Wio / de portables Interview Part 1 by Madison McLean

Wio of Ghent, Belgium is a musician with humble do-it-yourself beginnings in handwritten correspondence and home-taping. Now, he and his band de portables are celebrating 27 years of music and he, along with fellow de portables member, Jürgen de Blonde, are the latest members of Harbinger Orchestra. The two are opening for Dave Bixby in Belgium during his 2023 Europe Tour.

Madison: Can you tell me a bit about your musical history? When and why did your passion for music spark?

Wio: I must have been about 14 or 15 when I first bought an acoustic nylon string guitar. The main spark of how I feel I stand in music now must have been a cassette a friend’s brother recorded for me with a Dinosaur Jr album on one side and Sebadoh’s ‘III’ on the other. That b-side was something totally new for me: a diverse mix of home-taped songs and studio recordings with all band members equally contributing to the songwriting. Discovering that Lou Barlow, the singer, also had a cassette out on Shrimper Records that I could just order by sending $5 in an envelope overseas opened a whole new world to me: the world of DIY home-taping. I saved up enough money to buy my own 4-track cassette recorder and started recording my own songs with whatever I had laying around. I couldn’t afford a good mic back then, so I used my headphones as a microphone. When I had a bunch of songs I compiled them into one cassette, dubbed a few copies and brought them to the local music store. A friend and I started our cassette label called ‘Studio Muscle’ and that accelerated a lot… Actually, Jürgen (who is also on the Harbinger Orchestra compilation) and I are making very vague plans to maaaaaaybe bring Studio Muscle back to life…

M: Were you in a community of people that were doing that, or did you individually decide that’s something you wanted to do and the community followed?

W: There was already a worldwide community doing this. I can’t really recall how I ended up in that. Probably through discovering the music of Daniel Johnston and Sebadoh, through that music getting introduced to taping and home taping labels.

M: That’s definitely not the first time I’ve heard somebody cite Daniel Johnston as an influence so it’s really cool to hear that name pop up again.

W: He’s a huge influence. Yeah, we even once organized a concert for him and then he ended up sleeping in my house. That was pretty absurd. We were really into Daniel Johnston and he actually also released a lot of his music on cassettes… actually, all of his music firsts I think were on cassette-only releases. I was in touch with this guy called Jeff from Stress Records who took care of releasing all those cassettes. We were actually communicating through handwritten letters. He told me that they were going to tour Europe and so we managed to fix a show for them. When we were talking about the practical stuff, they said, “we don’t care about sleeping anywhere… if your house is available that’s cool!” That’s how they ended up sleeping at our place. That was special. The night Daniel Johnston played we asked some other local bands to tribute… so there were little tribute concerts playing songs of Daniel Johnston. It sort of reminds me what Dave Bixby is doing now with Harbinger Orchestra.

de portables – Love Medley (Daniel Johnston cover medley)

M: How did you first come into contact with David’s work?

W: I think I was introduced to one of his songs by a friend a few years ago. Must have been six or seven years ago. I was instantly amazed by how it sounded and I listened to more of his songs and really liked it a lot. It just instantly struck me, both the songwriting and the way it sounded very direct.

M: I can completely relate to that. When I first heard David, it was a Spotify recommendation. I share the experience of being struck. I was blown away by what I was hearing. Were there other musical influences that were pretty foundational for you?

W: When I grew up as a youngster in the 90s, the whole indie scene was influential. Also, I’m a big fan of 80s music, like real pop 80s music. Probably because I heard that around as a kid. My parents played the radio all of the time.

M: Were your parents involved in music at all?

W: No, not really. No, but the radio was on all the time.

M: Were they supportive of you when you were getting into music?

W: Yeah, absolutely. It’s hard to imagine more supportive parents. Actually, when we didn’t have a driver’s license, they drove us around to all our first gigs. Still now, in their 60s, whenever they can they still come to our shows.

M: That’s awesome. How did de portables come to form?

W: We actually formed in October ‘96. We were just in uni, three friends, we ended up playing some music and decided to start a band called de portables. Now there are only two original members in the band, the drummer and myself. The other original member, who was his nephew, left after a few years. Jürgen, one of the band members who joined after a few years, has now also contributed to the Harbinger Orchestra compilation. What an amazing version of Open Doors he made!

M: What would you say is your favorite type of music to make?

W: I’m someone who likes a lot of different stuff and likes to do all that stuff at the same time constantly. So, I really like a lot being in de portables and at the same time I also like making small bedroom pop songs. Also, like making a really experimental almost noisy kind of music or it doesn’t really matter. I just like exploring new ways of making music. I’m now even working with a company that’s into artificial intelligence. Yeah, we will try to make like a new song using AI. I’m looking forward to how that is going to work out.

M: Why did you choose of all the songs to cover Drug Song?

W: A difficult one to answer. Might have been the first song by David I’ve heard. Maybe that is why. Maybe also the backstory of it and the lyrics are really intense. Although I must also say that I’m not really much of a ‘lyrics listener’ and usually first let the music come in. And only later on the lyrics sort of come in. It’s a hard one to answer. It’s probably because it’s the song that I first heard and that still strikes me most about that album.

A Different Corner (George Michael Tribute) by de portables

To be continued…. Please enjoy more music from Wio on Bandcamp and Spotify

Be sure to catch Wio and Jürgen de Blonde as the opening act for Dave Bixby in Belgium on May 6th & 7th, 2023!

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