Friday, 20 October 2017
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Interview: Julien Cassarino of PSYKUP

Antihero Magazine recently spoke to vocalist/guitarist Julien Cassarino of French heavy metal outfit Psykup about the band’s latest release Ctrl + Alt + Fuck.

PsykupANTIHERO: Describe how the band was started?

Julien Cassarino: I founded the band in ’95, and then we did the first album. I think it was 2001, but we made a few before, and, just small CDs. You know, we were just working, and then the first album was very well-received and we started to be national. We started to be famous in France. People were hardcore fans, they were following us. It was a bit new, I think, at the time in France. People were not mixing so much with, we were trying to break boundaries and to bring people to listen to a lot of different kind of music. Not only metal, because people say, “I listen to a lot of music,” and they say, “Yes, I listen to death metal, grind, and hardcore, and metal, but only metal.” We wanted to open the minds of people to listen to really several kinds of music. Groovy music, funky music, jazz, rap, a lot of stuff. We used all that, our differences to make Psykup and we developed a lot the complementarity of the two voices, too. We were huge fans of Alice in Chains, so we wanted to develop the harmonies, the two lead vocalist harmonies, and the violent energy. A lot of energy, we want positive energy, and the live shows are very hardcore in the attitude. We ask a lot to the audience too, to give back, and the thing is that we made three albums and a DVD, and then the other singer decided to stop because he was going to be a dad. He wanted to make a pause of the touring and stuff, so we made a pause. We paused for eight years, and we came back. We reunited for two concerts and then people were so crazy and we enjoyed so much the reunion that we said, “Okay, okay, we’re going to do another album,” so I wrote another album, Ctrl+Alt+Fuck, and I decided to change a bit my way of writing. Like, more efficient, more straight to the point, because the tracks were always very long. We were well-known for that, very long tracks, without a formula, so I changed it and I decided to do something wilder. We kept the second degree, always a bit of humor. We always want to be different than the other metalheads, because we’re not really metalheads in our attitude or in our way of living and stuff. We are just normal people with a bit of craziness. We try to bring that, and the new album is very well-received, and now we’re starting to spread the good word, I guess, world-wide and out of Europe, because we have fans out of Europe, in the world, but we must tour the whole world. We are in the conquest mode now. We are very motivated and we want to bring the music of Psykup everywhere, so I think we will try to do that next year, because for now it’s just touring France and Europe. Then next year we’re going to tour the world.

ANTIHERO: I agree. It’s like, I think the world needs to hear Psykup. It’s just, you know, when I listen to you guys, it’s funny because you said you’re like Mr. Bungle, because that’s one of the things that came up. You guys really sound like Mr. Bungle, Faith No More, and some System of a Down, and all those bands are extremely popular out in the US.

Julien Cassarino: Yes, and what’s funny is that we started before System of a Down. People always say we look alike. I think we have something in common, yes, but we were doing that before. We were influenced by Mr. Bungle or Faith No More because it was older, System of a Down is not an influence, but I think we share the same mix between violence and melody, except that we are more violent and more experimental. I think System of a Down fans, they would love Psykup. We played with them recently on the Download Festival, in France. We played, not on the same stage of course, because they are very huge, but we played on the same festival and the drummer, he listened to Psykup. He saw a part of the concert and he really liked us, so it’s good. It’s good, I think maybe one day we can hope to meet them again somewhere, maybe in the US.

ANTIHERO: What is the meaning around the name Psykup?

Julien Cassarino: We wanted something linked with psychology, and it’s an invented word of course. We wanted something not normal, and it means elevate your mind. You always try to be positive, always try to learn from your mistakes, always try to move on. Always, always. It’s something that we have, having problems, of course in our career we had a lot of disappointments and a lot of failures, and bad decisions and stuff, and we always wanted to be positive about that. Try to laugh about that. There is a sentence that is very useful for me that I really use in my daily life. It’s a quote from H. G. Wells, that is one of my favorite writers, actually, and he said, “The crisis of today is the joke of tomorrow,” and I used this sentence in one of my lyrics from the song called, “Crisis of Today” in the last album. Yes, “The crisis of today is the joke of tomorrow” will help us to move on, and I think it’s the philosophy of Psykup. Everything can be a joke, you know. Everything will be a joke in the end, even death itself, so let’s try to enjoy the moments we have on this earth and try to really party. Try to enjoy the moment we have.

ANTIHERO: Can you tell me, the song, “Fuck Me ’til the End of Times“, is that about somebody in particular?

Julien Cassarino: No, it’s not addressed to somebody. I think (I say I think because I didn’t write the lyrics of this one) it was a kind of a joke, again, about the fact that yes, people don’t realize the situation of the bands, the independent bands, the difficulties we meet. It’s about the difficulties of existing as a band and the mistakes we made. All the bad choices, all the persons we worked with, sometimes not good choices, so “Fuck Me ’til the End of Times” was like, okay, we accept this and go on. It’s like “Rape Me” from Nirvana, you know. “Okay, go on, go on. Go on and fuck us again, but we’re still here and we will go on and we will make jokes about it.” We’re still standing.

ANTIHERO: Okay, and then also with your video for “Violent Brazilian Massage“, for people that obviously don’t know you guys, that’s a great representation of you guys. What is the concept behind that video. Who did you get to direct that crazy ass video?

Julien Cassarino: The video was directed by a friend of mine, Cyril Carbonne. He’s French too, and he’s a director. He directs movies, usually, and I asked him if he wanted to make the video and actually this is very funny, because it’s the very first video we made. At the time we started, it was not so common to make videos for music, and then we never had money to do that, and we were just, “Okay, we will do it, but no, we don’t have money,” and then we stopped for eight years. We came back and said, “Fuck, now we have to make a video, of course.” I asked him, and I only said to him, “I want something which would involve a violent Brazilian massage, of course.” He said, “Okay,” and he proposed a place, and ideas, and we worked … We shot that in Paris, actually, because we live in Toulouse. We live in the south of France and of course it’s in the north, so we went to Paris to shoot the video. It was very funny, and the people that star in the video are friends that were recruited for the video, so they were enjoying and they really gave a lot of themselves. Yeah, the song is very representative of the comeback of Psykup, you know, the first words are, “We’re back”. I wrote the lyrics of this one and I mixed the restart of the band and an experience that I had in Brazil, because I went to Brazil last year, and I was amazed by the country. I was amazed by the atmosphere, and there I went and I had a violent Brazilian massage for real. Somebody gave me this, and it really exploded my body and my mind, and I felt rebooted, I was not very good at the time and I went out of this, like, “Whoa.” Everything would change in my life. It really was like a mystical experiment, and so I said, “Okay. I will write about that and I will mix that with the feeling of Psykup coming back very strong and wanting to change stuff and to move on. I say that everybody in the whole world would need a violent Brazilian massage to really put everything in its right place, and the violent Brazilian massage for this is really perfect, because it moves both your mind and your body. The song is like a crazy train, always moving, moving, faster and faster, and I think it’s a good introduction to the craziness of Psykup, with all the mixed influences, with the batucada that is in the end of the song, the very Brazilian sound mixed with metal. Of course people may think of Sepultura, because at the time they were the first to mix that, from Brazil, where they came from, but we tried to do our own stuff. My girlfriend is actually Brazilian, so everything is linked. Everything is connected.

ANTIHERO: You know, and the other thing that I really like about that song is the reference to “Frankie Goes to Hollywood”.

Julien Cassarino: Oh, great. You had the reference. Good, because some people don’t catch the reference. Thank you. I’m amazed. Maybe three or four people just came to me and said, “You’re sampling from the Frankie Goes to Hollywood song. Of course it’s a joke, and I love the original song and so I said, “Okay, let’s put it here and let’s see who will catch the reference.” Great. The album has other references too, they are a bit hidden, so it’s just something that you can listen several times and catch different references. It was a huge work of production, and we’re going to make the second video very soon. We shot the video for “Cooler than God“, you know, the song with the horns, last summer. It will be released on the 5th of October, and I wrote the script and I co-directed the video with my friend Angel Fonseca, so it’s interesting because I could really bring in all the visual ideas that I had in mind writing the song. It’s a crazy video. Maybe we will have problems with the Catholic Church, though, because it’s a bit mocking religion, but it’s not again religion, like the lyrics of the song. It’s again to say that, yes, if people were just trying to live together and not to make war with each other because of different opinions or religions, it would be great. Everybody could laugh together. The video is even crazier than the first one.

ANTIHERO: Okay, so can you just basically, can you tell me about the song-writing process?

Julien Cassarino: Yes, I’m the main composer, so I’m always starting it from my guitar. Writing riffs, riffs, riffs, some songs can be in my head for days. Then I write the riffs, the structures, the arrangements, and I do a bit on my computer, just to try different arrangements, and then I work with the rest of the band. Mostly on this album I worked with the bass player, Julian, and we worked with the drums, and then everybody comes following my lead. Then we split the lyrics with the other singer, Matthieu. I ask him which song he would like to work on, I say if I have a preference for some stuff, if I thought about lyrics before. Like the “Violent Brazilian Massage”, I came with the whole idea, so it was connected to the lyrics, so of course I wrote the lyrics for this one, as for the concept song, you know the one that closed the album? “The Long Ride Home” sunrise and sundown. Then the one that is writing the lyrics is writing the lyrics for both singers, and the singing melodies. This album was very fast, actually. It was the faster I wrote, it took me only three months composing. We worked on the mix and mastering with Francis Caste. He’s starting to be famous here. It’s a friend from a very long time ago and he wanted to bring a different sound to us. I asked him for something very wild, without too much effects. I wanted something a bit rough, but something modern, too. Modern, because we were absent for eight years, so of course the technology improved a lot and we didn’t want to sound old-fashioned. I think it’s good because you really feel all the excitement that we had playing on this album.

PsykupANTIHERO: Do you think it’s important to step out of your comfort zone when it comes to writing songs?

Julien Cassarino: Oh, yes. I love going out of my comfort zone. You’re right on the point because I wanted, on this album in particular, to step out of the comfort zone of Psykup. The comfort zone of Psykup is writing very long songs and not really caring. In the past, I was just writing like I wanted, and I didn’t want it to be efficient. On this new album I feel more mature, if I can say. Because I will be 39 soon, so my way of seeing things changed. I wanted something efficient and not so hard to understand. I wanted something fast. I wanted songs shorter, and so it’s really out of the comfort zone. You never know how the fans are going to take this stuff because the previous album, “We Love You All”, was I think the top of craziness and very long and complex songs. I don’t know if you listened to it, but it’s complicated so you have to listen I don’t know how many times to really reveal everything and find a purpose. Even myself, when I listen back to this album, I’m like, “What the fuck? What did I do? I don’t understand.” I don’t understand what I meant at the time, so it’s like an out of body experience! On this new album I wanted to break the cycle and to propose new sounds. The first time we are playing with horns and with a batucada and with a nyckelharpa, too, the Scandinavian violin. I really wanted to write without limits, knowing that we wouldn’t have the horns and the batucada on stage every time on tour, so we would simply sample them all. In the past, I was always like, “Okay, let’s not do too much on the album, because then we can’t reproduce on stage, simply,” and this time I didn’t care. I said, “Okay, I experiment everything I want. We try everything we want, and then if we have to sample some stuff, we would sample some stuff.” It’s not a problem, because people now, live, are more used to samples and stuff like this, even if, of course, the majority of the music is played live, but I wanted to bring new sounds. I’m very happy with this, because the album was very well-received and a lot of people prefer this one to the others. It’s the favorite of a lot of persons. Until now, “Le Temps de la Réflexion“, the first one, was really always the all-time favorite of people, and it really bothered us because we don’t like this album very much. We like the songs but we don’t like the production, and it’s old for us. Now I’m happy because a lot of new persons, they come to Psykup with the Ctrl+Alt+Fuck album, and I prefer that people come to us with this album. I think that it is very representative of the way we are today. On stage of course we play from the previous albums, but we skipped “We Love You All”, which is the third, because it’s not fitting with the new songs. It’s really like a brand new image, and it’s the first time we’ve had an artwork so crazy funny, too. You saw the cover.

ANTIHERO: Oh, yeah.

Julien Cassarino: When people come with the cover, it’s like, “What the fuck is this?” People think it’s like a dance compilation or, I don’t know, like it’s the new CD of David Guetta. No, no. It’s a metal band. What? With the hippopotamus in the air and the girl and the very sunshiny atmosphere. So we want to break the boundaries, the clichés. It’s always dark and gore and horrible, the metal. We wanted something very sunshine, like Helmet did with the “Betty” album in the nineties. People have to accept that they will be a bit molested in our universe.

ANTIHERO: I like that. I love, the cover is great. I mean it’s, I kind of, when I first bought it, I think, “Okay, I’ll give it a go, it’s probably going to be some, like, alternative rock band.” Completely blew me, took me by surprise when I heard the music and I’m like, I was so far off, and so happy about that. Can you tell me, your last album came out in 2008, and this one came out in 2017? Why the long delay?

Julien Cassarino: Because, like I told you, there was this pause. The other singer, he said, “Okay, I stop.” We said, “Okay, Psykup will be like, standby,” but we did not want to stop music because we’re all musicians, professional musicians. We make a living with this, so I have other bands that played during the time. At the time I had Manimal, that is more extreme, and then we stopped, too, after a while. I have the Rufus Bellefleur band, which is very different. How would I define it? It’s rock mixed with pop, with hip-hop and funky music. You have to listen to that, and the videos are very funny too. It’s totally different, it’s a different universe, with banjo, dobro, cigar boxes and machines … The other ones had other bands too, we always were, we never stopped playing and singing. Matthieu, the other singer, he had My Own Private Alaska. I don’t know if you’ve heard about that, it’s really original. It’s screamo mixed with piano, so it’s very different too. We were working together from time to time, and of course we were friends forever so we were like, “Okay, it’s, one day maybe we will work together again,” and then Psykup was brought back in the conversation like, “Okay, what will we do? We want to play together again, let’s make one concert,” and then we went all the way. I think we’re stronger than ever, stronger than at the time when we stopped because we were a bit tired then, exhausted by the years of touring. We’re restarting fresher, so I like that. I like that because the last thing we want is to go and tour like tired and not really wanting to do that. It’s like, “Okay, we’ll go on tour, but we are really all focused on the same goal, and we all want to bring the band very high.” That’s what we do.

PsykupANTIHERO: Okay, I’m glad you brought up Manimal. I was planning on asking you about that. It’s like a … It’s funny. It’s like, Manimal’s more of like, a straight-edge metal. It’s not like Psykup. It’s just more straight-up metal. I love it, but it’s funny. Every song is somebody’s name. How, what’s the reason for that? Where did that come from?

Julien Cassarino: This album is called “Multiplicity”, it’s our third. It’s a concept album: when you read the names, you think it’s full of different people. It’s like a study of characters, we’re talking about the psychology of different people, so there is a song called “Ben” about a guy that drinks he has an alcohol issue, Michael is the obsessive one, etc. And in the end, if you read the lyrics and if you really go into the concepts, you realize that it’s several personalities of the same person. Beyond schizophrenia itself, I wanted to explore the fact that we are all very multiple. I don’t believe in a one-dimensional person. I believe that people are a combination of a lot of other personalities. I like concepts, the second one, “Succube”, was only movie titles. “Multiplicity” is the best, I think, the maturity album, it’s a bit cliché to say that, but I think “Multiplicity” was the good intention. Like Psykup, maybe one day we’ll reunite and we will say, “Okay, let’s do another album,” because we are all friends. We’re all working together. My drummer from Manimal and my guitar player, they are working with me in Psykup too, so from time to time we listen to the album, we say, “Oh, it was great,” so maybe one day we will make another album. You never know, when we have time.

ANTIHERO: The other thing I notice is like, your first couple albums, you sing in French, and on the new album, you’re singing in English. Why did you decide to go to English?

Julien Cassarino: I don’t know. I think we were fed up with French. Like, it’s a difficult language to sing. Our culture here is very influenced by the American culture and the English culture, and a lot of bands that are from Sweden or other countries, Australia, and everybody speaks English. We were not very interested by French for this album, and we really want to open the door to the world, so if you want to be world-wide, I think, it’s easier when you sing in English. When we started to work on the lyrics with my friend, I asked him, “Do you want to sing in French, write in French?” He was like, “No, not really,” and I said, “Me neither, so okay then. Let’s not do that.” We dropped French, and I don’t remember so much from any reactions of people complaining about that in France. It’s not really a big deal here. Even with Manimal, I was singing exclusively in English in the last one, and I was singing in French and English in the two previous ones, so it was really a logical change. I don’t feel like writing in French anymore. Maybe it will come back, maybe no.

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