First of all congratulations with 'Sunwar The Dead'. I think you have made an album that goes far beyond mainstream-like ideas of 'rock'.
I don't think it has much to do with rock actually, we never really did mainstream music. The instrumentation has always been like in classical compositions. And there are three core members playing various instruments. There have always been more than one vocalist in the band. Both composers sing actually, on this album too. Since the first album there have been two male vocalists.
'Sunwar The Dead' sounds quite different from 'Winds Devouring Men'. Can you shine a light on those differences?
From what I hear and read in interviews and reviews, this new album is more difficult than 'Winds Devouring Men'. That album was more accessible because there were elements coming from industrial and they were used in a way in which mainstream music uses drums. This helps to understand the structure. There are recurrent motives, it is easier to grasp the music. We didn't really pursuit this on the new album because we believe that we have to try to invent something new on every album. The structure of pieces is very close to pop music actually but the difference happens on another level, the level of the arrangements and the rich orchestration, which isn't used in pop music normally.
Lyrically the album mixes personal themes with references to ancient Greek authors. Can you tell a bit more about that?
We have always used the western literary tradition as a kind of base for our work, which means that we write our own lyrics of course but there are always many references to other authors in them, either in the form of quotes or in the form of associations. This is also what we did on the albums that came out in the nineties. The previous cycle was a re-evaluation of violence in music according to a certain structure we took over from catholic mass. The framework for this cycle was the fall of the angels, so there were many references to Milton's 'Paradise Lost', philosophical and even theological references. We work along similar lines on the new cycle.
Yes, for this is only the second part of a five albums cycle…
Exactly, there are three more to come. I don't know if anyone will release them, but the next one will be released anyway. You can read the lyrics on various levels. The most basic level which is the storyteller level begins as a kind of journey. Every album is a stage in the journey. 'Winds Devouring Men' was linked with the wait, while 'Sunwar The Dead' concerns more about war and death. The references on those two albums are mainly of ancient Greek authors. Their concern with the world was different than the concern in the Middle Ages for instance, because the world they lived in was a world without a single God. Ancient Greece was a tragic world, based on dead, war and the elements. Not a world divided into good and evil as we know since the invention of Christianity. There are also references to modern works, which had parallels with the ancient Greeks. It is a kind of web. If you want to go a little further there is a second dimension, once you have passed the point of reading ancient Greek. But it is not necessary to understand every little detail before you can enjoy the album. We always try to make the work accessible on various levels. Any album, any piece of art actually that has any relation to something artistic should be able to work more than once. You can listen to an album and sing along after two times hearing it, but then it is not interesting anymore and then you'll jump to the next one. We try to do things when every time you listen to it you discover new things.
That's the way I like it too, but I am a little concerned too because so many people are used to fast consuming stuff these days…
It is perfectly ok to listen to…let's say…Coldplay. This is very catchy stuff, but well-done. I listen to it once and then I am not interested anymore. That is not what Elend is doing, but it is just a different approach, not better or worse than others.
Do you have an idea who are the people that are listening to Elend? Are they rock fans, metal fans or dark wave or classical audience?
I don't really care a lot about scenes or musical genres. I like to think of music as something that can be listened to by people of different backgrounds. The fact is that most of the audience comes from the metal scene and the gothic scene. There is no use in denying it. Our first album in 1994 (Leçons De Ténèbres) came out on a metal label and so the metal audience was the first audience confronted with our music. I am not sure if any other label would have released our music. It is very dark and the previous ones are really violent. It is very difficult for people to listen to something disturbing like that. I think it remains a marginal audience. I know people from the classical music because I once worked there, but they know my music and they give it to their colleagues and they appreciate it. That's very nice. They don't see it as classical music but as pop music that uses certain elements.
Do you have a classical background yourself?
Both composers (Renaud and Iskandar) have the basic classical education. When we were young we studied instruments, learning to play violin and so but we never studied compositions, so we are actually autodidact. Sebastien has no classical background, he comes more from the mainstream rock scene. He can read the notes and has a basic knowledge but not as much as we have. But the background is not that important. The important thing is to communicate and solve the differences. Our musicians are all classical trained ones, professionals. I don't think we could have worked with them if we hadn't played ourselves in orchestras when we were young.
Wasn't it difficult to gather all those people?
It was very expensive. In proportion they are cheap. Paying a real orchestra is really impossible for us. What we did with this album is something we tried to do for ten years. Finally it was possible because we know more people in the classical scene now. A few years ago when we met our main violin player David Kempf he introduced us to other musicians, they knew other ones and so on. They agreed to make an exception and do it for little money. So it was not that difficult to work with them but directing them had to be left over to our main violin player because he is trained to do and we are not.
I guess Elend is more a studio project. But did you ever play live?
We played live in 1995, only once, with a reason. You know the music now, it was like this before too: it needs many musicians, a lot of preparations, rehearsals, money again… We didn't have it but it was the beginning of Elend, so we thought, why not? We were headliners at a small festival in France. People came from far away to see us and they looked quite happy with the performance but we were only four people on stage. So a lot of music had to be playback. It was not really an experience we wanted to repeat. The audience comes to see the band play and doesn't ask a copy of the CD. To record something like that in the studio is much easier because you can cut, use a second tape, play it over… but for a concert you need to be perfectly rehearsed, you cannot make mistakes. If we reduce the orchestration it might be possible with five or six songs from 'Winds Devouring Men' with maximum ten people. We didn't receive any offers yet. If we play live it would be isolated concerts, not a tour.
What is the music you like to listen to yourself?
I listen to everything. Contemporary classical music. I still listen to extreme metal, although there are not that much interesting bands left. There are many bands that copy now what did others better in the early nineties. I really like The Dillinger Escape Plan, Mastodon, Isis, Neurosis…
You've been out of the running for a while too, between 1998 and 2003. Why?
In 1998 our album came out at Music for Nations (The Umbersun/Au Tréfonds Des Ténèbres). It was a big budget, the only time we really had a lot of money. All the reviews and interviews were very positive for the first time, before that we really weren't known very well. Then the distribution partners of Music For Nations messed it up somehow. The album wasn't available where it should be available. We didn't sell that much more if you compare it to previous ones. Music For Nations didn't want to go on working with us anymore. And the cycle was over with that album. It was not a good position to go on. Time went by…we had gathered many stuff again. We thought about releasing Elend albums again but then we had to find a company interested in us. It took a while but then we luckily got Prophecy Productions. Prophecy has most of the territories in Europe but not all. In France we are signed to Holy Records, which was our first label from 1994 to 1997. In Spain and Portugal there's a third company.
Is there anything you want to tell about the next record?
We are already working on it, actually nearly finished it. The pieces of music are written, much of the recordings are done, we still have to do some recordings but the most difficult part is the mixing. That takes a long time, we do everything on our own. Mainly Sebastien is doing it with our commands because we are the composers. He is more technical skilled. This is an art you learn. You cannot do everything by yourself, it really takes a lot of time. I think the album will come out next fall. It depends, we hope to release an album every year until the cycle is over.