ALKEMYST evolved from 1992 to 1999 under the patronym of Endless (a name already used by another band, unfortunately). The band formed a steady line-up in 1998. At last getting the opportunity to offer the audience their music under the best circumstances, the quintet performed several live concerts, and played a metal music inspired by German speed metal bands like Helloween, Blind Guardian and Scanner, combined with the dark riffing of some heavy/thrash gods like Vicious Rumours or Annihilator, tinged with progressive influences (Rush, Ark, Dream Theater)
Grim Magazine: On behalf of myself and Grim Magazine Webzine, we’d like to thank you, Arnaud, for taking the time to do this interview with us. We know how busy you are, and we really appreciate it.
Arnaud Ménard: Hello! I’m happy to talk to you.
Grim Magazine: Yeah, let’s start with this blunt ice-breaker: Are you musically literate?
Arnaud Ménard: (laughs) It depends on what you call literate.
Grim Magazine: Haha, I mean can you read and write music, and do you know about music theory and such?
Arnaud Ménard: Arnaud Gorbaty, our drummer, has a conservatory degree and he is a music teacher. He knows a lot of musical theory; well, in fact, he’s the only one in the band. I studied classical music when I was younger (from 6 years old to 13), but I was not interested at all by reading notes, that kind of stuff… I just wanted to play the piano. Right now, I’m still able to write music on a paper, but I can’t consider myself (I carry on) as a “literate” musician. Next year I will be taking some lessons because I feel it will be useful. And it’s incredibly interesting. Denis, Ramon, and Sev know the basics but are not so involved in musical theory.
Grim Magazine: Does the drummer write most of the music?
Arnaud Ménard: Arnaud writes some stuff – but more drum rhythms than riffs. Séverin, Ramon and I write almost everything, the riffs, the melodies, etc. Arnaud G. is a very good “arranger”. You know, you just have to make work your ear to write a song. Then, the theory just enlarges your possibilities and allows you to work faster.
Grim Magazine: What are your opinions about downloading music? How would you feel if your new album got leaked out onto the Internet before its release?
Arnaud Ménard: Well … Difficult question. Off course I would be a bit angry to see that people can download the music I wrote before its release. But, on the other hand, it can be a good way for bands to promote their names. In fact, I download albums or songs on the net; but if I like, I buy them. A lot of people are doing the same. In my opinion, the true problem is the price of the CDs, they are too expensive and the incredible number of bands releasing albums. You can’t buy all their CDs it’s impossible.
Grim Magazine: Very true, no one has thousands of dollars to spend on CDs, but do you think the promotion value out ways the loss of possible sales?
Arnaud Ménard: No. But still I think that people would buy if the price of the CDs was less expensive; the good way could be to release a very low price album with no photo, nothing but music, and then a luxurious one (and expensive), with digipack, cool photos, good artwork. People refuse to pay for music nowadays. Labels have to think about that, and find solutions. I think that “forbidden copy” is a stupid thing, because it won’t work at all. Basically, for one album there are two possibilities for the consumer: just music (at a low price) or a collection object (more expensive).
Grim Magazine: They could do both, for different genres and such because I know an equal amount of people who would want it at a lower price and others who buy CDs because it has the images.
Arnaud Ménard: Me too, but in a way, I think the record company always complain about the downloading; and I think they still have no idea to fight it. It is their job. Not mine. Mine is to write music, and even if I’m ripped off, I’m happy because people listen to my art.
Grim Magazine: That’s a good attitude.
Arnaud Ménard: Thanks.
Grim Magazine: The record labels often put the blame on the artists and stuff. For example, look at Metallica. Speaking about labels, do you think that the label you are with now is doing a significant job with promotion, or are you?
Arnaud Ménard: I’m quite happy with Nuclear Blast. In fact, we are maybe the smallest band they have, and we have to prove them we can be a “good seller”. The promotion work they did is, of course, inferior to what they did for STRATOVARIUS, HELLOWEEN and so on… It’s normal. We are newcomers, and we have to fight to make a name now. Promotion is not the problem with NB. The problem is that we are a very small band.
Grim Magazine: Small in comparison to Stratovarius and Helloween, but not small compared to a local band trying to make a name in their city.
Arnaud Ménard: See that there’s a paradox in it: if the promotion is weak, we will never grow up. For now, I find NB’s job good – we don’t have any reason to complain; but for our next album, I hope they will give us a tour support.
Arnaud Ménard: You are right concerning the local band. We were a local band one year ago, I still remember. That’s why I’m not angry, nor disappointed.
Grim Magazine: If you do get this tour, you think that tour will come to the US? Or are you going to stay in Europe?
Arnaud Ménard: For now, we will try to find our audience in Europe. Touring in the USA would be great, but unfortunately, we have little money, and a tour is very expensive. We will concentrate on Eastern Europe next year, because they are made of Heavy Metal, and because it is possible for our financial possibilities. But if NB wants us in the USA, I would be glad to tour there.
Grim Magazine: Awesome, I can already tell you that word is slowly being spread here in the states about you guys.
Arnaud Ménard: Excellent! Happy to see that there are metal freaks all around the world. It’s always a joy to hear it.
Grim Magazine: Oh most definitely, metal in the states is on the rise. What are your feelings relating to the whole ‘sell out’ thing?
Arnaud Ménard: I write music for myself. Never I will compromise. Music is my passion, and the more I’m close to its essence, the more I’m happy. It is not possible to buy me this pleasure, this great joy of creation. Now, I can say you that I feel frustrated by all this crap around commercial aims, goal, I don’t know how to say. I’m not at ease with it. The best thing to do is to remain true to yourself, even if the pressure is high. That’s a hard job.
Grim Magazine: Yeah, definitely, often times, people assume that a band ‘sold out’ just because the person heard them on mainstream media, keeping this in mind how people can overreact to a band’s sudden popularity, what would you do if you had the opportunity to have a video air on MTV or be picked up by a mainstream label that says they won’t screw you over?
Arnaud Ménard: In fact, as far as the producer or the label doesn’t want to tell me how to write and play music, I’m OK.
Grim Magazine: That’s as far as you are concerned, but what about the fans?
Arnaud Ménard: I’ve never written any riffs thinking to the fans. Fans often consider themselves as “teachers” giving good or bad notes to the band they like or dislike. I’m not in school anymore.
Grim Magazine: Never thought of it like that, it’s very true though.
Arnaud Ménard: Fans, if they exist, have to follow me or stay behind, that’s not the problem. Art is not producing what people want to receive. This could be called “consuming process”, not art.
Grim Magazine: You’re a fan cause you feel whatever this person does is awesome.
Arnaud Ménard: YES!!
Grim Magazine: How does your band stand out from the rest of the bands in your genre?
Arnaud Ménard: “Meeting in the mist” is our first album. We wrote it from 1996 to 2001. It is a summary of what we did in this period, what we were as musicians. You can find special things on it that allows us to think our music is slightly different from other melodic metal bands. But in fact, to answer better, I just want to say that we could compare a band’s discography to a picture: we just painted the first corner of the painting, and we will slowly finish the whole pictures with our next albums. With just a corner, you can’t show all your possibilities as a painter. With a first album, it is the same. That’s why I know our career will answer better than me to your question.
Grim Magazine: That’s a long time to write an album, but from what I hear it only made it a better album and is well worth it for the finished product.
Arnaud Ménard: Yeah, a long time but we had to learn how to play our instruments.
Grim Magazine: That is a great analogy.
Arnaud Ménard: We are currently working on the second one right now, and it will be another creative step for us.
Grim Magazine: Awesome, Why did you choose your name and why change the letters of the alchemist to form a new name rather than just choosing another name?
Arnaud Ménard: We loved the sounding of the name, but not the way it looked like. That’s why we changed the letters. Before that, our name was ENDLESS, but another band had the same, and it was difficult to change the spelling – HENDLESS would have been shit.
Grim Magazine: Hehehe, does the meaning of your name reflects in the musical genre or have any meaning in your music?
Arnaud Ménard: The Alchemist is a guy spending his whole life to turn lead into gold. It is a mystical quest for perfection because when he is able to do this, he reaches a new level of spirituality, wisdom, and knowledge. Our name is a manner for us to say that we are always trying to progress, to reach superior goals, artistically speaking of course.
Grim Magazine: Do you have a personal meaning or connection from making music and touring? For example, spreading a political message.
Arnaud Ménard: Art and political stuff have nothing to do together. You know, I consider that art has to ask some of the main questions of existence. Politics have to answer to those problems. There is a difference in NATURE between music and politic, SO politic and music are essentially different.
Grim Magazine: So you have nothing that you want to spread to the fans? No message or anything?
Arnaud Ménard: Love of art.
Grim Magazine: Good enough for me.
Arnaud Ménard: A message is produced within a context of communication when you exchange information. When you play music, it is not a communication no more: you just want to create a new universe, a universe that can be more than the one we all know and live in. I think music is richer than any limited message – and a message is never a whole, on the contrary to art, which tries to create something complete. Art can bear contradiction, never a message, for example.
Grim Magazine: Is there anything you hate about recording and touring? What is it?
Arnaud Ménard: Every element related to organizations of those events are peculiarly ball breaking.
Grim Magazine: Haha. Is there anything that is harder than anything else?
Arnaud Ménard: Harder? Well… the sound check.
Grim Magazine: Hehehe. As an engineer, that is by far my most hated task.
Arnaud Ménard: The sound check when you are an opening band is always difficult for the nerves. The fear to go on stage, then when you open, and you just have 5 minutes sound check, you can think about the result – and if the sound technician is a shit (often in France), hell is near.
Grim Magazine: In 1992, as you stated before, Arnaud Ménard started under the name Endless, which was over a decade ago, what was the hardest and easiest part of this journey to get signed and form a steady line up?
Arnaud Ménard: The harder was definitely the hard drive crash in 2001 after 2 months spent recording “meeting in the mist”. Everything seemed to be easy regarding that precise point. But, well, it hasn’t been easy every day, but I wouldn’t change a lot of things to our story. The best memories were the recording sessions of “meeting…”. We sure had a lot of fun, even if it is terribly stressing and if there was tension in the air, sometimes. We thought we were cursed after the Hard Drive incident, really.
Grim Magazine: Recording isn’t easy if a band can’t have fun while doing it, I don’t think they should be doing it. What influences came into writing the lyrics?
Arnaud Ménard: “Life” would be the best answer. Concerning our lyrics, we try to explore some themes of existence: bad and good feelings, loosing and finding your identity, death, love, creation, etc. But honestly, sometimes, I have the impression we could have done better on that point.
Grim Magazine: Someone can always do better, but I feel that you should be happy with what was done and look ahead rather than back, see you can improve in the future from past mistakes.
Arnaud Ménard: I know and we will, surely.
Grim Magazine: I look forward to hearing it. When you were starting out did you have a ‘dream’ or ‘goal’ as a musician? If you have achieved that goal, do you still have one?
Arnaud Ménard: Yes, what happens today was my goal. But I changed. Now, my goal would be to write a masterpiece. That’s why I have to study musical theory, and that’s why I listen to a lot of music and great artists, and that’s why I kill myself working now. That’s the best reason I think. Not for the money, nor for the girls, just for the beauty of creation.
Grim Magazine: That’s the best reason. The whole ‘sex, drugs, and rock and roll’ fantasy only leads to trouble. Who do you admire as a musician, or idolize? Is there anyone you would like to be like? Why?
Arnaud Ménard: I will answer for me because I can’t speak in the name of the whole band. I admire peculiarly two artists right now: Devin Townsend and Ihsahn (ex-emperor). Devin Townsend is a workaholic and an incredible singer, songwriter, guitarist, and producer. He’s a complete musician and he also seems to survive to the business which is, believe me, difficult to stand when you are an artist and not a car seller. Ihsahn is a genius, and I think he is maybe one of the most intelligent metal songwriters ever. I can’t say so much about it, but I have a religious admiration not for him, but for his work. In fact, I admire a lot of artists who are very creative and good musicians. When I was younger I was a fan of my first influences, and I am still, but now I really feel a kind of mystery listening to bands who are more than good: Ark, Pain of Salvation, Blut Aus Nord, Strapping Young Lad, Opeth, Emperor among others.
Grim Magazine: Why do you feel a mystery?
Arnaud Ménard: Because … you have the feeling their music is linked with a kind of … sacred source. It touches very subtle and deep things in me; for me, some of these bands wrote songs that can be considered as masterpieces, just like some “Lieder” written by Schubert, Mahler, Strauss or other classic and romantic music composers. I’m not a religious person, but I have a very strong “sense of sacred”. I have discovered the “sacred feeling” through art, never through “holy” books.
Grim Magazine: I too feel that Opeth has written such masterpieces. In fact, the first time I heard them I immediately thought in many years this would be the ‘classical’ music.
Arnaud Ménard: I think “metal music” is not naturally producing masterpieces. Some people managed to develop their creativity to make from that kind of “violent rock ‘n roll” something that could be compared to sacred pieces. This effort makes me an admirer.
Grim Magazine: It is a lot of effort.
Arnaud Ménard: It is something like turning lead into gold.
Grim Magazine: OK, this should wrap things up, and we want to thank you again for your time and this Interview.
Arnaud Ménard: Thank you very much for this interview.
With: Arnaud Ménardl
Interview Date: July 27th, 2005
Years Active: 1999-2014, 2016-present
Genre: Power Metal, Speed Metal
Website: Band Website
Label: Nuclear Blast, Nightmare Records
Reviewed by: Grim Magazine
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