Alcest are a myth in their own right. Their focus on the spiritual and a heavy devotion to conceptualism adds a mystery to the band’s identity, made manifest in their music and the way they discuss it. This intrigue runs deep with their last album, Kodama, spawned as a by-product of composer and multi-instrumentalist Neige’s interest in the classic Hayao Miyazaki film Princess Mononoke. The end product is a sprawling six tracks of music as cinematic as the film itself, once again pushing the myth of Alcest into the greater world. Neige speaks with LIFE IS NOISE about where the band sits amongst metalheads and shoegazers, and offers a glimpse into the legendary blackgaze composer’s process.
"Princess Mononoke is one of my favourites indeed, along with Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle,” says Neige. “I love the complexity of San, the female character who is human but has been raised in the forest by the animal gods and fight against the other humans. I can identify with her in the sense that she's always having her feet in two different worlds - in my case it would be the spiritual world as opposed to the physical one. I also am very sensitive to the ecologic themes and the peaceful message of the movie.”
While Kodama has been inspired by Japanese culture in terms of theme and artwork, there’s a more obvious western influence in the music. This raises the question as to where Neige draws the line for physical inspiration for his music – whether he’s explored into the realm of Japanese music and what it has to offer.
“I don't know tons of Japanese music,” Neige admits. “But I love the soundtracks of Joe Hisaishi, who’s composed for most of Ghibli's movies, and Ryuishi Sakamoto and his famous song Forbidden Colours. As for Japanese bands, I am a big fan of Vampillia, who tour with us every time we play in Japan. Asian scales have also been present in several Alcest albums, along with Celtic scales. Songs like Eclosion or Kodama sound Asian at times, and a song like Autre Temps almost sounds like an Irish ballad. The funny thing is that none of these cultures are mine, since I am born in the south of France. These sounds have just always found a special resonance in me.”
Beyond the physical however, Kodama’s influence dabbles into the spiritual – this comes as no surprise as both Neige and band mate Winterhalter both describe themselves as spiritual people.
“My interest in spirituality takes its source in a real spiritual experience I had when I was younger,” says Neige. “It changed the way I conceive existence, and made me want to create a band to be able to express this side of me. I feel connected to spirituality in Japanese and other Asian countries because it's very different from the Christian precepts I grew up with. I think they have a healthier relationship with the idea of death for example.”
While Neige admits to instilling a sense of duality into his music, the way the band dips its toes into two different genres could potentially attract two different types of fans – one focusing on the ethereal shoegaze aspect of Alcest’s music, and one focusing on the angrier black metal side.
“The people at our shows are always a mix of metalheads, indie guys, hipsters, goths, and people that don't belong to any particular scene,” says Neige. “All ages, sometimes surprisingly old, sometimes young kids, and everything in between. Our crowd is very diverse and it's funny to look at the band shirts people are wearing sometimes. You can easily see a guy with a Mayhem shirt next to another with a Slowdive one. I would say that metalheads are usually a faithful audience. They will complain if a band is getting softer but will still buy the records and attend the shows. A good example of that is Opeth. Everyone's saying that their last albums are too soft but most of their fans are still metalheads, and they have loads of people at their shows.“
Alcest’s previous mention of incorporating proto-genres makes a subtle statement about the band’s commitment to experiment, and the way that Neige views his own sound.
“Well, the only time when Alcest sounded really different was on Shelter, our previous album,” Neige says in reflection. “Back then it was an interesting and enriching challenge to step away from our trademark sound but it also felt a bit strange obviously. That's why we needed to come back to something a bit more familiar with Kodama. Our usual sound is actually special enough I think to be able to explore it further, without necessarily going in a complete different direction. This said, Shelter was a nice and necessary break. I’ve always listened to all kinds of music styles so I suppose that it inspired me from day one when writing for Alcest. That's also probably why people have so much trouble putting our music into a single genre.”
“I would say that as a musician it's normal to try things, experiment with the sound. Taking risks is stimulating and necessary when making art.”
Kodama has been described by many a critic as not so much a return to Alcest’s sound circa 2010, but rather a process of revisiting and refining. At the end of a long discussion surrounding the composing process – it’s only natural to wonder what happens next for the band.
“I would love to already think about the next record but sadly I didn't have enough time to do that,” says Neige. “We have been promoting Kodama since September and we are too busy to be able to focus and write new material. I can't wait to start composing again and see what the new direction and ideas will be.”
Alcest are already sweeping through Australia and New Zealand - the next show will take place at Whammy Bar tonight with Mothra and The Dark Third.
Catch Alcest on the following dates:
Wellington – San Fran – Sun April 23 w/ INTO ORBIT + HIBOUX
Auckland – Whammy Bar – Mon April 24 w/ MOTHRA + THE DARK THIRD
Brisbane – Crowbar – Tues April 25 w/ DEAFCULT
Sydney – Manning Bar – Thurs April 27 w/ GERM + THE VEIL
Melbourne – Max Watt’s – Frid April 28 w/ ALITHIA + ARBRYNTH
Perth – Badlands – Sat April 29 w/ ILLYRIA + BOLT GUN