A bleeding wound, a blistering cry, an-out-of-body experience. Amenra's music and the band's respective live shows have been described as many things, but never as light ones. The collective's latest offering, Mass VI, adds another chapter to the diary of their long lasting quest of finding what it truly means to be human.
As with previous releases, Mass VI carries a duality at its core. The contrasting connection between love and pain is woven into the album's topoi. Colin H. van Eeckhout, the band's singer, has a special relationship to pain. He deals with body modification – even live. We spoke with him about what physical and psychological pain means for the band, for his personal life – and what it can mean for their audience.
"No love without pain. No light without darkness.“, is a quote that was released about your album. In previous interviews, you stated that prior to writing and recording Mass VI, your son had a tumor removed from his head. I imagine that being one of the toughest times of your life. How did you try to cope with that situation? Did that all flow into the album?
I do believe that there is no question of love, without presence of pain. “How” I coped with it ... the one thing I do vividly remember is the support and love I got from people who follow Amenra and CHVE online. I really needed to reach out, and pour out my heart on that matter. Make my despair public if you will. An avalanche of messages and comments followed. And it truly meant the world to me then. It helped me believe that all those positive thoughts would help, would make the procedure a success. A few weeks ago the second procedure/surgery took place.
Of course, that helplessness, frustration, sorrow, and what else, seeps into the lyrics of songs. Whatever becomes a part of me automatically becomes a part of Amenra. This was my part of the collective story. As all other members have theirs. Those together are Amenra.
I imagine the situation leaving a lasting impression on you.
It has it always does, or it should. I mean, I had encountered situations before that altered my views and stance in life. But I think humans need a reminder from time to time. Those reminders come in the form of adversity. I try to live more in the ‘now’ and not to worry too much about the future. I believe my time here on earth is limited, so it persuaded me even more to enjoy the mere moments I have with my loved ones. And at the same time, I brace myself for what’s to come.
Is pain that comes from love for someone else a feeling that has intensified since the birth of your children?
Of course, to me it feels that way. But that's personal for everyone I’d say. I am the type of person that sees sadness in everything, even the most beautiful things in life, like children. Or love for that matter.
From the very moment of the band’s inception, pain and darkness have been a focal point of Amenra’s music. Looking back at it: How has you dealing with pain changed over the years?
I don’t know if it changed really. It’s just a part of my personality. I think we mastered working with and around it more though. The older you get, and the more you’ve lived through pain, probably influences your frame of reference. So you might think you are able to see things more ‘realistically’ and not exaggerate.
"I do believe that on stage I can physically become someone's pain. I could be materialized pain, that lives within someone."
Speaking very personally, due to a lot of personal pain inflicted by how I grew up and then trying to get rid of it’s remnants, my whole upper body is covered with scars. They are something I truly despise, not only do I find them ugly, but they are a constant reminder of that year-long pain. Quite the contrary, at least judging from the outside, you often inflict „pain“ onto your body deliberately. For example by using suspension live on stage. With some of those actions leaving scars behind. What do those scars mean to you?
The scars are there to remind me that the wound has closed, that the pain is over. It allows me to put those things behind me. That is what I like to believe. I don’t like it when people stare me down for it, but I have grown blind to outside judgement really. I am who I am, and I try to be as proud as can be, of what is left of me.
Do you view your body as a work of art? In that regard: How do you view beauty or aestheticism in terms of your own body?
Yes. without wanting to sound pretentious. I see it as the clay I work with. Beauty and aesthetics aren’t really the right terms here. But I lack others. I see body modification as a means to express myself. It feels like bodily poetry to me.
"We use our body to work with pain."
Is there any way you modified your body that you nowadays regret?
Tattoos have a temporary character I’d say. I believe people evolve, tastes evolve. I will not speak of regret. But if It’d be a blank canvas, I might paint it differently this time around.
Do you feel that – in contrast to pain caused by love for others – the pain you inflict on your own body is something you can control?
No, pain is something that will never be controlled by humans. You can contain it by sedatives etc. but it will always win, if its scale excells your capacity to cope with. Illness, cancer, pain is always the end boss.
Is it maybe a way to sort of „learn“ how your body reacts to pain and by that trying to take control over every kind of pain in life?
I am pretty sure I cannot “control” my pain. It’s all not as simple as that. I don’t feel the urge to control it. It simply makes sense to me. It is a part of the story we tell. It visualizes “what we do”. We use our body to work with that pain.
The name Amenra carries a religious reference, the band uses a lot of religious iconography, and your collective carries the name „Church of Ra“. In religion, self-chastisement is a way of reaching a greater good or enlightenment by suffering deliberately. Do you feel the same?
I do believe that on stage I can physically become someone's pain. I could be materialized pain, that lives within someone. Sacrifice. Overcoming that pain, on stage together, feeds that “healing” process we spoke about.
It is incredibly easy to drown one’s pain: In drugs, in alcohol, in cynicism, by lying to oneself. But your lyrics, your art and your music seem incredibly genuine. How do you manage to steer away from the easy way out and face your pain honestly?
I have been vegetarian and straight edge for over 25 years now. It doesn’t occur to me to flee from them, there is no point. It's proven not to be a solution. I am too reasonable for that. I am too aware of what is happening. Reason feeds my choices.
In previous interviews you stated that with Amenra, it is your goal to tell your story as honest as possible. And the intensity of your live shows confirms that you are very successful at doing that. Is it sometimes tough for you to perform your songs as they deal with very personal, very painful stories?
It is more physically tough than psychologically. I have found a place for all those things after all these years, months or days. So performing those songs is like reading in a diary, and I like to conclude that I have grown stronger through all those passages. The live shows truly are a healing process, they make it easier to cope with certain things. See them in perspective maybe. Sorrow and sadness cannot be shared with others. It is something we have to work with on our own. Yet I truly believe that being honest and open about it does make it lighter. Does make it easier to bear.
We'd like to thank Colin H. van Eeckhout dearly for taking the time for this interview. „Mass VI“ by Amenra was released on Neurot Recordings. If you're interested, you can read about it in German here. The cover artwork was done by artist and photographer Stephan Vanfleteren. We suggest you buy the album legally. This interview was published in German as well. You may read it here. Also, we suggest you listen to Sun Worship.