Sofy Major is one of those bands that are hard to categorize within any genre. They’re a three-piece from France that’s been around since 2005, currently consisting of Mathieu (drums), Sébastien (guitars) and Mathieu (bass/vocals). It’s actually one of those interviews where I didn’t get a response that quickly, so it’s been laying in the mail for about two months. I was actually surprised that I received it in my mail just now, but also happy since I was in dire need for some material. I asked two of the members a bunch of nice questions and this is probably one of the longer interviews I’ve ever conducted. Hope you like it, because I know I did.
I bet someone have asked you this before, but could you tell me a brief history about Sofy Major? Have you been in any other band prior to this one and where would you say that your musical career first started out?
Mathieu: – The band was created in 2005, began playing shows in 2006, and started to tour in 2007. I was mostly into the Metal / NYHC scene with my previous band, we played our own songs and were also doing covers from bands such like Warzone, Cro-Mags (HELLO HARLEY), Merauder, but I was… really young. The first time I decided to dedicate my life to the Scene was when I set up my first shows for French and foreign bands, discovering the whole DIY Punk Scene.
Seb started to play in several Punk Rock bands similar to NRA and Bad Religion. He then played in a post-hardcore band which sounded like some Dischord bands (Retisonic, Bluetip…), and then joined Sofy Major. Mathieu used to play drums in various local Punk Rock bands and joined us a few years ago after our previous drummer left because he could not handle our neverending tours.
What would you say is your main influence both musically and aesthetically? Have those influences changed throughout the years? If so, in what way?
Mathieu: – The fact is that we changed our line-up tons of times, but we’ve been playing as a trio for the last three years and we all feel like this is the right way to do it. So I can’t talk for everyone who was or who is in the band, but our music has always been mainly influenced by classic US Hardcore bands from the 80’s and the 90’s (Dischord Records, Born Against, Integrity, Deadguy, Void, etc…). We’re also pretty much into the old AmRep roster, having a particular feeling for the NY Noise Rock Scene (Cop Shoot Cop, Swans, Unsane, etc…). I’d be a liar if I said we were not into the old early 90’s Punk Rock / Noise Hardcore Scene from France as we’re all big fans of old French bands such as Portobello Bones, Tantrum, Driveblind, Les Thugs; 90% of all those bands didn’t make it abroad which is a shame considering their talent. We also like to listen to some classic Metal bands when we’re on the road or enjoying our incoming hangover after a neverending night.
So you’re going on tour this summer, namely in June – are you stoked? It seems like you’ve covered many European cities already. What venues have been the best so far and which country do you like the most?
Mathieu: – We’re currently in the process of writing new material, but we’re already thinking about this tour ; it’s always a bit stressful as we’re not that kind of band who manage to tour and write music at the same time because we’re too lazy and probably because most part of the bands doing it this way are fucking up their records which is something we try to avoid. I like to tour when I’m done with writing new music, then we can dedicate our rehearsals to our upcoming gigs.
But going on tour is something really important for us, this is the best way to share your creativity. You never know what will be happening, and you never know how the audience’s going to react to the show. Doing 80 to 100 gigs a year is the best thing which could happen to a band, and that’s why we’re doing it ; we’ve always been really surprised by Eastern Europe, it’s a bit wilder than all the Western countries and people don’t react the same, I feel a lot of sincerity there. Some countries are also worth touring, like Germany where promoters take care of the bands they’re welcoming, I mean REALLY take care of them. When you finally reach this German venue which has been there for the last 20 years, this makes you feel safe when you’ve been driving thousands of kilometers in every single country of Europe on a big tour.
Where do you have your most enthusiastic fans and in what city have you had your most energetic plays up to date?
Mathieu: – Just like every band, we enjoy playing at home. Clermont-Ferrand, Lyon or Montpellier are always fun to play. On tour it’s a bit different, I have awesome memories about Eastern Europe and some people at our shows going insane in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and the Balkans ; we have a particular feeling with those countries and will probably come back there in the next few months.
I saw that you’ve been to Sweden one time only and that was at Kulturhuset in Örebro. Do you remember this show? How was it and how was the venue? When are you coming back to this magnificent country?
Mathieu: – Actually, this is not the only show we did there as we also played in Lund last October, but yeah I can remember this gig for three reasons:
- We were super-tired (considering the amount of hangovers we had) in the middle of a tour and played a show in Oslo the day before the Örebro gig, then we had to drive to Berlin right after the show (routings, wtf…). We didn’t know it took so long to drive onto Scandinavian roads and the ferry killed us right before the billion trucks on german highways. When I think about it, I guess we were all a bit unconscious of how dangerous it was for us and how lucky we were not to have an accident.
- The promoter was doing the gig for us and Stalk, a one-man Noise/Electronica band (ie. Murcof, Tim Hecker…) and we didn’t know it was an all-ages show (actually we didn’t know laws on alcohol were so restrictive in Sweden), this was the first time we fronted the situation. Etienne from Stalk drank a few beers in the middle of our soundchecks, went out to smoke, and the security guy at the doors asked him to breath into his breathalyzer and didn’t want him to go inside. He ran around the block thinking it would help alcohol to get out of his body by sweating and ate something like ten bananas, but of course it didn’t work (what an interesting idea…). Luckily he didn’t cancel the show as the guard let him go into the venue but he was not the support band that night.
- How the promoter and his family welcomed us and helped us gaining life expectancy when they saw our faces at the moment we arrived, all the people were super nice to us. 100x Thanks to them.
There are a few problems for us when it comes about going to Sweden : those bridges and the ferries are so expensive, we would need more than 3 shows to get there and avoid losing money… And it’s pretty hard to have people come to shows if you’re not having a 15 years long career or playing some random Fast Bandana Something-Core; you also have tons of really good bands there. But I promise, we’ll come back on our next Scandinavian tour and will share some beers with you guys, probably in 2013.
What are you going to do after your summer-tour? Do you have anything planned? Are you going to release anything new this year?
Mathieu: – Back in the studio, and we’ll be done with half of the pre-production work for our next album. We’ll also record two songs for a 7” to be released on Solar Flare Records next September coming in a fine limited handmade screenprinted woodbox with tons of gifts inside, we like our music to come with fine and original packagings. Another song will be released on a Split 7” with Uncle Touchy released through No List Records. Then we’ll make a few gigs out there in Europe and France and will be flying to the US fall October to record Permission to Engage’s successor with producer Andrew Schneider at the Translator Audio studio located in the South Sound facility in Brooklyn / NY.
If you got the chance to do a split-CD with any band in the world, what would be your pick and why?
Mathieu: – This would sound more like a collaboration, but I’d love to make something with Jello Biafra. We played with him & the Guantanamo School of Medicine and he was that kind of person still having a DIY Punk ethic but without being part of that Scene Police always giving lessons to other bands and people about what Hardcore is or not ; he’s also a brilliant singer and has a really interesting sense for arts, that’s probably why Alternative Tentacles is one of my favorite label.
For a split release, if he was still alive, a record with Seth Putnam & Anal Cunt would be cool because I’m pretty sure spending a night or two with them during the recording sessions is worth it.
Who makes your album covers and what is the thought behind them, besides reflecting the general feeling of the album? Which cover do you like the most and why?
Mathieu: – I’ve always given carte blanche to the artists and the graphic designers who have been working on our artworks (posters, shirts, record jackets…), because I feel like it would be restrictive for them if we asked something really specific, the only limit is the object itself. That’s why about 15 people have already done something for us, and that’s the reason you can find Sofy Major shirts showing a tank with a turret replaced by a cathedral having a pentagram on it or screenprinted posters with Mel Gibson as the Devil on our merch table. There are no graphic standards as I think there should not be standards in music. I mean 99% of all artworks in 2012 are about horse skulls, skate-boards, nuclear explosions, tentacles, naked women in putrefaction and horses and I think those should be used sparingly.
How has the artistic freedom been throughout the history of your band? Have you had any limitations or did you get to do practically anything you wanted?
Mathieu: – We don’t have any limit unless maybe technical ones, our music is written for a three-piece band and what appears on a record must be playable on stage (except for all our ambient tracks). I wish we could have the opportunity to make an album with two different kind of music on it, like what Neurosis did with Times of Grace and Tribes of Neurot on Grace. There should be no limit regarding artistic freedom, this is the only thing you can’t buy and you don’t need any money to be in a creative process.
What do you make of your local scene, do you have a scene worth mentioning? How have the local scenes been in the countries you’ve visited? Which country impressed you the most, scene-wise?
- We have a few bands here, not many are digging into Hardcore and stuff, but some were or are really interesting. We live in a middle-sized post-industrial town called Clermont-Ferrand, home of the Michelin tires factory, and our city is surrounded by volcanoes which means you can be in the middle of the mountain in less than 10 minutes. The nearest big city is located 150 kms far from us which is the perfect background for a band to start. Considering the size of the town, we have many good venues and actually our current line up met when we were all living in an autonomous center in our town called Raymond’s Bar. This place is the dreamt one, you have tons of awesome gigs there and more and more people are coming to the shows.
Every country we toured has interesting bands, even a tiny country like Switzerland is impressive : that’s such a little territory and they had so many great bands a few years ago (Nostromo, Knut, etc…). Scandinavia, particularly Sweden, has a stunning Scene too, considering the ratio Number of Good Bands / Number of People living there. Each time we used to play there, the musicians in the support bands were really young and so skillful considering how good they were when playing their respective instruments (10x times better than us), that was crazy. Seems we do not have the same artistic education… When a young French student is having musical curses, he’s forced to play the flute and learn Céline Dion’s songs until he’s 18, meanwhile in many other countries you’re able to practice other instruments like drums or guitars.
I always tend to sneak in questions about the music industry but failed to do it during my last interview, but what do you think about it? Have it affected your band in any way, both positive and negative?
Mathieu: – What is the music industry anyway, it’s been here forever. Me and Sébastien are working in the music industry in some ways, I’m a tourvan renter for bands going on tour or working on gig transfers, and usually deliver vehicles for really big popular bands. Sébastien is a roadie and works on big shows for famous bands as wells ; but our music is not affected, this is just a job and we try to make it the best we can. That just gives us enough money and time to go on tour and record all year long. Many people are still preaching to the converted, but we all know this industry is full of fuck, what’s the point with complaining at it ? Let’s make something else and not care about it ; this sucks, for sure, but it sucks like working in a sausage factory sucks, and no one is making songs about it. I mean, no protest song can kill Tupac’s hologram.
Where do you usually hang out when you’re in cities you’ve visited before? Do you have any recommendations? Any nice restaurants, bars or pubs?
Mathieu: – You know, the main problem with touring is that you don’t have much time to act like a tourist. The other problem is that we always go to sleep pretty late when we’re on tour, hanging around with promoters and people coming to our shows and we don’t really play Scrabble with them… I’m always super tired while being on tour, and I drive the van 90% of the time so when we (luckily) get early to a venue, I just try to sleep a few minutes or hours while the other just go for a walk. But when having a day off, people welcoming us usually offer to visit their town or spend some time in the good places. I have great memories of Budapest / Hungary and Liège / Belgium, those towns are beautiful and the cost of life is lower than the French one, which means you can eat vegan / veggy and have a hangover for a really low price. If some of you manage to make it to Liège, I’d recommend Le Pot au Lait, a nice bar where you’ll probably get drunk and meet nice people.
Could you summarize your most positive experiences of the year 2012, contra the earlier years? What have been the most positive things happening to you this year?
Mathieu: – Well, we just went back from our third European tour with our friends from Membrane (that’s why it took so long to answer) and as usual it was a really good experience. I’ve always been a super fan of them and even that’s probably the 30th time I’m seeing them live, I just don’t get tired of listening to them. You know that feeling when you go to a gig to see a band you’ve always loved (or just discovered), telling yourself : “That shit was insane, best gig of the year” and you still think about that concert 2 or 3 days after having seen the band on stage. That’s for the live experience, and it was also the first time we spent so much time in the practice room and in the pre-production studio with our friend and sound engineer Laurent. When you take the time to write, edit and think about new material, then you increase the range of possibilities and widen the creative field, which was something new to us.
Sébastien: – And we’re going to Brooklyn this year.
What are you doing this year besides going on a summer-tour? Do you have any new release that is coming up, or just something that haven’t already been told?
Mathieu: – Yep, we’ll be having upcoming US recording sessions and tour fall this year. We took one year to write Permission to Engage successor and we’re really looking forward to work with Andrew Schneider once again but not through the Internet this time. This will be our first plane and oversea experiences, and even everything’s planned in advance that’s good to have that wild feeling making you say : “Okay, so now I can’t go back home whenever I want, I need those things to be done, and be done right”.
So you’ve started up your own label, could you tell me a little bit more about Solar Flare Records? What makes this label unique? Will future Sofy Major releases be featured on this label?
Mathieu: – Well, this was pretty unexpected ; at the beginning, when we first worked with Andrew Schneider, I know he and his band PIGS had a record to be released and I asked them if I could help putting something out. I didn’t realize the amount of time which was necessary to handle such a big release and didn’t have the opportunity to listen to the whole master, but the few songs available on Coextinction Rds (they self-released an EP through their own label) and the other ones on Slutspace were killer. So I just said “Ok, let’s see what I can do”, as I’ve already put some money in some other previous Sofy Major related records, I knew how boring and time-wasting it was to take care of the PR work.
Then I finally got the final master and artworks, and I thought this record was obviously going to be a real blast. This plus the fact that I was releasing something for cool guys who’ve always been working hard, that’s why I began Solar Flare Records and decided what artistic direction this label should follow: releasing vinyls and digital versions of records from awesome bands not having the opportunity or time to do a worldwide release. I’m also interested in re-releasing LP versions of albums which were only released on CDs, some albums are really worth having a second life, you know, those forgotten gems… The artistic direction is : “We cover a part of the Rock’n Roll field, surprise me, make your own stuff, sound original, be sincere and you’ll be welcome here”. Also for Sofy Major’s upcoming record, I don’t know if we’ll release it on Solar Flare at the moment, probably not or I’ll just give the album some additional PR support but we’re actually looking for some labels to release it.
What kind of music do you guys enjoy yourselves and what would you recommend to the readers of Invisible Guy?
Mathieu: – I almost enjoy all kind of music, from Jazz to old school Death Metal, except Post Rock bands and what people call Math Rock, probably because I’m a bad frustrated musician and will never be able to play so many tunes in such a short amount of time. Both sounds super boring to me. Those days, I’m really into Bud Powell and Charles Mingus, and re-discovering all those classic records I used to listen as a kid. On the distortion side, I’d recommend a bunch of old and current French Hardcore, Noise, Punk and Metal bands : Condense, Les Thugs, Ananda, Tantrum, Driveblind, Beamtrap, Real Cool Killers for the old ones, Membrane, Pord, Fordamage, Morse, Ultracoït, Verdun, Gasmask Terrör, Monarch, Year of No Light, Neige Morte, Stuntman, Chere Catastrophe, Blut Aus Nord, Deathspell Omega for the current ones.
I also like the last High on Fire record when I’m drunk at some random party. It’s a good Metal record. I discovered The Gutterville Splendour Six, listen to it if you like Punk Rock, Blues and Enio Morricone.
Sébastien: – American Heritage, Old Man Gloom, some Melvins records and the Danish band Lack.
I’ve never understood why labels release tapes instead of vinyls, what makes a tape more beneficial? How is the sound quality and what differs in between the realm of tapes?
Mathieu: From my point of view, here are a few reasons why labels are releasing tapes:
- Tapes are cheap, like really really cheap.
- Main reason : many people coming from countries in the world can’t afford listen to vinyls or even CDs. For many punks or hardcore kids in South America or South-East Asia, it’s easier and cheaper to listen to a tape than getting a turntable.
- Cheap and old cars still have tape players.
Désordre Ordonné in Canada and Keep it Together in the US released a tape from our Permission to Engage album. Tapes sound quality is lower than a vinyl, for sure. That’s funny because I would not buy a tape, unless it’s coming from a friend’s band but I just don’t listen to them that much at the end.
When are you guys going to embark on a US-tour? Have you gained any fans from the US throughout the years?
Mathieu: – This to be said, we’ll be touring the US next November with our friends from Uncle Touchy and The Great Sabatini for about 20 days, both bands are on Canadian label No List Records (Ken Mode, Villipend, etc…), check them out. Some people already helped us release some records there (IFB Records, Keep it Together, and Coextinction Recordings in a near future) and we got some good press. I got many orders from the US with Solar Flare for our latest releases (Permission to Engage, our split w/ Membrane), so we’ll see what happen considering it’s our first time there, and we’re still a pretty young band, but we’re so fucking excited to get there. So come to see us when we reach the US!
Up until now you’ve made it to seven different releases – which one of those do you enjoy the most and what are your favorite songs? Aesthetically speaking, which album cover are you most proud of?
Mathieu: – I’m proud of every single release we put out. From the beginning with those Hardcore influenced songs and those Noise ones we did on a few EPs and splits, to the current Metal-back-to-basics records, we did everything ourselves with the help of some friends and people coming to the shows, so I can’t be anything else than proud. I feel the same with our artworks, but Gerald Jay did such a super job for Permission to Engage.
Sébastien: – My favorite is Ruin it All on the split w/ Membrane.
When you make music what is the single most important thing to think about? Do your albums follow any chronological order, or do you come up with a certain theme for each one? What is the first general thought process behind each release?
Mathieu: – A record = a line-up + a general mood. You can’t write the same material with 5, 4 or 3 musicians. You can’t write the same thing when you’re 17 and when you’re 30. There is no particular process behind each song or release, we just come with cool riffs, try to mix what we like and what we have, write some verses, chords, blah… and finally try to build something homogeneous. I like to work with this guy from St4lk and Signal Carré in France, he’s a good friend of us and has worked with us on pretty much every single release we did. What I like is that he manages to add a real texture to the records which able to link the songs ; I want the listener to pay attention to the whole record, not just one or two songs. We don’t write concept albums, but it’s like listening to the Serge Gainsbourg’s Melody Nelson outro and telling everyone this album sucks.
Otherwise the method is: “Let’s write killer songs, let’s play them as loud & heavy as we can and let’s replay them 1000 times before playing them live so each time our picks hit our strings the drummer’s using his kick which will increase the chances of blowing people up during the gig”.
So now when we’ve gotten this far – do you drink beer? If so, what would be your favorite beer?
Sébastien: – The main problem is that we like ALL beers.
Mathieu: – On our last tours with Membrane, we realized some of us didn’t drink an ounce of water… So yeah, we drink beer, on a daily basis. I like strong Belgian beers, they’re tasty contrary to german Pills (you can drink hectoliters of it, it’s like drinking water and you’ll still want to).
When you’re not out touring or writing new material – what do you prefer to do?
Sébastien: – Drinking beers and listening to Black Sabbath.
Mathieu: – We take care of our venue, set a few gigs up for other foreign bands, buy records, get involved in our city life or just go to the bar and get drunk. I like soccer too, even our local team sucks (it’s more like a rugby town)… Well wait… Our national team sucks too.
At what shows have you been yourselves recently? What or which band(s) have been the best so far?
Sébastien: – The most recent show was Enablers for me, I really thought they were cool. A shitload of energy, charisma and they’re all good musicians. Though, the best gig I’ve seen lately was Neurosis.
Mathieu: – Well, recently, I went to see Unsane (once again), they were touring with Big Business, but without Vinnie. Their show was awesome as usual, and the aftershow sounded like a party, so yeah that was a good night. A few months ago, we did a show for Iconoclass, a hip-hop band with that guy from Dälek, the show was enjoyable. I can also remember that Portuguese band called We Are the Damned, playing some mix of Thrash Metal and Fast Hardcore, good show. We also welcomed The Ex, even I’m not a big fan of their records they’re damn good on stage. My biggest surprise was Harvey Milk, good and funny guys, good live band, perfect show. Other cool shows this year, no particular order : Wormrot (b-b-b-b-blast beat), Lost Boys, Christicide (awesome Black Metal band, check them out), Melvins, Peter Kernel, Moms on Meth, and probably 50 others.
When you’re out touring and playing at different venues, do you have any ritual before you go on the stage? What do you generally do before you’re getting on stage? Have it changed in any way during the last couple of years?
Sébastien: – We drink beers, we smoke cigarettes, and if there’s one, we monopolize the table-football table.
Mathieu: – Even we’ve played hundreds of shows, I’m still a bit stressed before going on stage, even on a Monday night in Poland on a tiny stage with 10 people in the crowd. So I just want to find some quiet place, do nothing, then go to the toilets and spend 10 minutes on them, trying to eject my own shit which won’t go out anyway.
You’ve been playing with a multitude of bands, from your earlier shows mostly with Stalk and L’Homme Puma. What do you think of them and how has it been? You’re also playing with Membrane for the upcoming tour, how are they?
Mathieu: – We like touring with other bands, the more you have people in the van, the funnier it will be. And that ables us to share the stage with different kind of bands. St4lk is a one-man Noise / Electronic band, L’Homme Puma were a duo, mainly playing Noise Rock songs while Membrane are more into the Metal / Noise stuff. Well, we don’t mind the music, we could play with any kind of band, if the music’s worth it and if the guys are having the same will of writing music and working as much as they can to provide something good on stage to the audience, that’s okay for us. There is no particular esthetic in our choices, it’s still more human than musical. You know it’s like doing a split record with another band, you try to chose the one playing the same kind of music but you finally chose the coolest guys and the hard-workers at the end; that’s natural actually.
Would you consider yourselves to be a live-band or a studio-band? What would be the most important – studio or live?
Mathieu: – Both are important, out of the writing work, we didn’t give many attention to the quality of our records before. Well, we just went with what we could afford. Now I think both are important, if you’re not a good band live, you’re not gonna sell any record, and if your album sucks, you’re not going to play any show. So you have to work hard on both. Also it’s good to play on big stages, when you have a good PA, a good monitor engineer and everything, pretty comfortable, but small stages are cool too, you’re near the audience, there is no gap or retarded security guys between you and them.
Do you have any favorite venue of choice that you’d like to play at but haven’t managed to get to? What band would you drag along if you were headliners at that venue?
Mathieu: – There would be many, you know when you have a look at some of the bigger bands tourplans, some venues are, well not legendary, but at least you know you’re going to spend a good evening there. I’d be more interested in playing some big European or US festivals, to have the pleasure sharing the stage with cool other bands, but you gotta fit their esthetically field. Chaos in Tejas, The Fest, Hellfest, Roadburn, Maryland Death Fest, Villette Sonique, etc… we’re working hard on it anyway.
What would you categorize yourselves as, musically? In what way have that label changed throughout the years?
Mathieu: – I don’t know, we’re covering a large field of musical categories. I guess we’re just Punk Rockers playing Noise Rock and Metal. What have not changed is our intention of moving things forward for our band and everything which is connected to it.
I’ve also seen two videos that you’ve made for the songs Stoom Stoom Stoom and Outil. What was the thought behind these videos and where did you record them? Have you released any other music-video besides these two, or are you planning to do that in the future?
- Well, for the videos, we just worked the same way we’re doing our artworks, giving carte blanche to the artists who did them. We gave them the lyrics, the music, they wrote a scenario and made everything to avoid being technically constrained. As usual it was made on the “do it with your friends way” and everything went better than expected. I like music videos, because besides the video projections some bands are using on stage, there is usually no connection between music and video ; this is one of the only way both can be connected and I’m glad we used this medium. We’ll probably shoot other ones for our upcoming album.
What do you consider to be the meaning of live – as for now?
Mathieu: – Taking care of your friends, of your family, being pro-active and building things with other people even it’s a house or a band, and… drinking beer.
If you had to choose five records from the most recent years that you can’t be without – what records would that be and why?
Recent records? Here we go:
- Old Man Gloom – Christmas : A perfect mix of ambient tracks and ultra heavy songs. I’m still not being fan of concept albums, but this one is a gem.
- Unsane – Visqueen : One of their best records with Occupational Hazard, and Scattered… Perfect songs, perfect mix, perfect artwork.
- Tribes of Neurot & Walking Time Bomb : Everytime I listen to this record, I feel like I’ll be retiring in the Faroe Islands to raise sheeps.
- Botch – We are the Romans : No need to explain.
- Kickback – No Surrender : For the fun of it.
Bolt Thrower – Warmaster : Probably one of the first Metal album I purchased as a teenager.
Born Against – Patriotic Battle Hymns : My own introduction to Hardcore.
Condense – Genuflex : The French touch of this playlist.
Quicksand – Slip : Cult #1
Napalm Death – Scum : Cult #2
What band do you want me to interview next and what would you want me to ask them?
Mathieu: – Can you please interview Refused and ask them how much they were asking for each reunion gig?
Listen to their latest split with Membrane below:
And watch their musicvideo for the song Stoom Stoom Stoom:
Do also watch their latest live-clip from their show at Tremplin in Beaumont:
You can also find them over here: