Tag Archives: awaken

Secret Music Info: Snowcat Origins, ’80s and ’90s, And More

We know Gilles Snowcat as the energetic, polyglot creative musical force with roots in Belgium, Vietnam and Japan, for his brilliant lyrics and proficiency on several instruments, including genius level keyboard skills. But before Gilles appended his name with the Snowcat moniker, there was a younger Gilles, founding member of the Brussels-centered European/Vietnamese Hybrid “Awaken.”

Aside from traveling the world collecting experiences to write songs about (beginning in the ’80s with Awaken and culminating in 2015’s “Nama Time”), Gilles is also a sharp critic of rock music and culture. I asked him to comment on his 1989 tune “Memories of a Teenage Cat,” which was just re-released on Bandcamp in its original form, and asked him about the tune’s connection to the origins of the Snowcat persona. I got much more than I bargained for, including a lengthy critique of popular music in the 1980s and ’90s. Check out his provocative thoughts, and the classic tune below!

(Note: The Snowcat’s opinions are his alone. I for one am a big fan of U2!)


Q.  Is this the beginning of your transformation into the Snowcat being?

Gilles writes: “The Snowcat exists since he’s born, though I can locate the explosion, the big-bang that made him come alive for real early, very early 1988. 1987 was when he tried to pop out, and suddenly 1988 came and so did the Snowcat. It was exquisitely exciting, because from that moment on everything became a song. Life was a huge source of inspiration, and in return songs inspired life, and that’s how the early Snowcat grew.”

It was exquisitely exciting, because from that moment on everything became a song. Life was a huge source of inspiration, and in return songs inspired life, and that’s how the early Snowcat grew.” Gilles Snowcat

“And the music was organic, since my understanding of music was rather low, and my ambition was devouring and set up too high, so I had to suck lots of energy from reality to create what I wanted. That’s why the early songs are full of magic, they’re very much libido-driven, that kind of beautiful sadness, romanticism and mixes of alcohol. It had a lot to do with seduction too, and huge buckets of fun and spleen. Strange cocktails. That’s why I still love that early take of “Memories Of A Teenage Cat”. There was a technically much better version [in 1996] but it had lost the spark. F@#%ng ’90s…”

Q.  So what were the ’80s like for you? Please reflect.

Gilles: “The ’80s were the last decade of creativity, musically speaking. It’s the last part of what started in the cotton fields, that led to jazz, evolves into rock, then all the fusional music of the ’70s and then the synthesizers and all that crazy stuff. It was meant to be mostly commercial and still wonderfully out of control, the sounds were out of this world, the Fairlight, the DX7, all those machines created incredible moods. You like it or not, but you can’t deny there was a real substance to it. It’s the best evidence that money and art can work together pretty well.The ’80s were a wonderful boom of excesses, it was all too much but in the most superb way. An elegant decadence, a party that goes too far but if it doesn’t go too far it goes nowhere.”

The ’80s were a wonderful boom of excesses, it was all too much but in the most superb way. An elegant decadence, a party that goes too far but if it doesn’t go too far it goes nowhere.” Gilles Snowcat

“Then the ’90s came and the party was over. Like someone had decided to remove colours and taste from music, as if it was too dangerous. And suddenly safe music was born, and art should never be safe, so it was a very bad move. The ’90s created condom-music.”

“Most of the radio-friendly stuff of the ’90s and beyond are terribly boring. You hear the first chords of anything from Natalie Imbruglia or Oasis and it screams boredom, it pours safety from every note. Or Joan Osborne, you know ‘One Of Us’? Same chords.”

“Sure there was some uneventful music in the ’80s too, Simple Minds or U2 to name a very few, but it wasn’t the rule. In the ’90s, it was. It seems that no one was able to write songs anymore then. Some say the ’90s were a return to the guitars of the ’70s but it’s complete bullsh!#. There’s nothing interesting in the guitars of the ’90s, just dull chords played boringly by some idiots who got a recording contract for reasons that I don’t really get. Even those who seemed to have an attitude and good ingredients were just releasing inoffensive, safe sh!#. Look at Oasis, how come with such a good background and great ideas the result was so annoyingly normal? Yes, that’s the word: music became normal in the ’90s.”

Thanks, Gilles!

Original “MOATC” Lyric sheet:

gilles snowcat teenage cat lyrics

finis

Gilles Snowcat’s Resurrected Rarities A Treat For “Awaken” Fans

Here’s an October Surprise that’s a refreshing break from the annoying circus that the American political scene has become recently.  Gilles Snowcat reveals more of his gonzo past in a triplet of lo-fi MP3 releases from the early to mid-90s, including Awaken’s “Numb,”  “Blurp,” and the Gilles Snowcat solo tape “Zéro Sur Dix : Encore Raté.” Gilles calls them “something between official albums and demo tapes.” Fans of Awaken and of avant-garde pop, art rock oldies and lo-fi electronica might want to check them out.

“It was rather MacGyverish, to put all those instruments into a basic analog 4 tracks,” Gilles recalls. “I think it was the average Tascam, but I’m not even sure. Then the masters were done on DAT, if anyone remembers DAT now. There was also the mighty ATARI and some synths, including a wonderful hybrid monster by Korg, the DSS-1. Some booze to do the vocals, but since then I changed the brand of my whiskey and the results are slightly better.” (Note: these new releases are taken from cassettes, as the masters have since been misplaced).

 What sets them apart is a growing freedom, in terms of interaction with musicians,” Gilles explains. “Actually I upgraded my status: on 1993’s “Numb” I was a leader, and on 1995’s “Blurp” I had reached the level of dictator.

Vintage synths and a variety of other instruments interplay, documenting late nights that became early morning episodes, along with inebriated vocals and that unique Snowcat perspective. It doesn’t get any more authentic than this.

Apparently the tapes, considered sequentially, tell a story of the rise to power of the curious, rockin’ creature known as Gilles Snowcat. “What sets them apart is a growing freedom, in terms of interaction with musicians,” Gilles explains. “Actually I upgraded my status: on 1993’s Numb I was a leader, and on 1995’s Blurp I had reached the level of dictator.”

Missing from the set is 1993’s “Phase 2: Scrappy”, slated to be digitized soon (it came out between “Numb” and. “Zéro Sur Dix”).  Still, there’s a lot here for Snowcat fans. Unrestrained and uncensored, this triplet of pure pop-punk-psychedelic delights is available exclusively to members of Gilles Snowcat’s Secret Club (it’s free to join).  Click on the link below to find out more.

Gilles Snowcat Secret Club Exclusive: Re-released Awaken Relics 

www.gilles-snowcat.com

finis

From Brussels: Talented Trio Brings Music, Mischief

Among the various approaches to achieving creativity, dressing up for the occasion might work. The colorful clothes from British designer Tom Cridland just might be enough to inspire a creative writing session; certainly one’s stage presence will be enhanced. A tight pair of those trousers just might push your vocals into the next octave. And if you spend all of your wages on designer clothes, the resulting poverty could inspire you to write some really sad, beautiful songs. And sad songs say so much.

Others have tried intense cardio workouts, large quantities of caffeine, and other, more sordid approaches that aren’t recommended. Sometimes creativity comes along by unexpected means. Sometimes that means faking it. The much debated line between madness and creativity comes with enough social capital that artists sometimes assume crazed poses just to say they’ve been there (and of course, to drum up record sales). If blessed with resources and good luck, some performers have emerged from a meltdown unscathed, though they often return to the themes of their breakdowns in a theatrical way as a fount of ideas.

Faking aside, that serious mess that Bowie went through in the 70’s was the real deal, certainly painful enough to earn him the title of “tortured artist,” yet fruitful enough that the decade was his most glorious; a large part of the mystique of the massive “Let’s Dance” phenomenon was the vicarious enjoyment of the fact that he survived it and decided that he might as well celebrate. Syd Barrett’s persistent troubles were parlayed into a legend worth a million pounds a year, even up to the time of his death, thanks to his part in the creation of Pink Floyd and the royalties that came with it. Britney Spears’ current Las Vegas run could be titled “From Madness to Millions.” And Kanye West –who knows?

Now, About Those Fellows From Brussels
Point is, real or contrived, musical madness is good for business, a fact that is not lost on the three lads responsible for the innovative new music group Gianax. Named for the members – Gilles Snowcat, Ian Rigillo and Axel Dumont, the debut EP “Pass The Pill” features six tunes: three in their original form as previously released by each artist, and three of them creative permutations of the originals.

The project, which is labeled as avant-garde sound art and features jazz, drum and bass, electronica, and pop, has its origins in a playful interaction among the three talented comrades. It all started when Gilles asked his frequent collaborators Ian and Axel to perform one of his tunes, “Yanagigaura.” As Ian began to work on the song, he realized that its length and melodic complexity was an obstacle to commercial performance.

Origin Story
Ian explains: “By the time we reached the 4th page of ‘Yanagigaura’ during our rehearsal, I had realized that there was no way I would have been able to play this song without having to awkwardly shuffle music on stage. I also felt that an excessive amount of chord changes was getting in the way of the harmonic and melodic beauty of the piece.”

After the temporary experience of cold feet, Ian approached the piece again. “I therefore decided to try and rearrange ‘Yanagigaura’ to make it both more ‘commercial’ and easier to play live and asked Axel if he would help me out.,” Ian explains. “Having his own fully equipped studio and an incredible talent for music recording and producing, Axel was an obvious choice especially since he had shown he also strongly believed in Gilles’ talent for composition. This is basically how Gianax started.”

The object of their work was Gilles’ surreal, romantic homage to one of his favorite Japanese towns. The resulting three minute piece, called the radio edit, exaggerates the absurd poetic imagery of the original. Gilles’ initial reaction to the reworking almost sunk the project from the start. He explains: “’Yanagigaura’” was heavily edited to fit the radio format, which pissed the hell out of me. I didn’t want to be involved in such a butcher work, but the few parts they kept were so wonderfully played and arranged that it wasn’t a clear ‘no’ from me. It eventually became a ‘yes’ and I was in.

As the work continued, a creative tension developed which the group found inspiring. “It was a process of everyone trying to infuriate everyone else, which worked quite well, I have to admit,” Gilles says. To which Axel adds: “We don’t know if we hate each other as much as Pink Floyd’s members do, but we sure like to work together.”

As the work continued, a creative tension developed which the group found inspiring. “It was a process of everyone trying to infuriate everyone else, which worked quite well, I have to admit,” Gilles says. To which Axel adds: “We don’t know if we hate each other as much as Pink Floyd’s members do, but we sure like to work together.”

Judging by the input I got from these guys, they have all the creative chemistry of the Floyd with a bit of Monty Python and possibly the Three Stooges (it is yet to be determined if they will clobber each other with foam rubber implements).

As often is the case when combustible talent comes together in close quarters, the results were incendiary, at least in the short term. Ian explains: “Initially, Gilles was furious at our attempt to chop his 10 minute song in a 3 minute radio edit with absolute disregard of the lyrics, and went so far as to call me a ‘Scottish butcher’ when we first presented him with the new arrangement.” Slowly, however, his artistic ego started kicking in and as we progressed with the recording and discovered all three of us were having a good time together, so we decided to extend the experiment and rearrange one of Axel’s and one of my songs too.” Axel explains the overall concept: “It was more than just a remix, (it was) “a rework, a real creative flow.” he says. This approach led to all new parts being recorded for each tune.

Rules and Results
Ian continues: “To be fair to Gilles, we decided the original composer was to have no power of veto on the arrangement of his song, although he would obviously participate in the recording and he would be allowed to make suggestions.” The extensive performing experience of the three members results in some very satisfying tunes. Ian is an extraordinary guitarist who has dabbled in various forms of jazz in projects including with the group Individual Choice. His tune “Jungle Jazzin’” is fine example of jazz fusion with a jungle music vibe, which, though wild in nature, is relatively subdued compared to the manic departure of the new version by Axel and Gilles, which features weirdly attractive wordless vocalizations by Susant Bista, a Nepalese singer who had recently collaborated with the trio on other projects.

Axel is an expert bassist; his composition on the disc is “Jungle House,” and in its original form it’s a lush, jazzy piece propelled by lilting bass that supports stellar solos on Fender Rhodes, muted trumpet and sultry sax. It’s electro nu jazz at its finest. The permutation by Ian and Gilles is an esoteric adventure into ambient nu jazz with Ian’s fusion-flavored guitar at the center, and drenched with Gilles’ thematic electronic atmospheres and melodies. Sweet stuff indeed.

As for the future, the three would like to take the show on the road. “We’d like to bring the project on stage and get as crazy as we can,” says Axel. Gilles has even more elaborate plans: “Next step is to go on stage under a shape that I still don’t know; we might invite an Amazon tribe to sing, or have some ETs playing Morse code, or release lions from the zoo and bring them on stage with us, and they will eat some members of the audience, which might annoy the guitarist – and doesn’t everyone know that when a guitarist is pissed, the music’s better?”

Finis

Find out more:
Gianax: Pass The Pill. http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/gianax

Axel Dumont
Selected Discography:
Currents by Mister Dumont
Kitchen Diaries by Mister Dumont
http://www.misterdumont.com
Ian Rigillo
Selected Discography:
Make Your Choice by Individual Choice
Music Radiates by Jazz House FX
https://www.reverbnation.com/ianrigillo
Gilles Snowcat
Selected Discography:
Early tapes (various tapes, 1988 – 1992)
Phase 2: Scrappy by Awaken (tape LP, 1993)
Tales Of Acid Ice Cream by Awaken (LP, 1996)
Party In Lyceum’s Toilets by Awaken (2LP, 2001)
Wasabi Kiss by Awaken (single, 2003)
As A Start: Cà Phê & Pizza by Awaken (single, 2006)
Beppu Nights by Awaken (EP, 2006)
This Mouth… by Gilles Snowcat (EP, 2008)
Mokomoko Collection by Gilles Snowcat (LP, 2012)
Nama Time! by Gilles Snowcat (live LP, 2015)
www.gilles-snowcat.com

Gilles Snowcat, Raw and Unfiltered

Here’s something new: A man, his feline persona, exotic liqueurs, and a few musical instruments. This intoxicating combination takes shape as Gilles Snowcat’s new live-in-studio album, “Nama Time!” I asked him about the title, with its Japanese inflection:

“The word ‘nama’ has a range of nuances and meanings,” he says, “more less politically correct, though it all goes around the idea of ‘raw,’ ‘unfiltered,’ which perfectly reflects the way the live part was recorded. However, ‘nama’ is also a fine way to do pleasant things in the bedroom or in the back seat of the car, and when you know that ‘Nama Time!” is made to be listened to in a cozy bedroom, I leave things to your imagination…”

Throughout the course of the 16 track disc, Gilles gets a chance to show off his wide ranging songwriting and arranging skills –encompassing pop, progressive, classical, and jazz– along with his keyboard chops and earthy baritone. On most tracks, piano accompaniment is masterfully provided by Awaken veteran Nicolas Leroy, whose keyboard pyrotechnics enliven the disc, along with brilliant guitar work by other Snowcat colleagues along the way.

The live-in-studio approach presents a mood of quiet intensity that showcases the tunes in an exciting, theatrical way.

The live in studio approach presents a mood of quiet intensity that showcases the tunes in an exciting, theatrical way.

The songs, spanning a period of about 10 years and written at various places around the globe (no doubt on the fly in overnight hotel rooms, cocktail lounges, and European coffee houses) feature an array of topics, including romance, travel (trains feature prominently), food, hotels, and various suggestive situations. This brother of Baudelaire, this son of Serge Gainsbourg, lives life to the fullest and has the stories to prove it, packing a wealth of worldly experience into a very enjoyable collection.

Intoxicating, Magic Stuff

“The stuff on ‘Nama Time!,’” Gilles explains, “all comes from a time when the boundary between Awaken (his previous band) and Snowcat-solo was becoming so blurred that it doesn’t matter under what label they had been originally released. Awaken or Snowcat — is there a real difference anyway now?” The songs were written “mostly (in) Japan, Vietnam, and Belgium,” Gilles says. “I’d say the common denominator between all the songs are some places in Kyûshû, Japan, and the fumes in the street, that addictive smoke from the hot springs, they must pour something inside, it’s powerful and inspiring. They also have strange citrus fruits and make wonderful liquors from them – once you taste them you’re hooked. All those songs are intoxicated by that magic stuff, and it makes the music so special.”

In addition to working live in studio on the majority of the tracks, Gilles arranged the record to feature evocative instrumentals interspersed between the vocal songs. The contrast creates a theatrical mood, as the wordless tunes create a dramatic backdrop that sets the stage for Gilles’ playful vocals, Leroy’s piano pyrotechnics, and the guest guitarists.

Gilles explains: “Well, except for the opener ‘Continental Breakfast,’ ‘Nama Time!’ is purely a live album, raw as it can be. It features more or less what I play on stage since the release of ‘Mokomoko Collection.’ The live songs of ‘Nama Time!’ have been recorded like some radio sessions, or Peel Sessions, totally live but in a studio. The audience is 100% the one who listens to the album in their bedroom. It’s a bedroom concert, to summarize.”

And what a concert it is. As Snowcat fans know, Gilles’ lyrics often take the form of surrealist poetry, in the case of  “Nama Time!” with artfully concealed messages of romantic hope wrapped in a stylish melodic package. From “Beppu Nights”:

And finally when winter’s gone
His plane is landing at your door
A pearl wrapped in a pink box
Treasure love like this precious stone
Remember, there’s a morning coming after Beppu Nights
He could be me
As sure as tall cats come from the year of the dog
A Diverse Cast
In putting the project together, Gilles recruited a handful of musicians who have joined him on stage in the past, including guest vocalists Antonella Corrias (“not only a great singer but she brought brilliant ideas for the arrangements”, says Gilles); and Marie de Condé (“a master in singing complicated love stories and seductive songs”).  Each of these contribute vocals on a handful of songs, with Corrias on the spirited art-rock romp “Continental Breakfast” and the duet “Room 211”,”  and de Condé on the lovely duet “The Train is Leaving Kokura.” The band on the disc’s opener “Continental Breakfast” is  made up of performers from all over Europe, while the remainder of the album’s vocal tunes feature an individual performer paired with Gilles’ vocals.

Musicians featured include: Folk singer-songwriter Pat Lennon (“the audience is always mesmerized when she sings” ); drummer Sebastian Bournier (“I gave him a hard time playing on a single note of the gong on the studio track,”); Ian Rigillo on guitar (“a highly wild, unpredictable, yet fine guitarist,” ); bass by Axel Dumont (“a groovy French musician living in Belgium – he’s full of music science and tricks”); Benjamin Steegens on guitar (“his guitar playing is pure; you know you can feel the wood of the guitar when he plays”); and Vassily Rudenko (“he’s a bit mad like a true guitarist should be; he turns a Stratocaster into a firework”). This diverse cast of characters represents Italy (Corrias), Africa and Belgium (de Condé ), Scotland (Lennon), France (Bournier and Dumont), Scotland and Italy (Rigillo), Belgium (Steegens), and the Ukraine (Rudenko).

But there’s more: Herman Martin, (sound technician on the live tracks and some parts of the opening studio track) hails from England. “He gave some British spirit to the sessions and his incredible sense of humor made it easier for everyone,” Gilles explains. “He had such a strong input in the mix that he should be credited as co-producer.” Japan is represented by Itsuo Hyûga from the It’s Oh! MUSIC Label, as producer in charge of mastering and promotion. “He also mixed ‘Continental Breakfast,’” Gilles explains, “because my own mix was too rough; he just made everything sound better and more appropriate for Japanese taste and a relaxing moment.”

With its jazz sensibilities, the disc presents a view of the romantic side of this feline rocker, resulting in a product that’s highly accessible, both to faithful fans and new converts. From “The Train Is Leaving Kokura”:

The train is stopping everywhere
And the night is falling fast
We’re living our life in a funny manga
The paper is wet but can never melt
I’m wearing your baby ring
As a sign of love
The train is leaving Kokura
And I know what I’m gonna do
‘Cause I know my life is you

 

In addition to the singer-songwriter feel of “Nama Time!,” several tracks incorporate experimental keyboard sounds and funky electronic elements, presenting the most commercial Snowcat album so far. It’s a gentler, unexpected departure from a man who has made a career living at the limits, and producing albums as testaments to that lifestyle. As a whole, the subtle intensity of the vocal tracks compliments the experimental and jazzy tracks quite well, resulting in an energetic, inspired collection of tunes, and a fitting mid-career accomplishment in the Snowcat oeuvre.

For more information, visit www.gilles-snowcat.com

“Nama Time!” is available from Amazon.com, iTunes, Google Music, Spotify, and directly from It’s Oh! MUSIC.

 

Send In the Christmas Cat!

By 1984, electronic music had bullied rock and roll into a rather cold place, as David Bowie explained in an interview in that year. The iconic chameleon was right, of course; with some notable exceptions (Thomas Dolby, Yello, The B52s), extensive use of synthesizers and the growing role of digital devices in popular and rock music resulted in nearly a decade dominated by robotic drumbeats, overuse of digital effects, and a general lack of inspiration and humor. Depeche Mode weren’t tagged with the name Depressed Mood for nothing.

Thirty years later, things don’t look much better. The spawn of 80s electronic music that started with techno pop  is represented by dozens of electronica genres and sub genres, including ‘dance’ music that’s not danceable at all, many of these genres sounding like they were created using similar equipment and software. And in addition to the generic approach to music creation, the same lack of humor is a trademark of these genres (Psy’s Gangnam Style excepted). Send in the clowns.

Enter Gilles Snowcat. With his affection for plush felines and Hello Kitty, Snowcat puts a buffoonish spin on the seriousness of rock’s self-important swagger. If you put Frank Sinatra, Calvin and Hobbes, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Serge Gainsbourg into a transmogrifying machine, you’d get Gilles Snowcat. He sings about the places he loves (Japan, Vietnam, Belgium, France), about the perils of fame, about intoxicating beverages, and about the risks and rewards of romance,  all with a self effacing sense of humor. (His use of vintage analog instruments is an added attraction.)

In a recent photo, Snowcat looks the part of debonair bachelor, sitting with a drink in one hand, while his left arm drapes across the shoulders of an over-sized Hello Kitty plush animal. Yet despite his clowning, Snowcat can get very serious when discussing beauty and inspiration. “Beauty is not innocent at all,” he says. “It is quicksand with a sweet taste.” And despite his desire to give full reign to his inner Sylvester, Pink Panther, Fritz the Cat or Tony the Tiger, Gilles Snowcat has a serious approach to creating music and lyrics beneath the cartoon veneer, acknowledging the painful or lustful impulses that often accompany musical creation.

“This is probably a necessary part in art,” he says. “Art is not practical and therefore can be fed by any kind of intentions and still remain art. That’s the biggest difference between, let’s say an architect and an artist. An architect, however artist he is to design his buildings, has to respect rules of physics, if not his houses would collapse and therefore would not be houses anymore. A human being is somehow a complicated thing, and is repressed to show the whole self, for obvious reasons. If we didn’t censor ourselves in everyday life, we’d be in a perpetual chaos.”

Snowcat waxes philosophical: “Art not only allows the use of our worst feelings, but it works better with them. You mention rock’n’roll, as if rock’n’roll was more evil than other forms of art. I don’t think so. Rock’n’roll seems more on the dark side cause it shows it as a part of its image. ” For example, as Gilles goes on to explain,  a key difference between the rebelliousness of rockers and the seeming innocence of singers of pop standards is tied up in how they present themselves to their audience; what goes on underneath is the same. “There’s not much difference,” he says,  “between, let’s say, an extreme rocker who sings ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ about junkies, prostitutes and transvestites, a blue-eyed crooner who whispers ‘Strangers In The Night’ about a love story that begins, or a painter who depicts the pure beauty of an exotic landscape: they’re all driven by a mix of several feelings and intentions, including…devilish ones. Lou Reed will use the bad side to strengthen his image, while Sinatra will hide it as much as he can.”

All the world’s a stage. New York rockers and blue eyed crooners notwithstanding,  Gilles Snowcat positions himself as a player in musical theater, in the roles of cat and jester. Since his days as a member of Awaken in the ’80s, Gilles has been a musical experimenter, with an inclination away from self-censorship. It’s this freedom that makes his art and persona so appealing. Check out his newly-released 2014 Christmas single,  “Let The Cat Out,” coming soon to  www.gilles-snowcat.com . Update: Listen to it here: Let The Cat Out.