Wednesday, July 17, 2013

... all crowns are not made of gold : an Interview with NORTHWINDS !!!

Several striking French bands have erupted significantly  in the worldwilde scene over the last couple of years (Huata, Crown, Cult of Occult...) but in front of this there's another (french) band particularly which would deserve a lot more attention, I've named NORTHWINDS from Paris !!!
Tagged as Progressive Doom, this old band has a solid discography to offer (4 albums - from "The Great God Pan" to "Winter") which will be soon enriched by "Eternal Winter" and a couple of other special releases... An exciting programm presented here by Sylvain Auvé (vocals/drums) who also kindly speaks about the band's history, its place in the actual scene, etc... Read this carefully, listen old and new songs and please SUPPORT religiously Northwinds from now on, you'll be largely rewarded by their unique style of chiaroscuro Prog' Doom Rock!!! 

Hi Sylvain, thanx a lot for taking the time to answer the following questions ! Well, “winter” was supposed to be a double album but Black Widow rds found it too risky and so it’s been splited in two parts with “winter” released in 2012 and the second part “eternal winter” later this year… Did you accept this with fatality or wasn’t it frustrating to see your work partitioned like this ?

Yes, and the title of the album was “Winter...Eternal winter.” It was not a concept album, only a few songs are really bounded by this theme. Other songs are secondary to the theme, but are related to the  frozen emotions, destruction, ends with no new beginnings, death of all hopes, etc... After all we are not so frustated to split our work in two, it helped us to obtain 2 more consistent/coherent albums. Each one with its own colour. Winter is dark. Eternal winter will be in a 70's classic hard-rock mood, some songs at least. And one song is totally out of any dark reflection: “A light for the blind”.

Did you change anything in the content from what you planed initially or was there just another cover and artwork to do for “eternal winter” ? Sure this must be the logical continuity  of “winter” but if you decided to make a double album, made choice to share the songs in one rather than the other, etc… there must be some different caracters between both ?

Yes, there is another artwork to do for Eternal winter. And I think we'll propose to  Stefano Scagni to do a new adaptation of another renowned Friedrich's painting.
A new source of worry, but let's see it as a new chance to have a new work by Stephano, who is a great artist.

“winter” is in my opinion clearly your darkest album so far, do you think that the theme has induced that logically or is there any special reason to this ?

Yes, it is. All the songs chosen for Winter ( except for the Angel Witch/St Vitus cover songs ) are very dark on the lyrical side. And I think we are more able to orientate our musical works for a better osmosis between music and lyrics.


For the 1st time ever “winter” didn’t include a whole song  in French, why this ? Is that a simple coincidence if this happen on your doomiest release?

There is a song in French, “Chimères”. But due to the split of the whole album in two pictures, you'll hear it on Eternal winter. That song is a real cluster of all Northwinds “colours”.

In fact the only songs which contains (partly) French lyrics is the cover  of St Vitus “clear windowpane” which was recorded a long time ago for some tribute album… you dedicate it to Armando Costa, did you decide to include as bonus on the CD after his death in 2010 ?

In fact, we decided very late to include it on the cd version. It was one of our lost songs, and we were sad it had never been released officially. The dedication was obvious.

It looks like the band’s line-up has never been so steady and stronger, how do you enjoy this and do you think this has been primordial in the release of “winter” which is undoubtedly your most accomplished album ?

The answer is in the question: yes. Cohesion, pertinence are obvious everyday as a result of the stability of the line-up. It's our force since 2002/2003. “masters of Magic” and even “Chimères” have really suffered from the coming and going of musicians, too much recording sessions. Eventually you can see these records as luxurious demo works.
For Winter and Eternal Winter we took in charge the recordings sessions and the mixing work, it helped a lot to obtain a cohesive work. And the songs were rehearsed many and many and many times before the final test of the studio. We have even done a demo of each song , the whole pack being our third demo.
That's not what we did in the past, and I must point we hadn't all the equipments/tools way back then that have freed us in the last 10 years.  

The cover of “winter” is a painting of Stefano Scagni who worked previously with Doomraiser and Minotauri, how did you come to work with him ?

We haven't chosen to work with him. It's the choice of Black Widow and we love that a label have a regular illustrator. We love a lot his work, his skills are impressive and we hope he'll do the artwork for Eternal Winter... But the final decision is in the hands of Black Widow.

Northwinds was created 20 years ago, in a time where just a few pioneers like Dark White, Garden of Silence and Astral Rising were existing (the 1st one only being pure Doom)… you’re now the oldest in activity, how do you see the evolution of Doom in France over those 2 decades ? Which are some of the new bands of the years 2010 that you actually enjoy ?

The band began in 86/87 under the monicker of RIP. We were not “Doom” as people understand it nowadays. Black Sabbath and everything that mould influenced us: Trouble, Candlemass, St Vitus, Quartz, W General, Witchfynde, etc...But also classic hard-rock acts such as ZZ top, Budgie, Rush, etc...I remember that Tygers of Pan-Tang and Raven were the names too!!! So, there was no will to do a style , there was no mould...And even if the years passing, we focus more and more on the doom metal side we have never been consider as a doom metal band by the metal masses. I remember meeting the singer of Dark White (hello Pierre!!) telling me that he had listened to our first demo (95) and that it was not doom metal but more in the “Sabbatical” vein of Witchfinder General. Wise man. So, have we ever been a “Doom” metal band is debatable. Even though, we present ourselves in our first days as a doom metal band, cos' it was the underground scene we were active in as music fans. We were huge Doom metal music fans and Black Sabbath second hand wannabes.
And yes, we are still here and regarded mainly as a doom metal band. Great!!!!
But we are really living in the past and have not so much knowledge of the nowadays sensations in our country (shame on us!). From the few bands I've listened to, I can say that originality and imagination is here and that's great.
I will say that Children of Doom impress me A LOT: we have here a band in the spirit of MC5's, they got it, a real garage doom/rock maelstrom. They have captured the real spirit of those punk seventies !!! Their live shows have always such an intensity...Respect. And this little miracle is coming out in the doom scene.
Another great emotion: Stangala is doing something I wish I would have the perspicacity to do in 95!!
We've also been contacted by Marble Chariot and I'm always amazed to see how competent so young people can be both on writing  and studio process!
We had the same feelings when we have discovered Orange Goblin, Mourn or Electric Wizard! It didn't put us on a down, it helped us to be confident about our place in the picture and our future.

Where does come from your interest for Broceliande and its legends ? Did the band ever gather in those mystic lands ? You who enjoy to take your time when you’re on the road for gigs with visiting obscure places, I imagine that if you play in Rennes or somewhere in the Morbihan or south Finistère,  a stop in Broceliande lands would be obligatory… ?!

Do you know the city of Roscoff, in the north of Britain? (sure I do !) I have passed here all my holidays for over 30 years!!!! Don't search too far the celtic influences in our music and the pleasure to write about these superb and sometimes, mystic places!!! And guess what?
On Eternal Winter you'll find a song about the lighthouse of the Isle of  Batz, a beautiful isle in front of the city of  Roscoff. It deals with a little more than the beauty of a secular guiding light...

On early materials, the celtic sonorities were pretty much present, just as in lyrical themes; can we consider that they’ve been little by little substituted by some more 70’s progressive  or do you feel they’re still (slightly) present at some point  and can eventually work all together again on future stuff ?
The answer is in the previous lines!!

When speaking about progressive/folk influential bands, you always name Ange and Allan Stivell, but I’m sure there’s other names that have counted and still count for you … ?

Oh yes!! Too many to mention.
A LOT of folk bands coming from Britain! Sure bands such as Ys, Bleizi Ruz, Tri Yann, Kornog, Malicorne(for the french side) or Clannad, Steeleye Span, East of Eden, Horslips, Mormos, Comus(for the international side) etc...have surely left a mark on us. I think we have retained the gentle side of the style.
The Emily lp (Emily Bindiger) is a must for me, an achievement.

But I must point that Jade Warrior, in their first years, has our favour. Tyrannosaurus Rex on a minor plan too.

I spoke several times with comrades in doom about your discogaphy and it looks like “masters of magic” doesn’t get as high notes as all your other releases… a question of consistency in the sound and balance between doom and progressive, certainly due to successive line-up changes – what’s your opinion on this album retrospectively ?

I understand. The songs are good, but are the result of too many recording sessions.
Way back then we didn't take too much time to work on the songs, once the basic parts were written. Sometimes, some  were finished in the studio, a few minutes before the recording session. We were doing a lot of things in a rush. The balance between heavy metal (doomy) and folk/prog have always been a problem in our music. Some might that the band has no “commercial target” or worse no real musical direction. The reality is that we bear no flag! We are free to let our influences shine as the moment is calling for. A chance Black Widow always support us in such a non-lucrative experience.

The songs I love the most on this album are: “Over the Mountain”, “Entre chien et loup”, “Violet Rainbow”, “Brocéliande” and “Dancing in moonlight”. We are still playing “Over...” and “Brocéliande” these days. And I think we will include again “Violet...” in our set list in a near future.

I had the immense honour to see you live last month at the Anthems of Doom and was surprised by your setlist which included old songs from demo and first album but also new ones too… you have such a large repertory now that it must be something pretty hard to choose among many songs, especially considering that you play live rarely… how do you agree on this ? which was the setlist for example at the precedent gig (Doom over Paris) ?

It's not pretty hard, but the lack of flute could be a problem.
And as we play live rarely, we offer a brand new set list every concert.

Here is the set list for the Doom over Paris:

Over the mountains / Great God Pan / Nevernever land / Dusty pictures / Night of the ritual / You suffer (Napalm Death) / Eternal winter / Voodoo fire (excerpt, Cathedral).

A good memory, we were not ready at all, I had problems with my voice, we were happy, simply happy to be there...We had met great people and discover original bands that are the proof of the good health of the doom scene in its different shades. And a final hail to Cauchemar, a great great band!

For some technical reasons, you’ve decided to not include anymore flute in live conditions, why that exactly ? in some way, does it give more importance to keyboards on stage since then ?

Yes, we're unable to keep a regular flutist with us, and I can't play flutes and drums at the same time. So the keyboards will take their entire role on stage. And the versions of the songs are different in some case to compensate the lack of flute.
I just hope to have a regular flutist one day.

Despite you’d be ready to play live more regularly, you have too rare propositions, what’s the reason to this… are people intimidated by old metallers playing middle-age prog Doom or what ?!!!

Ah,ah,ah. I don't think so! We're too much prog and lyrical for nowadays doomsters and too heavy for progsters.

Lyrically wise you like to write about life experiences with a weird-tales and fantasy approach, where do you take stylistically inspiration from  - books, movies, other bands maybe… ?  Do you write them directly I English and/or need the help of someone ?

Yes, many times inspiration is coming from books and other bands, not for the themes but more in the stylistic approach. No one help me, it explains the poor linguistic level of our lyrics, ah, ah, ah, ah!!!

Not just in metal, in France people singing in English often have difficulties with the accent and flow, this doesn’t seem a problem at all for you, does it come naturally or require a special work and attention ?

Thanks for the compliment for  I have always thought the opposite. Really, sometimes my accent is awful but you know...I chose not to concentrate too much on that point cos if I do so, I become unable to sing!

Over the past months, you’ve been working on a very special release that will be called “live ritual” – an homemade live recording with many unreleased songs and covers, released in 2014 on TAPE … could you give us some more details on this please ?

It will consist in cover songs (many), old Northwinds songs (not too much), new songs (not too much). The purpose is to do the songs as live as possible. To do it fast and not to take care too much of the production side. Maybe it's a reaction to our previous work on Winter that is very produced. The aim is to prey on the urge to do something without too much “brain” leading it. And I think it will be released as a tape or double tape version.


What’s your intention with this tape – reward your dedicated fans, have fun in releasing something special by yourselves… ?

Have fun, that's sure, to work and improve. By the way, I hope it will be of interest for our fans! This a gigantic project. A real reverence to our past.

I know you’re artistically very satisfied with Black Widow records but one can’t help thinking you guys would deserve wider exposure through a more dynamic label… aren’t you sometimes a bit frustrated by this ? what’s your contractual situation with them by now ?

We'd like to have a  wider exposure but are we ready to face up to what it involves as a band? I'm not sure, cos' time is not our side and it's not easy to manage our respective workloads.
When situation was critical they were behind us and were confident for us.
They were confident about our will to use folk instruments such as flute or accordion.
They were confident about our mix of...(Northwinds is really a strange home made brew...) doom, prog, folk, nwobhm.
They offer us a beautiful exposure with our first effort “Great God Pan”. I just want to be loyal to the label. They understand our will to get a wider exposure and let us participate to projects here and there. The situation is perfect for us, though we'd like to have better studio facilities. When you talk music with these guys you're really talking to people who are knowing what 70's were meaning and are meaning today far away all flags: doom or whatever else. We are talking about music here, not drawers or trends.

Did you ever think of having a bandcamp page or something for digital stuff like your old demos and eventually this next “live ritual” ?

I don't know. Maybe it's the solution for us. However, the guitarist and the bassist are in charge of all these internet facilities, so I will follow their recommendations on that point.

Could you tell us what merchandise is  actually available directly from you and the label – especially vinyls and T-shirts ?

Via our Facebook, you can order t-shirts (first demo artwork or Live ritual artwork), vinyls of “Chimères” and “Winter”, and cds of  all our releases.

Is the band at its peak in terms of creativity  or do you feel there’s a lot more to come for the next 20 years?!!

The band is always on the go: Eternal winter is about to be released, Live ritual is in process...Northwinds has still a lot to offer. Maybe a split single with Marble Chariot will see the light of day. This line-up has proved its coherence with the creation of winter. So I really think we can still  improve in terms of creativity.

You told me that the internet has helped you to get your name more exposed, but to tell the truth I think that it’s people who come to you, not you doing promotion and trying to sell your name… but I feel it’s true that there’s a simmering around the name of Northwinds ! what’s your opinion on this and don’t you think that your label could get more out of it (internet) ?

Yes, you're totally right. But nowadays you can't deny that such tools as Facebook help you a lot to spread the name of the band and to keep the people informed in one second of the last news about your musical work. It's a good way to contact people too. A good way to keep the underground alive, but now, at the speed of light!

Merci beaucoup Sylvain and to Northwinds for being so brilliant !

Thanks a lot for the compliment. Congratulations for your work, internet will be nothing without people like you. Thanks for the interview and the support. Hope to see you again!

1 comment:

  1. Real cool interview ! Thanx, Magister !