Bordeaux, France-based progressive metal band Altesia are a newcomers on the prog metal scene, having released a full-length debut album ‘Paragon Circus‘ in December 2019. Singer/guitarist Clément Darrieu and guitarist Alexis Casanova shed some light on the album, after they took part on our latest Progotronics compilation.
Define the mission of Altesia.
Clément: I’m not sure we have a mission strictly speaking. But I feel an urge to write music deep down within myself. First of all, I think I write music to soothe this urge. Musically speaking, I’d say I always try to arouse the listener’s interest. That’s why each one of our tracks is quite unique, with different atmospheres and influences. I think that’s the basics of how to make progressive music. If the listener knows what’s going to pop up in thirty seconds, it doesn’t suit me. That’s what you could call our mission I guess!
Tell me about the creative process that informed your recent album “Paragon Circus” and the themes it captures.
Clément: Well, I wrote the record between 2017 and 2019 basically, but some songs have been in my head for a while. I believe I wrote the intro and the outro riff of “Cassandra’s prophecy” in 2014. Many sections of “Reminiscence” were written back in 2016, too. The creative process is quite hard to define. I guess I can feel when the idea I’ve just come up with is good enough to be on the record, or if I delete it forever. The problem is I’m a big perfectionist, so it can take so much time to properly finish a song! (Laughs).
What is the message you are trying to give with “Paragon Circus”?
Clément: “Paragon Circus” means we’ve built this world as a ridiculous circus. We’re heading in the wrong direction, but we keep on going forward, as if we were wearing blinkers. We’ve designed a world that looks like a trap, a trap that is closing on ourselves. So basically, the album is about man’s self-destruction. I’ve tried to present some of the biggest issues we have to deal with in this world. “Hex reverse” is about lies, “Amidst the smoke” talks of wealth inequalities and humans’ quest for money and power, “The prison child” is about taking the wrong way because of the social pressure and because of conformism…
How did you document the music while it was being formulated?
Clément: That’s quite funny because I’ve learnt music by myself and exclusively by ear, which means I don’t know how to write a music sheet for example. First and foremost, I feel the music, I don’t have a methodical or a mathematical approach, so to speak. So all the music I write is stored somewhere in my mind, and I play it like that. When I recorded the demos of the song, I’ve sent the songs to the boys and we’ve analysed them during the rehearsals. Then, some of the musicians like to write down their parts on a music sheet, some are okay with the way I work, but I understand it can be quite hard to decipher a music you’ve never heard, especially when that song is Cassandra’s prophecy and is 17-minute long ! (Laugh). But fortunately, I’m surrounded by wonderful musicians and we all learnt the songs pretty quickly!
Alexis: To us, musicians, learning Clement’s music from scratch was interesting, most of the time straightforward, but at some times a bit of a pain (laughs)! This is especially true for the most technical parts, which had to be moved from the world of Clement’s feelings, right down to a sheet, so that the song is not torn apart by the band during playing and recording processes… That said, each part from each song has a reason to be and each transition made sense. So it’s quite easy to feel each song as your own very quickly, potentially allowing fluid arrangements and production for the final record.
Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected?
Clément: Yes, I would say so! “Pandora” seemed like an evident track to get started with as it’s some kind of intro. Lyrically-speaking, it says evils spread out of the pandora’s box to contaminate humanity, so I thought that was a nice way to introduce the record. “Amidst the smoke” could have been title n°2, like a single, but I thought “Reminiscence” would be great instead, as it sums up all our influences within one track. Then, “Hex reverse” was the perfect title to be the follow-up to “The prison child” in terms of keys and atmospheres. As for “Cassandra’s prophecy”, well, that’s the epic track and it’s the end of the history, so it was obvious it would be the last one.
Describe the approach to recording the album.
Clément: Everyone recorded his parts on his own. Yann started to track the drums, then Antoine, our ex-bassist, tracked the bass, and so on. As Yann mixed and mastered the record, he was very available for us and he supported us in the recording, he taught us how to use the software to record our parts, stuff like that. We’ve made a three-part documentary, by the way, that recounts the experience and you can check it out on our YouTube channel. I think it was a nice way to proceed for a debut album, but next time, it would be cool to go to a proper studio and record the whole thing altogether. Humanly speaking, I think it would be a very nice experience, and our drummer wouldn’t have to spend his days and nights working on the album ! (Laughs).
How long “Paragon Circus” was in the making?
Clément: Yann started to record the drums on September, and Alexis finished his guitar solos in November. So it lasted about two and a half months.
Which bands or artists influenced your work on the release?
Clément: There are many bands I love, but there are not so many bands who really have an influence when I write music. The strongest influences would be Haken and Opeth I guess, a bit of Steven Wilson, Leprous, Dream Theater, Between The Buried And Me and Native Construct here and there.
Alexis: For mixing and production, we were inspired by a number of different artists and/or engineers across the whole spectrum of rock/metal genre. To quote additional bands, it ranges from Periphery (Nolly), Gojira and the djenty prog community, influencing us upon the edgy, articulate side of our sound, to Yes, Toto or Rush for the more clean, warm and vintage side. Some local, quite massively underrated, French bands inspired us as well to build the sound of “Paragon Circus” such as Kadinja, Ni or Kragens.
What is your view on technology in music?
Clément: Well, I’m not a tech-geek so I might not be the best one in the team to talk about that, but I would say that technology has to serve music first. Today, we have amazing tools and it would be a shame not to use them. If you take keyboards for example, in the 60’s, the keyboardists had to work day and night on their instrument to find and experiment sounds. Today, even if you buy the cheapest keyboards, you’ll get shitloads of sounds, ready to use. That’s great ! But I think it’s still important to keep an organic approach when it comes to the music itself. Sometimes you find modern metal or djent bands, and when you listen to them, it sounds a bit fake or overproduced. Some will love it, and I understand it, but you have the impression it’s a computer that’s playing the drums, I think it’s a pity, but it’s only my opinion of course.
Do you see your music as serving a purpose beyond music?
Clément: In a way, yes, because the lyrics are about human and our role in the society. The songs on “Paragon Circus” are very bleak, but the next album, that will be the follow-up to this one, will focus on the bright side of man. Some of the songs will maybe help people to find what they are made for and to think about the life they really want to live. In that sense, our music can serve a personal purpose. But “Paragon Circus” is not a political album if that’s what you’re asking. I mean, “Amidst the smoke” is about the harmful effect of money, but it’s not an anti-capitalist song either. I think there’s a nuance that can be difficult to feel. It’s not a lampoon where I criticise things. It’s just a portrait of a world where you’re nothing if you don’t have money, and that’s a big issue I think, because having money doesn’t necessarily make you a happy person ! So this song is an invitation to think about what is money, from a philosophical perspective, and its real role. I think you can live all alone in a farm with your animals and be the happiest man on earth. That’s a more interesting approach I think, whether than criticising for the sake of it which I find a bit dull and overrated. And punk bands already do that very well ! (Laughs).
To sum up, I’d say our songs are literary and full of imagery, like a journey. The lyrics are deliberately indistinct and unclear so that everyone can understand whatever he wants to see inside. If the lyrics and the songs can make people things that help them feel good, that’s a sufficient purpose to me ! I just want people to enjoy the music, that’s the most important.
What are your plans for the future?
Clément: Touring! We’d love to play in many cities, especially in France but also in Europe if we can get opportunities. We’d love to do festivals, too ! So we’re going to concentrating on touring for the next few months, that’s our biggest plan. Concurrently, we have to deal with the promo too, solicit bands, webzines, magazines, associations… So that’s going to be a big year for us, we are all very excited!