Zeal & Ardor Interview 2017

Zeal & Ardor is one of the most perspective new projects within avant-garde metal scene. We can see that not only based on numerous 2016 polls but also on the ticket sales for their upcoming European tour. In this fun talk with the main man Manuel Gagneux, we spoke not only about album Devil Is Fine but also about his inspirations, gear, voice protection and historical education. At the end of the interview, Manuel provided opinion on these three albums: The Black Queen – Fever Daydream, Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen, Thy Catafalque – Meta.

 

Your upcoming European tour looks very promising as some shows are already sold out.

Yeah man, but it’s also scary. I have never been on tour and normally bands get to play shitty venues at first. So it’s really weird. We are rehearsing now and I’m little bit scared.

 

 

I assume you will be coming with a line-up we could see let say on Couleur3 Session Live. You sound very compact together. Where did you find these professional musicians?

They are just friends of mine. I mean, they are all really good musicians, but just people I knew for a long time. I simply asked them, if they would like to come on this strange tour with me and they said yeah.

 

You will be playing in Prague on 24th of April during Roxy club’s “Free Mondays”. As it will be a free show, you can expect some interesting spectrum of guests coming. But as you said in one of the interviews, you are used to both extremes within opinions, right?

(Laugh) It will be cool and yeah, I am used to both. But I think it is a good sign! (Laugh)

 

Are you already trying to get some festival slots this summer?

Yeah, it will be here and there something. Some invitations are already coming and we have confirmed so far Metal Hammer festival in Katowice, Poland. I don’t think we are going to do Czechia again this year. That’s going to be only show, I am afraid.

 


 

I am not doubting, you will receive sooner or later, actually very soon, an invitation from Brutal Assault. It has big respect also outside of Czech Republic and let say, last year we had Chelsea Wolfe, Animals as Leaders or Gojira.

Oh shit! I have to check it out. Shit, Devin Townsend is playing there this summer and Nile!

 

Gear & Voice

It we move to gear for a while, what is your most favorite and most used model of guitar?

I use Ibanez S Series starburst finish. I play with Floyd Rose, but I don’t have the tremolo stick on. I just use it with my hand. My friend plays a Jackson sometimes but most of the time also Ibanez. I have my guitar for at least ten years. It’s all ugly and fucked up. But actually, it’s really nice and I love the neck. (Laugh)

 

Thinner, thicker?

Thinner, cause I have very small girlish hands. (Laugh)

 

 

What about microphones, as you also use a lot of effects? Good example, would be a song Don’t You Dare.

For live shows I have TELEFUNKEN microphones. There are actually two on stage. One is for effects, that’s a normal SM48 from Shure and the other one is TELEFUNKEN. For recording I use F&H microphone or I have really bad Condenser microphone that I bought in China for ten dollars. It sounds horrible, but for what I do, it’s actually perfect. In the case of Don’t You Dare, it’s just shit ton of reverb. It comes from the effect board, more precisely Large Hall plug-in I found on a weird website. There is basically no drive signal. So, when I go: “(Sounds as a raven/evil cough)” or something like that, it sounds as a scream, but I don’t have to scream loud and overtime. I can’t really scream, because it will fuck up my voice for the rest of the set. We have to cheat.

 

I’m glad you are mentioning that because I was just rewriting an interview with Chelsea Wolfe, I did last summer at Brutal Assault, where she was talking about a voice protection, as one bad scream can limit her for days. So what about you and voice protection in a long term?

You can hear my voice now. (Laugh) It’s pretty bad, because we were rehearsing for six days now. We played our set twice or three times every day. It’s pretty rough. I will definitely get used to it, but I also have to kind of figure out how to protect my voice. Especially, when we will be on the road, where I might get sick let say. It’s something I never thought about, but it can really fuck up the things. (Laugh)

 

For what I understood from Chelsea and others, it’s mainly tea with honey and tons of ginger. Somebody was also speaking about corn flakes, which are also cool for different edge of screaming. Many singers were mentioning instructional DVD The Zen of Screaming from Melissa Cross, but you will be discovering your tricks step by step, right?

Yeah, pretty much! (Laugh)

 


 

One-man project

Could you tell us something about your music education? I was wondering if you might have been active in kid’s choir and if you started with guitar in early age?

Well, I started playing guitar when I was fifteen or sixteen and I didn’t really start singing until I was twenty or something like that. My parents are both musicians, so there was always a piano in the house to sit and play around. I don’t have any musical education. I just always played around for fun.

 

So, where do you think you have gathered skills to become practically a one-man project?

I don’t know, it’s just, if you are passionate about something and you think its fun to do, there is no reason not to do it. Of course there are a lot of songs, which are not on the record, that sound really, really shit. (Laugh) I believe, if you can stick with something and you feel it’s still fun to do, even if not everything is great, it will lead to something good.

 

Inspirations

I guess it is a proper moment to ask you about your inspirations, as there is a giant spectrum that comes to my mind. First of all names as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and one part of the song Come On Down reminded of Ray Charles: “She gives me money, when I’m in need!”. So, what about your roots in that field?

Actually, I listen to a lot of soul music and stuff like that, but for this record I listened to a lot of old field recordings from this guy called Alan Lomax. Between the thirties and forties he recorded all of these prison songs, slave jams, old gospels, like first blues stuff. That was the biggest inspiration for me.

 

 

Next to that there is black/death metal side of you. When did you fall in love with these genres? I remember I was about twelve or thirteen, when I fell in love with Sepultura’s Beneath The Remains and year after that with Death’s Sound Of Perseverance.

I think I was about twelve, when a friend showed me Piece of Mind from Iron Maiden. I thought it was fucking cool! And then he showed me Roots by Sepultura. Yeah, and then it was over. Suddenly I wanted faster, harder music and anything extreme. I think you know, what it is like! (Laugh) Black metal was mainly Norwegian scene: Burzum, Darkthrone and also more melodic stuff like Naglfar. There were also plenty of influences within technical melodic death metal. I usually listen to horrible bands that are probably not cool, but they are still inside me I guess. (Laugh) Can’t take them out from my life…

 

When you are young and something comes to you and you play it for multiple times, you eventually fall in love with that.

Exactly! That’s exactly, what it was! (Laugh)

 

I was also wondering, if you are moving one step forward from your black metal idols and checking their latest work? Personally, I love Ihsahn’s ((ex-) Emperor) very progressive avant-garde solo work. What about you?

Actually, I haven’t listened to it yet. Sounds very interesting thought. I will have to check it out.

 

I spoke to Mlny from Royal Thunder yesterday and we both came across Watain from Sweden.

Yeah, my friend is a huge fan and he always plays their music in a car! (Laugh) World is small! (Laugh) Its cool stuff and I think black metal is having some sort of a renaissance now. There are weird, strange, interesting new elements joined in and even the community embraced this sort of synth-wave movement. It’s very strange, but great too. (Laugh) It’s opening up, but it makes sense because it used to be the most extreme genre in music and now it has sort of classical format and all of these rules. It’s logical, they need to be broken for some people.

 


Black metal rules need to be broken for some people

 

Did you say synth-wave?

Yeah, like Perturbator and few others.  They are playing in venues where they normally play black metal, but the audience is same.

 

I’m glad you are mentioning Perturbator as I remember watching his show last year at Brutal Assault festival. It was a real shock, after all of those death metal shows, seeing him behind massive DJ table. I think other people were even more shocked. It felt like I am on some weird rave teenage party. It was weird, but it made sense!

Right! (Laugh) I think that’s sort of beautiful. Love that guy…

 

Do you know The Black Queen?

The Black Queen?

 

That’s The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato side project. It’s an 80’s synth pop band and Greg sings melodically in there…

Are you kidding me?

 

No bullshit. I didn’t fall in love with any other album like that for at least five years! There are also members from Telefon Tel Aviv and Nine Inch Nails. I’m absolutely obsessed with this band. I even went to Berlin to see them live. There were about fifty other people in the audience, but it was even better like that. Their debut Fever Daydream would be my most honest recommendation for you.

Ok, I’m going to check them out! (Laugh)

 

Bravery and fun

If we look at song Sacrilegium I, there are also oriental elements, hip hop and electronics. Can we say, next to black metal and Deep South music there are other, sort of a “city” influences?

Maybe, maybe, but that’s just a stuff I like. I like whole weird spectrum of music and to be honest, I don’t know a single person who listens to one music genre. So, it’s really weird when people expect from an artist just to do one music genre. It’s sort of disappointing when you think about it.

 

Yeah, but you need a bravery and capabilities to mix all of that together. The mixture you have provided is new and that doesn’t happen often. That’s why you are receiving so many compliments, I guess.

Maybe. I know people, even metal musicians that have recorded beautiful music, but they say: “Yeah, I can’t release it, because that’s not what people would expect from me.” And that’s so sad to me. It’s a tragedy, when you think about.

 

Greg Puciato had same fears with The Black Queen’s debut album, but released it. I believe in making the most honest think you can and releasing it. I guess, that’s how your career started right?

Pretty much. I didn’t expect anything. It was just something I did for myself. That makes it charming I guess, not trying to please anyone. It’s just trying to have fun.

 

What were the first steps, when you were releasing music? I am just trying to understand how it got to let say users of a website Metal Storm, where you have just won a second place in a category of avant-garde metal in their yearly awards. You know about it right?

I know the website, but I did what?! (Laugh) I don’t know shit. Let me look at that… Oh shit, Gojira won in Alternative metal! Sorry about that, I love those guys. (Laugh) Wait, there I am! This is fucking great!

 


 

Do you know other bands from that list as Kayo Dot, Madder Mortem and also single man project Thy Catafalque, which won the poll this year?

It’s really embarrassing, but I know from that list only Todtgelichter and öOoOoOoOoOo, which I really love.

 


 

In August you will be playing at very interesting event in Last Vegas called Psycho. The line-up is absolutely fantastic as there are Neurosis, Chelsea Wolfe, Wolves In The Throne Room, Crystal Fairy, Cult Of Luna With Julie Christmas, Myrkur and Inter Arma. I’m just wondering, what are albums which you enjoyed lately and if you trying to discover new great music within avant-garde metal.

Yeah, definitely. First of all, Bandcamp release Astronoid – Air and also Ghost Bath – Moonlover. I really liked that album. Other than that, I don’t listen to a lot of avant-garde stuff. I mainly like avant-garde classical, avant-garde jazz. But, for metal, I don’t know. It’s strange. (Laugh)

 

Is it that you haven’t heard any good tips lately, or you rather don’t want to listen to it? It’s actually nothing bad, because I heard similar thing from many musicians, which don’t want to listen to anything within their field…

No, it’s not that. I just don’t really come across some good tips, so I am definitely going to check the bands, you were recommending earlier.

 

On Spotify, I came across to an official Zeal & Ardor playlist. Was it done by you?

Yeah, that’s my weird music playlist… (Laugh)

 

Do you know other bands from that list as Kayo Dot, Madder Mortem and also single man project Thy Catafalque, which won the poll this year?

It’s really embarrassing, but I know from that list only Todtgelichter and öOoOoOoOoOo, which I really love.

 

In August you will be playing at very interesting event in Last Vegas called Psycho. The line-up is absolutely fantastic as there are Neurosis, Chelsea Wolfe, Wolves In The Throneroom, Crystal Fairy, Cult Of Luna With Julie Christmas, Myrkur and Inter Arma. I’m just wondering, what are albums which you enjoyed lately and if you trying to discover new great music within avant-garde metal.

Yeah, definitely. First of all, Bandcamp release Astronoid – Air and also Ghost Bath – Moonlover. I really liked that album. Other than that, I don’t listen to a lot of avant-garde stuff. I mainly like avant-garde classical, avant-garde jazz. But, for metal, I don’t know. It’s strange. (Laugh)

 

Is it that you haven’t heard any good tips lately, or you rather don’t want to listen to it? It’s actually nothing bad, because I heard similar thing from many musicians, which don’t want to listen to anything within their field…

No, it’s not that. I just don’t really come across some good tips, so I am definitely going to check the bands, you were recommending earlier.

 

On Spotify, I came across to an official Zeal & Ardor playlist. Was it done by you?

Yeah, that’s my weird music playlist… (Laugh)

 

That’s some seriously crazy stuff, man. Hot Head Show, The Bad Plus, Shamash… When I checked these songs, I finally understood your style. There are numerous examples of bands squeezing numerous genres into one songs. So many mood and tempo changes. Reggae, free jazz, really interesting and inspirational music. So, how do you come across these sort of bands? 

It’s mainly by going to the live shows. I went to see Les Claypool, you know, the bassist from Primus in Zurich and Hot Head Show was opening for him. It was insane. At first I thought: “What the fuck is this?!” but then I absolutely fell in love with that. I just have strange friends, who love strange music and we talk in a way: “You are weird, listen to this!” (Laugh)

 


I just have strange friends, who love strange music

 

So, you are now staying in Switzerland, right?

Yeah, cause the band is here and we have to rehearse here. I mean, we get to rehearse here. It’s a luxury of course…

 

As I am half Yugoslavian and I spent few years in Serbia, I would like to talk now about a song called Balkan Beast. You shocked me a bit with that one in a good way, but I was just wondering, how the hell did you come across Balkan music?

Me and my friends, we used to squat in this house and we had concerts there with musicians from all around the world. There were numerous grind core bands, strange metal bands AND every year there was a band of Romani people. They would play from ten o’clock in the evening till six am. So, that was the exposure, I guess. (Laugh)

 

 

What was the name of the band? It was probably not the Fanfare Ciocărlia, the most famous Romani band?

No, no. They were called “Holub”, I think.

 

So, when you were listening to that for a whole night, you managed to absorb it all, like Antonio Banderas in The 13th Warrior?

(LAUGH) Yes, exactly! (Laugh) Oh my god!

 

 

 

What are your plans with these songs? Are you releasing it online for fun or might be releasing some of them on let some future album or EP?

It’s just for fun. I don’t have any plans with them. I mean, if people want to listen to them, its fine. But, it’s nothing I would focus on. If anything random like that will happen, I will probably approach it the same way – record & release.

 

Another thing that really surprised me on your music, is the length of the songs. We can call your music experimental/progressive/avant-garde but there are surprisingly short songs. On the other hand, there is an old saying: “There is nothing harder than writing good short song.”

Maybe I just can’t write long songs. (Laugh) But don’t tell it to anyone. (Laugh)

 


 

Devil Is Fine is working closely with historical and religious elements, not only in the lyrics but also in the graphics. What were some of your sources during research? Personally, I enjoyed much a book called A History of the Devil: From the Middle Ages to the Present from Robert Muchembled.

Actually, I think I read the same book as you did. Mostly I read the books I could find in the library. It’s very sensitive subject and if you do any fuck up, it would be very disrespectful to a lot of people. So, it was important to me to…not fuck up anything. (Laugh) One of the most crucial books was Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and few others. I wanted to have a broader understanding of the subject.

 

I must say, when I first came across with the album I said to myself: “What the fuck is this?!” It was a shock, but I somehow I knew, album is worth giving time. On about fifth listen I started to enjoy it. But the first contact was crucial, as it gave me mixed feelings and somehow I thought of some of the shock metal icons. You belong to absolutely different category than Rammstein or Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, but were you working consciously with “shocking” the listener?

Actually, not at all. It was a systematic thing. Think about this. Norwegians had Christianity forced on them and American people had forced it on them too. Norwegians rebelled, whereas American slaves did not. So, it was all about doing sacrilegious acts, like chopping up an oriental lured scene song. That’s considered sacrilege in Islam. I never tried to shock anyone. It’s just stuff that I like to listen to. Obviously, it’s not bad if it shocks people, but it was never a mission.

 


Obviously, it’s not bad if it shocks people, but it was never a mission

 

What were some of your other inspirations for lyrics? Next to an old literature, I can imagine some voodoo stories and probably some urban legends…

Well, there was this book my mother gave me. It’s about old superstitions and fairy tales that slaves would tell each other. Every story had a different name for the devil, which is kind of fantastic to me. (Laugh) A lot of them are about fire, burning and flying…

 

We are getting towards the end of our time, so I was just wondering what can we expect from the Prague show? I will try to bring some of my friends…it’s for free obviously. (Laugh)

(Laugh) Disappointment! No, kidding. Well, we have a lot of new material since the album is only twenty five minutes long. We actually managed to write nine new songs, that we are going to perform. Otherwise, it’s hard to describe, so you have to come to see.

 

Are you planning any sort of effects, possibly some background videos?

Well, we don’t have that much money. (Laugh) It would have been nice. But it’s going to be quite modest.

 

Not even a real xylophone on stage and few chains dropping by back-up singers?

No, maybe next tour! (Laugh)

 

 


Manuel Gagneux on The Black Queen – Fever Daydream, Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen & Thy Catafalque – Meta

 

The Black Queen – Fever Daydream

Lovely synth work. The vocals and percussion give me a Tears for Fears vibe, which I am very much a fan of. I also like the tasteful use of contemporary production elements blending nicely with the retro vibe.

Fav track: Secret Scream

 

Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen

Great cinematic ambience all over this. Reminds me of primitivism in its use of disharmony and repetition and instrumentation (specifically Stravinsky). Lovely use of surprise brass and feedback here too. I wonder if they have a Sunn O))) style life set. Definitely giving this one some more listens.

Fav Track: Tacit 2

 

Thy Catafalque – Meta

This is a perfect blend of old and new. I think what they nailed the most on this record is balance. Nothing comes off as a gimmick or as a mere decoration. Composition is stellar. I also really enjoy the shouting voice on this. I’m a sucker for melodic stuff and this is right up my alley.

Fav Track: Ixion Duun

 

 

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