Delain – Chillin’ At the End of the WorldThursday, 30th January 2020
Seemingly growing with each release, the last decade saw Delain rise to become one of the dominant forces within the symphonic metal scene. They’ve been able to take a sound and directed it into something more of their own, combining elements of rock, metal, and beyond. This is no more evident than on their latest release, Apocalypse & Chill, soon to be out on Napalm Records (Pre-order HERE). With an interest-piquing title and cover art, alongside some fresh tracks with some unique elements, they’ve been generating plenty of buzz for us to chat about. So we were able to get ahold of both keyboardist Martijn Westerholt and vocalist Charlotte Wessels to pick their brains about the release, as well as discuss some surprise hobbies, worldly concerns, how we can reach equality in metal, and even a story of a recent impromptu kitten rescue the band played a role in.
Dead Rhetoric: Going right in with the title of the album and artwork, were you trying to show that you were pushing some boundaries with this release?
Charlotte Wessels: Not necessarily directly – we took a lot of things into consideration and were very aware that both the album and the artwork would be perceived as a big break from what we’ve done before. It wasn’t like we were going out of our way to try to shock people – it was a matter of the title fitting the album really well, the artwork fitting the title really well, and it went from there to an end result that I can understand people seeing as a diversion from what we’ve done before. It wasn’t to shock the hell out of people, although we did see it and to be honest, I quite enjoyed that [laughs]!
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel sets Apocalypse & Chill apart from the rest of Delain’s work?
Martijn Westerholt: When it comes to the music, I think the album is really diverse. I think it’s the most diverse album we’ve made. Listening to it today – we got our album in the mail today, which I haven’t done since we finished mixing it…I thought, “Wow, there’s a lot of electronic stuff going on!” The funny thing isn’t that we planned it that way, but you do what you feel the song needs. I think that’s a very refreshing thing. Also, if I may be so free to say, Charlotte’s singing – she pushed her boundaries even further. I think this makes the album stand out, together with the artwork and the very modern album title. I’m really happy with it.
Dead Rhetoric: Merel [Bechtold] left last year. Are you planning to fill, or have you filled, that second guitar position?
Wessels: We are not actually. For most of Delain’s history, we have been a 5 person band, with the exception of the very beginning and our time with Merel. Even though our time with Merel was great, musically we are going back to what we know with 5 people. We’ve done it like that for a very long time. Timo [Somers] is a phenomenal guitarist, and with technology these days, it can really help to give you that big wall of guitars sound live. We are going to keep the team as it is, just the 5 of us.
Westerholt: To give you an example, we searched for years for this double guitar sound with a single guitar player and it was very elusive. In the last few years, there have been some technological breakthroughs and Timo has been really active in that department. Live, we don’t really miss a guitar at all, and it has nothing to do with Merel herself. [The technology] just makes the need for a second guitar player not really there. So I can only really second what Charlotte says there.
Dead Rhetoric: There’s been a lot of members through the years – how important is the relationship between the two of you and Timo at this point?
Wessels: I think it’s very essential, and I think if you look at the band historically, especially Martijn and I as a duo, Martijn has been working on Delain for a long time, even before we met each other. We have been working on music together for 15 years!
Westerholt: I’m old!
Wessels: It’s a very long time, and I think that creatively, we found each other very early on in the process. When it comes to Timo, I think that he really put his mark on this album as well. I should mention Guus, because the main songwriting team for Delain is Martijn, Guus [Eikens], and myself. It’s been like that since Lucidity onwards. For this album though, I think that Timo really made his mark in not only arranging, but also the writing of the songs.
Westerholt: In the past, it was only more in the arranging. Timo would do some stuff with the riffing and add a guitar solo, but this time, he also really contributed in delivering song ideas, such as “One Second,” which was almost ready to go. That’s quite different than just arranging songs and guitars here and there, and putting in some solos. He’s really, really grown.
Wessels: Of course, everybody puts their mark on the way that they perform their parts on the album, but when it comes to the writing that has always been the case.
Dead Rhetoric: There’s been a very grandiose scope for the last few videos. What do you look for when you are making a video for a song? How important are the visual aspects?
Wessels: I think that with a lot of the songs, especially the more bombastic ones like “Masters of Destiny” or “Burning Bridges,” a lot of these songs dictate a certain visual. I cannot hear the songs without seeing certain images, like a movie flashing before you. It’s always a very exciting process to bring that to life, within what the song calls for. The important thing is that everybody listens to a song and hears/sees something different.
For the last year, we’ve worked with the same video company for 4 videos. Our visions kind of match with the songs. You have album tracks, which are great for the album, you have live tracks, which are great live, and certainly there are some songs that just ask for a visual accompaniment. I think “Masters of Destiny” is one of my favorites, along with the one that is coming soon [“Ghost House Heart”].
Dead Rhetoric: Given the subject matter and themes with the album, what are some of your concerns with the world of today?
Wessels: Besides it being on fire and stuff [fires in Australia]? Well, if you look at the album title, it kind of says enough and it does it in a tongue and cheek manner, because we don’t want to be preachy and don’t want to act as if we are doing anything better. But in general, the thing that is worrying at times is not only the state of the world, but our attitude towards it. We were just talking about it earlier – we aren’t really pessimistic about what we can do, but we really have to want to do it first. Sometimes you see that people are more concerned with their…Instagram following than their home. I guess that’s kind of the thought behind the title and the thematics behind it.
Westerholt: The last thing we want to be is preachy about it. If you look at our job, as a musician, we really spent a lot of CO2 on flying, for example. It’s environmentally not the best job that there is.
Wessels: We also spend a lot of time selling ourselves as well, which is also that side of it.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s nice that you are so upfront and knowledgeable about it in that sense. You are going on planes and doing this and that.
Westerholt: True, and sometimes we really struggle with that from time to time. Like, we have one show in Mexico. Is it worth going all the way there for that show, and fly all that way? We do talk about those things.
Wessels: It’s a growing awareness, with like KLM. You can do CO2 reduction rates on your tickets. You see a lot of bands only playing festivals that are easier to reach – public transport. We try to end our shows so that people can still use public transport and don’t necessarily depend on cars, even though in some parts of the world everyone kind of does. We go back and forth on it. There’s the awareness that what we are doing isn’t necessarily leaving a small footprint.
Dead Rhetoric: Much of Delain’s more recent artwork and merch designs features hummingbirds. What do you like about the association with that particular bird? I saw that was also set pretty prominently in the new art as well.
Westerholt: This artwork is really different than what people expected, but there’s also your own house style. I think the hummingbird is part of our home furniture, so to say. It comes back live and on the albums too. It’s a really nice contrast, if you have a really cute hummingbird but with a gas mask on it. I think it also pertains to the music, because it can be tough, with hard-riffing and sometimes soft or even sweet. So there’s a lot of contrast and I think that the hummingbird translates that very well.
Wessels: I get more attached to it with every album. Or with every fan that tattoos it. It’s definitely become a Delain representative over the years.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you talk about the impromptu kitten rescue that you had in France last month?
Wessels: It was early on and it was cold out, and there were two kittens laying around in the parking lot. One of them was limping and they were crawling into cars. It didn’t seem like the best spot for two adorable kittens to be in. So we caught one of them, and we put out a social media request. We knew that there was a shelter nearby, but it was quite late by then so we just needed someone to take them for the night. We thought with the reach we had that maybe someone would turn up. They actually did – a photographer, Emilie Garcin, picked up the first one that we had been taking care of during the day.
Sadly, that one didn’t make it. It died the next day, but it had a last day full of cuddles and purrs and playing. It is what it is, but the silver lining to the whole story is that she went back with the association and they managed to find the other kitten. That kitten is becoming a very fat and happy house cat at Emilie’s, who has officially adopted him. One out of two, at least. But on the street, they would not have made it. They were cold, had worms, and everything that tiny kittens can have. So I’m very happy that one of them survived, and the other one had a more comfortable end than it would have had on the street.
Dead Rhetoric: I’m switching gears entirely here, but what are you most proud of accomplishing with Delain?
Wessels: Besides rescuing a tiny kitten [laughter]?
Westerholt: I think that it’s still very special that if you write music, it comes out of your brain and goes into the world. The biggest compliment is that people all over the world – from Chile to Japan – are listening to your music and they are enjoying it. We hear people who get support by listening to the music in their lives, and I think that’s really special. If you can do that as your job, I think you are quite blessed.
Wessels: I totally agree. It’s the most special thing to me too. You make something out of nothing, and I have so much love for the group. It really feels like a community of people that surround us, and have been surrounding us all of these years. It’s really amazing the amount of loyalty that we receive from our fanbase. We can do what we do because of them.
Westerholt: It’s also special when you play somewhere in the States, and people show up to listen to you. You play somewhere in Russia, and people do the same. Or Spain. There are people everywhere that appreciate the music. I think it’s quite special.
Dead Rhetoric: A lot of times, people ask what you remember about when you started the band, or during your first album, so I’d like to ask instead, what do you remember best about the times of We Are the Others?
Wessels: Sweden – that’s where we recorded it. We spent quite some time in Stockholm. I felt like a true world citizen. Spending a few months in a different country and city to record an album. It was kind of a terrifying time as a band because we were working quite differently than we had before. It wasn’t without any tension, but I really, really love that record and I have fond memories of the time looking back.
Westerholt: I agree. I really look back with a smile to our time in Stockholm. We rented an apartment for about 4 months in the city center. Indeed, we did feel like world citizens. You really felt like you were living in a big city. Right now, I’m not living in an international city. It was great. We also worked with a producer – normally I produce the albums but that time, we worked with a team surrounding Jacob Hellner. He is known for producing a lot of Rammstein albums. It was really cool to learn different ways of working. Also, that album was quite different. Like right now with Apocalypse & Chill, it was quite different than the albums before it. One of those ‘marker’ albums I think.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s something that you enjoy that may surprise long-time fans of the band?
Wessels: Can you guess what I’m doing right now during this interview? I’m knitting, which is probably the most un-metal thing ever. But it’s something that is very new. I haven’t even put it on the Interwebs, so that is definitely something that will surprise people. They know all about the arts-ing, the books, and stuff because I throw all of that shit on Instagram. But this, I believe is a surprise.
Westerholt: Unless you are knitting a black sweater with a skull on it! That’s very metal!
Wessels: I’m actually really excited to learn about that! I want to make pink mittens with “666” on it. I’m really ambitious about making this a thing.
Dead Rhetoric: You can make your own stage gear.
Wessels: Yeah, exactly. We can sell it as merch!
Westerholt: Knitted sweaters made by Charlotte for sale [laughs]
Wessels: We could finally be rich [laughter]!
Westerholt: I’m very boring, I’m not doing anything at the moment. Just sitting in my living room. In general, a weird thing I like that might shock people…man, I’m so boring! I like to play computer games, PC games – I like to travel and to ski. That’s kind of it, but I don’t have any weird things. I’m going to make a new bed in our bedroom, because it’s falling apart. I’m going to make it myself though.
Dead Rhetoric: This one is more geared towards Charlotte, because I know you do put your thoughts out there on this topic. What do you feel needs to happen in the new decade to see true equality in the metal world in regards to gender/sexuality?
Wessels: I saw a great article today on the female-fronted metal term, which I have absolutely no judgement on towards people using it, because it’s convenient. But let’s call the genre what it really is. It’s starting to pile on – there’s death metal, folk metal, symphonic metal. It’s pooling it altogether and that’s not too cool. It would be great to have more diversity in general, but I think that in the end, that all has to do with not treating those instances where it happens as some kind of unicorn. I’m actually really pleased, some years ago, people would ask me really different questions than they would ask Martijn or any other guy in the band. That’s already getting much better.
There are more different voices in the scene now, and as long as they are heard – you can see now that it is changing organically, and I think that’s good. But I’d be really happy if the term ‘female fronted metal’ gets ditched. Not because it’s offensive, but just because it’s not correct. It keeps treating women in metal as if they don’t really belong there.
Westerholt: I never really heard the term ‘male fronted metal’ used…
Wessels: Exactly. It’s weird, and this was not really too long ago but I had an interviewer ask me questions like, “Hey, you are a woman in metal, how are you different from other women in metal?” I was like, “How are you different from other men in journalism?” That’s just a really weird question. Maybe how are you different as a person, or how are you different as a singer?
Westerholt: The only thing I can say in defense of the female fronted metal term, which I don’t like, is that I remember when we started Within Temptation in 1996. Most, like 99% of the metal bands, had males as front people. I can imagine that you could say, “Hey, there’s a metal band with not a male as a front person.” But very quickly after that, it already became so useless. It was changing already at the end of the ‘90s. To use the term within the past decade is completely ridiculous.
Wessels: Again, that’s why I say, no judgement for people who use or used it at one point, because I’m sure it was convenient. But talking about genres, it reduces the band to what’s between the front person’s legs and that’s not really serving any purpose these days.
Dead Rhetoric: Like you said, there’s so many different things out there now. I completely stopped using it myself just because it doesn’t make sense to put it out there as it’s such a vague term now.
Westerholt: Not anymore. As I remember, and gosh I’m getting old, but “there’s a band with a keyboard!” I remember my brother telling me that the keyboard was setting us apart from the other metal bands. Now it would be completely ridiculous but then it made sense, because no one was using them. But that was more than 20 years ago.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s planned for 2020 with Delain, outside of the album release next month?
Westerholt: We are going to play live, and I think we will start in the UK. Then it’s Finland, and we will have festivals in Europe. We played a lot in the States last year, and I think since 2013 we have played every year, so this year we will not be in the States. We’ll see if we can come back next year, but we are going to play live a lot. There’s a new video coming out at the end of this month [“Ghost House Heart”] too, so there are exciting times ahead!
Dead Rhetoric: Will there be any more whiskey stuff going on?
Wessels: [Laughs] There’s always some whiskey stuff going on somewhere. Otto [Schimmelpenninck van der Oije] and I certainly enjoyed the 3 Delain whiskey editions that we have done. They all sold out within a few hours…for the longest one. The fastest one was like 30 minutes. We don’t have anything planned at the moment, but if the opportunity arises I am sure we will go for it. The previous editions have been fun, tasty, and successful so I don’t see why not.