FROM DREAM KINGDOMS TO METRO TUNNELS: ALCEST / AMESOEURS

Issue number four (2007) marked the point of changes and evolving. The most visible thing was the size: from a bit amateurish A5 this zine grew to the glorious A4 (with a fever red cover!) and there hasn’t been any reason to look back after that. Also the contents were one of the most successful in the history of Kaleidoscope: enough variance, enough questions, enough familiarization. The only thing I regret is the use of K. Rajala’s material (interviews with Grippiud and Blasphemophager) in this particular issue. They both are good inties but in a wrong environment.

For me the most personal and emotional interview was the phone conversation with Current 93’s David Tibet, although my idea him as a mystic or a philosopher was a bit extravagant – Tibet was just an ordinary man and musician who talked about cats and children. Therefore a part of my questions were targeted to a wrong direction. Still, the whole process was very nice and sympathetic, and it is a pleasure and privilege to see Current 93 finally performing here in Finland on the 18th of March.

Other good interviews were the ones with Hypothermia and Ride For Revenge, and also the more or less improvised face-to-face meet with Primordial’s A.A. Nemtheanga worked well. Also this Alcest/Amesoeurs interview goes to this better part of the issue. Both bands had released only their promising EP’s (Le Secret by Alcest and Ruines Humaines by Amesoeurs) so far, but I think these little creatures are the strongest efforts from the both. Also their debut albums are definitely striking pieces of art, but I just can’t forget the impact of Le Secret’s dream-like atmosphere or Ruines Humaines’s heart striking emotion blasts. The first strike is always deadly…

(translated by Noel Benoit)

If someone had a musical Midas touch, it would be Neige. The artist who has made his career in bands like Mortifera and Peste Noire has also two very important and more personal bands which both are making waves in these days: Alcest and Amesoeurs. These two entities can be considered as different sides of a same mind – how a modern man is shackled to this rotten society but still his heart pounds for nature and freedom.

However, maybe the best way to start this chat is to give Neige an opportunity to introduce these two bands to us in your own words.

- Alcest is a solo project that I created back in 1999/2000: the first demo was traditional black metal but once it got released, Alcest’s style had already changed. Since then, it has been more like esoteric, ethereal and nostalgic music based on what could be “memories” of former lives.

- As far as Amesoeurs is concerned, it’s a new wave/post-punk band created in 2004 with the following line-up: Audrey Sylvain, Winterhalter, Fursy Teissier (who is back in the band for some time) and myself. Unlike Alcest, this project is very pessimistic. It is based on negative emotions and agonizing urban aesthetics.

I found Alcest when Le Secret was released two years ago, but I didn’t have the demo Tristesse Hivernale (2001) until just last year. As everyone can hear, the leap between these two releases is very wide and progressive. What were your first thoughts and aims when starting Alcest six years ago, and what happened between Tristesse Hivernale and Le Secret?

- At the beginning, I created Alcest because I really loved Black Metal and I wanted to play some. With the help of Famine (Peste Noire), I wrote four tracks with a theme based on winter and the sad feelings this season conveys. In fact, the universe of the “new” Alcest has always been present in me, even back then, and I decided at an early stage that I had to use this project to portray my “memories” into music. I thought (and still do) that it’s very exciting to illustrate through music a place, pictures, sensations and feelings that don’t belong to this world and can’t be described in words.

Although Tristesse Hivernale is a very good demo, Le Secret stands on a level of its own in my opinion. Part of its secret (eh) is that dream-like vision in the songs. Was this your goal when making Le Secret, to get into dreams and beyond?

- Indeed, even though you can’t really talk about “dreams” I guess. To my eyes, pure imagination, the ability of invention, is not the only factor that takes part in (day)dreaming. There’s also a part of mysticism. I think that the great dreamers are kind of mediums. They’re often connected to other realities without knowing it… This is the kind of dreaming that I want Alcest to present to the listener. “Music from another world”…. This sentence is to be understood literally.

How about dreams and dreaming in general: do your dreams play a role as a source of inspiration in any way? People say that dreams are a gateway to one’s subconscious, so how do you see yourself in the light of this?

- My night dreams are grey, sticky and utterly depressing. The same scenario takes place in all of them, more or less. Each time, I have the feeling that I’m lost or abandoned in a hostile environment. It’s really strange, I think I haven’t had a nice dream for years. I use those feelings when I compose for Amesoeurs. On the other hand, the dreams that inspire me for Alcest are daydreams/ visions in which I have the opportunity to feel and catch sight of this fine and radiant “other world” I relate to in my songs.

If Alcest represents abstract and mellow dreamscapes, Amesoeurs is more confined to this world, being very realistic, cold and concrete, in a sad and negative way. Do you get inspiration from different things and sources when comparing Alcest and Amesoeurs, or can these two bands be seen as different sides of the same coin in some cases?

- The sources of inspiration for Alcest and Amesoeurs are not only different but literally opposite. I need these two extremes to reach some kind of balance. To answer your question, they represent the different sides of the same coin. Except for myself and my “guitar riffing”, that some people label as characteristic, there’s no link between these two projects. There is some kind of a “common feeling” in the melodies I create, be they sad or joyful, they are a representation of both my dark and luminous self.

One element which makes Le Secret so outstanding is the clean singing on that first track. Although clean vocals aren’t that rare in Black Metal nowadays, in this case they really take the music to the next level, creating a very innocent and flowing atmosphere. How did you come to this kind of decision? And in general, do you think there is a change in the lyrics / message if you use clean/shrieking vocals?

- On Le Secret, I decided to use clear and ethereal vocals because I think it’s the only type of voice that could match this song. I wanted something soft, motherly and faerical, something that sounds like celestial chants that I had the chance to hear during my “visions”. Elévation is the expression of a mighty desire to leave this earthly life and rise towards other spheres. I wanted to scream the words of this great text, so that they’d be HEARD and would pierce the listener.

- A short digression about clear voices: I read some time ago on the internet that some people say that I’ve been inspired by “shoegaze” bands such as Slowdive or My Bloody Valentine… I’d like to clarify that: at the time I wrote both Le secret and the new album Souvenirs d’un autre monde, I had never listened to these bands, I only listened to black metal, dark/new wave and folk music. Unlike Amesoeurs, which is a project that is openly inspired by new wave, Alcest’s sources of inspiration have never really been musical. I’ve been recently introduced to “shoegaze” by a friend because someone told me it sounded like my music. Obviously, I loved it and I’ve been listening to it a lot since then but Alcest, in its goals and creations, has no link with this.

Let’s consider Alcest’s music from another angle: if Le Secret was a season, I’d say it would be spring, whereas the demo Tristesse Hivernale is closer to winter. Can we say that the seasons and nature have an effect on your music? You said in some interview that you spent your childhood in the countryside, so I guess nature has a big meaning to you?

- First of all, I don’t think Tristesse Hivernale and Le Secret can be compared. It’s as though these two works had been written by two different bands. Tristesse Hivernale is dark music, black metal. Le Secret, despite the opinion of some people, bears nothing depressive. I think that black metal is rich enough to be related to themes such as occultism, the threatening aspect of nature, Satanism, nihilism, fantasy, the anxiety of existence, the negativity of the human mind. But to my eyes, black metal has to evolve in a dark register, always. That’s why, since Le Secret, Alcest does not fall within the scope of this music, it has become something else.

- I guess you’re right. If I had to associate a season with the “new” Alcest, it would be spring, especially the first days when nature comes back to life and reaches its peak of beauty and liveliness. Nature is very important to me as it is a bridge that enables me to make contact with the Kingdom of Alcest. These contacts are not frequent, I had a lot of them during my childhood, but not anymore. However, when I walk in the forest during springtime, when the gentle breeze caresses my face, when the sun rays gleam the leaves of the trees as if they were emeralds, I feel Alcest again and the reasons that led me to create this project are obvious once again, and so are my motives.

Another difference between Alcest and Amesoeurs is that whereas Alcest has its connections to nature, Amesoeurs walks through city streets and metro tunnels, right? So is it all about the environment and people living in that particular environment?

- That’s it, roughly. Except that Alcest is not really connected to nature, not as we know it. That being said, the nature that is described in Alcest tends to look like the nature on earth. It’s just more beautiful, more lively, more luminous. Indeed, as far as Amesoeurs is concerned, “urban landscapes” are an unquestionable source of inspiration, they are the foundation of the project. My vision of the city is totally romantic/fantastic (in the literary meaning of the term). The things that are common to most people are not for me. Each wandering in the city (especially during the night) overwhelms me. It’s as terrifying as it is fascinating. It also makes me dream a lot.

 How about yourself, would you say it is easier to live among humans, in big cities, or would total isolation (a little cabin in the woods, perhaps?) be a better option? Are humans and civilisation, in your opinion, a plague to get rid of or a necessary evil?

- I’ve always lived in the countryside, I really like nature and loneliness. Now that I’ve been living for 20 years in this environment, I’d like to experience a new lifestyle. These past three years, I haven’t met anybody, even my friends for months sometimes. The ideal thing would be to live isolated in the countryside but not too far away from a city so as to be able to go out from time to time.

 If we connect Satan or the dark side of the human mind to the environment, I think the hedonistic and impulsive Lucifer lives in the nature, while the cold, mechanical side of evil chooses neon lights and rusty factories, the plains of existence where morals and human life are swept away to the drain. What do you think about this kind of dualism? Is one better than the other?

- Your conception of evil is very interesting. For example, when you drive at night near a forest listening to black metal, contemplating the landscape that passes by and capturing its atmosphere, you can feel very intense/dark emotions resulting from the relationship between the music and the scenery. On the other hand, sullen urban landscapes, angular and cold as ice, can indeed embody evil. To my eyes, a greyish scenery in ruins embodies loneliness and depression as much as a dead forest for example.

- By the way, I think that the debate between satanic/nihilistic black metal as opposed to the more fantastic black metal such as In the Nightside Eclipse, Bergtatt or Dark Medieval Times is totally futile. Both these aspects of black metal really have their meaning, they both deal with darkness but in ways that are different according to the sensitivity of the listener.

 The “band” picture of yourself on the covers of Le Secret is quite daring in its nakedness. What kind of message does that picture hold? Usually a person wants to get rid of everything, strip him/herself of clothes, social roles and dogmas in order to find his/her true self and reach independence…

- In fact, Alcest represents the deepest part of me, the essence of my spirit, regardless of the social factors and the daily events that built it. Alcest is the core. Amesoeurs’ Neige is another part of me, the one that has been used, frustrated and saddened by the reality of the world we live in.

 Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s famous line was “back to nature”. Would you agree with Rousseau, that the human race should go back to the natural state of society, or is progress a good thing and worth of aspiration?

- Honestly, I don’t know, I am not a philosopher. I would rather be inclined to think that since every human being has different moods, tastes, values and goals, there will always be conflicts and tensions on a small or large scale. The fact that we live in an urban environment or in a state of nature doesn’t change anything and the hope of a harmonious earthly heaven is really stupid.

 Another thing that makes me think you/Alcest are longing for the old days are those little children on the cover of Le Secret. Why did you choose that photograph as the cover art? And what kind of childhood did you have? Was little Neige close to the person that you are today?

- I’ve chosen this picture as a metaphor of Alcest’s Kingdom for these two children convey something unreal, pure and fascinating. They seem to be ageless and kindly deities, like guardians of this world. My childhood was a wonderful time, probably too much so because now that I dwell in the adult world, it’s very difficult for me to reach stability and well-being. Except a few details and the knowledge that I have acquired, I am the same person that I was back then, with the same tastes and interests.

The lyrics of Elevation are taken from Charles Baudelaire. Do you read a lot in your spare time? How about when you write lyrics, do they need a song around them to begin with, or do the lyrics and music walk separate ways at first?

- Baudelaire’s Les fleurs du mal, from which is extracted the poem Elevation, has been my bedside book for a long time. Unfortunately, my reading time has been scarce lately. When I read this poem for the first time, I immediately fell in love with it for Elevation reflects the concept of Alcest for the most part. As for the lyrics, I don’t have a specific method but I used to write them last, after I had finished composing a track. On the other hand, I always write under special circumstances, for example, I like to listen to a song which is related to the nature of the text. I can’t write without background music.

Back to Baudelaire who talked a lot about decadence. What do you think about this ideology: does one need to wallow in filth to purify oneself, to know every sin to know him/herself, or is it better to live in asceticism as a puritan? This kind of dualism can definitely be found in Black Metal nowadays.

- I think it is necessary to experience what you NEED to experience. The attraction towards “vice” varies a lot depending on the individuals. We all have both a negative and a positive side, however, negativity can never disappear if you try to repress it. Indeed, in order to know yourself better, I guess you have to investigate the different aspects of your personality. As for myself, I achieve this through my different projects that are quite different from each other as you’ve noticed.

Besides Amesoeurs and Alcest, you have played in Peste Noire and Mortifera. Usually people want to emphasise different sides of their personality and “soul” with different bands and projects, and if we follow this idea, what different Neiges can we find behind these four bands?

- I still play in Peste Noire and I’ve written a track for the second album that will surprise some people. Indeed, there are “several” sides to Neige. Alcest’s Neige is like the basis of my personality, its essence: a joyful and quiet man who is a reflection of the music. Amesoeurs’ Neige is more of an urban man who is completely lost, sad and anxious, not knowing his goals anymore nor his desires. He doesn’t know himself any longer since he has accumulated a great deal of frustration and unspoken vices. Last but not least, Peste Noire’s Neige is a kind of old, evil and stupid witch whose unbearable stench is equalled only by his ugliness. My urge of animal and primitive regression is embodied by this mix between a cave woman and a fiend. When I play with a band, I need to merge into its concept and aesthetics in order to explore the different aspects of my personality.

The majority of the questions have been about Alcest so far, so let’s concentrate on Amesoeurs for a while. If clean vocals and dream-like atmosphere made Le Secret so special, I find those postpunk/pop elements being the best part of Ruines Humaines. How did this whole band come to life in the first place? Was it hard to combine these raw BM elements and a lighter side of music or was it more like a natural thing to do?

- When we created Amesoeurs in 2004, it was a post-punk band without any black metal influence whatsoever. Both Black Metal titles on Ruines Humaines were written for Mortifera but since my collaboration with Noktu has ended, I decided to use them for Amesoeurs. Basically, these tracks are rather urban black metal so I thought they would totally fit with the song Faibless des sens. To my eyes, the blend of styles on this MCD works fine, it brings a hint of originality to it while it’s coherent conceptually and emotionally (the content remains the same, only the form evolves). On the other hand, even if many could be disappointed, this mix of styles was a one-off thing and our full-length album won’t contain any black metal tracks. Amesoeurs has returned to post-punk from where it originates.

You have said that the one release you’re most proud of is Ruines Humaines, even if you look at your whole personal discography. Why is that? I think that many “real” BM guys will spit on Ruines Humaines, but I guess you don’t care about this?

- I’m proud of this MCD for the simple reason that I’m satisfied with all the stages leading to its release: the writing process, the recording session and the quality of the end result. I reached all my goals with this MCD. The fact that Black Metallers have appreciated Amesoeurs for the most part is kind of weird, I’ve received a lot of support from them. By the same token, I didn’t expect Ruines Humaines to get such good words and reviews, I’m very pleased about that.

EPs are usually interesting pieces of art: every song has to be in its own place, and every note, every word has a more important role if we compare an EP to a 12-song album. What kind of whole Ruines Humaines is, what kind of picture does it paint? Are these three songs playing their own role – at least the last one, Faiblesse Des Sens is definitely a great closing chapter, starting with calm atmosphere and then rising to the cliffs of despair.

- Indeed, the MCD has been thought this way in order to create a short trilogy dealing with a common theme. By the way, the MCD is a concept release to the same extent that Amesoeurs is a concept band. Each song on the MCD and on our forthcoming releases will be linked to each other, they are complementary. The same goes for Alcest. I’ve been told a few times that the MCD is too short. It may well be but I think the music keeps the listener’s attention from the beginning to the end. He is really captivated by each riff. I prefer that the listener buys a CD that he will listen to in its entirety, several times and with a proper attention, rather than listening unfocusedly to an endless album. I want the listener to take possession of the songs, and the songs to eventually become a part of him.

 Would you say it was very different or perhaps harder to work with someone else (I mean Winterhalter and especially Audrey S. in this case) if you compare that to working alone (Alcest)?

- In both cases, there are advantages and drawbacks. The advantage with Alcest for example is that I’m in charge of everything: the composition, the interpretation, the visual aspect, the production, material choices and so on… What seem to be advantages can sometimes become drawbacks. This artistic loneliness is indeed hard to bear in the long run, the energy is scarce. Hopefully, I’m going to have a short break so as to work on the Amesoeurs album. I have to confess that I’m fed up with doing everything by my own lately, I’m tired of it.

Although many metal puritans despise other music genres, I think that you can find the same amount of feeling, sadness, harshness and coldness in every genre, if the songs are done by someone with a pure heart. That’s why I find bands like Joy Division and The Cure as important and effective as the most important metal bands. What kind of history as a listener do you have when it comes to post-punk / melancholic pop music? You dedicate Ruines Humaines to Ian Curtis, which, I think, says a lot…

- You’re totally right. To my eyes, some rock bands can be as depressive as black metal bands, only the ways of expression differ. I invite the sceptics to listen to “one hundred years” or “cold” from The Cure, and they will change their minds in no time. In another style, I don’t know if you’ve heard of the post-punk band Virgin Prunes, their album If I die I die is a pure masterpiece of tribal madness, extravagance and noisy ugliness that eclipses most of the so-called satanic and unwholesome black metal records.

- As far as I’m concerned, I discovered black metal at the age of 13 and I listened to Black Metal exclusively until the age of 16-17. Then, I discovered dark wave through bands like Sopor Aeternus, Dead Can Dance, and finally when I was 18, I discovered new wave, mainly via Depeche Mode, The Sisters Of Mercy, The Cure, Joy Division, Clan Of Xymox, Virgin Prunes.

- The fact that I’ve dedicated Ruines Humaines to Ian Curtis means a lot indeed. Joy Division is the new wave band that had the biggest influence on me for various reasons. This band is hard to appreciate at first, their music is very simple and rich at the same time. Moreover, each musician uses his instrument in a totally unusual way. It took me a couple of years to understand and appreciate their music, now I can’t grow away from it, it’s a part of me on a daily basis. Paradoxically, despite the simple technical skill displayed in their songs, every listen I have is different from the other. I rediscover them again and again. This is the kind of band you have to plunge into, immerse yourself in, read their lyrics, read their biography which is very interesting. Joy Division is a miracle to me, a work of art on every level: musical, visual, lyrical, historical (everyone knows their tragic history). In the band, no one guessed that Ian Curtis was so depressed. He wasn’t the type of man who creates a character and shouts to the world that he’s mad, sick and depressed (this is not an allusion to Black Metal hehehe). The day Joy Division was to leave for an American tour in 1980, he was found hung in his kitchen.

- I see his suicide as the symbol of the occidental ill-being that we relate to in Amesoeurs, the individual that cannot face the complexity of his existence anymore and his difficulty to lead a decent life. Joy Division is fascinating because of this feeling of incompletion too. They stopped their activity at a time their art was at the top with songs such as Atmosphere, Love Will Tear Us Apart, Ceremony, The Eternal or Heart and Soul.

It would be easy to say that Amesoeurs is making statements about today’s civilization. Would you agree? Could we consider Amesoeurs as a band that criticizes today’s world and society? Or would you see yourself more as an observer of things in this wicked world?

- I’d understand if one thought that Amesoeurs is a band which criticizes the modern world, it’s true in some way but it’s not our goal really. Don’t forget that we are musicians and simple observers before all. Obviously, we feel that there is a real ambient ill-being in the occidental world (how can you not feel it?). Despite the so-called comfort of contemporary life, it doesn’t work. However, we are not philosophers and since our knowledge is scarce in this field, we don’t want to suggest a too easy and expected criticism of the society.

Do you think you would’ve been able to make Ruines Humaines or Le Secret about seven years ago? In your opinion, have you grown as a musician/human during these years?

- I think I would have been able to write Le Secret at the time. Like I said, Alcest’s concept has been inside of me since childhood. However, the result wouldn’t have been great. I wouldn’t have been able to write the Ruines Humaines MCD, especially the track Faiblesse des Sens back then, because I didn’t listen to rock music at all.

Both Alcest and Amesoeurs have just begun their journey, so could you shed some light on the future of both bands? I guess new releases are in the works…

- As far as Alcest is concerned, I’m thinking of re-recording Le Secret before I start writing the second album. I don’t know anything about its release though. As for Amesoeurs, we are currently working on our first album and we’ll play live when it will be recorded. Amesoeurs is really a live project, I can’t wait to get on stage.

Thanks for the interview! Any last words?

- It was a very interesting interview. Thank you.

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