Interview DEATHCODE SOCIETY
Arnhwald (vocals) & Nicolas S. (bass) – Friday 16 June 2017
“The rules are no longer ridiculous from the moment that the music meets the qualification” – Arnhwald
How’s your day going up until now?
Arnhwald: Quickly yes. We arrived early this morning to make sure that everything went well. Once we were prepared and the technical side of things were put together in a fastidious but stressful manner the concert really started and it went well. So that was the time to rip it all apart, to push ourselves to the limit. Things went very rapidly from there and we didn’t have much time to think about it, but it went well.
Nicolas: Without sucking anyone’s dick our welcome was top notch. It was super professional. We have only met people who were super competent and very sympathetic: it was a real pleasure to work in these conditions.
Arnhwald: To deal with people who are this good at their jobs relieves a certain amount of the pressure. Everything was well put together and we were able to take care of everything easily. We haven’t always had the chance to play in such good conditions. Even though we are a band low on the program we were very much welcomed!
Nicolas: Exactly. That was one of my fears, to be a little fish lost in the ocean or left for dead. But in the end we had everything we could have wanted and it was great!
For a band like yours to play Hellfest, do you feel like you’ve reached a peak?
Arnhwald: I was just talking about that with Franz our guitarist yesterday. He said « I don’t what we’re going to do after this ». He also said « To be first on the line-up is a little like being last in the Tour De France ». At least you were on the Tour De France! Seeing as it’s hard to do better there’s a certain sense of pride. For a French band to be able to be a part of the biggest metal festival in the country, it’s a nice little badge on our uniform if you will!
Nicolas: Simply speaking it gives us credibility. It fits on your resume and implies a certain level. Bookers are more likely to want to contact you if you played Hellfest rather than one random venue in the south of France.
Arnhwald: It’s a little more prestigious!
Nicolas: It also gives us a little bit of pressure. We knew we were going to play in front of a ton of people. There are fans and professionals. It’s sort of a window to them. Even though we are low on the bill we have to be good and effective during our half hour and to not mess up. It’s exciting because it’s a challenge and an extraordinary experience. It’s also a mark of trust from the bookers. When you have so much material to be a part of your set it’s like you’re the commander of the USS Enterprise and you have to figure it all out!
With festivals – is there a way to do it so that it makes sense logistically and financially?
Arnhwald: Yes especially because Hellfest is a festival that treats us well with respect to the finances. We didn’t have to complain with regards to that whereas we have to sometimes worry with other dates. We are used to playing festivals but we don’t really do tours for that reason. We’ve played a lot of festivals organized by smaller companies and played quite a few concerts with other bands. We’ve never had conditions as good as today.
Deathcode Society was for a longtime a band who didn’t play concerts. What made you decide to start playing live?
Arnhwald: Our activity was for a long time underground because just a side project to please the musicians playing in it. From 2010 it became my main band so I put all my weight behind it. Once that happened things moved a lot more quickly and once the record was done (Eschatonizer – 2015) we asked ourselves if life presentation was possible due to the depth and complexity of the arrangements. In the studio it was relatively easy but live, it’s impossible to cheat. Rather than do a shitty job we would rather do nothing. The guy who did sound for our show today ran sound for a room in Alsace and for four days let us try and figure out how to present our songs on stage. We were quite surprised when we figured out that we could do it! We were ready to do some live shows but not full on. To have fun on stage was the main goal.
Do you feel that becoming a live musician also teaches you something about yourself?
Nicolas: Totally. The stage grows everyone’s neurosis, especially before playing. Once on stage everyone does their part but in the minutes leading up there is a natural nervousness that gets bigger once you hit the stage. Our drummer was really freaking out before the set!
Arnhwald: Every salient trait grows. Then we play with masks on. On stage I’m no longer an everyday guy, I’m in my own world. Does that let me discover things about myself? Probably. To do this in front of hundreds or thousands of people like we did today, I don’t know if I thought that would happen, even if I got lucky. The idea is not so much to express yourself but to express something about humanity. To go vacant, to find a path and then let certain things express themselves. It’s like that that I feel like I’m not a medium, there is nothing mystical within it. It can even remind you of surrealists like Andre Breton who tried to tackle this in the 20th century. There are parts of the psyche that are activated when we play, especially in the sense of being an actor or musician and that opens a path that allows us to express something else, greater than us. What interests me with my work as a musician is the creative side of it within the stage show. To open up the path to something that isn’t me but something else.
Nicolas: As far as I’m concerned there’s also a side of « Conquering your fear » I arrived on the site on Thursday. I already played Hellfest 10 years ago, but on a much less significant stage, it was like the Metal Corner. I had not been back since then. When I saw the size of the Temple I thought I was in a cathedral! It gives you no time to bullshit and you need to go for it. The masks also help a lot. It gives me tunnel vision. I once read an interview with Slipknot where the guys said something on point, there is something different when you present yourself in a mask. I play in another band without a mask and the context is very different. The mask locks you in and lets you focus.
Black metal is a very codified scene, even too much so. Is it possible to ignore these codes if you want to create good black metal?
Arnhwald: It’s a paradox for a scene that wants to destroy all of the rules. Some people try at least. I think that post black metal really goes for that every day look. What really interested me initially about black metal are these questions of rule breaking. What’s interesting about black metal at the end of the day? It’s a bit like the movements at the end of the 19th century. It’s music that is meant to open a sort of door to the other side. It’s a little bit about the dead speaking with the living and living people dressing as the dead to speak their language. There is a sense of ritual within it. At the end of the day I think that’s what fascinated me when I started. I started to get interested by reading interviews, they fascinated me. I told myself « These guys have an artistic vision, an extra visceral side to defend, it will go far » But to that point I thought that the music was bad, poorly played and poorly produced, even a little ridiculous and cartoonish… up until I heard Emperor. Emperor raised the dialog around the music with their ideas, names, image etc. It was no longer a game, it was a necessity to be good, to be majestic, to create music that transcended and which was original enough to last until the end of time. The rules are no longer ridiculous from the moment that the music meets the qualification. I won’t say the rules are obligatory but they represent a level at which the musician needs to find themselves. I’ve thought about that a lot lately.
I can see that! In terms of news from your band – will we have a new record soon?
Arnhwald : Soon. We are in the process of writing it. There are so many releases… I’m very interested in all that is coming out, I listen to music every day and I am always interested in new bands: I want to drown under music. The question of course is « What will remain from this torrent? » I don’t want to assume the Deathcode Society records will be listened to in 10 years. I’m not at all convinced of that even if I want it to be the case. I want my records to be memorable. With that goal in mind I always found that bands that took their time to put out records did things of higher quality than bands who release things very regularly and who at the end of the day end up repeating themselves. Me, I need to study, to read, to listen to things and that means the process is a little slow. I’m the kind of guy to write 4 measures and then totally change them an hour later. It’s a little cerebral and thus a little slow but I work on it every day. I put in around four months to write a song…
Nicolas: I can confirm that. It’s not a question of opening the floodgates. It’s a real process of distillation where all is very measured out.
Arnhwald: Drop by drop. I’m the first to be frustrated because it takes so long, I’m someone who puts a lot of pressure on himself…
The creative process is above all the vision of one guy with your band…
Nicolas: I will speak for Arnhwald. It’s very elaborate from the start. To record the first record I came in as a session musician to play the bass parts. At the end of the day I played 90% of what Arnoud composed, I only modified the things that didn’t seem correct from my perspective as a bassist. The rest was amazingly well written and arranged. Arnhwald really has a powerful vision concerning the writing. The other musicians are really only there as session musicians but the guitarists sometimes provide ideas.
Arnhwald: For the instrumental passages, the notes, the chords, all is harmonized with my vision. I have a studio at home where I can play my instruments, program others and record vocals. In my compositions the guitars are very rarely in unison and I’m really going to push that on the next record. I also will make sure that the bass is pushed a little forward so we hear a bit more the counterpoint characteristics in the compositions, that is to say, real counterpoint. For the drums, the direction I have for the first record was similarly precise. The next album will surely integrate some of Franz’s ideas though. The vocals will equally represent a central part because I’m in the process of adapting some 20th century poetry. So I have to respect the rhythm and meter. I learn with each album. For the first album I had to relearn a lot of music theory. I bought books and spent a lot of time listening to certain works to better understand orchestral compositions and the habits of composers to make sure that all went well and I had good practices and ideas. So I had to give myself an academic music training for the first record. For the second record I’m digging into 20th century anglo-saxon poetry that I don’t know it all. It’s fun!
Interview : Wombat.
Many thanks to Sarah (Dooweet).