That time we…Interviewed legendary Belgian bass player Kloot Per W

In a new and regular section where we dig deep in our office archive to unearth long-lost bits Belgium that might have gone unnoticed, we take a look back at an interview of Belgian Kloot Per W we ran in our November 2014 paper edition. With Onda Sonora’s Bart Sibiel on writing duty and Joke De Wilde handling photography, the story ran as a four-page feature that saw the saw the prolific and veteran composer-producer talk about everything from early influences to making synthesiser train sounds for the locals.

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“Once you run through the recording you’ll see a thread running through my story but I tell it very chaotically. You’ll have to piece it together,” says Kloot Per W halfway through our interview. And while this is certainly true about the somewhat scattered chat we had, it can also be said about his career. Stretching over what is now nearing five decades, the bass player appeared on the Belgian pop scene in the late ‘70s as part of The Misters, a band heavily influenced by the era’s burgeoning (post) punk, reggae and other new waves. He continued in the same direction with ska/punk outfit The Employees, internationally renowned synth-pop act Polyphonic Size, funk metal group De Lama’s or the vast amount of music he has been and still is releasing under his own name. His contributions to a long-list of Belpop classics is rivaled by few others, an achievement that belies an acute sense of digging deeper and doing this differently. Yet, despite his considerable resume, Kloot Per W’s name rarely figures amongst the Hall of Fame of Belgian pop music.

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His knack for combining styles can be traced back to his early youth. “My uncle had a cupboard full of records. A wildly diverse choice. He listened to Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Chess Records, Bo Didley, Muddy Waters, Kingston Trio, Harry Belafonte, Los Paraguayos, Mexican mariachi, … things that weren’t commonplace back then. I absorbed it all,” Kloot per W says. Pop culture was still in its infancy in the ‘60s and radio or chance encounters were the main ways to discover new music. “I discovered reggae through a friend whose aunt was a nun at the Alpha Boys School in Jamaica (their list of alumni reads like an who’s who of the country’s musical history: the Skatalites, Cedric Brooks and Yellowman). He had singles on Trojan and Attack, by artists like Rolando Alphonso and Desmond Dekker, typical Rocksteady. He didn’t want them and gave them to me.”

This growing interest in music led to a full-blown passion. “I got a guitar when I was 12. I thought it was good to go and in tune forever. What’s more, I’m left-handed,” he recalls. Bit by bit he discovered how to tune it and how notes were played – partly by emulating records, with advice from teachers and friends. These newly acquired skills made him write songs of his own. “I still have recordings of that somewhere,” he adds. By now the young teenager had found his calling. “When I was 16 years old I knew I wanted to do something with drawing, music or radio. A bit to my parents’ despair but I was serious about it”.

Growing up in Tervuren, on the outskirts of Brussels, played a part too in shaping the young gun’s musical edge. There was the village’s Museum for Central Africa, where he could discover the continent’s sounds. Its youth club, where teenagers got to meet and express themselves fully and freely. Its strong, early ‘70s hippie scene looking to escape the city and that brought with it a few interesting bars. Slowly but surely, the first climax of Kloot Per W’s career approached. “The Misters all went to the same school. We were music freaks who listened to Nick Drake and The Velvet Underground,” he remembers. This was right before punk and very soon The Ramones left a big impression on him and his bandmates. “They weren’t dressed up, their lyrics had different themes and their music sounded like glam rock without the guitar solos. When I played Blitzkrieg Bop in the local youth club, I was asked to turn it off. From there we got into The Stooges, MC5 and The New York Dolls,” he says. This rawer, somewhat basic, more energetic and visceral style appealed to the budding musician.

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“The Misters had a certain magic,” he continues, bringing something different from the norm by playing short songs with straight lyrics. They also were know for a well-defined look and attitude, although the politics of a band soon started to collide with his own ambition. “A group is like four brothers that can’t stand each other but know that together they can take on everybody. It is a constant power struggle. About female attention, about who’s the alpha male writing the songs.” After a while they started to revert back to what they had initially reacted against: longer songs and self-indulgence. Kloot took this change in direction as his cue to, finally, going solo. Fact is, even when he was in the band he had experimented with recording songs on tape. Now it was time to take this to a new level. “I had heard Kraftwerk. Radioactivity blew me away. I didn’t understand how it was made but I thought that guitars would sound nice with it. So I bought a monophonic synthesizer. The whole of Tervuren came to my house. Watching me emulate train sounds on it,” he laughs. “I had four decks, bought the cheapest blank tapes available and started recording the copying. Every day for two months that’s all I did, because an important magazine had reviewed my release favorably and I constantly found letters with money in my mailbox. The extra copies I made I sold through shops in Brussels. I think I must have sold 500 or 600 of them”. Nowadays some of these tapes are reissued, sometimes on vinyl, by labels like Walhalla records, EE Tapes or Starman records, generating a new interest for Kloot Per W’s work among fans of minimal wave.

This newfound independence was somewhat of a double-edged sword, bringing its brought own set of virtues and setbacks. The freedom of doing it yourself was both creatively and financially rewarding but the world didn’t seem ready for it. “Back in 1986, I recorded a backing track in a studio with sequencer, bass, some effects and a rhythm box. With this and a few luxaflex curtains behind me for decorum, I performed live. This caused quite a controversy at the Rock Rally (still Belgium’s foremost competition for bands) as it wasn’t accepted as a live setup like it is now. I didn’t win but got a one-off price for best song, invented on the spot. It was a moral victory but it should have been more,” he states. “It did get me a lot of gigs though. I went on the road with my wife, my tape deck and a mixer. All in a single car. No need to split my fee with my band.”

Asked if he ever had the ambition to go beyond Belgium he muses “Yes. But what do they know about Belgium abroad? Sprouts and waffles yes, but music?” Even today, with the opportunities brought on by the internet he isn’t optimistic “My stuff gets lost among everything else on the net. The fact that I’m Belgian and doing it all by myself doesn’t help. I’m sort of like Don Quixote or Sisyphus”. This doesn’t deter him from getting his creations out there. “I have got tons of unreleased music lying around. All sorts of genres. I try to get it out bit by bit but as I am hard to pinpoint stylistically it is a struggle. My music is not pure minimal wave, rockabilly or blues, it is Kloot Per W music. It has got personality.” Meanwhile he keeps on making and releasing new music at a rate even the most prolific youngsters find hard to follow.

For Kloot Per W’s full discography, head over to Discogs.