Singer-songwriter Jasper Erkens is guided by instinct and fascination: “Always experimenting”

On your previous record we heard a combination of traditional instruments like acoustic guitars and more modern computer controlled instruments. Is this also the case on ‘Artificial Messiah‘?

Jasper Erkens: “Musically, the new album is an extension of the previous one, ‘Limbo Terminal’. It’s a stubborn record – I try very hard not to end up in a box. It is very varied and introverted. The common thread is my voice and writing style, and I wrote with the idea that the songs should be fun to perform live.”

Have you experimented with new sounds?

Jasper: “I always experiment. It is my strength and my weakness at the same time. I have tried to define it as best as possible, because complete freedom is not really conducive either. If you are free, you must also take responsibility for it. In the end in the end, all music has to go through the same funnel. So I explored some new things, but didn’t invent hot water. I try to fuse traditional instruments in a unique way.”

The theme ‘Artificial Messiah‘ is artificial intelligence and our relationship with computers, smartphones, algorithms and social media. Where does your fascination with it come from?

Jasper: “I’ve been fascinated by it since the beginning of the AI ​​revolution. It’s taken off in the past year. At this time last year we were just able to create blurry images with AI, now we can already automate videos. In addition to the album, I will also be selling concert DVDs featuring the AI ​​visuals I made with the entire album.”

“Sometimes you write a song that becomes like a compass for the rest of your musical journey. Such was the case with the song ‘Artificial Messiah’, which became the title track. It’s friendly become ghoststrack, a conversation between two AIs. They say nice things to each other like ‘There is something real beyond this body’, which makes you wonder if they have real feelings or if they’re just pretending. Are they fooling us? That question will soon become ubiquitous, I think. It’s going very fast, but it’s the future. I find that particularly interesting. I want to embrace it and experiment with it, but I’m not sure I’m a big fan of what it means for the future. I especially want to start a conversation about it.”

You sing about the dangers of AI and algorithms, but you don’t completely condemn it either.

Jasper: “I certainly don’t wave the AI ​​flag, but it’s a very powerful tool. We can’t get around that. I like to experiment with it as an artist and use it as an instrument. I don’t work with big budgets, and AI just empowers the individual. Thanks to AI, you can achieve a lot on your own. But if you’re alone, you also miss other people’s input. So I have a love-hate relationship with it. It might as well be, that at some point I completely reject AI and start looking for very organic things. I follow my instinct.”

There is also AI that can write music. Do you think it will ever find a place in the music world?

Jasper: “I think that DJs, for example, can be replaced by AI quite quickly. A computer can make a mix between two songs, understand how playlists are put together, know what works and what doesn’t, can analyze the dance floor with a camera to know which songs evoke the best response… In this way, AI can be much more attentive and cheaper to DJ. I can see that happening.”

“Songwriting via AI will eventually also be possible. If someone is very popular, it will be possible to do something similar with AI and then select the best pieces. If you’re an artist who does your own thing, has your own sound and works around recognizable themes, then I think you can’t be replaced by AI, but then you run the risk of AI using you as inspiration. Then comes the question of whether you should get a share of the rights if the AI ​​writes music based on your style. We need to start having those conversations now, because that technology isn’t going to disappear just like that. We have to find a way to deal with it in a healthy way.”

Your first record was released in 2009, your second in 2017, the third in 2021 and today the fourth. Less and less time passes between them. Do you feel like you’re getting steam?

Jasper: “I wrote the first album on my own without thinking twice, like a headless chicken. Then I lost track. I wanted to escape from Belgium. So then I went to study in London and took my time. I didn’t feel like I had to release anything or make money. At the BRIT school I also became a producer, so I started the Altrego project to make experimental stuff. Back then, I always kept writing songs, but they were always in a drawer. I didn’t know what to do with it.”

“In 2019, I suddenly got a new freedom. My record deal, my booker, my management, everything was about to end. It was good because in a way I felt a little trapped. Ironically, the shutdown was a moment of freedom for me. I created ‘Limbo Terminal’ and proved to myself that I could do it on my own. Artificial Messiah‘ is in the same direction. I have always been productive, but now I also do something with that productivity. My approach has changed. Now I think: why am I making music if I’m not going to share it with people? So there’s a chance I’ll have another album ready within a year. As long as the passion is there and I get enough in return, I’ll keep at it. So I really got on track, and I’m happy about that.”

With Altrego you experimented more, you learned to produce your own sound. Did you find it necessary to distance yourself from the music you released under your own name?

Jasper: “Music production, like AI, is a very sophisticated tool that I’m starting to discover. I’ve made it a game to test the limits of the production software, just as I constantly test the limits of my guitar. But that software has almost no limits, so I flew in really hard. It became an obsession, and from that came the sound of the Altrego. It was a byproduct of testing that software. I had a hard time putting it out under my own name because it was the opposite of my acoustic singer-songwriter music. But what I learned there, I want to take with me to my solo project.”

Would you ever want to release music under the Altrego name again, or did you get what you could from that project?

Jasper: “If I ever do something more aggressive, darker or more experimental, I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. But maybe I’ll do a solo acoustic album one day. I don’t know yet. It depends on what comes my way and what I become obsessed with. I follow my instinct. It’s also a big challenge: to make sure that I can always hear those whispering voices in my head.”

Many artists who are going through a major evolution like you are moving away from their past successes. But you still play “Waiting Like a Dog” live. What relationship do you still have with that number?

Jasper: “I’m thirty now and wrote that song when I was fifteen, so literally half a lifetime ago. I’m no longer the person I was then, but I don’t want to look back on that period of shame either. I must not deny my own way. If I don’t support it anymore, who will? I still think it’s a fun song to play and that trigger people do. It’s a crowd pleaser, and the people who have bought a ticket are also allowed please be. If in the future I find it doesn’t fit the set anymore, I wouldn’t play it again, but it’s still in line with what I do. It is not at all as simple as it may seem. Some of the other songs from that era I don’t play anymore because they haven’t stood the test of time very well. It has to feel right.”

When we talk to you again in fifteen years, where will you be?

Jasper: “Several albums, full houses, those kinds of clichés. But I also want to enter into many collaborations with people, be a beacon for creative souls. And keep your finger on the pulse of the young. I want to keep busy musically and make a living from it, but I don’t want it to be the only thing in my life – life is more than work. A richly filled life with inspiring people around me, that’s what I want in fifteen years.”

‘Artificial Messiah™’ will be available everywhere on January 20th.

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