Since I put my hands on Bathsheba‘s latest release I thought about making an interview with them. I was so much into the music and the atmosphere present on Servus that first I wrote a review for it and then I wanted to know more about the band and how this cursed piece of art came into being. Then, all of a sudden, strange things happened in my life and Servus became my companion for many darkened days and nights. It’s music has cured me and infected me at the same time, so addicted I was with this vinyl which I span many many times.
When asking Bathseba if they wanted to do this interview, Michelle (vocals) accepted instantly. I sent her my questions, fearing they will not be good enough. But when she sent me the replies, I was amazed by her answers. I can honestly say that this interview is one of the most personal and in depth encounters I have ever had with a musician/band, since the beginning of ScrollsofDarmoth.
Read the interview, press the “Play” button and immerse yourselves in the magic that is “Servus“. Enjoy!!
1. Bathsheba appeared as if out of nowhere, first with a demo (Demo MMXIV), then with the MLP (“The Sleeping Gods”) and this year with this impressive album. Please tell me how you guys decided to start this band and what were your expectations, if you had any, concerning the band, the scene etc.?
M: End 2013 Jelle called me to ask if I was interested in making a band with him. He was thinking Pallbearer, Wounded Kings etc. He had a friend, Dwight, who would be playing guitar. I am not really into that kind of music but I know how open minded Jelle is and what a great person and drummer he is too. I know him from the tour we did (Grand Magus, Sardonis, Serpentcult) in 2008. So I was up for it. We started rehearsing early 2014. Raf was a friend of mine and he was immediately up for it too when we asked him. So Jelle and Dwight were more into the traditional doom while I was heading for a sludge black metal direction. So I guess we made a good compromise! Our expectations were just to have fun but do it well and see what would come on our road. We had open minds about it and although we were realistic we also had dreams.
2. What does Bathsheba mean to you, how would you describe this band to someone who doesn’t know you at all? An alien, for example 🙂
M: Good question. I would say that BATHSHEBA is the embodiment of the musical expression, emotions and thoughts of four different individuals. BATHSHEBA is inspired by burden and frustration and thus carries that sound with it. But with that it also carries the beauty of darkness, if you listen well. It’s not for all but either you get it, or you don’t.
3. The album name and the cover are quite simple but eloquent. What’s the connection between “Servus” and the woman on the cover? Does it have something to do with religion?
M: Servus means slave in Latin and refers mainly to the enslavement of life’s suffering. Being completely crushed under that weight and unable to move forward or backward, therefore you have to surrender at a certain point. The character on the cover is praying, suffering and loses herself. When losing yourself you can get lost very far. You can find yourself again or versions of yourself that are either beautiful or unbearably monstrous. You can look at it from a very earthly point of view but also a religious and even an esoteric one. The artwork was done by Olivier Lomer (www.dissolvtion.com) whom you might know from the bands Emptiness and Enthroned. I explained a bit what I wanted and we let him work his magic. He was spot on I think. He also has a very particular own style which I adore.
4. Besides the music, I find the lyrics on “Servus” very powerful and extremely well written. They have an “occult”, almost religious touch, but they do not carry an “open” evil message, it’s rather concealed and can only be discovered by reading between the lines. Since I assume you are the one in charge with writing them, please tell me where did you get the inspiration from when you wrote them?
M: You describe it very well. The inspiration is mainly from life, death, pain, suffering, that sort of emotions and personal experiences. But I am very much inspired by a book called ‘The Story of my Heart’ from Richard Jefferies who was a naturalistic writer and brought out this book in 1882. We have something in common: We look at people/situations/… in that naturalistic way. As if it were water, fire, trees, air,.. How life is made, how we are made. I understand life better that way. For instance if you are blocked in your emotions it means you are like dry earth. Unmovable and unable to grow anything in it. And you need either air to make things lighter or water to make things moldable and softer. Everything that happens in life you can somehow draw back to basic elements and that makes everything more simple. I always look to closely, make everything too complicated so this is a good help to me. I am also inspired by Solomon’s writings. They are about more esoteric subjects that live in the spirit world. You can draw that back too, just the other way around. When you take things that are bigger than you and look how those forces work and place yourself in a bigger sphere somehow. That was the biggest influence; to take that higher force that is much more than you and place yourself in perspective with it. It makes you feel small and insignificant while on the other hand the burden and bleakness on earth feel unbearable.
5. If we look at the patterns, doom metal is the privilege of male singers but recently many female fronted bands have appeared on the firmament. But unlike most of these bands (which are great, if you ask me), you took a different, heavier approach. Your style is closer to bands like Shape of Despair, rather than Blood Ceremony, for example. Was it planned from the start to play this sort of cursed doom?
M: Yes exactly. I’m glad you say that. I was never interested in making that doomy occult rock. It’s well done but it doesn’t grab me. It doesn’t touch me in the way that I want. I told that when I entered the band that this occult rock would never be a thing for me. I have to feel it, in my bones and I apparently can only be touched by more heavy, obscure or avant-garde music. It doesn’t always have to be heavy to be heavy if you get me. But I very often find music too happy in my ears and then you lost me. To name some musicians or bands that really touch me; Bethlehem, Ved Buens Ende, Dodheimsgard, Sigur Ros, Thom Yorke, Ennio Morricone, Arvo Pärt, …
6. Initially there were 2 guitar players in Bathsheba, but now there’s only Dwight. Do you think that adding another guitar to back Dwight up might make the sound heavier, or are you happy with how things are going right now?
M: We are sometimes still having that discussion. I prefer to stay as we are because it works. Another person would somehow always be ‘the one who joined’. I prefer small groups and practically it’s easier to have fewer people, also don’t like people in general. I’m very fond of the line up now and I hate change. But I am only 1/4th of the band of course. I would love to have a dear friend of mine, who is a great musician, to play with us for a gig or add some guitars on a song. Maybe for the recordings we will add some extra’s but I don’t think we will have a 5th fixed member.
7. Your voice is really special, allowing you to switch between a harsh, sometimes “schizophrenic” tone to a clear one in the blink of an eye. How hard it is to take care of it, do you practice any special exercises to protect it?
M: It’s not hard to switch for me between these voices. I feel the need to try new things and go further so I think it would be good to protect my voice better and to have some kind of ritual to practice and so preserve health for my vocal chords. On the other hand I hope I won’t lose that spontaneity that helps me in making vocal lines.
8. For those who did not have the chance to see Bathsheba live yet, tell me what does a concert represent for you? From what I saw on YouTube, you seem to be in a very special mood while playing, like someone else is taking over your body as you perform. Do you do something special to get into that trance-like state or it just comes naturally? How much does a show consume you?
M: The live atmosphere is described as ‘introvert, aggressive and full of frustration’ and I think that covers it well. I feel there is something inside that needs to get out. I don’t really think about what I’m doing at that moment. It’s not a performance as in I haven’t prepared it. It’s more a spontaneous process and I like to keep it that way. Playing live takes much from me because It’s a fight against keeping things inside and letting things go. I love it as well because it takes off some pressure. After a show I am really not in a communicative state and I preferably just go home or to a hotel to get back to a better state of mind. I tend to move in a certain way it seems. It just comes, I can’t just stand still. I have to feel it. I suppose in a way it’s a bit of a trance when you just surrender to that moment. I hope I can surrender more and more.
9. What kind of books do you read? Do you draw your inspiration also from literature? Have you read “Bruges la Morte”, by Georges Rodenbach?
M: That sounds like an interesting book. I have to say I don’t like to read romans. I prefer to read about history, space, nature etc. To name some books that inspire me: “The story of my Heart” by Richard Jefferies which I mentioned before, I love to read “The Book of Lies” by Crowley, I am very much inspired by “Compendium for Ritual Plants” from Marcel De Cleene and Marie Claire Lejeune. This last book is actually a book about herbs. In this book the medical purpose of plants is described. But also the traditions and rituals that came with those herbs. I love books like “The Bible through Judas Eyes”, books about Nostradamus,… When writing music or lyrics I sometimes just looks through my books of minerals, plants or mushrooms to help me make words clearer.
10. What is music for Michelle Nocon and how would you describe it? Did it change your life?
M: There are two things in life that drive me. That’s not love or friendship, money or health. It’s music and nature. I’m not a social person. Either I’m doing music, or I am in nature. There is nothing else for me here. Music definitely changed my life. It always understood me as I understood it. It can make my mood swing in just a second. It brings out the best in me and the worse. It heals me and kills me at the same time and it’s therefore my biggest addiction. I don’t need to be famous or big, I just need to be free and free to make the music I want to make. All the rest that comes with it is trivial.
11. The spoken intro and outro of Servus are very interesting, they both express an anti-religious statement, so to speak. Is Bathsheba’s message the same?
M: Thanks for bringing that up. I can’t really say we have a message. We don’t make music to get a message across but rather to express ourselves. When that gets picked up by someone, that is great of course. It’s more an expression of the bleakness of life. You can believe in anything you want, or in nothing. In the end, it doesn’t matter. Life is suffering to me. I can pray to a god or pray to a demon, believe in nothing at all or believe in some afterlife and karma. It is what it is, indifferent to what I believe or feel. On the other hand I do believe we can somehow create our own reality. But we don’t seem to do very well. So the suffering is on.
12. Since I bought the vinyl, I listen to it on repeat, it is unbelievably addictive. Did you summon Bathsheba during the recordings so she might conquer the hearts of all men? Are you happy with the way this album turned out?
M: Thank you so much! I think I did summon something when making the demo. It felt like something inside me changed when I was making this album. And I am very grateful for that. That something changed me, matured me, beat me, cured me. And I hope it beats the shit out of you all, cures all of you and then beats the hell out of you again. Because that’s how it should be. I think music should really touch a person. I am not a person that is satisfied or happy about things I do. I am not someone who easily says I liked what I did. But I am kind of proud of this album. It’s the first album that I can listen to, the first time I like my voice and I unleashed something inside of me that I know can grow even further. And I hope we can keep growing as much and wide as we can.
13. “Ain Soph”, the second track, stands out from the other songs, mainly because of the very cool blast beats and of that psychedelic saxophone. Who came up with the idea of having these 2 (atypical) elements in your music?
M: I wished for a black metal vibe somewhere on the album and at a point they send me a first try out version of Ain Soph. So I was in for it and immediately made a vocal line on it. Then when the song was “ready” we found there was something lacking on that particular part in the song. So I started looking for samples and thought a crazy freejazz sax sample would be great. Then Jelle said it would be cool to have a real sax player. Then I remembered I knew Peter Verdonck (Wound Collector) and he once said he really wanted to do something together musically because he loved what I had done with Serpentcult. So I thought I’d give it a try and ask him. He was immediately up for it. In the studio when Peter tried his crazy sax solo’s we were all so enthusiast. He had 3 different versions for the two solo’s. He recorded every part in one hit and we chose the one we liked best together.
14. Who exactly is “your ” Satan you talk about in the “Manifest”? Is it your own Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hide?
M: Exactly. You could say that two bad sides of yourself are having a duel. It doesn’t matter what you chose and where you turn, you somehow always do bad. You’re somehow always confronted with that evil. I also had a relation that was quit destructive at that time so my inner world was somehow reflected in that relation.
15. Speaking of “Manifest”, I know it’s not you who played it, but how did Dwight conceive that beautiful guitar solo? It is absolutely haunting and it gives the song a superb feeling of loss and despair.
M: That song goes way back. It was already on the demo in 2014 but it got a serious upgrade. The guys were jamming that ending until they had a structure but in meanwhile Dwight was doing a solo and he just made it as long as he needed it to be. So we let him do his thing and then they worked around his solo with the structure. Dwight got inspired by the main musical theme of the song which has that feeling of loss and despair but also something majestic about it.
16. Your last name reads the same even backwards, like a magick word. Does it have a special meaning or it’s just pure coincidence?
M: The C of Christ in the middle! I’m the chosen one apparently. It’s my dad’s family name but since I don’t have any connection to my family I’m seriously thinking of changing my name. I love the thought of not belonging anywhere.
It seems like we have reached the end of this interview. Thank you so much, Michelle, for accepting this, it really means a lot to me. I wish you all the best, both on a personal and professional level and who knows, maybe one day soon I’ll see you guys play live somewhere. As always, I leave the last words to you:
M: Thank you so much Matei for giving us the opportunity to tell more about the band, our music and ourselves. Come say hello if we cross each other. I would like to express my gratitude and may that nihilism take you.