Ataraxie have been a staple in the French doom scene for nearly two decades. The group’s music is extreme: the death/funeral variety. Their songs are simple but complex. Twenty-minute songs are common, but never boring due to the band’s ability to mold and construct simple ideas into colossal, sonic structures. Their blend of death metal and doom comes with many flavors. Songs may seem excruciating in the slowness and tortured cries—feelings of depression and emptiness reign supreme depressive, yet convey a reflective and meditative introspection.
Last month, the group released the eighty-plus-minute Résignés. Guitarist Frédéric Patte-Brasseur spoke to Heavy Music Headquarters regarding the making of this massive effort.
Darren Cowan: Ataraxie just released Résignés. How has the album been received?
Fred Patte-Brasseur: So far it’s been very well received, and really beyond our expectations. We really didn’t expect to get that amount of positive reviews and reactions from the listeners. I guess that streaming the album in its whole helped reaching a broader audience than we used to?
Please take us through recording the album.
I must say it’s been quite a lengthy process. And I’ll try to sum it up without being too boring. After we composed the songs for the album, we took the time to do an extensive pre-production process to be as ready as possible before hitting the record button. Together with Sylvain Biguet (who worked with us on L’Être et la Nausée), we chose to optimize the recording process to get the best sound possible, using different studios to get the job done. The drums were recorded in a studio that has a huge recording room, and was used widely by the French pop stars in the seventies.
The guitar and bass recordings took place in my own recording facility, and the voice parts in Studio Henosis, which is owned by an old friend of ours. As we all have everyday jobs, this part itself took a few months, as we only could record on weekend time. But it went very smoothly, and being able to record most of the album in my place brought a relaxed atmosphere that we really appreciated. Then it was time for the usual suspects, i.e. mixing and mastering. The whole recording process was spanned between November 2017 and we received the final master during July 2018.
How does this album compare to the last full-length, L’Être et la nausée? Did you try anything different in terms of recording/writing?
As we have become a three guitar band since L’Être et la Nausée, we obviously had to change a bunch of things in the way we approach our music, and the way we record it. We discovered that being three playing the same thing at the same time brings a lot more in terms of dynamics, and also those we could write more sophisticated arrangements.
And of course it influenced the overall ambiance on the new album, which in my opinion pick up things where we left them with L’Être et la Nausée and pushes things in a more extreme way, with the benefit of this new dynamic power we discovered. During the recording process, instead of doubling every rhythm guitar and record a lots of overdubs each time someone had a lead part; we kept it almost like we play it live. I think there are only two overdubs on the whole album!
Some of your lyrical topics include despair, torture and suffering. Do you cover similar ideas in your lyrics on Résignés?
L’Être et la Nausée was a direct reference of the French literacy and philosophical movement called Existentialism, and the lyrics referred a lot to this current as well as nihilism. Résignés (i.e. “Resigned”) still deals with the same themes but also adds this idea of giving up, renouncing to fight without complaining.
Do you find it emotionally draining to approach such topics? What inspires you to write on such sordid topics? Are you drawing from past experiences or feelings or do you find inspiration through external sources?
Our art is totally a catharsis for us. So I wouldn’t say it’s emotionally draining, on contrary it’s a relief, by letting us transforming negative emotions into something we find beautiful. We find our inspiration just by observing the world surrounding us. People as a collective are so prone to act in the dumbest, selfish, greedy ways and glorifying them… and it’s getting worse and worse. So seeing how much we’re doomed collectively and individually, it’s rather understandable to question it about not bothering, ’cause death awaits us all finally. That’s what Résignés is about.
“People Swarming, Evil Ruling” was turned into a video depicting an executioner putting necks under the blade. Please talk about making this video.
This video presents the story told in our album’s artwork. The “Résignés”, a bunch of people willing to give up the fight against life, find an executioner and ask him to terminate their life, in a way that both rely to religion (they gather in a strange ceremony, kneeling before him) and voyeurism: they want, as a last vision, to contemplate the other Résignés death, as an ultimate pleasure before they die.
We gathered a few friends, included Kalistor Dinent’dal, a talented photographer we already worked with in the past, to render this vision. When we arrived to the chosen place for the shooting, there was the end of a rave party going on… it was funny because some participants were still high, and our executioner freaked them out a bit!
Do you feel this video’s imagery matches your lyrics?
Totally. We discussed a lot with Kalistor about the concept, submitting him the lyrics and themes of the album, until we came up with this artwork that is transcripted in this video. If it wasn’t a question of budget, I think we’d have hired all kind of people playing different archetypes for doing the Résignés; probably it would have been even more shocking.
Ataraxie albums contain French and English titles and lyrics. What do you hope to convey by putting out bilingual albums?
Well, French is of course our mother tongue, but is also Beaudelaire, Sartre and Camus’s language, while English is of course the mandatory “universal” language (yes, Poe’s language too…). The idea being, we believe some themes are even stronger conveyed if sung in French, they gain much more weight in our opinion. What is funny though, is that when we begun we didn’t dare to use French, but our friends in the doom metal scene encouraged us to do so!
What does your band name, Ataraxie mean? How does it fit your musical/lyrical themes?
There are different meanings for this word, which literally describes a state of absolute inner peace. In the philosophy currently called stoicism, it’s the goal of Life, which you can only obtain by suspending judgment. The way it fits in our band’s music is the state of mind I, at last, get when playing or listening to it. It’s a catharsis, a way to transform my inner negativity and anger towards the world into a form of art that is of course dark and bleak, but also brings me an intense state of inner peace. As for the lyrics, mainly in the beginnings of the band, we wrote about reaching the Ataraxie, but today we’re more about existentialism, nihilism and such.
Why did you use the title Résignés? Why did you choose this track as the namesake track?
Well, you may have noticed that we use French titles for our albums since our second release. To speak frankly, I don’t remember if the idea of using Résignés as the name of the album came before or after we named the song “Résignés” as is (instead of “number two” or “the new song.” We have silly and boring working titles). All in all it was clear that this album would be even more pessimistic than the previous one, so we needed a title that fit this idea of “abandoning all hope”. Acceptance, i.e. resignation, is one of the steps of grief, and it also clicks well with the themes of the album.
Résignés contains just four songs, but clocks in at nearly an hour and a half. The songs are long, but there is a progression in each song. Where do you start writing a song and how do you build it to these epic lengths?
There are no fixed rules, but we have more or less being using the same method for all of our albums. Someone, in general Jo [Jonathan Théry-bass, vocals], will either bring a simple idea or even something more constructed (the sketch of a song), and the whole band will start making it it’s own in the rehearsal room by jamming on these ideas altogether. An idea brings another, and we will go through this process iteratively, trying and sometimes making mistakes, but we build songs collectively in a strong consensus, not only as musicians, but as our first listeners too. At some point, we consider the if the music says it all, and that is when we decide that a song is finished… and that’s not before we explored its full potential, which explains we end up writing such long songs.
Do you condense these songs for your live set?
Never. Which leads to heartbreaking decisions sometimes, when we have to choose our set list for a gig, as we have to fit songs we want to play in a given amount of time. But our songs are complete entities, as a classical piece of music would be, so we don’t feel like shortening them live.
What’s next for Ataraxie? Do you have a tour/shows planned?
We’re about to release a new video for the song “Coronation of the Leeches” which will show ominous and contemplative ambiances intertwines with our music. Then we’ll have the first four inaugural shows for Résignés in may and June, where we’ll play the new album entirely. After that, we’ll have to wait until the summer season and its festivals are over before we can hit the stage again, and we are at the moment speaking putting up a tour for the end of October and beginning of November. I can’t tell much at the moment, but of course you’ll know more as soon as we can tell.
(interview published March 25, 2019)