Crooniek is a band hailing from Belgium with a unique style they call “neo-fanfare”. Perhaps the more familiar style they incorporate is post-punk. Nevertheless, they’ve just released their amazing new concept album, ‘Trail Of Time’. We are very grateful for their time in this interview.
Hello and thanks for this interview. Could you give a brief background on the evolution of Crooniek?
Many thanks in advance for your support!! In 2005 I set up Crooniek as a kind of mini-fanfare, just for one occasion. Crooniek was an instrumental ensemble, covering songs like Sweet Child O’mine, Boy’s don’t’ cry, Viva La Vida and many more. No one could suspect that this ensemble would still persist 16 years later and can look back at many great gigs and CD-releases. Over time, more than 40 musicians have been involved in our productions.
During the years, musical paths change, some members of Crooniek left, others joined Crooniek. I always try to keep a fix group of 7 musicians, consisting of typical fanfare instruments: cornet, flugelhorn, alt saxophone, tuba, euphoniums, drums and melodic percussion. My cousin Jan Croon plays the euphonium, he was involved by Crooniek from the start. My wife Annelies Callewaert, plays melodic percussion and flute. She was involved into Crooniek as soon as we were together as a couple 😉.
For years, as mentioned, Crooniek was an instrumental ensemble. But then we started working with singer songwriters, like Olivier Soil in 2018 and Xavier Kruth in 2020. This resulted in the albums ‘Demonen & Dromen’ by Olivier & Crooniek – http://www.olivier-crooniek.be and ‘Puin van Dromen’ by Winterstille – http://www.winterstille.be . It may be a bit complicated to follow, but more information of these projects can be found at the website http://www.crooniek.be
The new album is ‘Trail Of Time’. Could you speak about the themes that run through it? Was this based upon personal experiences or was it simply from external observation?
At the age of 40, you realize that you’re halfway on this earth. Thematically this album is a personal musical review of my life, not an external observation. The main item is: Where am I standing now? If I would die tomorrow, what would I leave behind? The answer is the album ‘Trail of Time’, it is the anthology of my life. That’s why different styles and songs are put together.
On this album, we worked together with Kevin Imbrechts, the frontman of ILLUMININE. He makes dreamy like, neo classical soundscapes. He also lives in the village Kampenhout (Belgium), where I live. So we know each other and on this album ‘Trail of Time’, we joined forces on a few tracks. And you will also find a few songs of Olivier & Crooniek and Winterstille on ‘Trail of Time’. But all these songs are remastered/new arranged. To complete the track list a few new songs are added, written by me.
Let’s talk about the album art for ‘Trail Of Time’. It features a picture of what looks like an old hand passing a watch off to a young person’s hand. What is the significance of this cover?
The cover of the album is very important to me! The hands you see, are those of my father Victor (71 years) and my eldest son Wout (12 years). The pocket watch is that of my grandfather Marcel, who died a decade ago.
Two hands, one pocket watch… four generations. My father’s hand passes my grandfather’s pocket watch to the child hand of my son. To me, it symbolizes time passing by as well as the inevitable fact that someday, time will run out. My father’s hands were never too small to guide me growing up. I can only hope I am strong enough to follow his example.
A couple of the tracks on ‘Trail Of Time’ mention specific locations; namely Lemmeken Monument and Torfbroek. What can you tell us about these locations? Do they actually exist or are they made up?
These are real locations, it’s not made up ! The village Kampenhout where I live, has an unique history and stimulating sites, and these served as inspiration for a few songs. On ‘Trail of Time’ a few peculiar subjects of Kampenhout are transformed musically into melancholic songs. I pick out three of them. For example, ‘At the Lemmeken Monument’ is a tribute to the victims of the plane crash, which took place in 1961, near my hometown.
On Wednesday, February 15, 1961, a Boeing 707-329 of Sabena, the national Belgian airline, crashed in ‘Het Lemmeken’, a district of Kampenhout. All of its sixty-one passengers and eleven crew members were killed in the accident. Among the passengers were the entire American figure skating team (US Figure Skating Association) on their way to the Prague World Championships. Young champions, some of them no older than sixteen, on their first ever trip abroad, en route to their moment of glory.
On the chicory field where the Boeing fell, two young men were working. Michel Theo De Laet was fatally hit by flying debris, while his workmate Marcel Lauwers lost a leg. He was dragged from among the rubble by an aunt of Theo’s. He is the only survivor of this terrible crash. At the crash site a monument has been erected.
‘Condemned to the fire: Josyne Van Vlasselaer’ goes further back in history, to the ancestors of the composer Ludwig Van Beethoven.
Distant ancestors of Ludwig van Beethoven lived in Kampenhout. One of them was Aert van Beethoven. He was married to Josyne Van Vlasselaer. She was arrested on August 5, 1595 by order of the mayor Jan-Baptist van Spoelberch on suspicion of witchcraft (“suspitie en inditie van soverije”) and taken to a Brussels prison. Villagers had accused her of having a pact with the devil, because four horses had fallen dead in places she had passed by.
Of course, she denied the allegations, but exhausted, she admitted everything on the torture rack. On the eve of her execution, she made a failed attempt at suicide by swallowing potsherds. She was condemned to the stake (“gecondemneerd tot de brand”). Only one woman was ever sentenced to death as a witch in Brussels, and that was a distant grandmother of the famous composer …
The Torfbroek in Kampenhout is a remnant of a vast and unique swamp in the Low Lands, fed by very calcareous groundwater. It offers a unique landscape with large open ponds and is the last remaining refuge of several plant species in Flanders. It is one of the most valuable nature reserves in Western Europe. But above all, it is also a place of deep melancholy.
You list your style as “neo-fanfare”. Can you please expand upon what this means?
I grew up listening to goth music. Bands like Lacrimosa, Goethes Erben, Sopor Aeternus, but also Sisters of Mercy and more metal orientated bands like Tristania and Dimmu Borgir are my favorites. But I also used to (and still do) play the cornet in a fanfare and brassband. With Crooniek I try to combine these two passions.
When we created the album ‘Puin van Dromen’ in 2020 with WINTERSTILLE, Crooniek was also involved. Xavier Kruth, is the singer-songwriter on this album, I wrote all the arrangements. On this album, we combined brass and other typical fanfare instruments with harsh guitars and so on. This made it sound very unique, nostalgic dark folk gothic sound. I’m very proud on this album. I always like to refer to this quote, by SIDE LINE, who reviewed the album: “This album is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most surprising works been invited to listen to in quite a long time.” (February 24, 2021)
On the album ‘Trail of Time’ we put this fanfare influence a step forward. I named it neo fanfare, because we use fanfare instruments in a new, dark/melancholic way. ‘Trail of Time’ is a new musical area for fanfare instruments. The song ‘Would you wake we in time’ for example is neo fanfare to me. It is inspired by the music of Sopor Aeternus and Die Verbannten Kinder Evas. Elisabeth did an excellent job singing this song! Also take the time to listen to ‘Parade of the Funeral Fanfare’, is an unique mixture of fanfare and rock elements.
What are your plans for the next few months for Crooniek?
We would like to play as much as we can but is not easy to get gigs as a new project, trying to get exposure. And when we have an invitation to play, it is not easy to get all the musicians assembled. We all play in other ensembles, have jobs to do… It would be awesome if we could get the chance to play abroad!
What would you like future listeners to know about the band’s legacy?
I hope people like the eclectic style of ‘Trail of Time’, are open to this kind of music. We worked hard on the album, so we hope people like it and are willing to cross the musical boundaries.
But anyway, I’m thankful that I could make this album and thankful to all the musicians involved into this project, taking the time for it. I’m also very thankful to Dimitri of WOOL E DISCS, our label, to believe in this project.
Your Bandcamp page states that sixteen musicians were involved in the production of the CD. You don’t need to list all sixteen. But other than the core musicians, what did the rest of those sixteen do?
Correct, In total 16 musicians were involved. Because I want to create a typical sound, some of the musicians can be heard on the album, but are not ‘fixed’ members of Crooniek. It is all a bit complicated to outstanders. All of them make music in other bands or ensembles. Not for a living. As mentioned above, we all need to work besides our music. Would it be awesome to make a living by just making music? Definitely. Time will tell …