A Conversation with Zeal and Ardor (Manuel Gagneux)

Back in April, Ron Deuce shared some Blackened Blues with Zeal and Ardor‘s Devil Is Fine and reviewed it with a strong 4 out of 5 flaming Toilets ov Hell. There was a hint of controversy as to the authenticity of the samples used in the music, so I reached out to Manuel Gagneux, the man behind Zeal and Ardor, and it turns out he is nice as can be. I wasn’t overly familiar with his body of work, so I approached this interview as more of an informal conversation. He was happy to oblige! Mr. Deuce also joined in for additional conversation.

Hi there, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions! I like these things to be rather informal… so how are you doing today? I want to commend you on how you handled the accusation that certain Zeal and Ardor vocal sections were actually samples taken from public domain. Do you want to share your thoughts again here for everybody?

I’m fine, thanks for asking. Concerning the vocals I’m more flattered than anything else. If people think these are old Lomax-esque recordings it seems I’m doing something right. I actually agree that flat out stealing other people’s work and using it as a central part of one’s music (like in my case) isn’t exactly a great accomplishment. I actually was hesitant to intervene, but it seemed like the right thing to do. Since I’d be all but discredited with what I’ve done and marked as a filthy, sampling scoundrel. Thanks for reaching out about this!

No problem, guy! Things are always better handled as a discussion, rather than mud-slinging. Let’s start at the beginning. Since I would consider myself a new fan of Zeal and Ardor, and perhaps lots of other folks are too, can you tell us how Zeal and Ardor started? Should I call it a band or a project?

I’d call it a project. It would be pretty douchey of me to call it a band, since it’s just me. I was in a couple of metal bands in my teens and went on to do more commercial stuff. It felt like I was missing a creative output and well, I missed making metal. It started more as a thought about how funny it would be to hear satanic gospel music. But the thought took me to the similarities between Norway’s imposed Christianity and that of American slaves. So there was more of a thematic coherence than a musical one at first. I kind of just tried out what works from there.

Well color me impressed, as Zeal and Ardor sounds great! Kudos for starting such a bizarre project, but one that succeeds so well. Back to the early days, which bands heavily influenced a younger Manuel? Specifically metal, but also the *regular* bands.

Thanks, man! I listened to a lot of the early black metal stuff like Burzum and Darkthrone but later I got more into speed metal and bands like Naglfar, Mephistopheles, Illnath and Golem (fuck I should listen to Golem again! That Dreamweaver album is nigh on perfect). It’s hard to say what really influenced me most. I probably have elements of song I hate in my music, just because I heard it somewhere.

Okay, we now know some of your metal influences from early on. How about influences for the bluesy/chanty stuff? Can you tell us a little about your entry point into that style of music?

Haha! Actually there’s not much there. There was never a time in my life when I listened to blues or spiritual music (being a super satanic black metal teen and all…) I did listen to Lomax recordings for this project though. He was a guy who was interested in documenting all kinds of folk music and archiving it. Some might say you can get it on PBS or at the Smithsonian. There is a guttural pain, anger and energy in those recordings I try to recreate somehow.

You also run the Birdmask project, and I probably don’t have to tell you that a fan of Zeal and Ardor [may] also enjoy Birdmask. How long have you been doing Birdmask? If somebody were to ask you to quantify, how much of your involvement goes to Birdmask and how much goes to Zeal and Ardor?

I’ve been doing Birdmask for about 3 years now. The time I spend on the projects depends on how much I feel like it. If I’m not in the mood for Birdmask I’ll make shit music; same goes for Z&A. But all in all it’s about 60% Birdmask 40% Z&A. The Sacrilegium songs don’t have anything to do with that though.

Okay dude, let’s tackle ethnicity. You pull off a fantastic “black guy” voice: it’s strong, it’s soulful, it’s convincing. Let’s presume I know nothing about you. What is your ethnicity? (I cheated and read from where you came, but want to tell the readers?)

Haha! My dad’s from Switzerland and my mom’s from the US. She’s black, he’s white. I’m a daywalker.


*** This is where Ron Deuce took over ***

Zeal And Arbor had a live performance on May 21. What can people expect to see in a live setting? Are you performing solo or will you have some people backing you up?

It was me performing alone. I’m currently working on the show as and including more people in it. There’s a branding iron for people who want to remember the show forever, a ritualistic table, visuals and all manner of elements being incorporated.

What’s the significance of the branding iron? Did some people get branded that evening?

Well branding irons were to mark slaves to their particular owners. The audience can be branded by me during concerts. I didn’t brand anyone that night, since I wasn’t prepared (and I doubt anyone present would’ve taken me up on the offer), I’m practising the handling of it and I’m getting quite good. It’s not acute pain like a tattoo and since it’s about the size of a hand it would be quite shitty to have a botched wound. I’m quite serious about this. If people want it, it is red hot and ready.

When we reviewed Devil Is Fine, a few of us thought the vocals the were sampled. The reason that came to mind was because the way the vocals were recorded. The raspy vocal lines conjure images of the old blues passages that are routinely used in hip hop songs. Was the intent to capture the essence of music from that time?

It’s done by giving too much signal and have the vocals basically sounding like they have an overdrive on them. Singing loudly into a shit microphone helps also.

Your songs have a variety of influences in them that go beyond just blues and black metal. Is the combination of styles premeditated or does it just come out naturally? Take us through the song writing process.

It mainly begins with the chants, as the songs are arranged around them, so I’d drink unhealthy amounts of coffee and start chanting like a maniac until my neighbours hate me. Eventually, if I’m happy with it, I add guitars and what-have-you.

As far as predetermination, it all happens quite organically. Things tend to sound like shit when I try to make it sound like something specific I’ve heard before

What can people expect from Zeal and Ardor’s next output? Any ideas on where things might lead?

The next release will be larger and more coherent. A big factor for me right now is to see what works best live. I’d really like it to be somewhere between a concert and a seriously fucked up play. Not just something people haven’t heard before, but something people have never seen before leaving them frightened, weak and loving it. That is the thing I’m currently striving for.

It was a pleasure speaking with Manuel.  You can check out all of Zeal and Ardor‘s work on Bandcamp, as well as Birdmask‘s.

(The header image is a screenshot from Birdmask – Live at Suite 268, and the cool cat pic was provided by Manuel himself.)

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Published on: June 13, 2016

Filled Under: Interviews

Views: 2728

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  • Dubbbz

    Interested in getting a TovH brand to mark our acolytes.

  • Blackened Blues? You piqued my interest.

    Devil is Fine is giving me some mad chills.


    • Abradolf Lincler

      Typical GL

  • Jason Kolkey

    I like everything about this except for the branding iron thing. That bit seems in poor taste.

  • Joaquin Stick

    Great job guys! I enjoy Devil is Fine quite a bit, but still need to check out the other posted stuff. For whatever reason, this seemed like one of those projects that wouldn’t get any kind of artist statement and would be all dark and mysterious, but I am glad we could get some background info. And cats.

    • if you dig deeper (into the Birdmask stuff), you’ll find about 400,000,000 more songs. dude seems to keep busy!

      • Joaquin Stick

        Just listened to the one posted above. DANG. I like this dude’s chops.

  • Abradolf Lincler

    like i said before, i dont think this was made with me in mind but cool interview and cats >>>>>>>>>>>>

  • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

    Cool interview, and the music is the good kind of unusual 🙂

  • Fine Sexy Ladies

    In related news, I just saw Zeal and Ardor’s Facebook that there are preorders for physical copies of Devil is Fine. Get on that shit.

  • birdmask

    This guy’s just a shitty hipster ruining black metal for the rest of us.

    • Abradolf Lincler


    • If anyone does opt to get branded I wanna see plenty of photo and video documentation.

      • Cosigned.

      • birdmask

        I’ll make sure the ensuing lawsuit is televised.

        • Abradolf Lincler

          What is the brand an image of

          • birdmask

            the logo

      • Tronc McBeefyBeardloaf

        Bring it. It will go great next to my chef sleeve, and I probably won’t feel a thing. :-p

    • You say ruin, I say you’re making it interesting.

  • Edward/Breegrodamus™

    Wait, so none of the vocals were taken from public domain? I re-read the opening question and answer a couple of times, it’s a bit confusing.

    • Manuel seems to have done them all!
      watch that Live at Suite 268 video to see him in action.

    • JWEG

      I agree; it almost scans like fessing up to intentional and extensive use of PD, where the real intent of the answer is the polar opposite.

      It might need a little editing for clarity.

    • well i guess McNulty done f**ked up again. sorry for confusion everyone. (RFI)

      • The question was clear. The answer was…not.

        • as an interviewer, it was my duty to facilitate a more clear answer. so i accept blame for that. without giving it a bunch of thought, i had assumed that most folks would have read the comments section of the review of Devil Is Fine.
          … there’s also some line about assumating things…

        • birdmask

          Yeah, kinda fucked that one up.

    • The vocals are all original material, no samples. I have a higher appreciation for it given that fact.

  • I came here for cat photos.
    What’s Zeal and Arbdor?

  • Waynecro

    Great interview! Nice work, fellas!

  • Great job, Mañulti man! Thanks for sharing this interview.

  • Elizabeth Short

    Very much enjoyed this release. Well done interview, good sir, and I appreciate Manuel swinging by to chat/joke around. Good toilet times.

  • Simon PhoenixKing Rising

    That Blade reference doe.

  • dr.derelict

    Devil is Fine has bridged some musical gaps in relationships with a few normie friends. It’s original and catchy as fuck. Great interview.

  • Tronc McBeefyBeardloaf

    Awesome interview!
    Not quite my cup of tea on Devil Is Fine, but the vocals definitely have emotion. And that cat = coost! I have one cat here up for trade. :-p