When we last spoke to Alcest mastermind Neige, the French band’s third album ‘Les Voyages de L'Âme’ had only just been released. Since then, the record has gathered widespread acclaim, which has led to a recorded (and now available) BBC Sessions live slot and air time on mainstream rock radio channels. Alcest’s demographic is undoubtedly expanding; new audiences are astounded at what they’ve been missing. But that’s not it. If the new plans for album number four are anything to go by, then Alcest won’t be multiplying their followers, but they could well be dividing them. On a chilly night in the north, Calum Robson had a chat with Neige before their Newcastle show, to find out what has inspired the talented musician to cut ‘metal’ out of the equation and book studio time with Sigur Ros producer Birgir Jón Birgisson.
A lot has changed since SoundShock spoke with you in February. The album has been hugely successful and media coverage has allowed Alcest to branch out from its predominantly ‘metal’ following. How do you feel about it? Neige: We try to bring some new people. We want to keep the metalheads because we love this scene and the metal fans, but we think that our music can also be liked by people who like other styles like indie rock, post-rock.
You recently mentioned that you’re recording a new album in Iceland around March time. You also said the new album will not include any of the intense metal sections that Alcest have done in the past. Tell us a bit about that… Neige: It will still be Alcest. It will not be like going from metal to hip-hop! There are still guitars, there is still distortion and ethereal vocals, just no screams and no heavy parts. At the time I was recording the last album ‘Les Voyages de l'Âme’ I was in the studio and at this moment I was like ‘I don’t want to record this kind of music anymore.’ It happened one or two years ago now. I thought ‘I would like to do something else.’ Even at that time, I wanted to change. I am very happy of this change but there will be other changes [in the future]. Maybe we will come back to metal, maybe we will go into folk; I do not want to limit myself. I don’t want to please anyone, I don’t have to. It’s too much.
What music has inspired you for this upcoming release?
Neige: In the first few albums, I tried not to be inspired by any bands because I wanted to make my own music and my own songs. But this time, it’s a lot different because I wanted to make an album that I would love to listen to. In the past, I made music because I had to make music, but that’s not necessarily the type of music I’d like to listen to. I don’t listen to Alcest. This time, I want to make an album that I like and was fun to make; not so much pressure and dramatics. Of course it’s very different. I didn’t want to think so much about whether it’s really Alcest. Just do it and let’s do things in a natural way. To answer the question, my inspiration on this album is Slowdive.
Obviously Winterhalter has been a full-time band member behind the kit for three years now. Has he understood that his drumming will have to change for this new direction? Neige: He really is a metalhead! He is 100% rock n’ roll and metal and I showed him Slowdive and I said to him ‘OK I wrote some drumming, it’s very simple and it’s very soft.’ At the same time I didn’t want to make it too soft, but I think, on the demos it sounds very good.
Has he adapted well?
Neige: Oh yeah!
It’s good to hear he’s adapted well…
Neige: He doesn’t have the choice! [laughs] I have something in my head and there’s just no way [it can be adapted in a heavier style of drumming].
You’re also going to be recording the album at Sigur Ros’ Sundlaugin studio in Iceland, with Birgir Jón Birgisson producing. How did it come about?
Neige: We just contacted him by email and asked him for the rights, and actually it was not so expensive, so we thought ‘maybe we can do it’ and as I said, we want to change the songs.
Last time we spoke, we talked about the otherworldly visions you had as a child and you made it clear that music was simply your tool or channel to illustrate these visions to an audience. Is the new album still built from this inspiration? Neige: Yeah. Looking at the discography, I noticed that some albums like the first one and the last one are extremely close to this concept, almost like pure descriptive albums; like the description of this place or of this heaven. But the second one ‘Écailles de Lune’ is more like the relationship between my own life and this experience. It’s a bit more down to earth and therefore it’s darker. It’s the feeling of missing this place, so it’s more melancholy. The next one will be a bit like the confrontation between the two opposites and how I deal with those feelings. I still believe in this and even more now. With Alcest, after the shows and in email, I receive messages from people saying they have had the same thing or they know someone who has had the same thing. I see that I’m not the only one and that’s so good. I never wanted to prove anything to anyone because it’s my business and my faith. I have a huge respect for people of all opinions, but still I think this music has a lot of good energies. Anyone can take these energies without following the concept behind. Just feel that it’s good.
So, how are the lyrics coming along for the new album?
Neige: I’m so bad at writing lyrics! When it’s finished and I have all the songs, I have enough [musical] material to do a double album, but lyrics; they’re a pain in the ass, man.
How do you start to write?
Neige: I don’t know! I express all of these things with the music and the lyrics are only to understand it a bit better. But I prefer to write music. I just sit down and think ‘OK, let’s write lyrics!’ Sometimes I’m really inspired and I feel the need to write something, but most of the times I feel like I am always writing on the same things, so it’s hard to vary it.
If it’s such a struggle, have you considered ever doing a purely instrumental album?
Neige: I sometimes just do humming like Dead Can Dance or Cocteau Twins. I do it on four or five songs, and I will do it on the next album. But doing one album like that? Maybe not. It’s exactly the same problem as writing the lyrics. If you do different songs with the harmonies, I think you get a bit repetitive, like the [‘(The Bracket Album)’] I think. It’s like he’s saying the same thing and it gets on my nerves. If I do this, I would like to go onwards by not creating a language, but to make different things. Dead Can Dance are very good at this because the female singer sings invented words, but you can really believe it’s a language. It doesn’t sound false, it sounds Latin.
Looking back on this mammoth European tour, what have you enjoyed most?
Neige: I think it’s the human aspect. Things like knowing people for two months, going with my bandmates and having great moments with them and speaking with the fans at the end of the shows. When I have a good show and feel good, I go to the merch area. I like to speak to people and to know what they thought. That’s the thing I like the most. If the show is bad, I just go to hide in my bunk!
Neige enters the Sundlaugin studio in March. The album is expected to land towards the end of 2013.