Wanting to have everything under control is problematic, as is wanting to have nothing under control.
With 'Bittersweet', Psy'Aviah presents not only their tenth album, but also the third part of their trilogy about the alienation of the individual in modern society. What's more: with this record Psy'Aviah celebrates its twentieth anniversary, which is why the release of 'Bittersweet' contains a bonus CD with reworked versions of their songs by several friends. Reason enough to knock on the door of mastermind Yves Schelpe and take his confession.
Hi Yves. I can congratulate you twice this time. A first time for the beautiful 'Bittersweet' you just released, and a second time for the twentieth anniversary of Psy'Aviah. How do you feel about these achievements?
Hey, thank you for that. What makes me most happy is of course that you like 'Bittersweet' – in the end that's the most important thing for an artist, I think... The 20th anniversary has more to do with stubbornness, a sense of storytelling and so on. This is not necessarily an achievement, only if you're happy with what you've done. And for me it's usually with the last thing I've released, with this 'Bittersweet' album, or the 'trio' of albums but I think you'll have more questions about that.
Indeed. 'Bittersweet' is actually the third part of a trilogy that started with 'Lightflare' and continued with 'Soul Searching'. Can you tell us what the theme of that trilogy is?
The goal after 'Lightflare' was always to make two sequels. Where 'Lightflare' mainly focused on being 'angry' at the world and being 'lost' in this world, there also had to be a kind of answer that had some self-reflection. That was 'Soul Searching', a more extreme way of accepting the world but perhaps too extreme at times. It was nevertheless a kind of escapism, a quest to deal with the world, in the dreamy to the destructive sense and a mixture in between... 'Bittersweet', the third part, is more of a balance. You can also hear that in the chords and the music. There is a positive vibe in the songs. Although the lyrics sometimes hint at world or personal problems, there are more things that put things into perspective. The music had to sound different, maybe a little more positive and poppy.
In what way is 'Bittersweet' the end of the trilogy? How do you actually end a trilogy on such serious themes?
Actually by making a kind of synthesis and looking back with a critical eye and offering an answer to that – both in terms of lyrics and music. The intro of the album – again voiced by Dirk De Wachter – plays an even more important role in this than last time. It's really kind of an answer from the "mindset" I had at the time of writing. Life is bittersweet, not black and white. You don't have everything under control. Wanting to have everything under control is problematic, as is wanting to have nothing under control. Finding a balance, letting go, trying new things, but being yourself and respecting your own limits – those are the lessons, I think, above all – and that's what the lyrics and music are inspired by, including the songs 'Ok' and ' Tired' which we have completely rewritten.
Your music has also evolved throughout the trilogy. You've incorporated live strings into your music for the first time, for example. What have you learned while writing the trilogy and how has that influenced your music?
I already referred a bit to the fact that I needed a different approach as an answer, not only in terms of text but also in terms of musical approach. It is and remains Psy'Aviah. We've flirted with these more up-tempo and pop atmospheres before but we're taking it a step further here. The lyrics and music are still the way I feel it: sincere from the heart, driven by passion. But I wanted to write and elaborate things with more perfection, and also with a different philosophy: more real instruments. So you hear more real guitars, more backing vocals that replace synth pads or synth strings and therefore also cellos and violins that replace the synthesizers. All this gives it a blend of electronics and humanity. Especially violins and cellos give that extra boost of emotions and warmth to an electronic drum beat. Just like backing vocals do. The entire combination is therefore a bit more 'open' in sound, but still with integrity – at least that's my feeling about it. Everyone experiences music differently.
You also reworked two older tracks, including 'Ok', which was originally on 'Introspection / Extrospection', but is played with folk guitar and strings this time. I was already a fan of the original song but this version is beautiful too. Why did you think it was time to give this song a new version?
Because 'Ok' was actually very fitting in the narrative of 'Bittersweet'. Moreover, it was our 20th anniversary. People often talk to us about the song but I thought it sounded a bit dated and thought: let's approach this in a completely different way. The piano became a guitar with more emotion and detail, more backing vocals, a subtle drum line, a more subtle bass line with feeling and especially violin by Irina Markevich, who replaces the Mellotron. Countless layers of violin and cello make the song build up and the solo lights up nicely at the end. You can't match that with a synthesizer, though my love for synthesizers is great. But the mix of worlds has always been an obsession... The best of many worlds is sometimes always better than just one world, at least that's how I experience it.
By the way, our latest EP focuses on 'Ok' and adds new remixes from the new version, and a brand new music video in collaboration with GNY Photography (Gwenny Cooman) and actress/performer Gwendolin Harissa Van Jole! The new clip itself outlines the story of the song in a different way, slightly tragicomic and a hint at how someone surrounded by so many people in this world can still feel alone... On the other hand, the clip does celebrate being 'different'. There is still some work to do in this field. We need to be more understanding towards each other. We can perhaps not fully understand each other, but we can realize that being 'different' is not the same as 'bad' or 'crazy'.
Just like on 'Soul Searching', you have incorporated a text by Dirk De Wachter, the famous psychiatry professor, on the first track. How did that collaboration come about and what was its importance to you?
The importance was his philosophy of dealing with grief, setbacks, doubts, about what life is and its usefulness. The conversations we had about it were inspiring. He could support the poetry I wrote in terms of message. I always find that important with every vocalist I work with. In addition, his deep voice is simply beautiful to listen to. That counts too. The reason to ask him again for 'Bittersweet'? That's everything I mentioned but it's also supposed to have some sort of continuity in that narrative about those albums... The voice is missing on the first album of the trilogy. That's also poetic really – the voice was there then not yet. So 'Lost at Sea', no feedback. Only on the second album 'Soul Searching', there are more influences from the outside world, including Dirk with the intro.
'Bittersweet' also contains a second CD with new versions of songs from Psy'Aviah, songs from all over your career, which has been going on for 20 years. Why did you choose the concept of new versions instead of the classic remixes?
It's an easy answer. Instead of having remixes made, I wanted to invite bands that I really like myself to make their own version from scratch. A remix is limiting, they can't completely adjust the rhythm. Adjusting chords and voice is also not always possible and because of that, the 'sound' of the band is sometimes lost. Now I could share the passion with fans, show the bands I really like in their own way. At the same time it is part 'letting go', which is part of the theme 'Bittersweet'. I let go of the numbers and see what happens. You don't have to be in control of everything, sometimes it's good to hear a completely different perspective.
The new versions are really very diverse and even include covers by guitar groups like The Breath Of Life and Your Life On Hold. We know that you have always attached great importance to musical variation, to mixing musical styles. What are the highlights of that excellent compilation for you?
I really can't make up my mind but the bands you mention are examples of why I did it. It's music I can't make myself, it's completely different styles. Also the music of Madil Hardis or kc Woong are things I wouldn't do myself. They keep the essence of the song but show how it can be completely different because of the freedom of your own voice, no limitations of a 'remix', and the like... That was just as interesting to me.
You have the habit of turning your 'singles' into real EPs with sometimes up to 18 songs. How do you manage to include so many songs and remixes on each EP?
This time mainly because I didn't put the remixes on the album. The EPs are mainly there for the DJs and hardcore fans. Here too, the DJs excel in their field, from trance experts, to breakbeat and drum 'n bass experts, to people who have fully mastered ambient. I have touched those genres sometimes but not in their pure form. By having a song remixed in those pure styles, you also get a new angle. Often useful for DJs, so we offer 7” and 12” versions, giving flexibility to DJs and radios.
Our last EP 'Ok' is a good example of that, we have breakbeats by Nethermere and ALUCVRD, trance by HelG and LLM but also more synthpop / electropop variations by Digital Factor, MissSuicide and Am Tierpark. Finally, also quiet interpretations, such as the 'stripped version' that mainly brings out the violins and voice; or the 'Pulse Mandala' version which brings ambient to the song.
You can now look back on 25 years of making music as Psy'Aviah. Going through everything, what were the highlights and which were the hardest moments?
The most difficult moments are often my own fault. I had the intention from the beginning to be diverse in my musical output... but with my first two albums on Alfa Matrix being quite EBM/Electro-Industrial and dance oriented, people expected a band that would continue to do that. That was of course not the case. Before I signed with Alfa Matrix, I made music that was much less in that direction. On the other hand, colouring outside the lines and opting for variation has also been nice and something that makes me happy myself. Especially with songs like 'Ok', 'Song of Independence', 'Voodoo Love', 'Sunbird', 'No More Heroes', 'Our Common End', 'Can We Make It Rhyme', 'Pretender' and so on. It's not songs like 'In Silence', 'New Times' or 'Virtual Gods' – but for me they have been works that have given me a creative challenge. If they were well received, then that was all the more nice of course... So your greatest weakness and frustration can sometimes also be your trump card. Not everyone will like it but I have learned a lot of new things myself and got to know new people – from fans to musicians.