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‘Addictive, dreamy, storytelling songs’

By Lisa Verrico – CMON CMON didn’t intend to make an album, never mind release it. They won’t appear in their own videos and shy away from being part of a scene. Why? Because the Belgian trio has been here before, two decades ago as college students. Reformed for fun rather than fame, with a new name and different aims, but as much love of harmony-soaked, melodic rock as ever, their plan to put the music first is already paying dividends.

On board for CMON CMON’s first EP and yet-to-be titled debut album are legendary manager Stephen Budd (Tony Visconti, Gang Of Four, Heaven 17, The Magic Numbers) and Grammy-nominated, platinum-selling producer Alex Newport (Death Cab For Cutie, Bloc Party, Frank Turner). One listen to the band’s addictive, dreamy, storytelling songs shows why.

Joyous, jangly lead single The Summers We Missed, with its sumptuous harmonies and debt to early Lemonheads and, captures both the laid-back spirit of CMON CMON and their tales of life experience as opposed to first love.

“The song is a true story – one I wouldn’t have been able to write aged 20,” says singer, guitarist and main songwriter Jorrit Hermans. “The summer in question is 1995. The party was real, the backyard and the pool were real and, yeah, so was Julie.

“It’s a tale of two teenagers who were very close but never romantically involved, although both felt they should have been. In the second verse, the narrative jumps 20 years ahead to another summer where they meet again and reminisce about what might have been.

“For me, the song is packed with personal teenage memories and melancholy. That summer is over and it won’t come back, like the protagonists’ youth. But that’s okay because life moves on and both still have their fantasy.”

It was Jorrit who contacted his fellow band members – bassist Steven Omblets and drummer Michel Becx – in 2019 after a decade apart. Now in their 40s, but still living near each other in northeast Belgium, they had lost touch while establishing diverse careers – Jorrit in advertising, Steven as a sociology lecturer and Michel as an estate agent.

“I’d started writing songs again and remembered how much fun it was when the three of us used to craft them together,” says Jorrit. “I called them and asked if they would like to get in a rehearsal room to see how it went. Immediately, the chemistry between us was back.” 

“But it wasn’t the same,” adds Steven. “It was easier, smoother, quicker. There were no egos involved – not that there were many the first time round. With no pressure on our expectations, it was all about the songs, which suits us nicely now.”

No old songs were played – “This isn’t a nostalgia project,” says Jorrit, who arrived with five new songs semi-written. Together, quickly, they took them apart and reassembled them. Then they kept on writing. 

When lockdown came along, they’d already decided to do a demo, maybe even release an EP. But before they knew it, an album was written and a list of fantasy producers compiled to contact. In truth, they expected to hear nothing back from Alex Newport, whose work with Death Cab For Cutie they all admired. But immediately he mailed back, saying he loved the songs and signed on to produce.

By then CMON CMON had made demos with a friend in a local studio, then decamped for five days to Trypoul Studios in the Netherlands to record on rare vintage equipment. Back in Belgium, they linked to Newport’s Future Shock Studio in L.A. to polish the songs, CMON CMON working through the night because of the time difference.

An albums’ worth of songs were mixed and mastered (by Carl Saff in Chicago) late last year. A few days before Christmas, CMON CMON decided they might need a manager and chanced their arm with Budd, whose illustrious career they had long admired. Once again, to their shock, an email came back full of love for the songs. 

“He’s been in the business 40 years, so he makes even us feel young,” laughs Steven. “We finally met him in London in February where he gave us great advice. We thought we might release the album in Belgium first, but he said no, it had to be the UK.”

First comes an EP which will feature three songs, including The Summers We Missed, second single Say What It Means, an R.E.M.-meets- Teenage Fanclub rocker about Jorrit’s experience of dishonest people, and the boisterous beauty Waiting, the first song that CMON CMON worked on when they got back together.

“Waiting applies to so many situations,” says Jorrit. “It’s about waiting to finally get the courage to do what you want to do. ln one sense, it’s about being able to judge relationships, analyse them. Why aren’t we moving forwards, saying what needs to be said and being brutally honest?

“What growing older gives you is the sense that you should never wait for anything – just go for it. That’s not something I could have expressed when I was younger because I wouldn’t have understood it. I can only write about my life, what I have actually experienced.

“For the three of us now, Waiting is about having the courage to be in a band again, never mind what age we are. I’m a better songwriter than I’ve ever been. We’re having more fun that we did the first time. Other people love the songs as much as we do.”

Initially, CMON CMON thought that they may not perform live.

“These songs were written to capture us in this moment, not to make us rock stars posing on stage,” says Steven. “But the reaction we’ve had has convinced us otherwise. To our own amazement, we’re going to tour.”

When they do, Jorrit will show off the CMON CMON logo tattoo he recently had inked on his arm.

“We didn’t all get one,” he laughs, “it wasn’t a group deal. Had we been teenagers, it might have been different, but we’re not following anyone now. We’ve got more important matters on our mind.”