Today, I am with Laurent Leemans for another Q&A Session. He is the founder, singer, guitarist, and composer with the one man band, The Imaginary Suitcase from Belgium.
Lady Obscure: Hello Laurent. I actually said it is a one man band already but can you tell me who is involved in the band? Is it only you? How did the journey started; what were you doing before…
Laurent Leemans: Well, the “band” consists of one guy: Laurent Leemans, born on the day T Rex’s “hot love” became N.1 in the UK charts… I’ve been doing music since 1990, first in a (ludicrous) punk band named Moïse et les Manches de Pioches (we were unable to cover a Ramones track, but we had great fun!), before joining La Vierge du Chancelier Rolin in 1992. LVDCR was a very promising arty-post-punk sextet inspired by stuff like And Also The Trees, The Legendary Pink Dots, Michael Nyman or Penguin Cafe Orchestra. That band had great potential, but we handled almost everything extra-musical the wrong way. Egotrips finally made us call it a day in 1999. But in the meantime, I had been invited by two friends to join their Celtic band Ceilí Moss in 1995.
17 years, 4 albums and 400 gigs later, Ceilí Moss is still alive and kicking and I’m having a great time playing the “Drunken Danny Rover of the County Down in the Jar” with the lads, but for about two years, I was feeling a deep longing for something more personal, something closer to the music I actually listen to.
The name The Imaginary Suitcase was found after I made a first demo titled “Laurent Leemans & the imaginary friends ensemble” (just an ironic way to highlight the fact I made it entirely alone) in 2010. This demo was crappy, clumsy and wobbly, but I wanted to stick to the “imaginary something” concept, and as The Imaginary Rhomboedron didn’t quite reflect what I wanted… I recorded a second demo “Here’s to those we could not save” (again, not a philosophical statement on the tragedy of life, just a wink to the songs I didn’t select to be on the record) in january 2012 and began to send it to bloggers, radios and venues where I had played ith Ceilí Moss.
Positive reviews and gig invitations encouraged me to take it further, so I will abide to the popular demand 😉
LO: What does Rock mean to you? Did you choose it or did it choose you, as it were?
LAURENT: I didn’t choose a genre. I started writing and playing songs and that’s just how they came out… Now, it’s obvious I’m a kid of the 80s, and the influence of stuff like Echo & the Bunnymen, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Nick Cave or Brendan Perry is not hard to discern. But since all that stuff is fashionable again, (it always puzzled me, a few years ago, nothing on the planet was more tacky than “new wave”, today it’s all the rage…) maybe it’s a good thing.
LO: How did the initial musical and thematic elements evolve?
LAURENT: Most of the songs started with a very basic riff or bassline or with a few chords. The first versions of them are quite primal, not to say primitive… I quickly realised it was not suitable for airplay (this is why I consider my first demo a failed attempt, though an instructive one) so I worked on arrangements and ornaments, because unless you’re Dylan or Paul Roland, total bareness on more than one or two songs is as good as suicidal…
LO: Are you happy with your demo? I mean, do you think you nailed it? Are there bits you’d wish to go back and improve?
LAURENT: I’m very proud of my second demo “Here’s to those we could not save”, considering it has been written, recorded and produced during the few hours I managed to steal from the dayjob, the wife and kids, Ceilí Moss and the rest… The melodies are finely crafted, and the arrangements are lightfooted but they work just fine.
Now it’s obvious all songs have little flaws, rythmic inaccuracies, some language mistakes, and that if I could have a week or two to work on the songs they would sound much better. It’s very frustrating because I’d love to re-record them all (including some that were not on the demos) but with the little spare time I have, it would mean the work on the new songs would be delayed and I can’t at this point find a solution.
LO: How has the overall reception been to your demo?
LAURENT: At first, I recorded a few songs on my Tascam, merely for myself. I coerced some friends, fellow musicians and family into listening to them and since their reactions were all enthusiastic, I started thinking there was a future for my stuff beyond the garden shedo. Since I didn’t expect much, I was overwhelmed by the positive reactions I’ve had from bloggers, radio programmers, other musicians and the people at my first gigs! I’ve had no bad reviews so far, and considering I don’t put that much effort in it, the amount of gigs I manage to book myself is very satisfactory. I wonder how it would run if I really put the time and energy in it.
LO: Are you going to get more involved in performing live? I mean what is next? An album maybe? Touring? Any international tours on the horizon?
LAURENT: The Imaginary Suitcase is already playing live, about a gig a month, but I intend to make it a much heavier pace, though touring for a month or something all across the continent is not (yet) on my to-do-list. As for the international, I’ll be doing my first gig abroad on january 25, in Lille (France).
I’m also working on new songs and I hope I can release something (a full album or a big EP, we’ll see…) sometime in the first half of 2013.
LO: What do you see for your future?
LAURENT: Life has showed me you shouldn’t plan your future too carefully, first because it will never go as planned anyway, and second because if you lock yourself in a “cunning plan”, you become blind to other opportunities that might have been good for you and for your work. So I’ll say I’m going to play as much as I can, record as much as I can and make some efforts to get my music into people’s ears.
One thing I’d love to do someday is work with a female singer to do something in the manner of Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan.
LO: So, the future’s looking bright – especially since you are not planning and enjoying the ride?
LAURENT: At this point, it’s looking fine. Like I said, things are already better than I hoped for, and I don’t want to corset myself in a music scheme or a career plan, but I feel determined to grab the opportunities that pass by, and create the ones that avoid me. And even if I fail and you never hear of The Imaginary Suitcase anymore, it’s been nice and I’m proud of the songs. I will make music as long as my body is able to, even if my own daughters think it’s crap.
LO: Could you tell me about the lyrics, themes and concepts you focus on? How do the ideas come about, and how do they influence the writing process?
LAURENT: I almost always start with the music. I play the chords and sing word salad on and on and at some point, a few sentences emerge from the chaos. From then on the writing is a bit like unravelling a hank. The themes I deal with (heartbreak, loss, religion, the way society shits on your head but wants you to believe it is good for your hair…) and the words I use are often a bit harsh (not crude, shouting “shit fuck bitch” and pose as a rebel is tacky), but music is where I release my “brutal” self.
I firmly believe that if we all could have means to express the violence and excess that is in everyone of us in a socially inocuous way, the world wold be a much safer place. I believe the illusion that the world can be fully safe, gentle, healthy, peaceful, rosy and polite is in fact a terrible and dangerous mistake, because forcibly putting a lid upon everything that is not politically correct is just turning people into overpressurised cookers.. No, we humans are not Care Bears, so the more we are artificially pushed into such unnatural behaviour the more likely it is that one day anger will come back a thousand times stronger than before. But I digress…
LO: Which is more exciting? Being on the road or studio?
LAURENT: I would say the live is more intense, it gives a kick like little else can. There’s the thrill of discovering new places and new audiences, and the tickle from stagefright, the fear of screwing up… But the blissful satisfaction I feel when I listen to a finished demo is something worth selling your soul for as well. Live is orgasmic, while the writing, composing and recording process is more of a slowly building pleasure.
LO: So, you are writing everything? The songs, the lyrics? Any outside help?
LAURENT: Well, of course, I am. With the occasional help of Robert Burns, Dylan Thomas, Oscar Wilde, François Villon and Charles Baudelaire.
LO: So what bands or musicians do you draw your inspiration from?
LAURENT: As singers go, I have a sort of holy trinity of Morrissey, Patti Smith and Jim Morrison. They are perfect in every way: technically irreproachable, amazing writers, incredible vocal ease, emotionally powerful, Apollinian and Dyonisiac at the same time, stylish, assertive but not full of themselves… Each time I went to see the two who are alive, I felt humbled (not humiliated) but filled with gallons of a hard to define quiet energy.
I could name a hundred singers I admire, from Suzanne Vega to Till Lindemann (Rammstein), but let’s say all have in common a form of assertiveness that is not necessarily measured in screams.
For the music, I’m a bit old school: a song needs a melody. If you can’t whistle it, it’s no good. There’s a pop side to my songwriting, but I usually feel a need to make it filthy in a Velvet/Jesus & Mary Chain/Rowland S. Howard way.
LO: What’s more important to you? Catering to the audience or music for its own sake?
LAURENT: There has to be a balance between the two. Unless you’re a commercial act (no insult, the world needs entertainers too), you should do what you’re comfortable with. I listen a lot to what fans, the press, fellow musicians, anyone has to say about my music and I often find something interesting in it. But in the end, I and no one else decide how my music will sound. But if you become autistically isolated in your art cocoon, you run the risk that no one will follow you inside, which is unpleasant, to say the least. Let’s face it, we musicians want to be heard. Not necessarily by millions, not necessarily at all costs, but Franz Kafka who asked his friend Max Brod to destroy all his work after he died is the exception that confirms the rule.
LO: When you look back your music career, what do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
LAURENT: The fact I have been making music for 22 years without ever begging no one for a contract, a favour, a subsidy, a grant, without ever bowing to any assholes and without compromising with no one except my bandmates is something I’m quite proud of. I may not have reached very far, but nothing else than the quality of my music took me there.
LO: Thank you Laurent! I sincerely hope that more people listen to what you do and in turn you produce more and more music!