MONOLITHE is one hell of a cool band. Read this interview to find out a bit more about them. Anders Ekdahl ©2020
Your last album was based on the number 7? What can you tell us about this new one?
-We had this tradition since our beginnings to count, or let’s say attribute numbers to our albums. So we had Monolithe I, II, III, IV during the « Great Clockmaker » part of our discography, then Epsilon Aurigae (Epsilon = 5), Zeta Reticuli (Zeta = 6), Nebula Septem (Septem = 7) and Okta Khora (Okta = 8) for what I retroactively call « The Tame Stars » saga. So Okta Khora being our eight album, the number 8 is involved in many forms within the album, music-wise, lyric-wise and imagery-wise. There’s 8 songs, 8 minutes long for the main ones, the protagonists of the story are called « the eighters » and are running what they believe is their eighth crusade to destroy the universe, etc. There are many references to the number « 8 » throughout the album, some of them we haven’t even spoke publicly about. The album is about an an alien civilization whose religion let them believe that they need to destroy the Universe in order to reload and purify it.
When you formed MONOLITHE did you ever think you would come this far? What has been the greatest high light of this journey so far?
-No, of course not. MONOLITHE started as a one man band side project in my tiny student room back in 2001, I would never have expected to have released 8 albums at some point and played some very prestigious festivals, toured in Europe, etc. I was very naive back then and I had the ambition to release 10 albums and then stop the band, though. But it was just a dream. Now that the most parts of this dream have been accomplished, I think I can be proud of what the band has done. But there’s still more to say musically and we’re working hard at trying to get our music to a broader audience, as you might know that Doom Metal is a very tiny scene, and that niche has long become too small for us, even though we revendicate vividly our belonging to that very scene. Highlights ? Being shipped my own copy of the first album back in 2003, playing Hellfest and Brutal Assault, and every time an album has been complete have been highlights.
How much can you as band change your sound without losing your fans? How much have you changed over the years?
-Well, fans come and go, that’s part of the life of a band. Some fans from the early days are probably not there following us anymore, some have embraced our changes and some new ones joined the ship along the way. I think change has been in MONOLITHE’s DNA since day one but we always tried to never betray our roots, which lie in the early 90’s Doom Metal scene, heavy and slow music in general. With each album we make a step further, departing from our early style, but keeping the band’s core identity intact at the same time. I think we have changed little by little, piece by piece over time, but there’s been bigger gaps between two albums sometimes, like between Monolithe IV and Epsilon Aurigae and between Zeta Reticuli and Nebula Septem. Our motto is « Change Through Continuity ».
Is having a message in the lyrics important to you? What kind of topics do you deal with?
-MONOLITHE’s lyrics are science-fiction stories but like most of SF from the Golden Age, there’s an underlying state of our world in the present time. Behind the Science-Fiction polish, the real themes developed in albums such as Nebula Septem or Okta Khora for example, are of ecological nature or about the hardship of communications between civilisations who don’t understand each other, thus can’t communicate so they end-up fighting or harming each other, consciously or not. Well, it’s about all the man-made craziness actually.
The first albums were more statements, like « look how small we, humans, are, in the context of the Universe and the grand scheme of things. Get your shit together and fuck off!, life is short, nobody should deal with your wars or your greed ». You know, something like that !
How important is the cover art work for you? Can a really cool cover still sell an album in this day and age of digital download?
-Good question. Personally I’m the old school type, so having a cool cover and great artwork is an important part of the album as a whole, as a piece of art. I guess the new kids don’t give much attention to the artwork and what’s beside the music. I have always thought that while the music itself is a great medium of expression, accompanying it with good graphics or lyrics can add extra layers of depth to it. We try and do that with MONOLITHE. There’s the music but you can dig deeper if you want, we, as artists, provide everything that will let you get into a full sensory and intellectual experience if you care enough to go through it and approach it along with the music.
That being said, Metalheads still like physical products so there’s still a large part of our audience who really cares about the artwork, but also vinyls, T-shirts and the side bonus of all kind, such as explanatory videos, etc. So, does a cool cover can sell an album ? I’d say yes, but most certainly not as much as in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.
How do you view success? Is success something you think about at all?
-There’s the artistic success and the commercial success. I’d say we’ve been very successful on the artistic side of things. We are very proud of our albums and we always had great feedback about our music, so we feel very honored and accomplished on that point. Now commercially-wise, this is a different story. Obviously, just like every musical artist, sales have gone downhill through the years. And even with the Metal scene, Doom Metal is just a tiny niche. So, we never achieved what can be called « commercial success », like making a living out of playing music. The sheer amount of bands out there is also another problem. Gaining visibility, being seen by people who simply never heard of you because there’s so much to chose from has become increasingly difficult. And another important point is that bands like us, whose music is not immediate and needs time to be absorbed and understood, suffer from the lack of attention span of the new generation of music consumers, who have no time to lose because they have thousands and thousands of albums and songs at their disposal at any given time.
My position on commercial success is very clear : the members of MONOLITHE have no intention of becoming rock stars, but more commercial success means more recognition and more money. When you have both, you can perform in better conditions and provide better produced albums. So we have never been in the elitist and childish position to pretend that the underground is where we belong. We don’t belong anywhere. We’d fully embrace a wider commercial success if it were to happen (which I doubt), but in our case that would never compromise our freedom regarding how we view and compose our music. I’d rather look back at my musical career and think « I did that as an artist » rather than « I did that as my daily job ».
Today the competition is harder. Everybody seems to be so easily offended. Is this something that has affected you as band, the envy of other bands?
-I have been confronted to that with my previous band but not so much with MONOLITHE. At least, not to something I’m aware of. There’s been a little bit of disrespect towards us during our European tour last year from one or two bands we’ve been playing with but I don’t think it was done on purpose at all. And honestly, I’m not interested in those petty things. I’d rather have good relationships with other bands. If it’s not possible, well, I don’t care, I have other fishes to fry.
How important is a national scene for a band to be able to break out and make it international?
-I’m not the best apostle to defend the national scene because MONOLITHE has been better known from day one outside our home country. Even though things have improved a lot through the years, we are still one band amongst many others there, and we are considered and treated as a small band. Well, we actually are a small band, I don’t say otherwise. But while we can play much higher on the bills of some European festivals, I don’t know, like Brutal Assault or MetalDays, we’re often in the position of openers in France or rather low on the line-up. That being said, we’d like to work more on that, as we kind of neglected France because of those facts, and we might try to make a French tour at some point in the future instead of just one gig here or here from time to time.
Rock and metal has come a long way since the early 70s but still some people’s attitudes towards it seem to be left in the stone-age. How accepted is metal in your area? Is it like in Finland where it seems to come with the mother’s milk?
-Metal is simply non-existant in the mainstream French medias. It’s just like it doesn’t exist at all. So there’s no hostility towards it, as far as I know. I think many French people have no idea of what it is or just think this is something for young people, or noise. Every year, there’s some newsflash about Hellfest and that’s about it. In France, mainstream music is very politicized and either used as a smooth propaganda vector to influence people about what is right or wrong according to the current politics or just blank mellow soundtracks that all sound the same, with cheesy lyrics, just to not allow your brain to think too much. There’s no room for Metal or any more advanced style of music in there. But the Metal community is pretty developed I think. Metalheads are used to this situation and while some of them would love to see Metal on television or have it on the radio, my guess is that most of the French Metal community simply doesn’t care. Metal has lived most of it life as an outsider music, so being unpopular to the masses is part of the inner culture of this type of music.
What does the future hold for you?
-Well Covid-19 has kind of fucked-up our touring plans, at last for 2020 and perhaps a big part of 2021 too. So I’m not sure about what’s coming next but we’ll think about something to do. That being said, I wrote MONOLITHE’s next album during the lockdown (which I happened to spend in Thailand and I’m still there while I’m answering this interview). I don’t know when we’ll record it but that could be a plan to do it in the forthcoming months. We’ll see. I’m not worried. We don’t make a living out of the band so the situation is not a catastrophe for us, but rather just a nuisance.