Studio Pyramide in Beersel is where Commander Spoon is in the midst of recording a new EP, to be released just prior to their concert in Flagey during Listen Festival. We are welcomed at nightfall on the final of five consecutive studio days and the pressure is rising. The prospect of a late evening doesn’t scare any of the members of the jazz band, although saxophonist and musical director Pierre Spataro honestly admits that fatigue is kicking in. The energy floats freely through the studio’s control room while we listen to one of the recordings. Spataro enthusiastically shouts ‘mushrooms’ during the most uplifting parts and we immediately understand why.
Commander Spoon is a fivesome where commander-in-chief Pierre Spataro is joined by guitarist Florent Jeunieaux, bassist Fil Caporali, keyboardist Lorenzo Ola Kobina and drummer Samy Wallens. We all sit together in the kitchen of Studio Pyramide for tea and a chat.
What’s cooking for the new EP?
Pierre Spataro: An evolution of the artistic direction we took with our previous EP Flock, released in June 2022. On every milestone of the band, we somehow challenge ourselves and try different paths. Our album Spooning from early 2020 sounded very acoustic, while since Flock our sound has gotten more produced.
I wonder what the more informal, less articulated roles are that each of you takes in the band? Both musically and outside of the music?
Pierre Spataro: Our guitarist Florent Jeunieaux is a major force when it comes to dealing with the dynamics, using effects and arranging the music. He guarantees harmony!
Samy Wallens: I’m the drummer.
Fil Caporali: And you are not in charge of the harmony! (laughter)
Florent Jeunieaux: Samy is the one who takes the lead when we need food and can’t decide what.
Fil Caporali: I play the bass and do the best jokes. (general nodding) One night Samy called me in the middle of the night while I was sleeping, I was worried and decided to answer the phone. The only thing he asked me was to make a good joke. See how far my responsibility as joker of the band goes?
Lorenzo Ola Kobina: I’m the newest member, I actually just joined the band.
Pierre Spataro: I first heard of Lorenzo when Samy joined the band of rapper The Color Grey for a temporary replacement job. Lorenzo is one of their members. Later we collaborated during a project for RTBF’s Tarmac and again with Reinel Bakole.
A band that says to ‘respectfully demolish walls between jazz, hiphop, rock and electronica’, which inspirations were brought to the drawing board for this EP? What did you listen to prior to recording?
Samy Wallens: Sandra Kim! (laughter)
Florent Jeunieaux: I listened to my heart. (more laughter) I guess there is a natural tendency in the group to aim for electronic influences, while we don’t really have an electronic instrument. Especially on the upcoming EP we have been recording just now, we flirt with acid.
Is this what I heard for instance in the part where you shouted ‘mushrooms’ when we were listening to the recorded music earlier?
Pierre Spataro: Yes, that’s exactly it. Our inspirations go in different senses, it’s hard to give one example.
The Jazz Cats compilation curated by Lefto and released on SDBAN ULTRA in 2018 gives a nice insight into what was at the time dubbed the new wave of Belgian jazz, including music by Commander Spoon. Do you still feel connected to such a caption?
Samy Wallens: At the time it definitely felt right, we were quite new on the scene ourselves and a lot of bands were founded. Our sound and that of other bands was futuristic to Belgian jazz, apart from the pioneering work of STUFF. Over the past years, this so-called new wave of jazz has opened the ears and eyes of the more traditional jazz scene. The change has gone quite fast and resulted in us playing shows at Ghent Jazz programmed late at night or soon in March in the impressive Flagey concert hall during an electronic music event such as Listen Festival. We love it.
This open-mindedness hasn’t always been the case?
Florent Jeunieaux: Well, at least we thought so. When we first started to perform about five years ago an unconscious barrier seemed to exist within the jazz scene. But as a matter of fact, we soon discovered this wasn’t the case. We witnessed a heart-warming reception on any kind of stage in the whole country. Probably there was such a barrier before, but I guess we started off just at the right moment.
Has there ever been a language barrier between the Flemish and the French music scenes in Belgium?
Samy Wallens: No, from our perspective there isn’t. Obviously since much jazz music is mostly instrumental, it doesn’t play a big role. We have always reached a large audience in Flanders.
Pierre Spataro: I think it can still be quite complex to cross the language barrier to be honest, but for Commander Spoon it definitely has not been the case.
Lorenzo Ola Kobina: It has become much easier these days to connect with each other.
Florent Jeunieaux: Many bridges are still relatively new. Music center Volta is a great example, bringing bands from both sides together in Anderlecht. They have done tremendous work. But I reckon that it hasn’t always been like this.
Samy Wallens: Many musicians, both Flemish and Walloon, are now coming to live in Brussels. It has become hipagain to live in the capital.
Another project uniting artists from different scenes and cultures that Commander Spoon is involved with, is Niveau 4. How has this adventure started?
Samy Wallens: I founded the project in 2016 in collaboration with Couleur Café. The idea was to bring promising rappers and DJs together on stage during the festival. After three editions and the likes of Coely, Romeo Elvis, Stikstof and many others on stage, the idea rose to include musicians in the project. That’s when ECHT! and Commander Spoon were invited to act as the musical glue on stage. It instantly turned out great.
Pierre Spataro: Seeing people perform pogo on our music was definitely an apotheosis.
Samy Wallens: Playing our own songs among the repertoire of rappers, was in the beginning rather frightening. But it worked well and the energy never faded out. The ears of the new generation have changed, they are open to discovering new sounds. The same goes for the rappers. They were used to the convenience of performing with a DJ only but during rehearsals always slowly but surely woke up from their hesitations against working with a live band.
Has this inspired you to work with vocalists for your own music?
Samy Wallens: For our previous EP Flock we worked with Miss Angel, Esinam or Tristan among others. A great experience, about which we made a short documentary series.
What’s to expect of your concert at Flagey during Listen Festival?
Pierre Spataro: If all goes well, we will present our new EP live on stage. It will be the first show with Lorenzo as part of the band. And we’ll be giving an insight into the new musical directions of the band. We are very much looking forward to sharing the stage with Jameszoo’s Blind Group as well. It promises to be a huge night.
And what to expect of tonight, your final night in the studio?
Pierre Spataro: We still have to record the saxophone, so it’s my time to shine now. I think everybody will stay around to finish the recording as a group. Tomorrow I’m off to London to spend four days at Pink Bird Recording Co. Ever since our second EP, the studio’s chief Rick David is responsible for mixing our music. He has worked with many great musicians such as Tom Misch or Jordan Rakei and is vital for the sound of Commander Spoon. I really enjoy spending time in East London with him. But first, the saxophone!
Good luck to you all!