Gorguts Frontman Luc Lemay on ‘Colored Sands,’ Getting the Metal Buzz Again + More
Just a matter of minutes before Gorguts began to dominate Brooklyn’s St. Vitus bar for the last date of their 2013 touring cycle, we took a trip to the venue’s beer-laden basement to speak with frontman Luc Lemay. Having already greeted Gorguts superfans with incredible kindness and enthusiasm, Lemay opened himself up for an exclusive interview.
Lemay hadn’t released an album with Gorguts since ‘From Wisdom to Hate’ in 2001, but in 2013, Gorguts returned with a brand new lineup along with a masterpiece titled ‘Colored Sands.’ We spoke to Lemay about the new album, Gorguts’ return, the incredible amount of research Lemay did to learn about the album’s themes + much more.
Enjoy our exclusive interview with Gorguts’ Luc Lemay!
This has been a resurgence for Gorguts. It’s a long time coming. Finally, ‘Colored Sands’ comes out and you have been playing portions of the album at some shows and the whole record front-to-back at others. How would you compare the two live experiences?
It’s really refreshing to have a new set list, period. Nothing wrong with the old material — love this music and everything, but I was really looking forward to play this music live and also to devote the whole set to this [‘Colored Sands’]. Let’s say if you’re a painter, and you’ve got this new twist in your style and you do a production of canvas, you have like eight, nine, ten new canvas’ and then you set up an exhibition and everything and then you’re going to keep showing your own paintings? No. You want to focus on the new one.
It’s the same thing with this record. I really wanted to, from start to finish, to get the whole thing and no song is left alone in the corner. I like it, and the audience is in a different mood also. It’s a bit shoegazing — standing still, listening. It’s different from a typical death metal crowd with a pit and everything. That’s fine too. The fans have been great.
Your lineup is filled with such talented players. You’ve gone through a number of people, sometimes with long waiting periods between transitions and a bit of tragedy here and there as well, but right now you’ve got some incredible musicians and phenomenal songwriters. Was it important for you to have the new members take part in the songwriting process?
Of course, otherwise I would do everything at home with a computer and I don’t want to say, ‘Okay, don’t play this note, I like this note better,’ this and that, because I like their personality and their style and blended with my style and the style of the band, it works just great. Even from the demos, I was writing the songs at home, sending those to them. Got back the arrangements, the song with their parts layered over, and we barely changed anything even from those early demos. They just nailed it from square one.
Colin [Marston, bass] wrote all of ‘Forgotten Arrows,’ right?
Yeah, that’s his song. In the beginning, I really wanted to write all the music and let them do all their own arrangements and at some point we had like five or six songs done and Colin said, ‘Hey dude, I wrote this song. Listen to it and if you like it, feel free to put it on the record, but it’s up to you.’ Same with Kev [Hufnagel, guitar]. What made me change my mind is that I was so thrilled and pumped about the dynamic between us four. For me, it was important to leave them a spot to have them write a song and for me being the arranger on those. So it’s their voice, me layering. The others, it’s the other way around, but it was important since they’re such amazing players, so I really wanted them to have their own voices and fingerprints. Musical prints, if we can say.
It’s interesting because a song like ‘An Ocean of Wisdom,’ which you wrote, flows seamlessly into ‘Forgotten Arrows.’ It feels like one person orchestrated the whole thing. Was that difficult to arrange?
No, the transition came naturally. Each song was written in blocks. One day, ‘Ah!’ I got the idea for the transition. The transition is from ‘An Ocean of Wisdom,’ but we can leave a key from what is coming around, so that’s what makes it all because you have thematic material which is present in both compositions.
If I remember correctly, you were originally going to make the whole album about Tibetan mandalas. However, you decided just to use that theme for the title track out of respect to the dedication that these monks put into the mandalas.
Yes, also doing a whole record on mandalas was more than I could chew. At some point it was too ambitious. I thought also that in a metal aesthetic, the voice of metal, it wouldn’t have suited well to do a documentary record on only this part of their culture. But by talking about their geography in ‘Le toit du monde,’ ‘An Ocean of Wisdom,’ then ‘Forgotten Arrows,’ and ‘Colored Sands,’ now we’re in an epic story telling frame. So this angle suits more of the extreme metal voice aesthetic, to sing about this.
You spent such a long time studying these mandalas, but that work only spawned one song. When it comes to the amount of time you spent on that one subject, versus how much time other topics take up on the record, is ‘Colored Sands’ the most condensed piece in the album?
Yes and no. When I felt I had gotten my fix for the subject, I let the book go. I didn’t feel like I needed to read every micro-detail. I say it often; ‘I could have studied Tibet for 25 years before writing even the first line of lyrics.’ It’s an intimidating subject because it’s a very complex culture. It’s a mystic culture, very beautiful. That’s why it was too ambitious for a whole record, but I felt comfortable for one song.
The last time I saw Gorguts live was in 2010 when you were just starting to craft ‘Colored Sands’ with this lineup. What is the most significant change between that time and right now?
The lyrics, because all of the music was written and recorded before I even wrote one line or verse. All of the past albums were, write a bit of music, then a bit of vocals, but since the subject was one I needed to educate myself and do a lot of reading. I didn’t want to worry about writing riffs while I had to sit down and be absorbed by the topic. So once the music was finished, all I had to focus on was the lyrics.
Also, me, I’m not attracted much by poetry. If it was not for music, I would not wake up in the morning and feel like writing a poem. No. Now, I feel like it’s starting to change by doing this record. I enjoyed it more. It was always a rock in my shoe, like, ‘Ah, I have to write lyrics.’ I’m very picky on lyrics. The choir singing experience was a very good tool to write lyrics. How many words, how many syllables? Do I sing a consonant or a vowel here for musicality? So I get in a very, not OCD state, for a record. Also you have the language barrier. I’m French speaking and you need to write poetry in a language that’s not yours.
After you put out the first full song of this record, you went onto YouTube and recorded a message to your fans saying thank you. With 12 years having passed since your last album before ‘Colored Sands,’ was it a surprise that people reacted so positively?
Like they didn’t forget about us, or something? I couldn’t be more grateful, man. I wanted to do this record to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the band. I was done with the band, I didn’t feel like I had unfinished business and I didn’t want to make a record just to play festivals or whatever. When I stopped the band, I didn’t feel like I had anything to say musically.
I was a bit fed up with playing metal. I wanted to do something else. I wanted to work with my hands more. But now, I’m in a very different spot. I’m very hyped about the composition. It’s fun to perform them. But, like I said, in 2001, my heart was no longer into this.
How long did that go on for?
I stopped for three or four years and then Steeve [Hurdle, guitar] asked me to join Negativa. I told them I just want to be in my little corner. I don’t want to write, I want to do arrangements, that’s it. Sing a song maybe. Then, stepping back in my old shoes, I kind of got the buzz again. He’s the one that brought the idea up, that I should do a record for the 20th anniversary. It didn’t even cross my mind.
Be sure to catch Gorguts on the 2014 Decibel Magazine Tour along with Carcass, the Black Dahlia Murder and Noisem beginning March 18 in Orlando, Fla.
2014 Decibel Magazine Tour Dates:
03/18 – Orlando, Fla. @ The Beachum Theater
03/19 – Atlanta, Ga. @ Masquerade
03/21 – Dallas, Texas @ Prophet Bar
03/22 – Austin, Texas @ Mohawk
03/24 – Phoenix, Ariz. @ The Press Room
03/25 – Santa Ana, Calif. @ The Observatory
03/26 – San Francisco, Calif. @ The Regency Ballroom
03/28 – Vancouver, British Columbia @ Commodore Ballroom
03/29 – Seattle, Wash. @ Showbox Market
03/30 – Portland, Ore. @ Roseland Theater
04/02 – Denver, Colo. @ Summit Music Hall
04/04 – Minneapolis, Minn. @ Mill City Nights
04/05 – Chicago, Ill. @ House Of Blues
04/06 – Columbus, Ohio @ Newport Music Hall
04/07 – Pittsburgh, Pa. @ Stage AE
04/08 – Toronto, Ontario @ Sound Academy
04/09 – Montreal, Quebec @ Metropolis
04/10 – Boston, Mass. @ Paradise Rock Club
04/11 – New York, N.Y. @ Best Buy Theater
04/12 – Philadelphia, Pa. @ Trocadero Theatre
04/13 – Silver Spring, Md. @ The Fillmore