The shinny rock from “Shelter” is over, Alcest packs up and moves to the land of the Rising Sun with “Kodama”. If spirituality is still at the heart of the French project, the music itself seems to come back at the very essence of what made Alcest’s identity. RockUrLife met Neige, the band’s mastermind.
If Slowdive was an obvious influence on “Shelter”, with “Kodama“, it’s more difficult to assume what have been your influences, since both atmospheres and structures are diversified. What do you think about it?
Neige: For “Shelter”, it was a period I was listening a lot of shoegaze (Slowdive and bands from the 4AD label such as Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance) and I wanted to treat myself with a very soft and solar record. Regarding “Kodama”, we wanted to make something unclassifiable, even alien, hence the Japanese thematic. Concerning the influences, it takes a bit from everywhere: Smashing Pumpkins, Tool that I discovered two or three years ago, Grimes “Visions” period, The Cure and Dinosaur Jr. for the rawer production.
Regarding “Kodama”, you openly explained that you have been inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s universe and especially his “Princess Mononoke” movie. Are there any other form of arts that inspired you? I am thinking of Japanese literature that is very poetic and quite often related to spirituality.
Neige: I barely know Japanese literature, I have read some haikus here and there and it’s indeed very wise. But it gives me the will to know more about it. “Princess Mononoke” was the starting point of the album but it’s not a record about the movie, it has only been a trigger that has given me the will to take this certain direction.
Talking about the movie, where did this interest in the Kodamas (small creatures in the movie) come from, since they are only secondary in the movie?
Neige: Actually, the Kodamas are first of all creatures from the Japanese folklore, before their apparition in the movie so it’s not really the shape they have in the film that interests me but what they evoke, that is the tree spirit. I think it also builds a link with our previous themes. Beyond this, I like the word “Kodama”, it’s very simple and easy to pronounce. And it’s a Japanese word.
Regarding the cover of the new album, where did the idea to collaborate with Fortifem come from?
Neige: They are friends from Paris and we have known each other for years so I have followed their work for a long time now. I have always been fan of what they do because they mix very old things (engraving, symbolism) with a more popish and coloured oriented approach. They stand out from the other trendy movement to go beyond expectations.
This Japanese influence that represents a sort of guiding principle of the album, isn’t it, in the end, an implicit part of Alcest’s universe, since that spirituality or even the aesthetic of the band is quite close to a country like Japan?
Neige: It’s quite cool that you did notice it. I have always been interested in Japan, since I was a child. I used to love mangas and all this Japanese culture, like a lot of people from my generation and (I can say it has been my first steps into this universe). So I do think that there has always been somehow an influence in Alcest, whether it was the covers or the music. We did two tours in Japan and during the last one, we were doing acoustic concerts in Japanese temples and when we played the song “Sur L’Océan Couleur De Fer”, both the pianist and the violinist from Vampillia joined us to play it. And when the pianist started to adapt the end of the song, at this very moment, I realized that the notes, once transposed with the piano, sounded very Japanese. I did notice it also at the end of “Délivrance”, right before the finale, there is a guitar arpeggio which sounds very Japanese too. So I can say that this Japanese influence has always been here.
The finale of the record, “Onyx”, is a bit puzzling. Can you tell me a bit more regarding this mysterious song?
Neige: For this song, we wanted a very twilight atmosphere, even sort of post-apocalyptic, a bit like a vision of a city where natures got the upper hand on. We wanted to give the feeling of being right in the middle of the earth. Onyx is a black stone. We had Opale on “Shelter” which is a white stone. It is also to underline the difference of tone between the two records. Finally, as an aside, those are the tracks from the first riff of “Je Suis D’Ailleurs” that we recorded on tapes, then slowed-down and reversed.
Is the return of harsh vocals in Alcest something that came on the spur of the moment when writing the songs? How can you explain it?
Neige: It’s exactly this. This record is more dynamic and on the edge than “Shelter” so when music itself requires it, it has to go beyond than the simple use of clean vocals. What is somehow unfair is that I have no facility for singing with my clean voice, I have to work a lot on it. While there is nothing easier for me than to sing with a black metal voice, I am very at ease with that. Sometimes, it’s frustrating because I have the feeling that people are more into the black metal voice than the clean one.
But in the end, it’s more about the fact that people are scared of a change. And Alcest has always been about change and evolution, hasn’t it?
Neige: There is no other way for us. For instance, I have never told myself that I wanted to do another “Ecailles De Lune” even though this record had a great success. We always want to take a new direction, not the opposite one but almost, actually. I need this to stay inspired and, as you said, there will always be people that will never be keen on it.
You will soon be on tour with Mono that are fittingly Japanese. There is quite a big scene of post/post rock/scream (Lite, Toe, Envy) which had hard time becoming famous in Europe. Do you listen to other bands from this country?
Neige: In Tokyo, we had a show with Envy. I don’t know a lot of Japanese bands except Mono (they have always been quite famous in Europe and the USA), Envy and Merzbow, a guy who makes noise music. It’s like the pope of this style, he has tons of pedals on stage and he just makes actual noise. There is also Vampillia, one of the best bands we have ever played with. They are amazing.
It would be a significant question to know if those bands are suitable for Europe?
Neige: Regarding Vampillia, they are a bit crazy. For instance, the singer climbs on a stepladder to throw umbrellas to the crowd. It’s out of control and I don’t know if people in Europe are ready for this. Japanese bands and overall people, when they let themselves go, it can turn really crazy.
Exactly a year before the terrorist attacks in November, Alcest was opening for Opeth at the Bataclan. How did you react to those events?
Neige: I did not realize to what extent it had an impact on me but I realized that, in all the last interviews I have done, I had the will to talk about it every time. It is so weird. I even think it might have had an influence on the album’s sound. I live a few minutes away on foot from the Bataclan and Charlie Hebdo. Luckily, I was not at home that evening, I was partying at my friend’s place, somewhere else in Paris. All of a sudden, someone told us that something had happened and from that moment on, we spent the rest of the evening on our phones, to make sure that our loved ones were fine. We were in shock. It was absolutely dreadful. And you know, it’s a small circle in Paris, everybody knows each other, at least by sight. I think that we will all remember this evening, forever.
You choose Emma Ruth Rundle for your last US tour. How was such a choice made and what memory do you keep of this tour with her? Even though your styles are different, you have a common approach in your way to play music.
Neige: I was actually a fan of Marriages and I liked also what she was doing as a solo musician. We thought of her. Marriages were not available but she, as a solo musician, was. It was kind of a last minute arrangement because we were supposed to have another tour support but they cancelled and the choice of Emma was such an excellent idea. As a person, she is authentic, passionate, and thin-skinned. She is a hypersensitive person. When she is on stage, she cries and lives her passion to the fullest. Even though she tends to live in her own world, we have a lot of things in common and we had a lot of great moments together. She really became a friend.
Few years ago, you were still involved in a lot of side projects (Lantlôs, Old Silver Key but also Glaciation). All those collaborations are over for you. Don’t you miss this? Or are you involved in other musical projects?
Neige: I actually like to make feats here and there. I did some drums for Sylvaine for instance. But regarding the song writing, it is hard for me to do it for other bands because I tend to think that I could keep the ideas for Alcest. (laughs)
And it enables you to focus 100% on Alcest, doesn’t it?
Neige: Yes, exactly. How much I would love to have unlimited time to make a coldwave, electro or other kind of project. But unfortunately, I lack of time. We are touring so much, working every day, never have any holidays. I just received our schedule for the year to come and it seems that we won’t have any free time, we will tour in several continents.
Let’s end up with our traditional question: as we are “RockUrLife”, what rocks the life of Alcest?
Neige: We are old friends and have known each other before we started to play together and we like to eat. When we are on tour, tourism consists in discovering the food and sightseeing, that’s what helps us to keep some energy. (laughs) By the way, we have a release party for “Kodama” on September 30th, at UFO.