“I come from this tiny city in the south of France, where nobody cared about music, and I was recording these songs in my bedroom,” Stéphane Paut, known almost universally by the stage name ‘Neige’, pondered. “And now that we are touring the world and having people tell us that this music was inspiring for them, it’s incredible.”
The Alcest frontman’s continued astonishment at the fervent acclaim from fans and critics alike is indicative of the project’s humble beginnings – and their leader’s unerring modesty. He introduced himself to me as Stéphane, and not as Neige. Here we have the man, and not the stage presence, reflective and serene. He pointed to a far corner with a backward inclination to the rest of the band and the joking explanation of “I don’t want them hearing what I have to say!”
So, we manoeuvred through a backstage area curiously littered with enormous banners and burst balloons, like the aftermath of a chaotic birthday celebration, and settled in a booth with torn leather seats and a rickety table. The classic Glasgow Garage experience.
I was fortunate enough to catch Stéphane before the dreaded tour fatigue kicked in, on Day One of a gruelling 50-date tour with Anathema.
“It’s the first day and I’m already a bit tired,” he laughed. “Not a good sign, right? Not too much drinking. Not the first night. Tomorrow.”
That night in late September marked Alcest’s second Glasgow show in just eleven months.
“Tonight, we had fun onstage. It was very different from our show last November. At that one, people were screaming and stuff, tonight they were quite…silent.”
Perhaps we could pin the odd silence of Glasgow’s Alcest fans that night down to speechless awe, as Alcest never fail to astonish audiences with the consistent atmosphere throughout their performances, amped up by incredible lighting and an undeniable band dynamic. Stéphane’s prominent pronoun when discussing the band is not ‘I’, but ‘we’. His position as the seemingly egoless frontman lends itself to the remarkable closeness and geniality amongst band members.
“We just try to be as good as possible, as a mark of respect for people who come to the show,” he explained. “For us, it’s so important to show the best of what we can do. That’s the most important thing and, of course, to express our music in the best way possible, so it has to be powerful, it has to be atmospheric, and spiritual.”
Their latest record, Kodama, is the band’s fifth, one that has garnered a streamline of universal success – especially after the mild controversy of previous album Shelter with its precarious similitude to a “straightforward shoegaze record”. The beginnings of Stéphane’s musical career are rooted within lingering spells in a few distinct metal bands, though other projects appear to be more dominant now. It is a rare thing for a band like Alcest with so much non-metal inspiration to be embraced so readily and repeatedly by the metal community. The loyalty of the metal fans is unwavering, as Stéphane pointed out.
“The metalheads, in the beginning, really didn’t like us,” he recalled. “It took some time, but now we have their respect. The great thing about metalheads, for me, it’s the best scene in music, because, for example, we released Shelter, that is a dream-pop record; maybe they won’t like it, but they won’t completely abandon us. If we come back with something a bit heavier, they will be back, and most of them stayed.”
As for exact genre specifications for Alcest, Stephane has no idea. He seemed to prefer even the fabricated genre ‘noble Elf rock’ over the continuous genre moniker of ‘blackgaze’, a term which he believes does not quite articulate Alcest’s sound.
When pressed further upon the influence behind Kodama, we entered the “love story” that Stephane has had with Japan, beginning with his exposure to Japanese cartoons and anime as a child. He cited Studio Ghibli’s original director Hayao Miyazaki as “the greatest artist of our time – music, movies, anything.” This escalated to his fascination with Japanese spirituality and views of death as just a part of life, a major theme within Alcest’s music.
“We speak about very spiritual things like life after life, the possibility of the existence of the soul, and that our essence is much more than being just human. I think that our deep self is much bigger than that and that’s what I try to express in this music, to make something very transcendental, and it’s also very nostalgic because I’m a very nostalgic person. It’s very nature-inspired too, I love nature, especially the sea. Yes, many things, but I would say that we don’t talk about the same things as the other bands, it’s not about evil stuff. It’s very positive.”
Fans will be sad to learn that, as of yet, there is barely even a blueprint for the next album. What with constant Kodama tours and the daunting prospect of studio album number six, Stéphane admitted to the probability that there might be some time before fans greet a new Alcest release. He mentioned the curse of some bands losing their magic after a few albums and said, “If I feel like I’m losing inspiration, I won’t make any more music. I want to be very honest.”
With reference to his Kate Bush shirt, he picks out ‘Running Up That Hill’, or ‘Breathing’ as her two songs he would most like to embody, settling for “the definition of epic”. And while he suggested that the new Slowdive record is the best release in a year of “quite poor” music, he consulted his phone for recommendations and found only contemporary classic music that screams of food for Alcest-inspired thought: Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Joy Division, Smashing Pumpkins…
Words and photos by Georgia Curran