Jonathan Vandenbroeck became internationally known under the stage name “Milow”. With hits like “You don’t know” he stormed the charts all over Europe. His latest album was created in the middle of the Corona years. In an interview, the singer explains why the album is full of hope despite the dark times.

FOCUS Online: How would you summarize your professional career in a few words?

Milow: If I can only use a few words, I would say: passion, underdog, live music and DIY (= “Do it yourself”). Short explanation: Passion because I’ve been extremely passionate about music for as long as I can remember. Listening to music has touched me since I was a child. It was my favorite pastime even before I knew I could make it my career.

Underdog because I was an underdog for a long time. Both in Belgium and internationally. When I moved to LA to record music I accepted the underdog position as it inspired me.

Next live music. I’ve always played live. When I started making music, I knew I wanted to play in front of an audience. I was already playing concerts ten to twelve years before my first song was played on the radio. With some artists there are performances on the radio first and then live in front of an audience – but with me it was the other way around.

And how would you explain DIY in this context?

Milow: DIY… That’s a longer story, but it basically boils down to this: I’ve never had much help from the music industry. Not in Belgium and not outside either. So I decided to start my own label and release my music myself. I’ve been doing this since 2005 and it has given me a lot of independence on a creative and financial level. So I’m glad it turned out that way. But of course it wasn’t my original favorite plan.

How did you come up with the stage name Milow? what does it mean

Milow: That’s probably one of the questions I’ve been asked the most in my career. I already decided on the name Milow in September 2003. Up until then I had always played in bands with my friends and we had different band names.

So when I chose a solo name, I chose a short name because my own name Jonathan Vandenbroeck was too long. A lot of people in Belgium have long names like that and there’s a tradition that even solo artists choose alter ego-like band names. That influenced me and that’s the story behind it. I just chose the English name “Milo” and added the “w”. That was my personal touch, but has no further meaning.

They broke through with songs like “You don’t know”, “Ayo Technology” and “You and me”. Looking back, what would you say is the “price of success”?

Milow: “You don’t know” was my breakthrough song in Belgium in 2007 and then “Ayo Technology” was my breakthrough in many European countries in 2008. All the years before that I had worked hard. By the time my breakthrough came, I had already written and recorded two albums of my own songs. I was playing live and just trying to figure out a way to get my foot in the door…

That sounds like hard work.

Milow: I took every opportunity to share my music. I really tried my best at every concert. Even if there were only twenty people, I would have done my best to convince every one of them. And so, in my opinion, I had to create the framework conditions myself! So I had to create the circumstances myself so that my songs could be a success. I had to work really hard behind the scenes to keep convincing people that I was worth supporting and that my songs weren’t just going to be one-hit wonders. It was about showing that there is more and on top of that there are live shows!

Did you have to give up something to make the breakthrough?

Milow: Especially between 2007 and 2011 I sacrificed a lot of things! I put everything on hold – friendships and even my family. Anything to pursue that dream. So I didn’t have much time for anything else. I just kept going and going and going. It wasn’t until I moved to LA in 2012 that I was finally able to take some time to look back at all the great things. And from that moment on I decided to find a better balance between my music, my career and my private life.

Let’s look back even further: what was your very first musical success? Maybe even the moment when you felt that your future lay in the music business?

Milow: I think while growing up and making music, there were a number of musical moments that encouraged me and made me feel like I could convey something special with my voice, my guitar and my music.

But the very first time I felt it wasn’t just a crazy dream was in 2004 when I entered a music competition. The competition was not televised and was more of an underground, indie and alternative event. Every two years, one of the largest Belgian magazines organizes this competition. Thousands of bands and artists sent in their demos. A hundred of these were then selected to perform in rock clips and then made the final ten. Most artists were more advanced bands than me… But then I was a solo artist at the age of 22…

Definitely a formative experience?

Milow: That moment when I played solo and that led to good reviews in newspapers and radio…that was the moment I actually felt that there was something here that was within my reach! And yet the main thing during this time was to stay on the ball and keep going. In 2006 I released my album on my own label. I got some very nice album reviews that encouraged me to keep going.

It wasn’t until 2007 that I landed my first hit on the radio with “You don’t know” and my concerts got bigger. From that moment on, I was able to live as a full-time musician. So it took a three-year preparation period from 2004 to 2007.

What was the best piece of advice you received in your life?

Milow: When I think about the best advice, it came from a singer-songwriter friend who was in the same genre as me. He told me that absolutely everything in music begins with the song! While this is obvious, it was a very important lesson for me. Because my songs didn’t have that much clarity before… It was like fifteen ideas in one… they took way too long… all those things you don’t know about until someone shows you what makes a really good song. This is really very important because this is where the songwriting begins! If you want to record a song, you can hire the best musicians and the best producers, but if the song isn’t good, there’s no point.

And it’s the same with live music. You have to take songs and then make something special out of them live, but again, once you start playing, the songs have to be there! The work that goes into songwriting has already been done. Even today, I am fascinated by the idea that everything starts with the song! It’s better to have three incredible songs than fifty mediocre songs.

Her new album “Nice to meet you” was released on May 20th. What does this album mean to you personally?

Milow: For me, this album is a reflection of the last two years, which have been very crazy. I experienced the Corona years with ups and downs. And that’s exactly what I tried to reflect with this album. It’s probably ironic that my probably most spirited and at the same time most hopeful album was released in such a complicated time.

But you have to put that in context with reality: Basically, I was trying to find hope in the darkest moments… And I wanted to share that hope with my audience. Also, I wanted to discover a good feeling myself by working on these songs, since I wasn’t that optimistic myself during those times.

The title “Nice to meet you” is multi-layered: I would like to introduce myself again after the past two years and start the conversation again. Basically it’s about meeting people because so much has happened in everyone’s life and it’s hard to sum it up in a few lines. For me as a conversation starter, this album begins by sharing some really personal stories from the past few years. I hope that through this, people will also open up and share their own stories. And of course for everyone to get back together at live shows.

Do you have a favorite song on your new album?

Milow: Let me pick two favorite songs: “Nice to meet you” and “Oscar”. Surrounding these two songs are larger produced and more spirited, even energetic songs. These two favorite songs embody two moments of peace and tranquility in the album. And the two titles reflect one of the happiest things and one of the saddest things in the past few years.

Let’s just start with the happy things.

Milow: The song that represents the happy things is “Nice to meet you”. I open myself up and tell for the first time what it’s like to be a father. I have two children, but that’s a subject I always kept to myself prior to this album. I’ve never talked about that in interviews or on stage. It’s something very personal and I wasn’t sure how to integrate it until now. So I wrote a song for my two children. And basically I assume that I learn as much from my children as my children learn from me.

And what’s the story behind that other favorite song?

Milow: And the second favorite song is the song “Oscar” which reflects the saddest moments of the last three years. When my friend and live drummer Oscar fell ill with cancer in late 2020 and died of it in April last year. He’s been my band’s live drummer since 2014 and I wrote him this song. It was the first song I wrote last year and I was able to play the song to Oscar. He even came to my studio to play for an extended version of the song.

So these two favorite songs reflect the ups and downs. The highs because Corona has allowed me to spend a lot of time at home with my kids. That was really something special. And Oscar, because his loss made me realize what’s really important in life. After I was able to process the grief over his death, I try to enjoy the good moments in my life even more consciously.