While abstract music will never become a household style, nor penetrate the mainstream, we music lovers still find here an ample source for inspiration and pleasure.
John 3:16 is a fairly new name in the music business as a recording solo artist, but let’s find out what else he is and what he has done.
How would you describe what you do to someone completely unfamiliar to your music?
Philippe > I tend to say my music is purely Industrial. In 2007, JOHN 3:16 started as a Ritual-Drone project, but it evolves with time. I’ve started adding more and more Electronic and Industrial elements to each release. I have been listening to bands like Coil, Skinny Puppy, Laibach, Throbbing Gristle and Current 93 for years, but I’m also inspired by the Watts-Russel’s “classic 4AD” label (before it was sold in 1999). Bands like Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil are definitely sources of inspiration for me as well. When Heat From a DeadStar disbanded in 2009 (Indie-Rock/Shoegazing – Ace of Hearts Records, Boston), JOHN 3:16 became my official project. It’s been easier for me to focus on one single project. The first JOHN 3:16 album ‘Visions of The Hereafter – Visions of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory’ (Alrealon Musique) representswhat I always wanted to do: music based on synthetic drums and samples with live guitars and bass. Some people call it Post-Rock, some others Cold-Wave. For me it’s a new form of Industrial. I’m hoping to add more vocals in the future, by the way.
Both the band name and the releases contain Biblical references, what is the ideology behind them?
Philippe > In 2007, I wanted to start a new project based on metaphysics, mysticism and the occult. The Bible seemed like the perfect subject for that. Even though the name JOHN 3:16 and the concepts of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory refer to the New Testament, I feel that I’m getting more and more inspired by the Old Testament. In this part of the Bible, God is described as a merciless, cruel and ruthless deity that indiscriminately orders the execution of seemingly innocent men, women and children, or directly carries out their deaths by various means. If this God exists, most of us are doomed. I want to believe in a God that doesn’t forgive, that punishes us for all the sins we commit in our lives. For me there is no chance of salvation in our modern society. You are born either good or bad. This was the idea behind the EP ‘Sinners in The Hands of an Angry God’, that our faith is sealed from the very beginning. I’m not interested in trying to convince anyone, this is just my own very personal way of interpreting both religion and God.
For your debut full-length you chose a mammoth theme to cover. Why did you choose to make a theme album based on the Divine Comedy?
Philippe > The title is indeed inspired by the Divine Comedy of Dante. Divine Comedy describes “Dante’s travels through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven” (Peter E. Bondanella), but in fact, “it represents allegorically the soul’s journey towards God” (Dorothy L. Sayers). Dante’s metaphysical analysis of religious beliefs helped me going through difficult times. My father died of cancer in 2010. Never had a death affected me so much. I spent months trying to recover from this event. My father was an atheist, but a few months before cancer took him away he wished he could believe in something. He wasn’t scared to die, but he was afraid of what was coming next. He felt so alone. He asked for my help and I couldn’t do anything for him. He needed a spiritual strength none of us could give him. I guess he envied people that never questioned their faith. In a way, this album is dedicated to my father.
The album and track titles are also inspired by paintings and drawings by Hieronymus Bosch, especially the polyptych “Visions of The Hereafter” (Terrestrial Paradise, Ascent of The Blessed, Fall of The Damned into Hell). Hieronymus Bosch’s art has been the subject of many discussions and debates. Some think his work was inspired by heretical points of view as well as of obscure hermetic practices, while others are convinced his paintings and drawings were directly representing his views on religion and theological beliefs. Depending on your beliefs, culture, education, social background, etc, views on art can be very different, especially when the theme is based on religion, death and the afterlife. The artwork and the music of the JOHN 3:16 album can be interpreted in many different ways. This is what I wanted when I started working on the release.
How has the reception of Visions... been? Have you received much feedback from media and fans?
Philippe > I’m pleased to say that the album has received mostly good reviews that have been published in US and European blogs, webzines and established magazines. Some of my fans have been following me since the first release in 2007. They seem to like the album and some of them even think the music has positive vibes even though the tones are quite dark.
Before Visions of Hereafter you did some split releases, how did these come about?
Philippe > So far, I have released only one split release. ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ (Sirona Records, France) isn’t a split. It contains one original song (the 16-min long ‘Eternal Sin Offering’) and a JOHN 3:16 remix of the track ‘Dissasembly of The Self’ by FluiD (Kansas City). I was very proud to release the split ‘The Pursuit of Salvation’ (Alrealon Musique, limited edition 12”+digital) with FluiD earlier this year. Both Christophe Gilmore aka FluiD’s music and character have inspired me over the years. We had been talking about the split with FluiD for almost 2 years. We spent some time selecting the tracks and working on the release title. Trey Crim did an amazing job with the artwork as well. ‘The Pursuit of Salvation’ got excellent reviews from both webzines and magazines.
Are there any artists you would like to collaborate with in the future?
Philippe > First, I wanted to say that Carolyn O’Neill/Rasplyn (Co-Founder and Director of the Logan Square New Music Ensemble, Chicago) co-wrote the track ‘Abyss of Hell / Clouds of Fire’ (third track on the album). I’m glad she agreed to work with me and I was very happy when I heard the final mix of this track. I’ll be collaborating again with her in the future.
Most of the people I would like to work with are dead. I’d have loved to work with Syd Barrett (early Pink Floyd), John Balance, Peter Christopherson (Coil) and Bryn Jones (Muslimgauze), but I would also be happy to collaborate with Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins), Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), Ihsahn (Emperor) and Ivo Watts-Russel (This Mortal Coil).
Do you have any other projects going on except John 3:16?
Philippe > No, and I won’t be working on anything else for a while. I AM JOHN 3:16 and I hope to carry this project on as long as I can.
What inspired you to start making music?
Philippe > Over the years, I realized writing and recording music was a need. It’s the best way for me to express my feelings. I couldn’t be at peace without making music.
Do you have any formal training in music or are you self-taught?
Philippe > I had maybe 4-5 guitar lessons when I was 14 years old. So I can really say, I’m a self-taught musician.
Are there any bands you regard as paragons for John 3:16? Who influenced your chosen style of music?
Philippe > In terms of sound production (sampling and mixing), Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails has been a revelation for me. When ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ was released in 1989, I realized that genres could be mixed to create something great. The early soundtracks of John Carpenter (Assault on Precinct 13 and The Fog) were very inspiring to me when I recorded my first release as JOHN 3:16 (self-titled EP – White Label Music/Alrealon Musique). Coil, Joy Division, Psychic TV, early-Swans, Earth, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Tribes of Neurot are definitely sources of great inspiration for me.
Can you describe your own evolution as a composer? Do you have a prewritten path you follow or do you go where the tide takes you?
Philippe > Before JOHN 3:16, I was always part of a band. I used to write bass or guitar parts and with the band, we built the songs around these lines. When I started my solo project, I felt artistically free for the first time in my life. All my tracks have a very defined structure. I can start working on a song based on the drum part, a guitar riff or a sample. After that, most of the work is done in my mind. I think about the arrangements I can work on. I try them live and record what I think is good enough for the track.
You have played a great deal of shows during your career. How would you describe the live experience you create?
Philippe > I have played many shows since I was 14 years old. I played a few hundreds shows with Heat From a DeadStar from 2004 to 2009. We played everywhere, pubs, gardens, small and big venues, festivals, even parks! Some of the shows were awesome and some others very bad. I haven’t played a lot of shows with JOHN 3:16 yet. Playing shows in solo is a different deal. I’m on my own on stage. I have to be in control of everything, since I can’t rely on anyone other than myself (well, sometimes I couldn’t rely on anyone when playing with Heat From a DeadStar). I do think the JOHN 3:16 shows are definitely better than the Heat From a DeadStar performances we gave in the past. When I’m on stage, I’m not me anymore. I become JOHN 3:16. I’m then able to communicate my feelings and emotions live. Like a preacher would do on stage.
Can you unveil some of your future plans concerning John 3:16, or other possible projects?
Philippe > Right now, I’m working on a huge live set to be played in Israel (Tel Aviv and Jerusalem) in February 2013. I’ll be playing a lot of new tracks there. From now on, I want to test new tracks at shows before recording them in studio. I’m also working on two movies that will be used as visuals for my upcoming shows. I’m hoping to play gigs in Germany, Belgium, Scandinavia and Holland next year. I’ll be booking shows in the US next year as well.
I won’t be recording anything new for a while. The next release will be the second album and I want to take the next 2-3 years to think about it.
Thank you so much for your time. Do you have any last regards for our readers?
Philippe > Thank you Kenneth and Damned by Light. Your support is much appreciated! I would like to thank my fans for taking the time to listen to my music. I’m really looking forward to meeting you all at the next JOHN 3:16 shows.
Photos: Jessica R. Pepper