Interview: Nicolas Dick of Kill the Thrill Talks ‘Autophagie’

For post-punk and industrial rock band Kill The Thrill, comprised of lead vocalist, guitarist, and lap steel player Nicolas Dick, bassist Marilyn Tognolli, and drummer Francois Rossi, traversing tumultuous, dark material is nothing new and the idea of metamorphosis is important. The title of the group’s latest effort, Autophagie, out now via Season of Mist Records, was crafted a long time ago, and touches on poignant themes while immersing listeners in abrasive and hypnotic instrumentals.

“I wrote this text a few years ago and then put it aside until I found the music,” notes Dick. “I’ve also had a solo project of improvised music with lap steel and voice for a long time. I’ve been collecting a lot of sound material, and scraps, from various rehearsals and concerts. One day, I found a loop in my sound bank that corresponded completely to the text and I started to compose this piece from there.”

The title track’s captivating sounds of devastation and despair similarly come from Dick’s thoughts around the selfishness of humanity and violence that a lack of empathy towards others can bring about.

“I had images in my head of hearts buried alive, autonomous and bodiless, protected by the earth as their only companion, then attacked by parasites,” he shares. “Then I saw the gradual extinction of humanity through a lack of empathy and kindness. A bit like a tangle of toxic people’s [habit] of self-consuming.”

The French outfit has created hypnotic music since 1989. Although some line-up changes have occurred over the years, members Tognolli and Dick have remained, continuing the tradition of crafting poignant, dark music that makes listeners contemplate the brutality of the world and reflect on how they can make it more habitable. Using hypnotic vocals that are delivered at a frenzied pace, the band hones in on its ability to take consumers through a tumultuous journey and find a sense of purpose within it. With their new record, the themes of toxicity of human nature and narcissism that emanates from a lack of kindness are boldly illustrated through their lyrics.

A single that brings home the idea of survival to the forefront for listeners is “Cluster Headache.” A personal subject for the group, a cluster headache inflicts physical pain on its sufferer.

“Cluster Headache is a fairly rare condition that causes extreme pain and unbearable migraines, possible symptoms also include severe pain in or around one eye or on one side of the head, often described as the worst pain that humans experience because you feel an ice pick is smashing into your eye and your head,” describes Dick. “I’ve been suffering from this condition for almost 18 years now, and I felt the need to talk about it in the abstract. This unbearable physical pain is associated with an image, a feeling of intrusion. It is as if the pain were personified in destructive people. If these people disappear, then the pain in the body leaves with them. It’s a way of controlling the pain by giving it substance as if it were someone.”

For Dick and Tognolli, “autophagy” is a fascinating concept, one that permeates their latest effort.

“First of all, the autophagy mechanism is fascinating,” explains Dick. “It is both a survival mechanism and a cell death mechanism. With the particularity of sustaining life at the expense of its substance. In our cells, as on our planet, resources are consumed and waste is produced. But behind this mechanism, there is also this notion of recycling, it’s not all about devouring.”  For both members, the group’s creative process embodies the definition of autophagy. “I think that the group’s artistic creation process is somewhere in the autophagy because we are constantly recycling ourselves in order not to die out and be reborn.” Steeped in dreary lyricism, Autophagie is a work that immerses listeners in the process of being reborn.

For the band, the idea of autophagy is key to understanding the record.

“We had this thread of autophagy running through the album, the principle of which is to enable adaptation and survival, because this cannibalistic process is triggered in conditions of stress or impoverishment. It’s at the point of metamorphosis, of regeneration, and it’s an unavoidable evil if there’s to be a revival. So there’s always a rebirth in the cycle.”

The music video for the title track illustrates this idea through violent imagery.

“The images in the clip resonate with autophagy through the prism of violent distortion of the things transmitted, but also of our strangeness, and of us humans, who contemplate them fascinated, imagining ourselves to be in control of everything, until we forget where we came from.”

Crediting director Guillaume Mariotti of Mystery Public for bringing the band’s idea to life visually, the video acts as a “time-lapse” of humanity’s degradation. The nature of change and adaptation has played a significant role in the band’s evolution.

“When we were teenagers, we discovered a type of music that has been a trigger and a guiding light throughout our musical history. I’m talking about punk, post-punk, and industrial music from the early 80s to the present day, as well as repetitive, experimental, and symphonic music and some music from the 70s that we missed out on. When the band started, the music was young, raw, and rough, just like what we were listening to at the time. There was a desire to mix musical violence with harmony, melody, dissonance, and hard emotion.”

Both members find that time, and technology have “enabled us to develop the dramaturgy of our music further. It seems softer than in the past, but paradoxically I find it harder.”

Autophagie sees Kill The Thrill evolve while staying true to their roots, taking on the idea of being reborn through the creative process. Although Autophagie discusses “our slow self-destruction, which has accelerated in recent decades and how we have wreaked chaos on the environment in which we live,” the album gives listeners hope for a better tomorrow. Through the realization of the universal plight that humanity is experiencing, people have the power to change their circumstances.

Autophagie is out now from Season of Mist. Follow Kill the Thrill on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for future updates.

Photo courtesy of Pierre Gondard.

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