Published Sep 19, 2013Gorguts are known as innovators of technical death metal who brought the Quebec scene to the forefront in the early '90s, along with the likes of Cryptopsy and Quo Vadis. But the latest release from the legendary act solidifies the band as a force to be reckoned with in modern death metal as well. Colored Sands marks Gorguts' first release in 12 years, which sees the return of main man Luc Lemay with a brand new line-up that boasts the impeccable skills of bassist Colin Marston (Behold... the Arctopus, Dysrhythmia, Krallice), guitarist Kevin Hufnagel (Dysrhythmia) and drummer John Longstreth (Origin, Skinless). While the band's sound has evolved into more progressive and experimental territories, the essence of Gorguts remains, with harsh atmospheres, heavy and brutal rhythms, as well as avant-garde guitar work and Lemay's thick, dark vocals. Lemay took the time to discuss the writing process of the new album, the complex concept behind it and the impact of the new members, as well as how he doesn't consider himself to be a good guitar player.
Colored Sands is your first album in 12 years. Was it a challenge getting back into the Gorguts frame of mind?
No, it was not a challenge to get back into this frame of mind. Like usual, I wanted to write the music that I wanted to hear. That has always been the main guiding line in my creation process. It was truly a labour of love to write this record. I couldn't be happier with the result.
What was the writing and recording process like for this record? How did it differ from previous releases?
The writing process was totally different as far as writing as a band. Since I live in Canada and John, Colin and Kevin live in the U.S., we weren't jamming three to four times a week. So I wrote the music, recorded a solo guitar track to a click, then I was writing all the music on paper and scanned the partitions to make a PDF document. From there Colin and Kevin would send me back my guitar track with their own individual instrument line recorded over my guitar track. Then John and I got together one on one so I could explain to him the vision I had for drum beats, so having the general idea, John wrote all his parts according to the mood I envisioned for the song. So once this process was done, when we got together as a band to rehearse we just had to tweak little details here and there. I can tell you that we haven't changed much from those first drafts. It clicked perfectly!
You've compiled a pretty stacked line-up with Colin Marston, Kevin Hufnagel and John Longstreth. How was it working with them? What kind of impact did they have on this record?
They are phenomenal musicians! Amazing composers! They are very intelligent and picky musicians. Every detail in their writing is important. They totally understood the compositional aesthetic of Gorguts. So they wrote Gorguts arrangements in their own way. That's what I like. Colin and Kevin are great to write polyphonic lines over my music, so it makes the music sound wider. As far as string instruments on this record, you have a three-part counterpoint most of the time, that's something we didn't have on the previous records. As far as John's writing, his performance on the record is amazing! And it's very different from what we're usually used to hearing from him. It's totally different from what he does in Origin.
Musically, Colored Sands further expands on the progressive and experimental side of the band. Was that intentional or did it come about naturally during the writing process?
When I started to write this record, I was listening to a lot of music from Steven Wilson and Opeth. That made me focus more on the dynamic aspect in the music. As far as song length goes, I never tell myself, "This song has to be seven minutes or so." It's the ideas first. If it happens that a song sounds right at two minutes, that's good and if it sounds right at ten minutes, that's good too! It's just natural.
The album features an orchestral piece, "The Battle of Chamdo," which is very different from the rest of the album and offers a bit of a break midway through. How did this track come to fruition? Will we be hearing more of this style from you in the future?
The intention to have an orchestral piece on the record was there from the beginning. I wanted to give the listener a different sound palette before going into the second part of the concept. This track is also a very important piece in the concept puzzle. It illustrates the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950. Then from this piece we enter the tragic fate of Tibet in the lyrical concept. As far as for future albums, I would love to use an orchestra again! We'll see what the future musical ideas bring to the table.
Lyrically, is there a specific concept or theme behind Colored Sands?
Yes. The concept canvas is Tibet. One day my attention got caught by the mandala drawing ritual. I got very much fascinated by the look, meaning and the process of drawing mandalas. At first I wanted to do the whole record about each step of drawing these mandalas, but after reading and reading on this topic I found out that it was too complex and I would need to educate myself for a decade before I knew what I was talking about. And also, I didn't want to do a "documentary" record. The sense of "storytelling" was missing. So I decided to change my angle and tell a story about the Tibetan culture. The album is divided into two parts. The first one deals with the beauties, the philosophy and culture of these people. Then you have the orchestral instrumental piece, which illustrates the Chinese invasion of 1950, then after that everything changed for the worst for those people.
"Le toit du Monde," which means "roof of the world," brings the listeners to the geographical place where the story is going to take place. I talk about the mighty mountain range in a poetic way. "An Ocean of Wisdom" tells the story about how they found the 14th Dalai Lama. The rituals, the sacred lake (lake of vision) Lhamo-Latso, and the epic quest for the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama's soul. But above all, "ocean of wisdom" means "Dalai Lama." "Forgotten Arrows" is about the rules of causality. Everything that happens in life happens for a reason. I got inspired by a text of Matthieu Ricard, who is the French interpret of the Dalai Lama. He wrote that all the actions that we do in life are like arrows that we throw in the sky one day, then we forget about them, and suddenly, one day, they strike back on us, the echoes of our actions. "Colored Sands" tells the process and the mystic experience of mandala drawings. Pilgrims who walk for months towards the place where the ritual is going to take place. They walk and they prostrate every three footsteps, face to the ground. "Enemies of Compassion" is about the Chinese invading Tibet and taking control by persecuting Tibetan people. "Ember's Voice" deals with the horror of Tibetan people immolating themselves in public to protest against the Chinese occupation. "Absconders" tells the story of a murder captured on tape by mountain climbers who witness Chinese border guards deliberately shooting Tibetan fugitives trying to escape to Nepal. "Reduced to Silence" is questioning the "non-violence" philosophy, the silence of the international community witnessing the genocide of the Tibetan culture and people. Will the "non-violent" way of life bring them to their own end?
You've influenced countless technical death metal bands, yet you've said that you don't consider yourself to be a technical guitar player. What kind of player do you consider yourself to be? Do you think death metal has become too technical for the sake of being technical?
Totally. You're absolutely right. Too many bands get technical for the sake of being technical. I like some of it, but I think the energy should be focused on the arrangements and the song structures. Gorguts' technicality lies in the songwriting department, I think. Like you mentioned, I've never seen myself as a good guitar player. I see myself more as a composer rather than an instrumentalist. Guitar just happened to be the instrument I chose to express myself in the metal music language. I'm more interested in creating an atmosphere or telling a story with sound than playing guitar for the sake of playing guitar. If I'm not writing, I'm not practicing. So it can be months without playing guitar.
How does it feel to be considered such an influential musician, especially within Canadian death metal? Did you feel any pressure to live up to fans' expectations with Colored Sands?
I think it's very flattering, nobody hates compliments, ha ha! But no, I don't feel any pressure on that side. I just write what I feel is going to fulfill me as a composer, then if our fans follow, it's great! You know, we always made records very different from each other and the fans never turned their backs on us.
You reformed the band after it was suggested by your late friend and former member Steeve Hurdle. What do you think his thoughts on the record would be?
I'm sure Steeve would have enjoyed the record, we've always had a mutual admiration for each other's work. He got the chance to hear the demos and he liked the fact that it was different from the previous records. I really miss him, he was a monumental artist, a poet, he was very curious and reserved, a beautiful soul.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Thank you very much for the interview, can't wait to share this new music with all the fans!