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Interview With Stéphane L. (Dirge)

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Besides being a great artist, Stéphane L. (guitars, vocals and samples) is also a very cool guy to have a conversation with. He had a lot of interesting things to tell us, so make some coffee, light up a cigarette and enjoy.

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First of all, congratulations for Hyperion, which has already earned a spot in my list of top albums for 2014. It’s been a while since it came out. Tell us about the feedback you got from the press and fans and give us your thoughts on the album. Are you satisfied with it?

Thanks. Yeah, we couldn’t have released something that we would not be satisfied with. When we release something, it’s because we have approved it. The main goal is to be happy with our work. Of course you can’t make something sound as perfect as it sounds in your mind. In the end we’re totally happy with the result. As for the press and the audience, the feedback has been really good and we enjoyed what we read on magazines and webzines. Of course some people tend to compare it with the previous album or the previous albums before that. I have no problem with someone who prefers the previous album or something else in our back catalogue, I respect every opinion.

DIRGE are on tour promoting Hyperion, if I’m not mistaking. Tell us about your experience on the road. Is there any chance of you playing here, in Greece?

We were on the road this May in Europe. We played in Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. We will also play a couple of gigs next October in Germany and Poland. We didn’t do a big tour because we don’t have any bookers and we do everything on our own, which is hard and takes a lot of time. So it’s impossible for us to play fifteen gigs in a row. But it’s been really good for us. I personally love going on tour, visiting new cities and meeting new people. Besides I think making music and playing it live are two things that are linked, especially for DIRGE. So playing live was something we really had to do and also something we really have to do in the future. The people’s response was really good. Especially in Poland, because we opened for OBSCURE SPHINX who are Polish and we had the chance to play in front of a lot of people. A lot more than if we did a show in Poland by our own. We’ve already played in Poland before and there weren’t really a lot of people that came to see us. Fortunately this time a lot of people were able to discover our music. So this tour was quite successful. I don’t know how the next tour will be like but what I want most is to take pleasure in touring. As for going to Greece I will say the same thing I would say about going to Japan, the United States or Australia. For us it is as difficult to go to Greece as it is to go to any of the countries I mentioned, since we need someone to book us and we need to take a plane to get there. We would really love to come to Greece and play our music for Greek people. I love Greece. I’ve been there twice for holidays. Ok, it’s not the same, but I really enjoy the people there, which is another argument to go to Greece.

Tara Vanflower (LYCIA) recorded some vocals for Venus claws. Did you collaborate with any other artists as well, for the making of Hyperion?

Yes. We like this kind of collaborations and of course we do it with people that we like. For Hyperion we did it with Nicolas Dick (KILL THE THRILL) which is a friend of ours and his band is one of our favorite bands ever. So we invited him to sing on this album. He also did it for our two previous albums so this was the third time we collaborated. Another friend of ours, Milena Rousseau (MIRODA) also sang on one track. In the past we had the vocalist Flore Magnet from the French band VON MAGNET, which are quite famous in France and Germany in the independent scene and are a very good and interesting band, singing on the album and shall the sky descend. For me, having Tara Vanflower singing on Hyperion was a really big achievement because I’m a huge LYCIA fan since I cannot remember. So having her vocals on one of our tracks is a great honor. Also, since I got in touch with her by e-mail, we sort of developed a cyber friendship because she lives in Arizona U.S.A. which is quite far from Paris. Venus claws is my favorite track from the last album.

Describe to us the process of how a DIRGE’s song is being created.

On our two last albums, Marc (guitars, vocals and samples) who is the creator of DIRGE and I, both compose the music of the band. He writes music in his studio and I also create music in my studio and then we work together. Then the drummer and the bass player come in with their ideas and things evolve in a normal way. We discuss a lot, sometimes very strongly because everyone wants to defend his ideas. Marc and I create a lot of things on our own, especially the guitar riffs and the electronic samples. Then we gather everything and we keep what we feel it’s good and we don’t keep what doesn’t fit with the music.

DIRGE are no newcomers. You’ve been releasing albums since 1998 and the progress you have made is truly impressive. In my opinion, your latest album is your high point so far. Do you agree that Elysian magnetic fields was its’ precursor, in regard to the direction of your music?

Yes, Hyperion is the logical follow up for Elysian magnetic fields but it’s not the same album, it’s not a copycat. I think we took the dynamic and a lot of elements of Elysian magnetic fields a bit further, in a different way. We don’t want to make the same album twice. This wouldn’t be interesting. Those two albums are quite linked, much more than the previous albums. Hyperion continues the natural progress that started not from our first album but from the first demo back in 1994. The band never stopped evolving and even though I joined the band in 2001, so I wasn’t on the first two albums, I can understand the evolution of the band. It’s not always easy to do that when you’re in the band. To be honest I don’t listen to the albums. But everything happens naturally. We don’t say “let’s make this album sound like this”. We let things flow. If it doesn’t fit, we won’t keep it for the album. I don’t know if Hyperion is the climax of our career because I really appreciate Elysian magnetic fields, but like every band that releases a new album we think Hyperion is our best album. If you ask me again in twenty years I would say something different.

So what should we expect from your next album? Have you been working on any new material or is it just too soon for something like that?

It’s really far too soon for something like this. Hyperion was released in April. We finished working on it the year before and we had a lot of things to do in between. We toured, we did some concerts, we have families and we have to go to work. This is not a full time activity but we spend a lot of time on it. Marc and I are working on some material. We don’t know yet when we are going to release the next album. Maybe I’ll pick up my guitar tomorrow and write some stuff, but maybe this will happen after one year. I don’t know. So I can’t say in which direction the next album will go.

In your opinion, can a band make a living out of playing music?

I know some bands that play professionally. I don’t think they got wealthy by playing music. Of course, there are some bands playing this kind of music like CULT OF LUNA that make a living out of playing music. But that is something very hard, especially in France, because there are no structures for musicians to live off music. It’s not like Germany, England or the U.S.A. Plus I prefer not having DIRGE as my main work because keeping this band as an external passion keeps this passion alive. It’s not a routine, it’s always a pleasure. If this band was my main work I don’t know if I would take so much pleasure in touring and recording albums. Of course I would like this band to generate a bit more money, not to live off but to spend on facilities to record and to go on tour. Most of the times, it’s more about struggling for keeping this band alive but I think that’s the real essence of independent music.

No matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t able to find the lyrics of Hyperion anywhere. Not even on your website. Is it a decision of the band to not reveal the lyrics of the album? Can you tell us what the lyrics are about?

You can find the lyrics of Hyperion and of all the other albums on the CDs or the LPs, except from the first two albums. You will soon be able to get them on our website. We put the lyrics of our previous albums on our website and I didn’t want to put the ones from Hyperion too soon. As for the lyrics, I write them so I can’t talk about it. It’s always difficult and complex to speak about the lyrics. This album is about love, loneliness, void, isolation, there are a lot of parallels…I would prefer you to read the lyrics when you’re able to, and make your own idea about them.

Hyperion was also released on cassette. Are you fans of that particular format? Do you think that cassettes are making a comeback these days?

Actually we never planned to release this album on cassette. We wanted it to be released on LP and CD but an American label (Grimoire Cassette) that is only releasing music on tape, asked us if we were ok with Hyperion being released on cassette and we said “yeah, why not? No problem”. It’s a bit old fashioned to make cassettes and it’s the first cassette release for DIRGE after the demos back in the 90’s. It’s a really limited edition (100 copies). But I don’t believe in a cassette comeback.

You have also re-released (online) your three demos (infected brain machine, mind time control and dead network access) that up to now were nowhere to be found. Can you give us any details concerning this release?

Marc, who is the original member of the band and has recorded these demos, doesn’t really want to do something with that work, because the demos are quite far from what we’re doing today. You can listen to these demos on our soundcloud page and download them for free. I don’t think we will ever release them on CD, unless someone proposes something. It’s not something we have in mind for now.

You recorded two songs (distance, absence) that appear only on the LP version of Hyperion. The same thing happened with sine time oscillations from Elysian magnetic fields. Do you have any plans on releasing those songs as an EP with other rarities or something like that, so that the fans that have already bought the CDs won’t have to buy the LP versions as well?

I would like to release a compilation of unreleased tracks, rare tracks or non CD tracks one day. For now I don’t know if we will do this. It would be cool to release a compilation for the band’s 20 years anniversary. Maybe we’ll do it later. I know it’s a bit of a pain in the ass for the people that bought the CD. We didn’t want to fill the CD version and give too much music to listen to, because it would be quite boring in the end. On the LP version there are two extra tracks minus the song circumpolaris. That’s because Marc had a specific idea of how the album should sound like on the LP and I had a specific idea of how the album should be like on CD. So I chose the tracklist for the CD and he did the same for the LP. We had two different points of view for the same album, but it remains the same album. For now absence and distance are not available outside the LP.

Is there a post metal scene being formed in France these days? I recently listened to CROWN and I was blown away. Are there any French bands you would like to recommend to the readers of METAL INVADER?

We don’t have the feeling of being part of a scene. But if you want to listen to other French bands in the same atmosphere there are CROWN, YEAR OF NO LIGHT, CELESTE even if it’s more black metal. There are a lot of interesting bands in France like MONARCH (drone/doom), BLUT AUS NORD (avant garde black metal) and NEIGE MORTE (black metal).

You have played a gig at an Axel Kriloff’s exhibition. How did that come up? Is there a chance of you combining your music with other forms of art again in the future?

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Axel is a really close friend of ours. He does all our artwork so even though he doesn’t play music he’s like a fifth member of the band. He asked us to play music during his exhibition and it was a great experience because it wasn’t a usual DIRGE concert. We had to build something quite new with improvisation pieces. We would really love to do this again if we had the chance, because we like that kind of exhibitions. But for now nothing is planned.

What kind of music do you and the other members listen to on your spare time?

Actually we listen to really different kinds of music because we don’t have the same musical background. Our drummer is really fond of blues rock and southern rock like LYNYRD SKYNYRD, our bass player listens to a lot of dub music, Marc is really into ambient, electronica, death metal, thrash metal… I have a very different taste in music. I listen to a lot of post punk music like THE CURE, SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES and JOY DIVISION. Also some indie classic stuff like THE PIXIES and a lot of other bands like SISTERS OF MERCY, LYCIA, DEAD CAN DANCE and SKINNY PUPPY. I like to listen to metal, brutal death metal, doom metal, black metal, dark ambient, industrial and gothic rock, even techno. When you grow up you want to widen your point of view about music so today I have a variety in my musical tastes. But on tour, music can be a problem, especially in the van. You listen to your music and the other guys don’t want to listen to it and you don’t want to listen to their music…so this can be quite difficult… I know the other guys like BLACK SABBATH but I hate them. The thing is that besides EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN, GODFLESH and NEUROSIS we don’t have any real common point in music.

Ok, before we end this interview I would like you to create your own ULTIMATE BAND. You have to choose the line-up and the type of music the band will play.

Oh, that’s tough. I’m not really into technical skills or incredible drummers so I won’t tell you Dave Lombardo. It would be a complicated band because every member would come from a different musical style so I would say:

Robert Smith (THE CURE) on voice and lyrics
Natasha Khan (BAT FOR LASHES) on voice
Robin Guthrie (COCTEAU TWINS) on guitar
Gregor McKintosh (PARADISE LOST) on guitar
Martin Powell (MY DYING BRIDE, ANATHEMA) on violin
Paul Raven (KILLING JOKE MINISTRY, PRONG) on bass
and a drum machine.

I can’t say what kind of music this band would play but it would be something really interesting.

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