Interview: Five Minutes with Poltrock

Image: Julie Calbert

David Poltrock, simply known as Poltrock, is a Belgian experimental electronic producer who is making waves with his intelligent merging of ambient, electronica, techno, house and IDM. Poltrock is no stranger to the music world, especially when it comes to writing and composing; this multi talented artist holds credit for albums and tracks by Tom Helsen, Arid, Lois Lane, K’s Choice and many others with which he’s achieved three Belgian number 1 hits, including ‘Home’ (Tom Helsen) and ‘Sadness’, and as a composer, David has also contributed to many songs by established Belgian artists such as Monza, Clouseau and Paulien Mathues.

Poltrock has just premiered his brand new track, ‘Titanus’, the first single off his upcoming album ‘Machines’ set for release on November 16 via Poltrock Music as part of the ongoing album trilogy ‘Mutes, Moods and Machines’. This album release will mark the third and final album out of the three full length albums released over a five-year long process with a pianesque 88-day interval, all highlighting a different approach to the 88 piano keys. Currently, David Poltrock is touring with Hooverphonic, De Mens and Bent Van Looy and playing experimental music with the deep-drone ensemble Razen.

Listen to the premiere of Poltrock’s brand new single, ‘Titanus’, below.

We caught up with Poltrock and chatted about immersing oneself in music, being a ‘gear slut’ and adapting to new technology. 

Set the tone for us. Why the arts?

Becoming a musician was a childhood dream and it always seemed like the most obvious thing in the world, really… I never actually had to struggle to find my way as a session player, sound designer and producer in Belgium. Being a music professional wasn’t really a choice; I just happened to have become one without even noticing.

Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?

Definitely the sound. I might start with an improvised piano progression as well as with some random synth sequences, but it’s always the sound or combination of sounds that’ll inspire me to dive deeper into a first draft.

Does your material feature any collaborations?

Not really, although the ‘Sun*Sun*Sun String Orkestra‘, an amazing Belgian string quintet that has collaborated with Cinematic Orchestra, Einstürzende Neubauten and Emiliana Torrini have played on one track off my previous album ‘Moods’.

What’s on your current playlist?

I grew up listening to 90’s indie rock and hardcore. Victim’s Family, Nomeanso, Fugazi; that kind of stuff keeps popping up. Being a trained jazz musician, I admit there’s an awful lot of Bill Evans, Hank Mobley and Thelonious Monk in my playlists. The car is my favourite music listening habitat and there’s a plethora of cinematic electronic ambient artists to escort me on my tedious road trips: Tim Hecker, Ben Frost, Stars of The Lid, Christina Vantzou, Deaf Center, Haxan Cloak, Oneohtrix Point Never, Fennesz, Rival Consoles… Amazing Stuff!! Don’t get me started on good music!

Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.

None whatsoever 🙂 I’ve been playing my shows sitting behind a piano and a rig of vintage keyboards with my back facing the audience. I tend to totally immerse in my music and basically perform eyes closed.

What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?

The concept of my sound is to make electronic sounds sound organic and to make acoustic sounds sound like machines. My synths usually get a tape treatment and I like to add tons of reverb, on top of which I use overdrive and distortion stomp boxes. I’ve used a lot of ‘prepared piano’ sounds as well. I alter the sound of an upright or grand piano by applying all kinds of objects (cutlery, bolts, duct tape…) to the strings. I usually go on manipulating these sounds in a sampler. I finally made a lot of use of my custom made and modded Mellotron – a kind of tape-based sampler – for which I created a lot of bespoke sounds myself. The ultimate organic machine!

Take us through a day in the recording studio.

1. Coffee => 2. Emails => 3. Coffee => 4. Composing/Recording/Mixing => 5. despair => 6. Coffee => 7. More Composing/Recording/Mixing => 8. more despair => 9. lunch (optional) => 10. Coffee => 11. More Composing/Recording/Mixing => 12. either relief (go to 13.) or more despair (go back to 10.) => 13. Dinner => 14. Netflix

Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”? *

This very thought occurred to me while playing a festival on a historic site in Tuscany. I was still in the early stages of my career and was playing keys with triphop band Hooverphonic. We were headlining the festival surrounded by the most mind-blowing mountain range and the sun was setting slowly. Magic! Considering I’ve spent most of my career in damp studios overlooking rainy Brussels’ sidewalks, I guess there must be poetry in that as well, though.

What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?

A glass of white wine.

Any emerging artists on your radar?

Releasing three albums a year doesn’t leave one with much time to discover new stuff. I’m afraid I keep digging up old guys like myself…

What gets your creative juices flowing?

I can get immensely inspired by listening to good music. I can start a sunny day listening to Coltrane while answering my emails and suddenly feel inspired to rush into the studio and end up with a dark nocturnal ambient improvisation. It’s hardly a one-on-one inspiration and I just recently discovered that the brighter and shinier the day gets, the more gloomy my music turns out to be. Maybe I should go and see a doctor about that.

Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.

I’m quite a gear slut and I’m fortunate to have collected a quite impressive amount of vintage synthesizers and electromechanical keyboards over the years. The main challenge is mostly to set a strict limitation to the gear I use on a project. The ‘Machines’ album has a couple of instruments that characterise the sound. My good old Steinway upright piano – treated with the right amount of felt to make the sound more intimate – is undoubtedly the most important one. Other instruments include the Minimoog Model D, the Roland Jupiter 4, the Dave Smith OB6, the Analogue Solutions Polymath and my custom made Streetly Electronics M4000 Mellotron. I’m a big spring reverb enthusiast, so there’s a lot of old twangy reverbs big and small scattered all over the studio floor. On a software side all Valhalla reverbs and Soundtoys plugins have been amazing mixing tools.

Any side projects you’re working on?

I’m in the middle of recording an EP with amazing electronic Belgian live band STAVROZ as we speak. All music originates from long and organic jams in my studio and we hope to release next year. There’s an ongoing collaboration with Belgian ambient artist OAKTREE – release set in 2018 – and I’ll be releasing a promising new album with the improvisational and experimental drone ensemble RAZEN.

How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?

I’m learning everyday! Experimenting with sounds and textures for Poltrock surely helps me bringing my session musicianship to a next level. Considering I entered the industry when people were still recording to tape, I’ve done pretty well adapting to new technology and using it to my benefit.

Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?

I’m looking forward to releasing ‘Machines’ in the UK and US on 16 November and hope to do some touring in these territories later on. I’ll be releasing a remix EP later this year as well and I’m really looking forward to collaborating with some exciting artists in the course of 2019.

Listen to Poltrock’s track ‘Mute #2’, below, taken from the first album of the ‘Mutes, Moods and Machines’ trilogy, titled ‘Mutes’.

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