Clement Mauro Takes Us Through Outcast's Music And Reveals "We're Not So Djentle"
There was a time a few years ago that French technical metal band Outcast would get good natured ribbing from some metal fans, asking them if they composed "Hey Ya" or "Ms. Jackson." They took it in stride and even laughed back, knowing that their band name conjured up images of another entirely different group. These days, the comments are quite different. The metal community has taken notice of Outcast for the incredibly talented lot of musicians that compose this band.
Since "Self-Injected Reality" was released a few years ago, this French band is slowly gaining momentum with fans of progressive, dissonant metal. Fans of Gojira or Chimp Spanner, who like to be challenged when listening to heavy music, are taking notice of Outcast. Now with the release of "Awaken the Reason," Outcast has set out to prove they have the technical skills and chops to set the metal scene on its ear. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with the congenial bass player for Outcast, Clement Mauro, and this is what he had to say about the new album and Outcast's music in general.
Sonictherapy: Greetings! As your new album "Awaken the Reason" is gaining momentum in the metal press, I have noticed that many journalists give Outcast the "djent" tag. To me, you are definitely not really djent but progressive/math metal. Your guitarist uses a six-string guitar, I believe. What is your take on this?
Clement Mauro: Hi there! My advice about “djent” is that term is very blurry and everyone has his own definition of it. I think we are not completely on that wave. Our influences are very large, from death metal to jazz-fusion, but we can find a little of the “djent” ingredients and spirit in some of our songs. But definitely it’s not the core of our sound. Progressive is also a very large word to qualify metal but in our head it's set closer to Textures, Dream Theater, Steve Vai, Rush and Devin Townsend and that’s the influences we really work with combined with all this rough scene (Gojira, Converge, Necrophagist, Pantera, Meshuggah etc.). We also really love that young scene with bands like Monuments, Periphery and Chimp Spanner who are very inspiring to us but maybe more on how they refresh progressive metal than just for the riffs or structures.
Sonic: You do have the clobbering riffs and blast beats of Meshuggah and easily the technical and ungodly chops of Gojira, but I see Outcast as having a metal style in some songs on this record that bears more similarity to jazz fusion like Daryll Dobson or John Scofield when you work those breezier interludes. You also have the bleakness of one of my other French favorites, Treponem Pal. How would you yourself describe your style?
Clement: Well, this is always a hard question for us to answer because this album has not a precise style and I think it’s precisely one of its strengths. So I’d say it’s between modern death metal with progressive aspects, a short quantity of jazz-fusion and some guitar hero solos. I’m actually not a composer on this record, so I don’t know if the guys you quote are part of the influences of Nicos or JF; but I know they are into jazz stuff. I know Treponem Pal but I’m not sure it’s a big influence for us, I feel more comfortable with bands like Gojira, Hacride and Scarve for the “French touch”. We like to explore boundaries of each style and see which aspects fit with the other. Findings gateways and keys to organize what we like in Sikth, Gojira, Steve Vai, Paco De Lucia and transcribe it into our own language in order to obtain something we think to be very personal, that is the real point for us.
Sonic: How do the guitarists, Nicolas and Jean Francois, find time to do all the projects and bands they are involved in? Nicolas was already in the progressive French band Symbyosis and another group when he came aboard Outcast and Jean Francois is also in a second band of his own.
Clement: Actually, Outcast is their main goal for the moment. Symbyosis is on stand-by since a couple of years, so Nicolas is not involved in that project anymore, and his old band Reason Sleeps is no longer, so he is totally free for Outcast. Concerning Jean-François, his second band The Bridal Procession is gonna release its second full length in some months, he is not a composer on this band, so we just have to arrange our schedules about gigs, but it’s never been a problem up to now, so everything’s ok !
Sonic: On 2008's "Self-Injected Reality" you worked with Annihilator's Jeff Waters on the track "Autonomy in Progress." What was it like recording with this renowned guitarist/producer? Is he every bit the perfectionist that people say he is?
Clement: In fact, that was a pretty weird stuff. We sent him an email with the details of the project, without trusting in it, and then he replied really fast and made the solo some days later. We were just stunned! We are very proud of it because we’re all fans of Annihilator and Jeff Waters… I don’t know if he is a perfectionist, but he send us just a perfect solo, so I think what you’ve heard is true, I remember him telling us to expand the part twice as long as it was on the original excerpt we sent him, awesome…
Sonic: On this album it's an all-out assault of good forceful progressive leads that subside into rhythm breaks and hypnotic dissonance. Take us through parts of your writing process of the album. You opted for many moods from piano, violins, a brief distant female chorus and all kinds of varying elements to keep a listener engaged.
Clement: The composition process changed a lot since the arrival of Nicolas in the band. Guillaume, our ex guitarist, and I were the main composers before our first album, then Nicolas arrived in 2005 and make our sound evolve a lot. He brought a shitload of fresh ideas and he became the main composer, which is a great thing because he is a very talented musician. Jean-François arrived in 2007 and he immediately took part of the composition process as well, Nicos and him are working hand-in-hand to bring the raw material at the rehearsals, and the whole band reshapes the ideas and the structures.
For "Awaken the Reason," we had no boundaries concerning the moods and ambiances; we tried to offer the best mix between fast riffs, catchy riffs and melodies. I think this was some kind of approach you would find on Symbyosis or Kalysia, speaking about French bands. We have this little cinematographic vibe which gives to our mind some special quality and its own story to each song. You may have noticed for instance that almost every song has an instrumental outro. That gimmick just came up along the composition process, we had to tame it and make it meaningful.
Sonic: Jochem Jacobs of Textures does the mastering of this release. Did you meet him long before your recent Spanish/French brief tour dates with Textures? He also lends his guitar to an updated version of "Allegiance," from your new EP.
Clement: Actually that was Alan Douches who took care of the mastering process; Jochem was in charge of the mix and co-production. The first contact with him was in 2007 I think, during the recording of "Self-injected Reality" (released in 2008), we contact him for a guest appearance (as we did for Jeff Waters) and he nicely answered with an amazing solo. So we kept in touch since that time, and he is such a lovely guy and amazing producer (we especially loved his work on “Silhouettes”) that we decided to do the mix of "Awaken the Reason" at his studio (mastering has been done by Alan Douches), the Split Second Sound Studio. Then Nicolas and JF met him for the first time in Amsterdam at the end of 2010 during the mixing process. We met him again last month for the France/Spain tour and we had a lot of fun with him and all the crew!
Sonic: That version of the song was released on the "Circles of Motion" EP. What was the reason behind putting out that release so closely correlated to the time you put out the new album?
Clement: In fact the track "Allegiance" is the same that the one on the record "Self-Injected Reality." The release of this EP was an idea of the boss of VS Webzine, Greg. The aim was to help people to discover the band just before the actual release of the album. It’s a digital release only, no physical CD. The info has been sprayed all around the web and it was good advert for the upcoming album and brought a lot of fans to our music.
Sonic: You also do a cover of Gojira's "Remembrance" and put your intricate/aggressive stamp on it with a blizzard of blunt leads. What sort of history do you have with Gojira ?
Clement: I can say we are all particularly fans of this band since the very beginning. I even had their first album before they released it and I discovered a really particular way to conceive metal. I think they opened a lot of doors for the French scene and bring credibility to French bands. We had the chance to open for them back in 2009 in Dijon. They are very nice and simple guys, we had a great time at this gig ! The cover was recorded live when we opened for Cephalic Carnage in Paris, 2005. This is an old stuff but exclusive. The release of the EP was the occasion for us to share this great song.
Sonic: I find that track "David Winkle's Terrible Adventure" very engaging. That track reminds me of all the intricate plucking I would hear on a Blue Note release. A number of guitarists have done YouTube videos of themselves playing it. Who, may I ask, is David Winkle?
Clement: Nicolas and JF composed and recorded this instrumental and exclusive song especially for the release of the EP. David Winkle, often mentioned as 'Commander Winky', appears in 'The X Files' series, it’s a sort of 'Jackass' hero. This track was written with Frank Zappa's trademark songwriting in mind, yet obviously displaying more violent and progressive sounds…The guideline was not to deal with the same riff twice, a sort of Wagnerian concept which makes the song sound like a whole story.
Sonic: The album cover artwork for "Awaken the Reason" is pretty unique as well. It almost looks like a cenotaph or obelisk symbolizing the chaos of humanity burning. What was your cryptic meaning behind it?
Clement: This cover was done by Hicham Haddaji for Strychneen Studios. He did awesome work as he always does. He had free hands for this artwork and we are very happy with the result. You can have your own interpretation concerning the symbolism. Some people see it as a symbol of necessary sacrifice to gain wisdom and share some consciousness by the human consumption; other sees it as a totem which represents human waste and a consciousness of mediocrity.
Sonic: That first official video you released for the track "Feelings Transgression" a few years ago was a good brutal track to do it to, especially with the minimalist cinematography involving quick editing and those symbolic frames with the bare light bulb. What track do you see yourselves doing for a video from this album?
Clement: It’s not very easy to choose a song from "Awaken the Reason" for that kind of stuff. Most of our songs are too long to be used as a video clip, but I’d say "Abysmal" or "Unspoken." Those are great songs with “simple” structures and catchy choruses. I hope we are going to do an official video this year…We have a lots of ideas about it, maybe we’d stay on the abstract path or maybe we would tell a whole story. We are not set yet on the agenda, but be sure that we want it to be epic and to fit perfectly with the music…or not…haha…
Sonic: As you have just concluded a number of gigs on the Iberian peninsula, what are the plans for Outcast's immediate schedule and future?
Clement: We are still working on finding gigs to promote "Awaken the Reason." The next one will be in Paris with label mate Stéphan Forté, then I think we're gonna start composing some new material, but this time in 7 strings !...and not so Djentle ;o)
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