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Interviews : “I just like making this music”- An interview with Manuel Gagneux (Zeal & Ardor)

By on June 25, 2018

Zeal & Ardor – Manuel Gagneux

When looking into the nature of music that crosses over and blends distinctly different elements, there are some prominent genre’s that come to mind; metalcore, deathcore…even blackgaze. So how do you approach an artist’s music that successfully blends gospel, urban music and black metal? Or gospel music with blackened/ satanic lyrical themes?

Stranger Fruit is an essential album, crafted by the Swiss born Manuel Gagneux under the Zeal & Ardor moniker. Gagneux offers a rhythmic cadence on Stranger Fruit that might be found on the cuts crafted by hyper-popular urban artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Drake. Given the ambition of Stranger Fruit, it would also be a smooth move by Kanye West to draft Gagneux in to offer a critique on his musical sketches, given West’s tendency to embrace dissonant and heavy musical elements (see “Black Skinhead” from Yeezus -’13)

When I ask Gagneux for his thoughts on how to categorise his music, this was his response.

“Trance, just trance. I don’t know, I think I lack a label. I guess work song… rock? That’s a horrible label. I myself also suck at them, so there’s no saving grace.”

Gagneux has effectively introduced a completely new sound. How do audiences react then? Does he see the typical black metal fan or even casual metal fan in an audience during a performance? Or does Gagneux perform primarily to the uncategorizable and hardly identifiable music aficionado? The type that collect choice jazz and funk records to complement their love of metal?

“Typically, it’s more music fans. Metal fans are into it also, but there’s something to be said about the strictness of black metal fans and how pure it has to be to appease ‘the gods’. I take that one with a grain of salt. At the end of the day I just like making this music, and I don’t really care who likes it. I do care that people do like it and do listen to it, but of course, I’m not going to please every customer, and I’m at total peace with that.”

Stranger Fruit as an album title references the famous Billie Holliday cut, “Strange Fruit” (’39). The title is no coincidence; its intently honorific toward the legendary American jazz singer.

“It’s a reference to her song. She sings of strange fruit hanging from Poplar trees and, yes, it’s talking about the lynched people being hanged. The intention of this record was to be an extension of that, maybe into current times where the bodies are no longer hanging from the trees but actually lying dead in the streets with bullet holes in their bodies.”

What about inspiration?

“I was always into strange music, be it Frank Zappa, Mr. Bungle or whatever. I’m really quickly bored and easily bored, so I think doing something that is a treat for me personally is like my main goal. I think just the hunt for a sound that I like was the inspiration or the driving force for this.”

Despite alluding to urban artists earlier, Stranger Fruit is an album that contains frequent and freezing blasts of straight-up black metal fury. Gagneux does listen to the genre as he explains.

“It was Burzum and Dark Throne and all those Norwegian fellows who politically I can’t completely align with, but I can’t deny that I really like their music”

Live performances in Australia are on the agenda, however, the circumstances have to be favourable. Hard earned experience from a prior tour showed why.

“We’re shooting for early next year because visas are a bitch, it’s so hard. Last August we had got confirmed for gigs in the US and I had to play that with other musicians than my actual band, and it was okay but every time I was on stage it was just one thought, ‘If you guys only knew’. I’m not going to play a concert without my actual band anymore. Until that happens and until we’re allowed to play in Australia as the group that we are we’re not going to come, but if we’re lucky enough next year would be the year. Early next year too.”

Stranger Fruit is out now via MKVA. Check out our review of the album here.


Andrew is a musician who has spent many years performing on the stages of the pubs and clubs of Queensland. A devotee of the broad church that is rock, punk, funk, jazz and of course all genres of metal... he now shares his enthusiasm via a burgeoning pursuit of music journalism. Follow him on twitter @andymckaysmith