Andy Julia isn’t wondering why Decibel, of all publications, is interested in Soror Dolorosa, his labor of love since the early aughts. See, Julia was formerly and proudly part of the now-infamous French black metal scene, where he played drums in Celestia, Fornication, Nuit Noire, and lastly Peste Noire under various pseudonyms. But let’s be real here: plenty of ink, both physical and digital, has been spent on French black metal over the years, and, luckily for Julia, it’s not our target. Rather, it’s his post-punk outfit Soror Dolorosa, a place he’s spent the last three full-lengths — new album Apollo (named in our Overlooked Albums of 2017 piece) was recently released by Prophecy Productions — refining, exploring, and mutating into an expression that’s uniquely and collectively Soror Dolorosa’s.
No doubt Julia and cohorts Hervé Carles (bass), Nicolas Mons (guitars), David-Alexandre Parquier (guitars), and Frank Ligabue (drums) are inspired by things that originated and were popular during the ’80s. That much is evident across full-lengths like Blind Scenes (2011), No More Heroes (2013), and Apollo (2017). Bands like The Chameleons, Dead Can Dance, Bauhaus, and Joy Division were instrumental in spiriting away Julia’s black metal ambitions. But not his darkness. Not only did he move from drums to vocals, but he was also key in Soror Dolorosa’s vision, a pensive, dark, melodic, groovy rock act with roots in post-punk, goth, and pop music.
From tracks like opener “Apollo” and “Breezed & Blue” to “Everyway” and “The End,” Apollo‘s magic isn’t so much the sum of its parts but rather the journey it takes to get to the end. And with that, we’ll leave it to Julia to expand upon Soror Dolorosa’s latest, ’cause unlike in black metal the frontman is all too eager to speak his mind (and soul).
Members of Soror Dolorosa come from a black metal background. How is expressing yourselves now different from, say, Peste Noire, Celestia, and so on?
Andy Julia: I was introduced to black metal very early on and I listened to it just up until the time I created Soror Dolorosa in 2002 with Hervé [Carles], the bass player. Actually, Hervé made me discover bands like Joy Division and Depeche Mode and that was a kind of revelation. I began to listen to music, which was not only constituted by walls of distorted noise, harsh vocals and blasting drums. I have to say that black metal was a very important step in my life, learning to play drums in Nuit Noire with my brother; that was a door that opened to help develop my own world, far from the piles of commercial crap we can see on the TV or listen to on the radio. At that time, there was no Internet and black metal was hard to find and was unpopular in magazines. Black metal is the unspeakable roots of European cultures, the latest form of the darkest artistic spheres of what we can consider the heart of the cultural Eastern world. Today, I don’t make any difference between goth or metal stuff because there are no more communities; musical projects, magazines, festivals, everything is more or less mixing to create the music genres of today which are less moody caricatures compared to the bands of the ’80s or ’90s. The only thing we can note as a main difference is that goth music is danceable and metal is not. This fact is the main reason why I express myself differently as lead singer with Soror Dolorosa compared to drumming in bands like Mutiilation or Darvulia, like I used to. Soror Dolorosa’s musical influences take its roots from the post-punk/cold wave scenes of the ’80s, which is for me still a huge stream of inspiration because of the infinite richness and purity of bands like The Chameleons or Dead Can Dance and their early recordings. For Hervé, this was the opposite; he was listening to new wave at the time when The Cure released Faith and he quickly closed from the black metal heads of Toulouse in the south of France. That’s where we met, in a bar, drinking some whiskey. [We] began speaking about music after two glasses.
The influences coming into Soror Dolorosa range from gothic rock to post-punk, as well as related genre outliers like cold wave and pop music. What do you find in these genres that speak to you emotionally and physically?
Andy Julia: In 2004, I moved from Toulouse to Paris and I was often going out to night clubs, which where most of the time dark, smoky and creepy caves full of sound, sweat, and strobe lights. That was a blessed time of real goth parties where people came out to get drunk — with beverages of course — but before everything, with songs they enjoyed and knew by heart. I love music, and I love to party hard and dance until dawn. Motion is the key of life and great goth underground parties sometimes appear to me like a fabulous way to get high and relieve your mind from life’s troubles. On those dance floors, we also used to listen to Kim Wilde, A-Ha, Human League, and Billy Idol. I mean, wave, pop and goth are not so far apart, most of the time; all good music and charismatic artists. I feel inspired by such talented musicians. Inspiration is the key. If you’re not inspired, you do shit.
Four years separate No More Heroes from Apollo. What were Soror Dolorosa up to during the gap?
Andy Julia: We played a lot, all over Europe, and had exceptionally good times! Those kinds of nights that you don’t really remember what happened but you know that will not be the same again. We learned to listen to each other and personally, I think, I learned how to sing. When No More Heroes came out in 2013, we welcomed David Alexandre Parquier (Luminance) as our second guitarist. During all the time we spent together touring and making music together, his skills with analog keyboards penetrated the architecture of Soror Dolorosa. Apollo is the result of this lineup evolution and at the same time, it’s an inspiration that came to my mind in total solitude, during lonesome journeys and road trips. I had the idea to make an enlightned, long driving record, an album that I can compare to a spiritual quest. In addition, the keyboard atmospheric parts bring something way more modern and ethereal; what I had in mind when I was writing lyrics or composing the songs from my side. At this moment, we spend a lot of time with David Alexandre making demos, exploring new grooves and finding [sonic] matches with old the Soror Dolorosa goth rock style.
Were there things that influenced you musically over that period? New music discoveries, travel, books, etc.?
Andy Julia: During the genesis of Apollo, I spent a lot of time traveling all over Europe and specifically in the Caucasian Georgia. I learned to play piano and had a lot of time far from Paris to refresh my mind and get into a new kind of light. It was a kind of spiritual quest, and a moment where I found a good balance inside of me. That’s what I tried to put in the new album. It’s an uplifting record, made of passion, wisdom and intimacy. I listened to a lot of the atmospheric soundscapes of Slowdive, Boards of Canada, Chromatics, and Ulver during the elaboration of the compositions, and I think that’s why the sound became larger and ethereal. Concerning my voice, I never had any way to influence myself of learn anything. I do what I feel, instinctively, like a beast will smell or move, without any reflection. It comes by instinct.
Apollo is divided into four parts like the four seasons. Is each part meant to be distinct or are they fluid between the parts?
Andy Julia: There is a close link between the parts, like the mid seasons or the nights when suddenly weather changes from winter to springtime, hidden from the human eye. Seasons are illustrated by the female antic statues I shot in Bucharest in the garden of the Frederick and Cecilia Storck’s house. That’s where I also shot the cover of the album and many other pictures in the booklet. It’s a magical place, more of less forgotten by people. When I was there, I had the feeling that everything was written in between the walls of this house, like a silent enigma standing in the shades, protected by an inner light.
Now that you’ve had time with the album are there songs that you specifically relate to? I really like the feel of “Another Life,” “Locksley Hall,” and the title track.
Andy Julia: It’s very difficult for me to say what I prefer. Naturally, musicians are often strange with the results of what they do. I would say that “Golden Snake” is a kind of key to the disc. I’ll surely work on a video clip about it. I don’t know why, but this song haunts me and give me shivers.
Lyrically, what are the songs on Apollo about?
Andy Julia: The songs talk mainly about the mystery of life, the unspeakable things, efficient beauty and sleeping secrets. A illuminated prayer to the sun to speak to everybody or no one. Lyrics are always something very intimate. I don’t want to speak too much about the origins, in order to not spoil any perceptions for anybody. I think a good lyric will speak to people in different ways, depending upon the mood, and that’s the most interesting part about being a singer. If people want to know more, they can feel free to come see me after a show a have a chat about it. I take inspiration from facts that happen in my life and sometimes it’s just lasting for a soap bubble’s time. Purity inspires me and it’s not concrete in the short term. They are more like poetical translations of my own sensations to illustrate my state of mind. I was inspired by John Keats’ Endymion in writing Apollo’s songs. “Locksley Hall”’s lyrics are an extract from an Alfred Tennyson poem. I tried to put every kind of emotion into the vocal lines because I wanted the words to be alive and absolutely not hidden behind an easy goth/dark gimmick. It’s an album happening in the intimacy and beauty, somewhere far from the human mud. Sometimes, I used to write lyrics extracted from dreams, like in “Deposit Material,” or totally wasted by all kind of excesses in “Breezed & Blue.” I think some people will recognize themselves in some parts of Apollo’s rhetoric expression, and it’s very important to me. Words are glass.
What do you make of gothic rock or post-punk making a comeback? There’s a lot of ‘80s nostalgia happening in music right now.
Andy Julia: Yes, and that’s regular. Today people in their 30s are getting bored of the emptiness of the 2000s and they need to get back to a more inspiring period. The ’80s were magic, it’s infinite that you can still discover in new waves projects, post-punk, italo disco, experimental synth, or movie soundtracks from that era. I mean, without the total digitalization of our world in those days, musicians were maybe closer to their feelings and had to fight against rules to obtain a good sound. Today, computers give us the opportunity to do everything, but the essence of composition is not in your possibilities, it’s in the part of yourself that you will let free in your songs to never take back.
Your previous full-lengths are out via Prophecy. What’s it like to see reprints of your work get wider exposure?
Andy Julia: Stefan Belda from Prophecy Productions came to see us many times onstage and seemed to be interested in us, even before the release of No More Heroes. At the time, we were signed with Northern Silence Productions for three albums. No More Heroes is the second one and we didn’t wanted to get out of our first label after only one album, because we didn’t feel it fair for Northern Silence, who believed in us since Blind Scenes. After the No More Heroes period, we meet again with Prophecy and they told us about the idea to reissue our back catalogue at the same time of releasing a new record. We really enjoyed this proposition and we decided to sign with them. Since that time we were working on our new album and now, we release four records with Prophecy, which is a great way to begin our collaboration.
Apollo’s a great musical journey, full of melancholy, nostalgia, change. What do you want people to find in your music at this stage?
Andy Julia: This album is the termination of a trilogy, a pathway from the dark to the light. In this record, there is a universal uplifting message. My main goal would be to give people much more strength, a kind of shelter during long car driving or lonely walks through the harshness of megalopolis, and total ecstasy of senses in the shades of a bed.
** Soror Dolorosa’s new album, Apollo, is out now on Prophecy Productions. Various configurations with LP and CD are available HERE. Additionally, Prophecy’s reissues of Soror Dolorosa’s back catalog are available HERE.