For as long as Elke De Mey can remember, she was a singer.
“I always sang as a child,” she said. “I think everybody does.”
As she got older, she also took lessons, and music became a constant in her life, but the idea of playing on her own never really took form.
“I was in a voice class so there were always guitars laying around. And my best friend was really into music, so I got into, like, listening to music and a lot of the bands,” she said. “He was making music all the time, so I didn’t, because he did.”
Eventually, in De Mey’s teenage years, she began dabbling in more than singing, an event which came about when he had a guitar of her own.
“When I was 16 or something, I got a guitar. And then I wanted to play some songs in my room, cover Cat Power or something, songs that could express how I felt sometimes,” she said. “And then, I don’t know, a couple of years ago I tried to make a song and then another and another.”
And the songs kept coming.
Now, De Mey has an established solo project, Love Like Birds, which is the medium through which she expresses herself.
Of course, between the time she began writing songs and the time she began performing, De Mey still had some obstacles to overcome. These included her own insecurity about how good her music was, which she needed to deal with in order to begin playing her music to an audience outside her bedroom.
Luckily, the Internet was a big help in allowing De Mey to test the waters.
“It took me a really long time to get used to it, ’cause I kept to myself and I never played for anybody,” she said, sharing that she eventually made a Myspace page to share songs on. “I felt it was a safe thing because on the Internet you get forgotten quickly, so if people didn’t like it, they wouldn’t listen to it anyway, so then it would just be for myself again.”
But as luck would have it, De Mey did find an audience, and as more and more people began listening to her music, she began to get invitations to play shows. In turn, this boosted her confidence to continue on a musical path.
Additionally, having lived in Ghent, Belgium, since the age of 12, De Mey also counts herself lucky to have been surrounded by a vibrant and supportive scene.
“I think a lot of musicians live here, and everybody knows each other, ’cause it’s such a small town. And everybody helps each other, like when you need recording space or recording stuff or a guitar…you just call one of the people you know,” she said.
She referenced the idea that there is no competition between the bands, because everyone wants other bands to succeed.
“I really like that,” De Mey said. “People come and watch other people’s shows…it’s just a music-friendly environment.”
There is also a wide range of musical genres in the Ghent scene, although De Mey did admit that her own sound, of a female singer with a guitar, is not something particularly unique.
“I can imagine there are a lot of girls who sound like this,” she said. “I mean, you get a guitar and you sing.”
Although De Mey is the heart of the band, her two support musicians might then be the soul. They consist of a friend who plays double bass, mini keyboard, and sings, and her boyfriend, who plays percussion and sometimes violin. De Mey shared that playing on stage with them not only fills out her sound, but takes it someplace new.
The group also records together, and De Mey’s boyfriend, Jinte Deprez of Balthazar, has produced her two EPs, the latter of which will be out in the coming months.
The three of them play a lot throughout Belgium, as well as in surrounding countries, like the Netherlands and Germany.
However, the group tries to find variety in the places it plays, as well as seek out venues with a certain kind of atmosphere.
“My music is really quiet and I can’t sing very loud, so if people will start talking then the whole mood is [ruined],” De Mey said.
An it’s the intimacy of the music that makes it so special, as the so-called whisper-folk stylings of De Mey’s music are subtle, yet heartfelt and genuine.
“Most of the time, when I need to get something off my chest, I write it down, and then afterwards, when I have my guitar, then I try to find some chords and put the words to it,” she said, stressing the important of the lyrics over the music. “All the songs are stuff that I wanted to get out.”
Love Like Birds plays tonight at Bi Nuu in Berlin. The show begins at 20.00.