DELAIN – Smalltown People
Dutch symphonic metal act Delain issued its initial trio of full-lengths via Roadrunner Records, the albums in question being Lucidity (September 2006), April Rain (March 2009), and We Are The Others (June 2012), the latter’s release overseen by Roadrunner in select territories only. Warner Music Group had acquired a 73.5% stake of Roadrunner in January 2007, the company completing a full acquisition in November 2010. Warner’s involvement had caused issues for Delain, the outfit subsequently inking a global album contract with Napalm Records in February 2013.
“I’m pretty excited about signing with Napalm,” Charlotte Wessels exclaims, vocalist of Delain. “We came from Roadrunner. We were initially really happy, but once the label was sold to Warner it wasn’t such a happy marriage any more. We came from a situation where we chose each other; the band chose the record company, and the record company chose the band. When the record company then got sold to Warner, basically we were in a situation where we didn’t really choose Warner and Warner didn’t really choose us – they just got us with the whole package from Roadrunner. There were a lot of different ideas about what we should do, and we were way too stubborn as a band to go for those kinds of ideas. When we signed with Napalm, we just had the feeling again that this was a record company which is really enthusiastic about us. We really like their work ethic and stuff, so yeah. We’re just back in a situation now where we’ve actually chosen the situation, which is really good.”
May 2013 compilation Interlude inaugurates the aforementioned relationship. “We’ve collected a lot of material over the last couple of years from writing sessions and live recordings, and we had these covers,” the frontwoman explains. “There were a lot of situations where certain songs didn’t get released on an album – not so much because we didn’t like the material, but because we were looking for the right balance on an album and we had written so much stuff that we couldn’t put them all on there. This was definitely the case with the two new songs on Interlude, for example – ‘Collars And Suits’ and ‘Breathe On Me’, which we really liked – but it was a really clear situation where the other songs sounded better together as a whole.
“At one point, we just looked at all of the material that we had – the live tracks, the covers, the remixes, and the new songs – and we thought that this was too much material to save up and maybe use one or two here or one or two there. We thought that this material really needed an album of its own, basically. Once we decided that, we just started to rework tracks, re-record some stuff, remix some stuff, and master everything so that it sounds good as a whole. We were pretty happy with the outcome. We’ve been very critical about it, because we’re perfectionists. I didn’t expect we would release an album like this, but we just had the material. It would’ve been a waste not to use that material anywhere.”
Further leftover material exists. “Loads,” Charlotte informs. “We’ve written 20-30 songs for an album, and of course there are 11-12 songs on an album. However, those songs vary from a different idea or a rough demo to a finished demo that didn’t make it. It varies greatly in terms of which state of completion they are in. If you look at rough sketches and everything that we’ve recorded in the studio, then there’s loads of that. Usually though, I think there’s a reason why we didn’t do something with it before. I always like more when we’re going to write – when it’s completely blank and with a clean sheet, and starting from scratch – than looking into an old idea. I like that better, but there’s usually nice material. For example, sometimes you have this song, but you’ve never really found the right chorus or the right atmosphere. Who knows? Maybe one day if we feel lost for inspiration, we’ll look into those old tracks.”
‘Breathe On Me’ spearheads Interlude’s pair of original studio compositions. “I think it’s one of the more lighthearted, flirty tracks on the record,” the singer critiques. “There was a huge influence from the writing team that we work with in Stockholm, Tripod. The lyrics are about my crush on Nick Cave, actually. There are a lot of twists in the lyrics in reference to Cave’s lyrics, so if there are any Nick Cave fans listening to the lyrics then they will probably recognise some things there. So yeah, I think it’s one of the lighter songs within our repertoire of drama.”
The second of the pair, ‘Collars And Suits’ was also co-authored with Tripod. “‘Breathe On Me’ is a song where you can really hear them,” Charlotte observes. “‘Collars And Suits’ is more like a classic Delain song, which was written instrumentally by Martijn. I wrote the vocal lines and lyrics, so it’s more of an old-fashioned Delain song I would say. It has the bombastic and symphonic influence, and guitar solos. They’re two completely different tracks; even though they were written in the same timespan, the influence still comes from a very different angle.”
‘Collars And Suits’ broaches Delain’s strife under the Roadrunner banner. “I think that one has a lot of frustration about the record company situation we had been in,” the lyricist confirms. “We’ve been on so many different labels over the past couple of years. The thing is, I don’t want to talk bad about any of them, because with every one of them we had some very dedicated people who really wanted to work with us and make it a success – people who were really into Delain – but we didn’t even know who was calling the shots. ‘Collars And Suits’ is about the frustration surrounding everything that happened back then, and people trying to influence us, and push us into different directions. Honestly, we know pretty well what we want to do (laughs). It gets kind of frustrating when people tell you what to do, how to do it, how to look well doing it, and how to sound well doing it. So yeah, ‘Collars And Suits’ is about that.”
The two numbers bear great comparison with the material on We Are The Others. “We revamped them for Interlude; we reworked them, re-recorded stuff, and remixed stuff,” Charlotte divulges. “Still though, these songs were written in the same timeframe. I think we were in the same vibe when writing them, so I think people who like We Are The Others will like this record as well.”
However, the tunes in question aren’t necessarily a musical indication of future material. “It’s not so much a signal of where we’re going, but more where we were,” the vocalist clarifies. “They’re from the We Are The Others sessions, but it’s not representative of what our next album is going to be because… They might be, but I don’t know yet because we’ve just started writing for a new album. Honestly, we’re still in the phase where we’re collecting as much ideas as possible. We’re not really in the phase of selecting songs yet, so I cannot really say anything about what kind of direction it will take. We’re still in that phase where we don’t want to limit ourselves by thinking about what style or what sound. We’re just taking songs from the inspiration that comes. At a later stage, we’ll select and refine and stuff. It’s basically too early to say ‘Okay, this is going to be the style of the new album’ or ‘This is where we’re going,’ because we don’t want to narrow down this creative stage of writing.”
Writing sessions generally occur two evenings per week. “We’re at the point where we’re writing Tuesday and Thursday nights, but we also have a lot of tours in-between,” Charlotte cautions. “We’ve been writing for some time, but these writing sessions are very scattered because we only have these two nights a week and a lot of tours. We’re thinking now of planning… We did this for We Are The Others as well, where we just rent a house in the middle of nowhere and then sit there with the three of us or with the four of us – whoever wants to join in – and then just write. Right now, we’re looking into possible dates where we can actually do that. It’s so much more efficient, and you can do so much more than you can do in a night, because it gets so busy. We’ll really get it going faster, I think.”
Track authors include keyboardist Martijn Westerholt, and guitarist Guus Eikens. “Guus isn’t in our live band, but he’s been involved with Delain from the very beginning,” the frontwoman tells. “Guus and me, we write a lot with the two of us and sometimes Oliver Philipps, who’s contributed to our previous records as well – sometimes he joins in. People from the band can add stuff as well. Right now, we’re doing the writing between the three of us, which is Guus, Martijn, and me. What we did with the last album was after we had a lot of songs written, we worked on them. We then took them to Sweden and worked with the Tripod team. Yeah though, like I mentioned, we’re not in that phase yet. Things are at quite an early stage. We’re just writing the songs, and we’re doing that again between the three of us – Martijn, Guus, and myself. I’ve always got a book of lyrics lying around, but I don’t know which will actually make it to the record and which will not. It’s hard to say what the theme is right now, but yeah, if we have an interview in a couple of months I can tell you (laughs).”
At the time of writing, Tripod’s potential involvement is uncertain. Issue during the first half of 2014 is being aimed for. “I think that’s what we’re aiming for, maybe even earlier,” Charlotte ponders. “It’s too early to say anything about it though, because if I say now then everybody will take it as a release date. It’s just an estimation, but people will hold onto it.”
The singer always carries notebooks, scribbling down various phrases. “Sometimes this phrase becomes the centre of a lyric or the start of a lyric, but sometimes nothing happens with it,” she discloses. “Yes, sometimes there will be lyrics which won’t make it into a Delain song, but not because of what type of lyrics it is. Sometimes I also write stuff that in the end I think is too personal to actually sing in front of people, and sometimes I just write things which are really obscene or something. It’s just a way to get everything out, and often there are good lyrics in it. It’s always good to have something, so if you have an idea you don’t lose it.”
These aforementioned lyrics of a more personal nature will not form the basis of a solo effort, however. “I do other projects, but the idea of going solo sounds so much like wanting to do it on your own and I don’t have the idea of wanting to do it on my own,” Charlotte reckons. “I do want to do different things, though. Recently I made the music for a new Dutch television series for example, which is called Queer Amsterdam. I did the music for that series together with Guus Eikens – who also writes with us for Delain – and Harrold Roeland who is a friend of mine. I went more into electronic and soundscape stuff, but writing music to accompany images is such a different thing than writing music as an autonomous product so to speak.
“It’s very different to make music for film or television, because in a lot of places you’ll have monologues. Basically, there’s not as much singing as I usually do. Harrold is very good at doing soundscapes, so there are a lot of soundscapes. That’s quite a funny story… It’s not always suitable to sing in this series, because it might distract from the monologue or the dialogue or whatever. There are only little places where I could sing. What happened in the end was the only places where I could actually put some lyrics onto the music were the intro, the outro, and all the sex scenes, because no-one was talking.
“Of course, it’s a Dutch series, so there are a lot of sex scenes. I ended up singing during the sex scenes, which was kind of funny. I took my parents to the premiere, and I had to warn them. So yeah, it was funny. It’s different. I guess it’s more pop-rock oriented, because it’s kind of a mainstream television series. It’s about queer Amsterdam, so it’s about the gay scene, and so there are kind of different influences there. It was really challenging and really cool to do something like that, but different at the same time. The series has been released now, and I’m thinking that maybe that there is a way we can get the music published separately as well.
“I am interested in doing this kind of stuff, because I learn so much from just writing music in general for different types of things. I see that as something different than going solo. Going solo sounds like you can’t get along with other people, basically (laughs).”
An additional project is in the pipeline. “I guess it’s too early to say something about that, though,” the composer warns. “It will all be much later though, because right now I really have to focus on the new Delain record if we want to get it out when we want to get it out. That’s the first and last thing on my mind, to be honest.”
We Are The Others cut ‘Are You Done With Me’ was freshly mixed for Interlude. “We so wanted it to be a single, because we thought it had that potential,” Charlotte enthuses. “We wanted to put it on Interlude as well, but then we thought that it was quite common to make a single mix because radio has other requirements. That’s not so much what people think, that you’ve got to turn down the volume of the guitars and stuff; it’s also more subtle things. We made a special single mix for it and changed some minor things, but it’s all quite subtle because we basically liked the song as it was. It’s not like ‘We Are The Others’, where we made a really different arrangement. On ‘Are You Done With Me’, there are more subtle differences.”
Three cover interpretations feature on Interlude. “What we basically did with the covers is, we just covered a bunch of songs where we really liked the originals,” the vocalist relates. “We then chose which ones sounded the best after we played them in our own Delain kind of style, because I always think that the best cover is a cover that on the one hand has respect for the original but on the other hand isn’t just a band playing that song – where it’s a band actually feeling it and making it their own. Sometimes people make it their own too much (laughs), and then it has no respect for the original anymore, but then sometimes people stay so close to the original that it’s not that interesting. From all the covers that we tried – we tried a lot – I think these were the best ones where it was respectful to the original. I also really liked how they sounded when we did our thing with them – that’s kind of how we chose them. They’re basically also just favourite songs of ours, so it was really cool to cover them. It was a really nice experience.”
Heading up the trio is ‘Such A Shame’, originally performed by English synth-pop ensemble Talk Talk (and from March 1984’s It’s My Life). “It was a song which I always thought had this…,” Charlotte begins. “It’s quite a happy song, but it’s still very melancholic in a way. This is a quality which I really like in songs, because it’s something which our music has as well. A lot of the songs are quite uptempo, happy songs but there’s still this dark undertone in them, and I kind of recognise that in ‘Such A Shame’ by Talk Talk. It’s not one of the most well-known songs. I know that a lot of reviewers actually wrote about it as one of our own songs which of course was a compliment, but it wasn’t. I like the fact that it’s not the most obvious song to cover.”
‘Cordell’, meanwhile, is taken from the songbook of Irish rock act The Cranberries (and from April 1996’s To The Faithful Departed). “I was born in ’87, so I was raised with all those perfectly great 90s rock bands, The Cranberries being one of them,” the frontwoman imparts. “I just love the band, and I’ve sang their songs since forever, starting in cover bands in high school. It was cool to do one of their songs, now that I’m in Delain (laughs). That’s quite an introverted song as well, and the choice to do it acoustically was because we’ve played it a lot live. We’d played it before we recorded it in the studio; we’d played it acoustic, and a lot of fans have actually been asking for us to do a studio recording of the song like we played it live. It’s a very straightforward answer to the fans, putting this one on the album. They’ve asked for this track specifically, after we’ve played it live. We’re people pleasers, so that’s why we did it (laughs).”
Rounding out the trio is ‘Smalltown Boy’, originally the debut single of British synth-pop troupe Bronski Beat (and from December 1984’s The Age Of Consent). “Once again, also just an awesome song,” Charlotte compliments. “It’s a gay anthem, and it’s one of the most powerful tracks I think from that time. A powerful, emotional track, and very, very catchy. This is actually one of the tracks which isn’t one of the most original tracks to cover, because it has been covered many times before. It’s actually a song that we wanted to do too, though (laughs).”
Undertaking cover renditions, the track’s subject matter is an important facet. “I would never cover a song where I cannot relate to the lyrics, or whether I disagree with the lyrics, or whether it’s politically whatever,” the singer concludes. “Yeah, I think that’s very important.”
Having co-authored the musical score to Dutch television series Queer Amsterdam in addition to stepping behind the microphone for Delain’s interpretation of ‘Smalltown Boy’, the gay lifestyle is seemingly important to Charlotte. “I think it’s a personal thing,” she considers. “I’m very much in that scene myself. I’m not gay, but I’m very much in the scene because loads of my friends are. I studied gender studies, which is a study about discrimination of any gender, and also due to sexual preference or whatever. As with the Sophie (Lancaster) case, it’s just something that I keep busy with. For me, the fact that ‘Smalltown Boy’ was such a gay anthem makes it even more cool. I think it was a very important moment in music history, and that makes it more awesome from my perspective.”
Several numbers were considered for potential cover purposes, though not all were ultimately successful. “Let’s see which ones… This was quite some time ago,” the wordsmith recalls. “I think we did ‘Crazy’ by Seal (from May 1991’s Seal), and then a few more. We did a lot of 80s / 90s songs. I think these were the best ones.”
The title cut from Delain’s June 2012 opus originally, ‘We Are The Others’ was remodelled as a ballad. “Of course, the song has very intense and sad dramatics behind it with the tragic case of Sophie Lancaster,” Charlotte reminds. “I remember when I was writing the lyrics, these were one set of lyrics that were written and rewritten again just because of its delicate matter – only to get it right – when we were in the studio. We were often playing it and singing it with piano, just to see how the new words sounded and if they came across the way they should. That’s actually when we noticed that it sounded pretty intense as well to just have it as a song with a piano in this more ballad-esque style. I think that’s when we came up with the idea. We just heard it with the piano in it, and we thought that it was intense, but also because of the whole theme of the song it fits in a way. That’s how we came to this.”
Sophie Lancaster was attacked on August 11th, 2007 at the skate park area of Stubbylee Park, Bacup, England, her boyfriend Robert Maltby additionally assaulted. Discriminated on the basis of their alternative attire, Sophie’s injuries were ultimately fatal. Comatose, her life support was switched off 13 days later on the 24th. Released on what would have been Sophie’s 23rd birthday (on November 26th, 2009), a four-minute animation entitled Dark Angel was circulated around the internet as well as being shown on MTV. This was how Delain’s vocalist came to hear of the incident.
“I think a lot of people learnt about it through that video,” she estimates. “It’s just really grabbing, and I don’t know why it took so long to get that into a song. I think when we had the theme of ‘We Are The Others’ though, about celebrating difference and being against discrimination and celebrating your identity even if you deviate from the norm… I remembered what had happened to Sophie, and I thought that it was the most perfect example of what can happen when people don’t accept each other’s differences. When people cannot look beyond these differences, and when people don’t know how to deal with this ‘otherness’. That is of course not only a problem when it comes to subculture, but it’s a big problem also when it comes to sexuality, ethnicity. It affects a lot of countries as well. It was a very big issue to take on; I was very scared to take it on, but I was very happy that we had the support of The Sophie Lancaster Foundation and I am very happy that it was well received. I’m really happy about that, because that was very important to me.”
The Sophie Lancaster Foundation was founded by Sophie’s mother, Sylvia Lancaster. “I think it’s really powerful what she does, telling her story over and over again,” Charlotte commends. “It must be horrible to relive that every time she tells it, but she does so. I think they’re doing a great job of educating, and what they recently achieved with the Manchester police as well… They’re actually changing something, and I think that’s very good for them.”
Dutch media didn’t lend much coverage to the Sophie Lancaster incident. “It didn’t, but I did a lot of talking with the guys from the Sophie Lancaster Foundation,” the frontwoman submits. “I heard about how much of these incidents there’ve been in the UK, and I’ve followed it ever since. Once you set your eye on that kind of stuff, you will also see it in other countries. I’ve heard this horrible thing that in some countries they have these gang wars between goths and metalheads and emos, and I thought that that was just the saddest thing to hear, that we’re actually turning against each other now. If you ask me, it just goes to show that humans will find a reason to fight whatever way. Whatever you can do to show one another that discrimination on the basis of generic things about one’s identity or one’s appearance, though… It’s just such utter nonsense. I don’t know.
“I feel really optimistic; I look at and see the things that people achieve, and I feel like we can change something. Other days, like when I heard that thing about those gang wars between goths, metalheads, and emos, I was like ‘What is this place coming to?’ But yeah, it’s better to be optimistic, I guess. I really feel like seeing what happens. With a song like ‘We Are The Others’ there was really this community feel, and that was also positive. I think that is something to strive for. I also know that the Sophie Lancaster Foundation actually got criticised, because the Manchester police actually said that violence against goths, metalheads, and emos is considered to be a hate crime now. They’re training police to cope with that. I know that there was actually some criticism for that, with people saying ‘… But now you’re putting those people in a corner again, and you’re branding them as a kind of people, and that is creating difference instead of some kind of equality.’
“I honestly feel that there is so much violence though, and if there is a problem then acknowledgement of that problem is the very first step. I think it’s a very good move that they now acknowledge this problem, and that they give it a name and that they give it a face – and that they’re making the police informed about these things. Of course it’s bad that it’s necessary, but yeah, acknowledgement is the first step to any improvement of any problems. So yes, I really think that the Foundation is doing a great job, and I’m very happy for them that they’ve achieved this. I know how long they’ve been working on it, because they had already working on it for a very long time when I spoke with them for the first time.”
On October 20th, 2012, Delain performed at the Metal Female Voices Fest at Oktoberhallen in Weize, Belgium. Six cuts lifted from that appearance are represented on Interlude. “That was a really cool festival, so I’m really happy that those songs are on there,” Charlotte exclaims. “I think that for people who already know us or follow us, they will be really cool to hear. It brings back memories for me from a really cool festival. Also, for people who’ve maybe never seen us live, I think you can really hear that it’s a very cool atmosphere.
“On the DVD with Interlude, there are five videos from the same gig recorded in good quality as well. It’s not a full-on live DVD, but there’s kind of half of a live DVD on there as well (laughs). A full-on live DVD is a possibility, but it’s not a project we’re considering now since we’re focusing so much on the new Delain record.”
As was the case with We Are The Others, artwork duties were handled by Glenn Arthur. “I’m really happy that we got Glenn to do the Interlude artwork, because he’s one of my favourite artists,” the singer esteems. “I was over the moon when he said he wanted to do the artwork for We Are The Others, and I’m just very, very happy that we got him to do Interlude as well. There was some collaboration with We Are The Others, but not so much with Interlude because we had very little time with Interlude to get the artwork together. We found one of his artworks which we really liked and thought would be really suitable for Interlude, but it wasn’t like We Are The Others where we did a lot of going back and forth with sketches. I sent him the lyrics, and told him what it was about. The first time there was a lot of back and forth, but now we actually found one which really suited our ideas for this record. It was different in different cases. I really think it’s a style of our work that we can continue. Yeah, I think that it’s really cool.”
The flame-haired lady who adorns We Are The Others’ cover is seemingly Charlotte. “When I asked him, he told me that he wasn’t really a portrait artist,” she remembers. “He draws a lot of women from his imagination, but obviously she has my red hair and freckles and my piercings. I think it’s kind of me.”
A blonde lady fronts Interlude’s cover, meanwhile. “It’s a fictional character, but I think she’s really bad-ass,” the lyricist lauds. “She looks very cool.”
The characters in question seemingly represent ‘the others’. “The character is fictional, but I think your interpretation of the character as being one of the others is quite cool,” Charlotte chuckles. “The one on We Are The Others is obviously inspired by me and the one on Interlude is fictional, but I actually think it’s pretty cool to say that that’s a representation of the others. That’s the way to see it, and I think that’s a cool way to see it. That’s why with the art there’s always an idea from the artist, whether it be the painter or whether it be us artists asking a painter to draw something. By the same token though, if people have certain interpretations about that… I studied art history and there are always ten different interpretations for one piece, if not a hundred. So yeah, I think it’s kind of cool that you said that they’re representations of ‘the others’. That’s awesome.”
Interlude was released in Spain, Sweden, and Norway on May 1st, 2013, on the 3rd in Austria, Switzerland, Finland, and Benelux, on the 6th in the rest of Europe, and subsequently on the 7th in North America, all via Napalm Records.
Interview published in May 2013.