"I usually don’t like the non-black metal stuff made by black metal musicians"
Being the forefathers of the whole blackgaze sub-genre and having released a wonderful album some months ago (fifth great full-length in a row, that’s quite an accomplishment, isn’t it?), the band’s mainman, Neige, was more than happy to analyze the reasons why we always fail to escape the captivating imagery formed by Alcest’s tunes...
Half a year after the release of “Kodama” you are coming to Greece. Describe in your own words, what are we to expect from a 2017 Alcest gig?
An Alcest gig is more of a musical journey, something transcendental, than a rock’n’roll show. We are here to make people escape from reality for the duration of the show. At least that’s what we aim for. As for the material played on stage, people can hear songs from all our records. Our setlists are usually very diverse.
Alcest were formed 17 years ago. Your brainchild is almost adult. In the beginning, did you ever think you would make it this far, with such a distinguished discography and being considered the “fathers” of a subgenre?
Obviously I was far from imagining that this project would still be active so many years after its creation and above all, that it would be my main occupation in life. The good thing is that it still seems very fresh and challenging to us. It doesn’t feel like it’s been going on for 17 years, which is a good I suppose. We still have a lot of dreams and projects for the future. The best is to come. As for being the « fathers » of a subgenre, that’s quite crazy when I think about it, especially since it was not something planned at all. It’s a big honor for me.
As I like to check out numerous new and unknown bands, during the past years I’ve come across many bands that fall under the “blackgaze” genre, with the vast majority sounding so generic that one might lose interest. On the other hand, you make it seem so easy being truly good at this, with latest example being “Kodama”. What is the secret? What is almost everyone else missing?
I think the secret is the amount of work and the level exigence I have when writing the songs. You know, it’s guitar based music and I am extremely selective with the riffs and would say that I throw away most of them. What someone would consider to be a « good » riff, I usually won’t keep it. I am only looking for memorable riffs that hold something special. Then I spend a lot of time on the song structure. Sometimes I would record 8 versions of the same song before finding a structure that I like. Songwriting is really the base of everything to me. On another hand, I know that Wintehalter is also a perfectionist when it comes to the drums. We don’t put any « fillers » on our albums. Every song we have needs to reach a certain level of exigence.
On the other hand, there are bands like Deafheaven which are making it big, getting critical acclaim. What is your opinion of them? Do you see a link between your works and their success?
They are friends of ours and one of the only bands in that « scene » that I listen to on a regular basis. I love "Sunbather". I don’t know if there is a link between our work with Alcest and their success. I don’t think so. But they told me they were really influenced by Alcest, especially for their 2 firsts albums.
Since you created this original sound, I think you are the right ones to ask the following question: Which are the 4-5 bands mainly responsible as inspiration for the creation of what we hear in your breakthrough debut, “Souvenirs D’UnAutre Monde”?
The Smashing Pumpkins, Yann Tiersen’s first albums, Dead Can Dance, Explosions In The Sky, Slowdive.
After a big turn in your sound with “Shelter” (2014), which was much lighter, less metal and more dream pop, you returned to your roots with “Kodama”. Now that some years have passed, was “Shelter” a successful experiment? Did you get new fans or lost old ones? Do you intend to get back to “Shelter” sound?
We are really happy with the "Shelter" experience, even if it was quite a risky one. Some of our metal fans were not really happy with that album, but some of our more open minded fans loved it. I think it was a good thing to make « Shelter », because it gave us a lot of inspiration for our next album "Kodama". As for coming back to this sound, it’s really hard to tell. We don’t plan things in that way.
Two years before “Shelter” you released “Les Voyages De L’ Ame”. I’m one of the few people, I think, who consider this to be your greatest album. So, grasping this opportunity, I would like you to talk to us a little bit about this one.
It’s cool because every Alcest fan has a different favorite album. For some people it’s "Souvenirs..." or "Écailles...", for others "Shelter". I guess it means that each record has something to offer. I like to see each of them as a different experience, a different visual and musical journey. "Les Voyages..." was the third album that was developing the "dreamland" concept we had in our first records, so it was supposed to be a summary of what we’ve done before that. A sort of conclusion and the third part of a trilogy.
In “Les Voyages De L’Ame” there is a song called “La OuNaissent Les CouleursNouvelles”. I believe it is your confession about Alcest art. It is a portal to a world you truly feel a part of; the eternal meadows, a place inside the clouds where the new colors are born. A reaction to the stubborn hands and the gravity of the modern real world trying to hold you back from your spirituality. Is it true?
Pretty much all of the Alcest lyrics are a kind of summaries of the concept of the band, but yes, this one in particular, as well as songs like "Les Voyages De l’Âme" or "Souvenirs d’UnAutre Monde".
You have great covers in your releases. Do you consider them an important part of your release and choose them yourselves or do you let the labels and you just focus on the music?
Visuals and cover arts have always been just as important as the music to me. And even if we work with graphic designers, I am always behind the concept, visual style and ideas. I used to draw a lot when I was a teenager, but had to stop in order to spend my time on writing music, so I am sort of frustrated in that way. I guess that’s why I give such a big importance to our artworks. They are also deeply linked with the music, as I always get a lot of inspiration from visual arts when writing Alcest songs.
“Kodama” was inspired by “Princess Mononoke” by Hayao Miyazaki. Which are your favourite anime and also what is it that you find captivating about Japanese culture?
My favorite animes are "Spirited Away", "PrincessMononoke", "Howl’s Moving Castle", "Ghost In The Shell", "Saint Seiya", etc... Miyazaki mostly. I always had a strong connection with Japanese culture. Like a lot of people of my age in France, we grew up watching anime on this T.V. program that we used to have here at the time, and I guess it left a really strong impression on us. Japanese culture is fascinating, because it’s completely different from the Western culture. In some aspects it could almost seems alien to us.
What are we to expect from you in the future? What are your plans for Alcest and also do you have any other projects on the works?
Well, at the moment we are doing a world tour to promote "Kodama", that will last until the end of the year. Then next year we will work on the new album. I am really looking forward to that, since writing is more my thing than touring.
There is something about black metal musicians not playing black music... We have found truly wonderful music in such cases, which cannot be a coincidence. Can you tell us the reason why?
Well, I actually think the opposite ! I usually don’t like the « non black metal » stuff made by black metal musicians. In my opinion it’s usually not very tasteful. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve never considered myself as a black metal musician.
What is your favourite album of all time?
That’s a really hard question. I would say "Siamese Dream" by The Smashing Pumpkins.
The last words are yours to address to your fans in Greece.
We are really looking forward to be back in Greece, it’s been too long since last time!