After 2007’s ‘Hellelujah’ (2007) and 2009’s ‘Captain Boogie’ (2009), the Experimental Tropic Blues Band – a Belgian three-piece from Liège/Luik – is set to release its third album ‘Liquid Love’ recorded with legendary musician and producer Jon Spencer in New York. Staying true to their raw sound characterised by a hefty blend of rock, blues and punk, I meet ‘Boogie Snake’, ‘Dirty Coq’ and ‘Devil d’Inferno’ – yes, that’s how the three call themselves – in ‘La Cigogne’, a dimly lit bar in Brussels’ Dansaert / Dansaart district, two days before they embark on a European tour taking them to Luxemburg, Switzerland, France, Italy, Croatia and of course Belgium. Slightly dark-circled around the eyes but happy looking nonetheless, the trio had already emptied a bottle of red wine when I arrived. Once a couple of sandwiches are ordered, we can begin.
Two of your new songs are named after food…
The song ‘Best Burger’ is a critique not just of the US but rather of consumer society as a whole. But when you walk through New York these signs are everywhere – everyone wants to sell you the allegedly best burger. It’s about how superficial things are. And regarding the sushi: Jon Spencer showed us a different restaurant in New York every day and as it happened we just ate loads of sushi. Actually we have quite some Japanese influences, from underground cinema to bands as for example Polysics.
You performed in the United States for the first time – how did the American audience receive you?
Our first gig in the US we played in Austin, Texas, and it was great. Actually the audiences in Europe and the States are very similar – music is universal. There was even this Texan Grandma coming up to us saying how much she liked the music.
Why is it so difficult for Belgian bands to make it across the Atlantic?
It’s very difficult to penetrate the territory, so to speak. The legal and administrative work is probably the biggest obstacle. You need an American label, visa,… All that makes it very complicated. Of course it’s also essential to have some credibility, and English lyrics help too.
You’ve been to some places with a strong blues history; did you get the chance to check out some real old blues venues?
Yes, we’ve been to some places in Memphis, but they were all very touristy and not that interesting. But in New York we got to listen to some incredible soul music. You go to a bar in Brooklyn and all of a sudden there’s Naomi Shelton singing or this guy who used to play with Amy Winehouse. It was a crazy experience; too bad we only had 15 days there.
It’s the first time you recorded an album in the States, more specifically New York – how did that influence the record?
It created this special energy for the recording. When you get up and take the subway in fucking New York City every morning with all these crazy people, then this creates a very special atmosphere and extra-ordinary motivation. Really, it was magical. The artistic force of this city is unbelievable. The guys playing in the New York subway are better than some bands you see in Belgian venues.
How did you manage to record with a legend like Jon Spencer?
We supported his band Heavy Trash twice. When he was at Les Ardentes we just went up to him and asked. He said he remembered us but wanted to listen to our demo first and shortly after that he said yes and proposed to record the album in his own studio in New York – something you don’t reject of course!
What was it like to work with him?
In the beginning we were quite impressed and needed some warming up time but then we hit it off. The whole way of working was very spontaneous and not technical or complicated. Jon follows the philosophy that mistakes are good – a perspective that disturbed us at first. Sometimes we made a mistake and he would say: ‘That was genius!’ And he’s just such a real American – a hard worker too, very demanding but very nice and human.
What impact did Jon Spencer have on your album?
He probably didn’t even realise the amount of magic he brought to this record. Jon Spencer clearly is our spiritual father and you can hear that on the disc. For ‘Do It To Me’ he even picked up the guitar himself and now we have a Spencer solo on our album!
How is this album different from your past ones?
It’s definitely characterised by its honesty, an honesty that we’ve always wanted to achieve but never managed. This we owe to Jon Spencer – we would have never dared to record an album like this before. This record is truly us.
Did that maybe have something to do with your switch from digital to analogue recording?
It’s the first time we recorded an album this way. It’s actually also possible to reach this kind of honesty with digital recording, but it definitely helped to bring some colour and warmth to the sound.
You’ve been around for about 10 years now – how did you guys actually start out?
We are friends since childhood and high school. Everything began as a joke, but then more and more people liked what we did. The first time we played, none of us had ever even touched a drum kit. We started to play together in 2001 but you could say that we only took it seriously from 2006 onwards.
You have a reputation for playing quite memorable live shows – what’s the craziest thing that’s happened on stage?
Your music has been labelled psycho boogie blues for example. How would you describe your sound yourselves?
It’s just real rock’n’roll – now more than ever before. No need for complicated explications. We make real rock.
‘Liquid Love’ is out on JauneOrange on 14th November.