It is at the Hard Rock Cafe – an iconic place in the center of Paris – that I got to interview Shawter, leader and singer of the French band Dagoba about the release of their new album, By Night.
Thanks to Imane for translation
Hi, first and foremost, thank you for giving me some of your time! First, how would you introduce your band without the usual metal labels?
Shawter (vocals/machines): Thank you! I’d say…” a band evolving in a style that includes all the others“.
To what extent does the name “Dagoba” – that refers to a planet from the Star Wars universe – fit the band’s music?
Shawter: It doesn’t! We were looking for a rather short name that ended with the letter “-a” so it’s easy to remember and chant.“Da-go-ba” sounds good! Why Dagoba… Well you should know that we were 15 when we formed the band and were obviously fans of Pantera, Metallica, Sepultura…. They had something in common at the end of their names; let’s say we wanted to imitate the Fathers (laughs)
You just announced By Night, your eighth album, how did you feel about the feedback?
Shawter: It’s the best! We are seeing an enthusiasm that we never knew before, whether it is the number of views, audience… The comments are 99 percent positive, we are super pleased because we worked hard and took risks, we have used sounds that are new for Dagoba… We weren’t expecting much, we did our thing, we released it and people can think whatever they want of it , but it’s always touching to see people stick with the project, it’s moving.
How did the composition process go?
Shawter: I started writing the first riffs at the end of the Black Nova Tour, I was still on the road. We started to include more synth sounds, then the four of us listened to it and we agreed. We agreed that it was the right direction because… because we liked it. Also because we never done this before and we like to reinvent ourselves from album to album. We had a goal set then we started to write riffs, lyrics…but I’d say that the main difference in comparison to our whole discography is that there we created some riffs using the keyboard, whereas on some other tracks it was more the guitars that arranged the synths. It’s a new process specific to this album.
To me The Album cover is very horror movie/80’s/ Synthwave, how did you work with the artist?
Shawter : I’m happy you mention it because I am a huge huge fan ! I am a dedicated reader of Mad Movies so we are right in it (laughs)! We selected a bunch of artists from all over the world; in Italy, in Australia, photographs … We walked them through the project and they sent us dozens of pictures, patchworks, drawings, sketches, 3D creations…and when this cover arrived we knew it was the right one. It perfectly depicts the image this music brings to our minds. The feeling brought by this whole album fits perfectly with the theme developed on this cover!
We can feel that the influences are far more modern, how did you work on the concept, such as including more synths?
Shawter : There aren’t really more synths than before, there always have been the same amount . There are two reasons why it gives off this impression. The first one is the compositions themselves in terms of riffs, drums, etc… The base is more refined which leaves more room for the Electronic gimmicks to develop. To the ear it gives the impression that the Electronic parts are more present, but they have always been there, just concealed by double pedal and Death Metal riff, so obviously it’s more subtle. The second reason is that in order to justify this general atmosphere, there is a real intro, outro and an interlude that are 100% done with the synth and we also have this impression of a general flow more centered on synth sounds than before, but in the composition’s core there is almost as much electronic sounds as before.
On On the Run, a rather calming track, there’s a feminine voice, how did you get the idea of adding a completely different singing voice?
Shawter: We wanted to do a collaboration on this album, because it had been a long time since we last did. We had done one in it’s All About Time from the second album What Is Hell About. It was ICS Vortex. It was almost 20 years ago, so we thought we could repeat the experience, though we wanted to keep up with that dynamic of innovation and risk taking to offer something fresh for Dagoba. So we choose an artist that is not on the Metal side at all, and it is a woman as you mentioned. It is something that we haven’t done before with Dagoba, we had choirs but never a feminine leading voice. So it is coherent with the said dynamic of risk taking and innovation, and in the end it is a song of which we are very proud of because it flows well with the entirety of the album. It could have been shocking or surprising if it was uploaded as an isolated single after two years of absence but when you listen to the whole album it makes sense: you understand that the band wants to offer something new and that they are leading you to it.
In 2020, Covid-2019 struck the world and got a lot of events canceled. How did you manage these periods of quarantine and restrictions?
Shawter : It was hard at first because we had to cancel hundreds of dates of the Black Nova Tour. We really had amazing gigs & opportunities and it all got canceled. It was rough for me but then I had a little time after I reached the stage of acceptance, I started giving more importance to what I had left, that is to say my family, wife, kids and parents. For a few months I found something I had been sacrificing for more than twenty years such as family weekends, the time spent in the park with my boy ….these are things I had been sacrificing and I realized how nice it was. Then quite rapidly I realized for myself that deep inside I was made for the road and the stage and the need came back as quickly as it left. But today with the tour that promises to be very long and after having a taste of, let’s say the “cocooning” side of life I am a tad bit more apprehensive (laughs). Before then I was never there on weekends, when you’re touring the U.S or China you’re gone for many long months, here I got to develop months and months of family life, it is something very nice and very dear to my heart.
Did the pandemic have an impact on the album?
Shawter: Yes for two reasons. The first one being that we arranged this album with all these risky innovations, because we thought it might be the last one. So we thought we might as well do everything we want: if we wanted a lead feminine voice and a cheesy sound in the chorus we should do it. We were in this apocalyptic vision in which we thought that maybe there would not even be anyone left to buy it anyways (laughs). And the second reason, it allowed us more time to work on the arrangements. Before then, we were in a pretty dense cycle of touring / album producing / album release / touring, which left us very few months to finalize and arrange the albums. Whereas here we really had a lot of time to let ideas sink in and most importantly we got the time to stop listening to the songs for 2-3 weeks before coming back to them. The maturation of the composition process probably played a role there too.
As you said earlier, Dagoba just announced a huge European tour with Infected Rain. How do you prepare for it as a band?
Shawter: First we prepare ourselves physically and then technically: the show, the lights, the staging, the set list… and now we get ready for something new, we will have to get mentally ready to be far from our relatives for four or five months when we got accustomed to be with them all day long 7/7. It is going to be a long tour !
Last time I saw Dagoba on stage it was at the Mennecy Festival in September. How did the comeback on stage go?
Shawter : It was incredible. We played The Hunt for the first time, and it was Kawa’s first time (ed.: bass player) on stage with us, we saw a lot of friends again.. We all come across each other, you know that, we see each other before and after the show. And it was also seeing all of you guys again! This tension in the air before getting on stage, the adrenaline, the need to give it our all… It was something that we missed a lot. It was very soul-stirring.
In the past Dagoba opened for Dir en Grey in the U.S, then you toured in China in 2019 as well. What memories do you keep from these experiences abroad?
Shawter: With Dagoba we’ve always focused our Tours towards other countries. France doesn’t represent a lot of our dates, we’re always here and there, it’s the band’s will to share our music. I do keep very intense memories because it is a decision that we made when we were yet quite young. At that time we were encouraged to sing in French, we were told that there were enough bands in the Metal Scene, that we could earn our life from music by singing in French. But for us that wasn’t it, we use the universal language, we sing in French and the goal is to really travel through music. So each time it’s a small personal gratification … and it’s all about the journey, the adventure! Meeting new cultures, new lands, new architectures, new landscapes, new weather as well, new food… everything!
What pushed you in the Metal scene? What was your first Metal album?
Shawter: Honestly it was love at first sight. It imposed itself on me. Maybe it was the fury, a certain expression of the lust for life. The power to do whatever you want with music. Metal has this particularity; they can say everything they want about us, the artists, the audience but we have a certain open-mindedness. There can be a female singer, a male singer, two singers, masks, flames, it can be quick, slow, orchestrations, a piano, electronic music, industrial music… Dude we’re open to all of this! In what other genre can you hear a man scream and the audience being “yeah that’s cool!”? I think we are rather open minded in this respect. As a fan it is an open-mindedness that I really like and as an artist it is complete freedom. We can put whatever we want in our music, we will always find an eager ear for it.
The band has been active for more than 25 years, how did you experience the evolution of the French metal scene?
Shawter : We are sort of part of the pioneers with Gojira to export french music in Europe, the U.S… I was pleased to see that during the last decade or so more and more bands export their music and our culture abroad but at the same time I have also seen a certain… I won’t say stagnation because it’s kinda pejorative but I did notice that the French audience remains attached to a certain form of Metal which was already widely popular when we began. I am talking about Team Nowhere, the french lyrics and it can be seen today with the bands that are still doing well in France. They are claiming bands that are still singing in french. I thought to myself that on that side it hasn’t really changed. It is notably significant though, a big part of the French audience is touched by this kind of Metal, we could say that it is a trademark. And on the other hand I am very pleased to see more French bands getting themselves (and their music) abroad.
Are there bands or musicians with whom you’d like to collaborate, whether it is for a one time track or more?
Shawter: Actually, all of them. As long as it results in something interesting that hasn’t been done by this artist or Dagoba, everything can tickle my interest. The style doesn’t matter, it can be a Beat maker, an Opera singer… as long as it is interesting.
According to you, what are the French Metal bands that we absolutely need to listen to in 2021?
Shawter: Metal bands? In 2021… I would say Deluge.
Do you remember your first experience with an instrument? When was it and how did it go?
Shawter: I think it was like every French person (laughs) a flute in 6th grade with the music teacher. Oddly enough I was very interested and played rather well. I understood the instrument but it was obvious that it did not interest me that much. I preferred playing football during the break by far, but it was my first experience.
What are your hobbies outside of music?
Shawter: Sports, Sports news in general and underwater fishing.
And if I asked you to compare Dagoba’s music to a French dish, which one would you choose? And why?
Shawter : I would compare it to a beef Fondue. Something that is cooked in a boiling liquid but remains pure beef proteins, it’s strong and you can associate it with an almost infinite panel of sauces.
Last question: With which bands would you dream to go on tour with? Create a tour with 3 bands, Dagoba as the opening.
Shawter: Deftones so I can bring my wife in the tour bus, since she is a fan I think she’d be very happy. The second band would be… Metallica. I’m a fan and I haven’t seen them on stage in a very long time! And at least we’ll be pretty sure to book huge concert venues (laughs). Also the catering is exceptional, we have toured with them and frankly they eat really well! And the third one would be Kreator because I’m very good friend with Fred Leclerq, every time we see each other we have a good laugh so we’ll be sure to have excellent moments every night for the whole tour.
Thank you again for your time! Do you have any final words?
Shawter: Thank you for your support, even more so during this period where we can’t meet on the road. Thank you to the readers, we encourage you to follow us on social media since we cannot see you. As for music videos and such, we frequently post on our feeds with content that we think is good quality so don’t hesitate to check it out, it would make us very happy and especially since it connects us with you. Take good care of yourselves.