A month before their second album’s release, we spent a moment with Zeal & Ardor’s headmaster Manuel Gagneux. A nice guy to talk with!
Welcome back in Paris! First, how are you and how do you feel about the release of “Stranger Fruit“?
Manuel Gagneux (vocals/guitar): I’m fine thank you! I’m kind of impatient because the album has been finished for so long now so I’m like: “Let’s fucking release it!”. (laughs) The album has been recorded between last January and last march. But most of the songs were written for so long. Our first album is only 20 minutes last so for the shows, we had to add songs to last longer than 20 minutes and don’t make people angry! (laughs)
Yeah, let’s talk about your last tour a bit. The fact that your first record was a huge success that happened pretty quickly and was a bit unpredictable, you had to play a lot of shows but sometimes in some weird places. How was it to don’t have the same comfort every time that you played?
Manuel: It’s good because you have to be good! It’s a good challenge. For example, we played two or three times with sunlight, at Reading and Leeds Festival and the Best Kept Secret Festival also. It was nice because it wasn’t the typical metal audience or a rock audience. It’s a good challenge.
When you had to write new songs for your shows, did you already know that those songs were about to finish on the second album?
Manuel: No! I didn’t think about that. But, when we played those songs, they worked so well that I figured “why not!”. I think the record is 60% of those songs and 40% of newer songs. But the main idea behind the record came before the songs. It was important to me to make an album and not like a collection of some songs together. I really wanted to expend my universe. I tried to make the new record a bit more intricate and a bit more broad.
Yes, we felt like you made your choices way more radical for this new record. Like it’s the same spirit as the first one, but way deeper.
Manuel: Yes, it was very important to me to take more time to think about what I really wanted to do. With the help of Kurt Ballou it was like I had new ears to think about my music. I thought that if I had to take my time to make a better product, I had to do it this way.
Finally the album is more poppy and more extreme than the first one in the same time.
Manuel: Yeah ! I wanted the tentacles to go in both directions! (laughs) I think that the pop stuff is way more easy listening stuff if the arsh stuff is more extreme. They worked together in a weird way. It’s something I tried to show with the two singles out for now. “Gravedigger’s Chant” is really easy listening when “Waste” is way more black metal. I really wanted to surprise people with those songs. I think that people who liked the first record was waiting for a first single very metal so I chose this song which is a little “fuck you”! (laughs) And for the people who discover our band with a soft song, when they’re going to check the second single and wait for something cool, it’s a very arsh song! (laughs)
Is your label gives you a total freedom about your choices?
Manuel: Yeah man, total freedom. This is what they got to do! They’re like: “We don’t know what you want to do, but you know what to do, so just do it!” and I’m really lucky that they think like that.
Have you ever thought about going independent with you music? Especially after your first record?
Manuel: Yeah but I thought: “How far can I go all alone?” and I noticed that I’m not a really good producer. I think I can record a decent album but, now that I have worked with guys like Kurt Ballou, I’m sure that I couldn’t record a better album than the first one. So I thought, let’s be honest, you can’t do this without some help.
Did you work with Ballou because you’re a Converge’s fan?
Manuel: I really love the way he is mixing, especially the drums sound. So I thought about my favourite drums sound, this is Kverlertak and I asked: “Who did this? Oh yes, this is fucking Kurt Ballou”. (laughs) So I asked him, and he said yes!
The official released of your first record was at the beginning of 2017. So you chose to release your second one very quickly after the first one. Why this choice?
Manuel: I don’t know man, it was finished, that’s it! Why do we have to sit on something finished? When you’re an artist, the only thing you want is to write new songs and release them!
It feels like the cycle album – tour for one and half year – new album two years after the last one is about to fall down. Bands are releasing music more often now. Do you think about following this kind of process?
Manuel: To be honest no. Of course today, in the music industry, bands are more releasing singles then albums but I don’t want to follow that. As long as I will have the possibility to make full albums, I will do it!
How do you feel about bringing black music into the metal universe?
Manuel: Fine I guess. The bad thing would be to say that it’s weird or special. It’s just more music in a weird little corner. The funny thing when we played in the USA, we played in New York in this very famous club called Saint Vitus. The audience was so mixed. White or black people, young people, old people, metalheads, normal guys, freaks. It’s a shared audience, so I think it’s a very good thing.
Things like Black Lives Matter or, more generally, all the things happening around the black community, especially in the USA, are they things that you want to talk about in your music?
Manuel: Yeah, I think this is very present in my music. This is why the album is called “Stranger Fruit”. This is a reference to “Strange Fruit”, which is a song by Billie Holliday. She sings: “strange fruits hanging from the trees” but she means “dead people hanging from the trees”. It’s not something that is very spelled out but if you check the lyrics, you can see some things about it.
We can feel the black culture through your music and it’s a pretty rare thing in metal music. In your opinion, why the black culture is so poorly represented in the metal scene?
Manuel: I think it has to do with the number of black people in the metal community. Metal is mostly a music played by white people so, it’s kind of logical that they don’t talk about Black Lives Matter or things like that. It would be kind of weird if they went to do that. But it’s something that I want to do with my music. But to be honest, I mostly want that my music would be great. You can have a great message but if your music is shit, your message would be shit too.
Have you always wanted to talk about those kind of subjects in your music?
Manuel: It’s something that came in the last couple of years. Especially with what happen in the USA right now. With the kind of music I make, I’d feel dumb if I didn’t acknowledge it.
How do you feel about playing sometimes with black metal bands, or the day after with electro hipster bands?
Manuel: I think it’s beautiful. If you’re in a scene and you never play outside, you don’t get the chance to see how all the people react to your music. It’s amazing because in the same year, we’re going to play at Les Eurockéennes and at Hellfest. We’re going to face so many different reactions, it’s very cool. Maybe it’s very safe if you only play metal festivals. But, if you play electro festival, people don’t expect you so it keeps you alive in a way.
Have you ever noticed people seeing you live but didn’t know you before and being really surprised by what you’re playing?
Manuel: Yes! It was at the Best Kept Secret Festival and people didn’t know us. Radiohead was the headliner so we played in front of music fans but not hard music fans. So, we start playing in front of some guys who were curious and at the end of the show, there were a full crowd in front of us, it was amazing.
It feels like the video for “Gravedigger’s Chant” is the first of a cycle.
Manuel: Yes. The thing is, making videos is fucking expensive man. I carry a lot about getting all the people around payed before me. All the technicians, the other band members, they get money and I don’t. So, to make another video we have to wait to earn enough money with the project.
To finish, our website is called “RockUrLife”, so what rocks your life?
Manuel: Coffee. Coffee rocks my life. This is the only reason I’m alive, the only reason I create.