Saturday, 12 October 2019

Acoustically Speaking - An Interview With Nicolas Foucaud and Thibault Fassler From SAPIENS

SAPIENS is the new project featuring LOS DISIDENTES DEL SUCIO MOTEL (LDDSM) leader Nicolas Foucaud and Thibault Fassler teaming up for an Acoustic Rock album with a difference.

As Nicolas and Thibault have teamed up with singers from some of the best vocalists from the French Hard Rock/Metal scene from bands such as LOFOFORA, MARS RED SKY, HANGMAN’S CHAIR, BLACK BOMB A, ROBOT ORCHESTRA, FOREST POOKY and LDDSM.

This album was a labour of love for everyone involved and took over a year to fully record and finish.

The album is in essence an Acoustic Rock album but it also offers different sounds such as Stoner Rock, Grunge, Psych, Blues and Hard Rock as well. This is perhaps one of the most creative albums I’ve heard this year.

You can read my review here.

I had the chance to interview Nico and Thibault from SAPIENS where we discussed the making of the album for this in-depth interview.

I want to thank Nico and Thibault for doing this interview. It’s a great read.

Hi Nico and Thibault. Thanks for doing this interview. How are things with you today.

Nico : I feel great man! Team France has just won the bronze medal at the world basketball championships today, it's a great result! I’m a big fan of basketball!

Thibault : I'm pretty good too. Spent yesterday doing absolutely no effing thing, so yeah. Cool.

We are here to talk about your new project SAPIENS. An Acoustic Rock Project that you will be releasing in October. How did this idea came about.

Nico: I had the idea of ​​this project sometime after the release of the last LDDSM album, Human Collapse. We all love acoustic music, but we were not all ready to go that way for a new album. So I dug out some ideas composed on an acoustic guitar that I knew would never be used in LDDSM. I started reworking some of them alone, at first. One idea leading to another, I started having bits of songs that I thought were cool, then I had a complete one, then 2 and so on. And one night, about the song that would become "surreal estates", I found myself in bed, unable to sleep because this melody obsessed me. And I thought "it would be so great if Julien Pras agreed to sing it ...". And then I thought “but why only ask Julien? I could also ask other singers and make an album with this! That could be great and unique!" So that's what I did and they all agreed. Then I spoke to my friend Tibal who is a very good acoustic guitarist and with whom I wanted to play in a real project, and we finished the 10 songs together.

Thibault : Basically, one day, Nico came to me and told me about the project, and I was all in from the start. I mean, I love big fat heavy guitars, cascading distortions and big ass drums, but you just whisper the word “acoustic” in my ears, and I'm yours. Acoustic guitar is where I came from. I did not play acoustic “on my way to electric”, I distinctly WANTED to play acoustic, and stumbled upon electric guitar much later. And from the very beginning, I knew I wanted the album to sound heavy, energetic, and powerful without using electric sounds. It's easy to make a huge sound with electric instruments. I wanted to prove that if we could capture air being pushed out of real instruments, we could free ourselves from the crutch of overdrive pedals.

What can people expect from SAPIENS and your upcoming new album.

Nico: You can expect variety, nice melodies, good songs (I think ha-ha!), very good singers, a lot of work on arrangements, a very good production and a love for a job well done. In any case that's all we tried to do!

Thibault : And you can expect authenticity. I may have been a bit of a pain in the ass about that, but I didn't want virtual instruments if we could do it with the actual ones. I didn't want a piano plug-in, so we recorded a real grand piano, a real Rhodes, real strings, real brass. I wanted to hear as much of the performance as I could, not a machine fixing everything. The record is not perfect by any stretch of imagination, but we did the best we could.

Have you had this idea for a while. Or was it just a spur of the moment thing to do something different compared to your normal band and projects.

Nico: Let's say that I have always composed a lot on acoustic guitar. Many pieces of LDDSM were first written on acoustic and then switched to electric. So I always had that desire in my heart and this wish to one day, take the plunge. I don’t feel ready to offer a 100% solo project yet, just me and my guitar. I don’t think I have the musicianship I’m aiming for. Maybe it’s stupid, maybe I’ll change my mind one day… Never say never. I could have done it with LDDSM because the concept of a group is more familiar to me and I think we'll do it one day, but I wanted to find another way to express myself. Strangely it's my most personal project, and I’m not even the singer! I only made some backing vocals arrangements on a few of the songs.

Thibault : As I said before, I'm always in where there's an acoustic guitar that needs to be played. And I love weird projects. Like “OK, let's write 10 songs and send them to 10 guys we barely know, all over the country, without ever being in the same room, and communicating in real time ! Sure ! What could go wrong ?”. And since I do not feel (and I know Nico's gonna rip my head off for saying that) I write good “songs”, I felt a lot more comfortable being an “re-arranger”, taking an idea and shaping it, rather than building a song from the ground up. Though in the end, we ended up using one of my “songs”, which wasn't really a song, and it turned out to be “Cognitive Dissonance”.

You’ve recruited some of the best singers in the French Hard Rock/Heavy Metal scene with bands such as LOFOFORA, MARS RED SKY, HANGMAN’S CHAIR, BLACK BOMB A, ROBOT ORCHESTRA, FOREST POOKY and LDDSM to name but a few. Why those bands and those singers.

Nico: Just because I love them! All the singers on this album sing in bands that I listen to and that I really like. There is no opportunism in this, I am a fan of all these bands and all these singers. It's a real dream come true for me to say that I wrote songs with these guys! I have so much respect for them, it's a real gift having them answer my call. I have been listening to Lofofora since junior high ! Black Bomb A and Psykup have been major influences in my career as a Metal composer for years. Mars Red Sky and Hangman's Chair are currently my top 2 French bands regardless of genre ! As for Forest, Dany, Mat and Steve, they have been my friends for many years and I couldn’t imagine not having them sing on this album. All these guys, without exception, have a huge talent and it's an honor for me to have written these songs for them.

Thibault : Actually, even if we could be accused of opportunism, there is no real marketing incentive in Metal in France. We did NOT make this album for any kind of financial reasons. And that's the beauty of it, since we never had any sales objective, or financial viability needs, as we recorded as much of this album as we could by ourselves, we could focus solely on the quality of the music, and we really gave everything we had.

Did you ask other bands within the French Scene who refused to do this project.

Nico: I asked Yann from Klone, but he refused. He didn't have the time to do it right, so he preferred not doing it at all. And that was the respectable thing to do.

And then, we would have loved to have Joe from Gojira, but he kindly declined the invitation due to a cruel lack of time. I knew it was a long shot from the start, but it doesn't hurt to ask. Maybe next time ?

Thibault : Also, we had Lo from Loading Data working on one of the songs for some time, but something tragic happened in his family, and he couldn't see it through. But from what he had sent us, we can honestly say that if we do a Sapiens II, we would love to work with him again.

How was the music written for this album. Did you write everything including the lyrics. Or was that down to the guest vocalist.

Nico: Tibal and I just send them a demo with 2 acoustic guitars. Nothing more. Then they had total freedom with the lyrics and the melodies. At first we contemplated giving them a theme, but we quickly agreed to give them free rein. They recorded themselves and sent us the tracks. Then we communicated over the phone, Skype and an astronomical amount of emails to build the rest of the songs. Some singers sent us only the lead vocals and we created the backings and harmonies afterwards, others sent us all at once. It was so magical, this moment when you listen to your song with the voice of one of your favourite singers on it... so beautiful.

Thibault : That's weird, because there's a lot of these guys that I didn't even know when the project started. I mean, Lofofora, Black Bomb A and Psykup, I'd heard of, but I was only vaguely familiar with the rest of them. But from the start I was more on the “free reign” side of things. The best part of having different musicians and singers is the diversity. It's always gonna be easier for Nico to write and sing everything, and we could have played all the bass parts ourselves. It's easier. Simpler. But is it better ?

How was the music recorded for the album. Did you have a recording session with each guest vocalist. Or was it done in separate sessions.

Nico: As I mentioned, each singer recorded himself on his end, except for Dany of LDDSM of course. The guitars were recorded at my home, in late-night session after work or on week ends. We often finished very late and had to work the next day ! Then the drums and some pianos were recorded at the Dub & Sound studio with Pat Wetterer. Other piano tracks at my home too. The strings were recorded by Tibal in mobile studio. Some bass tracks, at home, or at Tibal's or Pat's studio. The harmonica and the accordion we recorded at Tibal's. One dobro was tracked in a church. The big percussion section on Steve from Robot Orchestra's song, in a music school with kids. The brass sections on this song at Dub & Sound etc ... I probably forget many of them, but as you can see, we made this album as a big Lego build, block by block, little piece by little piece. It took us over a year to record everything! A real hell!

Thibault : Yeah. We even have an expression with my wife. When I come home in the middle of the night she keeps saying I “pulled a Sapiens”. *laughs* But as I said, we did everything we could by ourselves. Pat's studio was not always available, and we didn't want to use up all his time, he had other recording sessions at the same time. I have a mobile studio, not much in terms of gear, but it allows me to go on location as often as I want, and that really helped with the logistics. And the finances. I reckon we must have spent almost a week's worth of studio time on just the guitars. This would have cost us thousands of bucks if we were to do the same at a real studio. We had little money, so we used Pat full-on Dub'n'Sound Studio only for the things we could record nowhere else.

It’s good to hear that the songs all sound very different to each other. Was that a hard thing to do when making the album.

Nico: Sometimes, but not all the time. One of the great difficulties of this project is that it doesn’t work like a band. There has never been a rehearsal time to discuss this or that artistic choice. So sometimes we thought we were going in the right direction, so we moved on on our end and we sent the track to the singer. And he didn’t agree with our choices. OK shit… But in the meantime weeks, months had passed! Communication was the key of this album.

The singers I knew personally from before the project, it was quite natural to compose for. For others, the pressure was immense because failure was not an option. It had to stick with the first demo, because I really didn’t want to waste their time. I had too much respect for them. But in the end, I've been listening to all these bands for so long that I knew where I could get them to. The question was "Am I going to make it?". Tibal was very helpful at this level because he had this totally neutral, outsider look. Although of course he knew the majority of these groups, he didn’t have the same approach as me. I played the songs for him asking, "This one is for so-and-so, what do you think?" But in fact he just asked whether the song was good or not, whoever was going to sing it. That's what matters. He was right.

Thibault : I'm always right. *laughs * To be more serious, I actually was not really aware of what these guys could physically do. So maybe one song might be too low for this one singer, or it might have been to high. But let's burn that bridge when we cross it. The idea was to trust Nico's first instinct as to who should sing what song, and then if there was something that needed to be adapted, or a singer that didn't like what we sent, then we would worry about that. In the end I think it happened only once or twice. Again, the key here was individuality. I think we were actually more worried about keeping it all consistent, keeping a common ground between all the songs. The singers are all so different from one another. They brought the diversity. We had to provide the unity.

You hired Patrick Wetterer to become involved with the project. What did Patrick do on this album.

Nico: Pat has been a friend of ours for years. He’s an excellent musician. You know what I mean? Some kind of a musical machine with a huge vocabulary. Pat first wrote several parts for piano and Rhodes. It took us a few sessions to be in perfect artistic harmony because he comes from more of a funk and jazz background, but he has such a fabulous knowledge of music that he adapts to everything very quickly. I am not a music theorist. I have just very small basics bits of music theory and I do all the rest by ear. Pat has an excellent ear, but also a deep theoretical background and a huge technique. Besides that, he's also an excellent sound engineer. At the beginning we had to record some drums at his studio, but finally, he liked to work on this project so much that he also wanted to do the mix. And what a mix! He worked every detail and the result is almost perfect! I love the production of this album. The challenge for him was monstrous, because he received the album in small bits and from studio all over the country, different type of tracks, of gear, and yet he managed to build this perfectly balanced mix from one song to the next. Very impressive!

Thibault : Pat was, for me, a real surprise. I'd known him since I was a kid, but he's a bit older so we weren't really in the same circles. He's a very intense and energetic guy, so I feared, at first, that he would be a little stiff to work with, but man was I wrong. He's one of the most generous people I know. And you know, there's a saying among audio engineers that goes “The first mistake for an audio engineer is to mix with the musicians in the room”. Well he asked me to be there pretty much for every mixing session. He let me in his studio, showed me how it worked, he even lent us his studio while he was on vacation, and trained me to do the recording sessions in his stead. I got to watch him work, and he answered any question I had. Even when I was being a pain the ass, and that happened a few times. I learned a LOT from Pat, as an aspiring audio engineer. And as a musician. He is an encyclopedia of musicianship, and engineering.

I read that the recording of the album took over a year. Was that down to the individuals who sung on this album. Or where there other reasons behind this.

Nico : It's a bit of both. As I told you earlier, the communication was extremely complicated. Indeed, the singers are all in bands that have a lot of work, they were constantly either on the road or in the studio, thus very hard to reach. And on their side, listening to what we sent to them in good conditions to give us their feedback was also difficult.

Then there is also the matter of skill. I can only play guitar, bass and vocals. Ditto for Tibal. So we had to find additional musicians to play all the other instruments and there are really a lot! It was also an opportunity for us to involve people we wanted to work with, including family members!

My dad and my wife are playing on this album. My son did the drawing of the cover. The more we built the songs, the more the ideas of arrangement came to mind. We didn’t say "too bad for the violins, we don’t know how to play them" but rather "OK ​​at this time, we need a string quartet because that's what the song needs. Let’s find the musicians!”.

All this takes an huge amount of time!

Thibault : The singers' schedules was an issue, sure, but in the end, I think it gave us time to do pretty much anything we wanted to do. Recording an actual string quartet, and not relying on programmed strings (except for one song where the orchestral parts were too complicated to be learned by a non professional musician in the time-frame we had), going to my nephew's music school and enrolling some of his drum class into hitting floor toms and snares for us, getting a friend to record a complete brass section for a song, going to the church I got married in to record a dobro part with natural reverb, all these things would have been a lot harder to put in motion if the project had been a more standard one, where all the musicians needed to record everything in a matter of days. So yeah it was long and by the end of the production I guess we were pretty burnt out, but I'm so glad we got to do all these things.

I also read there were over 35 musicians involved with the recording of this album. That’s incredible. How did you use over 35 musicians for the project.

Nico : Exact, 35 musicians! It's colossal for a Rock album. There are already 10 singers, then Pat, Tibal and I as the “main actors” . Then for schedule issues, we had to have 2 drummers. Add a string quartet and 2 solo violinists, The percussion section we mentioned earlier, and some musicians who played very specific instruments to each song (brass, harmonica, accordion…) and you reach this number quite quickly. I want to emphasize that they were all volunteering, every one worked for free ! I don’t know how to thank them! THANK YOU FRIENDS!!

Thibault : It's weird cause I didn't actually realise how many people were involved until Nico wrote up the credits for the album. And I was like “wow... that many people, some of whom we barely knew, all accepted to work for no money”. I guess it speaks to the goodness of these people's hearts, and maybe a little to the quality of the music we asked them to play on. I'm always a bit uncomfortable saying things like that, but I can't deny we worked our asses off for this album, we didn't allow ourselves to take short cuts, and I think it comes through in the music.

When is the album being released and who by.

Nico: It will be released by Klonosphère, Season of Mist and Hell Prod on October the 25th.

Looking back over the recording of this project. Would you do anything differently if you could.

Nico: I'd say that if I had to make a Sapiens II, I'll send a more complete demo to the singers. With at least guitars, bass and drums. It's happened a couple of times that the singer had pictured his song a certain way from the 2 guitars that was totally different from what we ended up doing. And it gets complicated, once it happened, to find the right formula, one that please everyone. For the rest I think we really did the best we could. We all lost a lot of sleep, but the result was worth it!

Thibault : It's weird, thinking about it like that. I forced myself to let go of any melodic and lyrical idea I might have had on the song, so that I could take in what the singers sent us with as little prejudice as possible, I really really wanted them to be as free as possible, and I wanted to keep as close to what they offered as possible. And to do that I had to strip down my ideas on the song, and it made sense then, to send the singers a stripped down version of the songs. But as Nico said, sometimes, they needed a bit of guidance, sometimes they had not stripped their ideas down (let's be clear, I'm not blaming them for any of this, it's just a different approach), and if there is a next time, I would probably ask the singers if they wanted it stripped down, or more orchestrated, and really go in depth with them on whether they had some arrangement ideas in mind.

Will you be touring SAPIENS at all. Or is it strictly a studio project.

Nico: Unfortunately it is impossible. The logistics of merely rehearsing together would be a nightmare in itself. And I couldn't ask all these singers from all over the country to come and sing their one song. So we'd have to rehearse the set with several vocal lines and that requires a lot of work. Not to mention the commuting and financial aspect of things... I wouldn't even dare to imagine the mess! So Sapiens will remain a unique project that will only live on your turntable and it’s good like that.

Thibault : It's a shame though. There are a lot of songs I would LOVE to play live. Like Pure Love Ashes, or Surreal Estates. Palm Prints too, but that would require a LOT of guitars. laughs

What projects are you guys involved with next or in the future. (NICO – I’m hoping for a new LDDSM album.)

Nico: Yes a new LDDSM album is on its way. A few of us in the band have had children these past months, so our priorities are a little off, at the moment, but the band is still alive and kicking and we are composing right now. I hope we'll be able to release the album next year. There is still a lot of work to be done !

Thibault : As for me, I'm more of a studio sessions guy, and the next big project will be the album of our friend Melody, for her solo project Ballerine, and I have a few one off projects that I have in mind.

I wish you every success with this album. It’s a great album. Do you have anything to say to your fans before you go.

Nico: Of course a huge thank you and especially to all the crowd-funders who allowed the album to have a physical release on CD and vinyl! I still struggle realizing what we managed to do together! I hope you will enjoy listening to the album as much as we had to make it.

Thibault : Yeah thanks lot Steve . We're extremely grateful to have the opportunity to talk so deeply about this album. All hail Outlaws of the Sun !

Words by Steve Howe, Nicolas Foucaud and Thibault Fassler

Thanks to Nico and Thibault once again for the interview.

Sapiens debut album will be available to buy on CD/DD/Vinyl via Season of MistKlonosphère  and Hell Prod from October 25th 2019.