Wednesday 14 November 2012


Around this time last month, I was busy demolishing the lyrics of a French band called Whyzdom.  The review turned out - in its own way - to be quite controversial, and, a short exchange of emails with the band's chief lyricist (initiated by me) later, it was evident that I'd done a pretty wretched job of representing the themes offered by the band's poetry.  Time for me to hang my head somewhat.  And, at the same time, find out exactly what all this talk of wolves, paper princesses, and lighthouses actually meant.  What better way to do so, then, than with a frank and amiable discussion with the musical mind behind them himself, Whyzdom's very own Vynce.

Maybe we could start off, then, with a few questions about your lyrical themes.  In my review of your album, I seem to have completely misunderstood your intentions, so it would be best to get an interpretation directly from the creator.  Can you give some impression of what the lyrics for your songs were about?

Yes sure. I'm very happy that you give me this occasion to offer some insights to “Blind ?” listeners. The first thing that I would like to tell is that all the songs are built around symbols, myths, and should be interpreted as parabolae. For example, the Lighthouse in the night refers to the beliefs on which you build your spiritual life, until you lose faith… “The lighthouse was shut down tonight” is a song about that particular feeling of losing faith. Another typical example of how Whyzdom’s lyrics work is Paper Princess. It's a song about a battered child - how she found shelter in her childhood's dreams, and how she feels now as a grown up person. If you listen to the song with that situation in mind, you'll understand why we used such striking contrast between calm parts and raging ones, why we used dissonant chords on the piano and how we made the song evolve. Another very interesting song is Venom And Frustration. While writing the lyrics, I knew that I would have to explain them a bit, because the real meaning is not obvious. It's a song about a teenager who takes drugs and cannot escape the trap.

Overall, throughout the album, is there anything tying the main lyrical themes together, or is the thought process behind each song just independent of the next?

No, each song is independent. There's just a global theme: the word “blind”. For each song that was created, I had this word in mind, with that question mark. This is a very rich concept if you think about it. Especially nowadays, blindness is everywhere. We don't want to see what is really happening around us. We hate being disturbed by misery and distress around us – be it material or psychological. Another aspect of “Blind ?” is a spiritual one. It's about the blindness of religion and bigots, about a search of meaning to our personal life. This latter approach can be found in songs like Lonely Roads, On The Road to Babylon or Cathedral of the Damned.

And finally, I also got interested in the mythic character Cassandra, a Trojan prophetess condemned by god to be never believed. When I write stories about mythical characters (I've done so with several characters in the past, one of my favorite ones is Pinocchio, by the way – also theme of that incredible movie “A.I.”), I don't try to tell the actual story – you’d better grab the book for that, don't need a song. I'd rather focus on their human feelings – which are often absent in the legends themselves. That's why the song starts with “My name is Cassandra”. As simple as it sounds, I found this first phrase very interesting. Firstly because it's a great contrast with Greek legends which are written from an external viewpoint: starting with “I” is just striking in this case. Secondly, it describes the main character of the song almost completely in four words. No need to “explain” anything after that, because everyone knows Cassandra's story…and it allowed to immediately focus on feelings, rather than on description.

So, that gives some impression of the nature of your lyrical themes.  But what about the processes of lyric writing?  Is it you who writes the lyrics for all the songs, and do you get any help from the rest of the band?

Yes, I'm the author of all lyrics of the album, including Latin lyrics, which were really difficult to write, by the way. The Latin text often comes as an answer to the English lyrics. It holds the same role as the antique choir in Greek tragedies. You can hear an example of that in “Dancing With Lucifer”, where the choir struggles to save (spiritually) the main character.

Are the lyrics originally written in English, or do they start out in French and then get translated?

All the lyrics are written in English. I could even tell that they're “thought” in English: English is not my mother tongue but I'm fluent enough to think in that language, and it's much more convenient for writing lyrics. So, no French at all is involved in the creation process, except for finding very specific words, but it's quite rare. Moreover, I write lyrics before music, because knowing which feelings and emotions I need to convey is essential to compose the right melodic lines, the right harmonic canvas.

What are the main difficulties with writing poetry in a foreign language?

The first difficulty is to have words coming to your mind. My vocabulary is much more limited in English than in French…but I try to improve. I read English books and poetry as often as possible. Now it's decent, but hopefully it will be richer for the third album. So sometimes it's frustrating because I want to express emotions, but I simply can't. That's when I need to use dictionaries, to quickly learn new words and expressions. The second difficulty is a consequence of that situation: when I find new words, I don't know how English speaking people will react: sometimes words are very rarely used, archaic, and sound ridiculous; sometimes words are used in funny expressions that only UK citizens know of (for example, words or phrase used in any funny TV ad); sometimes they have a hidden sexual meaning…it happens all the time and I have to be very cautious. That's why I ask an English friend to review the lyrics and warn me about all those kinds of problems.

What about your singer?  Does she also speak English as fluently as you do, or is it more a matter of her learning the sounds of the lyrics?  And, as a follow-up, what difficulties are there for you in composing English-language lyrics for a native French singer?

No, our singer does not really speak English fluently. But she understands it and can read it of course. So in the process of recording the songs, I work with her first to explain the meaning of each word and each phrase. Then we work on pronunciation, accent, tonic stress, with the help of an English friend who lives in London.

Finally, I’d be fascinated to understand the reason for your decision to write lyrics in English.  What was the main motivation to have English lyrics, rather than, say, French (or, of course, any other language)?

Well, 15 years ago I was looking for a label to release my first album. No French label would offer a deal. An English one contacted me and told that they did like the music a lot…but they asked if I could rewrite all lyrics in English, because they thought they wouldn't sell as many albums with French lyrics. Needless to say that I instantly answered yes. Since then I've always written lyrics in English. But anyway, to be honest, all the music that I've been listening to since my childhood is British (Mike Oldfield, Alan Parsons, Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd… and the list goes on forever), so it was very natural to go that direction.

Obviously you’re not, by any means, the only non-English band which write English lyrics.  Do you think it’s reasonable to suggest that English has been accepted in non-English speaking countries as the “authentic” or, somehow, “original” language of metal?  If so, why would this be?

Yes certainly. English has become the “common” language for rock and metal music. On the contrary, there is beautiful music that makes only sense in their own language. That's the case for French with the wave of “chansons à texte” (songs based on lyrics) that would sound weird in English and that I like a lot, Portugues for Fado, etc, etc…  But yes, because pop and hard rock were born in England, I think that the natural language for that kind of music is English language. Well, the language problem is not new. Remember that in classical music, there was a period when lyrics had to be written in Latin, then in Italian, then in German…

But do you ever worry that, writing lyrics in another language, you might not be able to accurately convey your thoughts?

Yes, that's a real danger. That's why I always work closely with my English friend Maud from London to verify everything. She's my Guardian Angel!

All that’s left to say is thank you very, very much for giving up your time.  Once again, I’m sorry that I was not able to accurately represent your lyrical work in the original review I posted, but hopefully this will give an altogether more accurate impression.  Good luck for the future!

Thanks! In the flow of so many albums released every day, I fully understand that it's difficult to pay close attention to lyrics of all of them…and in Whyzdom’s case, you really have to let music and lyrics grow on you. So, thank you for this interview! I hope it will help listeners to discover all hidden meanings in “Blind ?”. I hope we'll meet you and many other friends from England at the Dames Of Darkness Festival near Birmingham on 11th May! It will be our biggest date in the UK next year, with many other great bands!

'nuff said!

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