VM: I am glad to welcome you here on ProgressoR, Henry! First off, please describe your early years. How and when did you become familiar with music?
HK: When I was a child, I used to play table tennis on Wednesday afternoons (there is no school in Belgium that day in the afternoon) and we used to listen to the "hit parade" (top ten) while playing. I remember that it was happening at 2 PM. So I discovered the great sixties hits and entered in the Rock 'n' Roll world while slicing and smashing!
VM: You play several different instruments: percussion, piano, keyboards, saxophones and recorders, to name a few. But what was your very first instrument? When and how did you learn to play it?
HK: My first instrument was the harmonica as I heard my father play it many times (he plays quite well, and Toots Thielemans was his master). I tried to play the blues but I never succeeded as I was playing on a chromatic harmonica and couldn't stay inside the harmonic blues patterns. I moved to percussion and drums. I studied some years but couldn't take my drums to the university where they wouldn't fit in my student's room. I must tell that I faced the same problem with drums as with the harmonica: I couldn't play a standard rhythm without adding some "different structures" and I was fired more than once. Then I studied the saxophone (easier to place in a student's room) and, this time, I couldn't play the "sneezy" sounds of the new sax wave of that time (Michael Brecker, Dave Sanborn) so I couldn't play in those funk bands that I liked so much because of my "old timer" sound. After that, I studied various wind instruments: flute, recorder, reita, ken, etc. The piano and the keyboards came last. I would say that, in the end, my main instrument is the saxophone (tenor).
VM: When was the first time you experienced the desire to compose music? Did your talent appear independently or were you inspired by some specific music or genre as a composer?
HK: I suppose that this started with the first sessions that would end years later with "Silances". The discovery of concrete music, together with the possibilities of recording, opened my mind to new dimensions. I remember quite well. I was 15 years old and, along with a friend, we gathered in the attic of his parents' house to test his new tape recorder. It was one of the first ones with stereo, and some effects like echoes. We played hours with every kind of stuff available, recording it all (I still have the tapes!). There were some fantastic stair springs, a sink, cups, plates, knifes, forks and various objects. We play them adding some harmonica and percussion. It is only years later that I learned that we actually were making concrete music! One extract of those sessions is available on my first vinyl "Silances", it is the track called "Froid". I knew that those sounds were "mine", that I could develop them into more structured music elements. And, it all started from there.
VM: You work equally with ease in symphonic, jazz, metal and avant-garde forms, each having its specific laws and harmonies. Your command of all these very different genres is tremendous. You also appeal to folk music and you don't even shun electronic rhythms. How did it happen that you have become the possessor of such an unbelievably broad musical horizon? This is a very rare case for one separately taken composer and musician.
HK: Starting with that table tennis top-ten period until now, I became a voracious music eater, without any regards of the type or genre of music. I can pass easily on the same day from "Danko Jones" straight rock to "Nancarrow" player piano music and than from "Soliman Gamil" Arabic music to "Aka Moon" new jazz. I think that the only music that I can't stand is U.S. Country and Western and XIXth century romantic classical music, which makes me nervous. This must have a connection with the harmonies they used.
VM: I think your very first album, "Silances", is a black horse for the majority of contemporary Prog lovers, inasmuch as it was released nearly 25 years ago, in 1981, and only on LP. What does the album represent musically?
HK: To continue on that matter, this album doesn't have anything to do with prog rock and never intended to. Any way, this "prog" word doesn't mean much for me. Think of all the great "prog" bands from the seventies, none of them was ever qualified as "progressive". As "Silances" is concerned, it is the result of 10 years of experimentations with sounds and voice. I already spoke of that concrete music first movement, then came other influences that added their effects to the resulting melting pot: Stockhausen's Stimmung, Tibetan music, European free jazz (mostly Evan Parker, Albert Mangelsdorf and Derek Bailey approaches with a touch of Centipede, that stayed with me until now). So the album mixes those influences in my way of putting them together as an experimental work.
VM: What memories do you have of your work on it and those times in general?
HK: It was quite a great experience! I remember that we rehearsed during months the voice improvisation parts, not that it was written on score but to find the right concentration to hear each other and go further with our improvisation. It was great! I remember also of that mountain climber track, which was in fact recorded with microphones on the body of the mountain climber himself. He was my former sport teacher in high school (and his son was the sound engineer) and he couldn't understand how I could be interested in those horrible suffering sounds as he was climbing; "this is not music" was his final utterance! Very funny after all those years! And also the sound engineer in the studio which was at that time quite a jazz studio; he really thought that this was crazy and totally lacking of musical interest, but, still, he did it, and quite well
VM: What label released it and how many copies of the LP were pressed? Did the album receive any public or critical acclaim?
HK: I must say that this LP came out only because of the open-mindedness of my friend Daniel Sottiau, Igloo label's boss, without whom this project would never have existed. He produced some very interesting LPs on his label that, progressively, became a jazz label as it still is today. There were 500 copies pressed and very little acclaim. But through the years, the copies went slowly away and, now, it turned to be - to my amazement - a collector's item. Some years ago, I went to Igloo's offices and took the last 20 copies.
VM: Have you ever considered reissuing "Silances" on CD?
HK: No, not really, but if anyone is interested, I wouldn't mind.
VM: What did you do as a musician over the course of 12 long years detaching your first album from the formation of Finnegans Wake? I believe this is the most obscure period of your activity.
HK: Well, mostly, I played live gigs, and in different bands. There was a metal hard rock "Stooges" oriented band called "Earwigs" and we played a lot of shows in Belgium, after that, a new wave band called "Sic" that made a little success in the early eighties in Belgium, a "chanson francaise" band called "Bar", and finally, for nearly ten years, a jazz octet called "Lost Exit". With that last band, we played very often in places and in jazz clubs in Belgium. "Sic" recorded an album on which I participated but it was never released. "Bar" released an album but after my leaving, and "Lost Exit" never was interested in recording, it was exclusively a live band. There was also another band, "La Maison du Jardinier" which was quite an interesting band, a septet I think, a bit like the more famous Belgian band "Julverne", and we played a lot. They also released an album (on Igloo label) but they recorded after I left. So I was quite busy and, really not thinking of recording again, being quite happy with all those gigs. So, the funny part is that what you are calling my most obscure period, in fact, is the period in which I really was on stage nearly every week! And after FW started, I think that I maybe played three times live, with Anekdoten, as a sax guest for their standard encore track "Wheel".
VM: What meaning, if any, is hidden behind the band's name?
HK: Basically three things. First, I am a great Irish music fan. I simply love their songs and ballads and, if you look a bit in FW music, you will always find an allusion, a phrase, a mode inspired from that great tradition. So an Irish name was quite convenient. The next reason is rather associated with my friend Jean-Louis Aucremanne with whom I started the band. We have a common, professional interest in James Joyce novel and we wanted to leave a trace of that in our band's name. The third reason would be that the novel is quite a spiritual "expedition" and that we considered the band as a kind of music laboratory grounded in our music references.
VM: Finnegans Wake is one of the most innovative ensembles in the history of Prog Rock. It's impossible to pigeonhole the band into any genre framework, as the music is too polymorphous, touching not only all the basic progressive genres (Art-Rock, Jazz-Fusion, Prog-Metal and RIO), but also Classical and Avant-garde academic music. Please tell me the history of the band. How did it all start and how did things develop until the band's second CD, "Green", became available to the general audience?
HK: "Lost Exit" had split up and I was alone without any musical projects. One day, my friend Philippe Collignon (which BTW owns the best Belgian record shop: Music Emporium!) told me: "If you make some music again, I'll produce an LP for you". I went home quite disturbed by his words and I started thinking about that. What happened next is that I met my other friend Alain Lemaitre, in a restaurant some days later, and that he told me that he had just opened a home studio in his basement. The next step was to give it a try, and, what came out of our first session was called "Chamber Music" and appeared on the "Yellow" CD. After that, I rang Jean-Louis to tell him the news and ask him if he wanted to join us. And there we were, Richard came later as we needed an English writer for the lyrics. We did "Yellow" and "Green". Philippe produced the vinyl LP version of "Yellow" which, interestingly, came out with two of the tracks actually slower than they should be. Quite strange!
VM: What was the principal reason by which the third Finnegan's Wake album saw the light of day only in 2002, six year after its predecessor? Was it because you decided to concentrate on your solo efforts?
HK: Yes, I worked quite a lot on the other projects and I didn't know if FW would go on at the time because we needed another record company.
VM: In any case, you produced five solo albums between 1997 and 2000. Three of them were released under your own name. Although far from being stylistically monochrome, "Iceland", nevertheless, is the one with a distinct Jazz-Fusion sense. "Che Vuoi?" is a set of little concertos for piano, and "Play La Chance" is chamber neoclassical music. Did you have any special purpose in making them so musically different from each other?
HK: No, it came as it is! "Iceland", most of all the long Canterbury like beginning piece, is to be considered as a go-between "Yellow" and "Green". The "Che vuoi?" project is my favorite until now. "Play la Chance" took five years of work and gave me the opportunity of working with minimal music, as I am an early fan of it. So I had to do my own vision of working with repetitive structures and melodies. It was also my first work with many musicians playing my music and I learned a lot from them.
VM: What can you say about Jean-Luc Plouvier (of Univers Zero) and your creative collaboration with him?
HK: Jean-Luc is a dear friend of mine and I miss him very much since I came down here to Brazil. Our collaboration was great. I had written the scores for the "Che vuoi?" tracks and I was looking for a good pianist (which I'm not at all) to play them. All those pieces are quite intimate and tell a part of my life. You can understand that it was not easy to find someone to play them. Then came Jean-Luc who accepted playing them. I gave him the scores and I let him free of interpretation after some basic explanations about the mood of every piece. And then we recorded and it was like I was dreaming, or more exactly, hearing the music that I dreamed. Thank you once more, Jean-Luc!
VM: There are also two albums you've done under the moniker of Xeno. Please don't take my next question as tactless; it's just a curiosity. What prompted such a serious progressive composer as you to turn to soundtracks and rhythmic electronic stuff, as is presented on Xeno's "Them" and "Moving to Town"?
HK: As far as I'm concerned, there is nothing more serious about "progressive" FW or "Play la Chance" than about Xeno's work. Xeno is a cool guy, he likes to go out and dance when there's a rave going on. Xeno is a sci-fi freak and a monster movie maniac; he likes machines and buttons. Xeno loved the last "Underworld" show and wants more. Xeno thinks that the most important thing in music since the industrial cold wave movement is Techno. Techno is great and Xeno loves to play it loud to dance in frenzy. Xeno likes towns, cities, "magalopolies"; he likes the traffic jams because that is great music, and the sound of the hair dyer in the bathroom because that's swing. Xeno loves Autechre, LFO, DJ Spooky, Scanner, Multiphonic Ensemble and Squarepusher. Xeno says: "I'll be back" and is working on comix as he loves comix too!
VM: I know that you play live as a solo musician, but did you ever do live performances with Finnegans Wake?
VM: Back in 2001, you left Belgium for Brazil. Why? Could you shed some light on the matter?
HK: I married a Brazilian woman and we moved to Brazil! And, I won't ever live in the cold again!
VM: Back to Finnegans Wake: the band's albums aren't uniform musically, and each one progresses with a larger number of chamber musicians involved. How did the band develop from one album to another?
HK: This is a difficult question because I really can't say more than: "well it evolved as we thought it ought to evolve". One thing I can say is that we had many problems with guitarists. I think that we tried working with 10 or 12 different ones. It is only now, with the coming of Alex that the problem is resolved.
VM: What, in your personal comprehension, determines the principal difference between "Yellow" and "Green" and, respectively, between "Green" and "Pictures", "Pictures" and "4th"?
HK: "Yellow" was the newborn child. We didn't know exactly what to do and we explored different directions; that is why this album is rather eclectic. With "Green", I think that we made a curve to point in a more "progressive" direction. "Pictures" brought some big changes, mainly our first collaboration with a drummer, and also the decision to avoid any synth sound that could be played on a natural instrument, which increased very much the production costs! "4th" continues in that line but without Jean-Louis (except for the Wenceslas Saga) and with the arrival of Alex.
VM: "4th", is undoubtedly the best and, simultaneously, the most complex album by the band, close to classical academic music. Please share your memories on its creation.
HK: After our arrival to Brazil, we stayed in a very small apartment in such a way that I didn't have any space to put my instruments and play or compose anymore. This lasted more than one year and then we moved to a bigger house. So I was so excited to be able at last to do music again that I dove into music like a mad man. Alex and I worked like hell for. Three months and "4th" was composed. It took one more year to record it and finalize it.
VM: I wonder whether this album was played from scores...
HK: Yes everything. The only exceptions are a few solos, like the final organ, sax, trombones solos in "Back on", or the sax, percussion, piano (wild) solos on "Fata Morgana", or the organ and electric guitar solos on "Tapioca com pimenta".
VM: Would it be possible to play the music from "4th" live one day, what do you think?
HK: Yes it is possible to play it live, without any problems! Now I doubt that this will happen because it would cost a lot to rehearse and play with so many musicians.
VM: Finally, a very traditional question. What are your plans on the future of your musical activity, as a member of Finnegans Wake and also as a solo artist?
HK: We already started working on the next FW project. There will be a new member in the band, Jorge Lima, who already played drums and percussion on "4th"and will now participate on a more full scale in the band's work.
VM: Many thanks for your time while doing the interview, Henry. I wish you all the best in your further musical adventures and in general.