There are two sides to Belgian musician Maarten Devoldere: part frontman for quartet Balthazar, part sultry crooner under the pseudonym Warhaus.
They say time waits for no one, but ‘they’ obviously haven’t come across Warhaus yet. Having quietly used this moniker for the past fews years, 2016 marks the first official album release from the Belgian musician’s mysterious alter-ego. Existing in an Anton Corbijn monochrome cityscape, We Fucked A Flame Into Being introduces us to Warhaus with an irresistible sinister charm. Like Nick Cave’s red right hand, had it self amputated and traded the dusty black coat for a crisp tailored suit, or Tom Waits had he discovered lozenges a long time ago, Devoldere’s Mr Hyde character is the lone troubadour who speaks sparingly yet with a sharp-tongued bite.
Through poetic narratives and rhythmic scores, Warhaus creates an intimacy that seduces you away from your comfort zone and into a Lynchian tango. Let us introduce you to the man himself…
Alex James Taylor: So, introduce us to Warhaus.
Maarten Devoldere: He’s the nice alter ego of Maarten Devoldere, a Belgian asshole.
AJT: You’ve been using this pseudonym for a while, why is now the right time to release an album under the moniker?
MD: I’ve been touring non stop over the last five years with my other band Balthazar. We all decided that we could use a break or that the audience would get bored of us. it felt like the right time to step out of our comfort zone and widen our perspectives in another project.
AJT: There’s a very tight theme that runs throughout the album, did you write all the songs within one time period or are they more spread out?
MD: All of this has been taken place within the timeframe of about six years. Recordings have taken place in living rooms, tour busses, real studios. I spent six months on a boat I borrowed from a friend here in Ghent where I did most of the work though. There was never a rush in completing the album since for a long time there was never talk about a Warhaus album. I just kept making Warhaus songs and kept them in my vault at home until now…
AJT: You wrote a lot of the album on a boat?
MD: A friend of mine bought an old tug boat, it’s a charming but rusty thing. When he went to Brazil, I jumped at the opportunity to move in. I needed to have some time as a recluse or I would have never been able to finish the album. Another friend of mine came filming on that boat last summer and there’s going be a short documentary released about my time aboard when the album drops.
AJT: So do you like to isolate yourself when you write?
MD: Not necessarily, I can write around people too. If i go away somewhere to work it’s mostly because I wouldn’t party instead. I like to write in bars or on terraces in busy streets. As a student I studied practically everywhere except home and it’s sort of the same with my writing, although the boat trip did really help to finish the whole thing
AJT: Why did you choose the name Warhaus?
MD: It’s the name of the boat, I have no idea where it comes from but I liked the sound of it.
AJT: How much of the character in the album is you and how much is fictional?
MD: All the songs are based on things that’ve happened, they’re probably romanticised or exaggerated but I can pinpoint them all to a certain moment or person. There’s a paradox in there because I hate to tell people what the songs are about because I tend to think that’s something private. But at the same time I’m exposing myself as a exhibitionist.
AJT: There’s a real sultry charm in your sound that mimics the city soundscape, it conjures up images of New York at night… a candlelit underground jazz bar, very Lynchian.
MD: That sounds nice, thank you. I love Blue Velvet, I don’t like Mulholland Drive.
AJT: There’s also a strong rhythm in each song’s beat. In The Good Lie, for instance, the drums are very trance-like and reminiscent of a dance.
MD: Yes, I like the rhythm to go on and on until you get swallowed in. I’m experimenting with more african rhythms now, it’s something you can hear hints off on this album but I want to explore it even more on the next. I love the voodoo vibe like on Dr John’s Gris-Gris. I found that if you have something that doesn’t groove, if you repeat it enough, it starts grooving. it’s the same with melodies that aren’t catchy [laughs].
AJT: In your press release you say, “I love contradictions.” What is it about contradictions that intrigues you?
MD: Well, for example the title, We Fucked a Flame into Being, I read that line in a D.H. Lawrence book when I was younger and I knew then somebody had to make a pop album that goes by that name. I like the contradictions in that sentence, it’s brutal and romantic. It’s old fashioned and contemporary. Or you might say, it reveals so much and it reveals nothing.
I guess musically I can relate to those contradictions as well.
AJT: There’s a real Jekyll and Hyde feel to the album, at times the character is full of lust and the tracks flirt with the listener, yet others are much more sinister. I suppose that’s part of the contradictory nature you talk about?
MD: Yes. Do you know the Narcissus and Goldmund book? That was an eyeopener. You want to get touched by the dirty contact of life and at the same time you want to live a disciplined life because that’s when you go deeper into your work. It’s a luxury problem for a western kid…There’s a Mr Hyde reference in the last song by the way, ‘I never pick a fight with my Mr Hyde, I’m just a cornerman baby, standing by with a towel.’
AJT: Your sound stems from the likes of Tom Waits, Serge Gainsbourg and Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man would fit perfectly in the album. These storytellers create whole worlds through their music that swallow you up, We Fucked A Flame Into Being is in a similar mould.
MD: I wouldn’t dare to compare myself with these heroes, they’re a hundred floors above me in the tower of song. But yes they are definitely an influence, there are lots more influences though. Everything you hear influences you one way or the other. As a kid my first cassette was Joyride from Roxette, I’m pretty sure that influenced me enormously as well.
AJT: How does touring as Warhaus change from touring as Balthazar??
MD: It’s back to basics, travelling in a small van instead of a tour bus. It’s more a struggle to bring a concert to a good ending which is good because I step out of my comfort zone. Balthazar feels more like an oiled machine by now, that’s why we needed a break and are going to reinvent ourselves for the fourth album.
AJT: Describe the perfect venue for a Warhaus gig…
MD: Something between a theatre and music venue. Paris has lots of these and I hope to be able to fill one up one day.
AJT: What will Warhaus evolve into?
MD: If I knew that the project would already bore me. Let’s find out!