Interview with vocalist and guitarist Marion Bascoul and guitarist Martin Hamiche
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: June 1, 2023
French melodic death metal band Aephanemer, first formed in 2013 as a solo project by Martin Hamiche, has come a long way since then, releasing one EP and three full-length studio albums in the past 10 years. The band is now signed to Napalm Records who released their third studio album, A Dream of Wilderness, in November 2021. This French foursome may be an unfamiliar to some, but that's about to change if the response to their current European tour is anything to go by. They have played in front of intense and supportive crowds and their show at On the Rocks in Helsinki, Finland, on April 25, 2023, was no exception. The crowd was cheering the band through the entire gig, and it was amazing to see how well they were received by the metal fans in Helsinki.
The Metal Crypt had the pleasure to sit down with two members from Aephanemer before the show, vocalist/guitarist Marion Bascoul and guitarist Martin Hamiche, who were keen on talking about many band-related matters such as the change from a one-man solo band to a full band, past and future gigs, genre categories, balancing day jobs and band and so on....
OK, let's get to the main course, so to speak, and talk about your band Aephanemer. Martin, when you started this band, it was a solo project, and you played all the instruments. You released the band's first 6-song EP titled Know Thyself independently. At what point did you want to make this a full band?
Martin: Yes. When I began this project as a one-man band, I didn't really have a plan. I just wanted to write songs and to release them to get some feedback. After the first EP, which was Know Thyself and released in early 2014, I thought that it would be nice to play these songs live. At that moment, I decided I wanted this project to become a full band, so it was necessary to hire people because I can't do everything myself.
OK, this leads me to ask Marion, how did you join the band?
Marion: I saw an article online, on a website, that Martin wrote. It was about the band, the project. He wrote that he was searching for other members for the band. I applied, saying I am a singer and I play rhythm guitar. I didn't know who was in the band at that time. I just hoped that there would be a place for me in his band.
Were you the last piece of the puzzle, so to speak?
Marion: No, I was the third member. There was a bassist in the lineup with Martin at the time, a friend of his who is no longer with us. After I joined, we searched for a drummer. Mickaël applied, and that was how we got the full band lineup.
Was it important to have like-minded musicians in the band who all shared similar ideas of how it should sound? As Martin started this band, surely there needed to be a captain of the ship?
Martin: Yes, since the beginning it has been clear that I would be the person writing the music. Regarding the artistic side of the music, but not the lyrics, I make those decisions. When I was hiring musicians, the most important thing was to find people with good personalities, people I enjoyed being with and playing with. Marion and I have similar tastes in music, but our drummer, Mickaël, for example, likes melodic death metal like we do, but he also likes progressive and power metal. None of us has the same music tastes, and that's fine.
What were some of the influences that triggered you to form the band? While I was thinking of questions for this interview, names like Eternal Tears of Sorrow, Children of Bodom, Kalmah and so on, started popping up in my mind, as well as some Swedish melodic death metal names like In Flames and Dark Tranquillity, etc.
Martin: Yes, exactly. I would say between the first EP, Know Thyself, and our second album, Prokopton, my main influences were Scandinavian metal and a lot of Finnish metal bands like Children of Bodom, Nightwish but also other bands like Amon Amarth, Arch Enemy, Windir and many other northern European metal bands. Then my musical taste kind of evolved naturally through time and today, I would say that my influences are a bit different. This can be heard in our last album, and I think it will be heard even more in the future.
Nowadays, my influences are more about things that are not related to metal music as much, like classical, folk from northern countries but also from Russia and Eastern Europe, and a lot of different music styles like religious music, medieval music, stuff which is not directly metal music in the true sense of the word. However, my main influences were metal bands from Scandinavia for a very long time, though.
When you started finding your own musical path over the course of time, did you reach a point when you realized the band was sounding more like its own entity rather than shamelessly mimicking other bands?
Martin: Well, that's a very good question because as a composer myself, I am completely unable to say if we are copying other bands or if we are original sounding because I am not able to do that with my own music. I listen to opinions of people who like our music, what they have to say about it because I never really think about whether we sound original or not. When I was writing our first EP, Know Thyself, I had only a few influences, like In Flames, for example. The EP was influenced a lot by In Flames and through time, there were more and more influences. As you say, at some point, every band probably becomes original because there are so many different influences nowadays. But I must also say we are not just copying other bands anymore, but I am completely unable to say if it has already happened earlier, or it will happen in the future. For my own music, I can't tell. For other bands, I can tell, but for my own music, I really can't tell.
On the other hand, it's hard to reinvent the wheel simply because there's so much music around you these days. It's natural that you will get influenced or inspired by something. Marion, as Aephanemer's music has been evolving over the years, taking new shapes and going in different musical directions so to speak, does this make things more demanding for you as a singer?
Marion: Yes, it's interesting actually. When Martin composed the first EP, as I told you before, he did everything himself, so I had no idea what type of vocal approach he was after and neither did he. When I heard the music he composed, I really loved it because, as Martin said, we have pretty similar tastes. When I applied for the vocalist's position, I just did what I do best with my type of voice, growling vocals. That was how we found the vocals for Martin's music because he wanted to get my type of growling vocals to the songs he had created.
In fact, as he's influenced by melodic death bands from Sweden and also from Finland, it was pretty natural choice for him at the end of the day. Obviously, as the music evolves, I want to add more varied vocal styles. We will never do only melodic vocals because we want to keep that harsh part of the music and because the music is so melodic, we want to keep a good balance.
It's also nice to do melodic vocals at times, so I learned to do them properly. Now I am training in classical singing, but it's really difficult. That style has some similarities to the basic clean vocal style, but it's also very different to try singing the classical style. I would like to combine different styles to match all the different influences Martin incorporates into the music; the classical influences and everything. Let's say that I'm trying to up my game to match the evolution of our music.
SYMPHONIC MELO DEATH METAL OR SOMETHING ELSE?
I am curious to know what you call your music nowadays?
Marion: Nowadays, we call it symphonic melodic death metal.
That sums it up nicely, I think. It's a wide array of sounds and that's the style in a nutshell.
Martin: Then again, it's very difficult to label music because we don't feel that we should put our music in a certain genre or category. We play metal and that's it, but, on the other hand, it's convenient because it helps people know in advance if they are going to check out our music. We can advertise our music with this or that label and people know right off the bat if they want to give a listen to our music or not. We keep in mind that melodic death metal is a genre in which bands have very different sounds, like Amon Amarth and, I don't know, Dark Tranquility or Carcass.
There are so many differences between these bands. We think carefully how we can advertise our band music-wise but currently, we categorize it as symphonic and melodic death metal because we've played melodic death metal since day one. Nowadays we have more orchestration within our music, but it's still symphonic melodic death metal.
I believe labeling bands under different musical categories is what people in the music industry need desperately, in order to do the right marketing to the targeted audiences. They must sell their products somehow, and I think it's a headache to get all that advertising done. So, in that sense, it's the marketing people's headache if they want to call a band symphonic death metal or folky death metal or whatever. At the end of the day, however, it will be the metal fans who decide whether they like your music or not....
Marion: Yes... Absolutely!
Martin: Actually, we discussed that with some of our fans, and I have noticed many times how our fans have been arguing with each other over how they want to label our music. Some were saying that we play melodic death metal while others say something like, "No, the vocals are black metal so they cannot be labeled melodic death, so they are symphonic black." I don't know... It's pretty complicated to label us, I guess. [*laughs*]
Yes, that seems to be the case with your musical style. I noticed that ex-Dark Tranquility member Niklas Sundin has done the covers for your releases. How did you get in touch with him initially?
Martin: I like Dark Tranquility, so I knew that he was a designer as well as a musician and I really like his style. His style was a bit different back then, but I love the style that he does these days as well.
I just contacted him and asked if he would be interested in doing something for us. He was glad to do the EP cover first and then he eventually did all three of our album covers. It's very easy to work with him and he's a true artist because we just pitch him something which is a bit abstract and not very defined, and he will turn that into something that is really what we would have described if we were able to. I think we're going to keep working with him as long as he agrees.
When I look at them, I think he's got a bit of a cartoon-ish touch on those three album covers.
Martin: Exactly. I think he developed this style more the last few years and we really like it. When we worked with him for our first EP, that cover had a very different style. It was more a Photoshop thing with layers and all that but when we worked with him for our first album, Memento Mori, we asked him to do something which would be hand drawn as that is what we wanted. We really liked it, so we decided to continue with this style for the following albums.
Chemistry in the band is very important. Do you feel like you have good matches in the band right now? Does everybody understand where you are aiming to take this band; you know the future goals and all that stuff?
Marion: Yes, I would say so. As we said, Martin and I have common tastes and also, we share some of the duties in the band because he's composing the music and I'm writing the lyrics. We love to work with each other, and with Mickaël, the drummer, who we also share some duties with. He handles the most technical issues in the band as far as the production and many other more technical-related issues are concerned. Lucy takes care of tasks like sending emails to people. It's really amazing to be able to share these duties with all the band members. We are really satisfied that everyone can work together on the band and do their own duties. We work very well together. We also get along very well. It's lovely to be on tour together and we hope all this will last a long time.
We are at a point in the history of the band which is a bit tricky because we are not professionals yet, but the band is more and more demanding. Half of the band has full-time jobs and the other half, Martin and I, have part-time jobs related to music. We are happy to be able to put more time into the band now that we both work part-time. Sometimes it's a bit difficult because everyone in the band has a different life situation and the band is more and more demanding. I think every band lives that kind of time where you are still not quite professionals yet, but you are not amateurs anymore.
BALANCING BAND-RELATED MATTERS AND DAY JOBS...
I guess your band is somewhere in the middle ground at the moment. You depend on your day jobs to make a living and keep the band going as you aren't making enough money to make a living. I believe that if you are determined enough and really want to go somewhere with a band, many great things may well happen for you...
Martin: Yes. I think a steady income is, of course, important, but for me, the main objective is to create the best music I can. If I can earn enough money with music and focus on it all day, that's great, but I know that for some people it's really the priority to be able to not do anything else other than work on their bands. For me, my part-time job is giving guitar lessons.
You are connected to music 24/7 in that way...
Martin: Exactly. My current life is fine. If we earned more money with our band, it would be fine. Maybe I will give less lessons at some point, but I will continue anyway. I'm already at a point where I'm happy and I think Marion feels the same.
Marion: Yes. I also dropped my previous job. I was a computer engineer and right now I'm giving singing lessons, trying to teach my pupils to do harsh vocals properly just like Martin gives guitar lessons to his pupils. Both of us feel like we have a nice balance in our lives because we can work with music-related things all the time and giving lessons is cool because you can balance that and some duties of the band well. It's not like a full-time job where you have schedules and all that. We are really happy even if we don't earn much money. But as Martin said, if we could earn just a little bit more money from the band, we would be more comfortable because we would have to work a little less.
And you could focus more on the band.
Marion: Yes, maybe making more music and doing more tours, and all that. The balance right now is really nice and if it stays like that, we will be happy.
And it's nice to see all the hard work you have put into the band since its inception and the progression you have made since your independently released debut EP to the deal with Napalm Records who released your latest album, A Dream of Wilderness, at the end of 2021. It seems that the band is going in the right direction, taking baby steps, one at a time. All that indicates that your label trusts you, which is something that cannot be taken for granted...
Marion: Yes, we hope so. We really hope so.
In 2018, you did a string of European summer festivals, including Wacken. Was it a dream-come-true for you to play at one of the biggest metal festivals in the world? How was the experience?
Marion: Yes, 2018. It was a bit special because we were representing France at Wacken Battle. It was a bit special. We lost, but it was still great doing it. [*laughs*]
I noticed that you have an increasing amount of gig opportunities. Right now, you are here in Finland and I believe this is your very first time to playing here, if I am not mistaken?
Martin: Actually, the band played for the first time in Finland last year. This is our second time because last year we had a very special opportunity to play at a festival called Zrock in Kempele, Finland. It was a special because it was a festival and very different than what we will be doing tonight as we are the headlining act. The world tour that we're currently doing has been very rewarding for us from this aspect, because we can see that we have fans pretty much everywhere in Europe. We can play in Spain, we can play in Germany, we can play in France, of course, and in countries like Finland. We have many fans and that shows us that we are indeed evolving, and we are growing as a band. It's important to see that because when we are at home, we can see some statistics on Facebook, or on YouTube, or whatever, but when we see our fans and all the support they give us in real life, it's very different.
NEW MUSIC IS BEING CREATED...
I bet you have been working with some new music, too. Is there anything that you can reveal about this new stuff or is it still hush-hush?
Martin: Well, it's very early to talk about this stuff. I began working on it a new album last year, but I'm quite slow when it comes to songwriting. This time I really want to do a very, very good album. I have a very precise idea of what I want to do, and it's been working out very well so far. Our plan is to release a new album next year. I don't know yet at what point next year, but this is our plan.
We will try to record some songs in advance, so our fans won't have to wait until the album release to get new songs from us for a listen. All this is going to happen next year because we are just at the early stages. So far, I'm very satisfied with what I have written, and I'm very excited regarding our next album even if there is still most of the work to be done.
So, basically you have some riffs, rhythms, and melodies stored in audio files, but no full songs or anything like that yet...
Martin: Exactly. When I started working on the next album, what I wanted to do was to define the musical chorales and ambiences that are going to be on this album. I had some keywords in my head, like "heroic," for example. Not epic, but heroic or nostalgic, or these kinds of things. I wanted to find some good scales, good melodies, good chord progressions, etc. that will sound how I want them to sound. I found a lot of things, a lot of things influenced by the kind of music I mentioned earlier, like classical music, like Baroque music, and many different styles.
This is a very important step for me personally. For the earlier releases, it was always the same, "Okay, I need to work on an album." I'm working on it, and I will write one song, and then get it finished. I write another song, and then I will finish it. I didn't have time to really think about what I wanted to create. This time I will just take my time, and it's going to be great. I think it will allow me to write a better album. But, of course, we will see...
Given enough time for the writing process, I believe it's going to be really good. I already have high hopes for it.
Martin: Thank you very much.
Alright, here comes my last question because my time is running out. What do you expect from your show here in Helsinki, Finland, tonight? Ladies first...
Marion: I expect that many people will come. No, no, no... Let me just say I do hope that as many people as possible show up.
It has been the same every day on this tour. It was our first time performing in most of the cities. It is our first time playing in Helsinki, so we don't know how many people will show up. We don't know how many fans we have here. We really hope there will be like a hundred people, maybe more, but we really don't know how many to expect. We really don't know. I don't have expectations. I only have hope that many people will show up, but, of course, we don't know, because every city is different.
True, and it's Thursday, so that may hold up some people from coming...
Marion: Yes. Also, I must say there are so many great metal bands in Finland; so many melodic metal bands that we love. We don't know yet if our music will interest people here. We know we have some fans, but we don't know how many. It's really a question, "Will people like our music because you have so many amazing, melodic metal bands in your country?"
That sums up pretty well what to expect from tonight's show, I guess. I'm wishing you all the best. What about you, Martin?
Martin: I think I would insert the same words here as Marion just did. Actually, it's very difficult to know what to expect from our show here tonight because we have never played in Helsinki. I think that even if we can't know how many attendees are going to be there in the audience, I believe the audience may be very intense because that's the experience that we got last year when we played in Kempele. I know that the audiences over here can be very wild and intense when they are seeing a band that they like.
Yes, that's for sure.
Marion: On this tour, the number of people at the venues has been very different. Sometimes 100 people show up, sometimes 200. It has been really different. Yesterday, we played in Åland, Mariehamn and there were only 30 people there because the place was small - not a venue but a pub, but it still felt like a crowded place. It was pretty amazing. People were really amazing and supportive there. The number of people has varied everywhere we have played so far but we've got some pretty amazing crowds everywhere. We are hoping that tonight will be the same regardless of the number of people that show up.
Those people will miss a lot if they don't come.
Marion: Thank you so much. You're so kind. [*laughs*]
Martin: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much again.
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