With their debut EP ‘I Know You Will’ released in February on their own label, Brussels-based Dalai Lama Renaissance proves there’s more to home-grown talent than copycat electro-pop or hard-edged noisy nothings. Their soft and subtle soundscapes places them somewhere in between Junior Boys, The XX and Fugiya & Miyagi whilst their tendency for pared-down productions and somewhat fragile vocals demonstrates a surprising maturity for a band still at college. We invited Tom Van Roy, Jergan Callebaut and Matteo Schuer to our offices one recent Friday afternoon to talk about their upcoming album, running their own label and remaining cryptic.
I really liked your EP, but would have liked it to have more tracks. When can we hear some more?
We are working on an album right now, which will be released this summer. The EP is a reflection of our musical development over the last years. The three songs each symbolise a different phase we went through.
What kind of phases?
In the beginning we worked with basic elec- tronics, a guitar and some vocals. It was a very basic set up with a very basic beat, you can still hear the relics in some of our songs. We weren’t aware of fancy effects. ‘Roadkill’ stands for our second phase when we were more a real band and played without PCs. People really liked our music, we came far in lots of contests and were played on the radio. That gave us more confidence.
So you played under a different name back then?
Yes, ‘Ich Bin Vobiscum’. We’d rather not talk about it though.
Why is that?
We are not that proud of it. We were only 17 at the time and everything went so fast, we felt like it was too easy. We had only three or four simple songs. One reason why we don’t like to talk about it is, that we actually might have been able to become big. But instead of going through with it we decided to do something else because we wanted more than just a simple beat and bass. It was the time when we discovered our favourite artist, TRS-80, and we wanted to do something much more layered and evolved. So as our tastes changed we started stirring into a new direction.
Where do you write and record your music? At home? In a studio?
We have a studio in Jergan’s house which we call ‘the lab’. It’s full of synths, drumkits, guitars, bass guitars, amps,… It’s equipped with sound shields and has a real vocal booth. We record and premix everything there.
Generally Belgian bands are always rip-offs. They are always labelled ‘the Belgian White Lies’ or ‘the Belgian Interpol’.
Do you do everything yourselves? Even the final mastering?
We got some professional help. Staf Verbeeck from Motormusic in Mechelen gave it the final touch. We wanted a professional sound and he was the guy for it. He has a great understanding of what we want. We tried with someone else before, a guy in the US, but the communication process was too difficult.
‘Smoother’ reminds me a lot of The XX. Do you agree? Is that a band you look up to?
It’s funny you say that. We saw them live and during the recording of this song Tom struggled a lot with the vocals. So when he was in the recording booth we actually gave him the advice to sing a bit like The XX. And you are not the first one to say that, we keep getting the same references. That’s cool.
How would you describe your sound?
Our song 80 BPM represents it the best. We do electronica that’s tender and fragile but dark at the same time, definitely not sunny. We like the expression ‘origami sound’, because our tracks are very multi-layered, consisting of sounds being folded and refolded.
I actually wanted to talk to you about that track. What is it about?
We talk about life experiences. But we try to do that in a not too obvious way, we like to keep it metaphoric, cryptic. 80 BPM is about that awkward feeling when you meet somebody new. This sensation of insecurity, that’s only in your head. You shouldn’t let it rule you.
How do you write your songs?
Usually one of us lays the foundation and then the others add stuff. We rehearse together once a week. Matteo recently spent six months in Berlin though, that made things a bit difficult. We are happy to have him back here.
You released your EP on your own label, Dandelion Lotus Records…
Yes, the label is Jergan’s project. The advantages of a big label are limited. In the end they are only good for marketing and booking. Jergan sometimes just has these creative outbursts all of a sudden. He basically created the label over night. So far only our EP was released on it, but other collaborations are planned.
There are several remixes of your songs on the EP, how do you choose the artists?
We have a website where we regularly publish mixtapes, putting forward artists we like. We just contacted some of those.
How do you find new music? What are your latest discoveries?
We browse the internet for hours, especially YouTube and xlr8r. We recently realised that there are actually some good Belgian acts out there. Squeaky Lobster, for example. We like anything that tickles and is well-crafted. Usually it’s electronic music. Our rule is to only publish stuff that has below 5.000 views.
You don’t seem to be very fond of music made in Belgium. Why is that?
Generally Belgian bands are always rip-offs. They are always labelled ‘the Belgian White Lies’ or ‘the Belgian Interpol’. Many bands just copy sounds and don’t innovate themselves. But there are exceptions. Joy Wellboy for example. We’d love to have them on the label!
If you could choose anyone to remix one of your songs, who would it be?
The guitar player of James Blake who also has his own project, Airhead. We met him when he played in Brussels. In the end we sat in the car with him for one hour, just listening to songs. He’s a really nice guy and has a very similar music taste.
Is it true that you haven’t had any live gig yet as Daila Lama Renaissance?
Yes, we’re still figuring out how to play everything live. It’s rather complicated. We like the luxury of the studio, where you can control every little detail. On stage things are less predictable. We are experimenting how to translate our music into a live set. There’s just too much going on in our songs. We’d need 10 people on stage. But we are figuring it out and on the 15th May we’ll have our first gig in the SMAK museum.
A lot of bands use touring and playing lots of gigs as a means of promotion, to be seen and get their name out there. Don’t you think that’s necessary?
We don’t really think it works like that anymore. When we discover music nowadays it’s not through live sets but via the internet. We listen to a band first, and if we like it, then we go to a concert.
The theme of this edition is ‘the future’. How do you imagine the future of music?
It’s going to be much more interactive. The audience will be able to influence the music on the spot. For example there is already a technology that transforms people’s movements into music. There was this exhibition where one room was full with sensors or something, and the music would change according to how many people were inside. And the barriers between the artists and the public will probably become lower. But maybe there won’t even be real musicians anymore – in Japan they already host hologram concerts, with ten of thousands of screaming fans, it’s almost scary!‘I Know You Will’ is out now on Dandelion Lotus Records. The band’s full-length album will follow this summer. dalailamarenaissance.co.uk