Interview with Delain’s Charlotte Wessels


Interview by Paul Quinton

As Dutch symphonic rock band Delain reached the end of a lengthy European tour with a series of dates in the UK, designed to launch their fine new album ‘We are the Others’, they played a terrific show at the HMV Institute in Birmingham. With the band soundchecking beforehand, lead singer Charlotte Wessels sat down with Midlands Rocks’ Paul Quinton to talk about the tour, the new album, songwriting and playing the clarinet….

MR:- These UK dates are the last in what’s been a pretty lengthy European tour. How’s it gone so far?
CW:- It’s gone great. Considering we are doing this tour without having the album released, it’s going pretty well. We were planning to have the album released before the tour, but we were really happy to see that, even though we didn’t have anything out yet, you still get your loyal fans. We’re really satisfied that we have that, and we’ve really just had a party every day.

MR:- I should think there’ll be another one tomorrow, because it’s your birthday, isn’t it? Can we wish you Happy Birthday in advance? Will you be doing anything special on the day?
CW:- Thank you! Nothing special that I know of.

MR:- You don’t think that there will be any surprises on stage, like a cake or anything?
CW:- I haven’t noticed anybody being mysterious yet, but you never know with the guys.

MR:- I saw you this time last year, and as you said, you’ve played a lot of shows so far this year. Do you find the UK different to playing in the rest of Europe or are audiences the same wherever you go?
CW:- Actually the UK is very good to us, maybe it’s because in the rest of Europe, people have had to wait for a very long time because it’s been a while since our last release. Here both our albums were released a lot later, maybe because we had two albums in a short time, it was better here, I’m not sure. We experience everything really positively, we’re getting a lot of media attention, we get a lot of great people to the concerts, we’re really satisfied with how everything is going up to now.

MR:- Last year you had three new songs in the set, presumably you’ll play a lot more on this tour?
CW:- Yes, but we didn’t want to do too much, though, because of course people didn’t have the opportunity to hear them yet. But we do have a bunch of new songs in the show.

MR:- Hearing your new songs last year, you opened with ‘Manson’ and also played ‘Get The Devil Out Of Me’. It sounded to me as if you might be trying to change direction a little compared to the first two albums, going in a more straightforward rock direction?
CW:- You know, I think a lot of the songs are more straightforward. I don’t know if that makes it a change, but what we wanted to do with this record was keep it to the bare essentials. We really wanted to write just a heavy groove, just have heavy drums, bass and guitar, have the keys be more like extras and more electronic things, rather than just have full strings everywhere. So now it’s more like a layer on top.

MR:- Because of Martijn’s background, you’ll be included with bands like Within Temptation and Epica. It’s interesting that so many of the top bands in this genre seem to come from the Netherlands. Is that just coincidence?
CW:- I always thought it was a coincidence, but I was recently talking to Marcelo (Bovio, of Stream of Passion) and she said to me ‘When I came to Holland from Mexico, I got really moody from the bad weather’, and I thought at first, pure coincidence that all these bands are from Holland. But if you see things around you, then you don’t have to invent it and I also think that this whole dark and gloomy thing might also be because of the rubbish Dutch weather.

MR:- Which makes you wonder what British bands should sound like.
CW:- Well, you guys have Anathema, right?

MR:- Definitely! Well, turning to the album, I do think ‘We Are The Others’ is a really interesting title. Where did that come from?
CW:- It comes from the song, obviously, but when I heard the instrumental parts for the song, I was thinking about lyrics and I thought ‘this sounds like an anthem’. So I wanted it to be about something big and one of the things that frustrates me most, and gets on my nerves, is discrimination, and most of us have been ‘the other’ in one way or another. So many binary oppositions, like women are the other of men, gay is the other of straight and black’s the other of white, so many oppositions that don’t have any purpose. So I thought in almost every case, it’s bad to be ‘the other’, and maybe we should reclaim the word and make it into something positive. Which is where the phrase ‘We are the Others’ came from. Later on, in writing up the lyrics, the guys said ‘Charlotte, is this really what you want to say?’ But then I recalled the story of Sophie Lancaster, the most horrible thing, and not an isolated thing, because these things happen a lot.

MR:- Does that kind of thing happen in Holland as well?
CW:- We don’t have the Goth-bashing, but in Holland we have our own problems, we have certain religious minorities, which are really scary. The Sophie Lancaster story, when I thought of that and introduced it into the lyrics, it all fell into place, and when you say that, it’s hard not to do something with it when I remember the initial feelings I had. When I heard that news, I’d been hesitating at first because I was doubting myself as a writer, whether I could deliver something like that, because you want to give respect to a matter like that. I think we all felt that it fell into place with those lyrics, so when it was finished, we called the Sophie Lancaster Foundation and they were completely behind the idea.

MR:- Was the album an easy one to put together? Was writing new material straightforward?
CW:- Well, we had our challenges writing it because we tried to do something different. We used to mostly write separately and we still did that for some songs, but we also tried new ways of writing. For example, Martijn and me, along with Oliver Philips, who produced our first record, we basically make up the core writing team. This time we chose to get together, all of us, then work on it. It’s also challenging because you don’t get to have ten ideas then pick the best one and it was also the first time we felt like there were external people having opinions. So it wasn’t easy, but compared to the political stuff we’ve been through to get this album together, it worked.

MR:- The band have something of an unusual situation with your guitar players at the moment, with Timo Somers involved in other projects and Bas Maas filling in for him at times. How did Bas come to be involved?
CW:- When we had to find another guitarist, Bas’ name came up, we knew him from his working with Doro. He said ‘I am committed to Doro, but if you don’t mind, I will share the job with Timo’. This was good because we were afraid we would have to look for a replacement again. To be honest, I’m kind of done with that!

MR:- Is it difficult working with a different guitarist from tour to tour?
CW:- For me, the most important thing is that it feels right. What I really dislike is when we’ve had to change members and we’ve had auditions. I hate auditions!

MR:- As a singer, though, is it hard to adjust to different guitarists’ styles?
CW:- To be honest, when we’re on stage we’re using in-ear monitors and I’m actually hearing a pre-recorded track, basically a CD track, so in my world, everybody plays perfectly and I also have a back-up. Someone can screw up and I wouldn’t even notice. At one point I had a hard time getting the right mix in my in-ears, and one day Martijn said ‘why didn’t I use CD tracks?’ My attitude was ‘well, that’s not very rock’n’roll!’ But then, we do have a lot of things going on stage. I remember one time, all the lights went out, and the PA, but I had the back-up system in my ears and so I kept on singing because I didn’t know that the people in the venue couldn’t hear anything, and by the time I noticed and people were giving me strange looks, everything was up again. I really like having the mix; I can hear from the monitors, I can hear from the venue, I can hear the chemistry between the musicians, because there’s nothing worse than not being able to hear right. There are certain venues where you get so much bass or whatever, and then it’s hard to find the right notes. For me, it’s a very good feeling that I always have the right things in my ears. And then, when we get another guitarist, and we rehearse, then I have my in-ear and I can just focus on my own thing.

MR:- So going back to the writing, do you all meet up and say ‘Right, today we are going to write’, or is it that people bring ideas to the band and you work on them together?
CW:- What we always used to do was ‘Well I have this idea,’ and usually Martijn would have written an instrumental part, or I would have written something with Guus, and then we would work on the whole thing. But what we did for this was to rent a farm in the middle of nowhere. We went in with nothing, no ideas, and then you start with a sort of brainstorm, like ‘What kind of mood are we in today, do we want an up-front thing, do we want a more mellow thing?’ then we thought for a while about catchphrases, and may be we could start from a catchphrase. We started from the very beginning and we did it together, and this is the first time we’ve done this and we got some really interesting results, and we’re already planning when we can do that again.

MR:- So did working like that make it a long time to get an album together, to find 12 or 13 songs writing like that?
CW:- We had about 30! We brought it back to 14 and then 12 to put on the album. As to how long it takes, it’s always hard to say what’s right. With some songs, you write basic ideas, like verse and chorus, and you might write them in a day, and then after that, sometimes it takes a week to get the arrangements, or do different parts, and it can take months to get the right middle. Most of the time, the best songs are when the most important parts are easy.

MR:- Is Delain like a lot of bands where they rely on the singer for the lyrics? Does everyone contribute to, say, riffs or arrangements, or is it a strict division of responsibility?
CW:- It used to be a strict division, because when we started out, Martijn already had a lot of the music and asked me to do some lyrics. But with the previous album, I already had a lot of basic ideas for lyrics and melody. Sometimes for me it can be harder to put ideas into a proper set-up, but if I have my chords and I have my words laid out, and also when we were talking about riffs, we are all there working together.

MR:- So, talking about Delain the band as a whole, how did you come to meet Martijn and to join Delain?
CW:- I was playing in a lot of bands in my hometown, we had what’s called Pop Club, which is like a café and rehearsal room. I would meet up with people there one or more times a week. One night Martijn was there and he said ‘I heard you sing, I have this project, would you mind listening to it and maybe write some lyrics?’ I listened to the tracks and really liked the music. Initially it wasn’t the idea that I would sing, just work on lyrics, but the first song I worked on was ‘See Me In Shadow’, which was a ballad. He’d given me the instrumental part, so when I did the lyrics I said ‘Shall I sing them for you, as I know what goes where’, and once I’d done that, in the end I ended up as the singer.

MR:- Was the first time you went into the studio with Delain, the first time you’d been in a studio?
CW:- No, it wasn’t. With Martijn it was at his home studio. It was just for the demo. I’d been in a studio before, but it was different with Delain, I had my own stuff at home in a study, but it was not what you’d call a studio.

MR:- When did you know you wanted to be a singer?
CW:- I knew in the first grade of High School. I’d known for a very long time I wanted to be in music. I used to play the clarinet and for a very long time I was in everyone’s band, I’ve been in orchestras, I’ve been in big bands, I’ve been in jazz, but then I realised I was always jealous of the singer because I would much rather be in front of the band. At school we had concerts where everybody did something. It could have been anything, but it was mostly music, and there could be hundreds of people watching, so it was a big thing. I was going to sing a song solo and I asked a guy ’Do you want to accompany me on this song?’ and I was so overwhelmed by the experience of singing the song on that stage with so many people watching, and the response afterward, that was the moment for me.

MR:- Do you think you’re influenced by other singers? Is there anybody you looked up to as a singer, saying to yourself ‘That’s who I want to be like?’
CW:- At the time, I wanted to be like Anouk. I don’t know if you know her, she’s a Dutch singer, she’s a big rock chick and she’s the reason I got my nose pierced, to be like that. She’s still active in the music industry, and I really idolised her. She had a hit with a song called ‘Nobody’s Wife’, which was a hit in a lot of countries, and for me that was so, so, so awesome. Back then, it was one of her songs I was singing that night, and while I liked her, I really have no one where I can say ‘I want to be like that’.

MR:- Do you listen to a lot of other music when you’re not working with Delain?
CW:- I don’t keep up with what’s happening as much as I used to, to be honest. As music become work, it automatically becomes less recreation as well. But now I’m on tour, I listen to my iPod a lot because it becomes a way to close yourself from your surroundings, to relax. I’m not much into new developments and buying every new record out there.

MR:- Last year you sang as a guest on the Nemesea album, an album I really liked. Is that something you see yourself doing a lot of in the future?
CW:- I want to do a lot of different things, I like a lot of different styles of music and I want to do as many things as I can. I’ve always had problems just doing the same things.

MR:- So when the tour finishes, you won’t be taking six months off and forget about music, you want to keep working.
CW:- We have some things to do around Holland, around the release of the new album. I’m also writing for a solo project now as well.

MR:- A solo project as opposed to a Charlotte Wessels solo album?
CW:- Not really like a Charlotte Wessels album, no. There are certain things I’d like to do which don’t really fit Delain, that will come out one way or another, but it’s not like I want to do it alone. Sometimes I tend to get too experimental, or too alternative rock. Sometimes when you write with different people, you find different sorts of common ground. I like to work with that common ground and I’m not really going to fight to get whatever I like onto the album. I can do that somewhere else.

Delain’s new album, ‘We Are The Others’ is out now on Roadrunner Records