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Interviews of Prog

Robin Taylor
Guy Segers

Guy Segers is known to thousands of progressive music lovers for being a member of one of the most important and influential RIO acts, initiators of the Belgian school of the genre, Univers Zero. However, Guy's activity in the field of music isn't limited by that fact. One way or another, all his life is inseparably linked with music. To throw more light on his musical past and presence, I asked Mr. Segers to answer my questions for an interview, which I am pleased to present to you, dear readers.

VM: Hello Guy! Vit's:-) me, knocking the virtual door behind the mirror of your monitor: please open it, and let's start our conversation. Thanks.

GS: Surprising, this sudden conversation, but welcome.

VM: Do you remember what drove your initial interest in getting into music?

GS: Yes, it is certainly linked to the mood of the sixties. I was listening to mostly Rock bands such as the Who, the Rolling Stones, the Troggs, Blue Cheer. But the turning point was probably when I took the decision to play bass after I heard Jack Bruce playing on Fresh Cream. And when I discovered "Are You Experienced?" the same week it had been released, Jimi Hendrix made my decision to be a musician non-reversible.

VM: Had you been involved in any other bands or projects back then before you became part of Univers Zero?

GS: Not many, but I played very soon with Roger Trigaux, and start composing non-conventional music. We already knew Daniel Denis from Arkham for who we found a way to share our rehearsal room. When Daniel came back from his experience with Magma and Supersister, he planed to set up a new band. Roger and me joined this band that we called "Necronomicon" (name inspired from H.P. Lovecraft).

VM: Along with Daniel Denis and Robert Trigaux, you stood at the cradle of Univers Zero, whose history began in May 1974. You were very young then and, yet, you were completely prepared to play a highly complicated music, which demanded not only the high performance professionalism, but also the knowledge of specific harmonic laws. Did you listen to any avant-garde classical composers at that time? Please elaborate on your musical background.

GS: Well, surprisingly none of us had made any school, so we didn't know anything about rules. But we where listening to many different things, and musicians such as Soft Machine, Captain Beefheart, Magma, Miles Davis, Stravinsky, Bartok, Tony Williams Lifetime, Manfred Mann's Chapter Three, etc did bring us a kind of direction on emotional and technical level.

VM: Univers Zero is the band of your youth. Under what circumstances was it formed? Please share your memories of those days.

GS: It just slides from "Necronomicon" to a new name, "Univers Zero" (title of a novel from Belgian writer Jacques Sternberg). It was almost the same band and still into a kind of jazz-fusion. Around that moment (1973-74) the appearance of Mahavishnu, Herbie Hancock, Return to Forever, Weather Report was very attractive, and we were quite influenced. Of course in this field, Miles Davis and Tony Williams were the main influences.

VM: What was Univers Zero and you specifically occupied with in the course of the first three years of the band's existence?

GS: To the exception of money, only music...

VM: Can you explain your departure from the band in March 1977, prior to the release of the album, which later became known as "1313"?

GS: It was just a matter of money, I had to work to survive, and this couldn't fit with the very intense rehearsals, I couldn't leave my job to go make music.

VM: Ten months later you returned, however.

GS: I just finished my job, and I really was in the mood to play this kind of music with these musicians.

VM: What memorable events had taken place at the time the band worked on the "Heresie" album?

GS: Mainly the fact that we start to play abroad and been recognised for our work and also that we definitely found a signature in our music.

VM: The 26-minute epic La Faulx from "Heresie" features your vocals, dark and sinister, done in a manner never approached until then. In my review of that album, I expressed my absolute conviction that it was none other than you who pioneered the Doom/Death vocal style. It would be interesting to know your personal opinion on this matter.

GS: I never saw it like that, but if you think so, perhaps. I think it has more to do with low voices and un-human words, a kind of familiar connection with Magma, and perhaps the ambiance in Polanski's "Macbeth". It is quite funny that you talk about this, because I just finished a recording with Franck Balestracci where I use the same vocal stuff, it fits perfectly to his music which I really like.

VM: On most of Univers Zero's output with your participation you play not only bass, but also clarinet and violin, which depicts you as a versatile musician, multi-instrumentalist actually. With such different instruments to your credit, which one do you feel most comfortable with from a performance perspective, and also in a compositional sense? I put the latter part of the question not without purpose. I well remember that La Tete du Corbeau from "Ceux du Dehors" is your brainchild and that you are the coauthor of some other compositions.

GS: I only play bass, the clarinet and other things I've touched were only nonsense, kind of being sure to have these instruments played by someone who can't play it. "La tete du corbeau" is the only composition in the context of UZ, but indeed I've been as well as everyone in the band, quite involved in many other compositions.

VM: Which of these albums, "Heresie" and "Ceux du Dehors", is closer to your personal taste?

GS: Both, I can live with many styles in music.

VM: Please tell me of "Crawling Wind", the last Univers Zero album with your direct participation.

GS: This is a very special moment, because we had a proposal for a Japanese record company to do this. We had very little new material, so we went for a more risky situation. On this recording (after many discussions) the sound is closer to how the band sounded live. All the recordings we did before were so controlled, that it sounded OK, but far from the power of the band live. The first record "1313" is absolutely far away from the live sound. It even hard to imagine that this classical, almost acoustic sound on the record came out of this very powerful rock band live.

VM: Why was it released as an EP while the band had three more unreleased tracks, which could've been included there to have a long-play? After all, those tracks have been used anyway, the album was expanded to 46 minutes, and in 2001 Cuneiform released it as a full-length CD.

GS: I don't think we had these extra tracks at the moment. The Cuneiform version is a complement with "Influences" that was made for the Recommended Records compilation, and the two other tracks are from later concerts.

VM: For the second time, you quit Univers Zero in the fall of 1983 and joined the band again only at the time of its reincarnation in 1997...

GS: Yes, in 1983 I was broke and had to get a job again, but also I had another view about how the band should evolve. This time I was fired, so that it looks like I was going out. In 1997, Daniel convinced me that it should be different this time, and convinced me to convince Andy Kirk to join the band, but after this concert it seems that it didn't work at all this way. I still don't know why, but I've been fired again. The fact that we started playing again under the name Univers Zero was the perfect opportunity for Daniel to keep the name for himself. I think he's happy with this now.

VM: The 13 years detaching these events from each other is the most obscured period of your activity. What did you do as a musician then? Did you play with other bands or did you do any session work for other artists?

GS: For a while, nothing, just working hard to pay the rent, etc. After a while I needed to play again, but knowing that I wouldn't find another band such as UZ, the idea was to play many different styles to discover other things and approaches in music. I played in a punk band, an African band, Irish folk (with Alan Ward), Improvised music with several musicians in Brussels, Jazz Fusion with Galileo's Left Wing (on Carbon 7), Rock Chanson with Guts (on Carbon 7), Jazz oriented band called The Morton Fork Gang with 4 saxophones, Cello, Bass and drums, this band included Geoff Leigh (ex Henry Cow and Hatfield & the North) who lived in Brussels at that moment, but also Daniel Denis joined us. The cellist was Jan Kuijken (also on Carbon 7). I've played twice for a replacement tour with the band X-Legged Sally, the first time with ex-Univers Zero Michel Delory, and second time with ex Univers Zero Jean-luc Plouvier and Pierre Vervloesem (on Carbon 7). I also recorded on Daniel Denis' solo album, and on Tim Hodgkinson solo album where I played unreleased Henry Cow material with almost the complete original band.

VM: Why did you leave the band again after playing with them only on the FIMAV festival held in May 1997? I suppose, you didn't remain because you were already invited to join Present, to play on their comeback album, "Certitudes"...

GS: No, it is the other way around, I talked with Roger who was playing only with his son Reginald, and told him I would be pleased to join the experience (I only played a few concerts in the past with Present, and anyway knew quite well Roger's music). As always, Roger is fast in decisions, and very quickly there we were 4 with Daniel on Drums. We recorded quite quickly the album "Certitudes" in Roger's cellar. Very soon after, Daniel wasn't too keen playing in these conditions and left the group. Roger and I found Dave Kerman who had the task to replace Daniel on drums, and fit in perfectly. We even made a few concerts with him and Daniel. It's only later that Daniel contacted me about reforming UZ.

VM: Please share your memories of your work with Present and that on the "Certitudes" album in particular.

GS: Certitudes has been made in incredible circumstances, I was working during the day at Carbon 7, and every evening for a week I went to Roger's place to record the bass lines turned just before. We recorded with Eric Faes, with who we shared almost all the concerts and recordings of UZ, someone of great help in developing UZ. Anyway, this looked strangely like the first periods of UZ.

VM: Let's return to 1992 and talk of the formation of Carbon 7 Records. How did you arrive at the decision to have your own recording company? Please tell me also about the most significant aspects of the label's past and current activity.

GS: In 1990 I was still working, doing a very hard job, when Alan Ward called me to say he was moving to Brussels, and would like me to help him discover the nice places in the city. At some point I told him that I was fed up with my job, and perhaps should develop something in the musical field. As I always been the one in a band who take care of organisation, it seemed natural to start working as manager and help the talented musicians to have gigs. Alan proposed me to come to his office to start a booking and management company called "Argonote". Very quickly we had quite a lot of artists on the catalogue. At some point Alan and me had the idea to make a record of Pirly Zurstrassen, whose music pleased us, but this was not with the purpose to create a record company. Suddenly we had proposals from the other musicians we worked with. So it became officially Carbon 7.
The second part of your question could be a very long explanation, but mainly the idea is that we have knowledge about lots of music in different styles, and also that in Belgium there is a great number of very good musicians with a specific approach. The idea is to give the opportunity to talented musicians who are not conventional to be exposed to something else than the walls of their room. This is why it looks like there is no style direction in the productions, but in fact there is one and very strong one, it's something you can't describe in the usual terms so that at the end you are confronted with music.

VM: How would you comment the fact that Present didn't continue with Cuneiform Records after releasing "Certitudes" and became part of the Carbon 7 family?

GS: It's just because Roger and I know each other for a very long time (you can in this case speak about a family), and it is also practical to be almost neighbours. And of course, it's because I like his music. Also the way of working on the recordings is different, and I hope we can do it with even better material next time.

VM: Can you name the most commercially successful act(s) from the Carbon 7 family? What genre?

GS: On this question, it's quite hard to answer. If you purely look in terms of quantity sold, Lula Pena is number one. But I consider the success more related to the goal to reach on musical terms to have a work you still can refer to many years after. This is why I would say Louise Avenue and Franck Balestracci are a success, because I am sure about from where it comes and what we achieved, so that such records will be still there in time.

VM: Have you ever considered recording a solo album? Even if not, please imagine you would. Then, what music direction you would choose for it?

GS: Yes, I started, but I am the last to be served on my own label. But it's there, waiting for money to go on. This situation is strange because I have to pay from my own pocket, which is mostly empty using the funds to pay the other projects.
I can describe any artists I work with on Carbon 7, but it's impossible to describe my own style. I guess that there is something coming out of my experiences with the bands I've played with. I'm not doing it with the idea of a style or with defined instruments. In one hour of music that I composed, I think that only one aspect of what I want to express is there. Also the idea of style is broken, because from one piece to another I wrote for different instruments, which means paying many musicians, and makes the project very difficult to finish.

VM: As the curtain falls, here is a traditional question. What are your plans concerning the future of your label?

GS: To keep doing passionate music in the best conditions possible. To be part of world references in music. But certainly to go more for projects where I can combine different people from different musical backgrounds, even from different arts.

VM: Thanks very much for your interview, Guy. From the bottom of my heart, I wish you health and happiness, and good luck to you in all your further progressive undertakings!

VM: March 31, 2004

Related Links:

Carbon 7 Records
Univers Zero

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