About Me

Interview with Zeal and Ardor

Zeal and Ardor is now one of the most interesting bands in the Metal scene. With their upcoming self-titled album, the band confirms their identity and brings us a record that’s as powerful, as eclectic. We’ve talked to Manuel Gagneux, the mastermind of the band, to know more about his, already 9 years, journey with Zeal and Ardor and this third long-duration record.

M.I. - How is your composition process?

Uh, it's it's always kind of different, you know, sometimes I start with guitar or with a beat or something. But it's generally done alone: just me, my laptop, guitar and… I can't play drums, so that's the laptop part.

M.I. - So you programm them, right?

Yeah, yeah. And actually sometimesthat's even good, because I don't think like a drummer. And sometimes I come up with things that drummers don't come up with, but oftentimes it's not that great. So it's like a 50/50 part with the drummer himself, who when we record it, he plays it and he has his own ideas.

M.I. - This album was much awaited by your fans. After two first great albums, and a great and extremely relevant EP, this self titled album confirms even more the band’s identity and creativity. Do you agree? And if so, that's why you called it “Zeal and Ardor”?

Yeah, I do agree and that's why I did do the self titled thing. Also, maybe we didn't have too many great ideas for the name, but… 50/50 (laughter). Uhm, yeah. So we just felt that's the best album we can do right now and that's why we decided like “this is where we want to be yeah”.

M.I. - When you structure the album, do you plan it to have like an heavy song, then a calm one, etc? How do you think about it?

It was really important for me for it to be not too much when you listen to the album, you know? So it has a little bit of a flow. And I also think that if you just have your heavy songs together, you get numb to it, so you get like a tolerance for it. But if you have like a soft song and then a hard one, the contrast makes the hard one go way harder. And I guess that's it.

M.I. - That’s interesting because, one of the aspects that makes your music so heavy is the contrast between soft and heavy moments. Do you think about it when you’re writing? Is it intentional or just a natural consequence of the process? 

50/ 50 I do that often, but it's also a conscious effort. Because if you compare our heavy parts to actually really heavy bands, we’re still super soft, you know. If you listen to Portal or Nails… but I think with this simple trick we can cheat a little bit.

M.I. - Since the albums works as a whole, how do you choose the singles to be the “face” of the record?

The first one I just wanted to do something new. It was “Run”, I think. And I just wanted to kind of put out there “Hey, this is going to be a little bit different” and then, because the songs sound pretty eclectic, I wanted to put out the most normal songs first and the people who like it, will get the album and they get into the weird stuff.

M.I. - Another interesting point about your music is that your songs are always relatively short, 3 minutes or less with some exceptions. Is it a natural consequence of your songwriting process or is it a conscious choice to be straight to the point?

Uh, It's not intentional, I guess. But you know, I don't do solos too much. I don't do repetition. I get bored really quickly, so I feel like when I said what I wanted to say with a song, I think it's done. I know people disagree with that, but for me it's just how it works. I don't want to repeat the heavy part. For me, it's also important to have a listener go “Ooh, I want to hear that again, I want more”, you know? Whereas when you repeat stuff or when the song’s really long it’s like “ok, that was nice, but I think I'm full”. So that's the reason behind it.

M.I. - The song “Hold Your Head Low” for me is one of the most prog one. It’s the longest, with a more complex structure with different sections, and at some point there's even a bass and guitar line that reminds me of Opeth. Did you intend to do something different with this song or your natural process just ended up like this?

Uhm, it's funny. It's the only song on the album that's actually a little bit older, so we played that live back in 2018 already. So, I guess that was when I was still trying out different things, and I think that's an avenue that I really like. So maybe down the line I'll be more progy, you know. Now that we went on tour with Opeth, I stole all their ideas. (laughter)

M.I. - And what about “J-M-B”? It is an extremely fun and colourful song. I think this one shows how much fun you have mixing different styles. How did you come up with that one? Because, again, that's different from the others.

Yeah, it was… (laughter) It was on my computer, and I, just for fun, thought “what If I put in Jazz chords in the Metal song?” And I just had it on my computer and when I went to the studio and we were picking up the songsfor the record, I just showed this as a joke because the file name was “Jazz Metal Baby”. (laughter) And then yeah, we actually recorded it and I couldn't put “Jazz Metal Baby” on the sleeve, so it was “J-M-B”.

M.I. - As you said in an interview to LOUD! Magazine, “Devil is fine” is life in captivity, “Stranger Fruit” is liberation and “Zeal and Ardor” is about being free and what to do  with that freedom. Was this already planned on the first album? And have you already thought about the next “chapters”?

Uhm, yeah… It's not planned planned. I had like a vision “that would be nice if I could do that” but I didn't put it on paper like a great master plan. But I do have some ideas for what's coming up. I just want to expand on the idea and… I have like an idea for a graphic novel in the world. Maybe we can fuse the two together. Who knows?

M.I. - Great! But do you pretend to keep this narrative or create another one? 

I think there's still a little bit more to be explored in this narrative. A little bit more. Maybe I'll get bored with it, who knows?

M.I. - Well, the origin of the band is this idea of “what if American slaves had embraced Satan instead of Jesus?” Do you fear that this may become a limitation in the future? I mean, if one day you’ll think that you’ve already fully explored this idea?

Well it could be yeah, definitely, in the future. But I think when that happens I'll just do something different. We're going to be the science fiction band, everyone has like a silver overall and like antennas. (laughter)

M.I. - That would be fun live. (laughter) How did you go from self releasing “Devil is fine” on Bandcamp, to featuring on Rolling Stones’ “Best metal records so far” list and then playing at Roadburn, and then Hellfest and… being where you are in five or six years? How did it happen?

Ah, luck. It's literally just luck. Kim Kelly who wrote for “Noisy” in the US back in the day, she tweeted about it and then the Rolling Stone wrote about it. You know, if she would have had a bad day, then I wouldn't be talking to you right now.

M.I. - But did you made any effort to try to sell your music?

Nope. That's what I mean, you and I we both know bands that are really good and all they need is like that little bit of luck and… It just happened to me. It could have happened to anyone. I'm not going to say “I worked hard, I deserve this!” No, it's just f**** luck. (laughter)

M.I. - How did you imagine it would sound live? When I listen to the records, as they’re really well produced, I wonder how can you make this kind of chant and these different  layers work upon stage. When you started writing, did you imagine that you’d be in such great stages and how you’d make it work?

Oh f*** no, no. I had no idea. Luckily I asked two really great singers from my hometown, because I know they do like the aggressive singing and that just kind of worked out. And live, I think we also have like a a plug in that, it doesn't duplicate their voices, but I think it's like an octave below, so it's just… yeah, we cheat. (whispering) Don't tell anyone. (laughter) A great thing to tell a journalist, “don't tell anyone”. (laughter) Yeah, so we have a little bit of a trickery, but I think the most important thing is having great singers who can do it. That's Dennis and Mark, they’re top of the line guys.

M.I. - Great! But in the screaming parts, it's always you, right?

Yeah, that's always me.

M.I. In your previous bands and projects, have you already done that or you started screaming that way for Zeal and Ardor?

I started with Zeal and Ardor properly. When I was like 15, I had like a Black Metal band but I didn't really scream there. I couldn't really do it. And you can see like on “Devil's Fine”, it's really kind of s***y and then it gets better incrementally. It comes with experience.

M.I. - The “Wake of a Nation” EP is openly a response to what happened and is still happening in the US and all around the world. How do you see this current situation of the fight for racial equality and do you feel that you have any role as an artist?

Uhm, I have no idea how it'll go. But as an artist, you know, it's arrogant to say like “I have a duty and I will be important to this” because frankly, no. For me, the “Wake of a ation” EP was more like for myself, therapy, because I was really worried about my family. Artists have a weird place because, just because we make music - basically we make pretty air decoration - people think that our opinion is more important. I don't have any more idea. Actually, I have less of a relevant idea than someone who actually has a time to research this properly. I didn't study this. I have no idea of, you know, global politics so it's a tight line between voicing my opinion and actually influencing people to a place where it's not responsible, you know?

M.I. - Has this political position, let's say, of the EP, brought you any consequences? Positive or negative.

Well I got interviewed by quite a lot of people. But I also said no to a bunch because of what we discussed. I can recommend you people to talk to, gladly. But yeah, I don't want to capitalize on the situation, like “Oh, something terrible happened, BUY MY ALBUM”. That's… you know, I don't want to do that. But in the YouTube comments, it was kind of funny, like “Oh,suddenly they became political”. And I'm like “What? What were you listening to all this time?” So that was funny. (laughter)

M.I. - Yeah, You Tube comments are always amazing. (laughter)

Super entertainment, yeah. (laughter)

M.I. - What are your favourite artists? Those you influence directly or undirectly. I mean, Metal or not.

I’d have to say Darkthrone, the Swedish band called Nagelfar, Portishead, Tom Waits, Bjork… that kind of thing, all across the board.

M.I. - Everyone with good taste has to like Bjork, right? (laughter)

Right, yeah you have to, sorry. (laughter)

M.I. - What was it like touring the US with Mastodon and Opeth after so much time off the stages?

It was great! Also we only played a short set opening for them, which is like the best because you get in, you’re the last to soundcheck at like 5 o'clock. And then you play at maybe 8 and by 9 o'clock everything is put away and you get to enjoy Mastodon and you can watch Opeth play “Blackwater Park” every night. It's not terrible, it's not terrible. Also, it was really awesome to see those two bands working… how they do. Because, they're quite huge bands, but they really have this human thing. They're still great people, and it's like, oh f*** you can do this and not be an asshole, excellent! (laughter) That was really great.

M.I. - How is the reaction of the “Metal world” to Zeal and Ardor? Because, I mean, you mix lots of different styles, which more conservative people may not like.

It’s pretty pretty ok. When we play in metal festivals, also, it's pretty good. With this tour, especially because both Mastodon and Opeth are quite proggy, so the audience is, you know, more open to weird stuff, it worked really well. I don't think we ever had like a bad moment. Because, if you're at a festival and you see Zeal and Ardor and you don't like it, you just don't go watch it.

M.I. - The only time you played in Portugal was in Porto, in Primavera Sound, which is not a metal fest at all. It's more like a pop festival. You were in the beginning of the career I guess. How was it to play in such a different context?

That’s great, also. We are often at those, let's say, weird pop festivals or like open pop festivals. There was also one in… like the best kept secret in the Netherlands, where like Radiohead played, and Liam Gallagher and stuff like that. But it still works. And I think once people are there, we can convince them. Most of them, not, not all of them. But Primavera Sound was really good, actually, yeah.

M.I. - Do you have any plans to come to Portugal again?

We want to do a headliner tour later this year but we don't want to announce anything too early, because often it just gets cancelled and we don't want to disappoint people again.

M.I. - Do you have any expectations about this year in terms of touring? We hope it’s finally better than the last two years.

Well, plan wise, yeah, we're hoping to play a tour with Meshuggah and… That's pretty much it because we don't really want to book any tours in winter because we fear that there's going to be a new variant and we have to cancel everything. But we have to try, I guess. So we just see how it goes.

M.I. - Thank you very much for your time! Please leave a message to Metal Imperium readers.

Hey dear readers, I hope to see you soon. We actually really hope to be back in Portugal for a proper show, not a festival show. And yeah, see you in Lisboa hopefully. (laughter). Cheers

For Portuguese version, click here

Listen Zeal and Ardor, on Spotify

Questions by Francisco Gomes