The Mangeur de Rêves Interview

Mangeur de Rêves —

Left to right: Raphaël Liberge-Simard (percussion), Jici LG (electric guitar, voice, acoustic guitar), JPhil Major (bass, voice, acoustic guitar), Alex Cégé (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Florent Schmitt (electric piano)

Mangeur de Rêves is a Montreal-based folk-rock band that formed in 2016. The two founding members, Alex and Jici, are psychology grad students, and the band’s name reflects their predilection for the landscapes of the psyche.

Mangeur de Rêves has just released their first album, Histoires a l’envers (backwards stories), a masterpiece of tight harmonies, atmospheric musical arrangements, and thoughtful lyrics reflecting the vastness of our inner worlds.

Cover art by Lénième:

The album was recorded at Breakglass Studios (who’ve also recorded Arcade Fire, Plants and Animals, Elephant Stone, and Elizabeth Shepherd). Recently the band’s bassist and backup vocalist JPhil Major and founding members Alex Cégé and Jici LG met with Wanda Waterman to talk about their lives, their sound, and what music means to them.

How did you guys meet?

ALEX: Jici and I met in 2014. We were studying the same subject but at different universities.

JICI: We started playing guitar together at the party — a lot of covers.

ALEX: We met again by chance two years later, at a gym. It wasn’t my first band — I’d had another one from 2012 to 2014 which I’d stopped completely for two years, but by the time I met Jici I’d written some material and had been looking for someone to make music with. We just clicked.

JICI: We had a jam session and wrote our first song together. It’s on the album: “Dernier Hiver.”

Left to right, Jici, Alex, and JPhil rock the foosball table at Tony’s Café Bar in Montreal. (Wanda Waterman photo)

ALEX: We had written two or three songs but had no band to play them. So we started looking on Facebook and other places for musicians. One day we went to see Pain of Salvation, a kind of progressive metal Swedish band. We knew there would be a lot of music players there because it really is musicians’ music — very technical and progressive. At the end of the show when we went to the coat check we said out loud, “Hey, it’s time to recruit some musicians,” and the guy in front of us was Jphil. He turned around.

JPHIL: “I can play music! What do you guys need?”

ALEX: We told him we were looking for a bassist, a keyboard player, and a drummer.

JPHIL: I said, “Yeah, okay, I can try the bass.”

ALEX: As for Raphael, he was living in Montreal when he joined us, but now he’s living near Ottawa because he got a government job.

JICI: He loves it so much that he’s willing to go the extra mile and come play with us when we need him.

ALEX: As for Florent, he can’t be here tonight because he’s taking care of his little girl.

JPHIL: Alex was going to play keyboards on the album, but then he thought we should hire someone who was more proficient.

JICI: Florent was my friend, so we just asked him if he’d like to play on the album. He was a guest musician. It was a great fit; Florent has a positive vibe.

ALEX: When we were looking for a drummer we posted ads on the “Musicians Montreal” page on Facebook. Raphael was following that page, but he’d turned the notifications off for a while because he wasn’t trying to get into a group. One day he woke up and his cellphone was on the bed and completely by chance a single ray of light — the curtain was almost closed — was shining onto our ad. Maybe because his musical preferences were so close to the wording of our ad, the notification had appeared.

JPHIL: Thanks to Facebook’s algorhythms. We were looking for something so specific, and then this guy Raphael arrives.

JICI: He was a true progressive metal fan like us.

ALEX: We like to say that we’re metalheads that don’t play metal. We play soft music, so we say we don’t play “metal,” we play “wood,” which has a more folk quality.

What part did music play in your childhoods?

JPHIL: My mother sang in a choir when she was pregnant with me. I ended up joining a choir when I was seven or eight. We performed at concerts in big halls in Quebec City. My sisters played the piano, and in high school I entered a concentrated music program. I played tuba for five years and then when I finished high school I played tuba in an orchestra.

Meanwhile I was learning to play guitar and practicing singing, mostly heavy metal, like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Nirvana, Dream Theater . . . I learned guitar because my brother had a guitar. Instead of trying to find an instrument for myself I just picked one that was lying there. I also picked up on his tastes in heavy metal. It was mostly into rock and heavy metal and then I turned to prog.

I started playing bass because my cousin, who died around ten years ago, had left his bass guitar. My aunt was holding onto it in his memory but finally she let me have it. She was glad that someone in the family was using it. I wasn’t the only musician in the family, but I was the most involved, and I’d played with my cousin in a band. I wasn’t a bassist until then, in fact not until I joined Mangeur de Rêves. But because I’d already learned guitar it wasn’t like I’d started from nothing.

ALEX: I’m an only child and my friends didn’t live nearby, so I played alone a lot. I think that really helped develop my imagination. I wasn’t that much into music as a child. The only music I listened to was classical music, which my grandmother played for me on CD. She called it “la belle musique.” In elementary school the other kids were listening to Limp Bizkit, Korn, you know, punk stuff, and I didn’t like it that much. But at the end of the day there was a period in which we could do our homework; the teacher would put on music and most of the time it was classical music. I used to like Tchaikovsky a lot.

Then when I was fourteen or fifteen I started listening to Pink Floyd and other prog stuff. My dad had listened to a lot of prog when he was younger. He was actually at the Pink Floyd concert at Olympic Stadium where (the 1977 In the Flesh / Animals tour) when Roger Waters spat on a fan and started loathing himself for it. The whole idea of the Wall came from that. My dad was there, but he was so far away he didn’t see the spitting incident.

JICI: I also wasn’t very into music as a child. It was in my youth that I began to listen and understand what music is. I found my father’s CDs, which had strange names like Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Jethro Tull. Around that time I began learning to play the guitar and trying to learn these very strange riffs and very interesting forms of music. Music for me was very much a way of relating to others, to other musicians, to my sister, and to my father who was actually listening to all this.

How did you come up with your band’s name?

ALEX: We had a few names before that — Dernier Hiver, Le Procès (after The Trial by Kafka). It took a long time to come up with Mangeur de Rêves.

How long did it take to record Histoires a l’envers?

 ALEX: Nine intense days stretched over four months.

JPHIL: We worked with an engineer at the Breakglass Studio here in Montreal. It was a first time for most of us. It was very intense.

JPHIL: The first session was during the Saint-Jean-Baptiste weekend. What better way to celebrate la fête des Québécois than by playing in a Québécois band! At first we went through the whole album live together and when we went back it was only for overdubs and tweaking.

ALEX: We were there for eight or ten hours at a time and it was pretty intense.

JPHIL: We wanted to celebrate Jean-Baptiste a little so we went to eat poutine at La Corniche, a Tunisian restaurant on Boulevard Saint-Laurent. It was quite good. It had merguez sausages in it.

Alex, Jici, and JPhil (Wanda Waterman photo)

What do you like best about your album so far?

JICI: I like the fact that it’s ours. We made this. It’s an accomplishment.

ALEX: JPhil has some experience in studio because he’s made other albums.

JPHIL: This would be the sixth album I’ve been a part of. On this album I sing most of the harmonies. When we perform live Jici sings many of the harmonies with me and Alex, but on the album he let me do most of the harmonies.

JICI: Because he’s so reliable on the vocals. JPHIL: I thought that in this group I’d hold back on the vocals and just be the bass player, but I ended up singing a whole lot of vocals.

Were there other instruments on the album besides your own?

JPHIL: There was a therevox. It sounds a bit like a theremin, but it’s a keyboard. Instead of pressing keys there’s a piece of metal that you slide to the note you want.

ALEX: It’s like a moog but instead of pressing keys you move your fingers.

JPHIL: It wasn’t planned. Just in the moment we said, “Hey, what’s that?”

ALEX: There were no virtual instruments. And the console was analogue; it was a Neve console, the same one Led Zeppelin used to record “Kashmir.” It had a couple of other owners before the guys at Breakglass Studios bought it.

JPHIL: The console was handmade by Rupert Neve, and he only made a handful of them.

Was the song ”Ainsi Parlait Pinel” about the French pyschiatric reformer Philippe-Pinel?

ALEX: It’s more about those who live at the Philippe-Pinel Institute here in Montreal, about a man we could say is mad — but the whole point of the song is delivering a message and asking the questions, “What is madness? What is normal? Who actually lives at the Institute Philippe-Pinel— is it the madmen? Is it us ? Where is the line drawn?”

JICI: So Pinel is kind of an inspirational theme.

Does Alex write all the songs ?

JICI: Yes, but one of my songs will be on the next album. And actually on the instrumental “Refuge” the guitar solo is my composition.

JPHIL: I play bass in the band but I play guitar on that one. It was a song I composed maybe 10 or 15 years ago but Jici composed such an awesome solo on top of it. I thought my song was too simple or too repetitive but his solo adds a depth to it. But for most of them it’s Alex and Jici who bring the song’s skeleton and then we build on top of it. I had input into the arrangements. The fun thing about these guys is that nobody has a big ego. If I bring an idea and they like it, fine, but if they don’t like it I’m not going to be crying over it.

ALEX : It’s not a competition.

JICI : I think we’re very democratic.

ALEX : I haven’t been in many other groups, but I think mostly they write a bunch of songs and then pick the best ones for the album. In our case we began with seven songs and rearranged each one until we were satisfied.

JPHIL : And for us to record them was a way of saying “okay let’s accept the song as it is now.” I’m not saying they’re not going to evolve at all —

ALEX : They did.

JPHIL : They did evolve a bit. Like we played them at the Place des Arts for the contest and even by then some of the songs had evolved from the album. But you have to set your songs in stone at some point.

How do you find time in your hectic academic studies to work on your music?

JICI: I need this time with music.

ALEX: It’s a necessity.

JPHIL: I was mourning the end of a relationship at the beginning of the summer and these guys helped me through it just with music therapy.

ALEX : Our psychology studies teach us a lot about relational dynamics, which really helps with songwriting. It grants us a creative insight into relationships.

What kinds of books or films inspire you ?

ALEX: I read a lot of science fiction and I watch a lot of weird movies, like by David Lynch and Lars Von Trier — those strange, dreamy movies you can get lost in. Logic only gets you so far and after that you have to draw from inspiration, intuition. Reason isn’t everything. A big part of the writing process for Mangeur de Rêves is about dreams, the psyche, digesting our experiences as humans.

JPHIL: I don’t read that much because there are so many things to do in life. and reading for me always comes last. I want to hang out with friends, play video games, go to the movies, study, play music . . . all those things come first, but when I do read I like biographies. I liked the biography of Devin Townsend, a Canadian heavy metal singer, Anthony Kiedis, the singer from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and In the Flesh, the Pink Floyd biography. I really liked the trilogy Le Fourmis by Bernard Werber, and he also wrote a book about people who flatlined and visited the underworld, then came back from the dead to share their experiences.

ALEX: It’s half science fiction, half spiritual.

JPHIL: I also love comic books. There’s a new Iron Maiden comic book that I love.

What’s next for Mangeur de Rêves?

ALEX: New songs, promoting the album, and shows. We made the quarter finals for the contest Ma Première Place des Arts. Then in March we’ll know if we’ve made it to the semi finals. It will be on March 9 on MAtv on Videotron.

How do you think the experience of music has changed since 2000?

JPHIL: I remember in the nineties waiting for releases to come out. We’d actually wait for a CD to come out and then go to HMV or Archambault just to be there and get it, to listen to it and read the booklet all at once. Nowadays you don’t necessarily have to wait because somebody announces the album’s coming out and it’s almost already out. In 2001 with Dream Theatre’s Scenes From a Memory it was possible to listen to the album before it came out. I felt privileged then, but now that I’m looking back at it I felt it was spoiling it a little.

ALEX: It was more precious back then. Now we have access to everything. It’s hard to keep track of everything in the whole sea of music you can get on Spotify and other sites. It’s like eating your favourite meal every day.

JPHIL: I discovered Gentle Giant from my dad’s vinyl collection. One day my teacher brought in The Power and the Glory on vinyl. When I got home I got the urge to browse through my dad’s vinyl collection and I found the exact same album at home. I went crazy and played it over and over again.

What is music and why is it so powerful ?

JPHIL: Music is the food of the soul if you’re making it and food for the soul if you’re listening to it.

ALEX: That’s one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is to say that music helps you to digest what happens to you, what you live. When two people look at the same piece of art they see different things because they make sense of different parts, or they take a different angle on it. The work is 50 percent creator and 50 percent spectator. Like when you have a breakup you listen to sad songs because it helps you make sense of what you’ve lived. It helps you grieve. It’s a catalyst of human experience.

JPHIL: Most people can’t understand why I love heavy metal music. My answer to them is that all that intense energy helps me get rid of all my bad energy. It’s cathartic.

JICI: For me creating music is like creating the world. It’s strange to say, but for me when we create a new song we create a new environment, a new world, new meanings, something that we hope has never been done.

ALEX: The collective unconscious.

JPHIL: The noosphere. We’re instruments.

ALEX: It’s a language we can all share.


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