“I think reality is always subjective, and we don’t know what is for real apart from the fact [that] we see it with our eyes, we smell it, touch it, but we don’t know more.”
If you’ve been following the development of black metal over the past decade, it would be impossible to have not noticed Alcest. Originally formed in 2000 as a solo project of Peste Noire veteran Neige, it gradually grew to include more members to support a live lineup. Ever since 2003’s Le Secret EP all the way up to this year’s fantastic Les Voyages de l’Ame, Alcest’s music has been immensely influential on bands across the musical spectrum with a taste for the atmospheric. Inspired by an out-of-body experience Neige had as a child, Alcest’s music mixes ethereal vocals and atmospheric shoegaze influences with a heavy rock and metal sound. Elements of the band’s black metal past occasionally bubble up to the surface in the occasional blast-beated passage or even an isolated hawk scream, but the music itself can hardly be called black metal in good conscience – it’s a wholly unique sound from another world that’s absolutely impossible to pin down, but whatever you want to call it, its effect on the listener cannot be ignored.
I had the distinct honor of talking with Neige, founder and mastermind of Alcest, before their March 31st performance at Public Assembly in Brooklyn, NY. We spoke about his many influences (both musical and spiritual), the various projects he’s had a hand in over the years, and what’s next for the band in the interview below.
MB: Despite being extremely influential in the metal scene and arguably redefining black metal as we know it, Alcest is still pretty obscure outside of the metal underground. How would you describe your sound to those who aren’t familiar with the band?
N: I don’t like labels so much, I never considered Alcest [to be] a black metal band. For us it’s much more than music, because I made this band to translate an experience I had when I was younger, and the music is kind of a small part of what Alcest is for me. It’s like a sound from another world, you know, in the first sense. In a more down-to-earth way, it’s very ethereal rock, metal. Heavy rock.
MB: And how sick are you of having to explain “fairy land” to people like us?
N: To explain the concept? I don’t get sick of speaking about the concept of the band because it’s my goal, in a way, to transport this world of our own into this one. I don’t get sick [of] this, I get more sick [of] when people say to me “Sooooo black metal and Alcest and black metal…” I’m really sick of this. But speaking about my inner world, it’s no problem!
MB: Is there any specific experience you can point to that originally motivated you to start playing and performing music to begin with?
N: I always loved music, my grandmother was a piano teacher and I started having a few piano lessons very young, like when I was six. Something like that. I always needed music, it always was very important for me.
MB: Alcest has evolved a lot since its original inception, progressing from a style closer to black metal on the first EP to incorporate elements of shoegaze and even dream pop on Ecailles de Lune and Les Voyages de l’Ame. Were there any specific musical artists that influenced these stylistic elements?
N: I think the elements on the first EP were exactly the same as the ones on the last albums. I don’t think it was [any] more aggressive. The song “Le Secret” has always had these major chords, these arpeggios, these clean and ethereal vocals. There is an evolution, but I am kind of doing the same shit for twelve years now. And the bands that influenced me at first are almost the same as now. Back then it was [groups like] Summoning, Dead Can Dance. But recently, you know, it’s all this shoegaze. I am in love with Slowdive, this is maybe my favorite band at the moment. I listen to a lot of new-wave, post-punk, like Joy Division or Cocteau Twins; very good band.
MB: What are the main themes that influenced your lyrics, for those of us unfortunate enough to not know any French?
N: All the lyrics are speaking, in a way, about my experience, this experience I had of perceiving something different [from what] I was supposed to. The themes that are coming back again and again are immortality, parallel dimensions, astral journeys, light of the life, the divine. And especially about the limit of the senses, because I think that as human beings we are enclosed in our body, and maybe some people had, kind of, open doors. And maybe I had the chance when I was a child to have something open in my mind, because as maybe you know, this band is to describe a kind of parallel dimension. And people think it’s a fairytale, but no! It’s real. I did experience something. And I’m not able to speak about this so much because it’s beyond words; I simply can’t describe it. It’s not like something you see, it’s not something you hear, it’s a kind of totally different perception. And I like to speak about the limit of the body and of the senses, because I think that we are very extremely limited. For example, there are some animals that can hear sounds we cannot hear. They all have a way to see the reality. I think reality is always subjective, and we don’t know what is for real apart from the fact [that] we see it with our eyes, we smell it, touch it, but we don’t know more.
MB: With your work in Alcest and Amesoeurs, many people in the metal scene would point to your projects as the first to create this newfangled blend of shoegaze, post-punk, black metal, and all that. How does it feel to be credited as the forefather of an entire subgenre of metal?
N: I don’t know! I was not conscious about anything when I did this, I just wanted to…I like metal, I like rock, I like many different kinds of music, and I didn’t think about “Oooh, okay! I will mix metal with this and this to make…something!” It just went very naturally to me, and now when someone comes to me to say they made a band after listening to Amesoeurs or to Alcest, I am so honored. There is nothing that can touch me [more] than this, than someone coming to me to say “You inspired me.” It’s the most beautiful compliment someone can tell me, that they created something thanks to Alcest, or in part thanks to Alcest.
MB: You’ve had an incredibly prolific career, working as a member of other legendary acts like Peste Noire, Lantlôs, and Old Silver Key and collaborating with a wide range of artists. Which collaboration do you feel was your favorite, and why?
N: They are all very different; they all bring me something different. Lantlôs is a bit close to what I was used to doing, this desperate, grey, empty, urban feeling. Very grey as concrete, and sad as the modern world. Old Silver Key was…I am a big fan of Drudkh, and it was a great pleasure to do this with Roman [Saenko] and I love the album. It got many, many bad reviews, but I think its problem is that it’s a rock album, and it was reviewed by metalheads. It’s just rock, it’s really just very ethereal rock with a bit of shoegaze.
MB: Is there anyone that you’d really like to collaborate with in the future that you haven’t worked with already?
N: Oh yeah, yeah! But I will not say names. I plan something special for the next album. Tons of collaborations.
MB: What’s next on the table for the band? Will you be touring another region of the world after North America?
N: Oh, no. What I need now is a break and to compose music again, because that’s what I like the most to do in life. To be in my flat, playing my guitar and making music, that’s what I like the most, and I miss it so much when I am on tour. Touring is not something really for me, I am not into touring so much. I do it because I know people want to see Alcest on stage, and of course I take pleasure in making these shows, but my pleasure is when I see the reactions of the people in the audience.
MB: Are there any plans for a new album in the works?
N: Oh yeah. I don’t want to be too precise because if I come back to what I say later, well…I maybe want to make two albums at the same time, one completely acoustic one and one more in the vein of Slowdive. I really want to come back to something simple, not as progressive as the two previous albums. I want to let my music take time again to grow, like not having six riffs in one song but maybe more…two or three riffs that are taking time to build up and focus more on the emotions instead of the baroque. I think the last album was very baroque, really telling a story, things happening all the time. And it’s good, but you really have to focus on the music and to do nothing else, because otherwise you get lost.
MB: Any last words for your fans?
N: I hope the readers of MetalBlast will enjoy this interview, and I hope they will come to see us on tour if we play near their house, and I wish the best!