interview with Handful Of Snowdrops

A talented band which in the past has been able to offer emotions, an unique sound and the ability to appear always modest, despite the great appreciation of fans: Vox Empirea has today the honor to interview the Canadians Handful Of Snowdrops, here represented by Jean-Pierre Mercier. Welcome to our webzine!

> I thank you so much for having me and for such a heartwarming presentation. I'm just glad you thought we were of enough interest to your readers.

For a band like yours, with a such glorious past, I would ask lots of questions, but I'll try to summarize your long story into the following ones. First of them: the origins of Handful Of Snowdrops are dated back to 1984. Like many other bands of that years, you were born and evolved with minimal instrumentations, with few resources and many dreams. What do you remember of particularly significance regarding the beginning of your career?

> Wow! I don't know how glorious it actually was, but we sure have one. Reading your first question, the first thing that springs into my minds, surprisingly enough, is that there were not that many dreams, if any. I'd be lying if I said I remember it all. In fact most of it is pretty hazy. What remains are probably not facts but closer to fossil interpretations of those events. I don't believe we had any special ambitions when we originally got together. We just thought it could be interesting to attempt to organize noises in a manner that would make some kind of sense. Neither did we know if such a goal was a reasonable objective considering the extremely limited resources we had access to. What can be said is that like so many of our contemporaries, with the exception of Michel who already played a little drums, we had never played an instrument before, not even a toy xylophone or a flute in elementary school. To this day, I still can't write or read a music sheet, more than that, I can't even give you the name of a chord! But retrospectively, the original seed and what, beyond some obvious similar musical interest, we had in common, above all, was an amount of naivety of unusual proportions. And without that naivety, we would not have made it through the first week. Now, I know a lot of artists make claims of naivety, but I frankly doubt they could compete with the abyssal depth of ours. From now on, I shall refer to those first few years as our "Naive" period! But more seriously, it actually did keep us from the evil of self-consciousness.

Jean-Pierre, in your opinion, analyzing all your course and your initial band's projects, what concretely came true and what is instead left unachieved?

> I would have given you a completely different answer when we initially quite in 1993. I would certainly have given you a different one ten years ago, hell, I would have answered differently just a couple of months ago, before we decided to take those songs we were working on, for our own entertainment, one step further. I would be hard pressed to tell you what actually came true. As I've mentioned before, we had no big scale plan to start with. We came from a background were we were though not to expect too much out of life. We just thought it was stupid for kids from the middle of nowhere, on the wrong side of the atlantic, to think we could gain any kind of recognition. Remember, this was way before the internet! We were completely isolated, not only geographically, but also culturally. So it would be ironic to pretend that something we never actually thought we could achieve in the first place, didn't materialized. So knowing that, it leaves pretty much everything unachieved. On occasion, I let myself wonder what could, or what would have happened. It's always tempting to extrapolate on what would have become of us if we had been given the opportunity to go on. But it's also an absolute waste of valuable time. I certainly don't think we had reached any kind of peak. Far from that, we were still learning how to play our instruments and write songs when the carpet was pulled from under our feet. So, if I had to make a choice, not having been able to achieve maturity, it would be number one on my list of disappointments. Apart from that, I would love to tell you that I wish we could have toured the world, but I'd be lying. I never liked performing. I've always seen standing in front of strangers staring at you, a stressful and unpleasant experience at best. I love to compose, to write, but playing was, and still is much more demanding for me. Once I wrote a piece of music, arranged and recorded it, all has been said, there is nothing more to add, my message is out there. In school I would make my mother calling me in sick if I knew I would have to make any kind of presentation in front of the class. In college I would automatically drop any classes where we were asked to address the whole class at one point or another. I was put in a situation were I had to teach for a whole year and that experience drained me of all vitality. I usually resort to humor in these situations, but after a year, there's just anything left to make fun of! I am not the extroverted and demonstrative type. I am not a entertainer. That being said, that is just me, the same cannot be said from Michel for example. I am a very insecure anguished and anxious person, constantly second guessing himself, while my brother on the other hand, could leave his job tomorrow to walk his way around the world without thinking about it twice, and laugh at every possible obstacle he would encounter. I know my lack of motivation to get out of our cage has been very frustrating for him. But hey, what's a brother for if not to make your life unbearable? I'm not saying we will never play live again, but if we ever do, the planets will have to be align in a way I just can't see happening at this point. But it's hard to talk of unfinished business when we are in the middle of doing just that, wrapping up unfinished business.

"Melodramatic, Alternative-Electro, Progressive, Moody Synth-Rock" : this is the combination of genres that characterize your music, but it's only understood as a technical definition. Could you explain with your own words the true essence and the meanings of Handful Of Snowdrops sound?

> If your goal was to nail me to the wall with this one, then mission accomplished. This is a difficult one. The words you have chosen are pretty close to the ones I would have used myself, and while I understand your question, there are more than one reason why we resort to such annoying and restrictive labels, but one is that a more visceral description would imply using images or concept that, more often than not, have completely different meaning form one culture to another. For example, while I try my best to answer your question, I am torn between the cultural concepts of my mother language, which is french and the english imagery that don't come as naturally to me. This is one of the thing most people don't understand about language. It's not about words, but about conveying ideas, imagery, concepts that define our culture. English not being my first language, I can only approximate, at best. And now that I think of all your italians readers that will have to make sense of my lucubrations, it's even worse! I will try with this: our music is a child, abandoned and left to die in the deserted streets of a bleak provincial town, on a exceptionally cold november night. How about that? But it still fails at providing nuances and subtleties. So keep in mind that this poor child has a lot divers and conflicting emotions boiling inside him. Having said that, I wouldn't call it dark, and it certainly can't be called light either. I'm afraid it is grey. Is there anything more dreadful than grey? Both black and white are passion driven tones, while grey inspires nothing but death.

Was tenacity the only element that has allowed you to survive musically up to today, or are there other reasons for which this has happened?

> Technically, we didn't survive! You could even argue that its our lack of tenacity that lead us to pull the plug on 20 years ago. We just spontaneously came back to life, it's a miracle! The band of course didn't survive, but as individuals, we did. We never stopped doing music during all this time. I made a lot of music in the 90's for a project I simply called Spaceful of Astronauts. Last year I released an album, in French, called "Rêvé, Puis Sculpté Des Restes D'Une Étoile", under the name Prochain Épisode, and this music is available from our own label, NanoGénésie®'s Bandcamp page. Look it up! Michel formed a band called 21g, which released a four song in EP in 2010, which should still be available on iTunes, and if not I believe he still has a couple of copies left, just ask! Now, I am not sure if obsessive-compulsive behavior can register as passion, but if it does, it did contribute. I am most certainly tenacious, although I'm no longer certain it is a advantage nowadays. This life has gone out of its way to make me stop and forget about it. But the truth is, there's just no way to stop it. Music is like a virus that integrated my DNA over time, to the point that it's no longer DNA. I have no control over my desire to write music, mostly because it is not a desire but a need. Its part of my code, it will do anything to survive, just like you need to eat or are coerced into reproducing. I go to sleep with music in my head, and when I wake up in the morning that same music is still there. It's been like this for the last 30 years.

"Land Of The Damned" and "Dans L'Oeil De La Tempte" were the first two albums through which Handful Of Snowdrops have demonstrated their ability to create atmospheres of rare beauty and unfailingly capturing sounds, all this by a masterly use of guitars, bass, drum, keyboard and programming: which were the bands that most inspired your music in those years?

> Good Lord! I would like to point out that you are not being paid for saying that. Once again, you are way too kind. Fortunately I am now too old to believe any of that. Where to begin? Michel is my cadet by two years, but we grew up on the same music, which was fed to us by our older brother. Although I was born in the 60's, music only became significant in my life in the 70's. We were heavily into progressive rock, kraut rock and huge "Berlin School" early electronic music enthusiasts. And when I say, heavily, I don't mean it lightly, we were submerged. Every single cent we could come up with was strictly invested in records, and records only. We would give all we had to buy an imported LP only because the sleeve design was compelling, knowing nothing about the music. Of course, we were often disappointed, but we would sell it at half price the next day, and make the same leap of faith the next week, with a huge smile on our faces. I can't possibly list every significant influences that comes from that era. If one would listen to Robert Fripp, Steve Hillage, Mike Oldfield, Michael Rother, David Gilmour, Edgar Froese, Steve Hackett and Bill Nelson, he, or she, would meet the biological parents of my melodic lead guitars. But then came punk rock! It was like a huge slap in the face. And like every "new" thing, to be part of the in crowd, you had to believe that anything that came before that was obsolete and absolute crap. Fortunately we never care much about being "in". It had such energy and drive. And most importantly, it carried that message loud and clear : Anybody can do it. Which was in complete opposition with the message carried by prog, kraut and electronic music. You had to be a technical wizard to play prog, and you could only dream to come up with enough cash to buy enough gear to do what the germans were doing, so their message was also quite clear : don't even think about it kids. I have been a huge Buzzcocks fan from the beginning. No one else could come up with those quirky out of nowhere chord changes that Pete Shelley was pulling out. They were so tight, so powerful. They were not about cloths or attitude, they were about music. Why am I using past tense, they are still around! But to hear influences from the Buzzcocks you would have to go to their final chapter "A Different Kind Of Tension", more adventurous B-sides and the four subsequent and final singles. And then there was all that came next or simultaneously. They are legions and sometimes quite obvious. There are some flawless masterpieces like "Secondhand Daylight" from Magazine and "Rage In Eden" from Ultravox, which was produced by kraut pioneer Conny Plank. Joy Division's "Closer", New Order's "Power, Corruption And Lies" and if someone has ever been a bigger fan of Adrian Borland than I am, he needs immediate medical attention, so The Sounds' "From The Lion's Mouth" is up there as well, along with Random Hold's Avalanche, "Anywhere" from New Musik, O.M.D.'s "Architecture And Morality", "Immunity" from Rupert Hine, Sad Lovers and Giants "Feeding The Flame" and John Foxx "Metamatic". And there's the slightly less obvious, Y.M.O., middle-era Simple Minds, Modern Eon, MOEV, And Also the Trees, Wire/Colin Newman, Lowlife, Marquis de Sade and about a thousand more I will hate myself for having forgotten tomorrow. Please understand that there are dozens, if hundreds of magnificent opuses that I love and cherish but don't believe had any significant input in HoS' music, but who's to say? If you want to know more, you'll have to come up here and buy me a couple of drinks.

"Mort En Direct" of 1993 was the final album that signed the dissolution of the band. What happened exactly?

> We had made the decision to put an end to Handful Of Snowdrops before we decided to make "Mort En Direct". Personally, I was through. I just couldn't go on. I was still highly motivated by my desire to write new songs, even more so than earlier on, but I was completely disillusioned and no more energy left to fight for our music to be heard. Not even once in our short career did we feel that those who were supposed to help us achieved something, actually liked what we were doing. I couldn't do with the constant put downs, negative criticism and the constant desire to pigeon hole us with marketing and image managing speeches. None of that was of any interest or relevance to me. So when our last demo was rejected and we were kindly sent back back to the drawing board, I knew I was through. The little we had, had already fell apart, "C'est La Mort", our own label, were mad at us for delivering "Dans L'Oeil De La Tempête" too late, something we never knew about in the first place, Rough Trade, their distributor, had gone out of business on top of that. We were going nowhere and were so naive we didn't know where to go to next. Now, I love music and would kill myself working at it, but all the rest was, still is, killing me. And I mean it literally. The business, the ass kissing, the hypocrisy, the jealousy, none of that's worth even trying to deal with. It makes you hollow inside. If you're a shallow and and self absorbed narcissist jerk, go ahead, this business is tailor made for you. Then Michel came up with this crazy idea we could record our final concerts and release it ourselves. The idea was to give people a chance to listen to some of the material we never had a chance to record before. But what do you know? Once the album was finish, all of a sudden, there was "interest" again, we were offered to release it. But the experience was just has frustrating as our first two releases. We released three albums that were sold in numbers that would, today, seem unrealistically out of reach to any band of similar limited notoriety, and not a cent came back in our pockets, not even one, ever. And we were not dealing with the big bad wolves of the majors, no, we were strictly dealing with indies. The artist is always at the bottom of the food chain, always. Every single person whit his paycheck depending on the work of artists, is being paid for what he or she does. Unfortunately, and to total indifference from the public, the same cannot be said of the artists themselves.

What reasons have convinced you to come back today on the scene?

> We didn't need any convincing. Prior to that, we just felt there was no point in doing it. I don't think there was even the desire to do so. Nothing had really changed about this business, apart from the fact that we were now told that giving away our hard work for free was supposed the be a social revolution and a democratic breakthrough that was going to break us all free from the chains of the big labels oligarchy! We were now told the great democracy, that is the internet, would make any artist's ego filled with so much pride and love that we would completely forget the fact that we still can't pay our rent or put food on our tables. If this all smells like crap to you, I can assure you it's not a coincidence. So there were no reasons for us to come back, only reasons to stay away. There's still no reasons, but there are new circumstances that I will be better explained by answering your next question.

From the "Death" to the "Resurrection." Emerging from the ashes of the past you are back. Jean-Pierre, can you explain us better and in more detail the genesis and developments of this courageous choice?

> After I had finished and finally released Prochain Épisode's album last year, I thought I had said it all, at least for a while. But a couple of years ago, when Michel left 21g, he kept writing new songs anyway. Then he just asked me if I would be interested in contributing to them, just to see how they would turn out. And not surprisingly, it sounded like some new HoS songs. And there we were, having fun again. Some of them ended up being really interesting, so one day he said to me : wouldn't it be fun to released a new HoS album. Immediately, all the lights went out, all the fun vanished to leave only panic and anguish. I just crawled back under my bubble and to play dead for weeks. But over the course of a couple of months the subject came back on the table and we started to look into solutions to take most of the pressure and stress out of the process. First, time is too valuable to waste looking for labels and dealing with their politics and time tables. We would do it all ourselves. Next, for the first time I would not have to come up with all of the music. This was a huge lift of my shoulder and took me out of my legendary second guessing loophole. The process of writing was pleasant and exciting, again, just as it was to arrange some songs that I had not written myself. Fun as the first days, but even more so since we didn't suck as much at what we were doing! We saw a lot of band lately resorting to crowdfunding campaigns to release their music, and just thought, why not Handful Of Snowdrops? Although these campaigns are an enormous amount of work, since the music was already written and we had our fun doing it, we felt we had nothing to loose. We thought, let's go out there and ask people if they would be interested in hearing it. But that's another thing about the internet. You are not communicating with them face to face. If you ask people if they want a new album, they answer will be a unanimous chorus of highly motivated YES. Until of course, the day comes when they actually have to buy it. I guess some just say yes and hope it will turn up on an illegal download site, which it usually does. For the life of me, I am still trying to understand why people don't even hesitate to give away hundreds of their hard earn money to tax evading and third world workers exploiting corporations for their latest music player, but would hang themselves before rewarding the artists behind the music they will put on it, with a mere 10$. We went ahead, thinking if we reach our goal we'll release it, and if not, too bad. We were fairly convinced this would not work, but although the numbers of contributer barely exceeded a hundred, they have been overwhelming generous, and they too, took a huge weight of our shoulders. So let me take this opportunity to thank them once again. We will never thank you enough for that. So with their invaluable help, here we are, planing the release of a new Handful Of Snowdrops album. Unreal.

Much time has passed since your last discographic performance and music, conceptually, has undergone a profound process of change, often radical. How you will adapt your own sound to the current needs of listening?

> We just won't adapt. Or should I say, we haven't, since it's already done. There was no point in reinventing ourselves without changing name. We consciously made the decision to make an actual "Handful Of Snowdrops" record. The new music has the exact same roots the very first songs we wrote. We made that record like it was our first one. Those songs come from the exact same place in our hearts and imagination. We had no desire to "modernise" or update ourselves. I'm a believer of content, not form. And like I said, we are not doing this to please anybody but ourselves. If by any chance you happen to like what we have done, then welcome on board. If not, then there are plenty of other ships in the sea. There were no marketing agency involved in the process. No Think thank, no focus group either. This is all beyond pointless from an artistic point of you. It may make a lot of business sense, but you already know how I feel about that. The whole concept of "relevance" is arbitrary. All these "Are they still relevant?", "Will they still be relevant in 10 years, or were they ever?" is just as pointless as debating if the latest clothing fashion trend will still be relevant next year. You know that it won't, because its "relevance" has never been anything but a subjective idea forced in your brain by so called specialized medias. No, it won't be relevant next year, but be sure that they will make it relevant again in 10 years to everyones applause and and their bankers sheers. You can't avoid the unavoidable, some will love it, some will hate it, and the rest won't give a damn. And every reasons they will use to justify their opinions will be purely subjective like it's always been and will always be. Why even give it a second thought.

Can you tell us more extensively about the upcoming, awaited album entitled "III" that you're making? In your view, when you'll publish it?

> What I can tell you is that it will contain 9 new tracks of material written by both Michel and I. I mentioned earlier that all the songs were already written, but I can also add that the music as also been recorded. Only the vocals are not completed. We jungled with a couple of title ideas for a while then simply settled for "III". I think it says everything about what it is. It gives it a sense of continuity that none of the other ideas we had would have achieved. What else? The cover art will be a painting from a friend and painter named Daniel Ouellet, which he had already titled "Handful Of Snowdrops", a painting that he was generous enough to donate for our crowdfunding campaign. Nothing will be written on the cover, no band name, title or logos. Nothing. All there is to know will be inside the package. Our plan was to release it at the very end of october, but I must admit that seeing time going by and how much we have left to do, that it's beginning to sound a little unrealistic. There's always something that will make its best to stop you from moving forward, like accidentally deleting vocal tracks you have forgotten to back up properly, computers that will crash for days without any apparent reasons, a broken shoulder blade, the common cold like the one I have now. You can only be sure off one thing, and it's that something will come up to stop you in your tracks. But it will definitely see the light in 2014. I will also take this opportunity to explain why the album will not be released on vinyl. There seems to be a big demand for it, at least that's what we are told. We did consider it, but considering the length of our songs it would have to be a double album, and double albums are not only very expensive to produce, they are also a lot more expensive to ship. We quickly came to the conclusion that it was unreasonably risky. We could discuss for hours on the plus and cons of different music support medias, but at the end of the day, I still chose my music on it artistic value, not the support it came on. But that's just me, I not much of a fetishist. But if sales go through the roof, I promise we will reconsider!

So, of the original Handful Of Snowdrops remain only you and your brother Michel: technically speaking, how do you finalize your typical sound without the collaboration of other musicians? What are your respective roles within the new line-up?

> That makes me think we have gone a long way, technologically, since our beginnings. At the time, MIDI had just been invented, but we couldn't afford a MIDI sequencer. I remember renting an early Q7 Yamaha model to record one our first demos. And now, no one hardly know what MIDI is! At the time, I wanted to write whole songs so bad, that I had no other choice but to learn how to play every instruments, guitar, bass, keyboards and even the drums! It gave me a much better understanding of their roles and the way they interact. But technology makes it far less complicated to push our ideas further. As far as Michel's contributions are concerned, he would program a demo by himself, add some bass and guitars then send it over to me. He sent me quite a lot actually, and that's why we decided to release a additional EP of 4 tracks. Although the album is only 9 tracks, most songs are quite long, with two of them running over 7 minutes. We didn't want to put more tracks on it, I personally don't like albums that are too long. I much prefer leaving the listener wanting more. He let me decide which one I liked and wanted to work on. I did the same on my end, sending him my tracks and he, in turn, would give me his verdict. Once we had decided which songs we would do, I was to arrange and finalize them. Oh, and then there were the lyrics, but they came really easy this time. I had a lot to tell apparently. We handled all instruments and production work ourselves. Only the mastering will be done externally.

Have you also tried to propose the re-establishment of the new Handful Of Snowdrops to other past former members of the band?

> No, we haven't. Since we had no plan to start performing again, we didn't actually needed a band. The creative side of Handful Of Snowdrops has never been a band. They were our friends and they helped us on different levels, including playing the songs live. Bands are complicated. It's politics, diplomacy and multiple agendas impossible to get in sync. Bands are just nightmares with cool names. But Michel Plamondon, who use to play keyboards for Handful Of Snowdrops, will be providing a remix of "Better Later Than Never", a cover we did of Colin Newman's song and that will appear on the EP we called "+", along with Michel's remix and two new songs. Unfortunately for your readers, the EP was used as an incentive and was exclusively available during the album fundraising campaign.

Listening to the the new album teasers, I perceive a substantial use of electronic bases. Isn't it Jean-Pierre?

> I went back and listen to both of them again with that perspective in mind, and although I can see why you could assume that, I can assure you the electronic is just as present and important as it was in our previous albums. Our songs often have surprising twist and turns which makes them are to judge from the first few bars. There should be a final teaser in a couple of weeks, so we'll see if your impression still holds then I suppose. My guess is that it won't tell you much more than the other though.

According to your predictions, what will you older fans will think of the music that you will propose them with this new full-length? What have you kept of the sonic band's fundamentals and what details you have instead changed?

> We honestly don't have a clue. What I can predict is that some will love it and some won't. People's perceptions are often enigmatic. I don't know how many times I have heard comments like "there was a lot more guitars back then" when it's actually the opposite, and vice versa. I believe people mostly see and hear what they want to when it comes to music. What I can say is that we have kept all of the Handful Of Snowdrops fundamentals, and only left out our frustrating inability to do any better at the time. Nothing's changed, but us. There is no way for us to go back to when we didn't know what we were doing and we were still trying to find out why we couldn't do any better. So our songwriting is infinitely better than it was then, and so is our ability to play our instruments. But some will be able to use this both against and for us. You will hear and read things like "They have matured nicely" just as much as we will see the unavoidable "They lost their integrity, their naivety". It's all so predictable that it is actually funny. You just can't be part of any kind of "in crowd" or be taken seriously in any "pop music discussion club" if you openly admit to like a band beyond its first album. It's a killer reputation. It's simply bad etiquette!

Is the album "III" exclusively designed for nostalgic fans, or does it have the potential to interest the new generation of listeners?

> I am not a nostalgic person. I will leave this one to the listeners. From the start we had no intention to reinvent of Handful Of Snowdrops wheel. We only set out to make the best our project wheel we possibly could. There's nothing else we can do. And even if there was, we wouldn't change a thing. I made several allusions to the fact that we have no desire or intentions to beg for attention. So the album was not designed in anyway. We are falling back in the loop of "relevance" here. We will certainly admit that we made a conscious effort not to alienate our existing fan base. And not use the Handful Of Snowdrops name to package an altogether different musical project just to reel in some old fans. If we had, we would have simply opted for a different name. What I know is that, so far, people seem interested, or at least curious.

I know you want to announce your return to the widest possible number of people: the support and enthusiasm of fans is extremely important for a band. Here you have the opportunity to reach an important range of readers: tell them what needs to be said.

> We can't argue with that fact. The enthusiasm of our fans is what made this release possible. But for the vast majority of you, music lovers, out there, that may not have had a chance to hear any of our music before, I suggest that you give our first few efforts a listen. These should give you a fairly good idea of what Handful Of Snowdrops is trying to do. If you are not yet convinced, then give our upcoming album a chance. Maybe you'll find a new maturity that you thought was lacking back then. Just give it chance, that's all we ask. More than ever, small and unknown artist like us depends on people that are just as passionate about music as we are. I believe we need each other. Please support the artist that you love. If it sounds like I'm begging, it's because I am. We are not asking for charity here. No. If you don't like what we do, there are a lot of other bands out there that are in great need of your support. Be curious, it will reward both the artists and the listeners in the end. Don't leave it in the hand of the "industry". Streaming services and other greed motivated corporate schemes are committing first degree murder on creators every seconds of every day. Any "theoreticians" telling you differently has the same credibility your next door neighbor creationist - climate change denier has. You are the only chance we have left. And when I say WE, I don't mean Handful Of Snowdrops, but the entire community of starving and desperate independent artists out there.

Greetings and sincere wishes for success to the great Handful Of Snowdrops from Vox Empirea: your project returns from oblivion to conquer us again by its unmistakable and unparalleled style: we must rejoice!

> You are being to generous, once again. But I certainly hope that a great number of people will enjoy our hard work. And I thank you once again for giving us such a nice opportunity to reach out to other people just as passionate about music as my brother and I are. Obviously, we can't promise you will like it, but we can promise you that what you will hear is the result of the unbelievably hard work of two hot blooded and spirited brothers, writers, composers and music aficionados. From the North Pole, I thank you for baring with me and I now set you free to go and listen to more music.