Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Sunday Conversation with Mindslaved

In the last days of 2009, we touched on a number of bands hailing from France that were doing some amazing stuff with sound. One of those bands was Mindslaved, who's EP, T(h)ree, was as elegant as it was abrasive and struck such a chord with us at The Ripple Effect that we had to know more about how these guys approach making music. We recent;y caught up with Quentin and Tink, and they explained the mindset behind the creation that is Mindslaved.

Every musician is influenced by those who came before them, but what were your major musical epiphanies that inspired you to create music? What major musical moments helped define you as musicians?

Quentin: I started listening to metal with Slipknot, who definitely influenced a lot my way of seeing music at the time. But as time goes my influences change and I’m more and more influenced by the French metal scene itself. As for major musical moments I’ll say when I say Tool live…best show of my life, these guys are amazing, the visual is incredible, and it must be one of the only bands with a better sound live than on a CD. Other shows that really impressed me are the three times I saw Gojira and the four times I saw Hacride. These are really good bands and they definitely change the way I look at music.
Tink: As a crate digger, there’s a big distance between my early influences and what is inspiring me now. At first as a pre-teen, I was listening only to classical music because of my practice in school. Then I was introduced to rock music by the mean of mainstream commercial “MTV like” rock bands, such as Offspring, P.O.D, Linkin Park and all the Nu-metal stuff (no shame! A young boy makes mistakes!), then under the influence of my brother and some friends (even their parents!), I started listening to the 70’s progressive band (Yes, Camel, Magma, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, among others, discovering real ambitious and “avant garde” music) which lead me to Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, Spockbeard’s and co. After that, all the doors were wide open! I became a metalhead, and after many bend, I was fond of post rock/post HxC (Mogwai, Red Sparowes, Godspeed You Black Emperor! Isis, Oceansize), mathcore (DEP, Psyopus, The TDTE, The Arusha Accord, The Number Twelves Looks Like You…I’m sure you know a lot about this huge American avant garde scene!), polyrythm stuff (Meshuggah, Tesseract, Textures) without forgetting HxC stuff (Unearth, Every Time I Die, The Chariot, Chimaira). And now I’m discovering with a lot of enthusiasm, the summerian core, new school death, quality deathcore. From After the Burial, to Veil of Maya, switchin’ by Burning the masses, Martyr, the Canadian scene (Ion Dissonance, Despised Icon) etc.
It’s a little bit long, I know, but it’s really hard to make a selection. I’m a kind of musical geek, diggin the web hours a day to find some new pearl.
But, I think the way we create is really far from these influences, it must be an unconscious synthesis…

 T(h)ree is an EP that is equally brutal as it is beautiful. How did you guys approach the songwriting to create such a contrast in sounds?

Q: We’ve always done like this, we like to play with contrasts in music. For us metal is kind of the perfect music in the sense that you can express anything you want because you have no limit. It would be hard to imagine some pop rock band starting to blast and scream their guts out where it doesn’t seem weird for a metal band to include melodic elements and be really soft. For us this variety of possibilities of intensity is just a perfect panel of choice to express emotions. So when it comes to songwriting we just take what comes, including a soft and melodic passage can make your song lighter and/or reinforce the next violent passage so why wouldn’t we use it?
T: Our aim isn’t to make commercial music or easy listening radio format stuff. Starting from there, you allow yourself to do anything you want! Depending on your mood, your musical pick of the moment (If I’m fond of Lady Gaga’s 80’s keyboard, I will have no remorse to use them!), the sensation of a new guitar etc. The long format permits us to put a lot of ambiance and different atmospheres in a same song. The challenge is to keep the whole thing coherent.
In my opinion, you can compare Jazz and metal music, both have the ambition and the ability to push the limits of music. These are music genres that make the music progress. Complex cerebral stuff mixed with primal emotions and a lot of intensity. Both promote a very clever and technical way to use the instruments with the goal to reach new harmonies, new tones or rhythms that are enriching your ears.
So the contrasts are very natural, it’s only feelings, very simple stuff finally, spontaneous stuff. Your guts are speaking, and then your brains do the rest!

When you write a piece of music, do you consciously write from the mind set of being different than what's out there now?

Q: Yes, I think we definitely try to experiment as much as possible to try to make something that sounds different, include breaks that you wouldn’t expect, don’t satisfy the average listener by using standard structures and classic harmonies. We like to surprise the listener, and maybe make them think more, get their attention.
T: We just want to make a music that satisfies us, in the hope that people will understand, appreciate and follow us. But we don’t want to make compromises. If no one cares, too bad. I keep thinking about the Mamas and the Papas hit single “Make your Own kind of music, Sing your own special song, even if no one else is singing along!”
That’s the only way to create something fresh.

From where we’re sitting, the French music scene appears to be a burgeoning entity of massive creativity. Being that you’re there, does it feel the same way?

Q: Yes, more and more. When we started the band in 2005 we had this impression that French metal wasn’t really popular outside France because it wasn’t really good. But since then, new bands keep appearing from everywhere and some are really incredible. Bands like Gojira, Hacride, Klone, Mistaken Element, Psykup, Hypno5e, Gorod, etc. who have brought something really new, they just came out of nowhere and now we can be proud to be part of this new and extremely rich scene. Even in our city there are a lot of bands, maybe even too many! Even two or three years ago there weren’t really many shows around here but now you have shows almost every week!
T: The main problem in France is that the rock culture isn’t anchored as in the Anglo-Saxon countries (the UK is the homeland of rock!). So mass and quality media despise the metal scene, or at least are not interested at all. I once read in an article, that in Wal-Mart in the US, it’s totally possible to hear some Slipknot while you’re doing your shopping. And people are ok with that. Mainstream cultures in France are Hip-hop, r’n’b, songwriter, brit rock…and…then…metal.
Too bad, ‘cause there’s a big audience and money to make : ). But I’m also disagreeing with my drummer; there’s always been a quality French metal scene (there’s no blank between Loudblast and Gojira…), but because of Gojira, the rest of the world (and in particular the US) is now looking a little bit the French scene (bring the spotlight!).  So we’ve got the impression that there’s a kind of buzz, now, many good band (with a ten years past!) have to take advantages of Gojira’s success for being recognized.
In my opinion the real problem is that 1% of the European culture is crossing the Atlantic, and that’s a shame.

Is there a lot of camaraderie within the various bands of the French underground?

Q: Not all the time. But I think it’s developing more and more. We have always been trying to support other bands if possible, go to shows see the local bands playing. We have even organized some big shows with bands like Hacride and Psykup with another band called Lethal Unraveling and are now trying to build a kind of collective with Ahimsa.
T: The metal scene is sectarian. It’s the war of genres. Black and death metal fan aren’t mixing up, and it’s the same for HxC fans, geeky progressive guys and Symphonic fans! Even the dress codes are so different! The music place is a constant place of ego fights and competitive behavior. But our passionate commune and the DIY spirit are gathering us.

What do you see as being the biggest obstacle in getting your music heard in some of the more major markets, such as the U.S.?

 Q: First locally, it’s really hard to get known because there are so many bands out there. And in France the metal public is quite restricted, and for us it’s quite hard because where we live most people listen to Death and/or Black metal so when you play progressive metal it’s not really easy to get people to come to see you. The other problem is that it’s hard to get out of your city because you have to make exchanges with bands from other cities if you want to go there and so it means you have to organize shows in your home town quite a lot if you really want to move out. Then if you want to get a label to get a better exposition, with all the stuff going on about downloading and music market collapse, the labels don’t really want to risk money with new bands so they prefer to find bands that have already paid for the recording of their album and take care only of the promotion of this album. But an album costs quite a lot of money and not everyone can afford it, especially when you’re a bunch of young students (hopefully cultural offices of the cities could give you subs). If you have a label and you make yourself known in France it’s already an achievement. But then go out in the U.S. in completely another scale. The only band who really managed to do so is Gojira and it’s because they have been doing only these for more than ten years, that they were already the biggest band in France and that they had contacts in the U.S. So except if major labels start looking more closely to France to find new bands I think it’s going to be quite hard for any band to go out there…
T: Hopefully, with the achievements of the Internet, your music could easily flow everywhere. And it’s already pleasant to be heard and considered in others country (although it doesn’t help you to live on your passion).
About our case, we’re all very busy students, and there’s no professional objectives to reach for us. Going as far as we can, but we’re not expecting success.

What is you musical intention? What are you trying to express or get your audience to feel?

Q: We want to express some kind of disgust of the society we live in, a society where we just destroy the hand that feeds us, destroy other species… but maybe also some hope and appeal to consciousness for people to realize before it’s too late that you can’t really eat money… So to transcribe this musically, you have anger and sadness mixed together basically.
T: We like to express very pessimistic and melancholic feelings with committed lyrics towards politics, human nature, finance, human needs and disease, links with Earth... We wish to approach more introspective lyrics dealing with metaphysical/spiritual stuff, the kind of very deep and sensitive subject which you debate for hours at 5am. There’s a duality, the individual (man in the mirror) and the collective (globalization, industrial plague, the world government, conspiracy, fake “demonocracy”, Mk Ultra and stuff like that). We’re living in a pre-Orwellian or a science fiction “pre-post apocalyptic” world. It’s all about manipulation, brainwashing people, make them accept their false lives script in the name of a minority’s interest.

The business of music is a brutal place. Changes in technology have made it easier than ever for bands to get their music out, but harder than ever to make a living? What are your plans to move the band forward? How do you stay motivated in this brutal business?

 Q: Surely it has gotten easier for smaller bands like us to get known through the Internet, but even harder for bands trying to make a living out of music. For us, we don’t really see too far, now we are focused on writing and recording our first album and try to find a label to release it; we’ll see what will happen next. We are motivated because we like playing the music we write, we like to be able to play with other bands, we like being part of this scene. Even if we don’t expect to be famous or make a living out of it, we just like doing what we do.
T: Bands who are complaining about illegal download are wrong. Without this, they couldn’t do any quality shows. Now, the music is spreading faster than ever, better than ever, and in a bigger scale. I can’t afford a record twice the price it should be or I just don’t want to, it’s a moral question! (In France cultural products, especially CD are very expensive), the problem comes from the label. No one is able to build up a new economic model based on monthly paid plan, with a proportional remuneration depending on the number of downloads (No, this isn’t communism). Major labels’ managers are old conservatives making deals and arrangements with the politicians. They’re unable to adapt and they keep on making money on artists. Our only motivation is music; we’re building a quality school background to keep art as a passion with no money constraint.

Describe to us the ideal (realistic) record label and how you'd work with them, and they with you.

Q: Ideally, we would like a record label that would pay for the recording of our album, but apparently this is not so realistic anymore, so a label that would sign us, release our album and promote it properly. Then hopefully we would get some good openings for good bands and maybe a French tour. That would already be a really optimistic scenario.
T: Our unrealistic fantasy dream (just for fun!) would be to be signed by a French label called “Listenable records” (It promotes half of my favs band! Textures, Gojira, Hacride, Sybreed, Gorod, Eyes of a traitor, Kruger, The red shore, The Amenta, Centaurus-A, Hate, Mors Principum Est, Soilwork, Scarve), the perfect mix between alternative and full of integrity alternative approachable band.

Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?

Q: Mainly CD and digital. Digital because it would be cheaper for people to get our music, and easier to diffuse our music. Still, we like CD because you can offer a visual aspect linked to your music and we like to have a physical support for an album. But if one day we have an occasion for a vinyl we’ll probably think about it because it allows you to develop the visual aspect and have another type of sound for your music.
T: The packaging is very important. It fixes a color, an image, an approach in the listener’s mind. It’s completing your music with visual art that we love to make!
Also, to listen to your own music on a turntable drinking a whiskey and smoking a stick is one of the best egocentric snobbish pleasures I’d like to taste one day! 

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