Interview by Vard Aman 


Interview : Heike Langhans - Draconian

Over the years Draconian has become a household name in (Gothic) Doom Metal circles, so I’ll skip any long introductory monologues here and move right on to late 2011 when vocalist and Draconian icon, Lisa Johansson left the band. It’s always a difficult time, not to mention a speculative time for fans when a vocalist of Lisa‘s popularity leaves a band of Draconian‘s popularity. What would happen? Would they change their sound? (Speculation in that department driven further by the Nightwish/Tristania episodes). And most importantly; who would they replace her with (if they replaced her at all) and would she be as good? Let me just say here to all those who are understandably upset by Lisa‘s departure from the band that she is still there and always will be, gracing your speakers and headphones every time you listen to a Draconian album up to and including “A Rose for the Apocalypse”. But most of all, I’d like to say trust Draconian, they’re Doomsters who believe in the Doom they create, and trust Draconian to find the best singer for the job! And I can say with total confidence that they have done just that! How? Well, several years ago, I had the pleasure of discovering a band in my home town of Cape Town called Inferium whose vocalist, Heike Langhans (Heike van Dominic), possessed one of the most haunting and beautifully melancholic and sombre voices I’d ever heard – the kind of voice that could get all the hair on one’s arms standing straight up (further confirmed when I heard her solo project, Lorelei). With so versatile and melancholic a voice, Heike‘s was a voice made for a good Doom Metal band, a voice that belonged in a good Doom Metal band, and any good Doom Metal band who made use of her voice would become even better (you’ll see…). Cape Town, unfortunately, is not a place that is well known for such bands: sea, sun, wind, mountains, scenery, nature, shooting people – yes, Doom Metal – no… well, at least not yet. But Sweden is home to one of the best and most iconic Doom Metal bands of all time, and in late 2011 their vocalist left and…. why am I still talking? Draconian’s new vocalist, Heike Langhans, will tell you the rest.

First of all, welcome to Femme Metal Webzine. If I had met you on the streets of Cape Town just over a year ago and told that within a year you would become the new vocalist of Draconian, how insane would you have thought I was?

I would have laughed and told you to stop your medication immediately. Considering how long I’ve been listening to Draconian and how high an opinion I have of them, I could only have dreamt of something like that happening in my lifetime.

So, how did it happen?

After hearing the news that Lisa had left, I went online and starting moaning about it like I’m sure most fans did. Some of my friends urged me to audition – should the band have been auditioning singers at all. I just assumed they’d find someone in good ol’ Scandinavia – where musicians grow on trees. Some weeks later I received a link on my page (from you), sharing the update that Draconian will be accepting applications and auditioning singers to take the role of female vocalist. At that point I wasn’t too excited, as I’m quite rational about such things and could see all the fan suggestions and singers throwing themselves at the opportunity. I asked if there was some deadline to it, as I was planning on moving to Europe anyway that year. I later received a message from Daniel Arvidsson, saying that I should send an application with some material. I will admit, I got a few flutters then, but still just kept it to myself and quietly sent off my application. He got back to me and said he liked it and forwarded it to the band. Not long after, Anders contacted me and asked if I could come for an audition. In February, I was off to Sweden for a week only to audition. We did some recordings of songs from the latest album and rehearsed some old songs too. Things went well on all accounts, but me being a little self-critical, I kept thinking I could have done better. I was the first to audition, so in my mind I did not know if that would’ve been an advantage or disadvantage. After my lovely week in Sweden, I (miserably) returned home and hoped for the best. I kept in contact with Anders very regularly to keep me from dying with anticipation. I think the wait would have killed me otherwise. At that point, I still felt like I was in a dream and kept thinking: “Wait. Did I just go to Sweden to audition for one of my favorite bands???” Eventually, I got the news that they would like me to join Draconian, but that there were obvious concerns regarding the relocation. These days it’s just not easy with all the rules and borders of our world. I wasn’t going to give up and set to work on the paperwork and visa applications. It was tough as hell and expensive, but I am 100% driven and given my disregard for certain authorities, I wouldn’t dare let it intimidate me or get me down. I jumped through the fiery hoops, did the paperwork and in May I was off to Sweden. I’m still having my tribulations with migration boards and paperwork as it is, but I’ll do it for the rest of my life if I have to. The music and the people are worth it. The doom is worth it.

What was it like meeting Draconian for the first time?

In my mind I was nervous about the idea at first – especially meeting the talented Johan Ericson. I’ll admit, I’ve been a huge fan of Doom:vs and greatly admired his writing and creativity. I’m not really a nervous person at all, so I knew it would be fine. I was amazed at how well I got along with them and how easily I fit in. I suppose it’s because of the general sense of humor and attitudes of Scandinavians. I’ve always related to it a lot better that that of my home country, so I felt right at home and very comfortable. The social dynamic of the band is very important in Draconian too, so I was pleased to be able to just be myself and not worry too much about those socially awkward situations a lot of us fear when meeting new people.

And Lisa?

I went with Fredrik to Lisa’s flower shop before the audition. She was as pleasant and friendly as I expected her to be and just down to earth. My kind of person. We bantered a while and joked around about the big knife she was using to do the flower arrangements with. It was nice to hear that she seems content and comfortable in her life now as a mother.

How has the response from Draconian‘s fans been so far?

They have been absolutely sweet and amazing. I never expected such a warm welcome and such lovely responses. I was prepared for the onslaught and the angry fan mob, but I have been overwhelmed with love and good energy. It really makes all this so much more real to me and it makes everything worth fighting for. It re-installs a lot of hope in me too when it comes to people. I’ve dealt with a lot of attitudes from some people back home, so having the rest of the world respond so lovingly, has really brought a sense of peace to my heart.

Being a South African myself and having travelled a bit I can imagine the reaction of a lot of fans (and others) is going to be something along the lines of “What? You’re from AFRICA!?” How do you react to that?

The funniest thing I get asked is why I’m white. I think the media has really put a certain idea in the minds of people in the rest of the world, so I don’t blame the little bit of innocent ignorance I’ve encountered. I usually take the opportunity to explain how things really work and that SOUTH Africa isn’t really the same as the rest of Africa. At the end of the day I’m just happy to prove that the world we live in is really smaller than we think and the only thing keeping us all apart is paperwork, money and silly governments.

Was it quite a culture shock moving from South Africa to Sweden?

For me personally – no. I knew what to expect in a way as I’ve been interested in Scandinavia from a young age. I could immediately sum up what was better and what was lacking. Everything is Sweden works and flows incredibly well. Generally speaking – Service is good;people are sweet, peaceful, intelligent and helpful. That being said, I won’t deny that South Africans have a fiery social forwardness and I won’t find anywhere else in the world. I’d definitely want to visit my hometown, but personally, I know my head and heart is in the North. Indefinitely.

Hur väl talar du Svenska?

Not too much just yet. I will be going for Swedish lessons as soon as I am part of the system, but I can understand a lot of Swedish already in reading and general talking. My Afrikaans (Dutch) and German background helps a lot in understanding Swedish. Some of the words are virtually the same, but just spelled and pronounced a little different. I’m picking it up quite fast actually.

Another question that I’ve no doubt some fans will ask: How do you pronounce Heike Langhans?

In the German way. That’s the best answer I can give. People in South Africa have been pronouncing my name wrong all along and I’ve gotten used to it. It’s actually pronounced something like ‘hey-keh’, but have mostly been pronounced ‘high-kuh’. It’s all the same to me really. Though I think the way Swedish/Finnish people say it is very sweet. It makes me smile. ‘Langhans’ is tricky. Back home English people get it terribly wrong and Afrikaans people tend to get it right, since it sounds dutch to them. It’s pronounced ‘lung(organ)-huns (like guns)’ I suppose. That’s the closest I think I can explain. Just ask your nearest German.

Let’s go back all the way to the beginning. When and how did you first get involved with music and singing?

Singing came first. I was in school choirs since the age of 8, but got pretty sick of singing in a group, so I left that behind and started doing my own thing. I played piano occasionally, but mostly played the classical guitar. It helped a lot in my writing and I had a need for doing everything myself and not letting other people get involved. I used to sing with my dad when he played guitar at social gatherings and that’s when I realized I might just have something going. I only joined my first band when I was about 15. We were all girls and good friends. It was mainly a fun holiday thing, so I kept doing music on my own until I joined a proper band when I was 19. Through it all I just kept doing my own thing on the side to stay focused and as an outlet for my frustrations with the world and my surroundings. I’m now 24 and finally feel like it’s paid off.

When did you get involved with metal?

I started off soft like most young kids I’m sure. My father has excellent taste in music and I used to ninja his Pink Floyd and Meat Loaf CDs and listen to them on repeat in my room while singing along . VH1 also played good stuff like Black Sabbath back then and it just appealed to me. That was a solid foundation “rock” wise . Later, my older and way cool surfer cousin came to live with us and he introduced me to Metallica. That opened up a whole new door and I “taped” whatever metal I could find onto VHS or cassette and saved my money to buy the CDs. By the time I was 16, I had been consuming incredible amounts of metal from all sub-genres and eventually grew into what suited me best emotionally – Gothic, Symphonic & Doom metal. I only got into Black Metal a bit later when I was 20, but I was put off by all the politics and opinions. I think I enjoy Black Metal a lot more now that I’ve been able to make up my own mind and have spent some time researching the greats – without the input of the “elitist” forum junkies and haters.

Inferium was the first time I heard you. Tell us the Inferium story.

It was merely a case of a friend saying to me: “Hey, this guy I know has an instrumental band and I think they might want a female singer”.I agreed to an audition and it just all casually came together. They were the only guys I knew doing Symphonic Metal and I liked it. We had a bit of a Nightwish/Within Temptation thing going. The band had so much potential and we were doing quite well, but we had a lot of issues with finding time and money to record and push it further. I eventually outgrew my “operatic” female vocal style and half the band were gamer nerds anyway (myself included), so we just called it quits. We were all friends, so there were no hard feelings. We were totally laid-back about the whole thing. I’ll always remember and enjoy my time in Inferium and I’ll forever be sad about the stellar songs that were to come, but it’s a sweet memory.

How would you describe the Metal scene in Cape Town, and in South Africa in general, particularly Doom Metal?

Despite what most South Africans make themselves believe, Cape Town actually has a great metal scene and more bands than you might think. I can count on one hand the amount of friends I have there who ISN’T a musician. It’s a very creative and beautiful town. Most musicians there, however, feel that the scene or industry is lacking and that support isn’t high, but I could easily point the blame at our social/political structure for that. If I look at the Cape Town/Johannesburg size ratio, I can say with confidence that Cape Town has a lot more to offer. The scene there is almost removed from the rest of the country and they’re totally on their own mission. Johannesburg has some stand out talent too, but I personally find that they follow more or less the same trends in terms of metal genres. Of course if you had to say that to someone living in Johannesburg, they would disagree, but I’ve been living in both cities and can see the bigger picture quite clearly. I also know more than a hand-full of Doom Metal fans in Cape Town. We’ve even made a League of Doom – an appreciation group where they have meetings and do doom covers together. Sort of like an “all-star” doom tribute show effort. It’s small, but it’s meaningful. Any doom fan would understand.

What attracts you to Doom Metal, both as a musician and as a fan?

Firstly, the emotional aspect. There’s a certain sense of beauty in sadness that I feel is more true to one’s soul than anything else. I love slow and melancholic music. It brings my inner suffering to the surface and Doom Metal makes me feel like it’s okay to be an emotional being that suffers in this strange world. Secondly, I love melody. I can’t listen to anything that doesn’t have melody and I’ve found some of the most beautifully written melodies in doom. Some metal fans just don’t see how much darker and heavier Doom Metal is. It certainly triggers a lot more in me personally.

Do you think that someone from South Africa singing for one of the best and biggest Doom Metal bands around will help to change the perception of Doom Metal in South Africa and perhaps inspire some good Doom Metal bands?

I certainly hope it will. I grew so tired of explaining to some people what this “slow and depressing” stuff is and why it’s better than the Death Core crap they listen to. Though I mostly believe that doom is a mindset too. If they’re too easily amused and think that all metal should merely be the soundtrack to drinking beer and “being hardcore and different”, then I’m afraid they’ll never get it. That being said, I have a great feeling we’ll see some Doom Metal bands coming from SA in the future. It’s a genre that has gotten little attention, but I know a decent amount of people with the skill and souls to pull it off.

Tell us more about Lorelei.

That would be my solo project – a melancholic electronic side project I’ve been doing on my own for years. The name Lorelei has almost acted as an alter ego in a sense. A friend once told me that my music made his mood change so much that he could easily give in to the thoughts of leaving the world entirely. It scared me, but at the same time I realized that the level of emotion it brings is something magical. The songs are raw and unpolished, but I prefer it that way. It’s a “spur-of-the-moment” type project, where I just pour my heart into a song, record it and then struggle to touch it again. I’ve said many times that I will never be able to sing these songs live, simply because I’ll be too emotional. It’s hard for me to wear my heart on my sleeve sometimes, so music is the only way. Lorelei is definitely my outlet and it’s quite revealing in many ways. Many people think me intimidating and secretive, but I’m more of an open book than what they care to realize.

Are there any plans and material for new Draconian album, or is it too early to talk about that yet?

We’re working on new music at the moment. Throwing ideas back and forth. Anders started writing lyrics some time ago as well. At the moment, we’re focused on rehearsing and getting back on stage again, everything will come together in time. It’s too soon to say much about it, but a new album is definitely in the making.

And that first big show/tour?

That I can’t say too much about unfortunately. There are offers for some really nice shows/tours that I’m quite excited about, but nothing can be said before contracts are signed and things are perfectly in place.

Outside of singing, what do you do/like to do?

I spend a great amount of time doing art. Mostly digital and editing, but some days I just don’t want to deal with technology and I draw and do ideas for illustrations by hand. I used to paint a lot, but that hobby became a little expensive. Much the same with photography. I spend more time creating art with other people’s photography than my own. I’ve gotten quite cocky with the sewing machine too lately. I think I’m just fed up with clothes I buy in the shops and start altering them to my taste. It’s a very therapeutic hobby, I must say. I also love gaming (RPG’s). I’m a total gamer-nerd chick and definitely not ashamed of it. I don’t have as much time lately to play but once I’m fed up with being social again – I’ll get right back into it.

Well, I think you can guess which band’s next album I’ll be looking forward to the most… by a country mile! Thanks for chatting with us!

It’s been great and thanks for the opportunity. Luckily for you, I like to talk a lot. I did my best not to make some lame nerdy jokes!

 

Links

Draconian : MySpace * Facebook * Twitter * Site

Heike Langhans : Facebook * Twitter 

Lorelai : MySpace * Facebook

 

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