Since 2017 Your Life On Hold is based at Solar Lodge Label. First please tell us, how did the collaboration with this label come about?
John Wulf: I remember when I started making gothic rock music, which happened rather spontaneously while experimenting with guitar sounds in the studio, that at some point things were turning seriously. I felt I was working on something special and strong. So I really wanted a good label that could fit the philosophy and perspectives that I had in mind for the project. Solar Lodge, being my favourite gothic rock label, was in fact the first label I mailed. I was happy to receive positive feedback quite quickly. And the rest, well, the rest is history.
On your website you describe the band with a citation of the American author Jean Kerouac (1922-1969): “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…”. That’s really interesting and drives me to the question: why this citation of this author?
I like the restlessness of Kerouac’s stories. His stories are drenched in optimism and energy but there’s a deeper sadness hidden between the lines. I like this duality and it fits the concept of YLOH very well. But somehow, this same duality is turned upside down in my songs: my music and lyrics are quite dark but with some hidden light inside.
I really like the beat generation in general. When I learned about them at school it all seemed very wild and adventurous. Funny enough, it was only later, as an adult, that I first read “On the road”. And then even more later I discovered all the other beats, e.g. Allen Ginsberg who inspired me for the idea of ‘Sunflower Sutra’ and was quoted for the debut’s album title, the full line of which was as follows: “angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night…”, a beautiful line from his poem ‘Howl’.
An unusual way to describe the band/music in this way. Since I hear your music and follow your lyrics, I often mean to realize an important connection between your music and your lyrics, influenced by literature. What do you think of that?
Literature in general is an important influence indeed. What I like about books is that they don’t necessarily give answers to the bigger questions, but books often touch the very core of those questions. I have a degree in philosophy and as a student we were seeking the truth, or at least some kind of convincing and testable answers to the bigger questions. As a philosopher you’re seeking answers all day, which is of course an interesting quest, especially when it comes to understanding nature, morality and a general broad notion of how the world works. But I learned that literature, or art in general in fact, is far more interesting because it doesn’t necessarily look for answers. Instead, art gives you that comforting feeling that you’re not alone out there not knowing anything at all. It’s comforting to know you’re not alone in this big bad world with your fears, hopes, dreams and pain.
The name of the band plus its logo: play and pause button, seem to me a clear combination. But at second glance and knowing your music maybe there is more behind this? Would you please tell us the story of the genesis of band name and its deeper meaning?
Finding a good band name is a tough one. A band name shouldn’t be too difficult, but it shouldn’t be too easy either. I like band names that raise some questions, band names that invite you to reflect about it.
I was going through a rather difficult phase in my life where I was struggling with depression and where I really had the feeling everything was on hold. So this explains the origins of the band name. The symbols of a play and pause button kind of represent this state of being ‘on hold’.
The artwork of your albums has a consistent and recognizable style. Who created this? (“phoniques art” is mentioned maybe you tell us about this collaboration?)
I did the first one myself with additional help from Artaud. The idea was to fit both the image of Solar Lodge and the general feeling of what I believe reflects ‘gothic rock’ music. After the release of the first album I noticed on social media that the artwork supporting the activities of the Berlin based gothic rock band Golden Apes was always done very cool and artistic. It was love at first sight so to speak, and I really liked the mythical elements gently interwoven in the artwork. So I contacted the guys to know who the artist was behind all these beautiful creations, only to discover it was the singer himself. He was so kind to create the beautiful cover of our second album.
You released so far two brilliant albums: “Burning for the ancient connection”(2017) and “My name is legion for we are many”(2018). What a creative output in just 2 years! With some distance to these albums: how do you see your whole work currently?
Thank you for the nice words! Looking back at it, it feels like very natural to make gothic rock music. But it wasn’t planned at all in fact. It all started after reinventing a previous electronic project into a more guitar oriented adventure, and a midlife crisis that put things back to a full stop rather quickly. But after I bought myself a couple of new guitars, I started experimenting again in the studio, drawing a final line under the electronic direction I’ve been going for twenty years.
At first, things were sounding rather ‘industrial’, but when I switched off the distortion pedal and pushed that reverb button, it finally hit me: I was destined to make gothic rock. Emotionally, it was also quite a journey. But dealing with tough and dark times, revisiting my musical roots seemed like a natural thing to do. The songs came spontaneously and I never had more fun and inspiration shaping sound and music.
Now, looking back at the first two albums, I really have the feeling I found myself the right musical output to translate my personal feelings and ideas. Songs that resonate with people’s very own personal experiences.
Artaud Seth did the mix and additional programming for your debut release: “Burning for the ancient connection”. How was this collaboration like?
When I finished the demos of the first album, I knew the material was strong. But finalizing music for an album is always a hard and stressful last part of the process. Because it was the first time that I was finishing a rock album, after producing electronic music for twenty years, I felt I needed help. So I asked Artaud to do the final mix of the songs. I’m both thankful and honoured that he was so kind to do that. I learned very much from it and was able to do the mix myself for the second album.
For me there are a lot of favourite, outstanding songs: “Phoenix”, “Exorcism”, “Hope is for dreamers”, “Detached”…to name a few. I am really touched by these songs, it feels like telling an intensive, personal story. You can sense how strong (your) feelings and tunes are behind the special song. You spoke about “organic feelings”, would you agree with these sensations about your music?
When I used the word ‘organic’, I meant the general feeling of the music, not the lyrical background. I had been making electronic music for two decades and I was really bored with all the knobs and buttons. Somehow, the electronic music started feeling cold and soulless to me. That’s when I started incorporating guitar sounds which made the music more organic. It brought more soul and warmth to the music, more sweat and tears. After discovering a new musical approach that would become the blueprint of the YLOH sound, it was much easier to translate my personal story into songs. This also explains why some songs are quite heavy and emotional. Making music and making songs is my way of dealing with the world. The songs are a personal and direct reflection. But I want the result of that personal reflection to be universal and recognisable for everyone nonetheless.
Let me point out again the song: “Excorcism”. A brilliant, epic, brachial and simultaneously melodic song from your debut album: “Burning for the ancient connection”. It is a hymn for me and it is written for eternity. “Did I wake the devil or you instead? Did I wake the demons inside your head?”….a revelation of your own inner being at this time?
For me personally this song deals with a dark period in my life when a long lasting relationship sadly broke up. It was for the both of us a very frustrating and sad period with lots of heavy emotions. Somehow I wanted to translate all these dark and conflicting emotions in one explosive song.
The lyrics are very personal, and I know very well what I meant with every single word. But I like the idea of people making their own story out of it. This is again the cool thing about art: it touches the very core of our being and resonates with people’s very own personal feelings.
In which mood did you write most of your lyrics? What comes first: the tunes/soundscapes or the written words?
They are two different paths that come together in the process. I have this collection of thoughts and lines that I write down as soon as they pop up in my head. I used to think I will remember them, but that’s not the case. So I started writing all ideas down immediately. When making music, new ideas also spontaneously pop up. It all pretty much comes together while working on the songs. It’s like the pieces were already there, but at some point you start seeing the general images of the puzzle.
Where do your input/ideas come from? Reading, travelling, personal episodes, the lifetime itself, “creative think-tank” during a time period? A mixture of all?
It’s a mixture of all these things you mentioned in fact. My personal feelings are the very core of my artistic output and are in fact the reason why I make music in general. I really have this urge to make music in order to deal with my inner world. I want to make stories so people can recognise themselves in my lyrics and music. But of course, I get inspired by books, music, movies, poems and nature, it’s all part of the fabric of our being. Literature especially, like I mentioned earlier, is probably the main influence when creating my own stories.
It seems to me that you have preference for long album titles “My name is legion for we are many” from the bible, it comes from the demon appearance in the New Testament, right? Why this title for your last album? Where is the connection between song lyrics and sentence?
A lot of the songs are about fighting inner demons, so the bible quote seemed quite appropriate as a possible album title. There’s however also another reason. The title is a posthumous salute to the Dutch poet Menno Wigman who died in 2018. After reading his poetry collection with the very same title a few years ago, I became his biggest fan. He’s been an important influence for me ever since. I would have loved to meet him one day, but unfortunately that will never happen now.
Your live appearance in the last months is impressive, especially in Belgium. You were supported by the Nunhood, they love your performances. Which live gig was the best in our opinion? Why?
The most special gig for me was the Solar Lodge Convention in Bochum, Germany. It was the first time we played abroad, and it was with other bands from the label which was really dark pleasure. It was so cool to play in a sold out venue with an enthusiastic crowd shouting the lyrics with you. As a full six member live band, doing every single thing ‘live’, we rehearse a lot and I’m happy to feel that we are still growing and still getting better in what we are doing. And I’m really thankful to have the very loyal and faithful fan base of the Nunhood. They are the best really!
Your life on hold is meanwhile a band with six members. Please tell us how did you found these guys and your development to become a band on stage.
Emeric has been my ‘coupin de route’ in my previous projects already and was part of the story as guitar player from the start. He brought in both drummer Jacky and bass player Augustijn, the latter also getting quite famous in Belgium with his own pop project. I knew guitar player Stefaan from other projects and we had been wanting to do something together for a long time already. YLOH became the ideal occasion. He brought in Jonas, a very talented keyboard player, also active in several metal projects.
It’s a strange mix with different kinds of personalities, and the result is so much more than the sum of its parts.
You describe your style of music with “new wave” and “post punk”. To be honest…I like such attributes only conditionally. You have a unique voice and your music is varied, deep, emotional with a diverse “wall of different sounds”. A perfect musical intoxication for me at any time I am listening to your music. So in your words: “something post goth”. Do you mind about genres? It is sometimes helpful to have a well known style for describing your music?
I don’t care too much about labels. I think it would be pretty fair and accurate to call our music simply ‘gothic rock’. Yes, we call it ‘post goth’, but maybe mainly because it sounds cool. Journalists are free to call it whatever they feel like calling it.
You did several videos for the songs. Are you your own creator of all ideas or do you work additionally with some people who are involved with video productions, filming etc.?
I edit most videos myself but I often work together with a friend shooting the footage. Artaud also helped me out with finalizing the Exorcism video. I believe videos in general are becoming more and more professional and it’s hard to keep up with the new highly raised quality barrier. That’s why I prefer a simple but good looking lyric video above a mediocre DIY video clip.
“Wish-time”: no limits in budget, location, implementation. Which song would you take (again?) for a new video and what location and storyboard would you like chose?
I would like to have a video for a song from the forthcoming album. I imagine a black and white video that shows the loneliness of people in a big city. The lonely soul in a busy crowd, something like that. And since there are no budget limitations, I would ask David Lynch or Anton Corbijn to record the video.
Is there a special country you would like to wish to play live? Why?
I’m not a person with a bucket list or anything like that, but if there’s something that I would like to do before I die, it’s going on tour for at least once in my life. South America seems like fun because of the surprisingly rather big and enthusiastic crowds.
You are now on a “sabbatical” year. I suppose your will spend some time with creating new music. Allow my curiosity so far: are there any news about a new album?
Yes, making lots of new music is definitely part of my sabbatical. And yes, I am of course working on a new YLOH album. This time I really have a classic gothic rock sound in mind, injected with a fresh and personal approach. It will be a very melodic album and so far I’m very happy and confident with the result.
Will it be a concept album?
Yes it will be concept album. While there’s no final album title yet, the main concept of the album will be the idea of the ‘bardo’. It was only after reading George Saunders’ book “Lincoln in the bardo” that I learned about the general idea of the ‘bardo’: an intermediate space between life and rebirth. The book itself didn’t convince me that much, a bit too experimental for my taste, but the whole bardo-thing was rather inspiring. The concept is derived from Buddhism, where bardo is the intermediate, transitional, or liminal state between death and rebirth. There are six bardos in Tibetan Buddhism: the Bardo of This Life; the Bardo of Meditation; the Bardo of Dream; the Bardo of Dying; the Bardo of Dharmata; and the Bardo of Existence. These six bardos will be the main framework for all songs, the blueprint of the album.
Of course it won’t have anything to do with Buddhism or the like, but the general idea fits YLOH’s main concept: this dark state and feeling of being stuck, your life being on hold…
I really appreciate to prepare this interview for Your life on hold.
Thanks for your time Jan and for your extraordinary music! All the best for you and your band.