VRWRK returns from London for AB release show
Living in London was an eye-opener for the Brussels-born synth pop band VUURWERK, now VRWRK. “If you give London something, London gives back tenfold.” As a result, the music on their debut album On the Outside sounds both vulnerable and optimistic.
Hanging around in Lord Byron bar
“A year ago, we left Brussels with a small suitcase and a demo album, now we are back to show our mums what we have made.” Thieu Seynaeve and Jergan Callebaut, the two surviving founding members of the band, are proud to launch their debut album in their old neighbourhood. “Back in the days, we were living in Rue Dansaert and discovering bands in the AB ourselves,” Seynaeve says. “The initial ideas for the album were created hanging around in the Lord Byron bar.”
Since the duo recruited the London singer Salem Khazali, the first draft of the album has been updated thoroughly. “But you can still feel the gratitude towards the city in it,” he says. “As both the pathway from the UK into Europe and from Europe back into the UK, Brussels had to host the release show.”
Hearts Beating in Sync
When leaving for London, the idea of collaborating with guest singers was still prominent, but Khazali’s presence changed everything. “He was open and honest, had a very soulful voice, and sounded melancholic,” says Seynaeve. “As a result, our music became brighter.” Khazali emphasises that there is no hierarchy in the band. “Even the guest musicians are very much like us. We are all feeding the same beast.”
Seynaeve confirms that saxophonist Mattias De Craene, bassist Simon Casier, and guitarist Jasper Maekelberg all became part of the brotherhood, simply because they identify with what they do. That’s what the song ‘Hearts Beating In Sync’ is all about. “It wasn’t our goal to create a new band,” says Callebaut. “We were rather curating other people’s ideas, inviting them into our process, and letting them speak.”
Inspiring day jobs
Khazali, who works as a graphic designer in East London, doesn’t see the value of just doing one thing: “A lot of musicians dream of the day that they can go to their boss to resign, I don’t. What’s more, melodies come into my head when I am doing something structured.” He’s on the same wavelength as his two musical partners. “A day job gives us the freedom and the structure we need,” says Callebaut, a psychologist and researcher.
As a psychiatrist in a London hospital, Seynaeve has an even tougher job. “For me, it’s not about finding the on and off button, but about trying to implement what people tell me. It often feels like I am living my life through the lives of my patients. Making music with these two other guys is a form of therapy for me.” According to Khazali, it’s all about keeping each other in check.
Heroes around the corner
“We thought London was a rough city full of men in suits in a rush to make money,” recalls Seynaeve. “But we soon realised that it has a very warm and embracing counterculture. In fact, it’s similar to Brussels with its different communities. We live in Dalston in East London. It feels like Saint-Gilles, a creative hot spot located a bit off centre.”
All their musical heroes seem to live there. “We would see Floating Points and Dan Snaith aka Caribou in the same record and coffee shops,” Callebaut says. “The office of The xx is just around the corner and recently Four Tet tried out his new album in a bar, literally 100 meters away from our doorstep.” According to Khazali, you share friendship groups with everyone there. “We have a class system in the UK, but when we are social together, we let loose and we’re just people around people.”On the Outside
“I’m on the bed on the outside,” Khazali sings on the title track “Outsiders”. “We initially met Salem through that song,” Seynaeve explains. “After being blown away by the demo version of it on his Soundcloud, we got in touch with him.” They immediately recognised the ambiguous feeling of being at the end of a relationship.
“The album is about wondering: Should I stay? Is this honest? Does it still reflect how I feel?”, Seynaeve says. “We are very introspective and at the same time voyeuristic, not only in our day jobs. We just think a lot about what we feel and what other people feel.” It is also reflected in the artwork by Lisbeth Antoine, a Belgian they met in London. “Her friend, a fashion designer, had a book about Italians mobsters and they made a mock-up of their eyes, which seemed to capture their life energy and stories.”
Just like VRWRK’s music, it is all about seeing, being seen, and perceiving. “In London, we learned that crying in a corner isn't going to help anybody, so it is better to derive meaning from what you are going through,” Seynaeve continues. “On the Outside is a positive way out of very painful emotions, as if we’re our own therapists.”
Callebaut adds: “It’s like a self-help book. Call it a post-summer album or a post-break-up album, but one that focuses on the positive energy of the first steps after the break-up. In this whole process, the more honest you are with yourself, the more your message resonates.” Or, as Khazali induces: “We are proud to be vulnerable.”
> VRWRK. 25/10, 20.00, Ancienne Belgique, Brussels