Photo credit: Alice Castagnet Photo

Vocalist and rhythm guitarist for progressive metal band, Altesia, Clément Darrieu speaks with Pana Markides on the one-year anniversary of the band’s debut album, Paragon Circus.

By The Hard Baroquer

Clément Darrieu is the songwriter, vocalist and rhythm/acoustic guitarist for progressive metal band from Bordeaux, Altesia (they are not the first Bordeaux-based band THB has interviewed). The five-piece band also consists of lead and rhythm guitarist Alexis ‘Idler’ Casanova; bassist Hugo Bernart; drummer Yann Ménage and finally keyboardist, Henri Bordillon.

The project was formed by Darrieu in 2017 to give life to his demos that he had compiled since 2014. Since then, the band toured significantly and released their debut, the concept album, Paragon Circus in December 2019.

You can read our review here.

With Paragon Circus celebrating its one-year anniversary this week, it was great opportunity to interview Clément about the album, the band and what’s on the cards including playing at Ready for Prog? Festival in Toulouse next year.

Photo credit: Alice Castagnet

Tell us Altesia’s history so far?

Well, I tend to say I created the Altesia project back in 2017. I have always written music, but that particular year, I gave a name to the project for the first time and decided I wouldn’t keep the music for me only.

I wrote an album that would become Paragon Circus, and late 2018, I started to look for some musicians in my hometown to build a real band, to rehearse, rearrange the songs, record them, and play them live.

In early 2019 the band was established, and after one year of hard work, we released our debut album Paragon Circus in December 2019.

After the album’s release, our bassist Antoine Pirog left the band, and he’s since been replaced by Hugo Bernart. The line-up has remained stable ever since.

Talk about your influences – who are they and what aspect of their music inspires you in your song writing?

On this first album, the main references would be Opeth and Haken I would say. Though many reviewers said some sections of that album were influenced by Opeth’s latest album [In Cauda Venenum, 2019] and their post-Watershed era), I have to say the Opeth’s sound I love the most is by far the one from the 1999 – 2007 era. I love the death metal riffs, the dissonance, and of course the mixture of clean and harsh vocals.

As for Haken, I love the quirkiness of their first albums. These guys didn’t seem to have any limit. Their song “The Cockroach King” pictures that perfectly: a modern prog metal band, with hints of jazz, mindfuck riffs, crazy keyboards. These bands among other inspire me to write a nice blend of prog metal and prog rock compositions. Writing balanced atmospheres throughout the songs has become Altesia’s trademark.

You can’t get bored listening to our music, well at least I hope so, because the songs are written from that perspective!

You can’t get bored listening to our music, well at least I hope so, because the songs are written from that perspective!

Clément Darrieu, vocalist/guitarist, Altesia

Paragon Circus was released on this day in 2019. One year on, how has it been received?

The response has been great… we’ve had a lot of reviews, and some have been amazing!

I wrote the album myself entirely, and as it was a first record, I was a bit nervous to know people’s thoughts about it. But they seemed to love the record, which is awesome!

On stage, the response was very good as well. But unfortunately, Covid-19 had different plans for all of us this year, and three months after the release date, the momentum suddenly stopped. With that in mind, we hope we’ll have the opportunity to get back in the running in 2021.

The only frustrating aspect is that we wish our music could reach more people, but you know how it is. There are so many prog bands blooming all the time, so it’s hard to make your way out of it. The biggest issue we face, as for the other bands, is to get people to listen to us.

But hey, let’s not be too demanding for now, we’ll try to get better with the next release and to be patient!

Does the album have a specific message to its listeners?

Yes indeed! The album is a concept-album in progressive music, so all the songs are linked to each other and there’s an overall theme.

The record deals with man’s self-destruction basically. It seems like the occidental world is heading for disaster, but we keep on moving in that direction. Our world is ill, money and power are ruling the whole planet. While everything’s going wrong, people spend their time working and don’t have enough time for themselves and their family.

It seems like they forgot the dreams they made when they were children. You have to get the best paid-job to pay your bills, pay your loan, buy the latest and useless stuff whatever brand has released. Many people are stuck in their sleep I’d say, and there’s a lot of individualism, a lot of people feel superior to the others and won’t listen to their point because they think they know it all.

But you know, I’m not a saint either! I’m not perfect and I think we should all become aware of that, because if we want to change the world, we’ll have to change ourselves first!

It’s a whole life work, but I think we should learn how to be more open-minded, listen to each other, open our heart to each other and spread love and joy all around us. We don’t compete with the others, we’re all in the same boat.

Do the things that you dream of, you are made for that, and spend your time working on your passion, share your time with the ones you love, and we can all make this world a better place. Amen!

The record deals with man’s self-destruction basically. It seems like the occidental world is heading for disaster, but we keep on moving in that direction

Clément Darrieu, vocalist/guitarist, Altesia
Altesia’s Paragon Circus album art

How the album was recorded? What was the process and were there any challenges to getting the album sounding perfect?

Everyone tracked his parts from home basically. Yann, our drummer was in charge of the mixing and the mastering of the record, so he supervised the whole recording process as well.

As for the sound of the album, Alexis our lead guitarist and Yann spent a lot of time trying to get the good balance between a vintage rock sound and a more modern metal production.

It was a hard task, because we mix such a lot in ingredients in our music: mostly prog rock and prog metal, but also funk, pop, death metal and jazz as well from time to time. So Alexis and Yann really took care of the sound so that the dynamics are great, and I think we can be proud of the result!

It was a hard task, because we mix such a lot in ingredients in our music

Clément Darrieu, vocalist/guitarist, Altesia

With three 10-minute + songs on the record, was there a challenge in writing and recording these tracks?

In terms of recordings, whether you’re playing a 3-minute song or a 10-minute song doesn’t change anything to me. In terms of writing, well, the funny thing is that I didn’t know how to write a short song back then!

So a 10-minute song was the most classic format to me. Long songs allow you to explore many different atmospheres and dynamics, this is exactly what I look for in this type of music.

But of course, there’s a challenge to create a cohesive whole when you write a long piece of music. You have to keep people’s interest high all through the song. I just compose the music that I like, I’d say.

The thing is I’m really perfectionist, so if there’s a section of a song that I only find ‘cool’, then it’s not strong enough to me to remain on the actual song. So, writing a full song from start to finish can take quite a while actually!

I’m really perfectionist, so if there’s a section of a song that I only find ‘cool’, then it’s not strong enough to me to remain on the actual song

Clément Darrieu, vocalist/guitarist, Altesia

Paragon Circus is dense with technicality – is there a routine for the band to keep in gigging shape? How does the band balance this with full time work?

Well, I can’t speak for my bandmates, but yeah, I think we all would like to practice more. Currently, we can’t even get to rehearse together because of Covid-19 so the last time we played together was two months ago…

As you say, when your music is demanding and kind of complex, you have to work a lot, and we wish we could do that together.

It’s really frustrating because I wrote some demos this year, and we can’t even play them together. So basically, we all work individually from home, and we cross our fingers to get back in the rehearsal room as soon as possible!

How do ensure there’s always an element of the unexpected in your music, while still keeping it sounding organic? How was this achieved in Paragon Circus?

Well I would say coming up with an unexpected section is not an end in itself, otherwise you just make crazy experimental noises!

I think if you can play a lot of styles, change atmospheres, bring some unexpected and odd sections and spice things up a little bit sometimes, it’s very interesting, not just from the listener’s perspective, but for musicians as well. But I don’t have a secret recipe, I’m sorry!

As I mentioned earlier, I write the music I like, and if I like it, I can only hope people will like it as well!

I think if you can play a lot of styles, change atmospheres, bring some unexpected and odd sections and spice things up a little bit sometimes, it’s very interesting, not just from the listener’s perspective, but for musicians as well.

Clément Darrieu, vocalist/guitarist, Altesia

What advice would you give to other progressive rock/metal bands that are trying to cement their place in the music world?

Oh man, I don’t know if I’m the most likely to give advice regarding music! But as you’re asking, to me, the golden rule is to stay true to yourself.

We can apply it to everything in our lives – if you like what you create, if you’re passionate about it, then people will like it as well. Don’t try to please people; make music for yourself first!

Patience is also a very faithful companion. I struggle about that as I’m pretty impatient, but I think having a long-term vision for your project really helps. It’s important to take your time and make things grow organically, step by step.

If you like what you create, if you’re passionate about it, then people will like it as well

Clément Darrieu, vocalist/guitarist, Altesia

What is on the horizon for Altesia in 2021?

First of all, I hope the whole music industry will start again. All the professionals need it more than ever, and people want to go back to concerts as well. I think an artist can only be complete if he makes albums and concerts. Both aspects are really important.

We also have a new album in the making. The writing process is almost done and I have some demo recordings to make as well. It’s hard to plan anything at the moment as everything is really unpredictable. We hope we’ll be able to get back on stage around October 2021 if we’re done with the pandemic.

We are playing at the Ready for Prog? Festival in France, alongside Leprous and other bands, so we’re really excited. So we will see, let’s keep our fingers crossed!

Photo credit: Thierry Bouriat

Quick Questions

Favourite gig you’ve attended as a fan?

I guess it was the first time I saw Opeth in concert, in 2015. It was in Paris, Le Trianon, for their 25th anniversary. I was a huge fanboy back then!

I attended the meet and greet, talked to the guys, that was really impressive. On a different note, I had a blast when I saw Edguy in 2014. I didn’t know these guys but I was amazed by their energy on stage. The frontman was really funny as well, it’s a great memory.

What is the stand-out album of 2020 for you?

My album of the year is Rise Radiant by Caligula’s Horse. Some very catchy prog alternative metal, with a huge modern production. I didn’t know that band very well, but that was definitely a good occasion to dive into the rest of their great discography!

Dream venue for Altesia to play?

As there aren’t any concerts at the moment, I would say “any venue that lets us to play!”

More seriously, maybe The Royal Albert Hall in London. That place is just amazing!

Listen to “Reminiscence” on YouTube:

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