Burning Witches – Heroes Channeling the NorthThursday, 20th May 2021
Never surrendering and focused on the goal of bringing old school heavy metal to the masses, Burning Witches continue to move forward no matter what obstacle or challenge lay before them. The Witch of the North is the group’s fourth album – first to contain latest second guitarist Larissa Ernst – and continues to strive for a sound that is energetic, passionate, and relevant to all who love classic Judas Priest, Dio, Iron Maiden, and those offshoots. We reached out to vocalist Laura Guldemond to learn more behind the making of the new record, the Norse/mythology concept behind the lyrics, her work as a vocalist, thoughts on songwriting and continual improvement, and also some interesting thoughts on lessons learned from her previous act Shadowrise that apply to how she handles things in Burning Witches.
Dead Rhetoric: The latest album for Burning Witches is The Witch of the North – the fourth full-length over the past five years. How did the songwriting and recording sessions go this time around – and where do you see the major developments or differences for this record compared to the previous records?
Laura Guldemond: For the songwriting, it’s almost the same although this time we do have a new lineup with the new guitarist Larissa actually living in the same city (that) everyone else lives in except for myself, so that’s different. Sometimes they could record the guitar lines together. This was a little bit different, because before Sonia would always record her guitars at home. It’s easier for them to do it together. For me, the situation is still the same. A lot of people ask me if coronavirus made things difficult, but in Switzerland the rules were not super tight so everyone could just visit each other. The good thing is, if I had to go there which I’m normally not unless we have gigs, but at least if I have to I can get a test and show that I am working and allowed to move freely so I don’t have to go into quarantine if I enter, stuff like that.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you feel more confident this time, especially when it came to creating the lyrical content? I know the first album with the group last time, you wanted their input as to what they were looking for in that department…
Guldemond: Yeah. I mean it’s always like… you do things with keeping everybody a little bit in mind. At least I do. I know what Burning Witches is, I already had a feeling because I listened to the albums they already had, the two previous albums gave me pretty good ideas. Especially if you are new in a band, there is a little bit more tension around that, you want to make everyone happy. At least I want to make everyone happy, I am a bit of a people pleaser in that way. If the band is happy, I am happy. On the other side of it, I like to put my own creativity into this, and I am able to do this in Burning Witches, more than I’ve been able to do that in a band. It really fits what I like to do, and I can do many different vocal styles.
Lyrically this time, they gave me only one idea. It was kind of like… the reason why it happened. Romana was playing a riff, and at some point she thought it was sounding super Norse-ish, like Norse mythology with Vikings. Like Amon Amarth, so she wanted an idea relating to the witch of the North. I got that idea, and I was asked to write a song about the witch of the North. They did give me some time to think about it. I really loved the idea, I let it settle. I did some research, but how am I going to do that because there is no witch of the North, I thought. There actually is, so that turns out to be really cool. In Norse mythology, I looked if there were any connections to witches- there are two personas connected to it. Sometimes these goddesses are seen as one goddess so I chose Freyja – the goddess of love and war, she is a really fierce woman. It was believed that the witches could also be given the power to look into the future. All the puzzle pieces fell together and that’s the story.
When we had that, we could look at all the Norse mythology and think about some really cool stories. We also chose to have a bit of concept this time like Hexenhammer. It’s a bit of fun to have some storytelling songs. That’s what you hear, some songs are a bit longer, there are some dynamics in that. Those two things we decided before we wrote most of the songs.
Dead Rhetoric: Working with veteran Destruction main man Schmier in the producer seat and V.O. Pulver as mixing/mastering for Burning Witches – what do you believe these two musicians bring to the table to make this record that much stronger and better than you could expect? Where do you see and feel the differences occur?
Guldemond: I really like the fact that these two musicians were around during the time that we really want our music to sound like. It’s not like asking a good producer to do this. They have a big passion for this era, they did it before, they lived it and know how to get the best out for our album because we like this old school sound. This is really, really good. It’s nice that Pulver lives in Switzerland, it’s easier to go there. And he’s the perfect guy for us. Schmier also manages us, he’s a very passionate guy and super creative. When we go into the studio, he’s also producing and listening to some songs for the first time. He knows how to get the best out of those songs because he has fresh ears, and he is an instrumentalist beyond a vocalist. He knows a lot about both areas. It works, we are really happy with what they do.
Dead Rhetoric: This time around you went with a new cover artist in Claudio Bergamin – tell us about the decision to switch things up and how do you feel about the piece and concept he developed?
Guldemond: Yes. I actually can remember something that we were looking for an artist, and it’s very cool that he has made covers for Judas Priest, and I believe Battle Beast. We had a look at that, we liked what he did, he does really cool artwork. He likes the kind of music we are trying to make – in the same vibe. We love what he was doing, he did a really good job at putting our feeling on the cover, and keeping it old school. Hero-like metal personas of us on the front, if you want to call it that. You can compare it to Marvel, that bigger than life thing. We are all on the cover like tough metal ladies, that’s pretty cool.
The witch is what you are seeing in the middle. She is depicted as a tree-like creature, but that’s cool because she was the life giver, as well as the goddess of war and love. You see the snowy mountains, which we have a lot of in Switzerland (laughs). And the idea was, if you go to the north there is always more snow in the winter. It really fit, and even with the story it’s really cool in the end. During the process the puzzle pieces started to fit together. What I also like is the intro to the album we start with this cold sounding intro, and the album ends with a cold sounding outro. The cool thing is, if you look at the Ragnarök, the story where the world ends, this Norse mythology, they believe that when everything ends, the world will kind of repeat itself at one point. This fits the stories we tell.
Dead Rhetoric: Now that the band has been together for over five years and has plenty of releases under your belts, do you believe you’ve gained more respect from the media and your musical peers beyond the fans for your work ethic and professionalism – despite any of the obstacles thrown in your way?
Guldemond: I think it is, I never really experienced much adversity to be honest. I wasn’t there from the start, I entered into the band on the third album. In the beginning, and this is just my theory because it’s really hard to check, I do know that they met a few people in the industry that weren’t too fond of female bands. They thought they would split up easily, or other reasons. There are people that don’t like the concept anyways. It’s almost comparable to people that make folk music, or progressive music, they are opposites of each other, and you just have to choose what you like best.
Aside from this, there is always a discussion if there are guys that don’t really like the idea of an all-female metal band. It’s difficult to give my own opinion on that. I didn’t really notice a lot of negative things since I’ve been in the band. Most people seem pretty positive and wish that there were more females involved in metal bands. I have encountered a lot of cool people, besides the internet trolls who will post whatever they want anyway. You will have some sexist things going on, I don’t see them as things to take into consideration because it’s the internet. Because of this, and because I didn’t get in any bad situations, it is good. Some people think the band is only successful because it’s all females – and that’s part of the fun of our band, but it’s not the only reason why we are successful. Obviously, or it would have blown over after the first album.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe your personal development as a singer? What aspects do you enjoy about your range and delivery, and where would you like to improve over the coming years?
Guldemond: Well, I always like to improve as much as I can improve, and with a lot of things I’m happy now. I’ve noticed after recording this album, my voice wasn’t really tired or anything, it actually got stronger. I spent eight hours in the studio and my voice doesn’t hate me, that’s really nice. I guess I’m on the right way. I’m someone that wants to do everything, always. There are some techniques that are difficult for me. Maybe I should take some lessons to figure out exactly what I need to do in a specific register. Sometimes I can do a melody, but other times I have tension in certain muscles that makes things easier to do certain ranges and harder for others. As a vocal coach, it’s sometimes easier to see other people’s problems than it is to fix your own. I want to be more flexible and use my whistle register. That will be cool. I try to develop a bit.
When I write a song, I try to write the best song I can. Because of this I am actually going to a songwriting course. It’s cool to get the most out of it. The reason why specifically a songwriting course, I never really had anyone teach me anything for songwriting it was more based on everything else in music. It’s useful for me, the cool thing is there are people that worked with really big artists like Janet Jackson, and wrote a song that got in the top ten for Christina Aguilera. I’m not necessarily saying I would want to sing these kinds of songs as an artist, but it’s cool to learn from the best out there. A little course, seven days, but I think it’s always important to improve.
Dead Rhetoric: Of course. You always can find different things from outside your genre and possibly apply them to heavy metal from what you are learning…
Guldemond: That’s true. Did you know, the guy from Children of Bodom (Alexi Laiho), he was enrolled in a pop music conservatory while he was playing in Children of Bodom. There are more metal artists than you realize that actually did something like that. I wouldn’t have expected that from Children of Bodom.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you enjoy the Acoustic Sessions EP released last August where you did three stripped down versions of Burning Witches songs – and will this be something you possibly revisit in the future when live shows come back in between your regular touring/festival schedule?
Guldemond: Yes. That’s a good question. It’s mostly something that you start to think about doing with really long setlists. Usually we have an hour, you may have one ballad. If we have half an hour, we just skip all the ballads. If there is a special event where there are a lot of metal bands that play special acoustic stuff beyond their normal style, maybe we could join in with some of our songs and even more acoustic songs. Unless we have a one and a half-hour show, I wouldn’t expect this to happen beyond those special shows.
Dead Rhetoric: Releasing your last album Dance With the Devil right at the start of the global pandemic, how has the band handled the landscape as we hope to get back to regular live shows and festivals hopefully later this year or early next year? Do you believe the metal scene will come back stronger than ever as people crave more live entertainment and face to face interactions?
Guldemond: I think a lot of people are going to be super knocked out, wanting to go out and see shows. Everyone wants to party when it is safely and humanly possible. It’s a good question if you think about it deeply. I know some bands have members in them realizing they just wanted to do something else. Marco from Nightwish, and I know another band that except for the person who started that band, everyone new is coming in. There are some things happening, people have breaks they normally aren’t having and they want to do something else. Maybe because of this, other bands have fresh starts because the other members are super motivated.
It’s not per se a bad thing, but you have other artists that are missing a really big part of their income, and have to sell some instruments. Luckily enough I live in a country where the government actually takes care of you, like a freelancer and you can get some subsidized money. That also depends on where you are living. I think people are ready to party and we will definitely bounce back.
Dead Rhetoric: What would surprise people to learn about you in your downtime when you are away from your metal and music activities?
Guldemond: Maybe that I really like animals. We have two cats here, a hamster, a bearded dragon, an aquarium. That’s a lot of animals, and they also had some babies. When we go on tour again, I definitely am going to sell some animals. It will be difficult to take care of all of them when I am on tour. It’s not something very usual to do as a musician – if I am away for a week it’s okay, I can ask my neighbors for help. But if it’s longer and the bigger tours come, I know things will have to be different.
Dead Rhetoric: Prior to joining Burning Witches you were the vocalist for Dutch act Shadowrise. What did you learn in your time with that band that you’ve been able to apply and expand upon with Burning Witches?
Guldemond: What did I learn from that band? I wrote my own songs there too, songwriting, going back and forth with ideas. I did way more in Shadowrise, I also arranged some gigs, I don’t have to do that here. Sometimes it’s super weird for me, I almost don’t do anything except writing the lyrics, melodies, and writing with Romana. We make our own costumes, because I have a good feel for what we should be wearing. Romana can also do this. It’s weird, I’m happy that people do things for us because I know how busy it can get to keep track of everything. It gets a bit easier to do everything right and give enough attention to everything.
I learned I can be very happy that other people are doing this for me now. I also learned if you need help from people, they have to be good friends that are very passionate about what you are doing, or you have to wait until you actually generate enough money to give people a percentage. Paying people to do something, I did that in Shadowrise, and they would take our money and nothing would happen. That happened to a lot of newer bands, they thought they want to professional-ize things. The results weren’t there, and you lose an extreme amount of money. You lose the amount of money that goes into making a good album. A good album in my opinion will cost at least 10,000 Euros – it’s not cheap. Always keep doing things yourself if you can.
Burning Witches only got signed to a label after they showed they could make money. When it was super obvious, they got several offers from labels and they took the best offer. There is not that much money in the industry the way it used to be done in the past. Labels would invest in you. Now they give you money, but you have to pay it back. This is something I learned the hard way.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next year shaping up for Burning Witches once the album comes out? Are the band members already hard at work behind the scenes for the next effort to get a head start until the live touring market and festivals can get active again?
Guldemond: We are looking into stuff. We already have something planned for the beginning of winter in 2022. We expect that it’s not possible to tour earlier, the rate of vaccines being given out in all the countries is not the same. If you do a tour, in order to be able to get out the advance costs, you have to do all the gigs. If there are a few countries you can’t go in, and you cut the tour, it’s not worth it. All of the concerts are booked on very short notice for now. In 2022, things can be planned better again.