A few weeks ago, RockUrLife met Manuel Gagneux, creator of Zeal And Ardor, a new musical project ingeniously mixing black metal and African-American music.
Zeal And Ardor’s first album, “Devil Is Fine“, will be officially released in a month now. How are you feeling?
Manuel Gagneux: I’m really excited. It’s strange how this has been building up to this. I can’t wait for it to keep going.
The process has already started, right? Your album was available online a few months ago, but now that you signed with MVKA, it has an official release date. How did all of that happen?
Manuel: Yeah, a guy that works with me figured out that MVKA were interested, and they called up. It was a very surreal situation, hearing a guy saying “hey I’m from a label and we want to sign you”. That’s just how it happened. They heard me on the Internet like a lot of people did.
Your album went quite viral online, indeed. We guess you didn’t expect that?
Manuel: No! I put it up on Bandcamp thinking maybe my mom would buy it or something. And then this journalist called Kim Kelly (ed. from “Noisey”) wrote about it, so a lot of people reacted to that, and then there was an article in the Rolling Stone magazine, and that’s when I realised this is not a joke anymore. (laughs) I just wanted to make music that I liked, and I didn’t even know that other people would like it. So it’s all very surprising to me, that it came to this point. That I’m here answering questions. It’s bizarre. (laughs)
Obvious question: how did you get the idea of mixing these music styles together?
Manuel: I was working on another project called Birdmask and I was… Not frustrated but a little bit tired of it. And then I went on this website called 4chan, where I usually got feedback for music. I asked them if they could name music genres. They would name two and I would make a song out of it in 30 minutes. And one day a guy said “black metal” and another one said “n***** music”. I didn’t do it then because I was a little bit… Maybe pissed off or, I don’t know, insulted. But that idea stuck with me and I kept experimenting with it.
Do you think those two genres have anything in common, or not at all?
Manuel: Not musically, no. But I think the people who make them do. Christianity was imposed on the American slaves, and also on the Norwegians. Those regions are bound in an interesting way I think.
Religion is still a very big deal in society nowadays. Do you want to fight against it?
Manuel: I think I just want to highlight that it’s all the same shit everywhere. (laughs)
Do you think it’s going to change someday?
Manuel: I hope so! “Think so” is a different thing, but I certainly hope so. (laughs)
There’s this satanic theme through the whole record. Does it have anything to do with your own beliefs, or is it more like a political statement?
Manuel: It’s pretty much like for the Norwegians. It wasn’t about satanism, but about pushing away the christianity. And it’s kind of the same for me. So yeah, it’s more like a political statement than about satanism itself.
Aside from those two main genres, we can definitely hear a lot of different influences (electronic sounds in “Sacrilegium I”, for example). Was it something you wanted to incorporate in your record, or did you just come up with this while composing?
Manuel: That was something I was working on for a while, just playing music I guess. And then I figured it’s another kind of sacrilege, to have electronic things on a rock or a metal album. That’s sacrilegious in itself. So yeah, there was this thought behind that.
The metal scene can be very closed regarding this kind of mix, there are a lot of metal “purists”. But it actually worked in your favor!
Manuel: Yes it did! But now there’s this weird synthwave movement, and black metal fans are going to these electronic concerts. So I think there’s like a small shift happening in the open-mindedness of these people. That’s very welcoming.
Do you like synthwave? I guess you listen to a lot of different things.
Manuel: Oh yeah. I love Perturbator, which is one of those guys. Actually we’re going to do something together soon. I can’t tell you more about it, but it’s exciting.
Do you have more collaborations or projects in mind ? Anything you’d like to do in the future?
Manuel: I’d like to have a really good tour first, with great live shows. I really love going to concerts, and I think there’s something special about seeing a band or an artist you like live. It’s always different, and sometimes it has a certain magic to it. And I have to chase that magic.
You posted on your Twitter that you went to see Gojira live recently, how was it?
Manuel: It was fantastic! I got to meet up with the guys. Their album “Magma” is amazing. And just to be able to talk to the people who made it and see them live… It was fantastic.
What will your live shows be like? Are you planning on having a live band?
Manuel: Yes I actually have musicians with me. We’re rehearsing now, like crazy. It’s five other people. A bass, guitar, drums, and two backing vocalists for the singing parts. And yeah, it’s gonna be pretty good I think!
Anything in mind for the scenography yet?
Manuel: Yeah, we have a light concept and also props, thing that we can use in the show. That’ll be pretty exciting.
Do you feel like you want to build your own universe not only through music, but through visual work as well?
Manuel: I think it’s a really big part of it. I’m a huge fan of Tom Waits for instance, because when I listen to his music I have images in my head, like sad towns and stuff. And I’d love to be able to create something like that. So the visual component of it is always in my head, and now I get to actually reproduce it in the world, so it’s super great.
We can already see the video for “Devil Is Fine”. How was it created? Were you involved in making it?
Manuel: It’s actually a very random story. My manager lives with the director of the video. And he didn’t know he was a director, and someday they were doing laundry, I think they were kind of drunk and one of them asked like “what do you do?” and that’s how he found out. So then I met up with the guy, he’s called Samuel Morris, and I also met his friend Fabio Tozzo who made the direction of photography. Then we had a meeting about the concept of the video, and then we went filming. I’m so impressed with the filmwork, that’s so much work. All I did was make the sandwiches for the crew. (laughs) And they weren’t even good sandwiches. It’s pretty sad. (laughs)
Did you have an idea of what you wanted or just told them to do whatever they liked?
Manuel: It was like a collaboration. I can’t say that I co-directed, because I don’t know shit about making movies, but I gave a few guidelines.
What’s your creative process?
Manuel: The first step is always to drink a lot of coffee. And I just see where it goes from there. Often I would start with the chants, so I start screaming random satanic shit. My neighbours don’t really love that. (laughs) And then it just expands from there. But I don’t have any goals in particular, because in my experience when I do I never achieve that, and it always sounds different in the end.
You write, play and basically do everything yourself. Isn’t that a lot of work?
Manuel: It’s not that much actually. I can do it all in my underwear if I want to. It’s a good situation to be in.
What’s the hardest part of it?
Manuel: I guess mixing, and the actual production of songs. I mean, people study that stuff. I just try it. (laughs)
Any idea of what your future will be or sound like?
Manuel: Not really. I know I’ll go recording in fall, but I have no idea what it’s gonna sound like. (laughs) I mean, I’m writing songs but I don’t know if they’ll make the cut.
Do you plan on playing new songs live?
Manuel: Absolutely. The album is only 20 minutes long, and if we’re gonna go play shows, we can’t just do a 20 minutes set! People would kill us.
What usually inspires you while writing songs, aside from the concept you developed?
Manuel: Mostly books and comics. It’s hard to say what inspires you actually. I could name a couple of cool bands, but in the end it can be an advertisment or something that’s stuck in my head and that I’m subconsciously reproducing. So it’s hard to say. But yeah books are a definitely huge inspiration, that’s for sure.
What kind of books?
Manuel: James Joyce’s stuff. Tom Robbins too. And then different comics, like tons of them. “Transmetropolitan”, “Saga”, “Fables”.
You seem to like a lot of different forms of art, would you like to explore them yourself? Do you write and/or draw?
Manuel: I write and I draw a lot but I don’t think people would give a shit about it. (laughs) For me it’s just about getting rid of the thoughts inside, but not showing to people. And to me that’s very satisfying. Making new music makes me so excited and so happy. After a day of writing and recording, I’m smiling.
Last question: our webzine is called “RockUrLife”, so simple one what rocks your life?
Manuel: I guess life itself. Because you can’t really choose what influences you, or what drives you. It’s always passive I think. So every weird thing that happens, whether it’s an awesome piece of broccoli or music, or whatever. Everything rocks my life.