Zeal & Ardor came from one man’s project to one of music’s most intriguing obsessions. I was given the opportunity and honor to speak with Manuel Gagneux of Basel, Switzerland, about controversial subjects of race and religion and how his personal project has opened the window to his success.
Manuel Gagneux: Hello, this is Manuel from Zeal & Ardor.
Shockwave Magazine: Hi, Manuel, how are you doing today?
I’m fine. How are you?
I’m wonderful. I am so honored. I just wanted to have couple of minutes with you to pick your brain, if that’s okay. How have things been since your music has gone from a one-man project to recording and touring?
You know its super weird, because I just did this for myself, then uploaded it somewhere, and now all this craziness is happening.
It started off a project and now everybody’s fallen in love with it.
Yeah, and now this is like super serious and I have to work and stuff. I mean, I’m super happy, don’t get me wrong, but it’s been a big surprise.
You’re like, “Damn it, now I gotta make another song.”
I understand you had asked for people on the website 4chan to pick two musical genres, and you would fuse them together and make a song of it in 30 minutes. So, they chose “black metal” and “n-gger music.” Have you had any backlash from religious communities or racial organizations?
Yeah from some, like the black metal community and black activists said I was demeaning the culture. There was nothing I couldn’t solve while talking to them though. It was all just a matter of explanation. I’m glad to share what I meant with the record, with people, and it’s not a big deal.
If I were to look at your playlist, what kind of music would I find?
It’s all over the place, I mean there’s a lot of metal stuff and a lot of, like, weird. I love strange music. I like Zappa, Mr. Bungle and Aphex Twin, and just anything weird you can think of. A lot of classical stuff too. You know it’s pretty much a mess. I would be the worst radio D.J. You know it’s weird, because I don’t know one person that just strictly listens to one sort of music. Everybody I know listens to country, blues, the techno, and whatever. So, it’s kind of odd for me to see people making one sort of music.
I agree. They don’t want to veer off in any other direction, because they’re afraid they’re going to lose all their fans if they do anything other than what the record labels want them to do. Before Zeal & Ardor, you were already making music, correct?
Yeah, I was doing another project called Birdmask. It was also all over the place, but I think it was easier to listen to, I think.
Yeah, I saw that. I actually saw you did an Envogue song on there.
I was like, “Oh wow, okay that’s awesome.”
Yeah, and I didn’t have any fans to cater to, so that’s why I felt free to do what I wanted.
That’s so cool. So, being a one-man band, creating all of this on your own, when did you decide to bring in other members to make it a full band?
Well, I think it came when people were asking me to play shows. The biggest one was Roadburn. It’s this huge festival in the Netherlands. I mean, it’s just incredible to see a heavy metal festival, and then everybody can play their butts off, and they’re all super talented musicians. If I go up there with a laptop and press play, I don’t think people will really be happy. So, I got my friends on board, which is also pretty great. It’s all people I know and like, and they just happened to be great musicians also.
Are those the same musicians that play with you in the video “Don’t You Dare?”
Exactly, that’s them.
Those guys are so talented and that song is really great. What band, dead or alive, would you love to share the stage with someday if you could?
Oh God, that’s a tough one. Gosh, golly. Dead or not? I guess Mr. Bungle. The people are still alive, but the band doesn’t exist anymore. Oh wait, scratch that, it’s Tortoisehead. I would love to play with Tortoisehead.
What do you do in your spare time, when you’re not making music?
I read a lot. I love books.
What do you read?
David Foster Wallace, I love, and Tom Robbins. I like a lot of weird kind of history books too.
What’s the story behind the picture you chose for The Devil is Fine cover, of the slave? Who was he and why did you pick him?
Oh, that is Robert Smalls, he was just a badass dude. He was a freed slave and he freed other slaves. He stole this ship and had this pirate thing going on. Then he entered U.S. politics, and became a senator even, which is pretty sweet for a black guy in that time.
So, tell me what the early days for you were like, what was little Manuel like growing up?
I always wanted to be an artist. I was super adamant about being an artist, like painting stuff. I liked drawing stuff too, or a musician. Yeah, I’ve been lucky, we always had a piano sitting around in our house and I could always get on my parent’s nerves making noise.
And you’re from Switzerland?
Yeah, I was born and raised here in Basel.
You speak great English.
My mom is from North Carolina and I spent a couple years in New York. I guess that’s cheating.
I just came back from New York a few days ago. You have to keep us updated on show, and when you’re doing a North American Tour. I know your tour begins in April in Basel, at Czar Fest. It’s all over seas except the last date in August; it’s in Las Vegas. That’s pretty cool, I may try to make it to Las Vegas.
Well, we will be adding some other locations. Right now, that is a secret.
Then my lips are sealed. Thank you so much for speaking with me.
Thank you for your time, this has been really pleasant. Have a great weekend.
You too, see ya.
With the haunting adornment of ritualistic chanting with soulful and melodic-death intertwined, Zeal & Ardor are something special, unique, and undeniably amazing. There becomes an overwhelming need to hear more. You bite your nails, waiting to discover what surprise Manuel Gagneux is going to throw into the next song. This is clearly the easiest choice for the year’s most interesting band.
I’ve posted the link for you to check out Zeal & Ardor below. If you are into the metal genre at all, I promise you will love this.