BSIDERIFF: First of all a general question about EBM. Α lot of people avoid to attend this scene due to rumors about its connection with fascistic and nazi organizations. Truth or one more urban legend? Tell us about the meaning of EBM and if Propatria would participate in a concert that would be organized by an extreme organisation?
From its very beginning in the early eighties, some people have indeed associated EBM with Fascism and Nazism. I still remember a Front 242 concert in a distant past where someone present greeted the band with the Nazi salute. Richard reacted with the middle finger but left it at that. It is an understandable misconception since EBM is a hard, electronic, almost military sort of music. On top of that, many EBM bands use military paraphernalia for their image or even on stage, and I too must plead guilty as far as that is concerned. Therefore, someone unfamiliar with the EBM World might confuse us for a bunch of Neo-Nazis. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. EBM is disciplined music and as such we may not appeal to anarchists, but that doesn’t mean that we’re the extreme opposite. Our lyrics are definitely not fascist, even more so, many EBM bands are very careful to steer clear of political statements. Pro Patria’s one of the exceptions but mostly because we were forced to talk about politics because of our band name which some also consider fascist. When we chose the name, thirty years ago, we only wanted something catchy, short, something that people would remember. We were hardly twenty years old, I was obsessed with Latin and we were going to change the World, or the nation to start with, so Pro Patria seemed perfect. It was only afterwards that we realised that the name of the band made a couple of people frown. I am aware that Mussolini, not being very fluent in Latin, completely misunderstood Horace’s words and used the term “pro patria” for propaganda purposes. The Roman poet, however, talked about virtue and holding your head up high against the whims of a changeable mob, much unlike the contempt for liberalism which was the backbone of the Fascist/Nazi ideology. Furthermore, there seem to be (or have been) one or two bands which use the same name illegally (I am the copyright holder of the name Pro Patria and have been for thirty years), bands which boast a point of view so despicable I will not mention it here. So I’d like to take this opportunity to set it straight once and for all that Pro Patria is NOT Fascist AT ALL, but that the name should be interpreted cynically, like the Wilfred Owen poem “Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori”, which talks about the horrors of World War One. We’ve made songs against Fascism (“The Coming Picture”), war and all the horrors that man is capable of (“Quid Taces?”, “Never Back Down”, “Into the Deep”, “War (Till the Day We Die)”, etc.).
To return to the entire EBM World, you’ll never find a skinhead at an EBM concert, unless maybe someone with suicidal tendencies. Neo-Nazis don’t listen to EBM or other electronic music; they listen to Punk-Rock or Trash-Metal. EBM is about progress, technology, a sound mind, liberty, fighting injustice and a better World for all, much to the opposite of what Neo-Nazis seem to believe, I would say.
As for the last part of the question, Pro Patria will never participate in any political event, extreme right nor left. Any political views we advocate merely stem from a growing concern about the future of our planet.
BSIDERIFF: 20 years after Propatria released their debut album Quod Erat Demonstrandum you decided to return with the album, named Back to Basics. Why took you so long to creat a new album? Why did Propatria stopped a very promising career and tell us how after so many years absent did you found the strength to reload the PROPATRIA project?
The career may have seemed promising in retrospect, but in reality the nineties were a very tough time for us and most other emerging EBM bands. Whereas EBM was mighty popular in the eighties, in the early nineties this changed dramatically and from one day to the next EBM was as good as dead and suddenly it was all about Grunge or Techno. Things got so bad that nearly all the great EBM bands from the eighties turned their backs on their origins and started making Grunge or Techno-inspired music. Even Depeche Mode, the great trend setters from the eighties, had become trend followers. Imagine how difficult it had become for young, new Electro bands to raise an interest! To give you an example, in 1991 we produced a home-made demo tape which managed to convince the boss of a Belgian record label. The man said to us that he really liked what we were doing and incited us to go to a professional studio and record something worthy to be released on CD, after which we would discuss a contract. Unfortunately studio time was much more expensive back then than it is today and I was still pursuing a career in the Belgian Air Force, so it took us a year and a half to finish the demo which is known today as “Spasmaticae”. Very excited and proud about the result, we went back to the same guy with our new tape but… the man had changed completely. To our bitter disappointment he said he was only going to produce Techno from now on and if we weren’t going to comply he wouldn’t be interested any more. Other record labels gave us similar replies. Yet, we were not going to give up and continued unabated, producing “Militaria” in 1994 and a live demo called “Veni Vidi Vici” in 1995. It were very frustrating times, working so hard without any doors opening, until we finally found a label that would still have us: Celtic Circle Productions in Germany, which must have been one of the only ones still releasing EBM back then. They asked us to produce a full CD and one maxi single and so we dived back into the studio and worked very hard again for nine months to produce “Quod Erat Demonstrandum” and the “Hard Times” maxi. It was our magnum opus, compiling nearly ten years of Pro Patria on one CD. It was all wonderful and the music went to the CD factory for the CDs to be printed and right at that very moment… CCP filed for bankruptcy and we were again left empty-handed. Again we didn’t give up. We went door to door to all of the other record companies, insisting that we now had a completely finished product. All they needed to do was print the CDs and sell them. Alas, to no avail. Typical was the reply we got from the manager of Belgium’s biggest independent label: “It’s great what you’re doing, I really like it, but if you could make it sound a bit more Techno, if you could become the “Belgian Prodigy”, then we’ll talk about a contract.” Then, my partner Bert and I split up because he did want to embrace a more Techno-oriented music whereas I wouldn’t have it. I still did a number of great gigs with David Vallée (Lith / Eks.Center) behind the keys, but then my personal situation changed much to the worse and suddenly there was no more time nor budget for Pro Patria. I had just become thirty years old and was told that it was about time I grew up and started behaving like an adult. Pro Patria was forced into the background where I believed it would slowly die.
Fast forward to 2016 when David, who’s still a close friend, contacted me and asked me if I realised that Pro Patria was actually popular. I didn’t believe him at first because the CDs had never made it to the market and I hadn’t done anything with the band in more than 15 years, but he sent me a link to Discogs.com and to my astonishment I found out that our old cassette demos were being auctioned there for more than €100 each! And suddenly I felt so incredibly stupid that I had chucked all of my remaining cassettes in the bin years earlier. 🙂 Coincidentally, around the same time, the people from Electric Tremor contacted me and asked if I wanted to be on stage again, at the big Familientreffen festival. I was still a bit in doubt but by then my personal situation had changed again and much for the better this time. I am again surrounded by people who believe in me and who really want me to continue with Pro Patria, so I accepted. After all, I had nothing to lose. The gig was a success and this incited me to try and make something new. It wasn’t hard at all creating “Back to Basics” (apart from production and mastering – I consider myself to be a musician, not a producer). Once the “compose”-button was again switched on in my brain, all of the songs poured out in less than six weeks, largely inspired by the very difficult period I had gone through earlier. In a sense you could say that I found the strength to make Pro Patria rise from the ashes in a positive way to deal with all the anger and pain I had accumulated over the years. Deep emotions, either negative or positive, are always the best inspiration and the best motivation.
BSIDERIFF:Tell us about the general idea of making the Back to Basics.Did you try to return back to time and continue like you have never gave up?
A lot of this question has already been answered, but as regards to the general, musical approach, I tried to continue where I had left off indeed. I returned to my musical roots (“Back to Basics”) and tried to imagine how Pro Patria would have evolved if we had continued to exist throughout those 15 years, hence harder and harsher. Two of the songs, “Pray for Salvation” and “Living in a Cage” actually had their origins in 1996 already, during the “Quod Erat Demonstrandum” production because back then I was already thinking about a successor. A (terrible) demo of the former had also made it to the grand Old School Electrology compilation in 2007. The other songs quickly emerged from the wake of those two, ensuring a continuity with the past, although the general sound of the CD might have surprised some.
BSIDERIFF:2019,time for another LP named Executioner and you have the brave dicision to promote this LP with a ballad called Death of a Friend. Could you tell us the inspirations of Executioner’s songs.
“Back to Basics” had only just been released when I felt the urge to make more. Perhaps also out of a sort of guilt because I was so disappointed about the general sound of “Back to Basics” and I wanted to set things straight. I still have so much to learn about mixing and mastering… but most of all I wanted to show that Pro Patria was back for good. “No More” with its breakbeat rhythm popped out by chance when I was fiddling with the new music production software I had bought. Actually, many of my best moments – and I think this goes for all of us musicians – happen by chance, but ensuing “I Watched You Die” was again a song the foundations of which had been lying on my shelf since 1996. I do my best (not sure whether I always succeed) not to make the mistake of betraying my origins. Picking up an old idea helps in this respect. Picking up a very old idea – “Oppression” was the very first song recorded on our very first demo in November 1988 – was a challenge. The whole idea of “Executioner” was to bridge the gap between “Quod Erat Demonstrandum” and “Back to Basics” and benchmark the Pro Patria sound, rich and complex, whilst experimenting with many various EBM styles. Some critics say that “Executioner” lacks homogeneity, from Anhalt influences such as “Timeless Body” to a ballad, as you say, like “Death of a Friend” (dedicated to a friend who’d just lost his mother) and even a New Wave detour on “Creature of the Night”. The intention was however to make the CD more interesting to listen to and offer a surprise to the listener with every song, whilst remaining within the well-known Pro Patria boundaries. “Executioner” itself is probably the song that is most in the middle of those boundaries, with its recognisable high, staccato bassline and stirring melody. The song that I’m personally most proud of from a musical point of view is “The Insignificance of Time”, where I experimented with a major and minor key together to create its special atmosphere, although it’s probably also the song that’s least understood.
Pro Patria has always upheld very strong lyrics and points of view, about a healthy mind, optimism, critical of religion, disdain for Fascism and other ideologies which are opposite to freedom of expression and human rights. With “Back to Basics”, half of the lyrics became very personal and the other half became much more concerned about everything that’s going wrong with our planet. On “Executioner”, this concern was elaborated further and optimism has turned into pessimism about our future since we seem to be more interested in fashion and social media than we are worried about the general condition of this World, which we all know isn’t very good. I also used the aforementioned Wilfred Owen poem as the lyrics of “Into the Deep”, a powerful anti-war song. Perhaps interested to note is that I also mixed the only surviving sound recording from World War One in it – British soldiers firing gas shells at the Germans – and I reconstructed the sound of the end of that war as recorded by seismic devices to track enemy movements.
To conclude, also “Executioner” has its very personal moments such as “In Your Face”.
BSIDERIFF:After almost 20 years you have released : 2017 Back to Basics, 2019 Executioner, and 2020 you promote your next LP Godless. Do you try to take back the lost time at once? All this stuff is new or forgotten ideas and songs from the first period of PROPATRIA?
Yes, it does look like it that I’m trying to make up for all the lost time. It’s just an irresistible desire. I need to make music. It’s like a tidal wave that never stops. Inspiration keeps coming. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with an idea in my head and then I have to grab my mobile in order to hum and record it. There are in fact dozens of these hummed snippets on my mobile. A nice example is the intro of “Stronger than You”, that hard, distorted riff. It also came to me in the middle of the night upon which I had to dash into the bathroom in order not to disconcert my wife with my strange humming at three o’ clock in the morning. 🙂
Seriously though, I believe that if you are endowed with any sort of talent, be it drawing, playing football, Math or making music, that you should try your best to pursue it. I don’t think much about myself as a composer and I’ve always been disappointed about myself as a keyboard player, but if there’s one lesson that I’ve learned from those fifteen very dark years it’s that no-one will make me stop trying, no matter how many times they tell me it’s childish or plain rubbish. Also Depeche Mode sang a long time ago that “You’ve got to work hard if you want anything at all”. Math is the language of the Universe. Music is the language that brings all people together. Isn’t that a nice goal to strive for?
BSIDERIFF: Godless seems to be the most political LP of your career. The video clip of War is very impressive. The newest single The Power Is Mine, that you shared with BsideRiff, is one of the best EBM songs of the last 10 years. Tell us about the new LP Godless and about the people that believed to you, helped you with the production of your music and your video clips and persuaded you this time to continue as an artist.
“Godless” seems to be more political than my previous work simply because I’ve become more explicit in my choice of words and images. The same messages were there on all of the other CDs but since most people don’t seem to care and the inevitable abyss is getting nearer every day I feel compelled to shout a little louder. Hence the Trump video with the lyrics “there won’t be tomorrow any more”, for instance. It will definitely become the hardest Pro Patria album so far, because there’s no more time to lose.
Thank you for your lovely compliment about “The Power Is Mine”. The song is in fact the culmination of all those things that are going wrong, whereby someone in an ivory tower decides if someone else (or by extrapolation humanity) is to live or die.
About production, there’s not really anyone behind the scenes. “Quod Erat Demonstrandum” was still recorded in a real studio with the assistance of a professional sound engineer, but now that I’ve moved to Italy it’s become hard to find help. EBM simply doesn’t exist here and having come out after such a long absence I didn’t know where to find help in the first place. So I’ve done my best to do everything myself, with varying success, but I’m learning. “Executioner” was already a major step in the right direction after “Back to Basics” (a completely re-edited version of which will also be published this year and offered free of charge to all who’ve bought the original CD) and I hope that I’m doing even better with “Godless”. It’s a very steep learning curve but I prefer to learn myself rather than always depend on others.
As long as there will be people supporting and inspiring me, Pro Patria will endure until I drop dead. If there’s one person in particular I should thank, than it’s my wife because she’s the driving force behind my enthusiasm. She’s also the director of the “Executioner” video and critical sound board for everything I do. I’d like to take the opportunity to thank also you from BsideRiff for everything that you’re doing.
BSIDERIFF:At your come back one of your strongest card to earn more fans was your live act.Now with the long term concert postponing due to Covid 19 does PROPATRIA feeling as a lion in a cage?
Doing gigs is definitely the greatest thing about being an artist. Probably everyone will tell you the same. There have been unforgettable gigs such as the 2018 W-Festival, gigs where I nearly fainted from high fever and gigs where the crowd was throwing pints of beer at my head. The COVID crisis obviously brought all of that to an end and it will probably still take a long while before concerts will be allowed again. All in all, I try to make the best out of it and have all the time to work on three albums at the same time. Living in a remote part of the Italian mountains, things aren’t so bad for me. Many people are much worse off and my thoughts go out to them.
BSIDERIFF:After so many “taught” questions, it’s time for the last question that will be the same for every guest of INTO THE MERCY SEAT.Tell me what question was not asked of you and you would like it to be asked because you would definitely like to refer to its content,or tell us something you kept wondering and avoiding or haven’t found the answer yet.
What question I’ve never been asked before and would like you to ask me?
When is a song finished and ready to be published in your opinion?
I’m an impatient perfectionist. This means that I often work long hours without even taking a break because I need to finish something and no detail ever escapes my attention (or that’s what I think). Unfortunately I lack the patience to review and listen several times to what I’ve just concocted. I listen to it once, maybe twice and can’t resist the craving to throw it on-line. To my horror, this means that often a small glitch pops to my attention after a song has already been published and then I need to adjust and apologise and send version 2.0… or 3.0… or 55.0…
Many people tell me that they don’t hear the difference and that it’s all fine the way it is, but I hear it and it annoys me and it haunts me in my sleep and I curse myself for having been too impatient once again. Sigh…