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The Imaginary Suitcase: "I'm An Old Fart And I Love It..."

Laurent Leemans of Belgian band The Imaginary Suitcase answered my questions via e-mail. Thanks Laurent for this. Published November 08 2013.

  by Mario

A while ago I've discovered the music of The Imaginary Suitcase which affected me in a curious way. When you listen to their songs you maybe understand this. It's also the reason why I asked Laurent Leemans, the musical head of The Imaginary Suitcase, to answer a few questions about their work ...

50K MUSIC: Who is The Imaginary Suitcase, where do you come from, what are your roots?
Laurent: The Imaginary Suitcase is a moniker for the music made on his own by Laurent Leemans, Belgian citizen currently living in Tubize, a small town approximately 30 kms southwest of Brussels.

I have been playing music since 1990, first in a two-chords-punk band named Moïse & les Manches de Pioches (we were not even able to cover a Ramones track…), then in an arty-post-punk sextet named La Vierge du Chancelier Rolin that had great potential and attracted some attention in Belgium but which egotrips and bad management killed by the end of the nineties. Meanwhile, I had joined Ceilí Moss, a folk-rock outfit that started as an average Celtic band and evolved into, to cut a long story short, a mix between The Pogues and Louise Attaque. This band is still alive and kicking and organizing a special tour for its 20th anniversary in the autumn of 2014.

In 2009, I decided to record some songs that were not selected by Ceilí Moss (too quiet, most of the time) and see what would happen. I had good reactions, so I decided to take this experience a step further, and further, and further…

50K MUSIC: You've released your current album "Full Moon Fever" in early September. How has it been received by your fans?
Laurent: Pretty well. In fact, I expected so little of this project that the smallest bit of attention I get drives me nuts with ecstasy ;) Seriously, I got mostly good reactions, for which I’m thankful! When you release an album, you discover people are actually quite nice and wish the best for you, which is a serious contrast with everyday life.

50K MUSIC: ... and how about the critics?

Laurent: There haven’t been so many yet… For technical reasons, I sent promo CDs a bit late, so very few have already been published, but I expect several within the next few weeks. I’ve been in contact with bloggers and webzines and they all say they enjoy the album, with some criticism on some technicalities.

I’m not the kind of musician who would discard critics as irrelevant, but I make a strong difference between what they say and write as a personal impression (if one guy doesn’t like my voice, he has the right to think so, but since there’s little I can do about that, why bother?) and technical remarks, which are often instructive. One example is the song “Yer Mother”, the opening track on “Full Moon Fever”. I wanted it to sound a bit wobbly and uncomfortable, but several critics and listeners didn’t perceive it that way and just thought I released a sloppy recording. That’s something I need to pay attention to the next time.

50K MUSIC: I'd say the album is a harmonious blend of music styles. Where do you get your inspiration from?
Laurent: I’m glad you say that because it’s one of my fears as a composer, that my music would go in all directions and lack coherence. I love to mingle different styles, but eclecticism can swiftly become dissipation.

I listen to an awful lot of different musics, from classical (Händel, Satie, Dvorak, Grieg and Chopin being my favourites) to stuff like Nine Inch Nails, The Dead Kennedys or Ministry. I enjoy it all, it appeals to different zones of my brains, sort of, and they all need to be stimulated. There are some singers I admire and whom I get inspiration from: Morrissey, David Eugene Edwards, Jim Morrison, Patti Smith, Siouxsie, Hugo Race, Paul Roland, the old Nick Cave (before he became weepy and boring), David Sylvian, Ian McCulloch or Suzanne Vega. All have in common a certain form of leisurely assertiveness that is not measured in DBs but grabs you by the throat and won’t allow you to be inattentive until they decide you can go back to your other activities.

I would say the music I make is basically to be filed under singer-songwriter, but I try to make it edgier and less navel-gazing than average (let’s face it, who wants to listen to a desperate broken hearted bum moaning about lost love, the death of his goldfish or undersized shoes while strumming a few chords? A bloody crack on the head, man! And as for simpering female singer-songwriters, let’s say it loud: you’re on that stage because you’re pretty and your skirt is short. Period)

50K MUSIC: You're also singer of Belgian Celtic Folk septet Ceilí Moss. How do you accommodate these two things?
Laurent: Not always easy indeed! I rely on a lot of understanding from the one I share my life with ;) It is most of the time quite obvious to me which songs I write will be for Ceilí Moss or for The Imaginary Suitcase, and I love both approaches: being in total control with the only limits being those of my own capacity or seeing my ideas being transformed by the other musicians into something very different from what I thought it would be, both are very exciting!

50K MUSIC: How much do you let Ceilí Moss get influence on the music of The Imaginary Suitcase?
Laurent: There are some Ceilí Moss songs I also play as The Imaginary Suitcase, in a stripped down version, which in my opinion brings another and interesting light on them. There’s a Celtic folk side to my songwriting I can’t escape, mostly on the acoustic songs. I tried to escape it but after all, it’s part of who I am so why repress it? I like Celtic folk because of its lyrical evocative strength. Most folk music is basically dance stuff for peasant’s parties. It’s perfectly OK, but not for me. I don’t know if this is because the Irish, Scottish and Bretons have suffered for centuries, but I perceive a depth, a magnitude and a musical ambition I don’t feel in most European traditional music. Some old Flemish popular songs and folk bands are really brilliant and profound as well.

50K MUSIC: What are your other plans with The Imaginary Suitcase for this autumn and winter ... touring, promoting the album, ...?
Laurent: There’s of course some touring in Belgium and the neighbouring countries (nothing scheduled in Germany at this point but I’d love to!), I started recording new songs, I’m also working hard on the Ceilí Moss 2014-2015 tour, so I guess The Imaginary Suitcase will have to be put on hold or at least given less priority from September 2014 to june 2015. I have some experience in music, so I don’t expect unrealistic things to happen and I know nothing will happen because I “deserve it”, but I managed not to become jaded, so the childish wonderment music brings is still vivid in my heart. If there’s one thing I hope I’ll keep all my life, it’s this.

50K MUSIC: And last one - anything you want your fans to know?
Laurent: Now get your eyes off this f*** screen. Go see a live show, read books, go to the pub with your actual friends. Yeah, I know, I’m an old fart and I love it…

Listen to their latest album "Full Moon Fever":