I was brought up on classical music, not opera but all the masters and musicals. When I was sent the Crooniek album Trails Of Time, I will admit, it was a strange experience listening to each track, struck how it was like hearing brass bands in my childhood, mixed with modern guitars and a darker ambiance, a sorrowful heart so to speak. The album has a gothic essence of family, loss and memories of dark histories, set to a style called neo fanfare. There is probably no one better qualified to tell you about the Belgium band Crooniek, the music and their debut album, than the man behind this project, Gerry Croon. I invite you to the fanfare!
Welcome Gerry Croon, from Crooniek, to the hallowed halls of Onyx where time is just an abstract concept.
Hey Onyx, thanks for the support!
Gerry, you play the cornet. How long have you been practicing with this classical instrument and when did you think, I can use this in more than jazz?
Yes, I play the cornet. I started, at the age of nine playing the cornet, in our local fanfare. Later, I started playing in different ensembles (fanfare, brassband), but I always felt the need to have a band of my own. To do the things I really want to do. And that is to combine my two musical loves – gothic & brass/fanfare music – together in an unique blend. So I’m not into jazz. The cornet is not a typical jazz instrument, it fits in many genres. At the age of 17 I lost my self in the dark music, favoring bands like Das Ich, Arcana, Tristania, Goethes Erben and of course, Lacrimosa!
You hail from Belgium, so what is the alternative dark scene like where you live?
Yes, there is a alternative dark scene in Belgium, like most of the European countries. As you may know, I also write some things for the Dutch online underground magazine Dark Entries (www.darkentries.be). About the dark scene, it is alive. Not exactly in my hometown, that is rather a small village, nearby historical cities like Brussels, Mechelen and Leuven. Concerts and parties are scheduled, luckily there are enthusiastic people and organizations (like http://www.portanigra.be) who have the guts to do so. Believe me, it is not easy to organize things, and it is even more difficult to make them even profitable.
There are two projects you are involved in. Winterstille is one and the other Crooniek. Which one came first, and did it influence the other?
Correct. Winterstille went first. In 2020 we released the CD ‘Puin van Dromen’ by the label Wool-E Discs (www.wool-e-discs.be) This is a project (dark folk/chanson/gothic) I started with Xavier Kruth, whom I’ve met by Dark Entries, where he is also an editor. Xavier is a self made man, singing, playing the guitar, writing his own songs. In a way he was looking for a band to help to get these songs recorded. Because he knew about another project of mine (www.olivier-crooniek.be – 2018) , we agreed to join forces and establish this new project Winterstille. First, we thought to call this project ‘Xavier & Crooniek’, like the project with Olivier. But after thinking it over, we decided to go for Winterstille, which is German for ‘Winter silence’.
And yes, the new album of Crooniek is influenced by Winterstille. We always evolve, always trying to make something new, better. But also keeping looking back and have our musical history embedded in our musical path. Two songs on ‘Trail of Time’ are new interpretations of songs by Winterstille.
Crooniek just released the debut album “Trail Of Time”. How did you get together a large group of classically trained musicians to record this album?
I’m blessed to have them! Most of the musicians you can hear on ‘Trail of Time’ are friends, some go way back. One of them is Jan Croon, my nephew who was there from the start in 2005, when we were just a instrumental ensemble. And Annelies Callewaert (melodic percussion and flute) is the woman I married in 2009 😉. A few members are new forces, just to complete this project. You know how is goes: you spread the word and the right people will find you.
The style is called neo-fanfare, which until now I had never heard of. Can you tell us about this style?
Because we use typical fanfare instruments like alt saxophone and flugelhorn, but not in ‘regular’ fanfare way, we called in neo fanfare. It leans on to neo classical, also favored by the people who like darker goth sounds. Perhaps a synonym could be gothic fanfare, but I leave that up to the audience and music reporters.
There are also modern instruments such as electric guitars and bass but no synthesizers. Was this a conscientious thing or did it never suit the style?
In a way, it was already a selection of instruments. If you would asked me my dream, I would like to record an album with an entire brass band, combining harsh guitars, bass guitars, drums and dark vocals. Perhaps someday? But to stick to the question: the electric guitars and bass guitars (and sometimes synths) where absolutely necessary to create the sound the voices in my head tell me to do. Could you image whether there would be electric guitars when Richard Wagner was composing? I’m absolutely certain that he would also have uses bass guitar and electric guitars: it just gets a full, dynamic, deep dark sound, other instruments cannot manage
The title “Trail Of Time” refers to a point in your life when you start to reflect on your life? What caused you to start this reflection and how does that tie in with the music?
I think the cover says a lot: two hands, one pocket watch… four generations. My father’s hand passes my grandfather’s pocket watch to the child hand of my son. It symbolizes time passing by as well as the inevitable fact that someday, time will run out.
Thematically, this album reflects on the concept of time. In particular, the inspiration for ‘Trail of Time’ is the conflict between the known past and the unwritten future. The future remains hidden and we do not yet know it. But we do know the past.
This album is a nostalgic journey through my past, my musical projects (‘Parade of the ‘Funeral Fanfare’) and my relationship with my own birthplace Kampenhout, a small village in Belgium, known for its chicory cultivation. After all, at a certain age, you realize that time is running out and, without realizing it too well, you sometimes start to look back (‘When I look back upon my Life’). And do you ask yourself, did I do it right (‘G &B’)? Could I do better or would I do it differently now? Have I listened to the right advice (‘Would you wake me up in Time’)? You realize that you have lost friends / acquaintances along the way, because your life path is going in a different direction (‘Nieuwe Dromen’). Although this continues to gnaw, you have to accept this. Everyone is looking for new ways. But it still gnaws at your mind. The sickness of my mother set the lives of my family upside down (‘On the origin of Sorrows’). Everyone also sees that the world is changing very drastically, due to human intervention. While in the past time seems to move slowly, humanity now appears to be driving the world into destruction in an express train (‘The 6th Extinction’).
As mentioned, the village Kampenhout where I live, has also an unique history and stimulating sites. On ‘Trail of Time’ a few peculiar subjects are transformed musically into melancholic songs. We pick out three of them.
For example, ‘At the Lemmeken Monument’ is a tribute to the victims of the plane crash, which took place in 1961, near my hometown.
On Wednesday, February 15, 1961, a Boeing 707-329 of Sabena, the national Belgian airline, crashed in ‘Het Lemmeken’, a district of Kampenhout. All of its sixty-one passengers and eleven crew members were killed in the accident. Among the passengers were the entire American figure skating team (US Figure Skating Association) on their way to the Prague World Championships. Young champions, some of them no older than sixteen, on their first ever trip abroad, en route to their moment of glory.
On the chicory field where the Boeing fell, two young men were working. Michel Theo De Laet was fatally hit by flying debris, while his workmate Marcel Lauwers lost a leg. He was dragged from among the rubble by an aunt of Theo’s. He is the only survivor of this terrible crash.
‘Condemned to the fire: Josyne Van Vlasselaer’ goes further back in history, to the ancestors of the composer Ludwig Van Beethoven.
Distant ancestors of Ludwig van Beethoven lived in Kampenhout. One of them was Aert van Beethoven. He was married to Josyne Van Vlasselaer. She was arrested on August 5, 1595 by order of the mayor Jan-Baptist van Spoelberch on suspicion of witchcraft (“suspitie en inditie van soverije”) and taken to a Brussels prison. Villagers had accused her of having a pact with the devil, because four horses had fallen dead in places she had passed by.
Of course, she denied the allegations, but exhausted, she admitted everything on the torture rack. On the eve of her execution, she made a failed attempt at suicide by swallowing potsherds. She was condemned to the stake (“gecondemneerd tot de brand”).
Only one woman was ever sentenced to death as a witch in Brussels, and that was a distant grandmother of the famous composer
‘Melancholy at Torfbroek’
The Torfbroek in Kampenhout is a remnant of a vast and unique swamp in the Low Lands, fed by very calcareous groundwater. It offers a unique landscape with large open ponds and is the last remaining refuge of several plant species in Flanders. It is one of the most valuable nature reserves in Western Europe. But above all, it is also a place of deep melancholy.
And so song does have a story to tell, either about the world I’m living in …
It is interesting to see that the tracks are written by different members of the group. How does this change the sound of the album for you?
As by the other albums I was involved with, together with Crooniek, we strive to make very variable albums. No two songs can be similar, every song has to be unique. So different song writers, definitely helps to make a sound variable as possible.
Which do you feel is your favorite track off the album?
Without any doubt: ‘Would you wake me in time’. I wrote the music, Xavier made an excellent text that fits close to the music. This song is inspired by bands like Die Verbannten Kinder Evas and the amazing Sopor Aeternus & The Ensemble of Shadows. Two bands I appreciate a lot! In a way, this is by far the ultimate neo fanfare song on the album: combining rhythmic brass sounds, blending softly with the enchanting voice of Elisabeth, supported by dark organ sounds and funeral bells.
Do you associate music closely with art as this is the impression that I perceived?
Interesting question. I’m an art historian, so yes, I appreciate art. Especially medieaval art: the gothic cathedrals and the paintings by the Vlaamse Primitieven, like Rogier Vander Weyden, but also baroque art, with artists like Caravaggio. I like it when albums have an Classique painting on the cover or uses elements out the art historian catalogue 😉. But for this album: no paintings were involved inspiring me. As you could read earlier: this album reflects personal experiences.
Crooniek plays live concerts. How different do you think it is setting up for your live shows as compared to a regular band?
Actually, we still need to play our first show with the new album. As you can imagine: it is not easy to get all those musicians together: I would need to get 10 to 16 musicians together. As we have all jobs, families and work to do … not easy. And the songs are complex and not easy to get them live on stage. I think ‘Trail of Time’ fits best at your living room, enjoying the sunset with a good glass of red wine. But when the opportunity crosses our paths, we of course will play live, hoping to persuade the audience. Crooniek can be combined with Winterstille, because all the musicians of Winterstille are also involved in Crooniek.
What is in the future for Crooniek and Gerry Croon?
We would like get into the hearts of many people around the world. That’s why we make music: we want to touch people. I think every band strives to do so. So we appreciate you effort for this interview, perhaps the audience will like us. Time will tell …
Thank you for giving us the inside view!
Many Thanks for the support! We appreciate it a lot !!