by Niklas Göransson
Annick Giroux is the orator of Canadian heavy/doom metal fanatics Cauchemar – we discuss the musical obsession which has ruled her life, and how she rid herself of nightmares by embracing death.
– We’ve been working on our third album for about a year now. Things are, as always, proceeding very slowly for us but this time it was even slower since we went a bit dormant following our European tour in 2016. The tour itself was incredible; a perfect mix of festivals and club shows, from Finland to Malta, but what waited for us back in Canada was pretty significant… François (guitars) and I traded our apartment and good jobs in Montreal for the lustrous shine of the Quebec countryside. We gave ourselves some time to adapt and now inspiration is once again kicking down our door. We’ve written about half of the record already, the songs are a bit more stripped down and heavy metal than “Chapelle Ardente” (2016) but we never really know what the whole thing will sound like until its finished. Most probably a mix of everything, as usual! We also welcomed our old friend Joel to the band as drummer – he’s adapted perfectly, having already seen us live a good fifty times, haha! Joel is the frontman of Ottawa-based OCCULT BURIAL, with whom we toured Europe, but his main instrument is drums. CAUCHEMAR is going to be significantly more active from now on.
Annick appears to seldom be inactive, judging from her substantial resumé as a musician, promoter, record collector, writer, ‘zine editor, layout entrepreneur, label manager and, I’ve been told, an accomplished hellraiser in terms of marathon revelry.
– It seems pretty wild when everything is listed together, doesn’t it? But bear in mind that all of this happened over the course of two decades and, in fact, I’m not really a promoter anymore since it was too stressful, haha. I had already been a ‘graphic designer’ for some time before becoming a headbanger. I was about ten years old when my dad brought home a floppy disk containing Paint Shop Pro 4.0, which I used with another software called Visual Page to make a primitive website about my favourite cartoon character. This was in 1998 and the whole world suddenly opened to me. I became pen-pals with a Vietnamese girl living in Belgium, she dubbed me some X-JAPAN cassettes which I listened to until the tapes stretched out and wouldn’t play anymore! It turned into an obsession and I made an X-JAPAN fan site before eventually focusing completely on metal. Design and drawing skills turned out to be an incredible plus for me as a young rocker; I picked up the bass, joined bands and, of course, created the demo layouts and logos, as crude as they looked back then. Eventually, a local metal promoter asked me to make flyers for his shows, which I did for a few years.
In late 2004, Annick started her own underground ‘zine, Morbid Tales, of which she produced six issues until burying the project in 2008.
– I was already picking up a lot of second-hand records at that point, as they were fairly cheap and quite abundant. I did a three-year degree in Graphic Design and then moved to Montreal with my now-husband, where I for four years held a weekly DJ night and promoted several events – of course making all the flyers. I wrote and designed Hellbent for Cooking, a metal cook-book, then picked up both bass and microphone for my current band, CAUCHEMAR. Now I’m earning my living as a freelance graphic designer and have a huge sound system in my home office so I can spin LPs while working! And, of course, as the co-owner of Temple of Mystery Records since 2016 I design absolutely everything for our releases. Metal and graphic design have always been in symbiosis for me, each taking a good chunk of my time. And I still have trouble listening to an album if the artwork is ugly, tasteless, or uninspired.
When François and Annick founded CAUCHEMAR in 2007 it was primarily meant to be a recording project, performing live didn’t really hold much appeal. Still, they played three Canadian shows before putting the band on hold in 2011 and embarking on an eighteen-month trip around the world.
– That plan lasted until a friend from Chile contacted us and asked if we wanted to do shows over there. So, we began playing gigs with local musicians, which in turn ignited our desire to keep the band active. Everywhere we went in the world we’d either rent instruments or rehearsal rooms – from Peru to Japan, India to Thailand – and all material we wrote ended up on our debut album, “Tenebrario”. I look back at that trip with nostalgia but also a lot of satisfaction. I like to imagine it as going to a school of life; we experienced first-hand so many different cultures, metal scenes, local cuisines, religions, social classes, and divisions… we were able to visit architectural monuments, create true friendships, and even learn Spanish. It was the richest and most inspiring experience of my life, I feel extremely lucky to have been able to do something like that at such a young age. Nowadays, I’d never be able to save up that much money!
This trip would give the pair their first taste of proper underground metal festivals. Being European and willing to travel, one can easily become spoiled with the selection of shows on offer. As such, I can barely imagine what it must’ve been like experiencing German festival Hell’s Pleasure for someone as wholeheartedly obsessed by metal culture as Annick and François seem to be. I was there that same year and recall SOLSTICE and UNPURE as highlights.
– I didn’t know UNPURE when I saw them but clearly remember being mesmerized by their sound, it made me an instant fan. My favourite band from that year was THE SKULL! It was one of their first shows with that line-up, playing classic TROUBLE songs I never thought I’d see live. It was so crushing! I remember meeting one of the organisers, Nina, with tears streaming down my cheeks. I was so overwhelmed by the greatness of the festival that I started weeping when being introduced to her! I felt kind of ashamed as I probably looked like a total fucking nutcase but her and I are good friends now, we’re even traveling to Japan together later this year. We don’t get festivals like that in Canada, so seeing all these great bands and being with so many cool people was totally devastating to me. The first-ever underground festival I attended was Keep it True, where we also played, a few months earlier. It was a killer edition but I remember going outside and seeing all the people barbecuing steaks and drinking beer, not really caring about the music. I was really, really confused – why on earth would anyone miss any of the bands? Haha! It was an amazing experience, although I preferred the outdoor festival and camping experience of Hell’s Pleasure. The mix of bands and camaraderie truly spoke to me.
After experiencing all this in the flesh, Annick returned home to Montreal with the idea for a festival of her own: Wings of Metal.
– There was no such thing as an underground metal festival mixing styles in Canada. We wanted to do it in the European spirit with a lot of bands from overseas, focusing on the quality of sound and experience. We only did four editions, seeing as how I nearly lost my fucking mind over the last one, but I’m very proud of them all! My foremost achievement with the fest? There are so many… but maybe seeing the same people come to every edition, year after year – knowing these people liked it so much that they wanted to come back made me truly happy. In the end, it was like a huge family of maniacal underground bangers. Wings of Metal was a magical event I’m unlikely to ever forget.
The MEFISTO booking for the final instalment must’ve been a big deal, how did that go?
– That was probably the worst experience of my short booking career. You know it was their first-ever show, right? Omar, the singer and guitarist, unfortunately had a gigantic ego and made both my life and the lives of everyone at the festival total hell. When they played, the songs were barely recognizable – even tainted with nu-metal! What the fuck? He almost got into a fistfight with the ANGEL WITCH guys too. Ask anyone who was there in 2015, every single one has a different crazy story about the ill-fated MEFISTO Wings of Metal appearance. Oh, there is a video documentary of it online…
I’m infinitely envious that Annick managed to book MEGIDDO, my favourite Canadian band. I was meant to see them on two separate occasions but both European tours ended up cancelled.
– I’ll never forget experiencing the song “Four Suns” live, that hypnotic riff with Chorazaim’s raspy vocals over it. I had goose-bumps throughout the whole set, everyone who was there can tell you that it was out of this world. He only played two shows but, fortunately, there are videos of it online. We’re still in touch sporadically! Getting MEGIDDO to play live was one of my greatest feats, they’re also one of my favourite Canadian metal bands.
This verdict carries significant weight, given how Annick is known as somewhat of an archaeologist of obscure Canadian metal. I’m wondering what, if anything, defines metal from Canada – if there’s a unifying factor in both the Anglo and Franco bands.
– Canadian metal often has a touch of something eccentric. Being so far removed from the traditional music centres like New York City, Chicago, and LA made Canadian bands want to work even harder in developing something exceptional that could bring attention to them. Bands were uniquely… bizarre, like RUSH, VOIVOD, SACRED BLADE. Or violent: SLAUGHTER, BLASPHEMY, fast EXCITER, technical OBLIVEON, etcetera. I think wanting to be over the top is something typically Canadian, and the same thing can be said about other secluded countries like Australia. But did you know Montreal hosted the first ever-international metal festival in North America? World War III Festival, in 1985. The line-up was incredible! VOIVOD, DESTRUCTION, CELTIC FROST – right after they changed their name – POSSESSED, and NASTY SAVAGE.
Found anything particularly riveting as of late?
– Sadly, I haven’t discovered anything especially exciting during the past few years but I’m sure there must be some gems hiding, waiting to be uncovered. A friend of mine from the label Supreme Echo in Victoria, BC, is currently working on reissues of a bunch of old and super-obscure Canadian metal bands I’ve never heard of, so perhaps there will be some gems lurking there! I’ll keep the surprise of discovering them on vinyl. There’s also a book about the old Toronto underground metal scene in the making, so that will surely bring a few new names.
I recall once hearing a compilation album by the name of “Moose Molten Metal”, it contains a song called “Feed the Fire” by an act known as SADWINDER. The track is heavy as fuck but there’s very little information available about the band.
– SADWINDER were from Quebec and one of the guys, Stéphane Dufour, is still an active guitarist in the local rock and pop scene. I don’t think he’s into metal anymore though. The rest of the guys have disappeared into obscurity. SADWINDER were part of the Quebec ‘college circuit’ in the 80s, playing sets containing mostly cover songs. That “Moose Molten Metal” comp track is the only thing they ever released – a standout track on a not so exciting compilation.
Reading previous interviews, I noticed a remark about how divided Montreal is between Anglo-Canadians and French Canadians. Annick mentioned not even being aware of which local Anglophone bands are around, since they have their own shows and separate venues.
– Yes, that’s still the case, although perhaps not as pronounced as when I first noticed it. There are some record shops, like Cheap Thrills and End of Vinyl, in the west end of the city which cater more to the Anglos, and some bands with English-speaking Quebecers play shows in venues on the opposite sides of the city. I might be exaggerating a bit but Montreal is pretty much divided – the east end is working class, trashy Quebecois style and cheap rent while the west is expensive, trendy, fancy and Anglo. And then there’s the downtown in-between where the scenes kind of mingle together.
In my conversation with V.I. of Indian war metal band KAPALA, he mentioned how the metal scene in his hometown, Kolkata, is one of the very few communities not divided by ethnicity and religion. I also remember reading that in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, while the biggest religious hostilities were playing out, music concerts were pretty much the only gatherings where people from Catholic and Protestant backgrounds could co-mingle without violence. As such, these Canadians must really detest each other to not even be able to socialise within metal.
– Haha! It’s not that, I think it’s just that the city is so large and I guess people simply stay in their own neighbourhoods. During my ten years in Montreal, I never felt any true hate between Anglos and Francos. I’m originally from a French-speaking suburb of Ottawa, there’s more animosity between French and English people over there. There was a time when Hull, the Quebecois city closest to Ottawa, had bars open until 3am while in Ottawa everything closed at 1am… so all the Ontarian Anglophones crossed the bridge – nicknamed ‘the bridge of the thousand thirsts’ – to extend their drinking hours, which would often end up in brutal fights. A Quebecer friend of mine got hit with a baseball bat, leaving a huge scar on his forehead. They have since changed closing hours. Also, just a few years ago friends of mine went to see RAZOR in a small Ontario town called Arnprior and got attacked in the streets, just for speaking French! But such events don’t happen too often nowadays.
I learned that the band name, CAUCHEMAR, stems from a series of violent nightmares Annick used to suffer. Some of the descriptions sounded exactly like sleep paralysis, which has been a recurring topic on Bardo Methodology.
– I actually did some research into this in the past as some of my nightmares were rather troubling. In fact, the first meaning of the name CAUCHEMAR, or cauquemaire, loosely translates to ‘ghost pressing down’, which surely derives from those very sleep paralyses. But I’m unsure if that’s what I experienced, I’ve been having dreams about dying ever since I was a child. In fact, these dreams were so regular I believed everyone else had them too… I suppose that didn’t help me, being the schoolyard outcast, very much, haha. One of my most recurring dreams as a kid was death by suffocation, having no air to breathe. At the moment of passing, instead of dying I’d just wake up! I ‘died’ under so many circumstances; lava, outer space, car crash, horrible diseases, stab wounds… all of them paired with a weird sensation of panic, agony, intense heartbeat and, of course, immediately waking up at the final breath. After a while it happened so often that I accepted my death – I felt ready to die – and that’s when I stopped having those nightmares. I haven’t dreamed about dying in nine years now. I hope the true feeling of death is similar to the one in my dreams, or else I might be disappointed!