Interview by Alessandra Cognetta
With a new album coming up in August, summer festivals and a successful crowdfunding campaign to celebrate their 10th anniversary, Delain is having one of their busiest times ever. I had the chance to catch up with Charlotte Wessels for a nice chat, where we talked about what’s in store for “Moonbathers”, getting Brian May’s blessing for a Queen cover, singing techniques and album leaks. To my surprise, Charlotte also revealed some news that will make fans go absolutely crazy!
Hello and welcome once again to Femme Metal, Charlotte! It’s a pleasure to have you here. How are you doing?
Thank you, I’m doing good!
I was really surprised when we got the press release for this interview, because the album had not been announced publicly yet. Anyway, Delain are going to release “Moonbathers” on August 26th via Napalm Records. Could you share with us some details on the themes of the album and what we can expect to hear once the album is released?
Sure! We really liked the production value on “The Human Contradiction”, so we chose to keep some things similar. For example, we worked with the same mixer, the same master, same classical arranger and Martjin [Westerholt] was producing again, which were a few factors similar to “The Human Contradiction”. When it comes to sound and production, it very much takes off where the previous album left us. People liked the sound of that, so I’m sure that they will like “Moonbathers” as well. As for the songs themselves, they very much go towards more different directions, stylistically. It’s really varied in songs and styles. We can probably say that it’s an album of extremes: loud things are louder and softer songs are more sensitive in a way. In that sense, I do feel that it has a lot to offer, two different faces.
It’s great, because I had a chance to listen to the promo and I can see how this reflects in the songs that I listened to. As you said, you kept some things from the previous album and “Moonbathers” balances the symphonic metal sound Delain is known for with some new elements closer to electronic music, which we started hearing recently in songs like “Don’t Let Go”: how did you work to develop this new addition to the band’s sound?
It’s just really about what the song asks for. Usually we talk about what we want to do with an album before we start writing, but it’s not like we actually frame it so much that we are completely guided by that. What usually happens is that we write a couple of songs and once we have a couple of songs where we feel like: “These are winners, they’re going to end up on the album”, the next song that we write feels like we already have four songs like this. So, for example, we might feel we need to go heavier than that. It’s not like we work systematically, but once we have a couple of songs we have to take into consideration the balance of the album we are a band that works with what the song needs. We are not musicians that feel like we have to be playing virtuoso on every song. We write the song, Martjin, myself and Guus Eikens and once we have its core, everyone in the band gets to chip in. When we do the arrangement, the atmosphere of the song is guiding us. It’s an organic process.
The album is going to include a Queen cover, “Scandal”. Why did Delain choose this song and how did you work on rearranging it your own way so that it would be a “Delain song” and not just a “Queen cover”?
I must be really honest: it was not my idea to cover a Queen song. Martjin said: “Oh, let’s do this song!” and my first response was “No, you cannot do that, it’s a Queen song! You can’t burn your hands on the giants” (laughs). But since it was not one of their best known songs, we thought it would be a nice challenge anyway. On top of that, we got the explicit permission from Brian May to cover the track, along with some really nice compliments about us as a band. That was something really special and we really wanted to make something special. When we were making the arrangement, the main thing on my mind was that on one hand you have to really make it your own, but on the other hand you have to be respectful of the original, which we love so much. So we chose to not change too much. Something that we did change is, for example, that we made the song a lot faster and we also made it a lot higher, because I noticed how – it’s horrible trying to feel as Freddie Mercury – when he sings he’s in this register where he’s almost screaming and if I sing the song in his register, it sounds too comfortable. So we made the song higher until I’m at that point where you really get that drama just from the register that you’re in. But that, in combination with making it a lot faster, makes it an incredibly hard song to sing (laughs), so I’m really interested in the day that we have to perform it live, because in the studio I could take a breath every now and then, but of course live we can’t. Maybe we will make it a duet with Timo or we will perform it a bit slower, but we’ll find a solution to that. It was a really fun project!
How did you get in touch with Brian May, then?
Our manager in the UK knows him!
You have some long-time collaborators on “Moonbathers”, from Alissa White-Gluz on vocals to Glenn Arthur for the cover and, as you said, you brought some people from “The Human Contradiction” on the team. How is it working with them at this stage, when you all have known each other for quite some time already?
To be honest, of course it changes in the way that you don’t have to introduce yourselves. You don’t have to get to know each other. But in the song itself and in the process of making the cover for the album, it is still always a new project. In that sense there was remarkably little that changed. You’re always still starting a song or an artwork from scratch. For example, it was really difficult to get the artwork to the point where we thought: “This is going to be the cover for the album”. Of course it helps that you work with each other, because I really, really love Glen’s artwork and we worked together a million times, so it’s easier to say “Let’s try something different”. As for the work itself, it kind of remains the same since you’re working on new material and that is something that always demands the same attention.
You are also currently managing a crowdfunding campaign for a special anniversary show at Paradiso, where a live DVD will be filmed. What brought the band to choose crowdfunding and how has this new experience been for Delain so far?
It is a lot of work, but we have fantastic help from a friend in the US, so he’s running the campaign for us. As a band, we don’t want to make concessions. People have been asking for a DVD forever and it’s something that takes a lot of time and effort – and money, also. Since we are always looking at the future and writing for future albums, that time, effort and money usually goes into new projects rather than into doing a performance and filming songs that we’ve already written, if you know what I mean. That’s one of the reasons why we have never made this step before, but at this 10-year anniversary we thought “That is the perfect milestone to take a moment to stand still and reflect on what we’ve done for the last 10 years”. That actually was a really good reason for me to say “We are going to do a live DVD and invite people that we’ve worked with”. Since we don’t like making concessions we don’t want to take any budget away from our following projects, so that’s one of the reasons we chose crowdfunding. Another obvious one is that the only reason we were able to make it for 10 years is the people who have supported us so far. What would happen if we turned to them directly? And the outcome was amazing, because we made our 100% goal very quickly and we did find out afterwards that we need more money to actually make it happen, so we’re very happy that the campaign is still up and that people are still checking it out. If people reading this haven’t already done it, please do so! It’s very welcomed, not only for us but also because part of what we make after the 100% mark goes to the Sophie Lancaster Foundation as well. That’s a wonderful charity that we’ve been supporting for a long time. It’s still running and I’m very excited about the show and recording… I get nervous just thinking about it (laughs)!
Yeah, when there’s cameras on it’s always a different feeling.
You’ve got only one shot to do it right!
One thing about new albums that has become quite popular recently is leaks. Promotion goes on for quite long and sometimes the tracklist leaks or the songs leak and so on. This also happens in other media (think of all the Game of Thrones episodes leaked before airing…), but I would like to ask about your perspective on this. Is it just that the audience is too eager and forgot the meaning of patience or can we actually see something good in it?
It’s interesting that you bring up the leaks now because we had our album cover and tracklist leaked a few days ago.
Really, I didn’t know!
It’s good that you didn’t know, because it means it didn’t spread too much. The album cover and the tracklist leaked a few days before we were announcing it and we were so pissed off. I think that the label distributed it with an embargo and there’s always one website – I’m not going to mention which one – that whenever there’s a leak it’s always from a certain big website starting with an “A”. It’s… yeah. Or it could be people putting it online, but we haven’t had that so far. If it’s a person I can imagine that it feels different, because sometimes the fans share the leaked information and we are like “I can imagine you’re excited about this, but can you also imagine that we are not, maybe?” (laughs). I don’t really have an opinion on it, it happens and it sucks and we as a band try to prevent it from happening and that’s it.
I guess it’s just important for people to understand how the ones who did the hard work feel about it.
You’re trying to build a momentum and it’s kind of a shame if that’s taken away from it.
It’s like making a surprise present to a friend only to have someone spoil it for them. They’re still gonna like the present, but it takes away that “something”.
Yeah, that’s true.
Before I had a chance to listen to “Moonbathers” I wanted to ask you about attending an Estille Voice Training session not too long ago. Then I actually got to listen to the album and I found so many new things in your voice. The way you were using it was much more confident, you were brining something new to the singing and I really liked that. So I wanted to ask if there’s a link between the two.
Well, I just recently started, but I did an Estille Voice Training course in 2011. It’s a long time ago and I kinda did self-teaching, I taught myself a lot of things, to do belting a lot louder, to do grunts. I’m still not very good at it, but you can hear it on two tracks on the album. The grunts on “The Glory and the Scum” and “Pendulum” are mine. I recently became really excited about teaching myself more, but then I told myself: “Charlotte, why don’t you invest in this a bit more and take those lessons?“. I’m actually considering going back to it and take formal training and I’m excited about that, because I always get most excited about writing the songs and getting the album together. Sometimes I feel more like a writer than a singer. Still it is the first thing that everybody sees and hears about me, so it would be nice to be actually really good at it. It might sound weird to describe it like that. I’m actually considering taking formal training after 10 years in the business (laughs)!
I also studied singing for many years, but I can hear that even if it’s self-taught it’s done right and it’s done with passion and it’s doing something new instead of just going for a high note while forgetting about the rest. I really appreciated that.
It’s also one of the reasons why I liked EVT, because it is not the kind of vocal teaching that will tell you how to sing a song. It is the kind of training that will teach you how your instrument works and then you can decide for yourself how use your instrument for the song that you want. The thing that I disliked about the vocal lessons that I had in the past is that they actually tried to tell you how to sing a track, while I think that it’s my creative choice. What I like about EVT is that they have no bias, no aesthetic bias. I think it really fits me.
Have you had any experience with other methods besides EVT?
In my teens I had classical training for a while. I liked it a lot and I learnt a lot, but that was in fact a training with an aesthetic bias. I was told on more than one occasion “Oh, you know Charlotte, you should just stop that band of yours because you will be so good in a choir” and I thought that we obviously didn’t share the same ambitions. So that was for me a reason to kinda call it a day at one point.
What’s going to happen with Delain in the next weeks?
Well, it’s so extreme because this is one of our busiest years. We started out with the EP, the anniversary show, the new album… and in a few weeks we will announce that for the 10-year anniversary of “Lucidity” we will actually do a remastered re-release of the album with lots of bonus tracks and instrumentals and you name it. So that is happening too! Then we will do our headline tour for “Moonbathers”. We didn’t think we could get any busier this year!
Wow! That was our last question, Charlotte. Thank you so much for your time and all the best for this new release! We hope to catch up with you on the road soon!
Thank you! It was lovely talking to you.
Photos by Sandra Ludewig