“Behind every good song there’s a beautiful girl.” Nothing sums up Montevideo‘s debut album Personal Space better than this quote by singer Jean Waterlot. Produced by Joakim Bouaziz, Personal Space was recorded in record time – 11 tracks in just 15 days.Throughout Personal Space you can hear influences of old school rockers like David Bowie and Sonic Youth in the slightly sadness-tinged dance pop tracks and Jean Waterlot’s delicate and affected vocals.
We had the chance to chat with the boys from Belgium about their new album, what it was like to work with Joakim, and somewhat randomly, René Magritte. In addition to the interview, Montevideo shares with us their top five albums of 2012. It is the end of the year after all.
Nancy: Is there anything about Uruguay or Montevideo the place that moved you to name your band after it?
Montevideo: There are no real connections between the city and any members of the band, our previous bass player just came up with that name one day, to be honest none of us were really aware of the Uruguyan city at all, we all just really liked how the word “sounded”, it’s one of those words that seems very easy to pronounce in any language.
We liked the catchy aspect of the city name. The funny thing is that we found out later reading some rock star’s biography that there’s a Parisian rehab centre called Montevideo.
Nancy: Can you tell me about the dynamic in the group when working through the songwriting process?
Montevideo: Typically, we’ll first find some gimmick playing together, then we each record our parts in turn on our old crappy computer. Then in the second phase, we’ll make some more arrangements, a bit like brainstorming I guess and put all the ideas we can possibly have onto the emerging track.
Then I’ll try to find a strong singing melody and write the lyrics. In the final phase, we put everything together, make a structure, keep some ideas but throw away most of them. Usually, it takes a long time to finish because we really dig the track in a lot of directions and we don’t want to sound obviously like another band.
Nancy: So your new album Personal Space – 11 songs in 15 days. How did you guys accomplish that?
Montevideo: We’ve learned from previous experiences that there is actually no need to start recording if you’re not well prepared, magic can happen in the studio sometimes but mostly you need to be as tight as possible and sure of what you’re doing when the band plays live.
The producer needs to catch a “live instant” of the band’s existence. With this album we had songs with lots of different moods and atmospheres so it needed to be played in the right order, otherwise the album would have been tainted with too many patchworks.
We’ve spent more then two years writing tones of songs, so we had time enough to think about the overall direction of the album, but once we were in the studio it needed to be very spontaneous, just like when you draw a straight line in architecture, the album the needed to tell a story with 10 chapters, a short but intense story.
Nancy: What was it like working with Joakim on Personal Space?
Montevideo: Well he’s a producer that we have been following for a long time and we have always been huge fans of his electronic/dance productions. What we like the most is that he has a real “indie” vision with no frontiers. There’s a lot of freedom in the way that he produces music. He is very calm and we were very excited, so it was a good match!
He has a very organic sound, he knows just about everything there is to know in music and isn’t stuck in any one style, all of this lead us to him. The most exciting part of the job was to record all the synths parts we wrote using his gear, he has an amazing collection of synths…. We discovered some of his greatest production secret recipes.
Nancy: Can you tell me about the Belgium music scene? Is there a “scene?”
Montevideo: Honestly there ‘s no real Belgium music scene in say the way that there’s is for example a “Manchester Scene”. Belgium is such a tiny country, pretty much in the centre of Europe, so in general bands are much more concerned about what’s happening at the borders. Still there are a bunch of good artists here and there’s something going on around Belgium these days (that’s what our manager keeps on saying anyway).
Brussels is pretty much right in the centre of Europe, just 90 minutes away from Paris, about the same to London and not far from Berlin either, so bands are emerging without a strict identity and are crossing and mixing all these cultures creating their very own interpretation of “the Music”. As we are a small country it’s a lot easier to pick up all these different influences from the other countries at our borders… There are bands making their own music without a strong stamp.
Everybody knows everybody here, again it’s a very small country, so we have to export ourself quickly or die, I guess all that adds up to make Belgian artists sound difficult to recognise and yet special at the same time…
Nancy: Your album art reminds me of René Magritte. Are you into surrealism? Are there any other artists whose aesthetic you admire?
Montevideo: You have to check out the work of the graphic designer Douglas Lee (Monsieurlagent.com), we met him in New York when we recorded at DFA. We’ve always been very inspired and impressed by the work of The design group Hypgnosis who did those surreal and static ‘hyper realistic’ drawings for Pink Floyd.
Anyway Douglas was working on some artwork for the Magician that was inspired a lot by Dali and surrealism seems to go pretty well with our situation as a band Brussels-based band named Montevideo. Belgium has this strong surrealist tradition so Douglas Lee came up with the idea of using Magritte paintings as a subtle way of representing our native country on the international stage.
Nancy: Since we’re coming up on the end of the year, what are your top five stand out albums of 2012?
1 Kindness – “World you need a change of mind”
2 Tame Impala – “Lonerism”
3 TEED -“Trouble”
4 Jessie Ware – “Devotion”
5 Mac Demarco – “2”