How are things in France?
Wow, large field for precise answers! France appears like a nice place to live, but to me it is like staying in a giant open museum. Everything seems frozen in time: Pretty nice weather and countryside, good food and wine, nice cities and monuments. But I cannot please myself with only this and with the overall mood of conservative, archaic and passive behaviours. If you’re looking for innovation, avant-garde and efficiency, especially musically speaking, this is definitively not the place. The positive point is that I can get enough anger and frustration from this shitty situation to turn them into music.
Will you start off by introducing yourself and tell us how your metal adventure started?
I was born in a small island, a French overseas territory of the Indian Ocean, where I was into sound very early. My first interest was the music of Bob Marley, which was my exclusive listening for years until his passing. After that, I was caught by the distortion madness with AC/DC’s “For those about to rock”, the title-track being totally heavy for me back in the day (by the way, Godflesh made a killer cover of this one), and doom before doom this surely was! Then an escalation in brutality from the early 80s to the late 90s with the following crucial classics: “The number of the beast”, “Shout at the devil”, “Ride the lightning”, “Reign in blood”, “Pleasure to kill”, “Persecution mania”, “Killing technology”, “Streetcleaner”, “De mysteriis dom Sathanas”, etc. But I was also into other sounds like techno, dub or industrial: Tricky, Einstürzende Neubauten, Scorn, FrontLine Assembly, Laibach, Ministry, a.o., stay among my faves, as well as some metal bands. As a musician, I’ve played sporadically as guitar/vox in some amateurish thrash/HxC bands in the 90s, before deciding to seriously design my own music with P.H.O.B.O.S. in early 2000.
You released your album “Tectonics” earlier this year, how do you feel about the album now, when you have gotten a bit of a distance to it?
The release of “Tectonics” is a great relief for me. After battling for years against hypocrites and line-up changes, I was afraid to be defeated by the amount of work needed to achieve this goal by myself. But finally the result is here, out on a respectable record company, and I won’t hide that I’m proud of it. Retrospectively, I do not regret anything that is recorded on the album, musically or technically. It was the right mood to be captured and it exactly reflects the person I was at the time.
How was the album received by the press?
Feedbacks are very disparate, ranging from “totally buffoon and useless” to “totally jaw-dropping and innovative”. Lots of reviewers, without enough musical knowledge and culture, talk about “strange music for strange people”, to avoid being speechless! But so far the album has mainly got very positive words, especially in the US and English press.
What about the reactions by the ones who have bought or gotten the album in other ways, how have they been?
Most of them tell me ‘Tectonics’ exudes “claustrophobia”, “nightmare”, “density”, “heaviness”, “torture”, or simply “extreme music”. But they do all agree with one point: This is not easy listening for the average metalhead, and reaching the end of the album for the first time is quite impossible.
What do you expect from the album?
Lot of money, mountains of cocaine and plenty of unchained leather girls waiting in my cellar. Megalomaniac domination is my motto. Seriously, the most important thing is to stay surprised, frightened and stunned out by my own creations. Fuck the rest. If people feel connected to the sick part of my mind, that’s fine, but I am not searching for any personal congratulations, through some marketed images or posing on a stage. Music should talk by itself.
Your music is made of huge atmospheres painting different pictures and emotions, how did it end up like that?
There are many ways to create my sounds: Guitars, basses, voices, machines, samples, dry or drowned in effects. All these possibilities allow to push the envelope and to touch a large range of feelings, after moulding the raw sounds. Here lies the difference between nowadays metal, which in my opinion is played in a too limited frame, and industrial music, which can provoke the listener’s mind and deal with tiny moods through technology.
How do you work when you write the music?
My music is thought first, then written in my studio. The writing process depends on the very first sound idea. It can start from a sample that will be edited with effects, along with oscillators, etc, then comes guitars ideas, or vice-versa. It may also come from a drums rhythm, that I will program and loop. No specific recipe, the electronic tools are so powerful that random is a precious parameter. The only condition is to stay concentrated and to keep searching, before choosing what will be kept and what will be dropped out.
Where do you find your inspiration for your music? Your music is very dark and doomy, are you in a dark mood when writing your music or?
Inspiration is easy to come for a pretty pessimistic person like I am. Even if there is a smile on my face, looking around me without naivety every day leads me to the obvious conclusion that there is no hope for mankind, just recklessness and stupidity. I feel a short-term end coming. Here is the soundtrack.
How do you come up with the dark droning soundscapes?
Once again, technological manipulation of soundwaves of any kind through FX chains and low-pitching, after sampling of natural or machine noises, bass guitar, traditional instruments and other unexpected sources like voices or jet engines running.
How much time do you usually use on making/arranging one song? Isn’t it hard to arrange your songs, considering all the layers each song contain?
It really depends on the mood and efficiency of the moment. I do not evaluate my work, track by track with a timekeeper. But yes, arranging industrial songs and moulding each layer, from a simple wave, take a lot of time. It is like starting a painting with a basic colour and making it more and more expressive with distinct shades, through different brushes.
How much time have you used on writing, arranging, recording and mixing “Tectonics”?
Material writing began with the project, but evolved a lot during four years, starting from metal songs to end as industrial soundscapes. But as I am not focused on P.H.O.B.O.S. on a daily basis, the time parameter is not easy to quantify. For example, recording in a professional studio took me two full weeks, whereas mixing and mastering were scattered into short periods during four months, and the raw material for the vocals was captured in only one night. Different durations for different jobs, depending on my inspiration and availability.
How did you end up with the album title “Tectonics” and what are your thoughts behind the title ?
The overall tone and the underlying drones reminded me the erupting volcanoes and lava flows I used to hear and see during my childhood. The plate tectonics evokes the massive hidden and destructive powers of our planet, and since I am interested in geological phenomena, I found a connection between this personal feeling and the album sound.
You also made the killer and very fitting cover artwork, how did you come up with the idea for that, and what would you like to tell with it?
Several high resolution pictures of lava elements from my native island volcano were taken during eruptions or just after, by friends or by myself. Edition and assembly through image software gave the artwork, a result from a design I had in mind, as an attempt to personify the inorganic.
What do you want to tell with your music and what do you want the listeners to get from it?
I’ve put some strong and personal ideas in my music. It is not my mission to explain them, I am just the sonic medium of feelings towards the listener, which is totally free to find his own interest, perhaps not related to mine. P.H.O.B.O.S. may sound exhausting and totalitarian, but its impact is various and differs from a person to another. Just get high, blow your speakers and submit.
You are also the man behind the lyrical side of the band, will you initiate us in your lyrical universe? Where do you find inspiration for your lyrics? Do you have a message with your lyrics? How important is the lyrics compared to the music for you?
I will not explain in detail the lyrics of ‘Tectonics’, I want them to be felt along with the music. That’s one of the reason why they were not printed in the booklet. Even if I consider words and “singing” as sounds above all, I can only answer by saying that my lyrics exactly reflect what I feel deep inside: My thoughts about several aspects of existence and my vision of the ending times. But I let them full of imagery for you to find your own interpretation. Some clues that are hidden in the lyrics and that may help : fire, earth, red, emptiness, black, flesh, light. Or some recurring themes also: will of power, mass behaviour, spiritual cleansing, natural punishment, sex acts purposes, suicide. Each track contains one or more of these subjects.
What does a good P.H.O.B.O.S. song have to contain?
As told for ‘Tectonics’, I must be astonished and destabilized when listening to the track. And this feeling must last to convince me that this is a track to keep. I must stay blown by the result, be it ambient, metal, doom, noise, or whatever. This is not a question of satisfying a music genre, or using such or such instrument anymore, I am beyond this debate of tools or style. Only mental impact matters.
Do you care to explain the idea behind the band name and when you found out there were several bands named Phobos, why didn’t you change the name entirely and does the single letters have a meaning today?
Glad you didn’t ask if the name was inspired by a Voïvod album, thanx ! (had this boring question so many times…). Since the beginning, P.H.O.B.O.S. is an acronym for a personal phrase that (once again) I want to keep secret. I honestly didn’t suspect there were some bands named Phobos, which term, by the way, has several meanings according to the field (astronomy, Greek beliefs or psychoanalysis).
Will you share your 5 all time favourite albums with our readers?
Sure, but only 5 is frustrating !
SKINNY PUPPY “Cleanse fold and manipulate”
TREPONEM PAL “Treponem pal”
BATHORY “Under the sign of the black mark”
VOIVOD “Dimension Hatröss”
Thanks a lot for answering my questions, if you have anything to add, feel free to do it now!
Thanx for your interest. One of P.H.O.B.O.S.’ former drummers was Danish (from Odense I think), so Morten, if you’re reading this, a loud “Skoll !!” to you man !