Alcest are a band I have been keeping a close eye on since I heard the majestically transcendental, genre-defining “Le Secret” EP a few years ago. Following the release of two subsequent long-players, 2007’s Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde and the recent Écailles De Lune, the genius behind Alcest, Neige, decided to take the band on the road for a tour of Europe and the US. I caught up with the man himself before Wednesday’s excellent show at the Purple Turtle. Here is the interview in full, for a shorter version click here.
You started out as a black metal band with your demo Tristesse Hivernale. Then you made a stylistic change with 2005’s genre-defining “Le Secret” EP. How did that change come about?
Neige: When I started Alcest with Tristesse Hivernale, I was 14 or 15. So, you know, you can’t invent such a complex concept and such a personal universe when you are so young. I just wanted to make “true” black metal, like the bands I was listening to, such as Darkthrone. This fascinated me a lot, and I wanted to do the same, but this didn’t last. Just after the demo came out, I decided to do my own stuff, and to use my own “inner universe” to compose music. And since “Le Secret” its been the same concept, it did not change.
What influenced the sound on “Le Secret”? Was it some stuff you were listening to, or was it a logical progression?
It’s nothing like that. I will have to explain the Alcest concept. When I was a child, I had some flashes, some visions, of a kind of dreamworld. I never really could work out what it was. This continued until my early teenage years. And then, nothing. And this was so strange. I wanted to share this but I couldn’t. People would just say, “You are crazy, you smoked some drugs.” But no, this really happened to me. It was not dream or imagination. I’d be walking down the street, or in the car, and then I would have flashes, you know? Flashes of somewhere else that is not here. And I wanted to make music about it because I needed to express it. So this is how the real Alcest formed. Tristesse Hivernale is not the real Alcest. It’s just black metal.
How do you think Alcest fits into a scene?
I don’t want to please people. People say, “Oh you know, he just copied My Bloody Valentine and shoegaze.” But I didn’t have a fucking clue shoegaze even existed. During the recording of “Le Secret” [in 2005] I was like 16, 17. I was just a metal guy listening to a few dark ambient things like every metal guy. I did not know anything about pop or rock. I was like, “Oh, rock is for gays.” So all these people that say I copied shoegaze… it’s absolutely wrong.
So have you got into shoegaze now?
Yeah, a friend put me onto My Bloody Valentine and I was like, “Wow, this is amazing.” Now I love it.
I think “Solar Song” is the best track on the new album, Écailles De Lune.
Oh really? That’s cool. Nobody likes this song. We will be playing it tonight.
Do you think there is a big difference between the sound of that track and, say, the tracks with more guttural vocals, like “Elévation”?
Absolutely not. It is all major chords, it’s all very luminous stuff. It’s just in “Elévation” I am screaming. For me screaming does not mean “black metal”. It doesn’t mean “darkness”. It’s just a very strong feeling of expression. Anybody can scream—you don’t have to have long hair and patches. These two songs are just… (makes the sound of a small explosion) pure light. The metalheads hate it.
Yep, it's the first step of this genre. Forgotten Woods did some kind of rock black metal in the early 90s.
Burzum even has flashes of 'shoegaziness', especially on Filiosofem
Yeah, that 'wall of guitars' sound… Totally.
Do you like the new Burzum record?
I don't know what to think about it. It is less good than his previous work, but in another way, only he could make this kind of music. It sounds very Burzum - really dissonant riffs - but the voice is not like before.
So how long have you been playing live?
Tonite's show is the seventh in Alcest's history.
How did the other six go?
Some good, some bad. All the good shows were in front of very few people, you know. I've got the bassist of Les Discrets, the guitarist of Zero, and the drummer of Peste Noire and Amesoeurs.
Your new album opens with a 9-minute two-parter, which seems like a collection of riffs and ideas. Was this intended?
No, no, no. For me, even if I play clean guitars or distorted riffs, its the same feeling. I don't see such a big difference. I think the metal riffs and the clean ones evoke the same imagery; very deep blue soundscapes, abysses, oceans, fantastic seascapes.
You had some band members previously.
The first riff on "La Forêt De Cristal", was written by the guitarist of Peste Noire. I recorded every instrument on the demo, except that one riff and a solo at the end, both played by the guy (Aegnor) from Peste Noire.
You still play in Pest Noire?
No, not any more.
Amesoeurs is finished now, huh?
Yeah, I only have Alcest and Lantlôs.
So where is your sound heading? Do you think there is more evolution on future release?
Yeah, I think so. There will be the same concept, in France we say, "La forme et le fonde". The form and the core; the core will stay the same, but maybe the form will change. Slightly. I will not do hip-hop tomorrow. Maybe the next album will have more clean parts, I don't know, I don't really plan these things.
Are you still inspired by these visions you had as a child or have you worked those out yet?
Its very hard because this is disappearing day by day. So now this is something I have inside me, like a mark, but I am not having these visions anymore. So its very hard hard to connect, I can just connect to a feeling I still have inside me, but it is so far away. Now its more my relationship between this experience, and my everyday life. That's why the new record is darker than the previous release. You can feel very alone when you have these thoughts. I have read many books, occult, esoteric books, but I can't find any decent information. All these books are shit. Its kind of unpleasant to have this in my head, so I guess this is why Écailles De Lune is darker.
You had a track about Tír na nÓg on Sounvenirs…
Yes, the island of eternal youth. The descriptions of this place are very close to what I was seeing, so I made a kind of parallelism. Also, innocence was very important for me, it allows you to have a different glance on things. Not to see just what the world shows you, but what is beyond reality when you are, not naive, but innocent. So that's why Tír na nÓg totally fits the purpose of the band.
How do you view the current metal scene?
I like a lot of the new post-black metal bands. Drudkh, even though it is not part of this movement, very melodic with feeling in the riffs. Nadja from Canada, they made one album called Touched and its kind of doom/drone/shoegaze. It is a huge sound with walls of guitars (makes the exploding sound again), tuned in in C or something, very low. Totally monster sound. Black metal? Hmmm, Lifelover is good I think.
Any other stuff?
I am big fan of all the early Burzum, any of the Norwegian's records from 90-95, I love all of them. The first Ancient, the first Satyricon. I almost only listen to black metal, I don't listen to metal. I don't listen to stuff like Motörhead, I don't like it. I don't feel the same spirit in metal that I find in black metal.
How about the French bands form early-90s? Les Légions Noires/Mutiilation et al?
For me, Mutiilation is great. The other bands are much more about polemic and cult attitude, not making good music. I am sorry, this is not good music. I hear so many people, "Oh, Les Légions Noires, blah blah blah", do you have ears? Vlad Tepes has one good demo, the rest is just (makes the sound of a LLN demo/noise). France has very special bands with strange sounds and ideas. One great, great French band is Darvulia, its about witchery and very 'bleurgh'. Totally disgusting.
For details of Alcest’s tour visit their myspace here.