Caen, France may not be on the immediate radar when considering vital hardcore scenes, but a handful of bands are producing some exciting and forward-thinking music. Aussitôt Mort, meaning ‘nearly dead’ in French, shares a rhythm section with the more widely known Amanda Woodward, but are much more concerned with pushing the boundaries of traditional emo. Their initial self-titled EP (Level-Plane, 2007) introduced their penchant for intricate dual guitar riffs and winding, effects-heavy instrumental passages. On their first full-length, Montuenga (Level-Plane, 2008), the band has taken these ideas further, stripping away a lot of the anger and rough edges from their sound to focus on creating atmosphere. While the songs are slower burning compared to their debut material, the intensity remains. Grafting post-rock structures and prog tendencies to their hardcore, Aussitôt Mort’s songs evolve and expand at their own pace like a narrative.
I spoke with drummer Antoine in the last legs of 2008 about the recording of their new album, personnel changes and their approach to writing.
How was the writing and recording process for the new album?
With the ex-singer, we weren’t really satisfied. After a big mess for one or two months he left and then we worked again on the vocals by ourselves and recorded them in November.
So why did you part ways with your singer?
He was a screamo singer, or skramz I guess, and he wasn’t able to sing, really. He was really into screaming all the time and we were a bit bored with it — it didn’t really match anymore. He recorded with us but it wasn’t okay. We wanted him to explore something new and he didn’t really like that idea. The four of us carried on and did the vocals ourselves, minus the bass player.
Is there any full time singer in the band now?
So you’re all going to sing live? Is that hard on drums?
Yes, it’s quite hard. The worst is to play with a mic on your side. It’s not hard singing but the position of the mic is really boring. It’s okay, we’ve done a lot of practice with it. We weren’t really into singing at the beginning, as it’s really new for us. It sounds like we’re a bit shy or uncomfortable with it but it comes in time.
The new album doesn’t have as hard of an edge as the EP. You definitely go for a lot of textures and there’s a lot of effects on the guitars. That’s not really typical of hardcore.
Yeah, it’s true. If you compare the music between both you can see the music is different: slower, louder and more atmospheric. [The guitarists] use a lot of effects like delay. We’re more into something really atmospheric. We love music like Pink Floyd and I guess we try and mix this kind of 70’s psych with hardcore punk and the like. We’re a big fan of post-hardcore things too, so it’s a mix between everything.
When I explain Aussitôt Mort’s sound to people I usually say something along the lines of “the meeting point between hardcore and post-rock.” Would you agree?
I don’t know, it’s kind of hard to describe your own band. But, yeah, we like post-rock a lot and try to do calm, atmospheric, melodic parts and try to mix it with something louder.
It makes for a more dynamic and diverse approach, for sure. Is there any major theme with this album? I don’t speak French, so I have no idea what the lyrics are like. I did check out a couple fan translations of songs on the EP. They seem to deal with perception and longing.
I see what you mean. It’s different now. Those two songs were written by the ex-singer — really strong, angry writing. He was really angry with a lot of things and a lot of people. And that was one of the points also we did not agree with him on the new album. The lyrics on the new album are a lot different — not so angry; we don’t point the finger so much. We try to tell what we think and feel. One of the things we talk about is how an hour after the massacre at Columbine, bombs were dropped in Iraq. The song compared both of those things. It didn’t talk about politics, but tried to make people think about what happened — it’s not about what to think, it’s more like ‘this happened, and it’s weird.’
Do you play much of the old material since the ex-singer left?
We only play “Percute,” which is the last song on the EP, but with new lyrics. The old singer doesn’t want us to use his lyrics anymore. They belong to him and we respect his choice. Maybe we’ll do some of the old songs and try to change the ways of singing and the lyrics, or just use less vocals.
Are you still on good terms with the old singer?
I am and some of us are but there’s one that’s really not — they argued a lot. I’m going to meet him in 2 or 3 days. He’s not living in the same area anymore but he’s coming back so I’ll meet him or something.
The city of Caen seems to be really fertile right now, in regards to hardcore.
Well, it’s a really small city and there are only a few bands, but it looks like these bands are doing quite a lot. In fact, there are more bands in Lyon or Paris. It’s a really small community here and everybody knows and has played with everybody. Some bands went quite far into music and others follow it because they know the people and share members with the bands. It’s quite easy.
Do you think there’s a unique sound that’s being produced in your city?
There are a couple bands touring quite a lot — Amanda Woodward, Sugartown Cabaret. Aussitôt Mort and Amanda Woodward are maybe a bit similar because we share the same people. If you listen to it, I’m sure you can see it’s quite different. We don’t want to play the same kind of music all the time.
On this album you went for more of an atmospheric sound. There’s even some strings on there.
Yeah, there was this guy, Marc, who played cello on the record. He used to drive us on tour and he was in music school for cello. We also played xylophone because we thought it was maybe funny to play something like that. Everything isn’t perfect, but we tried. Nothing was done before the studio. We spent a week in the studio and took time to experiment.
So the new album, Montuenga, is named after a small city in Spain, right?
Right, it’s between Madrid and Saragosa. The story is that while we were on tour, we saw this old castle at the top of a hill. It was in February, but the weather was warm and sunny so we thought we’d take a break there. We got off the highway and it was so weird. It was really empty in the town except for an old man standing by a wall with a bat in his hand. He was in the middle of the city alone. It made us feel like we were in an old cowboy movie in Mexico or something — the bad guys come into the town and there’s nobody inside. The story of the city is that before they were cultivating cocaine and since it’s been forbidden, there’s nothing left in the city. Nobody works anymore and they’re all jobless. It was so pretty, though. It felt special to go there. We were recording the songs on the album at the time, so that’s why the name came out.
So, you’re going to Japan in December. Have you been there before?
What bands are you hooking up with? I guess Heaven In Her Arms and a few others…
Yeah, it will be good, because they’re really good people and it’ll be exciting to meet the people from Japan and see this really weird country.
Have you heard any touring stories from bands that have been there?
Daitro were there and enjoyed it a lot. They told us we had to go. Also, bands from the U.S, like Ampere and Hot Cross. We heard a lot of good things, so…
You were going to tour North America before. Why did you cancel?
That was last summer and we wanted to go, but it was hard to organize because we were supposed to tour with Balboa. Our time-tables didn’t match — they were able to tour at the end of August and we were only able to tour the end of July and the beginning of August. We tried to go with another band and it didn’t work either, so we thought let’s do it later and go to Japan instead. We’ll go to the USA next time.
Is there any vague time frame in mind?
We’re still thinking about it, but it’s quite hard at the moment. One guy has two kids and two other members’ girlfriends are pregnant, so kids are coming soon. It’s going to be hard to tour in the next year. We’re more focused on writing a new album, because it’s been a year since we wrote. We’re talking about a split with The Kid Crash from the U.S.