Mitte Januar fand in Groningen mit dem Eurosonic Noorderslag das Festival für die europäische Newcomerszene statt. Natürlich waren auch wir da und haben mit einer Reihe der Künstler über ihre Musik und Projekte gesprochen. Den Anfang macht J. Bernardt – den meisten wohl besser bekannt als der Gitarrist von Balthazar. Wir sprachen mit ihm über den sehr anderen Sound seines Solo-Projektes, die Auswirkungen auf die Zukunft von Balthazar und warum er die Gitarre unbedingt mal ablegen wollte.
How was your show yesterday? It was one of the first shows you have ever played with J. Bernardt, right?
Actually, it was kind of tricky. We just knew that we could play here two days in advance. And as we’re working on the album and are not rehearsing right now it was a last minute thing. But it was nice. Unexpected nice crowd and a lot of people. Because it’s a showcase festival so it’s normally weird to play in front of the business people. They are not the wildest crowd.
Your stage line-up is quite minimalistic. You are just three people and use a lot of MIDI tracks and loops. Was this more a financial or an artistic decision?
I didn’t want to be on stage with a whole orchestra; with three people it’s perfect. And it’s a financial thing as well of course and it’s easy. If you’re just three people you just hop on a bus and off you go. But of course the songs are more complicated than just bass, drums and guitar, so we had to find a way. It’s not that we wanted to be a smart show-off, with all our loop stations – it’s just a way to make it work. And we’re actually still figuring out how to do everything. You know, you don’t want to end up stuck in your loops. We really want freedom in the music.
My keyboarder is actually playing the bass and the piano and the synth – all at once. So I don’t have to do a lot. And then I just push a button and start a loop I recorded or something.
So it was also about getting rid of the guitar?
I guess so. The thing is: Sometimes when I played with Balthazar, I broke a string and then put away my guitar and started dancing. So if I do a solo project I don’t want to do the same like with Balthazar. I want to feel different. I wanted to claim the whole singer thing and just dance.
Speaking of Balthazar, was getting away from the sound of Balthazar as far as possible a goal of J. Bernardt?
Yes, of course. In a way. Because when I write for Balthazar I have this sonic vision. I have a bass, some drums, violins and you think about this, when you start writing. So I wanted to drop every connection to these instruments. I wanted synthesisers, no guitar, no bass guitar, no acoustic drums. And I really like a lot of R&B and stuff like that. So there was a side of that in Balthazar as well, but it’s an indie band, so overall it stays indie music. But I wanted to enlighten this other side of me. And it’s funny as I surprise myself by writing those new songs.
How much does the success of Balthazar impact this new project? Because you know that there is project that’s working so you can probably feel more free about J. Bernardt and be experimental.
I thought I would be more experimental. I still have to get into this stuff. But of course I wanted to do something that’s purely fun. Balthazar is becoming a big machine, with big tours and stuff. And it’s just nice to start over again. I have to fight again for a little spot on a festival and I really enjoy doing this.
So there are no ambitions to get in the charts or anything?
I don’t know. Because “Calm Down” was released and everyone was like “Yeah!”. So I thought, “Ok, maybe let’s try”. I didn’t expect that. I just enjoy it. I don’t want to focus too much on where I have to get. I just want to do a little tour and maybe go to a foreign country like Mexico.
Let’s talk about the album. Are you working on something? Is there a second single coming?
Actually, I’m still waiting a little bit for “Calm Down” to do its thing. Because it came out in the end of last year and everyone was more concerned about Christmas. But I just finished a new track to be released. It’s like a six minute track. So that’s the next one. Probably there is another single coming in February or March. And I hope I will release my album in June. That’s when I turn 30, so it would be a nice gift (laughing).
So why so late? The break from Balthazar is quite a while and the Warhaus album is out there since last summer. Was this a decision you made, not releasing at the same time?
Yes, it was convenient. But actually, I was just way too late. I had a lot of songs, but I threw them all away, because I wanted to do more of the R&B thing. Even now I’m still writing. I should actually say that my album is finished, but I’m still working. Now I’m really in a hurry for the album. And when the album is done, we start again writing for Balthazar.
But you will tour with J. Bernardt?
Of course. We will take the whole year. I think there will be a few festivals in the summer and then a European tour in the winter. But there’s not a lot of time.
Where is the name J. Bernardt coming from? I heard something about that it is your second name?
It’s my fourth name. And also, when I’m really really drunk I’m way nicer than when I’m sober and then people start calling me Bernardt. I just wanted to stop having to explain where the name is coming from, like with Balthazar, so I just chose my name. So short: It’s just my name.
As you already said you will go back to Balthazar next year. How high are the ambitions for your solo projects. Do you even think that they will last longer than this break?
Yes, I think the solo projects are something you can be on until you die. That’s why it’s a solo project. But Balthazar is a band, so you never know. I think it’s just something we needed now. Because you’re in this band for 10 Years now. And it’s your early twenties, you go touring for six years. And suddenly you don’t know it anymore. We needed this to have some creative oxygen. And it’s funny, because I always wrote with Maarten. And we really took each other for granted. And the after the first Warhaus show I thought: “Oh fuck, you can really write songs. I didn’t know.” So I’m also looking forward to start writing again for Balthazar. I just don’t know if it’s gonna be like, solo album, Balthazar, solo album, Balthazar… Don’t want to think about that too much. We just want to make sure that everything we release is done because we have fun with it.