Belgian band Geppetto and The Whales are on a roll this year and can’t be stopped! Not only did they release their first album Heads of Woe at the beginning of this year, they also put out a new music video for their song “Jonathan,” this spring (viewable on the Encyclopedia of Music below) while also completing a club tour at the same time. How did they celebrate their completion of their debut album?
“We didn’t. Because there wasn’t really an actual moment when it was finished, it’s not like we got some kind of confirmation saying, ‘Now it is finished,’ so I don’t remember,” says vocalist Sander. Fellow vocalist Kobe says, “We had some pre-mixes, that we already had and we started listening to them, and started making comments on those. Then it took a while to figure out the artwork and all the label stuff in between.”
Sander continues, “I don’t remember…. Everything was very fuzzy. I couldn’t see – ‘Oh is that already ready? The artwork? Ok nice, yeah.’ But I still remember the day it came out. We were playing a show, so we did a little party afterwards.” Kobe laughs at this comment. “A big party afterwards,” Sander corrects himself. “I remember it getting very late-” Kobe laughs even harder – “So yeah, we kind of celebrated it, just on the release date, not when it was finished. Also because at the end of our recording session I was already home because I was sick, so we didn’t leave the studio all together, and Jan, our bass player, he had to finish his exams, so he was also at home. We weren’t all together.”
The six-member group really enjoys spending time together, and believe it or not, they don’t get sick of each other. “A few days ago I asked Kobe if he wanted to join me on a gig, but he was quite worn out from a three-day party.” Kobe laughs, “I had a terrible hangover. But ah, yeah we usually go to concerts together, or just hang out and drink some beers….”
“After rehearsal on Saturday, I also went out with Ricardo, our keyboard guy, and we stayed up till 5 in the morning just hanging out in a bar,” Sander explains. “Aside from making music together we also are real friends. And to us as a band, it’s very important to us that we have fun while we’re rehearsing and –”
Kobe interjects, “If there isn’t any fun involved, it’s like there’s no point actually. I mean, you can play music on a professional level, but I think it’s not healthy for you if you’re playing a show and you’re giving your all to the audience but you don’t like the guy standing next to you performing.”
“In some kind of way you can hear it in the music too,” Sander elaborates. “It will sound very sterile to me if there’s no cohesive factor in working together.”
You can definitely hear the cohesiveness on their new album Heads of Woe, which surprisingly didn’t take them very long to finish. Sander says it only took about “three weeks and a bit more I think,” to record and mix the tracks. The speedy work was probably aided by the fact that they recorded much of the album live. The decision for which songs would be tracked this way, according to Kobe was, “For some songs we thought it would be better to have a more organic feel because a lot of songs, dynamically and in terms of tempo, are really important for us to do live.” Sander went on to say, “We tried pre-producing ourselves a bit, and we wanted to do everything with a click-track and we felt like that was not working, so the first week we were in the studio, we recorded all the songs live and then we did some overdubs but I think “Maxburg” was entirely live. So it’s a combination of both [live and separate tracking].”
One might wonder how so much effective productivity is possible in a group of half a dozen young men, a question Geppetto and The Whales are often asked. They don’t seem to have too many cooks in the kitchen, though. “It’s kind of like that but we don’t have any issues,” Kobe says. “We’ve had that question many times because the less people you have in a band the less opinions you have and the less you’re bound to fight over small stuff, but we’re kind of like a big family, we’re true friends.” They weren’t always so confident in themselves, however, as Sander recalls, “We were a little bit scared of that and the first test was a year ago, when we headed out to a studio in the middle of the nowhere and we were there for a month, in a very small space with each other and the only thing that happened was us becoming closer friends.” Both guys laugh, “Yeah I dunno, one way or another it works very well and we don’t have a lot of issues.”
Their positive energy and vibes between each other are even more apparent when they’re on stage together. The best show they’ve had so far? Their most recent one. “The Pukkelpop festival. I dunno if you know it there, but it’s one of the biggest festivals in Belgium. We have a lot of different bands from Europe, and it’s the biggest festival we’ve ever played, and we got to hang out with some really nice people,” says Kobe.
The people in attendance were great too. “The vibe from the audience was also very amazing, a lot of people all cheering and stuff, and they were going a little bit out of their minds, and we were too, it was really cool. A unique experience,” Sander explains.
The secret behind their on stage presence? Why, a secret handshake of course, performed every time before they get on stage. “We usually do fist bumps,” Sander laughs. “And we look romantically into each other’s eyes. If someone doesn’t look into the eyes of the person you’re fist bumping, that’s jinxing the whole gig. So it’s a secret handshake.”
They also have their post-show traditions. “For me,” Kobe says, “it’s smoke.” Not everybody in the band are smokers, though. “Usually we sell some CDs afterwards,” says Sander, “and I go with our merchandise guy and the rest of the band who don’t smoke also come along and sell some CDs, but usually the first thing is ‘Uhh,’–” he sighs heavily, “ — come down to earth again. That stuff.”
Geppetto & The Whales became more widely known after releasing their hit song, “1814,” a war story love song, with lyrics by Sander. “I study history, so I’m very interested in those stories. Then I found a diary of a guy who lived in my village two hundred years ago and had to go fight with Napoleon, but he had to leave his lover. It was a very tragic story with a happy ending. I thought, ‘I have this song, and it shares the vibe of the book,’ and I thought maybe I could combine these two, and that was the song.”
Another song with a war theme is “Jonathan,” which has a music video of a food fight of epic proportions. The idea for the video came from the video’s producers themselves, a pair of “twisted” brothers with amazing ideas, apparently. “We know them a bit, and they’re a bit….twisted,” chortles Sander.
“They have twisted minds, but they’re really fun people to hang with and they have great ideas,” Kobe elaborates. “They came up with four stories, I member one being an apocalyptic food fight or something, and one was a story of a guy battling a robot or something –”
“His computer in his office,” Sander offers.
“Yeah yeah, he was fighting with his computer,” Kobe finishes.
“We told them, ‘Ok, here’s our song. Do with it whatever you want because we know you‘ve got twisted minds.’ So we knew something would come up that would be great. And the first thing they thought was they didn’t want the one-on-one story with the lyrics because the lyrics also involve a war in a historical city, so they took the war aspect and turned it into a freak fight between brothers, and then they featured themselves doing it.”
“The actors you’re seeing, they directed it also,” confirms Kobe.
If you haven’t seen the music video yet, you can watch it on FDRMX below, and be amazed by the French bread bazooka. Really, it looks like just too much fun, and Kobe and Sander thought so too.
“I wish I had [been in a food fight that epic],” Kobe laughs.
“Yeah,” Sander agrees, “maybe next time we record we should induce one. Oh yeah. In a crowd of thousands of people against the six of us – it wouldn’t be fair.”
Kobe chuckles, “We could spray ourselves with mustard on stage.”
Laughing, Sander admits, “K, bad idea.”
Although the war theme is present in many of their songs, the band doesn’t feel their songs are particularly influenced by politics or current events, although they do talk about such things among themselves. The war theme, they say, stems more from a love of history.
“For me,” Kobe says, “‘Jonathan’ was like Jacob’s Ladder, if you’ve seen that movie. It’s a Vietnam veteran who’s traumatized and starts having these issues and the end of the song has a psychedelic climax, some verses at the end, and for me it was like musically the mind of the person – ah I dunno how to explain in English – like a story or something. But yeah, we don’t actually… the wars, I dunno how we come up with that.”
“Because we’re doing so well as a band,” Sanders muses, “the war angle we have gets into the songs,” they laugh, “and not us!”
Their tendency to reminisce about times of the past has caused them to often be described as old souls, a comment Sanders says they can relate to. “We have romantic notions about the past, nostalgic feelings, we like that,” Kobe says. Sanders shrugs and admits, “We can’t help it.”
Find out more about the band and purchase their debut album here.
Geppetto & The Whales lineup:
Sander Sterkens (Vocals, acoustic guitar)
Kobe Dupont (Vocals, electric guitar, banjo)
Nikas Goossens (Vocals, electric guitar, banjo)
Ricardo van Nispen (Keys)
Carlo van Nispen (Drums)
Jan Fransen (Bass)