Delain: Interview with Charlotte Wessels

Singer Charlotte Wessels from the Dutch gothic...
Sounds every bit as lovely as she looks! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fresh off a flight from South America (if anyone arriving after a red-eye flight can be classed as “fresh”), Charlotte Wessels of symphonic metal band Delain spent half an hour of her valuable time chatting with me over Skype. This despite the lure of beer to celebrate the coronation of the new King of the Netherlands! A very gracious young lady…

CW: I just arrived home from our South America Tour a few hours ago!

MT: So you’ll be wanting to get to bed pretty soon then? [the interview was at 10pm – Mosh]

CW: No, actually because tomorrow is the crowning day of our new King so tonight is a big party here in Holland.

MT: Ah, yes. There was something in the news about a new anthem or song someone had written for him that wasn’t very well received. Is that right?

CW: You heard about that over in the UK? My god, no it wasn’t received very well… and it wasn’t very good, also! But people worrying over a song? I think the guy even got death threats. People should worry about other things! Anyway, tonight we’re going to have a party!

MT: So so you get a public holiday tomorrow?

CW: Yes, but I will still have to work… so that will be fun after two days and nights without sleep. One on the plane and one partying. Sleep when we’re dead, right?

MT: Well, I’ll try not to take up too much of your drinking time! I’m fairly new to Delain, so I’d like to start back at the beginning and get a bit of the band’s history if that’s OK with you?

CW: Perfect.

MT: Okay, well you started back around 2006. Martijn used to be in Within Temptation, but had to leave due to health reasons [glandular fever, specifically – Mosh], and decided he was going to try out a project involving guest musicians. You came along to be the “permanent” member of this loose group.

CW: For someone who’s new to Delain, that’s pretty accurate!

MT: There were quite a lot of guests on there, but I notice that there were a fair few live dates played to support the album as well. Was that planned in advance, or was that a result of the album selling better than expected?

CW: It was definitely that, but also before that… I think some time before the album was released, when we were recording the album, and when we saw what was coming out of our efforts, even before the album was officially released that we thought ‘maybe we should make this into a real band’. We really enjoyed the process of getting the album together and we could see ourselves doing that again. Also, Martijn’s health improved and all of a sudden the prospect of having a live band performing became realistic. Before, that wasn’t on our minds because of the reasons that Martijn left Within Temptation, but things started looking different when we got the album released. So that’s when we decided the have Delain be a real band.

MT: So more a response to the music itself than to the popularity of the album?

CW: Yeah, because I can remember doing shows when the album was just released and we were actually not even sure how people were going to respond to it! The record company was really confident which maybe helped – they gave us a push. It was the positive vibes of working on that album together, recording the album, hearing the results from those efforts…

MT: Well, as we know, Martijn was previously from Within Temptation. Where were you before Delain?

CW: I was sixteen when I met Martijn and I’d been in a lot of bands before, but none so serious. I was in one band that had recorded two albums, that was called To Elysium, but I never got around to actually recording an album with them. I used to perform with a friend of mine – we’d do a singer/songwriter thing. I was in a metal opera project. That was also the project that Martijn was also in and I think he got my contacts there! This guy, Manny Van Oosten [sadly passed away in 2011 – Mosh] who was also in To Elysium, he initiated this metal opera. He asked me to sing on that and also asked Martijn to do some keyboards. That’s where I think Martijn got a demo with me singing on it. Then he just went to our rehearsal space one night with a demo of what was going to be Delain!

MT: I notice with Lucidity that the writing is a bit “different” with so many artists taking part. One name that I notice that followed through onto April Rain and since then is Guus Eikens. He’s written quite a lot of material with you in the following two albums as well. Is he like a “semi” member of the band, as I notice that he doesn’t actually play with you.

CW: Actually, he is. Even though he’s not in the live band, he’s been involved ever since the very beginning. He’s written “The Gathering” on the first record, and I’ve been writing a lot with him… the three of us. He’s a stable factor in the Delain writing team. Right now we’re writing for our next album – after Interlude – and he’s, again, part of the team. So he’s definitely a permanent member of the Delain “writing staff”!

MT: He’s with a band called “Orphanage”, right?

CW: He was, yes. But they’re not active any more.

MT: Ah, right. Noted! On to April Rain, the first album as a “proper” band. How did the writing change for that? From the large number of musicians for Lucidity to the more permanent “core” of yourself, Martijn and then Guus?

CW: Definitely. For me it was a lot different because when I was working on Lucidity I was basically writing lyrics and melodies for music that was already there, since Martijn had spent a lot of time writing the songs before my involvement. But with April Rain that changed. It became a gradual process of both me adjusting to the music and the music adjusting to me! I began to get involved in the process from earlier on. Ever since then it became more and more like… members of the band have always been welcome to contribute music. But Martijn, me and Guus became the main writing team. That developed gradually from Lucidity to where we are now. Right now, if we’re going to write stuff we go into the studio with no idea of what we’re going to do whatsoever, then start writing with the three of us from scratch. It’s really cool that we can do that. You cannot learn to get inspiration, but you can learn to write. So now even if we’re not in a super inspirational mood, we know each other so well that we can sit down together and write something. Sometimes you have to be really creative to make that work and that can have really surprising outcomes.

MT: Are your main inputs into the band and writing vocals and lyrics, or do you have any musical talents we aren’t aware of? Are you a guitarist, or…?

CW: The only instrument I can play is the clarinet which is hard to play and sing together as you can imagine! But the songs where I have been involved the most are where I wrote the songs but with really crappy chords under the music! Then I will go to the guys and they will build the arrangements. For example, in a song like “Are You Done With Me?” the whole melody and lyrics were already there, and then it was built around that. But sometimes it’s one way and then I’ll come with this idea for a song and it’s built around that. Or sometimes it’s this instrumental idea and I fill it in. Right now, most of the times it’s all happening at the same time. It can go either way.

MT: Talking about your influences, moving onto the next album the obvious and well-publicised influence for that was the Sophie Lancaster murder. A very, very sad event over here a few years ago. Are you aware that there’s recently been a small change in practice by the police in Manchester relating to this?

CW: I know. I think that’s been a great achievement by the Sophie Lancaster Foundation. I remember when I met them… 2 years ago, now? We were talking in Manchester when we were having a gig there. I know that already back then they were telling me how they were actually working on this. I know there has been some criticism from people who are saying “yes, but not you make goths and emos and punks and whatever… you put them in a corner and present them as being different”, but I honestly think that there is a big problem. This kind of crime from what I’ve heard and what I’ve read – and I’ve read a lot of it since the Sophie case – just happens so much. And once there is a problem like this, it’s not going to change unless you acknowledge it. In this case unless the police learn how to deal with it. They have programmes of how to deal towards hate crimes towards sexuality, ethnicity, religions and stuff. Subculture was never a part of that. I don’t think it’s a matter of wanting to put people in a corner, but – as sad as it is – the only way to start solving a problem is acknowledging that there is a problem.

MT: Precisely. It is purely a statistical exercise at the moment. These crimes are being recorded as if they are hate crimes, but not being dealt with in the same was as those relating to gender, religion, colour… But hopefully at some point soon they can take the gathered data to someone in a position of authority and say “look, there is a problem that needs to be addressed”.

CW: Exactly. It’s a first step.

MT: Going back to the music on the album. You had Fear Factory’s Burton on “Where is the Blood”. Was that a deliberate choice? “I know… let’s get Burton C. Bell on board”, or did you have a song and think “Who’s voice would suit this?”

CW: I had met him about a year before at the recordings at Wacken Open Air, and I always liked Fear Factory’s music. I met him and he’s such a cool guy. We kept in contact after Wacken. Then at one point we were working on this song and we thought it could really use some rough vocals and he was the first that came to mind. We thought his voice would sound really cool on this. I just dropped him a line and he was very happy to cooperate! It was really, really cool. It’s amazing how much it sounded like what we had in mind.

MT: The next album you have coming out is in the next few days [May 3rd in Europe – Mosh] – Interlude, an EP. I was going to ask if this was a stopgap until a new album, but you’ve already told me you’re working on something coming up shortly. Was this just a chance to release material that fans couldn’t have got hold of? I know it’s a couple of new songs, some covers and so on.

CW: Basically in the last couple of years we built up a lot of this kind of material. We had some awesome live tracks. We had these covers. We had some songs that we had written during We Are The Othersbut didn’t make to the album. Not because we didn’t like them enough but because we chose different songs that balance-wise for the album stuck better together. And this is always very much a “kill your darlings” situation. These two new songs on Interlude were exactly these kind of songs that didn’t get to the record not because we didn’t like them, but because of those reasons. So we were actually really sad that nothing had happened to them. At one point we just looked at the material that we had thought “this is too much to keep and put on B-sides. This material deserves an album of its own.” So we re-worked all the songs, re-recorded some songs, re-mixed some songs… We were very picky with that because we’re perfectionists! So putting out an album like this… if you’d told me a few years that we’d do this I’d have said “no!” We basically came to a point where we had the songs and we were just really happy about them. Also with the DVD and the live tracks and the videos and the backstage material that we thought that this is a very cool thing for the fans to have. Also for me personally it’s really cool to see some things that I hoped would get on an album get on a record.

MT: A question struck me a couple of days ago when I was listening to some albums – not just yours, but some others. I’m asking you as you mentioned about the flow and the way things fit. Do you actually put a lot of thought into the order the tracks appear on the album?

CW: Yes, definitely.

MT: Is that your job, yourselves or does the record company have a say? Is it more a creative decision?

CW: No, we brainstorm it a lot. Usually it’s Martijn at the end who comes up with what should be the order, but we really look at tempo, what key the song is in. They should really flow together. It’s quite a puzzle most of the time.

MT: Interlude also comes with a DVD. What’s on that?

CW: There are live tracks recorded at Metal Female Voices Fest in 2012. There’s a lot of videos – music videos from our career. There is backstage material. A feature on the 70,000 Tonnes of Metal festival – the Caribbean Cruise…

MT: Yes, I have a friend who went on it this year. I hate him.

CW: Then I won’t tell you how awesome it was because I’ll make you jealous! You will see on the DVD when you get to see it! So, yes, there is a lot of cool stuff on there.

MT: Talking about the live performances, a couple of dates for yourselves have come to light. There’s the Dames of Darkness festival… you’ve played that before, haven’t you? You’re playing there on May 11th.

CW: Yes, May 11th. We’re really looking forward to that one. We’re really looking forward to returning to the UK as well, as things have been going really well for us over there. We haven’t played there in a while so it’s really cool that we have this festival there now.

MT: I assume from the name that all the bands are female-fronted?

CW: Yes, but there are quite a few of those festivals now! We’re taking over, man!

MT: I do a “New Band of the Day” feature on my blog and I had one on the other day that had a female drummer. One of the first I remember seeing in an otherwise male band. [It was Iron Kingdom – Mosh]

CW: Well, Lenny Kravitz had a female drummer!

MT: You know, you are right. And the White Stripes… I should think more about these things! It still does stand out, though, seeing a woman play in a rock or metal band. Vocalists fairly common, but on instruments less so.

CW: It’s a very natural thing. I’ve been pretty vocal about this. We had a gig with a replacement guitarist and she was a woman. This was some time ago – Timo couldn’t make the show. And everyone started screaming “Ah, it’s a fucking miracle!” because there were two women on stage. If you’re going to treat it like this, it’s going to take a while before you get used to women in a band. People treat it as something so unusual. If you look at the history then it’s really natural that it’s going like this because, basically, women have only been admitted to music schools for less than a hundred years in most countries. The first thing that we got to do – that we were allowed to do – was singing, so I think this is a kind of natural evolution. I think in time it won’t be such a big deal any more. At least I hope so!

MT: Another similar point is that the number of black people involved in metal bands is quite small and it is one of those things you notice – if a black person, or an Asian / South Asian is in a metal band.

CW: Yes, it’s a very white male type of music.

MT: There do seem to be a lot more bands coming through now with a line-up that’s more representative of their audience, which is a nice thing to so. Both race and gender.

CW: If we’re talking about this – about metal being a white male genre – then we just came back from South America and we were playing in Suriname at a Surinamese festival with all female singers. One band was actually an all-female band. So there is none of the white male stereotype there! You see that the metal scene is growing and getting more diverse, and I think that’s really cool.

MT: I couldn’t agree with you more! As a last point, I was going to ask when we’ll see you touring properly next. I hear you’re due over in January next year?

CW: Yes! Yes, with Within Temptation! I’m really excited about that!

MT: I was staggered when I saw the tickets go on sale about two months ago – almost a year in advance! Were you actually on the bill a couple of months ago, but the news was withheld? Or is it only something that’s been sorted recently?

CW: It was sorted a little longer ago than that, but not that long ago. But we just announced the news so it’s out there now!

MT: And that new album you said you’re working on… is that likely to be out before then or around the same time?

CW: Aaaaaaahhhh…. I don’t want to say anything about it yet! The thing is, of course we’re trying to have it done as soon as possible and it would be brilliant if it would be done before that, but… I have the experience that if I say something about when it will be released too early in the process, then people will think it’s a release date! Then if you’re a week later then they say the album is delayed, even though it was just an estimation. So we’re in an “estimation phase”. That’s all I want to say!

MT: So it’s going to be out in the next year… and a bit… sort of?

CW: Exactly! It’s going to be out in 2014 definitely.

MT: Well, I will let you get a drink, relax and three minutes sleep before your next interview.

CW: Yes, I have one more interview then I will join my friends and see if I can survive another beer or so!

[As far as Moshville Times can report, Charlotte did survive and you can catch her and the rest of Delain at the Dames of Darkness festival on May 11th in Wolverhampton. Thank you very much to Charlotte for her time and Andy Turner at Napalm for organising the interview]

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June 21, 2013 12:50 AM

[…] Delain: Interview with Charlotte Wessels ( […]

January 26, 2014 3:06 PM

[…] be attempting to get another interview with the lovely Charlotte Wessels on that tour (is it too early to go begging, do you think?), […]