Belgium band Millionaire’s Tim Vanhamel: “Laughter is one of the highest goods in the world… when we laugh, we are what we’re meant to be as human beings; we’re ourselves and there’s no war going on”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Millionaire have released LP number four APPLZ ≠ APPLZ (pronounced Apples Not Apples), a burst of psychedelic rock n roll energy with a soul twist wrapped in a celebratory flavour, while exploring themes of consumerism, environmental destruction and the peril humans are facing, largely due to our own hand. Millionaire founder, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Tim Vanhamel talks to Gimmie from his home in Belgium.

Why is it important to you to create things?

TIM VANHAMEL: Let me think about that, that’s a good question. I have no idea. I was contemplating that yesterday actually. It just happens in a way. If you want to give it importance then it usually is not that good, it’s more the ego trying to do something or create or whatever. It’s best to just let it happen, it doesn’t matter what it is, whether it’s making a dish or making a song or making a little video, or just singing to yourself or making a joke. The best creativity just comes up, there’s a need to.

I know what you mean. At Gimmie we love making things, we feel we just have to. It is hard to explain. There’s just something there that needs to come out, that needs to express itself.

TV: Yeah, exactly. I can see that with you guys. It is what makes you feel good in a way, if it makes you feel good doing it then the art is usually good and other people will like it as well. We all do different things and sometimes, writing a song in my case, if it’s not happening that’s fine, then something else can happen.

I saw you mention online the other day that because you’re in lockdown at home you’ve been writing and painting?

TV: [Laughs] That was a joke actually! I’ve been making these little films the last week. I posted one and I was making a little fun about how all these people feel called to live stream and how they feel like, “oh I gotta help the world”. The world doesn’t necessarily need help, in the way that everybody is locked down, mediocrity is really coming out. It was a little joke I was posting. People were like “Oh, it’s a lockdown, we have to be creative! I’m gonna write a new album”. I made a joke that I was doing six paintings and writing two books and doing a movie script [laughs]. I then made a second film and then it became kind of a thing, a character that was playing a song but it just never works out, everything goes wrong; he was trying to get a song going for everyone but he kept failing all the time. That’s also creative though, I was following that creativity, that need to share a joke.

I think laughter is important in these tough times.

TV: Exactly, I think that laughter is one of the highest goods in the world. People are really serious, also with sharing all this advice… everyone is so serious. A good laugh is good, it’s a high good and when we laugh we are what we’re meant to be as human beings; we’re ourselves and there’s no war going on. It’s fantastic.

We laugh all day long here. About everything!

TV: [Laughs]. That’s beautiful!

Everything that’s happening in the world is so crazy and intense right now, consumerism and capitalism is finally failing! In a crisis like we’re experiencing, people are realising that they don’t need all the excess stuff they fill their lives with, all the luxuries they usually take for granted and don’t’ think twice about.

TV: Yeah, it’s not so crazy though. As you know I just released an album and I am singing on that album about everything that is happening right now!

You are!

TV: Everything that’s happening, I could feel it already about a year ago. The first song “Cornucopia” is about consumerism etc. The second song “Los Romanticos” is about there’s a shit storm coming and its moving fast, it’s an ironic song about how supposed love eats up the world, it’s not true love, it’s false. The third song “Strange Days” I’m singing about doing nothing, I’m literally singing: “when the world ends I will be watching from a front row seat, you bring the thunder, I’ll bring the lightning and maybe we can meet for the very first time…”, it’s not to pat my own shoulders but this is exactly what’s happening. I don’t think there’s another song in the world that’s more true than that right now. I can’t believe it. A week ago the album came out and I did a bunch of interviews, which I don’t really like doing, I don’t like explaining my songs… it’s bizarre that five days after I released my album everything happened big time!

Your new album is great! I like how in interviews you rarely talk about your songs, I know you like people to have their own interpretations of your songs, to think for themselves about it. Like with something like all the visuals to accompany the album, the cover art, film clips, they feature the apple and that right there has so much symbolism attached to it throughout the history of the world and can have so many different meanings.

TV: Exactly. Explaining art is like the Wizard Of Oz pulling back the curtain and then you have a little man in a machine sitting there and the magic is gone. If it was my choice, I would never ever, ever say one word, I wouldn’t’ explain nothing. I try to boogie around those questions. [Laughs].

Recently I was reading a rare old interview with Marvin Gaye and he was talking about his record “What’s Going On?”. He said that when he wrote it, it was reflective of the times and that “The material is social commentary. I did it not only to help humanity but to help me as well… It’s given me a certain amount of peace”; do you feel like it could be the same for your writing APPLZ ≠ APPLZ? To give yourself peace?

TV: Yeah for sure. What is being expressed in the music is always a reflection of what you’re going through in a way. A human being is so many things, it isn’t just one thing, people want to put things in boxes but it’s impossible, that’s bullshit. It is a reflection of a part, it’s soothing to you and you do it for yourself and hope others get something for it. It’s an output, I wouldn’t say its therapy though it is just what I do; everyone has something they do.

When I started writing this album a year and a half ago, 2017/2018, the first song I wrote “Cornucopia” was just channeling a Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield kind of figure, a soul figure, these albums that were commentary on the social situation. The thought came to me, should I change what I’m making? I’m not a political artist, I’ve always stayed away from that because I don’t want to preach. I’ve always felt with music that the beat, the groove, has to be catchy first and then the rest will come. Although I’ve always been a fan of explicitly political bands like Public Enemy, I never wanted to be that. I thought, I’d already written my album so, why change it? I know cynical minds will think, “Oh yeah, ok we have a political record now” but then I thought, fuck that! I’m not changing anything. I wrote more songs in this theme, at the same time it became an ode to these records. I didn’t copy them or it isn’t an exercise in soul music but influences can come and go in many directions. The music was always first. I wrote this press text and it said, please forget every word I wrote, they are all absolutely irrelevant, just put on your dancing shoes and boogie your ass down to the ground like this moment is the only one you got!—that’s the deal you know.

One thing I’ve always loved about your music is the solos, when they cut through the track they remind me of Jimi Hendrix! The warmth and wildness.

TV: Thank you that’s great, I love that. I’ve been a guitar player since I was twelve years old, my dad was a musician.  When I started playing, I’d play many hours a day, it was my passion—I loved it! I started with jazz and blues. I was always soloing in my bedroom. In the late ‘90s soul was out of fashion in a way, it wasn’t really done, so I got side-tracked. It became more about making lots of noise and crazy guitar playing. I’ve always been a fan of Funkadelic, Led Zeppelin, Jim Hendrix, all these icons of guitar music. Ten years or so ago, I was like, oh man, I just want to play guitar and rip and shred, it got integrated in my song writing again. It’s just good old fun. I’ve been influenced by Jimi but not his guitar playing. Of course, he is a guitar god and so many people are influenced by his playing but I decided to stay away from that, I learned more from other guitar players. I think he is an amazing songwriter, that groove, I love, love, love him. He’s next, next, next level. You can’t touch Jimi, that’s impossible. I just do my thing.

In “Can’t Stop The Noise” I wanted to have this huge crazy, a little bit too loud of solo going on. I had it in my head but I didn’t know how I was going to do it, then when the moment came when I was recording in my kitchen, it just happened exactly like I wanted it too. I was so happy and satisfied, I texted some friends like, “oh my god, you’re going to love this! This solo is amazing! Fuck I loooove it!” [laughs]. I love stuff like that that’s a little too loud and you hear it and you’re like, what the fuck is that? That’s fucking insane! That’s crazy! That’s whack! [laughs].

That’s one of the solos I was talking about! Last question how do you remind yourself to stay in the moment?

TV: It’s a myth. You can never not be in the moment, actually. If you’re trying to be in the moment, you’re actually out of the moment. [Laughs]. If you can drop the worrying about being in the moment, it will help you much more. Don’t think about it!

Please check out: MILLIONAIRE. APPLZ ≠ APPLZ out now on Unday Records.

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