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Delain Interview 2014

Delain 2014 Interview
by Robin Stryker February 27, 2014 (via Skype)



What a difference two years makes! The last time I had the pleasure of interviewing Delain in February 2012, things were not exactly rosy. The Warner Music Group pulled the plug on We Are The Others, just months before a scheduled European tour. But in the finest metal fashion, Delain persevered -- encouraged by a massive outpouring of support from fans around the world -- and has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments during the intervening two years, including the release of both We Are The Others and the EP Interlude, being signed to metal powerhouse Napalm Records, and their first North American tour.



That being said, the tumult seems to have left an indelible mark on Delain’s sound. The Human Contradiction is by far a heavier beastie than We Are The Others, which was written with the input of non-band members. For the new album, founder and keyboardist Martijn Westerholt is back in the producer’s chair, and it shows. The growling guest vocalists and thick orchestration have made a welcome comeback, but the seething undercurrent is something new.

I had an early morning Skype interview with vocalist, Charlotte Wessels, to get the inside story on The Human Contradiction. Dive in for Charlotte’s take on the importance of regaining artistic control, the fine balance between the personal and the political, choosing awesomeness over the element of surprise, and much more!

Sonic Cathedral:  Hello, Charlotte, it is so nice to have a third chance to interview you! Delain’s fourth full-length album, The Human Contradiction, will be released on 4.4.2014. First question: Does the number 4 have any special significance for you, or was it just a cool coincidence?

Charlotte:  The 4.4.14 I had figured out. <laughs> But the fourth album on 4.4.14, sounds like it could not be a coincidence … but it somehow is. There is no symbolic significance to the number 4, but it will at least make it easy for us to remember. It is like the people who plan their wedding day on the first of the first, or something like that.




Sonic Cathedral:  From the press materials, it seems like the band re-taking creative control of the album had a big impact on the direction of The Human Contradiction. Why was it important for Delain to take matters into your own hands again?

Charlotte:  I think with our previous record … and I am still extremely satisfied with We Are The Others as an album … the thing that was very significant about that album is that there were a lot of people involved. Some of that was great. I am still very happy with the producer trio who helped us with that album. I mean, we’ve learned a lot from them. Some of the things we used to say in the studio then, we still recollect now when we’re faced with certain choices and stuff. So this was really good!

But this was a time when we were involved with three different labels and two different managements, and there were soooo many people and so many opinions involved at one point. As a band, we are stubborn enough not to let anyone steer us away from what we want to do, but it felt like an uphill battle. So I think that we made kind of a deliberate choice not to involve any third parties until we really had this record. We have a great mixer, with great mastering by Ted Jensen. Also we had some great orchestral arrangements by Mikko Mustonen. But still, I think that it was very late in the process before people -- other than the band and the Delain writing team, consisting of me, Martijn and Guus -- became involved. I do indeed think that it has some effect on the music. But this is only when I’m looking back that I realize that.

Because now I see that, for example, the orchestral arrangements are very big, and that this is something that was actually more prominent on our earlier record, just as with the prominent grunts. And it’s not like we really made a decision to do that at one point or another within our writing process. But I do think that the fact that we took this inward move and that we had this creatively free atmosphere, it added to what we wanted to do at that moment without having to battle anyone for it. <laughs>

Sonic Cathedral:  The Human Contradiction has three guest vocalists, and all of them are growlers or screamers, although I understand that Alissa White-Gluz will also be doing clean vocals. Was there a conscious decision to go in a heavier direction, or is that just how the record evolved?

Charlotte:  It is just how it evolved. I have been think about this because I know We Are The Others … well, I regard it actually as a very heavy record, but maybe that is more in the production than in the songs themselves. I have been thinking that maybe it has to do with the fact that, when we were at Warner, they were kind of pushing us to have a commercial mainstream single and stuff. Our solution was: “Okay, we’ll make a single version out of one song. We will make sure we like the single version, but we’ll keep the album untouched as it is.” So I did not have a feeling that we were NOT trying to be heavy on our previous album.

But yeah, like you mentioned, there are a lot of things in there which are heavy. It also just has to do with the situations that we find ourselves in. The fact that we have toured for a month with Alissa contributes greatly to the fact that we asked her to sing on this record. People often ask me: “Would you do something different if you would make that album again?” But I think that an album is also significant for the time and place that you are, as a band, at that moment. A lot of the choices were given by this time and this place that we found ourselves in when making this record, although we always want to have the fattest riffs and the heaviest sounds. Why it is here more heavily than on previous records? Yeah, it could have something to do with the way we went about having all these things back in our own hands, but I also think that a lot of it is just inspiration coming as it comes. Some things don’t even let themselves be steered in a way like that.




Sonic Cathedral:  Personally, I was so happy to hear that Marco Hietala is returning as a guest vocalist! He sang on Lucidity and April Rain, and the two of you were adorable at ProgPower USA. And of course, George Oosthoek is also making a return appearance. What is it like to be reunited with them?

Charlotte:  I think it is really cool! I mean, one of the things that we let go of also with this record is thoughts like: “Can we ask these people AGAIN?” Because of course it would be more surprising to have someone else. But the fact is, of course, that Marco has been a very prominent part of the sound of our early records. And now, we have this thing that whenever we imagine a male vocal on a part, that his voice is one of the first ones that we hear there. We know that if we ask him to contribute, that it’s going to be awesome. So yeah, we chose AWESOMENESS over the surprise element. <laughs>

We know that we just love his voice, and we know that a lot of our fans also feel that way -- that they really like his contributions. Yeah, I hope they are just as happy with the results of this as we were! I also think that because, in a way, the material on The Human Contradiction reflects back on our early work a bit, it is kind of nice to have this reunion because he was part of that sound.

Sonic Cathedral:  I was so tickled to sit in on the Cradle of Filth style screaming lesson that Lindsay Schoolcraft gave you after Metal Female Voices Fest. <laughs> Have you ever considered doing a little screaming or grunting on a Delain song, just as a lark?

Charlotte:  I have never considered to use that vocal style in the music yet, because I feel that first I’d actually have to control that vocal style. Because of course you would have to perform it also, and I know that I could probably grunt one sentence one time. But I would really damage my voice doing so, because I simply do not have the technique. I do really want to learn how to do that. Maybe not so much because I want to actually grunt on a record, but I just notice how much you use overdrive in a voice -- even when you’re not grunting, but just screaming to an audience.

I do notice that there is lot of overdrive when I do a gig, when I watch videos or something. This is something that they don’t teach you in classic singing school. <laughs> So I am surely intending to learn how to do some basic grunts and screams because I think my voice will benefit from that, just doing the show. Whether I will actually implement my own grunts or screams within the music, I don’t know because there are so many people who do it well. But for me, it would just be nice (since vocals are my instrument) to kind of add something to my repertoire. But I do not intend to make this a big thing any time soon.




Sonic Cathedral:  Returning to The Human Contradiction, lyrically the album expands and deepens on the theme of “otherness” -- including non-human others -- that was first presented on We Are The Others. Would you care to talk about themes a little bit?

Charlotte:  Yeah yeah, sure. So, the idea behind The Human Contradiction is basically the contradiction which is talked about in this great work that I shamelessly stole this title from. The book is called Lilith’s Brood by Octavia E. Butler. The human contradiction there is explained as the combination of qualities in humans: we are both intelligent and hierarchic. Within this book, it is also explained that the most successful life forms, which are intelligent, are not hierarchic. Actually, this hierarchic aspect causes us to rank people over other people (or species over other species) and to pick random qualities in order to justify as ranking one over the other.

This kind of very, very random selecting and ranking and dismissing of otherness is a very destructive (and often self-destructive) attitude, and this is how it broadens on the topic which was first introduced on We Are The Others within the song “We Are The Others”, which was very much about “otherness” within human beings. On this record, there are also songs that are about human attitudes towards non-human others, which (just as with human beings) are often picked by a random quality. For example, in our attitudes towards animals, it is the random quality of species that tells us: “Well, we can hurt an animal, but not a human.” When actually, in our ability to feel pain, we are completely equal.

So, it’s about the randomness of the qualities that we pick, and then decide “this one is higher than the other”. I have been obsessing about all these topics of otherness for the last couple of years, so it was bound to find its way into lyrics at one point or another, and it does in multiple songs on this new record. So I thought that The Human Contradiction was a beautiful over-arching concept to tie that together.

Sonic Cathedral:  In your personal life, you’ve embraced veganism, and your recently completed Master’s dissertation also addresses animal rights issues. As a performer, when does political activism cross over into “for heaven’s sake, just shut up and sing” territory?

Charlotte:  Well, I have made decisions for myself. I mean, I do not really publicly come out as a vegan for multiple reasons. One of them is that I am trying to make these changes in my personal life, but I am just not completely there yet ... I cheat too much. If I call myself a vegan, then the real vegans will get upset. <laughs> So for now, I just try to limit my animal intake. As for political activism, some people really like that. I love listening to, for example, the lyrics of Alissa White-Gluz, which are all very much activist.

For myself, I kind of made a choice on how I want to go about that. In my case, I know that I cannot keep some of these thoughts completely out of the lyrics because I will write about the things that occupy my mind. And if something like this occupies my mind so much, then eventually it will have to come out in lyrics. But I am not preaching my lyrics. What I do is, sometimes I have these puzzles in my head. For example, when it’s about animals, I try to share this puzzle within the lyrics, but I never try to give a solution for it for multiple reasons. One of them is that, who am I to offer a solution? And who am I to say what people should or shouldn’t do? This is everybody’s own choice.

And the other thing is, for every choice that I have made within my lifestyle, it was because I thought about this puzzle myself, and not because someone told me: “You should not do this.” For me, I think it is kind of counterproductive to spell out too much whatever kind of solution there should be to this puzzle. But I do think that it’s an import thing to think about and engage with. So there’s a fine balance there in how far you want to go. I mean, the song “Tell Me, Mechanist” is really very much about animals in that sense, but you won’t hear me say “meat is murder.” So yeah, there is a fine line and a balance, and I think that I’ve found my balance in that.

What everybody else does … if you don’t like listening to other people’s political songs, then listen to other songs. And if you do like it, there are plenty of artists who are really good at it. So I wouldn’t say that there is just one rule for being activist or non-activist in music. I know, for us, making music and songs is our first and foremost purpose. I also want that, when people come to our gigs, they can have a good time and relax and enjoy the music. I want them to forget about their problems for a while, rather than giving them a lot more new problems. <laughs> So yeah, it’s a matter of finding a balance.




Sonic Cathedral:  You’re an attractive, well-educated, Western European. Do you consider yourself an “other”, and if so, in what way?

Charlotte:  It depends on what way you look at it. I know that I am extremely privileged, and I am the first one to acknowledge my white privilege when it comes to class also. I mean, the only reason that I can be in a band is that I have the social safety net that allows me to perform a job that is very financially insecure. So I do know that I have a lot of privilege there. I make a case of it for myself to keep being aware of this privilege. In another sense, you can say that just by being female (in a certain contradiction of male versus female), this is already the less privileged position to be in still. Unfortunately. So there are many ways you can see it.

Also, on the new record, there are some topics. One is “Army Of Dolls”, which is really much about objectification and pressures on women to look a certain way and treat their bodies a certain way. I do feel that this really comes from personal experience. So yeah, I acknowledge both my privilege, and there are also things in there that come from very personal and also painful experiences, which make me feel that I am able to speak about it.

Sonic Cathedral:  A couple of days ago, Delain started recording your first music video off The Human Contradiction. What can you tell us about it, without spoiling the surprise?

Charlotte:  It is a video that is mainly going to be very, very visually interesting. We chose an approach that does not have a very intricate, chronological storyline in it, but one that really focuses on the visual atmosphere that we’ve also tried to create throughout the record. It will be for the song, “Stardust”, by the way. (I think I can say that by now.) We just tried to make it like a very visually aesthetic video. It was last Monday [February 24, 2014], and it was a very long day. <laughs> I haven’t seen any results yet, but I’m sure that it’s going to be really interesting.

Sonic Cathedral:  Is there a rough estimate of the video’s release date? Folks will be anxious to see it!

Charlotte:  It will at least be before the album releases. I don’t know when this interview will come out, but actually we’re planning to release a lyric video for another song next Thursday [March 6, 2014], which is going to be for “Your Body Is A Battleground”. So, this I can say! As for the “Stardust” video, I’m not entirely sure yet.




Sonic Cathedral:  In one of the “Stardust” video pre-shoot pictures, I saw that you have a new tattoo of a peacock feather. You strike me as someone who would not put something permanent on your body, unless it had great meaning for you. Would you mind telling us what the significance is of the peacock feather?

Charlotte:  This actually is one of the things that I was planning not to put photos of on Facebook. Not that I’m ashamed of it or whatever. But I like this photo so much that I thought “what the heck”. But I am planning to keep the meaning of this (and maybe future tattoos) to myself. I know a lot of people ask for it, and it is often one of the first things I ask people whenever I see that they get a tattoo. But I’ve decided that this is kind of something that I will keep to myself.

There is great significance for me, though. What I can say is that I got it the week after I finished both my Master’s Studies AND we got the masters of the Delain record. So, I wouldn’t get into detail as to what it means to me, but it might be nice to know that it was indeed a celebration of having both the Master and the master at that time! <all laugh>

Sonic Cathedral:  Congratulations on that! Let’s see, Delain have got a special show coming up on March 21st, which will be your first show for The Human Contradiction. What can people expect? Will you be playing mostly new songs, or will it be more of a mix?

Charlotte:  We try to make a mixture of songs, but of course, it’s a pre-release party. So we cannot have a pre-release party without giving people a little taste of what they are to expect from the new record. So we definitely will play a substantial amount of new songs there. And of course, we’ve got Stream of Passion and Kingfisher Sky, who are both great bands! We’ve got some things up our sleeves. One thing that I can say is that I’m sure that it’s going to be a great party! We are much looking forward to it. We started preparing a few weeks ago, and it’s all coming together well.

Sonic Cathedral:  I was excited to read that Delain are coming back to North America in September and October 2014 with Sonata Arctica and Xandria. I hope that means we didn’t horribly scar you when you were here last year?

Charlotte:  <laughs> NO. It was a great, great, great experience actually. We did plan to come back as soon as possible. We are really happy that we actually got back together within a year, and we’ve toured before with Sonata Arctica, which was a great experience. So we’re really looking forward to it! I mean, six weeks is a very long time. We are really curious how we will go about that. But yeah, we’re greatly looking forward to it.

Sonic Cathedral:  When you were here in 2013, did you get to experience some of those peculiarly Yankee things like Walmart, grubby diners and roadside attractions?

Charlotte:  Yeah, definitely! I mean, Walmart … this is for us Dutchies strange to have such big stores open 24 hours a day. We spent quite some drunk shopping trips to Walmart at 3:00 in the night, I must admit. I know a lot of people who say Walmart is evil. But when you don’t know where to go in America, it was actually kind of our best friend. You can maybe imagine that, for an aspiring vegan, the fast food chains (which were often closest to the venues we were playing) were not really the perfect way to get your dinners and stuff. So yeah, there were late-night trips to Walmart. We even got a collection of plush toys from the automats at the entrance. <laughs> When you’re bored enough, they become like the most fun thing EVER.




Sonic Cathedral:  When you’re on a nightliner and have hundreds of kilometers between one show and the next, how do you amuse yourself?

Charlotte:  Well, of course you’re never alone on a tour bus, so it’s very easy to get entertained when you have two bands in a bus, simply by each other. Then there are the failed attempts to sleep every now and then, which are necessary sometimes. The thing is, I’m trying to think back on our tour, and I can’t actually remember the long trips so well. I mean, the schedules of your days are so strange. After a couple of weeks, you wake up in the afternoon, and if you go to bed early, this is like at 4:00 or something. So usually during the day, there is not a lot happening on the bus because this is when people sleep. And then, we just keep each other entertained basically.

Sonic Cathedral:  Before we wrap up, what would you like to tell your fans directly?

Charlotte:  This is the time where you spend a lot of time working on an album, and then at one point, it goes into the world. This is always a very exciting (and a bit scary) time, and it’s coming really close now. What I mainly hope is that they just really enjoy the new music, and I would like to thank everybody who’s been in touch with us, whether it’s coming to shows or buying records, or some people just are really with us in spirit and come to meet us, even if they don’t have the money to come to shows.

I just want to thank everybody really a lot for their support. I know it sounds super-cheesy, but it does mean A LOT. We get a lot of positive energy from everyone around us. Especially during long tours, it really helps, and keeps everyone going. So, in two sentences: I hope you like our new stuff. And thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

Sonic Cathedral:  Charlotte, thank you so much for the pleasure of chatting with Sonic Cathedral again. We hope that The Human Contradiction is warmly embraced by the fans!

Charlotte:  Thank you so much.

Heartfelt thanks to Mona at Napalm Records for setting up the interview. You ROCK, sistah!


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