ALCEST’S NEIGE: THE METALSUCKS INTERIVEW
Shoegaze black metal on an extreme ayahuasca trip is probably the best way to describe Alcest. Meandering tales of a strange lands no one has ever been to, at least not in this life. Haunting melodies that linger in the mind long after the song ends. The juxtaposition of soft, often unsure-sounding vocals, with the decisive and harder tones of the music itself. It’s an experience, to say the least.
With 2012’s Les Voyages De L’Âme, Alcest founder and main man Neige delves further into this world he’s created. The record, the title of which translates to “The Journeys of the Soul,” pushes the listener deep into the atmospheric, dreamland of the mind. Though it seems like a kind of grandiose concept; a living, breathing world that exists beyond our comprehension as introduced to us via Alcest, the bottom line is simple; euphoria. Like I said, extreme ayahuasca trip, right? Though the yearning and bittersweet aches of the music are at the foremost, euphoria and the feelings of contentment, of bliss, are the key factors that Neige aims to communicate. He was kind enough to take a quick moment and talk to me about just how he thought up this world and why the melancholia in his music should really be construed as joy and celebration rather than sadness or mourning.
Let’s talk about what Alcest is. It started out as a straight-forward black metal project and then evolved into what it is now, right? How would you define it?
I wouldn’t put a label on it. For me this is music from another world, really. I’m not pretending to be like this or like that. It’s a sound that comes from somewhere else and I am just using tools [to translate it]. I use influences from black metal like the harsher tones but I don’t consider Alcest black metal. I think the very first album [Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde] was but now the atmosphere so different. There’s nothing negative or dark and as for shoegaze, well, I first heard that word in an Alcest review and now I know the word for it and I like this kind of music so…
So it just came to you? You never set out to sound specifically like something or to fit exactly into some genre?
Yeah! Yeah! I don’t control this.
With this new album, Les Voyages De L’Âme, you’re pushing yourself and the music further into this “other world,” as you call it. Can you tell me a bit about it?
I try to push away my own limits and abilities and go beyond because that is, as you might know, the core of Alcest. Everything from the music to the imagery is about going further. I think this album is even more progressive and it might be the most ethereal of Alcest albums.
I keep focusing on this world so if you’ll bear with me, this phrase kind of stood out to me, “A world that lies ‘before’ and ‘afeter,’ ‘beside’ and ‘behind’ our world and the awareness of which stills mankind’s dears of death.” Can you elaborate on the meaning of that?
[laughs] I can try. When I was a child, when I was very young, I would have these visions of this place and I didn’t know what it was. When I grew up, I would think back to this when people would talk about the after-life. This might sound crazy but I thought maybe I might have kept a memory of the place I was before being here. In a lot of religions there is a place like that like in the middle. I don’t know if it was that but it seems like something very similar. Or maybe it is the future. Or another side of reality. I think we are very limited in ours senses as human beings. Animals can hear sounds we can’t, that doesn’t mean the sound doesn’t exist. So I think our sight is limited, in that sense, in what we call reality. We don’t know anything, really. That’s why the theme [of the album] is perception because we think we are in control of our bodies but our souls and perception of all that is totally different.
What about the process of writing and composing? Do you just wait for inspiration to hit you or do you need to sit and work at it and sort of coax it out?
I guess like every other musician or guitarist I just like to play along and hope the ideas come. I always try to connect to the world, though. Every melody sort of contains that universe and it evokes me to imagine it. Sometimes it comes out more melancholic and sometimes it is more uplifting and each album, each song, is a different side of the same idea. In terms of composing I am very limited in terms of technology because I compose on an 8-track recorder and really focus on the melodies. I am quite old-fashioned in that sense.
You just came off a tour. Are you going to head back out in support of this album as well?
Yes, I think we are touring again in the US in March.
I’d imagine there’s a pretty big difference in how audiences receive you in the US as opposed to Europe?
I think in the US and in some parts of Canada they are much more open-minded and much more focused on the music. In Europe we have so many concerts, every weekend almost. In places like Germany it’s almost everyday, in big cities. It’s common. So people just get bored. They go to the shows but they don’t listen to the music they just drink beer and shout. And they are very… some of them are very closed-minded. But in the US I see the people are open to new genres of music and maybe more attentive when they go to a concert.
Do you have plans to go further east? To China and Japan?
Yes! I would love to go to Japan, that is maybe my dream destination. But yeah we’ve been to China and I would say not everywhere, but a lot of places.
What do you think about this new wave of metal bands coming out of France? There’s always been a lot from around Europe but I think French metal bands are fairly new. In terms of worldwide popularity, I mean.
Ah no, it’s not new. There have always been metal bands from France. I guess maybe they were just no so well known and amateurish you know? It took time for French bands to be more popular and take their place in metal. I think at the moment France has the most interesting [bands].
Do you mind being grouped in with other French metal bands? Obviously you sound nothing like say, Gojira, but I’m sure there are always comparisons because of nationality.
I don’t think I mind so much. If someone listens to Alcest as an example of French metal, I think that metalhead would be very disappointed because Alcest has nothing to do with brutality or [that mindset].
Well, metal has all sorts of fans. Do you have any interesting stories in that respect?
Yeah! There’s something special about Alcest. We have a lot of haters, people who don’t like us, but the people who like us love us. Really, they are so dedicated and when we finish a show we like to go out in the audience and mingle and meet people and some of them, they are so nice. They have such a light in their eyes when they talk about Alcest. Sometimes they see me and they come and say, “This music saved my life,” or, “When I hear your music I want to make my own band,” and that’s just like, wow. That’s great, that’s the most touching and incredible compliment. I think this music can help in a way that’s very profound and very positive. This music is good for the soul.
That must be good to hear that your music can have such a positive effect even though it can be quite melancholic.
Yeah, but I don’t think there is a lot of melancholy. It’s not negative and people seem to think it is sad but I think it comes from more of a nostalgic feeling.
Oh no, I don’t think it’s negative either.
Yes, yes it’s not. It has that nostalgia of some place you miss but it is not melancholy.
I don’t have any other questions, anything else you’d like to add?
I just hope people buy the new album and come see us when we play.