Despite being created years apart, the work of Cazalet and Flament coalesce as one.
When preparing for a new album's release cycle, it's common practice for a band and their management to seek out newly commissioned art as an extension of the themes presented within the music. Rare is the occasion where a band licenses an existing painting, mainly because the two weren't created in unison and it becomes difficult for the two to exist as one. In the case of NEPTUNIAN MAXIMALISM's upcoming Solar Drone Ceremony, Hervé Scott Flament's 'Sacrifice' (2017) painting proved to be the ideal visual representation for the group's ritualistic hymns despite their separate timelines of inception.
Arriving on April 23rd via I, Voidhanger Records, Solar Drone Ceremony follows the highly acclaimed Éons (2020) as a release that draws a set of the band's most atmospheric songs and reimagines them to create a new immersive experience, the likes of which will be showcased on the upcoming Roadburn Redux festival. Flament's artistic prowess stands firm on the composition's forefront with elements that resemble that of the NEPTUNIAN MAXIMALISM live stage configuration, a point that caught the eyes of band frontman Guillaume Cazalet (CZLT) in addition to the other matriarchal themes present throughout. Like the musical intricacies it represents, Flament's Sacrifices is vastly detailed and well layered, inviting patience audiences into an experience perfectly soundtracked to the Sunn O))-like drone of NEPTUNIAN MAXIMALISM. Solar Drone Ceremony is simply a product of passion where the arts brought two distant creatives together for one ambitious work of art. We're thrilled to give you an inside look of it all.
We go Behind the Cover of Solar Drone Ceremony with CZLT and artist extraordinaire Hervé Scott Flament to immerse ourselves into the coalition formed by each of their creative entities:
Not even a full year since the acclaimed ‘Éons’ (2020) and you’re back with ‘Solar Drone Ceremony’, which reimagines ‘The Conference Of The Stars’ (2018) in a more expansive new light. Having grown leaps and having undergone plenty since that first EP, where did you look to take ‘Solar Drone Ceremony’?
CZLT: In fact to be more precise, 'Solar Drone Ceremony' was at the base of the idea to provide a live interpretation of the most drone and the most cosmic songs of our repertoire. So, I put together a special line-up to interpret the 'EÔS' and 'The Conference Of The Stars' tracks, which put together gave this particular live set: a 'Solar Drone Ceremony'.
At over 52 minutes long, that is one expansive undertaking! ‘Solar Drone’ was recorded back in March 2020, prefacing the release of ‘Éons’, which has already sold through several vinyl pressings and continues to garner high praise. Reflecting on this creative period where ‘Solar Drone’ and ‘Éons’ were in the making, what does it mean to you all to have received that kind of response as a relatively new group?
CZLT: It's absolutely huge, fabulous, and almost unthinkable! At the same time, I have worked hard for years and suffered several setbacks. The other members also come sometimes from far away while some even started from almost zero to learn to play an instrument through this project. So, somewhere it is deserved when you consider the mass of work and heart that is inside. Work pays off. Generosity too, but we are still captivated by the flight that 'Éons' has taken. It's incredible. We are so happy with that and it made it possible to deal with the lockdown, because otherwise, things would have been a lot darker maybe.
The praise is much deserved my friend. Musically, ‘Éons’ is rich in layers and amplifies an atmosphere that was out of this world. Visually, it sports Kaneko Tomiyuki’s vibrant "Vajrabhairava" (2014). For ‘Solar Drone Ceremony’, you’ve licensed the works of Hervé Scott Flament, specifically that of his ‘Sacrifice’ painting. Why take the licensing approach for both rather than commission a particular piece to fit the world you created on each record?
CZLT: Sometimes, it's about timing. Ordering a figurative oil painting takes a lot of patience as the process takes a long time. We didn't necessarily have the time because other issues come into play, but I like the idea of finding a piece that is unanimous, as if it was waiting for us. An order is risky, there can be disappointment too. I'm a painter too, and I wouldn't be comfortable with an order. I don't want to control the painter's mind. I really like the idea of being surprised by finding a work by an artist halfway around the world who has unwittingly created the perfect image for our music. It's like a mystical connection. We are linked by a common history, which is the heart of our work, so correlations naturally occur.
Whatever the reason, I applaud your ability to find perfect visual embodiments for the two releases. Looking back at your earlier work, CZLT was in charge of covers for ‘The Conference Of The Stars’ and the few live releases but stepped away after that. Though there are definitely some benefits to being in full creative control of this aspect, was it merely just time to step away and allow someone else’s talents to do the work while you focused solely on the music?
CZLT: Yes, that's it. I would still like to make visual works but I haven't had time since 2020, especially since I take care of 100% of the layout of my band releases. Maybe later I would take up the torch again. My work is closer to geometric and chromatic abstraction with a strong focus on esotericism and occultism, science, and psychedelism. The artists we have chosen have a certain mastery of figuration that I do not have but also their own worlds. It is very interesting to create connections between their art and ours.
Hervé, upon the announcement of ‘Solar Drone Ceremony’, audiences were taken aback by the cover illustration, that being your ‘Sacrifice’ painting. The record breathes new life into this work of art, serving as the soundtrack to the otherworldly events that take place within it. What was your immediate reaction upon being contacted for the painting’s use on the cover, especially seeing the appreciation that the band’s fans had for it?
Flament: I’m always both astonished and delighted with the interest an audience could have for my art. As a painter, I don’t really have many contacts with a public other than in some gallery shows. It’s not the first time my paintings are used as a cover. Two years ago, the British band Lowen chose 'The Initiation' to illustrate their first LP and I agreed with pleasure. I hope the choice of ‘Sacrifices’ by Neptunian Maximalism will permit me to share my art to new followers.
I don't think I've seen the Lowen record before. Incredible work! When first painting ‘Sacrifice’ a few years ago, what did you look to envision?
Flament: 'Sacrifices' was commissioned by one of my clients I known since years. He already owns about 30 of my paintings and he was interested for me to envision one with this theme of sacrifice. As you may guess by watching my art, I'm painting a world mostly ruled by women, a matriarchal world adoring monstrous gods symbolic of the divinities of nature. Then, I had this vision of an underground temple where women were delivering some of them to a kind of octopus beast worshipped as their Mother Goddess. On the walls of the temple, you may see a depiction of their religion, a kind of bas-relief with a monster giving birth to a baby, becoming a child, then women of different ages leading to an old lame one walking slowly to the monster's mouth to be eaten alive.
It's amazing to see how the details evolved from the sketch. About how long did it take you to complete and what tools were used?
Flament: 'Sacrifices' took four months to achieve. It's an oil painting on a 130 cm x 97 cm piece of wood painted with a liquid painting medium made with dammar resin, linseed oil, and turpentine, which adds transparency and brilliance to the colours.
'Sacrifice’ is of course one of your many Hermetic driven works, each of which embodies an ethereal sense of mysticism that transports viewers into fascinating new realms. This one in particular puts us face to face with a supernatural ritual of sorts, as you've mentioned. Where do you feel that it fits into the larger narrative of the Hermetic philosophy?
Flament: I made some paintings more or less inspired by the Hermetic Philosophy, such as how Magick stemmed from the book of Aleister Crowley. They're also inspired by Magik in theory and practice, or Taaroa from the maori religion and culture, but most of my art derives from literature or poetry from writers such as Clark Ashton Smith, Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany. In this 'Sacrifice', man may rely it to the writings of William Hope Hodgson and the Chtuluh Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft. Still, you may remember that most of my paintings are some kinds of visions that come to my mind each and every day.
One could say your paintings serve as an escape from reality. ‘The Island of the Necromancers’ and ‘The Mausoleum In The Heavens’ (1985) come to mind as some of your most wondrous atmospheric works. From a visual standpoint, how do you approach the creation and layering of these landscapes?
Flament: Most of my paintings come from visions that I have had for years. I see landscapes, beings, flowers from beyonds as real as the ones on earth. It all stays in my mind and I just have to copy them on canvas. As a painter, I'm almost like a photographer taking pictures on another planet to share to human beings. To set an example, let's use 'Matriarcat', which was commissioned some years ago.
I first make a little painted sketch, then on a piece of wood, I draw the landscape and paint a first coloured layer before obtaining layer after layer an illusion of reality. It takes months to achieve!
Fantastic, Hervé. The sense of scale here is truly grand. Your artwork does find itself displayed by the creative powerhouse that is Salón Arcano. With notable painters, sculptors, filmmakers, musicians, and more among the Salón’s ranks, do you feel as though the camaraderie and understanding between the artists there influences your work in any way?
Flament: Philippe Pissier, the french translator of Aleister Crowley, also belongs to this Salon. Unhappily, I don't have much time to go visiting this page often, so I couldn't tell you more about this Salon.
That's a bummer. One could spend all day being blown away by the countless works on there. Guillaume, ‘Sacrifice’ was only licensed yet it’s as if it was created specifically for ‘Solar Drone Ceremony’ since they complement one another so well, creating an immersive experience despite being crafted years apart. When scouting the visual approach to ‘Solar Done’, what drew you to ‘Sacrifice’ and Hervé’s work specifically?
CZLT: Already the general atmosphere of the work: the quay looks like a front podium, there are a crowd of people in motion, megalithic statues on the sides, a central altar crowned with a sacred disc. All this already recalls our stage configuration during this concert where 'Solar Drone Ceremony' was recorded. Also, the idea of a strictly feminine presence interests me because we question this not only in our respective lives but also in NNMM by reflecting on the origins of our species and more particularly, the moment and the causes of a domination of a sex on the other. We also question this in the light of the animal kingdom. The idea of a strong female community interests us, all the more when it is focused on magic, ritual, and esotericism.
This matriarchal concept that Guillaume mentions is of course a core concept in the painting. From creature thrones to these groups of women sacrificing themselves to an extraterrestrial being in the water, there’s lots to dissect. When crafting ‘Sacrifice’, was there something you intended for viewers to take from it?
Flament: In most of my paintings, I describe a matriarchal world, I was raised by my mother and I believe this earth should be ruled by women to keep it safe and healthy. Anyway, I'm not such a naïve fellow and I know that we all belong to an evil and predator species, so it makes me quite pessimist about our future. I'm just showing humanity with its weakness and savagery.
There’s interplay within a variety of elements in the painting, resembling that of a living, breathing scene. Would you say that this was the intention?
Flament: Yes, for sure! I have visions as real as our common world and I want to share it with all and sundry. I don't believe in modernity. I'm not working on the shape and style of art, I'm just describing another reality. When I'm painting a nude, I have a model to pose for it, to paint the real skin and muscles. When you're doing a fantasy scene, if you want the viewer to believe in and be emotionally touched by the scene, you need to do it the most livingly possible.
Were there any external factors, influences, or reference images in particular that you feel played a key role in the development of the painting?
Flament: The monstrous creature that are apart, which you may relate to some Hodgson or Lovecraft writings, came from when I was an insect lover as a child. I used to catch snakes and lizards and I wanted to be a zoologist or a paleontologist, so I suppose that those so perfect visions which come to my mind owe a lot to this childhood culture I was on.
The actual painting is of course larger than that of an album cover’s proportions. Guillaume, did this present any obstacles at all in terms of capturing the core elements of ‘Sacrifice’? Great logo placement by the way!
CZLT: Thank you ! It's okay, I had to truncate a small part of the work because it is not perfectly symmetrical while the square format of the LP encourages either a perfectly centered image or an off-center, provided that the image has several magnetic poles. In 'Sacrifice', there is a very strong vertical midline, so there's no other way.
Got it. Having listened through ‘Solar Drone’ several times now, I’d argue that ‘Sacrifice’ is more than an extension of the music, rather a crucial component of the release that invites listeners into the new life you breathe into ‘The Conference of the Stars’. Given the complexities and excellence in atmosphere that your compositions embody, how significant do you feel that the visual component is to your records?
CZLT: Absolutely. For me, the visual element is extremely important (I am a painter and a self-taught graphic designer at the same time, haha). It is often the first encounter with a record, if it's ugly, there are chances to miss it. Personally, I sometimes choose records from their sleeve without knowing what. If things are well thought out and completely honest (because there are also deceptions), then the wallet becomes a clear and effective mode of communication, instantaneous. In addition, it can open up other aesthetic and symbolic horizons, it can strengthen a tribalized community around a genre, etc. Sometimes, when listening to the record, for example, the covers can give us something back that we lost in museums: spending time looking at an image.
The power of art is truly profound, and even more so when paired with music just as impactful. That said, Neptunian Maximalism is truly the epitome of a unified collective. The sonic interplay between you all coalesces into one varied entity. Aside from the obvious camaraderie present here, how does this all come together in terms of composition?
CZLT: We did not really compose, but performed songs originally from a free improvisation. We have just defined a few basic rules to be able to unleash the potential for improvisation within this reinterpretation. The more time passes, the more we move away from the first idea and the very first attempts at reinterpretations. This work will continue to evolve over time for musicians who will lend themselves to the exercise. In fact, it is as if we are delivering our laboratory in the process of making itself more than a finished product.
That's a neat way of looking at it. Hervé, in the true DIY punk spirit, you taught yourself how to paint and have harnessed from France’s rich art culture using your mother’s supernatural tastes. Looking back at your transition from musician to artist decades ago, how would you analyze your ability to learn and grow on your own terms, especially given how complex and arrayed projects like ‘Sacrifice’ have proved to be in years past?
Flament: When you have a true passion, I think you can learn even the most difficult science by yourself. With assiduous work, you may achieve your goal, whatever it is. I first was a musician, but in a country like France, playing in a rock 'n' roll band and hoping to live on it is pretty inconceivable. After a while, my band had no more record contracts and at that period, making records cost a lot of money, which I didn't have. So, I had to find another way of creation. I could have become a writer, but I chose to paint. For three years after 1984, I painted eight hours a day, learning art by doing paintings daily. I learned this way to draw by painting nudes, perspective, and animals. Passion is the key, nothing else!
Words of wisdom! Despite your slight musical background, music illustration is something that really doesn’t fall within your line of work, which is centered around the supernatural. The ‘Solar Drone Ceremony’ cover itself was licensed rather than commissioned, yet it fits so well, as if it was indeed commissioned to fit the parameters of the record. Is this something you ever consider doing or perhaps see yourself doing on occasion in the future, especially given your years in French punk?
Flament: The main problem is that 'Sacrifices' for example took four months of work to achieve. Which record label would pay me for four months of work to have a good cover for one of its records? I may try with one simple painting, but not with a four months one without hopes to sell it one day or another. I made three covers for an Australian pulp magazine called Dark Animus about ten years ago. Anyway, I prefer when one of my paintings that is already done fits the desire of a band or a label as a cover. My art pieces are so large that one, two, sometimes three parts of it may be used as a cover.
Definitely. That can be difficult when approaching the parameters of an album cover too. When scouting through I, Voidhanger’s announcement of ‘Solar Drone’, it's apparent that fans were taken aback by the cover and I’m sure many will come to know of Neptunian Maximalism through that. Do you both recall a time when an album cover, movie poster, or art work in general had an immense impact on you that perhaps introduced you to something you wouldn’t otherwise have listened to or watched?
CZLT: Yes, of course. It is a sublime poster for Jodorowsky's 'Dune' (which has never been produced) with actors Dali, Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, art design by H.R. Giger and Moebius, and music by Pink Floyd and Magma. Just that. We don't deny ourselves anything at Jodo Prod. Here is a poster like that, it makes me want to go back to see the film. Otherwise, as far as bringing me to something unexpected, there are so many examples that nothing comes to me at the moment.
Flament: Many books from my mother's library were covered by a fantasy or sci-fi illustrator. Most of the pulp magazines like Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, or french galaxy and fiction books have been painted by those artists. Otherwise, I remember having been enchanted by the Millais' "Ophelia" (1851) illustration from the "Ophélie" (1870) poem by Arthur Rimbaud in a school book.
Unique choices here! It can be hard to characterize the Neptunian Maximalism sound, and rightfully so, as you stray from linear tendencies. Your work invites listeners in and encourages patience as the elements unfold with each passing minute. Guillaume, do you feel as though this can often be lost in the contemporary fast paced world where music sometimes tends to be background noise?
CZLT: Yes, quite right. It's nice to hear that our music can be placed on that side. Music is all too often elevated to the role of entertainment, and when a cultural place holds the opening of a fairly intellectual or demanding contemporary art exhibition, finally the music comes to entertain with a mainstream and insipid boom boom. Music is a great art, like any other. It deserves its autonomy. It is a powerful means of healing, of emancipation, of catalyzation. It can be medicine, it makes it possible to speak directly to the divinities, it accompanies shamanic journeys in the dark, that is to say if its power is strong. It is an extremely powerful abstract language, endowed with several syntax, grammar, and as much vocabulary as there are authors. It is like speaking an incomprehensible language that yet anyone can understand. In short, decelerate and yes, give importance to the music.
While live shows await their return, you'll be part of this year's unique Roadburn Redux showcase, performing ‘Solar Drone’ and ‘Éons’ under a new light titled as 'Set Chaos To The Heart of the Moon'. What an honor! How do you hope to bring this experience to life, especially given the odd dynamics that come with not playing this in front of a live audience?
CZLT: In fact, we will reinterpret 'To The Moon' (from Éons), 'The Conference Of The Stars' (from Solar Drone Ceremony), as well as a surprise improvisation around the Raga Marwa (if all goes well in terms of timing). Otherwise, it's pretty scary to play without an audience taking into account that the sound we will have will be very different from what listeners will hear while streaming. This shift is quite disturbing.
A Thousand Lost Civilizations, who consistently deliver on exquisite visuals, will play a part in taking your on stage performance to the next level. Is this a component you’re involved with as well or is the group interpreting the concepts and themes you’re presenting?
CZLT: I am also involved in the scenography. For example, I edited the solar disk shown in the background during the 'Solar Drone Ceremony'. But for Roadburn, I left the good part to ATLC because they know our intentions well by now and we're also very very busy on the musical aspect. We only have 3 months to prepare a new set, which would normally take us 1 year.
We're excited to see it! In a time where listeners across the world might prefer any other reality than this one, given the circumstances and whatnot, where does ‘Solar Drone’ fit in as a conduit for opening new mental landscapes that allow for a brief yet valuable escape?
CZLT: I do not know where this is located, but I would say that the choice of these songs ('Eôs' and 'The Conference Of The Stars') was originally because I myself was going through a very difficult period in 2018. These songs bring me an immense restorative good. But, Solar Drone Ceremony is still more agitated, if only by the presence of the batteries. We are no longer in the spacerock / krautrock arena after all. It's more like leaving earth and getting on a fucking accelerating spaceship! In any case, to paraphrase Jodorowsky, we remain in an "art about healing", with a festive atmosphere, like a great ceremony in honor of an ancient goddess. Also, the texts used are exemplary: an ancient poem dedicated to Cleopatra (in Behdini Kurdish) and a rewriting of the prophecy of the late blind Romanian Nostradamus, Baba Vanga, who projects us until the end of the world beyond the year 5000 after our era.
Solar Drone Ceremony arrives on April 23rd via I, Voidhanger Records. Get yours HERE.