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Interview: aux animaux

by François Zappa

Fed up with meaningless songs? Aux animaux’s tunes will make you think meanwhile they bewitch you with their beautiful melodies and dreamy ambiences. We spoke with Ghosty, conscience and currently only member of the band that will be playing during the four days of W-Fest on VIP stage. Synths turned into a weapon for animal liberation.

—Is aux animaux, the name of the band, a reference to veganism? Why have you chosen a French name?

—The band name aux animaux, which means “to animals” in French, is definitely a reference to veganism. I have been vegan for so many years so veganism is not just a lifestyle but a big part of my personality. Therefore, it felt right to choose a name that had connotations to animals and animal rights.

It actually took me about a year to find the band name. When we first started the band we were 2 people, and we kept on vetoing every name the other one came up with. Sometimes we agreed on a name, but with a Google search found that a version of them were always taken. We wanted a unique name so as to avoid confusions on platforms like Spotify.

The reason the name was in French was a coincidence. I moved to Strasbourg for about 8 months to study French, and came up with the name at that time. It felt suitable to have a French name while coming up with the name living in France. It also felt right due to the aforementioned connotations. Moreover, I liked the symmetry and the sound of it. It’s a tricky name, though, almost no one pronounces it right. 🙂

—Ghosty, you are from Turkey, how was the synth scene there before you moved to Sweden?

—I have been living in Sweden for about 11 and a half years at this stage, so it’s hard to answer. But if I am not mistaken, there was no synth scene in Turkey around that time. I think there was a big techno scene and an alternative/indie music scene. But I don’t really recall a synth scene. I think She Past Away were the ones that started it all. Now there are great synth bands from Turkey, Affet Robot, ELZ and the CULT, Jakuzi, to name a few that are being recognized internationally. Before, it was almost a dream for bands from Turkey to do get any international recognition. I think She Past Away was the first with that too.

—You played the bass with a famous pop-rock star in Turkey, can you please tell us a bit more about this?

—Sure. I played with quite a famous pop-rock star as you mention and it was something I did because I wanted to make a living from making music instead of working a day job and trying to make music on the side. However, after a while one doesn’t get satisfied from that either. I loved touring, but after a few years I felt like I wanted to play songs in the genres that I actually like. I was also craving for creating myself and sharing something I actually believed in with people. That said, playing with that crew was a great experience that changed my life. Everything was handled very professionally, and I definitely learned a lot about both music business and grew up as a human around that time. Touring is not always so easy, there are so many difficulties one encounters that doesn’t end up on perfect social media lives. But at the end of the day, we are who choose to do this do it because we love it, and for us there’s nothing like it.

  —Finally, you met Jons and started the band. Can you please tell us a bit about those beginnings? What did you find in each other so special that you wanted to make music together?

—That’s kind of funny. I suggested starting a band randomly and half-seriously. You know, sometimes you are out having beers with friends and that, someone says let’s start a band, everyone gets super excited, but it never happens. Well, Jons took it seriously. Actually around that time, he didn’t even know what a synth was, he was a classically trained pianist. But the next day he already sent me a Garage Band file with suggestion of a song. From there on it took off. He learned to produce all by himself, and actually co-produced, mixed and mastered the whole first EP. He got quite a few good synths as well. It was very refreshing for me too. I was a bass player before, and until aux animaux I had never sang in a band before. I also picked up playing theremin after starting the band, which is now a big part of my show.

Unfortunately, it got all too much for him us being an unsigned DIY band and doing all the work by ourselves, and he didn’t quite like touring, as he had never done it before, so he quit the band about over a year ago. I have been working solo since then, but his signature will be on the upcoming EP along with mine.

—Is it difficult to start a band like yours in Sweden? How has the public received your music?

—It was very difficult in the beginning. We knew absolutely no one in the music business, and we weren’t really hanging out in the synth scene here in Stockholm as we didn’t know anyone. I moved here from Istanbul and somehow didn’t end up in that scene. Jons was an introvert that basically hung out with his friends from a surrealist group. Moreover, I was living in France for a good while after starting the band, and on top of it we had to learn everything from scratch, which also took time. But I managed to get some gigs in various venues anyway, and from there on we caught the interest of the synth public in Stockholm. It also helped me make connections after I started hanging out at the club Synth After Work as well as going to gigs organized by Klubb Död. The last year has definitely been a game changer for me. 

—You said that the project was born out of love for 80s synth sounds, but have you started loving this sounds thanks to modern bands like SURVIVE or Chromatics or do you also love the bands from the 80s?

—I think it had to do with the fact that we both grew up in the 80s and we had a saudades for that time and the sound of it. But surely there are bands that I love from the 80s, such as New Order, Kraftwerk, Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Ultravox, etc. Hard to name them all. =)

—What synths do you use?

—We used mainly Roland Juno 60, Dreadbox Erebus, Moog Sub37, and a lot of soft synths from Logic Pro. 

—You also confessed your love for the music of John Carpenter, would you like to make a soundtrack? We’ve seen him playing a few years ago at Primavera Sound Festival, and it was quite amazing.

—Making a soundtrack is definitely one of my dreams! I actually have the dream of making a live soundtrack to an old silent horror movie at a theatre here, but I haven’t been able to book with any of the indie theaters yet. We actually wanted to do it together with Jons, however, since he quit performing I have been talking with Alex from Then Comes Silence to perhaps to perform together. But I would definitely love to do a soundtrack for a film, especially a horror film, since I am an absolute horror nerd.

—One of your influences is trip hop, or at least you have said that you like Portishead and Massive Attack. Do you think that this influence can be heard in your music?

Portishead is definitely my favorite band of all times. I have been listening to them without getting tired for over 20 years, and I think all three are geniuses. I think it can definitely be heard in my vocals, as Beth Gibbons is my biggest influence as a singer. Think of all the high-pitched head voice I am using, that’s where my inspiration comes from.

I think the synth solo in “Black Holes” was inspired by the epic synth solo at the end of their song Machine Gun, which was both our absolute favorite by Portishead.

The band has produced his first EP and recorded the first video, do you think that the DIY concept is really important nowadays with the music industry not living its best moment?

—Definitely, as we didn’t have any other option. As I mentioned, we didn’t know anyone and had no money, so we didn’t really have a choice than to do it ourselves. I shot and edited the first three videos by myself as well. 

Only while working on “Phonophobia” which will be featured on the sophomore EP did we get help from outside. But it is all our friends. My friend Lars Villumsen from Copenhagen offered mixing the song for us, and we had it mastered by a Swedish company. We also had Yigit Sen, who is another Istanbulite living in Sweden, shot the video, and my friend Helen Lindhult whom I DJ with, starred in it. I quite like the idea of working with friends, as they usually share similar likes and interests, and you can tell them what you really think if you don’t like something. The whole thing becomes more personal than if you pay someone you don’t really know.

By the way, I actually got an offer from a record label but turned it down earlier this year, as they weren’t offering me anything more than I already accomplished, but still wanted that 33% from everything I earned. Of course I wouldn’t say no to the right record label, who really wants to work together to make aux animaux something bigger. There are plenty of great labels in the goth/wave/synth scene that I would love to work with.

—How was the recording of your first EP, Black Holes?

—It is all home recordings. I recorded everything in my bedroom and living room. Jons did the same in his place. We worked a lot in separate spaces by file sharing and discussing ideas later. But, of course, we would get together and work as well. One thing we used to do was to check how the song worked with only piano and vocals. Jons had read an interview with Vince Clarke where he mentions that’s how you know whether a song works and it’s not all about sounds here and there. This was something we tried with most of our songs.

Your lyrics are very political and social. How much do you think that songs can change people?

—It’s really hard to know, as change doesn’t happen overnight. I think one can provoke people with song lyrics, and open up a discussion. Perhaps the song might get one in a hundred to think about the lyrics and question their choices. Through song lyrics one can also create solidarity with people who listen to one’s music and feel the same way about life. I definitely believe it is important to be political as a musician. It’s important to fight for the things you believe in. There are so many injustices in the world, and it is a way of contributing even if it’s in a small scale.

—The song “The War” is about animal rights and veganism, and the band made a video with the Swedish animal liberation group Tomma Burar. How did you get the idea of doing this video?

—Around that time, I was quite active in following the various vegan groups, and going to lectures and workshops, and Tomma Burar were active with animal liberation too. I was really impressed by their actions. They were stealing animals from various types of animal farms without hiding their identities to make a point even if it meant they went to jail. While doing this they had shot how the animals are living each time they broke into a farm. I contacted the activist Martin Smedjeback, who is quite known in the vegan activist circles here, to check if I could borrow their footage and edit them for the video of “The War,” along with the song lyrics. The whole group agreed and so was the video made.

—Jons left the band because he did not want to tour, right? Is it difficult to continue on your own? How has aux animaux changed without him?

—When we started the band, Jons had never performed with a band before, and absolutely never toured. I think he had played the solo piano on stage a few times, but that’s a totally different experience. It felt too difficult for him to spend so much time on booking stuff, carrying and traveling. When you’re DIY and only two people in the band, it’s a lot of work. So, it turned out we didn’t share that passion and separated ways. As I mentioned earlier, touring isn’t for everyone, and it’s something that one does if you really love it.

I think working solo has its advantages and disadvantages. It’s much easier for me to book gigs right now. I had to say no to plenty of offers that first year we played live together, as he couldn’t handle too much of it, and a band that declines offers is not appreciated. Now I can say yes to anything I want. I can also rehearse and travel as I want to. 

However, I would prefer to play as a band on stage. When you are solo on stage, all eyes are on you all the time, and all the expectations are on you. It’s more relaxing to have a partner in crime to interact with on stage, and have some playful time while putting up a show. 

Creatively speaking, I definitely miss co-working with someone. When there are two of you, you can both contribute with something different, which usually pushes one to think outside the box, and I feel like that’s something that I need while making new songs. So, in the future I will probably be working with another person, but I am not certain if that will be a new band member or a co-producer. Time will show.

“Phonophobia”, from your upcoming second EP, is about your hyperacusis (sound sensitivity). Can you please tell us more about this problem?

—Sure, it’s still quite a sensitive subject for me, for I had the worst time of my life when it peaked a few years ago. Hyperacusis can be different for everyone. For me it was certain noises that triggered me, but not everything. I have been suffering from it for about 10 years, and it’s had its ups and downs over the years, but around the time I wrote “Phonophobia” it was the worst. I actually intended to play the song live for the first time last November, a few months before the release, but I couldn’t, as I was going to start crying on stage if I did. I also remember feeling quite lonely as people who don’t really experience this kind of sensitivity don’t really understand what you are going through. For the time being I try to create myself an environment to avoid sounds that trigger me, so I feel much better now and it feels alright to perform “Phonophobia” live. 

The band’s next EP is going to be called Stockholm Synthrome. When is going to be released and what can you please tell us about it?

—I am hoping to release the new EP in February or at the latest March 2020. We actually made and recorded the songs with Jons last year, but we had to put the release on hold as Jons couldn’t mix it this time. Thankfully, Alex Svensson from Then Comes Silence will be mixing the new songs that will be featured on the new EP. These are songs that haven’t been heard yet, and I am quite excited that Alex agreed to mix them, as I think he is very creative and talented, and we have a very similar taste. It will be great to have a more goth touch on the new songs.

How did you start playing theremin? Do you know the incredible story of Léon Theremin? There is a very interesting documentary called Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey.

—Yes, I have actually watched the documentary, it’s absolutely amazing. I know quite a lot about Léon Theremin as I read “Theremin: Ether music and espionage” by Albert Glinsky when I started playing the theremin. If I remember correctly, he was in the documentary as well. 

It was incredible to learn of the journey of how a cellist/physicist ends up inventing the world’s first electronic instrument while being assigned other tasks by the Soviet government. His life could be a film.

Ghosty, you have some side projects, one under your name artistic name, Ghosty, another with David from Jupiter-C and the last one with Jonas Fransson (from Then Comes Silence). What’s the current state of them?

—The project with Jonas is very exciting. We are trying out something different, so I won’t give too many spoilers for the time being other than perhaps saying we aim at playing as much as live as possible even though there are only two of us. So, it will be live drums, bass, vocals and theremin, and not too very little backing tracks. We’re trying to set aside as much time as we have from our own bands, but hopefully we’ll have some extra time at our hands over the winter.

I have been so busy with aux animaux that I haven’t really been able to set aside time for my solo project Ghosty, especially because aux animaux sort of became a solo project so that I didn’t feel the need to do another project on my own. I have also sort of grown away from synthwave over the past year, so I am not sure whether I would continue that project.

The project with David has sort of come to a pause as he got extra responsibilities in his private life that he has to take care of. I am not sure he will be able to pursue working together in the future. It was both exciting but also kind of challenging as we live in totally different countries. But we thought if our common friends Algiers can do it perhaps we can do it too. Of course, the guys in Algiers have all friendships that go way back from when they grew up in Atlanta, whereas David and I have never met in person. But having been comparative literature graduates with an interest in dark wave, cold wave, and science fiction, we thought it could still be cool to work together.

—You said that your concerts are more darkwave, how would you describe them to the people who haven’t got the opportunity to see you live?

—Mostly the atmosphere I create is darker, and the show is more towards goth style. I use theremin that creates a haunting setting. It’s not exactly the same as can be heard on the EP. It’s a bit like cooking, when you mix the right ingredients in a certain way you get the recipe that you want. 

What are the band’s plans for the future? Any upcoming gig?

—With aux animaux I will play a couple of final gigs for this year. On November 4th I am opening for She Past Away in Prague, and I will open for Hante. and Solveig Mattildur in Copenhagen on November 29th.

Then around February/ March 2020 I am planning on releasing the new EP Stockholm Synthrome.

Currently, I am working on booking gigs and festivals for next year. So far I have W-fest in Belgium confirmed, and I am really looking forward to it. I am psyched to be a part of that fantastic lineup, it’s really great to see your name together with all these great bands and artists that you really love. 

I am also in the process of booking some other gigs. Since they aren’t totally confirmed yet, I won’t mention any, but hopefully I will be playing my first gig with aux animaux in my hometown Istanbul next year.

I am also intending on doing something more in dark wave direction after the upcoming EP.

—You are going to play in the VIP stage, how is going to be the concert at W-Fest?

—W-fest asked me to do an acoustic gig, all four days of the festival at the VIP stage. We actually did a mini acoustic set with Jons once last year at Royal Theatre in Stockholm. So, I am thinking something similar to that but I will really try to think of something outside the box and make it special too to render it a different experience for everyone. Luckily, there’s ample time to plan.

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