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‘Are We Still Dreaming?’: a journey into the minds of blackwave.

Two years after their debut EP 'Mic Check', blackwave. is back with their first-ever full-length album called 'Are We Still Dreaming?'. What started as a concept album with a clear space-themed storyline, soon evolved into a more personal representation of their lives as a whole.

Text by Manoe Hollanders, pictures by Timo Vergauwen for CHASE

Willem Ardui and Jean Atohoun first met at a concert of Willem’s former band, 'The Zodiac'. After this, they connected online with the help of mutual friends. One thing led to another, which eventually resulted in the formation of blackwave. as we know it now. With Willem on the beat and Jean with the mic in his hand, they flow together as if it's the most natural thing in the world (and outer space?).

Three years after that first connection we're all lucky enough to be blessed with the release of their first album 'Are We Still Dreaming?'. Featuring songs like 'Elusive', 'GoodEnough' and 'The Antidote', the duo's exploration of the cosmos is not only that but also a journey into their own minds.

YOU'RE RELEASING YOUR FIRST FULL-LENGTH ALBUM! HOW ARE YOU FEELING RIGHT NOW?

Jean: It's a weight off our minds, really. Knowing that 'Are We Still Dreaming?' is finally out there, is a real stress-relief. Otherwise, we could've kept going, we could've kept writing new songs. Now everything's sent into the public and we can have a little mindfulness.

It's as if we've already been excited about this album, and now we can finally let it go its own way. We've heard all of these songs dozens, maybe hundreds of times, if not more. Now we can finally put the whole production process behind us and focus on what's next.

WHAT REACTION DO YOU EXPECT FROM THE PUBLIC?

Jean: I try not to fantasize about the public's reaction too much. I'm just going to let it come at me, instead of thinking it all the way through before the time arrives.

Willem: The record sounds good to us. Most importantly, it's what we want to release right now. If people decide to listen to it, that's cool. If not, that's alright with us too. We'll see. Of course, we want people to hear our new material, don't get me wrong, but 'Are We Still Dreaming?' doesn't necessarily have to go platinum or anything like that. That's not important to us. We just wanted to create something that we're both satisfied with, something we could pour our hearts and souls into.

Are We Still Dreaming - blackwave.
blackwave. - Picture by Timo Vergauwen for CHASE

'ARE WE STILL DREAMING?' STARTED OUT AS A CONCEPT ALBUM. WHAT'S THE STORY BEHIND IT?

Willem: It started out as a concept album, yes. But I don't feel like it is anymore.

Jean: In the beginning, we were playing around with the idea of space travel, of going from one place to another and discovering all kinds of new things on the way there. But we kind of moved past that at some point. It's still the underlying concept, but it isn't as present as we were originally planning it to be.

Willem: We've worked on this album for two years. This turned out to be such a long process that we eventually decided to just go with the flow and let the record evolve into something more organic. There's still an escapism-like undertone, though. We also kept some of the elements regarding space travel, especially in the visual aesthetics. And of course the nostalgia behind it all, with the 8-bit artwork and the arcade games that people could try and play at our showcase in Antwerp. It's something we found very fitting to the journey we've traveled these past two years, and of course the overall vibe of the tracks.

HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED ANY DIFFICULTIES WHILE CREATING THE ALBUM?

Willem: It's been a special process. I think we've learned a lot about what we want to do differently regarding our next album. It took about two years to finish 'Are We Still Dreaming?'. Over the course of those two years, we've recorded in a lot of different studios. Not for any particular reason. We just wrote new material where and when we were inspired, with artists we could really vibe with. We've written songs and discarded them, written more and discarded again. I think it would be good to try and keep a bit more focus next time. Maybe stay in one studio, but for a whole month. And write an album in that way.

Willem Ardui - Picture by Timo Vergauwen for CHASE
Willem Ardui - Picture by Timo Vergauwen for CHASE

On the other hand, the way this album was recorded really reflects the way we've worked for the past two years. It shows where we've been and how we've grown more than when we would've recorded all of the tracks in one place. We didn't start recording with the idea of "now we're going to begin working on the album". We just made music everywhere we went and then bundled those songs together to create 'Are We Still Dreaming?'. That's what makes it so interesting. To us, the record's a hodgepodge of all kinds of different sounds that come together as a whole. It's a reflection of the path we've traveled so far. And in its entirety, it just sounds right.

NOT ALL OF THE SONGS WERE RECORDED IN THE SAME PLACE. IN WHICH OTHER STUDIOS HAVE YOU WORKED THESE PAST TWO YEARS?

Jean: We've been all over the place. We've recorded in our own room, at the Dutch Sony Studios, at Martin Garrix's studio, with Benny Sings in Amsterdam, at the Red Bull Studios in Berlin... We've also been to L.A. and the UK to work on a couple of tracks.

WHERE DID YOU HAVE THE MOST PLEASANT STUDIO EXPERIENCE?

Jean: That'd be a very difficult choice between Red Bull Studios in Berlin and Benny Sings' studio in Amsterdam. Those were two amazing collaborations. Especially with Caleborate at Red Bull Studios. It was really interesting to experience another writer's vision and approach.

Willem: That really was an outstanding experience. Caleborate also brought out some of the tracks that we recorded there himself. I think we'll release everything that we created over there at some point in our careers. Those were very productive sessions. The same with Benny Sings. His studio was located under one of those little bridges in Amsterdam. That's probably the most unique place we've ever recorded.

Jean: There was this one time when we were recording there in the middle of the night, and it started raining so hard that we couldn't leave the studio.

Willem: Yeah, we had no choice but to keep going. That was crazy.

I CAN IMAGINE THAT THERE ARE QUITE SOME SONGS THAT DIDN'T MAKE THE CUT. ARE YOU PLANNING ON RELEASING ANY OF THEM IN THE FUTURE?

Jean: I think so, though we're not sure yet in what format.

Willem: There are sounds that we're just going to dispose of. That are never going to see the light of day. But some songs we just weren't able to finish in time. These will probably be released on a deluxe version of the album, or B-sides. Maybe even a whole new EP.

Jean Atohoun - Picture by Timo Vergauwen for CHASE
Jean Atohoun - Picture by Timo Vergauwen for CHASE

DOESN'T IT HURT TO THROW AWAY SOMETHING YOU'VE WORKED ON FOR SO LONG?

Jean: It does, but you have to be able to make a selection of the best tracks you have, the songs you feel the most when putting the final touch to an album. We could've made 'Are We Still Dreaming?' a one-and-a-half hours long experience, but then it would've been a mixture of thirty-something tracks that never would've fit together as nicely as the seventeen songs that it's composed of now.

Willem: Of course it wasn't fun to let go of these tracks, but it had to happen. Sometimes you just have to write for the litter bin. Sometimes you have to write five different things to then choose the one you feel best about. Maybe you'll feel connected to the other four too, but it won't be on the same level.

DID YOU ALWAYS AGREE ON HOW THE TRACKS WERE SUPPOSED TO SOUND?

Jean: In the end, always. We both have quite strong opinions, which is necessary if you want to reach the best result possible. If Willem doesn't like something about an idea that I have, he won't keep this to himself and vice versa. This allows us to work together towards a track or a sound that we can both fully get behind.

Willem: It's never been about compromising, more about adding something and discovering the value that this new element can bring to the overall sound.

YOU'VE WORKED WITH A NUMBER OF PEOPLE TO CREATE 'ARE WE STILL DREAMING?', INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO DAVID NGYAH, CALEBORATE AND WINSTON SURFSHIRT. WHICH COLLABORATION DID YOU ENJOY THE MOST?

Jean: That's kind of the same as the studios we've recorded at, since those were tied to Caleborate and Benny Sings. We also worked with Jonathan Jeremiah in Brussels.

Willem: And with Yellowstraps in Antwerp. That session was super cool, super organic too. We spent one day completely finishing one track, Realize Now. He just grabbed his guitar and the first thing he played are the chords you can now hear in the song. Same with Jonathan Jeremiah, the first chords he played are the ones we used on In The Middle. It just felt right.

Jean: Yeah, the musical and creative connection was always there. But that also has a lot to do with making the right decisions about who to get in the studio with.

WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO WORK WITH IN THE FUTURE?

Willem: There are countless artists that we'd like to work with, but blackwave. is and forever will be a project that revolves around our own creative outlet. So we'll never let ourselves drown in features. Whatever we create, it's going to start with the two of us. For 'Are We Still Dreaming?' though, it was very enriching to collaborate with different people. It opened our eyes in many ways.

Jean: I'd like to work with Tyler The Creator someday. He seems like an amazingly interesting person to record with. As a person, as a producer, and as a rapper. He's a real visionary. I think he can get more out of somebody creative-wise than anybody else would be able to.

IN THE COURSE OF THE FOLLOWING MONTH YOU'LL BE PERFORMING IN BELGIUM AND IN THE NETHERLANDS. ARE YOU EXCITED TO PLAY THE NEW MATERIAL LIVE?

Jean: I can't wait to see the live reaction of our fans. I'm also really looking forward to playing a new set. We've been doing the same thing over and over for about one and a half years now. Not that there's anything wrong with the show the way it is, but it's time for innovation.

Willem: We're going to do something completely new for our performance in Ancienne Belgique in Brussels, so that's very exciting. It's going to be a set that we're not all that familiar with yet, but it'll be good to finally perform these new tracks that we've never been able to play for an audience before. The tracks that we feel closest to in this period of time. The last few concerts with the old set almost felt like a slump, as if we had to put on a show. And that's not something we ever want to do.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST? RECORDING OR PERFORMING?

Jean: That depends. I really enjoyed being in the studio and making new music, but during the festival season, it's terrific to perform a lot.

Willem: When the music is made and we've decided which songs to play in the set, and we can just get up on the stage and perform, that's the greatest feeling ever. Especially when the audience is having as much of a good time as we are.

blackwave. - Picture by Timo Vergauwen for CHASE





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