Delain – The Dark Waters interview

We recently got very excited over Delain’s outstanding new Dark Waters album. It’s a record from a lineup that’s undergone a few upheavals, trials and tribulations but all is now good in the Delain camp. The chance to have a chat with Delain mainman and all-round gentleman, Martijn Westerholt is one not to be missed. Especially when he shows up on Zoom in an Iron Maiden T shirt!

“A little bit if history right!?” he laughs. “I’m happy that they’re NOT history but they’ve written musical history!” he adds before we head into our list of questions.

ATB: We saw you on the social media a few days back reporting from a rather interesting-looking desert and snow scene in Arizona!

Martijn: Yes! Well observed – I just got back as my wife is from the States so sometimes we go there for family stuff.

We’re keen to avoid pushing Martijn into yet another explanation of the story behind the internal wranglings that began back at the end of 2019 and into the following years that put the band seriously in jeopardy with the departure in particular of singer Charlotte Wessels. In hindsight, everything worked out, however, we are keen to ask what musical options he considered back in those dark days?

Martijn: Thanks, but I don’t mind and I’m quite open to talk about whatever. And I guess I had every option – anything was possible. Quitting Delain, quitting music altogether even, although that option went away really quickly as it’s my passion. I really thought about the options very much but I’m really happy how it turned out. The circumstances were really sad but Delain is still here and alive and kicking for which I’m really grateful.

ATB: The band sees the return of drummer Sander Zoer and guitarist Ronald Landa with new recruit Ludo Cioifi on bass, who also plays guitar in several Black Metal bands. The main change is in the recruitment of singer Diana Leah. Did she do the chasing!!??

Martijn: Oh yes, that’s a funny story actually – what she did was leave a comment on an Instagram post. A couple of days earlier I’d checked her Youtube channel where she did covers of other bands, so I wrote down her name and thought about contacting her. It was a coincidence that she’d just made the comment about if we ever needed another singer! That’s how it actually started…

ATB: Were you in the market for a singer – a female lead?

Martijn: I was just considering all options. I simply wanted a good voice that would fit Delain and also considered male vocals but that would have been very different and difficult for people to compare. On the other hand it really needed to fit Delain and one condition for the band to continue, a lot of the DNNA must be there and it must sound like Delain. Diana completely complemented that in her own way and I know people will compare her to Charlotte but I simply listened to how her voice fits the music which for me was the only condition.

With having guest vocalists, that might have worked if I returned to doing Delain as a project. At first, I thought that might be the only possible way to continue Delain but with having a couple of former members on board, they wanted to continue as a band – which caught me by surprise. With so much Delain DNA present we could do this as a band. That makes it difficult to work with guest singers – maybe for shows once or twice a year – but here we are again as a band!

ATB: What made her ‘the one’? What does she bring to Delain – that fans will find comfort yet with her own style?

Martijn: I think her voice sounds so enormously comfortable and pretty. It sounds so effortless to me. That is a change for me as Charlotte had a very characteristic voice but it’s something you need to like. It gives identity but it’s also a ‘particular’ voice; Diana has a more, how do you say, compatible voice with everything. I’m not saying one is better than the other but they have different characteristics, at least to my ears.

ATB: Did I see Diana with a nice white guitar in some video or photos? Is she a guitar player too?

Martijn: Not that I know of! I may be wrong, but I don’t think so!

ATB: Did you have some new material ready to go?  I believe you sent Diana The Quest And The Curse and Beneath to try out….

Martijn: The funny thing is that I always kept on writing no matter what the future of Delain would have been. There was also one piece of the puzzle that would come into play if Delain was going to continue and that’s working with my writing partner who I write the Delain music with. That’s Guus (Eikens) who’s worked with me since day one and he was also still on board so we simply continued writing. A lot of the material was already there before Diana ‘arrived’ but a lot wasn’t. It’s really a transitional album in that sense and it made it an interesting production.

ATB: You’re still the main writer, but did the others bring anything to the table as you recorded the new songs?

Martijn: I’m always open for people to contribute and welcome that involvement, but it’s fair to say that I’ve  always initiated the music with Guus and in the later stages with Charlotte too. Now it’s the same with Guus and I writing the majority and I think Ronald, our current guitar player, came up with a riff on The Quest And The Curse which is awesome and Diana wrote some lyrics on two songs – Moth To The flame and Tainted Heart. The rest of the lyrics have been written by my wife Robin. Charlotte was and still is a very gifted lyricist so that was quite a challenge to fill that gap but I’m really blessed that my wife is a native speaker but on top of that and more important, she’s very much into language and literature and also into Metal. She’s also a big Tolkien fan and C.S Lewis and a huge Metal fan, so to me, it was a very organic solution to ask her to write lyrics. She’s done about 80% of the lyrics on the album so I’m really blessed to have these people around me to make this album.

ATB: So at what point do the words and music come together?

Martijn: I give her my music and I give her my melody lines – even the syllables and she fills things in. There’s give and take; it has to be a flexible process, but the music and melodies are there first which is the way Delain always created the music.

ATB: It’s easy to look back now, but at the time, did you feel confident, nervous even relieved about releasing new music with the new lineup?

Martijn: All those things! Nervous at first though as this is my career. I’ve been doing this for a long time – since I was 17, starting with Within Temptation – so this was an important moment in my career so very nervous! On the other hand, I had faith it would sound like Delain as it had the same songwriters there so there was no doubt it would sound right. But still, you never know, sitting in your own creative bubble as an artist and you never know how people will respond. I was really grateful and relived when I started to read the responses form fans. Delain has always had a very consistent and loyal fan base and if I was able to please them then I knew this was the right direction. Most of them – you can never please everybody – are on board with the album.

ATB: There’s a real vibrancy and intensity about the music with no let-up or moments to relax – really bold and confident! Was that a deliberate move?

Martijn: That’s a good question…I never write ‘deliberate’. It may sound cheesy but I always write from the heart and see what comes out, but when you have the material then of course you do start to think how the songs are going to be placed on the album so they have a flow so I’m happy to hear the pace is kept. The more direct songs are placed at the beginning of the record and towards the end you get the epic songs.

ATB: Diana has talked about the song Queen Of Shadow warning of being stuck in the past and unable to move on – “our past is our shadow and not our prison” – is that something that sums up the album and the philosophy?

Martijn:  That’s really cool you saw that because it’s so true. In order to be creative, the sky has to be the limit and you shouldn’t have to carry the burden of the past with you. That’s the big challenge with a band with such a history. Having faith and confidence in what you’re doing – which I had as I was writing and working with the same people. I knew it would be completely Delain. I had my faith but you never know what people will think, but that was the way in which this album was made.

ATB: Is there any one particular song you’re really proud of that shows off the new lineup?

Martijn:  The thing with songs is when you create them – I compare it with making bread and you put the dough in the oven but you never know how the bread will turn out! It’s a bit like that with songs when they’re produced and mixed, and I was still surprised with how some songs came out and one of those for example, is the last song, Underland which I’m really surprised how it came out of the oven!

ATB: There are often alternative, sometimes orchestral or instrumental, versions of some songs on the albums as a bonus but this time piano versions of a couple of the tracks. I wanted to ask about The Quest And The Curse and if you were tempted to put this on the album in this form for contrast and also if that’s an example of how these songs often began life as a basic piano/vocal arrangement?

Martijn: I always think any good song should be able to play with just one instrument – an acoustic guitar or piano. If it’s good like that it will work and you can dress or undress it how you like. I think The Quest And The Curse worked out fantastically. I actually didn’t play piano, it was a friend of Diana, and it also showcases her wonderfully. On this album, the fans won’t know fully yet what she can do, but for me making music is not about showcasing people, it’s the other way round and about servicing the song. I think there are still surprises that people will hear in the future with her voice – which is magnificent – and I’m looking forward to doing some more acoustic versions of songs where you can really hear her voice.

ATB: The album has a classic Delain cover style after the photo montage on Apocalypse & Chill but is there any significance in the album title?

Martijn: Yes! It’s symbolic of Delain being in dark waters and wondering if we’d ever emerge again from the depths. And while being down there, things were concocted, new songs were made and this album came from those depths to the surface – dragging Delain upwards. So for me, it’s very symbolic.

ATB: We’re certainly looking forward to seeing the band on one of only two UK dates in April. Obviously, you have to play London, but thanks for coming to Manchester! That’s great for us Northern folk, so why do we get the privilege this time?

Martijn:  Good question! You should ask our agent! Our English agent is fantastic – she’s a hero of mine – and fortunately, we’re already brewing a dedicated UK and Ireland tour so this is only a starter, but Manchester has always worked really well for us and we get a fantastic response there. We wanted to start a bit more modestly with the changes in the band and be careful so it’s a good start but we’ll be back to Scotland and Wales and maybe bit more South in England. The UK is an important territory to us with such good support and following.

ATB:  I guess it’s as much about where the venues are available when you’re over here…

Martijn:  And with so many bands playing and touring now, everyone’s on the road so it’s difficult to find and a challenge to set up all the venues.

ATB: And here’s hoping that you’ll also play plenty of the new album – good luck on the road!

Martijn: We will for sure!

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