Gorguts Leader Luc Lemay Talks New Album, Influences + More
Luc Lemay is the mastermind behind the seminal death metal band Gorguts. Ever-changing, Gorguts sound has shifted from a more traditional death metal beginning to the technical mastery of 1998's ‘Obscura.' The band released one more album after 'Obscura' before Lemay called it a day and carried on the Gorguts sound in a new band Negativa.
Lemay resurrected Gorguts in 2008 and fans have been eagerly awaiting a new album from the unpredictable band. Backed by a new all-star roster of musicians, featuring Colin Marston (Behold the Arctopus, Dysrhythmia, Krallice) on bass; Kevin Hufnagel (Dysrhthymia, Vaura) on guitar; and drummer John Longstreth (Dim Mak, Origin), Gorguts are poised for their comeback with their new disc ‘Colored Sands,’
We were fortunate enough to speak with the affable frontman and death metal visionary. Check out what he had to say in our interview below:
Each Gorguts album is different with its own personality and yet they retain that definitive Gorguts style. When you write a new album, is it a goal to expand and create something different each time?
Well, you know, we never put albums out like every year, ever year and a half, every two years. I think the two albums that were the closest were the two first and actually, ‘From Wisdom to Hate’ was close to ‘Obscura,’ but ‘Obscura’ was written for about 4 or 5 years before we put it out. But the thing is, me as a composer, if we can say, I try not to write the same song twice, you know? Let’s say if I would have sat down and started writing music for 'Colored Sands' and it would have been like ‘From Wisdom to Hate’ part two or something, I would have rather not really gone for it.
Also, this time I wanted to do longer songs. I wanted to have a more progressive feel to the music. This record has a more soundtrack approach so to speak in the music. I wanted to write an album that was more descriptive music wise and then when it was ready to put a concept to it I thought I had a music canvas that suited the concept very well. Yeah, maybe in that sense its different from the other record, but you can steel feel the Gorguts feel in the riffing and everything because all the ingredients from ‘Obscura’ and ‘From Wisdom to Hate’ are there; its just that they are arranged together differently structure wise and everything. I think we took more time to say things musically on this record, not that we were in a rush on the other records, but the songs were shorter and its more like 'boom, boom, boom' there’s a riff then there’s another one. With this one it breathes more.
The last Gorguts album was 12 years ago and you were at the forefront of a lot of technical death metal and now other bands like Deathspell Omega, Ulcerate, and Flourishing have popped up seemingly inspired from the Gorguts sound. Do any of those bands inspire you in turn, or do you shy away from some of the new music to keep it from creeping into your writing?
To be honest, with everything I’ve been reading lately on the Internet like ‘Oh, those guys totally copied Ulcerate and all those things’ (laughs) I mean, to be honest with you, I didn’t discover about Deathspell Omega and Ulcerate until like more than half of that record was written. Deathspell Omega -- I had never heard about these guys until I went to jam at Colin’s for the first time. I asked what was that song on Kevin’s MySpace at some point and he said ‘Oh, that’s Deathspell Omega.’ I said ‘Dude, this is f---ing killer!’ I had maybe four songs written at that point and so from there, and I’m not saying ‘no, no, no, no I don’t get influenced by anybody, it’s not true.’ If somebody really influenced me on that record it would be Opeth’s music and maybe the last record from Porcupine Tree, ‘The Incident.’
I love that album.
I spin that record so much and you know what? I got influenced from those records in a sense that -- check it out, I’ll tell you a short story. A very good friend of mine used to be a director of photography and he did many films and he’s a photographer as well. He has a very nice sensibility for images and poetry, you understand? He’s like 60 something years old and I like to share about art and stuff with him and he’s totally open-minded. He likes his King Crimson and, actually, I played him some of Steven Wilson’s music to him and he loves it. He thinks he’s in his youth and everything, you know? So my point is I remember when we did the first pre-production and we had three songs on that demo. There was ‘Ocean of Wisdom,’ ‘Enemies of Compassion,’ and ‘Ember’s Voice,’ and then I played him ‘Enemies of Compassion’ and we were sitting in my truck on a rainy day with the volume f---ing cranked and then he goes ‘Dude, this is f---ing cool!’ The guy is like 62 or something and he said, “This is great, but if I had one complaint it would be that it annoys me that the music is always loud.’ And then I said ‘You’ve got a f---ing great point!’
Throw some softer stuff in there.
Exactly! So I said to myself ‘Hey, hey, Luc, you’ve got to include some dynamics in that music.’ So that’s where the more progressive sense came from. If you listen to ‘Le Toit Du Monde,’ it starts with the blast beats and the first thing that happens, you’ve got the clean part. So it sounds very mysterious. We don’t really know where we’re gonna go so that’s where I got this more soundtrack approach to the music, which is very different. Not that we didn’t have any clean parts before and everything, but they were more made in a metal orchestration kind of way. So, that’s where Steven Wilson’s music and Opeth’s music really touched me more and I started to pay more attention to the different lighting in the music. You know what I’m saying? You have a stronger light here and a more dim light in the sound. If you compare the light the very loud sound to a very bright light so sometimes its more shaded, sometimes its more progressive in this way, but it all started with the comment from my friend. I thought it was a very constructive comment because it made me pay more attention to the dynamic detail in the music.
Yeah, I noticed that in the album, every once in a while the guitar will kind of drop out and go to a cleaner tone, but it catches the ear too.
Of course! And you know what? This is so right because I mean, you have this in classical music all the time. Let’s see, if the music is always loud, blasting, loud, loud, loud, there’s not much more room for surprise anymore, you understand? Because it's like we go over the top all the time. So, its like in a movie if you watch, let’s say, I’ll give you an example. I remember the first time I watched ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ It opens with a very shooting scene on the beach. It’s guns, guns, guns and the first thing I knew, I was like f---in'…
You’re on the edge of your seat and it’s intense.
Yeah! Exactly! So you’re just wishing for that to f---in’ stop at some point and then… (sighs) You know, ok, we’re going some place else. So that’s important to bring those contrasts into the music as well. If it’s always soft and soft you’re like ‘Ok when is the punch gonna come?’ The dynamic approach in the music is as important as having a great riff, but if they’re always ‘boom, boom, boom, blasting, blasting, blasting’ that doesn’t really attract me anymore as a composer. I’m more attracted, you can have only a single note, but very subtle and then ok, it’s leading somewhere. It’s more lively -- it’s like characters in a story.
I remember when I first heard Opeth’s ‘Master’s Apprentices’ where they have the quiet part with the vocal choruses in the background then he goes into his growls and it really caught me off guard. In case attention starts to wander, you can grab the listeners right back.
Exactly. It keeps the listener more on the tip of their seat, so it has a more story-telling sense in the music. That’s why I think if you compare it to ‘The Erosion of Sanity,’ ‘Obscura,’ or ‘From Wisdom to hate,’ its so different in that sense. And I wouldn’t go back to that square anymore because its way more stimulating to play this kind of approach. So yeah, I wouldn’t go back, not that I’m not happy about those records, but those were part of a process to what my music language was at that state. So maybe in another record or two more records it’s not even gonna sound close to ‘Colored Sands’ anymore.
With the trend of bands playing classic albums in their entirety live, have you ever entertained the thought of playing ‘Obscura’ or ‘The Erosion of Sanity’ in its entirety, even if it was just for one show?
Oof. I would love to do it but, you know what? I never kept track of those riffs and we never wrote anything down back then. And me, when it’s been a couple years and I haven’t played a song its like…oooh. It would be so difficult for me, for instance, to learn ‘The Art of Sombre Ecstasy’ again or something. I mean, that would be nice like Morbid Angel. They’re gonna play ‘Covenant’ in its entirety. I love those ideas, but to me it would be too much of a piece of work because I don’t even remember those songs. I don’t have enough of a good ear to pick up songs by ear. What I remember is more like physical memory, so to speak, on the neck. A funny story- when we decided to play Maryland Death Fest, I had to relearn all my old catalog. Thankfully, Dan (Mongrain), back when Dan was in the band, he had made a book of some of the older material, so I could use his book to relearn my music. (laughs) At some point I was relearning ‘From Wisdom to Hate’ but ‘From Wisdom to Hate’ wasn’t in the book, so I pretty much remember all the riffs. But there was this riff that I pretty much didn’t remember at all. I mean, at all. And you know how I learned back the riff? I was searching some videos on Youtube and a guy was playing the song, but he had all the riffs so wrong except the one that I was searching for and he had this one pretty close! So I watched what he was playing and it got me back in my shoes so I can remember the riff, but dude I had no f---ing clue what the riff was!