage to stay afloat. 

SL: Following your previous releases, “The Memory Institute” and “Polygon Heart,” how do you feel your sound and artistic vision have evolved with “The Breaking Waves”?

P. It’s hard to pinpoint any definite aspects that evolved throughout this endeavor, but overall I think what changed is that there the songs now are closer to my heart and less fictional than they were when I started LLUMEN. The songwriting has evolved too, making better use of tonality, chords and melody to convey my thoughts. Polygon Heart was an album where the songs fitted well together and there’s a sense of unity. With The Breaking Waves I thought for a long time that the tracks were a bit harder to fit on one album. In the end I think it has become a diverse album with a broad variety of songs that earn a few listening stints.

SL: Your music is described as a profound exploration of human emotion and desire. What do you hope listeners experience when they immerse themselves in “The Breaking Waves,” and how do you want your music to impact them?

P. I first would be grateful if they truly immersed themselves into this music, on a quest for new elements in the songs with each time they listen. I also hope that the lyrics resonate with people and maybe help them to overcome some of the blows that are dealt throughout life. I certainly experience writing – or better finish writing- songs and lyrics as something cathartic. At the other hand, when listening or singing each of my songs, I’m also torn back into that mindset I had when writing it, which is often a very confronting emotion. For me, it’s a way to keep these memories and visit them from time to time, but also knowing that I can step away from these emotions when realizing I’m in a different mindset today. In this respect, I hope listeners can do the same and visit their memories good and bad from time to time, to become better versions of themselves.

author avatar
Eldrina Mich
As Eldrina Mich I work as a go-between and a devil's advocate when it comes to Side-Line. If our own staff needs to be interviewed then ask the questions no one else dares to ask.

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