It has taken some time for French act Soror Dolorosa to blossom into the beautiful, dark flower they are today. After Darvulia, Peste Noire and Celestia drummer Andy Julia formed Soror Dolorosa with ex-Funeraell members Franck Ligabue, Hervé Carles and Christophe Guenot in 2001, it took them nine years to release their first album ‘Blind Scenes’. Luckily for us, Soror Dolorosa have proven they aren’t just a flash in the pan, with a brooding, atmospheric second record in ‘No More Heroes’. The four-piece have completed another chapter of their musical lives – detached from their black metal roots – capitalising on their evidently rich streak of creativity. I interviewed frontman Andy Julia about the quartet’s latest journey into cathartic pastels of cold.
It’s interesting that your work with other bands such as Darvulia and Peste Noire is so different from Soror Dolorosa. How do you evaluate your work in black metal and your work with Soror Dolorosa? How do you divide the two? Is it simply a case of working with different shades of blue and different feelings of cold?
Andy Julia: Yes. For me, music is not clearly split in styles and put [into] small cases where we try to organize the things. It’s true that there’s a big difference in between the cold and sound of Soror Dolorosa and the black earthy grim universe of the other bands in which I’m involved. There is something that link the both clearly to me; it’s the perpetual feeling to be near the strongest feelings a musician can have in creating his own music without thinking to anything else like how to manage, how to earn money or how to be cool. The underground music is a sphere where the musician [is an] entire artist and not a part of the common-sense world. It’s what I like. I need that to complete my life and have the feeling to find any place made for me on earth. I’m an international fashion photographer by the way – it’s already an artistic occupation – but making music coming from the blackest parts of me is a way to get further.
When did you begin to find your love for black metal music?
AJ: I began to play Black metal when I was 16 years old and it will always be something close to me – even if today my personal interest in music is Soror Dolorosa and the new kind of intense post-punk, cold-wave or shoegaze bands. Black metal is music to be played when you’re young and pure. It spits in the human face, to reach another kind of position in your head that removes you from the sadly modernist, absurd society. It’s the punk movement of the ‘90s, but with something more to say that just ‘no’. It’s a mystical music and things need to be untold, secret and not to be spread all around on any social networks… Like love. Today, Soror Dolorosa is the band of my maturity and I think it will last for long time. I will continue to record some drums for black metal bands because today, my only way to be a part of it is to play it and not to listen. I must say that I like to play drums and also that recording an album is always satisfying and pleasant. It makes you increase. But doing vocals in Soror Dolorosa brings me all I want from music and all I need from life. It’s also very intense and I can say that I used to sweat the same in both roles.
That coldness is perhaps a universal feeling that relates to people across the world. Undoubtedly, Soror Dolorosa has gained a lot of fans who like metal because of previous associations with black metal and other metal projects. However, do you feel that Soror Dolorosa are yet to tap into a wider audience?
AJ: Yes. Formerly, Soror Dolorosa is a rock band. There aren’t any walls of distortions, harsh vocals or blast beats. It’s also music suitable to the dance-floor as far as metal is not. I think if certain metal-heads found an interest in what we’re doing, it’s because they are open-minded and able to appreciate different kind of feelings. Soror Dolorosa is a music made with no compromise; we don’t put any barrier to our inspirations, we just follow our innermost feelings. You cannot listen only metal all your life and Soror Dolorosa is not the first band we make, it is the result of years and years of music life. Rock music in a general sense is a passionate emulsion made with life. Maybe metal fans that like us are also people who feel this particular feeling to be on earth for another reason than just to be what society tells us to be. Soror Dolorosa is a music that breaks the barriers of common sense to reach what soul is the most precious to feel. Life is just a passage in time and this band is a cold blood vein pulsing inside of it, it’s necessary to live strong and it’s precious.
With Soror Dolorosa, there’s a visual element to the band as well as musical, and I suppose that’s to be expected given your passion for photography. What do you want to convey with your imagery in Soror Dolorosa?
AJ: I like when bands and musician have a visual universe and it’s not only about my personal passion for photography. I like when bands have an attitude; something to declare with aesthetic codes and not with words. It speaks to the senses and it’s not only boring or intellectual. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like sobriety, it depends of the purpose and the mood. Soror Dolorosa speaks about life and sometimes it’s a terrible chimera that burns your eye and leaves you broken on the road. All those things bring me visual inspiration as well as musical. I also appreciate a lot of painting, cinema and I travel a lot. I clean my mind from the shit society tries to put inside us, to be able to create something that could interest people who search for the same thing. I like eccentric purposes, it’s a sign of mental freedom and to be true to life and not wear the insipid mask of what we can define as normality. When you want to make dark music, is not to stay shy in your corner and be stuck on your chair. If you have something to tell and if you do it right, audience in this scene will recognize it in a day, but you have to do it more than 100%.
What did you wish to capture with the new album cover for ‘No More Heroes’?
AJ: It’s the feeling of being completely abandoned, in a kind of cathartic trance that washes your soul from any pain, but just for a while, is a magic moment that you keep inside of you forever. It’s what Aja Warren gave me this day, as beautiful as true to life she is. I had simply the idea to shoot her for the cover but I didn’t really knew what the result would be; it was just a feeling. In photography – like in music and art in general – you always have to follow your instinct.
It’s understood that the name for the album came from a ‘No More Heroes’ (Stranglers’ record) badge on model, Aja Warren, in the picture of the cover. Why did this detail catch your eye and what made you use the title for this second album?
AJ: It became obvious to our eyes when we watched the hundreds of pictures I shot that day. It’s a reflection made by the other members of the band because at the first sight; I didn’t notice it that much. Making music with other people is one of the richest things in life. It’s not easy every day, but it’s really interesting. I asked them to follow the one they preferred and they told me the two, because of this detail. But details are the most important in life. Sometimes they say the perfect truth. There isn’t any political purpose behind the title, we don’t care about it…it’s something closer to the human soul and also speaking about being a musician. It suits well with the dramatic attitude Aja has and this title perfectly reflects our state of mind when we entered in the recording studio with the goal to make the album we always wanted to do. You count all the things you have in your pockets and you do the maximum, [but] it’s not about being rich or poor, good or bad. It’s just something that shows you that you’re only someone making sounds who needs to do it right, anyway.
What has inspired you lyrically on ‘No More Heroes’ and where does it fit in to previous Soror Dolorosa material?
AJ: I feel inspired by different kind of things, elements of situations. I speak about things that I could die for, always keeping a kind of feeling of absolute. Even if Soror Dolorosa is a show onstage, it’s not entertainment for us. The lyrics are attached to very important things we have in our hearts and I’m not the only one writing in the band. Our topics are also a kind of communion in between us all, things we cannot say with common words and needs, to be made in music to be shared. The lyrics are soul shivers; I’m personally very attentive to that when I listen to a band, some sentences can mark you forever in a song.
You saw first album ‘Blind Scenes’ as a more nostalgic album. How different was the writing and recording of ‘No More Heroes’ in comparison to the debut record?
AJ: ‘No More Heroes’ is a powerful and cathartic album. With it, we look to the future and not the past; it’s about desires, things we look for, things we need to feel accomplished, relieved from the nightly diseases. It’s an album to live the present moment, the intensity of a lasting second. Every measure is made of something new, to catch your ears and wake you up from your chair. It’s personally what I like from the ‘80s music, and I think this album is made of that, out of the aesthetic purpose.
What would you say are Soror Dolorosa’s main musical influences in this latest release?
AJ: When I listen back to it, I find things like The Chameleons, which is one of the best bands I [have] ever listened [to], The Sisters of Mercy, The Cult, The Lords of the New Church, early U2 or things like Mike Oldfield as the journalist of Legacy Magazine in Germany noticed. I could also say badass rock influences from Chris Isaak or mystery you can also find in The Fields of the Nephilim or the early Killing Joke. We really put influences we always had in out stomach. ‘No More Heroes’ is a transition album for us. After it, we found an equilibrated way to compose and create new sounds. In the next album, we are going to go further and further in the research and make our songs more and more perfect until we touch the essence, as those fantastic bands managed to do.
There seems to be a lot of great musical activity in France at the moment. You were on tour with Alcest and Les Discrets last year. It’s almost like there’s a rich cluster of bands developing in France that are completely unique from one another, yet they are well-associated with each other. Would you agree? Who are among your favourite French bands at the moment?
AJ: In France, we never really had interesting Rock scene so far. It began in the ‘80s, but the bands didn’t really manage to grow and take a real place in the international space. Today, as communication is easier to do, French bands have a chance to get this position and projects like Alcest have really turned into something big. I have to say that I don’t listen to so much from French scene and I am mostly interested in bands like Ulver, Solstafir or Light Asylum. I think people in France are lazy with music and they don’t reach the same level than in other lands, except for a few bands of course, which are internationally recognized. Making music takes a lot of sacrifices and takes strong position facing these things; it’s something that French people are often frightened to do and it’s a shame, because there is a lot of interesting sensibilities who should express themselves in this land.
What are your plans for the rest of 2013? Any plans for some UK shows?
AJ: We don’t have for the moment. We love the UK more than everything because it’s the cradle of a lot the bands we like. I think people in UK don’t know us because our label is from Germany and it’s formerly a metal label. We’re going to do our maximum to develop our contacts in the UK and come to play. On the February 2012 tour with Alcest, Franck composed the song ‘Dany’ after our show in Liverpool. It was purest inspiration you can have as a musician and a great human experience for all the tour.
‘No More Heroes’ is out now on Northern Silence – Beneath Grey Skies.