French psych-metal outfit SLIFT specialize in towering, titanic heft that, miraculously, only comes from three people. Tomorrow, they are back with ILION, their fourth album and first for Sub Pop, which makes good on what they started on 2020’s UMMON but represents a new ferocity.
SLIFT — whose name comes from a character in the 1999 sci-fi novel The Outer Zone by French author Alain Damasio — comprises brothers Jean and Remí Fossat and Canek Flores, who first met at school and listened to a lot of Hendrix. After witnessing a Moon Duo show, they experienced a revelation and began melding the trance-like allure of krautrock, the brutalism of metal, and the mythical, lofty concepts of prog into an immensely heavy sound. On their latest, SLIFT have created an album that plays out like a great Greek epic, representing the fall of humanity and the “rebirth of all things in space and time.” It’s a demanding listen but one that’s equally gratifying.
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Below, vocalist/guitarist Jean Fossat told us about the colossal new album, his love of Homer, and playing a show under a highway in Mexico City.
Who was your psychedelic gateway band?
The first was the Jimi Hendrix Experience. We were listening to a lot of Hendrix records when we met with Canek [Flores, drummer]. It was around high school. SLIFT hadn’t started yet, but we started playing together with my brother Rémi [Fossat] and Canek. A few years later, we encountered our second gateway to psych rock. We went to see a concert in a museum in Toulouse with Canek. It was sold out, but we managed to get two tickets at the last minute. The band playing was Moon Duo. Once the concert was over, we had a kind of epiphany, and we said we wanted to do that from now on. Composing, recording, going on tour — we saw it as an extraordinary adventure. It turned out to be the case! So it was after this Moon Duo show that we decided to start playing under the name SLIFT.
Tell me about the psych/underground scene in France. What does that community look like in your hometown of Toulouse?
There are a lot of very good bands in France. I’m thinking of Psychotic Monks, Birds in Row, La Colonie de Vacances, Stuffed Foxes, Aluk Todolo… In our hometown Toulouse, there is a true love for psychedelic music and all the underground oddities! The thing is that a lot of small- and medium-sized venues are closing, and the laws concerning the noise disturbance caused by a concert have become reinforced in the wrong direction over time. So in Toulouse, for example, there are fewer places to play — and therefore created a scene with several bands who motivate each other — than there were six years ago when we started. So we often see shows in squats or illegal venues, and we have to fight for these places to continue to exist because it is thanks to them that bands can start playing today.
Can you let us in on your recording process? Do you often jam and see what comes out of it, or do you come in with part of an idea and let things wander?
It depends. Most of the time I come up with an idea that we then jam together and let wander. Sometimes I come in with a very specific idea, in which case I prepare a demo, and sometimes an idea will emerge from a jam. But I realized over time that it’s always interesting when Rémi and Canek add their ideas, their creativity, and their sensitivity to the sound we’re working on, rather than building it alone. So ultimately, the three of us compose our music.
Do you have any rituals before writing and recording?
Before composing music, I really like reading. I realized over time that it was very inspiring for me, but I couldn’t explain how to transform words into a guitar riff or a drum pattern. I don’t know it myself! Before going into the studio, we like to play the songs we are going to record live first. Live is our favorite playground, and this is where the songs take their final form.
You’ve said that the album is constructed like a Homeric story, and the songs feel just as epic. What’s your relationship to Greek mythology and the language, given that ILION is named after the Ancient Greek word for the city of Troy?
With my brother Rémi, we discovered Homer when we were very young, and a bit like The Lord of the Rings, The Odyssey, and The Iliad are stories that have been with us for a long time. ILION tells of the fall of humanity, and the rebirth of all things in space and time. It follows our previous album, UMMON, and like it, it is narratively quite inspired by Homer, too. The Odyssey for UMMON and The Iliad for ILION. But honestly, I like people to make up their own minds by listening to the music. I think that’s what’s beautiful about art in general: It’s very subjective. Each will listen to ILION in a different way and will therefore interpret or feel it in a different way. So there are as many ILIONS as there are listeners, and all versions are valid.
It’s quite natural for us to adopt a position as storytellers when we compose music. It’s not something we premeditate — it just comes to us like that. We have always had a particular affection for tales and fables, myths and legends. It stimulates our imagination, and therefore our music. I like to see the world through the prism of stories by authors like Jorge Luis Borges. It teaches you to see magic everywhere, and to understand that there are always several levels of understanding to an artistic work, or more generally to the world around us.
“Weavers’ Weft” is a meditation on time — how things move in cycles and feel infinite. What are the smaller moments in life that you’ve found meaning in lately?
My girlfriend loves walking around town, and she is amazed by architectural details, or by the outfit of a lady leaving a restaurant, the way that man over there smokes his cigarette. At first, I didn’t really understand. I am often lost in my thoughts and my relationship to time, and the present is therefore biased. But little by little I took part in her game of observation and fully feeling the city that lives around us when we go out.
I am aware of time passing and of our lives which invariably slide down its river, but each moment of being fully with her and with the city, without parasitic thoughts, I have the sensation of slowing down time because I take advantage of each moment of space-time fully. I guess it’s the idea of living fully in the present, but it’s a lot harder and a lot more rewarding than I thought. Does time move forward for everyone in the same way? Or is this all a dream and reality unfolds when I fall asleep? You have three hours!
Your show at Desert Daze in 2022 was spectacular. It’s easy to see that you have a natural synergy that comes alive when you play together — your music needs to be seen live because it conjures such a different feeling than your studio songs. What are some of your favorite memories from any of your recent gigs?
I’m glad you had a good time! Our first American tour was a succession of very unique moments. I couldn’t believe the warm welcome we received from people every night. The atmosphere was magical, meeting all these people after the shows — it was just surreal for us. We loved Desert Daze. The place is magnificent. We played just before nightfall, which for me is the most beautiful time of the day with the dawn. During this tour, we also did a concert in Mexico City, under a highway, and it will remain forever engraved in my memory. The amps were barely working, and it was 40 degrees at least, but the people were great. The audience was transformed into a single moving and screaming entity from the first note to the last. The wooden crash barriers were completely destroyed at the end of the show. Good times!
What newer psych bands do you champion? Guruguru Brain never puts out a bad album — I’m still playing the Maya Ongaku LP from last year religiously — and El Paraiso releases great records, too.
El Paraiso is an amazing label. They released the record of a young Norwegian band with whom we are going on tour this winter, Kanaan. It’s very good! Thank you for introducing me to Maya Ongaku. I didn’t know the band. I can say the same thing about Rocket Recordings — they have never released a bad record! I’ve been digging Smote lately.