Where are you currently based?
I recently moved to Antwerp, Belgium. I just finished unboxing my studio.
You released your debut album on June 1, how has the response been?
I didn’t know what to expect to be honest, I just wanted to make this solo album without thinking too much about the commercial side of things, but the response has been great. I’m fairly surprised by how it’s received by international audiences. Propably my other band Balthazar has something to do with it, but I’m happy with it nonetheless. Long live the internet.
Where and when did you record?
I recorded most of the stuff at my previous home in Ghent, just a tiny small room with my laptop and some synthesizers. I wanted the process to be very solitary and DIY, to keep it close to me without too many people looking over my shoulder. In the end I met up with some friends and their studios to finish it up. It was a very spontanious recording time. most of it took place the autumn of 2016 and early 2017, so pretty close to the release. I did miss my deadline 5 times I think.
Image credit : Francis Vanhee
What or who influences your song writing and how do you usually go about writing music?
I’m writing music for so long now, but mainly for my other band, which is more indie related, more into classic songwriting. I love the classics like Dylan, Lou Reed, Cohen, Cave and Serge Gainsbourg, but for this solo project I wanted to try to celebrate my love for R’n’B, electronic music like Kraftwerk or even hiphop. So I dove into every kind of music that was groove based, from d’Angelo to Gorillaz, from Timbaland to Kanye West. It took a while to change my songwriting style, and in the end it’s still me as an indie kid trying something else, but I loved the process. Writing songs based on samples and endless loops makes you use your voice different, arrange things different, and end up somewhere you’d otherwise never end up.
What equipment / programs do you use?
I grew up using Pro Tools, but I started using Ableton for my live stuff, and it feels a bit easier for electronic stuff. I started out with all these software instruments, but along the way I bought a lot of those synths. It’s just more fun, and more hands-on. The synthesizers I used for this debut album are mainly a Korg Polysix and a Moog Subphatty, I also use the Solina string machine on some tracks and the Korg Monopoly. The rest of it was mainly samples I made or some I borrowed from friends. I also used some instruments my parents got me from their travels, like an Egyptian violin on the track ‘On Fire’. The string instrument on ‘The Question’ is an exotic sound from Kontakt that I used without re-recording it or changing it. I was close to the deadline and loved the clumsiness of just using it the way it is. Right now I have my acoustic setup ready as well, so there’s everything I need: drums, bass, guitar, etc. I place them in a circle so I just need to spin my chair and press record, fancy stuff.
How did you first start playing music?
I started playing violin as a kid, I don’t know, I was propably drawn to dramatic music like Tsjaikowski or the playfulness of Vivaldi. My parents suffered a lot as you can imagine. But then I ended up loving Nirvana and stealing the guitar from my sister, so that’s how I wrote my first songs. I started a band and from then on I never stopped. I propably did it to get some attention from a girl to begin with. And since it didn’t work to get her attention, I knew I had to work harder. Still not quite there yet, so many albums to go.
In 2017 you played festivals in Europe in the Summer and completed your headline tour, what was your favourite show of 2017 and why?
I have very good memories about the shows in Istanbul, Bucharest and Kiev. Of course you can say the nicest ones are the biggest shows, but the truth is that the favourite shows are mostly the most surprising ones, where you didn’t know what to expect. Especially the crowds of those three shows were so cool. Just jumping on the groove and dancing in the flow from when the first drum beat kicked in. A show should be a dialogue, where you give something and the crowd gives something back, then it can grow to something special.
How do you prepare for each show?
nothing much, we just drink something to get in the mood, grease our hair and play the show like it’s the last one. And then repeat that the next day.
What do you find most challenging and rewarding when touring?
The most challenging part of touring only came to me after a couple of years of non stop touring: you don’t do anything useful during the day. So now I try to bike around the city, or make some new music or make sure there’s something in my life that day except playing a show and partying. It’s fun for sure, but it’s a strange bubble you live in, and it can easily drive you mad. Of course the most rewarding part is the fact that you see that you’re music is out there and touches people. When you are writing music, it stays your own secret thing, after a release you let it go and the music always has a sort of interesting afterlife. Not only do people react to it, or sing along, but the songs themselves keep changing. It’s very interesting to see how the music can grow during a tour. Or how, due to people’s reaction, you look at a song differently than before.
You have another tour coming up in April 2018 and more festivals to play, what do you have planned for 2018?
Currently I’m writing the next album for Balthazar, my other band, we’re going into the studio pretty soon. The next club tour and festival tour will be the last ones for this J. Bernardt album. Then we immediately release the new Balthazar album and start touring. I’m also writing some new J. Bernardt stuff, cause I don’t want to repeat the previous shows. It’s always nice to start to try out new things before even an album is planned, keep it fresh for everyone. So 2018 is going to be quite a schizofrenic and busy one.
Who are you listening to at the moment?
I’m playing my Kraftwerk vinyls over and over again, they got me on a spell. But I also rediscovered Talking Heads, and I’m hooked to the latest King Krule.
Favourite food and place to hangout?
Since I played in Japan, I’m all game for the japanese kitchen. Though I do very much enjoy the Mexican kitchen, but I haven’t toured Mexico yet. Still many things to do before I retire.
Featured Photo Credit : Athos Burez