Because I’m a very, very naughty boy, I forgot to publish my interview with the soft but well-spoken Zeal And Ardor mastermind, Manuel Gagneux. This chat originally happened back in mid-February, but hey, better late than never, right? …Right?
Anyway, calling all from a wintery night in Sweden (where the rest of his band is also based), the frontman for this highly spoken of spiritual blues meets black metal band talks debut record ‘Devil Is Fine’, where they may go next, playing live, members, and of course, religion.
So Manuel, when I was first sent the email about this interview, there was a press release that had a quote from you. It said how there was no compromise or pandering here as ‘Devil Is Fine’ “was not created thinking that this many would ever hear it.” So since releasing this record, and with the very wide response and praise that it’s gotten, has that affected where you want to take the band next?
I think that I can never allow it to affect the band. The charming thing is that it’s a very tiny thing, a very specific thing, and as soon as I think about other people and their reception of it, it’ll lose that magic. That’s something I took hold of very dearly.
Of course, if you want to please everyone, you can end up not pleasing anyone, let alone yourself.
Exactly, that’s the thought.
I read your interview with Noisey about the band’s origins from 4chan and what not, and in how your sound is (obviously) an amalgamation of blues/spiritual, atmospheric and black metal. Again with this record’s strong response and acclaim, do you think many will pigeonhole the band into that sound from now on?
I don’t know, maybe they have? But again, I can’t allow myself to care too much about that. I have zero control over what people think it, and I have to come to terms with that. As soon as I obsess about that, I’d go crazy. So basically, I make pretty sounds… and even that’s debatable.
So would it be fair to say that where Zeal And Ardor go next, it may not be what people heard on ‘Devil Is Fine’?
That would be a very safe assumption, yes. I think there’s still a lot to explore in the negro-spiritual/black metal combination, but I think there’s a lot of other styles to explore. You know, I’m just curious.
I think that can a problem for some bands; they just lose that sense of curiosity.
True. There’s actually this one band from Australia, I forget their name. They’re huge, they sound like a heavier version of AC/DC and they often play without their shirts on, and it’s great. Their name escapes me…
Ah, do you mean Airbourne?
Yes, Airbourne! I freaking love Airbourne! [laughs].
Yeah, those guys are very similar to AC/DC.
Yeah, but it’s not only about being curious and about being original but also about owning your style too. They do that well. And I’m just gushing about Airbourne now, sorry.
No worries! As for your own band, there have been no live shows, yes? Like, none as of this time February 2017?
Yeah, there hasn’t been one! The only one was a live session in a radio studio. This band is just doing things in the wrong order and it’s quite bizarre. The first gig is a radio studio show in this immense building, and we’re just shitty people trying to make music, so it’s very overwhelming. We’re super nervous so we rehearse every day because we don’t have any live experience.
Well, that’s good – getting it all tight now so you’re not ironing out the kinks at your first couple shows.
With the radio sessions that the band did, was that really weird for you all to play in that setting? Despite it being a “live studio”.
Oh, of course. We had all of these cameras in our faces and we had cables everywhere, but at a certain point, we just went with it as it was so ridiculous and upside down that it’s amusing. In the end, we just played our songs. But it was kinda fun, I have to say.
I’m sure it was! When listening to those songs from those live sessions, they took on a different light, a different timbre for me than what I would’ve personally expected after hearing and loving ‘Devil Is Fine’. Maybe that’s just because you guys haven’t played live and this is the only comparable thing out there, both audibly and visually. Did you ever get that sense that the songs lose that original mood or tone?
The mood didn’t change that much for me, but nothing at all compares to six people having the same musical emotions. Seeing as how I did this record in my basement on my own, it’s quite small and cute in a way. I think it’s changed a bit with the live translation, but I am very fond of it. It’s just another… energy, really.
So how well did you know the other members before bringing them into Zeal And Ardor?
Ah, pretty well! I happen to be a lucky little fucker in that my good friends happen to be brilliant musicians. So it was just me asking if they had the time and if they’d like to tour. There was also no awkward audition for the band either; they were just good friends of mine.
Better than just having a hired gun, as with them being friends of yours, there’s the potential for a better chemistry.
Yeah, and I think if that we weren’t all comfortable with each other, it would’ve been a much longer, much more complicated process. Not saying that we’re brilliant or anything, but we have good comfort around each other.
Right on. Do you ever think about what you’d do without a full band on board? Would you have kept Zeal And Ardor as just a “bedroom” project?
Yeah, I think so. This is something I really like to do and I can’t not do it. I would’ve just continued on with it by myself.
I remember you said once in an interview that you would never want to do the whole laptop on-stage deal, as it’d just be too fake and just not do the music justice.
Yes, because now we’re playing these festivals with heroes of ours – Gojira are playing, Baroness are playing. So we could never go out onstage with a laptop! I think I’d just be too embarrassed and I think a lot of people would be really pissed too. [Laughs].
Exactly! I remember seeing a show here in Melbourne where a band either didn’t have a drummer or their drummer couldn’t make the show, so they just set up a drum throne and put a laptop on it with the drum backing tracks playing through it.
[Laughs] just the fact that they put the stool there is really great to me.
They went to some effort, yes! Now, I also wanted to ask how spiritual or religious you are as a person?
Oh! No, no no. I think that the way the Satanism works in our music is also how it worked in the second wave of Norweigan black metal. It’s not an occult way of thinking but more of a tool for rebellion against the church.
Oh, right. I was very curious to know, as yeah, there some very strong religious themes in Zeal And Ardor’s music and lyrics. But maybe it’s because you aren’t religious that you create a record such as that…
No, but I also think that religion is such a fascinating thing that affects and dictates the lives of so many people, that it’d be dumb to not read up about it. For it’s a huge thing that I have just never been a part of.
I’m in the same boat as you. However, I did go to a Christian high school solely for the academic status it had. That was an odd time.
Oh, I can imagine. Well, no, I can’t actually [laughs].
It was weird, yes. Stemming from this topic, I noticed that some of the Soundcloud and YouTube tags that are on your songs are often listed as “religious” or “Christian”. So I gotta know – have you had any comments from those religious types? Whether they hated it or maybe even liked it?
Yeah, I have actually! There was one comment that stood out on Reddit somewhere. This guy said how he was a very Christian individual, but that he really liked the music. He saw it in a very spiritual experience. Not in a Christian way, though. It was this really mature and well-affected comment and it struck me as being oddly beautiful. Also, on another antidote, a certain BBC 1 DJ refused to play my record due to “religious differences”. Oh well, can’t win them all!
[Laughs] that’s rad and also a good end for this interview I think. Thank you kindly for jumping on the phone with me Manuel, what’s on for the rest of your night?
What’s on for the rest of the night? Well, I think I have another interview and then it’ll be around 1am over here, so I shall then go and drink. Quite a bit too. And then, of course, sleep!
Sounds like a plan my friend. I wish you nothing but the best for those live Zeal And Ardor shows. Take care, Manuel, cheers!
No worries, it was an absolute pleasure!