A Conversation with Fab Detry
Fab Detry is basically a very interesting person to be talking to. I meet him in a pub in Rome, The Yellow Bar, where his band Fabiola is about to perform a gig for their Roman audience. We first have a one-to-one conversation, and then join the other musicians to grab something to eat before the show. The Fabiola lineup consists of frontman and guitarist Fab Detry, Lucie Rezsohazy on keyboards, drummer Antoine Pasqualini and Aurélie Muller on bass.
Fab used to be popular in Italy a decade ago, when he published an album called Easy To Cook and was even invited to play for MTV. Now things have changed, he tells me. It’s getting increasingly difficult to keep people interested in music per se. You can attract them through the social media by using tricks and devices that have nothing to do with your art. A community devoted simply to music is hard to find these days.
Fab is not unwilling to share some personal information. A father of three kids, he recently had a brush with his own mortality due to health reasons which frankly scared the shit out of him and inspired a new way of writing songs. Even though irony still remains the essential common thread in his repertoire, his lyrics are now populated with ghosts and demons. They have become more hallucinated somehow, like in a Knut Hamsun novel.
Appropriately, Fabiola’s music has been defined as “anti-pop” in the sense that it catches you off-guard by the way it deftly combines different genres. You may think it’s basic rock and then it turns into another type of sound exploring unusual electronic horizons, for instance. The venue provided by The Yellow Bar presents some difficulties for a musician: a place swarming with young people where the vibe is good but there is almost no room between the stage and the bar. The attention of the audience tends to get dispersed because you can’t actually see the stage unless you squeeze yourself in the narrow gaps between the stools at the bar.
Fabiola open the show with their freshly released, new single You Crazy Diamond. The highlights of the evening are Failure (an upbeat, feel-good track in spite of its title), another song I don’t recognize that strongly reminds me of progressive rock à la King Crimson and the closing song Shit Is Coming Back. Their repertoire would have deserved a better environment, but both the members of the band and the public seem happy at the end of the gig.
Fab, how would you describe yourself to the Italian audience, to those listeners who may have never heard about you?
As an absent-minded Belgian guy floating somewhere in the air.
And does your music relate to this situation?
Yes, absolutely, it’s an attempt to come back to earth but without succeeding somehow.
Let me get this right: you keep floating while the music wants you to connect with us human beings, and sometimes you manage and sometimes you don’t?
Wow, this is crazy. Are you some kind of psychologist or shrink by any chance? Because this is exactly the way I feel. Music is my only anchor with the world, even with my three daughters. Let me share something personal with you. I had been ill recently and almost stared death in the face. This put my emotions in their right place. I used to have misplaced ambitions, and they were a source of ongoing stress about where I should be in terms of show business. I kept asking myself whether I should be successful as a musician or not, and this and that. And for the first time I realized that, as long as I could play and could write and my music could be released on albums, that was the most important thing. I do music more for pleasure and for the sake of art than for any other reason.
So, you didn’t come back with any kind of special wisdom from your close encounter with the afterlife dimension? It just gave some directions about what you want to do, did I get it right?
No, it just gave me fear, I was scared shitless, but apart from that what it changed is that now I know what may happen to me. And this gave me an aesthetic appreciation of what is beautiful. Some things now definitely look more beautiful to me than before. And what anchors me to the ground is music. Art is what saves me, and I think that if you are a musician, compared to a writer for instance, there are two parts in your activity: when I’m writing my songs I live in a cloud, but then I have to bring them down. I have to play my songs. I have to meet my friends to make it happen. I’m all alone when I’m writing, there in my cloud, but after that I must come back to the world and share my stuff with others.
Do you feel you come alive when you’re writing the songs or when you’re playing them live?
When I’m playing them live. That’s the most fulfilling moment. But again, there are two levels of pleasure. There’s a full world, when you’re writing lyrics, and there’s another universe when you sing those lyrics. Probably, one cannot do without the other.
Did you ever hear about the “flow state” theory? It’s about a mental state you reach when you are fully involved in what you’re doing. I compare it to playing with beach rackets: your opponent becomes your best friend and ally because the real goal is to create the right rhythm between the two of you, and never let the ball fall on the ground. Do you think the same exchange of energy takes place between audience and performer when you’re playing live concerts?
Yes, I appreciate what you’re saying. What you’re saying about the beach and the balls is something I feel not only with the audience but also with my band. We all need and rely on each other. That’s what I like about it, that I’m not just playing alone with my guitar. I could never do that. It’s true, I write alone and I don’t want anyone else to interfere while I’m doing that. But then I like it when it all “circulates”. I like my band because they understand the kind of irony I would like to convey. It is something that’s really fragile. And this is the first time I’ve had a band that fully respects this element. They’ve been able to bring in their own personalities, their way of playing. I don’t question them, I’m not a dictator, but it’s important for me that they understand my lyrics, and they do. They understand the humour, they play with it by adding their own personalities. They make it all bigger and bigger, and it’s the first time in my life that I’ve had this feeling on stage. Yes, we’re happy playing together.