When I think of Eryn Non Dae, I think of the stellar wave of progressive metal that seemed to crest between 2008 and 2010. I first encountered the band at that time, when they had just released their album Hydra Lernaïa. At that time the group, which hails from Toulouse, was sort-of lumped in with a massive push of free-thinking metal also from France, including of course Gojira but also Hacride and Gorod. With the exception of Gojira most of those bands failed to make a splash on this side of the pond, but I always kept an eye on Hacride. Their 2012 record Meliora was, i though, their last, but now six years later they have a new full-length, Abandon of the Self on the horizon via Debemur Morti records. Below is a taste of that record: the song “Fragment”. After that is a lightly edited conversation I had with the band about their protracted writing process and its often unpredictable but stimulating results.
One of the consistent facets of Eryn Non Dae’s career has been a very involved, process-driven approach to songwriting. You’ve said before that you can take 6-8 months to write a song, and sure enough, it’s been six years since the release of Meliora (which I quite liked). What, in your estimation, are the advantages of this extended songwriting process?
Mickaël André (Bass): The main advantage is to be sure that we tried everything we wanted to try before deciding that a song is finished. We can keep a kind of spontaneity for some parts but we generally need to try a lot of variation to find the equilibrium between the elements in each song.
The other good thing about this process is that I think that these songs contain several listening levels that make them live a longer life, as if the path we took to craft it would have something to do with the time needed to fully enjoy the album in its entirety.
And what are the disadvantages?
Of course, the disadvantage is the disappearance of the band during several years between two albums. We know that it’s not the way the music business works for now. So for each record, we feel like we have to rebuild everything from the beginning when it comes to finding a label, gigs, or even just to be remembered by the deciding force in the ‘community’.
But even with this difficulty for each record, I think we wouldn’t change the way we proceed since we need that time and work on our music before being satisfied.
On your new record, Abandon of the Self, you wrote in a new fashion, with bass parts coming first and guitar later. How do you think that changed the music this time around?
It’s interesting that you noticed the ‘new fashion’ in the writing process. We really wanted to avoid these songs being too guitar driven, so we tried to bring guitar riffs at the latest moment possible for some songs, that’s the reason why you can think that bass, electronics or drums come first in some songs.On the record, we really wanted to use the guitar as a kind of textures generator, as an additional layer more than the main element of a song; there are fewer guitar riffs on this record and more arrangement. We also tried to give more importance to the voice too, we needed Mathieu’s voice to bring some songs to another dimension this time.
Is there any particular song on Abandon of the Self that you’re particularly proud of, and why?
I think I’ll mention the final song “Abyss,” because it started with a very simple guitar tapping arpeggio sounding like an aquatic movement that we used like a sequence or a sample to build a big evolving wave led by the voice. I think Mathieu really caught something up on that song, It’s been really refreshing for us to feel that a song could hold on the voice because it’s not something we’re used to. So I feel something successful on this song because we tried to use each tool with parsimony, adding what the song needed without feeling forced to play anything unnecessary.
While many bands think of lyrics as a bit of an afterthought, I know that Eryn Non Dae takes lyrics very seriously. What as the lyrical or philosophical direction you took on Abandon of the Self, and why did that angle interest you?
Abandon Of The Self is about a quest of unity, on a personal level but also on a bigger plan. It’s about reconnecting the fragments to give birth to a whole and giving up the individual way of thinking in order to experiment with universality.
Lyrics are important first because the writing process is very demanding to Mathieu, he is not coming with lyrics at the end of a record because we need something to say, it’s more a never-ending process for him that goes along his personal life, I am quite close to him and I know that he never stops turning things over and over in his head for better or worse. In the end, it results in these images and concepts that form a heartfelt whole when you listen and try to understand what our records are about.
Today we’re premiering “Fragment” which is in some ways one of the most straightforward songs on the record: the vocals begin not long after the song begins, and it takes a while to build up into the crazy breaks and drum patterns at the song’s climax. What was the process like to write this song, and what does it mean to you personally? What is it about?
“Fragment” is the first song we wrote for the record, the aim was to pick ideas that could fit quickly together to bring a kind of comfort in the beginning of the writing process. We were coming back from hard times for the band, full of questioning and doubt so we wrote this song with Julien, the drummer, with the will to build a song easy to go into, with not much downtime.This is also why we went into another direction right after this song, because we felt that excitement back and it allowed us to think something like “Ok, the process has started, we have this song that holds on so let’s see what else we can explore now”.
I also remember that we discussed its place on the album, some of us were wondering if this song fits the album’s mood, and we decided that it was a good way to bring variety. This one is straightforward as you said, so it was a good one to counterbalance long and weird songs like “Omni” for example.
The song’s lyrics are the foundations of the album concept, it deals with that fragmented creature, who struggles to gather the pieces of something bigger than him.
I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about the status of so-called progressive heavy metal. When I first got into Eryn Non Dae around 2010, progressive metal was in something of a renaissance with many bands trying to expand into different sonic directions, and from my own subjective viewpoint, I do not hear that so much lately. You’ve never sold yourselves as a “progressive” band, but nonetheless, Eryn Non Dae always pushes their sound forward in new and somewhat unexpected directions. What is the great challenge in creating something unexpected in music, and do you have any advice as to how younger bands could maybe begin to think more “outside the box” so to speak?
I don’t feel like I can give any advice, but I think that time cannot be reduced. Finding your own way is a long process, not really something trendy in 2018 but that’s only my opinion.
To think outside the box as you say, I think you have to know what’s inside the box and that represents this time of learning and finding tools to reach what is inside of you, because even if music can be a job as any other job, it also can be a way to express something, if that is what we are talking about.
Learning and working to find out who you really are is what matters the most I think, because what makes a band special and interesting is its ability to make you experience something unique and personal, something you won’t find in every band, not because it’s better but because something deep inside of you will react to this sincerity you felt in a song or an album as a listener or even as a creator. And I think it works with anything else made in attempts to provoking an emotion, because the heart doesn’t lie, and this is what music is about most of the time. Creating something unexpected in music is a great challenge as you said very well, and I like to think that we push our sound forward on each record but I also keep wondering if it’s enough… and enough compared to what? So we keep in mind that there are still a few detours to be explored, some little unpredictable mixtures to be found!
I don’t want to spoil the record for people who haven’t heard it, but right now the only public track is the opener “Astral”. It’s a very determined, layered song, but it doesn’t really hint at some of the strange turns you’re going to take alter in the record. What in particular sticks out in your mind about “Astral”?
We didn’t see until we began to think about the track listing of the record that “Astral” had that efficient side of our music that could easily link Meliora up to Abandon Of The Self, so the idea to introduce this new record with that song came quite late.
With “Astral”, I feel the straightforward mood we needed for a long time — not that the song sounds basic, but it goes forward I think. I try to keep a single tonality during a whole song since I’m used to always changing chords and progressing when I write for my other bands, so I wanted to constrain myself in sticking around a limited tonal territory to focus more on intensity and layers.
If you could pick three records that you could honestly recommend to any human being, what would they be and why?
Wow, what a hard one… I would not say that these are my three favorites but these are my answers for tonight!
Let’s say Shadows of the Sun by Ulver because it represents what I like the most on a record, it contains music that can only hardly be defined, it’s immersive, extraordinarily beautiful and timeless.
The Second Wave by Khoma because it’s a perfect mix of heaviness and emotion, it’s finely crafted but never cheesy, the first song, “The Guillotine” is perfection for me.
And “I Forget Where We Were” by Ben Howard because I’ve always been fascinated by somebody singing a song with just a guitar and even if this record sounds very produced, this guy is able to give so much with just a few chords and his voice, it’s definitely fascinating for me.
These records are not my favorites of all time but they embody some of the feeling that I believe could be interesting to experiment for any human being while listening to three records. But it’s very related to the way I listen to music, it’s very ceremonial, definitely demanding but so rewarding.