INTERVIEW WITH CHARLOTTE WESSELS BY KELLEY SIMMS
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JEREMY SAFFER
Dutch symphonic metal band Delain initially began in 2002 as a solo project by former Within Temptation keyboardist Martijn Westerholt. However, when versatile vocalist Charlotte Wessels joined him in 2005, the band officially took off and was signed to Roadrunner Records and released its debut album, Lucidity, the following year.
On its sixth full-length album, Apocalypse & Chill, through Napalm Records and produced by Westerholt, the band—also featuring guitarist Timo Somers, bassist Otto Schimmelpenninck van der Oije, and drummer Joey de Boer—has introduced new and surprising musical elements that will certainly please its longtime fans while assuredly picking up a few new ones along the way.
Speaking with us from her home in the Netherlands, Wessels discusses the band’s new musical elements, its lyrical inspirations, the new album, and more.
In the band’s press release, you state that Apocalypse & Chill will surprise your listeners. What are some of these surprises you have in store for them?
We always write our music pretty organically, so we set out with every album to make it bigger, better, and louder. But it’s not like we’re going to completely change. We just go with whatever inspiration brings us. However, on this album there are some new elements. We’ve got a real choir, we’ve got Timo screaming, and we have full instrumental tracks, which we’ve never done before. There are definitely some parts where we really explored what we could do differently. And then what I mainly think will surprise our listeners is, especially in the first half of the record, the sound is very electronic, without going away from sounding like Delain. They’re all very much from a pop and electronic side of the spectrum. And I think that some of our fans who like us for our previous material, they will kind of be scratching their heads during the first half. But towards the second half of the album, it picks up on the orchestral elements again and becomes more symphonic. There’s plenty of new things on the record, but I definitely think that our fans will be able to appreciate what we’ve done.
“THERE’S PLENTY OF NEW THINGS ON THE RECORD, BUT I DEFINITELY THINK THAT OUR FANS WILL BE ABLE TO APPRECIATE WHAT WE’VE DONE.”
How did these electronic influences creep in? Was there something specific you were listening to or interested in that made you want to incorporate it into your music?
I don’t know. I think that within the writing team, Martijn comes up with really 80s synth parts and I often come up with kind of like 90s dance parts. Those two mix well in our music. But it’s not like we said, “We’re going to incorporate this.” When we meet up to write, we all take some ideas with us, like a verse or a chorus or a theme or whatever. We sit down and listen to it and see what we want to work on all together. That’s how those ideas work themselves into the music.
With these ideas, themes, and lyrical inspirations, was there anything going on in your life or the world in general that catapulted these ideas into the songs?
Yeah, I think so. One thing that’s relevant for the way that we’d written this album is the fact that we’ve recorded it very fragmented. Martijn is a producer who really spearheaded this idea of “let’s do everything in several blocks of just a couple of songs” instead of in one go. Because first of all, we didn’t have enough time to have one big block for writing and recording and mixing the entire album because we’ve been touring like crazy. So, this gave us a lot of flexibility, but also the chance to go back on the songs now. All these ideas come from different places as well. But I must say that over the last few years, definitely a lot of it has been inspired by the concerns about the world today. If you open up a newspaper, if you turn on the TV, you see the world quite literally being on fire. And then if you open your socials, you’ll see everyone living their most perfect lives. There is this great contrast between the two where you wonder how can these actually exist at the same time and is this even the same world? And I think that contrast is also visible in the songs on our album.
“IT WAS REALLY THAT CONTRAST BETWEEN THE IMPENDING DOOM THAT YOU SENSE WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE NEWS THESE DAYS AND THEN AT THE SAME TIME THE COMPLETE PROJECTIONS THAT IS VERY MUCH THE MAJORITY OF THINGS YOU SEE ON SOCIALS.”
The visual of the album cover and the promo photos have a 1950s cinematic movie star theme. Is that the concept or theme behind it?
It was really that contrast between the impending doom that you sense when you look at the news these days and then at the same time the complete projections that is very much the majority of things you see on socials. That was very interesting. Since it is so much about zeitgeist, Netflix and chill, it’s a very 2019 thing. So, we felt like the play on words was really fitting for this album. And then when I was playing with the idea of that title…it’s not like I think of a song first and then the title and then the artwork. Usually when you think of a title, there is an image in your head. Or when you think of the music, you see something, like you can imagine it. And for this title right away, I could imagine someone lounging while the world is on fire. I actually put this image together in Photoshop, but I am not a very practiced designer. We really liked that image. We’ve been also looking for images that were more towards the kind of covers that we usually have, like the more art nouveau/romantic/goth imagery, but it just didn’t fit the theme and the title as well as this one. What we eventually did to give it that identity and authenticity that my mockup was lacking, is we gave it to this collage artist. She works really analog. She cuts up images and papers and she reworked the image into what is now the cover and also continued that for the promo photos in the inside. Inside of the booklet you’ll find all of us wearing sunglasses and having different natural disasters reflected in our sunglasses. We put that topic throughout the entire artwork. Not that a lot of people get to see CD booklets these days, but for those who do buy the physical thing, we always try to give it something extra.
How did getting Beast in Black’s Yannis Papadopoulos to sing on “Vengence” come about? Did you specifically write his part or realized after the fact that he’d be a good fit?
We realized afterwards that it would be a good fit. We really like working with guest musicians. It’s always a very nice surprise to see what other people, other creatives come up with when they listen to your music. Yannis, we’ve been in touch with him for a while. We met him in Greece. I remember during an after party at a show he taught me a bunch of Greek curse words! We had a few songs where we thought we could really use a guest here, we could really imagine his voice there. Then we were at a festival this summer and they played there as well, and that’s I think when the deal was struck. We gave him a choice. We had three songs where he could imagine it. We always try to give our guests an amount of freedom, so they can really make it their own.
“ARE THOSE NEGATIVE ENERGIES ACTUALLY COMING FROM YOUR SURROUNDINGS OR ARE YOU THE ONE BRINGING THEM?”
The video for “Burning Bridges” has such cool visuals and beautiful scenery. Where was that shot, and how did the concept and the characters come about?
It was filmed in Snowdonia, which is a gorgeous part of Wales. We filmed it with the company Video Inc., which is a company that we’ve actually worked with for four different videos in one year. In 2019, we did four videos with them, including “Ghost House Heart.” The idea behind “Burning Bridges” for me lyrically was really that the protagonist of the song keeps leaving his surroundings in order to get away from the negative energy there—the negative energies are following him. The real question is, are those negative energies actually coming from your surroundings or are you the one bringing them? And then leaving and burning your bridges behind you will solve absolutely nothing. That was the idea that we wanted to work with for the video as well. What I really like about Video Inc. and how they work is we’ve had in the past where we pitched a song to other video companies and they came up with all these ideas that didn’t fit the song at all. And then we thought, “Oh, we have to give him some more input.” So, any images or ideas that we have with the themes, we send them over, but sometimes then people just say, “Okay, we’ll do that.” And what I really like about Video Inc. is they take the idea and then they go over it. They’re the video makers, that’s their expertise, and they give their own twist to it. “Burning Bridges” is definitely one of the most dramatic ones of the four videos, and I’m really happy with how it turned out.
You’re the frontwoman and the main focal point of the band, but the album closer “Combustion” is a cool instrumental that gives the rest of the band a chance to shine. Was this a song specifically created as an instrumental or music that you had trouble finding words for it?
It wasn’t meant to be a song with lyrics ever. Actually, this song was written by Timo and I’m sure that Joey also had a say in it because his drumming parts are very prominent. They actually started performing this song as a showpiece Joey had at his graduation at music school, and they performed it there. We really loved that song and that performance. Another thing is when we write songs for Delain, we really like pop structured songs. None of us in the band are ego trippers, none of us try to show off what we can do. We just do what the song needs, but on this track, they really get to shine. And I think that it’s really cool to give them that moment to shine because we have some really fantastic musicians in the band and they play very functional parts in the regular songs. So, I think that this is a great opportunity for them to show what they’ve got. Also, this is an egocentric reasoning, but for me, a lot of the songs have become much harder to sing. I really appreciate the two minutes of taking a breath during the shows! I think that on the album Apocalypse & Chill, that song for me, represents the explosion, the combustion, the apocalypse itself, if you will. I think it’s got a very symbolic function on this record.
What’s the music scene like in the Netherlands? You’re a very well known international touring band, but what was your humble beginning like?
Delain is a little bit of an odd example in that case because Martijn had rolled out of Within Temptation, who were at their breakthrough, and he had so many well known guests on this album that he wrote and that took a long time. There was a lot of work that went into that, and he had a whole big business plan that he used to get to the labels as well. But we got into that label straightaway for the first record because of all that hard work that Martijn had already put into it and the planning he did and the whole set up of the project. But, if I look at the scene that I was in before I got involved with that, the Dutch metal scene is a very small scene. Everyone knows each other, everyone is in everybody’s bands. I was I think in four bands at that moment. I was in a band, a guitarist in that band was doing a project, and I was in that project and then Martijn did arrangements for that project. And that’s where he heard me. So, he asked me for his project. I know that’s a very confusing sentence, but that may be a good representation of the Dutch music scene. It’s very interesting because a lot of metal comes from the Netherlands and actually a lot of symphonic metal comes from the Netherlands. But you would never tell if you looked at the Dutch mainstream music media. I don’t know, maybe it’s because it’s not exotic enough for us, or maybe it’s because it’s too exotic. The Dutch popular music is basically just dance and hip-hop. And I have nothing against dance and hip-hop, but sometimes it’s weird to me. I do these Dutch guest things and there will be people from multiple genres, and I will always be the one with the most followers on Instagram and Facebook. And they will be like, “But we don’t know you!” And that’s very typical for Holland, I think. Music that is very well known internationally is not really well known in the Netherlands itself. On the other hand, it also has its benefits because I bet that even if Delain would have a massive hit in the genre that I could still go grocery shopping without people recognizing me!
“OUR BIGGEST GOAL FOR NOW IS TO REALLY FIND A BALANCE AND DO ANYTHING IN ORDER TO KEEP MAKING BEAUTIFUL MUSIC TOGETHER.”
Delain has been around for 18 years and you have this new album out and upcoming gigs for the next few years. What are you looking forward to the most in the near future?
We have already reached so many things that we wanted to reach with Delain. It’s been really amazing. It’s been an absolute roller coaster. Martijn and I do most of the work behind the scenes, and we’re a really tight team and we both have started talking about how we might want to start doing some things outside of Delain every now and then. I think our biggest goal for now is to really find a balance and do anything in order to keep making beautiful music together. Because if I look at what we’ve done in the past, if I look at the album that we made now, I’m just really, really proud. It is really a product of our team. The sum is more than its parts, so to speak. I just really hope that we can keep doing that and make a lot more beautiful music and hope that people keep enjoying it.