Seeing a band grow and mature is one of the things I love about music. When they release a new album it is like catching up with an old friend – you are brought up to speed with everything they have been doing since you last saw them. Tokyo Indie first spoke to the Belgian band Balthazar about a year ago, just before the release of their second album, Rats. Fast-forward 12 months and the band are on Japanese soil for the very first time playing three shows as part of the Belgian Beer Weekend in Roppongi. I met up with the band backstage, ahead of their final performance at the beer festival and over a cold bottle of Vedett we chatted about what has been happening with the band since we last spoke to them.
I’d seen them perform on the previous Saturday night where they played a set to a strong crowd, but an audience that seemed equally interested in the bottom of their beer glasses as they did with the music on offer. “The first day was a bit weird” starts Jinte, the lead singer and guitarist in the band, his coy laughter suggesting it may not have been the best atmosphere to play in. “The second day was a bit of madness!” he adds, with much more enthusiasm. Violin and keyboard player Patricia elucidates; “It was Sunday so maybe they started drinking quite early! It was very nice, maybe one of the craziest audiences we’ve ever had.”
That’s quite a claim, coming from a band who have played as many gigs as Balthazar have in the last 12 months. A UK tour supporting Local Natives, followed by their own headline tour and numerous festival appearances throughout Europe has kept the band on a constant merry-go round of shows. “You step out of the tour bus in the morning in a historic centre with the palace of some French king to your left side and an ancient cathedral on your right side. It’s like being on a holiday…most of the time.” explains Maarten, the other singer/guitarist in the band.
I ask what had been the high and low points of their tour thus far and it seems that both came at the same time. “It was a while ago but we arrived at a festival, maybe one before the summer, I can’t remember which one” says Patricia, the hectic schedule obviously clouding her memory. “It was so wet and we had to go to the shop to buy boots because we couldn’t just walk around and we thought it was going to be one of the low points. Actually, it was one of the highest points of the summer. People went crazy because when [the weather] is chaotic they don’t care”. I ask if they ever get tired of the constant circuit and the band chuckle. “We’ll keep on going until November and get some kind of rest” says Maarten. “Well, not rest, but a different lifestyle”.
This “different lifestyle” hints strongly at a return to the studio to follow up their well received second album. When we last spoke to the band they were still writing Rats, a record that Jinte said they hoped would be “cinematic”. So do the band feel they have achieved their aim? Jinte grins. “I said that?” he says in a slightly embarrassed tone. “Oh wow. Well, I guess we made the album that felt the best at the time” he finishes. “They are all pop songs” Maarten chips in, “but there is an atmosphere through it that is perhaps more visual”. As we talk more it is clear that the band feel their sophomore release has, what Patricia terms, more “subtle accents” than their debut effort, Applause. I ask the band what they make of one review which I read that called Rats a ‘tamer’ album. “Well it’s not as in your face as the first one” says Jinte, “but I wouldn’t say tamer because it is much darker. So it’s more dangerous actually, because it is sneaky”.
It’s clear how the band speak of their time is Japan – from visiting temples to getting lost in Yoyogi park – that it is a country they already keen to return to. “It’s been really nice to do this, the introduction to Japan” says Jinte. Whilst the performances this time round may not have been in an ideal situation, their assured manner of playing was sure to have won over a few new fans. “We hope to be back to do a full tour in the future” concludes Jinte. We look forward to it!
Words: Mark Birtles
Translation: Iona Nagata
October 8, 2013