If there is one band out there that is truly pushing the boundaries of black metal, it is France’s Alcest. The brainchild of former Peste Noire and Amesoeurs guitarist Neige, the band’s latest album Écailles de Lune is an at times ethereal, at times depressing and harsh exploration of haunting, guitar driven soundscapes, and one of the year’s most inventive metal albums. I sent this interview to Neige just before he was set to embark on Alcest’s first ever North American tour.
SF: Tell us about the new album, Écailles de Lune. How did you approach creating this album in comparison to other Alcest works?
Neige: While “Souvenirs” was a description of memories I had as a child about the luminous far away dimension I am speaking about in the previous questions, “Écailles De Lune” could be seen as a metaphor of how I manage to live with this experience now in my everyday life. As I sometimes feel that nobody really understand and grab what I am speaking about, in some moments it’s like if I was a stranger here, having the sensation a non-human part of my soul is screaming inside me to be back in the world he belongs to. This explains besides the “Écailles De Lune” lyrical theme’s melancholy. It’s a story about a man sitting front of the sea at night and thinking about his life, the fact he can’t find any interest anymore in his earthly existence, nothing and nobody that could give him joy. He falls in love with the night, being captivated by the voices of the waves and the spirits of the sea. He goes swimming in the depth, all surrounded by aquatic guardian spirits for finally having a serene sleep in the bottoms of the sea and never coming back in the real world.
SF: Did you have any specific goals you were looking to accomplish with the new album?
N: I was conscious that I was making something different from the first album, “Ecailles De Lune” is darker, more complex and progressive. I don’t mind to see an evolution in my work, I just want to always reach the same level of quality, that’s my goal.
SF: What is your favorite song or musical moment on the album and why?
N: My favourite moment is the last clean passage of Ecailles De Lune – part II. The reason, I don’t know, I think this is one of the saddest and most otherworldly melody I’ve ever composed, like an elf chant.
SF: Écailles de Lune is a very diverse album, yet still retains some black metal elements. What made you choose to retain the black metal side of Alcest?
N: I don’t know, I didn’t plan this actually. I guess this is because Alcest’s style evolved from a black metal basis, so this will always be present in a way or another. Moreover you know, when I scream I don’t pretend to be black metal, aggressive or “evil” this is just another form of expression that can be colder, more intense and tearing than clean vocals, so it can be good to use in appropriate times.
SF: Are looking to push the limits of black metal with Alcest or perhaps to create a new genre altogether?
N: I don’t care about genres, musical references. I don’t especially want to push BM limits nor having the pretension to create a new genre, I just want to spread an otherworldly sound.
SF: Your work has been compared to the shoegaze movement. Are you truly influenced by any of the classic British showegaze bands? (ie My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Ride, etc)
N: I love Slowdive and Ride but this kind of music never was an influence for me since I discovered not so long ago, just after having recorded “Souvenirs…”. Alcest comes from metal, not from indie rock.
SF: One of the things you’re known for is your unique approach to the guitar. How did you develop your technique and what are your favorite pieces of gear/equipment?
N: By technique do you mean guitar technique? Like every guitarist, practising. I have taken 5 years of classic guitar lessons, it helps me a lot to compose arpeggios. Though I am not a technical guitarist, I can’t make any good solos ahah. As for favourite equipment, I don’t know, to be able to use distortion is great I think, this is the most important element of the Alcest sound. I am not an equipment guy, I just bought a new guitar this year just for the tours after having used the same 300 euros guitar for almost 10 years. Same for the amp, I just bought an amp head a few weeks ago. All what I recorded was made on pretty low equipment.
SF: You’re also known as a man of many bands. Will Alcest be your main focus? Where do you think Alcest fits into the context of your career?
N: I don’t have so many projects as before, in parallel of Alcest I am just singing in the German urban black metal band Lantlôs. Alcest will always remain my main focus indeed. In the context of my career this project is the most important one and the most artistically ambitious.
SF: Your work with Alcest has a dreamy, cinematic quality. Would you ever consider doing soundtrack work, sound design, etc?
N: Journalists often ask me question. I am glad that you see such qualities in my music, thanks ! I am a cinema addict, this would be a dream to have one day one of my songs in a movie, this is something I am really forward to do in the future.
SF: The French black metal scene has always been so unique and diverse. Why do you think this is and how did your participation in it shape you as a musician?
N: Yes I like a lot the extreme French scene, we are having a lot of good bands from very different styles of metal. Though I just go on my own way you know, I don’t feel being a part of any scene or to participate to the evolution of it.
SF: You’re getting ready to embark on your first US tour. What are your thoughts on this?
N: At this time I am back from the U.S. The overall tour experience was great. You know we were so happy to do this tour because we had a lot of difficulties to obtain the visas, and when we finally got them (just one week before going), we learnt that planes couldn’t fly due to a Icelandic volcano. We were so pissed off. Fortunately the day we were supposed to go things got better and we could take the plane. If this was one day before it wouldn’t have been possible, so we were very lucky. As for the tour itself, everything was all right except the fact that I have lost my voice on the two lasts dates. This was a really hard and depressive situation for me, frustrating but I couldn’t do anything against it, just let the time pass and the voice come back. We will come again to New York and Montreal and this will be a real Alcest show, the one the audience deserved.
SF: Who are the musicians that will comprise the touring lineup for Alcest and how were they chosen?
N: The other people that came with me on stage are Winterhalter (part of the studio Alcest line-up) and two session members : Fursy Teyssier (from Les Discrets/Amesoeurs and the person who painted the “Écailles De Lune” front cover) and Zero (from ZERO). I choose them because they are all talented musicians and close friends of mine.
SF: What difficulties does reproducing an album as layered and complex as Écailles de Lune present for you in a live setting?
N: In fact this is not so complex, there’s not so often more than two guitars (one rythmic and one lead) on the Alcest recordings. Otherwise for the technical aspect of the music we rehearsed quite a lot to prepare the shows so that we can feel comfortable on stage. Well, I admit that I was really starting to feel comfortable on stage on the last shows of the tour, I am a very anxious person.
SF: Aside from the new album and tour, what else is in store for you in 2010?
N: Composing the new album and making concerts, precisely!
SF: Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to add?
N: Thanks for the interview !
(originally written for Sonic Frontiers(dot)net)