« Souvenirs d’un autre monde » came out ten years ago, in 2007. It’s crazy to witness time flying by so fast. It seems like the album was released only yesterday, yet so many things happened in the life of the band during this period of time. The album was sounding very different than what was to find in the music scene back then and I wasn’t sure about how people would react to it. I didn’t feel scared or insecure about it, just really excited and curious to see what the reactions would be like. « Souvenirs d’un autre monde » was
written with no other purpose than pure artistic ambition and it definitely felt special, in a positive way, but it was also evident that it wouldn’t be an album for everyone. I would have never imagined that so many people would get into it in the years after its release and into the Alcest sound in general.
Now with internet and the easy access to music, people got more curious and open in terms of genres. They are eager to discover new and adventurous sounds, but back in 2007 it was still a different story, especially within the metal realm. The metal scene evolved a lot recently, in a very good way in my opinion, and it seems that metal fans also listen to completely other genres outside of their «comfort zone» now.
At the time, Alcest was a still solo project. I just had a demo tape released in 2001 of raw, traditional black metal (I was really young, 15 years old, and had just started playing music in a serious way) and an EP « Le Secret », that came out in 2005, which I consider to be the first actual Alcest release. This EP gave birth to the sound, concept and identity that the project had on « Souvenirs d’un autre monde » and also on the later records. In 2006, Alcest had a Myspace account and Fursy (from Les Discrets, one of my oldest friends), told me to send a message to Prophecy Productions, asking them to check out my music. We both liked the label, as they were different from the other metal labels, and thought it could be a good match. Prophecy always had a strong identity, both visually and in the choice of their bands, so when they replied me, saying that they had listened to the tracks I later sent them
on CD-R, liked them and wanted to sign Alcest, I was really overjoyed.
GENESIS & CONCEPT
It’s never easy for me to talk about the concept behind Alcest and « Souvenirs d’un autre monde », which is probably why I choose music as a way to deal with it, instead of something else. I had a spiritual experience in my childhood that had a big impact on my life and my way to perceive existence.
Later on when I started Alcest as a teenager, instead of sticking to the black metal style of the beginnings, I decided to go in the opposite direction and use the experience I had as a child as the main theme and source of inspiration for this project. That is still the case today. Spirituality is the central theme of Alcest, along with some others, such as the passing of time, romanticism and nostalgia, which are usually darker and more down to earth topics. Each record we release is dealing with a different side of this concept, showing a different angle of the same story depending on my emotions and my evolution as a person in this world. I would say however that « Souvenirs d’un autre monde » is a key album in Alcest’s career. At this period, the approach I had to the whole project felt really new and fresh. I was translating the concept of the band in the purest, most direct way; something that was unique for this release and that hasn’t been the same before or after it.
« Souvenirs d’un autre monde » means « Memories from another world ».
As a kid, I experienced vivid memories of a place that is not what we all know here. In my mind there were images, sensations and sounds from a sort of vast heavenly garden, where everything seemed to vibrate and glow in pearly light; the trees, the streams and the grass were moving in harmony.
There I could get an intense feeling of serenity and peace that is nothing like we can experience on Earth. This place seemed so alive, and I can’t stress enough the weight of the the word «alive» here. It was more alive than anything else. There was this melody, an indescribably beautiful music floating in the air and that seemed to come from the whole scenery, as if it was an inseparable part of it. In these memories, I could feel everything around me in a different way than how we usually do in our human forms. I wasn’t in
terfering with the surroundings through the filter of my 5 human senses, but instead all the senses were intensified and seemed to blend within each other.
I felt like I could hear the colors, touch the fragrances in the air and perceive the language and the deep meaning of this place, as if I was a part of it myself. I remember there also were some presences, some ethereal beings, that I couldn’t recognize, but that seemed very familiar to me. The deep essence of myself surely knew who they were. They could communicate with me in a language without words and their message was a message of absolute love and understanding. It was just like time had stopped, or simply didn’t exist
there, and there were no fears or mortal torments to be found.
These images were coming to me most of the time during the day, especially when I was in contact with nature or in a specific sensitive state of mind. I never really knew what they were and where they came from, but the feeling I had was magical and I was sure that it was absolutely real. When my childhood had passed, I sort of put theses memories aside for a while, but it all came back later on when I realized that these experiences weren’t something
common and that there must have been a reason why I had them. I started to think that I was obliged to do something with it, if not talk about it (I never liked talking about it, probably because of my fear to be judged or being called crazy by the more closed-minded people), then at least trying to honor it and portray it through music. I found a lot of comfort when I started to get more into spirituality and subjects like Near Death Experiences. Then, I discovered that people who were in alternated states of consciousness, were describing very similar things to my visions. I started to feel less alone and convinced that it wasn’t just something from my imagination. Since the release of « Souvenirs d’un autre monde », I have met people all around the world that told me they had comparable experiences. I feel that in my case, it’s possible that I could have kept memories from a spiritual world where we would go before and after being on Earth. I believe in the existence of a soul, an essence infinitely bigger than our human self, that is separate from the body, but that gets reincarnated into a body as a vehicle for the time of its earthly existence, in order to learn, grow and get to experience material life. I believe that we have nothing to fear and that death is just the passage from one state to the other.
The best way for me to stay in touch with this place and these sensations now, is thru contact with nature. What inspires me the most, is to go out into a beautiful garden or into the forest in spring, when nature is coming back to life and when the trees with newborn emerald leaves, move in the breeze.
Then I can get intense reminiscences of this spiritual world; it’s like a trigger.
The landscapes of the south of France can look similar to the place of my memories. There are a lot of tall trees that grow next to water, fountains, enchanting green oaks and some mediterranean houses with elegant white columns. This whole region near my hometown is almost taking the shape of an otherworldly scenery sometimes. There actually are several pictures in the artworks of « Le Secret » and « Souvenirs d’un autre monde » of the
spots where I used to go to get inspired. I am sure that being born in the South of France wasn’t a coincidence and the beauty of the landscapes there had a very important role in the way Alcest and my spirituality developed.
I didn’t make any demo versions of the songs, so I kept all the riffs and song structures for the record in my mind. I played them regularly over the months and years it took to
make the album, to check if I was sure about everything that I had got until the writing process was almost complete. The album was recorded and mixed at my parent’s home in Bagnols-Sur-Cèze over a period of 1 year and a half, during 2005 and 2006. I had no skills in terms of music recording, just a pair of ears and a small book about the subject, that a friend had lent me but that I ended up not reading much of in the end. I wasn’t experienced at all, but still wanted to achieve a decent sound, so that’s probably why it took me such a long time. As far as gear is concerned, I wasn’t comfortable with technology and music programs on computers, so I decided to buy a digital physical recorder. I chose the Roland VS-2400 CD, that had 24 tracks, a built in editing/mixing interface (that was really limited), sound effects, a mastering tool, and a CD burner. In other words, it was just like a regular studio setup but you’ve got everything in a single machine.
The audio quality wasn’t as good as what you could get in a real studio with pre-amps, professional microphones and everything, but it was decent enough.
The other pieces of gear I had, were a super cheap drum microphone setup, which I don’t remember the brand of.
It wasn’t even an authentic brand I think… You got 6or 7 mics in a plastic box, for the price of one ok, « normal » mic. They were surely awful… Paired with the basic drum kit I had (a cheap Pearl Export kit), that’s probably why the sound of the drums is so lo-fi. In retrospective, I
think it gives a certain charm to the overall sound though, something quite organic and DIY. For the guitars, I had a Peavey guitar and a Marshall 8240 Valvestate S80 amp.
The Peavey was a cheap guitar as well, but for some reason sounded really good. Especially the clean tone, which was fantastic. I kept on using that guitar on the sophomore album, « Écailles de lune » that contributed to the dreamiest clean sound we had in Alcest, in my opinion.
For the main rhythm distortion, two tracks panned left and right were laid down, using the saturated channel of the Marshall and a SM57 microphone. Then I recorded two other tracks with a Line 6 Pod and a different texture to give the rhythm section more density. The SM57 was also used for the voice. It’s not the most obvious choice to record soft clean vocals, but with a bit of EQ later in the process, it worked pretty well. For the bass, I had a Ibanez SR that was plugged directly into the console. The only regret I have concerning the recording is the way I recorded the acoustic guitar, which in the end has quite an important role on the album. Just like the bass and the Line 6 rhythm guitars, I plugged it directly into the recorder (it was an amplified acoustic guitar), but I should have taken the sound with a microphone instead, to give it a warmer and more roomy sound.
The mix and mastering took a long time, because I was always doing comparisons with other records. I had to burn CDs for each version, go to my bedroom upstairs and then compare it with some reference albums to make sure that everything was alright. Burning a CD with this
recorder took ages, so the whole thing was extremely tedious. In the end, I can say that the sound surely isn’t the most common or professional I’ve heard, but it has a strong character and a lot of authenticity. I really don’t have much regrets for this record, and the fact that it
wasn’t a bombastic and loud production (due to my lack of knowledge and experience), actually increased the fragile and airy feel of the album.
At the time I started to work on « Souvenirs d’un autre monde », I was already listening to a lot of bands outside of the metal realm. I’ve always been really open-minded and curious when it comes to discovering new music. However, ten years ago it was not common in the French underground metal community to appreciate both black metal and other bands like Depeche Mode, New Order and Joy Division, which count among my favorites. I remember that during the making of « Souvenirs… » I tried not to get directly influenced by music from
the outside and kept the inspirational sources as personal as possible. Obviously, the things I listened to certainly left a mark on me anyway; that’s something you can’t really avoid. Bands like Dead Can Dance, The Smashing Pumpkins and Yann Tiersen for example. I was crazy about Yann Tiersen’s album « Rue des cascades ». It had simple, almost childlike, touching melodies and a strong nostalgic feel. It’s possible to hear its influence on « Souvenirs d’un autre monde ». « Siamese Dream » by The Smashing Pumpkins (probably my favorite record ever) completely changed the way I conceived heavy music, because it was the first time I heard a heavy band using both major/uplifting chords and a wall of distortion. I just loved that sound and felt connected to it for my own music too. There also was an obvious influence from the 90’s Norwegian black metal in the blasting drum parts and the tremolo picking. At the time, I wanted to keep some elements from black metal, but to use them in a completely different context. Instead of having dark and grim melodies, I would use the distortion and
the fast tremolos to achieve an uplifting, nostalgic and luminous feel. As for shoegaze, I got into that scene and bands like Slowdive precisely during the recording of the album, so it didn’t actually influence the writing process. There are so many different impulses in the music (I forgot to mention celtic and classical music), that people often struggle to put Alcest into a genre box. That’s probably why the most conservative metal people disliked us in the beginning. I remember the response to the album was very contrasted. « Souvenirs d’un autre monde » was a love or hate thing for people. In my opinion, there shouldn’t be any compromises when it comes to making art. This album in its overly fragile and otherworldly atmosphere could definitely fall in the category of «no compromise». Alcest is often labelled as the pioneer of « blackgaze », which is certainly a great compliment to me, but I’ve always felt that our sound palette was more diverse than the guidelines of that genre. I would say that other blackgaze bands are usually more « black » than « gaze » so to speak, which is not necessarily our case.
« Souvenirs d’un autre monde » is the album that took the longest time to compose and record out of the whole Alcest discography. The com position started with the title track « Souvenirs d’un autre monde » in 2002/2003 and was finished in 2006 with the song « Tir Nan Og ». I was still at school, so I couldn’t focus on music full time, but the main reason for the delay of this process, was the fact I had a really specific idea that needed to be achieved. I wasn’t in a hurry; only the final result mattered. Now when I compose music, I can have periods of doubts, often asking myself if the material is good enough or not. For this album,
it was a different story. I was free from any kind of pressure from the outside, and because I was still quite unexperienced as a musician, the whole thing ended up feeling very genuine. It’s a pure concept album that didn’t follow any pre-established rules. All of this gives « Souve
nirs… » a really special place in my heart today and is probably also why it’s one of the proudest moments of my musical career so far.
-Neige, June 2017.