Last year, ‘Ploegsteert’ of Belgian band Het Zesde Metaal was voted ‘Best Belgian song’ by the audience of Radio 1. Next to this, they also won the MIA award for best album. And a couple of months ago, they released their fourth album: Calais. So, we can definitely state things are absolutely going well for Het Zesde Metaal! Let’s have a word with Robin, shall we?
First of all, how did you get into the music business?
Well, at the fairly young age of nine I started playing in bands. While I was doing that, I also really got into hip hop music, and eventually started recording that hip hop music, next to the recordings of the songs of my bands. I kept on doing that for about… 20-25 years – and it got me where I am today.
So, you can say your passion for music started at the age of nine. That’s pretty young! Was there someone who influenced you?
Yeah, definitely Slash from Guns ‘n Roses. But even before that… You know, as far as I can remember, I have always been listening to music. So, for me, it felt quite right and normal, maybe even inevitable, to start doing it myself.
You started out by playing the guitar, but along the road you switched to bass. How did that change take place?
Well, I started out playing on this very cheap acoustic guitar that I got from my parents – right after playing the drums on buckets, of course (laughs)! But when I was 13 years old, I got the opportunity to join a band that needed a bass player… I knew what to do! So that’s the story of how I got into bass.
What are you working on today?
I’m working on some new projects, next to the ongoing project of making music for myself. This of course, is a never-ending journey – and one I’d like to call ‘things for the waste basket’ (laughs), because most of the time I end up throwing everything out. But hey… still a project, though!
Next to this, I’m starting preproduction with some bands this year – and I’m working on some new songs with different artists.
You’re also a producer. How do you choose which bands you want to work with?
What’s most important for me? Simple: I need to believe the band and believe in whatever they’re doing. If they’re doing loud and hard music, I need to believe they’re angry. If they’re doing sad songs, I need to believe they’re sad. I need to believe everything they’re selling: that’s the most important condition for me, if you want me to accept and produce your project.
If you could choose, though… Which genre would you pick?
Actually, my preferences considering genre are constantly changing. I’m doing so many different genres, and whilst working on a project, I’m learning to love each and every one of them just the same. I just finished working on a heavy album, so now I’m not immediately looking to do the same again, you know? But for now, … I’d love to do a(nother) hip hop album!
Is there something very specific about your work that makes it recognisable as ‘yours’?
Generally, I’d go with… ‘dark’ and probably… ‘not ready for the radio’ (laughs). I do think I have a certain style, but I think with getting older and more experienced, I’m less and less pushing this style, and more adopting a ‘let it go’ kind of attitude, which makes it all a bit subtler. For example, 10 or 15 years ago, I’d probably make the project all about me… Whilst today, I’m all for letting the band shine, you know?
Besides being a musician and a producer, you also write lyrics. Is this something that comes naturally to you?
Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s easy, but overall, yes, it does come naturally to me. For me, when I read, hear or write a sentence, I immediately ‘know’ when it’s right – or wrong. Do you know the feeling when you’re typing something out, and you know you made a spelling mistake, without even having to read it over? It’s exactly like this.
When you’re in that ‘moment’, the words come easily without having to search for them… But of course, this stage stops, eventually. And after this ‘easy’ part, the real craft of writing kicks in: you have to push and pull between those written down words, until everything, every word and every letter, works perfectly.
Are you following the new music trends?
Yes, absolutely… But I do usually trail behind for like three or four years, because I never listen to the radio. So, by the time music gets to me, that band is probably already working on their follow-up album.
Do you only follow the music you like – or are you open to other music genres as well?
It’s basically like this: almost all of my friends listen to a certain style of music. So of course, when they send you something, or you see something passing by on Facebook, it’ll always be in the same genre.
But, on the other hand, when I’m in a bar, I’m a perfervid user of Shazam: each song I like, I ‘Shazam’ so I can listen to it later. So, when I’m out, I’m definitely listening to the genres I wouldn’t listen to in my day-to-day life.
With a lot of pop artists, you hear a lot it’s mostly the producer that’s responsible for the record, not the artist. How do you feel about that – and what kind of producer you’re aspiring to be?
Well, I want to be the kind of producer that finds the strong suit of the band and makes them wear it with style. That’s it. (smiles)
Considering the music of today, did you pick up any trends to introduce them to your own band?
I don’t know if I actually introduced those trends… I’d rather say they just sorta got there? After all, all-round music is getting more and more electronical in a nice and tasteful way through the use of synthesizers.
But I think the most important trend of these last years, would be the introduction of things like Ableton. You see bands using Ableton in a great way, where they use it to bring an extra dimension to their music. But on the other hand, I recently saw a band that was using the ‘dark’ side of Ableton. Meaning; there are so many great basslines in their music, but there wasn’t a single bass player on the stage with them. So that’s kinda sad… But I’m thinking this will figure itself out in the long run!
Any advice for any musician who’s just started his or her music career?
Find yourself the kind of music you want to make – and stay true to it. Because the worst thing that can happen, is that you start working towards radio, money and success, whilst forgetting about what truly matters: the music itself. And even if you’re never making one single penny out of it, keep on working on your music. Because let’s face it… If it’s big money and success you’re aiming for… Become a politician, rather than a musician!
Thank you, Robin!