Alcest: ‘We Want Every Record to be Very Special’
The French post-metal band’s frontman Stephane Paut aka Neige on coming to India, spirituality and new music
Like many artists wanting to visit India, French post-metal band Alcest have tried their luck at making a debut appearance several times, as early 2013, but never succeeded. Founder and guitarist-vocalist Stephane Paut says over the phone from France, “India was one of those last countries we hadn’t played in. We’re enthusiastic as a band to discover new cultures and new ways of life. We’re very curious as people so these kind of experiences are special.”
Alcest will make their India debut at the seventh edition of metal festival G-Shock Bangalore Open Air on July 7th, alongside the likes of American thrash metal veterans Overkill and death metal stalwarts Immolation. While Alcest’s ethereal shoegaze and dream-pop informed sound have given them a place on eclectic festival billings around the globe, they’ve also found themselves touring alongside metal bands on the regular. Most recently, the quartet – completed by drummer Winterhalter, guitarist Zero and bassist Indria Saray – were picked by British rock veterans The Cure’s Robert Smith at the Meltdown festival in London. A longtime fan of The Cure, Neige was amazed that Smith had even heard of Alcest. “It was a dream come true. When our booking agent told us the news – that Robert Smith knew Alcest and he liked the music and he wanted to have us at the festival – and I just couldn’t believe it. I was really happy,” Neige says.
However, the frontman regards the G-Shock Bangalore Open Air lineup with a laugh. He says, “We’ve played a lot of metal festivals but this one is really metal.” With five albums to their name (including critically lauded ones such as Shelter in 2014 and their most recent, Kodama in 2016), Alcest are now working on their next, slated for release in late 2019. Neige draws from his childhood memories and otherworldly realms to create a sonic landscape that’s intense as much as it is cathartic. In an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone India, Neige discusses their India trip, new material and more. Excerpts:
You play on quite a bunch of varied lineup billings, and I think that’s increased now in recent years – how do you see it?
In the very beginning, we were playing more metal shows and festivals but now, even the people who are into rock and other genres of music are interested in us. We also have a lot of shoegaze and dream-pop influences. I would say that the metal side of Alcest is, in the end, not that important, because we have a lot of influences other genres of music and personally, I almost don’t listen to metal. I listen to it sometimes, but it’s not really representative of my music taste.
What is your setlist in India going to be like? Are you bringing merch?
I think we’re going to have some merchandise. And I think it’s going to be a long show. We’re not just playing 30 minutes. It’s going to be quite long and that’s cool. We’re going to play a lot of stuff from our new record [Kodama] but also a lot of older stuff. I guess there will be things for everyone.
What are you looking forward to most outside of the gig?
Alcest is a band that is very much about spirituality. I think spirituality in India is very important. There are a lot of religions and if I’m right, the main ones are Hinduism and Buddhism? I’m very curious to see these, because in France, it’s mostly Christian backgrounds. We’re not used to different things like that.
We just want to look around. I just started to do yoga and meditation for example, it’s a part of the thing for me (laughs).
It’s going to be two years since Kodama released – are you guys already working on new material?
Yeah. I’m trying to write new songs these days and it’s taking a bit of time because it’s our sixth record. We’re very professional and perfectionist when it comes to music. We’re not joking around and releasing albums for the sake of it. We want every record to be very special. It is its own little journey. I’m taking my time. I probably have half of the record ready and all I can say, it’s a bit in the continuation of Kodama and very much with my vision in spirituality and how I am living with my spirituality in my daily life.
For a lot of people, Alcest was their introduction into post-rock, post-metal, blackgaze – it is emotional music more for its sound than its words – so how do you approach lyrics?
It’s quite interesting in our case, because we don’t even sing in English. We are getting fans from everywhere in the world, even fans in India. Of course, I guess most of them don’t speak French but the music has so many melodies and emotions I think our listeners don’t even need to get into the lyrics. I think there’s something universal about the music.
Almost one-third of our songs have improvised vocals. There are no lyrics and it’s like an invented language. It just fits really well with the music compared to actual lyrics and words. It comes from the heart and it’s very spontaneous. Most of the time, I’m writing in French and it’s not easy to write about these kind of topics – I’m not writing about my daily life or the girl that I love. It’s very disconnected from our world. I’m talking about a personal experience I had when I was a child. It really changed my way of seeing life and it’s quite personal.
What are the unexpected places and contexts in which you’ve heard your music?
There have been short videos or documentaries or student movies from people, they wanted to use some music from Alcest. It would be a dream for me to have a song in a movie someday. I’m very much into visuals and I think Alcest’s music is very visual. We pay a lot of attention to the covers of the records and to the imagery and it’s supposed to make the listener travel and go to different places. I think it’s very a visual type of music and it would go very well into a movie – I hope it will happen one day.
What else is coming up through 2018?
When we come back home, we’re just going to focus on the next record, try to finish it and think about the studio and release date. We hope to be able to release it at the end of next year. We’ll be very busy for sure. No holidays (laughs).
Alcest performs at Bangalore Open Air 2018 on July 7th at Aadya Farms, Bengaluru. Tickets: Rs 3,000. Buy here.