Latest release: Stranger Fruit (MVKA)Website: www.zealandardor.com/
Zeal & Ardor is the brainchild of Swiss-American Manuel Gagneux and Stranger Fruit is the follow-up to the first official album Devil is Fine (2016) that managed to capture the attention of the mainstream music press with its strange melange of black metal and black music. With the impending release of Stranger Fruit, Loud caught up to the very Gagneux to discuss the origins of his unique take on metal and where he might take it from here.
It’s an interesting spectrum of music that you’ve chosen to combine. It’s certainly something that no one seems to have thought of doing before.
I guess I kind of fell into this weird combination and for some bizarre reason I was the first one to do it. It would be silly no to pursue to it.
It is interesting that you’ve combined music that’s considered to be black music – soul and Gospel – with something that’s seen to be very white: black metal. You really can’t get more black and white than that. What was it that made you think that would go together?
I think it’s due in no small part to my own ethnicity. I grew up in Switzerland being half African-American and half-Swiss. I’m not Scandinavian in any way, shape or form. I was confronted with both parts of music in no small part growing up.
What artists were you exposed to? If you had to suggest a list of artists that most inspired you, what would they be?
As a teen I was heavily into Burzum and Darkthrone and Emperor. Although I don’t completely align politically with those individuals, I do really admire their music. There’s no turning off liking their music. I can’t do that.
Some would suggest that your ethnicity would preclude you getting involved in that sort of music. Are you one of those people then, who can separate the political standing of some of these artists from their music?
To me the artist and the art are two totally separate things. I have the same issue with Wagner, because I fucking adore the music but the person was an abysmal human being.
That’s the same for a lot of artists though. We admire their work but we know that they’re terrible human beings. We could go on about this forever, but what was the ultimate inspiration for you – did you just decide to give it a try and see if it would work?
Actually I was working on another project for the 4chan website. I spent a lot of time there and I came up with this game where I would just ask the 4chan people to name musical genres, and one guy would say jazz and another guy would say trance and I would combine the two in twenty minutes and make a track of it. One day, one guy said black music and the other guy said black metal… ever since I’ve been making this weird music because it sounded so interesting, and now I’m talking to a guy fucking Australia!
It’s amazing where music can take you. It’s incredible that you’ve taken this strange approach and it’s affected so many people. When you started getting reactions to your music, did you ever think, Why hasn’t anyone done this before?
…Nope. It was more like belief. This was something I found entertaining. Why do you find it entertaining? It was just utter disbelief.
So tell us a little bit about the new album. You’ve had a chance to let it sink in now, so what are your thoughts on it as it comes up for release?
It’s so bad. It’s utter shit!
No, I see it as an expansion on the whole thing, actually. Devil Is Fine was like proof of concept, and now I’ve had plenty of time and opportunity to dwell on it and think about what I wanted to say with it. It’s just sonically far more pleasant, because there aren’t digital drums on it. Marc Obrist who also plays live with us plays drums on the record, I had the guitars properly recorded and Kurt Ballou mixed the whole thing, who is a genius in his own right. I’m really really stoked with it.
It may be a bit early to ask this because the new album isn’t even out yet, but where do you think your musical path might take you from here?
I think there’s still a little bit of room to explore, but I think I also have to be very aware that maybe this is a finite thing. Maybe, if the point comes where I have to force something out of myself, that might be the right time to stop and try something else. Because no one wants to hear something forced. And I have to be aware of that, because I’ve seen so many bands try the same thing for too long and it just kind of baffles me. I’m very aware of that kind of one-trick-pony trap that I’m trying to avoid so badly!
I think we all know artists who seem to get stuck in a rut but where they’re trying to make magic happen and can’t, and rather than take that step and either not do something or change what they do, they continue to try it and it ends up being very disappointing. So it’s refreshing to hear an artist admitting that he might run out of ideas one day.
That’s just the reality of it. I’m not a superhuman. I can’t say that I have infinite ideas and they’re all going to be great. I’m fucking human, and one day it’ll suck. Maybe. I have to acknowledge that.
So what will you do then? Will you go back to 4chan and just start tossing around random ideas on the Internet?
Haha! That might be the big fucking turn I’ll take!
I guess you could be called an ’emerging talent’, and it seems like everything’s going your way right now.
Yeah but I’m also very aware that I’m riding a wave of hype at the moment. Hypes don’t tend to last forever. And that’s something to keep an eye on. If this had happened five years ago, I would be the most pretentious, arrogant prick you’ve ever talked to. But luckily I’ve had the opportunity to not live for music and to actually see very talented people fail for no apparent reason. Now I know it’s just luck.
Well I think talent has got a lot to do with it, but you’re certainly right about the luck part. I’m sure that you’ve known people even if your own circle who haven’t been able to manage even the success you’ve managed to achieve.
My career actually hinges on an article that Kim Kelly from Noisey USA wrote. If she’d’ve had a bad day that day, she might not have written that piece and Rolling Stone would not have picked up on it. So it’s just one little element that’s either on or off. And if it’s off, it’s off and I’m not allowed to forget that.