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Interviews   

Delain: The art of balance


Two years after We Are The Others, Delain are back in 2014 with a new album, The Human Contradiction, which has just been released through Napalm Records. Even though this record is darker than its predecessor – “I think, lyrically it might be the darkest that we have done”, says singer Charlotte Wessels in the following interview –, Delain have once again applied their now tested recipe, which mixes pop, metal, gothic music and classy orchestral arrangements.

In this interview, the always unaffected Charlotte Wessels talks about Delain’s approach to music and Octavia Butler’s trilogy of books, which inspired the new record. The singer mentions the contribution of Marco Hietala, of Nightwish fame, who appears as a guest on the album for the fourth time in a row. On a more personal front, Charlotte talks about the eventful time the band went through when they left Roadrunner/Warner, and on the soundtrack she worked on for a TV show about the Amsterdam gay community.

« Basically we ended up in a situation where we were with Warner even though Warner didn’t choose to have us there and we didn’t choose to be with Warner. »

Radio Metal: The last time we spoke you had just quit Roadrunner records and Warner and you now have a deal with Napalm Records, so can you tell us more about this deal and are you satisfied with it?

Charlotte Wessels (vocals): Yeah we are very satisfied, I mean I don’t know how outspoken I’ve been about it to you before but like the whole label dance that we have done after Roadrunner got sold to Warner was really frustrating for us because basically we ended up in a situation where we were with Warner even though Warner didn’t choose to have us there and we didn’t choose to be with Warner, I mean we chose to be with Roadrunner. And it was just a really bad situation and in the end we went to another label actually for We Are The Others and then we went to Napalm Records, and actually now, you know, it’s like a breath of fresh air and it’s a very positive change and we have already noticed with the release of our special record Interlude that the collaboration with these guys is really positive. So yeah it is a big change and I hope we will be staying with Napalm for quite some time now, I don’t want to get involved in such label dances anymore.

The tone of this album seems darker and more modern, especially compared to what we’re used to see with female fronted bands, is it due to the evolution of your music or to the theme you chose for the album?

It kind of depends, when it comes to the music, I do think that it’s a kind of natural reaction to the process we’ve been in especially since with the last album, We Are The Others, we had a lot of outside involvement into the music and some of it was great and some of it was a bit frustrating at points. So for this record we really chose to do things individually again, take matters into our own hands and don’t involve anyone into the actual writing process have more time back in the producing chair again and I think it was very positive for us. And I don’t know if it’s necessarily a result of that but we have noticed, you know, once we had all the songs together that actually, in general, the sound is, like you said, quite dark and it’s back to the symphonic elements that were present on our first records. And also in the lyrical world, I don’t know if it’s necessarily darker but there is a lot happening there, I think basically it’s just a natural result that came out of the fact that we wanted our creativity to flow freely. And yeah, this was the result of that and I’m really happy with it and I think that it’s actually interesting to see how our music take this turn when we decide to just let happen whatever happens, you know.

Actually I was searching for the right adjective to describe the album and I came up with grey because it’s not very a tragic album but it’s not a very light album either, it’s in the middle, so I thought about “grey”, can you tell me what you think of it ?

Yeah, well I have read Fifty Shades Of Gray, so I think about completely different things when you’re mentioning “grey”, but either way I think this might be a good term. In general I really like dark music, but especially lyrically I do like it when there’s some kind of light at the end of the tunnel. But I think, lyrically it might be the darkest that we have done, but yeah there’a also very uplifting songs, like Masquerade, for example which is basically quite happy, actually. So yeah, it’s never completely black or white and I think that’s good, you know, you need a bit of both anyway!

The title of the album is a reference to Octavia Butler’s trilogy Lilith’s Brood. The book pictures a post-apocalyptic world where humanity did not last because of its self-destructive nature. Do you actually believe that this is what will happen?

I don’t think that this is what will happen, but I do think that it’s a brilliant piece of fiction that took clues from our actual world for its story. When Octavia Butler talks about the human contradiction, the fact that we are intelligent and hierarchic, this causes this kind of hierarchy where we basically say one is better than the other, then we search for some random quality of difference and we make that the quality that decides who is better and who is not better and this is a very self-destructive quality and I do think that this is of course very real and very present in our world. However whether or not it is the reason why humanity will not last in the end, I am not sure, we could get hit by a comet and we’re all gone tomorrow. I don’t do looking into the future, but like I said, I think that for her story of fiction she uses very real elements that are really interesting and for me. Also in our previous records I have been very much focused and intrigued by this element of otherness and how people relate to it, and when I read how she described the human contradiction, it kind of stuck with me. I think it’s such a great way of speech, such a great metaphor to describe this dynamic. So yeah, it kind of stuck with me and I knew that it would come out again somewhere and actually there are so many songs on this record which all from another angle, play with this topic of otherness whether it’s otherness in humans or how we relate to non-human others. So there are so many songs that actually tie into that, that I thought The Human Contradiction was a good title for this entire record. It’s not really a concept album, so to speak but it’s certainly a red thread running through the album. The song that will be the first single “Stardust”, is directly inspired by the first book of the trilogy, so it comes back in different kind of ways.

Are you a fan of science fiction?

No, not at all! It’s not that I dislike it, but I’ve never specifically been a fan of science-fiction and this is actually one of the first science-fiction books that I read and actually liked and it became right away one of my favorite books altogether. So I can actually recommend it to a lot of people even if you don’t like science-fiction at all, because I went into it without being a science-fiction fan at all and I ended up loving it. But it’s mainly because she’s just a very sophisticated and smart writer who really works with the qualities of human nature and has a great way of putting them on paper. I actually had to read this book for my gender studies classes, I had to read the first one and I finished the other two shortly after that, so yeah, they’re great books.

We can hear the symphonic vibe of your first album on this record, where you feeling somehow nostalgic or were you missing that side of your music?

No, it’s not so much a feeling of nostalgia, it is actually only after we had written all the material and listened to… Because of course there were some songs that were different and they didn’t make it to the album, but when I listened to the final selection for the songs I actually thought like, in general, there is a lot of things that we did on our first material that we are doing again now. Like for example, the very prominent grunts on “Tell Me Mechanist” or the really symphonic intake with the orchestral parts in “Your Body Is A Battleground” or “Sing To Me” and of course the return of both Marco Hietala end George Oosthoek who featured on our first record as well. So this was not really an intentional thing that we did while we were writing but something that I kind of noticed, after we had the selection together when I thought “okay, so this is what happens when we just go for it!” (Chuckles).

« I do think the song should be strong and if you just have the melody and the chorus and play them, it should already work. »

Actually what’s interesting about the symphonic elements that you include on your album is that they really are just arrangements. It really looks like the most important things for you are the songs, the riffs, the melodies and the rest is details, whereas some bands rely too much on them and forget to write a good song…

Yeah, this is very true, the symphonic elements are often added to the song, you know. And also in some cases we had Mikko Mustonen who is really good with orchestras and we had him make some really cool orchestra arrangements but after we already wrote the songs. So I do think it’s true when you mention that the song should be good whether you play it on an acoustic guitar and just sing it or you have all the symphonic elements in it. I wouldn’t say it’s details because it’s really important especially in this genre where people really dig that stuff and I really dig that stuff myself but on the basis, yes, I do think the song should be strong and if you just have the melody and the chorus and play them, it should already work. So I think you’re right in that conclusion, yeah.

Marco Hietala is used to sing in female fronted bands, is it why you chose him again for this album to have some sort of badass counterpart?

Yeah, the thing is, there are many reasons why one would ask Marco to sing on your record. The first reason is that he’s just a kick-ass vocalist; his pirate voice is just really amazing, so of course this was the reason why we asked him in the first place, for the first record. And we asked him again because we really heard his voice on some of the songs, in the parts that we wrote. Also, I think he’s been such an internal part of our first record that it’s just so good to have him back on the record again. I know that when we ask Marco, whatever he’s going to send in we will really like it, but I think he’s really outdone himself and the result of our collaboration is really cool. And like you said it works great as a counterpart, especially the song “Sing To Me”, it really works well as a duet, so I’m really happy with how this all worked out and it’s cool to have him on board again!

Do you think that the band will need to have a more permanent male singer in the future?

I’m not absolutely sure. There’s a good thing about asking guests performers, we always write the parts ourselves before and the remarkable thing about Marco is that he can actually easily sing in the same register as me, so it’s really easy for me to sing his parts and really easy for him to sing my parts whenever we send him something to sing. So it is always very easy to perform those parts live because I can basically sing his parts, but of course in some of the parts, especially when it’s a duet or when we are singing together we need a male vocalist, and in our case, when it’s grunts, Otto our bassist usually does them and when it’s clear vocals, our guitarist Timo sings them. So we do have a solution there, definitely!

The first time we met you told me that you preferred male voices. Who are your favorite male singers?

It’s not that I think male voices are more beautiful or better in any way, I don’t believe in a hierarchy in sexes when it comes to singing, and as you might have understood by now I don’t believe in a hierarchy altogether (chuckles), but it’s true that most of my favorite bands have male singers and my favorites are Radiohead, Thom Yorke, Thom Yorke in general, also his solo work, Nick Cave, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, I really love his work and also when it comes to metal, I always like listening to bands like Anathema. Maybe by now, it’s also because when I listen to pop music, for example, I can really appreciate some female vocals like Kate Bush and Bjork, and Tori Amos and Florence and The Machine, of course they’re kind of the voices that nobody can really dislike (chuckles) and I really love those, but when it comes to listening to female vocals in our genre, to me it doesn’t feel the same as before I started singing in the genre. Because when I hear that people compare, for example, my voice to the voice of someone else, I listen to that and I automatically start doing that as well, so basically, listening to that becomes work-related instead of relaxing (chuckles)! So, for relaxing I listen to really different music than the one we make ourselves. I don’t know why that is, I just listen differently to our own genre, now that I work in it so actively. So maybe it has something to do with that but in general, yeah my two favorite artists are male and there’s nothing I can do about it (chuckles)!

You also told me then that you really would like to work with non-metal artists. Is it still a project you have? Have you tried to contact nonmetal artists for this album? I know that a few years ago you mentioned The Cure, for example?

Yeah, for me it all depends on where you put the boarders of the genre, I know that The Cure is not metal, of course, but I do think that they’re pretty much at the heart of the more gothic genre. So yeah I do think that this is really interesting still. But I like collaborations in general and I know a lot of people divide music in quite strict boarders, but for me with a band like The Cure I really see where we share this common ground, you know, this dark, goth kind of corner. But yes, as for music I sold my heart to metal a long long time ago (chuckles) and I know that this is my main thing, I love doing what we do but I also have some projects going on. Last year for example, I made the music for the pilot of this new Dutch TV series which was not metal at all, so yeah I just like to keep an open look on whatever comes my way.

We know that you enjoy various forms of art and two years ago you told us that you wanted to explore new things. Do you have some plans already?

Yeah, well, 3 years ago I also had the plan to pick up my academic career and by now I finished my masters in gender studies and I’ve been focusing on the visual arts a lot. Of course it is writing and it’s probably not something that the fans will ever get to read but still I think it’s been really good for me to do that. I wouldn’t even have read that book where The Human Contradiction comes from if it wasn’t for my studies, so it was really enriching. And yeah I’m still very involved in the visual arts and I’ve worked on an art exhibition about ecological intelligence last year which was really inspiring as well, and of course at home I do some visual stuff but this is not something that I would show anyone anytime soon, this is something for me to relax privately. But yeah I am a big fan of arts in general. And making the music for the pilot of this TV series was actually really enriching, because in that case you make the music to make the images stronger. It’s not so much that you make music where the music is the autonomous project but it’s more that you make the music so that the images will be even stronger. So it’s a really different goal, it felt like a completely different discipline to me and I thought that it was actually really interesting to do and it felt really good to do this. The series was called Queer Amsterdam and it was about the queer scene in Amsterdam and it was completely made by and for the queer scene, so it was just a really rewarding project to be part of. So yeah, of course I will still aspire to do several things but at the moment to be honest there’s not so much that I can nor want to do next to Delain because it’s going so fantastically and I’m enjoying all the developments that we bring and we’re going to tour so incredibly much that I have to use any time that I have left when it comes to projects and stuff because there’s not much time (laughs)!

Do you know what your last name means in french?

No!

I have to warn you that it’s absolutely terrible, and I can’t believe I’m going to say it, but your last name Wessels, means dishes in French!

Dishes? Oh it could be worse! But this is good to know whenever I’m in France and I think that I have a fancy last name; I should know that I do not have a fancy last name! But I thank you very much for everything you meant with this information, I feel a wiser person now! (Laughs)

Interview conducted on February, 19th 2014 by Metal’O Phil.
Introduction : Amaury.
Transcription : Judith.

Album The Human Contradiction, out since April, 7th 2014 via Napalm Records.



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