Interview – Max Côté blackens the Great White North

It’s nice to have friends introduce us to new music, but in this age of ever flowing information and ubiquitous quick links, we often rely on bands’ personnel connections to lead us to our next aural awakening. Dude in our favorite death metal band also plays on this grind record or in that prog collective, and pretty soon we’re hopping among musical universes like a frog from lily pad to lily pad… or maybe more like a massive, hairy Ludo from rock to farting rock (if you’re not down with campy Muppet fantasy Labyrinth, then what’s the point of living?).
Canadian Maxime Côté provides just this kind of linkage among various Quebecois outlets of extremity. He captains the envelope-straining death project Hands of Despair, plays with blackened Gaul metal antagonists Catuvolcus, and has been technical guru for various other bands, including previous Deciblog denizens Aenygmist. The strength of his work to date, as well as his clear goals and his frankness in the interview below, bodes well for the continued growth of his solid musical offerings. Find about more about this extreme up-and-comer while getting an earful of “Them” from the recent (and soon to be physically released) Hands of Despair record, Hereafter.

So what’s your musical/technical background and training?

 I started playing guitar when I was around 16 years old (I am now 23). I took private lessons at first for about 2 years than decided that I wanted to play music as a living so I went to college to do a 3 years degree in music. This gave me the opportunity to develop my ears a lot more than my playing, since I didn’t have time to practice “shredding” exercises, nor the interest. It more precisely made my hearing a lot [better] and made it easier for me to translate what I was hearing in my head into the shape of music.

What music first got you interested in following this kind of work?

 A couple of bands really influenced me and made me discover new musical horizons. Naturally the first band that changed the way I saw music was Opeth. I remember that before listening to Opeth I was listening to mostly thrash metal like Slayer, Testament, Metallica and a lot of Slipknot too, then I discovered Opeth with the song “Blackwater Park”, and it was a shock. My father listened to a lot of old prog rock like Pink Floyd, Genesis, etc. and I didn’t really liked it back then because of the lack of aggression in the music. Opeth added the violence of death metal to prog rock structures and that’s why I immediately adored their music. I was amazed by the vocals and the progression in the songs. I then discovered some other prog bands who influenced me a lot, like Dream Theater and Pain of Salvation, but still less than Opeth did. The main other band that changed my way of writing music was Katatonia. Even though my Katatonia influences may seem a lot less present in Hands of Despair, Katatonia influenced me as much as Opeth by the way they put their feelings in their songs, and by the way they create an atmosphere within their songs.

What recordings have you worked on as a non-musician?

 I produced a couple of albums within the last few years. First band I mixed was Ablaze Coal, they had a bad experience with an expensive studio and they liked how my old Hands of Despair demo was sounding so they asked me to mix their EP. I did it but basically I wasn’t really [sure] what I was doing (haha). I did it for free though. [The] first band I really produced was Eyeless, a death prog band from Quebec. They were really talented so the recording went well; I spent a lot more time experiencing mixing and the mastering was done by Pierre Rémillard so the final result was pretty good I think for the first real EP/album I was producing. They’re now recording their first album and I’m sure it will be awesome. I then produced a couple of other bands, like Aenygmist, Inhaled, my other band Catuvolcus, and I’m now producing the album from The Unconscious Mind which will absolutely destroy and be my best production yet.

 I know you’ve written and recorded as Hands of Despair as well as for Catuvolcus. Can you describe the different emotional/thematic approaches to these projects?

 Whether I write for HoD or Catuvolcus is really clear for me, the riffing of the guitars is really different in both to start with. HoD is more about heavy riffs and dark atmospheres, where Catuvolcus there’s always 2 guitars playing different parts, and its more about tremolo picking and epic melodies. I know for which project a song will be before even composing it.

 Any other projects in the works?

 Hard to say. I think my [most recent] compositions don’t fit either HoD and Catuvolcus, so there may be another project in the works effectively (haha). I really want to make an album darker and more depressive then [HoD’s] Hereafter, but at the same time I don’t want HoD to become all mellow and lose all the aggression in the songs. But the next HoD album may be a lot different than Hereafter; I really don’t want to repeat myself and produce the same album time after time. I know a lot of bands are heavily criticized when they change their musical direction, but I honestly prefer that a lot more than a band who will release albums that sound all the same.

 Any plan of a physical release of the album?

 Absolutely, in fact Hands of Despair recently signed to Deathbound Records, a new label from Montreal who is a division of Metalodic Records more into the extreme metal band genre. They previously signed my other band Catuvolcus, and I got along really well with the guys from the label, so I sent them Hereafter and they really liked it. They then offered me a deal with HoD and I accepted it. The album will be available worldwide probably somewhere during next fall. It will include a bonus track, which will be a remake of an old song (“The Red Well”).

 What further goals do you have for your music or your behind-the-boards work?

 Recently I’ve been putting music a bit on the side since I’m still at school and it is my priority as of now. But I’d definitely want to do shows when I’ll have finished my degree. I easily see the appeal the songs would have being played live. I don’t want to make a living off music though; music is something I enjoy a lot because of the liberation it provides me and the sense of accomplishment I have from creating art. To make a living off music, especially in metal, is really hard. I don’t want music to become a chore, I’d prefer it to stay something I enjoy to do when I have free time. I fear that having to do long tours would stain the way I see music right now. I’d prefer to continue compose albums and start doing some shows locally, as soon as possible.

 As for my behind-the-boards work, I still enjoy doing it but not enough for making a living off it, for multiple reasons. Since music software is becoming better and better, a lot of bands just don’t practice anymore and just ask the engineer to correct their mistakes. I’ve been fortunate to work with great bands, but it’s still something that takes a lot of time and you basically have to work 7 days a week if you want to make a living off it, and this is definitely not what I want.

What other music/art/literature are you enjoying right now?

 I think 2012 is one of the greatest years for metal since a long while. A LOT of great albums are coming out this year. There was Alcest at the beginning of the year, Swallow the Sun too. New Katatonia and Daylight Dies are coming later this year and I’m sure they will be great because these bands never disappoint. I recently discovered Septicflesh and I really can’t stop listening to The Great Mass! “Therianthropy” is one of the greatest songs ever. I also re-discovered Ulver and I can say it reached my top 5 bands ever. Their DVD is one of the most amazing and creative piece of art I’ve ever seen. Same thing for Deathspell Omega; Paralectus was one of my favorite albums last year, and their upcoming EP is an absolute masterpiece. Their music is so chaotic and melodic at the same time, I don’t understand how can human beings compose this kind of music (haha).

 I’m also a big fan of movies and I have to say that they influence a lot my music. Songs I compose are really visual, and I compose lyrics like if I was writing the story of a movie. I love depressing movies, my favorite recent one is We Need to Talk About Kevin. I really like Christopher Nolan movies, and especially really can’t wait for the new Batman! I also enjoy David Cronenberg a lot, my favorite one probably being either Spider or A History of Violence.

**Check out more from Hands of Despair at this Bandcamp page.**