Healing, Living and Sharing an interview with Colin From Amenra
This was one of my favorite interviews from this year’s Roadburn. Colin Eeckhout of Amenra is one of the most fascinating interview subjects you could have. A true punk intellectual, fusing the hardcore scene with body modification with a sort of European erudition you don’t get on this side of the pond, Colin is perhaps one of the sharpest metal frontment I have ever met. In an interview where we discussed a brutal foot injury, poetic art and so much more. He opened my eyes to the true power of this art.
How the hell are you?
I’m good. I’m happy the show is over – I’m always happy when it’s done. I have nothing more expected from me I can just walk here breathing.
What happened to your foot?
A week and a half ago we did the loud out and one of us was sick and I was like “Oh I can do this myself” and I thought I had a good grip but I didn’t. The loading ramp was steeper than I calculated and I slipped and fucked up the tendons. It’s okay – I rested before the show because I knew it was going to be intense. But now I don’t need to worry about it anymore. You have to channel energy into that foot though, you’re playing a show and you’re thinking about your foot the whole time.
I’ve seen you perform before and I’ve always been struck by how intense your shows are – where does that come from?
It’s about treating it with respect and how it should be done. We could play that exact set sitting down next to each other but it doesn’t make sense. It has to be done in a certain way. Even if you have broken feet or whatever you can’t just do this one sitting down. It’s what the music demands. It needs the full energy and even more to get the message across as it should be.
Where does that sense of respect come from?
It comes from the hardcore scene we grew up in. Being kind and respectful to people makes them respect you back. You build a long relationship with everybody. It’s beautiful, I don’t know another way to approach things. People put their trust in you they buy records and get tattoos. This isn’t only ours, it’s something you make but other people get out of as well. It can mean a lot to someone so we owe it to them to play it with as much passion as possible. If someone really likes your record and it meant a lot for them and they see you not caring that would be sad. I’ve had that with other bands that meant the world to me but when I saw them live I had to confront the fact that they were assholes. It’s a precious thing for you but if they don’t respect it… If they make something that has a certain weight or emotion and then say it’s just for fun – my whole world crumbles when I hear that!
That’s the hard part of being deep into this kind of music…
Exactly. I take everything very seriously. You have this sort of stuff that’s serious then you have parties and 80s music for fun. One band for example – they meant a lot to me because they had the balls to change direction and bring in screamo and emo lyrics into another style that normally had other topics and I respected them for that but I remember them touring for the first time in Belgium and we tried to book a show for them. We got them in our town. There was no vocal amp there so I let them use mine. We were just the audience. Then they started bitching that the amps weren’t good enough. We didn’t have anything better. It felt bad how they treated us then. After twenty years we are friends but still…
For bands like yours who are distinctly not hardcore but are still part of a scene that owes its roots to hardcore…
But to other things as well. Those things helped form us but we switched to other stuff. We don’t really fit into a certain thing. It’s funny how that evolves. You don’t choose what scene you belong to but they all form you.
At what point did you realize you were evolving?
We didn’t fit into the scene anymore. We felt like the weird guys in the lineups. You start from a certain scene and evolve and then you try to fit in a new scene but you’re not accepted yet so you her in between. I like having one foot in one door and another in a different one. It’s cool to bring people together who wouldn’t be brought together normally. What we work with is universal and is a part of every human being. The emotions are the clay that we work with. You will have metal lovers liking it but you can also touch the hearts of people into different kinds of music.
What’s interesting with this scene is that in the last five years it’s kind of shifted to where if you are a music lover you can like Amenra – you don’t need to like metal or whatever.
Exactly – the program has gotten a lot more broad too. It used to be more segmented at festivals you would see the same band from beginning to end. After a decade nothing astounded you anymore so having a program that’s broader is a good thing.
Why do you think that the music and the scene has shifted like this?
I don’t know. I never really though about that before. Maybe it needed a shift. People felt it needed a shift. A lot has been done up until now and it is limited in a way. You can make endless heavy albums with heavy riffs but never answer why you make it beyond the desire to make music. Everybody has their own motivation to look for. For us it was a way to develop the idea of lowering your guard and opening up your heart and communicating that with the music.
Your publicist told me you had a meditation ritual before you go on stage…
It’s not really a meditation. You just need to be by yourself for a while. Lie last night I just listened to my music on my own for a while. At festivals like this you are always talking to your friends and have a good vibe but then suddenly it’s like “Oh I’m on in half an hour” and in that time you need to make that click and switch to that. You need time to focus. It’s not a meditation. We’re not sitting in a circle and chanting. We just wind down in advance and lose the fun touch for an hour before we hit the stage.
You said earlier that “Yesterday you had a million conversations but not a single real one”…
It saddens me. It’s cool but not a single soul has gotten something out of those conversations. Instead of having fifty small talk conversations I would rather have five ones where we speak human to human. I don’t like small talk. It’s hard to connect when you are stranded on small talk. I only care about what’s interesting to both of us.
How do you go from small talk to real conversation?
A lot of conversations start with small talk and if they end their I just say “Thank you” and the conversation is done or you can ask people more questions and start to find out more. That’s more interesting to me. It’s good to know who connects with you and who you have a link with. I’ve met a lot of really fucking nice people that way. I’d rather have people ask me a normal question than doing the usual routine of cliches you know? I mean fuck. Nobody gets something out of a conversation like that.
I noticed yesterday that you have breast cancer scars…
I never had breast cancer, I just had my nipples removed.
It’s a hard question. It’s not that I don’t want to answer but I sometimes have things in my mind where I just have to do it. It’s the same as explaining Amenra to someone, it’s a hard question to answer. Sometimes I need to do a big physical change to pinpoint a certain moment or give it a certain weight. I’ve been a father for six years and I’m not a masculine/feminine thinking kind of guy, we have both genders at birth, but the nipples are something men take with them but it doesn’t have a function. For me it makes sense to focus then on the father and alpha thing. With those things I make a construction in my head that I should do this. It’s like making a sculpture – why do you do it that way? You can’t explain, it’s an abstract thing.
So you view your body as a work of art?
Not necessarily – that might give it to much weight but I like to work with that. I was given it and on stage I want to use it as a medium. You talk about scars and being hurt and you try and visualize that in what you do.
What other body modifications have you done?
I have most of them! I started with piercings and tattoos when I was 15. Some scarification like cutting and branding. It evolves. My interest in body modification and body sculpting and working with the body and it involving pain and scars is what I worked with in my head and automatically got a little more intense. It wasn’t that easy in the 90s and it was hard to find people working with that and doing suspensions with hooks and stuff. In Belgium I found no one but I found a collective in Holland who worked with the ritual aspect and they opened up my mind to be open to the importance of ritual. Western cultures rituals are disappearing and I’ve always been a believer that rituals have a certain necessity in our lives. I worked with that. It’s a visualization of what we work with and the sound and image. It’s like one line you follow. An extension of what you think you were put on earth to do.
How do you feel now that body modifications are common?
I don’t mind. It means to you what it should mean to you. If you want to be cool or whatever go ahead. I don’t mind. What I care about is what I think about and how I view it. I have a lot of respect for people who push it to the next level. That blows my mind.
What’s stopping you from pushing it to the next level?
Reason (Laughter) Seriously – it’s not that I’m a control freak but I try to be in control as much as I can. I think too much. I’ve been straightedge for twenty years and maybe that’s why I haven’t really pushed it. I think too much about my children and stuff. Getting shit fixed with crazy modifications might be hard.
What do you love so much about music?
The unexplainable force that can be summoned by it. That’s an amazing thing for me. It’s undeniable and impossible to understand. It amazes me and music to me is like “Healing, Living and Sharing” that’s an old Dutch expression. If you make it a common thing it gets a lot more power and stamina. It brings people together with emotion and lowering your guard. You feel connected and it’s something really amazing.