Interview with Sylvain Bégot of French progressive doomsters Monolithe


This is what it must feel like out there in space or on some alien rock…

Considered one of the best progressive Doom bands in the world, on 8 July 2016 Monolithe fascinating musical journey continues with their new album, Zeta Reticuli (reviewed here), the second part of the highly acclaimed Epsilon Aurigae released in December 2015. An epic, grandiose, melodic and outstanding piece of work, Zeta Reticuli expands the definition of doom and is mesmerizing and fascinating from beginning to end.

Here, band mastermind, guitarist, keyboardist, and producer Sylvain Bégot gives MR’s Jason Guest an insight into everything in the world of Monolithe including the album, its themes and its relationship to Epsilon Aurigae, the challenge of writing tracks that are exactly 15 minutes long, numerology, musicianship, artwork, and the “immensity, absurdity, danger and loneliness of the universe”…

Thank you very much for taking time out for this interview and congratulations on Zeta Reticuli; it’s a fantastic piece of work! This is the first time I’ve come across your band and listening to this album and your previous releases (on your Bandcamp page) has been a real pleasure. It’s great to discover a band that produces such consistently high quality music.

Hi Jason and thank you very much.

The album was written and recorded at the same time as Epsilon Aurigae, yes? Why choose to take on such a mammoth task, particularly after already taking on such a monster with your first four albums?

The idea was originally to write and record a double album, which Epsilon Auriga / Zeta Reticuli actually is. I personally always thought double albums were a landmark in a band’s history and I felt it was time to create ours. I’m a big 70’s rock music fan so it’s a natural part of my culture I guess. It was indeed a huge task to deliver 90 minutes of new music, especially as we wanted to move forward artistically, but we took the challenge and that was certainly worth the work at the end of the day. Monolithe has been used to challenges in the past anyway so it was not that big a deal either.

Why choose to release them 6 months apart?

I spoke about a double album but I’d rather say « twin » albums, like GNR’s Use Your Illusion, you know? The albums are connected but they are also independent unities. So it made sense not to release them together, especially as it could be a commercial risk for a band like us. Another reason is that people’s attention span has gotten shorter over time. We didn’t want some of the music to be let down because some people would not be able to listen to a double album in its entirety. A lot of today’s records are way too long in my opinion anyway. Pink Floyd’s The Wall, a double album, is « only » 81 minutes long while many normal albums are 60, 65, 70 minutes or more nowadays. So releasing the duology as two 45 minutes albums sounded like the fairest deal.

Can you tell us about concept behind the albums and how they are related?

All 6 songs on the albums are about being, feeling or looking for oneness or wholeness: unity, singularity, uniformity, soleness, loneliness… It’s not a concept so to speak but this single theme is developed on all songs. The lyrics also have an underneath signification about today’s reality. Musically is a move forward for the band to become more and more style-free, meaning there are almost no rules to what we can add and change to our music. The previous albums were already pretty free composition-wise but within the limits of one style, which was Doom Metal. We stretched those limits very far in the past in my opinion and now, even if we still have that strong root in us, Doom is an element amongst others. Like I said earlier, Epsilon Aurigae and its twin brother Zeta Reticuli are side #1 and #2 of the same double or twin albums of some sort, that’s how they’re linked. They have the same number of songs, same length, same thematic and they constitute a whole once reunited.

Can you tell us about the two album titles, Epsilon Aurigae and Zeta Reticuli?

Epsilon Aurigae and Zeta Reticuli are binary systems, two celestial objects orbiting around one gravitational center. It was an obvious choice of title for me, as both albums are related, like a binary system. Another reason is that « Epsilon » is the fifth letter of the Greek alphabet and « Zeta » is the sixth. Epsilon Aurigae and Zeta Reticuli are respectively our 5th and 6th albums so it was a way to go on with the counting, as our previous albums were called Monolithe I, Monolithe II, etc. Both systems are also known for being used a lot in Science-Fiction, especially Zeta Reticuli.

On both albums, all the tracks are exactly 15 minutes long. I take it this by design, yes? How did making everything fit it affect the songwriting? I take it that there must have been some difficult decisions about what to include, what to cut, what to develop etc.

Well, I like to mess around with numbers. 15 minutes can be read “one-five” (Monolithe five), and the album was released in 2015. 3 times 15 minutes makes 45 minutes, which is, in my opinion, the golden length of an album: not too long, not too short. Zeta Reticuli also consists of 3 songs, so 3+3 equals 6, number of albums we’d have released at that point, and so on. On a more down-to-earth level, I also thought it would be an interesting and fun exercise to tell a whole musical story in a quarter of an hour container. When you write music, there are two elements involved: artistry and craft. Artistry is coming up with ideas, melodies, rhythms, riffs, and whatnot. Craft is how you put these ideas in shape to form a song, arranging, layering, etc. It’s technical knowledge. Getting a song to an exact length requires craft, technical skills. So yes, there were some compromises to do but all was done in favor of the quality of the songs, not the length. I mean no good idea was put aside because it would not fit into the 15 minutes. Getting the proper length could be compared to polishing a diamond; it’s purely a technical thing.

Monolithe - Epsilon Aurigae

The album is the second part to Epsilon Aurigae. Is this the final part or are you planning more, like your first four albums?

Epsilon Auriga & Zeta Reticuli is a duology, so we’re done with this project. It’s over; there won’t be any more parts. The next release will be a stand-alone album. I can’t project too far in the future but at the moment we are done with sagas.

Musically and lyrically, where did inspiration come from for the two albums?

There were the ideas to come-up with some sort of double album, to have 15 minutes songs, some of them being instrumental, and to speak about unicity. Those were the points of entry to this project. I also wanted to move forward with the style of music and get rid of the restrictions inherent to Doom Metal. That’s one of the reasons why we prefer to call ourselves Dark Metal now. Influence-wise, well the most obvious influence is Monolithe itself, as we have been doing this for a while now. But there is also probably more room for my love for music from the 70’s, with long guitar solos and a more accessible style on a song such as « The Barren Depths ». It doesn’t sound like 70’s music though, but on the other hand our music doesn’t sound like your average metal band neither.

How has the addition of the four new members affected the band? How has the band dynamic – songwriting, live, etc. – changed?

Monolithe in the recording studio and Monolithe the live band are two entirely different things. I’m the songwriter and I’m in charge of everything related to the music. There is no input from the other 4 guys on the artistic level except if I specifically request it. So when an album is being done, I’m basically a composer, orchestra conductor, producer and project manager. The live band is different, though. There are two extra members and decisions are taken collegially. Every musician involved is heard, which is pretty refreshing and fun.

Guyom Pavesi (of Devianz) performs vocals on ‘The Barren Depths’ and Jari Lindholm (of Enshine) contributed the 3rd guitar solo on ‘TMA-1’. Why choose to work with these two people in particular? And what have they brought to the album?

Guyom happens to be the singer of guitarist Benoît Blin’s rock band Devianz and Monolithe’s live sound engineer, so he’s part of our extended « family » and I’ve known him for a long time. He’s also, of course, an excellent singer, and I wanted to have a song with clean vocals so he was an obvious choice to me. Guyom doesn’t listen to metal; that has also been a major reason for his choosing. I expected something unconventional for our style of music, which he delivered flawlessly on « The Barren Depths ».

I discovered Jari and his bands a few months before we started mixing Zeta Reticuli. The album was finished recording-wise, but I wasn’t totally satisfied with one part on ‘TMA-1’, which sounded like something was lacking. Since I was absolutely stunned with Jari’s guitar work on his own music, I asked him to come up with a guitar solo for that particular part. He agreed and did deliver the goods too. We actually got along right away and he knew Monolithe already so that has been a really smooth process. The guy is really talented and super friendly; I really do look up to him.

What kind of progress or development do these two albums mark for the band since its formation in 2001?

We always tried, from album to album, to broaden our musical horizon without betraying our roots. That’s what we did, again, with the new albums. When you listen to the first album and the last, you can hear major differences. But at the same time, all the Monolithe distinctive elements have always been there. I believe we have managed to keep the band’s original identity without stagnating. That’s something I always liked in bands such as, for example, Opeth or Iron Maiden during their golden years, the 7 first albums.

Monolithe - Zeta Reticuli

The artwork and design is by Robert Høyem. Why choose to work with him? And how much direction was given in its design?

We have been working with Robert since 2012. Since then he created the artwork of 4 news albums, 2 remasters, 1 compilation, 1 vinyl and 4 T-shirts. He has perfectly captured what the band was about since day one, so there are no reasons to change. His work for Monolithe is part of the band’s image and identity. There are no directions concerning the artwork design. The only instructions I ever gave him was « no living creature of any kind » in Monolithe’s artworks, back when we were working on Monolithe III, which is the first artwork he ever did for the band. I originally picked Robert from hundreds of graphic designers because I thought he had a very special style, something unique and original but not to the point of pointless unwatchable experimental contemporary shit.

Can you tell us about the artwork, what it represents, and how it relates to the music and the concept?

Epsilon Aurigae, Zeta Reticuli and the vinyl on which both albums are gathered are obviously linked graphically too. But since it’s non-figurative and symbolic, there is of course room for interpretation for everyone. Whatever suits you. I’ll keep mine for myself!

What does the act of making music mean to Monolithe?

Music is both a mean of « saying » something, like a testimony of some sort, and a catharsis. Apart from that, I sometime wonder why I’m doing this, but I stopped looking for rational reasons. There are certainly some I can explain, but there must be something more, metaphysical about it. Or perhaps, it’s just entertaining? Who knows!

What, if anything, are you looking to capture when making music for Monolithe?

Just like a painter tries to capture a moment, an impression, an instant, I guess a musician tries to build a small world within a cathedral of sounds. Monolithe is no different. Our music evokes, in my mind, the immensity, absurdity, danger and loneliness of the universe. It calls for grandiose and sometimes beautiful atmospheres, yet menacing and dark. In Monolithe’s world, the universe isn’t a very friendly place. Loneliness, emptiness, always prevail. We have a line in a song, lyrics saying « We’re not at home » (on ‘Harmony of Null Matter’). This is what it must feel like deep in the guts out there in space or on some alien rock. That’s what we’re looking to capture.

Any plans for shows in support of the album? And if so, will we be seeing you in the UK anytime soon?

We’re playing a handful of shows this year, the Epsilon Aurigae tour. We played in France twice and then we’ll play in 5 different countries. But we have decided to keep the number of yearly shows below ten. So seeing Monolithe perform live will remain something rare and exceptional. We’ve been a studio band until this year, so we won’t start a marathon over the world, that’s for sure, we’re not interested in that. There might be another less-than-ten shows tour in 2017, the Zeta Reticuli tour. But after that, who knows, perhaps we will become a studio band again.

About playing the UK, well we didn’t have a lot of opportunities there so far. We had one contact in London but it didn’t work. We would love to play in the UK though, we have a lot of following there and I personally love Great Britain. Also a lot of my favorite artists are from the UK, so I’m an anglophile or UK-phile, whatever you call it!

What would be the ideal setting for a Monolithe performance?

I think we will have it soon at MetalDays in Slovenia: a nighttime schedule, with a long slot, on a big stage in front of a huge crowd!

I read elsewhere that after IV, the plan was to end Monolithe. What does the future hold for Monolithe? Is this the end (I hope not) or is there more music in the works?

Yeah, the idea to end the band after the Great Clockmaker saga crossed my mind. It came from the fact that too many bands go on and on forever even though their golden age is long gone. I don’t want Monolithe to pathetically fade away just for the sake of existing. But right now we’re at a point where will are still very relevant, so we’ll continue for a little while. But I’ll stop the band someday before releasing a bad album, that’s for sure. The next step now is to enjoy the shows we’ll make in 2016 and 2017 and I think we’ll be quick to release another album, for which I have a lot of material already. After this one, we may get into stand-by mode for some time. But you never know, perhaps it won’t happen like that at all. I can’t project that far into the future right now.

Thanks again for taking time out for this interview. Do you have any closing words for our readers?

Thank you very much for the interview. Try out Monolithe’s Epsilon Aurigae & Zeta Reticuli on our Bandcamp page. We’re very much willing to play in the UK, so organizers, feel free to contact the band of Facebook!

Monolithe - band 2016