'I don't want to become a sex symbol'

Flanders is back again on the worldmap of the international music scene. Following Zita Swoon, dEUS, K's Choice, Lords of Acid and Praga Khan, now Arid is also ready to conquer the US after Europe. But Jasper Steverlinck, the singer with the voice of Jeff Buckley and the charisma of Michael Hutchence, keeps both feet firmly on the ground.

Arid is the Belgian pop revelation from this past summer. At Pinkpop they received a standing ovation, at Rock Werchter organiser Herman Schueremans put them as top of the bill in the Pyramid Marquee. Arid toured with Counting Crows, played at all the big festivals in France, Germany and Switzerland, released a successful debut album, signed an international deal with Columbia and now have also landed the musical leading role in a 3D movie with a $10 Million budget. The rock band from Ghent based around guitarist David Du Pré and singer Jasper Steverlinck is on the edge of their breakthrough in Europe and the USA. So why then is Jasper Steverlinck always so modest?

"Because that's the best way not to fall flat on your face. I have never hoped for phenomenal sales figures. The other guys from the group also keep factoring in the possibility that everything can still go wrong. We receive rave reviews in the media and both the record companies as the audience are extremely enthusiastic, but if that positive attitude suddenly turned around, at least I can still go everywhere with my head held high. Pain in the necks who developed an attitude can't do that anymore."

Playboy:  How did you and David find each other?
Steverlinck:  We knew each other from way back. He composed and I wrote poetry and lyrics. Together we wrote a song for the Rock Rally in 1996, searched for a rhythm section and a few weeks later we were on stage. Because there was still a lot to do after the finals, we turned down all the offers and worked like mad on our music and our sound.

Playboy:  Did the tour with Counting Crows come as a total surprise?
Steverlinck:  The record companies and managers truly surprised us with the invitation. The guys from Counting Crows were, by the way, extremely generous: we could eat and drink with them, shared dressing rooms, could soundcheck together.

Playboy: Two months in a bus, that can't have been any fun.
Steverlinck:  It was all right. Although we did see less of the world than we had hoped for. Counting Crows play in venues for at least 5,000 people, and those are usually not in the centre of town. In-between two concerts we'd try to sleep as much as possible. On the bus we were often busy with musical ideas for the next album. We avoided watching TV and playing video games, as those drive you crazy eventually anyway. Excesses? There really were none. Otherwise you won't keep up with that pace for two months. Not me, and definitely not my voice either.

Playboy:  Are you harassed on the streets in Belgium ?
Steverlinck:  I'm sometimes recognised, especially here in Ghent. But I'm not interested in it if it's just because of my head. I don't want to become a sex symbol, I'll leave that to others. That's why I always try to figure out why they recognise me. Usually it turns out to be because of our music. That proves that we're on the right track.

Playboy:  So no groupies, sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll for Jasper Steverlinck?
Steverlinck:  Are you mad? Don't worry, my girlfriend will keep me on the right track. My parents also - I still live at home - stay very sober about it, they support a full 100%, but treat me as a son who also has to work to earn a living. With the Steverlincks, and with Arid, an attitude doesn't count.

Playboy:  Arid is not alone. Other Belgian bands are also making it. What's causing this boom?
Steverlinck:  Belgium doesn't have more musical talent now than it had ten years ago, but the circumstances have changed. Especially with record companies, their mentality has changed. All of a sudden Belgium record boys look further than their own market. A group that wouldn't sell 25,000 CDs in Flanders wouldn't be able to go abroad. Now the Netherlands and France are included in the basic market. That's how it should be: if a talent scout believes in a group or artist, he should go all the way. It's doesn't mean that because you don't succeed in the Netherlands that the German market wouldn't want you either.

Playboy:  Who pointed the record bosses in that direction?
Steverlinck:  It is the dEUS-effect. Tom Barman has also awakened record companies from abroad for Belgian rock. Soulwax, Zita Swoon, Arid and in the past also Evil Superstars have been able to fully profit from that. And that has also rubbed off on the musicians themselves. We now believe that it can be done, and we are going for it.

Playboy:  Last summer, Arid was one of the headlining acts at Rock Werchter. Belgian groups with much more history have never succeeded in doing that. It's gone extremely fast with you guys...
Steverlinck:  My girlfriend considered it too much of an honour that Suzanne Vega was programmed before us. (smiles). Perhaps it was because we were playing a home game. But I mostly see it as proof that we are doing extremely well at the moment. Do you really think that Herman Schueremans would put us so high on the bill just because we're Belgian? No, we are there because we've proved something.

Playboy:  Does the success of Arid depend on the voice of Jasper Steverlinck?
Steverlinck:  That's what they say, but I don't see it that way. I know I've got a different and outstanding voice, and I do everything to keep my instrument in optimal condition. I don't smoke, I take singing lessons and I take enough rest. The tour with Counting Crows was an excellent test: two months of singing a lot, and for long periods of time even turned out to be very good for my vocal chords. But for me it's not my voice, but the music of Arid that catches on. A brilliant voice with a bad group doesn't work out. It is not his golden voice that made Frank Sinatra a world star, but his songs.

Playboy:  Does it annoy you that your voice is constantly being compared with Jeff Buckley's voice?
Steverlinck:  I can hardly call it annoying, being compared with such a talented musician. But I don't want to be labelled as an imitator, which I am not. I go my own way. Arid has been influenced by Radiohead and Jeff Buckley because we like that music. I really didn't think up this smart plan to fill in the gap after Jeff Buckley.

Playboy:  Which singers do you take as an example?
Steverlinck:  Jeff Buckley or Robert Plant, but also classically educated tenors from opera. I have a huge interest in classical music and try to regularly catch a concert. The aspect of the singing technique especially intrigues me. How a simple human voice can sometimes sing so quietly and modestly but at the same time be so powerful that even twenty Marshall-amplifiers seem pale compared to it. I also listen to a lot of soul music and gospel. That powerful singing, I want to be able to do that too. Even though the circumstances for a rock singer aren't always ideal. It's not a musical where they do everything to keep the singer as satisfied as possible. When I sometimes hear other bands complain about bad food - pizzas and hamburgers for months on end - then my heart misses a beat. If that happened to me, I doubt that my voice would survive it.

Playboy:  Do you write the songs on the strength of your voice?
Steverlinck:  No. David and I concentrate on the song structures and the melody lines. That is what they convinced us to do at Humo's Rock Rally. The entire press wrote then that Arid was a good voice and a bad group. Also the people from Double T, our record company, pointed the bad combination out to us. We actually ended up in those finals way too early.

Playboy:  In the meantime, Arid's debut album has also been released in the US. Quite some pop and rock bands that wanted to try their luck there returned home quickly. Isn't Arid worried to fall flat on its face?
Steverlinck:  In America anything can go wrong. To begin with the tour. The people from Columbia and Counting Crows are trying to get something together. Even a place as opening act for Radiohead is still a possibility. A lot will depend on those performances as we still are a rock group, and we have to draw attention on stage. We learnt a lot of that from Counting Crows, or from the story of K's Choice, who are also signed with Double T. K's Choice played themselves into the picture live with the radio stations, and consequently sold half a million records.

Playboy:  What is keeping Arid busy in the meantime?
Steverlinck:  We are working on the new album. One with strong influences from soul and classical music, with a better production and sound than "Little Things of Venom". The album will be recorded in the United States, but that has everything to do with the potential producer. We are now also involved in the soundtrack for Haunted Castle, the first computer-animated, 3D-movie where music plays a leading part. The ten million dollar film is produced by Ben Stassen and contains material by Arid, Metal Molly, Lunascape and Ozark Henry, among others. The film will finish with one of our concerts, recorded in 3D. As far as I know that's unique and I am quite proud of that."

Text in photo:
"Not a golden voice, but strong songs make a world star from an artist."