It is a strange feeling when two German native speakers set out to conduct an interview in their first foreign language, but after having convinced Cologne-based folk artist Jules Ahoi to let it all go down in English, the oddity begins phasing out little by little – after all, the musician has always been writing songs in the language, so why not stay true to the law of form?
“As for the title, I always had in mind the literary form of the stream-of-consciousness, when something starts and you just write it from your mind.”
Melancholic Dreamwave, the latest record of the sympathetic musician, released a few weeks back, is “concentration on the essential, precision of expression”, such reads the press statement. And as much it is a circling back to what Jules Ahoi regards his core understanding of making music, it is a stunning and daring testimony of holding one’s beliefs into the bustling winds of the time: full of life and yet breathing with ache and the pressures of the here and the past.
Never Mind The Clichés
It is not often you get to talk about genres with musicians in an unpretentious and casual way, mostly because artists are keen on making a point about what they do not want to represent. Jules Ahoi in that regard has always seemed to have a more liberated spirit about the whole affair, and that is very refreshing these days. His first record Between Lines was written “on the beach, like the image people have of me – living on the beach, with the salty hair…” The name “saltwater folk” seemed an accurate notion, or “marketing move” for a guy “living at the beach in France” spending his time surfing and writing songs. “I thought it would be fun to have this own genre”, Jules laughingly admits.
“People started to use that term for their own music. I was like, this is kind of strange. It was a joke actually, but it still haunts my music. It’s not even that folk genre anymore. It’s way more experimental and indie kind of… avant-garde, whatever.”
Looking back at it all now, fortune had it from the first stages, as Jules shares with me, recounting the “fairy tale” of how he “met his management” right at a bonfire somewhere along the Spanish coast, when a random by-sitter reached out to a label friend over in Cologne, after they were jamming around on their guitars. If you ask me, it is stories like these that we need today.
“He asked if I was writing my own songs and I played him a song and he liked it and he said he would call someone and put the mobile in the middle. He was calling a weird number and I played a song and afterwards he talked to the guy on the other end of the line. Eventually he said, if I wanted to, I could come to Cologne, he had a friend with a label, management, and they find it interesting what you do. If you want to, I can go to the office with you and you get to know them.”
“It Just Flew Out Of Me”
The tides surely have shifted since then, Jules Ahoi has traded in the Southern European beaches for the rustling streets of Cologne in Germany, and the sweet acoustic foundations of his first songs have yet been enriched by complex layers of fine orchestral and electronic realms. Somewhere between the quirky vibe of the Alt-J territory and the sublime forces of Ben Howard, the songs of Melancholic Dreamwave mark the peak of the songwriter, echoing the title both in their stylistic shapes as well as in the underlying concept that makes the pieces what they are.
“The term ‚dreamwave‘ for me describes when you lay down in your bed and want to sleep, but you can’t, you have this one sentence you always rethink. It totally keeps you away from sleeping. That’s what a dreamwave is for me… it comes and comes and comes and never stops.”
One might even call it a pandemic album, as it “kind of puts together everything I felt in the last two years”, Jules shares. “I had a lot of melancholic feelings for many days and nights, I was just stuck in my head, running around, always the same memories and feelings.”
The Line Becomes A Wave
Personal growth may be one of the key impressions of the record, and as such, artistic progress also stands out in the light of things: “I would say I made a huge step forward as a songwriter, but when it comes to music, it feels more like a circle. With Melancholic Dreamwave I actually close a little circle. For me, it feels a bit nearer to ‘Between Lines’ than to ‘DEAR_ _ _ _’, which is an interesting development I think. The last three or four years, I had the feeling I had to do more and more and more… it all became bigger and bigger, just from an instrumental side. Now, I produce it by myself here in my flat. Just three guitars and a couple of 70’s drum machines. It kind of turned out like empty songs, a lot less instruments than on the record before. It turned out to be such a tiny little album… it’s just perfect for me.”
To be honest, next to the more upbeat material from a few years back, the core of Melancholic Dreamwave has a more existential feel for sure – though, it does breathe that very “concentration on the essential”, as it demonstrates the progress of the musician in terms of his refined artistic skills, sonically and lyrically. “Firstly, I am a writer, then comes the music”, Jules states and the thick textures of the new record certainly breathe that very essence of deep reflection, translated into the world of sound. Well, Covid forced a lot of us into more alone time and months of idle observation, no different for Jules, who really sticks with the water imagery:
“For half a year, I ran around and talked to people, watching the news all day, like everyone else… you have the picture of a sponge, right? After my last record, I was scruffed without any water in it, I needed to be refilled again. I sat back and let it refill, kind of. After this process, it just came out of me. It just flew out of me. I wrote and wrote and wrote and there was another record. It just comes.”
Between The Notes
“There is a saying that music happens between the notes… I had this in mind when writing it”, Jules recapitulates the aesthetic process of Melancholic Dreamwave. Not only drawing back to his musical roots and a “pretty minimalistic” approach, but also relying on analogue production as a substantial boost to the organic idea of the album concept makes the listening experience a consuming affair, to say the least.
“Every freaking delay you hear is a delay from the tape. I recorded everything on tape. Even the drums and the drum machines are all from the originals from the seventies, there are no samples on here. We used tape loops and stuff… we had lot of weird sounds as well, we tried to channel it, making songs out of it. It was a cool experience… Nowadays, everyone is used to the fact that if you do something wrong, you do it over again and all is fine. We tried to get away from that completely. We recorded takes and delays and when I fucked it up, I fucked it up. You can hear it on the record”,
Jules goes on, and it is so exciting listening to someone talking up the beauty of analogue production:“You have to be there, in the moment. You can’t postpone everything.” And while I still ponder if that isn’t the very definition of music as such, we get on to the music videos, directed by filmmaker Joshua Maciejok, giving the songs an extra touch of grainy, vintage and tangible beauty.
“Yes, they are all analogue as well. That actually was even harder, because we flew to Fuerteventura to film the video for ‚U Bloom, Still‘. I am not a good actor though, and I needed to act for this video. And you have one take, maybe a second one. We were so limited, because they couldn’t bring shitloads of meters of tape to this island. So we had to be really on point.”
With a camera that easily is older than the musician and director themselves, the shooting experience was one of utmost performance pressure and urgency:“You have to be careful about the light, sharpeners and focus… it takes like ten or fifteen minutes and then there is a cloud in front of the sun, for every scene. It was crazy, but so much fun. We decided for Fuerteventura because of the contrast of desert and water, which is crazy. It was just doable, because Joshua was so into it. He wanted to do this and it was his project and I think it turned out great.”
These recollections may just capture the whole experience of Melancholic Dreamwave at large. Substantial and essential in its poetic arrangement, with a love for crafting detail and a knack for letting the note in between rise to the surface, these songs are here to stay, if you only let them.