Zeal And Ardor Interview: “I Kinda Yell Satanic Stuff In A Gospel Voice”

Zeal and Ardor

New Album Devil Is Fine Out Now Via Bandcamp.

Devil Is Fine is an album by Zeal And Ardor (aka New York based musician Manuel Gagneux) that melds gospel music with black metal. Seriously. Easily the weirdest thing about the whole endeavour is that it actually works really well. Original gospel chants reminiscent of old chain gang songs like ‘Long John’ or ‘Early In The Morning’ butt up against lo-fi black metal guitars, blast beats and screams. The gospel elements add an emotional centre to the black metal tracks that focuses the music in an unexpectedly melodic and memorable direction. There’s diversions into hip hop, an off kilter lullaby, instrumental synth work, and jazz. All of this takes place over nine tracks. Impressive.

We sat down with Manuel recently, who told us all about his song writing process,  musical influences, and branding irons. Grab Devil Is Fine via Bandcamp.

Overblown: The music you play combines spirituals like those sung by slaves and chain gangs with black metal. Where did the idea to meld these two disparate musical styles together come from?

Manuel Gagneux: It actually started as a joke. Something about gospel voices singing satanic lyrics just really cracks me up. Then I thought about the connotations it might imply. American slaves had Christianity forced on them and something similar happened in Norway. The Norwegians expressed their rebellion with black metal (and other endeavors). It’s basically historical fiction. What if American slaves rebelled against Christianity in this way?

O: What and who influences you musically?

MG: I listen to a lot of different stuff. I guess the most influential to me were Portishead, Mr Bungle and maybe Death Grips. I dunno. It’s hard to differentiate between what really influenced you and what you’d like to have influenced you. My actual influences are probably far less cool, but I can’t pinpoint them.

O: Do you write and play all the music yourself? Are the spirituals samples?

MG: I write it myself and sing the chants also.

Overblown: What was your songwriting process for your new LP Devil is Fine?

MG: Well, first I’d sample an old spiritual vinyl.. (just kidding) The songs mainly revolve around the chants, so I try to come up with a good one. I imagine this must look astonishingly dumb because I kinda yell vaguely satanic stuff in a gospel kind of voice in my kitchen until I like something. This is interrupted by me going “No, that’s stupid!” My neighbours must think great things of me.

After that, I think about what might fit the feeling of the song and often capture some field recordings before I add the other instruments. There was no real planned process but it all involved large doses of caffeine.

O: The artwork for your new LP Devil is Fine shows a well dressed black man with a symbol in front of his face. Where did this symbol come from? What is the meaning of the symbol and the artwork?

MG: The picture is of one Robert Smalls, a slave who freed himself and others by commandeering a Confederate ship. He also undertook other badassery which is well worth reading up on. The symbol is just the sigil of Lucifer. Superimposing that on Smalls kind of sums up my intention of the record.

O: What has the reaction to your music been like thus far?

MG: It’s been unreal. I mainly made this for myself and was very surprised to find people writing about it and actually buying it. Maybe it’s because black metal is very timid or even has a strict unwritten rule against blending with other elements.

I find that sad, because it has so many great elements that lend themselves exceptionally well to not being so secular.

If you like this Zeal and Ardor interview, you might enjoy our interview with Russian Circles

O: Luca Piazzalonga, who designed the symbol on your album, recently created a branding iron for you based on the symbol. Why create a branding iron with the symbol on it?

MG: Well he added the “z” and the “a”. The symbol was established in Italy in the Grimorium Verum (18th Century textbook of magic) a couple of centuries ago. The branding iron is for branding people. Also, album sleeves, as most people tend to shy away from the pain and the slight permanence of being branded at a live concert.

Zeal and Ardor interview

O: What is your goal when creating music?

MG: I rarely have goals going into making music. It’s very much a stream of consciousness thing for me. Often If I do go into it with a plan I stray away from my original intentions and end up at a largely different point.

O: Do Zeal and Ardor have any upcoming gigs planned?

MG: I had one in Switzerland on the 21st May. I’m still working on what my set will actually look like. So it’s more of an experiment until I’m happy with the result. I’ll be gigging more soon.

O: What about plans for a new album? Anything in the works?

MG: I’m working on it, but I’m focused on a big release of my other project, Birdmask, right now. I’d rather take my time with both of them, than half-ass a release.

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