Fisj is a musician from a small village near Ghent, a beautiful middle-sized historical town in Flanders (Belgium). He used to play in various bands, but these days he’s only playing from home. The first time we heard from Fisj was when he released his song ‘Mellow Moon‘ and I’ve been wondering “who is Fisj?” ever since. So let’s find out…
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
“Apart from my family I have two great loves: music and history, especially the medieval period. For the first few years of my professional career I have worked at the University of Ghent at the Department of History, studying the Western crusades in the Byzantine region. Next I spent some time with an organisation defending the interests of Deaf people -broadening my horizon and also meeting my wife-to-be there. Now I am working for the local city council, an interesting and varied job with new issues to tackle each day of the week.”
Where did your stage name Fisj come from?
“Fisj is an acronym composed of the initials of the names of my partner, my two children and myself. I jumbled the letters around a bit until I came up with the current name, meant to be pronounced in the same way as the word ‘fish’. Hence the logo of a happy water creature. A fish for me evokes life giving water, freedom (‘the ocean is the limit’), beauty and positivity.”
Which musical instrument would you choose to represent yourself and why?
“This would have to be the guitar. Like so many others I at one point became fascinated at the ‘power of the guitar’. Hearing and seeing my first favourite bands – The Beatles and The Bangles – playing their beautiful instruments (these Rickenbackes, that Gretsch, that Gibson SG) felt like being struck by lightning – though I guess I also had a little crush on Vicky Peterson.”
“I particularly remember a radio show on the occasion of the x-th anniversary of Sgt. Peppers each day opening with that stinging electric guitar intro from the album’s opening song: I wanted to be able to do the same thing. Also, my older brother played classical guitar, so there was an instrument in the house, although I was not supposed to touch it!.”
“For me the guitar – and its relatives (I for example have a little charango from Chile which I picked up during a trip there) – are the ultimate instrument: you can take them anywhere, playing solo or together with others, or gathering everyone around the campfire at night singing songs out in the open field.”
You used to play in various local bands. When did you start playing/singing?
“Together with a friend I already had a band when I was ten, ‘The Beat George Guys’. He was a big fan of George Michael, so we combined our musical tastes in our name. We wrote our own relics, he played percussion – whatever we could find in our mothers’ kitchens – and I ‘played’ the mandoline, a heirloom we had lying around.”
“Some years later when we had learned to play actual instruments – me guitar, him bass, that same friend and I started a (relatively) more serious musical project, ultimately ending up as a trio, with a great drummer we met by chance. Our policy was to only write songs together at rehearsal from jams and we opted for a funk rock approach, with sometimes challenging song structures. A great concept, but it didn’t always play to our strengths. Nevertheless we had great fun and played everywhere in Flanders, in music clubs and cafes or at small festivals, sometimes recording a few of our songs in the studio or at home. Eventually things kind of unraveled as we grew older and so I continued to make music on my own.”
If we were to look at the artists you are listening to, who would be on your playlist?
“I listen to a quite wide range of music, with a clear focus on the mid-sixties to mid-seventies.”
“The Beatles – including their solo work, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, James Brown, Miles Davis, The Bangles, Kate Bush, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Funkadelic/Parliament, Santana, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Billie Eilish, Amy Whinehouse, The Pixies, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, Steely Dan, Blur, Oasis, Nirvana, The Doors, The Who, The Pretenders, The Police, Beck, Cake, The Supremes, Dolly Parton, Thin Lizzy, Jack Bruce, Curtis Mayfield, Whitney, Mac DeMarco…”
What makes a great piece of music in your opinion?
“A great piece of music for me has something unexpected about it, contains an element of wonder or surprise, is a combination of a well thought out idea combined with a spontaneity in its execution, instantly captivates and creates a mood that transports you away from the present place and moment…”
How would you describe your music to someone at a dinner party that’s never heard of you?
“I’d say it ranges from intimate acoustic songs to a little more rock ‘n roll and up-tempo tunes, with guitar, piano and vocal harmonies in the main roles, and with its roots firmly in the sixties/seventies tradition.”
You’ve released three tracks so far ‘Mellow Moon’, ‘ A Call Came’ and ‘Beautiful girl’. ‘A Call Came’ was about your dad’s passing, ‘Beautiful Girl’ was about your daughter. Are all of your songs based on personal experiences?
“These days they are indeed. I’ve discovered that I feel most comfortable writing about the people or animals I love around me and daily experiences. ‘Mellow Moon’ is also like that. I was biking home one day after work on a lovely day, the full moon constantly above and before me looking beautiful in the slowly setting sunlight. The opening lines and part of the melody just came to me in that moment: ‘A mellow moon / guides me / home to you’.”
“In the past I have also dabbled in political songs or songs about social concerns or current issues for instance climate change, but it’s hard for me not to sound preachy or somewhat pompous. At times I have also tried combining history with music – for instance at one point writing lyrics about the Mongolian invasion in Hungary in the 1240’s – but that didn’t work out too well, somehow the music always suffered.”
“Starting from meaningful observations from everyday life for me seems to work better in the context of a pop song.”
Have you planned your next release yet? What can you tell us about the next release?
“My next release is a song called ‘Boy In Blue’. Basically it’s a storytelling acoustic piano song. It’s about that time when you’re young and you’re slowly discovering the world or your neighbourhood independent from your parents and all. It’s a dramatized version of how the musical friend I spoke of earlier and I would go out on all kinds of ‘adventures’ -dressed up as pirates, detectives and the like. It’s also a – not too deep and in any case fictional – reflection about how tragic events early in life can have long-term consequences.”
Are you someone who continually writes or does best under a little pressure?
“I like to write songs in batches, like ‘it’s time to write some songs again and see if I can still manage’. But when I’m not writing I’m always gathering ideas from things and artists I’m listening to or events that are happening, thinking ‘mmh, that’s something interesting I can use later’, sometimes making a note or brief recording on my phone, sometimes just stocking it in the back of my head, hoping to remember it later.”
What can you tell me about your songwriting process?
“This is a hard one. In my experience it doesn’t work when you’re trying too hard. I feel like songs just come to me in a way. That’s also why I leave time, several months, between periods of writing songs. You can’t be inspired all of the time I guess, my head seems to need time to make space for new impressions that can be turned into songs at some later point.”
“The basic outline of a song – a few lines, a little guitar or piano riff, the chords of verse and chorus – usually flows quite naturally once I’ve started from an initial concept. But arranging a song is a different and more difficult matter. Choosing and thinking out parts for other instruments can be a long process, also exploring various song structures, tempos, mixes and so on. It’s anyhow a time-consuming affair.”
“I’m slowly building an album of about 10 songs. I hope to have it released sometime during the next year. I like releasing them track by track – in the order as they will appear on the album, because I never feel really sure about what song exactly might be appreciated rather more or less by listeners.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? There are quite a few young artists in our chart. Do you have any advice for them?
“I’m afraid I don’t seem to recall any musical advice that turned out to be visionary or life changing. Perhaps for young artists: make music for the fun of it.”
What’s your favourite song from the Cool Top 20?
“For the moment that would be Denny Lloyd’s ‘In The Rain’. For me it has a classic quality about it, beautifully arranged, great understated electric piano, moving vocal performance. A real discovery.”
As you might know we’ve added a new feature to the Cool Top 20, a bonus track picked by the artist or band in the spotlight. What song would you like to add as a bonus track and why?
“Great! A little out of my personal comfort zone, but I quite like the instrumental song ‘Dandelion’ by Acid Mirror. A bit of a spur of the moment thing, there’s something intriguing about this track, I can imagine all kinds of mysterious activities taking place.”
“I’d like to say just one more thing. The Cool Top 20 really makes a difference for indie musicians like myself in trying to get their music heard. Vice versa I’ve discovered quite a few interesting artists on the Cool Top 20 web page. Therefore I’d sincerely like to thank you for all the effort and time you put into it.”