Charlotte Wessels – Building a New MythologySunday, 5th September 2021
While the name Charlotte Wessels is bound to draw an instant thought of Delain in many a metalhead’s mind, earlier in this year it was announced that Delain was going to be Martijn Westerholt’s solo project with all other members departing the act. Wessels had already been keeping busy with her own Patreon page at that point, which she had started in 2020. Understanding some of the limitations of the platform, she chose to work with Napalm Records to release a best of/collection of her song of the month track from her first year of tracks on vinyl, in the form of Tales from Six Feet Under [PRE-ORDER HERE].
Of course, this gave us the opportunity to catch up with Wessels and discuss everything from the Delain break-up to what it would take for her to form/join another band in the future. We also go into the specifics surrounding the release: of what she has learned through Patreon, if writing a song a month can be stressful, and what she’d like to do with the platform in the future.
Dead Rhetoric: Delain, for much of the world, seemed to come to an abrupt ending. How are you doing with all of the fallout, personally?
Charlotte Wessels: As well as I can be I guess. The ending was not as abrupt for us, obviously, as it was for the outside world. I think things escalated a full year before we actually announced the split, and then it was COVID. We had spent most of that year trying to find solutions, and for a pretty big part of that, I was pretty convinced that we were still going to make it. We had things before, but not quite like this. How does it feel now? Even though it was quite a long time coming, it was still very disruptive. I had been in Delain since I was 16. It’s such a big part of my life. Since it took such a long time, I got to go through all of these crises: ‘if not for Delain, then who am I?’ – those kind of things. That happened before the split was announced, so I could actually work through it without everyone asking questions about it, so that was good.
It was really good for me to have the Patreon when I started it in May. Then I was still really convinced that there was going to be a continuation of Delain. It was really good to have that. I remember the day that the announcement went on, it was very surreal. I was kind of glad that instead of going into this black hole [laughs], I was like, okay I have to record a video for “Victor” next week, I have to still get the song of the month ready, and go go go! I had something very positive and creative to focus on, rather than just being sad about such a big part of my life coming to an end. It’s been a lifesaver and a safety net. That was a very long answer to your ‘how are you doing question,’ but I understand why people ask about it and I like how you asked it. It’s very strange and surreal to close that chapter, but on the other hand, I was very grateful for the things that I do have,
Dead Rhetoric: It was nice that you had the Patreon to focus you and keep you going forward, like you said, rather than thinking about the past.
Wessels: I was planning to launch the Patreon for quite a while. I had went by the Patreon headquarters in February, so it had been planned a long time before COVID happened. Part of me, when we were all in lockdown, was like ‘You can’t launch it now. This is too weird of a time to ask people for money. Everyone is struggling.’ But then another voice in my mind didn’t know how long this was going to be, and maybe people are bored and want to hear new music since they are stuck at home. So I’m really happy that I went and launched it because if I had waited until COVID was over, I would still be here with nothing.
The response to it – I was blown away. I had 500 Patreons in the first day, and the thing that struck me most was how grateful people seemed to be able to support artists through COVID. People told me that they had a concert budget that they were not spending, so they were happy to. I was like, “Wow, people have concert budgets! That’s so smart! Why don’t I have a concert budget?” So I am, and I was, very grateful for all of that support. Just to see that once again. You see it when you are on the stage, you can see how passionate people are about music.
Dead Rhetoric: I think it helps too, as I’ve seen a lot of Patreon pages, that you have a full range of prices. I doesn’t matter if you want to pay a few dollars or more than that. Sometimes the tiers on those can be very daunting. It’s the equivalent of a cup of coffee or a cheap breakfast at the low end.
Wessels: On the one hand yes, and I wanted to keep it nice and easy like that. The main reward had to be the song of the month, and I wanted everyone to have that regardless of their tier. That was a very easy thing to decide upon. One of the things I also realized, that even though like you said, it’s $3, for some people to take that out of their budget each month is a big commitment. That’s one of the reasons why I really wanted to do a release outside of Patreon as well. You want to keep some exclusivity of course, because people still pay for that, so I wanted to just put a collection, or best of, for those who just want to check it out or those who can’t afford to be a Patreon. I get that it isn’t for everybody.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you view this as a way for you to reinvent yourself? There’s no one that you are now writing for beside yourself, as opposed to being in the confines of Delain?
Wessels: I wouldn’t quite say it like that. Over the time that I have been doing this Patreon, the idea really changed. When I started, Delain was my main thing. We were very ambitious and we put a lot of time and effort into all of that. I was also making a certain type of music, which I poured my heart and soul into. But I had these other songs that were very different, and I felt sad that those songs didn’t have an outlet of their own. I was thinking about doing a side project, but that was also a commitment. I wanted to do something individually that I had full control over. I started it with the idea of it being nice for anything that wasn’t that specific type of music. For the first few months, when I was still hopeful that Delain would remain a factor, I didn’t put any metal ideas in the mix. I was saving those for our next songwriting sessions.
In the beginning, it was balancing Delain songs and the ones I was doing on the Patreon altogether represent me musically. But Delain fell apart, and I know that people have been going to my Patreon to go see what I’m all about, then they aren’t finding any metal there. I have been wondering whether I should get stressed out about that, but that was the first year, and that was the situation. For the last couple of months, the balance has been shifting and I’ve been putting some louder songs onto my Patreon as well since I don’t have a band to save them for. It’s been kind of shifting. I don’t think the Patreon in the first year fully represents who I am because there is no metal there…well, there is a little bit of metal there [laughs]. Now, I can kind of go towards finding out what that sound would be, but since I am doing one song a month, the pure blessing is that you can really do something different every month.
So I feel like going on that path as finding your sound as an artist is more of a long term thing. For now, I am just writing whatever is on my mind or heart. I am writing it all for the song of the month and that’s that. Now it’s getting a bit stressful because I used to have a big pile when I started, and I didn’t use all of them yet. I still have a big pile, but I have been doing everything myself for the last year, which has been valuable for my learning curve when it comes to production and songwriting, the downside is that those songs from the beginning of my pile don’t get me as excited as I used to. Now I kind of start every month and work from scratch. The writing, recording, producing, mixing, mastering, artwork for each song, next to everything else I have going on, is quite a bit of work. Right now, I also have to work on long-term goals, such as a record with a full production. Now I program everything.
So I am really taking things month by month now. I am going on a holiday at the end of the week, which I really need since the last year has been really busy. But I’m thinking about how to work on long term things and plans for the fall of this year, and see how to continue. But I’m definitely going to keep doing the song of the month because I am learning so much. It’s so cool, and it’s nice to have a platform for a song every month, and I have people listening and supporting.
Dead Rhetoric: You are on a very time-consuming schedule and major deadline doing one song a month. Is there any stress that accompanies it sometimes?
Wessels: At the beginning, there wasn’t because when I started, I made sure that I had a couple of songs mixed and mastered, so that if I wasn’t feeling super creative that month I could just release one of those tracks. By now, I went through those ideas that will fit. I also don’t know about how much pressure should weigh in on what I am doing, but I have some of those really odd, poppy tracks, but I also feel like I want to do some heavier things now. It’s not like I am not going to do something with those songs ever, but I am starting each month from scratch and that is stressful.
I am probably locking myself somewhere in the middle of nowhere for a few weeks in the fall, just to collect a bunch of new ideas again and not be distracted by anything else. I think that would be a good idea, to be in that situation again where I don’t have to finish a song by the end of a month. I always have a few songs as a backup. Once I have that, I think its fine. I can just about manage to do it as one song a month, because I am also doing songs for side projects, or for other artists – so it’s not like I just have the one song per month. I am doing one song a month for Patreon, then there is extra.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel that you’ve learned from doing ‘one song a month?’ Be it production, writing, etc…
Wessels: One of the things that I learned is that I used to be good at starting ideas but never finishing them. Usually, it was because I would have an idea and like it – when you start something, you don’t have a high expectation about having to finish it. You are just starting and having fun. It’s very easy to come up with things when you are just making music for fun. But then you have to finish it, and I would always have these very high expectations of what I should be doing and how it should be sounding. It should be just as brilliant as the idea that I started with. It never was. I think that I have learned to just keep going. Just to write it out. When you are putting down the chords for that part that comes after what you had wrote when you were super inspired and feeling no pressure. Just to keep going and going, because I have learned that so far there hasn’t been a month where I haven’t had any idea. There is always something. I need to apply some pressure to myself to step over that perfectionism.
I know what a follow-up question could be, because that’s the way the conversation goes in my mind [laughs]. So my next question is, ‘Aren’t you focusing too much on quantity over quality?’ And for any other person, the answer might be yes. Why would you put that pressure on just finishing the things? But for me, I wrote a short story once, and I would write two lines a day because it was so hard to write something that I felt was good enough. So having this focus on finishing things is really valuable for me right now. The only thing I would say now that I have done it for a while, is that now I feel the urge to have the time and peace of mind to work on some long term projects next to that. So I can keep doing the one song every month, and make sure I have a little new pile, and then I can have the time to also work on say, “I really like this song. How can I make it better? Can I have someone actually play the drums? Can I have my programmed guitars actually be replaced by actual guitars?” That’s something that would be a next step for me to take things to another level.
Dead Rhetoric: I saw an interview where you were very hesitant to join/form another band. What do you feel it would take, other than maybe so more time?
Wessels: That’s the first thing [time]. I see myself forming another band sooner than I see myself joining another band that already exists. I feel like if you are forming another band, you have an idea about what you want to do and you can invite folks around you for what they want to do. If someone else has a band, and they are missing this one piece, you have to be very lucky to be that exact puzzle piece because maybe you’d like to be doing what they are doing. On the other hand, now that I have the Patreon, I can’t imagine not doing the Patreon at the same time. So what would it take? My main thing is just really is that the breakup is still very fresh, so if I think about joining a new band, I am also thinking about the possibility of things not going right.
It’s also that I am also really enjoying making my own music, and I think if I would join another band, I wouldn’t have the time to do that. I like the fact that I myself can choose what I really spend my time on. When you are in a big, successful band there are things that you just have to do. Ask me again in a few months – a few months ago, I was like, “No, I’ll just be in this basement by myself forever!” Now I’m already like, “Maybe something.” So I’m sure it will change. I don’t want to say anything that will be out there that in a month or a year when I am ready to have a band, people will look and say, “Oh, Charlotte is not interested in having a band.” My time is very important to me, and my peace of mind is very important to me. So I think what would be needed, would be to keep those two things intact.
Dead Rhetoric: Being in a band is like being in a relationship, and that was a very long relationship [Delain]. So time is always the thing that is most needed.
Wessels: Yeah, it really is. They are people that I spent a lot of time with. Waking up and sleeping in the same bus. It’s very close relationship for sure.
Dead Rhetoric: Given your creative freedoms, would you consider doing some sort of song/whiskey pairing?
Wessels: That’s not a bad idea! The thing is, I always have these obsessions – some last for months and some last for years. Music, so far, has been with me for my life. Whiskey, I love it, but since I try not to be much a drinker in my day to day life, so that one sometimes moves to the background. But I don’t know, doing whiskey-inspired songs would be very interesting. I like to be inspired by other art, why not whiskey? It works the other way around as well.
Whiskey is so much about association more than it is about the drink itself. I remember the very first time that I had a Laphroaig, which is my favorite whiskey, we were in a whiskey tasting with friends and some of them were like, “It’s like putting your nose in an ashtray!” My thought was, “It’s like being at a beach and you are near a campfire that has just gone out due to the rain.” For me, it has a very romantic feel to it. In that sense, it would be possible. I kind of like the idea, it could be the type of thing I get excited about. Maybe after next time we go to Scotland again. I need to get into that mindset, and I’m not there right now because there is so much to do and stress, so I shouldn’t drink. But yeah, it’s not a bad idea! I’ll write that one down!
Dead Rhetoric: Do you enjoy the entire creative process more, thinking particularly about each monthly artwork and cover? There’s been some really nice images that you have paired.
Wessels: Yeah, one month I have more time and/or more planning for it than another month. There are a few that I’m really proud of, like the one for “Cry Little Sister,” where Maarten Donders, who also did the Six Feet Under logo and design, did a really cool interpretation as the head vampire from that movie that the song is from. It kind of differs. One month I do an artwork that I have been planning for weeks or months, and other times it’s the song of the month being the day after tomorrow and having to figure out something really quick. Again, I like both.
I do like the planned ones better because they have more of a process behind them, but also, it’s gotten me to be really good at creative photoshop. I never used to make my own covers but I would have very specific ideas, like “Can’t you do a little bit more like this or that?” I have been watching a shitload of YouTube tutorials and now I can do my own designs as well! Also, when I say that I do it in a day, it isn’t like I don’t spend effort or time on it. I spend the day doing it, and that’s something that I have learned that’s a very practical and creative skill to have. You can do cool things with it.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that having Patreon has allowed you to keep that fan connection that you could do while out on the road, and brought it into the home as well?
Wessels: Definitely. Although I really am looking forward to actually seeing people in person again. I haven’t done a lot of that lately, but the Patreon is really cool for that, especially the Hangouts. I always feel like that is really the moment where I connect with people. There’s usually somewhere between 80 and 200 people on the Hangout. Some people watch it afterwards, but it’s always a nice moment being able to respond directly to the chats coming in and things like that. It’s really been a blessing for sure.
Dead Rhetoric: To wrap up, what is planned for the next few months?
Wessels: There are some projects and things that I can’t talk about yet, but that’s something I have been quite busy with up until now. I’m starting to say no to things because I feel like I really have to focus on getting a head start on the songs of the month so I can focus on long term things for me. Some of those things are making the next step with production, like we talked about, but also, I’m not concretely working on at this point but I do want to think about how to get this on stage as well once gigs aren’t being cancelled anymore in the Netherlands. So making more ‘classical arrangements,’ where the drums and guitars aren’t programmed, and thinking about playing live.
A year ago, I was happy to have a break from performing. I was out of the house a lot and there was pressure, and it was obviously paired with some conflict in the last bit. But I did a couple of live performances, with Timo [Somers], the laptop, and me [laughs]. Even though they were live streams, just being on a stage again and performing live, it reminded me that it was my thing. So that’s also a goal I am thinking about. I don’t know how, or what, or how often – I’m planning the planning of it. I have to figure out what I want.