The French have some great truisms and none so poignant for this occasion than from the pen of Victor Hugo. “Music expresses that which can not be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” An apt quote for this band I’m about to recommend for your collection.
Although this album has been around since November 30, 2017, we’re highlighting their September 2018 Special Edition of “Return Home” [Anesthetize Productions]. Coincidentally, Nine Skies will be releasing a new album very shortly that you’re all going to love just as much so keep an eye, or ear, out for that one.
Just as British and American Prog bands in the late 60’s and early 70’s influenced other young, talented musicians to try their hand at this kind of music, such as “Krautrock” in Germany” and “Rock Progressivo Italiano” in Italy to name a couple, France also came under its spell and inspired bands like Gong, Pulsar, Magma, Atoll, and Carpe Diem to try their hand at it with building a solid foundation for other bands in the regions to follow. NINE SKIES has continued in the same spirit blending Rock, Pop, Progressive Rock, and Jazz into their own recordings and performances.
Vocalists, Alexandre Boussacre and Freddy Scott; David Darnaud and Eric Bouillette on guitars; Alexandre Lamia, guitars and keyboards; Anne Claire Rallo on keyboards; Bernard Hery, bass; Fab Galia, drums; and Laurent Benhamou, saxophones. The album also included Penny Mac Morris on flute for “The Blind Widower Part I & II.”
As pointed out above there is a wide range of sounds and tastes all bought together for this , their debut album titled “Return Home.” The beauty of this is that they are hard to define under just one category, but Prog it is. As concepts go for an album these artists deliver some amazing sounds setting the mood for some kind of juxtaposition between living within a crowded and bustling city and the isolation, if not disconnection of awareness within this man-made environment. The complexities of such living are perfectly conveyed through the structures and lyrics within. The band captures the atmosphere perfectly with each song. The opening with the sound of a door squeaking open followed by piano and soon after guitar as the track eventually opens up for mournful vocals yearning to “Return Home.” It kind of has a Pink Floyd refrain within. not much but to me it’s there. It’s a wonderful track to start with, and the mood soon changes as the pace speeds up to something more funkier. Love the synth ripping through this piece! But if there is any band that they remind me of in a way, it’s Magic Pie with the second track, “Season Of Greed.” I like the way it is layered with flute and acoustic guitar too. Then we get to the relatively but addictive instrumental “Catharsis” as it builds upon itself in acoustic fashion with atmospheric backgrounds. “The Blind Widower” is about as mournful (that word again) as it gets going by the lyrics and piano, but throw in some Jazz type sax and stuttering bass grooves interlaced with flute and we’re on our way to parts unknown. A very interesting track. It’s also the longest one and even then another track “The Blind Widower(Part2)” further on (track eight) continues where this piece left off. There are four other songs of equal measure making this a story of chapters not so much “because” but of “despite.” The special edition also includes four additional alternative tracks. There are great touches of bass and drums throughout with flute and guitar, piano/keyboards, and of course vocals finely proportional to the balance of each song on offer. The album is beautifully packaged and one for your Prog collection I’m sure. I think you’re in for a treat.
I had the opportunity to throw a few question to Nine Skies and Alex, Éric, and Anne-Claire kindly responded.
For those who don’t know, what are your names and what instrument do you each play?
NINE SKIES: The band is now composed by : Bernard Hery on bass guitar, Fab Galia on drums, Eric Bouillette on guitars, violin, and vocals, Aliénor Favier on vocals, David Darnaud on guitars, Alexandre Lamia on piano, keyboards and guitars, Anne-Claire Rallo on keyboards, and Laurent Benhamou on saxophone. For our first album ‘Return Home’, we had the same line-up, with Freddy Scott and Alexandre Boussacre as vocalists instead of Aliénor, and Penny Mac Morris on flute.
Alexandre and Freddy left the band last year, and we now have the great privilege of Aliénor’s voice. She is a fantastic singer.
What kind of musical education and influences have you all had?
NINE SKIES: Each musician have a slightly different musical background. Bernard, Eric, Aliénor and Anne-Claire received a proper classical conservatory musical education, Fab did the Tama drums school, David and Laurent are both self-educated, and Alexandre received a musical education on private music schools and film music school.
How did you all meet?
NINE SKIES: We were connected to each other in different musical projects for many years and our friendship lead us to join Nine Skies to compose some prog rock music.
Do you live in different parts of the country or fairly close together?
NINE SKIES: Eric and Anne-Claire moved from France to England two years ago, they are currently living in Newbury. The other members of the band are settled in the south of France, around Nice.
How did the name Nine Skies come about?
NINE SKIES: To be honest, we were thinking of different names for the band, and it was the first one that sounded really good according to our music. There’s not any specific meaning.
Did you originally decide to have a seven or eight member band, or did that happen organically? It’s like having your very own orchestra !
NINE SKIES: It really depends on the needs and the atmosphere we want to reach on some tracks. We don’t limit ourselves. If the music asks for it, we require more members. But the foundation of the band still the same seven musicians.
There must be a lot of compromises given Prog tends to highlight individuals on certain instruments releasing their virtuosic stream of consciousness during the development of any piece of music sometimes. Was there someone at the helm who steered that ship on balancing the various instrumentals together cohesively?
NINE SKIES: The process is always the same: Alexandre and Eric are composing all the songs entirely, then all the members record, adding their own parts with their talent and feeling to the original structure. Some tracks are revisited once in a while and re-arranged. More ideas were coming out as we were listening to them and all the tracks are not definitive until the last day. We can tell that there are two main composition periods, the first one in demo, and the second one after all the real recording.
What was the thinking of including two lead vocalists?
NINE SKIES: Once again, it was really depending on the feeling of each song, as their voices are really different in their tone and expression, so they could be really complementary together.
Return home has a very eye-catching art cover that conveys the title of the album and also in your notes “…the album relates, through the eyes of the protagonist, the lives of different characters from a contemporary big city. Sometimes metaphorical, sometimes particularly realistic, these different existences show the absurdities of our current world and the way we learn to live with our sufferings. The diversity of the bands influences allows to express various feelings while preserving the coherence of this modern musical tale.” Being a tale of sorts was this written in prose first of all then worked from by the band, or constructed while together? In other words did the writing have a life of its own with you all bouncing ideas off of each other?
NINE SKIES: Anne-Claire wrote the lyrics on Return Home. She is used to write different kind of texts, from philosophy to poems. She started to write the lyrics during the musical composition process, sometimes without listening to the song, sometimes after listening to it. The musical coherence in all tracks started to appear and then, as for the lyrics. But it’s really important for us to try to tell something to people, to make them think. It’s more thinking by themselves about topics closed to our hearts than delivering a message. We’re not saying “this is right or this is wrong .” We’re just trying to expose things as we’re seeing them, then, you know, it’s just like: “okay, now think about that. What do you think about it?”
As a band do you have any major influences at all with Prog, or Jazz or any other music genre?
NINE SKIES: Everyone has such a various musical background. We love prog, modern prog, jazz, classical, baroque, heavy rock, metal, pop, film music, blues, even death metal. It’s thanks to those influences that our music is not limited to one style, and that we want to explore different musical colours. That’s what we tried to achieve more in “Sweetheart Grips”.
Your recording processes. Do you all work together from a studio or as a lot artists do these days send pieces over the internet to each other?
NINE SKIES: All the demo songs have been sent over the internet to all musicians once it’s been composed. Then all the real recording have been made in professional studios and in Alexandre’s studio.
Do you have any anecdotes or memories of recording this album you could share? Were there any challenges you all faced?
NINE SKIES: Yes, during the vocals recording for the ”Sweetheart Grips” album. There is a very dark track called “The Thought Trader“. We were looking for a very special vocal atmosphere, and we couldn’t find it as we were struggling with it. We finally just decided to shut down all the lights and close all the windows to get total darkness. Everything went totally sane and perfect since then!!! Also, we had to change almost all the drumset to get this drum sound, and it took us one day in studio, just for the sound. And finally, Alexandre composed the longest track “Sweetheart Grips” and wrote all the lyrics too, in a considerably shorter time that it took for the others: one day and a half.
The big challenge of the album was the mix and mastering, which took one month. Especially with Craig Blundell’s drums, which were recorded by himself, and were obviously totally different in terms of sound, compared to Fab’s drum recording.
Is there also a French vocal version of Return Home? And if so, how does it differ if at all to the English version? I just wonder if you write the lyrics initially in French and then translate to English. I also know a lot of us fans who love Rock Progressivo Italiano enjoy albums in both English and Italian. The beauty of language and the nuances expressed. Just a thought.
NINE SKIES: For some reasons, Italian and English sound really great to our ears. It’s not the same for French in our case, but we know that bands as Ange and Lazuli are excellent in this exercise of writing and singing in French. We thought the English was more appropriate to our music, and all the lyrics were originally written in English.
How can Prog fans find and purchase your albums (CD and Digital)?
NINE SKIES: You can find our physical albums via our label website, Anesthetize Productions, and for digital versions, on Spotify, Deezer, Youtube, and Bandcamp.
Just as a matter of interest, how is Prog received in France these days? Wonderful bands like Nemo, Ange, Carpe Diem, Magma, Pulsar, and many others have made their mark not only in France but other parts of the world? Is there a vibrant market or following for the type of music you play and record locally?
NINE SKIES: All the bands you’ve mentioned have a bigger impact on foreign countries than they have in France. There are a couple of festivals in France dedicated to Prog music, but not as many as in other countries. However, we are very happy to play in a few days at the ”Prog en Beauce” festival with great bands as Clepsydra, Albion, and Mystery. We hope that prog music can attract more audience and interest over the years on the French scene.
And where are you with live performances? Is that something you all would like to do especially to promote this album and your pending new one, “Sweetheart Grips.”
NINE SKIES: Oh yes absolutely, we want to play our music live as much as we can, to make our studio albums come alive, and we have such a first big opportunity to do it at Prog en Beauce the 26th of October, near Paris. We hope to play more in 2020 with our new album too. We are very excited about the idea of mixing songs from our 2 albums in our setlist.
I guess your time now will be devoted to the new album. Looking forward to that. What next after that?
NINE SKIES: Alexandre and Eric already have new ideas and songs in mind to start the composition of our brand new material, which will be quite special, but we can’t tell more than this. If not, it would spoil the surprise!
Thank you for answering these questions and all the very best. You music is amazing.
NINE SKIES: Thank you for everything!
CONTACT DETAILS FOR NINE SKIES
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/nineskiesmusic/
Twitter page: https://twitter.com/nine_skies
One of the purchase sites for their albums including the new one: https://nineskiesmusic.com/about/