DATE OF INTERVIEW: 2nd April 2020
Musically iconoclastic and stylistically heterogeneous, where sublime euphony and chaotic cacophony combine and contrast through an exquisitely crafted emotional journey like no other. Yep, it's the return of Igorrr, with new album 'Spirituality and Distortion', a masterpiece of innovative, introspective art. Gautier Serre, the French mastermind behind this delightfully deranged and ceaselessly compelling work, provided Metal Discovery with in-depth insights into his latest gargantuan undertaking...
METAL DISCOVERY: Firstly, huge congratulations on ‘Spirituality and Distortion’. As I declared at the end of my review, “A total fucking masterpiece.”! Are you able to take a step back and admire your own work in such a way, or are you still too emotionally embedded within all the music to be able to judge it like this?
GAUTIER: Thank you very much for the awesome appreciation man :) I’m not able to have a step back on this album yet, it’s too recent; I just know that I’m extremely happy of it, extremely happy to have made it and being still alive after it, as it has been a real hell to create that piece of music. Also, we’re supposed to be on tour right now, and due to the Covid-19 sanitary situation, our tour has been postponed. I’m so pissed off that I’ve been writing music since, working on a new track. I had to express that big frustration of this situation somehow, so ‘Spirituality and Distortion’ is now not on my speakers and I don’t listen to it right now. Before the tour was postponed, I remember driving my car and listening to ‘Spirituality and Distortion’, like in January or February, and I thought that this album is the best thing I did until now, I was happy.
(Gautier Serre on the scope of his breathtakingly ambitious new album, 'Spirituality and Distortion')
"It’s a real hell.... the organisation to bring this to life is crazy."
Interview by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2019 - Svarta Photography
Thanks to Andy Turner for arranging the interview
Igorrr Official Facebook:
Igorrr Official Facebook:
MD: I wrote in my review of the album: “It's always been said there's a fine line between insanity and genius... Serre continues to walk that line more than most, on a record that is an emotionally complex beast, loaded with as much sublimity, comfort, exquisiteness, humour and charm as it is frustration, pain, turmoil, anguish and fear. As captivating as it is unsettling…” Did it feel like you were walking that fine line at any stage of the creative process?
GAUTIER: I’m trying to push my musical ideas as far as I can when I write music. I try to make them stronger and to underline their message, then the music becomes more intensive, but I do not feel walking on a fine line; I feel expressing who I am and how I think. I love to play with craziness indeed, but to keep it funny; it has to be very written and very strictly controlled craziness. Maybe this is the fine line you are talking about. My music flow is instinctive, and I’m not understanding 100% of the process of it; there’s still something a bit mysterious.
MD: With the current coronavirus pandemic and all the anxieties, turmoil and life-changing circumstances that's brought upon humankind, the album seems to have assumed a new significance; perhaps new ways of being experienced and digested, be that a cathartic antidote to all the chaos and uncertainty or merely a profound reflection of the mixed emotions everyone in the world must be experiencing right now. Do you agree?
GAUTIER: Yes, I agree, this album, ‘Spirituality and Distortion’, expresses something which today became much stronger with the Coronavirus crisis, and which is understandable by much more people than usual. We are all in a very unique situation right now, facing a big life distortion, we all need some spirituality to get out of it. Being forced to live closed in our homes can be felt like a forced introspection, and this album is a great example of it; a full introspective journey. As I said it some days ago, without wanting it, this album seems to be the perfect soundtrack of the apocalypse.
MD: I also wrote in my review that the album is “an emotionally invigorating and nourishing rollercoaster of a record; a sonic thrill-ride that exhilarates and captivates as much as it does frustrate and distance… a reflection and creatively ambitious expression of life itself.” So, coronavirus aside, I think the album’s core essence is that it offers a reflection of life in general, and all the anticipated and unexpected emotional contrasts, twists and turns, both positive and negative, it brings. Even though the compositions and music evolved from your own emotional experiences, do you hope people will see their own lives reflected within what the music makes them feel through the listening experience?
GAUTIER: I hope that people will find something useful for them in this album. It might be just good vibes, but also a way to express their negative feelings through the black metal and brutal parts of the album. I heard from quite a few persons that some tracks, like ‘Himalaya Massive Ritual’ or ‘Downgrade Desert’, was helping them to get through the hard time they have and, in some cases, save their life. I’m really happy that this music might have such a positive impact on people, but I think everybody understands this music in a different way. There are as many sensibilities as there are people so, for sure, the music will be felt and will resonate in many many different manners, depending of people’s life, culture and sensibility.
MD: Individual songs feel like their own discrete journeys but it all makes far more sense as a whole, as the album’s track ordering feels like a journey in itself, so it seems to me that it’s a well-thought out order. Did songs fit naturally into their position on the album, or was it more of a struggle to get a track ordering you were happy with; an emotional journey that seemed right, to take listeners on a specific ride throughout all of the varying, contrasting moods?
GAUTIER: Finding the right running order has been quite demanding as well, as the meaning and color of each track is very specific and apparently easy to fit with any other tracks as they are all colors of the same painting, but giving a complete different sense to the album, of most of the time, wrong. To get the perfect balance with all those tracks, it has been quite challenging as well. With a 14 track album, you have basically 14 factorial possibilities of track listing, which is 87178291200 possibilities.
A little story: at the end of 2019, when all the mixing and mastering of ‘Spirituality and Distortion’ was done, I remember thinking that this album is representing my state of mind exceptionally well and that I don’t remember feeling so close to an album I’ve made before. I was very very happy of all, but I had something which made me feel this album at 99.9999% and not 100%. Meanwhile, the confirmation of the album for the mastering and the label has been sent and, believe me, when the confirmation is sent to everybody, it’s impossible to step back.
Some weeks after, I still had this after taste which felt like ‘unperfected’. I had no idea what it was, and I was really pissed off, so I turned off my phone in order to not be disturbed, I burned a CD, took my car, went to the mountains alone to listen at high volume to the album. Before I even arrived there, I understood from where that ‘uncompleted’ feeling was coming from. I needed ‘Musette Maximum’ right after ‘Parpaing’; this appeared as obvious to me. I wanted to hear French traditional accordion, still having the image of George Fisher in my mind. This was the very last piece I needed to fully complete this album at 100%.
I called Seb, the guy managing Igorrr, and he called everybody: sound engineer, label etc… Many people screamed at me, saying it was disrespectful to apply any changes after the validation. I said to them that I’m sorry, but we needed this change, it was important, and after lot of arguing, we finally did it. Thanks to that, you have now ‘Parpaing’ and ‘Musette Maximum’ following each other.
MD: You’ve used some scales more commonly associated with Eastern music in some of the compositions. In what ways did you emotionally connect with those scales; do you regard Eastern music as affective to express certain emotions that more traditional Western scales can’t convey?
GAUTIER: I’ve used those oriental and Middle East colors to express the Spirituality from this album. Those instruments have very warm and deep colors; those are the perfect tools to invite to the spiritual mood I needed on some of the tracks. I’ve been fascinated by the colors of those instruments for years and I have been trying to use them in Igorrr for a very long time, before being able, today with this album, to give them the shape and the result I wanted. Proof is with ‘Overweight Poesy’ - the recordings of this track started during the recordings of ‘Savage Sinusoid’, the previous album, and I haven’t been able to process them properly until the ‘Spirituality and Distortion’ recording sessions.
MD: I always think that any art or, rather, how people interact with and experience art, should always be regarded as a context specific event in terms of what emotions they might feel. Be that historical context, geographical context, social context, cultural context, etc. Do you hope your art continues to not only mean different things to different people in varying contemporary contexts, but continues to have the power to evolve with different meanings and offer different emotional experiences for people in the years to come? I guess I’m asking whether you regard your art as having the potential to be an ever evolving experience, rather than just reflecting the here and now?
GAUTIER: I wish my music will still be appreciated in the coming years indeed. I agree with you, the music has more or less impact according to the historical and geographical context, depending also of the cultural period of time but, as with Igorrr, I’m not expressing the ‘actuality’ of the world, but more like human emotions, so I think it’s more or less timeless and I think the music will still be understandable by people in some years as it already is now, probably in a different way, but still.
MD: Emotional complexity and diversity in any leftfield art, be it through abstract paintings, avant-garde cinema, innovative and challenging music, or whatever else, seems to engender the need for some critics to deconstruct what they’re presented with and theorise (or, more criminally, attempt to rationalise) its meaning and apply all manner of socio-political, cultural, psychoanalytical, post-structuralist… whatever… reasoning to it. Have you experienced such with anything you’ve read about your music? Does it frustrate you when people try to engage with your art in a way that compromises the emotional essence of what you’ve created? I think over-theorising and over-thinking art is contrary to what art is and how it came to be in the first place.
GAUTIER: Yes, of course. First of all, there are many journalists discrediting Igorrr music as they don’t understand it. It’s a part of the game. With such a specific music, it was very much expected to see some critics trying to put in cage the Igorrr music just to make them feel more in control of it, often by mistake.
Music is a pretty much primitive expression, in a way of anybody at any age can understand it. I’m thinking right now about the little daughter of my violinist Benjamin Violet - she dances like crazy on ‘Very Noise’ and she is like 2 years old. So it’s a primitive expression which can be sublimed by details, cultural connotations, ideas, philosophical concepts, etc… music is something that you can use to place a lot of emotions and communicate a huge variety of ideas, but… it’s purely subjective and only depends of sensibilities and people’s tastes, so yes, some people, journalists understand the music, and some of them don’t understand as the musical language I use is not understandable for them.
What’s frustrating to me is that some people with no musical background, pretending to be journalists, are trying to share negative ideas of music they don’t understand; this is not intelligent. Not liking a music is totally fine. Not understanding a music and sharing negative stuff about this music, just to feel less alone in their non-understanding, is something else.
MD: It strikes me that ‘Spirituality and Distortion’ was such an ambitious undertaking; not just in terms of the compositions themselves, but also your vision for how you imagined bringing it all to life, and the involvement of so many different instrumentalists and vocalists. It must've taken a mammoth amount of planning! How did you even go about starting to plan such an ambitious project and did you find the prospect daunting in any way?
GAUTIER: It’s a real hell. It required indeed 100% of your life and your money on an insane amount of time. Composing the tracks is something, a hard introspection and honest journey in which no compromise is taken at any moment, but also the organisation to bring this to life is crazy. When you work with different musicians, it starts being intensive; some of them just got afraid by the music because what I ask is too extreme and they got afraid of what I’m gonna do with their sound. Some of them, more open minded and brave, are open to do it.
Once you have composed the tracks, you have to find the right person, the right instrument with the right sound, the right microphones and technical gear. The instrumentalist has to exercise the pre-recorded track that I send them; they have to practice and to be ready for the day of the recording, which was mostly never the case by the way. And, on the top of that, we had to fix the planning matter with the musician, the studio, the photographer (Svarta Photography, who was shooting and documenting all the recording process of the album) and myself, all for the same day and for each musician.
It might look quite okay at first, but we are speaking here about a music which is qualified as ‘extreme’ by most people and, when you have to record a lot of different traditional instruments, coming from very different cultures, it’s difficult to communicate and to make them understand what I need and some of them have to get a bit away from their comfort zone.
Each of the instrumentalists has a very different vibe, a very different culture, a very different sound, and a very different language. Recording them is difficult but, on the top of that, more than having a precise and detailed vision of what I needed for every instrumentalist, I have to keep the global point of view of the complete work, complete track and complete album, which makes the communication sometimes messy. This is why it is so intense, but the passion for music and the excitation of what would be the final piece kept me going until the very very end with not even half of compromise on anything, any little detail.
MD: Did the process of planning and recording help feed and emphasise any of the moods and emotions in the songs? So, for example, where there are passages of music fuelled by anxiety and exasperation, did these benefit from any kind of anxieties you might've had about the whole project?
GAUTIER: When you spend months, every day, closed in a studio, trying hard to reach the sound you want, at some point, you are exhausted and impassioned - yes, you can definitely feel this devotion on the recordings. Each musician has given a lot of themselves on those recordings, believe me, we devoted us 100% to those takes, and I can still feel today the exhausting and intense moments it was. You are so focused on what you are doing that it really feels that your complete body just doesn’t exist anymore; you are just an extremely selective mind expressing and receiving music. I think it definitely benefits the tracks as the takes of the acoustic instruments are full of life, each one.
Once, during lunch break, when the guys went to grab some food out, I decided to stay at the studio to have a little ‘Spirituality and Distortion’ break and to just play anything but not this album. So I went in the storage room, thinking about nothing at all, and just played instinctively. My attention has been taken by what I was playing - I found a little loop of notes which I enjoyed very much. I was in such emotional burning mood due to the recordings that this little loop flew away from my fingers. When the guys came back, I ask Benjamin, the harpsichord player, if he could play that thing. We were actually in the recordings of the harpsichord of the album. He said yes, he exercised it a bit and we recorded right away, and here it is, we recorded ‘Hollow Tree’.
MD: How was the production process for you this time around; the actual tracking of all the different elements? Did it still feel like an inherent part of the artistic process where songs continued to flourish with new creativity, or was it one big balancing act between the technical challenge of securing a great sound, and capturing the emotions you experienced when originally composing the music?
GAUTIER: It was like a huge storm of musical things to control, balance, put at the right place, in the right proportions; some things to push, some others to reduce, it has felt like juggling with 10 million elements at the same time, on a long period of time. The composition is definitely the biggest part, but the recording is also very challenging. Each instrument needs very specific microphones, compressors, reverb and technical understanding to reach the essential of the sound of the instruments but, sometimes, also to record in a specific way in order to mix this instrument with the other one you have in mind, then the mix feels natural and powerful as every sound is at the right place. The sound became a part of the artistic in Igorrr, so I have to play with the sound often as much as I play with the ideas.
MD: Obviously you chose each of the contributing musicians for what you knew, or at least hoped, they’d be able to add to the compositions in helping to bring them to life in the ways you envisaged, so did trust play a big part here? You know, trusting other people with your emotions, I guess?
GAUTIER: True, making Igorrr is a part of trusting people. For ‘Spirituality and Distortion’, I have not been disappointed at all with the result. Making Igorrr is risky anyway, as I go instinctively. I am never sure of how it may sound, and if it sounds better than before, which is primordial to me, I cannot release something which doesn’t sound better to me than what I did before. Again, I’m very happy of what each musician gave to this album; they did marvellously well. It has been sometimes/often complicated to make them understand what the album needed, but we did it.
MD: Was it easy to get George 'Corpsegrinder' Fisher on board? Was he already a fan of your music?
GAUTIER: I was and still am a big fan of Cannibal Corpse and especially of George Fisher’s voice. It would be normal to tell you that it was a big fight and months of arguing, plus contracts to sign to be able to record George Fisher for Igorrr, but it didn’t happen like that. We asked him, and he said okay, let’s do it !! Or something similar like, “that’s sounds awesome, let’s do it!” The guy is a true legend and is still a very cool and open minded person, ready to experiment and have fun with bands that he didn’t know. Hats off.
MD: Did you manage to secure everyone from your wishlist of contributors? Anyone you approached who wasn’t interested?
GAUTIER: I don’t really have a wishlist of people in general for Igorrr; the only wish is to have the best and most fitting instrument or voice to express the music I write. The people I was the most excited to work with on this album, beside my usual partners like Laure Le Prunenec or Sylvain Bouvier, were George Fisher, Timba Harris, Matt Lebofsky and Mike Leon - those were new people for Igorrr and I was very excited to work with them. Also, yes, there is an awesome violinist from a Middle East country which I contacted to play on this album and refused to collaborate as the music had weird rhythmic signatures and this was too far away from his culture.
MD: I have to say that I was so utterly impressed with Laure Le Prunenec’s vocals on the album. I really do think she’s excelled herself here. So much so, that I backtracked and bought the Corpo-Mente album you did, to get more of a Laure fix (and her Rïcïnn album). Fucking phenomenal stuff! Any chance of further music under the Corpo-Mente banner in the future?
GAUTIER: Funny that you ask this now as I just talked to Laure about Corpo-Mente on the phone right now. Yes, we have a second album on the way, for many years actually, but Igorrr is talking so much space that we couldn’t manage some free time to make it properly. Actually, we love those new tracks so much that it’s really this which pushed us to get back on this album again. Right now, we are working on those new tracks with Laure, Antony and Nils, so yes, there is a second Corpo-Mente album, but I don’t when, or if, it’s gonna be released.
MD: Your tour has been postponed for obvious reasons, along with every other tour out there. Very frustrating times for everyone, but has it hit you hard - emotionally and financially? Are there any ways in which fans can help during this difficult time?
GAUTIER: Yes, and yes. Both of them. The best way to help bands is to buy their t-shirts and CDs, but also to go to the concerts when it’s gonna be authorized again.
MD: There was a recent feature on the Kerrang site where you were asked to specify scenes in horror movies that “unnerve and repulse” you the most. I was kind of surprised to find that French horror cinema wasn’t at all represented in the list. Since the turn of the century, for me, French horror movies have been amongst some of the most finely crafted exercises in celluloid derangement and repulsion! Pascal Laugier’s ‘Martyrs’ (and ‘Incident in a Ghostland’ to a degree); Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s ‘À l'intérieur’ and ‘Livide’; Xavier Gens’ ‘Frontière(s)’; Kim Chapiron’s ‘Sheitan’; Julia Ducournau’s ‘Raw’ (released as ‘Grave’ in France, I believe)…and, well, anything by Gaspar Noé. Have you seen all these movies? Disturbed or desensitised by any of them?
GAUTIER: I never heard of almost all of those references. You know, I don’t have big horror movie knowledge. Since I got traumatized by ‘The Exorcist’ when I was a little boy, I stopped watching those movies for a while! Except Gaspar Noé, I don’t know any of the ones you wrote here. Thanks for the list, I’ll check them out now!
MD: Thanks for the interview and hope to see you over here in the UK before the year’s out. Roll on virus-free times!
GAUTIER: Cheers man.