Alcest is a band in constant evolution. Since the year 2000, this French collective, lead by singer/multi-instrumentalist, Neige, has managed to go from playing Black Metal to Indie Rock-oriented soundscapes of profound evocative power. Their recent album Shelter is a perfect example of this change. Gone are the blast beats and the screaming vocals that were so palpable in their magnificent previous album Les Voyages De L’ame. Instead, Neige, drummer Winterhalter and a selected group of guest musicians have been able to create an affecting record that has surprised fans (both positively and negatively) and opened new musical and commercial possibilities for the group. Drummer Winterhalter briefly spoke with PureGrainAudio about this brave move.
Many people expected Shelter to be a new version or continuation of Les Voyages…; however, you’ve gone further. Was that a conscious decision, to avoid repeating yourselves?
Winterhalter: It was a conscious decision, even on the previous album, some songs like “Summers Glory” or “Autre Temps” are already announcing the new direction. We don’t want to record the same album again and again, we like to experiment and to find new ways to express the music of Alcest.
Some old-time fans feel that this departure from your previous Metal roots is a little too much, yet for others it’s the logical thing to do. Were you afraid you could alienate some fans in the process of evolving as a band?
Winterhalter: We knew when we were working on the Shelter songs that some Metal fans who discovered Alcest with Ecailles de Lune or Les Voyages de L’âme would be disappointed. But by listening to the first album Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde, you can see that it’s actually closer to Shelter than any other album we’ve made. It’s still the music of Alcest, it’s just played differently, and with different “tools”; no screaming vocals, less distorted guitars, no blast beats, etc. It’s a very simple album on the surface, but there are a lot of layers and details too. It’s a different way to work and we wanted to try it.
Shelter‘s music is simply beautiful, ethereal and extremely atmospheric. How do you manage to create these kinds of soundscapes? Can you tell me more about the writing/recording?
Winterhalter: Neige and I are speaking a lot about the Alcest direction, even before we start to work on new songs. The first thing for us is speaking about guidelines, ideas, concepts, sound, etc. And then, only after this has been done, can we begin to rehearse together. Neige first comes to me with new material (an embryonic song), then we are trying to play it together, to find the right drum beats and fills and arrangements. It is a very organic process without too many rules. We shape the song together, sharing our thoughts on it, and then when we feel ready, we record a rough demo of the song. After a few days/weeks of listening to the demo, we might change some structures, parts, etc, if necessary, then we are re-starting the whole cycle again until the moment we are both happy with the final product.
Do you think there’s still room to add some darkness back in your music on future recordings? Do you have any idea where are you going musically, after Shelter?
Winterhalter: We are already speaking about the new direction and also working on new songs. There are no rules for more or less darkness, it totally depends on the song. Shelter was very bright, light, and positive, but maybe the next one will be different. The only thing I can tell you is that the new album will be more accessed on the rhythm and the percussion.
Check out the song “Opale”
Let’s talk about the album cover. It’s a photograph of hands forming a sort of triangle. How this image relates with the album’s music and lyrics?
Winterhalter: The picture was taken on a beach in the south of France near the original region of Neige. He likes the beach and to spend time there to enjoy the view and to be in his thoughts. There are several meanings for this picture, most of it can be found in the lyrics, but mostly it’s about the feeling of Summer. It goes deeper than that, but I, alone, cannot fully answer the question. Neige has his own views on things, we do remain separate people. This is the partnership between us and our music, we have similar views and ideas, but different ways to see it sometimes, and it is this culmination that creates Alcest. For me personally, the album cover picture sometimes makes me think about a tipi – the triangle shape of the arms and hands and the fingers for the wooden parts etc. It’s a totally different way to look at it, but for me, it’s a kind of symbolism, another form of a Shelter.
You have been able to breakthrough in the international music scene basically singing in French. This is very unusual; people generally expect English to be the language for Rock and Metal. How do you feel about this achievement?
Winterhalter: We are really happy about it. The French language is not an easy one for writing lyrics and for singing too; it’s a lot of work for Neige. For Shelter, some songs are in English, but it’s strictly because the guests on these songs cannot speak French, so it was the best solution, and also a new challenge for us.
Last question… Are there any plans to visit America/Canada anytime soon in support of Shelter?
Winterhalter: We are working on it, we really want to play in the USA and in Canada, we are always enjoying it and we are curious about the reaction of the audience about the new songs. During the previous North American tour we played the songs “Opale” and “Deliverance” on stage and we received really good feedback. I hope that we can return as soon as possible.