Interview: We Stood Like Kings

Photo by Aniss Hamdi

Hailing from Brussels, Belgium, We Stood Like Kings is a four piece instrumental post-rock band that established its unique style of composing music alongside silent movies on their first release, Berlin 1927. Despite carrying on the tradition of classical movie scores where the piano is the main instrument the atmospheric layers built by their guitars and drums paint a new vibrant vibe to these movies.

Last October they released their second record, USSR 1926, a musical interpretation of Dziga Vertov’s silent movie A Sixth Part of the World. I got the chance to see them at their show in Hamburg last month, during their USSR 1926 Release Tour in Europe.  I chatted with them a bit before the show about the tour, the new album, some stories from the past and what may come down the road. 

First I would like to congratulate you on the new album, and let’s get directly to your recent European tour. How did it go?

Colin: It was a really great tour and we visited a lot of beautiful venues. We are still getting used to playing the new album live because it’s totally different from practicing in our studio, but we are getting there.

A Sixth Part of the World was an interesting movie to choose, what is the story behind it?

Judith: it was Steven’s choice, just kidding.

Steven: I don’t remember actually why we did choose this one particularly, but we like Vertov and we love The Man With A Movie Camera. We were looking for another movie, and the images of A Sixth Part Of The World were interesting and less famous so we decided to go with it as The Man With A Movie Camera  was scored a lot before.

Since you mentioned it I noticed that sometimes you focus more on the images and not the message behind the film. I always felt the music is a bit distant from the movies’ concept, and in some level telling its own story?

Steven: It’s true! Yesterday this girl came to us after the show and said, it was great the message you sent with it, when actually we weren’t planning to send any, we just like the montage and the images, even if there is a political ideology behind it.

Judith: We don’t wanna push the movie ideology across, what we think important is the human side and the heritage of these images which have been taken so long ago, and seeing all these people living together in this big country, I think that’s what attracts us to the film.

Getting to the musical part of the album, the composition in this one is rather more sophisticated and gloomier than the first one. Your sound seems more mature in general.

Colin: Yah, maybe because the movie itself is less humorous, unlike the images in Berlin 1927, like the one with the little girl pulling the tale of a tiger, but the new one made us walk towards another direction maybe.

Judith: But I guess musically we have been evolving as a band and when a band gets more used to writing together, the music can go another direction, but I guess it’s still the same mood and the same contrast.

I remember you said before that the idea of writing music scores came by chance so how did that happen? Are you planning to keep this approach in the future?

Judith:  The first time it came by chance. We met a guy who was working in a film school, and he knew about us and he knew the movie and he asked us to make the soundtrack, so we thought to give it a try in Berlin 1927, and we liked it. It seems to work with the people, and we will definitely be doing more, at least one or two movies and then see where it goes.

Colin: Maybe we can change the type of the movie, something like doing a trilogy of old classical black and white movies and after that maybe color movies. Anything is possible for us.

It was more common in this genre to add soundtracks to rather narrative kind of films like horror or thrillers. Have you ever thought about going in that direction?

Colin: The film has to tell a story, but if it was like a standard movie with a beginning and an end it will be a bit difficult.

Judith: And strange for the people too, when you have to follow a whole movie to get the plot and understand what is happening on the screen. Also we take a lot of space with the music, so it might be just too much.

I’m curious to know what your writing process looks like? And what changed since the first album?

Colin: Mostly we are together in the room with the movie, and we work on it one piece at the time. Someone makes an idea and we just follow up on it.

Steven: And when someone gets an idea that doesn’t fit on this specific part we keep it for another.

Judith: But we always walk from the beginning and go towards the end, as we have to see the evolution of the story from the start as we compose, to be able to reach the climax we want in the middle.

But in this album I believe we were more conscious about what we are doing, in Berlin we’re just starting without realizing what we really wanted to do with the movie. But this one with the experience we gained we knew what to do and how to approach it, and what kind of emotions we want to get to the audience.

And what kind of emotions did you want to transfer to the audience with this one?

Steven: Definitely lots of emotions, and although there is a happy part of the record, there are some aggressive parts too. Most of the album is quite emotional with the soft piano parts and soft guitar melodies above it, that breaks open into a lot of epic parts with bass distortions and drums over it, and that’s what we kept from the first album, but with more epicness and extremity.

Judith: Also the fact that the first album Colin wasn’t with us, he only came to record it, and now he composed this one with us, and he brings a lot of experience with him.

How did all of you guys begin this project? Some of you go way back since school if I remember correctly?

Judith: Mathieu and I met like 10 years ago as we went to the same high school, and Steven was a sound engineer in one of our concerts.

Steven: We met at a party where they were without their old guitarist and looking for a new one, and I was looking for a new band, so we started jamming together and it went nice. For Colin we knew he was a great bass player and asked him to join us later.

Beside this project, how does your normal life go? Any other projects you are running on the side?

Judith: Steven and Mathieu have jobs, I work as a translator and Colin is a professional musician and partially a student.

Colin: I actually study jazz at the Conservatorium at Brussels.

What are your plans for the band, do you plan to make it a full-time job or keep balancing between it and your other attachments?

Judith: For me the band definitely.

Colin: This is what I do, and I plan to play music forever. I also play jazz in different bands.

I believe all of you came from different backgrounds other than post-rock and then steered into it, how did that happen?

Judith: I knew I always wanted to play this kind of music, and when I came to Mathieu, he wasn’t familiar with it so I asked him “what do you think about this style of music?”, and he liked it.

Steven: I always have been into post-rock. In the start it was more like punk music, and I had another pop band, but even my licks were a bit post=rockish in it, and I was always into GY!BE or Mogwai, and some other less known projects.

Finally what have you planned after the tour, another one or a new album maybe?

Judith: I guess we will have to choose another movie and probably visiting Scandinavia next spring, and Hamburg again around next march. We also hope to visit Russia sometime soon too because of the new album.

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