I recently spoke with Neige; songwriter, singer and guitarist in French band Alcest. I was keen to find out more about the purpose behind the band and its music, and the reactions he gets from sections of the metal community. What follows is a small insight into the thoughts of a person with a single-minded musical focus who patiently deals with the barriers he faces in fulfilling his ambition.
As a child, Neige had visions of another world. As he explains, they are not dreams, or imagination. The visions were of a real place, another world. Alcest does not sing about love, politics or relationships. It is all about Neige’s visions.
“It’s just a way for me to communicate it. I can’t describe it with words; it’s very astral. I think the dictionary doesn’t have enough words. I was seeing (these visions) and I didn’t know what I was seeing – a different world with different shapes and different colours – and to compare it I like to use the example of when people have a near-death experience and go away from their body, (except) I was conscious during these visions.”
“We have five senses so we are very limited with our perceptions of reality and I think very subjective and related to the human condition. Maybe we have an incomplete perception of the world and maybe as pure souls people have a more accurate vision of what is around us.”
I asked Neige about the screaming in some of his songs. They don’t sound like screams of aggression, more of frustration or despair.
“The screams are not my human side, but more the frustration I have of just being a human now and not being able to feel these things again and not being able to reach this world again. (It’s something ) I can’t express well with gentle singing – they are the voice of the human condition and frustration.”
Hmm, not his human side? I wondered if at any time Neige had thought that he was not from our world, but the other world. Had he ever wondered if he as an angel?
“No, I think we all have these visions as children. I don’t believe in heaven, more intermediate dimensions – a different world. Closer to Bhuddism. The universe is infinite, not only in terms of planets and stars, but also in terms of other dimensions. (We are limited by our perceptions) so we look for the infinity in terms of distance. “We all have the flashes I had as a child, and as a child we have a much more pure and fresh vision of these things but I think we can lose them as we get older. We lose our innocence and enchantment about the things that happen to us. There is a change as we get older.”
So Neige does not believe in the intermediate world between heaven and earth that many believe in. Now that he is older, how badly does he want to return to this other world? How much does he long to experience it again? My surprise at the practical nature of his response reveals the gaps that exist in my understanding of the other world.
“I don’t know if I ever really want to experience (the visions again). I don’t know if what I have had is enough, just to create this band and maybe I’m also, you know, lacking of time. If I was more free I would maybe do some meditation. This is something that takes a huge time every day to reach a state of spacious consciousness. It’s not one time a year that you can do this meditation, but yeah, maybe when I have more time. Anyway to get this inspiration is not really infinite, because I am getting older and this is getting more blurry.”
I’m getting a strong sense of someone with deep inner frustration. The longer Neige will seek to explain his memories, the harder they will be to recall. He reveals that the subject matter of Alcest will reach a time when it expands, and I wonder if that means he questions whether he can achieve his aims. There seems to be an internal tug-of-war, as well as an external one with critics.
“One day I will have to have new things to speak about because it’s not a very open concept. It’s very specific, very special.”
“Some people say they don’t like Alcest because it is too uni-directional, there is no balance. Of course there is no balance, because for me this music is simply not from this world. In this world you can have the most terrible things happen, as well as the most beautiful things, but in my world, it is only white light, so that’s why there is no such dark part to Alcest, or negative side”.
Some sections of the metal community appear to hold the view that they own a sound or style and they don’t like what Neige is doing with it. They label Alcest as black metal, or at least decide that it should be black metal, then judge it by how well it delivers their view of what black metal should sound like. Alcest is often criticised for being ‘too beautiful’.
“It’s because some of them are very closed minded and people like you to do what they want you to. If they want a dark album they will not try to (connect) to a more uplifting album. I think people nowadays are really nihilistic and they like darkness really a lot, and I think this is sad but true.”
Neige questions who it is who decided that beautiful music can not have depth and that only dark music can be deep and meaningful.
“I think it’s very easy to get very nihilistic and sad and disillusioned with this world and it’s harder to keep being, well not ‘positive’ because that has a very new-age sound to it, stuff I don’t like – ‘let’s be positive’ – I’m not trying to say that. People are very shy, well not shy, but they don’t dare to express fragility (and life is) full of fragility. It doesn’t only belong to women to be fragile, to be sensitive, to be looking for purity, I mean it’s a very human thing.”
Neige had been involved in the black metal scene when he was younger and he says some fans feel that he betrayed that scene with Alcest. Using some sounds from black metal does not make you a black metal band.
“With Alcest I never presented Alcest, this specific project, to be something negative or dark. From the start I decided to use a few metal tools, like harsh guitar and heavy drums, but that is just tools for me, you know I never pretended to be a part of black metal, which is for me the most negative music in the world. I never pretended to be a part of this, I am just using a few tools from this style of music.”
I talked to Neige about the fact he sings in French, and how the fact I can’t understand what he is singing adds rather than detracts from the experience. He revealed that some of the lyrics are not even French, they are invented words. However the words are crucial.
“It’s very important for me to write lyrics because it makes the concept of the project more precise and clear. That’s why in the art book edition we have published the English translations.”
I moved on to ask Neige about Alcest‘s recent tour of the US, Australia and Asia. The good news is he hopes to return later this year or early 2013.
“We had a great tour, very very good tour. And very successful! I didn’t expect so many people to know Alcest and come to the show.
“(In terms of good memories from the tour) the first thing that comes to mind is our deep friendship with the band Heirs from Melbourne, they were absolutely great guys and they did the best for us to have a great tour and that’s actually one of the best tours we’ve ever had. One of the most intense and beautiful from a human point of view. We had a very cool relationship with these guys in Heirs they were very professional, very nice. There was a lot of hospitality – we stayed at their place and it was just awesome.”
“Also in China it was fantastic as well. The tour promoters were very professional and did a lot for us in such a faraway country with such a different culture. It’s crazy because this tour was so full of positives.”
“It was a very enriching experience from a human point of view, and when we came back we were not the same people.”
And with that, Australia’s inferior internet conspired against me and turned Neige’s voice into a garbled mess. This, along with disconnections during the interview and sound quality slightly worse that two cans connected with string, prompted me to decide he had suffered enough, although things became clear again long enough to thank each other.
It’s hard to explain what I came away with, apart from disappointment that I couldn’t spend half a day exploring the thoughts of such a fascinating guy. He’s had this conversation a thousand times but showed the patience of someone who genuinely has a story he wants to
tell. He wasn’t preaching, he wasn’t trying to convert me, he was just talking about his experiences. The irony wasn’t lost on me that I was asking someone about a thing he could not explain with words, and asking him to explain it in a foreign language.