GOLDEN RIPPLES OF THE DIVINE
Mystery Flame and Neige of Alcest meet again, this time in virtual space, to chat about the eventful year that saw the French artist selling-out in front of exotic crowds across the planet and ultimately release his third album to much acclaim. Alcest are to play an exclusive date in Italy on 10th February @ Carlito’s Way in Retorbido (PV), courtesy of hard-working Eye Carver, supported by fellow Frenchmen and friends Les Discrets (post-rock/metal) and Soror Dolorosa (dark-wave).
Since we spoke last, not only you have been almost everywhere in EU, but you have been around the globe: you played in the US, Australia and you did 12 dates in China, which is something that even the biggest bands rarely get to do! In our interview you said you felt like you “did not belong to this world”: has your perception changed in any way after these experiences?
Not really, playing this music around the world does not have an influence on the purpose of the band since I am not getting a lot of inspiration from my daily life. I am very attached to the usual themes of the band and I consider I haven’t finish to deal with them yet, so no reason to find inspiration from the outside. On the other hand, as a person, travelling this way has had a very positive influence on me, of course. We had such intense experiences during that tour. We travelled 2 months and a half through 3 continents.
Touring often means to see new places from behind the windscreen of a bus: very seldom there is time to see a city or meet the fans. I know you are a very reserved and shy person, but did you try to take advantage of these travels to seek out “soul-mates” who might have shared your experiences?
In these kinds of contexts I am not really looking for persons that had the same experience as me, I am pretty down to earth in daily life, you know. It’s always a great pleasure to meet and speak with fans but generally they have their own interpretation of Alcest’s music. Which is good I think!
If your feeling of “not-belonging” has not changed since you have decided to share Alcest with the world, you must have found great solace in seeing how loved your project is…
I feel of course very glad when someone tells me that he/she was deeply touched by Alcest’s music. The idea that we all have something “otherworldly” within us comforts me. Maybe a lot of people could feel the true nature of their soul, have connections with other dimensions, or memories from previous existence but they just can’t have free access to it. I would be glad if Alcest’s music could be a key to these kind of experiences, or at least a key to feelings related to these kind of experiences.
Have you found that people now understand more about the deeper meaning of Alcest? For example, that Love is its dimension, not Darkness?
Yes the universe of Alcest is becoming clearer and clearer in people’s mind because I have released several albums dealing every time with similar themes. There is a typical style and aesthetics about Alcest, I think. Moreover I am giving a lot of interviews; I speak about the concept of the band in order to avoid the misunderstandings. People read it and get a more accurate idea about the meaning of Alcest.
I am very curious to hear what the perception of Alcest is like in China, a land with an incredible wealth of philosophical and esoteric traditions.
Yes it’s funny because a journalist in China made a link between Alcest’s themes and Buddhism, which is right. I’ve read the “Tibetan book of life and death” recently and saw some common points between the Buddhist philosophy and my own views. This would have maybe not happened in Europe, since people are not so familiar with these kinds of esoteric traditions.
I remember seeing a lovely Muslim girl conducting an interview with you in London. She looked mesmerized by your presence: I was curious to find out whether she was seeking to find a spiritual common-ground with you?
Well, that was a very regular interview actually! I don’t think she was more seeking for the spiritual side of Alcest than any another journalist. But that’s ok to me, most of the interviews of Alcest don’t focus on the concept of the band but more about the generic subject. Although it tends to be better in recent times.
Have you ever run into people trying to justify their religious views through your music? You could well be considered like some sort of prophet by some people…
What a strange idea! I would never do these kinds of things, that’s neither my goal nor a right attitude to me. I just have my own believes based on an experience I had as a child and decided to speak about it through Alcest. I don’t try to convince anyone about it and will never do.
Since big religions and cults are always borne out of manipulation of historical facts and the ransacking of foreign exotic myths, it would not be too strange if in 100 years “Neigeism” was indeed a new religion!
It’s impossible because what Alcest deals with is spirituality in the wide sense of the term and esoteric subjects; but absolutely not religion. There’s nothing completely established about Alcest’s themes and nothing so dogmatic. I actually have no sympathy for religion, which I consider to be really different from the spirituality you can experience as an individual. Religion is for me a pretentious and corrupted concept made up by humans and absolutely not a reflection of the divine. People don’t need religion to have a spiritual life and I wish more persons had their own way to experience the divine.
I was also wondering about your Australian dates. AU is a melting-pot of races and cultures, but also a very white-oriented society. It is a huge country, and most people, even city-dwellers, have the chance to have a close relationship with nature, something that most of us Europeans have lost. How do they perceive Alcest?
I think they are a bit comparable to the American audience, maybe even more expressive. They are very open minded in terms of musical styles, it’s definitely a great audience. Many shows we played over there were sold out. I think they have a quite accurate vision of Alcest music and don’t try to stick us into the black metal scene like many Europeans do.
Generally speaking, after all the travels that occupied so many months of your life, what do you think people are taking from Alcest, what is it that they fall in love with when they hear your music?
It’s very hard to tell, I am not objective at all with my music. I think what they appreciate is that this music is made with so much sincerity, it’s very special, and that it makes their mind travel. I guess for the listener it’s like an escape to another fascinating reality. It’s also music full of hope and uplifting feelings, people often comment on that when they meet me.
As ever, there is always the other side of the medal, and some people do not appreciate your project. As a very sensitive person, how do you deal with critics, and sometimes lack of respect, towards you and your band?
People complain because Alcest is not metal enough, not offensive enough, not negative enough, whatever, but that never was what I wanted to do with that project. If I wanted to do a regular metal band I would have done the things very differently of course. Many of these persons don’t have any idea about what I am doing with this project and have a totally wrong vision of it. Well, some critics are constructive and worth to be read but sadly the majority of them are just too stupid to be taken seriously.
What do you think when people describe Alcest’s music as “girl music”?
It’s such a stupid comment that I don’t know what to say about it. I think it’s very sad: I didn’t know that music dealing with purity, ethereal feelings, spirituality and true emotions was reserved to girls. People who think Alcest does “girl music” don’t understand anything about the project.
Metal in general is 100% testosterone, but Black Metal is definitely a genre that opens up to the feminine side: I refer to universal female principles such as Shakti or Kali, not to mention the Great Mother in shamanism. It is a much more profound way to perceive the universe…
Yes, but also feminine figures were always great source of inspiration for artists. As for Alcest, most of the characters present in the imagery are feminine; it’s a part of my inspiration and aesthetics. I think feminine figures in the way I conceive them are noble, ethereal and fascinating.
Talking of BM, the new album confirmed Alcest’s musical identity by maintaining its unique style without major changes. Since “Ecailles de Lune” was released you have been almost constantly on the road, am I wrong in guessing that perhaps most of the new album was written even before you embarked on all the tours?
Yes there are no major changes in Alcest’s music since the beginning of the band, and that was my intention. The new album’s writing started meanwhile we embarked on all that tours. Actually, as soon as Ecailles was recorded I began composing new material. When I am not on tour I compose all the time, that’s what I like the most to do in life. I feel so happy when I find a new melody, a new idea and finally build a song from it. It’s a magical process.
If you do compose while on the road, do you find it a different experience compared to the creative processes you use at home? Perhaps you had more interaction with your band members creatively speaking, since you were in such close proximity?
I have never really composed while touring until now. As I usually say, touring for me is the moment I feel the least close to my own world. It’s the most down-to-earth context for me because we are always in different cities/countries, focusing on practical things, always surrounded by people. It’s not the kind of conditions I like for composing music.
You mentioned in our first interview that you had a very different sound in mind for Alcest, something much closer to the transcendence of Dead Can Dance, and I found a hint of that in the angelic chorus in “Beings of Light”. Is this still the direction you wish to pursue musically and are you already planning for the next release?
I don’t know if I will go as far as doing something more neo-classical in the vein of Dead Can Dance or the “Beings of light” intro, but for sure the next Alcest release will be less “metal”, I daresay. I want to do something more spontaneous and change my composing habits.
At some point in the future, do you envisage your Black Metal roots becoming more and more diluted until they might disappear altogether, should you find a better way to express certain soaring, intense emotions?
I don’t think they can totally disappear but they could become really diluted, yes. From now on I want to explore other ways of expression than the “metal” ones. Distorted guitars and heavy drums do not necessarily bring intense emotions to the listener. The last band that made me feel really intense emotions has been Slowdive, and their music is really soft I think.
You have a very strong connection with 80s and 90s British alternative rock: can you trace a short story of your connections with the great traditions of British music, from shoegaze to 4AD, and name the bands that have really marked you both spiritually and as an artist?
I think my first connections with British music were The Cure and Dead Can Dance at the time I composed “Le Secret” (between 2001 and 2003). Then in 2005 I think I discovered Joy Division and new wave/post-punk bands that gave me a lot of inspiration for Amesoeurs, my previous side project. In 2007, just after having recorded “Souvenirs…” for Alcest I discovered Slowdive and other shoegaze bands like M83. Slowdive has quickly become one of my favourite bands. And my latest discoveries in the last two years were Cocteau Twins and The Chameleons, two great bands as well.
As a fan of The Jesus & Mary Chain for example, or of a gloomy and dense album like “Seventeen Seconds” by The Cure, I was always going to find Black Metal’s dark fuzziness and existential/cosmic drama appealing. It is sad that some people have such compartmental views in life that fail to see the connections and logical progression through music genres, even if they appear to be so distant…
Yes I agree, but seems that more and more people are able to see these links and listening to both black metal and dark/indie rock. Many bands are having influences of both genres, Solstafir, Deafheaven, Les Discrets, etc… Frontiers between music genres are more blurry nowadays, and in my opinion that’s an excellent thing.
Do you find that your fans have a broader knowledge of music, perhaps they listen to a lot of rock as well as black metal?
Yes Alcest fans are very loyal with us and generally open minded in terms of music. Many of them listen to post-rock, avant-garde/indie stuff
Looking at the future, Alcest has literally exploded at an international level in the last year, and the new album has been one of the most awaited New Year releases. It seems that you are consciously trying to reach a larger audience beyond the BM crowd, and rightly so, as Alcest can be appreciated by a wider cross-section of music fans: what kind of aesthetic choices are you making to branch out (I refer to the new video and promo photos)?
Of course we don’t want to reach only BM audience, because I think many kind of listeners could appreciate Alcest’s music. We see this phenomenon at our concerts where people from very different kind of scenes come to see us.
I am curious about the Alcest app idea: although I am sure that for some people “modernity” does not fit within the idea of being spiritually centered, I know that, in spite of your Romantic kind of sensibility, you are inspired by urban life too… Do you see Utopia as the perfect balance between technology and spirituality?
Haha there’s not such a deep reflection around the release of that app. Honestly speaking, that was more the idea of our label. They just thought it would be cool for the fans to have really fresh news on their phones and also it’s a good promotional tool.
Are you thinking perhaps of taking Alcest into the mainstream as a way to bring a deeper dimension into that shallow world? Could you eventually become a U2 type of band?
In that domain an artist can’t decide where his music will go, you know. The only reason I want my music to be in larger medias is to spread my universe and my visions. Alcest will never be U2, it’s too much of a personal project. I feel already very surprised by its popularity today, considering how personal it is.
So where is Alcest going with “Les Voyages”, and beyond? Perhaps you are already used to a comfortable life, so do you think you will be immune, as a human being and an artist, to the pitfalls of large-scale success, should you ever achieve it?
I think I was already immune to the pitfalls of large success, as you say, since the beginning of the project because Alcest has totally different goals than most of the other bands. Through Alcest I have a spiritual quest, an ideal, a faraway world and otherworldly feelings to describe. The only good thing about Alcest getting popular would be that many people would be familiar with the universe I am talking about in my music (at least from a musical point of view) and maybe would become interested and more open minded towards esoteric/spiritual subjects.
How are your shyness and insecurity faring with all this success? Have you changed since we met last year?
I have a much different opinion about success. For me it is not necessarily recognition from the outside (though of course I feel glad some people like what I do). It’s more the way I perceive my own work. I am very exigent with myself and the best feeling I can get is the one when I feel totally satisfied with a song I composed. This happened with “Autre Temps”: I think that song has a perfect equilibrium, structure and the right feeling. I love it, I think it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever written. To answer your question, I don’t think success has changed me as a person. The only thing that can change me is the passing of time, being older now and of course not having the same state of mind than when I was 16.
Something I forgot to ask you when we met in Madrid: did you choose the name Alcest from the original Greek tragedy or from Vittorio Alfieri’s 1800s play “Alceste”?
No the name was chosen from a book from Molière called “Le Misanthrope”. There is a character called Alceste, I loved the ethereal sounding of that name and decided to use it. But I removed the final “e” in order to differentiate my band from the character and the book. There isn’t a special meaning about that word but its noble sound fits perfectly with the project’s universe.