Abre los ojos
A mix of music, economics, AI and Brussels. This is the life of Sam Husson and Tom Husson, two brothers who bonded more and more throughout their childhood while once they were fire and ice. Growing up without losing yourself was a challenge for them but it turned out to be nothing they couldn’t handle. A story about thinking positive, looking forward with an open mind and give the past a place in your life.
Who is ABRE?
Tom: I’m 21 years old, have been travelling the World for the last 2 years and one of the years was with Up with People. I’m born in Tongeren, lived there only for a year with my parents. It feels to me as if I’ve been making music since a kid, it’s simply the oldest memory I have. I was banging on furniture as a toddler to make sound. I’m studying computer science now at the University of Leuven, second year Bachelor and really love it. I’m very interested in the future that humanity is creating, especially from the ethical point of view.
Sam: I’m 19, born in Leuven and have been playing guitar since I was 7. When my brother left for his World trip I started to write down my feelings and they slowly turned into rap songs. They were mainly about my father, love, friendships and step by step I started rapping them myself. It started in the shower at the age of 15. When my brother came back to Belgium we wrote a song called ‘Different Day, another fight’ which is our best song so far. It was played on Studio Brussels. This song comes from both of us and digs very deep in our emotions. Since the moment that we wrote this song together, Tom has been helping me to move forward in music and I’m very thankful for that. It’s not something that’s so easy and obvious for me to pursuit but he is there to show me that it makes sense and that I’m actually a very good singer. And oh yes, I’m studying Economics at the University of Leuven too. (smiles)
Is there a reason why you are both not studying music at an academy?
Tom: My field of interest is massive. I think I would get bored too quickly with just music. Computer science is perfect for me because I can also combine it with music through production and the software being used for that. It obviously crossed my mind and in my third year of High School I had a friend who was also totally into music and encouraged me to go study it together at the Kunst Humaniora Brussels, but my Mom helped me in seeing that it would be too limiting for me. I just love the mix and I hope I will be able to keep combining it as long as I can. I can not make music all the time because it’s a very emotional process. The songs therefore can also be very different from each other, going from pop to house, rap, and so on.
Sam: Sometimes we are chilling at home together, Tom making some music and I’m playing Fifa and a melody that he plays triggers something in me. Then we look at each other and we both feel like: “Come on, let’s record something!” Usually we don’t work longer than an hour on a new song and after that I really feel “out” of the song and want to come back to it the next day. I know my brother would like to have more of these sessions of an hour, but unfortunately that’s not so easy right now. We are both studying in other locations but most of the weekends we are together at our moms house and we love to hang out together at those days. In the end I never thought to make music the way we are doing. Just thought it would be some jamming in our room for friends and sometimes for some likes on Facebook. But a TED talk at the age of 18 because of our music was something I wasn’t even able to come up with when I was 15 or younger. If I would be able to go back in time I might decide to have some coaching for vocals.
Tom: But I’m convinced that ABRE would not have existed if we would have decided some years ago to go all the way into music and go study it at the academy, we would now have been much more focused on details and composing which would kill the essence of our songs that are pure, genuine, emotions from both of us transformed in a song.
Sam: True. We are making music for ourselves right now, not for anyone else. It’s cool also to work together with your brother, we can tell everything to each other. Zero friction. We have a very constructive way of communicating. It’s very important to me what Tom thinks about my singing. And I do think that I somehow always try to impress my brother. I remember the first song we made together, I was stressing out and Tom was always pushing me to go further. I really wanted to hear him say: “Dude, that’s amazing! You’re the best!”
Tom: I was listening and I thought, wow, he’s a really good singer, but I know my brother so well that if I would have said that to him from the very beginning, he would have been like: “ok, cool, no need to grow anymore or push the limit here.” I’m honestly a bit jealous of his voice.
(start both laughing)
What’s your most positive memory as a child?
Tom: That’s a tough one for me. My childhood hasn’t been the easiest, it feels like I was always very introvert. I had the impression that I was thinking very differently about a lot of things compared to my friends. It sometimes isolated me but I still feel very positive about my childhood in general which means, I assume, that I was able to create my own World that made me very happy. I wrote down 27 life lessons when I was 21. The last one sums up everything I learned at that point in my life: perception + attitude = reality. I definitely describe myself as a happy person but it’s kind off confronting that I can’t really pick one moment in my childhood. Somebody once asked me: if you could forget everything else in your life and remember one moment, what would that moment be? That was without a doubt any jam session I ever had. Connecting with music saved me. I don’t think I would be alive anymore if music wasn’t there for me. I think in a very different way, have a hard time expressing myself with words, but music always helped me to ‘lay my egg’. Last year was a pretty rough year, I found out that I was going to be a dad to a daughter in Arizona USA, her mom and I didn’t date and I only found out that she was pregnant a few days before she was leaving. At moments like that, music is my biggest help to express what I feel, to establish a connection between my crazy head to the outside World, to be able to channel my energy. Between the age of 8 and 14, I sometimes had hysterical fallouts and would throw things around me, my mom had to sit on me to control me when it was really bad. This was mainly because of my parents their relationship and how my dad was and still is. It’s still kind of hard to call him my dad honestly, I think that he broke me too many times, at a point everything inside you is broken and cannot be fixed anymore.
So is it fair to say that music is your best childhood memory?
Tom: Well, yes, actually it is. (starts laughing) I haven’t looked at it that way but yes, it sure is.
Sam: Like Tom already said, our childhood was not easy. And I didn’t have to deal with a lot of things that Tom went through because my brother protected me a lot from the mess that was around us. I am very grateful for that and I never asked him to do that. When I was 12, I didn’t see my dad for 7 months, and for a kid at that age, it’s quite a long time. I was starting to rebel, wanted to explore things outside the house and parents are very important at that point in the life of a teenager to say ‘stop’. So my most positive memory is when Tom came back from his 2 year trip and didn’t feel welcome at all. He couldn’t talk to mom, couldn’t talk to our dad, and I was the only one who could understand him and be a listening ear. I was really happy that for once I could be there for him because when I was 12, he was the one protecting me. Now it was my turn.
Tom: We’re really sorry that this interview is turning into a psychological couch session. The questions you’re asking are too good. (we all start laughing)
With pleasure. And thank you for the compliment.
Sam: In every negative thing, there is something positive. We had a shit time with our parents but if this would not have been there, we would probably not have been so close. When we were very young we used to be fire and ice.
How did you feel most of the time as a teenager?
Sam: Happy. The only thing that could make me sad was my dad. I was hanging out with my friends and brother. My mom and I also had a good relationship. I was a damn happy teenager even without a father.
Tom: And same for me. I was a very happy teenager too. Before high school it was a little bit rough though. I was a bit chubby. Well, perhaps fat, but my mom answered me to the question if I was fat that I was chubby, so I believed her. (starts laughing hard) So yes, that wasn’t easy either. The summer right before I went to High School, I started working out because I was really done with being the chubby one. During that same summer holiday we went to a Club Med with my dad and I had my very first girlfriend. It was amazing. (both star laughing)
Sam: He was a beast, 3 girls wanted him during that holiday!
Tom: Yes, usually when girls told me that they wanted to be my girlfriend they would come back an hour later and be like: “Sorry changed my mind”. But that summer, it really worked out! I couldn’t have started my teenage years any better!
What specifically are you working on now as musicians?
Tom: I always make music for myself, to express my feelings, every day.
Sam: And together we have ABRE. But I’m also in a project called Violencia, which helped me to see how important it is to continue making music with my brother. It’s a really cool project, that’s not it, but it’s not for me. It’s too competitive and too much focused on your presence and performance, instead of digging deeper in expressing yourself with words and emotions. I want to keep writing my own lyrics and bring it to life with Tom.
Where does the name ABRE come from?
Tom: It comes from ‘Abre los ojos’ which is Spanish for ‘Open your eyes’. During the 2 years of travelling I had a lot of existential crisises and there were moments where I was confronted with a lot of paradoxes. The first paradox that I was ever confronted with was hearing my mom and dad each saying different things about the same situation, knowing that one of them had to be lying . Afterwards I realized that none of them were actually lying, they just had different perceptions on the truth. I concluded that if you want to experience more in your life, that it is important to open yourself to the World, open yourself to others, to different perceptions and concepts. When I was 6 months on my own in Australia, which was rough, it really felt like another slap in the face, I had a lot to process and I realised that I had to start opening up to people around me. I think from that moment on I started talking about what I feel and that’s what we also do with ABRE, open up our heart and share the feelings we have.
Sam: I had my own moment where ABRE came to life. I travelled to Argentina, stayed with a family there and worked in an orphanage. One day a boy told me that he had to open up to the World to not fall in the same trap as his family did. He didn’t want to live on the streets anymore and felt that being open to anything that came his way was the best way to approach life. You can’t pick where you’re born, but you can choose your way forward.
Tom: Let’s say that what we truly believe that there’s a lot more strength in confident vulnerability than in blind confidence.
What future developments in your life and field of interests makes you really excited?
Tom: I’m working on several startups, one of them is perspektiv.ai. We help students to turn their ideas into an MVP making sure they learn something along the way. We work a lot around AI and love to explore what human creativity combined with AI will be able to do in the future. We are curious how humans are going to use technologies like that in the future and what will come out of it. Bring the human elements, that make humans so human, into technology and see what comes out of that. The future is not positive or negative, it’s your perception of it that matters and defines the way you move forward. I’m excited to see for example that smartphones are so widely embraced today while they were so feared some years ago. There’s a lot of fear around AI too but I am surprised to see how far we are still standing from what we are really afraid of. It’s going to take at least another 20 years until we are where humanity is so afraid of right now, and then it will just be the new normal, I think. We’re really still very far from the singularity.
Sam: I’m curious to see how our music is going to grow. We’re not the kind of band who sits down for days or weeks and forces ourselves to make music. And yes, I’m also curious how it will influence my life and school. Economics and music is a crazy combo, I know, and although music is my number one dream to pursue, I would also find it extremely challenging to manage the money for a big company as a financial manager.
What’s the most positive thing that happened so far for each of you as musicians?
Sam: Bringing me so close to my brother.
Tom: And to be able to channel my emotions through music, it literally saved my life.
Sam: Yes, some years ago it was really not going well with Tom and at a point he told me that he didn’t want to live anymore. I tried so hard to be there for him but it was extremely hard to connect. Luckily he connected with music.
What role does Brussels play in both of your lives?
Sam: A big one, I seeked myself here in this city. Luckily my brother was helping me sometimes by putting a mirror in front of me so I could see that there are many different ways to live your life and move some things forward, whatever they are.
Tom: I love to drive through the city at night and observe people hanging out. It’s so awesome to think that everyone here has their lives behind them and ahead of them and it’s all colliding here. I do miss Brussels and the Bonnefooi is an awesome place to hang out, Leuven is ok but not always as open minded as Brussels.
Sam: It’s a bit of a jungle in Brussels. I love the subway and the constant moving of people and cars. My flat is on the 7th floor and sometimes I put some beats on and look outside the window to see police, people, firemen, ambulances move over the streets. It’s great inspiration for writing.
What is a typical Brussels sensation to you? A smell, a taste, an image or a sound?
Tom: The first thing that pops up in my head is The Empire of Light by Magritte but I would modify it a bit with adding a lot more stuff going on. More buzzing. For me its a very soothing painting and very Brussels.
Sam: Living is THE sensation for me when I think about Brussels. Brussels is a city with quite some scars, just like humans have. It’s been damaged before and that’s also why the terrorist attacks didn’t really change it. It’s still the same city but alive and kicking. More so every day.
What are your HeadSpots, EyeSpots and MouthSpots?
Sam: Sint-Catherine square is definitely my HeadSpot. I love to hang out there and meetup with friends. I like the Beurs as EyeSpot because of all the things that are happening. People dancing, playing soccer, having a beer, going to the AB for a concert, eating with friends, making out, name it, it happens there. Great to just sit and watch it all. And my MouthSpot is Celtica where I drink my beers. Fantastic Irish Pub with live Irish music every Friday. Great to hang out with friends.
Tom: One of my friends has a place near the Basilic of Koekelberg and it’s a rooftop flat. I love to hang out there and sit on his patio to watch the city and the sunset. Definitely my HeadSpot. At the Poelaertplein next to the Palace of Justice you can find the best view over the city so that’s certainly my EyeSpot. And MouthSpot, well, no doubt, the Bonnefooi. Totally. I had some crazy nights there and the combo of yummie drinks and music that you haven’t heard before is the best you can find in Brussels. The quality of the sound system can also blow your mind. But not blow your ears, yes, it’s that good!
How do you stay zen in Brussels?
Tom: Cars give me stress in the city, not the people. They have the opposite effect on me.
Sam: I agree about the cars but when I feel alone in my flat here in Brussels I need the movement of cars to bring me some companionship. Weird, I know, but it works for me to not feel alone.
What is Brussels in one word and one song for you?
Tom: Sommeil by Stromae. When I was travelling in Australia and working on a farm, I was listening to music on shuffle and when Stromae played, it instantly beamed me to Brussels.
Sam: For me it’s Romeo Elvis with Bruxelles Arrive. When I went to Sri Lanka this summer to do the same as what I did in Argentina, I was there with people from all over the World and one evening we each played a song of ‘our’ city. The city we come from. And this was the song that I played.
Tom: And one word for Brussels I think is ABRE. Open. I’ve been to a lot of cities all around the World and I can’t think of another city that is more open than this one.
Sam: Could not agree more.
X This conversation had place in the fall of 2017
X Interview and photography by Johan Bockstaele
X Images captured with a Hasselblad 501c, Carl Zeiss optics and Ilford film
X Interview conducted in English and edited by the clever ZOTEYE minions
*a place in the city where the person being interviewed goes when he/she needs a place to get inspired, contemplate about life or think about what to eat that evening (HeadSpot), a place to look around and give the eyes a blast or a meditative session (EyeSpot) and a place where he/she keeps going time after time to eat and/or drink something because it is ri-di-cu-lous-ly yummie. (MouthSpot)