Three years after the liminal and burning “Body Negative”, MNNQNS reappears with “The Second Principle”, a second polymorphous record where sharp riffs and psychic digressions intersect. Meeting with the band of Rouen.
A group with consonants hammered in capital letters inevitably gives the impression of receiving a punch. In 2019, MNNQNS shows up with Body Negative, a first explosive disc with progressive ignition, of the type to want to sweep everything away with the back of the hand while leaving a certain creative latitude. Stripped of rockstar fantasies, the Rouen quartet just released The Second Principlean incantatory second album that looks as much like an intergalactic epic as a laboratory under electric and ambient perfusion.
From Brian Eno to the Beach Boys, passing through the hits of the 1980s, the contribution of synths and the importance of voices or their way of concocting songs linking opposing aspirations, the fine triggers of the Rouen scene return to the genesis of The Second Principle. Meet.
You have just released your second album. How do you feel ?
Adrian d’Epinay (vocals, guitar) – It’s true that it comes out there, I hadn’t realized!
Gregoire Mainot (battery) – We’re on tour so we don’t feel like we’re that close to an album release. In any case, I’m quite calm because I like this new record. The organization of the outing is much less painful than for the first. Body Negative took almost a year to come out. It was so long. There, it is a calm flow. It’s funny, we never talked about it between us. What do you think, Adrian?
Adrian d’Epinay – I totally agree. There’s even a kind of fluidity to the writing and sound. We found a certain cohesion by refocusing on what we prefer in music and on tools that speak to us. The Second Principle looks more like us than Body Negative.
Did you go on the idea of making a concept album rather than a collection of singles?
Gregoire Mainot – We are not very familiar with the terms “concept album”. As we have always been very attached to surprises, we wanted to get away from the classic sequence of songs. For example, bringing transitions into the album breaks the standard pop formats. It brings a narration throughout the disc which is not necessarily there within the songs. In our texts, we avoid narratives that are a little too simple.
Precisely, your new songs are very independent of each other. How do you put together a title like Eye of Godwhich responds to the standard format of 3 min 30, to a song like Pacific Trash Patchwhich extends over more than five minutes?
Adrian d’Epinay – On The Second Principle, using new tools like analog or modular synthesizers has given us new ways of working. For example, with a synth sequencer, you will create a loop that you will play in several ways. It immediately takes you out of the classic verse/chorus pattern.
That’s what got you into ambient transitions like pyramid ?
Adrian d’Epinay – Completely. Speaking of ambient, we’re crazy about Brian Eno. Both what he did alone and what he did with Roxy Music or for others like David Bowie and his Berlin trilogy. Low and heroes are albums that we bled to the bottom. The ambient really speaks to us but it’s difficult to bring it into a group like MNNNQS which, at the base, is cataloged as rock. This is where all the strength of synths lies, because they allow us to bring a touch of ambient without completely changing our tune.
Gregoire Mainot – We have really changed our way of working. Before, we started from our demos and we outbid by including all our ideas. Sometimes, we loved an idea so much that we completely redid the whole piece to succeed in fitting it. Today, we no longer work like that. For example, on the new album, the main gimmick of Eyes of God was taken up by bells, guitar, keyboards, harpsichords and all kinds of stuff that did the same thing. After testing these sounds, we pruned as much as possible to make it sound as simple as possible. It’s very life-saving to reduce a piece to the essentials.
Conversely, Body Negative seems more numb.
Gregoire Mainot – I rarely listen to it again Body Negative but when it happens, yes, I really see the difference. We’re still happy with our first album, but on some tracks we didn’t exactly hit what we were looking for. With The Second Principlewe find her.
We hear choirs on a good part of the album, whether on the prelude The Great Scheme of Things Or on All Jokes Aside. Where does this new passion for choirs come from?
Gregoire Mainot – Beach Boys!
Adrian d’Epinay – Downright ! The voice is a great tool. Unlike other instruments, it does not age too much. Certain types of vocals are associated with decades, but overall the vocal medium remains timeless. In fact, we are increasingly trying to work on the texture of the voices. You are used to hearing sound processing on guitars, synths, drums but vocals are often considered as a separate element of the instrumental when they can also be tuned or distorted. The voices offer great freedom.
Adrian, your voice exudes both a cold wave side and a warm aura. Is it necessary for you to change your tone according to the songs?
Adrian d’Epinay – We talked about it a lot with the guys because, on our first album, we wanted to write songs to break them out with noise. There, we started with the idea that each piece has its own aesthetic, its own arrangements and its own world. Adapting the voice to these new titles helps to complete these small universes, whether they last three or eight minutes. For us, it’s as important to shape a song with the voice as with a guitar or a synth.
Some sequences are surprising. For example, we go from Smiths inspirations of Massive Clouds Ahead to the punk energy of Ultraviolet Ultraviolet. Why this big difference?
Gregoire Mainot – We’ve always been like that. When we compose music, we have to start from our influences. Whether we manage to break away from it or not, the influences are there. In MNNQNS, we are lucky to have the same ones but, above all, they are extreme. We are as much inspired by -M- as we are by Meshuggah!
Adrian d’Epinay – Come on, he said it! (Laughs.)
Gregoire Mainot – I’m kidding. We love Brian Eno, Steve Reich, John Cage. I’m not sure all the guys who started with The Strokes and Nirvana go through that. We, in our influences, we don’t put up any barriers. Anything can touch us and, above all, it becomes obsessive. In the van, we are able to listen in loop to a song that we all like at the same time. Like fifty times in a row. Inevitably, it is felt in MNNQNS. But how can we be in harmony with ourselves? That is to say to lay a song which does not translate this it-absolutely-had-to-get-out-of-me because I love The Smiths right now. We avoid that by digesting our influences, even if they are diverse on Massive Clouds Ahead and Ultraviolet Ultraviolet.
You have often been described as a rock band, but that’s quite simplistic.
Gregoire Mainot – Completely. In addition, we spend our time making fun of rock’n’roll! Finally, we especially make fun of the symbolism of rock. The leather, the big sound…
Gregoire Mainot – Ah yes, motorcycles! The fuzz, too. It’s a bit heartbreaking because the rock sphere is much more than that. Motorcycles and leather are things we don’t give a damn about because it’s a bit ugly and hasn’t aged well. On the other hand, with Brian Eno, there is a very rock thing that we love. I also really like dance punk bands from the 2000s like !!! or LCD Soundsystem. The approach is punk and raw but the guys make songs for dancing. With MNNQNS too, we seek to associate opposing ideas. Besides, I often think of My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion Flaming Lips. It’s a big slow lover except that everything is in the red. The synths are disgusting as not possible, it’s chemical and aggressive! But the guy sincerely declares his love. Us, at the beginning, we wanted to make pop songs and screw everything up. Now, we take a turn in which we assemble different melodies within the same piece.
You always claimed Body Negative as an album more pop than rock. Do you still have a relationship to pop songs on The Second Principle ?
Adrian d’Epinay Yes ! In terms of writing and composition, our second album is perhaps even more pop than the first. It is more melodic.
Gregoire Mainot – Guitars that make pentatonics, I can’t take it anymore. I understand that one can love and I had my period. But now what interests me is a piece like Ultraviolet Ultraviolet where you have the impression of hearing two songs at the same time. Not one after the other but two superimposed tracks. A rock band that lays down a big riff, stops for two beats and picks up that riff with a fuzz, that’s good, but reductive. This is not enough for MNNQNS. So we turned to pop. We listen to big hits from the 1980s. Their structure is incredible.
This new album was mostly composed during the first confinement. Did this particular period have an impact on its creation?
Adrian d’Epinay – The advantage is that we all had enough to record each other, so we were able to send each other leads to move forward. In terms of timing, the confinement didn’t fall so badly for us. We finished the tour Body Negative, so it was not catastrophic. We just found ourselves with time to write and rethink what exactly we wanted to do. On the other hand, the successive confinements have been unbearable. We wanted to find the stage.
You write all the lyrics. How do you do it?
Adrian d’Epinay Before, I was writing a kind of vocal yoghurt which necessarily matched the demo. It gives a very strong melodic line because the text serves the music. But it was super long. So I tried the opposite: writing lyrics without music. I write as I go. I don’t stick to one theme. Most of the time, a certain cohesion settles naturally. After that, we work on demos. I try to place my texts and create vocal lines. We renewed our entire writing scheme.
Then you recorded everything yourself in your studio in Rouen.
Adrian d’Epinay That’s it. We chose new instruments for the stage, like synths or effect pedals. We translated our demos into a live version, which allowed us to focus on the essentials when recording. We produced everything ourselves alongside Robin, our sound engineer. Then, it was mixed by Jolyon Thomas, who notably works with The Horrors and Slaves.
Knowing that The Second Principle was self-produced, how important is it to you to be independent?
Adrian d’Epinay The box of our manager, Yalta, also acts as a label since it advanced the production costs. And to organize the tours, we work with Ensemble Concerts and Cold Fame. There’s a whole fantasy around the underground, but independence above all makes it easier for us to work. Without big machines and big boxes around us, we move faster. No need to wait three years to release an already recorded album.
What is next for MNNQNS?
Gregoire Mainot – Come to Trabendo on May 19! This room is particularly important to us. The last time we played there was in 2017 or 2018, opening for The Black Lips. It is now our date. We are also going to Canada in September. There are a few writing and video projects on the go. I can’t wait to see what we’re going to do after all this. We already have ideas. I have confidence in what we do.
Interview by Juliette Poulain.