France’s Monolithe is just about the most fun anyone can have with doom metal. They’ve brought a progressive, forever-evolving element to the sound and an irreverent approach to traditional song structures that keeps listeners guessing. A gradual and intense exploration that asks for your company on the journey rather than your indulgence. All that combined into albums of just one single song is what sets them apart. Think Pink Floyd at its drifting best with deep doom and some melodic death flair added for good measure. But as the band’s mastermind and creative force Sylvain Bégot says, labels do not stick very well to Monolithe. So what’s it all about? Is he comfortable with the funeral doom tag? Is he concerned the tiny concentration-spans of the internet generation are a barrier to their commercial success? Let’s find out.
AN: Thanks for agreeing to the interview. You must be one of the most expansive doom acts I’ve come across. In fact, one of the most interesting metal acts I’ve heard in the past couple of years. Why did you pick doom – or even metal – in the first place?
SB: Thank you very much.
Basically, the answer is that I’m a metalhead, first and foremost. I’ve been listening to music since I was 10; I discovered metal at 12 or something. Then I listened to Metal, only Metal for almost 10 years and then, in my early twenties, I slowly learned to appreciate, or rather re-appreciate music as a whole; other genres, other styles. Doom Metal is a genre amongst many others. I didn’t really choose it for Monolithe, I wrote the music of the first full-length and it happened to be Doom Metal. This kind of music was probably the best to fit the concept, the story I wanted to express with that band. It came as a symbiosis of my artistic culture and interests at the time.
AN: You have as much in common with the funeral doom genre as any other – do you feel comfortable with that association?
SB: I don’t really mind, but It’s restrictive; I try and avoid using epithets to describe what the band does when I can. Monolithe is not one of those bands which has been created by metal fans who wanted to make music like their idols. Doom Metal, especially such labeled as “Funeral” is heavily attached to codes and clichés. There are many bands who pretend to play “true” this or “true” that. This way of seeing things sounds very childish, juvenile to me. What they do is gather clichés together and make pseudo “new” songs out of it. It doesn’t interest me at all.
The genre of music Monolithe plays doesn’t matter any more. We are a band rooted in the Doom Metal genre, but which makes its own brand of music. I will always feel closer to bands such as Blut Aus Nord, Enslaved or Opeth for example, than any current extreme Doom Metal act; Even if our music is totally different. They are bands that have set their own rules, their own world. In the doom genre, Anathema, My Dying Bride or Unholy did that too in the early 90’s; that’s where our roots lie. I can’t tell you Monolithe plays Funeral Doom, because it’s not true. But I can tell you there is some Funeral Doom in Monolithe. ]
AN: You don’t give much away lyrically. The concept is obviously loosely based around the Space Odyssey theme but how has it evolved over the albums and EPs? Can you tell us a bit more about the lyrical theme of the latest album?
SB: The Monolithe saga or “The Great Clockmaker” saga tells the story of the rise and fall of mankind as a species in a sentient universe. In our world, the universe is a thinking entity that suffers from meaninglessness and inexorable entropy, which are like diseases to it. Humanity is created unconsciously or by “accident” as a vaccine against the “illness”. The common points with “2001 A Space Odyssey” are the facts that some extra terrestrial intelligence is helping mankind to reach new levels of knowledge through those black rectangle machines called the monoliths. Monolithe I and Monolithe II were written from an omniscient point of view, whereas Monolithe III was written from the point of view of mankind. After the ultimate doom of men at the end of M3, Monolithe IV is narrated from the point of view of that entity, the Universe. Its thoughts and purposes are, of course, so radically different than men’s that its logic is unreachable to them. All that is explained in details in our back catalogue’s reissues’ liner notes (the first two albums and a compilation).
AN: Where does IV fit musically into the four part ‘cycle’ that ends with this release?
SB: M4 is made from the same blue print as the previous records. All the musical specificities that make Monolithe sound like it does are used once again; but there are, like it is the case with each new albums, new inputs again. All albums are linked by a strong concept and a musical “mould” but they stand alone as well with their own specificities. M4 is no different than that. This one is a very contrasted record in which our bleakest and more melodic, uplifting moments are dueling contently. The first half is a deeply desolated landscape whereas the second has a more ethereal, hypnotic feel.
AN: There was a big gap between parts two and three – what happened? Why the break?
SB: We released an EP called “Interlude Premier” in 2007, two years after the sophomore album. Then we worked on what was supposed to become Monolithe III at the time (and ended up being “Interlude Second” a few years later). But I personally entered a period of changes in my life so music didn’t take so much space in it any more. That process has also been accelerated by the fact that we were not happy with our label at the time (Candlelight Records) and endless mixing problems occurred with the record we were working on. My motivation was simply sucked out, so being away from the music world for a while and focus on other things allowed me to reload. Monolithe made a come back in January 2012 with the release of our “Interlude Second” EP. And then, the band has been put back on track with the signing on Debemur Morti. I wrote completely new material, re-gathered the other band members and then we recorded Monolithe III the same year.
AN: … then the last two albums came within a year of each other – are you guys hitting some sort of creative streak at the moment?
SB: Yes, you can see it like that. After almost 5 years without writing music, it felt like there was much to say, so to speak. Monolithe III has been written at a very fast pace (6 weeks). Monolithe IV took much longer but it was written in the same wave of creativity, right after M3 has been recorded and mixed. So yeah, these 2 albums have been done almost in a row.
AN: You manage to stay very focused throughout the individual releases and parts three and four work beautifully, while also sitting well with the first parts. But was there any point in the four part process you thought you had set yourself a mountain to climb? How do you control / drive the creative process when writing an hour-long album?
SB: I don’t really think that way; some albums are easy to write (Monolithe III for example), some others need more time to bloom. That’s perfectly normal. There is, anyway, no need to rush and finish it absolutely before a deadline. Monolithe IV took 6 or 7 months to be composed and 5 more to be recorded and mixed. So what? When I have nothing to express musically, I don’t force it. That’s what you do when you need to maintain a career, make a living out of it; go on tour, that sort of things. That’s not the case with Monolithe. We’re completely devoid of that kind of pressure because we don’t want to enter that circus.
The creative process is not something easy to explain, especially as its manifestation has changed through the years. There are ideas, that need to be materialized and sometimes those ideas are feeding themselves, multiplying like cells. When writing such long songs, you have to keep in mind the balance of the overall track; it has to constantly evolve and remain interesting. You have to avoid the short cuts such as gluing some individual parts together, it won’t work. And sometimes you have to remind the listener that he’s listening to one song only. So, some parts may come back, but not too much and at the right time. It requires much work, there’s no secret.
AN: Do you feel like interest in Monolithe is gathering momentum?
SB: Yes. Things have been accelerating for the band since we came back in early 2012. We gathered a lot of new fans in a short period of time. But it could be more. The seeds are in the ground, let’s wait for the kind of plants that are gonna grow out of them. Unfortunately many people who can find great interest in us are probably reluctant to make the first step because of the one song-album format and the “Funeral Doom” epithet. But it doesn’t really matter, we knew since day one that our music was not for everyone. The most important is that those albums exist. If people like them, that’s the cherry on the cake.
AN: Has signing with Debemur Morti helped?
SB: Yes. Debemur Morti sort of resurrected the band. The perspective of working with the label has helped to load us with a renewed ambition. I’m not sure Monolithe III and Monolithe IV would have been written if DMP hadn’t been there. Phil & Cédric have always been very helpful and supportive. They respect our choices and give us very strong and wise advices. And of course, complete creative freedom.
AN: You originally intended to end Monolithe with the release of ‘IV’…. What are your plans now? Can you give us any idea where you could go musically or lyrically next with Monolithe, if you continued?
SB: The plan now is to supervise the reissue of our back catalogue. Our debut album Monolithe I has been reissued in August. Monolithe II and a compilation, including our two EP as well as 2 other songs, called Monolithe Zero will follow. I don’t know when, though. Probably during the first half of 2014.
After that, I don’t know. If Monolithe can come back some day with something strong enough, it will; if not it will remain silent. It’s really too early to say. I don’t know. I’m not working on anything. Like I said earlier, you can’t force it. I need to have an elaborated project in mind. I have a few ideas, but nothing that came close enough to fruition yet. I don’t even know if they belong to Monolithe or something else.
AN: Is there any scope to work more collaboratively with other members of the band on new Monolithe material or do you still prefer to work alone?
SB: The sole purpose of working alone is to not have my vision spoiled by any compromise. That’s where I stand. I know too much how it feels when a great idea turns to shit or so-so because some other guy in your band doesn’t understand it or doesn’t stand at the same place, culture-wise. I do prefer to work alone, at least for Monolithe. The other band members know it since the beginning, that was part of the deal. They all play in their own bands too, in which they are more in control. And that works very well this way; but their suggestions of improvements or ideas are very welcome during the recording sessions.
I don’t exclude a collaborative association with another composer for another project, though. Something has actually been vaguely discussed between me and the main man of another DMP band but I don’t know if it will really happen some day. Time will tell.
AN: You’ve said before that you don’t see Monolithe working in a live environment? Is that still the case? Maybe for a one-off?
SB: That kind of music rarely works in a live environment in my opinion. Or it would require a huge deal of means to put out a real show, and much more than 3 or 4 musicians to perform it on a 2 square meter stage between 2 other bands. But honestly, I’m just not interested in live performance any more. I prefer the creative side of music rather than the performing side of it. It often spoils the magic, the mystic. Live shows work much better with more simple, more straight forward kind of rock or metal than ours. A one-off could be a wonderful experience if done properly of course; but doing it for real, with all the work and means that it would require… I seriously doubt it could ever happen, even if we wanted to.
AN: Does it make it harder to promote the record when you are not appearing live?
SB: Yes, of course. Touring would be the best way to promote our albums. But there are too many factors running against it, the more important of them being me not being interested in playing live any more, like I said earlier. I enjoyed it in the past with my previous band but now I moved on to a life that would not fit with touring schedules anyway. No live shows, 50+ minute long song-albums, “intellectual” concept, yeah, that’s not helping in being the next best seller. Consider we stepped in the “right” direction for a year or two, since we have at least some promo shots to give to the media. That hasn’t been the case before 2012 (just two poorly produced pics)!
AN: Do you have any other projects on the go at the moment? Or any plans to resurrect Anthemon? Or even new horizons outside of metal?
SB: Apart from what I talked about previously, which remains at point zero for now, there’s nothing cooking up right now. I don’t want to rush; If something comes up, I want to take the time to do it well.
Anthemon, well, Marc (vocals & bass) and I have talked about doing something one year ago but it didn’t go much further than a few emails. This band belongs to the past and I doubt it will reform again. We released the demos from our ghost album “Alois” on bandcamp, though (http://anthemon.bandcamp.com), because we thought it would satisfy the die-hard fans that have asked for it and because it was too frustrating to let those quite good drafts of songs rot on a hard drive without ever being heard; But I think that’s the last you’ll ever hear from Anthemon.
AN: Where do you draw your inspiration from? Are there are artists past or present you’d like to or like to have had the chance to work with?
SB: Inspiration is drawn from what I call a “cultural soup” in which everything that had an impact on me is included to add some flavour. That may be music, cinema, books, painting, trip to a foreign country, anything really. For example, I was in the subway the other day and I heard some kind of cooling device making very arrhythmical weird noises, because it was broken maybe, that I thought would sound great if played by drums. Call that an influence, perhaps?
There are many artists with whom I would be, hypothetically, very honoured and interested to work with. But you know, there are in my opinion very few chances that two creative minds that are used to control everything in their own bands could get along well. There are collaborations that remain on the level of a dream and those who are realistic, because of some factors such as cultural proximity or similar views on the music they ought to work on. I don’t run after it, thought; but I’m open.
AN: Thanks very much for agreeing to the interview – great music! Keep it up!
SB: Thank you very much!
(Interview Reverend Darkstanley)