Hello Simon. You’re a member of Sing Out Brussels! and you wrote the song “In these heels”. How did you become a songwriter?
I wrote my first song at about age eight or nine I think. I was certainly still at primary school and I was a huge ABBA fan. I remember wanting to make these magical sounds that they were able to make. I remember particularly my first song, which was called Music Man. In fact, I started with the lyrics and I think this has been the first and only time I did so. Since then, the music comes first and suggests a feeling to me and I like to try to match that carefully with the lyrics. Throughout my adult life I had always written songs or parts of songs as a hobby but like most people, I never finished anything. Then, while I was living in Belgium in 2013 I realised there was a chance to submit songs for consideration as Belgium’s Eurovision entry. Something changed and I wrote and recorded two complete songs to submit. They didn’t succeed but in a way I won a far bigger prize – I realised that I now felt comfortable to complete songs, record them and let people hear them. For a period of about four to five years I wrote about 50 songs, and because I was doing it so intensively I was objectively getting better and better at it. It was during this period that “In These Heels” was written, and it was a period which culminated in me winning a number of songwriting competitions; “Sing Me Your Blues” winning the SongDoor competition in the United States and “Still Not Sorry” winning the UK Songwriting Competition.
What was your inspiration to write “In these heels” ?
It was the summer of 2016 and I was on holiday in Spain. Some months before, the shootings at a gay club in Orlando had taken place. The shooter had claimed a horrifying number of victims. Beyond the huge wave of grief I felt, what struck me most was how all the news I watched tried to play down that the shooting took place in a gay club and that that might possibly be the reason the venue was chosen. Those who had sadly fallen victim to this aggression were described as sons and daughters of loving parents but were never described as friends or lovers of one another. It struck me that the same homophobia that had inspired the killer was still driving the news agenda. I was angry. In my life I am lucky to have seen huge progress for rights for the LGBTQI+ community, and I’m the first to admit that we still have much further to go, but even I was shocked at this “straight-washing” of the story. It was almost like the media didn’t want to admit it was a gay hate-crime because then the finger might slowly turn back to them for having encouraged queer phobia over the years.
What story did you want to tell with this song?
As the song developed in my head, my anger kept rising. I remember I had the opening lines of the chorus in my head first and tried many different phrases. A friend of mine, also a musician, visited me and I remember trying out these ideas on him. Despite being a queer activist, he was quite shocked. “It’s very angry!” he said with a rather worried look on his face, as if to ask if I was OK? But I was angry, and I really wanted the song to come from my heart. As the verses developed the song grew into a general need for greater solidarity in the queer community. I didn’t want to open the media to scrutiny, but also the internalised queer phobia I had heard spoken of openly in the gay community in Brussels. Gay men in particular have learned how to feel safe by not associating themselves with gay bars or with the full spectrum of gender and sexuality expression in our expanding community. As a newcomer to Belgium, I find the country to be mostly very welcoming and I feel safe here, but I do notice among gay men a desire to blend in, to be “heteronormative”. This is fine, as long as it is not at the expense of visibility and support for one another. Sadly, I think that is often the case. Many many times when I would chat to guys on dating apps I would find myself suddenly blocked if I admitted that I drink in gay bars or that I support trans rights. I don’t blame these people – they are victims of the society we live in – but I did want the song to prick the conscience of these people a bit, to make them sit up and think if there was something more they could be doing. Not everyone has to be an activist, but if every member steps up to the challenge of queer phobia as much as they feel safe to do, we will all be safer. In the end, it’s the song I am most proud of having written. It truly came from the heart.
What do you think of the arrangement written by Philippe Maniez?
It was very strange but exciting for me to hear the song interpreted. It took a while to get used to because I was so used to the original. There were two more added difficulties – firstly that the song was quite hard to learn and remember for the choir and secondly it wasn’t really until our concerts that we got to hear it fully with the included solo parts. I think for this reason I wasn’t alone in the choir in taking a while to fall in love with this arrangement. However, I must say that I think it’s wonderful. It’s so important to have music expanded in this way, and there is much more sincerity, light and shade in this arrangement. It’s so very very beautiful and I’m very grateful that the choir had it arranged and have taken it to their hearts in this way. I’m very proud!
For many singers, the central part “love any louder, can’t love any louder” is very emotionally powerful. Is it also your feeling?
Yes! This was the line that shocked my friend, but it represents exactly how I feel. I do feel that I am totally authentic with people when it comes to my sexuality and I’m also proud of the fact that since identifying as gay I have worked hard to understand others in our community and outside it who face prejudice and do my very best in every case to avoid being prejudiced. It’s a call for help from other members of the community to be visible and to support us.
Sing Out first performed the song in 2019 with LaDiva Live. This time different singers sing the solo. Does this make sense to you?
For me, this song has really found its home in the choir. When I heard that the soloists would come from within the choir I was very happy, and even more so when I discovered how many different voices would feature. This allows the song to speak with one voice but from many perspectives, many stories, many experiences, and that is essentially what this is about.
Do you have anything more to say?
Right now I’ve only heard a small part of the finished recording but I know it’s going to sound amazing and I’m going to need a box of tissues when I hear it. I’ve already started work on a new song for the choir – “Let Your Heart Be Heard” which, as I understand it, will be sung by all participating choirs when we proudly host “Various Voices” in Brussels in 2026. I’m determined to make this a happier song, but no less heartfelt.