Alcest

author EW date 21/04/10

On the evening of 7th April I was invited to the London stop of The Vision Bleak's European tour in support of their new album "Set Sail to Mystery", a tour which had the glorious 'shoegaze' black metallers Alcest in tow for the duration following their release of "Écailles De Lune". With the opportunity to interview Neige of Alcest presented to me I could hardly say no after how much I enjoyed the aforementioned album, and thus I present you the results below.

A live review of the whole show I'm afraid is not possible: the painfully slow entrance into the venue guaranteed my missing of Fen, attention was diverted away from proceedings during Fjoergyn's set and my interview was conducted during the bulk of The Vision Bleak's performance. Alcest however, provided a show worth paying attention to. As it later transpired by the reduced numbers remaining for TVB's headlining set, Alcest were THE draw for the greater majority of London's crowd, a testimony to the esteem with which the band's releases thus far are held. Alcest's music is utterly captivating on record, dreamy and trance-like for prolonged periods only broken up by the occasional jousting of black metal riffs and shrieks to remind us from where they came, feelings that were very much in evidence during this performance. I had prior been worried about how audible the variation in vocals would be in a venue like the Purple Turtle, a feature considerably more important in Alcests' work than most other metal bands, but within a couple of songs we were treated to a collection of tracks that had evidently translated well from the recorded format to the stage. As I later found out in the interview, the inexperience of this band on the stage at this point was evident in the reserved nature in which the whole band performed and interacted with the crowd, often looking as if they had more energy to give if only they knew the means with which to do so. Naturally this will come with time as no band, however artistic the music may be, are going to be the consummate live act on only show no.6, but Alcest showed from this enjoyable performance that those levels will be within their grasp, something that should come as no surprise with a collection of songs like theirs to perform. [7]

And so, shortly after the conclusion of their first ever UK show I sat down with band leader Neige to put my questions to him. Please note: I have tried to transcribe as accurately as possible, but with Neige's strong French accent, some considerable background noise, and my amateur dictaphone it has been difficult to get down everything discussed!

Hello! How are you, Alcest and the tour going so far?
Neige: The tour is going pretty well. The first concert was quite hard for us but the second was good and it gets better and better every night. You can though have a really bad show and then a very good one the next night so you can never know what will happen. Tonight was ok, quite good yes.

RF.net: Were you happy with the turnout tonight?

Neige: Yes the audience was excited. I’ve never played with a metal band in England so I didn’t know what to expect, so it was really really good.

It's early days still of course for "Écailles De Lune" but what receptions have you received for it so far?
Neige: Well, with the first album people either loved it or hated it, but for the new album it’s more in the middle and more good. I don’t know why, if its more mature or what, but I’ve been getting quite good reviews for the new album so far.

How did you approach the writing of "Écailles De Lune" after the critical success that "Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde" was? Did you feel any pressure of any kind?
Neige: The bad reviews from the first album came from more of the ‘true metal’ guys, but for the new album I did have a bit of pressure as I want to improve myself and didn’t want to release a poor album.

RF.net: So it was more of a personal pressure than anything from the label or outside influences?

Neige: Ah no the label gave me no pressure, it was just me as an artist wanting to do the best songs and give a good album y’know as this was most important to me.

Alcest are described primarily as a 'shoegaze black metal' band. Did you come up with this label? What do you think of it? How do you think it fits Alcest's music?
Neige: When I started writing I didn’t listen to any shoegaze however when I finished writing "Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde" people were saying "oh it sounds like you shoegaze, you must listen to My Bloody Valentine, its quite close", so I listened to them and it's good but I didn't know them before Alcest. I am just making my own song, but no, I didn't know about shoegaze but I like it now.

RF.net: So do you think the title fits your music?

Neige: Certainly not.

RF.net: I’m personally new to this 'shoegaze' sound but would you regard Alcest therefore as a BM band, or somewhat existing within their own space?

Neige: I don't care too much about all this y'know; I'm listening to my music that I like but in making Alcest I always try to make the purist sounds I can; the songs that fit most with my inspirations and for me it has nothing to do with black metal. I can understand when people say it is 'metal' as it has electric guitars and a few blastbeats, but who says that is always metal? Other forms of music have those too.

What musical influences have gone into the making of "Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde" and "Écailles De Lune"? I'm especially interested in some of the non-metal/non-BM influences that have enhanced the uniqueness of what you offer.
Neige: The only music-maker that influenced me for the first album was Yann Tiersen, the French composer, who made the music to the movie “Amelie” and at the time I was totally addicted to his work, listening to him all the time. Also Burzum as I love them, and some dark folk but not a huge amount else for the new album.

Do you see Alcest as primarily a studio band, venturing on to the road only occasionally, or are you prepared to take the music wherever and whenever? Do you enjoy touring and/or playing shows?
Neige: I’ve been making Alcest a studio band for about 10 years now but finally I was like "ok, lets do some shows" as I want it and maybe the audience want it too and we’ll see what will happen. I’m playing with a great live band; the guitarist, bassist and drummer, we are all good friends and they are very good musicians.

RF.net: Is this Alcest’s first full proper tour?

Neige: Yes! This is our sixth show.

RF.net: Ah, didn't know you were so new! Do you see the band doing more shows in the future?

Neige: Yes, for sure. I want to play more now that we have started.

[Live bassist Fursy comes and sits down to join the chat].

How much are the lyrics and artwork integral to the Alcest package as compared to the music? Do you regard them with just as great as importance?
Neige: In Alcest it always working together – the lyrics, pictures, the music y’know? The music is not more important than the image or the lyrics, it’s the whole art. It may sound pretentious but the music is an audible representation of my universe.

RF.net: I believe this is evidenced as the album cover is brilliant, very beautiful and different to the norm…

Fursy: I made it!

RF.net: Ha, I didn’t know, congratulations on that!

I was surprised to see live earlier your guitarist handling much of the clean vocals, but in the studio it is you handling all the vocals and instruments yourself right?
Neige: In the studio it is just the drummer and myself but all the rest is done by; guitars, vocals, bass.

RF.net: Your fragile and delicate vocals covering much of "Écailles De Lune" are in contrast to what is usually heard in metal; BM relies on demonic shrieking and metal in general vocals of strength and power. Were you consciously aware of this divergence from the norm when slowly creating Alcest?

Neige: I wanted to express a special feeling within me with these vocals. One of the most important aspects with Alcest is I am singing clean over melodic riffs as it is just something I feel I should do instead of going with what might be expected from them.

RF.net: Has there been any negative feedback with regards how clean the vocals are for the majority of the records or do you feel that’s what people enjoy about the music?

Neige: This is the element surprising people the most. Many metal bands are singing clean but perhaps its more the riffs that are heavier, but I don’t think people are surprised on "Écailles De Lune" like they were on the first album.

Fursy: I think people have been asking for it more since the first record, as when we are playing live the harsh vocal songs people are happy but its also a way to express what we want as well in the songs.

I don't speak French you'll be sorry to hear so could you please explain a little behind the lyrical topics, concepts and emotions covered in your songs?
Neige: Ok this is a difficult question! Alcest is about life before life cos I believe in life before, and after, life. When I was a child I had some visions, of things that ‘aren’t here’, I think you might say, and things you can’t hear. From my birth to ages 11/12 I used to have these visions and finally when I was making music, making black metal, I had something inside to express and share with people even if they can’t understand what I’m talking about.

RF.net: It’s very personal topics I take it then…

Neige: Very personal, but seeing as I can’t share with it people in real life I am writing music about it to get it across.

Where do you wish to take Alcest in years to come? More touring and festival perhaps? Albums on a frequent basis?
Neige: I'm not sure about an album every year but I will do it as long as I can, as long as I have motivation to make great music and not release shit y'know. I don't to make a copy of either album, I want to propose new ideas that will allow this concept to air. It's very important for me to give my best and to take my time.

Thanks for your time and the enjoyable show tonight. Do you wish to add anything further?
Neige: I hope that the people who were here tonight enjoyed the show cos we did and I hope the sound wasn’t too bad and that we will be back!

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