According to pop folklore the garage (that abiding signifier of homely suburbia) was the place where aspiring guitar legends thrashed through their rehearsals. Thus “garage” became a sobriquet for the crude and raucous sounds pounded out by a legion of three chord wonders wielding Vox and Fender guitars, the mixture always heavily spiked with fuzztone distortion.
However, garage is a pretty varied genre. When the American garage rock sound of the late sixties married with the loudness and the cocky attitude of the British punk scene in the seventies, the evolution of the modern garage punk scene took off, and in last two decades we’ve been spoiled with bands combining the sound of the garage rock and garage punk scenes, often with bits and pieces of surf rock in it just to keep the connection to its origin. Bands as Thee Oh Sees, Fidlar and Ty Segall let us believe that the genre was confined to its origin but later bands as Swedish The Hives paved the way for many European garage rock/garage punk acts.
Close to Antwerpen in the north of Belgium four friends picked up their instruments in 2017 and poured whatever they played through tons of fuzzboxes. One year later with just a few pub shows of experience they won the music talent show “De Nieuwe Lichting” and toured frequently throughout the year; and in 2019 they released their garage punk oozing debut album “Family Dinner”, bringing them onto the major festival stages in Europe.
When SONS played double shows at Molotow’s 29th birthday party we caught up with frontman Robin and bassist Jens and chat about a busy gig year, releasing debut album “Family Dinner” and being a garage rock/garage punk act from Belgium.
From pub shows to hanging out with Jack White
You’ve had an amazing last two-year episode. It feels like 2019 has been the breakthrough year for the band. First you won this music talent award, “De Nieuwe Lichting”, and then you went into the studio and recorded your debut album that was released in April this year. How quick did it move forward for you after you won that award?
Robin: It’s been an amazing year and lot of things happened quickly. Before that contest we played eight pub shows, we just had that with us plus lots of practice in our rehearsal room but nothing else.
We didn’t really know anything about the music industry or how it works out, but after we won that contest we got a manager, a booker and our own sound technician. Basically, we came from nothing, knowing nothing about anything.
Jens: Yeah, we didn’t know a shit but we knew how to play and how to put on a show, and it was great to make all these new experiences together the last year, both as friends doing it together and as a band because it’s obvious to us that the more we played live the better we got. It’s a huge difference between rehearsing songs and play them live; you need to play live to get better.
Robin: And we did loads of shows last year, something like seventy shows, and this year we’ve done around fifty so far. We even had five shows during weekends at times, five shows in two days; that’s just crazy.
How was it, as a band, to go through this transition when nothing happens and then just suddenly you play Rock Werchter and Pukkelpop and reach out to a bigger crowd and hang out with huge artists backstage. How do you handle that kind of situation when you suddenly realize that you don’t need to struggle at venues with just hundred people in the audience?
Robin: We didn’t had time to think about it that much because we were so busy.
Jens: We felt like a really small band backstage, just like small boys hanging out with stars (laughs). Jack White passed our table and I just sat there with my mouth open and all food falling out of my mouth on the plate again (laughs).
As for the show; it was all adrenaline! On the big stage you had to enter through a tiny door, basically a hole between these huge screens that bands like Pearl Jam use, and then you see all the people in the crowd. I don’t remember anything from that show.
Robin: But even now; we don’t think about it that much, just go with the flow and not overthink things, and that’s why it works out I guess. We’re just doing our thing and try to enjoy the moment.
Jens: And every show is just the same for us; you go on stage with your best friends and have fun and end up in the bar talking to people after the show.
It’s also great to hear something coming out of Belgium, it’s not that much music that reach through. We have covered bands as Oscar & The Wolf, Balthazar and Selah Sue but it’s not super many bands turning up from Belgium. Is it harder being a band from Belgium and compete with British and American bands about attention, especially when you play garage rock/ garage punk?
Robin: Of course it’s much easier to get booked if you’re a band from the UK or the US. Just look here [at Molotow] tonight where most bands are from the UK. At times it feels that you’re not one of the boys (laughs).
Jens: We don’t have that much international experience yet, and everything that happens is just amazing. For us every experience is new.
On the other, if you do your thing and people like it, it doesn’t matter where you come from, but I can admit that it’s probably easier to get international experience and play different countries if you’re a band from the UK and the US rather than from Belgium.
A recap of an awkward family dinner
As the laws of physics suggest, you’ll see things before you hear them. That’s no different when it comes to listening to an album or song, as more often than not, before you press play, the first thing that will catch your attention, is the accompanying cover art.
And what’s worse than that sort of awkward moment at family dinners when your grandma wants to snap a photo of you and your sister, who rather would have spent the night at a club drinking beer with friends. Jens and Robin tell us the story about the artwork.
SONS release a debut record called “Family Dinner”, and the artwork reminds me of those awkward family dinners you just had to endure as a teenager when you rather wanted to be with your friends and drink beer. What’s the connection between SONS and family dinners?
Robin: Then it worked (laughs).
Jens: Actually, the idea to the album name comes from the song “Family Dinner”, the opener on the album, and that song is about feeling awkward with your family, a bit embarrassed.
“Family Dinner” also represents the album quite well because it’s a contrast to those awkward situations; you don’t really listen to the album when you’re with your family. And the cover really represents the kind of family dinner atmosphere where your uncle takes this stupid family photo.
Robin: The idea for that first song started when we were on a bus from a show actually and everything after that just happened naturally.
Jens: What’s most fun about the cover is that the photo is from Robin’s and Arno’s [the guitarist; they’re cousins] grandmother’s house (laughs). But the four of us actually had dinner first so it is an authentic situation but it’s not on the photo, we put a friend of us in there who works out better on photo, and the girl is just our rehearsal room neighbor.
The whole situation was kind of funny because we had this idea of an awkward family dinner and then we called their grandmother and just said “Hey, we’re coming over to shoot a picture for our record”, but we told her about the cover. She made a lot of food though, a real Flemish dinner (laughs).
When you recorded “Family Dinner” you brought in Reinhard Vanbergen from one of my favorite indie pop acts Das Pop and Michel Badger, the King Gizzard dude. How much does it mean to have producers like Vanbergen and Badger for the sound on the album?
Robin: Reinhard didn’t do that much with our songs actually, but he added elements, tiny details that made the songs elevate a bit; it could be some weird percussions or some extra layers, but the songs is pretty much as we made them. What he changed is that we’re not just a rock band as we were from the beginning, we’re a bit more than that on the album.
Badger’s thing is that he really likes beer (laughs). But we really love King Gizzard.
Jens: What was really cool with Badger was that he wanted to be involved in the whole process. He came over from Australia to our studio but was really just doing the mixing and mastering, but he was with us from the beginning to the end.
The way he mixed the songs made them sound more international; it’s harder, brutal and raw but at the same time radio friendly, it’s balanced in that way.
The first time I heard the album I thought that there’s so much Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees in there, but you take that a step further and make it your own thing. “Ricochet” for instance is like Thee Oh Sees “The Dream”. Is it that type of bands that influenced you when you made the songs for the album?
Jens: We’re huge fans of Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees and King Gizzard, but also bands like Beach Boys and that kind of Californian sound. But there’s also a bit of old school punk influences in there like Minor Threat and Black Flag.
Our drummer is a really good blues drummer and you will probably find a bit of 70’s hard rock vibe on it at times, like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, and we love that scene as well.
As you said you are influenced by the Californian sound, Beach Boys, and garage bands as Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees; that’s a very American sound. It may still be too early to talk about the future but if you consider that garage rock is huge in America have you started to discuss touring America?
Robin: That would be so great if we get to do that. We recently did a session for KEXP and were at Iceland Airwaves before we came here, and it would be awesome to get the chance in America, but for the moment it’s just a dream.
Jens: It was really big for us to do the KEXP session, thirty minutes live on air in Seattle, a big thing on our bucket list, and hopefully someone listened and will bring us back over the Atlantic (laughs). It would be so fucking great and the biggest dream coming true.
But where do you think SONS will be in the near future? How far have you come in three years?
Robin: We will probably have our second album out because it feels like we have much more to put out when we’re in the rehearsal room, there’s a lot more to tell people. And of course, at that point we have done a lot more international shows.
Jens: But our mind is set for a second album, and to make that album really big we want to take our sound a bit further. Hopefully we have been in America by then and then return to Germany and Reeperbahn, every weekend (laughs).