It was just a week ago that I had the opportunity to interview Charlotte Wessels of Delain to discuss her involvement with Phantasma: a musical project driven by her amazing voice and talented songwriting and fueled by the creative vision of Georg Neuhauser (Serenity) and Oliver Philipps (Everon).
On this friendly chat we discussed the story behind the concept album, her involvement in the project, her massive fan-girl crush on Nick Cave and more!
Lara: Hi it’s Lara from Moshville Times and I am here today with Charlotte Wessels from Delain and tonight we are gonna discuss her latest project with the band Phantasma and also their new studio album The Deviant Hearts; Hi Charlotte, how are you doing today?
Charlotte: I am doing fine, thank you. I had a full day of interviews talking about Phantasma and The Deviant Hearts so…yeah, I am doing well…
Lara: You are doing a lot of promo now, yeah?
Charlotte: Yeah! I mean, it’s been almost two weeks since the release so I guess it’s peak moment for us and I think so far the response has been really good so we can’t complain.
Lara: The album is really good. I actually reviewed it few days ago, we’ve got it up on Moshville Times and I really enjoy it, I really liked it.
Charlotte: Well, I am really happy to hear that, thank you!
Lara: I believe you had a busy year this 2015, you’ve been touring obviously with Delain (supporting Nightwish and Sabaton), headlining, you’ve been doing festivals and now you have this project and the new album out…looking back at this year, what are your personal highlights for 2015?
Charlotte: We definitely had some great festivals, I think Bloodstock Festival and Masters of Rock were some highlights for me, our recent headline tour was really successful but then I am just going to name them all again. The tour with Sabaton was a great kick off of the year and we also really enjoyed our tour of America, through North America, actually we enjoyed it so much that we added to the tour through South America during the year so we did have a very good year. We are writing already for the Delain new upcoming album and in the meantime, half way through September that was the deadline for Phantasma so it was a really busy year, really productive one, and I am really happy now at the end of the year ’cause I feel like I am reaping the fruits of a lot of work that I’ve done in 2015.
Lara: Phantasma is a new project but you’ve been doing this for ten years now perhaps even more probably so…
Charlotte: Music in general yes for sure I’ve been doing this for a very long time but it’s still very rewarding when you see things coming together, you know, whether it’s a very good gig or whether it’s an album or just a song or a new project like this. It is still exciting, the very fact that these things are so exciting is the reason to do music anyway.
Lara: Of course, you grow as a person, you grow as a a band and that’s lots of new things to give…I love the fact of the concept-album, the idea behind it, in fact I would like to ask you – because we obviously see reviews we read in web-zines articles and stuff like that so we know that you are writing for the new Delain album but when did you actually started to write for Phantasma? When did it all started?
Charlotte: Well, I think like most of the work was done between September 2014 and September 2015 but as I recall at that time we had the demo’s of five tracks and we had, I had, a kind of summary of what I thought the story should be and from there on we really worked hard to realize all the parts of the album, and the book, and the artwork within a year but even before that, of course, we spent a lot of time thinking about the concept itself. I mean, I was asked to come into this project, to come up with the very concept and I never had the ambition to do a concept record before so I actually spent a lot of time thinking what I was gonna do and how I was gonna do that in a way that would be meaningful and personal to me.
Lara: In fact I wanted to ask you because you’ve been approached for this project but you ended up writing all the lyrics so they must have told you about the general theme or they just let you, you know, just be free to write whatever you wanted?
Charlotte: Well, let’s put it this way, first of all when Georg first spoke to me, he just asked me if I could do just some of the vocals on this record, then basically, Georg asked Oliver to work with him on this concept record and both of them liked that idea but none of them had an idea about what the concept should actually be so when I was invited to join, really join this project I was deliberately asked to write all the lyrics and to come out with the concept because they didn’t know what it should be and actually, I took it a bit further then that because I thought, well, if I am going to be that much involved and if it’s going to be something that I’m going to put a lot of time and effort in, then actually, I don’t want just to only write the lyrics and the concept. I write a lot of song ideas and most of them fit perfectly with what we are doing with Delain but some of them I really like but they do not work within the context of Delain so I kinda immediately said if we are going to do this then I want to contribute some songs as well.
Yeah, for me it was a project where I could really challenge myself creatively, contributing the songs, writing all the lyrics and writing the book ‘The Deviant Hearts’ with it and further on, also you know the visual aspect as I had written the book I knew what the most important visual elements were. Since I am a big lover of arts I was quick to jump in there as well and say that I would like to throw myself in that department as well.
Lara: The artwork of the album itself is really nice, in fact one of the questions I would like to ask you it’s how did you discover the painter Marco Mazzoni that did the artwork for your album. It was that commissioned, was it chosen from his back catalog? How did this come about?
Charlotte: I’ve been following Marco Mazzoni for a really long time, basically, you know, I browse the web for new artists whenever I am bored, I go…instead of going through my Facebook time-line more and more often I just browse for new visual art. Marco Mazzoni has been on my radar for a very long time and as I was writing the novella I thought more and more that he would be the one who would fit perfectly to the story and we even asked him to do the artwork before we knew what label we would be on because we really wanted, or at least I really wanted to say:”Look, this is the package you are getting, this is the story, these are the songs -and we had five demos back then- this is the story, these are the types of songs and this guy is gonna do the cover art”. For me it was one of the things to priorities that he would be involved so the pieces were commissioned as well and they play with the visual elements that are most important in the book, they work with the lotus flower, they work with the paper cranes who play a very big role in the book. There is an alternative cover on the inside of the artwork that features the two children and then, of course, on the cover there are the creature that holds the heart and the heart itself plays a central role in the story. So that’s the kind of thought and that worked.
Lara: It’s pretty beautiful actually…I think it fits very well, the fact that there’s a book and a story behind it so it’s very good. The book will ever be published or is it just part of the special edition CD?
Charlotte: It is part of the ear-book and the limited edition digi-pack but I am working now on getting some of them printed and selling them separately as well.
Lara: I think it would be great, surely many people -I would- want to read it and you know, it’s nice to have the audio book but it’s also nice to actually hold the paper, I still enjoy holding a book…
Charlotte: Yeah, sure. It is actually in the digi-pack and the ear-book is actually printed on large format on paper as well so there is the audio-book edition where I am actually reading it on ear-book on both of them there is also the possibility to read on both of them and like I mentioned I will publish them separately as well.
Lara: Writing a whole storyline, is this something you’d like to build upon? Maybe putting out a book in the future exploring this side of your creativity more?
Charlotte: I mean…I’ve done it once now and it was a very big challenge because I never done it before and I didn’t really put a lot of practicing into it obviously but I thought it would be a good idea to give myself a kick in the butt and do it now ’cause I knew I’d have a deadline and then it would be published certainly. It was a kind of a secret ambition I never really had the chance to prioritize but when I got the opportunity to work on this concept I thought this might be the right time to do a book…and even though, you know, I struggled to meet the deadline so badly and there were times when I really thought that I couldn’t really write a sentence in an entire day there were also really charming parts…at one point the story just was on replay in my head and it was like a movie and the only thing I had to do was to write it down. Also the characters, for example, they became so real to me that at some point I would write down something that one of them would do or say and then I would think back and say:”No, she would never do that”, you know, like it was somebody I actually knew.
Lara: Someone alive…
Charlotte: Yeah. I think it was a very charming experience and I might just try it again because there will be parts of it that I really like…but then the next time I will try again it will be without a deadline.
Lara: Yeah, that probably would work out better. Do you want to tell us something more about the actual concept-album and the story itself or do you wanna leave it as a surprise?
Charlotte: Sure. I’ll make sure I will not tell too much…actually the title of the record and the book will be taken quite literally: The Deviant Hearts because the protagonists of the story are two children. They are two siblings, brother and sister, and they have a very rare heart disease – a fictional one – that cause their hearts to grow smaller or larger according to their emotions. Now, both the heart too small or a heart too large are very dangerous for a person’s risk-this is not fictional, you can’t have that, it’s not good- so these children are raised very protected to kind of protect the fragile time bomb in their chests and they are raised away from excitement both good and bad and they have to learn to entertain themselves within the walls of their house and the fences of their yard. The older they get the more frustrated they get. Their lives are is not so much about challenges to be overcome or about experiences to be lived, but more about expectations to be curbed and ambitions to be limited so they start getting really frustrated. I drawn a lot of inspiration from old myths and legends for this story, and one of them which plays a really big part in the story which anybody who have seen the video can tell, is the Japanese legend of Senbazuru, that basically states that whoever folds a thousand paper cranes gets granted a wish. One of the children, out of boredom to pass some time, she does a lot of origami and at one point – more by coincidence then by planning to aim for those thousand- she folds a thousand paper cranes and that’s actually the moment when the story catapults into action and this is also where, I guess, I should stop talking because if I say too much about what happens next it might spoil the fun in reading it.
Lara: I read the lyrics -and downloaded the lyrics and there are few excerpts for every lyric- I read it very much as a story of courage really, of taking risks and stuff, you know, I am really looking forward to read the novel so, yeah, that’s very good…
Charlotte: Thank you.
Lara: Yeah, I think it works very well with the songs as well. I think your album needs to be listened to from the beginning to the end to be appreciated although you already put out three videos for the album.
Charlotte: Yeah, we did and you can see a lot of elements from the story coming back into the videos as well but I do agree, I think the album is best if you really listen from front to back and even better when you read the novel as well and you get the full experience of what the characters are going through but of course, and this was my goal, because I know that nowadays a lot of people do digital downloads, they might not even get the entire album so I did want to make sure that if you listen to a song separately that you don’t feel like it’s really incomplete…except for the song “Incomplete” (laugh) but it does sound like a story in itself as well when you listen to it. That the song by itself doesn’t stop making sense if you don’t listen to the entire album or you don’t know the entire story around it.
Lara: Yeah, absolutely. What about the band name, who came up with Phantasma?
Charlotte: Georg came up with it and that’s funny because both Oliver and myself had some serious reservations about the name. I mean, I initially thought to just call the whole thing The Deviant Hearts – the project name, the album name, the book name, everything- but we were advised otherwise from a marketing perspective so we were thinking names and it was Georg who came up with the name Phantasma and it is also the name of one of Oliver old records with Everon, back in the day. I actually really liked that ’cause I like the fact that we are tied in with one of the members musical past and Oliver himself was wondering if that would be a nice idea. For me, I think, the thing that pushed me over the edge to say:”I do like this title” is that Phantasma as a word really means ‘an imagined picture of something real or a real image of something imagined’ and I kind of like this lack of a border between the real and the imagined because if you look at the way I wrote the story it is a fantasy story, in a way, because it’s centered on two children with a heart disease that does not exist and there’s paper cranes coming to life, and there’s weird creatures, and there’s willow’s and lotus’s falling in love so it’s definitely a fantasy story but in a way all of the challenges in the story are based on every day experiences. If you just look at the heart disease of the children, you know, their hearts growing larger or smaller based on their emotions it’s one big metaphor on being hypersensitive and then the choices that they have to make wherever they stay in their comfort zone or wherever they go out for an adventure and take the risk with it. Of course, that’s actually a choice that many of us will face one time in our life, or maybe once a year, or a week, or a month, depending on the circumstances. I liked the idea of the title Phantasma because for me it had a link to the way I had envisioned the story and the atmosphere behind it.
Lara: So this one it’s…will we get to see these songs live or is it more of a studio project?
Charlotte: It is more of a studio project. I think me, most of everyone, I am not really waiting for this to be a touring act, actually even stronger, I wouldn’t know how that would be even possible. I have a lot of ambition with Delain and if I just look at our time schedule next year I wouldn’t even know where to squeeze in another tour. However, I do think that with the very theatrical songs that we have with the story in the background, with the very rich visual world, that it would have the potential to make a very very nice big musical like a theater show. If it was up to me, which it is partly, because it’s only the three of us anyway, then I would say rather just a handful of very special gigs, in a theater preferably, then any real tours.
Lara: Do you have a favorite song from this album and why would that be?
Charlotte: I mean…of course I have, I don’t wanna sound cliche but it’s true: I like all the songs and all for different reasons and all have something special. If I had to pick one now I would probably go for “The Lotus and The Willow”. I really like how the track turned out and it’s one of those tracks that I couldn’t have used for anything rather than this really and it really fell into place. I really like what Oliver has done with all the arrangements and I really like his voice on it also because he always says he’s not a singer but he his, and a remarkable one too. I think I would name that one as my favorite.
Lara: Ok. How did you go about choosing the guests for the album?
Charlotte: Well…a lot of that was actually in Georg and Oliver’s hands, a lot of them were contacts or contacts of their contacts and of course they were all people we all wanted to see on the album but they did most of the organizing and getting all the parts. I am really happy with how it all turned out, I mean a lot of the instrumentalists, for example, you know, they could have treated this just a session job but everybody really went above and beyond what we expected. It was a really nice confirmation for us to hear that other musicians -that we really respect- enjoyed working on this project so much and with the guest vocalists as well I really enjoyed how they interpreted some of the parts and some of the characters from the story. It was a very pleasant experience.
Lara: We recently spoke with Isaac from Epica (here) and he told us about the excitement of organizing the Epic Metal Fest in Eindhoven. You’ve been part -with Delain- of the line-up, because it was also your last gig of the year I just wanted to ask you how did the event turned out?
Charlotte: Oh, I think it was a really nice event, for some of us we were still under the impression of all the things that happened the week before but it was a really nice gig among a lot of friends and the atmosphere was really fantastic. It was really nice to see so many people again, I got the chance to watch Fear Factory’s show, which I really really love, they are doing their old record in its entirety now. It was a really good day and we really enjoyed it. It was the last show of the year for us but we still have one special show from The Human Contradiction cycle coming up on January 29th: “The Sucker Punch Show”…we are still looking forward to that one but for now it was a really good ending of the year.
Lara: Another thing I would like to ask you is if there’s anyone you haven’t worked with that you’d like to? You did a lot of collaboration with many musicians but if you could pick one that you haven’t worked with yet, who would that be?
Charlotte: If I could pick only one? Like there’s a lot of people that I would still like to work with…
Lara: Well, you can give me a list if you want ;) Somebody you’d really like to do something together musically.
Charlotte: …and the sky’s the limit?
Charlotte: I would say Nick Cave.
Lara: Ha! He might take you on board after “The Lotus and The Willow”…
Charlotte: Who knows!
Lara: Everybody is comparing that song you know…
Charlotte: I know and for me it is the biggest compliment possible because I am such a big fan of Nick Cave so for somebody to compare that song you know…for somebody to compare my song to him…I was over the moon.
Lara: You’re quite right..yeah…he’s a great artist, no question about it.
Charlotte: Do you know…there’s a song on our Interlude record that’s a song called “Breathe On Me” (check this beauty here) and it’s actually about my fan-girl crush on Nick Cave…
Charlotte: Yeah, it’s just a piece of background information since we are talking about him anyway…you’ll never listen to the same song quite the same again.
Lara: When you write – you write obviously quite a lot I would think- do you actually play any instrument?
Charlotte: I do play the clarinet but, unfortunately, it is not a very practical instrument for song writing. What I usually do is…I do have a piano and I do know how to find the chords that I want to accompany myself with. When I am songwriting I usually just write the basic structure of the song, I play the chords and I sing the melodies and I think of the words and that for me is the heart of the song, you know, if that part is right that you can feel it then it will probably work out. Of course it is easier to envision the softer song that way then a true metal song because often, for example, the riffs are a very big part of that and this is simply something I can imagine but that I cannot do. For structuring the songs and for laying down the bases it will not sound good but just knowing the chords it’s a very good way to communicate with whoever is going to do the arrangements and say:”This is what I have in mind”. I would say that probably even after years of clarinet lessons I prefer the piano as an instrument for songwriting, for sure.
Lara: Ok. Finally do you have any message for your fans out there? Is there anything you would like to say?
Charlotte: Well…definitely first of all thank you for reading this, listening to this and taking the time, your interest means a lot and I hope that you like this new project. Thanks for keeping up to date, I hope to see you guys soon on the road and have a very nice holidays – if this is coming out before the holidays…
Lara: It’s coming out soon, yeah…
Lara: It’s been really nice to talk to you and I wish you all the best for the holidays and for the future as well, you know, you have loads of things going on…I hope this album does really well because I think it should.
Charlotte: Thank you very much and I mean…I see the Moshville Times covering our gigs and records, and I am involved with it all the time so I just wanna thank you for your continued support because we are really happy about that.
Lara: You are welcome.
Charlotte: Ok…so thanks a lot and have a great evening.
Lara: You too, bye!
Charlotte: Bye bye!