With Mildreda’s debut album forthcoming on Dependent Records, Jan Dewulf speaks about the band’s sound and method, drawing on the darker side of electro/industrial.
An InterView with Jan Dewulf of Mildreda
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Jan Dewulf has been gradually making his mark on the world of electro/industrial for several years; having served as a member of Diskonnekted and Your Life On Hold, his impeccable ear for solid song structures and textured production has earned him a sizeable reputation. With a love for the classic sounds of Skinny Puppy, The Klinik, Front Line Assembly, and more, his knowledge and experience led to a prodigious collaboration with one of the scene’s pioneers – Dirk Ivens – as Dewulf contributed production and mix to DIVE’s Where Do We Go From Here? album in 2020, complete with video for the “Black Star” single. Now energized and drawing from those darker influences that first drove the electro/industrial genre, he presents Mildreda, with August 20 marking the release of the debut album I Was Never Really There on Dependent Records. From such singles as “Reinvention of Pain,” “Inner Judgement,” and “Liaisons Dangereuses,” the project offers a fresh take on the kind of bleak atmospheres, scathing bass lines, and forceful beats that first inspired Dewulf, topped off by a vicious yet melodious songwriting sensibility that makes for an exciting combination. Prior to the album’s release, Dewulf took some time to speak with ReGen about the foundation behind Mildreda’s sound and method, as well as touching on life as a musician during the global pandemic, and the thrill of collaboration.
You’ve a long and productive history with bands like Diskonnekted and Your Life On Hold. What would you say were the most valuable experiences you’ve had in these bands that impacted your approach to Mildreda – in terms of songwriting, production, performance, anything…?
Dewulf: For the outside world, it probably looks like a strange rollercoaster, but for me personally, it all makes sense. Diskonnekted has been an interesting playground for me. I made some good stuff, but some less impressive things too. But the important thing is that throughout the years I became a better producer, a better musician, and a more mature artist. I became the artist that I am today, knowing what I want to achieve, tell, and create. While there was no plan when I started Diskonnekted, there is more of a masterplan today.
Mildreda has always been there somewhere in the background. It was never totally forgotten. Sometimes I felt the desire to make a Mildreda tune, and it was always striking to discover how those darker melodies came out spontaneously. But those attempts were never really ‘serious’ – more like experiments on the side, confirming that I still had it in me though.
I think I needed the maturity before I was able to create the Your Life On Hold stuff, and to finally come home again with Mildreda. With both projects, I return to my true roots – dark music, whether it’s guitar-based or electronic.
But at some point on that rollercoaster, I got a bit bored by all the knobs and buttons and wanted to create a more organic sound. This explains the detour along the Your Life On Hold adventure. Working with guitars broadened my perspective even more, so now, the time has never been more right to restart Mildreda. Both have the same color – black. And both bands are equally important for me today.
And another important thing… I need to believe myself and my own songs in order to make the music really work. Now I’m finally there with Mildreda as well. For the first time in fact, and this explains why things were postponed several times earlier on. On this first real physical album, I tell a true personal story and it’s the first time I do this with Mildreda.
As we’re hopefully nearing the end of the global crisis, I’d like to ask first… how are you doing? How have you fared with the pandemic, and in what ways did it affect your working conditions?
Dewulf: Things got real with that first total lockdown in 2020, which was no dramatic change of scenery for me personally. Deep down, there’s a hermit living inside of me, so I kind of like being locked up on my own. And as many artists will confirm, being creative is a lonesome activity. But while my personal life wasn’t overwhelmed too much by what was happening, the world as a whole definitely was. That first lockdown had a dark and bitter aspect overshadowing the situation; a virus had the world under its spell and people were dying. I guess an artist is an einzelgänger (‘lone wolf’) per se. Corona didn’t change that. However, I had to deal with some personal stuff. And when the lockdown started, I also found myself suddenly locked up with my personal pains, dark thoughts, and haunting memories. Luckily, creating music is the ideal way to exorcise my demons; indirectly perhaps, Corona influenced me while finishing the album.
Appearing on the album is Dirk Ivens, with whom you’ve worked on DIVE’s Where Do We Go From Here? album last year. Can you tell us about your first encounter with him and how you began this musical partnership?
Dewulf: It’s a small country and it’s a small scene, so artists meet quite easily. It seems from a previous life now, but I remember sending him a demo of ‘Frozen,’ asking him if he’d like the idea of doing the vocals for that song. It went so well we decided to do the Diskonnekted vs. DIVE EP together. But that’s already 15 years ago! We stayed in touch though, and we both felt there was some unfinished business, so at some point, I sent him a new demo, feeling his vocals would fit perfectly. And then, I made some more demos and before we knew it, we were working on a complete DIVE album together. It went very smooth, and we both felt very inspired during the process, and we became really good friends. So, inviting him as guest for the Mildreda album felt like the right thing to do.
Would you tell us about the working dynamic and how it differed between the two albums – obviously, one is DIVE, the other is Mildreda, but what was that process like? Was there always a clear distinction as to what band/project a song was to be part of?
Dewulf: I guess I’m a bit like a chameleon in the studio because I never have a problem switching from one project into the other. All projects have their own identity, philosophy, and sound; as a producer, I treasure and respect that identity. So, when I was working on the DIVE stuff, I had a clear image in mind of what sound I was going for. Mildreda is another story having its own sound, approach, and vision. Of course, as a producer, it’s very enriching to be working on several projects. It’s inspiring and it broadens your musical perspective.
Similarly, how did Don Gordon (Numb) and Andrè ‘Cyan’ Kampmann (The Eternal Afflict) come to be part of the album?
Dewulf: I’m inspired by what I like to call the ‘Vancouver sound’ – Skinny Puppy and Front Line Assembly of course, but Numb has always been my favorite from that list. Numb taught me how to blend atmosphere with noise, and to make cold electronics sound organic. We got in touch when Don was remixing a DIVE track, and we stayed connected after that. I believe we are likeminded souls when it comes to sound design and a particular love for noise.
The Eternal Afflict was the soundtrack of my youth. I loved the band, the energy, and especially the unique voice of Cyan, which was so full of emotion. I also liked his solo endeavors after that. For me personally, it was a heartwarming experience to have him as part of this album. Stefan Herwig checked through some mutual friends and got the thing rolling. I got in touch with Winus Rilinger after that, who took care of the practical stuff and the recordings. I’m very humbled and happy this thing happened.
In what ways do you feel their contributions (as well as Dirk’s) enhanced your vision for Mildreda – in other words, what do you feel they brought to the table that you might not have thought of otherwise?
Dewulf: I like working with guests as they give some extra color to the story. They make it shine some more. While the blueprint of the song remains the same, they give it another character that wasn’t there when I was writing the music.
The album definitely takes a modern approach to the more distorted and darkly atmospheric styles of older industrial a la FLA, Skinny Puppy, The Klinik, etc. This might seem to be a loaded question, but what are your thoughts on the way the genre of electro/industrial has developed since that initial wave?
Dewulf: So much happened in the meantime. Technology is what made things change on all levels. Streaming and the MP3 technology changed the industry and the listening experience. But also, for musicians and producers, technology changed pretty much everything. By switching on a laptop, you can start making music, so to speak, and I don’t want to be whiny about that. Sure, there’s a lot more crap nowadays, but I’m happy technology makes things easier and affordable compared to when I started making music in the ’90s. Technology also shaped the sound of certain genres and I kind of started missing the dirtiness and grittiness in the electro/industrial sound, and this is exactly what I wanted to do with this ultimate rebirth of Mildreda – bringing back that true harsh dark electro sound with modern technologies.
What is exciting for you the most in modern music? What do you listen to when you’re not making music in Mildreda?
Dewulf: I listen to quite a lot, actually – ranging from ambient and drum & bass, to indie guitar stuff, to floating progressive deep house, all the way back again to jazz and modern classical stuff. Imagine only listening to EBM, and then making EBM yourself; that’s incest to me. You need a broad musical perspective if you want to be a mature producer. While some people say the music business is dead, I’m amazed almost every day by the great stuff that is still being released pretty much every week. There’s still so much to discover in this ever-continuing adventure. I guess that’s the most exciting thing about music.
As touring seems possible again after being halted for a year, will you be taking Mildreda on tour in the foreseeable future?
We all seem to miss live shows, and there is the concern about how we will be able to ‘go back to normal’ with so many venues having to close down, everyone wanting to tour at the same time, getting people excited about going to live shows again, etc. What sort of difficulties do you anticipate for playing live again?
Dewulf: I’d love to play live with Mildreda soon again, and I really hope to be on tour one day. But the world is a strange place still. Corona shook things really badly and it’s still pretty dark on how things will evolve. I want to stay positive and hope for the best. For me personally, it’s more about being patient until Corona is over. I believe organizers are challenged the most and are facing difficult and confusing times. As a band, I can’t complain too much.
What’s next for you and Mildreda? Are there any other projects or collaborations that you’re excited about that you can tell us about?
Dewulf: The forthcoming album, I Was Never Really There on Dependent is like the start of a great adventure, and I really feel the best is yet to come. So, I will definitely be working on new Mildreda stuff soon enough. There might be some new DIVE stuff coming up as well, and new Your Life On Hold songs are taking shape too.
Photography by Gwenny Cooman – courtesy of GNY Photography Website, Facebook, Twitter
“Liaisons Dangereuses” video by Pieter Clicteur – courtesy of Dependent Records & Pieter Clicteur Photography Website, Facebook, Twitter
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