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Esoteric is part of the handful of bands that made a huge contribution to the emerging sound of extreme Doom back in the days, in the early 90’s. Their sound is unique and unmistakable. The release of Paragon of Dissonance is an extra proof of the band’s supremacy. Doom-metal had a discussion with Greg Chandler about the album and the way he conceives his art.

Interview with Esoteric.
1) Hello Greg. The first thing that strikes when listening to this new album called ‘Paragon of Dissonance’ is the ‘Esoteric touch’, left intact, just as personal and unmistakable since the creation of the band, and despite all the line-up fluctuations. Being the only surviving member of the original formation (along with Gordon, but I’ll come back to him later), we easily imagine that you pay a lot of attention to the elaboration of each new album, secluded, safe from any fashion tentation, as a solid ‘guardian of the temple’. Under these circumstances, isn’t it too difficult for the other members to work with you?
To be entirely honest that is not really how it works with Esoteric. Each album is a band effort, contributed by more than one song-writer and often up to 3 or 4 different writers. Whoever writes the music, it is generally demoed, developed, added to, experimented with and rehearsed for months or even years before we enter the studio to record the definitive version. Regarding what is accepted or discarded from the song-writing, that is a matter for the whole band and not one person. Of course with several band members you can’t always please everyone all of the time, but generally speaking it is the music that we each appreciate that makes the final version for the album. People seem to assume that I control everything as I am the only ‘public face’ of the band, the one organizing gigs, doing interviews, and so on, but musically speaking it is not the case and never has been. It’s always been a group effort and hence the diversity between the songs on our albums, due to being written by different writers with different styles of song-writing. The constant that glues the albums together is the fact that the music is played with the nuances and styles of each person that makes up this band and we all work together to enhance the music as a whole and to capture the original feeling of how a song was written and intended. The whole process is fairly democratic and the song-writing process quite organic.

2) In relation with the previous question, what are the styles of music you personally enjoy the most (and not only within Doom)? Do you let yourself be inspired by those kinds of music during the creative process for Esoteric? And finally, have you kept some interest about what was going on on the Doom scene specifically?
Personally I appreciate many different styles of music and I tend to prefer to listen to unique bands and bands that are difficult to classify rather than genres of music. Whether it is Classical music such as Stravinsky or modern classical like Rachels, or any kind of metal, black, death, doom, industrial, or dark ambient, post rock such as Godspeed You Black Emperor or progressive rock such as Pink Floyd or King Crimson, or more mainstream music such as Portishead or The Prodigy. It is not the style but the content that makes music great and I do not limit myself to listening to specific styles. Music can be extreme, despondent or barbaric, etc, whatever the style or instrumentation. I have some interest in listening to bands that are considered doom, but I have never had any interest in any «scene » or movement of music as defined by the media. To me, genre and classification is just a way of abbreviating music so that it can be explained briefly in few or a couple of words. It rarely gives an indication of what a band sounds like exactly unless they are quite generic. The extreme doom bands that I have liked and listened to over the years are bands such as Unholy, Skepticism, Evoken, Winter, and so on. But if you directly compare those bands they are all quite different in their own right.

3) What appears secondly, after having listened carefully to this ‘Paragon of Dissonance', is the general orientation towards a more light sound, it’s airier, more oniric, almost ethereal. You can clearly hear that on tracks like ‘Cipher’ and ‘Disconsolate’, two titles to which your new guitarist Jim Nolan contributed. Tell us a word about the way he took his place in the team, how quickly did he manage to add his own vision to the universe of Esoteric?
The feel is lighter in places, yes, the emotions more varied and there is a greater display of light and shade, but this has always been present in our albums to a greater or lesser degree. Jim’s writing and playing style is more melodic than mine generally speaking, and less psychedelic than Gordon’s, but on this album you have the more uplifting moments of Cipher and Disconsolate which marry well with the darker atmospheres of Loss of Will and A Torrent of Ills. But Jim’s writing also has some extremely dark and heavy moments too and the writing flows well within each song and within the album. Variety and diversity is something we’ve always sought to acheive. Jim joined the band towards the end of 2009 and fit in extremely well and gelled quickly with the current line up. He is a very good musician and was also experienced in the studio and with creating and programming effects and sounds, so it was quite a natural integration that worked well and has continued to work well.

4) I feel some Post-Rock influences in some sequences of this new album, which surprised me, being a quite unprecedented aspect in the universe of Esoteric. Is this evolution a calculated and conscious process or rather a spontaneous and unconscious one? Is Post-Rock a genre you listen to a lot? Are there some recent nice finds in this style you’d like to mention?
Post rock is not strictly new to Esoteric at all, it is a style of music most, if not all members of the band have listened to and appreciated for many, many years. Historically we have always written songs which in places have long crescendos and a less than « metal » feel, even going back to the first album. « Bereft » contained elements of psychedelic, post rock if you sit and analyse by association, but our influences are more likely to come from listening to Pink Floyd or other progressive and experimental artists. We try to draw inspiration purely from within when composing music, there is never any conscious decision to allow external musical influences to enter our song-writing, even if it does happen somehow. Myself, Gordon, Mark, Joe, we’ve been listening to bands such as Godspeed You Black Emperor, Mono, Kayo Dot, Neurosis, etc, for many years and it’s not like we just decided to add this element to the band and song-writing suddenly for the current album. We have an organic approach to song writing and write by feel and inspiration from our own minds and always have, and it’s perhaps only now that the metal media has noticed and began to draw such associations.

5) The keyboardwork also plays an important part in that new orientation. The dark ambient feel is less marked and more ethereal, sometimes bringing to mind some songs by Brian Eno. How did you go about that peculiar aspect of the music after Oliver Goyet left the band? Besides, which were the reasons of his leaving? … I mentioned Brian Eno in this question, do you appreciate his music?
Personally I have never heard any of Brian Eno’s music, at least that I am aware of. Perhaps I might recognise something if you played it to me, but I don’t own anything by him or know any of his music on a conscious level. We have used keyboards or synths or both on almost all Esoteric albums aside from Metamorphogenesis and Subconscious Dissolution, either sparingly like on the first album, or intensely as on The Maniacal Vale. Only on The Maniacal Vale did we have a full time keyboard player, Olivier Goyet. On all other albums the keyboards were played or written by either myself or Gordon. On the current album the keyboards were written by the song writer for each song, so it was either myself, Jim or Gordon. This is generally how we did it before Olivier was in the band and again how we did it for the current album. Even on The Maniacal Vale myself and Gordon still wrote a number of the keyboard parts which were then reproduced or elaborated on by Olivier and sometimes he wrote the parts himself. It all varied, there was never any set way of working. When writing music myself, it can be written on keyboard, piano or guitar, or even as a string quartet as with two thirds of the music on the track A Torrent of Ills. The process just varies and the instrumentation a song starts with it won’t necessarily end up as. There are no hard and fast rules to anything we do.

6) The important role of Mark Lockett’s piano has also to be underlined; it brings a melancholic vibe, a sensitiveness on certain tracks. Have you planned to fully integrate Mark in the future or is he only an occasional session musician?
We asked Mark to record the piano parts for the album as none of us play piano as our first instrument or well enough to consider ourselves as pianists and we wanted a real pianist to record the parts for the album on a real piano. Mark is an amazing musician that I have worked with many times over the years in the studio on either his own projects or projects he’s been a part of or requisitioned for, with music that has spanned anything from african percussion to indian classical fused with jazz, classical music, acid jazz, indonesian gamelan and experiemental music that defies classification. He is currently living in the south of france so it is not really practical to consider him as a full time member of the band and he’s very busy with his own projects also. He’s always appreciated the music of Esoteric since we’ve been friends and we met again early in 2011 when he was back in Birmingham for a week. So I took the opportunity to ask him to record the piano parts for our album. Some parts we asked him to stay close to the original composition and on some songs we asked him to record his own interpretation as he did with Loss of Will, to which his embellishments add a great deal. The original piano parts were recorded on a Steinway in a church in the south of france, but as the acoustics and ambience of the recording was a little too washy amongst the wall of guitars and time was short, he re-recorded on his Roland RD700 digital stage piano, which was the next best alternative to the real thing.

7) A small explanation about the position of Gordon Bicknell is needed, he who has always been up till now your lifelong partner within Esoteric. He is credited on a single title only ("Non-Being") and appears in the booklet as a session musician only. I’m tempted to deduce that he left the band. What are the reasons? Was this rupture with the other ‘pillar’ of Esoteric painful or did it happen on friendly terms?
Gordon was not listed as a session musician, but he was credited on Non Being only as that is the song he had written for the album and also the only song he performed on. Gordon is still in the band and has been back with us full time since November 2011. He took a break from playing within the band full-time between June 2010 and November 2011 due to personal circumstances, but we didn’t make any official announcement as we didn’t find a suitable replacement and had always hoped that it would be a temporary situation and it was. He will remain in the band for the forseeable future. It was always on friendly terms. Gordon is a lifelong friend of mine with a friendship that has spanned 20 years and nothing will ever change that, whether he would leave the band or not. But like myself, Esoteric is a part of him that he is still inspired to do and dedicated to even after 20 years.

8) Let’s go on taking a close look at each post within Esoteric and let’s stop a moment on the drummer part. You recognized in several other interviews that this part was particularly demanding in Esoteric, in terms of technique and stamina (what anyone can easily believe when considering how complex the songwriting can be), and that is was really exhausting as well, physically as much as psychologically. Darren Earl held out on the demo and Espitemological Despondency, Anthony did only a brief appearance on The Pernicious Enigma, Keith York resisted throughout two albums (Metamorphogenesis and Subconscious …), Joe Fletcher held good since The Maniacal Vale… For how long?
Our music is not so much physically demanding to play so much as it is mentally demanding, as we have a lot of time signature, tempo and arrangement changes that modulate and very few sections of a song will repeat later on. So, it is a lot to commit to memory. Joe has been with us for over 5 years now and he adds a lot to the band. We have a good working relationship and friendship and I hope it will continue for many years to come.

9) And last but not least, the bass player (bass players are not mentioned so often): could you say a word about the implication of Mark Bodossian, who is part of Esoteric since The Maniacal Vale?
Mark has actually been with us since spring 2003, he joined just as we were completing the mixing and mastering of « Subconscious Dissolution ». He has been a solid part of the core line-up of the band for 9 years now and despite his move to Norway a year ago, he will remain a part of the band at least for the forseeable future. It is not so easy to find bassists who are both good musicians and also proficient with complex effect and sound setups.

10) Let’s go back a bit in time. Aesthetic Death is currently working on a re-release plan of the whole Esoteric catalogue. But this does not seem to include the demo "Esoteric Emotions - The Death of Ignorance" that must be lacking in almost all fans’ collection, despite it having been reissued in cd-r in 2000. What about it? Is there a plan to re-release it by other means? What are you thoughts now toward that demo that sort of set the prehistoric basis of the group?
We have been asked to release an official version of the demo on CD and LP many times over the years by various labels and it is something we have always refused. Mainly because we were never happy with the original recording and mix and as the session was done in 2 and a half days from start to finish we didn ‘t keep the analogue master reels due to the high cost of the tape. It would have cost more than the studio time itself. So we can’t do anything to improve it further, it was already remastered over ten years ago by Tom Kvalsvoll of Strype Audio (Norway) when we did a short run of self-produced CD-R’s to appease many of the fans who were contacting us direct to ask for a copy of the demo. However, this was costly to produce and time consuming, and was only intended to give something to the fans who made an effort to ask us for it. So we didn’t continue with it for too long. Secondly, we don’t feel that the songs and music on the demo is representative of the band so much nowadays. It is what it is, our very beginning and in our eyes, it was the first stepping stone to what the band would become, it was too monotonous and repetititve even at the time of it’s release.

11) To dwell a bit longer in the past and (maybe) to trace a bridge towards the future, would it be possible to imagine for Esoteric a return to the dreadful psychedelic moods, the painful depths of a bad acid trip and the experimentations that were the core of The Pernicious Enigma?
Personally I don’t see much point in releasing the same album twice and so we always progress and evolve between each album. On the current album you have Aberration which is a very dark and psychedelic song, and there is also Non-Being, also extremely psychedelic and climatic. Part of the reason the Pernicious Enigma sounded so experimental is because it was, and back then none of us were working in full-time jobs, we had a lot of time to work on and develop the music and sounds and that huge expanse of free time is something we have never had the luxury of since that time.

12) Every Esoteric album is as a mental trip into human psyche, at least I feel it that way. One can imagine that it is for you a subject of importance. Do you read a lot of works dealing with that subject? Or do you rather let yourself be influenced by your personal introspection experiences?
Musically, lyrically, it is always the aim to draw from our own inspiration and experiences rather than to consciously express 3rd-hand ideas or influences. Yes, our own psyche and the different levels of consciousness we experience are something we try to express and evoke within our music. It is quite a broad subject matter and I have read in the past subjects including philosophy, psychology, occult, Satanism, psychedelics, psychotropics, and so on, but for years now I have already too much happening in my life to really devote any real time to reading or studying in my spare time. My life is consumed with my work, music and personal life.

13) Stability seems to be the key-word of the relation that binds together Esoteric and Season Of Mist since 2004. A word on their work as a label? Is a stable structure important for your artistic creation?
The working relationship with Season of Mist has always been good and we’ve never had any problems with them. They have given us consistent support and do what you would expect from a label in todays climate.

14) I was mentioning above of the complex structures of your compositions. How do you approach the exercise of their live rendition?
Simply put, when we write music we rehearse the songs and improvise, experiment with and mature them in rehearsal for some months or even years and then when the album is recorded that becomes the definitive version which we will then reproduce live and in future rehearsals. We have 3 guitars, bass, drums, keyboards and vocals, and we own all of the effects we use when recording so reproducing the compositions in rehearsal and in the live environment is not a problem and we rehearse weekly together and indivdually at home in order to be proficient when performing on stage.

15) Thank you Greg for the time you spent answering my questions. A last thing that you’d like to add?
Thank you for this interview Manu. Your support is much appreciated ! For further information or to contact the band please go to our official site.

Visit the Esoteric bandpage.

Interviewed on 2012-04-11 by Manu Buck.
No God Only Pain
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