Leaves’ Eyes – Storming Through North AmericaTuesday, 9th May 2017
There’s been a lot of excitement in the Leaves’ Eyes camp over the past six months. They finished up a successful North American run with Sonata Arctica last year (their first with new vocalist Elina Siirala), and before completing it, they had already announced they’d return this spring, supporting Sabaton for a second trek across the continent. On top of all of this, they’d began working towards their next album and started the recording process. So there’s much to discuss with the veteran act.
Leaves’ Eyes has always had a strong presence in the live setting, which served as a point of discussion with the band’s guitarist Thorsten “Tosso” Bauer, done before the band’s set in Clifton Park, NY. Of course, he was able to chat about the new album and the band’s ambition to top their last one, King of Kings. Additionally, some talk of Atrocity came up as well – with Atrocity also having a new album in the works.
Dead Rhetoric: Leaves’ Eyes was just here in the US a few months ago, do you feel you are on the right track in terms of building the band up in North America?
Thorsten “Tosso” Bauer: Definitely – we made a step with the Sonata Arctica tour [last fall], which was really nice, and now this is one more step up with Sabaton. In NYC, there were 2,000 people…a lot of the shows are selling out and the reception from the crowds have been very good so far. The tour just started, but it’s been really nice. We share a bus with Battlebeast and they are sweet people…Sabaton is very nice too. We will reach a lot of people and it’s our job to convince them. We are very happy to be on this tour.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that you convinced everyone last time around with Elina [Siirala], so that this time around there are even more people here to see Leaves’ Eyes specifically?
Bauer: There’s an obvious difference between what we went through last year, which was a big Internet shitstorm. I never paid too much attention to that with other bands, so it was something new for us. Even the first show we played in Germany – Elina’s debut was in Indonesia with 20,000 people – the first show in Germany we were wondering if we needed security, and if there was going to be a problem…but there was never anything. We have played a lot of shows, festivals – big headliner festivals, tours, support shows, and it was always great.
I think one of the strengths…since the Njord album in 2009, Leaves’ Eyes has moved in a heavier, more bombastic direction than before, and I think it fits very well with Elina’s voice, because she’s very powerful. Liv [Kristine] is more like an angel, and she also has a great voice – but Elina is more like a warrior. More like a heavy metal singer, in female terms. She has a very powerful appearance [on stage], and has a very positive character. It’s great.
Dead Rhetoric: So the main idea I wanted to go into, as I saw a few things online about demo vocal recordings, is to ask how far you are with recording new material?
Bauer: It’s going very well. We have 11 songs now. It was the goal before we went to the US tour to have most of the songwriting done. Surprisingly, it went very well. We also have many vocals already recorded. Now we have the demo tapes with us so that we can go back and listen to it. I’m very positive that the album will be finished around September and will release around January 2018. We are still playing a few festivals, but not too much, to be sure that we can get it done.
Leaves’ Eyes albums are always incredibly complex. For King of Kings, we had seven countries to record in. We had the choirs – the London Voices, which did the Star Wars soundtrack and The Hobbit. We recorded in London. They are paid in minutes, so you sweat while they are recording [laughs]. Then we had the orchestra in Belarus, we had the harp recordings in Switzerland, native instrument recordings in the Netherlands, as well as recordings in our own studio. It’s always very complex, and of course, we want to top King of Kings production-wise, so we need a lot of time for that.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you say anything about the direction you are leaning in?
Bauer: I think what will stay the same is the sound that King of Kings had – that bombastic, but native instrument-y Viking feel…that will stay. But we tried to make the songs sharp and to the point. But there will also be a least one very long song, which will run 9 or 10-minutes, so it will be a nice variety. I have a feeling that they will also sound great live.
Dead Rhetoric: With Elina on board, and the amount of touring you’ve done on a worldwide level, is that going to impact your writing…so that it comes across better in the live setting?
Bauer: We’ve toured worldwide [for a while] – the US, Australia, Latin America – but yeah, definitely. The key is that she has a very brilliant voice…very smooth but at the same time very powerful. It will fit very nice with the new songs.
Dead Rhetoric: Are you working as you go at this point then, as this Sabaton tour didn’t seem to be a part of the plan initially back in the early fall…
Bauer: Not really…we were asked to join the tour, and we’ve known Sabaton for many years. We have seen them in Frankfort [at Musikmesse], which is like the European NAMM. We obviously all play ESP guitars, so we met the guys over the last three years. Every time we’ve met them they were really fabulous, down-to-earth guys. So they knew us, we knew them…so they asked. We had applied for a 2-year work visa, so that helped a lot. It’s getting more and more difficult for European bands to get into the US [laughs]. It’s really a dreadful process and you spend a lot of money. It’s a two year visa, so for the next 2 years we are safe. It’s also attractive to promoters, so we can already work on another US tour with the new album. It makes it much easier.
Dead Rhetoric: In terms of a headlining run – you did a few off-dates with Vikings on stage. With a full headline run, is that what you are working towards, with each and every show?
Bauer: In Europe, we do a lot of festival shows. We already played with our Viking ship at Wacken Open Air. There were only two bands playing – there was Iron Maiden on the very big stage, and we were the second…there was no one else. In Europe, we have this trust from promoters that we are willing to put on a big show. Last year, we did the Metal Female Voices Festival. We had 60 people, a Viking ship and a huge sword set. It’s like 6m high and you can see it in the “Edge of Steel” video but we also use them live, and they are burning…it’s amazing.
So of course, we’d love to do that more often. On this tour, there are Viking groups, because Alex [Krull] has managed to get [to be] a really good fighting guy. He’s not just doing it for the videos. He’s also organized in the Viking groups, and he’s regularly training once a week. I think that will stay a part of it. I think it’s very interesting. I myself, am a history nerd too. I care for the music, I don’t write any lyrics, but I always like if my singers put in some historic elements, because it makes it more earthy.
Dead Rhetoric: How did Alex come about getting those Viking groups involved?
Bauer: We had them for quite a while – the Wacken show with Iron Maiden in 2012. That was the first time we had a Viking group on board. There was immediately a connection. They were really sweet people, and I also like the way they live and their passion. A lot of people in that scene are heavy metal fans too. We worked together in the video clip for “The Waking Eye.” Alex took part in a lot of these Viking events – recreating battles that actually happened, like the Battle of Hastings. He has become a member of the Jomsborg Vikings. I tried it myself, but I decided I had better stick to the guitar [laughs]. There will also be Jomsborg Viking groups joining in some of the US shows [at headlining dates].
Dead Rhetoric: How much work and planning does it take to get one of those bigger shows, like the one in Belgium last year, set up?
Bauer: It’s a really big production, so there’s a lot of preparation. We have a guy that plays some amazing percussion stuff, a uilleann pipe player, a string section, the Vikings…you need a lot of rehearsals as soon as the fire and swords are set up. The stage is huge, but you have to deal with where the people can act. It’s more like an opera set. You also have to move in a different way, you have to be sure how to use the fire-swords, so no-one gets in a James Hetfield situation. We are able to do that, and that’s why a lot of promoters ask for that show. It can be painful sometimes, because we’ve love to do a club show but they want ‘the big show’ and it needs a lot of preparation, and there’s a lot of payments.
But it’s nice – you stand on the Viking ships and see these fiery swords and you play guitar and everyone’s going crazy. It’s what you dream of as a heavy metal kid. It’s an almost Beavis & Butthead situation – everything’s on fire. It’s really cool. It’s more like putting on an opera or movie, where a club show is also great because you are close to the people. It’s like in sports you have the sprints…100m, 200m, and 400m, and some people can do all, and some have problems and only want to do some events. We try to do both. The European festival season has given us a lot of opportunity to do that. As soon as flights are involved, it gets difficult. You have to think about different ways [to do it]. Sabaton is the same way, trying to pull off these big shows. You have a budget and you have to see what’s possible.
Dead Rhetoric: Switching gears, is there anything going on with Atrocity at the moment?
Bauer: Yes. There’s a new album, which is basically recorded. I did a few lead guitars before we left, and Alex did a few shouts last week. We have a demo ready, but would like to have the album [done]. It’s going to go into the mix, and then it’s a decision about which record company will release it. Until now, we’ve been on Napalm. It will be out very soon.
In the last few years, we’ve done a lot of touring with Leaves’ Eyes, and now it’s time to bring it [Atrocity] back out. For me, I was also doing the music for Liv Kristine, along with Alex. Obviously, the split is very sad. On the other hand, it’s taking a lot of weight off my shoulders. So we will be faster now. It’s a good thing for Leaves’ Eyes and Atrocity.
Dead Rhetoric: Is it tough too when you go out with both bands on tour at the same time?
Bauer: It’s especially tough, if you say, play in Mexico with both bands in a row. We played in Brazil and it was like 45 degrees [Celsius] and you play for 2.5-3 hours…it’s really demanding. But on the other hand, it can be very nice. It gives us the opportunity to save time – playing with both bands. We did it on 70,000 Tons of Metal and it was great.
Dead Rhetoric: One of the things about Leaves’ Eyes live is audience participation. Is that one of the stronger points of the band when you play live, as opposed to someone hearing it at home?
Bauer: I would say so, yeah. If you only come across to play the music in the live show, and nothing else, then you can just listen to the cd at home. There must be something about the live show that makes it worth going to. We always like to have the vocalists be passionate about the music. We want to have fun. If we have fun, then the audience can have fun as well. Obviously Alex has a lot of fun; he’s always interacting with the audience. Yesterday [at New England Metal and Hardcore Fest], he tried to pull up a journalist [onstage]. I like it too – I’m also not sure what he’s going to do next. There’s always some spontaneity.
If you look at the bands from the ‘70s, they did these huge improvisations. It made them more interesting and a bit dangerous sometimes, like the old Deep Purple albums, which I love. We try to keep it a bit alive instead of just playing through, like on the cd. It’s boring, and maybe boring to the bands themselves.
Dead Rhetoric: You do have to go out and do this for 40 times in a row, after all…
Bauer: It should have a human factor to it. There’s so much now that music gets put into categories and limits…I think there should be something more alive in the music. We cannot bring a full orchestra and stuff, but everything you hear, on King of Kings for example, I don’t think there was anything that was a plastic source – everything was played. You get this earthy sound. Plastic sounds are easy to do, but it’s not very touching or inspiring. That’s why we make the effort, and sometimes its hard work to have so many people involved, but it’s also inspiring because you can feel the human factor in it.
Dead Rhetoric: So what do you do to keep yourself entertained on a long, 4-5 week tour like this?
Bauer: I always like to leave the bus and see something. Today it wasn’t possible, but for example, we went to Philadelphia so we had to see the Rocky Statue and the Museum of Art. On the last run, we got to see San Franscisco and enjoy the city. What’s also great about the US and Canada, when you go through the bus you can see all these brilliant landscapes and the diversity of the country. The east coast, the west coast, the north, the south, it all has it’s special things. Sometimes maybe as a European, you don’t realize that the country is so diverse and has so many different spots with their own character.
I’m also a history nerd, so when I’m in Europe I always go to the historic places. Here it’s a bit more difficult, but still…I think that’s the big privilege of a touring band, that you get to see other countries. You get to meet people. When you are in the studio, you are working with only a few people most of the time, so you don’t know what’s going on. When you go out, you meet so many people…yesterday we met our friends in Amorphis and Delain…it’s like a worldwide family. Once you have done a tour with someone, it creates a connection, because you went through something together. It’s something you can’t do in daily life when you meet once a week. When you do a tour for 4-6 weeks, you see all the ups and downs and that makes a connection. I’ve seen more than 50-60 countries, which I would not have been able to do without the band. I’ve been to China, Thailand, everywhere in Latin America in Europe, and it’s a big privilege.
Dead Rhetoric: Having such a long career with both Leaves’ Eyes and Atrocity, are there still goals that you’d like to see either band pursue?
Bauer: For me, there’s always a personal goal with every album. Alex and I have always been the backbone, music-wise and in the direction that we go. For me, there’s a personal goal, but I don’t tell the others because it’s just mine, and there’s a band goal. There’s still a lot of places that we still haven’t been. If we were a newer band, it would be harder to treasure, for example, this tour. We played in NYC at the Playstation Theater for more than 2,000 people. When you’ve also played in front of 50 people or 200 people, then you can treasure the really good ones.
Making music and touring is almost like being alive. Since I’ve turned 20, I don’t know what a summer is without playing a festival. I have no clue what that would be like. Some friends tell me about how they take it easy or go to the beach, but for us…it’s festival time. We play festivals. We are also very happy now, with our label change. There was a lot going on with King of Kings, chart positions and all that…there was a lot of support from the record label, so I’m really looking forward to the next album and the steps that we can climb together. We are making plans now, and there will definitely be world-wide touring for the next album. We are looking forward to it.