Illumishade – Join the Illumi OrderTuesday, 12th May 2020
With so many bands constantly vying for the attention of music fans, how do you stand out? In the case of Illumishade, you come up with a grandiose concept that not only pertains to your album, but also the idea of the band itself. For a first release, there’s a massive amount of detail given to not just the music, but in building an entire world for not just the band, but also their fans. For many, this will be the icing on the cake for a release that, musically-speaking, will already be anticipated for many melodic metal fans. We had the opportunity to chat with vocalist Fabienne Erni to get a better idea of the sense of world-building that went into the album and band, how she is balancing Illumishade with Eluveitie, her introduction to metal, and more!
Dead Rhetoric: What goals did you have in mind when you came up with the idea for Illumishade?
Fabienne Erni: Basically, my first goal was to pass school. I did my music studies to become a music teacher at a university in Switzerland. My thesis was to build a project with a concept and play music for about 40 minutes or so. This is basically why I started Illumishade. For us to come this far, after the thesis – I had it in September – to go into the studio, build the world around it, and now release an album and everything, I would have not thought of it a year ago. Somehow we all got hooked, everyone in the band including my best friend Tamara [Schön], who is taking over the management stuff. It’s a do-it-yourself project so we just keep everything together in our little core of Illumishade. I am super happy that we have made this step!
Dead Rhetoric: So the band basically came from the idea of doing a thesis for your degree?
Erni: Yeah! It sounds a bit crazy, but I would not have dared to do my own project otherwise. I never had the feeling that I needed to do my own music. In Eluveitie, my role is an interpreter mostly. I say some things about the music, but it’s mostly me giving life to Chrigel [Glanzmann]’s melodies. With Illumishade, I am involved as a composer. We can build a new world around the band. When I entered Eluveitie, it was already established. Eluveitie has its own world and I was invited to step in and work as an interpreter for the most part. Now, I had to do it [laughs]! It was a good thing, because thanks to that I took the step and we are all happy that we started and took it this far.
Dead Rhetoric: Yeah, it seems that with Eluveitie, you probably already have an extensive amount of work to do as it is.
Erni: [Laughs] Exactly! To find this balance for both bands – at the moment it is such a special situation with the Coronavirus and we are all at home. We are still doing things for Eluveitie, but I can also invest a lot of time for Illumishade. Right before the release, it’s actually very nice to have some more time. But in the future, it should be very easy. When Eluveitie has something – when it is Eluveitie time, it’s Eluveitie time. But when I can fill in the gaps, we can look to see if we get something…some shows or a tour. We definitely want to go on with it. We are all hooked, super happy, and proud! Now we will just see how everything goes with the release!
Dead Rhetoric: Can you talk about the story and concept of the music and the band?
Erni: Everything started with this idea – I love musicals and I was always a big fan of musicals and fantasy worlds. I’m a huge fan of Harry Potter. I love diving into these stories and fantasy worlds. When I knew that I had to compose – I wasn’t familiar with it at the time, but now I love it. Since it was new to me, I didn’t know how to go about it. I figured out a story, because it helped me to interpret the song. I usually build a story around a song when I have to sing it; it just helps me a lot. So I decided to build a whole world around the band, so that I could be inspired musically.
I had a rough story in mind. It started in 2018, and I was on a shopping trip with my best friend Tamara, who is also very involved in the project. I told her a rough idea and she really liked it, so we developed it together. We took it further, and then we figured out that we needed someone from outside the band to help us develop it because it was too much to handle. We do everything ourselves, and it was just too much. So we work with a concept writer from Canada. We found her on the internet. She is a metal fan herself. It was super cool to work with her! Mostly now, she and Tamara are involved together. The rest of us were really busy with the music, so Tamara took over the concept world. But still we all like the feedback and develop it together. The rough story I had in mind – the main elements was mostly what I had in my mind, but with all of these tribes and stuff. Tamara took it further. We have this quiz and stuff that people can take.
Dead Rhetoric: That’s funny, I was just about to mention the quiz. I took it myself over the weekend [you can take it HERE] and it is very in-depth. Are you trying to really get people to dig deep into the immersion?
Erni: We really want everyone to be able to relate to something in the world. I had in mind that we are an order, and we take care of the world. Every band member is ‘the chosen one’ of their tribe to be in the Illumi Order. We basically built the tribes around the characters of the band members so that it fits. For example, Mirjam [Schnedl] is Faeva, which is very nature-oriented and embracing everything, and that is exactly her. So our band members all relate to their tribe, and the people who are listening can relate to their tribes and the whole world.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s a really cool thing that you have. There’s so much more to it than just, “Oh, here is a cool new video.” There’s so much immersion, it’s a great idea.
Erni: Thank you! We just wanted to build something where a community could be started. Feeling that interaction, it’s a lot of fun and people can be engaged.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned your love of musicals. If you had the time, would you want to take the band beyond just music and make it into a bigger multimedia presentation? Something like a musical or story?
Erni: That would be a dream. That would be a goal. We take it step by step and everything that is realistic at the moment we do. We work really hard, but of course we will see how everything goes with the release. If we get to tour, and how everything will develop and try to come up with new ideas for people to be engaged. There’s also resources – there’s a financial piece. We have to be realistic, but we have many ideas. It’s about how we can put ideas into reality and make them possible. But it would be a dream to continue with this and see how far we can go.
Dead Rhetoric: Every track seems to have its own identity. Do you feel you were able to really flesh them out and work on them to achieve this?
Erni: Basically, when we started we really wanted to have a playground where we could put all of our ideas and all of our influences into the pot. There was no boundaries. It was about having fun and seeing how far we could go. All of the band members come from different angles, but we have known each other for years. I studied with our bass player [Yannick Urbanczik] and our drummer [Marc Friedrich]. With Jonas [Wolf], he and Mirjam are both from Zurich as well. We know each other, and we just had fun and let the creativity flow.
Also, thanks to the story, I think the songs can really be vey different. The songs fit certain situations within the story. It’s okay that they are different, but they still have all of the same goal and guidelines. Also, thanks to Mirjam, she is doing the orchestrations and special sounds like the synthesizers. Thanks to her, I think she brings an element to the songs that make them stick together. We have a few ballads, but some harder songs, but because of the story and Mirjam’s work, I think that they can all flow together.
Dead Rhetoric: I meant to ask this earlier, but you stated that the band was independent. Is this something you want to do, because clearly with yourself and Jonas involved, I wouldn’t imagine it would be too hard to get signed to a label?
Erni: I actually don’t know how labels would react to us. If we would be interesting or not. We just didn’t really look for it. As long as it is possible to have it by ourselves, we want to continue it that way. It’s a lot of work, and new experiences and challenges that maybe we wouldn’t face if we signed with a label. It is very challenging but we like it. Without Tamara, it would probably not be possible. She works for promoters in Switzerland doing rock and metal shows, and she is also new in this type of management situation. But thanks to her work and altogether, we’ve made everything work so far. As long as we can handle it ourselves, we really want to keep it. It’s nice to have our own deadlines, and we have all the rights to everything. We’ll see how far we can get alone.
Dead Rhetoric: The band has being doing great at having these live streams and fan interactions online. As you were saying before, was having this unexpected downtime beneficial in being able to promote the album?
Erni: We just have more time at home now [laughs], which of course helps on the promotion and the album and everything. We would have gone on a Russian tour back in April but we would be home at the moment anyway. But it’s a special situation and since we are at home I use the time for both bands. Eluveitie would have taken more time since we would have been on tour for three weeks. But I think I have found a good balance.
Dead Rhetoric: I know you have been doing these Corona-related talks with other musicians. What do you feel you’ve learned from doing these?
Erni: What I really enjoy is actually connecting with musicians. I’ve done this with four singers now. It was super nice to connect with them. Three out of the four I have never met in person, and without the Coronavirus I would not have talked to them. Maybe if we would meet at festival or something we might meet, but this was something very different. It was interesting to see how the musicians in other bands handle the situation and what they have to face now. We are all in this together, and it’s good opportunity to show people what situation we are in too. It’s a very nice idea that Chrigel had.
Dead Rhetoric: Was there anything that you learned from your time in Eluveitie that you have applied to Illumishade?
Erni: Basically, I didn’t have much band experience before I joined Eluveitie. I was in these school bands, but not a private band. I didn’t have any band experience before, so I learned a lot about touring, concerts – everything. Being on social media and things like that I learned due to Eluveitie. Now with Illumishade we have to face many other challenges that I haven’t had to face with Eluveitie. So there’s still a lot to discover. It’s a lot of fun! I think we all grow together in the band because of these challenges, and we grow as a team. It’s actually very nice.
Dead Rhetoric: Jumping into Eluveitie and touring the world – what are some of your favorite experiences so far?
Erni: It’s so hard to choose! For me, when I think back it’s a little bit crazy because I just joined the band and when from 0 to 100. As I said, I wasn’t really in a band before, so I was thrown into the cold water a bit, but I like challenges so I said yes when they chose me. For me, the wonderful experiences are concerts. Small or big – whatever, but feeling the energy between us and the crowd and the interaction, the give and take, it’s very nice. To tour – I love touring with the crew and the band, and being like a little family touring around in the bus. Seeing all of these different places and meeting people from all over the world, that’s what I enjoy a lot. When we were in South America, people were waiting at the airport, and we could talk with them, taking pictures, and it was very lovely to meet so many new people.
Dead Rhetoric: Correct me if I am wrong on this, but the first song that you sent to get into Eluveitie was you singing a Disney song?
Erni: [Laughs] Yeah! It was one of the concerts we had a school. We had these workshops, and I was in a Disney workshop so for half a year we only played Disney songs. We always had a concert at the end of the semester. Jonas had already joined Eluveitie a half a year before me, and he knew me because we were in the same school. He knew I loved to sing and that it would fit, vocal-wise and range-wise. All he could find on the internet of me was a recording of me singing “Let it Go.” He showed it to Chrigel and then the whole band. That was how it started, and how they got to know me. But later, I had talks with Chrigel and they asked me to send in “Call of the Mountains.” I was singing karaoke in the cellar and recording on the phone [laughs] and sending it to them so that they would know how my voice sounds.
Dead Rhetoric: What drew you into heavy metal?
Erni: Basically, it was when I was about 20 or so and studying in the north of Sweden for a year. I was studying music, and there are many metalheads there. I remember once, in the evening, hanging around after school, they called me over and wanted to show me ‘all the metal’ [laughs]. They showed me a lot of different types of metal, and it was my first touch with it. I was always open to everything, but wasn’t really listening to metal at the time. So that was my first real contact and figuring out different styles. It was very nice. When Eluveitie came along, I said, “Hey, shit I really enjoy this!” To be singing these songs, and with Eluveitie, this mixture between folk and the acoustic stuff, and the harder songs – for me Eluveitie was just perfect.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you have planned for the rest of the year, with either Illumishade or Eluveitie?
Erni: It is very unpredictable. We had a plan to play in Russia last month, and play in festivals. Many of the festivals are cancelled or postponed until next year. It seems pretty quiet for summer. We are waiting to see. We have a US tour in autumn with Eluveitie. We just hope that we can do it. It will be with Infected Rain and it should be a lot of fun. I hope things will be fine by then, but it’s unpredictable. I have my fingers crossed. So yeah, we know nothing [laughs]!
I personally hope that when the borders open up again, that maybe all of Eluveitie can meet up. It would be super cool to have a live stream or small concert because people are missing live music and we are missing performing. It would be great, but we have no particular plan since we are spread out in Europe and the borders are currently closed, so we are only in contact through the internet. Illumishade-wise, there is a release show planned on May 23. We have found a very nice club in Switzerland where they have the facility to have a live stream with cameras and everything. We booked it there, and then we will see what will come and how everything will develop.