When my first band, Pillowcase, called it a day, I was quite upset about it. We weren’t going to “make it” in the music industry, but I had devoted a lot of time and passion to crafting songs. On the look for something new, I tried out with a few friends, but nothing really stuck. Until I started jamming a bit with my brother, Sem, who is a percussionist.
Some formal training
In the past years, my 3 years younger brother and I had picked up an interest in percussion at music school. We were in the same class even. Growing up, we often fought, but by the end of my high school and especially in my first years of university, we got closer. The band was just another confirmation of this. We found a bass player in Sam, and The Mass was born.
During my first years of university, I had also started getting some more professional guidance in playing the guitar. Isaac Delahaye — the same Epica-guy I mentioned in the previous post — had set up informal guitar classes at the youth centre in our home town Ypres. I would show up with techniques and songs I wanted to learn, and he would help me improve.
Getting taught by him made it very clear how much dedication I lacked to become a good guitarist. Isaac would spend an hour a day just practising pentatonic scales. I just couldn’t be bothered. He’s now a professional musician, and I am not. At age 12, Isaac was able to play the Dire Straits “Sultans of Swing” solo. I still can’t at triple that age.
In any case, with both the formal training in percussion and the informal sessions with Isaac, I did learn a thing or two. Next to the more traditional punk rock, I was into Dream Theater and other progressive rock at that time, so in some of our songs, we had some fun with things that blew our mind like a 7/8 time signature or signature switching. I also learnt some new techniques like strumming while palm muting, fingerpicking and tapping. I haven’t perfected any of those techniques, but even the basics opened up many opportunities.
Contrary to Pillowcase, I now understood music theory a lot better, so we were less dependent on accidentally finding chords that sounded nice together; we could make harmonies based on understanding how music works.
By the time I started with The Mass, I had also gotten more comfortable combining signing with playing, so I became the lead singer of the band. I did it more because we needed a singer than that I was good at it. I still to this day prefer just being the guitarist.
Over the years with Pillowcase, I played with three different guitars. My first guitar was a crappy and way too heavy Les Paul imitation. A few years later, I bought a black Epiphone Les Paul Studio. This is the guitar I used for the majority of my time with Pillowcase.
No longer using the first guitar, I still wanted to have two guitars to perform live. Things often went wrong on stage, and having a backup guitar ready was worth it. The Gibson brand was still too expensive, so I bought an Epiphone SG G400 Worn Brown. The sound of this guitar and how it felt in my hands still make it my favourite electric guitar. I also really liked the look of the guitar, besides the orange switch. I have no idea who thought that would look nice. I switched it to a black one before I left the shop. This is the only electric guitar I still own.
We didn’t perform a lot with The Mass, and I didn’t particularly enjoy it either. We had harmonic guitar riffs for most of the songs, but only one guitarist. So live, those melodies sounded a bit hollow. And even then, I found playing a single guitar line in combination with doing vocals not an easy feat.
Eventually, Sam and I started listening to more and more metalcore influences and wanting to bring that into the band. Sem, however, wasn’t such a fan. My three-month internship in Burkina Faso at the end of my first degree coincided with our change in musical interest, and it was a natural end to our band.
The Battle Within EP
That said, I’m quite proud of the music we ended up making. After about two years of playing together, we recorded an EP called The Battle Within. I don’t think any of it is mindblowing, but it pushed us to our personal limits. We also had a lot more time to carefully think about the EP. Hence, we included some guest musicians, and we tried to build the EP thematically with a thesis and antithesis of distress working towards a resolution.
Here are the songs on the EP. If you would take time to listen to a few songs, I’d recommend “Chasing Skies” — which I think is musically the most interesting one — and “The Battle Peaks” — which is my brother having fun on percussion.