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"We like the idea of us going more extreme with each record." Regarde Les Hommes Tomber (English version)

This was sure a long wait for Regarde Les Hommes Tomber fans. Finally after almost five years, their third album Ascension hit the shelves and showcases what seems to be a natural evolution in the sound of the band. It definitely treads more on Black Metal ground, a more agressive and faster record which also lets the band explore new musical territories. We discussed all things Ascension and their recent live collaboration with countrymen Hangman's Chair with their singer T.C and guitarist A.M.

Photos by David Fitt

Let's start with a lame but mandatory question : there's been four and a half years between Exile and Ascension. Can you tell me what happened during this period ?  

T.C (vocals)
: Well firstly, we toured quite a bit for Exile, in France and Europe. It was a rather long phase. When the touring was done, we allowed ourselves a real break because we just needed it. So we took four months off to ressource ourselves. And basically, we started working on the new album around the spring of 2018. 

A.M (guitars) : We realized that we had played a lot of shows. We also did a very beautiful european tour with Der Weg Einer Freiheit and when it was over, we just sat down and said : "We're done, let's stop playing shows and take a break. And then start writing our third record." So we didn't see each other for a while, didn't play music or whatever. After that, we started composing, which took almost a year. That's just how it happened and I personally think it's better to lay in the shadows for a while and then come back with full force. You don't wanna tire the audience and actually get bored yourself. The thing is, we're not the kind of band who is able to write on tour. That's very important, we have to be in specific conditions to write our music. 

What did you learn during those four years ?

A.M : Well, some things just take time. Season of Mist expressed interest for us quite some time ago but we refused to sign anything we had started writing new material. We didn't want to be in a position where we would have to make this album as an obligation. There had to be the will to work on a new album in the band, it was foundamental. Also, we needed to question ourselves about the writing of the music. What changed on this album was I provided most of the compositions whereas J.J.S did in the past. At the time, I lived in Paris and they were all still in Nantes. And I basically left Paris to come back in Nantes, so that we could all work on this together. I needed to focus on this.

Now I understand why Ascension almost sounds like another band. It sounds a lot more Black Metal, with a quite old school approach. Did that happen naturally or did you really want to go in that direction ? 

A.M : After we paused the band for a few months, we had to find an approach for the third album. . At the beginning of this band, J.S.S wrote most of our music, and I had just written on song on Exile, which is The Incandescent March. Today, even though the original flame comes from him, music is also a team effort. As I had amassed quite a lot of riffs in the last years, I brought them to the table to see with the guys if we could work something out with them. A New Order, the track that we released as a single, is a song that really paved the way for the musical direction of the album : longer songs with 3,4 movements, with more intensity and more extreme. At some point, we were questioning ourselves about doing something more ambient or atmospherical. But I and our drummer really wanted to make something more extreme, and that's what we followed in the end. I also think we had a rage in us and we wanted to prove ourselves that we could to it. 

T.C : The music is indeed a lot more radical on this album. The two first LPs were more on the "post" side, even though we hate that term, with big doom influences as well, filthier stuff. This time, there's a lot more light, but it's also a bit darker at times. It's definitely a more determined effort.

This is now the second album with this line-up, did T.C contribute to the writing of the album ? 

T.C : I didn't participate in the composition of the album, but rather in its interpretation. I am "lucky enough" to have a lyrics writer, so to speak. Enoch writes the lyrics which gives me total freedom on how I perform them. This album was interesting as there were quite a lot of risks taken with regard to the vocal parts. I didn't just do what I knew and mastered, I liberated myself from my usual vocal tools to try some new things, take some risks. It wasn't easy and it gave birth to something really spontaneous and simple, surprisingly. So I'm quite happy how it turned out, it helped me to get out of my comfort zone.

When I first interviewed you in 2015, you told me Regarde Les Hommes Tomber started out without a singer, which made it hard to include one in the process for Exile. So you had to "monitor" T.C quite a bit when you recorded the album, did that happen for Ascension as well ? 

T.C : Well, everyone had something to say, and that included myself. I'm not a tool, I have my artistic take on things. Obviously, there were a few artistic disagreements, some choices had to be made. But I think we were able to reach a satisfying consensus. On a few occasions, my choices wouldn't have been as good as what was decided in the end, and vice versa. Everyone was ready to make compromises and the result is still pretty nasty.

A.M : Well on Exile, T.C had just joined the band and we had a pretty clear idea of how the vocals would be so he had to follow what we had in mind. Him having a strong character, he often disagreed and was definitely true to the band spirit. [laughs] For this album, what happened was T.C tried new things every night when we toured with Der Weg Einer Freiheit. And we would give him feedback and tell him to keep things in mind for the next album. He worked a lot on his own, especially on the technical aspects and when he came in for the recording, we told him to relinquish everything he had done before to be as spontaneous as possible. I think this process was much more interesting than what we did last time. He tried out a lot of different things alone in his recording booth and the rest of us chose what we liked from there. We really had a blast recording vocals this time, which was something completely new for us. 

T.C : It's interesting, I had done a lot of preparation work for the vocal parts to lay a charted ground. I may have kept 60/70% of that preparation work and all the rest was left for studio improvisation. That was really cool as it gave birth to something much more human‎ and based on feeling, it could have been too clean if we had worked differently. That's what we wanted : something organic on both vocals and the instruments. 

The clean vocals on the album really reminded me of Urfaust. Is that band part of your influences ? 

T.C : It's quite ironic since I'm much more influenced by goth rock bands like The Sisters of Mercy, Type O Negative or Clan of Xymox, rather than Urfaust. I do like this band but I'm not a fan. And it's funny you mention it, it's not the first time someones hears this resemblance. But it wasn't done on purpose.

A.M : Yet, you put on the internet that you have a singing style "in the vein" of Urfaust.

T.C : That's true, but for this album, I didn't intend to sound like him. I wanted to do this in my own way and attempt to do it in a way that felt more like singing. The Urfaust guy does it in his own style and it's just great how it is. I tried to have it my own way. 

And how did that happen ? I'm pretty sure it's the first time we hear clean vocals on a Regarde les Hommes Tomber LP.

T.C: It came very intuitively. I didn't put too much of it as I don't want to become a clean singer. I placed those phrases on precise moments, three if I remember correctly, just because the vibe of the song calls for it. It felt right on the spot. And it's not always 100% in tune, but the intent was make it as genuine and based on feeling as possible.

Last time, A.M told me it was difficult to make everyone satisfied with the songs. How was it for Ascension?

A.M : [laughs] We've been telling this quite a lot, maybe too much, but the first step for us is always that every member is pleased with the songs. And obviously that takes a lot of time and it was even worse for the new album. This time, I brought riffs to the table, I had like the first three or four minutes of each song and then we worked them out together during rehearsals. It's a very harassing process to be honest : we play, play, play, play until we're satisfied. In a way, I'm quite proud of this work ethic, as for a lot of bands in the scene, it's just one dude who writes 90% of the song on Cubase and sends it to the other bandmates. Whereas we really write songs like a rock n' roll band. That's our way and what was interesting this time was we focused on songwriting during a year and then we had the opportunity to do pre-productions with Francis Caste for three days. That means we recorded the album in three days before hitting the studio a month later. It allowed us to have a demo version of the album and when the real sessions began, it was really easier for arrangements as all of the writing was done. On Exile, everything was done in a rush. Does it change anything regarding the quality of the material ? I don't know. Anyway, we approached the studio in a much more relaxed way, even though spending a month in a studio is quite hard. 

So you're the main composer of the album ? 

A.M : Well, I'm not so sure about that. J.J.S wrote the first album on his own basically and we started working together on Exile. This time, I wrote the original spark of each song and we worked on them together from there. I'm pretty sure I'm the one in the band who's the most interested in extreme metal, so it obviously influenced the material. We liked the idea that this band goes more extreme with each record. We don't tone down our music.

T.C : Yeah, it goes against the cliché of the Metal band which goes softer and more mainstream with time. We wanted to go the opposite way. It's not even a strategic choice, it's came out naturally. Anyway, this album really was a catharsis for the band when we wrote it, so in a way, it had to be extreme.

You once told me : "Regarde Les Hommes Tomber is based on J.J's guitar style". Do you still think it applies today ?

A.M : It's really interesting to rethink about that with perspective. J.J.S laid down the foundations of the band. I have a very different kind of playing and riffing. I write a lot of riffs in A, I love all the Finnish bands like Sargeist but also LLNSeigneur Voland, etc... I'm also a big fan of the French band Caverne, even though I obviously don't stand with the political side of their music. The man behind this music is a Black Metal genius of some sorts. It's an epic kind of riffing, that some people call "pagan" but I never was into that kind of stuff. My style evolved a bit towards that on Ascension. But J.J.S was able to blend these riffs with his own sense of melody, which makes the whole thing sound like us. I would never have been able to write a Regarde Les Hommes Tomber on my own. Again, it's team work. 

Now let's talk about your collaboration set with Hangman's Chair for Major Arcana curated by Førtifem, that you will play again at Roadburn 2020 and Dour festival. Do you think reworking your songs with them influenced the writing of the album ? 

A.M : No, for a simple reason : the collaboration was done after the writing of the record was completed. The first rehearsal we did with them happened after the first recording week. It was crossfire, and we feared we would be too drained to tackle this when coming out of the studio. Quite the contrary, it boosted us a lot to be away from Ascension for a while, and play old songs in the style of Hangman's chair, in a creative way. 

It's indeed a very interesting way to work. How did you handle it ? 

A.M : We worked it very simple, just like a rock band would do in a rehearsal room. First thing to know : the Hangmen treated us like kings. We were able to work face to face, not throwing riffs to each other by e-mail. We got together in their rehearsal room, they set two drum kits, all the amps, everything was ready when we arrived. We just grabbed our instruments and go ! I think it worked really well because of that and also because we deciced to work on a canvas : rework two of their songs, two of ours and see what would happen. The Hangmen weren't used to work like this, their stuff is always very written. R.R, J.J.S and I were just off a long writing process that lasted for months, we were very sharp on catching ideas. Sometimes, just hearing a riff would kick us to work on new ideas. For example : J.J.S wanted to work on their song Can't Talk, which closes the set. And I had no idea what we could do with it. We were rehearsing it and I wasn't at ease. They told us : "Hey this is cool but it just sounds like us, have you got an idea ?". And I found a riff which matched perfectly with the song. I also had a melody we didn't use for Ascension that we were able to rework for that song. It all happened seemlessly. 

T.C : It was all very creative and interesting. It was a great musical and human encounter. We were all very dedicated to the project. Mehdi Thepegnier was able to set a residence at Les Cuizines (Chelles) through Clément Duboscq a few days before the show. So we were able to work hard on the set and be prepared. 

I discussed this with James Kent (Perturbator). To him, that residence was what helped you to get a more honed set compared to the other Major Arcana collaborations : Dehn Sora x Nostromo and Alcest x Perturbator

A.M : That's true. But I think it's also because we worked our asses off to obtain a great outcome. Let's face it, Hangman's Chair and us have a lot more to prove than Perturbator or Alcest at this point. Also, their schedule is much busier than ours. So they had to approach their collaboration in a very different way. Our own agendas were full as well and I remember calling Mehdi from Hangman's Chair in march, he said: « That is just great but... how the hell can we pull it off ? ». I guess there was a bit of « rock n' roll magic » going on. We started working on it in july and the show was in september. We had four rehearsals and two days of residence. The thing is Francis Caste knows Hangman's Chair very well, he basically recorded everything they did. He was at the Paris show and we could see him having a blast in the crowd, as he's very tall. He came to see us after the show and told us : « Man, that was awesome. I thought you would play it safe, be filmed by Arte and grab your paycheck. But no, you worked a lot and killed it ! ».

T.C: We didn't want to do something easy, we wanted something geniune, that sounded like us. We worked as a whole and tried to gather both vibes. 

So you're gonna play this piece at Roadburn, with 15 minutes of additional music. Have you ever thought of doing a real collab' album together ?

A.M : I don't know. Making music takes a lot of time, Hangman's Chair are really busy and it's the same shit for us. This collab' was a bubble of fresh air, whereas it sounded like a very hard thing to do in theory, even though the reward looked great : playing a headline set at Le Trianon (Paris) and being filmed by Arte, all this commissoned by our friends from Førtifem. It was beautiful and I think it may be good to leave it as it is, even though it opened Roadburn for us, which is amazing by the way. I like the idea that it was all spontaneous. I remember doing an interview with Mehdi before the show and basically, we had zero expectations, nothing. So getting this great feedback is amazing.

I heard Walter Roadburn said he was « jealous » of this collaboration when he heard it. And that's why he approached James Kent, him being curator for Roadburn 2020, to invite you.

A.M : That's interesting !

I remember you and J.J.S told me that you were only satisfied by your music when it's played on stage. It is still true to this day or do you have a little more confidence with your music on record?

A.M : When a band records an album, it's a photography of the musicians as they were at the time and it can be pretty stressful, as you may want to relive it when you play it on stage. I personally think concerts carve the song into eternity, I strongly believe this. But regarding Ascension, we had more time to get prepared so I think we got something more honed than our previous albums. So I'm not so sure about that old statement. Yet, Regarde Les Hommes Tomber's music is still about concerts, that's how we live it.

T.C : Anyway, the songs we record evolve on stage, we play them differently. We can alter the tempo, introduce some breaks, etc... It's a clay that we mould as we want it to be.

Your lyrics have strong occult, eschatologic themes. I guess spirituality must play a part in the band's life. Maybe in your personal lives as well ?

A.M : Yeah, it's definitely something we are into. There are a lot of symbols with this band. If I can summarize it : music always comes first. Then our friend Enoch works on the lyrics. The visuals follow and we develop a story through our artwork. I think all these things create a whole, some sort of Regarde les Hommes Tomber syncretism. Then, we all have our own beliefs. J.J.S had a very introspective vision of the music at first. Through this album, I had something which looks a lot more like a statement. I think the Fall is something positive, as it can be emancipatory. As you read it in Kabbalah and other documents, the Fall allows you to emancipate yourself from God, whereas in monotheist religions, prayers and liturgy help to restore the link between the Divine and the Human. I also got into Christian Gnosticism, which is very interesting to me, especially on one aspect : they consider God as a Demiurge and I find that fascinating. When you read the Old Testament, you realize the actions of God are just awful. Again, we all have our own beliefs in this band but this theme is always underlying.

T.C : To me, it's art, plain and simple, so the interpretation depends on each individual. This music speaks to us, we love doing this and we hope it will resonate with people.

You now have gained a lot of fans, you will play at Hellfest 2020 and sealed a deal with Season of Mist. What are your next objectives ?

A.M : Well, we hope signing with Season of Mist will open more doors, especially when it comes to distribution and shows abroad. The tour with Der Weg Einer Freiheit was a total success so we realized we had everything in our hands for the band to work on an international level. That's what we want to do.

T.C : That's the main goal, play as much as we want. We crave for it. We will have something a bit different on stage for the next tours, we worked a lot on it. Something rawer and more assumed.

Are there some records or bands that blew your minds recently ?

T.C : Modern Mirror by Drab Majesty is amazing. It's a beautiful tribute to the 90s Goth scene. It's really well crafted.

Except for the artwork maybe ?

T.C : I really like it to be honest. It's very simple.

A.M : The Furnaces of Palingenesia by Deathspell Omega album really knocked me out. It was recorded live, I spent two days reading Bardo Methodology's interview. Each answer is fascinating, I learned a lot of stuff. He basically says that the words come first for them, whereas the music comes first for us. I also loved Zëss, the last Magma album. Some were disappointed by the studio version, I think it's sublime. I love how Christian Vander nails the singing, even if he's in his seventies. Spirituality is obviously an important part of his life and I love how he reused some of his old themes to transform them. The song came off a bit more peaceful than it was in the past and I love it. The latest Volahn EP release as a tribute to Zapata was great, just like the last Sargeist EP, it's the best thing they have put out in years. And I crave for the next Caverne release.

So you lead me to my last question with that name. I know you've been a Nécropole fan for a number of years. But at the time we talked about it, the political aspect of the band wasn't known.

A.M : That's true and then we read the lyrics and understood what was really going on. [laughs] Let's be transparent for a second : Caverne and Nécropole are handled by the same guy. I think he's a musical genius, but he has a big flaw : his obsessive antisemitism. Same weakness as Céline. I mean, I love Céline, he's one of the greatest authors of the XXth century, but his pamphlets are just delirious, as he was a sick man. And yet... I think the music is incredible.

The same debate could be held about Deathspell Omega, actually, considering Mikko Aspa's background.
A.M : That's true. Deathspell Omega is an interesting case. In the Bardo Methodology interview, the guitar player explains that they don't share the same political views and that it's part of the creative process. That's kind of the same with us actually, we're all different and that's what drives our thirst for music. There is this whole debate about politics and Black Metal and I couldn't care less. Black Metal is a nasty music in its essence, so we all should accept it and get on with it. When I see the Black Metal « hooligans » gathering in Ukraine, a pack of fifty with their fumes and guns, I think it just goes against the whole Black Metal spirit. It's an individualist music, it not meant for the masses. That's why I think Black Metal and political activism just can't go together. The latest Deathspell Omega album is very interesting in that respect, it's basically a delirious fascist pamphlet. Some people took it seriously and it's a dumb thing to do. I can also draw a parallel with Ascension : I'm getting tired of all the romantic Black Metal bands of the 90s with their scarifications and all that stuff.  We live in difficult times, it requires discipline to go through it and that's what I like about the current Black Metal scene : it's determined, and that's what Ascension is about. It's an inner fire, a spiritual quest to emancipate yourself from a lot of different things.

Neredude (Mars 2020)

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