.:.BEAUTIFUL MINDS, AMAZING PEOPLE.:.
Luc Lemay on the New Gorguts EP, Pleiades’ Dust
I met with Luc Lemay to discuss the new Gorguts EP, Pleiades’ Dust, when he was in NYC doing the mix down at Colin Marston’s Menegroth Studio in Queens. The album is inspired by a book called House of Wisdom by Jim Al-Khalili that remembers the “Arabic Enlightenment” of the Middle Ages when the Middle East was the center of scientific and philosophical inquiry, and Western Christendom was in intellectual darkness.
Heathen Harvest: Let’s start with the album that preceded this one to provide some context for “Pleiades’ Dust” because I want to delve into the lyrical content of both records. Do you feel “Colored Sands” got its due as far as journalists dealing with the concept behind the songs?
Luc Lemay: Yes, definitely. I was asked about the concept in just about every interview. Considering the fact that it was not a typical death metal concept, it connected pretty well. I mean, if you would ask someone to write an album about the beautiful values of Tibet and the unpleasant spot they are in since the 1950s, we can agree that the topic is unusual for the metal scene. But it works with the music. At some point, I did some research and ended up on a Tibetan community website that has nothing to do with music at all and there was an article about our record! That’s what’s great about art: you craft something, and in time it makes its own odyssey. You never know where it’s going to end. Or a young person reads the lyrics and it inspires him to learn something new—to pound his fist against the table because of an injustice. It’s like a bottle in the ocean and you don’t know where it’s going to land.
HH: Do you feel like metal is an effective means to portray the kind of messages that you are attempting with the last and current record?
LL: That’s what I like about metal: I see it like filmmaking. You have a script, a story, and what’s cool is that if you want to do clean parts, ambient parts, super noisy, grindy parts—it all works. If it’s brought together the right way, in a clever way, it’s going to work. Like in a film, you have an action part, a very sad part, and you have to light the whole thing in the right way. Any story can be told in film, but it has to be in the right director’s hand to get the right vision. As much as you can think metal is stuck in its own cliché and you have to wear the same suit to tell the same story over and over again—it’s actually not that way. I don’t feel restricted in sounds or in topics at all. In extreme music you can go from the cluster blast-beat section to the minimalist no-sound-at-all section, and it can still be grim. It’s all about how you bring it to the table. Unless you talk about black metal; I have my black metal moments, but I feel it’s pretty stuck. I couldn’t sing about the Colored Sands concept while singing black metal because the imagery has you painted into a corner; that’s my perception. But in extreme metal as an aesthetic, anything can go. I can sing about whatever touches and fascinates me. When I discovered the story for the new record, it was like opening pandora’s box. When I feel like this about a subject, then it’s just a matter of sitting down, reading books, and educating myself so I know what I’m talking about.
HH: With “Pleiades’ Dust,” are you seeking to connect to contemporary politics? Considering that you are singing about the Middle East, I feel this will be people’s first question.
LL: Not at all. With this record, I really wanted to do an ode to scholars and an ode to the scientific approach, curiosity, and philosophy. I also love books as objects, and this album tells the story of how books were born. I have done a lot of writing with quill, and I love that process. The album has nothing to do with politics; it just happens that I am writing about the Middle East because that is where these things I am writing about took place. There were so many wise people there at that time, and Europe was in total darkness. You see the chapter title in the piece called “Wandering Times”; for me, knowledge is like a character that wanders and appears in different places at different times. I picture knowledge throughout history moving from India to Greece, later to Italy, and so on. I’ve always wondered what caused a particular place to stop asking questions at a particular time, as knowledge moves and resurfaces. The album is a snapshot about that process.
HH: So where is “knowledge” now?
LL: I don’t know! I never asked myself that question! [laughs] But we can say that knowledge is really like a wandering person. We transcribe and put that knowledge to paper where it appears. I love these processes because I am a very manual person. This album is an ode to that process, and what I want to celebrate that with this record.
HH: Metal has often been a forum for making “anti-“ statements. Is there an aspect of this record which is opposing something? For example, in celebrating this kind of knowledge, are you also calling out religious or political groups or ideologies that don’t allow for this kind of occurrence?
LL: No, it’s just a personal statement about beautiful minds, although I do find it sad when certain groups miss this train.
HH: So, in the book “House of Wisdom,” the author talks about the Mongols coming to find these books….
LL: …and they destroy everything!
HH: So, what is that mindset? And do we have that in the world now?
LL: Well, that’s why at the end of the song I repeat the first two lines of it—because the destruction always happens.
HH: I was going to ask you about that! “Scornful dogma/Withering era.”
LL: The more it goes, the more it’s the same. Even in the Second World War, think of the amount of books that were burned! It’s the mindset that, “I’m the one in charge, I don’t care what you think.” That’s why I wanted to point out that the more we think we have a lot of wisdom and that we’re doing better, mankind throughout history never learns. That’s why the song starts out very sad, very dramatic. Then knowledge pops out and beautiful things happen, and a library is built. Then there is an invasion and everything is done. And we start all over again, but a lot of things always are lost. I know it still happens today, but I don’t want to get into modern politics because I don’t really follow these things. I know it’s not going good though. It’s so sad to see that man is destroying these historical sites—it’s the same thing! I don’t get it.
HH: Do you think it’s a fear of progress?
LL: Well, the Catholic Church was doing it too, and in Quebec we kicked the Church out of our houses. Now the churches are literally empty. They think it’s better to get their point across when people don’t ask any questions so they can just fill them up like pouring water into a vessel.
HH: Would you say that religion stands opposed to the kind of knowledge you’re talking about?
LL: Yes, science is very scary for religion because it brings facts, not mysticism.
HH: On “Colored Sands,” you use the phrase “disclosing mystic hands.” What does this term “mystic” mean to you? Is “Pleiades’ Dust,” with its celebration of science, the opposite statement to “Colored Sands”?
LL: What touched my heart about Tibetan philosophy is that they have beautiful rituals; they don’t have to hold the people around them with strength or fear to believe their way. So, maybe “mystic” means that the belief is non-coercive. They don’t have to hurt anyone to get them to believe a certain way. It’s not like the Mongols who come in and take over, burn your books, cut your throat, and throw your body in the river—done.
HH: Let’s talk about the new lineup.
LL: I feel so lucky with the musicians I have in the band. When I hit “send” and a new idea goes out to other guys and I get something back, they nail it every time. Not a note needs to change. Kevin (Hufnagel) and Colin (Marston) bring a lot of the dark and mystic sound to the band. I can’t wait to play this live. I mean, we’re no longer a circle pit band. [laughs] With this record, I think we’ll have a lot of people in the audience with eyes closed, listening. It’s coming closer to chamber music, but with electric sound. I can easily see a crowd sitting in a theater watching this, not standing up like in a rock concert. There’s a lot of dynamics—even more than Colored Sands.
HH: What are all the drunken metal maniacs going to think on the European festivals?
LL: Maybe they’re going to say, “Fuck off, this is boring!” We played a festival last year with Colored Sands, and after each song you could hear crickets. Every other bands was just verse, chorus, verse, done. We need to find the right crowd. It’s getting closer to a Neurosis audience, or Opeth—that’s where I want to go. Even people that don’t always expect or are familiar with death metal vocals.
HH: Would you ever do a Gorguts song with clean vocals?
LL: No. I’ll do a side project if I do that. You don’t expect that on a Gorguts record. I like the band because it’s grim, it’s dark, and we have a very large color palette we can use already.
HH: Can you say more about the composition of this record?
LL: It’s a story. Each part is a chapter. It starts in fifth-century Rome, and it finishes in the thirteenth century. There’s more than five-hundred years covered. The process was like this: the music was already finished before I had the story, and it took me forever to find it. I started researching many things until I found a documentary on BBC called The Science of Islam, which referred me to the book House of Wisdom, and that led me to the theme of the album: beautiful minds, amazing people. So I sat down and made a dissertation form. Here is the fall of Rome, then the disappearing of knowledge, the construction of Baghdad in 762BCE, then this caliph advocated for art and the preservation of knowledge, and then everything was destroyed. This is how the story of the album goes, and it just so happened that the story fit perfectly with the music that was already in place! I was listening to an interview with a writer recently and he said, “you don’t choose your topics, the topics choose you.” That’s how it felt this time; the story fit the music like a glove.
David Christian plays drums in Sabbath Assembly, who share a guitarist with Gorguts.