Michell Bidegain from doom beasts Monarch...

Slower. Heavier. Doomier...

Michell Bidegain, bassist with ultra-doom merchants Monarch, is in a car on his way to Hellfest in France, with high hopes of checking out (among others) Neurosis, Sleep and NOFX. Lucky!

Given that the mighty Sabbath have been cited as a big influence on Monarch (their 2010 album was called Sabbat Noir, in honour of the Birmingham Four), it seems fitting to start by asking for his opinion on the new Sabs album. “I heard that one track God Is Dead and I thought it was crap – but I still haven’t heard the new album in its entirety; I’ve heard good things about it so I’m gonna give it a shot when I get back home.” Oof! Just like Monarch's music, that's going to divide the metal-heads.

So Monarch will be touring Australia in July (with the legendary St Vitus, no less) – you do realise that it’s going to be winter when you’re here? “Yeah, but we’re still really happy and excited. Great venues, great food, great people, great beer. Everything – I love Australia! We’re gonna be going to Perth for the first time on this tour and we’re really excited about that. We’ve never played there and we’re playing two shows over there, and we’re excited to see what he scene is like over in Perth.” Luckily Monarch should be used to the cold, having completed a UK tour in March; how was that? “We did a UK, Ireland and Scotland (Scotland is in the UK - Geographically pick Ed.) tour. That was fun - it was really cold! It was a bad idea to tour over there when it was that cold. We were freezing the whole time,” he laughs as he adds “It was great fun but we lost loads of money! We got to play three shows in Ireland, and we love playing Ireland, and we actually had a day off on St Patricks Day so that was a wild party.”

Monarch was last out in Australia in 2011 and actually recorded the basic guitar and bass parts for the 2012 album Omens at Headgap Studio, Melbourne, Michell remembers “it was a really good experience – it’s an awesome studio.”

So you’re looking forward to the tour with St Vitus? “Oh, definitely; we’re huge St Vitus fans. We’re really excited about that. Australia and St Vitus – can’t get any better than that.” – and you'll also be playing Slaughterfest in Sydney? “Yeah. We’re excited about that as well. I don’t know how that’s gonna go down – I think there’s 14 or 15 bands? It’s gonna be crazy…”

Is it a fair call to say that Omens represents a change in direction for Monarch? “I’d say more of a continuation of stuff we’ve been working on previous albums such as Sabbat Noir; we’re taking more of a funeral doom vibe; trying to work with that – maybe more structured songs? And we’re working a lot more with clear vocals.”

And why did you go for Emilie (Bresson) as vocalist? “We were playing in a power violence band before Monarch and Emilie was already the singer, and when we were looking for a singer for this new doom band; it was obvious we were gonna try and get her to sing. She has a brutal voice!” I wouldn’t disagree with you on that one; it seems the music on Omens has an almost ritualistic quality to it? Michell agrees, adding “. Vocal-wise, she (Emilie) tried to conjure things up; yeah, we definitely tried to build up to a ritual…” that’s some spooky shit, right there…

Can you explain why you moved from power violence to doom? “Basically it was the exact opposite; really fast short songs – but towards the end of the power violence band we started dabbling with more sludge parts and that’s what kind of gave us the idea to form a doom band and only play the slow parts; play ‘em slower; play ‘em slower; play ‘em slower – and that’d be Monarch!”

You could probably go off and fry an egg between chord changes with Monarch’s songs; how the hell do you draw out the sound? “A wall of loud amps! You stand in front of ‘em and you can get a long reverb out of ‘em and make that note last till next Thursday…”

Monarch consistently puts out at least one release a year; what can we expect for 2013? “We’re actually recording a new album as we speak. Basically a continuation of Omens, trying to take that epic funeral doom vibe even further on this album. Trying to make something really epic for this one; less ritualistic, more epic… We’re gonna finish recording this summer so it should be out by late 2013.” Michell tells me it’s being recorded in France at Amanita Studios, where the band has recorded a few of their previous albums.

Can you get any slower? Michell thinks so: “We can get slower! We can definitely get slower! With the last two albums I think we’ve actually been getting quicker – but we can definitely go slower. You can always go slower!” so will Monarch return to a slower pace on the new album? “What we’ve recorded so far, it’s quicker paced  - but even ‘quicker paced’ for Monarch is still relatively slow."

Michell explains his love of playing live in terms of the sound and the noise he can pull out of his guitar and amps as a process “to see how sound works in different rooms. When confined in a practice space you have an idea of what the song will sound like but once you’re playing in a different room each night you can really see where you can take the song and see how sound works in each different space. It’s really interesting, ” adding that the band “prefers smaller venues but with huge amps…”

Regarding the room for improvising at live gigs, he explains the use of hand signals to direct the band, and he notes that “If you pay close attention during a live set, you can catch it – you can catch the hand signals; a certain hand signal means play it slower…”

And does Emilie get to improvise too? “Oh yeah! Definitely – she’s probably the one that has the most room for improvisation – being how she runs her vocals through loads of reverb and delay pedals, she’s the one who has the most room to improvise during the whole set.”

So what’s the plan once the new album comes out? “We’re gonna tour on that intensively; get back to the States and Japan – and Australia again – and Europe, as usual.” And Michell adds “We all have to work. For us, touring is just losing money! You have to see it as a vacation; we make no money from this band! We lose money with this band! It’s a labour of love, but hey – it’s been 11 years and we’re still doing it – we must like doing this!”

So who are you itching to tour with next? “We’d love to tour with Altar of Plagues again; those guys are a riot. It was so much fun. Touring with Wizards of Firetop Mountain would be great…”

And do you get sick of each other on long tours? “It’s always good fun. You get tired but we don’t get tired of each other; we’re always joking around and having a good time. Before we formed the band, we were all really good friends anyway. I’ve seen other bands that hate each other and have to stay in the same van for ten hours a day – I do not know how they do that! I couldn’t go on tour if it wasn’t with friends…”

Noble sentiments, indeed. And so I let Michell get on with his car-ride to Hellfest and brace myself for the St Vitus/Monarch tour – it’s going to be heavy and it’s going to be slow. Oh yes.