MARC YSAYE – Solo with a batch of strong tunes
Marc Ysaye is the founder, drummer and occasional singer of Belgian progressive/art-rock band Machiavel. Since the passing away of charismatic singer Mario Guccio, the band suffers from a tremendous gap to fill. Marc Ysaye has taken over the vocal spot – as Mario asked him. Marc has recorded a first solo album called ‘Back To Avalon’. It’s a very enjoyable song-oriented soft-rock album with some flash here and there and a touch of good Americana. He found some musical friends to work and/or write with and the result is nine songs that leave an impression. Vocally the album fits to his comfort zone and the musicians are top. Besides Machiavel guitarist Christophe Pons there’s drummer Marcus Weymare and bass player Loris Tils. Machiavel’s Hervé Borbé contributes some keyboard parts and two songs were composed by Piet Goddaer (Ozark Henry). Except for the Eagles cover ‘Bitter Creek’ and the archive piece ‘Song For A.’ co-written with the late Albert Letecheur (ex-Machiavel keyboard player), all other songs are written together with Christophe Pons who also delivers some great guitar contributions.
A couple of weeks ago I had a friendly chat with Marc in Tielt (B) where he played with Machiavel.
What made you decide to record a solo album after all these years?
‘As you know I have been a radio director for many years (Classic 21 – GR) and I’m retired now, so I got more freedom and I’ve been thinking about this for many years. The other reason is that the excellent musicians I wanted to work with had time to do it now. On the other hand we didn’t have too much songs ready, so it was a very quick experience. The nine songs on the album are exactly what we recorded.’
Some of the songs could also be used for a Machiavel album, others are more Americana oriented and one shows that you are a big Paul McCartney fan. Right?
‘Yeah, I know which song you mean. Is it ‘The Lonely Roads’? (Yes it is – GR). There aren’t many musicians that are not influenced by The Beatles or Paul McCartney. I didn’t do it intentionally but when it was finished I realized it sounded a bit like him, but that’s okay. And yes, I’m a fan of American West Coast music.’
You have given a lot of space to Christophe Pons to play some impressive guitar solos.
‘Yes, but to me there’s not that much solo’s on the album, but those that were made are just excellent. When we play live, he gets more room for longer solos. He’s such a great guitar player, but I’m equally honored that I can play with Marcus and Loris. I didn’t play drums myself because I wanted something that had nothing to do with Machiavel. Of course there may be some references as I’ve been busy with Machiavel for the last 45 years of life. My main goal was to sing and write.’
The songs you wrote with Piet Goddaer, were they specially written by him for you?
‘No, I know Piet for a very long time and we always appreciated each other. I think I was the first one in the French speaking part of the country to play his music when he started twenty years ago. I’ve always been a fan and I told him that I was planning a solo album and asked if he had some songs laying around that he wouldn’t use for himself. I drove to his studio at the seaside and he presented me ten songs to choose from. I went for ‘Back To Avalon’ and ‘Sing For Everything’.
There’s also ‘Song For A’ which is an old unissued instrumental Machiavel tune I suppose?
There’s a complicated story behind it. When we disbanded Machiavel in 1981, Albert Letecheur who was a great friend and musician had already left the band. Then I decided to do something together with Albert and we started this project Twilight. After two singles – one of them was very successful – we wanted to record an album but due to other commitments it didn’t materialise. We lost the recordings for thirty-eight years, but recently I found a cassette with some music of that collaboration and I played it in the studio. Marcus, Loris, Christophe and Hervé played along but I kept the original keyboard parts by Albert for the released version.’
Does the title of the album carry a special meaning for you?
‘Well of course it’s a song on the album and leaves a lot to the imagination. It refers to King Arthur and Excalibur, it may refer tot Roxy Music, but most of all it refers to a place where everything can happen. It’s a place where you can retire and come to oneself and that’s what I need sometimes.’
Does your ambition as a solo artist go further than this solo-album?
‘No (laughs), let’s be serious, I’m 66 now and I just wanted to do something I like. I have no more big ambitions to become a star! My ambition was to make an album and to do the best I can. My life is not depending on it. It’s like a challenge, I like to leave my comfort zone and try new things. We will see what will happen after this. The reactions have been super good so far. I played two concerts in Botanique (Brussels - GR) and Spirit Of 66 (Verviers – GR) and the reactions were incredible. So, I feel good about that now, but as I said, we will see. Machiavel is still going too and we plan a new album for next year.’
Meanwhile we can enjoy Marc’s solo effort which sounds better with every spin. Marc’s vocal style may not appeal to everyone, but it would be a shame to ignore such a strong album. Beautiful songs, beautiful arrangements, great sound, a joy to listen to!
Interview: Geert Ryssen