Xandria – Entering New DimensionsSunday, 29th January 2017
Seven albums in to this point, symphonic powerhouse Xandria shows no signs of slowing down. Acquiring current vocalist Dianne van Giersbergen around the time of their last full-length, Sacrificium, the band had a number of successful touring runs and an EP (Fire & Ashes) to help maintain and build momentum forward. Theater of Dimensions, their latest album, runs with the Xandra format and takes it to the nines.
An almost 75-minute opus of symphonic metal, Theater of Dimensions is the type of album that propel the band into the biggest names of the genre. Full of heavy riffs, soaring vocals, and a bevy of additional instruments, it’s clear the band will make a mark with this release. There’s also a number of high profile guests that aid in the process, giving the album some added variety and dynamic. Plenty of avenues for conversation, so we grabbed the afore-mentioned van Giersbergen for some questions in regards to the band and new album, along with her additional roles as a vocal coach and jewelry designer.
Dead Rhetoric: You joined the band during Sacrificium. Was the recording process for Theater of Dimensions different this time, considering you have now been in the band for a few years?
Dianne van Giersbergen: It really was. When I joined the band, the album [Sacrificium] was already written. The only thing I could do for the songs were some minor adjustments, and only for the vocals. For this album, it’s quite the opposite. We wrote the songs with the three of us: Marco Heubaum, Joost Van Den Broek – who is our producer but also co-writer of the album, and myself. From the beginning, we really focused on where my voice should be in the songs and the arrangements. We made sure it was a good position to show off my best notes. We had to change a lot of keys – that’s a big difference from the other albums. In the other albums are, key-wise, much more focused on the guitars. We went a step back…when I’m in a good position, everything benefits. The guitarists don’t have to hold back on their riffs and they can go as heavy as they want. I’m doing my thing anyway, so there’s no need to refrain from going all in. I would say that is a big difference writing-wise. Also in the end, it made the album much heavier. I think we used a lot more lower keys. For me, the feeling is completely different because I’ve been a part of everything now.
Dead Rhetoric: There are also 5 acoustic bonus tracks on the album [2CD media book edition]. How did you decide upon which tracks would be included?
van Giersbergen: I’m basically the one who selected them. Philip [Restemeier] selected “Valentine” because he had a cool riff. So he came up with that one. It’s kind of like the standard procedure – you go out and select your bonus tracks, which are to be acoustic…so the singer chooses the ballads [laughs], and the guitarist comes up with a song he can write a guitar riff to [laughs]! I think that the four songs I chose were songs that were dear to me and are really nice for my voice to sing. Of course, we wanted to focus on having a song from each album. So we have “Valentine” from Neverworld’s End, we did “Sweet Atonement” from Sacrificium, then “In Remembrance” from Fire & Ashes, then we have “Dark Night of the Soul” from the new album but also our single, “Call of Destiny,” which we turned into a ballad.
Dead Rhetoric: It seems like there is a lot of momentum behind Theater of Dimensions. You went out and found a number of high profile guests to include as well. Did you as a band feel like you wanted to push Xandria to the next level with this release?
van Giersbergen: I think so, but then again, I think every band should aim for that when they have a new release coming out. There’s no use in thinking, “well, this is an okay record. Let’s bring it to the table!” So obviously yes – but it’s two separate things though. I think we’ve maybe matured and are able to master our sound. Also because of our co-writing and work with Joost Van Den Broek, who totally understands the genre, and was able to open new doors for us and show us other possibilities. Then there are the four guest singers that we invited. I think they all bring a different dimension to the album – though it’s really cheesy to make that quote, it does work like that. They bring different dimensions to the songs and they portray different roles.
For example, with Zaher Zorgati [Myrath] we sing in a duet – it’s a love story and we are in the love story together. But then we have a duet with Henning Basse [Firewind] where he is the evil leader and well, I basically have to slay him. Which is really funny because Henning is a friend of mine and he is such a sweet, gentle, and humble person and I have to slay him. I think he did a tremendous job in portraying the evil leader because he totally pulls it off. Then there is Ross Thompson of Van Canto and he’s a good friend of the band. He was the perfect addition for our pirate song. There’s no pirate song without Ross because he’s got rolling “arrr” and “matey” stuff going on. And of course, I think this is the one that everyone should know – Bjorn [Strid] of Soilwork, who joined us for “We Are Murderers (We All).” Because of him joining, we could really jump into this song and give it a different direction than we usually go. We made a song that is far heavier than anything else in our repertoire.
Dead Rhetoric: The album is almost 75-minutes in length, which is a pretty serious effort. Was there ever a moment, based on the times we are living in, where you felt maybe it was too much?
van Giersbergen: No – we actually have so many songs on the album because we just couldn’t choose. One song was supposed to be a bonus track but we just couldn’t decide which one it should be, so we decided to do them all and please our fans. We’ve had many comments already that people were looking forward to such a long album. Then we decided to do the acoustic tracks. That was actually a plan that we’ve had for a while now, because we’ve been doing acoustic performances on our headline shows during VIP sessions. Only two of those songs are now bonuses, but it’s an idea we’ve had for a while.
Dead Rhetoric: I think for this style of music – more tends to be better. I’m thinking of the last Epica album, which was also in a similar length to yours. Seems like fans of this genre do go for the ‘more is more’ aspect.
van Giersbergen: Yeah – if you take a look at the video clips and the costumes in our genre then definitely, this is a genre where ‘more is more’ may even be understated [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: In regards to your role as a vocal coach, what do you enjoy most about doing it?
van Giersbergen: The thing I love most is that with the singing lessons I give, I learn so much. There are things that come natural to me, that are part of my talent, and there are things that I had to be able to understand and study to master. This is something that is different for every voice and singer. By helping someone master a certain technique that has come natural to me, I get a much better picture of what it is that I’m actually doing, or what comes natural to me. This is a wonderful process. My students help me understand what I do, because I have to explain it to them. If I can’t, that means that I have not completed my path yet, which luckily has not happened [laughs]! It keeps me really focused on my techniques, because I am totally convinced that you are the master of your profession only if you can explain what you are doing.
Dead Rhetoric: In a previous interview that you’ve done with Dead Rhetoric, you mentioned your dislike of those reality show competitions like The Voice, in terms of your vocal coaching. Do you think that our goal of having to work hard for our goals has been dashed by the need for instant gratification?
van Giersbergen: Totally. People are only interested in the end result nowadays. Everyone wants to be famous. If you ask them what they want to be famous for, they say “I want to be a singer.” If you ask, “Have you studied singing?” “No.” “Do you know how your voice works?” “No. But that doesn’t matter, I’m going to sing and I’m going to be famous.” So good luck…see you, nowhere.
Fun fact – “Call of Destiny” is actually about this. It’s not specifically about these talent shows, but it’s more an answer to all the young girls who have come up to me and asked me, “How did you do it” or “I want to be a singer” or “I want to be famous too.” They often proceed with saying “…and it must be so easy for you, because you have a talent.” Then I’m like, “Yes – I know that I’ve been given this talent and I feel terribly blessed with that BUT it’s not the talent that brings you somewhere, it’s the talent that can bring you somewhere.” So “Call of Destiny” is my answer to those girls, in which I say that you can be called by a certain talent and you can really feel that this could be your destiny, but you have to answer to the call, and it’s something you have to do yourself. You have to gain control, stay motivated, study hard, study every day, keep yourself in shape, and everything else that comes with it. Maybe it’s kind of a tutorial [laughs]!
Dead Rhetoric: In addition to singing and teaching, you also make jewelry (Precious Metal). How did you get into it?
van Giersbergen: I’ve been creating jewelry for a quite a while, but I’ve always felt the need to find a solution to combine it with music. I like it when everything I do has a certain connection. At a certain point on tour, I saw my boys restringing their guitars and throwing away this perfect jewelry material and I had the epiphany right then. It was like, “oh stop it! Give them to me! Let’s have a look and see if this is possible.” Well, it clearly is…while it’s nice that this is possible and that I now have a lot of suppliers, what I love most about it is that when I get the material – whenever I receive the guitar strings or bass strings, or even drum cymbals – there is already a story in the material.
Those musicians have had them on stage and they were performing the songs that someone in the audience really loves and he or she is now able to buy a jewel that has guitar strings that were used in the concert that they visited. That to me is a perfect circle – I love that. I love the story part. I love making people happy. You wouldn’t believe how many compliments I receive and how happy I make people while they are buying it. They are thankful to spend money – it’s such a beautiful concept, because with this, I really feel I can share and give these strings a new life. I’m totally up for us making less waste – there’s enough rubbish in the world already. This is my little contribution. I haven’t found the negative side! I’m really happy with the concept.
Dead Rhetoric: So you come up with all of the designs and everything yourself?
van Giersbergen: Yes! It gives me the perfect out to not talk all day or sing all day. It’s also a must for me. The voice has to rest at a certain point. This is just a perfect way to do it. I’m still creative – I can never sit down and watch a TV series or a movie. I’m a big fan of Netflix, but whenever I do it, I’m also creating something with my hands. I’m not the type of person to sit still.
Dead Rhetoric: You also cite your fan interactions as a highlight of being in a band. Have you had any particularly memorable experience with fans?
van Giersbergen: Yes, of course. I’m trying to think of something that was not memorable, because I think that everything is memorable in its own way. I’ve been in the band for three years now, and I’m still not used to, which is a good thing, people being so thankful. I can’t really shed the light on one thing, because it would make the other moments less important. I love it so much that I can’t say!
Dead Rhetoric: You also have plans for your other band, Ex Libris, this year as well, correct?
van Giersbergen: We are going to hit the studio but more to start a pre-production process and to see where we can go and what we need to do for this. It’s the start of organizing everything. We have some songs that I have already written but they are not complete, and not enough to fill an album with. In February we are going to be starting up again. Ex Libris is more of a studio project, so it’s more about releasing music and having a few exclusive concerts each year.
Dead Rhetoric: You are going to be hitting the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise very soon. I know you’ve done it before, so what are you looking forward to being able to do the second time around?
van Giersbergen: I have such an honest but bad answer in mind [laughs]…unlimited pancakes! I’m such a sucker for American pancakes, that’s what I like to do [on the cruise]. I really like the mood and the vibe on the festival. It’s just one big family, partying together. I think that is what I am looking forward to again. Seeing the other bands too, of course. There are a lot of bands that we are friends with, that will be on the cruise. Orphaned Land, for example. But also Serenity, and Orden Ogan – whom we toured with. It’s really cool to have this one big gathering of family and friends. A party that lasts almost a week on a cruise ship in the Caribbean Sea. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Dead Rhetoric: Outside of 70,000 Tons and a few dates after that – do you have any other plans in the works, particularly any US-based plans?
van Giersbergen: [Laughs] We get this question so often…I think, in the nearby future, we will be able to give you an answer you will like to hear, but not now. We are looking to return to the US, and it looks hopeful. More pancakes!
Dead Rhetoric: I remember you had a few dates set for last fall that ultimately fell through due to visa issues…
van Giersbergen: Yes, that’s true. It bummed us out so much. We were really looking forward to returning and there were a lot of people that had written to us who bought tickets and were so excited to see us. Then this whole thing came up – but one doesn’t simply walk into customs and say, “Do you know who we are?” [Laughs] Well, you can do that, but it’s more a guarantee that you won’t get your visa at all. So we decided not to do that, and give it another try later.