Knekelhuis dialogues #4 — Stacks

Knekelhuis Dialogues come back to introduce you to Stacks, the Belgian duo of Jan and Sis Matthé. These Antwerp residents build and undress different timbres and textures into vocal-hooked songs, flouting the rules of pop in the process.

Hey! Glad you had some time to have this conversation. Could you tell us how your interest in music started?

It may have started with watching the Dutch music programme Countdown via antenna in our village in the eighties. The giant host Adam Curry interviewing Berlin before they performed Take My Breath Away or the video clip of Piet Veerman’s Sailin’ Home come to mind. In the summer of 1991, there was a Nirvana CD of an uncle that soon thereafter was no longer part of the family, or a couple of years later the purchase of the 1991: The Year Punk Broke VHS tape in London’s Carnaby Street, on a school trip. It could have been a tape that an older sister of a friend gave me of the Flex Your Head Compilation on Dischord, which I always played while taking showers. Or the Roxy Music LPs of our dad, and his OOR Pop Encyclopedia?

Nice! A lot of memories from the early days. Was music always around in your family?

I think so, in the shape of a record collection for sure, but it was also the heyday of MTV, so all these videos were just wonderful. I still remember the energy our parents had the morning after they saw Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band play a three-hour show in Rotterdam in the eighties, together with their siblings and friends. Pure happiness. And our mom’s story about seeing Hot Chocolate with her younger sister in the village next to ours, pretty good too. Besides a grandfather who played the bombardon in the local brass band, no one in our family plays an instrument, though. An uncle once stole a bass guitar from a band after a concert, for reasons still unclear to me, but that’s about as close as it got.

The picture on the cover is also from your childhood. What’s the story behind it?

It was taken on a summer holiday at Île de Ré, which is known for its salt, oysters and the huge bridge that connects it to the French mainland. We look a bit like the Pet Shop Boys, I think, don’t we?

Indeed! So was it the Pet Shop Boys who inspired you to start a band?

Sis started Stacks after our previous band stopped working partly because the two of us were more interested in making synth stuff on the computer than jamming in rehearsal rooms. He made the first two albums mostly by himself on a laptop while sitting on a couch next to a newborn baby daughter in 2012–2015 with me swinging by once in a while to say yes, or sometimes no. When I got back from living in Stockholm for a year, we decided to continue as a duo, so Our Body Memory (2019) was the first ‘Stacks 2.0’ album. The main difference with previous projects is that we only need to get two, and fairly like-minded, people together in a room to start working. That we both don’t mind talking about what we’re doing while we’re doing it, and that we like and understand each other helps too.

Let’s return to the upcoming album. How would you introduce Love and Language?

In our heads it’s a pop album, but it could be too unfinished, deconstructed and serious for it to really be one. Which is fine. We like to think it’s beautiful, hopeful, moody and romantic. Unlike Our Body Memory, all eight songs have vocals, but it’s probably still a more minimal and more ‘quiet’ album. We’re just very curious to see where it will land and look forward to getting to know it better ourselves by it being out there.

Do you have a favourite track on Love and Language? A track with a special meaning?

My current favourite is If Hope Is a Game, I think, the last track on the album. Makes me look forward to what’s coming, for all of us.

Let’s hope there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. What’s the most important thing in the music creation process for you?

Patience, pitching and persistence, stretching curiosity. To be able to be completely surprised by what the other comes up with, to keep the option open that it’s not at all what you think it is. ‘The freedom to pretend all of this is real / The freedom to protect all of this as real.’

Lyrics or music first?

Always music first but also always what we call ‘dummy text’ to get an idea of how the vocal melodies will sound while we’re still figuring out the rest. Lyrics are the very last thing that’s finalized, mostly.

What was the biggest influence on your new album?

There are so many good records and books being released and still to discover, it’s endlessly fantastic. Some things we sent to each other while making this record: The Threshold HouseBoys Choir,, Fatima Al Qadiri’s Atlantique soundtrack, Laila Sakini — Figures (but most of her stuff tbh), Etienne Daho — La notte, a Simon and Garfunkel promo picture, early-eighties slow italo extended versions, Tears For Fears — The Working Hour (piano version), Clarice Lispector, Dion — Only You Know, Keeley Forsyth,…

We’re happy to have you in Amsterdam this summer for the album release event. What instruments do you play and what can people expect to see on stage?

We’ll both play an Alpha Juno and will mostly be singing. We’ll move our hips to the rhythm of our Matthean ancestors.

Thanks guys! Love and Language is out on 27th May. Follow the updates on social media for upcoming Stacks shows in Europe.