Terrorizer Explores The Ever Evolving Sound Of Alcest

By on 9 June 2014

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Now that we’ve all had a few months to get our heads around Alcest‘s sumptuously textured new album ‘Shelter’, we thought this would be a fine time to catch up with the band again. Joy Shannon sat down with band leader Neige to discuss the public’s reaction to the record and the spiritual concepts behind the band, and discovered that he’s already writing for Alcest’s next album…

It’s funny how we  classify music: no sooner do we create a name for a genre, then the bands who pioneered the genre often evolve into something else. And, sometimes simultaneously, music fans can seem at odds with some of their favourite bands, nostalgically wanting them to keep creating the music that originally caused them to fall in love with the band. Yet, if these bands continued to make the same music again and again, fans would complain of the uninspired predictability.

Music to me is like the way it is described by J. R. R. Tolkien in ‘The Silmarillion’, some is “loud, and vain, and endlessly repeated”, while other music is “deep and wide and beautiful” and endlessly evolving to new melodic heights. The real pioneering musicians are often difficult to classify because they continually strive to evolve and grow as artists, always exploring new sounds in attempts to, as Neige from Alcest puts it, “for a few seconds, touch the divine”.

Alcest is one of those bands which defies classification. They have continued to evolve since their conception, from black metal to shoegaze. With their last album ‘Shelter’, they made their greatest stylistic leap away from metal yet. While the ethereal atmosphere of their last album ‘Les Voyages de L’Âme’ still retained some metal influences, ‘Shelter’ finds the band fully immersed in a idealistic and idyllic dream-­pop sound. Neige, the multi­ instrumentalist and visionary behind Alcest, calls ‘Shelter’ his “holiday album” which he created “as a music fan.” Recorded at Sundlaugin Studio in Iceland with Sigur Rós producer Birgir Jón Birgisson, the album captures a real joy in the creation of music, which seems to have come as a relief to Neige who expressed that “everything was so serious about Alcest before ‘Shelter'”.

Just as the new direction of ‘Shelter’ was already being conceived during the recording process of Alcest’s previous album, Neige already began writing his next album during the ‘Shelter’ sessions. Stating that every album is a “reaction to the previous one”, Neige revealed that the follow up to ‘Shelter’ will be “more powerful and less ambient… very epic and very tribal”. Additionally, he plans to include Celtic and Japanese musical influences, as well as bringing in outside musicians with which to collaborate.

Neige expressed that he is always trying “improve (their) sound and get closer and closer to the goal” that the band set “since the beginning”. The ultimate goal for Alcest seems to be to constantly creating music about what Neige says is “all that you cannot see with your eyes… these other layers that you cannot see or you cannot describe with words, but you can reach them sometimes… when you make music”.  Regardless of whatever sounds Alcest comes out with next, we can trust that they will always be pushing themselves to create something new and, once again, defying categorization.

When I recently sat down to have a conversation with Neige, I discovered one of the most peaceful, thoughtful and grounded people I have ever met. With a genuine openness, Neige discussed the reception of ‘Shelter’, his songwriting process and the spiritual concepts behind the band. Coming from my own spiritual point of view on making music, I found a kindred spirit in Neige…

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I know you expressed some concern about how ‘Shelter’ was going to be received since it was such a shift sound­wise… Now that it’s been a decent amount of time since the album has come out, how has the album ultimately been received?
Neige: “I don’t know. I think it’s still too early to speak about it. The first things that we noticed were that we kind of lost a lot of fans with this album but we also had a lot of new ones. It’s more or less what we were expecting. I tend to be very pessimistic, and I don’t hope that much because I don’t want to be disappointed. I think I was expecting something like that,­ really bad reviews and really good reviews. There is a constant challenge making music. I always (feel) naked when I make a record. It’s always very personal. So, of course, you cannot please everyone.”

Have you ever had the feeling that you want to create a sound that you have limitations to be able to produce?
Neige: “Yeah of course. I am not that much into recording techniques. I am quite old school when it comes to making music. I spend most of my time just playing guitar. I just record myself using my cell phone. I am not very comfortable with technique and I always imagine way bigger things than how it comes (out) in the end. That’s the beauty of art, in a way, because you are never satisfied. You just keep on doing what you do. It’s like when My Bloody Valentine released ‘Loveless’, Kevin Shields was so happy with this album that he didn’t feel like doing music for twenty years. I feel like that’s a bit sad because it’s always good to improve your sound and get closer and closer to the goal you have (had) since the beginning. I feel that’s my case. I am never satisfied with anything, so that’s why I am always doing more.”

Yes, you’re constantly writing. You came up with the ideas for ‘Shelter’ while recording ‘Les Voyages de L’Âme’ and now you’re already writing the next album?
Neige: “Yeah, I started writing it when I was recording ‘Shelter’. I am always working.”

So, does the next album come about from what you are discovering the limitations of the current album are?
Neige: “Yeah, I would say that every album I do is kind of a reaction to the previous one.  When I recorded the first one, it was very, very bright and very pure and child­like. The second one was darker and more sad. And the one after was coming back to the light again. It’s always a reaction to the previous work. So the next (album) is going to be way more powerful and less ambient. ‘Shelter’ for me was a very ambient record, and I like it a lot but I don’t want to repeat myself, ever.”

I’ve heard that there are going to be more drums and a more epic sound on the next album.
Neige: “Yeah it’ll be very epic and very tribal (with) a lot of Celtic influences as well (and) some Japanese music too. For me, the album that was the most fun to make was ‘Shelter’, but maybe it’s the least personal album. For this next record, I want it to sound like nothing else. It will be very, very personal.”

What made ‘Shelter’ so fun in the recording and writing?
Neige: “I would say that ‘Shelter’ was my holiday album. Everything was so serious about Alcest before ‘Shelter’. Everything was so dramatic and I had to do this project to express my visions. ‘Shelter’ was more the album I did as a music fan. I just wanted, for once, to have a lot of pleasure in composing and recording. You know, Alcest is not the kind of music I would necessarily like to listen to.  I just have to do it. Almost like a duty, you know.”

I understand that.
Neige: “Maybe if I was outside of Alcest, I wouldn’t like the band. It’s just that, it’s (the music that comes to) me in a spontaneous way. And ‘Shelter’ was more like something a bit more connected to my real life instead of this other world.”

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Is it OK for me to ask about the spiritual concepts about the band?
Neige: “Yes, that’s fine. You know, when I started the band it was not easy to speak about all that and find the right words, but now I am kind of used to it, so it is getting a bit better. With this kind of subject, it’s very hard to translate into words… at least for me. I understand that. That’s why you make music about it. That’s why I make music. (laughs)”

When I first started thinking about writing questions for you, I had trouble because I can feel a lot from your music that is very hard to put into words. I have read about how you saw visions as a child of a sort of “in between” incarnation place which was filled with universal love and that was the original inspiration behind you making music.
Neige: “Yes.”

I have to preface these questions with that I saw similar visions as a child which were the original reason why I started writing music as well.
Neige: “So you can understand. You know, everything is in the music and if you choose to know even more, you can have the words. You know, everything is in French, so you have to find decent translations. It’s not always easy. I think it’s going beyond the language, this kind of subject and this kind of music. I also use a lot of invented words, like on the song ‘Délivrance’, it’s not French, it’s just like “blah blah blah.” You know, the words are setting too many limits and I like sometimes to just sing with the language of the song.”

Do you feel like when you set out in your life, after having those visions you had as a child, that it gave you a sense of urgency or purpose to do music with your life?
Neige: “Yeah. I think when I realized that I could make music from these experiences I was like “wow, you really have to do it.” Having such a thing inside me, I think that I have to show it. It’s something that is very special and I didn’t decide anything. I didn’t choose to have it. I was born with it. And I thought, if you are born with it, maybe it’s because you have to show it to other people. I wouldn’t call it a mission, because it’s very pretentious and too dramatic. But it is something I have to do, in every cell of my body and every thought that I have. It’s stronger than me.”

I understand. I feel the same way about my music and I don’t often share that feeling with others, because I don’t want to sound like a missionary.
Neige: “Yeah I am not like a prophet. I am not defending anything or preaching anything. I do it for myself and if people like it, it’s great. If they don’t like it, it’s great too.”

I think that reflects in our society how spirituality has been warped, perhaps by religion, to become these different doctrines. Because, I feel, in essence, pure spirituality is just being yourself and being your pure essence and sharing it with the world, and therefore inspiring others to be themselves and share themselves purely with the world… which doesn’t involve judgement.
Neige: “Spirituality can be many things. I think that if there is a god, I don’t think he wants to judge anyone or anything. He didn’t create the world and humans then to judge them. It doesn’t seem right to me. I think that the representation of god that we have nowadays, it’s very human. It’s full of human concepts and things related to history… very concrete things. For me this is not real spirituality. For me, spirituality is something you don’t necessarily learn in books. I think it’s way more instinctive.

Yeah, it’s something you feel in those moments of quiet, in yourself. It’s felt in a naive, innocent way, without any preconceived notions of what you’re supposed to feel or be, like what culture tells you. This might be why we can feel it when we’re children.
Neige: “Yeah.”

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What do you do for yourself to ignore all these outside influences, as best as you can, when you’re writing your music?
Neige: “When I am writing the music, I try to be as close as possible to my own essence. As you said, I like this word­ essence­ because I think everyone shares more or less the same essence, but sometimes you kind of lose it or you kind of forget it. It’s important to keep connected with that. Alcest is about all that you cannot see with your eyes. For me, this is one layer among may be one thousand other layers. Alcest is connected with these other layers that you cannot see or you cannot describe with words, but you can reach them sometimes and then you can use this connection when you make music. That’s what I am trying to do.”

When you’re in the writing process, how do you get back to connecting to these spiritual layers? Do you isolate yourself or go back to nature? What is your process?
Neige: “I wish I could go back to nature and isolate myself, but I live in Paris in the city centre. It’s always very busy and I have a lot friends who want to see me when I come back from tours. It’s full of distractions. I don’t do any rituals or anything like that. I am at home with my guitar and I play around for 2, 3, 4, 5 hours sometimes. Sometimes, I don’t find anything I like and sometimes I compose one full song. There are no rules in making music. I have one trick. You have this inner voice; this little voice that tells you this is right. When this voice is (affirmative), I know I am in a good way. If I have a single doubt, it means that it is not right.  So I don’t keep anything that I am not 100% sure of. That’s what I call the connection. This instinctive thing that tells you this is right.

I have the same thing. I call it my intuition or my inner knowing. It’s my connection to…
Neige: “Something. (laughs)”

Yes. (laughs) That’s how I write music too.
Neige: “I am sure a lot of people are connected to the same thing. Music and art are about transcending reality. This is true for almost everybody that is making music. We make music to, for a few seconds, touch the divine. There is not only Alcest who do this. Most musicians have a special connection with something else.”

WORDS: Joy Shannon

‘Shelter’ is out now via Prophecy Productions.

You can find Alcest on Facebook.

About Kez Whelan

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