DATE OF INTERVIEW:
12th November 2014
With richly layered instrumentations that intelligently intertwine traditional Celtic folk music with elements of the classic Gothenburg sound and other metal idioms, Eluveitie have forged an innovative sound and style over the past decade that is both unique within the scene and emblematic of the Celtic mythology and historical themes in their lyrics. Armed with their critically acclaimed sixth full-length release, 'Origins', an ambitiously epic album that showcases their progression and evolution as a band through a greater complexity within compositional arrangements and a rawer-edged dynamic, their 2014 European headlining tour rolled into Manchester mid-November. Metal Discovery sat down for a chat with the band's affable founder and frontman, Chrigel Glanzmann, on the Eluveitie tour bus an hour after their thrilling set in a sold out Sound Control. Equipped with plastic cups filled with what Chrigel apologises for being just "cheap red wine" (it was actually rather pleasant), the conversation begins good and proper...
METAL DISCOVERY: Has the tour lived up to your expectations so far? I understand some of the shows have been sold out for a few weeks nowÖ
CHRIGEL: YeahÖ well, actually, I would have to say no because, usually, we donít have expectations!
(Chrigel Glanzmann on the assiduous recording process for Eluveitie's latest album, 'Origins')
"...the last couple of weeks, I didnít even leave the studio; I basically lived in the studio, the producer and myself. We just had mattresses and a sofa and things like that because there was not time enough. We worked nearly sixteen hours a day."
Chrigel Glanzmann on his tour bus, Manchester, UK, 12th November 2014
Photograph copyright © 2014 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
CHRIGEL: But, yeah, weíre happy and thankful of the turnout. This is the second show in the UK on this run and both have been sold out; all the shows in France have been sold outÖ so I think thatís a good sign!
MD: How does the UK crowd compare to mainland Europe?
CHRIGEL: Itís always a bit of a tricky thing to say but, honestly, I donít see that many differences between crowds, at least in Europe. Itís a little bit different in North America maybe, or South America, but the only crowd to me that was really, really different was actually in India and in Japan. But, besides that, metal shows are metal shows and metalheads are metalheads and, actually, I think thatís something good because it shows how much metal music is able to unite people.
MD: Exactly, exactly. Good words. Youíve delved into history and mythology once again on the new album by basing lyrics on Celtic mythology, with aetiological tales from Gaul. What drew you towards this particular concept?
CHRIGEL: Itís hard to say. Usually, when I write the concepts and the songs for Eluveitie, itís usually a very natural process, mainly out of intuition. I donít really think that much so it just kind of happened. But, you know, Eluveitie is about Celtic history and culture, thatís all we are about so, of course, mythology is an important topic for us in that sense.
It was a bit difficult, actually; it was a hell of a lot of scientific work for this album because we actually donít know that much about those topics. I just find it fascinating, also, writing songs about because every human culture ever has those kind of stories about where they come from and how everything got to be, and so on. And, of course, today, mostly the originally Israeli ones like Noahís Ark and all that are more famous here, but every human culture had those kind of stories and, of course, so did the Celts. It is something important in Celtic culture and I also thought itís something worth writing songs about, even two or three thousand years later.
MD: When you talk about the scientific researchÖ I read in a press release that you substantiated a lot of stuff through science by consulting with a lot of different scientists in universities, but how does that fare against the spiritual and mythological aspects of the album because spirituality and mythology might oppose science, perhaps?
CHRIGEL: No, itís not an opposite at all, actually. What Iím doing in my songs lyric-wise is, basically, a narration of history and describing a culture. I always did this, and always will, on a very scientific level, especially if it comes to a culture like the Celtic one. Just type in ďCeltĒ in Google and there is so much crap going on. You know, itís always a matter of opinion but there are so many things that are being called Celtic today that actually donít have anything to do with the Celtic culture. And itís just a fact that we all have to accept that we actually do not know that much about these cultures. We know a lot about it, about language and about everything they did but, if it comes to their spirituality, we do not know that much about. Itís basically for one reason, that they didnít write anything down. They were a writing culture but the druids taught that itís wrong to write any spiritual things down and they thought this for religious reasons.
On the one hand, they said beliefs and stuff like that, this is something you have to have in your heart, not in a book where you can just look it up. And the other thing they thought was that as soon as you write a tenet or something down, it becomes a dogma; it loses its flexibility. They said, ďnothing we teach is fixed forever because we always want to grow, we always want to change, and our beliefs might be different in two hundred years.Ē And they said if you write something down, something spiritual, it becomes a dogmaÖ in my opinion, thatís a pretty cool way of thinking because if you compare it again to the Israeli culture, thatís exactly what happened. And letís take the BibleÖ I mean, what Jesus taught, originally, speaking of the New Testament, was pretty much a kind of hippy message. It was a very positive message, in a way, you know. But it got written down and it kind of became law and, years later, it became the laws used to torture and kill people.
So I think thatís actually pretty clever thinking but, for us today, itís still annoying because all we do know about Celtic mythology, besides archaeological findings and evidence like that, we only know from second and third hand sources, like from historians, Roman or Greek historians and scientists and stuff like that. And, of course, you cannot just take this as truth because you have to imagine taking ten British people and send them to some African tribe for a week and tell them, ďdescribe what you seeĒ. You will get ten completely different descriptions and probably none of them are accurate, because they observe a culture that is completely alien to their own, and that was exactly the same situation back then.
Itís just a hell of a lot of reading between the lines and a hell of a lot of learning about the particular scientist that wrote something Ė you know, you need to check where he came from; how he grew up; which culture he grew up with; what schools and teachers he had; and so on. So it was just a hell of a lot of scientific work but, todayís science, we are more or less able to get a more or less accurate picture of at least some aspects of the Celtic mythology. Itís just not that easy to get there.
MD: Is it your hope that, by listening to the album, people might learn not only about Gaulish history but also learn from that history as well?
CHRIGEL: Not really, no, to be honest.
MD: Are there not lessons to be learnt in the modern day?
CHRIGEL: I think thatís something personal, you know. To be honest, I write lyrics for myself because it means a lot to me. And, of course, Iím happy when people are engaging with it but, if not, thatís okay too. I mean, thatís not the reason Iím writing those lyrics. I donít want to go around and teach something or even preach. You know, Iím not a big fan of that. And, also, I think itís something important to deal with history and to sometimes look back and just to be able to learn from past mistakes and stuff like that. But, again, thatís something personal and, if you do that, you shouldnít do it, I think, because someone told you to do it.
MD: Definitely. The core Eluveitie sound and style is still present in the songs although youíve progressed in terms of complexity in the arrangements, plus itís a little more raw and heavy in places as well, at least for my ears.
CHRIGEL: Yeah, Iím happy if you hear it like that. I think the same!
MD: Is this a natural part of the bandís evolution?
MD: And did you also feel you needed to mix it up a bit to reflect the different lyrical themes and ideas being expressed in the songs?
CHRIGEL: Well, yes and no. I mean, of course, when Iím writing the music, I always, somehow, try to express the lyrical content of a song. But, you know, the things youíve just mentioned are, as I said before, pretty much an intuitive process. Itís not that we decide, ďokay, the next album will be darkerĒÖ it just grows like that. But the thing about the songs being a bit more complex, thatís definitely true, I think. I think that mainly has to do with the fact that just before I started the songwriting period for ĎOriginsí, we just finished the ĎHelvetiosí world tour, which was our longest world tour cycle to date; it was around two and a half years. And, in those two and a half years, we actually havenít done much besides playing shows and playing our instruments and practicing a hell of a lot. I think, in those two and a half years, every single one of our band just grew a lot as a musician and I think that ĎOriginsí is just, basically, a reflection of that.
MD: And Iíve read you had almost 2 monthsí recording time in the studio, so did you want to give yourself that extra breathing space so you were able to experiment a little more with your sound and music?
CHRIGEL: No, not at all, we easily could have spent five months or something!
CHRIGEL: It was a rush! I mean, the last couple of weeks, I didnít even leave the studio; I basically lived in the studio, the producer and myself. We just had mattresses and a sofa and things like that because there was not time enough. We worked nearly sixteen hours a day. So there was actually not much breathing time! [Laughs] But it was just a big production. On the one hand, it was just a lot of different parts; I mean, we had been working together with an orchestra; we had a classical choir; we had a childrenís choir; we had a lot of guest musicians; and so on. So it was a very big production.
On the other hand, today, recording a metal album basically means clinical work; it means surgery. You just record your stuff; you usually record it part by part, and then it gets edited and everything sounds super perfect. Over the years, that just pissed us off more and more because we thought, come on, of course it sounds massive, but thatís not what itís about, itís fucking rock Ďní roll. Yeah, so already on ĎHelvetiosí, we got away from that and, before recording ĎOriginsí, we just decided, okay, that just pisses us off, we did not want that. You know, we donít want the most heavy guitar on the planet, we want a guitar that sounds like Ivo Henzi, and so on. So, for each instrument, we invested a hell of a lot of time to get the right sound and everything.
If you would actually listen to the pure recording without anything and then to the final album mix, you would actually notice that thereís not that much of a difference. And it was also kept pretty raw; there was not that much editing and that also means there are some imperfections in it. For the vocals, there are some notes that are not perfectly in tune and all that, but thatís what we wanted. For that reason, we invested a hell of a lot of time, for example, for the guitars, for the right guitar sounds. We spent days trying different amps; different cabinets; different guitars; different strings; blah, blah, blah, whatever, you know, just to create the sounds for how we already wanted the album to sound.
MD: Itís all very polished overall and sounds lovely but, at the same time, itís got that kind of raw edge to it, which is great.
CHRIGEL: Yeah, the drums and the guitars, anything actually, was not altered that much during the mix. The purely recorded guitar, this is pretty much what you hear on the album.