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Interview: Delain’s Charlotte Wessels says new album is a fresh start

Posted by on March 25, 2014

Delain_HC_Cover_When Charlotte Wessels and Martijn Westerholt came together as Delain in 2005, the intention was only to be a studio band featuring a host of guest musicians. Almost a decade later, Delain is anything but that. They have a solidified lineup, they are about to release their fourth album The Human Contradiction, and they have toured all over the world, bringing their unique style of symphonic metal to crowds on almost every continent. Metal Insider caught up with Wessels the night before Delain embarked on a two-month tour of Europe, and she talked to us about the meaning behind The Human Contradiction, the band’s future plans, and the gender gap that still exists in metal today.

 

First of all, how has everything been going and how have you been doing since the recording sessions finished?

Perfect! It was actually a very hectic time, because the time pressure was on this whole process, but so far, it’s all going really well. I feel that we have a very good setup for our upcoming record. The cooperation with Napalm Records is great, we’ve got a Within Temptation tour just ahead of us after the release, and we’re just preparing for the release and everything that has to do with it. It’s the best kind of busy!

That’s awesome to hear! What was the writing and recording process like for this album?

I think that the main thing that stands out about this recording process is the fact that we wanted to do everything ourselves and take matters into our own hands. I think it has to do with the fact that, when we recorded We Are the Others, there were a lot of people involved, and a lot of that was great. For example, the producer trio that helped us record was fantastic and we learned a lot from them. But we were also involved with three different record labels during the process, and a lot of energy and time went into politics and dealing with people’s opinions. For this record, we just wanted to put all of our energy into the actual songwriting. We also did not even have the time to be thinking about what any third parties would think. Fortunately, we were not in the same unstable label situation this time. We had a completely free hand to do whatever we liked, and we chose to go with the idea of not involving third parties unless we had to. We had more time in the producer’s seat, and this created a creatively free atmosphere, which the songs on The Human Contradiction are the result of.

Was it at all strange getting in back into the role of being your own producers and having to critique yourselves? Or was that something that came naturally?

In a way, it was strange, but it is also a situation that we were used to from our first two records. It was actually stranger on We Are the Others, having not one external producer, but three. That took more getting used to than this situation. But it was very different, not only for Martijn, who had the responsibility of being in the producer’s seat, but also for all of us, because there was a lot more individual responsibility for the recording of our parts. So yes, some things were kind of new about that, but I also think this makes it a more personal record for the entire band. We really counted on everyone to do their best individually.

Coming off the success that you had on We Are the Others, was there a different approach to this album? Did you have specific goals in mind for how you wanted it to sound?

We did have certain, I don’t want to say goals, because we never thought, “We want this album to sound more,” fill in whatever kind of genre. But what we did think is that we didn’t want to second-guess everything that came to us in the writing room. So we did want to stay close to the initial ideas and have whatever kind of thing the song asked for in the writing process to actually happen. There were some songs, like “Tell Me, Mechanist”, for example, that had a lot of prominent grunts, and it’s something that we haven’t done for a very long time. But we just thought, “If the song asks for it, then that’s what we’re going to do.” This is the attitude we had during a lot of the writing and recording process.

You had some pretty big guest performers contributing to this album, as well.

Definitely!

Marco [Hietala] from Nightwish, Alissa [White-Gluz], who’s now in Arch Enemy, and George [Oosthoek], formerly of Orphanage. All of these performers bring different styles to the music that you create. How was it incorporating all of their styles into these songs?

Well of course, with Marco, this is the third time that he’s contributing to one of our records, so we really know what we can expect when we ask him to contribute. Then again, it’s always a surprise, because he always interprets it a bit differently than we expect, but that’s exactly why we love working with guest musicians. Often, they think of certain interpretations that you hadn’t thought of yourself. The same goes for Alissa and George. For us, it’s just really cool to see what they can bring to the songs.

What is the meaning behind The Human Contradiction, and what are some of the themes that can be found within the album?

Do you want the long or the short version? [laughs]

Whichever you prefer!

Well, the title of The Human Contradiction is a concept that’s borrowed from one of my favorite books. It’s a sci-fi trilogy called Lilith’s Brood, by Octavia E. Butler. Within the books, the human contradiction is described as the fact that we, as a human species, are both intelligent and hierarchic. The latter is a problem, because it causes an “us vs. the others” mentality that is an attitude that causes humans to randomly select qualities in others, and then use those qualities to justify ranking those others higher or lower on the socially constructed ladder. And it’s exactly the kind of behavior that allows for systems of oppression – such as racism, sexism, heterosexism, speciesism, you name it – for all of those systems to exist. It creates a lot of dualism of man and woman, black and white, human and nonhuman, nature and culture. So basically, the idea behind the human contradiction is that there is this contradiction that causes an attitude which, in the book as well as in reality, proves to be very self-destructive. As to how that finds its way into the lyrics, it is somewhat a broadening and deepening of the lyrical concept of We Are the Others, because it’s very about otherness and how people relate to it. This is something that I’ve been obsessing over, both within music and in my studies for the last couple of years. It’s a recurring theme. It wasn’t something where I thought, “We’ll write a song about it for We Are the Others and then go on,” because it’s something that’s on my mind for years now. The songs on this new record deal with otherness towards people within our species, towards people who are perceived as different by other people. On this record, you can find this on songs such as “Army of Dolls”, which is about objectification and the standards that people have to meet in order to be considered beautiful, or even just normal within this normative society. Also on “Your Body is a Battleground,” which is really about the kind of industry that makes money from basically telling people that their bodies are not good enough.

I noticed that when I saw the lyric video. It’s a very powerful message.

It’s difficult, because I saw that some people were actually personally offended by the lyrics. I knew it would happen when talking about industries that make money from the thing that people care most about, their bodies. A lot of people think about medicine, but the song is not exclusively about medicine, it’s also about cosmetics, and other similar industries. But of course, a lot of people owe their very lives to medicine, and the song is in no way intended to say that the whole industry is bad and dangerous. I don’t think that there is anything in the song that should offend people that actually need medicine. I just think that there are certain ethical questions that one could ask when there is so much money changing hands in an industry that is so potentially invasive in the aspect of people’s lives which they value the most, their health and well-being. So there are definitely ethical issues there, and what surprised me is that some people got really offended with them. I think that it becomes even scarier when certain industries become so powerful that people cannot raise the ethical questions anymore. For me, it was also really tough because some of the people taking offense expressed feeling otherness in a way, because they suffered from mental illnesses, and they thought that we were stereotyping. But anyone that has looked into our lyrics knows that we’re always sticking up for the underdogs and bashing the idea of having to fit a norm. The song is actually trying to do the opposite of creating a norm, it’s actually a critique. There were also people who thought the lyrics were literal and thought that I was telling people to get shots and get facelifts, but that is not something I would ever say. [laughs]

The exact wrong interpretation!

Exactly! There’s this thing called sarcasm, see? [laughs] But that’s “Your Body is a Battleground.” There are also songs about nonhuman others, like “Tell Me, Mechanist,” which is about animals. It’s probably the closest thing to an animal rights song that I’ve ever written lyrics for. There’s also “The Tragedy of the Commons,” which is about environmental issues. So, the whole record is about otherness, but all from different angles. So I thought that the human contradiction was a nice, overarching concept to explain the basic idea of where it comes from, in our human nature.

That’s great! After We Are the Others, and especially the title track from that album, otherness is definitely a topic that Delain is becoming known for, which I don’t think is a bad thing.

I don’t think so, either!

How was it working with Napalm Records, and being on one label this time around?

It was like a breath of fresh air! [laughs] Really, though, this is a perfect situation. Like I mentioned, we were able to focus our energy on the actual creative process instead of just doing politics all the time. During the creative process, we noticed that our confidence came from the fact that they weren’t breathing down our necks. This is really positive, and now that the record is done, they’re working really hard, which is really cool to see. It means a lot to us for this record to be successful, and I have a feeling that it really means a lot for them as well.

You certainly have an aggressive touring schedule coming up for the rest of 2014.

That’s putting it lightly!

Indeed! Two months of touring in Europe, mostly with Within Temptation, followed by some summer festivals, then six weeks in North America with Sonata Arctica and Xandria. Is there anything else beyond that or during those times that you have lined up?

Actually, we have two pretty long tours after that, which I can’t spill any details about yet. But we’re planning for those already, and then of course, there are the summer festivals and the club shows. We’re keeping busy!

Your tour with Kamelot last year was the first time you’d ever toured fully in North America before. What was that like for you, and what was the reception like that you got here?

It was amazing! This was the first time that we did a full US tour, although we had played on two occasions there before, at ProgPower Festival. The festivals are very different because you don’t really find out how many people actually know you. This tour, for us, was really the point where we got to realize two things. First, the fact that we actually have a following in the US, which you cannot always tell from the ticket sales because some people might only know the headliner. But we actually had full venues singing along to our songs, so it was like, “Okay, they do know us, they know us pretty well, and they’re pretty cool!” It was also a confirmation for us that we are going to make touring the US a returning gig. So we’ve got our next tour lined up, and we’re already working on the one after that. It was definitely a great experience.

One of your other experiences last year was Metal Female Voices Fest. The existence of such a festival highlights the fact that metal is becoming somewhat more gender inclusive, although there are still a lot of ways in which it is dominated by men. How is it for you being the face of an up-and-coming band in a genre that is often favoring of men?

Well, you notice it quite directly from the kind of standard that is still there, when it comes to representation of women in the genre. The first idea of people involved at labels is often still, “We’ve got the guys to listen to and the girls to look at,” which is how I often experience it.

Which is a ridiculous standard, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Yeah, because the guys are pretty damn handsome as well! [laughs] But there is certainly a double standard. The fact that there even is a Metal Female Voices Fest – I really like the festival, and it’s always cool because people from the same genre always get together. But the whole “female-fronted metal” term itself is quite strange. For example, if you compare Delain to a band like Arch Enemy, then people say, “You’re both female-fronted metal,” but we make completely different music. Our music is much more similar to a band like Kamelot, but we’re not in the same genre, because he has a penis and I have a vagina. It’s just really weird that the gender of one person in the band defines what kind of music you make! I think that it’s one of the things that really indicates that the bias is still there. I think that most women that try to make it in the metal industry are tough enough to try and struggle through that, but it’s not a given that you will not encounter sexism. I think it’s more a given that you will encounter sexism, but then again, I also think that, in most occupations, if it’s really dominated by one gender, then the other gender will have it a bit tougher. For metal, this has been the case for years, but it’s not exclusively metal where sexism is still there. This is society. It’s not exclusively metal, or even exclusively music. It’s just how things work, I guess. But it’s getting better, and I think it’s important to focus on that, and how it might get even better beyond that. You don’t make yourself popular by saying that you’re a feminist or by saying that there is a certain sexism within the industry, it’s definitely more important to focus on the improvements that are already there.

Since you are going to be out on the road for such a long time this year, what’s the one thing you have to have with you while you’re on tour?

I usually read a lot on tour, so I now have an e-reader installed on my phone, because I cannot sleep well on the tour bus. I know this is not a good thing for somebody that is going to spend most of her year on a tour bus, but in order to relax, I read a lot. On our last US tour, I read the entire Hunger Games trilogy. I really liked the books – I thought the movies were cool too, but they don’t have the depth of the books. So yeah, my e-reader and my music are the best ways to relax in the case of no sleep.

Any plans for your next reading choice for the upcoming tours?

I’m not sure yet, but I’m thinking that, since everyone is all over Game of Thrones, I might try those. I haven’t seen the series, and I actually have a long list of academic books that I still want to read, but for touring, I try to stick to fiction because it has to be relaxing.

What’s one of the most memorable gifts that a fan has ever given you on tour?

One girl from the Netherlands made a sculpture of my two cats. They were molded out of clay and painted really carefully. It was really, really nice. I actually have it here. We also have a fan club in Spain and they made doll versions of all of the band members. These are very special as well. I always feel like I don’t know what to say, because they already bought tickets, and by that, they’re doing us a huge favor. And then they’re bringing gifts? I always think, “What do we do to deserve that?” I give the gifts a very thankful place in my house, and I really do appreciate it.

As a final closing note, what does The Human Contradiction mean for you, for the band, and for the future of Delain?

I think it’s a fresh new start, because this is the first studio record after the whole label dance. [2013’s] Interlude was basically exactly that, an interlude, so it feels like a fresh new start. We’re doing some support tours again, so this really feels like we’re starting to invest again, and I am just really excited to see what the future holds and what’s going to happen. I think that The Human Contradiction is a representation of us as a band, at this certain time and place. I have the feeling that, after the bumpy road we had getting our previous record released, now everything is in place, and I cannot wait to hit the road with the record and reap the fruits of it!

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