Vision Eternel Interview For The Moderns
Kevin Press, founder and editor of The Moderns webzine, recently conducted a short interview with Vision Eternel founder Alexander Julien. The interview was conducted between December 9-19, 2020 and touches up Julien’s previous bands and Vision Eternel’s new release For Farewell Of Nostalgia. It can be read here.
Since it is no longer hosted online, the interview is now presented here for archival purposes:
-In the past, you’ve juggled multiple projects. Talk about why you’ve chosen to focus exclusively on Vision Eternel recently.
Prior to beginning work on Vision Eternel’s new concept extended play, For Farewell Of Nostalgia, I spent roughly two years unable to compose new music. I had writer’s block (or more precisely composer’s block). It took me some time to figure out what was the problem: I had stretched myself too thin musically. I also had placed too many expectations on myself for each band.
I had spent the previous ten years, from September 2006 to December 2016, shuffling between different bands and projects. I would compose and record a release with one band, then while it would await its release, I would immediately begin working with another band. During that period, I was active with Vision Eternel, Soufferance, Vision Lunar, Vision Solitude, Throne Of Mortality, Projection Mina, Gallia Fornax, Human Infect, Green Territory, Éphémère, Lanterns Awake, Citadel Swamp and Murder On Redpath; in addition to being a partner in Mortification Records and the owner of Abridged Pause Recordings. Not all at the same time, of course, but in a staggered progression. Some of these were full bands, others were collaborations, and a few were solo projects. But each had its own style and concept and I had a lot of fun constantly composing, recording and performing.
However, a lot of the projects that started out as unassuming had grown into bands with a (small) following and had to meet independent record labels’ expectations. I felt pressured to continue composing a great deal of material for several bands, all of which were due for new releases. In addition, there was increasing tension between myself and some of my fellow band members due to their lack of equal participation. It began to feel forced and I turned my attention elsewhere; towards research and biography projects. I was not especially aware of the time that was passing by; I assumed that I would naturally gravitate back into music once inspiration had returned.
What triggered a return to music was the realization that, in December 2016, I had missed out on two of my band’s ten-year anniversaries. Soufferance began in September 2006, while Vision Lunar was founded in October 2006. Both of those important events had passed by and it was too late to embrace them. I did not want this to happen with Vision Eternel because, out of all of my bands, it had always been my favourite and most intimate. Vision Eternel’s ten-year anniversary was rapidly approaching in January 2017 and so I made the decision that I would shelve all of my other bands and concentrate solely on it. I wanted to celebrate Vision Eternel’s first decade of existence by releasing a retrospective boxed set and knew that it would require a great deal of time and effort to pull it all together.
At that time, in early 2017, I was not planning any new material; I simply wanted to spend the year highlighting the band’s past releases, through the An Anthology Of Past Misfortunes boxed set, and rebuilding an online presence for Vision Eternel. What really changed everything, and ultimately launched me into four years of work to compose and complete For Farewell Of Nostalgia, was an article published on The Obelisk webzine. By luck, journalist JJ Koczan had stumbled on Vision Eternel’s 2015 extended play, Echoes From Forgotten Hearts, and published an extremely favourable review. His article ended with a hope for new Vision Eternel material to come shortly. It had been several years since Vision Eternel had received any publicity so that review was a motivational factor for me. Less than two months later, I was composing new material.
During the making of For Farewell Of Nostalgia, I quickly realized that Vision Eternel was the only band which I wanted to pursue and I began incorporating elements that I once reserved for my other bands. So what For Farewell Of Nostalgia presents is somewhat of a “best of” of my compositional abilities.
-What set Vision Eternel apart from the others? Do you feel that in retrospect, or did that sense emerge over time?
Vision Eternel was different from the very beginning. Several of my bands started in the traditional sense, when musicians got together and, through learning how to perform with each other, decided to compose songs. That is the deliberate way of going about starting a band. But Vision Eternel came about much more organically; I was not planning to start a new project.
It began one late, lonely night in early January 2007 while I was extremely depressed about an ex-girlfriend. I was sitting in Mortified Studio, my newly-setup recording studio, which was located in an annex to my parent’s house in Edison, New Jersey. I picked up my guitar that evening and began playing; I was not trying to imitate any style nor play any genre, I simply let my emotions control the movement of my fingers. What came from my guitar was this extremely beautiful piece of music and I immediately recorded it. This song later took on the title Love Within Beauty. The recording was merely over a minute in length so I was unsure of how it could be used. It may very well have ended up as an interlude on one of my other bands’ albums.
A couple of nights later, still very depressed, I was sitting in bed with another guitar and I began playing my sentiments once again. The result was another graceful composition; this one was given the title Love Within Isolation. It was only once these two compositions were paired that I realized that I was onto something new and different, distinct from my other bands and projects. It did not sound like anything that I had done before, nor like anything that I had heard before, because it was not influenced by anything external; it came from within my deepest emotions. It sounded like me.
I decided to continue along that path and compose more songs naturally and uninhibitedly. Since all of this music was the result of my obsession with, and my difficulty moving on from my ex-girlfriend, I decided to theme a concept extended play around it; from meeting her, through the break-up and into the depression and isolation that I experienced. The release was titled Seul Dans L’obsession (French for Alone In Obsession) and the band was given the name Vision Eternel, to commemorate my eternal reminisce of a past relationship. The band’s name was intentionally misspelled, partly for aesthetics, but mainly to bring up original web search results.
Since every aspect of the band revolved around my heartbreak, Vision Eternel was very personal from the start. And because of that, I was rather protective of it. I was the sole band member, composer, performer and producer on the recordings; I controlled and designed all of the visuals, from the photography and album covers to the music videos and even all of the merchandise. I also released all of the material through my own record labels, which originally was Mortification Records since I was one of the three founding partners. Over time, however, I eased up slightly and began to incorporate a limited amount of external creativity from people that I trust and respect. I remain the sole composer and performer in Vision Eternel, but there have been occasional guest musicians and band members that joined the band; mastering engineers that improved the sound quality; and a handful of visual artists that have provided incredible artwork to accompany the music. It took nearly fifteen years but I believe that I have found the right balance; the visual and sonic presentation on Vision Eternel’s For Farewell Of Nostalgia is perfect to me. I have never been more proud of a release.
-For Farewell Of Nostalgia – what’s behind that title?
Vision Eternel’s For Farewell Of Nostalgia is a concept extended play, so the release title ties in with the song titles; it also ties into the greater story-line of Vision Eternel. With this release, I was able to achieve a comprehensive multi-level conceptual release. It is a concept within a concept, within another concept. I know that this sounds complex but I assure you that it is actually very straight-forward and accessible.
The original Vision Eternel concept dates back to the first release, Seul Dans L’obsession in 2007; boy gets girl, boy loses girl. That was established simultaneously with the band forming. When Vision Eternel’s second concept extended play, Un Automne En Solitude, was released in 2008, it opened up the greater story-line concept (a concept within a concept). Putting the first two extended plays side by side gave the story-line boy gets girl, boy loses girl; boy gets girl again, boy loses girl again. That greater story-line was mainly inspired by my own personal life; a series of past relationships, but it also parallels my favourite film, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
Each Vision Eternel concept extended play has since been an addition to that greater story-line; another loss, another heartbreak. Abondance De Périls, released in 2010, and The Last Great Torch Song, released in 2012, were the third and fourth pieces to the greater story-line. Echoes From Forgotten Hearts, which came out in 2015, is a concept extended play but it does not fit into the greater story-line because it was originally composed as the soundtrack to a short film. Therefore, Vision Eternel’s new release For Farewell Of Nostalgia conceptually picks up immediately after The Last Great Torch Song.
I always put in a great deal of thought and research into titling a Vision Eternel release. It has to have a certain rhythm, not quite a sentence but more of a statement. While I am composing and recording, I take notes of words that I feel are representative of the themes and emotions that I am feeling and experiencing. I try to put myself into the state in which I was at the moment that the heartbreak occurred. Once I have several words together, I try to expand it into an original release title. If the word combination is too similar to something that is already out there, not only music but any works of art, I discard it. It is very important that my release titles are original.
In the case of For Farewell Of Nostalgia, I came up with the word nostalgia fairly early on in the process. But I was unsure if my music deserved to use it. Nostalgia is such a personal and intimate sentiment for me; I experience it every day. I live in nostalgia. It is something that is part of me and I wanted to be respectful of it. Because of that, I felt that if I was to title something with the word nostalgia, it really had to live up to it. I did not want to use it lightly. For Farewell Of Nostalgia was recorded twice: once in 2018, then again completely from scratch in 2019. One of the driving reasons why I decided to re-record it was because I felt that the original recording was not good enough to deserve that title. Once I completed the second version in late 2019, I was very proud of it and I felt that For Farewell Of Nostalgia was a befit title.
The title For Farewell Of Nostalgia is intended to be taken with a slight poetic liberty. It means for the well-being of nostalgia. This concept extended play documents a series of heartfelt events that I will never forget and that I will cherish, in nostalgia, for the rest of my life. The release is also a Dear John letter to Montreal, a city that I once considered home. I gave up the city life some years ago but Vision Eternel will always have a symbolic link to Montreal. With For Farewell Of Nostalgia, I wanted to say “Thanks for the memories, the wonderful and the miserable; now good-bye.” All of that is ensconced into the title.
The song titles also go through a similar process of notes and analysis. There are two steps that I follow but not necessarily in order. One of the steps is finding the prefix that is used on all of the song titles. In the case of For Farewell Of Nostalgia, the songs’ prefix is Moments Of; every song title begins with those words. The other step is establishing the actual title of the songs; with this release it was Rain, Absence, Intimacy, Nostalgia. The song titles need to not only fit with the prefix but they also need to represent, sequentially, the phases that I went through during the relationship and the heartbreak. These, in turn, fit into the greater story-line. Moments Of Rain is symbolic of the autumn; Moments Of Absence is symbolic of the time spent alone in between relationships; Moments Of Intimacy is symbolic of the new relationship; and Moments Of Nostalgia is symbolic of the heartbreak.
With For Farewell Of Nostalgia, I was able to carry the song titles one step further, into a deeper concept. Each of the four principal songs are divided into different parts, or segues. Each of those parts are given their own titles; there are seventeen in total. This extended track listing is detailed in the physical editions of the release: the Advanced Compact Disc Edition (Abridged Pause Recordings), the Compact Disc Edition (Somewherecold Records), the Compact Cassette Edition (Geertruida) and the Phonograph Record Edition (pending release). It is restricted to the physical editions because it is meant to tie in and be paired with a short story that I wrote. This short story is also exclusive to the physical editions and recounts the events that inspired For Farewell Of Nostalgia. The extended track titles match the short story’s chapters. Everything is connected conceptually and fits in like a piece of a puzzle into the immediate release concept and into the greater story-line.