After an amazing show at Pukkelpop, where they demonstrated that they are shifting from jazz towards rock, the guys in the Ghent-based instrumental quartet Nordmann are presenting their intoxicating new album The Boiling Ground.
Somebody recently told them that when listening to the latest teaser of the new album, the melancholic “Dover”, he didn’t realise that it was an instrumental track. “Perhaps it is due to the radio formats that so little instrumental music reaches people,” suggests Mattias De Craene, the saxophonist who alternately injects his companions’ guitar (Edmund Lauret), bass (Dries Geusens), and drums (Elias Devoldere) with extra verve and melancholy. “Hopefully, our decision to move towards rock will expand our audience even more. Pukkelpop was a good springboard.”
Edmund, you grew up in the English city of Newcastle, a city that has always had a lively rock scene.
Edmund Lauret: Yes, and my parents still live there. I left when I was eighteen, to study at the Conservatory in Ghent. I had always wanted to go abroad and I chose Ghent because I had visited several times and really enjoyed it. I had started playing in bands in Newcastle, although as a teenager I mostly listened to my dad’s records: Jimi Hendrix (who played his first concerts in the city on the Tyne), and people like The Beatles and Crosby, Stills & Nash.
Mattias De Craene: He brought all that cultural baggage with him.
This is typical of Nordmann, in which the four band members indulge in all their different influences and then try to find a compromise.
Lauret: Yes, but isn’t that true of most bands these days? Especially with current musical education, things are not the way they used to be, when one band member would bring along a record that everyone else should check out.
The artwork of your new album is by the Bruges-based artist Sammy Slabbinck, who also designed the cover of Leonard Cohen’s last album, and who often combines various styles and periods in his work.
De Craene: That is not really so different from the way we work. The difference is that he is alone, and there are four of us. If someone has an idea, we still need to translate it into a certain sound, structure, and groove.
Lauret: We call it the Nordmann filter.
De Craene: We don’t stop until all four of us are happy. It can take a very long time because we operate completely democratically. It might not be the most efficient method, but it does guarantee that the results will always be typically Nordmann. Actually, I think that on the new record, we have found a better balance between explicit, accessible, and more abstract ideas. There are still extended improvisations, but there is also more variation.
The last time we spoke, about your soundtrack for the film noir Dementia/Daughter of Horror, you said that you like to make things boil without letting them boil over, and you have now named the new album The Boiling Ground. Coincidence?
De Craene: No, because of course that is the goal. We often look for precisely that kind of subdued tension. Concretely, for example, we had a track called “No Holy Feet on the Boiling Ground”, but some people thought the title was too long. We let our internal democracy do its thing and we ended up cutting the title in two. We don’t like to throw anything out. [Laughs]
On your two studio albums, you collaborated with two producers who have been very successful in Belpop Land over the past few years: Jasper Maekelberg recorded your debut Alarm! and this time Koen Gisen sat in the control booth. Was there a difference?
De Craene: I think the biggest difference is their age. Jasper got stuck in every day and experimented with us, while Koen is more of a wise, relaxed guy who has seen it all, trusts you, and watches from a distance.
Lauret: All the things he said made sense. It didn’t take us long to get on the same wavelength, and his studio is a very inspiring space: not clean and tidy, but stuffed with all kinds of music equipment and memorabilia.
De Craene: He also knew exactly where things would sound best. So we recorded my sax in the kitchen.
You met each other at the Conservatory in Ghent. Do you often have to put things you learned there to one side because they hinder your personal musical development?
Lauret: I don’t. But that doesn’t mean that I actually use everything I learned at school.
De Craene: I try to detach everything I do from my training as much as possible.
Lauret: But you don’t think about it constantly do you?
De Craene: I do, actually. The structure of the Conservatory just didn’t work for me. Learning to talk about real jazz language wasn’t my trip. It was a constant battle. Ultimately, it took me ten years to get my Master’s degree. I could have become a heart surgeon in that time.
> Nordmann. 18/10, 20.00, Ancienne Belgique, Brussels