Transcending Human Boundaries.
Story online since: 17.01.2011 / 21:31:59
They ended up 4th in AGM’s own annual readers’ poll, and topped many other polls internationally: Alcest were one of 2010’s biggest sensations, but the shoegaze black metallers seem to be misunderstood by fans and detractors alike. Mystery Flame set up a face-to-face with Neige in Madrid to dig deeper into the mind behind one of the mysteries of the metal universe: how can any music be so accessible and yet is so otherworldly that nobody can see it for what it really is?...
I was very excited about meeting you in person, Neige, as I wanted to discuss your transcendental experiences and compare them with mine. First of all let me say that I find extremely brave that you talk so openly about your otherworldly visions in your lyrics and in your band statements… Those are very intimate things which not many people won’t understand, let alone relate to. How many have you met so far who know what you are talking about?
Well, no-one. I am the only one who is interested in what I say, you know. So far I have not received any email or met anybody who would ask me about the esoteric side of Alcest: they just want to discuss the music or the feelings, but never what matters the most to me. In fact, most people seem to believe that my lyrics are about some kind of fairyland I fantasized about when I was a child, and that is very frustrating because I have never said that. I think someone wrote it online some time ago and it began to spread about. But that is a big misunderstanding!
I have come across it myself, but I don’t think you could have been clearer in your previous interviews… Did you decide to go public in the first place because you wanted to find out if anybody shared the same experiences?
It was one of the reasons, yes. When you have something like this inside you for such a long time, you feel very lonely: people just don’t seem to understand, either because they never has the same kind of experiences, or they simply don’t want to know. It is difficult, you know, but fortunately I can express myself creatively and I gave life to Alcest specifically to translate my experiences. It is in fact the only goal of Alcest.
Do you mind if I ask you to describe what it is that you saw?
No, no! It is good for me to talk about it!
You said that it started when you were a child…
Yes, I had some flashes which seemed to come from other dimensions, or perhaps form past lives. That is my interpretation anyway. When I was very young they happened anywhere, but as I grew a little older they would mostly happen when I was in direct contact with nature, walking through a forest for example. It felt as if nature was a bridge between this world and another. And the most overwhelming thing was that I have always felt that I actually belonged to the other dimension, not to this world. It might sound pretentious, but I still believe I do not belong here…
Have you found in your mind a reason for finding yourself in the "wrong place”, so to speak?
Absolutely not. In all these years I have not found an explanation for the way I feel… This is the mission of Alcest: for me Alcest’s music is the only concrete way to hold onto those experiences. When I listen to it, sparkles of this dimension still come back to me; otherwise they would keep fading away as time passes by and I would be devastated if they vanished altogether. For me it is not about having a band to play music, nothing of the sort. Through the lyrics and the emotions I can visually connect to those lost moments: music really comes last.
So you could have expressed those experiences through any other artistic means…
Definitely: movies, paintings, anything. I love the arts: I was drawing a lot when I was a kid, and I love 19th Century art, such as the Pre-Raphaelites, Symbolism and Art Nouveau, but music is my chosen form of expression for the moment.
I was wondering if you have ever had an interest in science as a possible way to understand your experiences.
Well, I have never had a great rapport with science but in the future I want to start to explore that avenue more in depth rather than going through a lot of shit esoteric literature! There are only a few really good and interesting books dealing with the occult, the vast majority are just a pile of rubbish… In my case though, I am skeptical as far as science is concerned: I am afraid they would dismiss my visions as the fruit of a child’s fervid imagination. That’s why so far I have kind of avoided science: I know I have really seen those things, and it hurts when people do not take me seriously…
I suggest that in the future you research the new sciences, quantum physics and the neurosciences in particular: these days scientists have a broader vision and are very keen to interconnect the various disciplines. I certainly have found a lot of useful insights and some satisfying theories which complement my personal views on transcendental matters.
Ok, I think I will when I get more time. I know that now science allows for the possibility of different dimensions or parallel universes which we cannot see because we are made of matter, so why should we exclude that some of those dimensions are right here amongst us?...
The way we understand life is based on consensual knowledge (anything we are thought by society and academic life, which of course is highly depended on politics) and our own individual experience: it is not surprising we struggle so much when we seek for truths. On top of that, even amongst species life becomes a totally different experience as senses are constructed differently, aiming at different goals: think of how we perceive the world and how bees or bats do… Completely different realities within one single dimension!
Exactly! There are sound-waves that we cannot even perceive, while other animals do, so reality is not only what we experience as humans, and even as individuals each of us can perceive and interpret things differently.
Well, shall I tell you briefly what my own experiences were like?
As a child I had visions where nature around me transformed into cascades of shining gems: for example a leafy tree would look like it was made of emeralds, the sky would be incredibly pearlescent and everything would twinkle as if it were alive…
Oh, that’s actually very similar to what happened to me… In fact I have a song called "Emeralds in springtime”, because it looked like there were emeralds everywhere… Very, very similar! I know what you mean, it’s like your eyes have no limits and you see through another world.
A truly overwhelming sight: I felt all tingly and hyperventilated and my whole body was filled with the most incredible, almost unimaginable, happiness.
Yes, an incredible experience: it was like this world was a copy of something infinitely more beautiful, perfect, luminous and alive! It felt very benevolent…
Completely: beautiful visions aside, I would also feel the most incredible feeling of love all around… In fact I feel that it was unadulterated, intense happiness or love that triggered the whole experience.
Yeah-yeah, that’s in fact exactly it… When you are a child your feelings are pure and therefore more intense…
As a matter of fact I have had other kinds of experiences which were triggered by love later in life: all my personal spiritual experiences have in common moments of uncontaminated happiness or unconditional love.
Maybe... When we are in love we are really perceptive and our heart is very open so that might unlock some channels which are otherwise closed when we live our daily life; perhaps those are the antennae through which we can grasp something of what goes on beyond our own boundaries.
Did you find that the moment you realized what you were seeing and feeling, it kind of vanished?
I think so, it never lasted long enough… But you know, it’s very sad, those memories have really faded away: the more time is passing, the less clear they become. That’s why, I guess, I am so desperately trying to keep hold of them with Alcest. They are very precious to me. I have come to see those experiences as memories of a previous life, perhaps a dimension where we exist in spirit before becoming flesh, because everything is about love and perfection. That’s why I see nature as the place where we can re-connect with those memories, because nature is pure and beautiful.
I have never met anybody who had the same kind of visions either, but I come from a family where some of us are very sensitive in one way or another, so it’s not that strange to me… Actually, spiritual and esoteric debates were/are almost daily occurrences in our house.
I am sure there are people out there who have experienced other things, perhaps similar, or even from a darker side. But unfortunately, in my case, it’s not very often that I have the chance to discuss things like this.
From your lyrics and the mood of the music you can really perceive the deep sense of nostalgia for those lost moments, and that is very touching…
Yeah… Again, it’s tough not to be able to talk about it. People are either into religion or they do not care: I cannot even speak about this with my friends. I love my friends, but they don’t really want to listen. Even my band-mates don’t know what Alcest is about; they are only here for the music… It’s really hard! You are the first person I have been able to talk to, and who understands because has had the same experiences…
What about your parents, do they know?
Yes, they know but they don’t quite understand. It’s such a lonely feeling, you know: this experience is something really important in my life; there is not one single day that I don’t think about it. But it’s also something I cannot speak about, and it becomes very painful. I just had to find a way to release my feelings… That said, don’t misunderstand me, I am a very happy person who has a very comfortable life so I don’t want to slash my wrists or anything like that; it’s just that sometimes I’d like it if people were a little more open minded, but unfortunately they won’t even engage into a discussion with me. They just dismiss me with an "ok then”… There is no spirituality left in this world…
Of course you must perceive black metal from a spiritual angle, right?
Definitely, I think that black metal is the last of the spiritual music we have left nowadays. But of course not many people see it that way; they just see the spikes, the face-paint and it’s a fashion for them.
With Peste Noir you embraced black metal in one of its most extreme but traditional aspects, what was that about?
Oh, that was a long time ago now… Don’t even ask me about the concept behind it, it is very complex. It was basically the exact opposite of Alcest: love for evil, but in a real way. In any case, I was only a guest on his project as I played drums for him, but I did/do not share his views at all.
What is you connection with Lantlôs’ music, your other collaboration (which will finally take a "live” dimension this summer)?
Again, with Lantlôs I am only a guest vocalist, I do not participate in the composition. Well, that is urban black metal and, since I am a very melancholy person, I really like those atmospheres. I live in Paris and I understand urban life.
Wouldn’t you feel more comfortable living in the country?
Fortunately I live in the outskirts and it’s like a little village, but you cannot have real nature in Paris and I miss it a lot! But for the moment I am happy living in Paris: not only do I like urban life but I also fear solitude. In Paris I have a girlfriend and my friends, and that is something I need. Maybe one day, when I will be stronger and know myself a little better, I will move closer to nature, but if I do that, I will do it in a total way.
Maybe when you have discovered what the mystery behind your experiences is?
Yeah, maybe! If I did that there would be no need for Alcest anymore… But for now, Alcest is like my baby: I really, really feel strongly about it, you know, I could even die for it! Seriously. I truly hope that Alcest will take me where I yearn to be… At the moment I feel as if I have one foot here and one foot there, totally disconnected in fact; I am very absent-minded and people have to remind me of things all the time…
Do you think black metal will help you in your quest, and which sort of black metal?
I am into darker stuff like Burzum. It is a path where nature is seen in its most archaic spirit, away from the mundane, and that is something I like. I always listen to music to dream, to be transported into a vision. I never listen to music as entertainment: I really hate hard rock, blues and so on! I do like extreme bands, but they must bring something more than just music to the table.
Surely we are not evil people, but I have always been interested in the dark side, what do you think it is that keeps us so engaged?
I think it is a way to transcend human nature but it is explored through the dark side. For example when I listen to a really dark and violent band, like for example Celeste from France, I love the fact that you almost feel that the music is no longer human anymore! It is always about looking for ways to be more than just human: I think there must be a way to escape this condition even here on earth. I believe our spiritual essence does not belong to us humans exclusively, but rather we are a part of something far bigger… Besides, we are all a mix of good and evil, the entirely evil individuals are very rare; it is natural to explore both paths while searching for our true nature.
I do not see us as the superior race which was able to master nature: I see humans as integral part of nature; we ARE nature, so I definitely share the view that we can reach through different dimensions by recognizing and listening to our true self. Are you an agnostic?
No, I believe in god, but not a god like the one portrayed by our religions. This is something we really cannot understand, it’s well beyond our grasp and I think we will never know.
I am very attracted to the Buddhist philosophy which has as a postulate the impossibility of understanding/knowing god: I think that is the only honest religious effort that is worth exploring.
Oriental philosophies are something else I want to explore, for sure.
Perhaps Alcest is your personal way of meditating…
Maybe, but I see it more as an effort of recreating something that goes beyond being human. Music is a way to grasp into another reality and I try to make the most of what we have at our disposal, voice and instruments. To me being human is about the ability of transcending our normal perceptions, it’s like an explosion of feelings… I really cannot put words on it, you know?
So when do you connect to the spark that fuels Alcest’ quest, do you listen to your music a lot once it’s recorded?
No, not much really, even if it is a good song, I get really bored listening to it… So the connection only happens during the creative moments.
Now that you have a live dimension too, do you find it to be conductive for your specific needs?
Not at all! We have only been playing live for a few months, and I am still very nervous when I am on stage: I am always fearful of forgetting some parts! Plus I am a very shy and anxious person and it can get very stressful…
I am pleased that you decided to bring Alcest out in full though!
Well, when you see that an artistic project has a resonance it is important to bring it out to the people who enjoy it. I always say that it doesn’t matter what people think about Alcest but, you know, I am the harshest judge of what I do and sometimes I need to be comforted that what I am doing is ok. I am almost never satisfied, you know…
I had imagined that in a live dimension you could really slip into a state of trance, if you let yourself go: it certainly happens to us in the audience!
Yeah, but I’m not sure that electric instruments are quite right to taking me there… If I could replace everything with just choirs, I think that would start to get closer to what I have in mind. I know it sounds cheesy, but I can really hear it in my mind…
Wow, so is this what you are aiming at in the future?
Yes, definitely: I don’t think I will ever be satisfied until I will manage to transport everything into a much purer musical dimension. You’d just take the guitar notes, and everything else, and you’d sing them: if I could have 50 people singing the melodies, this would be Alcest! But because I don’t have the money, expressing Alcest through metal is the only way I can make the songs powerful enough, you know? What I am after is the sound of love, the sound of "angels” (although I do not like to use the word, as it can be misunderstood), crystal pure melodies which would be the closer to what I felt during my experiences.
Maybe you should get in touch with some people who could help you out realizing your goal.
I know. I really like Dead Can Dance: I cannot even begin to find the words to describe their music. They are amazing! For me these guys are not human anymore: you can truly transcend our dimension through their music so I would die to see them and…
So even in the music world you have not yet met anybody whom you could talk to about spiritual matters?
No, not really. And I am amazed at that, because if music is not about spiritual things, then what is it about?!...
It is safe to assume that there will be even more experimentation in the future of Alcest: do you regard your music as being avant-garde?
I will definitely try to contact some people, because I think I can no longer keep Alcest in this metal dimension. I have done all I could with that, now I need to move on and try and find new ways to get closer to what I want to express. I have no plans as we speak, but it is really an open avenue! You know, in my opinion there is no avant-garde, only a wave that comes and goes. There have been many avant-garde efforts in the past, but today we are just repeating the same things in a different context. We might play with different instruments and mix diverse sounds together, but things remain essentially the same. If you take Baroque music, you will find the same melodies that are in black metal, so I really do not believe in avant-garde.
As long as you keep working at Alcest, and taking it on the road for us to enjoy too, I’m happy… What is the reaction of people after your concerts?
The majority of people who come to see us have told me that Alcest reminds them of their childhood: I think it stems from the front cover of "Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde” and this view spread onto the internet. I have never said that Alcest is about childhood memories, so that’s very strange. Of course it is a positive thing; anybody can have their own interpretations.
If you aim at translating purity into music, childhood is a good dimension to start with!
Definitely, I am glad I touched so many people…
This un-edited conversation (excuse the repetitions) happened before Alcest’s performance at "Madrid is the Dark” festival. There was a great expectation from the 400-strong crowd: people started flocking closer to the stage, and the female presence was (very unusually) 50-50. Neige looked very nervous, if not petrified, but the magic exploded into the air with the very first riff… And then the unexpected happened: as I looked down into the crowd from the side of the stage, I saw girls and boys crying real tears... The feeling of intense, raw, but loving emotion had filled the large venue and every single person’s face was looking up in amazement at Neige who, standing still behind the mike, was doing it all just with his voice and mere presence. I went down to mix with the crowd, merging with a kind of energy I had never felt at a metal concert before. A girl was sobbing quietly next to me; I gave her a hug and she confessed that she cannot help it when she listens to those "cabrones”… I laughed: all metallers have a reputation to protect, but Alcest are truly breaking down some barriers! The following week I saw them headlining the smaller stage at Damnation Fest in England: the Brits would never be seen shedding a tear in public, but high emotions were written all over people’s faces there too. So I asked Neige if he had noticed the crying fans in Madrid. His eyes widened and asked me if that had happened for real: I nodded, adding only half-jokingly that he was an angel. He blushed and smiled: "Oh, merci…”
Do not miss this unique band, the love is spreading fast…
Text and photos by Mystery Flame.