Interview: Steven Wussow of Xandria (including new video!)

I had it all planned out in my head… Steven Wussow was calling at 8 o’ clock, it’s 7 now and I’m going over my questions. Steven rings. My mistake was so bitterly obvious straight away. Time zones. Hurling my stuff into the next room I answer, keeping my cool of course whilst looking at a half finished sheet of talking points. Here’s what went down!

xandria-theater-of-dimensionsWe talked last year about your first tour of China as a new level for the band.

Yeah this was really crazy. When going to a country like China you don’t know what to expect you know. Our record [Fire and Ashes] had just come out and in London you can just go down to the record store or go on iTunes but in China there is no record store or iTunes, so how many people would show up we didn’t know. We were joking and saying “We’ll get a nice meal and play in front of ten people and five officials then fly home” but all the shows were packed and people knew the songs, I just don’t know where from! So yeah it’ll be one of the shows that I remember, it was crazy.

So, on the topic of new levels reached, your song “Nightfall” just hit 10 million views. Do those two things have a similar impact on you as a band? How do you measure your success?

With the views of “Nightfall”, Yanez who’s our social media monitor, she came out and said “Hey your video’s got 5 million views”. A couple of months later, “Hey we’re up to 7 million” and when we got to 10 million we were like “What the fuck!” When it started after the release of Sacricium it was the first headlining tour for Xandria in 8 years, something like this. We didn’t know what to expect, when something like 50 or 60 people would show up we said “Hey we’ll be happy” but we had an average of 150 out of nothing and we’ve more than doubled this on this touring cycle.

You’ve teased four new songs from Theatre of Dimensions. Is there any reason why you did those four in particular?

Actually not! We just wanted to chuck those four to you, the people, as kind of an overview of the record. One song is the opener “Where the Heart is Home” and this song is almost seven minutes long and we’ve only given 30 seconds so it’s hard to judge. “Ceili”, the other song that is teased, is actually an instrumental, so people will be like “Oh hey this song is really cool I wonder what the vocals will be like” but no there are no vocals! This is the first instrumental we’ve ever recorded and this is something fun that came together almost by accident. We were joking around going “Hey let’s do an instrumental”. It was just for fun but it became that good that it just had to go on the record. So there is no particular reason why we used those four other than that they are cool tracks. I think we’re gonna play all of them live so this was just to show the people the first four bits of music.

With a lot of your work there are themes to individual songs. Have you ever been tempted to do a full-on concept album?

Actually I talked with Marco a lot about it and we’re both fans of albums like Operation Mindcrime by Queensryche) and the like. With concept records, if you have a good story then do it. At the moment we just don’t have anything that we can make a whole record out of. We have the title track for the new record at the moment which is like a mini opera. It’s the longest track we’ve ever written and for me it’s “The Track”. It’s my favourite song on the record and it’s about 15 minutes long which I find really cool. This is our first attempt to put a really cool story into one longer song. There’s a lot of ups and downs and twists but I won’t tell too much – you just have to listen to it.

So there’s a lot to look forward to on the new album then? A 15 minute song, an instrumental…

And there’s so much more. We’ve got some interesting news going up next week regarding some new elements we included in the record.

2017 album release shows
2017 album release shows

How does it feel to be back with a full length album after the Fire and Ashes EP a couple of summers ago? Is it liberating to go back and do 15 minute songs, or are they just the right records for the right time?

Well we never make the same record twice. If people want another Ravenheart record we think “Why should we do this?” I mean you have this record, put it on. So we evolved from Neverworld’s End to Sacrificium to the Fire and Ashes EP and now we’re making the next step for Theatre of Dimensions. The time gaps in between these releases have been really really short – we almost managed to release three albums in three years with Sacrificium in 2014, then the Fire and Ashes EP and the new record is done. If it weren’t for Christmas it would be out this year but it’s out early next year. It’s a logical evolution to me and we’ll see what people say. I hope you like it!

What’s going through your mind when you’re in the studio constructing the album?

Ah, this is not too easy to answer because you’re too close. To be honest I’m really happy with the new record. Of course I would come out saying “It’s the best record we ever made” and all that stuff, but ask me again in two years then I will say “This is a cool record but if I could do it again I may change this or that”. It’s a picture of where we are now, so at the moment we’re very happy with it. When you’re in the studio with it and I’ve done my preparations with some rough demos, I’ll have some drums, maybe a bit of guitar and a click track, this is all I have. The next thing I’ll hear from the record will be more or less the finished product.  All the arrangements and stuff that I can take inspiration from as a bass player gets done much before but everything ends up in a more or less rough demo so there is no time to figure out what you’re doing there and then. You’ve written your part then you put it on tape and there you go.

When you’re making the music are you thinking more about making the album that feels natural? Or are you looking at what your fanbase is wanting to hear? I mean you’ve already talked about not wanting to make the same album twice…

Yeah, Xandria’s main songwriter has always been Marco so as long as Marco is always the one coming up with the initial idea of the song, it will always sound like Xandria no matter if it’s something from the old days or something from Neverworld’s End or the new record. So yeah, we won’t change the  sound that we have, you won’t find us doing Nine Inch Nails stuff or anything like that! For us the main this is that we are happy with the record. I hope the fans won’t be mad at me for saying it like that, but I mean if we’re not happy with what we’re doing, how can the people be happy? We have to be 200% happy with what we’re doing then the people should be too, I’m sure of it.

Xandria - Fire & AshesA lot of your genre of music, Nightwish, Epica, those sort of bands have a very different, grandiose sound.Where do you think those kind of themes come from? Why is it so intrinsic in this kind of music?

Good question! Well where do the grunting vocals in death metal come from! It’s just one element in the style you use. Compared to Nightwish or Epica, I think we use it in some different kind of way, every band in this kind of genre uses it in a different way. For example, compared to our buddies from Delain, they also do it in a different way that keeps it interesting for the people. Do you see it differently?

I’ve always seen it as a form of escapism, visually and sonically. I mean if you’re walking down the street and that’s blasting in your ear, you’re not really there…

Yeah, that’s cool. Also for me, I’m kind of the rock n’ roll guy in the band. When I’m listening to this kind of music I’m much more listening to the guitars and the hook lines, less so for the orchestral part. For example, we’re friends with the guys from Epica and we’re also using the same studio so the first thing I actually heard from the record was the guitars and I was like “Yeah this is gonna be a good one!” Even some time after, when I listen to that record, I still only hear the guitars, this is what I like.

So we’ve already talked about you touring in China and you’ve recently finished your Latin American tour. The kind of music that you play seems very rooted in European, medieval, historical kind of themes. Are the audiences very different in different cultures and continents?

No, not really. We have this kind of thing here in Germany mainly that we have these kind of gothic festivals that we get offered from time to time. But especially now in South America, it’s the same audience that’ll see a band like Primal Fear or your classic metal bands so they don’t make much of a difference there. We also have a lot of Irish influences because Marco really loves it, this Irish folk music, so it’s a good melting pot!

Yeah put it in there, that’s cool! So you did the Fire and Ashes EP in the summer of 2015 and now you’re back with 14 new tracks. When did the recording for that begin? It must’ve been non-stop!

Yes! It’s been one hell of a year and people were like “Oh you’re not playing any summer festivals this year”. Fuck you, we’re doing a new record! We don’t have to play summer festivals! I actually recorded my bass tracks one day before a festival and it works like we record one half of the songs then go off and play a show, then it’s back to the studio to record the other half of the songs then we went back on the road! The demoing of the record actually started at the beginning of last year but this was just collecting ideas and stuff whilst the pre-production started at the beginning of this year and we finished recording, all mixed and mastered by August this year. In between we did a European tour, a tour of Russia, a couple of single shows all over Europe so it’s been a busy year, but it’s worth it!

I’m looking forward to hearing it! There’s the 15 minute song and the instrumental, it’s all very exciting!

Yep and there’s a lot more cool stuff coming your way very soon…

That, I presume was the new single “We Are Murderers (We Are)” announced on Thursday which kicks some mean ass… I mean next-level ass kicking with Björn Strid of Soilwork on backup vocals. See if you can pick out that subtle inclusion…

Theater of Dimensions will be released worldwide on January 27th 2017 via Napalm Records.

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