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Interview conducted September 3 2019
Interview published November 4 2019

"I have never played a single solo in my whole career."

Metal Covenant talked with Neige about Alcest's new album Spiritual Instinct. [Out on October 25th.]

Tobbe: Tell me about your new record Spiritual Instinct.

Neige: It's the sixth Alcest album that we put out. It's following up Kodama [2016] 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 black.

You 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 very important.

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.

When 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 is like… 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.

But 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.

Tobbe: 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 [1991] 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, roping games.

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 [1998]. 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.

And 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]

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