Mélanie de Biasio
“Be in the moment”: that’s the mantra of Mélanie de Biasio, the Belgian jazz-sensation with Italian roots. It’s also what Mélanie expects from her audience: experiencing the Now, savouring it. Maybe that’s why it’s hard for her to be interviewed: looking back or looking forward seems a bit redundant to someone who really wants to ‘be here now’. But Xandres persisted anyway, if only to congratulate her on her triumphant and slightly turbulent performance at the Werchter festival. And besides, how often do you get a chance to talk to a home-grown artist that gets compared to the likes of Billie Holiday?
Was it an obvious choice to play at a big rock festival like Werchter?
All the festivals me and my band performed at this summer were different. At Rock Werchter, we also played just before the Belgian football team played Argentina in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. When we arrived at the site, it was clear from the start that it was going to be an intense day. I had decided beforehand that we were going to get on stage without a set list. We just wanted to surf the energy of the audience. It was a unique experience: playing for mad football fans. We’ve also played at the prestigious Montreux Jazz festival in Switzerland, you know. The complete opposite. But it’s really cool to meet these kinds of challenges headfirst.
“Leave the set list, let’s see where we end up”
You must really have a lot of faith in your band to say to them: “Leave the set list, let’s see where we end up.”
We’ve known each other for ten years, now. We don’t have to talk about a lot of things, anymore. We even don’t rehearse very often. I know them through and through. We start from songs on my album, like “A Stomach Is Burning” or “No Deal”, but then we often improvise. This means no two concerts will be the same. Every single person watching us has the right to a unique, evanescent experience. I also make sure the crowd is part of the performance. That’s why our shows can be so intense and magical.
Have you always been able to ‘let go’ so easily?
(laughs) Oh no, not at all! I have to consciously work on that every day. At Rock Werchter I thought to myself: “Mélanie, you have two options: either you try to control the situation (meaning: playing right before the biggest sports event of the year), or you let it go and try to coast on the energy of the moment.” I chose the latter, because option number one really wasn’t an option at all.
You grew up in Charleroi, a city that has its moody and darker corners. Your music is also often described as ‘moody’. Do you think your hometown has anything to do with that?
Charleroi might not seem like a great city to most people, but to me it’s a gold nugget hiding inside a lump of coal. At Charleroi you’ll find lots of strong personalities and we’re all pretty direct, too. Those are qualities I like to nurture in myself. Charleroi is full of contrasts: lots of light but some darkness, too: a bit like my own music.
You’ve toured as the opener for Eels for a while. What was that like?
You always hear about support acts for bigger bands being treated poorly, but we made friends for life on that tour. They shared everything with us: their technical team, their equipment… At one point they even sold our merchandise on their stand. It was an incredible experience.
Did you learn something from a band that’s been playing at a global level for so long?
Yes, that I need to keep going. I love the life of a musician. And that I need to follow my instinct.
You’ll be playing the Royal Circus in Brussels, soon…
That’s such a dream come true! We’ll be performing songs from my two albums, of course, but I’ll also debut a new song, probably. The surroundings there are so beautiful, I think we’ll mainly be inspired by the room itself. I’m sure it will be a special night.
You spend a lot of time on your lyrics, music and performance. Do you do the same for your stage outfits?
Not at all. Off-stage I like wearing silk and cashmere and I like simple but beautifully made pieces. But on-stage I always wear the same. I’ve perfected my ‘worker’s apparel’ to the point where I feel comfortable in it and I don’t want to wear anything else.
Last question: who’s the most inspiring woman in history?
Nina Simone during the 60’s and 70’s. Everything about her was so good.
On November 12, Mélanie De Biasio will be performing at the Cirque Royal in Brussels.