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Amen to Art: Amenra’s Colin H. van Eeckhout

Photo credit: Milton Stille
Photo credit: Milton Stille

With the evolution of aggressive music being the curious beast it is, it’s often hard to assess what makes an effective act so poignant. Belgium’s Amenra serves as a perfect example of this, melding brooding atmosphere with a visceral, unrelenting carnage that transcends what words can afford.

After almost two decades as a band, Amenra made their Vancouver debut on July 7th, 2018, proceeding to tear the roof off the Commodore Ballroom, in support of Neurosis and Converge. To acknowledge the occasion, we threw a few questions at the outfit. Ever insightful vocalist Colin H. van Eeckhout was happy to indulge us with responses

— Milton Stille

How does it feel to be back on this side of the pond to play some shows?

We are super stoked to be here again, we’ve been deprived of this part of the world for five years! But we intend on coming back here as much as we can now. It’s a god’s gift for us to be on tour with two bands who inspired us like no other. Neurosis and Converge both redefined heavy music in their own. So, it’s still a little unbelievable for us to be considered as equals by them, let alone be their friends.

It is a humbling experience.

Your publicist mentioned that you played a couple of shows in NYC before joining up with the other bands to kick the tour off, and now that I’m looking it up, it’s saying that the first show is already sold out. That’s got to feel like something of a warm welcome. Do you have many other shows in North America booked beyond this tour?

We have a lot of friends living there, in Brooklyn. We always feel more than welcome. They helped us out big time when our guitars failed to show up for the first show, they moved mountains for us, to make it possible for us to do that show. It was amazing to do the shows there, and spend some days at one city. You know, mostly we arrive halfway through the day, and leave immediately after the show. So, it was awesome for us to spend some quality time together as well.

No dates yet, we’re looking into doing a full-blown headline tour in 2019, Our friend Nathan Carson of Nanotear will be helping us out with that. We are really looking forward to that. we’ll be able to play longer sets!

If I’m not mistaken, last summer’s tour was your first of North America in quite some time. While it didn’t make it to Vancouver, the run must have been a good one if you, Converge and Neurosis saw fit to do it again. Any particular stand out shows on that tour?

For us they all stood out, I mean, it’s not common to be treated so well on an opening tour. Our friends in Converge let us use their backline, we share a bus, etc. That helps us out an awful lot. We cannot wish a better way to explore the USA as a band, we play for huge respectful crowds.

Philadelphia had a beautiful venue, for instance. The two shows in Chicago were awesome. They all were, really. The hangouts in the morning. Late night dinners.

What do you know about Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada? I saw you played in Toronto last summer… Does this make it your second time playing in Canada?

Nothing whatsoever :). Just hung around the venue, so no real eye-openers for us unfortunately. Maybe next time. We did Montreal and Toronto twice up until now. Feels quite familiar of course, since a lot of people speak French there. And it feels sort of European. We have good friend living there, so it’s always nice to catch up with them.

Most people I’ve talked to about touring Europe have told me that there’s a world of difference in how bands are treated there, in comparison to over here. Being from Europe, what’s your impression of this?

I can only follow your impression. Getting drinks and food, is rather obvious in Europe. We are treated like kings really. Logistics, light and sound systems are off the charts there. Small distances between cities.

But when you tour the US or the UK you know what to expect. Our sound engineer Hein is probably one of the best in the whole damn world but since we are only an opening band here, they sometimes treat him as if he is incapable. And then you have to center yourself, you know. Go to a happy place in your head, it’s funny, we have a lot of funny situations.

Photo credit: Stephan Vanfleteren
Photo credit: Stephan Vanfleteren

Does anything in particular stand out to you in terms of differences between North American and European audiences?

Well, you definitely feel that a lot of them here, are oblivious to the fact that we exist, let alone know that we’ve been around for twenty years almost. But we are here now to change that.

A lot of people travelled long distances to see us, and that’s heartwarming to hear. There is a lot of love everywhere.

We are here to touch hearts, be heard. There is no such thing as a Euro audience, that differs from country to country, city to city.

You’re known for taking your time with your output. While one can’t really say the band’s ever been truly inactive, the duration of your album cycle tends to be a bit longer than that of most active bands. Is this just the nature of your writing process, or does everyone just have so much on the go?

Yes, we like to take the time to write something that matters, you know. Something that is truly valuable in our life. We wait out the right timing, if we don’t have anything worthy to write about we don’t. We have an awful lot of other projects, or solo projects, like Oathbreaker, Wiegedood, Syndrome, CHVE, Absent in Body, etc. And we do a lot of things that pass by under the radar, some of us do music for a contemporary dance piece, a lot of soundtracks for film, special ritual gatherings, and so on.

You’re also known for the prominence of your visuals, both onstage and in terms of your albums having striking artwork. To what extent would you consider that to be a part of the music itself, as opposed to merely being an added touch?

Our aesthetic is in my humble opinion a big part of the whole. We want to use art to its full extent. We do not want to limit ourselves to strictly one art form. All the different angles, be it our artwork from releases, live visuals… Everything we create comes from the same place. The core. The essence, of all beings… Everything should tell our story by itself and added together it should become clearer than anything. Word, sound, and visually, it should all make perfect sense, and speak to you like nothing else in this world.

Do you find it interesting to be sharing the stage with Neurosis, whose visuals on stage were integral to their performances for the majority of their career, but have now moved away from employing them?

Of course it’s interesting and intriguing to see, what steps our forefathers take. There is no denying that they gave us direction like no other. And them embracing us along the way, is the highest compliment we could ever have gotten.

The US tour we are doing know comes by the grace of them. They allow us to partake in the most beautiful times of our lives, on the road.

I think I was first introduced to your band about six years ago, and since that time I’d say that people I’m talking to will mention you guys more and more frequently. In terms of recognition, is this something that you as a band are conscious of?

We are, and we are not, at the same time… but it will always be hard to see your evolution as a band. You always feel like that 16-year-old hardcore kid that just started his band, you know?

We merely continue doing what we did when we were teenagers.

We are always too centered. We cannot take a distance and see it for ourselves. We have to trust the people outside our circle, that determine how ‘big’ your band is or is becoming.

What’s next for the band after this tour?

Lots of shows, now is the time for us to prove to the world that we exist. We have a lot of EU shows coming, then we go on a Japanese, Australian, and NZ tour. To tour EU again, and then come back to the states. We will be entering 20 years of existence as a band next year, and we are looking into organizing some special concerts or gatherings ourselves, to mark the occasion.

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