Sonic Cathedral‘s Robin Stryker recently conducted an interview with keyboardist Martijn Westerholt and vocalist Charlotte Wessels of Dutch symphonic metallers DELAIN. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Sonic Cathedral: Let’s talk a bit about the elephant in the room before moving on to sunnier topics. Honestly, DELAIN fans expected a new album in early 2011. We saw the studio reports from a Dutch farmhouse (along with cameo appearances by roving cows and cats), but then we didn’t hear anything further about the album for nearly a year. What happened?
Martijn: I expected the same thing back in 2011. (laughs) What happened is that Roadrunner, our record company, went through a major reorganization. They were sold to Warner Music, and a lot of people left the company, were fired or restructured, etc., which meant for us that the guy who signed us and assisted us with our album process from the record company side was fired. They needed a new AR manager for us. There was none in Holland, so it was quite a search to get the new structure working. In the end, we had a new management, which also is the AR and artist relations with Roadrunner. That took a lot of time, which meant that the whole album process was on hold as well. So we lost a lot of time there. It was very frustrating, but we didn’t have any control over this. So yeah, it’s just how it went, and we had to deal with it.
Sonic Cathedral: DELAIN had done a major headlining tour in the spring of 2011, where fans got to hear a couple of tracks — “Get The Devil Out Of Me” and “Milk And Honey” — from the upcoming album. How much did playing those songs live affect what you ultimately recorded?
Martijn: Well, that’s a very good question, actually, because, to our surprise, it did affect the process. We only played them live to give the fans something new. We wanted to share with the fans what we were making at the moment, and those two songs were still in the making. But when we played live, we really noticed what worked and what didn’t work, and what triggered a response and what didn’t trigger a response. And we used this knowledge in the further development of the songs. It was not intended, but it was very interesting to see. It also made us try that with other songs. Normally, we don’t play the songs together when we write. We don’t play them with the whole band, because you don’t work with the whole band in writing the music. At least we don’t. But we experimented with a lot of processes while writing songs, and one of those processes was playing live. It was very, very interesting. But there were also processes where we just started from scratch with writing. With this, it was very interesting to have a sneak view of how a song works, or how it doesn’t work. So yeah, I think we’re going to do that again with songs … to not be afraid to play them, even if they are not finished yet.
Charlotte: Playing live did influence me a lot. When working on the previous album, it’s no secret that I really love working with backing vocals. Usually, I really used loads and loads and loads of them, and sometimes it was kind of problematic when I had to perform live. I thought, “Okay, so what vocal am I actually going to sing?” And what do you do with all those extra vocals that make up a big part of the music? I personally don’t like to have loads of stuff on backing tracks. So I think for writing the melodies and writing the lyrics, I might have chosen to be more direct in a way — to have the lead vocal be the one strong thing. The backing vocals should be there to make the song better, but the song shouldn’t need them to be complete. When you need less stuff on backing tracks, I think it will make the live experience more of really a live experience. Not that I have something against the backing tracks. In this genre, sometimes you have 100 tracks of keys and, well, we only have one keyboard player. (laughs) There’s nothing illegal about it, but I just like to do as much as possible live. So within the vocals, I tried to have it that way — to have the lead vocals stand out and be the only thing that matters [vocally], and all the rest is extra. This is kind of a way in which live shows influenced the writing also.
Sonic Cathedral: You have described the process of writing this album as having gone into much more detail before entering the studio, including a writing camp in Stockholm. Would you tell us about that?
Martijn: We also experimented with the people we wanted to work with. We never worked with a producer before … I was the producer with the previous two albums. At this time, we wanted to work with a very good producer. Let’s be frank. I’m a musician, I’m not a producer. This producer team consisted of three people: Jacob Hellner, who was the producer of RAMMSTEIN, and also Fredrik Thomander and Anders Wikström, who are very well known for their co-writing work with artists like SCORPIONS, ‘N SYNC, and all kinds of things from very hard music to very poppy music that is totally on the other end of the spectrum. We went into the studio with them in June. Indeed, not to record, but just to look at the material we had and see, “Okay, what do we have here? What works and what doesn’t work.” Then we went through all the songs, and they told us what was their impression about it. They also came up with solutions for particular problems. It was very, very interesting, but also sometimes difficult for me, because I was not used to working with so many people at the same time. We were working with seven people in one room, writing a song. That was really something that I had to get used to, because normally I was used to doing it alone. But I learned a lot from it, and that is something I always like in a production. Every time, with every album, you learn so much because they are very good.
Sonic Cathedral: Charlotte, if I understand correctly, you had both a larger role and a different role in writing “We Are The Others”. Would you tell us a bit about that?
Charlotte: When we started out with the first record [“Lucidity”], Martijn basically had written all the material, and I came in and wrote some lyrics and vocal lines. But from the very beginning, our collaboration was always very good, so it kind of naturally grew. With “April Rain”, I was already there from the beginning when Martijn was actually writing the music. So the good thing about that was I didn’t only have to adjust to the music, but the music could also adapt to me. But we were still very much working in separate stations — like Martijn would work on something, I would work on something … already on the previous record I would work with Guus Eikens, who has been writing with us for a very long time … and it would really be like a back-and-forth. So I would work with Guus, Martijn would work, and we would come together, and sometimes it would be the three of us. But there was a lot of working on separate islands. What I really like about this album is we started out working in that same way, but … and this was also very much influenced by some remarks from Jacob Hellner, who said, “You’ve got to create this one identity.” And he said that he could really hear that we were working on separate stations. So, what we have basically done is sitting together with no idea whatsoever about what we were going to write, and to just come together with the writing team and say, “Okay, we’re going to write a song. In what kind of mood are we?” Or where we had a little bit more songs, “We have these songs. What kind of songs do we still need?” And then we started writing from scratch, all of us. This is a challenge because, usually when you work on your separate island, you can think of ten ideas, remember the best one, and take that to the writing session. But now, basically, this only works if you throw any idea that you have into the group, and this is a challenge, of course. It’s like being in your underwear, in a way, because you have to really share your creativity within a group. But the songs where we managed to write together with all of us, I think they turned out to be the most interesting songs on the record. We still have some songs that were written by other combinations or other teams — some songs were just written by Guus and me, and some songs were still written by Martijn. But I think there is this much more balanced combination of identity on this record. I think it turned out to be really interesting, and it’s been difficult here and there. As you can imagine, we first wrote with our writing team — with Martijn, Guus, me, and sometimes Oliver. We had those songs ready, and then we went to Sweden and were there with Jacob, Fredrik and Anders. So we were six people in a room working on these songs, and then you have to agree with six or seven people about what is going to happen with a song. This is what I think Martijn called “a process from hell” here and there. This is just really complicated because, not only do you have different opinions about what is good or not good, but also different taste. So we really had to find a way to achieve what is best for the song … the song would really be central in these writing sessions. In the end, I think it worked out really well. I’m just really happy and proud of the songs that we have now, and I’m also really happy about my own involvement in the process. I’m just proud as hell of the result of all this, even though it’s been challenging here and there.
Sonic Cathedral: “We Are The Others” is anticipated for a March 2012 release date. Any hints as to whether it will be the earlier or later part of the month?
Martijn: I’m afraid it will be much later even, because when we finished the album … in fact, the exact week we received the master … we heard that Warner Music didn’t want to release us because they just don’t get metal. They just don’t get it. They bought Roadrunner to get this metal DNA into their body, I would say. I have the feeling … I don’t know because I’m not in the organization itself … but I have the feeling that they are still searching for the right working method. The Roadrunner company wants to release us, and there are several people within Roadrunner who are working to release us nonetheless. So actually, for us it’s a nightmare. You finish your album, and then you don’t know when the release is. But you know that fans are waiting for it. We were so satisfied with the album, and also our producer was satisfied. But some executive nut-case just doesn’t get it, and decides, “Well, let’s not release it.” Other people do get it, and right now, they are talking about how and when to release it. It’s a nightmare! We don’t have control over it, and at the moment, we can only wait. What we are doing right now is what we always do as a band, which is to take initiative into our own hands. That means we are not going to wait for those people. We’re going to play those new songs, and we’re going to make everything ready so that, if they are done with their struggle, we can release immediately. We have a lot of support within this Roadrunner company — people who are giving us tools to move forward with a single and the planning. I still have hope that we can release in the spring, but at the moment I’m just not sure. And that is very frustrating. You’re actually the first DELAIN outsider to whom I’m telling this, so it’s kind of a scoop. But yeah, I’d rather have had a more positive scoop for you.
Read the entire interview from Sonic Cathedral.
Metal Hammer video interview with Charlotte Wessels:
Photo credit: Sandra Ludewig