Interview with UNEXPECT for www.musikreviews.de
Answered by: Syriak on August 29, 2011
Hi, how are you and what are you doing right now apart from answering my questions?
My present occupation apart from answering those questions is being a human. I would say I’m quite good at it.Doesn’t take me a lot of conscious thought to do it, I’m just…you know….there…..being a human. Works every time.
And well…there’s a power shortage caused by the outskirts of the “Irene” Hurricane so…being cut off from the internet I’m in a quiet mood, the relaxing state which accompanies the absence of electricity. I kind of like it actually…it changes from the incessant buzzing of the city. Though I’m afflicted by tinnitus, so I’m never really without some noises in my head, but it’s definitely an improvement.
Your third album “Fables Of The Sleepless Empire” is out since the end of May. How do you feel about that? Are you happy, that the work is done, are you relieved, are you still excited about what people might think about it?
Of course we’re always excited about the reaction of people over our music ! We worked very hard on that release so obviously we’re also extremely proud of it ! Reactions so far are incredible and, as it is the habit when you’re doing out-of-the-box music, there’s both extremes reaction-wise, either a bombardment of praise or a shitload of hate.
Either way, we like both situations since, in a way, music exists to provoke emotions and feelings…seems like it works. Fortunately for us, there’s a lot more praise than hate.
We understand that our blend of music is not everyone’s cup of tea and that there’s a lot to digest at once. There’s a growing factor to it, so the more you listen, the more novelties and subtleties you hear. It’s the opposite of fast-food/junk music…Some people like to eat fast and forget about it, we prefer taking our time for a 5 services meal in good company…exploring the different cultural and musical tastes of the world.
You released the album by yourself, is that right? If so, why? Your previous album was released by Ascendance Records and although the wikipedia entry for “Fables Of The Sleepless Empire” says, that it is released by them again, it looks like a self-release. So, what is the state of affairs concerning a record label?
It IS definitely a self release. I don’t really know what happened…when the promotion started, some people assumed that we were still with the label and put that info on their websites. Then this mistaken information just spread everywhere on the net and since we can’t be everywhere at the same time, we trust that people will eventually modify this info on their websites.
We chose to go independent to have more control and transparency over all the aspects of managing the band. Once you understand about the mechanisms of how this industry works, it was logical for us to do the extra work ( and believe me it IS hard work ) and deal with less intermediary. It’s already hard to make even just a bit of money with that kind of eclectic music, and being independent gives us a larger part of the profit than before. We never put a dime in our personal pockets since we started this band, so it’s definitely not for the money, but if by being independent we’re eventually able to stop having to pay to keep the band alive it would be a nice change.
All that said, we still thank the labels we worked with in the past for the exposure they gave us and the push it gave us, but things are changing in the industry and I think that we made the right move for us at the moment. You never know what will happen in the future, but as of now, we’re glad we did it !
In my opinion your new album contains more of everything, more classical influences, more electronics, more pop music and also more breaks and twists – would you agree with that?
You’re probably right on that, it’s hard to tell when you’re deeply immerged in the music as I am. It’s not easy for me to have an objective view. The music we create is always a sum of all our experience and acquired tastes, so all our influences only adds up over time. The fact that, more than before, everybody in the band contributed fully to the music made the result even more full and rich. From my point of view, even though there are more layers and details in this album, it still is more structured and focused than the precedent one. This quintessence of chaos that we harness is more controlled than ever.
Did you have a certain goal or objective for the new album when you started working on it?
Actually, the only goal we really had was to create good music together as a collective that we would enjoy! We don’t set ourselves a detailed plan or anything of that sort before starting the process. We just expel the ideas that come to our mind at the present and work them with a lot of fine tuning and precision.
Can you describe how your songwriting usually works? What does an UNEXPECT song start with? And who is involved in the songwriting process?
Every song is different concerning songwriting. Most of the time, someone comes with a main idea or structure and we then re-work it with the band. Sometimes a member will have composed most instrumentation, sometimes it starts with only a guitar or piano structure, sometimes it’s a brainstorm of ideas, so you see, it’s a different case for each song.
Vocals are usually added at the end and composed carefully to fit and contribute melodically and rhythmically to the music. What’s important to remember is that everybody in the band participates and adds their touch the final result.
How long did you work on the new songs until they had reached their final trim?
Well, we don’t necessarily wrap up a song before passing to another, so most of the time they’re all work-in-progress until they’re recorded in studio. We’re always retouching parts of songs when in studio as we always see new possibilities and ways to spice up the songs. We’re incurable perfectionists
How often do you rehearse? I would imagine that it takes a lot of time for practice and rehearsal to create the music you play.
We actually don’t rehearse that much enough to our taste. Being so many persons in a band makes it hard to coordinate full band rehearsals so it’s a good thing that everybody are mastering their respective instrument quite well and that we’ve got a strong live experience that shaped our chemistry up to a level where we don’t have to rehearse that much. There ‘s a lot of the composing that takes place at our homes either alone or in small teams, so the full band reunions don’t happen so often.
I had the impression that Leïlindel was given for space within the songs and that her vocal lines are even better then on the previous record. Is that something you especially worked on?
Yes, Leilindel and I worked a lot together to create vocal lines that would fusion to the music in every way and create memorable ambiances. We actually did nearly all the vocal arrangements for this album together. It just came as a natural and logical choice that Leilindel should be more present vocally on the album. And since she has quite a diverse range, it’s great to compose with her and experiment with various styles and textures. She’s also an excellent screamer and did a lot of it on the album !
What are you influenced by when creating music for UNEXPECT? Are you influenced at all? Or does this music arise without any external input?
Of course like everybody we get influenced by everything we hear. We do assimilate a lot of different musical styles and never censor ourselves when comes the time to experiment and try new things. I don’t believe it is possible to create something without any external input. As human beings, we’re all the sums of our experiences and tastes and of course it taints and colors everything that comes out of someone’s mind. I don’t think of a particular influence as there’s too much music in all our lives and it all has an impact so…
What can you tell me about the lyrics? Do they follow a certain central theme? What issues are preferred for your lyrics? And who writes them?
I’ve always been the main lyricist in the band and don’t really have a central concept for the whole of them. They’re all linked by the fact that they’re nearly all filled with metaphorical images about certain themes and use surrealism abundantly though. Each song has a unique theme which creates a single micro-verse and literary eco-system fitting the music. The theatric feel to the lyrics, added to the story-like structure of the songs should be taken as small plays…though there’s no timeline involved, so there’s place to interpretation and that’s a conscious choice. I don’t want people to have a totally precise view of my writing…there’s a voluntary haze and opaque way of writing that let everybody have their own understanding. I prefer this to saying things square and straight…there’s already enough people doing that and anyways it’s a lot more fun for both me and the readers !
For example, “Unfed Pendulum” is a metaphorical fable about an imagination in lack of inspiration. A mind losing its creative juices. In this case, the Pendulum is the mind/imagination in question. Note that I have the habit of abusing of personification as a literary tool. I love giving life and personality to objects or even faculties ( like reason for example ) and make them express themselves. It can be seen as total gibberish by a lot of people, but there are a lot of thoughts put into the lyrics and so many double meanings. Once a key to understanding is given for a song, it’s obviously easier to catch the under meaning of some sections. Of course, the main idea is to enjoy yourself while reading the lyrics, may it be only because you find the images amusing or that you really taste the deepest meaning of it. I guess that what makes it hard to follow is that from times to times, surrealism is really used in its truest form, random chaos born from the subconscious…re-worked after while to fit the lexical theme of the song of course, but still…since it’s mixed with intentional abstract imagery with a meaning, it’s easy to lose track of the intention. There would be a lot more to tell about this but I’ll shut myself up before losing the reader’s attention
What is the „sleepless empire“ you talk about in the album title?
It could be seen as a parallel to our own living universe…this 24hr planet in constant activity… Human society all over the globe and its relentless quest for productivity. The quintessence and embodiment of the powers that be that are controlling everything behind the scene…the ever watching empire.
So the songs on the album should be seen as living fables, brief mental oasis of respite and imaginary travel to enjoy in between sessions of day to day life as we know it…and no…I’m not schizo.
The cover artwork was done by someone called Mario Sanchez Nevado. Did he create that image especially for you or did you use one of his images? If he made it for you, which parameters did you give him? And if you chose it from his images, why did you choose that one?
This was actually a work he already made, but it struck us as soon as we saw it. There’s this fragile equilibrium and symmetry to it, yet when you look at it more closely, the being seems to be made of chaos. Fitted our music. And the fact that is was in clearer colors, evoking some kind of inner peace, both contrast with the frantic parts of our album and fit with the calmer sections.
I saw you playing live in Dusseldorf, Germany on the Progressive Nation Tour with Dream Theater, Bigelf and Opeth. What are your memories of this tour?
Incredible memories of course ! You don’t often get to play in front of thousands of people like that every day. And the fact that the crowds really reacted positively made it an enjoyable experience. There’s only good to be said about it…the bands, the tour staff, everybody was of great company and supported us along the way. We still thank Mike Portnoy for giving us this opportunity ! He’s a guy who believes in bands that he feels make a difference and don’t hesitate to support them even if they’re more on the unknown side of the industry. It gave us the chance to get some exposure in almost every country in Europe so that was pretty cool for us.
How did it run for you in Germany? How were the reactions of the German audience in your point of view?
There was something like 4 shows on the tour in Germany and from what I felt the reaction was great! I think most people who came to see the Progressive Nation Tour show were very open minded, seeing that the 4 bands on the line-up, while linked by a progressive edge, were all quite different.
Did the tour increase your sales of „In A Flesh Aquarium“?
Probably, I don’t really know the numbers but I guess that would be logical. J
Were you generally happy with the sales of the album? At least in Germany you got a lot of good critics in several webzines.
That’s something we’re very proud of, usually the critics we get are very good, and coming from people who hear a lot of music in a year it’s always a treat to read them. I can’t say I’ve read all German reviews as we’re not always aware of them but I’m glad to hear that you saw a lot of them and that they were leaning toward positivist
Isn’t it very difficult to play your music live? I would imagine that it is very, very hard to play all that stuff by heart.
Our memory has been trained from years of practicing complex music so that factor is not a worry anymore, but yes, it is definitely not a cozy picnic to play our songs live.
We’re all attuned to each others from years of doing shows so we’re now at ease to do it and can let ourselves go in show and actually feel the music instead of just interpreting it…but it did took some time to get where we’re at now for sure.
What was the biggest show you ever played and which ones were the best ones?
I think those were the show at the Wembley Arena in London with Dream Theater, the Heavy MTL Festival with Iron Maiden in Montreal and more recently the Brutal Assault Festival in Czech Republic. That last one was a great experience, it was the first time we came back to Europe since the Prog Nation Tour in 2009 and it was good to feel that the exposure we got that time gave some great results!
Did you play any shows were everything went wrong?
Of course. For example, there was a show where Leïlindel hurt her neck just before going on stage and since she was in total pain, she did the show standing very straight, not moving at all. The fact that she chose to do the show anyway was already a feat. After the first song, Borboën’s violin broke up and he obviously had not replacement, so he quit the stage and went to see what was left of the show (and of the band) in the crowd. Add some technical problems to the unease we all had since we had to re-adapt the songs live during the show and you have one of those moment I wish I could erase from reality.
Some more personal questions in the end:
Why do you play the music you play? What do you like about it, what fascinates you?
I started learning classical music when I was a child ( piano ), so melody always have been a huge part of my tastes. When I discovered extreme metal in my teens I started to play guitar and eventually joined Unexpect when I was 16. After that, over the years, we naturally started to incorporate more and more influences with no censorship in our music and we liked the result so we just kept on doing this ! I love to experiment and try to create music that does not resemble to anything else and participate at the same time in the evolution of music. I think it’s more important to create music that will stay over the years instead of doing what’s hot at the moment.
Which music was influential for you and which music do you actually listen to?
I first grew with classical music which I was learning at school…and then later started with bands like Led Zeppelin, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pink Floyd. And then I discovered metal with Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Sepultura, Iron Maiden, Death, etc.
Afterwhile, in the late 90’s I discovered European bands like Dark Tranquillity, At the Gates, Moonspell, Emperor, Dissection, In Flames and more.
After 2000, when I started opening myself to other musical styles it just flowed on and on for the years to come. A full list would be too long, but here are a few artists that I appreciate a lot : Tom Waits, Aphex Twin, Godspeed you Black Emperor, Mr Bungle, Radiohead, Mum, Amon Tobin, Dillinger Escape Plan, Buena Vista Social Club, Sikth, Opeth, Venetian Snares, The Mars Volta and the list goes on for a kilometer.
Which music is too terrible to listen to in your opinion?
There is no terrible music style…there are good and terrible musicians/bands in every musical style though… And even then, it’s only a matter of personal taste. I don’t like to put emphasis on the negative so I’ll keep my thoughts for myself on that one
Which musicians or artists would you like to talk/shop with?
I would have loved to pick the brain of Salvador Dali.
It would also please me to enter in an origami contest with Jim Morrison.
A day of skiing and a hot chocolate with Ludwig Van Beethoven would have been fun too.
Guess I have a little something for dead artists.
But since it’s impossible to do those things with dead guys, I know pertinently that I won’t ever be able to accomplish that. So this could be interpreted like I’m saying that I just won’t do anything at all with anybody in particular.
Does that make me lazy and antisocial ?
…hmmmm…think I’ll pick living people next time I’m getting asked…don’t want the public to have the wrong idea about me.
Who is the greatest artist ever in your opinion?
I hesitate between Chuck Norris & Hieronymus Bosch. But if there was a fight between the two to win my appreciation we all know who would kick the ass of the other…
How do you personally define the term “art“?
I think that art in all its forms is what defines a human society. Without it, life would be gray and tasteless. For me, there are not only musicians, painters, sculptors, writers, chefs and such that should be called artist. Some people in more rational domains have such virtuosity and different way of seeing things that it transcends to a level of artistry…Mathematicians creating through abstract formulas, scientists creating through their own medium, discovering the seemingly impossible… So all in all, for me the term “art” can refer to a vast array of domains in life. Even then, there’s been so many debates as to what should be referred as “art”. Can the immaterial be art ? An intellectual concept ? The paintings of a child ? Performances ? I guess at this point it’s just a matter of perception and there’s nobody that can really choose for the others what should be called art. Art is history’s witness.
Three records for the lonely island?
- Lift your skinny fists like antennas to heaven ( Godspeed You Black Emperor )
- Kid A ( Radiohead )
- Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk ( Emperor )
And who would you like to be stuck with in an elevator?
An army of cuddly kittens… or Elisha Otis ( the guy who invented the safety elevator )…just to taunt him about the fact that his creation is faulty.
Thanks for answering my questions and all the best for you and the band. The last words are yours.
Thanks for giving us this tribune and keep on supporting free-thinking music ! Cheers and see you eventually on tour !