Imagine the scene, it's September in London, the weather is ripe in the air, throngs of extreme metal fans are getting hot and sweaty in The Garage. Now forget that and read the following interview with Jean-Francois Dagenais of Kataklysm fame, tonight playing with his other project "Ex Deo".
As Jean-Francois gets his full body armour on, ready to turn the masses into his Bitches Romanus, our legionnaire Ben Alexander probes him for everything from underweart to Bloodstock. Enjoy!
Welcome back to the UK, it was just over a month ago when you played Bloodstock festival, which was your first ever UK show. How was it playing the main stage?
It was amazing! What better way to start playing in the UK, it was an amazing festival. There were a lot of people at the main stage, so we couldn't have really asked for more. We had a great response from the Bloodstock crowd.
You also played a full set with Kataklysm. What was it like doing double duty on that weekend?
It was a lot easier than doing them both on the same day because we have tried that before. In the Czech Republic we played the Ex Deo show, had one band between and then another full set. I just remember thinking 'whose idea was it to book this?' haha. Having them a day apart isn't really a problem, you just roll with it. It is fun playing in two bands, its like exploring two different worlds. I love the atmosphere and the feeling of being on a battlefield with Ex Deo, especially during open air shows with the wind in your face and the smoke.
And the blood everywhere?
How does playing in Kataklysm compare to performing with Ex Deo?
The creativity that goes into both is quite similar but with Ex Deo is where we can really let our ideas loose. Symphonies and twin guitars, it is more open. It can feel like there are certain 'boundaries' around Kataklysm. I like exploring the history and the feeling of creating a soundtrack to ancient battlefields. Kataklysm is far more rock and roll! It is a lot more straight forward.
Who actually formed Ex Deo? Was it an idea that was thrown around for a while or solely down to (Ex Deo/Kataklysm frontman) Maurizio?
Maurizio wanted to bring the Roman Empire concept into play. So it all went from there. We started planning some songs and later decided to make it its own project. I helped write the songs for the first album, we didn't expect to get a record deal right away but Nuclear Blast wanted us to tour the first album so we decided to rest Kataklysm for a while. It isn't uncommon for bands to have side projects and do something a bit different, we didn't know how far it would go but luckily, so far so good. We have had quite a few festival offers and albums are selling, I'm really happy about it.
So, incorporating the Roman theme into Kataklysm was an option at first. Why didn't that get pursued?
We felt that it would work better with its own identity. The orchestration and overall epicness is more easily achieved when the whole theme is Roman.
Do you keep the projects completely separate and focus on one at a time or float between both?
We have been talking about this lately, tours and agencies have been requesting that the two bands come together. The more we think about it, the worse the idea seems. It will be so hard to put 100% effort into both bands every night. We want to keep tours separate but festivals make more sense.
When you are writing new material, do you ever put down a riff and think 'that might be better suited for the other band'?
I record everything on my computer, sometimes I put them in the Kataklysm pile, sometimes Ex Deo. I try to focus on one when we are writing. I'll study some ancient Italian music and pick up on notes that bring the atmosphere. I try to make it as authentic as possible within its metal context. Everything is saved though, so I can always come back to it if it doesn't fit with what I'm working on.
Who first inspired you to get into metal?
Iron Maiden. I was 12 years old when my mum took me to a concert in Montreal. I remember really wanting to go because I had bought all the albums. I was the only person in my school who wanted to go and I got a ticket to the 'Seventh Son' tour for my birthday. Watching that show made me want to play guitar. It was so awesome.
Have you ever played alongside Nile before?
Yes, we did a US tour with them as Ex Deo. We know the guys pretty well and are sharing a tour bus with them. They are all cool guys. We met them a few times as Kataklysm, but only really at festivals.
This is a pretty huge European tour that you are currently on. Which dates are you particularly looking forward to?
Honestly, I have been looking forward to the UK. We don't tour here a lot, even with Kataklysm, maybe once every two or three years. It is always exciting to come back. I have a lot of friends around the UK and Ireland that I haven't seen in years. German dates are always good, Kataklysm do really well over there so fans do come out to us. We played a Roman amphitheatre in Switzerland a few days ago, which was incredible.
After the huge turn out at Bloodstock, do you think that you will be back more often in future?
It is all about demand. We will play where people want us to. Our agents usually work out those details for us. Hopefully we have enough demand to come back because we love playing here. As Canadians, we feel kind of connected with the English.
What essentials do you never leave for a tour without?
Underwear and socks! Haha. My iPad, I need some sort of connection to the world via the internet.
What is next for Ex Deo? Is there a new album on the horizon or other tours?
After this tour, we are kind of putting it aside. We need to concentrate on the new Kataklysm album for all of next year. After that, we would like to start writing new music and possibly a headline tour for that album. We have a lot of ideas for the next record and themes that we want to explore. The story is so vast, there are so many things to cover.
Do you ever expect Ex Deo to be as active as Kataklysm?
When we started this project, it was our cool underground thing and maybe gain a cult status. But momentum hasn't slowed over the years and the offers have been coming in. Who knows where it will go but we will roll with it and see what comes up. There isn't enough time in a year to do both bands but we will try to manage it as best as we can.
Thank you very much for your time and we shall see you in January with Kataklysm.