XAVIER MALEMORT (MALEMORT): “Nostalgia Is Only Worth Savoring If You’re Also Able To Live Life To The Fullest”

Malemort (Live at Mennecy Metal Fest, France, September 8, 2023)
Photo: Séverine Peraldino

At New Blood Fest, our reviewer, Séverine Peraldino talked with Xavier Malemort, frontman and singer of the French band Malemort, that you might have seen opening the Hellfest mainstage in 2019. The band is one of the most original and promising bands in France, with a rich musical and visual universe, taking you throughout a phantasmagorical journey through the artistic life in the 20th century Paris and nearby. The band released the album Château Chimères in 2022. In this interview, Mr Malemort spoke in detpth of the history of the band latest album, the themes and influences of Malemort’s music.

MER: Since Metal Express Radio is an English-speaking web-radio, how would you present your band Malemort to an audience that might not know you yet ? 

Xavier: Malemort is for me an unabashed mix of Metal, Rock and Heavy. There, you have it! I grew up in the ‘1990s Metal, when it was a bit of a mess, because Grunge had reshuffled the cards. And I, paradoxically enjoyed this era, because Metal had to adapt itself, find solutions. I found it very interesting. Musicians broke out of their confines. Metal bands put forward improbable combinations, and I think I was forged by that. That and the great classics. For English-Speakers, it’s this mix. And also the fact that in France, lyrics matter. French people tend to think that French language cannot sound good on this kind of music. We’re the firsts to have a complex about our own language, and it’s true. It’s more difficult to make French sound than English. I’ve sung in English for a long time, and it requires additional work, but I think it is worth the effort. I would not be able to write something poetic in English. I would only be able to write lyrics that are in fine simply harping on about clichés. For that matter, I’m wondering what English-Speakers think when they hear bands, from home or abroad spouting stuff that’s just so clichéd. No, really, once you sing lyrics, it’s nice to be able to open up a universe. French is harder to make sound – that I tell to English-Speakers – but I believe that if you keep in mind what I’ve just said, if you consider, you should never forget the sonority of words when writing percussive music, you can do beautiful things.

MER: True, not everybody attach the same importance to lyrics, but when you do, it’s annoying only to hear banalities.

Xavier: It’s maybe also why I deliberately went back to French. It’s a language I love, I master and that moves me. And I believe, in Metal, there are many Nordic bands singing in their mother tongues. I’m amazed that it’s not more eye-opening for more people, because each language had it’s own musicality, each language has its own sound and as it happens, there would be more diversity, even in singing technique, if some bands dared to sing in their own tongue. You see, even Moonspell tried it on one of their albums. They sang in Portuguese and it was just beautiful. All these Nordic bands, notably in Black Metal, who sing in their language. I find that it gives off something more. Necessarily, singers put forward melodic lines that are a bit different. And I think that an English-Speaker who’d listen to Malemort in French, would realise there’s and outlandish side to it, precisely because, the language doesn’t sound the same, melodic lines are not written the same way.

MER: It’s not Black Metal, but I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this Icelandic band called Skàlmöld singing in Icelandic. They also played with the symphonic orchestra of Reykjavik…

Xavier: Of course, you echo exactly what I’m thinking when I tell you this. I think that one of the strengths of Metal music is that it has an international significance. It’s a universal language for Metalheads around the world. And at the same time, Metalheads are very keen and I’d even say, they have a taste for novelty and originality. And it’s brilliant, it would be wrong not to enjoy it more!

MER: Last year, Malemort released a new album, titled Château Chimères, which has some elements of the concept album. It takes its inspiration from a real place, the castle of Hérouville a special place in the history of music. First, how did this place become the source of the album and to what extent does your music pay tribute to this place?

Xavier: I think this place would speak to our Anglo-Saxon friends. Because this castle belonged to a great French film music composer. He composed for a lot of films in the ‘1950s and ‘1960s. There, in the castle he set up one of the first home studio, which at the time was very expensive. And to make it profitable, he thought he could share it with other musicians, to divide the costs. This man, acted as a grand seigneur. He received guests with incredible elegance, in the French style. And in fact, French music people did not believe in his project. The big French labels thought, what on earth are we going to do 20 miles North of Paris, out in the sticks? There already were studios in Paris, owned by the labels, where they could record their artists. In fact, the Anglo-Saxons were the first to take an interest. There were also accounts of tax evasion. In England, at the time, it cost an arm and leg. The Rolling Stones used to record their albums just about everywhere to avoid recording in England. And so it created a sort of a domain effect. Elton John was one of the firsts who came to Hérouville. He fell in love with the place. He recorded three of his greatest albums there. Right away he told his friends, his record company about this castle, in the middle of the countryside, with this mysterious a bit ghostly aura. And in the end, Pink Floyd also went there. Other people like T-Rex, and loads of other bands. The castle earned its reputation of excellence thanks to British bands, notably. Americans showed up after, and the French after a little while. So, their studio was not as good, but it serves them right. But even, concerning French – it doesn’t hold any interest for the English-Speakers – but Higelin recorded outstanding albums at Hérouville, with beautiful lyrics. And I’m passionate about it! And above all, for me, a guy like Bowie, who came there once to record an album, and then came back, bringing Iggy Pop with him, pulling him by the sleeve to record the album that resurrected his career. That really speaks to me.

MER: Rainbow’s Long Live Rock N’ Roll, with Dio, which is a reference work for Metalheads, was also recorded there.

Xavier: Oh yes, of course, absolutely! You see, this castle, in the ‘1970s, was a place of overflowing, overwhelming creativity. What the Anglo-Saxons loved over there, was that when they turned up, they were just in a tiny village. And the inhabitants they met there were farmers, on their lands, and they did not give two shits about Rock N’ Roll. They rubbed shoulders at the pub. There only was a small pub in the village, and you could see Elton John who liked to leave the castle from time to time, or Iggy Pop getting a drink with the country bumkins, not making a fuss, at the local pub, which also served as the local shop. Yeah! You realize! And they were all cushy there! The park was also a beautiful place. All these artists, in the 70’s loved the fact that they could create without boundaries, without limits! And it has to be said, nowadays we don’t understand, but at the time, the idea of a home studio was entirely new. It did not exist. A few years later, in the South of France, another home studio was set up, then some in England… But this idea to settle somewhere, that’s completely unique to the ‘1970. It also has to be said. Actually, when the ‘1980s arrived, artists were so full of drugs they did not want to live in close quarters anymore. But in the ‘1970s, when Elton John came to Hérouville, he still admits it nowadays, he recorded his greatest albums. In the morning, when his musicians had their breakfast, he was on the veranda, already behind the piano, composing. The musicians would half-listen, to write down the scales, and it was on! This is what I wanted to celebrate, this certain idea of music. I do Metal, but my music ideal, not in terms of style, but in terms of a spirit matching my own, this is it.

MER: To illustrate the legendary aura of this castle, you chose to work with Blitz’Art Creation for the visual elements of the album. What was the link between, the place, your music and his art?

Xavier: It has to do with his Burtonesque style. You can think of Tim Burton when you see his work. I know I should not say that, it’s too reductive, but there’s still a bit of this. Also, we’re from the same area. He already knew a little of the history of the castle. I’ve been following his artistic career for a long time. Outside the Metal world, he has a large fanbase. I really like his style. And it wasn’t until later that I realized that this artist I really liked and followed was also a metal musician I’d known for a long time. We even did shows together, but I did not know it was the same person. And he was also thrilled by the story of the castle. He likes ghosts and things like that. We kind of played around with this story. Because actually, the first owner of the castle, this composer, was very whimsical. And he enjoyed playing tricks. And so, people like Elton John or the guys of Pink Floyd, he pranked them and made them believe there were ghosts. But there are also stories going beyond these pranks. There are some mysteries about the castle.

MER: British are notoriously rather superstitious as well.

Xavier: And so the castle’s staff also had some fun with these superstitions. There really are a lot of stories. Even the French who’ve been around the castle before had ghost stories to tell. Strange things happened there. Even on the tapes, some recordings disappeared or suddenly there were weird noises. But it was also in keeping with the fact that in the ‘70s everybody was stoned, but not too hard. I mean, the drugs were not too violent. I was lucky enough to visit the castle. The park is superb and mysterious. These ghost stories come from the previous century, for example, you got George Sand, a writer who had spent some crazy moments there and she told these stories. So yes, it’s quite full of legends. When in fact, the castle itself is not extraordinary.

MER: I walked past it and thought to myself, this isn’t very chimerical…

Xavier: No, not really! However, the park behind it, which has been virtually derelict since the 1970s, has a strange feel to it. There’s still the swimming pool where all these famous people we’re talking about used to swim and stuff. It’s also abandoned, even if the castle has new owners. But there are still some really strange things going on.

MER: Going back a little bit in time in Malemort’s career, on your albums, there’s a leading thread, it’s thin, but it’s there. This narrator, this I/Eye. The listener follows the figure of a decadent dandy. I’m perhaps going too far, but he could be a veteran of the First World War, lost in the underbelly of Paris (or even San Diego if you think about the song “Diamond” from the first album).

Xavier: No, you’re not going too far, that’s exactly it!

MER: How was this character created?

Xavier: When I founded Malemort, I was going back to Metal Music. I’d been doing Metal for a very long time. And then I felt like getting some fresh air, doing something else. So I got into Rock. And when I came back to it, I couldn’t see myself getting into a sort of disguise, following a path that wasn’t my own. So, I am passionate about the French language and French culture. And it seemed obvious to me I could not go back to anything else. It was about twelve years ago I think, or something like that. I already felt ancient. And I did not want to be the guy who just stuck to a trend. I had to be honest with myself. I find the Europe of the beginning of the 19th century fascinating. I’m passionate about everything that happened in Paris before World War I and the inter-war period. Because there was this completely mad artistic effervescence. Balltrap, our 2nd album, it’s really about that. It’s the story of a young man who finds himself entangled in inter-war history, the Roaring Twenties and the Dirty Thirties. He’s going to get drawn into the turmoil of the time. Anglo-Saxon figures were there, a Russian diaspora as well. There were the Americans, all the jazzmen who were mistreated in the States, who suddenly, when arrived in Paris, played tremendous shows and were acclaimed like superstars. And there was the whole artistic avant-garde, even painters, all of it. These things echo with me. When I went back to Metal, I could not do anything else but something that suited me completely. French Romance, the first album is already about this. Then Balltrap is the inter-war period. There’s also the Industrial Revolution… You know, it makes me think about these Nordic band exploring their roots and their past. I find it healthy actually. And so, our way of doing it, as French people, is to get closer to the eras that particularly affect us. And without the grand guignol, you know. We’re not into the big show. We’re not looking for a gimmick. See, the idea is not “Oh yes, Malemort, the Roaring Twenties Metal Band.”No. It’s just we speak about the themes that speak to us, and move us.

We talked earlier about how important the lyrics in French were. They’re very poetic, but also cryptic. You can see there many influences. I thought of Baudelaire and his Fleurs du Mal, a bit of Man Ray and Paul Eluard, and La Forgue as well…It’s all part of my literary education, but you don’t necessarily have to know these writers and poets to enjoy the music.

Yes, of course, knowing all of that, the lyrics reminded you of these authors. The names you quote mean a lot to me. The one thing I’ve always tried to be careful about though, is that when I am telling a story, you don’t need to have this literary key to appreciate the music. You see, I think it would be very dubious to want to impose some sort of prerequisite. You also mention the cryptic lyrics. The idea is that the lyrics can be very clear, with some context. The lyrics would become instantly clear. But the idea was that, for someone who doesn’t want to or who will never have access to the booklet or Le Grimoire that comes with the physical version of the album, they could do something else with those lyrics too and that poetry can be at all levels. And so, I know how much the names you quote mean to me, but, you see, on the last album, I’ve tried to write in a simple even minimalist way. Because when I was younger, I had a very Hugolian side, you see. My lyrics were a bit heavy, a bit…And I’m still a fan of Victor Hugo. But now, in my lyrics, I find that it has to be somehow moving for anyone. See, Seb (editor’s note: Seb one, of the band guitarists just joined and listened in on the conversation) in your private life, which is the life of a lead guitarist that has nothing to do with Hérouville, there’s a song on the album close to you. It’s another way of understanding the song. I think it’s important. But it requires some effort, to be able to wrap one’s head around two interpretations.

“Maldoror” for example, even if you haven’t read the poems, the name is already super metal! 

Ah but Lautréamont’s Chants de Maldoror, this is quite a good bit of mad poetry! You should give it a look! To show you the echo and back and forth between all of my influences, Higellin, a French singer, recorded several albums at Hérouville. He had a signature, in between literature and Anglo-Saxon rock he mixed with traditional folk song. It’s quite peculiar. And so, this guy lived for a few years in the castle, by squatting very simply. I thought that some of his lyrics from the 70’s had a Maldoror’s vibe, but a crazy version, a bit ironic. That’s why I did this little tribute to Lautréamont but with Higelin’s voice.

MER: I’m circling back to the themes of your songs: decadence, decay and melancholy. And at the same time a desire to live, an energy, a fury. And there’s another kind of paradox, it’s inspired by the city, Paris, and the city’s almost a character of the songs, and sometimes, there’s also this very country-side atmosphere, especially in the first album French Romance. How do you conciliate all of these elements?

Xavier: First of all, the fact is we need this fury. Even if I’m prone to nostalgia, life is short. And we play Rock. Rock music must be a ball of energy. And that’s what saves you from death, temporarily. So for me, we were quite nostalgic on the last album but we did not stray from energy. We need it to be here. I won’t say the energy comes from despair, but at least we need this thing, this celebration of life. Nostalgia is only worth savouring if you’re also able to live life to the fullest. With Malemort, on the three albums, you have this balance. You also talked about the opposition between the city and the countryside. I’m fascinated by Paris in the 1920’s because there was an incredible artistic bustle. In fact, most of these artists self-destructed to some extent, but they created some of the major works of the 20th century, in literature, painting, and music, you see. However, I’m someone who feels good when finding respite in nature. I’ve never asked you, Seb…

Seb: yes totally, even more than you, I think!

Xavier: And so yes, there’s this dichotomy between the nature and city worlds. I dream about Paris in the ‘20s, but I think had I lived at that time, I would still have taken the train quite often to wander off in the Vexin. We are influenced by both. And even where we live now, the 95 region, which is haphazard. It’s stuck in between the north of Paris and a natural park. A new urban area was built in the 70’s and the countryside just next door. And it’s quite a peculiar atmosphere. In the Vexin, there’s nothing as far as the eye can see and not so far, there’s the city of Cergy, built in the middle of nothing. People living there have their own spirit and you feel this sort of dichotomy between the city and the countryside.

MER: There are also a lot of female characters in your music: diffuse presences that keep surfacing throughout the songs. We have “Diamond” on the first album French Romances, “La Fille de Manchester”, Barbarella on “Quelle Sorte d’Homme”. Where do they come from?

Xavier: Yes, it’s true! Well, first contemporary things that some call “woke” or something else do not concern me. We never needed dictates to be men for whom femininity is evident. And I had a hard time with the fact that Metal wasn’t very feminine, because for me it’s obvious. After all, in my family it’s obvious because we’re not macho at all. For me, femininity is a very natural thing. And it’s not a posture, because you find it right from the first album, and I’ve always written about it. We’re in love by nature…I wouldn’t know how to elaborate on that. But it’s true that right from the first album, yes, there was talk of girls, of women. But we didn’t ask ourselves how we should write about a particular genre.

Seb: We’re not in a band to hit up on girls, we’re passionate about music above all else!

MER: Staying with the first album, there’s the song “Le Domaine”. Is it already about Hérouville?

Xavier: At first no. I was on holiday in Alsace, on the land of some of my ancestors. There was a magnificent property, which I learned later used to be a mine’s owner’s. At the time there were metal mines in Alsace. Gold mines. And it was near… Well, I can’t remember right now. There was gold, silver… and so a very rich local family had built a grand manor and hosted sumptuous festivities, still talked about fifty years later. And I found this place by accident. I was with my wife, and my daughters who were very young. And this abandoned property, with the trees starting to grow all around, shook me up. I wrote the lyrics of the song “Le Domaine” after the man who hosted my family told me the story of this place. And now, the lyrics of “Le Domaine” work for Hérouville as well, that’s a funny thing. They work for many things: grandeur and decadence, the passage of time. You get dumped by your girlfriend, you listen to “Le Domaine”, and you always find something to do with your experience.

MER: In the lyrics, there’s the rather individualistic figure of the poet. In the composition process, is it the same?

Xavier: Only in writing the lyrics. For the music, no. With Seb and Seb, we quickly established that. The lyrics, that’s it, that’s my job. But it’s not an easy job. And it’s my own world, my own ideas and concepts. But you guys don’t feel bad about it, right?

Seb and Seb (the guitarists): No we’re good! But for the music we work all together!

MER: A little while back you released a live album, recorded at Hellfest in 2019 when you opened on the Main Stage. With a new album in the pipeline, is that something you’d like to do?

Xavier: Yes, we’d love to! We’d like to do it with a show we played not so long ago. But we’re still waiting to know if the recordings are exploitable. We had this bad and good luck at the same time to undergo a rather brutal lineup change. And now we’re playing all together with this new lineup. For the first time in our lives, we feel like we have truly accomplished something with our music, to be totally in sync with what we play. And we owe that to the people we’re playing with today. And we’d like to engrave that on wax. That’s the project. There’s always a selling point, but right now, for us, it’s a special moment. We went through a small resurrection and we should celebrate that. Also, live albums are a bit out of fashion right now. Music, it’s not difficult to release. But live albums are not so popular these days… We grew up with bands who released live regularly and it was important as it allows us to listen to music a bit differently. It was a moment captured in the life of a band. It’s funny you should ask because it’s something we’ve been thinking about a lot.

MER: One last question. In the songs, you mention Paris a lot: Mouffertard, Montmartre, Montparnasse… What’s the ideal circuit to discover Paris for fans of Malemort?

Xavier: You know, I’m not the only one passionate about the inter-war era. Overwhelming things happened. But this version of Paris has faded. It has to be said because it’s a bit sad. First the artistic elite of the time, were completely skint, and broke. They became the superstars of the artistic galleries decades later. But when they were living in Montmartre, they sold their canvas for almost nothing when they even managed to sell them. For the painters, this Montmartre is long gone. Montparnasse is the neighbourhood where artists went to, when Montmartre became posh. And there, people like Man Ray, dwell in Montparnasse. But today’s Montparnasse is a little sad. It was still a bit wild until the ‘60s, with artists like Hemingway. Hemingway used to hang out there all the time. Montparnasse was Hemingway’s neighbourhood at one point. You can still find brasseries celebrating that era. But Paris hasn’t been the centre of the artistic world for some time now.

Interview and translation by Séverine Peraldino


  • Séverine Peraldino

    Reviewer, interviewer and apprentice photographer for Metal Express Radio, Séverine comes from a small place in the Southern French Alps, near Grenoble. Her taste for classic Heavy Metal is a family heritage and after growing up listening to Iron Maiden, Dio, Metallica and Angra she expanded her horizons with almost every subgenre of Metal, from Power, to Prog, a little bit of Death and Black Metal. She mostly enjoys albums telling stories with originality. When she is not travelling around for concerts and festivals, you can find her reading a good book, or playing board games with friends.

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