Reviewing Cecilia::Eyes was an unexpected delight. The band who are now on their second LP (as they informed me when I misguidedly called this their debut) create some of the most beautifully emotive, ghostly, stunning and creative music out there and while they can be loosely labelled post-rock there’s is so much more to their sound, as the band themselves are keen to point out. Hailing from the southern, French-speaking end of Belgium, Cecilia::Eyes are one of those underground bands whose fans treasure their work and wait, with baited breath, for each new release and they deserve to be far more widely heard and appreciated than they are.
With ‘Here dead we lie’ (you can see the trailer for the album below) the band have created a thrilling concept piece based on the futility of war which successfully navigates such emotive terrain without becoming overtly depressing, with the music offering up hope as well as despair and the sheer talent and inventiveness of the musicians shining through on every track.
SonicAbuse is, therefore, proud to present an interview with the band in whcih they talk about their influences, the genesis of their latest epic, the possibilities of post-rock and much, much more:
SA: How did Cecilia Eyes form?
Christophe: cecilia::eyes was founded in autumn 2004 by Mike & myself. We wanted to create a mix of instrumental and dark music, with slow and noisy tunes. It results in a majestic and mysterious unity, oscillating between melancholy and hope. Listening to cecilia::eyes is above all being ready to penetrate the oneiric universe that it calls upon.
Gauthier: When I first listened to Mountaintops I completely felt in love with it and it was really the kind of genre I was working on myself at this moment, so, I took contact with them, we tried several things together, some things they didn’t tried yet (samples, voices, other guitar sounds…) and we came up quite quickly with some really interesting mixtures…
SA: There don’t seem to be many bands who come out of Belgium, despite you having a healthy rock scene in terms of gigs and festivals – is it just that many Belgian bands don’t make it to the international sphere or are there very few of you?
Gauthier: the pop rock scene in Belgium is huge, there are lots of bands and some are well known (dEUs, Ghinzu, Arid, Girls in Hawaï, Sharko, K’s Choice…) Regarding the post rock scene it is even more difficult to cross the frontiers and we’ll try to do that with the second album.
Pascal : It’s right that only a few bands make it to the international… Perhaps because we live in a small country and we aren’t used to make long distances. It’s paradoxical because it’s difficult to play in Belgium… The north part of our country has developed a different cultural style than our part (we live in the south, the French part of Belgium). The infrastructures are better, the public is more open-minded. In our area, it’s really difficult to play in good conditions, and the media, in Belgium, are generalist and, for a “non commercial” band, even if its music is interesting, it’s very hard to catch their attention. So, normally, the solution is to find gigs abroad but, without time and money, it’s a real challenge…
SA: Post rock, of all the musical genres, is quite a limiting field – did you, at any point, worry that you might not be able to add anything to an already pretty crowded genre?
Gauthier: I don’t think it’s a limiting field, post rock is not a commercial genre (it doesn’t show a lot on radio and even less on tv) but, the existing audience is very big. There’s also lots of different things inside the post rock, we’re trying to do something different by having a different sound, with lots of melancholy, noisy guitars and more shoe-gaze and indie references…
Pascal : Even if we are catalogued in post-rock genre, when we create new tracks, we do not think “we are catalogued post-rock so we have to…”. We love what we play and we are proud of our work… If it’s post-rock, ok… But if somebody catalogues us in another genre, that’s also ok ;-)..;It’s not very important, I think…
Xavier: I think post-rock is one of the most extended genres I know. It’s easier for people who want to discover our music to know that we don’t play pop-rock songs with incredible lyrics and classical instrumentations, and that we’ll do something closer to the references of post-rock (like Mono or Mogwai), but a classical musician could have qualify our music of instrumental atmospheric rock-instrumented romantic noise, it would fit also.
SA: Having listened to your album I felt that you, along with Red Sparrowes, are one of the few post rock bands to try to have a conceptual thread running through the songs – in what ways (beyond the titles) do you try to interlink the pieces?
Gauthier: we did found interesting to have a global theme (the war and all its consequences), it makes everything (the songs, the packaging, the artwork…) more consistent, and gives the entire work a more powerful impact.
Xavier: We decided from the start of the composition work to have this theme in mind and it was like background atmosphere that led the feelings we wanted to express through our tracks, a kind of rainy, dark, and helpless mood…
Pascal : Each track is a story and each listener have to make his own film. Theme developed (war and his consequences), titles, artwork are clues to give a direction to audience’s film…We like to say that we play cinematic music even if it’s a porn movie (but it’s too late – title of a track of our previous LP)…
SA: Undertaking such a grand concept must be nerve-wracking: do you have lots of discarded songs hiding away in a vault somewhere or did it all come naturally?
Gauthier: The thing that works well in cecilia::eyes is that every member is always active in the creation phase of a new song. Everyone contributes in his own way, that is something important for us and for the final result of the sound. The result is that we don’t have lots of discarded songs but rather discarded ideas…
Xavier: Therefore, it’s even more a very long process, because the tracks can change a lot before getting their mature form and identity…I’d like to compare it to a crystallisation process, the final equilibrium fitting so well with the band’s compromise of tastes, that we don’t like to deviate too much from the final formulae we’ve found… Surprisingly, we play a lot with our emotions and the interpretations in concerts, but improvisation is not often the rule, except when involuntary.
SA: Writing an entirely instrumental album must be hard though surely as you have to fill in the blanks where vocals normally are- how do you develop your ideas to keep the songs interesting?
Gauthier: vocals, as everybody usually sees it, takes the most part of the space into a song, like in pop music, rock, etc… From this point of view, post-rock is closer to other genre as Jazz or Electro, or even more closer to the classical music, where the attention is focused on instruments (crying guitars, slow drum beats, lots of effects, etc…). I’m considering vocals more like another instrument, and that’s what we tried to do on “fifty years under the tent”…
Xavier: I believe we do not think in terms of “keeping the auditor’s attention” by adding always more and more “interesting elements” that keeps curiosity at a certain level , but more in terms of “taking the listener’s guts” and “leading him in a semi-comatose state” where he can continue his dream or movie.
SA: How would you describe your music to someone who had never heard the band?
Gauthier: cecilia::eyes is the music of your own movie, a romantic and dark movie you’re creating when you close your eyes…
Xavier: cecilia::eyes is the kind of music you would like to have as soundtrack of key moments of your life, and make you remind them all life long. Really, a friend of mine is using our previous album during their haptonomy lessons (communicating with their future baby) and they will use it during the delivery!!! I’m very honoured but I think it’s an adequate choice.
SA: Who would you say your main influences are and what music do you enjoy listening to?
Christophe: slowdive, iliketrains, gregor samsa, cocteau twins, jeniferever, her name is calla…and so many more…
Gauthier: Ride, Slowdive and Pink Floyd are my major influences. This morning in my car I was listening to Propellerheads and Dirty Beatniks !
Pascal: I’m very eclectic…I listen to post-rock, metal, post-hardcore but also classic rock, alternative music,… I adore discover news bands or tracks and I use last.fm, myspace… Recently, I was listening to Mouth of the Architect, Nine inch Nails (The downward spiral), Gotan Project, Depeche Mode, And Also The Trees and Redjeson… We listen each a lot of things which perhaps the diversity of our music…
Xavier: I love romantic ballads from Richard Clayderman and “Song for Guy”, but the best sketbraguett slow is still “November Rain” from the Gun’s & Roses J . But I also like to listen to Cure, This Will Destroy You, Bloc Party, The Killers, Chopin and Bela Bartok.
SA: The post rock bands that I’ve seen live (Red Sparrowes, Sigur Ros and Mogwai) tend to really excel in the live arena both visually and sonically, often using video displays and becoming much heavier – how do prepare for your live show and what elements do you employ to keep the stage show interesting?
Gauthier: we have several ideas for visual elements for live shows but actually, we are missing some experience and time to create what we want. I think that our music fits really well for this kind of things like photographs, paintings, drawings, videos… Actually we are looking for some help and if someone is interested by doing something for us it would be nice. I think this is something we miss on stage because we are not moving a lot .
Xavier: At the drums I try usually to head-bang as long as people follow, and at the piano I try to keep a very sad look staring in the void, hoping this will be enough as visual effects.
SA: The presentation of your band’s work is amazing – who does the art work and where does the inspiration come from?
Gauthier: all artworks, like for Mountaintops, were created by Muriel, Xavier’s sister, who did a fantastic work. We just told her about the idea (scars of war) and she came up with proposals…
Pascal : We all think that artwork is an essential complement to the music… Everybody can now find music on the net, legally or not… But having a beautiful object is something completely different. It’s an important part of our process of creation…And Muriel has understood exactly what we are looking for… Even if discussions are often animated before final decision 😉
Xavier: thanks a lot little sister! By the way, she designed also very nice t-shirts, don’t hesitate to check them out on our myspace our website (www.ceciliaeyes.be)
SA: With such an outstanding debut under your belt where do you intend to go from here, or is it too early to say?
Gauthier: you should have read our story on our website because it’s the third work of cecilia::eyes and the second LP 😉 (SA holds head in shame)
Pascal : Yes, we are already an “old” band ;-)… But it’s right that it’s the first time that foreign press are really interested by our music. It’s a new step for us and we hope to have the possibility to play outside our frontiers and to touch more audience than till now… Thanks a lot for your interest 😉
SA: Can we expect any live dates in the UK?
Gauthier: we are in touch with an incredible band in England called Electric Litany, we’ll try to do something with them there, but if you have anything for us in England just keep in touch!
Pascal : Belgium is not so far from the UK so why not… Do not hesitate to contact us !
Xavier: We’ll bring you some Belgian beers!