KYS talks to Neige, the musical mastermind behind experimental French black metallers Alcest. As anyone who has listened to Alcest’s music knows, black metal is just the starting point for their sound, which envelopes shoegaze, ambient and post-metal. The band recently performed their first Australian headlining tour, selling out several dates, quite a feat for a former studio project that has only been performing live in the last 18 months. Here Neige discusses how he gets his distinctive guitar sound, the band’s future direction and his motivations behind writing Alcest’s personal music.
When are you planning on releasing Les voyages de l’âme?
Do you work with a producer who is involved in arrangement and the musical side of things when recording? Or do you just work with engineers who record your material?
I am working with engineers who record my material. Arrangement is a part of my composition work, maybe one of the things I prefer to do. It’s the easiest.
Who did you record Les voyages de l’âme with?
I recorded/mixed Les voyages… with same people who recorded/mixed Ecailles de lune: Markus Stock (Empyrium/ The Vision Bleak) at Klangschmiede Studio E, and Mr Xort (Anorexia Nervosa) at Drudenhaus Studio.
You’ve said Les voyages de l’âme “will contain harsh vocals but will surely be the last one having these kind of vocals parallel to the clean ones.” Does this mean that there won’t be any more harsh vocals after this album? Or just that you are changing your approach to using harsh vocals?
I won’t stop using harsh vocals, but I won’t use both clean and harsh on the same full length album anymore. The fourth album will be an album with clean vocals only, just like Souvenirs… and if one day I want to use harsh vocals again, I will release an EP or a concept album with mainly harsh vocals but I have nothing planned yet.
Why did you wait 10 years to start doing live Alcest shows? Was it simply a lack of suitable musicians to play the material, or did you not have a desire to take Alcest into the live arena until last year?
Many reasons, the first one was that I didn’t feel prepared for this, mentally and as a musician. Another reason is that I just simply couldn’t find musicians to do it. You know I learnt how to play drums and played drums on the first Alcest album just because there was not a single other person to do it in the place I lived.
Has hearing and playing Alcest’s music with a live band changed your approach to writing material? Has it influenced the band’s studio output in any way?
Certainly but I can’t say how much it influenced it and in which way. It’s hard to be objective.
Alcest have a very distinctive guitar sound. Can you talk about the gear you use to get your tone? What gear (guitars, amp, effects pedals) do you use?
On Souvenirs… I was using really shitty and simple equipment : cheap guitar, Marshall amp, clean sound with reverb. The main effect I used on this album was reverb. As for Ecailles… it was the same but with a different clean guitar sound approach. I wanted it to be more aquatic so I used a lot of chorus and detune reverb. As for the new album we used mainly reverb, detune reverb, delay, chorus. Distortion always is a very common one, like a Marshall distortion. In the future I want to get closer to the 4AD/dreampop sound instead of a metal sound, so I will probably use Fender amps and stuff like that, even for distortion. We will see.
Did you play any material off the new album on the Australian tour? What release did you play the most material from for the tour?
On stage we play Summer’s Glory from the new album. In concert we always play songs from all the records, since all Alcest songs share the same style and concept it’s not hard to put them all together in a concert setlist.
How does Alcest’s material change in the live format? Does the band play the album material very faithfully or do the musicians add in their own personal touches making it a very different beast?
We play the album material quite faithfully. Unlike some other people most of the time I don’t like when bands play songs live in a different style. OK, it can be different but still keeping the same intention. I am proud of my songs and I want that we play them the best way we can instead of trying to transform them for live performances.
What are some of your favourite books and authors?
Baudelaire, Verlaine, Charles Van Leberghe, mostly 19th century poets. Otherwise these days I am reading a lot of books dealing with esoterism and spirituality: the famous Raymond Moody’s Life after Life or Sogyal Rimpoché’s Tibetan Book of the Living and Dying.
You’ve talked about the far-off land or fairy land inspiring your music. Is that something you experienced as a child but lost contact with as an adult?
Lost is not the word I would use. I don’t have these kind of visions anymore but I feel this otherworld in another way. With my adult perception. Anyway this “world” will always remain in me, since as you might guess, to have such an experience leaves a mark on you and on your way of seeing life forever.
Do you feel like you are contact with the other world when you play Alcest’s music, or is it just an evocation of your memories?
When I am alone at home, composing for Alcest I feel that I am again in this world in a way. I am sometimes even having new images coming. It every case when I compose I always grasp some emotions related to this world, ecstatic feelings, thoughts, intense joy. It may sound stupid but when I compose I really feel like being a link between this other dimension and our world.
At the contrary I never had these kind of feelings when we are on stage.
Previously you’ve expressed your dislike for black metal shows that involve ‘corpse painted musicians covered with spikes playing guitar and singing in a microphone and guys full of beer that headbang in front of the scene.’ What are your goals in playing live with Alcest? Do you feel that you have been successful in creating that elusive mysterious atmosphere that you mentioned in that interview?
I guess to deliver a real audio spiritual and ethereal experience. And not to make a theatre of myself or of my deep beliefs. Alcest is not entertainment music; it’s even much more than just music for me. I don’t know if we have been successful, I hope so. Just ask the people who are watching our shows.
Do you plan to continue playing all instruments except drums in the studio? Do you find it difficult or stressful to be recording and playing a variety of instruments to a high enough level to record quality material?
It is difficult indeed but I still want to do it.
Why did you choose to write and play all the Alcest material yourself in the first place?
Because Alcest is my creation, my baby, the way I have chosen to portray the world I was seeing in visions in my child years, and to express my views on life, death and spirituality.
Have you started writing and considering the material for the album after Les voyages de l’âme?
Yes I have!
Alcest’s latest release, the Le Secret EP re-issue is out now. Look out for their next album release Les voyages de l’âme in January 2012.