“It’s obviously a very personal project for me, a way to go deeper in myself”, Warhaus‘ Maarten Devoldere states early in our Zoom call, with him being all the way back over in Ghent. And while I have to admit that I had expected a sort of charismatic character, I am instead charmed by the reflective and pensive impression this man makes on me. It certainly does fit the mood of the record, sure. Ha Ha Heartbreak already occupies a special position in the heart of the songwriter, he confesses.
“Normally I make an album and it happens really fast that I don’t like it and I want to make a new one. But I’m still very proud of this one, well, we’ll see.”
Now who would deny the album such spot in the limelight, given the tremendous rush with which it roots in the mind? At the center of it all, this is of course no surprise, is a heartbreak as the trigger of all the songs. “I was at a point in my life, through the heartbreak, that I looked myself in the mirror, and for me there’s like a before and after, like my life was split in two”, he shares. Such brutal honesty marks the heart of the record, and as such, it marks the poles of the transformation this album represents.
Reflecting on his time before and after creating Ha Ha Heartbreak, Maarten ponders that he has “always had women in my life, I always had personal relationships”. For the first time, he explains, he “had to figure it out alone for a couple of years”.
“I read somewhere, at C.G. Jung, the psychoanalyst, who wrote that an artist who needs a muse for creative input, if it’s a man, it’s mostly men who are in need of an ‚anima’, who don’t recognise their female side, they have to project it on women around them. When I read that, I was like, oh fuck that is still me. What I felt through the heartbreak, I had to become more complete as a person and not rely on a partner anymore. If I look back on the first two albums, it feels like I was a character from a movie. I had to grow up in a way. I think in the songwriting of this record, I hope people can feel that as well.”
It is a vulnerable stance of the narrator of Ha Ha Heartbreak and such marks the wistful, at times desperate tone of tracks like I’ll Miss You Baby or the closing Best I Ever Had. There is a decent symphonic blow of the drama of life and love, drifting through the ten-track-strong album, at times with a hurtful and yet matured sonorous articulation, adequately performed by the fine-crooning performance of the artist. As much as there is pain, there is plenty of room for healing, and with that, the growth of a man fallen in and out of love, heading towards a new chapter in his life and his career. “Back then, I really had no ground under my feet”, Devoldere admits, but “it was still a very good thing that it happened to me I think.”
“Sometimes you have records about heartbreak and the different stages. I think this record isn’t about that at all, it’s just one feeling, not of acceptance or anything, but of desire and longing and trying to get the woman back and feeling an emptiness… When I made the record I was like ‘I’m gonna write myself back into the relationship’. That feeling is not always pretty, morally accomplished, but very vulnerable and pure. And that was very new for me.”
A Room In Palermo
It all happened in a room in Palermo, the Warhaus’ singer reflects on the progress of Ha Ha Heartbreak. “Over the years I have always collected lots if musical ideas, that I have in some folder. If I feel that something is working out for a record, for me it works really well to go somewhere else where I can find focus, less distraction.”
“Now I went to Palermo to find a hotel room and I had just a guitar, a laptop, a microphone and in those three weeks all of the record was made, all the demos.”
Upon returning to Belgium, Maarten went to his producer Jasper Maekelberg and was all about “okay, let’s record everything now for real in the studio”. For real? That was what his long-term friend and colleague thought and opted to “keep the vocal takes of the hotel room” for their strong “feeling and the vulnerability of the moment” the singer was in while in Italy. Needless to say, Maarten was reluctant at first, but if you listen closely you can feel the raw intensity that made this record what it has become.
“There is like one line on the record, the opening line of ‘I’ll Miss You Baby’, it starts with ‘all I want is to get to know you / so I can stop loving you’. The whole idea of facing that love is very much a projection. That you project your ideal image onto a woman and that is a very toxic concept obviously. I had to grow up and say goodbye to that idea to the Anima. The whole record is about missing someone but not knowing who you’re missing, because you made her up.”
While there maybe a certain vocal rawness at play on Ha Ha Heartbreak, the strong symphonic and melodramatic twist is the other side of the record, providing a noteworthy contrast to the dire sensations of lost love and forlorn disenchantment. “When I was in the hotel room I had no idea we would use strings. But because we kept the vocal takes of the hotel room, this quiet, very intimate feeling, we wanted to contrast that with a very big grandeur and also emphasise the more romantic foolishness or something”, Maarten explains the sentimental scope of his creations.
“About Finding Peace”
Upon asking the singer about the overall progress of the album’s journey, it turns out, that by turning himself inside out, it was all about “having to grow up” in a way. “I also struggled with addictions and stuff like that, all that came, I got that on my plate as well”, he confesses.
“Through the heartbreak I realised, yeah, I need to fix all of that and become a better person. It is also about finding peace, for example on Desire I’m summoning lots of gods, it’s a very buddhist song… the idea that you have to find satisfaction within and not expect from a woman to fill your identity, or drugs, or clothes, or the new iPhone.”
Now, the singer explains to me, “for the very first time in my life I’m able to do nothing. I just sit on the couch and do nothing for a couple of hours, I don’t look at my phone, I’m just enjoying the moment and that was something, that’s the hardest thing, like a superpower, if you can do that and be comfortable with that. Have that peace of mind.”
It is not that everything is different now, but it appears that the self-declared “manchild” has grown out of the addictive and torn persona into a reflected and substantial artist who has found his ways to handle love relationships, look deep into his own self and write about everything he may be able to find down in the pool of his own mind. And, maybe most important of all, he has this record, speaking volumes about that transcending journey.
“I have a girlfriend now, she’s my partner”, Maarten says. But, more importantly he emphasizes, “she’s my friend. We do cool stuff and we make love, but she’s not my muse. I know I don’t consider her a sort of inspiration, for that I go dig inside of myself. There’s so much hidden that we can’t reach. That’s what intrigues me. We have a whole lifetime to explore that territory, the darker corners of our souls. That is what changed. I treasure the muse within now.”
Ha Ha Heartbreak is out now via PIAS.