On Tour with Delain: A Backstage Interview with Charlotte Wessels
In the past several years, the Dutch symphonic metal band Delain has been on an extremely busy touring schedule throughout the world. This has been great for their fans, especially here in North America. North America frequently gets low priority with a lot of bands from Europe and concert tours here can be few and far between. Delain has be one of the shining exceptions to this as they have toured North America four times in the last three years, as well as participated on the 70000 Tons of Metal cruise twice. They had just recently finished a successful North American support tour with Nightwish and were finishing up a few support dates with Sonata Arctica before heading back to Europe to work on their upcoming album. I’ve interviewed the bands singer, Charlotte, twice before, and she is always a joy to chat with. Both of my previous interviews with her have been in Europe, so I jumped at the opportunity to actually interview her on my home soil. I caught up with Charlotte after their recent show at the Soundstage in Baltimore, Maryland. There was no quiet place in or around the venue, so we went to the band’s tour bus to talk. We had a chance to discuss recent tours, newly released and upcoming music, new members, new babies, an upcoming special 10th anniversary show, and just when that North American headlining tour might finally happen! Here is how it went:
Afternoiz: This is Joe Prostredny with Afternoiz and I’m here, again, with Charlotte Wessels from the phenomenal symphonic metal band Delain! How are you doing today?
CW: I’m doing good, thank you very much!
Afternoiz: Are you more awake now?
CW: When was I not awake? Remind me, because obviously I was not awake enough to remember…
Afternoiz: On the street, right after your bus arrived… I’d asked you when you wanted to do the interview. You said you’d just woken up and that you weren’t awake enough to do the interview yet…
CW: Oh, yeah… well I had a coffee after, and everything before the coffee is just….. yeah, I’m more awake now! (laughs)
Afternoiz: Well, (laughs)… thank you so much for talking with us today! You had a successful support tour of North America with Nightwish last year and you just finished up a second tour with Nightwish over here this week… and with no downtime you are launching straight into a North American support tour with Sonata Artica! Haven’t you had enough of us yet?
CW: No (laughs)!
Afternoiz: No? Well, that’s good, because we’re certainly not tired of you guys yet!
CW: We’re already planning a next round too, so we plan to keep coming back and back and back! Until you guys are sick of us!
Afternoiz: I don’t think that’s gonna happen anytime soon!
CW: Well, that’s good!! (laughs)
Afternoiz: How did the recent Nightwish tour go overall?
CW: It went pretty well! We enjoyed ourselves. We had a really great time, the fact that we’ve done the first tour with Nightwish and then the South American tour… which was kind of decided [last minute] that we were going to do that. And then also this tour. I think that that kind of says a lot about the whole cooperation between the bands. I think it works on a musical level and on a personal level and we’re really happy to be on the road with them. And the fact that we got invited for a third time, so I guess we’re not too bad to be on the road with either!
Afternoiz: Obviously, one of big the reasons bands tour as a support is to get exposure to fans that might not of heard of you before. Every time we talk, I bug you about when you’ll finally do a headlining tour of North America. Nightwish is arguably one of the largest symphonic metal bands on the planet. Do you feel this tour allowed you to capture new fans?
CW: I do, at least that’s what I hear. Even on this tour, people are coming for a second time to a show on this tour, they say: “Hey we saw you last time and we really want to come again” or “Hey, are you playing longer on the Sonata [Arctica] dates because we’d like to see more of you. So we get really, really positive signals. And I think that the previous time you had asked, I answered that we were told that when we started out we needed five support tours. This is our fourth one.
Afternoiz: So that North American headlining tour is….?
CW: Well, there are several things that could happen right now. We are planning now to do either a good package, like a double bill, or that headliner tour. It could be that we’d still do another support tour but then that would be, let’s say, that some unexpected band that we hadn’t thought of offered a great [touring] opportunity. If that would come [available], we might still say: “ok, we want to do that!”
Afternoiz: (I pause to painfully rip a strand of my hair that has gotten stuck in the bus window)
CW: That has happened to me so many time you don’t even want to know!
Afternoiz: Is that why you have shorter hair on one side of your head?
CW: (Laughs) Maybe!… So I think that our aim in the planning now is to really be able to play a long set and to be able to give people in America what we usually do in Europe as well. But, yeah like I said, if some crazy opportunity for a support slot comes by, it just might still be good for that same reason of digging into a new audience to do that.
Afternoiz: Well, we’ll be patient…. Kind of!
CW: Thank you! I think that the double bill/headlining scenario is more realistic at this point.
Afternoiz: Now, unless they’re like me and cheat and go to Europe to see you, this current tour has been, for most North American Delain fans, their first chance to see you with your new guitarist, Merel Bechtold! How has the fan reception been for Merel?
CW: Really good! She’s a fireball on stage! It’s so much fun to interact and play with her and see how the audience interacts with her. It’s been really lovely.
Afternoiz: I remember in Paris… the whole audience held up these signs that said “Welcome Merel”.
CW: Yeah, that was lovely! That was really lovely.
Afternoiz: Other than the obvious… her bringing in a second guitar, what else do you think Merel adds to the band?
CW: It’s always interesting to see… well of course the second guitar is a thing and it’s not just a “oh it’s a double guitar power onstage”. When we are writing for new albums we really don’t make compromises when it comes to how many layers of guitars we use because we just think an album is an album and we want to make it as big as possible and if that needs six guitars, we’ll do six guitars.
Afternoiz: And then you go “oh, shit, how do we play this onstage!”?
CW: Exactly! And there have been songs in the past… where we wrote a song and tried to play it and we’re like: “We’re missing that extra guitar line”, and I think that probably “Lullaby” is one of the songs that during our last European headline tour we’ve played a lot and “Here Come the Vultures” is another one that never really worked without the second guitar live… and now it does. So next to the obvious… she as a person onstage adds that something extra purely by being there and her charisma on the stage and the double guitar power. There are actually songs that don’t work without that. So it has expanded our live repertoire… which is think is a wonderful thing. And also of course, this is something that takes a little bit more time to see how that’s going to work because… well, Martijn and I have been writing songs for ten years now and whenever someone new comes into the group it always takes a little bit of figuring out to see… when we go into the process of a new album, what is a person going to contribute and how is that going to look and what’s going to be their creative input on the album. Because, within Delain, everyone’s input is very welcome. But of course I can imagine that coming into a band like that, one that’s been working together for so long and them kind of being new… yeah, it takes some time to see where somebody feels good and can kind of put their roots down into that process. So I’m very curious to see what will happen with the new album and the albums after that. But I think that she’s a very creative guitarist so I think there’s potential there for sure.
Afternoiz: Now, you’re doing this current tour without your bass player, Otto, because he’s back home having a baby or something. How is he doing?
CW: Yes! I don’t want to sound too excited about him not being here! Well, we just got the news a few days ago that he’s become a daddy for the very first time and we’re so proud and happy!
Afternoiz: So that traumatic contraception with the confetti cannon that you guys rigged to go off at the wrong time to avoid this type of thing didn’t work, I guess?
CW: No, it didn’t work, unfortunately (laughs). His manhood is still functioning and the little baroness, she is living proof of that!
Afternoiz: Well, we all wish him the best, but we miss him and hope he is back with Delain soon! Is there a projected date he’ll be touring with you again, or is it too soon to tell?
CW: I think he will be joining us again after this tour.
Afternoiz: So when you hit the European circuit again, he’ll be back?
Afternoiz: The last time I had the privilege of interviewing you was about 5 or 6 months ago on your awesome European headlining tour! We talked about a lot of things: new members, your tour, the upcoming studio album, and your special show “Sucker Punch”. But you kept something from me during that interview, you didn’t tell me about “Lunar Prelude”!!!
CW: Didn’t I?
Afternoiz: You didn’t. You didn’t bring it up, and you hadn’t announced it yet. But it has two great new songs, a rerecorded song, and several live tracks.
CW: Exactly. What we have done with this album process… basically… for the next full length studio album… we’re touring more than we have ever done throughout our career. But traditionally when you would make a new album, you would take a couple of months to really go into the writing process, to go record everything, go back to the songs and rewrite it, and we don’t have the time for that. We couldn’t find a break [between tours] long enough to go into a process like that. So what we basically have done for this album is we’ve chopped up that process in several chunks like: “ok, now we’re going to do two or three songs, and then we’re going to do two, three, four songs more, and record them and mix them”. That kind of worked [out] well, but it also had the effect that, we had some songs that were basically done, and then I was like: “Ok. we have to wait until next year or somewhere at the end of summer until we can actually release them.”… and that felt a bit silly. Then, the lovely guys at the label came up with the idea of the EP and we felt like this was actually a very nice opportunity for us to let people know what we’ve been working on for the upcoming album. And since we had already written those songs, it was a relatively easy process to make the EP. And we were doing the European headline tour at that time, so we had the opportunity to record live tracks on that tour which was a very lovely tour. So it’s nice to have those memories!
Afternoiz: Well I love your live tracks. There’s just so much energy at your shows and, to be honest with you, if you’ve got a live song on any of your albums, I rarely listen to the studio version again. Because the live ones are just so… alive! There is so much energy that you can feel from the show.
CW: Thanks a lot! So we were working on the EP [when you and I last talked]. I just didn’t tell you about it…
Afternoiz: (pretending to be insulted) I see…. So you hadn’t announced it yet, and you didn’t trust me not to open my mouth. You’ve trusted me before…
CW: (Laughs) No, I do! But yeah, so we were just preparing those tracks at that time or recording them. And that kind of weird structure has something to do with this new method of writing for the new full length [album]. I’m wondering whether I will even have a day off after this tour because we’re going straight back into the studio and into the writing process.
Afternoiz: You can sleep on the plane… (laughs)
CW: Yeah… Well, we’re going with a bad airline…
Afternoiz: You’ve been playing the two new songs on the album: “Turn the Lights Out” and “Sucker Punch Live”. What has the fan reaction been to these new songs?
CW: I think people have responded very enthusiastically to the songs. “Sucker Punch” was watched quite a lot, the video for it, so people tend to know that one. And then “Turn the Lights Out”… there is a group of people who totally freak over that song, but in a positive way.
Afternoiz: I first heard that one in Europe before you were performing “Sucker Punch”.
CW: Yeah, and I love it. To me, “Turn the Lights Out”, even more than “Sucker Punch”, even though that’s the one we did the video for, kind of felt like an instant… you know… this song works, this is very much us, in a way. And I love the fact that the lyrics are Neil Gaiman inspired, who is one of my favorite writers.
Afternoiz: That comes to my next question, because when I was interviewing you last time, you told me about your inspiration… after I had turned off the recorder… and it didn’t make it into the interview. It’s a cool story, so you need to tell it again, so the fans can read it.
CW: So basically the inspiration for the track, “Turn the Lights Out”, is a character from Neil Gaiman’s DC Comic series, The Sandman. In this comic series, he has personifications for things like Dream and Delirium, and Death is one of them. And Death is, was, and will probably always be my favorite character from the series. What makes her so special to me is the fact that she is so different from all other Western personifications of Death. They are always skinny, scary guys with hooded capes and skeletons underneath…
Afternoiz: The Grim Reaper type…
CW: …the Grim Reaper type. And this particular Death is a young goth woman who is very kind with a lot of empathy and fulfills her job of not only taking people when their lives are done but also greeting them when they start, so she kind of joins people for their entire journey and I thought it was a lovely, lovely subject. It translated very, very easily into lyrics of the song.
Afternoiz: Well, I’m one of the ones that freak out for that song, I love it!
CW: Oh good!! That’s lovely to hear!
Afternoiz: You also rerecorded “Don’t Let Go” (from “The Human Contradiction”) on “Lunar Prelude”. Why did you choose to make a new version?
CW: Well what we did there is… I think that “Don’t Let Go” is probably one of the last songs that we wrote for “The Human Contradiction” and we put it as a bonus track which means that the drums were programmed, we never recorded those properly. And as we were starting to play the song live, we thought it was actually a very kick ass track and it’s actually a shame that we never gave it the proper treatment. So, for the EP we decided to actually record the drums and to give it another mix. I’m wondering what the crowd response is with the old version and the new version… but we’ve been playing it more than ever since it’s on the EP now. For me, it’s becoming one of my favorite tracks to play live because it is so cheerful and it gets the party started!
Afternoiz: It does… it does! The album’s artwork depicts a lady on the front with blue hair gripping a human skull. Is that Death?
CW: That’s dark, right? I think it works well both with the theme of “Turn the Lights Out” and “Sucker Punch”. With “Turn the Lights Out’ obviously being about Death, that’s very easy to translate to the cover. And then if you look at “Sucker Punch”, which is basically about finding and fighting your own demons… Ok, this might sound really macabre, but I feel like she’s symbolically holding a trophy of the demons that she kicked out…
Afternoiz: She has blue hair and if you flip the album over, you’re there with blue lipstick and a halo-like thing above your head. Your hair’s usually been red, any chance you’re gonna dye it blue
CW: No, I don’t think so. We have been working too closely with Alissa (White-Gluz) for me to dye my hair blue. So that’s a thing, I can’t do that. That’s actually funny because we performed in Montreal and Alissa joined us for a guest performance which we always love when she does. We gave her the vinyl and the t-shirt and she was like: “Yeah sure, I’ll take it! I mean, I’m on the cover!”. And we were like, oh yeah, come to think of it. (laughs). It kind of looks like her! The thing is, because we’ve been working with Glenn Arthur for a very long time and sometimes he makes commissions for us and sometimes we see one of his works that we really like, and we’re like, hey can we make this into this and that. And this was actually an example of one of his paintings which already existed where we thought: “Oh my god, this would work so nicely for the cover”. We adjusted some little things and the girl in the painting originally had blue hair and we so no reason whatsoever to change that. The thought had crossed my mind that… because we work with Alissa, will they kind of put a link there? And I thought, if people do, that’s not a bad thing, because we love her (laughs)!
Afternoiz: Any update on the full studio album? Obviously you’re going back into the studio. Does it have a name yet? Is there a release date?
CW: There is a name but like in any interview… (laughs) there are some things that I’m not gonna tell ya!
Afternoiz: (acting very sad) To… be… announced…
CW: Yep, yep…. To be announced! But for the sharp observers, the EP is called “Lunar Prelude”, so that’s a tiny hint. Do with that what you like!
Afternoiz: Well… I can do a lot with that… but it will probably all be wrong…
Afternoiz: The last time I covered a Delain show in Europe, it was in Paris. And just two weeks after that show, was the horrible terrorist attack where so many people tragically lost their lives. It had a massive impact on the music world. Do you approach touring any differently now? Has security changed? Obviously the security here in Baltimore sucks because they let me in!
CW: (Laughs). No, but this is the thing where I really think that unless you have a reasonable actual threat, which I know some bands had and they cancelled their shows and I have all the respect for that… we never really had that and I really don’t think that, after these things happened, that we’re going to be different about this or cancel things, that’s giving people too much power.
Afternoiz: Every time I’ve seen Delain perform, I’ve always known, to the date, the next time I’m going to see you. Going back to 2013, I’ve always known the time, but this time, I’m not sure. I know you’re going back into the studio after this, but what is next for Delain’s touring schedule?
CW: We’ve got Dutch club shows and we’re going to the European Festivals then we’re going, hopefully, on a European tour and then we’re going probably for the American tour, whatever kind of tour that will be. But that’s that plan.
Afternoiz: North America in 2017?
CW: Yeah, I think so.
Afternoiz: There’s still maybe a 10th anniversary show planned this year?
CW: Yes. When… it’s gonna be will be online. We’re going to announce it the second week in April. We’re going to make a big anniversary, ten year birthday party… a decade in music gig, woo hoo!… at the beautiful Paradiso in Amsterdam. It’s going to be outrageous! That’s the plan. We’re going to invite loads of people, just fly them over like we do that kind of stuff! And we’re going to tape it on DVD for everyone to be able to see it… because we know that whenever we organize such a thing there’s always going to be people that won’t fly halfway around the world for a show… (Charlotte looks at me and laughs..) Some people do… but not everyone! So we’re going to do the DVD! There’s been a lot of asking for that and it’s going to be a huge project. We’re already working on it and I think that it’s gonna be great. And we’re actually going to crowd fund it because, as we’ve noticed when we do shows like “Sucker Punch” or “My Masquerade” and whenever we want to make it special, it is extra costly. We just really want to celebrate with everybody and ask everybody to help us make that possible. And then of course we’ll have the very nice memory in the form of the live DVD. So that’s what we’re planning to do on December 10th. We will launch the e-pledge campaign…
Afternoiz: (hands Charlotte my wallet) Here! Take my money!…
CW: Yay! (grabs for the wallet, laughing)…. but, no… the e-pledge is very lovely because once you reach your goal, they actually really encourage people to give to charities and of course we want to involve the Sophie Lancaster Foundation… and they don’t know that yet! So you’re actually hearing that before they do! So that if we actually make more than our goal, it will go to the best possible place. Yeah, we’re really excited about that!
Afternoiz: Well, I’m really going to try to make it! It sounds fantastic!
Afternoiz: Well, Charlotte…sadly… our time together is coming to an end. Is there anything else you’d like to say to your fans before you leave us?
CW: As ever, and I’m repeating myself, but I still feel that it is a very important thing to say… I want to thank everybody for their support in the broader sense of the word. Whether you come to the shows or buy the albums or listen to them on Spotify and share them with your friends and just spread the word, it’s all very much appreciated. But in whatever way, people are spreading the word and supporting us… We love it and it makes it possible for us to do what we do!
Afternoiz: Dank je wel!