The end of summer feeling
On a beautiful sunny morning, ZOTEYE sat down with Brussels-based filmmaker and musician Simon Cools at Muntpunt Grand Café in Brussels. Simon, who goes by the artist name Keiko, grew up in Antwerp and attended art school starting at age 11. During our conversationv he talked about finding his way as a filmmaker and a musician, the struggles and pleasures of making music, and how he likes to buy new instruments simply to discover their unique sound. And, of course, the “new ABBA”.
Keiko, thanks for talking to ZOTEYE today. Explain to us who Keiko is?
I am Simon Cools, I’ve been in art school for 11 years now — nine years in Antwerp plus two years in Brussels. Now I am a film student at St Lucas Brussels. I’ve played a lot of sports too, with a lot of injuries as a result. My muscles were not made for it. Unfortunately. I am also autistic and when I was young it caused a lot of problems. I learned to accept it and now I see it as an advantage that without a lot of effort I am able to look different at the World and my life. Who I am and where I want to go. Very recently a good friend of mine died and it had a lot of influence on me. I started to put so many things more in perspective. It’s hard to say out loud but it actually really helped me move forward with some things that I was struggling with. I miss that person of course but it was a good thing to happen for me. For my future. Some moments in our lives colour the glasses that we look at the World with. And the colours can be very different, from very bright to very dark. And some even permanent I feel. It became part of me.
Where does the name Keiko come from?
It leads to Ben Howard, a musician I really look up to. Love his work. Keiko is one of his songs and the two albums he made are about a schizophrenic friend of his who committed suicide. Nobody really knows if it’s all fiction or real. He doesn’t give a lot of interviews and when the question comes up he quickly pushes it away. So it’s all a circle. The concept is great and strong. Already two albums and he is keeping the story and mystery going. I love that.
How do you see education and attending college?
I see it more as a general source of inspiration and knowledge that I am acquiring to help me in whatever direction I am going. Film, music, theater, I am very passionate about all three and I feel the future might pull me in any of them. I studied Audio Visual theory in Antwerp for several years where, for example, photography was also part of the program. And now in St Lucas where I am studying film we are also touching a lot of different aspects of filmmaking but don’t go in depth in one of them. That is in my opinion the best possible education that you can have as a film director. Same as the front man of a band. He or she needs to know a lot about different instruments, musical styles and techniques (in order to) then look for other musicians who can make it come to life.
You are now studying film in Brussels. Did you ever consider going to a music academy instead?
Yes, in the second of three years I considered going to the music academy but I am afraid to lose my love for music when learning how it is made. When you learn the details of creating something you look totally different at it. For example I am afraid to learn how to read notes because then I am faced with what I am now creating out of what I feel. I feel it but I don’t know what it is. I notice that music is pulling me more than film. I dare more to step up to people and connect with them in the music industry compared to the film world. Mainly because I feel more confident about music and the music world feels smaller. Festivals are fantastic for that, to meet other people in music and connect, collaborate.
I watched your short film “A Play” where it ’s really visible how strong you are when directing actors and creating emotional tension in a movie.
It was great to make the movie. The team was great and I just love working on a project like that. But film still feels like a big wall for me to climb over, while music doesn’t feel like that. Also on resource level. The cost to make an EP or album is lower compared to making a film. Also the amount of people involved can be very different for both. That scares me (for film) and pulls me more to music.
How do you look at making films? What is your approach as a director?
In pre-production you have to be stubborn, during the making you have to be very flexible and in post-production you have to let go. The best ideas also come when you have nothing on hand. When you have a moment of peace in your World. Where things just stop for a moment.
What about a music video for your songs? Will you be be the director?
Tough one. If I would be the director it would take me 10 years to have a music video. If I would work with someone it would be hard to find someone and trust that person. Not easy because both directions don’t really lead to something.
How long have you been playing music?
Hard to put a year on it. It started when I found out how to illegally download Fruity Loops. 5th grade? So when I was 11 years old. Very different style of music I was making back then. Software really helped me to start making music.
Why do you make music?
When you ask that question, I immediately have the question why do I NOT make music that pops up in my head. It just feels so right to me. I just love listening to other musicians’ work and feeling so many emotions, and I want other people to experience that too with what I make.
How would you describe the music you make?
I’m going to steal words from someone else. End of summer feeling. It was a nice, good summer but life continues. The golden hour.
Next to ben Howard, who else are your musical influences?
Arcade Fire right now is on the top of my list. They are the new ABBA to me. I saw them live twice and watched some interviews. I just love their approach towards albums because they want to record albums as a live gig. That is beautiful in today’s music world. Paul Simon also has had a big influence on me for a very long time. It was my grandfather who introduced me to him when I was 11 years old. Graceland. I listened to it until it was destroyed. It was inthe era of burning your own cd’s. (Paul Simon) was a pioneer also in sampling, when he traveled he recored a lot of sounds, came back to his studio and worked with what he recorded. I love doing the same. The drummer I play with told me one day that when I write lyrics, that subconsciously I am channeling Paul Simon. Great compliment. The first album of Oscar and the Wolf also influenced me.
What instruments do you play? Do you still use a computer to make music?
I use and own a lot of instruments. I record them on my computer and then work with them in a digital form. I can easily fall in love with a new instrument and buy it sometimes quite cheap to try it out. Harmonics, guitar, bass guitar. I’m not a multi-instrumentalist but I love sound. Not with the intention to master it, but just to listen to the sound it makes.
What was the most positive thing that happened until now for Keiko and your music?
The most positive thing is the appreciation of a lot of people about the music that I make. Some people ask me regularly when I will be coming with new stuff and I like that too. It all went very quick after I took part in De Nieuwe Lichting (an annual Belgian talent competition) at Studio Brussels, and looking back on it now it was all very exciting but I wasn’t really ready for it. It would have been the first time ever to perform on a big stage but I didn’t get that far in the contest. When I now see the winner of the contest playing live on one of the biggest festivals in Belgium, I see the road I still have ahead of me. The band I play with are all friends, and one of them asked me if my goal is to play gigs in bars all my life or if I’m dreaming of big venues like Lotto Arena and Sportpaleis Antwerp. Of course I would enjoy playing in bars with them, but I am dreaming big. For that I would need musicians that have years of professional experience. And then the stress kicks in, how am I ever going to be able to convince musicians to play with me in a band? And even if I succeed in that how am I going to direct them towards the sound I want to create?
David Bowie once said: “If you’re feeling safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. When you go a little bit our of your depth and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.” When I hear you talking about the challenges that are lying ahead of you, it sounds like exciting things are coming your way.
It makes me think of when I was looking for a rehearsal area. One thing lead to another and I bumped into Mecanic Voodoo, a rehearsal venue and recording studio. We got a lot of help there from a lot of different people which was really great, but it was most of all a fantastic experience to play in such a well-equipped and professional surrounding. It also lead to some struggles, but again that’s part of walking this path and growing as a band and musician.
What would you ideally like your music to mean to other people?
It depends from song to song. A new song starts with a word or a melody and then it grows into something else. And that something else is always what I hope other people will feel too when they hear the song. I like to give something of myself to others. A glimpse into who I am and how I see life. Everything Now by Arcade Fire is a perfect example for me right now of how a song that sounds very cliché can still have so much depth philosophically. I have a dream to make an album, even if it’s a very limited amount of copies. Just to know that some people would have the record in their hands and play it on their record player sounds amazing to me.
X Published on September 21st 2017
X Interview and photography by Johan Bockstaele at Muntpunt Cafe Brussels
X Images captured with a Hasselblad film camera and Ilford B&W film
X Interview conducted in Dutch and has been translated by the clever ZOTEYE minions