Hello Chantal, how are you?
I am doing well! Although I can’t wait to play live again! I miss that so much!
I hope you are doing well too!
You recorded the songs for your new album Saturday Moon alone at home, but, in the process, you began to collaborate with a lot of musicians and friends. How was it to write music with other people during the pandemic, to be together and alone at same time, distant but while still communicating?
It was not too weird for me. I think about it in a more spiritual way. The people I work with, I truly connect with, are always present and with me. Even when they live in a different side of the world. We had to adjust of course! But it did not actually feel so unnatural! I feel really blessed to know them!
The new songs touch themes like absence and distance, memory, and remembrance. I feel that there is abstraction from the physical reality. We found ourselves in a sort of mental state, deep in ourselves. Do you think that this courageous attempt to represent what is absent is partly due to the lockdown experience? Or are they thoughts that you already had in mind?
I always have them in my mind. I think even since when I was a child. I always felt connected to the things we cannot put into words. The things we can’t explain. And I also always feel it very present when I make music. It is not about me anymore. I am passing on something else. It gives me a weird kind of freedom! This world is so ego-minded and it feels liberating to step away from that and create a common space. When I make music, I always include the listener. Present at the time of creating. It’s not about me. It’s about us. And I really believe there is a lack of “us” in the physical world surrounding us.
But, nevertheless, words and music can bring us near and connect our minds and our souls even when we are apart. I think this is an idea that is dear to you and can be found in other works of yours, like Pūwawau for example. Am I right?
Totally right! To be it means everything. And it is always present when I make something. When I write, it happens in such an instinctive way. And my instincts seem to always lead me to that place. I don’t even mean to do this.
For the song Disappear you collaborated with Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk from the band Low. How was it to write music with them? Could you tell us more about this song?
It was strange and beautiful. I have been a huge Low’s fan since 1996. We went on tour together in 2012 and during that tour I totally understood why I loved them so much and why I feel so related to them. They carry their music far beyond our “words-world”. And they carry an immense intensity. We stayed in touch and I just told them that I was making some new songs. I send them some for fun and before I knew I got them back with their files added. I must admit I had to cry a little. A sort of homecoming feeling.
We all love Low’s music. Among Low’s album, which one is your favourite? Are they, in some ways, a source of inspiration for you?
Mmm that’s hard. I love them all. Okey, let’s try! Secret Name and Double Negative. Two very different one. I spent a lot of time with their music so of course something of that comes back into my own work. As I said, I love their intensity, hope and pureness. And also the fact that they always do their own thing.
I feel that Conflict of Minds, Disappear, and Time Frames are in a certain way correlated, not only for their darker mood, but also because there is a lot going on in this mental, abstract space, and somehow the world around us loses his physical dimension and becomes more indeterminate. Did you see some correlations between these songs?
Just afterwards. I lose myself when I write. I have no idea what is going on until months later. It makes me laugh sometimes. To me Conflict of Minds is not so much connected with the other two. It’s a song I wrote and sang at the same time. The vocal line is the first take. It just came out like that. It carried me away and I had to cry. It took me a while to know what I was feeling. But I did know that I felt a lot. A lot. So, I didn’t want to re-do the vocals. It was with piano but that sounded too heavy so Borgar had to rewrite a guitar part under my vocals. He did an amazing job!
I found the Saturday Moon album cover interesting. What was your idea with this artwork?
I saw the work of this artist already years ago and it sticked with me. It really reflects on how I often feel. A bit crazy, connected with animals and nature, I can be quite rough, and I wanted to celebrate life as well. So, it all fitted so well!
In the first song, Saturday Moon, I hear some similarities with Tumanako,the last song of your previous album. I thought it could a good bridge to the old and the new songs. Does that make sense to you?
Yes, it does. Never thought about it! Interesting view!
Pūwawau was one of my favourite albums of 2019. Could you tell us a more about the concept of that album and how you write those songs? I loved how you experimented with the electronic and orchestral sound. It was like ‘future’ and ‘past’ altogether.
That’s a special one! Normally I write instinctively. But with this one I really did research. I wanted to find out more about the connecting quality of vocals around the world. Especially the Maori where a huge inspiration. What happens if we step away from the western world where result counts more than ritual? When we dare to truly feel when we sing and connect with others. With this information in mind, I started writing. After that I worked with Valgeir Sigurdsson to make arrangements that would be not so easy for the other singers. A lot of risk!
Do you think that, after the pandemic, will there be changes in our lives on a social or personal level? Will this experience positively modify our approach to nature, to flora and animals?
I truly, truly hope so. I hope we can “be” more than “do”. I hope we stop craving all the time. I hope that we can find more peace with where we are, and we re-connect a bit more with nature so we can take a good look at the climate.
Yeah, I know, I am very naive.
Do you have any news from Distance, Light & Sky?
Aaaah not yet, but I cannot imagine we won’t make another record. That trio feels as natural as can be. No words needed.
Thank you for your time and your music. I hope to see you soon somewhere and hear your voice singing these songs live. Stay safe!
(Interview by Daniel Moor, April 2021)
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Let’s start from the beginning: your years as Sleepingdog. What strikes me is a certain maturity even in a starting, new project like that. What inspired you to create Sleepingdog and what came before that?
I used to have a band called Chacda. I loved playing with them but I missed something that was completely mine. Than I started with Sleepingdog but being best friends with Adam Wiltzie naturally developped us being a duo. It was such an inspiring process to work with him. The combination of songwriting and ambient felt very special.
How would you describe your evolution as an artist and a songwriter during the Sleepingdog years? How do you look at that experience from your current “Chantal Acda” perspective?
I have learnt a lot in my Sleepingdog years. I think I slowly felt that my need in music is to calm myself down. To feel at ease with the world. Adam is a fantastic musician who is so much inspired by sound. That was new for me, being a impulsive musician. His atmospheric sounds calmed me down. After a while I did felt stuck though. I felt the need to liberate me. As much as I loved and still love Sleepingdog, it was also pretty static in some ways. I needed to feel free and jam with people. Record moments instead of months of work. Work with more people, less overdubs, more just people in a room recording songs. I needed to aproach music in a spiritual way. Liberate my voice and find my strength instead of hiding myself behind a very strong and beautiful person like Adam. Thats when I started working on my record.
Then you have decided to put Sleepingdog to rest and you have started a real solo project, with your name in front. What sprung this decision?
I wanted to work with other people but not like a 50/50 collaboration. I wanted to make sure that the music and process was just embracing my emotions, struggle, intensity, spirituality. Adam and I got involved lovewise and it also became hard for us to not let that effect the music. All together I think I needed to find my strength. And I could only do that when I would fully embrace my strength instead of being afraid of my fragilety.
“Let Your Hands Be My Guide” is also the result of many collaborations. How did you meet this new record’s collaborators and how did you work together?
I knew Peter Broderick since a long time and through him I also met Nils. I saw a lot of concerts of both of them and than I played a show in Paris supporting Nils. He played some songs with me and the same week we started talking. Talking about me feeling stuck and it slowly became clear we would work together. Gyda was one of the persons, together with my boyfriend, who told me I was stuck in a box. It was my saviour that she confronted me with this fact. It made me think. We met when she was on tour with A Winged Victory For The Sullen. We opened with Sleepingdog and she started playing with us. Shahzad was not supposed to be part of the recordings. He was just in the house working on mixes. But his energy blew me away. Nils, Peter and Gyda were drinking coffee at a certain moment I was just practising a song. Shahzad came in, grabbed my guitar and started playing. And than Nils ran to the recording desk and we started playing together. He really put everyone in the right place.
I absolutely loved “Let Your Hands Be My Guide”, it’s surely one of the most moving records of these last years. I also noticed a certain difference of tone with respect to your previous records, an increased maturity and a more sober way to convey emotional intensity. Do you consider this just a result of the arrangements or did you notice (or look for) a change also in your songwriting?
Its really touching to hear you like the record this much. What I feel is that I am in a different place. Nothing felt the same after the recordings. Really weird. I feel truly liberated from a big heavy stone I always had in my body. I think I was fighting a lot against the world. Didnt feel at home. At these moments, in the studio, the world just started making sense. I still wonder if the other musicians have any idea how big this influences my daily life. Its great if this can reflect on people who are willing to listen to the record.
How do you plan to play “Let Your Hands Be My Guide” live? While being so sparse, I think it’s not easy to reproduce it in full… Will you be touring with Peter or Nils?
I just played my first 5 shows in Belgium. Nils was there and I have an amazing jazzdrummer, Eric Thielemans, and guitarist, Gaetan Vandewoude. They managed to get me back to the right place. It will be my main goal to contain the freedom I gained in the studio and I feel that I can do this with them, even if it is different ofcourse. Its important to just not try to copy the record. The only thing that counts is the spirituality. The feeling that I can be so vunarable that it makes me feel stronger than ever. Does that make sense? Sometimes hard to explain these things!
You represent an important part of the Belgian independent scene, as Sleepingdog, True Bypass and now as yourself, but you have also been part of Isbells. Can you give us a quick sketch of today’s musical environment in Belgium?
Belgium is a weird country. There is so much chaos in here. I love it. A lot of musicians are supporting eachother. I like the fact that there is a lot of crossover between styles. Thats something I really missed while living in Holland.
Can you speak about your touring plans? Is Italy in them?
We are working on it. I have a really lovely guy working on it. We will first do a tour in Germany and Belgium and I know he is working on a Italy tour as we speak.
To be honest, the reactions from Italy have been just totally heartbreaking and I cant wait to play for all these sweet and open people.
(Interview by Lorenzo Righetto)