Alcest – Away from Here

Sunday, 5th January 2014

Alcest leaving the metal confines doesn’t quite have the same rub as when Anathema jumped, or Paradise Lost became enamored with electronics, or Tiamat bid adieu to heaviness post-Wildhoney, or The Gathering had enough after Nighttime Birds…you see where we’re going. The duo of Neige (instruments/vocals) and Winterhalter (drums) have always had it in them; those pop and shoe-gaze elements have always been hanging around, ready to push the band’s black and atmospheric metal beginnings to the side. It’s finally happened with Shelter, which amounts to the new year’s first gab-worthy album.

As our own Bridget Erickson described, Shelter is “not so much for listening to, it’s for musing with,” and that’s an accurate statement given the album’s reserved, reflective state, where the lush backdrop of cuts such as “La Nuit Marche Avec Moi,” “Voix Sereines,” and the Neil Halstead (Slowdive)-guided “Away” work their ethereal charm. This might be a toned-down Alcest, but they’re no less effective, even as they’re adrift in a sea of what is now, they’re own doing. A singular entity they’ve become.

With a new album to promote, Neige phoned DR on a blustery December day from Rhode Island, where Winterhalter has taken up residence for the time being. And as you’ll read below, our favorite Frenchmen was blunt, jovial, and honest, prepared for the inevitable criticism that comes with drifting away from metal…

Dead Rhetoric: Being that Shelter is not a metal album, are you ready for the backlash and/or reaction that inevitably will come with it?

Neige: Yeah, it didn’t come from one day to another…it’s something I’ve had in my head for a long time, to do this switch from kind of “metal,” although Alcest never really was metal for me. It was like extreme music, but in the past it had some metal elements that now we completely got rid of. That’s something I’ve had in my head, even during the making of the previous record. We know we are going to lose a lot of fans unfortunately, but I want to be sincere with myself and sincere with our listeners. If I was doing another album in the same style as before, I’d be lying to myself. It’s not what I want to do. I think it’s just being very sincere.

Dead Rhetoric: And if we want to go down this route, you’re not the first band to do something like this. Paradise Lost had their time away from metal, Katatonia had their share of non-metal moments, and probably the best example, Anathema.

Neige: I think for these bands, I’m not sure they had a lot of new fans coming from indie rock and alternative rock and stuff. I think they still played in front of 90% or 95% of metalheads. With Alcest, we are not able to choose, we cannot choose, but my idea would still be to play in front of metalheads because they are the most loyal audience, they really support the bands, and will always have a lot of respect for metalheads even if we don’t do metal anymore, but, contrary to these bands, we really think this music can be appreciated by true indie rock listeners.

Dead Rhetoric: Will this change your approach to touring? Going forward, will you try to pair yourselves with more indie rock and/or shoegaze bands?

Neige: Yeah, that’s our goal…to play with bands who sound a bit like us. Indie rock bands, shoegaze bands, dream-pop bands, that kind of stuff. I’m not sure we are going to tour again with metal bands because we just evolved as a band and that’s perfectly normal.

Dead Rhetoric: The problem you might run into is with some songs from your back catalog where you are using harsher vocals. Have you given much thought to how such songs would translate in front of those type of crowds?

Neige: When I started listening to metal, it was in the 90’s, and such a mix of genres didn’t exist back then. Either you were a metalhead, or Goth, or alternative, but there were no bridges in between the genres, and now with the internet sometimes I speak with young guys – the kids – they listen to everything. From hip-hop to black metal…this wouldn’t have been possible two decades ago. I think even if some indie listeners come to the shows, I don’t think it would be too shocking for them if they hear one song with screamed vocals. We are not going to play a lot of our previous stuff; we are still going to play the classics, though. I’m not going to leave the metal songs out of the set. We still like to play them; we just have to find a way to mix the new material with the previous material.

Dead Rhetoric: You recorded Shelter in Iceland, so I’m curious if those surroundings had much of an effect on how the songs turned out?

Neige: It’s always very difficult to figure out how much this context influenced the music. If we got influenced by Iceland, it’s not in a conscious way. We didn’t go to the mountains and go, “Okay, let’s be influenced by Iceland now.” It definitely had an influence, though. We were living in this perfect bubble for two months because Iceland is just wonderful. It’s just the best place on this planet. We toured a lot, we’ve played everywhere, but Iceland is the best. [laughs]

Dead Rhetoric: Working with Birgir from Sigur Ros…one can definitely draw the parallel between them and you. Was it pleasant experience working with such a like-minded individual?

Neige: It’s awesome because we like the sound of Sigur Ros, and on our last few records we had a regular metal sound, and I don’t want to say “clinical,” but almost. Bands like Sigur Ros, they have a very organic, crispy, grainy sound. It’s a great, professional sound, but almost this dark feeling, and that’s something wasn’t on our previous records. We wanted to have this organic sound. It’s a very nice studio to be associated with.

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