In the cabin of Cabane

Cabane
© Heleen Rodiers

“I have lived several lives,” Thomas Jean Henri says. His most recent is that of Cabane, the alias under which the Brussels artist writes fragile folk songs.

Cabane

  • Thomas Jean Henri was born Thomas Van Cottom in Anderlecht in 1972
  • He grew up in Walloon-Brabant and started drumming at fifteen
  • From 1997 until 2001, he was part of the Brussels rock band Venus
  • In 2001 he performed onstage with Bonnie “Prince” Billy, the beginning of a long friendship
  • In 2007 he made a record under the moniker Soy Un Caballo
  • From 2009 until 2015, he worked as Stromae's tour manager, and started taking photos during his free time
  • He debutes today as Cabane with Grande est la maison, on which Kate Stable's represents light and Bonnie “Prince” Billy darkness

The light that falls into Thomas Jean Henri's apartment in Schaerbeek is so soft that it neutralizes the hubbub of rue des Palais beneath. Just as tender and delicate are the photos that he tales with his analogue cameras, which we see lying around his living room-cum-studio. “I don't like digital photos,” he says. “They are too clean, too perfect. Too many pixels, too little life. They lack…skin.”
That analogue skin also envelopes the little folksongs by Cabane, which used to be Henri's nickname and is now his artistic alias. Fragile sound clouds that he creates on guitar, vibraphone, and an occasional whispering drum computer. After tinkering on them for five years, he has now assembled them under the title Grande est la maison.

Henri co-wrote the words to his songs with Caroline Gabard and Sam Genders from the folktronica band Tunng. He didn't sing them himself, but asked Kate Stables (from the folk-pop ensemble This Is the Kit) and the eccentric folk troubadour Will Oldham alias Bonnie “Prince” Billy to join in.

Henri, an ex-drummer, crossed paths with Stables fifteen years ago. His friendship with Oldham began in 2001. “Will performed at Les Nuits, which still took place in September at the time. Because his band didn't want to travel to Europe anymore after 9/11, the Botanique drummed up musicians from Brussels.” The offer turned out to be a blessing because Henri had just been thrown out of the Brussels rock band Venus. “That felt like a setback, but suddenly I found myself onstage with my big hero, to whose records I drummed with when I was a young kid.” Oldham took Henri to England, and then asked him to record his album Master and Everyone at his home in the US. “Will is a great guy, but I'll never understand him completely. After three days, he sent everyone home again.” (Laughs) Once he was back in Brussels, he sold my drum kit. “I had achieved what I had wanted to achieve. I bought a guitar and started writing songs.”

Ephemeral
A record under the moniker Soy Un Caballo followed, on which Kate Stables and Will Oldham (in French!) turned up. After that release, Henri's creative output receded into the background because his time was consumed by his work as Stromae's tour manager.

Following that intense period and after a few personal ups and downs, he needed a moment of rest. Hence Cabane, cabin in French. “I love the idea of a temporary shelter that protects you against bad weather,” he smiles. That bad weather can come in all kinds of forms, he says: social, political, but also emotional and romantic. “It is a place that protects you from sadness.”
For the past fourteen years, that safe haven has been Henri's apartment. “This record is a tribute to this place. I have lived several lives here. These songs feel like a conclusion. I could actually move now.” (Laughs) It wasn't cabin fever that made him step out with Grande est la maison, though. “We need places to hide away nowadays, but at the same time there is so much discord. That title is like a political act: it is time that we listen to one another and open up our houses and our hearts.”

Henri's songs developed in this apartment, of course. With the exception of the violins and the vocals, everything was also recorded here. “For Kate's vocals I went to her house in Paris, while Will recorded his in the US and sent them over. Of course I would have preferred if all three of us had been singing together in this room, but since Will became a father, he prefers to stay at home.”
Cabane will become a different story during live sets. “We are used to having everything available whenever we want it, but I enjoy fleeting things that appear and then disappear just as quickly. That's why I will only perform twice, once in Brussels and once in Paris. I'd like Cabane to be as ephemeral as a book that you read only once; it lives on in your memory.”

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