On his new record For Farewell Of Nostalgia, Quebec resident Alexander Julien — performing here of the moniker of Vision Eternel — has crafted a strikingly poignant piece of guitar-centered ambiance.
The record ventures out into a place of emotional cold, but at the same time, there’s a sense of security and catharsis that runs through the record, as if the emotional weight at the core of the album provides a crucial look at a facet or two of our existence that otherwise might be ignored.
The four-track release features no lyrics. Instead, Julien has orchestrated the flowing cascades of guitar tones to tell the story on their own. Sometimes, when the dynamic shifts in the consistent and repeating guitar melodies get particularly dramatic, the music feels like a film score. This element of the music shines at moments like the conclusion of the album’s comparatively lengthy track “Moments of Intimacy.”
Across the record as a whole, Julien performs what he has termed melogaze, which unites immersive waves of shoegazey guitar melodies with a sense of gradually growing melodrama and a steady blanket of heavy emotional atmosphere via the deeply resonant tones that he works with. There’s a steady heaviness to the sound as Julien unfurls melodies that on their own might feel like pensively somber ballad material. Instead of sticking to the more “traditional” format of songs that are a few minutes long or so, Julien’s music features a dramatic flow, with billowing, steadily unfolding melodies that simultaneously feel like encapsulations of beauty from the natural world and reflections of some kind of emotional struggle from within. Majestic emotional weight and somber self-contemplation co-exist here, and Julien places a persistently forward-looking vibe in the mix via the melodic persistence of the record.
Read a full review of the album at THIS LINK.
Below, find a (lengthy) Q & A with Julien in which he explains some of the life experiences and broader pieces of inspiration behind For Farewell Of Nostalgia.
Finding the Way to Creativity
Captured Howls (CH): How would you describe any guiding principles that you had throughout the creation of these new songs?
Alexander Julien (AJ): When I originally attempted to compose new material, for what later turned out to be For Farewell Of Nostalgia, I was lacking direction. I spent about seventeen months, from October 2015 to February 2017, without writing a single new song. That was a very difficult time for me because I was used to releasing at least one thing per year, by at least one of my bands or projects. During that down time, I occasionally picked up one of my guitars, with really great intentions, but nothing good would come out of it. This began to depress me but I could not figure out why I had writer’s block.
In December 2016, I came to a conclusion. That month, I realized that I had missed out on the ten-year anniversary of two of my bands: Soufferance, which I had started in September 2006; and Vision Lunar, which I had founded on October 6, 2006. That really upset me because I had anticipated highlighting those events with new releases or merchandise. But the dates had slipped by me and it was too late. I did not want to miss out on the ten-year anniversary of Vision Eternel, which was coming up in January 2017. Vision Eternel was always my most personal and intimate band so I wanted to do something special to highlight it.
At the same time, I also realized why I had been having so much trouble composing new music: I had over-expanded myself musically over the years with too many bands and projects. Some people are really good at shuffling between bands, like Mike Patton for example. But I came to the understanding that this was no longer something that I could do. It divided my energy and creativity instead of focusing it on a single goal. It also proved to be counterproductive because of the songwriting limitations that I had placed on myself. Each of my bands or projects had to have distinct sounds and composition styles, which oftentimes led to really good guitar parts being left out because they did not fit with what I dictated a band should sound like. This was resolved in December 2016 when I decided to solely focus on Vision Eternel and put my other bands to rest (Citadel Swamp and Soufferance), or on an indefinite hiatus (Vision Lunar).
AJ: I spent most of December 2016 and all of January 2017 re-establishing Vision Eternel’s online presence. This was necessary because I had not promoted the band in nearly six years, so all of the news, reviews and interviews surrounding Vision Eternel had gone offline. The band also lacked social media profiles, as I had in the past mostly relied on record labels for the promotion of my music. I also began compiling the boxed set An Anthology Of Past Misfortunes, which unfortunately took much longer to complete, and was delayed from its intended February 14, 2017 release date, to over a year later on April 14, 2018.
I remember the precise moment when I decided to start composing new Vision Eternel material. The person responsible for that was JJ Koczan, editor at The Obelisk webzine. While re-establishing Vision Eternel’s online presence (uploading songs to Soundcloud, videos to YouTube, etc), JJ landed on Vision Eternel’s 2015 extended play Echoes From Forgotten Hearts and published a review on his website The Obelisk. The extended play had originally been quietly released without any promotion, so this was its first review. JJ’s article ended with a hope for new Vision Eternel material in the near future; this was the first press encouragement that Vision Eternel had received in three and a half years and it created for me a huge boost of motivation towards getting back to writing and recording. I began composing new material that very month, however, the work on the boxed set delayed me for another year.
(Re)Starting from (Almost) Scratch
AJ: Although I did compose and demo material throughout 2017, the bulk of composing and recording for For Farewell Of Nostalgia took place between April and October of 2018. The extended play was nearly completed when I realized that I was unhappy with the global output. I did not like the way the release sounded as a whole and I was noticing a lot of noise in my tracks; problems with my studio equipment and musical gear. By this time, I had already received some moderate interest from about fifteen to twenty record labels, based on un-finished mixes that I had sent out during the summer of 2018. So I was in a precarious situation where, if I decided to shelve the release, for my own sake, I potentially jeopardized relationships with record labels that wanted to release this material.
None of those record label deals were set in stone, so I do not want to give off the impression that I was in a position to discard any record label interest at that point. Quite the opposite; I was worried about not having those opportunities again. But I felt that if a record label was going to invest in my music, that it should be the best material that I could offer. And that if Vision Eternel was to be heard again, after years of silence, by both old and new fans, the music really needed to sound its best. I have had to live with a certain level of regret towards a couple of releases by my past bands; things that were not fully thought out, or ideas that were not followed through because it was at the last minute, or simply things that I did not think were important enough to change at the time; but that, as time went on, I wish I had done. So faced with the opportunity of shelving the release and re-recording it from scratch, I truly felt that it was the right thing to do.
In those prior years of down time, from roughly 2015 to 2018, I had shamefully neglected my gear and equipment, to the point that I had to bring a couple of my guitars to a luthier for levelling and to replace some of the hardware. I also purchased a new guitar and upgraded my studio cables and equipment. This process took an entire year, from September 2018 to October 2019, during which I did not compose any new material.
One of the other issues that I had with the original version of For Farewell Of Nostalgia was that the songs did not fit well with each other. This was due to the lengthy recording session, which had lasted a somewhat sporadic seven months. During that time, my ideas, directions, moods and emotions continuously changed. When I returned to mix a song, after having completed the recording of another, I no longer liked the direction that I had taken when I last worked on it. Since Farewell Of Nostalgia is a concept extended play, I wanted to correct that during the re-recording session.
The second time around, the recording was accomplished in just over a month: from October 4 to November 12, 2019. I then spent another month doing minor mixing, editing and polishing until I was thoroughly satisfied. I called it a day on December 24th and on January 2, 2020 the extended play was mastered by Carl Saff at Saff Mastering in Chicago. Working with Carl made a world of difference: my release went from only sounding good on my setup to sounding the way it ought to on everyone’s setup. Although I had approached someone else to master the release in 2018, Carl Saff was the first person (actually, the only person) that I thought of when I finished re-recording the 2019 version of For Farewell Of Nostalgia. There really was no one else that I wanted at that point because I was such a big fan of the work he did with the Chicago emo band Castevet (aka CSTVT). Coincidentally, Castevet also chose to re-record their release The Echo & The Light.
When I compare the 2018 version (which I now refer to as the pre-production version) to the 2019 version of For Farewell Of Nostalgia, I know that I made the right decision to re-record it. I did, however, end up using two or three guitar tracks from a 2018 session on one of the songs because I was not able to get the right emotions in my playing during the re-recording session. But that was a case of choosing which version was best and it fit perfectly with the re-recorded material.
CH: How would you describe your personal relationship to the music? In other words, what sorts of roles does it play in your life? Catharsis? Exploring particular creative horizons? Something else?
AJ: The events and emotions that are documented in For Farewell Of Nostalgia are based, like all Vision Eternel releases, on a heartbreak. While the band’s previous concept extended plays chronicled my past relationships, this one focuses on falling in love too fast during a one-night stand and living with the memory of it all in nostalgia. Nostalgia does something to the memory with hindsight; it beautifies everything and alleviates the pain. And it is a sentiment with which I have long been familiar. I cherish it deeply. That is reflected in the release title as well. For Farewell Of Nostalgia is meant to be taken as “for the well-being of nostalgia”; an ode to nostalgia.
The concept within For Farewell Of Nostalgia also has another meaning. It is a Dear John letter to Montreal, the city where I was born. I grew up in Edison, New Jersey but returned to Montreal in my late teens and lived there for most of my adult life. I recently moved out of the metropolis and wanted to highlight some of the events that would stay with me forever. It is my way of saying “Thanks for the memories, the wonderful and the miserable; now good-bye”.
Having an instrumental release does make some of these things difficult to get across. So I went a step further and wrote a short story that accompanies the physical editions of the release, in place of where one might normally find lyrics. I wanted it to be part of the experience of enjoying the release. I did not want this to be yet another ambient album that people put on and use as background music. I wanted listeners of Vision Eternel’s For Farewell Of Nostalgia to feel the way that I felt when I composed and recorded these songs. I wanted to reflect some of the melancholia that I was living with, not only through the music but also through words.
But I also want people to listen to the music and imagine their own story lines; and to maybe also read the short story and interpret that their own way. Sometimes it is better to let the audience do that because people can at times be disappointed when they find out that something so meaningful to them was composed under different circumstances. For example, one of my favorite songs is Alexisonfire’s Happiness By The Kilowatt; an incredibly emotional and melodic song that closes their sophomore album Watch Out!. I always assumed that the song was about finding out that a relationship had run its course and that the partners had realized that they were not meant for each other. I was thrown back when I found out that it was in fact based, quite faithfully, on Kurt Vonnegut’s 1951 science fiction short story The Euphio Question. That example does have a happy ending though because I fell in love with Vonnegut’s writing after reading that short story.
A Wide Palette of Inspiration
CH: When it comes to the sounds of these latest songs in particular, what was the process like of developing the general sound? In other words, were there particular sounds you wanted to explore? Did you shape the sound around particular emotional states? Some of both?
Follow-up: What sorts of other music has really tended to capture your attention lately? What have you liked about it?
AJ: It has always been difficult for me to detail Vision Eternel’s influences because I do not personally listen to the genres of music that are generally affixed to the band. My songwriting, recording and mixing influences are almost completely unrelated to those genres, or even to music at times. My favorite band is Faith No More, but to say that Vision Eternel sounds like Faith No More would be absurd. Their influence is nevertheless in my subconscious, especially in the way that I approach the bass guitar parts when recording. I take a lot from Billy Gould. I additionally take in subconscious influences from The Smashing Pumpkins, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, Limp Bizkit, Swans, Pink Floyd, Harmonium, Black Sand And Starless Nights, Clint Mansell, and Bernard Herrmann. Those are probably the artists that are mainly responsible for the way that Vision Eternel sounds.
But there are more, and some are representative of different eras of Vision Eternel. It might seem odd for me to mention Morbid Angel as influential to Vision Eternel, but if one was to listen to their song Desolate Ways, I think that one could notice a similarity. The same applies to King Diamond’s Something Weird, Ozzy Osbourne’s Killer Of Giants, Killswitch Engage’s And Embers Rise and Inhale, Limp Bizkit’s Boiler and Everything, Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb, The Beatles’ Hey Jude, Bruce Cockburn’s Lovers In A Dangerous Time, Big Country’s In A Big Country and Wonderland, A Flock Of Seagulls’ I Ran (So Far Away) and Space Age Love Song, and Eliminator’s Prescription For Extinction, Breaking The Wheel, Time Enough At Last and The Man In The Picture. At times it may not be full songs but only a short melodic interlude that stuck with me and that influenced the way that I wrote, recorded or mixed a song years later.
Eiman Iraninejad and I used to banter about who influenced whom first; Vision Eternel or Eliminator (a thrash metal band from Edison, New Jersey). The truth is that Eiman is the greatest guitarist that I have ever known. In 2005 he sent me a home-recorded demo; this song has since been lost, but from memory, it was not unlike the melodic reverb-layered solos in Eliminator’s Prescription For Extinction. It was this incredibly beautiful and melodic ambient guitar solo. It was unlike anything that I had ever heard before. In hindsight, I feel that this was the single most influential piece of music that led to the creation of Vision Eternel.
A lot of the musical influences for Vision Eternel come from my subconscious; songs that I really have to think back on as meaningful. What comes from my consciousness however are film influences. Oftentimes I will be so emotionally moved after watching a film that those sentiments transcribe into my compositions, or into the recordings.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo has long been my favorite film and I believe that it is responsible for the recurring concept within Vision Eternel’s extended plays. Hitchcock described the theme of Vertigo as: “boy meets girl; boy loses girl; boy meets girl again; boy loses girl again”. The emotional torture of longing for a lost love, and eternally hoping for her return; only for it to start all over again with each new relationship, has been the basis of every Vision Eternel extended play. But being in love, even if only for a moment, no matter how devastating the end of it might be, is worth the pain.
Inspirations in Recording
AJ: In the specific case of For Farewell Of Nostalgia, there are two completely separate states of mind and moods that need to be expanded on. During the original recording session in 2018, I was dealing with an influx of influences, not only from bands and artists that I respect and enjoy, but also from my own previous bands. When I decided to make Vision Eternel my sole active project in December 2016, I also decided that I would compose music as simply and naturally as it came to me. I would no longer put one song in a folder titled Soufferance, another in a folder titled Citadel Swamp, another titled Vision Eternel, and so on. I would instead make music that felt right and sounded beautiful to me; music that incorporated the best of what I used to bring to each of those projects. Because of that, I was overwhelmingly trying to fit a bit of everything in each song. I was also attempting to mix the songs in a wall of sound type of production. One of the songs recorded in 2018 had a total of 180 tracks, all with different effects, some re-routed and looped through each other. It was more than I could handle and it was one of the reasons why I was unhappy with the mix of the pre-production version, and why the songs did not flow with each other.
The recordings themselves, in the original 2018 versions, had several musical influences. Some that I recall include Dennis Wilson’s River Song, Bill Withers’ She’s Lonely, Black Sand And Starless Nights’ Hamilton Beach, The Smashing Pumpkins’ Glass And The Ghost Children, Ellington’s (the emo band, not the singer) The Killers, and Shrüm (the Acid Bath-related band). A lot of these influences resulted with a much darker and more abrasive sound to the songs; not just in the recording and production but more deeply within the emotions transcribed while playing the instruments. It might be hard for someone outside the band to understand but to me the pre-production version sounded more like a Soufferance or Citadel Swamp release; it lacked the clarity and hopefulness of Vision Eternel.
When For Farewell Of Nostalgia was re-recorded in 2019, I wanted to contain my mood and emotions during the whole session, so I intentionally did not listen to much music. I knew that the only way to make the release sound whole and connected was to remain in the same mind-frame the entire time. In order to accomplish this, I relied heavily on Frank Sinatra. I placed the vinyl sleeve of his album In The Wee Small Hours, one of my favorite albums, next to my computer and admired it often during the month-long recording session. That album had become a close friend during late, lonely nights dealing with solitude over the years. I also limited myself to solely watching Frank Sinatra films during the recording. I did not include his early musicals in my watch-list but repeatedly watched his drama, war and noir films. It is unfortunate that people do not bring up Frank Sinatra’s film career more often because he was an incredible actor. Some Came Running, From Here To Eternity, The Man with the Golden Arm, The Detective and The Manchurian Candidate are amongst my favorite films.
Once the recording was completed, I eased up slightly. This was partly due to the need to take a step back during the lengthy mixing and editing sessions. I tend to get negative when I over-analyze my recordings and end up disliking the songs themselves. In order to refresh my ears, I almost exclusively listened to The Beatles. This was especially good because listening to them with studio headphones allowed me to hear some of the background noises and playing mistakes that were made; more so in their mid-to-late career recordings, once they stopped touring and became a studio band (1967-1970). Hearing that such high-profile and established releases as theirs can have an acceptable amount of tiny mistakes was refreshing and motivating and it helped me resume the mixing of my extended play.
In a way, I created my own retreat studio environment when I re-recorded For Farewell Of Nostalgia in 2019. Many bands chose not to record in their home towns because there are too many distractions, and I somewhat did the same by isolating myself in my studio for that month in a controlled environment, being careful of what I heard, what I read and what I watched.
Bringing the Pieces Together
CH: From your perspective now, how would you describe the guiding themes, either musically or thematically speaking, that you feel run through these songs? In other words, how would you characterize the new record as a whole, from your perspective?
AJ: The theme and concept throughout For Farewell Of Nostalgia is overall sad and lonesome; but hopeful, always hopeful. Those adjectives not only represent the new release but Vision Eternel as a whole; I always hope that the girl will come back. That theme is covered within the concept of For Farewell Of Nostalgia through the extended track listing, which acts as chapters to the accompanying short story. It suggests an autumnal mood: the rain, loneliness, absence, things passing on, nostalgia, melancholia; but it also touches on intimacy and being very close to a loved one. The story goes from being lonely, to having someone, to being lonely again.
Finding a Genre
AJ: The genre or style of the music is however harder to categorize. Ambient is probably the broadest and most generic term that could be used to categorize Vision Eternel, and I certainly do not mind that affiliation. But I am not sure if the ambient community is ready to accept For Farewell Of Nostalgia as an ambient release though…
When I first started Vision Eternel, I had never listened to ambient. I had heard dark ambient and black ambient side-projects from black metal musicians, but never any straight ambient (like Brian Eno for example). It was only once Vision Eternel’s first extended play, Seul Dans L’obsession, was composed, recorded and released (between January and February 2007) that I sought out to find the genre that I had accidentally, yet naturally, fallen into. Through extensive online research, I landed on the term ethereal and that is the genre with which I first labeled the MP3s that I circulated throughout 2007. But I always knew that Vision Eternel did not truly fit that label.
I recorded Vision Eternel’s sophomore extended play, Un Automne En Solitude, a few months later, between May and July 2007 (though it was not released until 2008). In June 2007, I put together a compilation of several songs from each of the first two releases as a demo/sampler to showcase my recording abilities. It was a required attachment with my application to Recording Arts Canada, an audio production college in Montreal. The producer who reviewed my application, and ultimately accepted my enrollment into the school, called me on the phone to tell me that my music impressed him and that it reminded him of Brian Eno’s The Shutov Assembly; that was the first time that I heard of Brian Eno and of authentic ambient music. I enjoyed The Shutov Assembly but neither Brian Eno nor ambient music was added to my playlist.
When I coined the term melogaze in 2010, I stated that it was because there did not exist a genre or style specific enough to pin-point the type of music that Vision Eternel was making. In hindsight, what I should have said was that there was not a genre or style broad enough to encompass Vision Eternel’s different facets. But that may also be misleading because I am by no means an experimental or avant-garde artist. I perceive Vision Eternel’s compositions as rather straight-forward.
The term melogaze was constructed from the words melodrama and shoegaze, because at the time I felt that shoegaze was the closest genre, thematically, to what I was doing; even though I was not personally listening to shoegaze music. Shoegaze was regarded as introspective and introverted. The melo portion of the word was often misinterpreted as coming from mellow. But it is taken from my adoration of melodramatic films. Coincidentally, and I only found this out later, the etymology of the word melodrama is in itself a combination of melos, Greek for music, and drame, French for drama. So in its purest form, Vision Eternel could simply be labeled as melodrama; dramatic music.
In an attempt to avoid having to explain what melogaze is, I have often told people that Vision Eternel’s music is ambient; only to be rebutted with the argument that it lacks keyboards. Or that it is not post-rock because it lacks drums; that it is not space rock because it lacks a psychedelic element; that it is not ethereal for lack of electronics; that it is neither shoegaze nor dream pop/dream rock for lack of vocals; that it is not drone due to the presence of song-structure; that it is not dark ambient because of its hopeful nature; and that it most certainly is not emo because… well because real emo was something that existed in the 1990s (and I do not entirely disagree with that last statement). Vision Eternel certainly has a little bit of each of those genres, yet it is not any one of them.
CH: What would you like to see next in music, either with your own work or in the broader community? In other words, what sorts of creative horizons seem particularly intriguing to you?
AJ: It is difficult to tell this early on where Vision Eternel will go next. It took such a long time, nearly three and a half years, to accomplish For Farewell Of Nostalgia and I very much want to spend a generous amount of time promoting it properly. I am a firm believer of “quality over quantity”, and in that respect, I think that it might be another few years before Vision Eternel finishes recording new material. I have some ideas that I noted for the next extended play; I have a theme in mind but no release or song titles yet. I also have a few song ideas demoed, which were mostly done immediately after the recording session of For Farewell Of Nostalgia wrapped up in late 2019 and early 2020; ideas that I had during the recording session and did not want to forget, since I was not including them on this release.
One of the other ideas currently being considered is a reissue of Vision Eternel’s 2015 soundtrack/extended play Echoes From Forgotten Hearts on a double-CD through Somewherecold Records. The first disc would feature a remastered version of the extended play that was released in early 2015, while the second disc would feature a mastered version of the never-released soundtrack version that was recorded earlier in 2014. There are several noticeable differences between the two versions, including the amount of songs, the songs themselves, the mixing, the sequencing. The original version was intended as a soundtrack to a short film so it was much more in the style of background music, less epic, maybe, for a lack of a better term. The version that was ultimately released went through a great deal of re-recording, editing, re-mixing and some songs were removed and replaced by ones newly composed. I am very excited about the possibility of this project, but it is still up in the air and my main priority right now is promoting For Farewell Of Nostalgia.
For Farewell Of Nostalgia is currently available on compact disc through Somewherecold Records and on compact cassette through Geertruida. Both editions are distributed through The Business. I am actively searching for a record label to release the vinyl edition. I am biased, of course, but I am really proud and impressed by how the physical editions came out. Somewherecold Records and Geertruida have been more accommodating than I could have imagined. They both went out of their way to make the custom packaging that I had in mind happen and each edition comes with exclusive bonus material. There are different hidden songs on each version. Each physical version also comes with a short story booklet which is to be read, preferably on a lonely night, while listening to For Farewell Of Nostalgia. So I really want to give the promotion of this release a fair chance, and not jump to the next release yet.