conversations with bianca

Millionaire’s Tim Vanhamel: “I’m going to love and be free and be creative”.

Happy Millionaire ‘Sciencing’ Day! I LOVE Millionaire! I’ve been waiting patiently for this day since I first heard whispers of a new Millionaire album in the works months ago. Their last record, the epic, Paradisiac, was released in 2005, and I wasn’t quite sure I would see the day they’d put out another record—I always held hope though… I am beyond excited that today my dreams have come true and a new record is here! I’ve been listening to it all day!

Millionaire’s heart and soul, vocalist-guitarist, Tim Vanhamel is an incredible creative and songwriter, one of my all-time favourites. His music is beautiful, interesting, and intense, with a killer groove that ignites the heart and moves you. Last night we chatted about new record, Sciencing, of why it took over a decade for us to see Millionaire emerge from hibernation, of his walking away from the industry for a time, the joy of creating, burn out, and more. This chat was a special one for me, it was wonderful to get an insight into Tim’s world. Enjoy!

TIM VANHAMEL: We played our first show yesterday, it was exciting! It was a ‘try-out’ show in a small club; we’re doing a couple of small shows so we can get ready for the festivals.

I’m excited to be speaking with you, especially as it’s the eve of your new Millionaire album, Sciencing, dropping tomorrow! How are you feeling right now about everything?

TV: I’m excited too. As you know, it’s been a while. I started recording this album on the 1st of January 2016. It took two months to record, then mixing it, living with it and doing some adjustments; getting the art work together. It’s been a trip but, I’m really happy to share it tomorrow. I’m a happy camper! [laughs].

What recharged and renewed your passion and fire to make a new Millionaire record?

TV: It’s always been in the back of my head. We didn’t really quit, or I didn’t have a final point in time where I was like, ok, now this is over—that never really happened. Many years ago I was like, let’s just have a little break now. We were touring for quite a while. I like to try out new things and not get bored, so back then I just wanted a break; that break turn out to be a little bit longer.

My creative work just happens spontaneously. When I feel the creative ache coming up, then I just go with it. I did many different things over the years. I wasn’t feeling like being a frontman, and putting out another Millionaire album. I don’t know what really changed or happened. The last few years I was playing with a band called, Magnus, and another band called, The Hickey Underworld. After that, I thought it was time to put something out again myself.

A friend [Jeff Claeys] called me, he lives in Costa Rica, he was like, I built this new music studio [elStudio]; do you want to come over and try it out? You’ll be the first one to try it out. I was like, oh yeah, great, great! I bought an plane ticket and just went there. I didn’t have a big plan or anything. I was just getting ready to have some fun in the studio, doing whatever I felt like and wanted. I got there and I had this ‘hard disc’ with me with lots of ideas and songs—I’m always writing stuff. I have drawers of ideas and songs. Every day I’d wake up, grab something from my disc and started working with it. Sometimes I’d have a verse, a chorus and no lyrics, or just a piece, a little idea. I’d ask myself, what am I feeling today? Which vibe am I going with? I recorded for two months. Half way through the record I thought, I might want to put this out under Millionaire. I felt like it had some elements that one could perceive to be Millionaire—like the groove, the melodies. One day I just woke up and said, yeah, I’m going to call this Millionaire!

I understand that the studio has jungle and ocean views from both the control room and live room! That sounds so beautiful.

TV: Yeah, that was great. It was really amazing. When you’re not at home – my environment, Antwerp, that’s where I live, it’s a city, I know a lot of people – it’s completely different. Things always feel different if you’re in a different place and go somewhere else and do your thing. It was a little cocoon. My phone was off and didn’t have much internet.

So you didn’t have all the usual distractions around you that you might have when at home?

TV: Yes, exactly! That’s good. The big plus was the environment over there, it’s very sunny over there and you have the jungle and the ocean—it’s beautiful. I was singing some songs in the studio and you have this big window, the sun was going down and you could see the ocean. It was really, really inspiring.

Having started recording on the first day of a new year, it must have felt a little like, a new year, new beginning for you, a fresh start?

TV: Yes.

You mentioned that with your creative work, you’re always writing and you like to do things spontaneously and that you try not to think so hard about it and just let it flow; I think that’s when the best art can be created because it’s coming from a pure place.

TV: Yes, true. I think that people also subconsciously connect to that. If you make an album or art with your head, it turns out different than if you make it with your heart. I didn’t have any pressure this time. I didn’t have any record company or management, no one knew I was doing this, I was doing it secretly. I was just having some fun with my friends. This is a good way to do it, you do what you want and it just comes out of your heart, it’s in the moment—you feel joy, and I think that somehow comes across.

Absolutely! From the songs I’ve heard so far from the record – “I’m Not Who You Think You Are” and “Busy Man” (I have the new 7” and ordered the double vinyl album which I’m waiting on) – they seem to have a less-is-more feel to them this time.

TV: Yeah. When we would record, it became kind of a thing we’d do… we weren’t like, oh we’ll fix that later in the mix, everything was recorded as is… like if I wanted a certain vocal or guitar sound, I would just do it, because it was in that moment. We didn’t record clean guitars and then put distortion on it later. With this one definitely less is more, it’s not a minimal album though; it’s more everything is in its place. It’s not too much stuff on there. When I was younger I would always be, more is more, more is more! [laughs]. Now, it’s like, let’s take a guitar away and see how it sounds. That was one of the big things in recording this time around—less is more.

It feels like the songs have room to breathe. Your previous work is so intense and there’s so much jammed packed in there but with this record, it still has a lot there and an intensity but it’s a different kind of intensity, it seems more refined.

TV: Yeah, yeah, yeah for sure. I cannot wait for you to hear the rest of the album tomorrow!

Me too! When I saw you’d played a show last night, I was online looking for any video from the show so I could hear more of the new stuff.

TV: Oh shit, that’s awesome [laughs]. Things are so different these days. I’m not a social media type. I used to be on Facebook and stuff but I took myself off it years ago. I was like, I don’t want it, I don’t want to be a part of this. I started 20 years ago, when I was 17 I started with the band called, Evil Superstars. Back then you didn’t have internet. I’m like wow, we just had our first gig and they’re putting pictures up online and movies! I’m like, oh no, don’t do that [laughs].

I read that the first song you wrote for the record was “I’m Not Who You Think You Are” and that it set the tone from the record?

TV: I don’t remember if I wrote it first but, that song was always going to be the first song on the album. I thought it was a good reintroduction to show the world. It’s sort of a statement, though I don’t really want to put it that way. Maybe it’s not that representative of the whole album per say, no track is representative of the rest—each track is a world of itself. All the tracks together make a story. I think this has always been the case for Millionaire, not one track has ever been totally representative of an album. It goes different ways. It’s more like a trip or something.

The song has themes like, things are not what you think they are, and of how people judge one another, often wrongly and they project things onto each other…

TV: Yeah, yes, sort of…

I feel the song along with the film clip tells a story and it all ties in together, that there’s more going on then you might first think…

TV: I’m not such a big fan of explaining lyrics too much. Here in Belgium, people and journalists always want to know the meaning but, I like the mysticism… like years ago, you’d just have the record and the cover picture and you’d put it on and dream away. I like people finding their own explanations or meaning in songs. I’m not into explaining things in detail. It was a while ago that I wrote that song, I guess I was just sort of saying, forget putting your projections on me. No one can never really know another person, because we are so many things, every second we change and grow. We’re not one static being. It’s not, oh, I’m like this and I’ll always be like this, we aren’t. The lyrics just came out of me in one go, I didn’t write them down, I got behind the mic and they came out.

Wow!

TV: People are always judging, like that guy is like this and that girl is like that… it’s not true. People are just like judging machines, walking around like, I don’t like this or like that. It has nothing to do with the object but everything to do with the subject; people that judge are usually very judgemental on themselves. Now I’m explaining it… don’t read into it too much. A song is very beautiful, you can write a little poem and go anywhere with it; you can take it in ten different directions.

That’s ok, I understand. For me, when I was listening to it, I got a lot of positivity from it.

TV: Yeah!

I got a strength from it. I got the vibe of it being about, hey, I’m going to do what I want and I don’t care about how you judge me because I’m confident within myself, I know who I am, and I’m going to be fearless and not care what you have to say and just do my thing.

TV: Exactly, that’s very true. It is a positive song. It’s good to hear you say that and that you got it.

Even the lyrics “build a house in a sacred space” I got the feeling of it’s like building this space for yourself within yourself that no one else can touch or shake, and what others are doing can’t affect you. I think it’s a very spiritual, deep song.

TV: All the way, you got it, Bianca! I can’t explain it better. It’s like I’m saying, ok, don’t put your rubbish on me, I’m a ‘Lovechild’, I fucking love the world, I love people; don’t fucking project your shit on me, I’m done with that—I’m going to love and be free and be creative.

And, that’s totally what I got from it. People I know saw the clip and thought it was so tripped out, but I’m like it goes beyond that. I’m such a big fan of your work, I have all the stuff you’ve ever done. It’s been really wonderful to see you grow. I am genuinely excited to hear the rest of the album and where you’re at creatively now. Since I knew you had a new record in the works, I’ve been online trying to piece together information about what it’s like but, until I hear it for myself I won’t know. That’s such an important thing, to make up your own mind about something, too often people rely on others and what they think. It’s key to think for yourself.

TV: Yeah, yeah for sure. It makes me so happy to hear that. It reminds me of one of the reasons I love to do it, sometimes you forget. I’ve been making music for so long. The responses I got when the video came out was so great, people connecting—connecting to music, connecting through music, connecting to the world and nature through music. You get this positive energy, this buzz from music. I am so thankful and happy to be able to do that and for people to enjoy my music in that way. Thank you.

I read an interview with your friend, Jonas Govaerts, who directed the film clip and he said that the line of the song that really stuck out to him was: I’m sixteen again. I was thinking about that lyric and thinking about what you were doing around the time you were that age – playing with Evil Superstars – and thought that maybe now, you might again feel some of the freedom and fun you felt back then making music?

TV: Mmm hmm.

Like when you’re younger you’re more carefree and you’re just hanging out with your friends creating, just making stuff, no pressure.

TV: Yep, that’s true. It’s a little different than when I was younger, for the better, I hope. People evolve and life is evolution. It’s true. Now I am more contained, quiet and composed, and feel happiness and a joy. I’m excited but not an excitement where I’m all over the place splattering on the walls and ceiling… not like [screams] aaaaaahhhhhh ooowwwww! It’s an intense great burning, but everything is more… I can let go even more!

A quiet confidence?

TV: Yes, I let go more. Yesterday we had our first gig and maybe when I was younger, I’d be like, oh yeah, yeah man! I’m so excited, I can’t sleep! Then, fuck that was awesome!!! And the day after I would be up early trying to read reviews, it’d be a hyper week. This morning though when I woke up, I almost forgot I had a gig yesterday. I’m more in the moment. I’m waking up, having a coffee and I’m just enjoying my cats and just being here in the moment. Letting go more, flowing with life. Be. Intensely. In. This. Moment. Don’t think about the past or future too much, just be in the moment. Asking myself and being aware of what I’m doing, who I am. I’m trying not to do five things at the same time, just one, just focusing. Connecting, ya’know.

I do know. I know you took some time off making music completely, travelled around the world and gave up drinking; what inspired that?

TV: When I was 32, at some point, I had a burn out. I was like, oh man, I can’t really do this right now. I was in the studio producing a band and I was sitting there feeling like, oh god, I don’t want to be here. I just left. I got back home, and I felt it was more that it was the whole world around music – music itself is innocence – the music business and the lifestyle, being in a rock n roll band for 16 or so years at that time: touring, drinking, going out, blah blah blah. I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore, that I didn’t want it anymore. I quit. I stopped one day. I put my guitar aside. I wanted to work on healing myself. I stopped partying. At that time my father became ill, he died a while after that.

I was depressed… and then I was staying at my mum’s for a while. I felt like I had to get out of here. My friend who I record the album with, he called me – this was five years ago in 2012 – he said, you should come over to Costa Rica, we have a house, let’s just chill. I booked a ticket. It was my first time there, I went alone with my backpack. I stayed with them for a couple of weeks and then travelled across the country and then to other countries in Central America. I stayed there for three months and a half. It was different there, I healed and became really centred.

I got back and I still didn’t feel like going back head on into the music business, or doing stuff. I stayed to myself for a while, I was a hermit. I read books and made art. I took life very slowly. At some point, I was sitting on the couch and the guitar was there and I just grabbed it, without even really knowing and started playing. It wasn’t like I was writing songs or anything, it was more I was playing the guitar like a sitar, you know like Ravi Shankar. I started recording again on a 4-track tape. Tom Barman the singer for dEUS asked me to come and play at a studio that was a couple of streets away from my place. He asked if I could come over and do some guitar parts and I was like, ok, sure, I’ll be right over. I played guitar and I really enjoyed that. There was no pressure. I did some vocals. I started writing again.

This other band, The Hickey Underworld, asked me to join them because Jonas, the guy who directed my film clip used to be the guitar player, left. They were stuck, so I said I’d help out for a while. That was comfortable because I was doing my first love, which is playing guitar, not being a frontman. The excitement was like what I was talking about before, not all over the place, but quiet and composed. I was doing my job, then I could live my life. I had this music persona and then my personal home life thing going as well, it fit nicely, they went together nicely. Then I got back into it and we’re now at the story where I went to Costa Rica and recorded my album, this Millionaire album.

Do you have any rituals in your life or meditate?

TV: Yeah… have for a long time. Now – it’s a very personal thing, it’s hard to talk about – I am definitely into it, yeah, yeah, yeah. I don’t sit at certain times, or it’s not ritual like, it’s more like a whole life thing. It’s more like a global meditation, not sitting, just being more…

Kind of like a waking mediation, an awareness? A being in the moment, as we spoke about before, and focusing on one thing?

TV: Yeah, yeah.

I read an interview with you where you commented that “Now that I’m a bit older, I feel the need more and more to make something that can also be beautiful”; where do you find beauty?

TV: Personally I think that this has always been a part of me, every Millionaire record, [solo record] Welcome to The Blue House—just making beautiful songs. Everything changes every moment, maybe next month I’ll be into making a loud or heavy or jumpy song. I find beauty everywhere. If you open your eyes, and you get out of your mind, your view changes a bit. When you see what’s in front of you, what’s really in front of you, then you find beauty in [sings] ev-er-y-thing! [laughs]. It’s everywhere! You can sense the difference from seeing with your heart to seeing with your head—it’s a whole different world. Everything is beautiful, you can’t miss it.

When you were in the process of making Sciencing, did you discover anything about yourself?

TV: Yeah. Also, you do constantly in life. The process is very confronting in a way, there’s more chance to have something like that. For example, I was there with two of my friends, Jeff and Damien [Vanderhasselt], they were waiting like, ok, what are we going to do today? Tim tell us! I’d be like, oh god, I don’t know what we’re going to do today! [laughs]. I wouldn’t call it a block, but you know when you come across a kind of block, you’re like, oh no, I can’t do this and you start doubting you can do it?

Yes.

TV: Instead of running away from this place or moment – when you’re at home you can run away and go to a bar and hang with friends, but there I couldn’t – I worked with it! I looked it in the eyes. When you go through that and come out the other side, it’s different, you’re different. You’ve just thrown something off your shoulders, you just lost some baggage—you had an insight. You’re more free on the other side, you feel like you can do whatever you want and you’re gonna do whatever you want. You do learn things about yourself or the process, there’s also technical things you learn too.

I wanted to ask you about the album title, Sciencing; where does it come from?

TV: Good question! Where does anything come from Bianca? [laughs]. I wouldn’t know! It’s one thing to say, like if you have a diary and it goes over a couple of years, and you finish the diary and it’s done, boom, and you go buy another one… you’re like, let’s find a title for this old diary before you put it in a draw, you ask, what title could I give it? Maybe ‘Sciencing’ is just investigating, all these things that have happened to me over the last year. One thing that is common in the last year, and what I’ve always done, is be an investigator. I’m almost looking at life like a scientist, not really believing and taking everything for granted and figuring everything out for myself. Just my daily life, treating it as a scientist would… in people’s minds, science and spirituality is opposite things, they aren’t actually! They are really connected. It’s the same almost. I really like this contradiction that is supposedly there but it isn’t, so I called it, Sciencing. Also, it’s also a good metaphor for sex, like, this is ‘sciencing’ baby, let’s play doctor [laughs].

Have you got a favourite song on the album?

TV: No. I mean… yeah [laughs]. Favourite is kind of a weird thing to say about your children, I can’t pick one, the others might get angry at me [laughs]. I really like the song “Silent River” [a duet with Canadian singer Clara Klein]. It’s sort of a lullaby, it’s just beautiful. It’s one of the best songs I have ever wrote, I think. I really, really love it. They all have different personalities. You’ll get to hear them all tomorrow!

Yes! It better be available on iTunes Australia or I’m going to be very sad!

TV: [Laughs].

I noticed there’s two seven minute songs on the record “Guru’s Feet” and “Little Boy Blue”.

TV: Yeah.

Like, who even does seven minute songs now? It’s awesome that you have.

TV: [Laughs] yeah. I just wrote, I was like, I can’t think about time. I never intended it to be seven minutes. They’re both trips, that take you somewhere. I’m ok with it.

One thing I’ve always loved and found to be a constant through your music, is a groove. I love that groove!

TV: Yeah, it’s true. That’s what makes it my music or this Millionaire, Millionaire. It’s in my nature when I’m writing. All the bands I like and all the bands I grew up with, had that.

Your dad, Fons, was a musician too; what’s something important that you learnt from him?

TV: You know, music-wise he taught me a bunch of things! He was an amateur jazz musician. He was always very passionate about jazz; jazz musicians in the music world are like the intellectuals, they’re the cream of the crop. They’re all about the music. When I was 12 or 13, I took his acoustic guitar and started playing myself, he never pushed me to play. I just grabbed it myself. It was a very old guitar. He was like, yeah, yeah, yeah, you have to learn to play on that before you get a nice Stratocaster or nice guitar. He was like, you have to suffer on that guitar! [laughs]. He was like, you can’t get a guitar pedal, you have to learn to play first before you get into gear. Boys will be boys though, we want that technology [laughs]. When I was really young we’d hang out on the couch and we’d listen to Miles Davis, he’d ask me what instruments I could hear playing. I’d say, drums, saxophone, bass, guitar, piano—all of a sudden you’re analysing music and really listening to it.

Then I started playing jazz myself, in my dad’s band. We formed another band together. I learnt a lot through that and playing with him. Jazz is very wide and labour intensive. It is very rewarding though. He taught me so many things about music.

Why is music important to you?

TV: It’s one of these beautiful gifts that we have in our lives, that life gives us. Art is one of the most powerful things. I think music was there before words. Music is a language itself, but it was there before words. It’s something very deep in ourselves… I can’t explain it. It moves you. Making music, you lose yourself, as with listening to it. It’s one of the most powerful forms of art. Because I’m so involved in music, I don’t sit around listening to music all day long. My house is usually rather quiet. I don’t have to get to know every new band, or check them out, or be on top of everything… I don’t fear missing out, I don’t care about that. When I connect with something though, I really, really connect to it. I love different forms of music: there’s music to get a lyrical high from; there’s music to get energy from. I love that feeling of connection, that joy.

Millionaire’s new record Sciencing is out now on Unday Records – GET it here. For more Millionaire & LIVE DATES, GO here. FOLLOW them here on Facebook & Instagram: @millionaireband. More Millionaire music – FIND here.

Thanks for reading… create forever,

B xox

*All photos courtesy of the Millionaire fb & ig (if you took them or know who did, let me know so I can credit you!).

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