Interview by Ed MacLaren


In the European metal scene, Liv Kristine is an icon. From her years with the seminal gothic metal band Theatre of Tragedy to her current success with Leaves’ Eyes, she is the archetype to which all female metal singers are compared and measured against. With their fourth full-length album, “Meredead”, Leaves’ Eyes have created their magnum opus – a brilliant fusion of music, melody, rhythm and language that transcends categorization and redefines the definition of metal. After finishing a spring tour with Midnattsol and Tarja, Liv took some time to talk with Femme Metal about her creative process and the creation of “Meredead”.

Since our last interview for your solo album, “Skintight”, you’ve returned once again with your fourth Leaves’ Eyes album – the brilliant “Meredead”. Could you actually get any busier without having to clone yourself?

(Laughs) True, we’ve been very busy the last six years! However, I was born with a hyperactive artistic mind, so being creative – composing, writing lyrics, recording and performing – is something I really enjoy doing. It’s all a part of me and experience has made me become the person and artist I am. Concerning our latest production, we needed about one and a half years for the complete production of “Meredead”, which is only possible because we do have our own studio – Mastersound Studio. The composing process went overwhelmingly fast. It was one great pleasure writing and recording the album together with Thorsten and Alex. We actually just arrived back from tour, and I’m now looking forward to further shows and tours. In April we toured with my sister Carmen‘s band Midnattsol, and then in May we joined Tarja. Wow! Both tours were full of magic moments when the ladies got together! Busy, for sure, but very happy!
 

“Meredead” sounds fantastic – a full, rich musical experience from beginning to end. It has everything fans love about the band but expands the Leaves’ Eyes sound in some interesting ways. With each album your music becomes more progressively intricate and layered – complex and elaborate. Was “Meredead” a deliberate direction or an organic outgrowth of the writing and recording process?

I’d say it was an organic outgrowth of the process. We just started composing with an open mind. “Meredead” is our fourth album, and in my opinion there is no need to reduce ourselves to a certain style. The artistic development is the basic energy for the survival of an artist, and art as such. The press, fans and friends say that “Meredead” is “the most diverse, emotional and best-sounding production” by Leaves’ Eyes so far, moreover, “Leaves’ Eyes have created their own genre”. Believe me, this warms my heart! We never go with the commercial flow; we only go with the creative flow of the band! I prefer not to force Leaves’ Eyes into a specific already settled musical genre. I would rather say that Leaves’ Eyes’ music combines elements of gothic metal, classical music, folk music, with history and mythology.

You, Alexander Krull and Thorsten Bauer are the core of the band. How would you describe your working relationship – the role each of you plays in the band?

True, Alexander, Thorsten and I are the songwriting and production team. Most of the time, music comes first, then vocal lines and words and then we work even more on the instruments until the three of us have a good feeling about it. Thorsten is our main composer, whereas words, concept and vocal lines are my area. Alexander is our producer meaning he’s the person in the band that gets only half of the sleep compared to Thorsten and myself. There is always a strict deadline, there a tons of different instruments in our music to take care of in the mix. Everything is recorded live in our studio except for the Lingua Mortis Orchestra from Minsk. Moreover, Alex is a perfectionist. I am really happy my husband didn’t suffer from a heart-attack yet – he’s incredible!

Seeing that “Skintight” was such a departure from your band material, did it take you and the guys some time to switch gears and get into a Leaves’ Eyes groove for recording the new album?

No, not at all. We compose and record in two different recording rooms. However, normally there is only one production going on at the time. Anyway, the mental “switch” is no problem at all. After all these years, doing everything by ourselves, there are enough reasons to call us professionals. I know very well that I’m surrounded by first-class musicians.

You’ve also added some new members since “Njord”. How are their contributions adding to the core trio?

The feeling within the band and between the band members has never ever been as positive, strong and inspiring as it is now since the latest line-up changes. That’s utterly important for the existence and the creativity of the band. I am so, so proud of my guys! It’s such a pleasure composing, recording and touring with them. We already knew Sander van der Meer and Roland Navratil for a long time before they joined the band. Sander replaced Matze on guitars, who quit because of family growth, whereas Roland replaced Chris Antonopoulus, who had different plans for his future. J.B. is our session player on bass, joining in after Alla Fedynitsch decided to pay more attention to her 9 to 5 job. After joining in, Sander and Roland were immediately members of the Leaves’ Eyes family. They travel from Holland and Austria to stay and work at Mastersound Studio as often as possible. We often hang out at my house after work, as I love cooking spicy Indian food and baking my special “Norwegian” cakes, moreover, sharing some bottles of wine.

“Meredead” integrates much more folk elements and melodies than previous albums. The pipes, fiddles, flutes – the more diverse instrumentation on “Meredead” really expands your musical palette.

For the production of “Meredead” it was highly important to us that each song had its own “face”, individuality and perfect, crystal clear sound to strengthen the emotional effect. We just let the music inspire us to add new and interesting “spices” to our music, like pipes, the nyckelharpa – a Swedish folk instrument – the fiddle, cello, classical orchestra or the flute. That’s what makes the album that diverse and exciting as you discover a different story, different instrumental combinations, different ways of singing even in various languages in each song.

“Meredead” or “deadly sea” is the underlying theme of the album. How does that concept of death by water thread through the songs on the album? It’s an interesting contrast as water is also looked at as a giver of life.

The title is my own word-creation: To my grammatical knowledge, “Meredead” could mean ‘dead by the sea’, ‘or the deadly sea’. Poetically, we could add some imagination and lyrical sound and say “Sea of Death”. Secondly, the word “Meredead” sums up some of the themes rooted in my lyrics on the album. I grew up by the fjords, and I sense pure luck every time I return to my birth-place. Yes, you are so right, water is the giver of life. Again you find a whole palette of contrasts in our music, which has always been a feature for both Leaves’ Eyes and Theatre of Tragedy, my ex-band, that actually founded the “beauty and the beast” concept in metal back in 1995.

Your lyrics generally look to the epic history of Norse literature and mythology for inspiration but on “Meredead” you’ve gravitated towards other cultures for inspiration. What was the genesis of that expanded outlook?

I just let the music itself inspire me. If I chose a theme from Nordic mythology, I would include Norwegian lyrics. It was very intimate to sing in my mother tongue Norwegian, it makes the lyrics even more emotional and personal. Singing in Old-English meant digging my nose in my Old-English grammar books once again, however, I am very interested in historical languages, which I also studied. I think that Old-English has a very special “sound” phonetically. You’ll find Froeya, three-headed trolls, vampires, ghosts, witches, Vikings travelling on sea, Viking ladies mourning and of course many images from the Norwegian harsh weather and wild nature landscapes. I guess there is some homesickness towards Norway in my lyrics actually, it’s more than obvious that I miss my home country.

You’ve also expanding your use of language on “Meredead”. You obviously spend a long time working on your lyrics and the meaning and symbolism of the songs. Given your affinity for language are you taking the opportunity to experiment with phonetics to provide a different listening experience?

Yes, phonetics is a great help for me. I studied Old-English, Gothic, Middle-High German, phonetics, phonology, language acquisition, next to Modern English and Modern German at the university in Stavanger, Norway, and then following up at the University of Stuttgart, Germany. Sometimes I use lyrics existing only in the form of a phonetic string of sounds. Such a phonetic sequence has an important meaning: it conveys an emotional state provoked by that particular sound of my singing. My acoustic aim is not the words and a certain thematic content; it is the sound and the emotional effect of it in the listening experience.

Despite the hardships and dangers that are such an integral part of those adventurous and epic stories, your lyrics give them a romantic perspective of love and commitment. This view seems very deeply rooted in your personality and creative muse.

Thank you very much, that’s a wonderful compliment. I always had a very creative mind. My childhood was also highly creative. I grew up in the nature, far away from the city. I was lucky: I had the space, the room to breathe, to expand, use my intelligence, fantasize, to live out my dreams. There weren’t that many play-mates around, however, I had a fantastic childhood. I still have no problems “activating” my free, creative artistic spirit and mind. It seems to be a never-ending process rooted in my genes. I really hope that I will always be creative!

Your vocals are more emotional and intimate than previous efforts. Is it the lyrical content that is bringing this out – your relationship to the material?

Absolutely. Singing in Norwegian, for-example, is very special, also having my sister, Carmen from Midnattsol, next to me, being my duet partner in some songs. Wonderful Maite Itoiz from Elfenthal also inspired me highly during the recording process of my vocals. I have truly learned a lot from her.

You have a number of excellent guest stars on “Meredead”. Maite Itoiz and John Kelly (Elfenthal), Anette Guldbrandsen and Victor Smolski‘s Lingua Mortis Orchestra provide great performances – even your sister Carmen Elise Espenæs (Midnattsol) makes an appearance. What got them involved?

We met Victor Smolski some years ago at a festival with Leaves’ Eyes and Rage in Greece. It’s an honour to work with him and the Lingua Mortis Orchestra from Minsk. Victor is a genius, moreover, he understands the musical goals of Leaves’ Eyes. I had wanted to sing a duet in Norwegian with my sister, Carmen, since our debut “Lovelorn”! It feels so good having her next to me. I think our voices complete each other perfectly. Some days ago, we had two visitors at our studio, Maite Itoiz and John Kelly from the band Elfenthal. I love their music, both of them are outstanding musicians and composers. There is a deep friendship between Elfenthal and Leaves’ Eyes. It is my deepest wish to sing with Maite on the next Elfenthal album. Her voice is such an inspiration to me, and it was such an honour and pleasure for me to sing with both Maite and John on “Meredead”. Anette is a long-time friend of mine, moreover, she studied music and singing. She had some brilliant ideas for the folk songs, and she has a unique voice.

With the epic concepts of your albums have you ever entertained the idea of creating a full-blown rock opera based on a Norse character and story with a number of supporting guest vocalists? It would almost seem like a natural evolution to your last three albums.

What a wonderful idea! This would be fantastic! Let’s hope the universe hears this! I would love to do it. I have seen Elfenthal‘s “The Blue Elf’s Dream” and I am stunned. What an amazing show. Maite Itoiz and John Kelly are outstanding composers, musicians and performers.

You’ve had much ongoing success in music appearing in two big bands – first Theatre of Tragedy and now Leaves’ Eyes. Does success with Leaves’ Eyes feel any different than what you achieved with Theatre of Tragedy?

I always wanted to become a singer. Singing is a part of my nature. When I was little, I thought everybody was able to understand music and control their vocal chords. The fact that my parents were interested in music – listening to it – plays an important role: I grew up with Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Edvard Grieg and Tschaikowsky, and female singers like Enya, Madonna, Kate Bush, Abba, Tori Amos and Monserrat Caballe. From the very beginning, I’ve followed my musical instinct: I wanted to combine a romantic, female, angelic voice with powerful, impressive music. Then suddenly, when I was 18 years old, I found myself in the middle of writing music history with Theatre of Tragedy, being one of the founders of “gothic metal with female voices” and “the beauty and the beast concept”! I am first of all grateful to our fans and friends all over the world, who have been there for me throughout all these years! This feeling has remained the same – my gratefulness towards my fans. Being thrown out of Theatre of Tragedy was perhaps bad luck; however, sometimes bad luck leads to good luck. Today I have Leaves’ Eyes; it’s like having a family, next to my own family. For me two dreams have come true: I am a full-time singer, and I am a mother.

How do you manage such a busy career as well as being a parent? Do you have any advice for women in the business that are hoping to have children one day and still pursue a music career?

You need a good plan in your daily life, you need your own studio not far away from your home, moreover, a family who is there for you. My plan is strict however, and effective: when I work I am working my ass off; when my family is around and needs me, I am only there for my family, keeping our rituals. In between work and family I do a lot of sports, sauna and yoga, which is my way to recharge my battery if necessary. And then, from the business point of view, find the right people to support you, honest people. And speak out if you have an opinion. Money can be such an evil means to make you forget about your inner voice.

You’ve recently finished a tour with Midnattsol and Tarja. When do you hit the road again and where will your travels take you?

We do have a few festivals this summer, then hopefully a North American and an Asian tour, including India.

Your music is reaching more and more people internationally – you even toured India recently. How are you enjoying your progression towards becoming a truly global band?

There is this special feeling that gives me the energy and the inspiration to travel the world – I get caught up in every moment that I am able to share with my audience. Every performance is one process of giving, and receiving, I call it “exchange of positive energy” between the band and the audience. I really have to say that we do have fantastic fans. I am looking so much forward to every gig, and to meet our fans after the show!

(Famous) Last words?

Give a little bit love, and you’ll get it back. My mother taught me that. Thank you, mother.

 

Photo Credit

Photos by Stefan Heilemann

 

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