DATE OF INTERVIEW:
10th December 2013
A decade in existence, symphonic metallers Leaves' Eyes released their new album, 'Symphonies of the Night', towards the end of 2013. Bursting with sonically epic grandeur, refined metal class, and multifarious storytelling soundscapes, it's indubitably the band's most diverse, polished and hard-hitting effort to date; a fitting way to celebrate the occasion of their tenth anniversary. A month after its release, Metal Discovery spent a most pleasant half hour on the phone chatting to vocalist Liv Kristine about Leaves' Eyes' new masterpiece, their forthcoming UK headline shows, and one-time Page Three model and 'singer' Samantha Fox!
METAL DISCOVERY: Hi, how you doing?
LIV: Hi there Mark, a pleasure talking to you. I’m fine. How are you?
(Liv Kristine on Leaves' Eyes latest album)
"It feels great to release ‘Symphonies of the Night’, there’s just everything on this album; everything I’d hoped and wished for."
Leaves' Eyes - promo shot
Photograph copyright © 2013 Stefan Heilemann - www.heilemania.de
Interview by Mark Holmes
MD: Good, yeah; not so bad thanks. Congrats on the new album… what an album it is!
LIV: Thank you very much.
MD: As a whole, I think it’s probably the most diverse work you’ve released to date in terms of all the different styles and feelings within the songs. Is that something you’d agree with?
LIV: Well, I feel very honoured; thank you very much for your compliment. I’ll definitely sleep tight tonight!
LIV: With Leaves’ Eyes, we have a ten year anniversary this year and it just feels very comfortable where we are standing right now. There is everything on this album. The creative process was very intense, to be honest. We just started from somewhere and we just went with the creative flow. And I just told Thorsten, my guitar player, and Alexander, my husband, that, “okay, just do whatever you like.” I mean, some of us have been around for almost twenty years now and we’ve gathered so much experience, live and in the studio, so I just told them, “bring it all, whatever you like, and then we’ll see what happens.” It feels great to release ‘Symphonies of the Night’, there’s just everything on this album; everything I’d hoped and wished for.
MD: Oh, brilliant. The last one, ‘Meredead’, had that heavy folk influence running throughout most of the album, but it’s not so prominent on ‘Symphonies of the Night’, only with tracks like ‘Glaswintha’. Was it important for you to carry on progressing your sound rather than repeat what you’d already done?
LIV: Yes, definitely. We never plan anything, and it was a very open-minded composing process and recording process as well, so we just start from somewhere and see what happens. Even the very early days of Leaves’ Eyes, back in 2003 when the band was formed, we didn’t really have a clear plan where we wanted to be with our first album. I think it’s still a very refreshing album and there is some kind of magic on ‘Lovelorn’. And then, when you listen to ‘Symphonies of the Night’, it’s still a very clear Leaves’ Eyes sound, especially through the guitars. Thorsten has got magic fingers! He is fantastic on all these string instruments. I don’t feel like doing something very revolutionary or going with the flow of many other bands. I see when you look to the left or look to the right in the genre of female-fronted metal bands, most of them tend to go with commercial flow which I do not intend to do whatsoever.
LIV: I want to stay in my own genre, in my own house! [laughs]
MD: Indeed. The Leaves’ Eyes genre!
LIV: [laughs] Thank you very much!
MD: You’ve filmed a video, of course, for the opening song, ‘Hell to the Heavens’ – I’m guessing that was an obvious choice for the first video as it’s one of the biggest, anthemic tracks on the album?
LIV: I’m very bad at choosing when it… [laughs]… yeah, when it comes to a favourite track, or a track for a single, so I just let Alexander, and Thorsten, and Napalm Records choose. But the video shoot wasn’t really planned. We knew that we were going to do a video shoot after the Metal Female Voices Festival so after playing a solo gig and a Leaves’ Eyes headline gig, we just left immediately for a place in the deep German forest. There was a camera team and, yeah… [laughs]… we just threw all ideas into the one video clip. I think it turned out great.
MD: Oh, it looks fantastic, yeah.
LIV: It’s quite refreshing.
MD: Was it quite cold? It looks like it might’ve been pretty cold stood up there in the woods?
LIV: It was more than pretty cold, yeah!
MD: You did a good job of looking not cold!
LIV: Ah, thank you very much! [laughs]
MD: I gather the title track of sorts – well, ‘Symphony of the Night’ - was originally called ‘Carmilla’ and based on the character from Sheridan Le Fanu’s story, is that right?
LIV: Yeah, that’s right.
MD: So that’s a song about a lesbian vampire?
LIV: Yes. I read Le Fanu during my studies, some… yeah, well, actually, a few years ago... [laughs]… since I finished my Masters degree.
MD: What was your Masters in?
LIV: English Language… well, actually, it’s Old English, and phonetics and phonology, that’s my thing. Yeah, I actually went to the cellar and grabbed those big boxes left over from my studies and started to dip my nose into a couple of books and I found Le Fanu. I really felt this track being titled ‘Symphony of the Night’, I thought that I need some kind of dark, Gothic theme for this song, so it fits perfect. I always let the music inspire me to write about certain characters or historical things. It means, for me, I spend much more time on my lyrics than other people probably do, but I enjoy it; I enjoy it so much. I need a concept behind everything I do, it just makes so much more sense.
MD: Yeah, you can definitely tell there’s so much thought behind the lyrics, and particularly if you have that kind of background with your Masters degree then I guess you have an affinity with that kind of thing.
LIV: Yeah, definitely.
MD: Quite a few of the tracks seem to be female character-based – you have ‘Ophelia’, for example, which I presume is a Shakespearean reference, based on the character from ‘Hamlet’?
LIV: Yes, lovely, lovely. Shakespeare was actually the first book we had to read during our Anglistik studies. Actually, the singer of Theatre of Tragedy, my former band, and myself, we studied together. Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ where you find Ophelia, one of the main characters, that was probably the first book we read. So, yeah, Shakespeare is actually in my cellar… [laughs]
MD: What, the actual man?! That’s where he’s been hiding all these centuries!
LIV: Yeah, in my cellar, that’s where he’s been hiding, exactly! I know for many literature lovers of female-fronted gothic metal bands, Shakespeare is often an influence. I just visited one of my long-time friends in Hamburg and saw that huge poster of Ophelia in her bedroom so, yeah, Ophelia is of quite an importance. She must’ve been very beautiful!
MD: Did you attempt to write the lyrics using iambic pentameters, or would that not have been in fitting with the rhythm of the song?
LIV: Well, yes, definitely. It’s always the music, as I already mentioned, which inspires me to write. Sometimes, I feel that there is the flow and the rhythm of the water; sometimes the song needs different lyrics. I actually start with bullshit lyrics… I don’t know if you know what I mean… [laughs] I’m looking for a nice flow of words and, in the beginning, it’s just any kind of words, just to make it sound nice. So I work a lot with phonetic transcriptions, first of all, and then I turn everything into real lyrics. Yeah, it’s quite a long way but I kind of need it. I’ve always been doing it this way. It’s my way! [laughs]
MD: I guess it’s like the way a poet would write poetry rather than the way an author would write prose. Obviously, poetry’s all about the sounds of the words, like you were saying with the phonetics. So it’s the approach a poet would use, I guess, finding words that sound the best.
LIV: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
MD: So did you always have it in mind to use an orchestra for the album?
LIV: Yes, definitely. We contacted the Lingua Mortis Orchestra months before the master of the album, so it was clear we were going to record the classical parts in Minsk, in Belarus. Yeah, it was nice to work with Victor Smolski again. I think it’s the fourth of fifth time we’ve worked with him.
MD: In the actual music, there’s a really nice storytelling quality this time around, which fits in with the tales being told in the lyrics. Would you say that’s one of the main benefits of using an orchestra, so that widens your sonic palette and gives the music a more epic depth?
LIV: Absolutely, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Absolutely, yeah.
MD: I’ve kind of answered my own question there, haven’t I?!
LIV: [laughs] Yeah, you did! Well done!
MD: I guess it makes it more filmic too, which fits with the stories in the lyrics.
LIV: Definitely. The same goes with all the folk instruments on the album, like the dulcimer. I never ever planned to have a dulcimer on this album; it just happened because I felt that we needed something very special; a very special instrument. There and then, somebody from Belgium called and said: “Hi, I’m Miss Dulcimer.” She’s called Miss Dulcimer and she called and said: “Do you need a dulcimer for your new album?” And I said, “yes!” [laughs] Lots of things like that were happening during the production.
MD: Wow, that’s random!
LIV: Yes, wow.
MD: Was that her real surname?!
LIV: That’s probably her artist’s name. I don’t really know her real name. But anyway, it turned out just fantastic. There is a very important meaning to every instrument on the album as well as Alex’s vocals. Sometimes, he really has the role of the beast in the song and in the lyrics. I like that setting of contrasting elements in the music, that’s something I’ve always been very much into since my early days with Theatre of Tragedy. So you have the classical instruments; you have the folk instruments; you have my vocals; Alex’s vocals; guitars; bass; drums… so lots of contrasts in the music and I like that.
MD: Definitely. And everything with a purpose too, which is fantastic. Talking of Alex’s growls, they hardly featured at all on ‘Meredead’ but they’re back big-time on this one…
LIV: Absolutely, yeah. I owed him one there!
MD: So were more heavy parts deliberately written so Alex could growl some more?
LIV: Yeah, we needed that. Although ‘Meredead’ is perfect in the way it turned out and that’s how it should be; I would never change anything on the ‘Meredead’ album. But, the fact is that we have a handful of guests on the ‘Meredead’ album and for ‘Symphonies of the Night’, I didn’t feel the need to have that many guests. So my sister’s there but then that leaves more space for Alex.
MD: Personally, I would say it’s your most powerful vocal performance to date, so do you always work at pushing your voice to new heights, and exploring and finding new strengths in your vocals?
LIV: I definitely do but, do you know, for me, it’s a privilege to be a fulltime musician; a fulltime composer and singer. I never ever studied music – reading notes is something I’m just not able to do… [laughs] So it’s something I still will have to learn someday, when I have the time, to sit down and study music and take singing lessons. So singing is something which has always been there; a gift I’ve been born with… if you don’t mind me calling it a gift. It’s been there all the time. When I was very little, I thought that every human being has a great voice, which is not really reality!
LIV: So yeah, I’m equipped with something very special and I take a lot of pleasure in trying out new singing techniques, just by listening to other female singers and even male singers. And I have a very good friend, her name is Maite Itoiz, and she is the female singer of Elfenthal, and she has been studying music for years. She comes from a family with a huge musical background, and she’s the wife of John Kelly from The Kelly Family. We are very close friends and she asked me if I would like to know some dirty tricks and I said, “yes, come on, give me the dirty tricks!” We just talked for an hour and she listened to me, so that gives me so much more. That was exactly what I needed and that was after the ‘Meredead’ production. Maite Itoiz is also one of the guests on the ‘Meredead’ album. So yeah, sometimes things just happen and that’s exactly what you need. I take influence and experience from here and there, and I’m always looking for new challenges. And I think that live experience is of vital importance. If you’re able to do what you do in the studio, doing it live as well, that’s a very important thing.
MD: Oh, absolutely, definitely.
LIV: For me, it’s a very important thing! [laughs]
MD: Well, as a vocalist, yeah… and you can. One particular song on there, ‘Hymn to the Lone Sands’, sounds like it could’ve been quite challenging vocally, singing over all the frantic heaviness – was that the case?
LIV: It was, you’re so very right. It was the final track we recorded during the recording session. It was a tough one, yeah! But, as I already mentioned, I like challenges!
LIV: Someday, we’ll be able to play that live but we’d need an orchestra as well, a huge production, so let’s hope and pray that will happen. I’d love to perform it live.