Interview conducted September 3 2019
Interview published November 4 2019
"I have never played a single solo in my whole
Metal Covenant talked with Neige
about Alcest's new album Spiritual Instinct. [Out on October 25th.]
Tobbe: Tell me about your new record Spiritual
Neige: It's the sixth Alcest album that we put
out. It's following up Kodama  and it was recorded in the same
studio and I would say that it has a little bit more of an angry twist,
you know. It's a bit more metal maybe, in some ways.
Tobbe: You still involve some black metal
related stuff on your records.
Neige: For me black metal is not just a question
of sound, but a question of, like, atmosphere and feeling. Even if we
can have a few, like, blast parts and a few screams, it doesn't mean
that it's black metal, you know. 'Cause for me black metal is really
know, as black as pure black coffee. I love old-school black metal and
that's why I never say that we play black metal, because we just don't
fit in in the genre. I don't want to disgrace the genre either, so.
It's just I am coming from there and I took some elements, but it has
nothing to do with black metal.
Tobbe: The record contains a lot of different
stuff, and by doing this, what's the best thing about traveling kind of
through different genres?
Neige: The thing is more I don't put any musical
boundaries on myself. I mean, I don't forbid myself to do anything with
this band as long as it stays within, like, the rock genre. Because
I'm not so good with, like, electronic elements, and that's not where
I come from necessarily.
Yeah, I don't think in terms of genres when I
write a song for Alcest and maybe that's why people have such a big
problem to categorize our music, because it really feels like some kind
of outsider band, you know. And that's what we are. We are an outsider
band, and that's fine, you know. I have no problem with just listening
to music for the feelings that convey the music.
Tobbe: Sometimes you have used the Alcest
logo on album covers and sometimes you have not, and this time you have
chosen to not use it. So why didn't you use the logo on this new album?
Neige: I absolutely love this logo. It's purely
for a practical reason, because it doesn't fit as well with those things
on the cover. It's difficult to have those things and the logo. So we
had to sacrifice the logo, you know. But it is the logo that we are
going to use forever. For me, all the essence of Alcest and all the
dreaminess and ethereal aspect of Alcest is in this logo. Yeah, it's
Tobbe: In what way is music kind of a never-ending
journey to you personally and something that always is alive and growing?
Neige: It seems like I just can't live without
it. You know, when people say that we all have a mission here. I guess
that that's my mission. I need to do something with this band. This
band allows me to express things that I can't put into words. This band
is like a spiritual quest for me. It's something that has followed me
since my teens.
I started Alcest I was 15 and now I am 34, so it has almost been 20
years. It's a huge part of my life and I don't think I will be able
to live completely without it. I need it. My favorite thing is writing.
It's not being on stage or recording. It's really the moment when you
put out something. You know, artistically. That's the best moment.
Tobbe: You have always used lyrics in French
and what do we get on Spiritual Instinct?
Neige: It's just the title that is in English.
You know, sometimes when the title sounds stupid in French I'm using
English. But the lyrics I have sung in French because I have a crappy
accent when I sing in English. I feel more comfortable using French
and the vocals are also atmospheric and such a part of the instrumentation
that it doesn't really bother people that it's in French, 'cause it
just blends in, you know.
Usually people say that French language in music
Well, you know. But it seems like with Alcest people want
more. They want fucking Frenchiness to be there, you know. They would
hate if I was singing in English, I guess.
Tobbe: In what way do you see your own lyrics
grow over the years?
Neige: They don't grow; they just follow me.
You know, they follow my life and my experiences down here. What I'm
doing in this band is I am speaking about spiritual experiences I've
had. It's very difficult to speak about, but music is a great way to
express this. Basically my lyrics and my music is a mix of this spiritual
otherworld and my own life and my experiences.
So that's why it sometimes can be more connected
to, like, something spiritual, or more connected to something written
about my own life. That's the only difference between every album and
between lyrics. It's always around the same theme, but it never has
totally the same approach, you know.
Tobbe: You are a spiritual person and is
that because you are also an emotional person? Or are you mostly spiritual
and not so emotional?
Neige: I think I am both, you know. I am very
sensitive; I have a lot of emotions. In a way that's compatible with
being spiritual and in another way it's not very compatible, because
you can be overflown with emotions and these emotions can go against
your spirituality sometimes, you know. I feel that actually the highest
level of spirituality is when you learn to control your emotions. Because
emotions are very, very human in a way, and not necessarily very high
in terms of spirituality.
it depends. You know, for example, the feeling of love can be very,
very spiritual. And especially universal love, like, you know, for everything
that lives and everyone. That's very spiritual. But, like, anger and
hate and those things are not necessarily very, very spiritual. And
that's how they contrast in Alcest's music, because I'm still a very
human person, in the low sense of the word. There is anger and there
is beauty and they fight against each other sometimes.
Tobbe: Do you think that your fans can understand
what you mean spiritually, or is it hard for a lot of fans to really,
really understand what you mean with your music and your lyrics?
Neige: Our real hard-core fans really try to
get into the meaning of the lyrics and everything, but someone who doesn't
want to know much about the concept can feel that it's a lot of spirituality
in the music as well. People say that they always take a journey to
another world or that it's like a healing for the soul, or, for instance,
so many people have told me that they have lost someone recently and
that this music really helped them because the music has almost like
a heavenly feeling sometimes. I mean, people don't necessarily need
to know exactly what I am talking about and they can make their own
thing out of it, you know.
Tobbe: People listen to a lot of music through
streaming services and stuff and people actually don't read the lyrics
the way they used to do, right?
Neige: Yes, because music doesn't have the same
value as it used to have. In the past people had to buy actual records
and sometimes they didn't have that much money. Now you can pay monthly
for, let's say, Spotify or something, and you'll have access to unlimited
music, but in the past you had to buy actual records. I mean, people
still do that, right?
So yeah, maybe when you buy, for example 5 records,
you spend, like, a lot of money, then you really want to get deep to
what's around the music, like the lyrics. So people were maybe reading
lyrics more in the past, but I think Alcest's music can stand alone,
you know, without lyrics, and people should feel what it is about.
And in what way has today's digital age affected your own view on music
as a whole?
Neige: I am still very old-school, so I am still
listening to CDs and vinyls. So, I don't know. I have to be reminded
by people around me that things have changed, you know. 'Cause I still
listen to complete albums and things like that. Like old-school, you
know. But I know that people listen to half a song and move on to the
next one, so. But that doesn't change my way to write music and in the
future, at some point, I think I will do the opposite of what bands
do and write a track that is, like, 20 minutes, you know.
Tobbe: Is there a way to compare your music
to a painting as well?
Neige: Yeah, of course. You know, I'm very visual
when I make music. I used to draw a lot when I was a kid. Like the Alcest
logo; I draw it myself, for example. This music is very visual and when
we create the artworks I'm always there to tell the team what to do.
So yeah, there is a visual side to Alcest.
Tobbe: If we go back to your younger years.
How did you first get in contact with metal music and what made you fall
in love with it?
Neige: Cradle Of Filth, when I was 13. So basically,
the story: My first musical love was Michael Jackson, when I was a kid.
Then it was Nirvana. I bought Nevermind  when I was, like, 10
or something maybe. And I was listening to, like, a few rock bands,
but I didn't know about metal very much. And then I had a friend who
had a magazine with Cradle on the cover. You know, we were into, like,
We were, like, nerds, you know. And he told me
"You've got to listen to this!". It was, like, a sample with
many bands, you know, and there was a Cradle track from Cruelty And
The Beast . I listened to it and I was like "Wow! I've been
waiting for this music my whole life!". And then from Cradle I
went quickly through a more, like, true black metal phase, like Darkthrone,
Burzum, Emperor, Gorgoroth and stuff. Actually I skipped the whole heavy
metal / thrash metal stuff and went from grunge to black metal.
then I was into, like, new wave, post-punk and pop, so I never listened
to, like, AC/DC or Led Zeppelin and I have not a single record at home
by those bands. And that's why I don't consider myself a metalhead and
I'm more like an indie kid, because I was more into Sonic Youth and
bands like that. But I really like heavy metal now. It's just I didn't
like it when I was younger. Strange
But our drummer, Winterhalter,
went through more like the regular steps, like Deep Purple, you know.
Tobbe: Tell me what you remember about your
first couple of years as a young musician just starting out with an instrument.
Neige: So, I was alone, because I was growing
up in a very small town in Southern France and there were no metalheads.
Maybe just, like, 1 or 2 others, but not necessarily playing music.
I was at my parents' place and I had very bad equipment. Just like a
cheap guitar. I couldn't find a drummer, so I decided to learn drums
myself, and that's why I play all the instruments on the first records.
I have very nice memories of this period, because
there was no business involved and no touring involved. Just pure creativity,
you know. And when I started Alcest this genre of music didn't exist,
you know. It was new, and I knew that it was new, so it was very exciting
to make something completely fresh.
Tobbe: When you start learning an instrument
you must be very determined, because it's quite hard to learn playing
that instrument in the beginning.
Neige: The thing is for the music that I play
I didn't need, like, a crazy, crazy level. So I was just getting enough
skills to perform what I had to perform. And that was it, you know.
I wasn't an amazing drummer; I was all right. But all right is enough
to convey, like, the emotion I wanted. And guitar: For example, I have
never played a single solo in my whole career. I have no idea how to
make a solo. But what I do, I do okay. I do, like, arpeggios and I'm
more like a rhythm type of guy.
And I write more, like, classical music because
I'm coming from a classical music background. I started with piano with
my grandmother when I was a kid. She's a piano teacher. So I am more
the type of guy that can pick up any instrument and learn how to play
it in, like, one week. But I'm not great. [Laughs]