After getting the opportunity to sit and listen to The Last Optimist’s stunning album ‘seed – water – sun’, we have a chance to ask the man behind the music a couple of questions to get to know more about his creative and thought processes that he follows to conjure up his rich musical and lyrical landscapes.
- Very pleased to be asking you these questions Markus, thank you for taking the time to sit with us to answer them. Starting with the name. Why are you referring to yourself as the last optimist? Are there back stories behind this name?
I’m grateful for the interview Moataz and happy to be talking with Rock Era Magazine fans. I started this project in 2019 and the moniker ‘the last optimist’ was meant to be the antidote to all the heaviness in the world at that time. I wanted to find light in that darkness and inspire others to do the same. I may be on quixotic fool’s errand by charging into darkness armed only with optimism but we can’t just rage against the injustices – we have to bring the hope or we will just be angry and lost. I don’t want to be the last one – I want a movement!
- Throughout the album we find many different musical directions, from the soft rock of ‘love in like a simile’, to the anthemic ‘hermit in the maples’, to the energizing ‘one night in Belfast’. Would you say such different musical products have a particular creative process to their inception? Or is each song created in its own situation under different circumstances?
I can’t take much credit here. The songs have a life of their own. The secret to ‘seed water sun’ has been to quiet my own frenetic mind and open up to the muse. The songs come fast, first as images and words. Then I try to play along on my guitar and find that each song requires a couple of new chords and picking patterns that I don’t know yet. So I slop along until I can keep up and then finally capture it. That’s all been solo to date and this year I have been grateful to share the creative process with Doug and Danielle. They think very differently than I do and the secret has been to trust and they never disappoint. ‘seed water sun’ is at the same time disparate and cohesive. The songs are all misfits and they hang together somehow as if they need each other.
- How would you describe the artistic relationship between yourself and Doug Kwartler? Should listeners refer to The Last Optimist as a duo? Or as a solo act? And how does the creative process move between the two of you given Doug’s intensive involvement as a musician and as a producer?
Doug is a musical genius and I am very fortunate to have collided with him. I toured my last album with the very talented folk artist, Susan Levine, and she introduced me to Doug and their new duo ‘The Lied Tos.’ We started the relationship as solo folk singer meets seasoned producer and he began to take on most of the orchestration for the album. Doug claims that this has been his most adventurous album and he really stretched to weave old and new. Sometimes I still play solo but now that musicians are out of their caves again I plan to play a lot with Doug, Danielle, Susan, and others in whatever configuration the nights brings. I look to ‘Boy Genius’ for inspiration here – they are just following the music!
- Two songs on the album feature a vocal duet with Danielle Pinals. How would you describe the difference between writing music for one singer and writing for two? Are the lyrics conceived from a different thought process if you know somebody else is going to sing them?
I wish I knew in advance that Danielle would be singing those songs with me! I definitely would have written her a bigger, cooler, better part. Unfortunately, I wrote the music for one and then was unexpectedly thrilled to record the duets. Funny, just yesterday I bought one of those old Tascam 4-track recorders just so I can write for more voices. I’ve never been one for writing harmonies and countermelodies but that’s one of the places we are going next. Its time for music to be a group activity again!
- With such richness to the lyrics, often poetic and almost always thoughtful and introspective, do you have any special frame of mind that helps you pen down these ideas? Are they conceived in short times, or do you leave them to cook for long periods of time? And is there a particular method you rely on to come up with lyrics?
Thank you for noticing. I love when people get curious and dive into the lyrics of a song they like and then discover an entirely new layer of the music. The songs I keep usually come early in the morning. I still my own thoughts and try to put myself into an intense emotion or story and then the phrases tumble out fast and nearly fully formed. I feel lucky and also humble because I believe that there are other creative forces at play that are elusive and unexplainable. I am fortunate to have an overactive muse this year and she requires very little editing – just an open vessel and a fast pencil.
- Lastly, what can us listeners and fans expect next from Markus Belanger, or The Last Optimist? Tours, clips, more music in the works? Where can we find you next?
I’m hoping the music will lead the way this year. It is time to play out a lot and to get together with other musicians. Reading the tea leaves, I think ‘the last optimist’ will be a full band a year from now and the music will evolve very quickly. I have nearly a full new album scratched out with lyrics and guitar. Doug, Danielle, and I have some work ahead of us to help the new album take shape.
- It’s been a great pleasure listening to your music and asking you these questions Markus. Hoping that you find them engaging, we thoroughly thank you for your time and your beautiful music.