Interview with the master of the keys Frank van Bogaert
As part of our Fish on Friday Special, we interviewed mastermind Frank van Bogaert. The Belgian musician originally comes from the genre of electronic music. At the age of 18, he was the founder and singer of the New Wave / Synth-Pop band “1000 Ohm”. This band had several hits and their song “A.G.N.E.S.” is still a New Wave evergreen, especially in Belgium. The band broke up in 1987 and van Bogaert concentrated on his career as a music producer and sound engineer, which was very successful. He took over ACE Studio in Antwerp and made it the most renowned recording studio in the country, producing/recording quite a few bands and artists, but also becoming a highly demanded composer of radio commercials and TV series music. To give free rein to his creativity, he released various albums under his own name between 1998 – 2009, strongly reminiscent of Vangelis or Jean-Michel Jarre. Then in 2010 he founded the progressive rock band “Fish on Friday”, which brought us here today. And we wanted to know in detail.
If the internet is to be believed, did you already have your first hit in 1981?
That’s right. That was with the band 1000 Ohm and the song A.G.N.E.S. It’s still, after more than 40 years , a very popular song (especially in Belgium). You could call it a New Wave Evergreen and 1000 Ohm itself has gained longtime cult status.
Was it your first band?
Yes, I founded 1000 Ohm at the age of 17. I was 18 when we released A.G.N.E.S. 1000 Ohm existed till 1987 and we had some more hits like e.g. “ Love In Motion “ which was reissued on vinyl last year.
With the first hit song “A.G.N.E.S.” 1000 Ohm already sounded like early Depeche Mode. The B-side “Look Around” sounds more like the typical New Wave flair of that time. I’m thinking of the early Tears for Fears or Human League. Did these bands have an influence on you at that time?
Yes, especially The Human League (Tears for Fears in a later stage) as 1000 Ohm was also very synth pop driven. In the beginning we played more guitar-keyboard driven New Wave but evolved quickly into pure synth driven New Wave. We were of course often compared to Depeche Mode as we had a similar line up…3 keyboard players and a drummer. We even supported Depeche Mode when they played Belgium in 1982 .
Why did you break up?
Oh, it’s the typical thing…after the initial success of the band in the early eighties we were less in demand by 1987 and so the other band members chose to go for a day job outside the music business. We couldn’t live of 1000 Ohm’s revenues so that’s quite understandable. I was the only one who was stubborn enough to want to become a professional musician-producer. Not an easy thing to accomplish but I was very young and at that age on is very flexible and resilient.
During the 1000 Ohm years I had learned a lot about recording studio techniques- (I have always been good in technology, fyi ..I also have an Engineer’s degree in Electronics) and it became clear to me that if I wanted to become a professional (meaning-being able to make a living) I had to change side of glass in the studio and sit behind the desk. So from then on all went pretty fast, becoming an in demand Engineer-Producer and Composer. So looking back , 1000 Ohm’s split was in fact the beginning of my professional career.
After 1000 Ohm you started to make music under your own name? Why no Band anymore?
Well , as I just explained, I had become a professional Producer and was working day in day out with bands, most of them rock or pop bands. My job wasn’t only about recording but also channeling ideas of bandmembers, keeping egos in balance, dealing with finances and agenda’s, etc.. So being in a band myself at that time just didn’t make sense. I still wanted to make music, but on my own..when I think about it, it was more of a self obliged therapy…letting of steam , you know. And because of my love for synthesizers I chose to compose instrumental synth music. It also made sense as apart from being a producer-engineer, I also had quite some work as a composer for radio and TV commercials and series, which was all instrumental music.
When listening to your music, Jean-Michel Jarre or Vangelis come to mind. Did or do these musicians have an influence on your solo work?
Of course they were influential, though I never walked the copycat road. When Vangelis passed away last year I realized that his music has been a kind of safe haven to me. I can always return to his music, listen to his albums for the thousandth time and still love it as if it were the first time.
What kind of equipment do you use for these works – which synths are your favourites?
All kinds of synths, samplers, in fact all gear I had access to. My favourite synths are the analogs like the sequential Prophet 5. Though I admit I still love the digital Yamaha DX7.
Do you think that plug-ins have the same quality as external equipment?
Plug-ins have become real good and often one can’t hear a great difference anymore but the real thing still beats it as it is so much more inspiring turning knobs on a real synth. It makes you want to play it and explore it’s sound capabilities while a plug-in rather makes you scroll through the presets until you find something that suits the job. I often use virtual instruments in productions when working with deadlines and so I simply don’t have the time to use the real stuff. The same goes for outboard gear, like compressors etc..
Will you be releasing new solo work at some point?
No , I don’t think so, at least not in the EM (electronic music) style. I have closed that chapter.
Your solo work seems to be on hold for now. An obvious transition from your last solo work “Air Machine” from 2009 to Fish on Friday’s debut album “Shoot The Moon” in 2010 . How did the founding of the band and the naming come about?
In fact on that Air Machine album you can hear me drifting from EM towards Progressive Rock..although still solo one can indeed see it as a transient album to what was to become Fish on Friday . The founding of the band happened when William Beckers, Antwerp based keyboard player, hired the ACE Studio to do a production with his band. The recordings turned out to nothing , it was all a bit amateurish but he wanted to continue and so I suggested that he’d work with my regular gang of studio musicians , of which Marty Townsend on guitar, Marcus Weymaere on drums and Bert Embrechts on bass. Professionals I had been doing tons of productions with. On top of that I started writing songs with William because he hadn’t got songs only some chord progressions. I also had quite a few songs lying in the closet I could throw in, as I was planning to go for my love for Progressive Rock anyway. That all worked real fine and we produced the Shoot The Moon album in just 9 months. It’s William who came up with the name Fish on Friday…I liked it , especially the abbreviation FoF!
It seems you continue the interesting cover design of your solo works with Fish of Friday. I liked the covers of “Colours” and “One Out Of Five” from your solo works. With Fish on Friday simply all of them. (They should be available as posters, by the way.) This kind of surreal design was also often found with visual artists like Hipgnosis or Storm Thorgerson. He did a lot of good covers for Pink Floyd, for example. Have such works influenced you in your choice of album covers?
I have always believed that a great album cover most of the time promises great music.(it also works the way round btw). I have discovered many artists just by being intrigued by their cover artwork. For Fish on Friday all the honor goes to Polish artwork designer Michal Karcz . He designed the cover artwork for my last solo album Air Machine and so it was logical to also get him on board to do Fish on Friday. He is a very talented artist and I believe him to be on par with Hipgnosis designs. His artwork has become an important part of Fish on Friday’s identity!
I think in the booklet of FoF’s debut “Shoot The Moon” you thank them for encouraging you to sing (again). Did you have any doubts about being a front man once more ?
Well yes, you know in the beginning William and I wanted Fish on Friday to be a project like the Alan Parsons Project, so with different guest singers depending on the song.As we had written some songs we started auditioning some professional singers, but to do that I first had to sing the demo vocal, I could sing so that wasn’t a problem. After every audition we always concluded that my demo vocal was better, not that the singers were bad, far from….They just didn’t sing it the “fitting” way I did. So everyone soon agreed that my demo vocals were going to be the final vocals . I had no choice as to become the lead singer , hahaha …
Why did you and co-founder William Beckers go separate ways at some point?
That was a painful moment but there was no other way. On the debut album Shoot The Moon we really worked together on a daily base, for the second album Airborne I was most of the time left to my own devices because William had become an audio sales man. So most of the writing and keyboard playing was done by me. No problem. On the third album “Godspeed” it became even more evident I was writing and playing most of the music. I had thrown in a lot of my songs which were also credited to William but it was becoming a frustrating situation for me. On the fourth FoF album “Quiet Life” William’s input had gone down to 0%, but he still wanted to be credited, or at least not letting know anyone it was all my work. I just couldn’t hold on anymore and because of that wanted to stop the band, but I had already written half of what was to become “Black Rain” and I sent the demo’s to Nick, Marty and Marcus and they all agreed this was the best music I’d ever written. So the idea of maybe releasing these new songs solo got quickly buried as it would nullify all the progress, like slowly building a fanbase , we had already achieved with FoF. So for the sake of the survival of the band I had to ask William to leave. It was painful and the end of a friendship.
How did Nick Beggs get into the group?
Haha, In fact because he was the bassplayer in Kajagoogoo. Yes serious….I was working on the openings track of the “Airborne” album, the track “Welcome” and felt we needed another kind of bassline to go with it. I told William .. “you know it has to be a bit like those basslines in Kajagoogoo.” William said “well why don’t you contact him ?” And so I did, I found his e-mail and sent him the track, not really expecting an answer. But half an hour later he did reply saying he loved the track and wanted to contribute. At that time he was in Genesis’ Steve Hackett band and so in fact also playing Prog. I was unaware of that. It was all serendipity. So we got to know each other better and got along really well, so that for the next album ”Godspeed” Nick became part of the band.
Marty (guitar) seems to know you from earlier work in the studio. Unusual, because he lives in the US, right? How did you both met?
We met in the ACE studio early nineties as Marty was in a Belgian band Blue Blot who recorded at ACE. After having done some productions together Marty became my guitar player to go for. We know each other pretty well and complement each other in skills . He has been living in Belgium for 30 years but now has moved back to the US , but that didn’t change working together thanks to the internet.
Marcus (drums) seems to be from the neighbourhood? Where is the connection between you and him before FoF?
As Marty is my guitar player to go for , so is Marcus my drummer to go for. In fact throughout the years we’ve become a team, doing so much productions together. You could compare it to The Alan Parsons Project which in fact was a team with always the same musicians involved.
What is the songwriting process like at FoF? How are the songs written?
I am the songwriter in the band. Songs are written when the inspiration is there and they always start on the grandpiano. I can always feel inspiration coming…if it ain’t there I don’t even bother to go sit behind the piano because I know it’ll be a waste of time, unless it’s just for training my playing ofcourse. But when it’s there , it always goes quick.
Are all lyrics generally written by you?
Yes. The writing of my songs always starts with a faint idea of lyrics in mind, that’s the trigger for inspiration !
How come Nick became co-producer on the current longplayer?
As most FoF fans thought our previous release “Black Rain” was our best yet, I became well aware that you always get judged by your latest release. So the next album really had to be on par, but this time I felt I needed someone to help me to achieve this. Someone who’s experienced in judging songs, arrangements and above all , who understands what FoF stands for and is not afraid to shoot down a track or alter it to make it better. Who better than your own bandmate Nick Beggs. We’ve become real good friends during the years , so having Nick as co-producer felt real natural. We also had a lot of fun during the process, giving each other nicknames like “Trevor” (referring to Trevor Horn ) or “Tony” (referring to Tony Visconti).
You write a lot autobiographically. Is it the same with “Funerals”?
Most of my lyrics are indeed autobiographically , so the same goes with the track “Funerals” . It’s one of my favourite tracks on the 8mm album, more of a short epic with different moves. I always try to write lyrics in a way the listener can interpret them in his or her own way, leaving some space for imagination.
“Morphine” (from the Black Rain album) has a similar mood to “Funerals”. I suppose you write from your own experience? But you must have been in a very bad way at a certain time?
I was, I had an accident in which I nearly lost a leg .I was in great pain and so had been put on a morphine pain pump before and after the different surgeries I had to undergo. So it’s about the feeling when you feel morphine entering your veins…it’s like a warm glow that enters your body and “takes away all pain and silences all screams “ It took me a year of training and therapy to learn to walk again, that’s why I have now become an ardent walker in the woods of the Belgian Ardennes.
Do you also talk about personal things in the title track “8 mm”? If so, I would be interested to know how the text came about. Who are you missing and did you really find some old 8 mm rolls?
This is one of the most emotional and personal songs I have ever written while being in a state of disbelief. It’s about the unexpected death of my 7 years younger brother. In his apartment I did indeed find 8mm rolls but he had already digitized them to DVD so I could watch them. After having watched all those old family movies , dating back long before we were even born, the song was written in no longer than half an hour. The lyrics literally telling how I felt. We used the films to make the 8mm video clip, it’s on youtube, it’s just beautiful and of course very nostalgic. (Here is the clip:)
Isn’t it daring to start the new album so melancholic right away? Wouldn’t “Overture to Flame” + “Flame” have fitted better?
No, because it is the most emotional song I’ve ever written and people do feel that. It’s nice opening an album with tears in your eyes and then move on.
What are the future plans for Fish on Friday?
Continue work on a next album probably ? We feel that this 8mm album is the pinnacle of our work, so lets see how that translates to the future We’ve also talked the whole live touring thing through and feel we should only do it if we have a real tour management . We won’t go for just a few shows as we will be losing money.
What kind of music do you listen to privately and what are your musical influences?
I’m very open to a lot of styles going from Rock to Pop, Folk, Jazz, Ambient… Quincy Jones said “There’s but 2 kinds of music…good music and bad music” I agree 100%
How did it come about that you left your old studio behind and built another one? Will it definitely remain the ACE Studio, despite the different address?
We, my wife and I , had always planned to go later live our old days in the Ardennes. We already had a country house over there where we spent most of our free time , relaxing , enjoying the silence, enjoying life. But living over there was ment to happen much later, you know spending our old days there. But then covid came and I was forced to close down the studio. That made us decide that later is not later but later is now ! So we took the jump , and feel it’s the best move we’ve ever done ! The new studio is more of a private studio in which I only work on my own productions together with some online mixing and mastering. So it is not for rent for bands I’m not familiar with, been there , seen it 🙂 That’s why the name has changed into FoF-Studio….referring to as well as “Fish on Friday “ as “Friends of Frank”.
Did you acquire all your knowledge about studio work autodidactically or did you attend a workshop?
No, I did not attend any workshop. As already explained, my years in 1000 Ohm and after were the best training anyone could have.
What do you do when you are not working in the studio?
Walk with my 2 dogs, sweet Golden Retrievers Blondie and Billie (both named after singers) in the woods and go have a drink .
At least your coffee tastes best when you’re sitting at the airport. How is your coffee consumption otherwise, do you appreciate a good cup of coffee?
I used to be a caffeine addict but after having experienced stomach problems my doctor advised me to stop drinking coffee and switch to tea. I have followed that advice and have been drinking tea for the last 2 years , and feel better.
Thank you Frank for the Interview. It was nice to have you on the Show. 🙂
You can listen to the full interview here (The music is faded out)