Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Interview with Bjorn Dossche from White Jazz (ex-Rise And Fall)

A few months ago read online that the guys from Rise And Fall had a few new projects that would be coming to fruition soon. Feeling stoked, I eagerly waited to see what would surface next, and shortly thereafter saw that one of the new projects was called White Jazz.  

"White Jazz?" I thought to myself, "Not what I would have expected, this should be pretty interesting". Interesting indeed, as the bands first song "Can't Relate" is a raucous affair; bursting with infectious energy that leans more on early 80's punk than the crusty metallic hardcore channelled by R & F.

I certainly wanted to know more, so I reached out to vocalist Bjorn Dossche to discuss both the death of Rise and Fall and the birth of White Jazz. While I usually try to talk to people I've met either from booking their band or just from being old friends, Bjorn was basically a total stranger. I was really thankful to find that he was more than happy to talk about both projects, as well as some of his background in punk and hardcore. 

Read on, and keep your ears peeled for White Jazz's debut 7" "Modern Living", as well as a split 7" with Fucking Invincible, both of which are coming out later this year on Atomic Action.

I always like to start by hearing about people's backgrounds, so talk a little bit about your childhood and your family. To what extent were music, art, and creativity emphasized as you were growing up as a kid?

I grew up as the oldest of 4 kids. My parents moved out to the suburbs when I was 5. They weren't music freaks or vinyl nerds, but there was usually music playing at home. Mostly 60's/70's stuff. My dad is a huge Beatles fan. It wasn't until a few years ago that I found out he used to drum in a Beatles cover band as a teenager.

As far as making music and being creative goes, I kinda rolled into it but it was never emphasized. My parents were cool enough to let me do what I wanted though (for the most part).

When you first started getting into punk and hardcore (as well as later when you started doing bands), were your dad and the rest of your family supportive or were they sort of off put by the aggression, the noise; the nature of the subculture?

It's not like they were fans of most of the music I was listening to, which is only normal. I got into metal at a young age, so I was blasting Slayer & Metallica at age 11 already and except for asking me to turn that shit down on a regular basis, they never really interfered much. So they weren't really worried when I started shaving my head and listening to hardcore and going to shows. I think they were happy enough to see that I never got into drinking or doing drugs as a young teenager, and that I was still really into sports as well. They know the hardcore/punk thing is still part of who I am, and they respect that. That's definitely good enough for me.

I've read elsewhere that the whole H8000 scene was a huge part of your early years coming into hardcore....for someone who has only a very vague knowledge of who some of those bands were, how would you describe what that scene was like in general and the impact that it had on you specifically?  

The H8000 scene was a huge deal around here in the mid to late 90's. It referred to a relatively small area in the west of Belgium (postal code 8000) that spawned a huge amount of bands, shows and zines back then, lead by the holy trinity of Congress, Liar & Blindfold (as far as bands go) and labels like Good Life and Sober Mind. Most bands played a style of hardcore heavily influenced by the Cleveland scene (Integrity, Ringworm) and thrash/death metal. It was in that era and setting that I went to my first shows, so the impact was huge. The energy and urgency was unbelievable. Most of all though what impressed me was the fact that this was all happening so close to where I lived and revolved around people just like me.

At what point did you go from simply attending shows to feeling comfortable enough in your own skin to start actually playing in bands? How did those first projects come together?

I was doing a fanzine in the mid 90's and got the weird idea that I'd like to sing in a band, without giving the whole thing much thought. I got to know Vince around '98 I think and out of the blue he called me up one day saying he had a band together and they wanted me to sing. I think he actually hummed me a bunch of riffs he'd written over the phone. That turned into our first band, which sounded somewhat like Unbroken if they hadn't known how to play and would've been into falling on the floor. Very 90's. We played a bunch of shows but broke up fairly soon. Every band I've been in since then has been with Vince actually. One thing kind of lead to another.

The funny thing is that I have never felt very comfortable singing or fronting bands. I used to vomit before every show. It's a love/hate type of thing.

Oh damn, that sounds kind of awful. I'm guessing that sense of anxiety has sort of naturally diminished over the years given the hundreds of shows you have played, but are there any routines or mental exercises you've developed over the years to cope with that discomfort? Even now, do you still have to psych yourself up to some degree when you play a show or is it more of a non-issue?

I didn't really want that to sound like a sob story. It is what it is. During the last few years that Rise And Fall played shows it definitely got better. The key is to stay busy and not think of the show or the crowd too much. White Jazz has only played once so far, but I gotta say that I was a little nervous too.

So I wanted to ask a few Rise And Fall questions, specifically about the latter stages of the band. "Faith" is by far my favorite R & F record, mostly because you guys really expanded your sound quite a bit. Whereas the first few releases were full-throttle ragers, "Faith" pulled back the tempo and added more textures. I'm curious if you could talk a little bit about the creative process for that record and whether it was a conscious decision to shift gears sonically or if it came about more sporadically.

It was both actually. When we were writing "Faith" we definitely had an album structure in mind, meaning that we were conscious of the fact that we needed a balance between slower and faster songs, shorter and longer songs, etc. Plus we knew exactly how we wanted to open the album, though it just so happened that the opening song was one of the last songs we wrote. These are all things you control as a band and I think we handled it well.

What was coming out musically at the time though was something we had less control over, so we went with whatever sounded awesome to us. I am stoked to hear that "Faith" is your favorite, 'cause it is mine as well. To me that album has the perfect accumulation of all the different aspects of Rise And Fall - the full throttle ragers, the slower pounders and our love for eerie, more experimental sounds.

Pretty shortly after that record came out, there was an announcement that the band was pretty much done, followed last year by a return to action which seemed to fizzle as quickly as it came. Can you give us any insight into what brought about the initial slowdown and then ultimate demise of R & F?

The band had pretty much run its course. After 10 years and 4 albums and what not, it just seemed right to slow down. We didn't want to break up all dramatically. You never know, right? I am very proud of what we accomplished throughout the years but would have hated to be the band that lost all relevance without realizing.

We briefly started practicing again, but I think that was a result of missing creating music together. It was hard to get everyone on the same page as to where we wanted Rise And Fall to go. Turned out the band really did not need to go anywhere else. We left it at that.

As someone who was really impressed by "Faith" I was particularly excited to hear the next step after that record. I know last year there was a statement made about new material being written...are there any demo versions of any of that stuff laying around and if so, is there any chance that any of it may surface? What else, if anything, can you tell us about that material?

Well, what happened there is basically summed up in my previous answer. There were a few songs - but nothing we were all excited about. No recordings either. The one cool thing that came of us briefly jamming together again was the cover of Kabul Golf Club's "Demon Days" that we recorded. It is on the Kabul Golf Club LP that came out late last year as a tribute/memorial to our friend Florent.

Alright, so White Jazz. You certainly didn't waste too much time putting something new together. Based on the first song you have posted, I'm reminded of bands like Cloak/Dagger, hell even Minor Threat. Talk a little bit about the impetus to start up a new project and the creative direction of the band.

White Jazz basically started the moment Vince and I decided we wanted to do another band together. We felt like doing something pretty far removed from what we did with Rise And Fall, in both sound and aesthetic. No use doing a band without a good drummer, and since those are hard to come by we just called the best drummer we knew, Wim, and of course he was down. He came up with the idea to ask Chuck to join us. His bluesy, raw and instinctive way of playing guitar really defined our sound. We wanted to keep our songs short and sweet, aiming for an early 80's type of energy coupled with modern day grit. I love that you hear Minor Threat in "Can't Relate", that's what I thought when I first heard the riffs as well.

You guys are all obviously a bit older now....are we going to see monstrous touring schedules ala Rise And  Fall or are those ambitions taking a bit more of a back seat due to other life responsibilities?

No monstrous tours. We might not even tour at all. A few shows here and there if people want us to play and if the show seems fun.

You currently have the "Modern Living" 7" as well as a split with Fucking Invincible lined up via Atomic Action. How did you hook up with AA and the dudes in F/I?

Actually we hooked up with Atomic Action through my good friend Jim (Fucking Invincible, Sweet Jesus, Soul Control), whom I first met many moons ago when I was out on a European tour with Blacklisted, Soul Control and Shipwreck. I had sent him some White Jazz demo recordings, he was into it and when we discussed things further he suggested getting in touch with Brian (AA). I did and things have just worked themselves out since.

Aside from the musical shift with White Jazz, there seems to be a pretty distinct lyrical shift as well. Whereas R & F's lyrics were more vague and obtuse. with White Jazz things are much more blunt, to the point, and catchy. As a writer, did it take a minute to adjust your lyrical style to match the music, or has it felt like a fairly natural shift?

You're right. I never really intended Rise And Fall's lyrics to be vague, but they were often very personal and definitely darker. I was definitely in a different state of mind back then and I think it is also true that I adapted myself lyrically to the sound and feel of the band. I can honestly say that I invested a lot of time and energy in those lyrics, 'cause I wanted them to fully express the way I felt and the way I experienced the world, while at the same time I tried to steer away from self pity or from giving away too much. A hard balance to strike. As far White Jazz now, it is kind of liberating to be more blunt and to the point - I felt like the style of music and the very direct and instinctive way we write music called for a different approach. It is refreshing to think less about what I am jotting down and screaming. I still want them to be well written (and sometimes get a point across) but at the same time, I know most people don't give a shit anyway.

At this point you've spent two decades within the punk and hardcore community, and like a lot of people, I imagine it has become one of the defining elements of your life and identity. I'm curious what keeps drawing you back after all these years, what continues to light the fire in your belly so to speak?

I went to my first hardcore/punk show in November of 1995 (a Congress show by the way), so yeah that's close to 20 years ago. It definitely shaped who I have become and the way I see the world. It also got me an absurd amount of band shirts and a ton of vinyl. Like most people in their mid 30's with a family and a full time job I don't go to see 3 shows every weekend anymore, but I definitely keep up with what goes on. What still excites me is the amount of creativity and unbridled energy in this scene. They way hardcore/punk continues to reinvent itself, always making sure a bunch of bands pop up every year that strike the right chord with me. Seeing friends and people I've known forever push the envelope and create inspiring music. That would sum things up nicely I think.

1 comment:

  1. Nice interview! I've just posted mine at http://www.idioteq.com/white-jazz-ex-rise-fall-interviewed/ :)