(For this week’s edition of Waxing Lyrical, Andy Synn reached out to lyricist/vocalist Mathieu Nogues of the French band Eryn Non Dae.)
To quote my review of Abandon of the Self, the new album by French quintet Eryn Non Dae:
“…to dismiss them as ‘just’ another Post Metal band would be a mistake [as] the group’s enigmatic blend of apocalyptic atmosphere and caustic catharsis has just as much in common with the distorted, post-human visions of Godflesh, Meshuggah, and Nero di Marte as it does with Neurosis, Isis, and their ilk…”
As a matter of fact, the band’s distinctive brand of proggy complexity and extreme emotion is one which defies easy categorisation (which is possibly why they still don’t have an entry on Metal-Archives).
With this in mind I decided to reach out to their vocalist Mathieu Nogues and get him to participate in this edition of Waxing Lyrical as a way of (hopefully) learning a little bit more about what makes the band tick.
To be completely honest, I started out like most guys who want to make music, with a guitar around my neck. But I quickly realized that it wasn’t my thing, partly because I had to admit that I wasn’t very assiduous and that, above all, I was far too angry, physically and mentally, for this instrument to be my means of expression. So I very quickly took the microphone and I immediately felt that this was what I liked; singing, screaming, expressing my various emotions through words. I had found my place.
I remember that the very first text I wrote in my very first band was called “Drug Of The Nation”, a most spontaneous but very clumsy criticism against television, I called it that in reference to Karl Marx’s expression “opium of the people” concerning religion. It’s actually the only song we ever played!
After that, I joined a band as a second singer in which I did almost nothing but screaming because everything had already been composed. In fact it was only with Eryn Non Dae. that I really became aware of my position as a singer. And it was really with Eryn Non Dae that I started writing seriously.
As far as the group’s opinions are concerned, the debate has always been on form, never on substance; we compose together with the music and the rendering must be homogeneous, and unless I start writing on extremely clear-cut political or social positions my colleagues tend to have total respect for my writings. They have a right of review, of course, but they let me express myself freely.
And how could it be otherwise? I spit my feelings on paper, I bleed with each blow of the pen, just as much as they sacrifice their soul on the altar of their instruments.
My writing process is very complex… since I have none! One thing which is certain though is that I am incapable of writing a text in one go. Other than that, my writing process is chaos. I am a real sponge in fact; Whether it is a discussion, a film, a book, an image, a situation, I always take advantage of what I live to turn it into lyrics. My brain is always spinning at 100 miles an hour, I’m always thinking.
I tend to write everything down, either on my phone or on post-its or (when I’m organized) on a notebook. In fact, I write down ideas all the time, but my messy side often catches up with me very quickly.
I’m not a big consumer of literature but when I start writing I like to look for very specific themes. That’s why on our latest album, Abandon of the Self, you can find references to William Blake, Aldous Huxley and Miguel Ruiz.
Besides that, I still draw a lot of references from cinema, this reflection of sublimated reality, which is for me an inexhaustible source of well-constructed concepts and sentences.
As soon as I have my skeleton text, I then really start working on it. What generally poses the most problems to me are the first and last sentences because I tend to write texts that I will call “evolutionary” in which there is very often a plot, a story that unfolds, most notably on Meliora where the concept was metamorphosis so it was obvious that the lyrics had to evolve too.
I can spend weeks trying to find THE right sentence to get in and out of the song. Songs like “Chrysalis” or “Black Obsidian Pyre” had a long writing process before reaching the final version. The song “Omni” from Abandon of the Self must have had 5 or 6 different versions since it was still being composed in parallel. I admit, thinking back, that it was very hard, every week, to be forced to review the structure of my lyrics because 2 bars had jumped or a passage had been lengthened, knowing that I myself did not know where I was going, in the lyrics as in the interpretation! It was real torture. That’s why I have a lot of respect for writers, lyricists who are able to sit in front of a blank sheet of paper and write a song in one go, that’s genius for me. I hope one day I can, but I doubt it.
I have so many! But as don’t want to make an exhaustive list of my favorite quotes, I will stick to two lines from Dälek, an artist for whom I have an immeasurable respect:
“World’s corrupt and you still want more? We want more!”
“This is gonna change you, this is gonna change me”
Over time I’ve learned to use words and their meaning better. But I remain a “Frenchie” who strives to write in English, so you have to understand that writing in Shakespeare’s language remains an exercise for me. It is not my native language so I am still learning its subtleties.
However I am very lucky to have shared my life with an English woman who has helped me with both vocabulary and pronunciation, although at this level I still have some work to do.
On the other hand, what is certain is that now I am trying to make my lyrics sound like songs, especially in terms of rhyming, so that there is a certain poetry in the phrasing, a certain assonance, so that my lyrics look like lyrics and not just an essay. The hardest thing is to try to find an original way to deal with themes that have been covered over and over again, and that’s hard, to reinvent yourself, again and again, not only for the one who will read your lyrics but I must admit very selfishly, especially for yourself!
Everything has already been said, and better than you ever will. There lies the challenge, finding the right words, the right sentences, the right wording so that your songs remain anchored, so that your writings remain, so that your words count. It’s every lyricist’s undeclared dream, I think.
I’m going to go with “Through Dark Skies”, from our first album Hydra Lernaïa, which talks about perdition, this state of doubt, this state of emptiness, this state where you feel like shit in a shitty world where nothing seems to be going well. The fact of being at a given moment in one’s life, completely lost, without reference, as metaphorically “falling through dark skies”.
It doesn’t just reflect a moment in my life, it reflects a certain constant state of mind. I often, and especially in the composition phase, have a moment of weakness, a moment when I feel vulnerable, as a musician (although I do not really consider myself a musician) but especially as a human being.
It’s completely normal of course, since I’m going to draw from within myself, I go deep inside myself to look for the darkest ideas, the darkest feelings in order to exacerbate them and put them down on paper. It’s therefore obvious that this exercise brings things up and puts me in a state of vulnerability.
And even if on Meliora, there is not a song that expresses this feeling in an obvious way (it is developed in an evolutionary way with the wire of the songs), it happens to me with each album. And I need to express it. Like a lullaby in the head that won’t leave.
This song for me, crystallises this moment, notably through the sentence “during these dark moments, when everything seems to be lost” and through the lament that follows; I remember that on the day of the recording, I still had no rhythmic placement. I was really pissed, the text was there but I had no idea how I could place this passage. I record all the parts except this one and it’s finally “Magic” Mobo (our fabulous producer) who tells me in front of my indecision: “forget the rhythmic, do it as you feel, live it”. That gave rise to this lament, very Jonathan Davis-style, of which I am still very proud because the form is in total agreement with the substance.
For this one I’ll pick “Abyss”, the last song from Abandon of the Self, because the theme is exactly the same as “Through Dark Skies”. But where “Through Dark Skies” was very immediate on the whole, “Abyss” is much more subtle.
First of all, this is the first track in fifteen years of the band on which I use my real voice throughout the track; rather than screaming. I wanted the listener to feel the vulnerability, the fragility that I expressed through the words. So it was out of the question that there was even an ounce of screaming.
Mika (the bass player) and his girlfriend (who is a singing teacher) helped me enormously in this. At first, I had a lot of trouble, I thought it was too easy and even now I still think that the version on the album is not my best interpretation of this song. But that’s what makes it so fragile. We needed an intimate vocal for a song that was just as much.
Concerning the lyrics, I would say that even if it is the same theme as “Through Dark Skies” for the reasons explained above, my writing has evolved. As I said, I worked on the rhymes and the assonances and the text. First of all, the “nemo point” in question is the furthest point from any land on our beautiful planet. Which, in a piece called “Abyss”, thus takes on an impression of total exile and depth. “I’m bored of it all” are Winston Churchill’s last words. The idea of being stuck in every corner of a square that becomes a circle obviously refers to the vicious circle where the same mistakes are always perpetuated. And “The spinning wheel of false highs and true lows” is a line from the Mr. Robot series.
Comparing these 2 songs which have the same theme but with eleven years of difference between them makes me realize that you can evolve in a certain way but what you are, always resides in the core. As a person, I remain eternally unsatisfied, living in a world that’s really not getting any better and whose meaning I find more and more difficult to understand. I try to find my place within it but I nevertheless remain very angry in front of its absurdity. And as an artist, and I thank it for that because it’s precisely this world and its absurdity that continue to fascinate me, to disgust me and thus to inspire me always so much.
First of all, a huge thanks to you for this offered forum. Thank you for this opportunity to be able to approach this discipline so often relegated to the second row in Metal.
The writing of the lyrics in this medium is an underappreciated/underestimated discipline and, as a lyricist, I am often frustrated that no-one asks questions about the lyrics and the messages conveyed by a group. Yet there are fantastic lyricists in metal who use their pen in an incredible way; I think for example of Jacob Bannon who, beyond the fact that we don’t always understand his lyrics when he sings, writes real lyrics full of fragility and pure emotions that counterbalance totally with the violence and chaos of Converge‘s music. Or Warrel Dane (RIP) of Nevermore who, through his voice that I wasn’t always a fan of, still showcased some true poetry.
I know a lot of people don’t care about lyrics and prefer to focus on the music, but I have a hard time understanding this approach because I think lyrics reflect a band’s personality as much as anything.
Although I have to admit that there are also a lot of uninspired singers/lyricists who are only there because they needed a guy who screams into the microphone. So I want to encourage all the young singers/lyricists to free themselves from the stupid shackles and other clichés of Metal when they are in front of their white sheets, and instead to write with their hearts and spit out their guts with inspiration and authenticity.