On The Outside: a rebranded VRWRK talks starting over and making a debut album

Pictures by Bruce Mazibuko

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Vuurwerk is a name that probably rings a bell with most people that have been following the Belgian electronic music scene over the years. However, the formerly Brussels-based electronic band pressed the reset button about two years ago, relocating to London, recently rebranding their name into VRWRK and adding a new vocalist, Salem Khazali, to the outfit. Countless studio sessions and two deliciously tasty singles (‘Face It’ and ‘Hearts Beating In Sync’) later, the fruits of this reboot are ready to be shown. VRWRK’s long-awaited debut album ‘On The Outside’ will drop Friday, October 13. To celebrate the occasion, the explosive trio will present their new music at AB on October 25 (don’t sleep on this though, tickets are almost sold out). But before we get to that, we thought it would be a good idea to ask these gentlemen a thing or two about London, their creative process and the influences that shaped this beauty of an album.

How is life in London treating you?

"London is amazing and we really feel at home here. It's a very relaxing city, contrary to what most people think. The borough of Hackney in East London is such a lovely part to live in. Since moving here just over a year ago we've met a lot of interesting people and collaborated with extremely talented musicians, videographers and photographers. Our lead singer, Salem Khazali, was born and raised in here as well."

Do you think this move was necessary for your creative development?

"It was definitely necessary to find new creative energy outside of our previous base in Brussels, where we had been writing on the album for about a year. Even with a short writing interval in Morocco, and we felt stuck. The songs didn't feel right back then – maybe partly because we had relationship issues (laughs) - so we had to get out of there. We made the move to London in order to get a clean slate. This is a place where we finally found the time, space and the voice (Khazali’s voice, actually) to finish the record. We started from scratch and finished about a year later in the summer of 2017. We've always been listening to stuff coming from the UK and London in particular – artists like James Blake, Mount Kimbie, Caribou, Floating Points all made their music here. We wanted to make music right at the source of our inspiration, which eventually helped us a lot. For example, the other day we saw an announcement that Four Tet was going to play his new record for a select crowd in his favourite bar (Brilliant Corners), which is just around the corner for us. It was amazing to hear the record alongside a hundred other people and himself going in depth about the production. Even just being able to talk with him was the creative energy we were looking for."

In earlier interviews you guys mentioned you feel no pressure to ‘make it’ in London as a band. Is that still the case?

"We actually stopped pressuring ourselves a while ago. Initially, we had to finish this record a year ago and everybody kept asking when it would be ready. We’re glad we just waited until the time was right. We breathe music, day in day out - we do it 24/7 whenever we're not working, so obviously we want it to reach people and we want to connect with an audience. This past year we've been working so hard in the studio there was barely any time for gigs. Now that the record is done, we're planning our next steps. Some nice gigs are coming up, without any pressure what so ever. We're just going to enjoy the ride and the buzz that comes along with it."

Salem, welcome to VRWRK. What were your creative endeavours before joining VRWRK - and how did you end up as a member of the band?

Khazali: "I'm a creative working in East London and I study graphic design. Music has always been a part of my life since I was really young (I studied the violin as a child) but not something I've always seen as something I can make a career out of. When I was contacted by Thieu and Jergan about the VRWRK project after some Soundcloud uploads I had made, I started to see what really goes on behind the scenes in a serious musical project. I've actually learnt a lot and I'm eager to perform and learn even more. My transition into the band was quite a natural one - we just worked together a lot, and all felt as it was the only logical step to continue the project."

Your debut album is coming soon. Do you feel that an album is currently the most suitable format to release the music you want to share, as opposed to an EP or multiple singles?

"Yes, the LP format is definitely the right one for this release. We wanted to make an album that feels like a coherent story. Something that you can put on your record player and spin from front to back in one go. A trip you can listen on the plane, train, car, while eating alone - with friends, while having sex, ... We've planned this whole album very carefully, from inside sleeve, to press text, to inside text, to artwork, to titles, to lyrics, to press shots. We've been releasing EP's, singles and remixes for so long now that we really felt like we needed to make a statement for ourselves." 

Where is VRWRK now - musically speaking - compared to where Vuurwerk was a few years ago? How has your sound changed over time?

"Technically, VRWRK is a new band with its roots in VUURWERK. We've moved the project to London, we have a London singer and our live team has changed radically: we now perform with live saxophone, drums and keys alongside our synth construction and vocalist. I think that's the essence of the philosophy of Run Tell Secrecy collective, our own label and creative outfit - we constantly changing, as it's an organic entity. We feel like we really have a story to tell. We want to make things as personal as possible, whereas with VUURWERK we wanted mystery. In the beginning we were more of an alternative electronic band without any vocals, using only vocal samples. Later we were leaning more towards leftfield pop with our vocal collaborations, and now we combine best of both worlds. Having a face and voice like the one of Khazali definitely makes VRWRK a lot ‘poppier’. We didn't want to make a dark album, we want to make a smooth, sexy and personal album. By contrast, we keep the rave vibes for our live shows."

Did events in your personal lives influence this album?

"The attacks in Brussels and the chaos that ensued were a turning point. That's when we felt we needed a break from the recording process. Our move to London really was about finding new energy – and three of us going through break-ups at the same time created an additional sense of brotherhood."

How do you guys usually go about making a song? Is there a fixed process or can this vary depending on the situation?

"It's really hard to define ‘how’ we make tracks. But we usually start with a very basic idea or sample which we then send to Khazali. Then we then work together on the vocal lines and lyrics. Once we get the base of the track, we try to expand it as much as possible, stuffing it with a wide range of sounds and instruments, working together with as many people as possible. Afterwards we take all ideas with us and sample as much as possible. Eventually, we let the track rest for a while, until we know which elements work best with each other. Afterwards, we mix it down, keeping only the essential elements of the track. Most of the songs on this album have about 10 different versions. For every track we choose the best parts, as it's a mix and match process. We keep on working on a track until we feel it's done. If it's not done, we will continue to change it until it is. Technically, we worked with a lot of outboard gear and real instruments for this record: tape delays, guitar FX pedals, Juno synth, Prophet synth, some obscure Russian synths and a CS-10 Yamaha synth. We wanted to move outside the box. Even though we process everything electronically, we don’t sit in front of a computer too long in order to really create the feeling of a ‘band’."

How long has this album been in the making?

"We started working on it exactly two years ago, day in day out, only with a short practical breal between Brussels and London. Time flies, what a hell of a ride."

What’s the plan after the release of the album? More shows?

"The writing actually hasn’t stopped after we finished the album, because we feel we're at a creative peak right now. We have a couple of ideas for next EPs that will expand the world that we've created with our album. Some singles from the album are coming up first, together with some videos that go with them. There’s going to be a release show at Ancienne Belgique on October 25, which is almost sold out. This is a nice occasion to really connect personally with our fans, family and friends, and show them what we've been doing for the past 2 years! Before that, we’re playing on Amsterdam Dance Event a couple of days, which is going to be great as well. Then we're expanding our clothing line with Run Tell Secrecy. And finally, yes, a lot more gigs - trying to connect with as many people as possible - raving all night together."

VRWRK’s debut album ‘On The Outside’ will drop on October 13.

Ticket numbers for VRWRK’s show at AB on October 25 are running low. Make sure to get yours on time through this link.