Scott Wilson sat down with Charlotte Wessels, lead singer of Delain, before their headline show at the Cathouse.
How is the tour going so far?
Charlotte Wessels: It’s a small tour but all three dates are sold out and, apart from a little injury of our bass player during the first gig, everything went really well. The crowds in North America received the gig so well, for us it’s a great reward for our efforts to see the shows sell out.
Recently symphonic metal has gone through a big change with Within Temptation moving into grand stadium rock, Epica becoming more progressive rock, Amaranthe doing a synth-pop-metal fusion crossover, and you guys have a real sociology metal thing going on because of what you sing about – is that a conscious movement for the symphonic scene?
Sociology metal! That’s cool. Yeah I guess so, I recently got into a lot of fantasy stuff, but that’s only because I’ve been reading some very good writers who use such good metaphors for real life, and when you look up what the story is actually about, it’s still the same universal topics, and the topic of otherness which we work within Delain.
I’m not sure if it was a conscious move. At one point it didn’t feel like I had a choice. It felt silly only taking a personal emotional world when you are grounded in so much more than that. I’ve had an obsession with otherness and how people deal with it, and to keep that out of the lyrics, that would feel strange. I wasn’t only invested in our lyrics but I was also completing my masters in gender studies so it was an academical and creative interest. It makes sense it would seep through to the lyrics – most things I obsess over do in the end.
I have friends with mental disorders who have heard some of your new songs, such as ‘Your Body is a Battleground’, and I was wondering if you were aware of wanting to give a voice to these people because they hadn’t heard anything like it before, or was it something you wanted to tackle personally?
That was something I was very aware of, that would potentially speak to people who have eating problems because the song very much speaks to…I’m very much of the body positive movement. Not so much where they praise plus size then call skinny girls skinny bitches, but I feel this emphasis on having this one type of appearance, one type of body, one type of behaviour is silly.
Within the song are a lot of my own struggles as well so it really doesn’t surprise me that, even though they are my personal struggles, I feel a lot of people go through the same thing. It’s the same as heartbreak – you can talk about when you and a lover breakup, and it’s a universal topic of heartbreak and loss, and unfortunately the body itself is fought so much that I guess, for a lot of people, a lot of young people, it’s a very real topic.
So how do you stay informed of what’s happening in society and what makes you think “I wanna sing about that”?
My studies helped me a lot. I got to read many many interesting scholars on the topics of my interest. Like right now I try to keep informed in the field, go to open lectures every now and then. Within the academic field you can see what years later will be in the mainstream media. It’s a way to be ahead of things so to speak.
You were featured in Jill Kirtland’s ‘Not Just Tits in a Corset’ – how did that come about and do you think representation for women in rock and metal is getting better?
I get questions about it a lot. The thing is, I don’t mind at all that people act surprised that women are fronting a metal band. There are a lot of them around now, and at one point it feels silly that people say “oh my gosh but you’re a woman” and, though it’s said in an admiring way, it can work against you that people act in such a surprised way.
Historically 150 years ago we, women, were not allowed into music schools – we are catching up quickly. Some people are a bit stuck in the past. When people are surprised, I don’t mind that so much. How women are represented, that’s a much more complicated topic.
I personally feel that everybody should be however they want to be both on and off stage. We are people with bodies and sexualities, and it’s silly to shut that off on stage. But for a long time, our cultural heritage, the women who were in music and the arts they were merely there for their bodies and to be sexy and hot and everything, so I understand why women want to move away from that.
On the other hand if that is what you are and want to be it’s silly that you can’t do that just because women were objectified. In an ideal situation people should be able to do whatever they want to do – whether they want to dress like a nun or hardly dress at all, that should be everyone’s personal decision. I feel very comfortable showing something of myself on stage but I know I have to be careful about it because if you get it wrong you can be continuing this cultural past of being objectified and being merely a sexual object which is not what you want.
I would just like this to be easier for women in a way. This isn’t really anyone’s fault but men can easily make that choice, whether they want to be hot guy on stage or if they don’t want to be that and focus on the music, that feels more like a choice, and one way or another it’s not controversial because of a supressed past. With women if you do such a thing, men and women alike, can be really very mean about that. If you asked me what’s more liberating, covering yourself or not covering yourself, I wouldn’t know. I would just hope that it wouldn’t matter at one point so much anymore.
It’s confusing. Even with myself I change my position on it every now and then. I know that I am not like the women you see on fashion magazines or anything, I’m simply too big, but I don’t mind, I feel very powerful by dressing up and making myself look powerful because that’s how it feels. It’s not necessarily making myself look sexy, when I get into my stage outfit, my make up, my hair, I’m making myself feel powerful, and I would very much like other women and girls to see women who do not necessarily look like what you see on magazines do that and feel comfortable with themselves. I feel that’s broadening the scope of what people can look like if you want to play along. But if I choose to do that, I’m fine with that, but if someone from the record company tells me to do a sexy photoshoot then I’ll dress like a nun just to piss them off. I feel fine if I choose to do that but if someone tells me to, I feel so uncomfortable, all my alarm bells go off.
I remember one instance, I don’t think I’ve told this before, we had a manager, he had a very classic idea of what bands should look like, and for a lot of bands that works. When we were releasing We Are the Others he suggested I go on the cover naked and then have two bars, like censor bars, “we are” and “the others” and I was like “well I wonder if you read what the song was about but nevermind” but I thought let’s just go with it and see where it gets, so I told him “okay, it’s an interesting thing, I think nudity can be a powerful tool to say certain things” so I told him “okay, I see your idea, how about we do this – I stand in the middle of all these mannequin dolls, like all these very skinny mannequin dolls with no faces, smoothed out and white, and I stand in the middle of that, no Photoshopping, cellulite and all, no make up on, and then we cover it up with “We Are the Others.”
Then he was like “nah, let’s not do that.” Again, it’s not the nudity, it’s what you want to express with that nudity. He wanted to express poster girl, attractive. Obviously my idea with the same person, the same pose, the same nudity, but if you wrap that in another idea, it can be another message but it wasn’t a message he was very interested in hearing. I wasn’t too keen on going nude anyway so I didn’t mind but I could very much predict what his answer was going to be anyway [laughs]. It was an interesting experiment to be like “I see your idea, I raise you this, let’s see what’s going to happen.”
In the end you pay managers, and I like to focus on the creative side, and that’s their thing. We paid him to make suggestions, and you don’t like all suggestions, and this was an example of one we didn’t like so much. Doesn’t mean he didn’t have a lot of other very good suggestions, but that’s an example of what I think is really funny.
In terms of the recording process there were a lot of problems getting We Are the Others released and out there, was The Human Contradiction a more enjoyable experience?
We recorded it in record time actually. It was like half a year or something from writing and recording and production. We did it very fast. The problem with We Are the Others wasn’t so much recording or writing but because we were changing label and it was Roadrunner were sold to Warner. We never signed to Warner, they got us in the package from Roadrunner, so that was an unwanted situation and it took us a lot of time doing politics instead of music. This time around we are now with Napalm Records and they are very invested in what we want to do, so we could spend all our energy on the creative process.
At one point last time round, we have such amazing people supporting us, but at one point Warner wanted to postpone the release by half a year and we would have to cancel so much stuff we’d go bankrupt. In a way a band is a company and if we don’t get money in we’re in big problems. You can barely get round by doing gigs, because nobody buys albums anymore. If it got postponed it would be the end of Delain so we thought we should find somewhere else, get to another label, if Warner release the album it’ll be so bad for us. Our fans started a petition to Warner saying “please release the Delain record!” and they got so many people signing the petition. Which was amazing but it was such a double feeling because it’s like you guys are amazing I love you so much but at the same time please get it off, we don’t want Warner to release it!
On this record you’ve got Marco (Hietala, Nightwish) again and Alissa (White-Gluz, Arch Enemy), and you always pick guest spots that I think work very naturally with the music, so what makes you think that person is gonna fit here, and do you have other people you want to work with in the future?
Yeah we have people we want to work with but I never want to say because then if we don’t make it then I don’t want people to know we tried and didn’t make it, and if we do make it, it would ruin the surprise! It’s always good working with Marco, we’ve been working with him for a while now and every time we send him something we always know it’s going to be cool. It’s good to know people are very fond of his appearances on our record, so I would definitely work with him again obviously, but I would love to invite more people on to our record too.
[Scott Wilson – @HeartofFire]