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Xandria Interview 2014

Xandria Interview 2014
April 17, 2014 (via Skype)


Word of a new vocalist often has a polarizing effect, with hardcore fans inexplicably feeling the need to choose sides, as though a line-up change is always a declaration of war. Happily, Xandria fans seem to have warmly welcomed Dianne van Giersbergen (frontwoman of the Dutch band, Ex Libris), whom the band affectionately call their “Dutchess”. But Xandria’s sixth studio album, Sacrificium, would be enough to cause even the most intransigent fan to lay down their arms and wave the flag of truce. As an initial matter, founder Marco Heubaum (guitars and keys) takes his exploration of lush, symphonic soundscapes to a new level. Combine mesmerizing arrangements with a top-notch vocalist, add a generous dollop of metal crunch, and you have a recipe for one helluva album!




Sonic Cathedral’s Robin Stryker had the opportunity to talk with vocalist Dianne van Giersbergen on the eve of Xandria’s newest release. Dive in for a behind-the-scenes look at Sacrificium, her six-month rollercoaster ride, a naughty twist on a familiar tale, the item that Dianne is never on tour without, and much more!


Sonic Cathedral:  Welcome to Sonic Cathedral, Dianne! My goodness, the past six months have been a WILD ride for you -- being announced as Xandria’s new vocalist, jumping right into a tour, and recording a new album. Would you give our readers a glimpse into what life has been like for Dianne van Giersbergen since October?

Dianne:  Oh wow, it has most certainly felt like a rollercoaster ride! <laughs> Looking back now and thinking of your question, I almost can’t believe that I did all the things that I’ve done so far, from October on … especially with the studying. I have learned sooooo many songs, both catalogue songs (the older songs) and new songs from the new album and also Neverworld’s End.

Of course, we also had some big rehearsals, where I learned the difference between going on stage with Xandria and with Ex Libris. The fans are different; the music is also different, and it asks that I treat the live show in a different way. And there were the Spanish shows; we went to Mexico; we did the 71,000 Tons of Metal cruise. There were so many things, like Innsbruck, but also on the 30th of March [2014], we had my first show with my new German band in my own country, The Netherlands.

Sonic Cathedral:  Wasn’t that actually the last show on the Neverworld’s End Tour?

Dianne:  Correct.




Sonic Cathedral:  So, you learned the setlist for the Neverworld’s End Tour, and turned right around to learn the set-list for the Sacrificium Tour?

Dianne:  Yeah, we will have our first Sacrificium Tour show on the 1st of May!

Sonic Cathedral:  Let’s jump into the album. Did you have a hand in writing Sacrificium, or was it pretty much done before you came on board?

Dianne:  It was mostly done. The lyrics had to be written, and because of that, I had some freedom with still being able to change a little bit of the vocal lines -- not the major part, but just dotting the i’s and setting the lines to my voice so that it would color better to the music. I of course have a different voice than Manuela’s, and it works in a different way. It is natural that I work in a different way because I’m a different person, so I had some flexibility there. But the music was all finished.

Sonic Cathedral:  Is there a red line that ties the Sacrificium album together?

Dianne:  Yes and no. <laughs> In the first instance, we were talking about the title Sacrificium being the red line, and that every song was about sacrificing something. But I’ve been talking with Marco about this, and although I can still find this in every song, he is not so sure about this. I'm so sorry, at the moment, I do not know what the correct answer now could be. <laughs>

Sonic Cathedral:  When you are interpreting the songs on Sacrificium, are you interpreting them as a narrator or as a character?

Dianne:  Hmmm, that’s a good question. I think both. Marco is really about storytelling, and that’s the way he writes his lyrics. For me going on stage, I am much more someone who wants to interpret the songs, and with that, to carry out the meaning and the emotions. For example, the two songs I wrote -- “Little Red Relish” and “Sweet Atonement” (that’s the ballad from the album) -- for me, it is easiest to dive into the songs where I’ve written the lyrics myself. But also “The Undiscovered Land” … <laughs> I had to think about the name because it used to be a way different title … is a song I could have written myself because it really suits my voice. With that song, I can really pull out everything I have, from the soft voice to the really big opera voice. And also the lyrics, I can really interpret them and think it was me in this story.




Sonic Cathedral:  Would you pick a couple of tracks, and tell us about their stories?

Dianne:  Well, we have “Nightfall”, which is going to be the video. This is about the decay of mankind, about people not thinking about their actions any more. Because of turning a blind eye towards what we are doing to society and to humanity, with that destroying the world, and just being so ignorant about this. That is really the story of “Nightfall” there.

With “The Undiscovered Land”, Marco wrote the lyrics, and interpreted it as a male point of view. But when I sing it, I really think about a woman’s point of view. <laughs> It is about someone who, when he or she was a child, has been taken away to a foreign land. They have grown up in slavery, and have always had the urge to return to their homeland because he (or she) could not find rest. But he cannot be where he truly has to be.

Let’s see … “Come With Me” is sort of about luring someone into a deep dark world, and wanting him to stay there. Then my own lyrics, “Little Red Relish”, is sort of like the story of “Little Red Riding Hood.” It is a little bit of a joke, but it’s a dark joke. It is about Little Red Riding Hood going into the forest, wanting to visit Grandmother. Then of course she has her encounter with The Wolf, who takes her along with him to his lair. But then, she decides that she kind of prefers his attention, and wants to stay with him. To hell with Grandmother! <all laugh> She chooses the dark path there.

Sonic Cathedral:  A very twisted ending to a familiar story, Dianne!

Dianne:  Yeah. But well, I didn’t totally make that up. The tale of “Little Red Riding Hood” is actually a tale about a girl losing her virginity. Of course, in the Disney version, this does not play that big a role anymore because it’s all about being a good girl, and going to Grandmother’s (as you were told to do), and obeying orders. But for me, the true story is really like the first time you are with a man. This Little Red Riding Hood in my story decides that, well, she likes that better than going to Grandmother’s! <all laugh> That is a little bit naughty there. But I like stories with a twist ending, so put that in there.




Sonic Cathedral:  Did you get a chance to road test any of the new songs during your tour, or have Xandria kept the new songs under wraps until the Sacrificium Tour, so everything will be brand new for the audience?

Dianne:  Exactly. It is the last part. Everything is still very new and very fresh. Well, for us, not anymore because we had our rehearsal weekends, and we’ve studied really hard. I have been jumping up and down already during rehearsals because the new songs are so COOL to play live, and I cannot wait to take them to the stage.

But to the audience, it will be new. No worries there because we will not only do the new stuff, but we will also play some Xandria classics. For example, “Ravenheart” will be ten years old in May [2014], so we have a celebration there. OF COURSE, we have to do this song, our Xandria classic that people know in so many different versions with so many different singers. I really am proud to stand in line with the other girls, and also being able to translate this song for my voice. So we will definitely be playing that one. Also the greatest hits from our Neverworld’s End album, and a selection of new songs from Sacrificium -- but not all of them because we will save some for the continuation of the tour.

Sonic Cathedral:  Here’s a somewhat awkward question: When Xandria’s co-producer (Joost van den Broek) approached you about becoming Xandria’s new vocalist, after Manuela unexpectedly announced her departure, were you apprehensive at all? I mean, you are the fourth vocalist in 10 years.

Dianne:  Yes, that is true. Let me think about that … hmmmm. No, I cannot say that I was afraid or anxious about this. I really took it as a new step. I think that, with a new face, the band changes a little bit, although we really try to blend my voice to the style and find a good balance there, in which we would all be happy. But no, I think every girl has a specialty, has her own talent, has her own-colored voice, and I will not blend my voice that much or try to sound like someone else. I will be true to myself. I didn’t study my voice for seven years to try to sound like someone else. <laughs> With that, I wasn’t that much afraid with me losing myself.

Of course, I was curious to find out how the people would react, and if they would welcome me or if they would be offended. Of course, there are some people who really don’t like the change. But hey, that’s okay. They are just disappointed that Manuela left. And to be honest, when I heard [the news], I was kind of disappointed myself because she has such a beautiful voice and her voice is really just so beautiful on the Neverworld’s End album. So I can really understand people feeling sad about that. But at the same time, they also have to see that it was her choice to leave, and I am only here to help keep the dream alive.

Sonic Cathedral:  You have your own band, Ex Libris, and at the time that Xandria approached you, Ex Libris’s new album Medea was scheduled to be released in early 2014. Why did you say “yes” to a second project?

Dianne:  Hooo, good question! I want to say that, when Xandria came up and asked me if I wanted to join, the first thing I did was call everyone from Ex Libris and say that we had an emergency meeting. With that meeting, I told them about the request that I had gotten from Xandria, and asked if they were okay with it, and if they were able to support me with that. If their answer would have been “no”, then I would not have done it, because Ex Libris is my FAMILY. It is also what I told Xandria: “I am not about to abandon Ex Libris.”

But both bands are very supportive of each other. The first thing Xandria said, when I told them that I was not going to leave Ex Libris, was: “Oh, we totally don’t want that for you. We really appreciate the work that you do with them, and we understand the position you are in, and we will be supportive of them.” And Ex Libris too was very much like: “This is a big opportunity for you. You should definitely take that.”




Sonic Cathedral:  Would you ever entertain the possibility of doing a show with both Xandria and Ex Libris?

Dianne:  You know, people have asked me this. But doing a headlining show is a real WORK-OUT, especially when you’re fronting the band and are the only vocalist. I must say that I’m not very fond of the idea because, if I should do that, I would have to do both bands 80%, instead of giving 100%. Otherwise, I would be too tired for the other concert. I don’t think that would be fair.

Sonic Cathedral:  North American fans were sooooo excited to read that Xandria is doing a massive six-week tour this fall with Sonata Arctica and Delain throughout the US and Canada, which will be a first for you. What can you not live without when you’re on the road for so long?

Dianne:  SLEEP. <laughs>

Sonic Cathedral:  Is there something special that you take with you to remind yourself of home?

Dianne:  No, I think I am much more someone who lives upon memories, instead of material things. But my phone is really a holy thing to me. <laughs> On my phone, I have loads and loads of pictures from home, and that’s something I do tend to look at. In the evening, when I’m tired, I just go through my phone and look through a few pictures of home. That I will do, but I will not bring a token or something. No, that is not me.

Sonic Cathedral:  Happily, I will get to see Xandria in a few weeks headlining the UK festival, Dames of Darkness.

Dianne:  Cool!




Sonic Cathedral:  <laughs> What do you have planned for me and the other festival goers, Dianne?

Dianne:  Oooooo, well of course, our new songs will be there, and we will proudly present them to you. I surely hope you will have as much fun offstage, as I will have on stage! Well, that being said, I will not wear the red shorts I wore last year with Ex Libris … and that are still on the Internet. <laughs> The color red is reserved for Ex Libris. But I have a FABULOUS outfit that was made by Ingeborg Steenhorst, which I will be wearing for the first time for the May shows. Yeah, you should just be there to see what it looks like. I won’t tell you anything further, so I don’t spoil the surprise.

Sonic Cathedral:  Will you bring lots of CDs to Dames of Darkness this year, so if I’m slow getting to the merch table, there still will be a copy of Sacrificium to sell and sign for me?

Dianne:  You know, that was the first thing I said to the guys when I heard we were confirmed for Dames of Darkness: “Oh god, we have to bring A LOT of CDs because last year we were totally sold out with Ex Libris. So, let’s not do that again.”

Sonic Cathedral:  That’s great news, because I’m kind of slow, and there will be a lot of people at the merch table ahead of me.

I’d like to circle back to the “Nightfall” music video that Xandria just finished shooting. Would you tell us about the recording of that video?

Dianne:  We were in Zeitz, which is a little city in Germany, in the Nikolaikirche. Well, the church still stands, but it has fallen into ruin. Maybe a fun fact about that is: We called City Hall and also the different religions there to see who the church belonged to. But they all said: “No, we’re not responsible for the church. If you want to go there and film, all responsibility is up to you.” So we really had to take care that there weren’t any bricks coming down. <laughs>

Sonic Cathedral:  There certainly were plenty of fallen bricks piled up on the ground in the teaser from the video shoot.

Dianne:  Yeah! You cannot see this in the video, I’m afraid. But if you were to look up from that pile of bricks, you would see a big gap in the ceiling. That really is bricks falling down there.

Sonic Cathedral:  Hoo!

Dianne:  Yeah, but oh god, this church was so, so beautiful. And it really portrays the decay that is in the lyrics of “Nightfall”, so it just was a PERFECT match. I have seen the actual video already ... <laughs> am I teasing you here? … and I really love it.




Sonic Cathedral:  Tease! When do fans get to see it?

Dianne:  I don’t know. Honestly. I know that we are trying to be quick about it, but everyone has to be happy with the final result. We have some points that we want to adjust still. Then when everyone is happy, we’ll be releasing it, and I really want to see everyone’s reaction to it.

Sonic Cathedral:  Is there some kind of weird rule that metal videos can only be shot when it’s cold? The guys can wear long-sleeved shirts, but the female vocalist has to freeze all day.

Dianne:  Oh my god, you are so right! <laughs> Apparently, it never happens in summer. Well, it sort of has to do with the fact that CDs are being released before the festival season. The video has to be shot before the CD is released, and that will ALWAYS be in the beginning of spring or even in winter.

In our case, we were kind of lucky that it was at the beginning of spring, and not winter. So outside, it was pretty doable. But inside this old church that hasn’t been heated in I don’t know how long, it was soooooo cold, and I had a full day of doing solos there. As you may have seen in the teaser, I wasn’t wearing much. <laughs> At the end of the day, I could really not feel the tips of my fingers; everything had just gone numb.

Sonic Cathedral:  One of the random facts on your Xandria bio is that, if you could try anything for just one day, you would want to try an alto voice. If you got your wish, what would you sing?

Dianne:  Oh, I would totally sing the alto parts (the lower female parts) from Matthäus-Passion [by Johann Sebastian Bach]. Those are beautiful vocal lines! So, I would do that. Well actually, I did have one very strange day, when I didn’t have a cold or anything, but my voice just dropped from being so tired. And I was able to hit the low B. I made a home recording of that, thinking that I must capture it because I would never sound like that again. I spent the whole day singing classic low parts because those parts are written for sustained low voice. So I did that already, and the wish has been fulfilled. <laughs> But hey, I would give anything to do that again.

Sonic Cathedral:  Dianne, we have all too quickly reached the end of our time together. What would you like to tell the Xandria fans who are reading this interview?

Dianne:  I would like to thank EVERYONE for their support for Xandria, and also for me. Thank you for welcoming me into the band! I feel very happy and blessed to be in this position, and I am really looking forward to presenting our new songs to you, and inviting you to our new music.

Sonic Cathedral:  We can’t wait for everyone to hear Sacrificium. Thank you so much for talking with Sonic Cathedral today, Dianne!

Dianne:  You are very welcome!





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