Interview: Alexander Julien of Vision Eternel

I’ve been speaking to Vision Eternel’s mastermind and resident genius, Alexander Julien, for quite a while now. Either he’s busy or my schedule is booked full, but we both recently found time to talk about Echoes From Forgotten Hearts, Vision Eternel’s latest release. This project has been around for a while. In fact, it was originally composed and recorded in 2014 as the soundtrack to a short film which wound up not getting made.

Instead of letting their art slip by the wayside, Vision Eternel held on to the music and returned to the studio to partly rerecord and remix the material. This led to composing and recording a couple of new songs in the process as well. The soundtrack was eventually revamped into an extended play.

Although Echoes From Forgotten Hearts received limited releases over the years, Geertruida recently issued it as a 10th-anniversary deluxe edition boxed set on February 14, bundled with an 80-page novella. Julien doesn’t mince words about the release.

The conversation started when I asked him about Echoes From Forgotten Hearts and the concept behind it.

He says, “Echoes From Forgotten Hearts is a concept extended play that came together during the second half of 2014. But it started as a soundtrack. In August 2014, I was approached to compose the score for one of three short films which an acquaintance named Bradley James Palko, former owner of Dedicated Records, planned to write, direct, and produce.

“He had some specific requirements, such as that it needed to be between eight and 12 minutes and ready by December 2014. But he was also quite unprepared and unprofessional; he had none of the scripts ready and was unable to give me the slightest hint about what any of the films were to be. He did not even have a title in mind. In other words, making movies was just one of his many pipe dreams. But I only found this out later, after my soundtrack had been completed.”

Vision_Eternel_Photo_Shoot_At_Mortified_Studios,_2018_1 Photographer Rain Frances

“I began developing the score for this short film in early September 2014, adapted from a song of which I had recorded a demo in mid-August. That song was originally to span seven to 10 minutes, with a slow, progressive, and melodic emotional build-up. Because I watch a great deal of old movies, I wanted to present my score similarly. I did not want to submit a single long song because it would have been difficult to sequence it properly into a film, especially one about which I knew nothing.

“Instead, I opted to work on a series of shorter arrangements from this composition, cutting it down into several cues and themes that could be spliced and faded at appropriate moments in the film. If the complete soundtrack is played in order, the original longer song can still be recognized, but each piece was developed individually and expanded. That is also why all of the pieces sound similar, and that was intentional because I wanted the overall score to sound familiar to listeners. When I listen to film soundtracks, I hear a lot of repetition and a single motif that plays throughout. That was my goal,” he explains.

Julien continues, “After a month of composing and arranging, the score recording started in early October 2014 and lasted four weeks (until the end of the month). In early November 2014, I reached out to Plako, eager to share with him the completed soundtrack. The tracking was done, but I wanted to spend the month of November mixing the material to my satisfaction.

“But instead of being excited and grateful that I had composed and recorded this music for him, Palko was very rude and condescending to me and let me know in the worst possible manner that he had given up on making movies weeks prior and that I was wasting his valuable time. He had instead used the funding for a personal vacation to Europe. I thought this would be my last time dealing with this man, but once Echoes From Forgotten Hearts was released digitally in early 2015, he went around various websites leaving negative and demeaning comments about my music.”

Julien goes on to say, “I was very proud of the music that I had composed, arranged, and recorded for this score, so instead of leaving the soundtrack unreleased, I decided to return to the studio and re-vamp the material into a concept extended play for Vision Eternel. This was not a task of simply adding a title and calling it an extended play; I re-edited and remixed all of the material, rerecorded a great portion of it, composed two new songs, and dropped one of the older ones. This recording session lasted from mid-November to mid-December 2014. Two days before Christmas 2014, I called it a wrap—Echoes From Forgotten Hearts was completed.

“Vision Eternel has always been a very personal band. All of its releases are conceptualized around a heartbreak theme—my past heartbreaks. Because of that, I wanted to retain full control of my releases. Vision Eternel’s material was always issued through my own record companies, at first Mortification Records and later Abridged Pause Recordings.

“Up until that point (in 2014), I seldom permitted Vision Eternel’s material to be released by other record labels. But that was limiting my reach and audience. I decided that it was time for Vision Eternel to seek other record companies and increase its fanbase. I wanted Echoes From Forgotten Hearts to be released by another record label. Thus ensued 10 years of misfortunes during which eleven different companies picked up the extended play, but repeatedly canceled its release at the last minute.”

Then came the big question: Why did Echoes From Forgotten Hearts take years to release?

Julien takes a moment and responds with, “Before I delve into this lengthy list of companies that intended to release Echoes From Forgotten Hearts over the years, I do want to stress that these were not casual discussions that I had with music executives, trying to feel out if an interest existed in my music. Definite plans and promises were made by these companies, but for reasons that at times were never shared with me, this extended play very nearly never saw the light of day. I will also attempt to keep my description of the events succinct because the 80-page novella which accompanies the Deluxe Edition of Echoes From Forgotten Hearts, contains full and much more detailed stories.

“The first company that offered to release Echoes From Forgotten Hearts was Broken Limbs Recordings in September 2014. The plan was for a compact cassette release in early 2015, but Vision Eternel was dropped, I was told, because its music was too ambient. Not only is that nonsensical (because the owner had heard the material before making the offer), but it was also a lie. I later found out that Vision Eternel was dropped from Broken Limbs Recordings’ roster because I wore fedora hats. He described me as ‘a loser.’

“Later in September 2014, Abandonment came on board and also offered to release the material on compact cassette with an early 2015 release date. However, the owner was sporadic in his communications. Months would pass without any news, only to return with a definite promise of release. In the end, Echoes From Forgotten Hearts was passed over in favor of another ambient release, a split tape between Mytrip and Timothy C. Holehouse; those artists were more established than Vision Eternel, so it came down to a business decision.”

Julien goes on, “Valentine’s Day is an important holiday for Vision Eternel. Since its first extended play (Seul Dans L’obsession) was a documentation of heartbreak, I decided to release it on Valentine’s Day in 2007. Every Vision Eternel release has since been planned for release on Valentine’s Day. On several occasions, it was delayed, but I still try to make that happen.

“When collaborating with Broken Limbs Recordings and Abandonment, my goal was to release Echoes From Forgotten Hearts on February 14, 2015. I did not want to give up that long tradition, so I decided that the extended play would be quietly released digitally, exclusively via Bandcamp, through Abridged Pause Recordings on Valentine’s Day 2015. By “quietly” I mean that I purposely did not promote the release (aside from a couple of mentions on the band’s and record label’s social media profiles) because I hoped that I could secure a record deal to release a physical edition of the extended play.

“In October 2015, an artist and repertoire agent from the synchronization licensing company Community Tree Music reached out to me after discovering Echoes From Forgotten Hearts on Bandcamp. This agent was eager to sign me to an exclusive contract because, as she put it, there were a handful of filmmakers who wanted to use my music in their productions. I was initially a little skeptical because it sounded like the standard sales pitch, but after getting to know the agent better, I found out that it was a serious offer.

“It was an interesting turn of events, as exactly a year prior, I had recorded this music for use in a movie, and here was this opportunity being presented to me again for the same material. Unfortunately, I missed my chance with this offer. I was busy working on other projects and took too long to complete the paperwork. By the time that I reached out to the agent again at the end of the month, the filmmakers had picked something else, and Community Tree Music was no longer interested in representing me.”

Julien continues, “The next record label to come into the picture was a start-up named Feather Witch (which has since been renamed Fiadh Productions) in December 2015. Unbeknownst to me, the owner of Feather Witch was the wife of Broken Limbs Recordings’ owner (she was also a founder of that record company). In addition, she operated a successful press relations firm, The Black Birch.

“So, when Vision Eternel was signed to a three-release contract, extensive promotion was in the works. The inaugural release for the record label was to be a compact cassette and digital reissue of Echoes From Forgotten Hearts, the next a seven-inch vinyl of Vision Eternel’s next extended play, and the third a 12-inch vinyl of a future Vision Eternel full-length. I again aimed for a Valentine’s Day release, on February 14, 2016, and The Black Birch organized a premiere with CVLT Nation. A new cover artwork was in preparation, and a mastering engineer was secured.

“I had to sign over the digital releasing rights to Echoes From Forgotten Hearts from Abridged Pause Recordings to Feather Witch; less than two weeks later, I was in legal entanglement to reclaim the rights of my release. I still do not know what happened to make her change her mind and act that way, but here is what happened: In the wee small hours of a morning in late December 2015, I received a drunken telephone call during which she insulted and mocked me, my music, and my band. While laughing at me, she told me the real reason why her husband had dropped Vision Eternel the year prior. It was most inappropriate and came as a complete surprise. I had no choice but to hang up on her. She then ignored all of my electronic mail and made it difficult for me to regain the digital rights to my music.

“I was lucky in that I had not signed over the publishing rights, which were owned by Abridged Pause Publishing, an imprint of Abridged Pause Recordings. This, and the fact the Feather Witch was not a legally registered company, helped my case. Following this fiasco, I decided to take a break because I was emotionally exhausted from the rejection. I was extremely depressed, more so than I normally am.

“It took a whole year before I started thinking about Vision Eternel again. In December 2016, with the band’s 10th anniversary approaching in January 2017, I decided to compile a boxed set for release through Abridged Pause Recordings. This boxed set, An Anthology Of Past Misfortunes, would include compact disc versions of all five (at the time) Vision Eternel extended plays, including Echoes From Forgotten Hearts.

“I also planned to re-issue the releases digitally, this time to all major streaming and download platforms (as opposed to being limited mostly to Bandcamp). This was scheduled for release on February 14, 2017; the digital re-issues were out in time, but the boxed set was delayed by 14 months, only coming out on April 14, 2018. Because I was waiting on the box set, I did not promote the digital re-issues. By the time the box set was released, the band’s 10th anniversary was long over and it had little effect. As such, Echoes From Forgotten Hearts still hadn’t been pushed to the press.

Farewell Nostalgia VE

“I spent nearly four years working on Vision Eternel’s sixth extended play, For Farewell Of Nostalgia, which was released on September 14, 2020, via Somewherecold Records and Geertruida. Plans were then made for those two record companies to release physical editions of Echoes From Forgotten Hearts; Somewherecold Records was to release a double compact disc edition, while Geertruida was to release a compact cassette edition. It was at this point that the release began to expand from a simple extended play into a deluxe edition.

“I wanted people to take notice of this release, which had gone through many false starts over the years. Some may have been familiar with it from the digital edition, but it was still an obscure release in the band’s catalog. To counter this perception, I wanted to offer the music differently. I wanted all-new artwork; I wanted the music re-mastered, and I wanted to offer more than just the same seven songs from the Extended Play Version available since 2015. The previously unreleased six-song Soundtrack Version (as it was when I delivered it to Palko) was added as bonus tracks.

“Unfortunately, I had to pull the plug on the Somewherecold Records version as well as withdraw Vision Eternel from that record label’s roster. The owner was overly vocal about his personal views regarding religious, political, and topical matters, and he made no effort to separate them from his company’s activities. I did not want Vision Eternel’s music to be linked to any religious, political, or topical matters, not just his but anyone’s, including mine; Vision Eternel is a neutral entity. When the compact disc version was shelved, Geertruida put its release on hold while I tried to secure a new record deal for the optical media edition.

“A year later, in October 2021, an offer came from Frozen Light to release the deluxe edition of Echoes From Forgotten Hearts on compact disc. This was a record company with which I had long wanted to work, but the owner was more than a little flaky. He could, at times, disappear for months, leaving one to believe that a release has been canceled, only to return as if nothing was wrong with the templates or other items previously requested. However, the disappearing act would happen so often that a release could not make any progress. Such had been the case with another Vision Eternel release he had offered to put out in 2017. So, I was forced to look elsewhere.

“Beverina Productions and Casus Belli Musica, which co-released music together at the time, then offered to release the compact disc edition of Echoes From Forgotten Hearts. Their offer was most generous, and it finally pushed the release from a rather simplistic deluxe re-issue to an impressive, boxed set edition. The labels offered to release a digibook edition, which would contain a booklet of anywhere from 12 to 52 pages. The liner notes described (in greater detail) the making of this extended play and its misfortunes.

Vision Eternel Echoes From Forgotten Hearts

“Before I knew it, the entire 52 pages were filled, and no room was left for images. Echoes From Forgotten Hearts was then scheduled for release on February 14, 2022, but the mastering and cover artwork each took a little longer than planned. By the time that everything was ready, a war in Europe had forced the dissolution of the Beverina Productions/Casus Belli Musica partnership, and my release was canceled. I could hardly believe the amount of bad luck this extended play had faced over the years.

“Several weeks later, Beverina Productions approached me once again, offering to release a stripped-down version on its own. It would have simpler packaging and a shorter booklet. I very much wanted to work with Beverina Productions, so I was ready to compromise. Another few months passed while work was underway with a new artwork, but once everything was ready, I suddenly found that the owner of Beverina Productions was avoiding me. He was no longer responding to my messages or electronic mails. I never found out what happened that caused him to withdraw,” states  Julien.

Julien wraps up the interview with the following: “Geertruida was still on board to release the compact cassette edition, so in August 2022, I quickly found another record company, Mahorka, to release the compact disc edition. While Mahorka’s owner loved the music and very much wanted to release it, we had difficulty agreeing on suitable packaging, and the project stalled for months before he finally admitted that he could not afford the undertaking. I then received a message from Frozen Light’s owner, who had returned from an extended absence, offering to release the digibook packaging that had been prepared for Beverina Productions and Casus Belli Musica earlier that year.

“Things were then set for a February 14, 2023 release date, and promotional material had already been printed, but, as you may have predicted, Frozen Light’s owner vanished again less than a month before the release date. I have to presume that he never sent the masters to the pressing plant. At that point, things were going so poorly that Geertruida’s compact cassette edition was also canceled, this one due to our inability to agree on a packaging that included the lengthy liner notes I had written.

“About eight months later, in September 2023, Geertruida’s owner and I were able to patch our differences and find a suitable packaging for the release. At this point, I decided to give up on the compact disc edition (as I had for a phonograph record edition) and we pulled our resources to construct an impressive compact cassette boxed set and deluxe digital edition. This is what was finally released on February 14, 2024, just six months short of a full decade since that first song was composed in August 2014.”

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