Despite a career spanning 15 years, playing in groups with Rudy Trouvé (Kiss My Jazz) and Mauro Pawlowski (Gruppo di Pawlowski) as well as collaborating on contemporary dance and children theatre productions with Wim Vandekeybus and Theater Froe Froe, Elko Blijweert (1976) has pretty much operated under the radar, preferring to take a back seat rather than a leading role. That, however, has all changed with the recent release of I Bambini di Basilisco, his exquisite debut on Antwerp imprint Ekster. We sit down with the self-effacing musician to discuss how one track finally led to an entire album.
Why, after 15 years, release a solo album?
I’ve had the idea for a while. And the enthusiasm, as well. I just never thought myself capable of doing so. I prefer working together with other musicians, and I’m not the kind of person that spends hours alone at home producing and composing. I need direct feedback from people around me. It was actually Victor (Robyn, from Ekster) who came across Tip Toe Topic, a duo project of mine together with Saar van de Leest. He liked it and we got talking, but I quickly told him that I don’t work alone. Eventually he managed to convince me to make one track for his Exo 2 compilation after all. And then I went ahead and decided to give it a go and started working on the album.
Can you tell us a bit more about the recording process?
It was pretty challenging at the start. Like I said before, I thought I wasn’t capable of composing on my own at home. Working with keys and electronic equipment doesn’t come as easy for me as playing the guitar, but I do have quite a lot of synths laying around – I’ve always been a big fan of EBM and new wave – which I bought just because I liked the sound. But honestly, they were just collecting dust around the house. Victor told me that if I liked the sound so much I should just start using them. I was working a lot on theatre compositions at the time, and composed the album during my free time.
What was it like to suddenly compose by yourself?
It took some getting used to. It’s like I said, the lack of feedback, and the absence of direct evaluation by others, made it hard for me to figure out if what I was creating sounds good or not. It’s a bit rudderless, and that’s where Victor came in. Every two weeks or so I sent a track over to him asking his opinion. So in the end I did have a public after all during the production process. You could call him my executive producer.
Where does the album’s title, I Bambini di Basilisco, come from?
It’s a bit of a mix of everything. I jotted down some key words and came upon Basilisco, a mythical creature that looks like a crossing between a snake, a lizard and a dragon that can walk on water and is one of the figures that influenced the album. I also listened extensively to Italian soundtracks, and wanted to use the Italian language to reference the pseudo-exotic character of the album. ‘Bambini’ references an Italian pop song from the 80s, I Bambini di Poi, by Mattia Bazar. So you could say that the tracks are the children of the Basilisk – which is me.
Apart from the Basilisco, what were the influences for the album?
They came straight out of the theatre world and a fantastical children’s universe. I used some elements and scenes from some pieces, but mostly exotic animals and the atmosphere they bring forth.
How do you go about performing your music live?
A large part of the more electronic elements are recorded in advance, which I then trigger live using a sampler with a keyboard. After launching the backing tracks with a looping sample, I use a small organ and a guitar, which I then also loop, allowing me to bring all these elements together and at the same time. It’s a bit of a toy store I bring along with me, with which I fiddle around on stage. I’m used to performing solo in function of the theatrical, with others on stage and few spectators watching me. Performing my music live and all by myself in Antwerp’s Bosbar back in February did make me feel as though I was participating in the Queen Elisabeth Contest. But it worked out fine. I believe people really enjoyed it.
Is a second solo album on its way?
I think so, yes. The release of I Bambini di Basilisco has given me more confidence. While I do feel like I still need the support of others around me, I’m progressively thinking about a second album. I wouldn’t collaborate with just Victor on this one, though. For 20 years now I’ve been running the Heaven Hotel label together with Rudy Trouvé, and it’s very likely that my next project will be released on it. I admit it would have made more sense to release my first solo album on it, but it’s, like I said, the insecurity that kept me from doing so.
Elko B’s I Bambini di Basilisco is now out on Ekster.eksterlabel.com