Delain – In It for the Beat

Monday, 7th May 2018

Things have been continuing to rocket skywards for Delain over the past few years. Following their last record, 2016’s Moonbathers, they made their way over for their first North American headlining run, released a live DVD, and even put forth a Delain whiskey in partnering with Laphroaig. That’s not even to mention the amount of touring that occurred in Europe and Latin America last year. Alas, it seems there’s never a dull moment to be had. Not bad for a band entering their second decade together.

This brings us to 2018, an apparent ‘rest year’ for the band to start working on their follow-up to Moonbathers. But they are currently finishing up another tour, this time supporting Kamelot across the North American continent. Thus an opportune time to talk with vocalist Charlotte Wessels about said touring run, their progress on the upcoming album (and EP), as well as some more personal topics such as trying to maintain some privacy with her personal life and her passion for whiskey.

Dead Rhetoric: You did a Kamelot U.S. tour a few years back, so does it seem full circle to be doing this again?

Charlotte Wessels: Yeah, it’s good. We know who we are touring with, and we had a good experience before. It’s fun hitting the road again and this time we have a full production, longer set times, so it’s cool!

Dead Rhetoric: Otto Schimmelpenninck is not with all of you for this tour, was there any particular reason?

Wessels: It was just personal circumstances. He’s not joining us for this tour, but he will onstage with us again. There were no accidents, nothing confetti-related this time either [laughs].

Dead Rhetoric: How hard is it for you to maintain some personal boundaries outside of the band? You were married recently, and is it tough with people who want to see pictures or be involved in some way?

Wessels: I really like getting people involved, but there are certain limits to that. My husband is actually in politics, which is one of the first reasons that we thought it might be best to keep those worlds separated. Sometimes I feel kind of sad – you get married, or when you are in love, you want to shout it from the rooftops, but I can’t. On the other hand, I’ve been on tour, like this one, with people who have significant others who are also public figures in the same scene, and whenever I see people asking, “Hey, how’s your wife doing? Send my regards!” It actually makes me kind of happy since that part of me is kind of mine, in a way, if that makes sense at all.

Dead Rhetoric: It makes a lot of sense – you are in a public profile and you have that one little slice that belongs to you, which not everyone has to know about.

Wessels: Exactly. We’ve always done it that way – he’s not in my photos. Also, I have the most adorable little niece and I could share photos of her all day, but I’m not doing that either. Only recently did it start to really click with me where I noticed why I’m actually doing this. When you miss them, and everyone is talking about them, I think it makes it harder. It’s getting easier to keep up those boundaries, because their use becomes more apparent the longer you go.

Dead Rhetoric: In terms of touring, you have been hitting North America pretty hard. Everyone kind of looks at touring as this big, glamourous thing. What does your day-to-day schedule tend to look like?

Wessels: It’s different for everybody, since we all have our own routine. For me, I get up relatively early and have a little coffee and breakfast. Then I go work out, either at a gym or doing something outside. In the best case, there are other people on this tour, so it’s nice to be able to do it altogether and make a social thing out of it. Then I usually work a little bit at my laptop, and then it’s soundcheck. Make-up time is next, which is annoying as fuck. I hate working with make-up but I feel like I kind of have to. Warm-ups, then getting dressed for the show, doing a setlist meeting because we usually talk through the show before we go on stage. Then it’s showtime – after the show, I do a guest performance with Kamelot so I get ready for that. Depending on the day, we eat somewhere in between, maybe do some press, and I go to bed fairly quickly after all of that.

I used to be more of a party animal on tour, but the bigger the tour, and the more people are depending on the functioning of the band, I feel like it’s just not worth it to wake up with a hangover. I’m like a monk – I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I work out every day and eat healthy! I actually really like it. I read a lot because I don’t sleep too well in the bunk. I don’t know if it’s the movement or the noise – but it’s getting better. When we first started touring, I didn’t sleep at all and I would be a zombie by week 3. Now I sleep a few hours every night. I decided to just roll with it. When I got stressed about it, I wasn’t well-rested. Now I know if I’m awake, I’ll just read because that way I relax. I don’t worry about it – I don’t get my deep rest, but at least I get some relaxation. It’s going pretty well like this.

Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned the make-up time. I know that you post a number of those ‘before and after’ pictures. When you do that, are you trying to show that maybe you don’t have to go all into the whole make-up routine?

Wessels: I was just talking about this with Lauren [Hart] because we were doing our make-up together. We both said we hated it. I don’t even think I look better with make-up on. But when you are on the stage, the lights wash out your face. Especially when you are singing, you want your emotions to be showing. But for me, it always feels like…I don’t want to think about the amount of time wasted doing make-up, where I could write music, or do valuable things with my life. I remember this episode of The Simpsons where Homer invented a make-up gun and you could just shoot it and have make-up on. I’m still waiting for something like that [laughs]. It’s a complete waste of time. If that time could go into something like writing or something [it would be great].

Dead Rhetoric: Speaking of songwriting, I know that you have at least started the process for a new album. What’s your goal with the next album, if you have thought that far yet?

Wessels: We started out thinking that maybe it should be something more conceptual, like I have done for my side project [Phantasma], where I had a book that went with it. We were thinking we could do something elaborate, but we’ve already started writing songs, and I’ve noticed that the songs are so diverse that I’m not sure if it is going to [work]. In the end, what’s most important to me is that we have a great collection of songs. If they work better individually than strung together in one concept, that’s fine with me too. We are aiming for 2019, and we realize that there’s a big gap between Moonbathers and this one. In 2017, we had a live DVD as well, but our plan is to do an EP at the end of this year, just to keep productive. God forbid we have some rest at some point [laughs]!

Dead Rhetoric: At one point you were talking about focusing on one song at a time, recording, and getting it all done before going to the next one. Are you still planning for that, or are you moving back towards more traditional methods?

Wessels: We are doing it kind of one by one. It’s really convenient. Back in the day, for pre-productions, I would head over to Oliver’s [Philipps], who co-produced the records back then, and would do vocal pre-productions there. I have my recordings set up at home now, and I feel that it’s always good for your personal development to be able to do the complete thing on your island. So I’m doing most of those things. Everybody can do their individual things themselves, which makes it very convenient for the songs to develop at their own time.

When we feel like we have 1, 2, or maybe even 3 songs ready to go, then we book the recording time for the drums because that’s always the one that you can’t do easily at home. You need more complicated mic-ing and acoustics for that. So we book time and start to do that. I’m hoping that we can do that for the first couple of songs soon. We have a lot of concepts, but somehow all of them are 90-95% – just missing one ingredient. So I’m curious to see which ones get to the recording phase.

Dead Rhetoric: Something that I’ve been asking to a lot of symphonic metal bands lately relates to the idea of ‘more is more’ in terms of the music. I’m not sure I’d necessarily agree with placing Delain in that same category. Do you see Delain as veering slightly off that path in terms of comparing to your contemporaries?

Wessels: We are really aware of the fact that we have a tendency to get very lush in the arrangements. On the one hand, it’s a matter of taste and on the other, for us, the key rule is that any embellishments that are there should be the cream on top of the cake – they should never be the cake. Our theory is that if you strip down the song to just the melody and the chords, if you could just play acoustic or with a piano and sing – it should still be a song. Maybe we’ll make exceptions for a big orchestral piece or something, but in general, if you have a song, it should work in its most bare form.

Then we can spice it up – Martijn [Westerholt] is doing all of the orchestral arrangements and he has been working with Mikko Mustonen now for a while and it’s a very good cooperation. They work really well together and they’ve made some really big pieces, but we have also had times where we had some big pieces and thought its better without it. Or replace it with one funky sound. It can go either way, as long as the ground rule still stands.

Dead Rhetoric: Is it tougher too as you build an established sound? What do you feel is the essence of Delain – what do you hone in on with songwriting?

Wessels: I think we are very much geared towards contrasts. Contrast in the sweet versus the heavy. I’m not sure if it sets us apart from other bands in the genre, but for me, that’s very much there. The light and the dark, the sweet and the heavy, the very poppy and very metal. That’s something that we are always aiming for. Also to have the element of surprise in there. It doesn’t make it more complicated now that we have an established sound, but I do notice that when I’m writing, there are more ideas that I know, from the beginning, that won’t be a Delain song. Like, it’s fun, but it won’t be a Delain song because it’s too different, or maybe we have already done something similar before.

So it narrows down the possibilities of what you can do. Unless you want to be rebellious. You can still do that, but it also creates a framework from which you can work. I kind of like that too. You are really working toward something – we want ‘this type’ of song, or this is the kind of emotion that we have and want to communicate to people. That’s always also easier than just saying, “Write any song in the world, now!” [Laughs] It has its pros and cons.

Dead Rhetoric: I know you introduced the Delain whiskey last year. Is that something that you are hoping to build upon?

Wessels: I hope so. It’s mostly Otto and myself; we really like single malt whiskeys, Scottish ones specifically. We also both have a real soft spot for Laphroaig – it’s one of our favorites. We had been looking to release a Laphroaig whiskey since forever. It’s really a vanity project – as a band you can’t sell liquor so we have to go through other channels, so we aren’t making any money off of it. We wanted to have a Delain whiskey and it took a really long time but we managed [to get it]. At the point that we released it, we got a call from someone else who said, “Hey I’ve got some Laphroaig for you” so we had a second edition. So we thought that was a sign that maybe we should look for a 3rd or a 4th edition. I’ve already had some people from inside that world approach me, but I think that we set the bar really high by having our favorite whiskey be the first one. It’s not like we are going to put any whiskey out there; it has to be a special one.

I have a soft spot for whiskey – I don’t like getting drunk, or alcohol in general, but I think with whiskey, you don’t drink it, you taste it. I think the associations that you get from a Laphroaig – it’s so peaty, it’s so earthy. The first time I drank it, I was like *snap* and I was on the beach with a washed out campfire – that was the vibe I got from it and I loved it. You mentioned my wedding earlier – I proposed to my husband…

Dead Rhetoric: You proposed?

Wessels: Yeah, feminist. If I’m going to get married I have to be the one that asks otherwise I can’t be in the club anymore you know [laughs]? But yeah, I proposed with a 10-year old Laphroaig, as we were together for 10 years. I called the distillery and I asked if they could put the proposal on the label and then we went there for a whiskey festival and I had it secretly made and kept it under my jacket.

Dead Rhetoric: That’s a pretty cool story! Would you ever consider, not now since you have no time, but would you want to try distilling whiskey? It seems like you know your stuff.

Wessels: I don’t think I’d want to do distilling. But what I have done on a few occasions now, is to host whiskey tastings. I’ve collected the whiskeys and told stories, or something about the whiskey. I think my favorite one was when there were a lot of people who weren’t really into whiskey yet and I could tell them about the basics. You could see it click for them with a whiskey that they enjoyed and it was lovely to see.

Dead Rhetoric: There you go – whenever you are done with Delain, you can go and be a master taster!

Wessels: For now, I’m happy to do one of those every once in a while. There’s a lovely bar that is right behind my house, which is quite dangerous, called The Malt Vault. I have hosted two for them and it’s been nice. People who are in Utrecht, check it out!

Dead Rhetoric: So to finish up, you have this tour, maybe an EP later this year and an album next year. Anything else going on in the busy world of Delain?

Wessels: I think the most important thing is that we are joining Nightwish on tour in South America later this year. It’s quite exciting. We have some festivals coming up, but we also have two special headline shows coming up in October. We will play stuff from the EP for the first time, and they will be our only club shows for the year. This was actually supposed to be a ‘rest year’ where we would only write, and now we are on a month-long tour in the US, we are touring in South America, doing some festivals and club shows. So as far as a down year goes, we are still quite busy, but I’m really happy.

I’m excited to do the EP and write new songs, and perform some new songs again. We have been touring with Moonbathers for quite a while, and I think that it was one of the best albums in terms of how many of them we have played live. You always get your favorites off an to play live – the more albums you have, the more you pick your favorites from every album to make a live show, and I think that Moonbathers has a lot of tracks that we really like performing live, so I hope the next album will give us a lot of new live favorites as well.

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