Speaking with Psy’Aviah, William Dashiell Hammett digs into the details of Yves Schelpe’s collaborative and creative process, culminating in his own testament to hope, Lightflare.
An InterView with Yves Schelpe of Psy’Aviah
By William Dashiell Hammett (WDH)
For almost 20 years, under the moniker of Psy’Aviah, Antwerp, Belgium based Yves Schelpe has used his skills to release critically acclaimed albums that demonstrate his ability to morph dissimilar electronic genres into unified compositions. Working with a variety of collaborators over the years, Schelpe has allowed Psy’Aviah to evolve in an almost organic manner through different periods that have ended lesser driven songwriters. With the recent release of Lightflare and the upcoming release of its companion EP, Looking for the Sun, ReGen approached Schelpe to delve into a bit of the project’s history, his motivations, and the business of music.
You have called Lightflare your testament to hope and I read somewhere that you even stepped away from music for a time. Without revealing too much personal information, what was the catalyst for your more hopeful outlook and return to songwriting?
Schelpe: I didn’t really step away from music, but after writing The Xenogamous Endeavour, which came out in 2014, I found it difficult to find inspiration; really the loss of it. ‘Staring at a blank paper.’ Along came the movie Interstellar, and I drew inspiration to write Seven Sorrows, Seven Stars – my personal soundtrack for the movie, but you don’t need to have seen or liked the movie to understand concepts or enjoy music from that album. Lightflare is a different story; it’s more personal. I had the drive to write music. I was more in a struggle with life – to an extent, maybe still, and to an extent, maybe like so many of us. I had a lot of inspiration resulting in an album that questions topics very closely related to our day-to-day lives – feelings, depression, ‘choice-stress,’ anxiety, etc.. But each album consumes about two to two-and-a-half years of development in terms of songwriting, etc.. I can’t release an album each year, so it’s mostly every two to two-and-a-half years. In the end, I love music, so I’ll always return to it to comfort me.
How do you go about choosing the appropriate vocalist for your songs? Do you audition different vocalists or do you have an idea for who might be right for the music as you compose?
Schelpe: I did audition once or twice in total, but that usually doesn’t happen. I take into account the characteristics of the vocalist and I choose them especially for it. So yes, I do have someone in mind when I finish a demo, or when I’m in the process of writing a song. Or sometimes, I give out instrumentals to vocalists to choose from, and we then discuss what they like and don’t like. In the end, I mostly end up sending them a demo with my singing/vocal guide (horrible – you should ask them, especially Mari Kattman about that). But with the vocal guide, I can get some grip on the lyrical content, the placing, the wording, and how it should sound. Vocalists then take it to the next level in their own very awesome way they sound.
As a native speaker of Dutch, why do you compose your lyrics in English? Do you feel constrained by composing in English rather than your native tongue?
Schelpe: Now that you mention it, I do sometimes feel constrained. But I research a lot, and I also like to think about it in two languages. English, though, is very much a second language here in Belgium, but that doesn’t mean our vocabulary is as rich as a native speaker, or subtle meanings are lost in translation. I, however, do a lot of research, talk with the vocalists (who are native), and I can balance out rough edges. I never considered writing in Dutch; it was natural to me to start in English as I felt it was more mysterious in a way for me. It also opens a lot more doors as this music is more widely understood and listened to. As a programmer (or software developer), I do speak English most of the time, so it was a natural choice.
How do you feel Psy’Aviah has evolved since the project’s beginning?
Schelpe: I see Psy’Aviah in two… well, actually three stages. First, 2003-2009, when we experimented a lot, and it was a project that only existed ‘live.’ 2008/2009-2012, the band then was signed by Alfa Matrix, and we recorded songs; much like I do now, but I promoted it as being a band. So those two periods combined I often refer to as the ‘band era.’ Now, I’m more in the ‘collaboration era.’ Since 2013/2014 with the Future Past EP and The Xenogamous Endeavour album, I really focused on collaborations. No ‘band;’ just a guy writing songs in his bedroom studio, being a bit more humble about things – not the best promotional stunt as promotors are quite confused as to what Psy’Aviah is. For me, it’s clear. I’ve always written the songs and invited people to sing on them; I just continued that from 2014 onwards, but with different vocalists. I also made sure to step up the game in production, thanks to Mitia Wexler and Geert de Wilde, who helped me out in that part. I feel I’m now in a place where I can experiment more freely as I have the choice of vocalists to express or tell the story of a song, so it matches better with the sound, as before in a band, you always have to make compromises in one way or another. I do have a live band, which is Ben Van de Cruys on guitars and Marieke Lightband on vocals, who are both contributors on the new album Lightflare as well.
Is your upcoming EP an extension of Lightflare or unrelated entirely?
Schelpe: Lightflare was very much about the ‘human condition’ and how we deal with it on a day-to-day basis; more of personal journey of feelings one can traverse through, and an acknowledgement for others that maybe that you’re not alone with those feelings – a sort of ‘comforting’ call. The next EP, Looking for the Sun will deal with a more questioning approach to this condition. It’s really a companion EP, but it will question how we as humans operate in this fast changing ‘always better, always more’ world. Musically, it will be close to Lightflare of course – it will house three exclusive tracks and two from the album to put things into perspective. This with some remixes, but the core is the message – the question of purpose in life and how we drug/sedate/neglect our feelings or the question itself. As I will write in the companion mini-essay, it’s time to take off the sunglasses and start looking for the sun again.
Are there any past collaborators with whom you’d like to work with again and have been unable?
Schelpe: Sure! All the time. People aren’t available all the time. Miss FD for example is such a talent, but was very focused on her new album Transcendence, which came out on March 28. Jennifer Parkin of Ayria was busy touring. Then there is Lisa Nascimento, known from the track ‘On My Mind,’ but she was not available for some time, as well as Kari Berg, but we agreed on working again in the future. This happens a lot of course, and it’s not always fun, but that’s life. I’m grateful I’ve been able to work with those people. I’m sure the right moment and song will come to see them return.
Anyone that you have not yet had a chance to work with that you’d like to?
Schelpe: Sure, indeed. I would love to work with Brittany Bindrim (the awesome vocalist from I:Scintilla) and Susanne Sundfør, though I think that’s way out of my league. I love her work with Röyksopp. She has a very distinct voice. There are so many great vocalists out there, but to be honest, most people I ask are open to collaborate and experiment on a track, so I’m very grateful how things have turned out so far. But to be fair, I haven’t asked them yet… maybe I should.
With some of those you work with living on other continents, you do not have the luxury of being in the studio with them during the recording process all the time. How does this sort collaboration work?
Schelpe: With Marieke Lightband, I did have a direct ‘line,’ you could say. We can experiment ‘in real life.’ When it comes to collaborating online, it’s a process that feels very natural for me. Mari Kattman, for example, describes her ‘journey’ with me on how we made the song ‘Lost at Sea.’
It boils down to mailing and communicating a lot. I also send the vocalists a vocal demo of my own voice and guidelines, so from the get go, they have a clear idea what I want. From there on though, it evolves and we mail/skype to add to it. As for those vocal demos I record, those are very helpful for the vocalists, but also kind of hilarious as I really can’t sing.
Today, many artists are self-releasing their work via Bandcamp or other such services. You have been with Alfa Matrix for quite some time now. What advantages do you feel working with a label provides rather than self-releasing?
Schelpe: To be short, all the paperwork drama. I love and adore making music. I hate all the paperwork that is involved in it, all the administration, all the legal things; hence why I’m at Alfa Matrix. Thank god they allow me to release this kind of trip-hop music on a… well, let us say more or less EBM oriented label. I sometimes feel like the odd duck in this sea of EBM/noise bands, but I’m grateful that they continue to support my endeavors in experimenting with the genre and pushing it into different directions. It’s also something I can do at Alfa Matrix.
What kinds of music and artists are listening to right now?
Schelpe: For the launch of the album, I created a Lightflare inspirations Spotify playlist where you can hear what I was listening to (and still am) when creating the album. It will give you a good sense of what my inspirational sources are, and they’re wide – from Röyksopp, Faithless, Hooverphonic, Moby, to Blink-182, Weezer, Deftones, to Die Antwoord, Nero, but also bands like Ships in the Night, 5TimesZero, Ayria, Purity Ring, Lulu Rouge, and more.
How do you feel Belgium will do at the World Cup this summer (if you care at all)?
Schelpe: I have to disappoint a lot of people I think; I’m not soccer fan. In fact, let me go as far to say that I don’t like the culture of ‘rooting for a club.’ Let me illustrate that. If I watch sports (I mostly watch motorized sports F1, Blancpain, Indy Car – I also have a weakness for cyclo cross), I am never rooting for a team or a person. I do have favorite personalities, but I couldn’t care less who’ll win. I like the technology, the athletic discipline, the endurance or both motorized sports or cyclo cross, which is racing with a bike in the mud. And thus, even if Max Verstappen (half Belgian/half Dutch) racing for Red Bull, or Stoffel Vandoorne (Belgian) racing for McLaren are competing, I don’t relate to their country/roots. I don’t feel that connection., I feel more of a connection with the personality of a person, or how a mechanic is sweating to put on the best pit stop, the little mistakes that are being made. There’s so much to see in those sports than just the final result. Soccer is not my cup of tea; I don’t know why, and I certainly have no patriotism towards any sportsman. I don’t know if that answers the question.
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