Interview: Neige (Alcest, Amesoeurs, Old Silver Key, Lantlos)
For my money, the man who has pried the once-imposing gates of black metal open most is Neige—and he doesn’t even call himself a black metal musician. Love it or hate it, the cross-pollination of post-punk and Norway’s most wanted is a fertile one.
So why is it that the corpse-painted crossbows remain leveled at Liturgy, but not Alcest and Amesoeurs? I can think of two reasons: musically, Neige’s projects are actually pleasant to listen to, as an artist he’s too busy creating music to argue with idiots, and on a person level he’s a soft-spoken gentleman.
IO sat down with Neige at the Columbus stop on his tour with Enslaved and Junius to talk about the projects he heads (we didn’t get to Lantlos or Old Silver Key, sorry), his otherworldly conceptions, and how people appreciate art.
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How is this tour with Enslaved and Junius going for you?
So far it’s going very well. Good audiences. Good crowds, nothing especially negative to say.
Anything especially positive to say?
It’s good billing. All these bands are very avant-garde. They don’t stay in a single genre. These are bands for open-minded listeners.
Right now France has a bit of a reputation for producing good and open-minded bands. I don’t know how united the French scene is in terms of, say, Deathspell Omega and Gojira being connected, but do you think there’s anything special about France in general that produces these bands?
France had a very silent metal scene for years. There were just a few good bands here and there. Then for the last five or six years we’ve had some good bands—Deathspell Omega, as you mentioned—but I don’t know if that’s true in scenes other than metal bands. The French metal scene is growing. If the question is ‘why’, I couldn’t tell you.
Maybe it’s our cultural background. We [the French] are used to being in contact with art. If it’s outside of that I don’t know. What I mean is that art helps music. I live in Paris. I am surrounded by great art—maybe that helps in a way.
So you’ve just re-released Le Secret. What can you tell me about the creation of that record?
Le Secret is what I consider to be the very first Alcest release, the one that settled the concept of the band—which has not changed since Le Secret. I composed it between 2001 and 2003. That was a decade ago and my aims have not changed since then, so it’s a very important release for me.
In those 10 years that template hasn’t changed, but it works inside many of your side projects like Amesoeurs. How did you come up with that sound?
I don’t care about the sound. My only goal is to portray this other world that I speak about in my lyrics. I don’t care whether or not I use distortion or blast beats. I am not conscious about my own sound; I just try as best I can to portray these visions.
So the visions you speak of in Alcest are not metaphorical, they’re literal?
No. This is something I must insist on. Alcest is not a fairytale; what I sing about is real. I am not the only person to have lived an extrasensory experience. For me it’s a part of reality, just one that not so many people are aware of. I think we are very limited in our perceptions as human beings, as beings of flesh. If I had not had these experiences as a child I would be maybe a nihilist or an atheist, but I had these experiences and they totally changed the way I see life.
That’s true. You’re not the only person to have had an extrasensory experience.
For example, people who have had near-death experiences. What they describe is very similar my visions. We can’t adequately describe these experiences because they’re so beyond our ability to perceive. When these people are brought back to life what they say is ‘I can’t describe it. It was so beautiful’. It changes lives. There is a book called Life After Life by Raymond Moody; it’s a classic of esoteric literature. All these hundreds of thousands of people who have experienced this are describing the same thing.
And that’s all you need to understand Alcest. There is no shoegaze influence, as people like to say. I’ve seen people say that when reading an Alcest review.
So if this parallel reality you are describing is so beautiful—and it sounds beautiful when you portray it in Alcest—why black metal? ‘Beautiful’ is not the first adjective I think of when I hear Mayhem or Burzum.
Well, to me Mayhem has nothing to do with Burzum.
You’re not the first person to say that, either.
Burzum is so mystical and hypnotic, you know? Mayhem is just Rock n’ Roll! [laughs] So, let’s make a difference between those two.
Even if you consider them as two ends of a spectrum, Alcest is way closer to Burzum [Neige nods]. But I don’t think of Burzum as especially pretty either.
It’s just distortion; you hit the pedal and it goes ‘bzz’. Does that mean black metal? I don’t think so. We use blast beats, but so did Sonic Youth! [laughs.] These are just tools I like to use in my music. Maybe for the next album I will quit using distortion and blast beats altogether. Those are just a form, but the content will stay the same. The form will change, or maybe not.
But you’ve already planned the next Alcest release.
Yes, it’s coming on the sixth of January. It’s finished.
What can you tell me about it?
From a musical point of view it’s a mix of all the elements I have used in Alcest up till now. It’s really otherworldly. Really really. It’s a longer album: eight songs. I’m really proud of it, because I’ve put in so much work. I think after this there will be some big changes.
Just to clarify, you mean big changes on this upcoming release, or the one you will write after?
The one I will write next, yes.
So what is the biggest challenge in portraying something supernatural in an art form so based in technology?
To do it reliably. And I think that’s something I have yet to reach. Like, I want to play Alcest for someone who does not listen to metal and have them think ‘this is not from this planet’. That is my aim. If this person brings up black metal I will be annoyed, because they’re just talking about the shape. The melodies and vocals have nothing to do with darkness or Satanism.
There is nothing negative in Alcest. It’s positive music.
So you want me to listen to Alcest and have an extrasensory experience, is that right?
Have you ever observed any art that has given you an extrasensory experience, or a flashback into the other-world?
Some movies, some bands . . . It’s never a complete representation but it has something of that experience. Dead Can Dance, Slowdive. Sigur Ros sometimes. In art, the pre-Raphaelite painters from the 19th century, Waterhouse, the photographer Margaret Cameron, some symbolist painters. Art Nouveau, with the very vegetal shapes. As for movies, do you know Contact?
With Jodi Foster? Hell yeah!
100% Alcest, man. It’s kind of blockbuster but there’s something I like about it . . . you’re smiling.
Because I like it too. And because it’s funny that we like it—when it came out the critical reaction was very negative. It’s a guilty pleasure.
It’s like what I said before: they focused too much on the form. What’s inside that movie is really beautiful. It’s the same with The Lovely Bones. That movie can be so cheesy, but it’s 100% Alcest. Still cheesy, but I love it in a way.
OK, so imagine someone who has never looked deeper at art like we’re talking about now—they see only the container, not the content. How do you think they should start looking deeper?
Speaking just about Alcest?
Everything. Including Alcest.
It’s just like reality. Just looking in front of you is too easy. If you focus on the matter you’re a part of right now you can’t learn anything. In art if you’re focusing on the lines, the brush strokes, then you lose the emotion, the real feeling.
Maybe somebody like that will listen to Alcest and they will just say “it’s melancholic metal”. It’s why I like to do interviews; I feel that I need to clarify. I fear that I’m not clear enough in my music. That’s why I want to change the style, even if it’s just a little bit. I want to get clearer and avoid misunderstandings.
Would you say that misconception of Alcest as melancholic metal is the most annoying?
It’s not the most annoying, but for us it’s not melancholic, it’s nostalgic. Melancholy is negative.
Is it? I enjoy feeling melancholic—so do lots of people.
Me too, I just prefer nostalgia because it has something positive. Melancholy is a kind of feeling down, but nostalgia is memories of a good thing and then sort of feeling melancholic about it. The basis of it is a good feeling—a good moment, person or place.
I understand. We’re almost out of time, but I have one more question—please forgive my fishing for an answer I want to hear. Fanboy moment. Is there any possibility of another Amesoeurs record?
Oh my god [laughs. The look on Neige’s face at this moment is priceless] If you knew how many people ask me that question . . .
Well it’s an amazing record . . .
Yes, but it’s so close to reality! It’s so sad. Which is what people like about it . . . Look, even if I wanted to I’m not sure that I would do it, because it’s easy to make people feel sad. It’s so much harder to portray happiness. How many positive bands do you know? The kind of band that people say ‘oh, they just took me away’. It’s always melancholy, and I’m tired of it. Darkness is not fun. For me, it is less powerful than what uplifting feelings can be.
Anyway, I don’t think so. The band was finished for good reasons. It had to be finished. [laughs] I don’t know, for the moment I will say no, even if I love what we did. It’s also my baby, like Alcest except totally different. So many people tell me they miss Amesoeurs. When I see the influence of that fucking band I don’t believe it. I don’t understand.
You are aware that there’s a whole host of young people in America who are—no disrespect to any of them that might read this—stealing your style.
Oh yeah. I’ve seen so many covers that are pictures of metro stations with handwritten logos and songs about urban melancholy. Nothing pleases me more—it’s an honor.
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Header photo ©2011 Wyatt Marshall.