As a child, Stéphane Paut had visions. "It only happened a handful of times, in a completely random moment," he explains. "I had these images and feelings and sometimes even sounds coming to me in my mind — of a place that didn't look like anything that could exist here. It was a spiritual experience that changed my life forever."
In 1999, at age 13, the French guitarist and vocalist assumed the stage name Neige and formed Alcest, a black-metal–influenced shoegaze band, to try and express the feelings he got from his childhood visions. "It made me think about things like life after death and 'What is a soul?' and 'What is the meaning of life?'" he offers. "All these big questions."
The visions stopped when he was 10 years old, but Alcest's entire catalog has been influenced by these experiences to one degree or another. The band's sixth and latest album, Spiritual Instinct, is a soaring, shimmering exploration of the light and dark and all the big questions in between.
"The good side is that it made me a hopeful person because I feel my real home is waiting for me when I die," he says of his youthful reveries. "But at the same time, I've always felt disconnected from the world, because I felt I was from another place. So I've always been living between two worlds. That's what Alcest is: bringing a tiny piece of that world into this one."
WHAT INSPIRED THE TITLE OF THE NEW ALBUM, SPIRITUAL INSTINCT?
NEIGE We spent almost three years touring for our last record, Kodama. We were away from home for a long time. When that happens, you kind of lose touch with yourself because you can't do the things you like to do usually. You are always around people, so there is no way to reflect on things. So I kind of lost myself and I started to feel really bad.
I've always been into introspection and spirituality, but it kind of disappeared from my life at this point. But I really needed this thing back, because being into spirituality is not something I choose — it's something I've needed in my life as much as breathing. It's really like some kind of instinct. So that's why the title. It's kind of a summary of my journey up to that point.
YOU'VE MENTIONED THAT THE ALBUM IS ALSO ABOUT COMING TO TERMS WITH YOUR DARK SIDE.
Yeah. I put a lot of darker things on this album for once. I tend to preserve Alcest from this side of me, but I was feeling really not so well, so I thought it would be more honest to also bring a little bit of this darkness into the music. A lot of these things I did not have the courage to really look at [in the past]. It's not easy to look at yourself as you really are. We have this idea of who we are, but maybe we realize at some point that we may have been wrong. It's not easy to admit, but it's necessary if you want to grow as a person, to be a better person for those around you — and for yourself.
IS THERE ANYTHING SPECIFIC THAT YOU FELT YOU NEEDED TO CONFRONT?
For me, one of the most difficult things I have to live with is that I have very low self-esteem. I don't like myself very much, and it's really not cool because you are always putting yourself down and this is not a normal way to live. People say, "Are you listening to what you're saying about yourself? It's horrible." So that's also something that was part of this darkness. This album is full of doubts, full of questions. But I'm in a better place now, I think. The album was part of the healing process.
TELL US ABOUT THE LYRICS FOR THE SINGLE, "PROTECTION." WHAT KIND OF PROTECTION ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?
Protection from yourself and your own demons. In the text, I'm using nature as a shield, something I like to wrap myself in to protect myself. It's like some kind of inner fight. That's why the violent dance in the video — so people can see the inner struggle.
THE DANCER IN THE VIDEO, SUSANNE ENGBO ANDERSEN, GIVES QUITE A PERFORMANCE.
Yeah. The director told me that she gave everything. He wanted someone that could really dig in and connect to deep stuff, and wow — she is great. We had many different candidates, but the director had a very good feeling with her and I felt that she looked very Alcest-ian. [Laughs] She has this look, you know? She's not completely from here in some way.
I UNDERSTAND THE TITLE TRACK ALSO HAS A SPECIAL MEANING FOR YOU.
A friend of mine committed suicide. He was a painter and he was starting to be very successful. He was one of the very few people in Paris who could actually make a great living from painting. He was very talented. An art book company is actually making a book about him now. He was about to become very important — and maybe he will, because the paintings he's done have been very successful. He was not one of my closest friends, but I knew him for many years so of course I was devastated. I wrote the song maybe one day after it happened, so I don't think it's a coincidence.
YOU'VE BEEN DOING YOGA FOR THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS. HOW HAS THAT AFFECTED YOUR MUSIC?
I'm not sure I was doing yoga when I was writing this album, because I think I started after or quite late in the process. But it will have an impact on the next album for sure because it's had a very big impact on my life. Yoga can be many things — it can be something that just helps with stress or helps you connect with your body if you are just living in your brain — but it also has a very spiritual meaning. It's amazing for people with low self-esteem, because you are just living a moment with yourself and you don't think about anything else. You are just there in the moment doing your yoga and it's magical because you are fucking alive. It's a great way to be present.