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Aristocrazia surely enjoyed öOoOoOoOoOo's first effort "Samen", as it has been chosen as one of the top 5 albums of 2016 by three of our staff members. Now it's time to know better the two artists behind the French Caterpillar.
Welcome on Aristocrazia Webzine. How are things going?
Asphodel: Things are going quite well. We are very surprised by how "Samen" has been welcomed, and thankful too.
Baptiste: We are both quite happy with the listeners and reviewers' reactions to it. It concludes about three years of work and patience in a pretty pleasant way. Also I had chocolate cake for breakfast today, so things are definitely going pretty well.
First of all, I'd like you to introduce yourselves to our readers: so please tell us about the birth of this project and its members.
Asphodel: Baptiste and I used to meet during a singing workshop he took part to. We immediately knew we would become close friends, I guess. There was something a bit too similar in our mutual desperately absurd sense of humour. When I decided to create a new band, Baptiste was the first who occured to me. It was about three years ago…
Baptiste: First I was afraid, I was petrified. Then we found in each other the same kind of terrible sense of humour, so it quickly went pretty fine. A year later, she contacted me about her wish of a project together.
One of the first questions that came to my mind even before listening to your music was: why a caterpillar? Is there a meaning behind your moniker?
Baptiste: Shortly after we created the project, we had to find a name. We then started brainstorming, looking for something we would both like and probably most of all, that would fit the direction we were wanting to follow. The idea of a graphic name came from one of us, I don't remind which one, then I suggested öOoOoOoOoOo (not in this final form, though, there were more letters and not the antennae at first) as a joke. Asphodel liked the idea and it was settled.
Then, after listening to "Samen", I had lots of questions; but I can't deny that I immediately loved it. The first question I want to ask you is: how do you feel towards "Samen"?
Asphodel: Well, it can sound a bit strange, but I'm jumping from pride to doubts. Most of time, I tell myself I sang with the tools and the abilities I had at that particular moment. I have to say that I was really sick during the year we recorded the album, and the disease had a direct influence on my voice. So I feel a bit frustrated sometimes… But in the end, pride and the fact that we had the chance to create this album are stronger than the bad memories. As far as I'm concerned, "Samen" is like a contemporary exhibition which tends to rise a bridge between the formal and the substantive. It tries to invite the listener to keep a critical mind, and not to trivialise music as an ephemeral parenthesis. "Samen" is not only made of static ideas — static because recorded — it needs to be read, listened and watched in order to suggest new inner ideas.
Baptiste: I kinda feel the same way. I find some flaws in some parts of "Samen", once I know them, I can't forget them, but I keep being proud of the whole thing. Some songs on this album have evolved in a way I couldn't imagine back to their primal creation, thanks to Asphodel, her ideas and the emulation her vocals created. Even by disliking some parts, making me change or delete stuff in the music, she helped me shape the music in a way I would have not been able to do by myself. This collaboration, amongst the songs themselves, is something I'm proud of.
From Apathia Records' pages I read that "Samen" is «visually built as an art exhibition»; even if it may sound strange for a music work to be «visually built» in any way, we can see in the booklet that there some photos which I guess are deeply linked to the music. Can you tell us more about these photos?
Baptiste: Asphodel did them and will talk about it more than I could do.
Asphodel: Music definitely bears images. It can also breathe colors, but the neurological process is not the same. However, we decided that "Samen" had to incarnate a real independent work but be also the summary of what we put into the music. The pictures were taken with seven nude models… I asked them to behave like human matter — as we did with our music, it was like matter — and not to be afraid of being piled or have strange postures. I didn't want the artwork to be a gift paper to sell music; I was really driven by the will of defending the visual artistic process linked to music, and also by the intention of pushing the listener to examine their own attitude towards art, music, to contemporary issues… Baptiste never stopped me. He always opened his mind to my obsessions and welcomed them with respect.
Another thing I'd like to talk about is the lyrics. I'm not going to ask you their meaning, I'm more interested in how you wrote them: keeping in mind how particular the vocals are, you must have experimented a bit with them. How do you work to combine words and vocal lines?
Asphodel: It depends… Most of time, I my find vocal lines while listening to the music, and the lyrics come after. But everytime I compose them, some sounds, some vowels come immediately on few parts of the songs, as if words had chosen their place before me. It's pretty «natural». And on the other hand, some sentences come to my mind without the music, and when they stay stuck to me like an earworm, I know I have to give them a role or a reason to live throughout the songs. When I feel I'm haunted by a certain rhythm, or a pattern, I'm sure some parts will come to me only because of it. You see, when I walk comes a rhythm. I sing on it. When I'm about to cross the access gate of the subway, I sing on the melody made by the ticket machine… I love writing, to be honest. It's not easy for me to sing something I didn't write, because I'm cut from a certain notion of images, from a certain cognitive process I love feeling when I create a text.
Now let's get to the music: I am quite sure that you have quite varied tastes, since we can hear lots of different styles in every song. Being myself sort of an all-round music lover, I'd like to know which are your favorite genres and artists, especially if you think they influenced your music in "Samen".
Baptiste: It's always a pain in the ass to tell which is my favourite genre, as I often switch periodically on differents ones. Of course, metal music is one of the most important ones for me and it's a good thing, since metal is kind of the main base of the music of "Samen" or, at least, the one that links the different parts and songs to each other. I also enjoy rock music globally (actually, I use to include metal into it, with hardcore) or electronic stuff such as trip-hop, ambient, chiptune, industrial or breakcore, to name a few. Acoustic music or experimental things too, and too many others that I don't have the time to speak about. Anyway, for "Samen", I stuck myself to a sort of rule, forbidding me to listen bands that could be evident influences to me. So, no Mr. Bungle, no Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and so on. And no Pin-Up Went Down of course.
Asphodel: Same for me: when I compose, I don't listen to much music, and no avantgarde/experimental metal neither. Like Baptiste, I switch. During months I can be stuck to post-rock/shoegaze stuff, and then stop listening to that for a entire year. I think I stay keen on drone music (electronic genre from the Sixties), it stays with me when I write, for example, or when I work on my photographs. But, I can jump from ambient/black metal to deathcore or brutal djent and love to listen to Messiaen pieces or french chansons from the Twenties/Thirties, and conclude with italian folklore. Music is only matter to study.
While Avantgarde Metal sometimes tries so hard to be weird and/or complex, I have to say that one of the things I love the most of your work is its catchiness: the way it combines Pop-like simplicity with experimental and extreme parts is one of its selling points. What does it mean to be «avantgarde» and «experimental» to you?
Baptiste: For years, I used to compose music while trying to tend to a particular direction, resulting in failing miserably as I was ending with, not the total opposite, but something far different from the seminal goal. I am pretty at ease when it comes to mixing styles, simply because this is a thing I like to hear in music, mostly because I am too lazy to stick to one direction at a time. Actually, avantgarde and experimental are a perfect excuse to hide these failures.
Another interesting element is the presence of 8-bit sounds here and there. I remember the days when the only ways to combine them with Metal were Nintendocore and 8-bit Black Metal covers, but lately with bands like yours and Pryapisme it's getting on a different level. How did you get the idea of putting this kind of synths in your music?
Baptiste: Actually, Nintendocore and «8-bit Black Metal covers» (which are quite often simple Guitar Pro midi files put into a player, then rendered — tl;dr pure shit) weren't the first ones to do so. I mostly think about a band like Machinae Supremacy, for example, that used to be one of my favourite back in college, who was mixing metal with SID (the Commodore 64's audio chipset) melodies. Personally, it's been about fifteen years I'm playing with 8-bit sounds. As I started composing, thanks to internet and a few friends, I quickly discovered old computers music and the whole demoscene. The glided leads, the blipping arpeggios, the way using simple waveforms allows you to layer harmonies in a simpliest way, because of their restricted frequencies, the smooth-although-bitcrushed overall sound, I fell in love with it. As I still compose music in this genre, using 8-bit elements into öOoOoOoOoOo's music was pretty natural in the way of putting what I consider an element of myself into it.
As much as I'd like to talk about every single particular element of "Samen", I guess we don't have that much time, so I'll get straight to the point: how do you decide when to use a certain style in a song? I mean: it's only a matter of how it sounds, or do you choose to play a genre because it has a meaning in that part of the song?
Baptiste: It really depends on the mood. Some songs on "Samen", such as "Chairleg Thesis", were composed very quickly, on the instrumental part, and the style-switching came pretty naturally. Other songs were led by Asphodel's suggestions, as we were confronting our opinions. She would ask me to go into some kind of direction or atmosphere, then I would totally screw it up doing the opposite or something pretty different from the initial wish but luckily, it would appeal to her.
Let's talk a little about your other projects. I'd start with Asphodel since she's the one I know a little more: you used to be a member of a great band like Pin-Up Went Down; you joined Gothic metallers Penumbra, which I've been listening to for quite some time; you were even part of the Electronic phase of Ad Inferna; quite different acts, and that's not all. So what can you tell us about your experiences outside öOoOoOoOoOo?
Asphodel: Well, I'm indeed lucky. It's always a pleasure to enter a room you won't have to clean after leaving it because you were invited to make a mess. It's also a little bit scary, because the styles I have to sing for are really different from what I'm used to, and I'm always frightened about not fitting them, or not answering to the vision of the band. But I really have to say that I love singing for others. The last guest appearance I made was for Benighted, they always invite me to play a character in their songs. During these last years I sang for Område, Human Vacuum, Fluxious, Another Perfect Day (with Dan Swanö), Benighted (for "Fritzl"), etc… Composing for others is also something I'm keen on (I wrote something for Golden Fields last year, and Resilience some years ago.). However, there are two types of appearances. For example, I'm not a real guest in Penumbra, we are like a little family. I share the singing parts with Max, and it's a «full-time invitation». The difference between öOoOoOoOoOo and Penumbra is that I don't really take part to the composition in Penumbra. I feel complete when I can do everything I want, and write what I'll sing.
Now I have to be honest: I had never heard the name of Baptiste Bertrand before; but I have to say that I was really impressed with your performance on "Samen", so I'd like to ask you about any other project you're part of. I read you're in Human Vacuum for example, am I right?
Baptiste: First, thank you very much. About Human Vacuum, it's been my main project for years, until I left for some reasons, so I'd say you were half-right. The genre was pretty different, between fusion and neo-metal (I have been influenced by Limp Bizkit's guitarist Wes Borland for years), sometimes including other genres or influences, with groove as sort of moto. We did an album, named "Enter The Playground", released on Bandcamp, and played a good bunch of enjoyable shows. Also, Asphodel was featured on a song called "Tout S'Efface" on the album, making it the first official collaboration between us. As I said, I left the band which no longer exists, but today, I keep great memories about the important musical era it was for me. I also do electronic stuff under the moniker of Zus, even if it's more of a laboratory for me to try everything, mostly chiptune. A few years ago, I took part to the composition and choir vocals on a demo song with Déhà, one of my best friends for more than ten years, which resulted in the album "Ave Maria", he reworked for his project Yhdarl. Recently, I also did vocals on a few covers with our friends from Fluxious — we recorded "Samen" at the Black Bear Studio, owned by their guitarist Germain Aubert. And other stuff, including some kind of shoegaze-unnamed project I hope to be complete one day.
Are there any plans to play your music on stage or will you keep it as a studio project?
Asphodel: Stage. Definitely. Working with Germain Aubert made us realize we wanted him as a member of öOoOoOoOoOo's live formula. We also welcomed Benjamin Riggi, an exquisite drummer we met at Germain's place.
Baptiste: These guys are great musicians, so it's a little bit scary to know we'll play live without any excuse for being lame. For the moment, we're still gathering gear, which unsurprisingly costs a lot, to get the right setup and looking for some re-arrangements to make for a few songs.
Apathia Records has some pretty unique bands and many of them are French, just like you. How do you see the music scene of your country?
Asphodel: I read and heard many foreign people say that France shelters a huge nest of experimental bands. I think that if you're curious enough, you can find huge nests everywhere in the world… I won't say it's a «French matter». Nonetheless, I think that the political and social contexts reveal a need to break boundaries and open new frontiers in music. You can observe the same process in fashion… Art is a kind a social thermometer.
Are you already planning anything for the future of the Caterpillar?
Asphodel: We are composing for the next album, and preparing some live performances…
I guess that's all for now, at least some of my many questions got some answers. I want to thank you for spending your time with us, we hope to hear something new from you soon; if you want, you can leave a message for our readers.
Asphodel: Thank you for showing so much interest in öOoOoOoOoOo! Thank you for the support and for making this little insect grow bigger!
Baptiste: Thank you very much for this interview, for liking our album and giving us this place of expression. Wow, much love, very music.