Interview: Fabienne Erni – ILLUMISHADE

ILLUMISHADE is a new musical project created by Eluveitie vocalist Fabienne Erni alongside her band-mate, Eluveitie guitarist Jonas Wolf. The fully immersive project allows the listener to join one of five tribes and explore a musical world full of magic, mystical beings, ancient rituals, sacred traditions, and beautiful landscapes. With no label support, and funded via a successful crowdfunded campaign, ILLUMISHADE release their debut album ‘ECLYPTIC: Wake of Shadows’ on Friday May 15th, Fabienne took some time out from launch preparations (which include an online livestream full-band gig) to talk about the ILLUMISHADE world and how it all came together. Someone, somewhere is trying to figure out how to bottle Fabienne’s enthusiasm and positivity, and ship it worldwide during these crazy-ass times, until they manage that, the best we can do is the following…

With the album release almost upon us, how are you feeling? Are you nervous at all? Or more psyched that finally everyone gets to hear it?

Ohhh I feel very excited! I think everyone in the band is super excited, it’s the very first album and we don’t know how people will react. We are also starting rehearsals for the online album launch show, so everyone is getting excited that it’s happening for real. But we’re also super busy just preparing everything, shipping out the merch and the cd’s, problems with corona…aaaarghh! Everything is taking longer and there is more drama because of corona, so we are a little bit stressed as well, but the excitement is overruling that!

It’s your first album as ILLUMISHADE so that’s a good stress to have…

Yes with it being our first album we are super excited! We have done albums with Eluveitie of course but this is different, we don’t have a label and I have a different role with ILLUMISHADE than I have with Eluveitie so it’s many new challenges that I, and we as a team, have to face. We learned a lot and grew together, and we got to know each other better, which is very, very nice!

The album itself was crowd funded, it must have been a humbling experience when it surpassed the initial target?

Yes, the thing is we got to a point where we wanted to produce an album, but in Switzerland it’s not that cheap to go into a studio and record, so it was really good crowdfunding it. And it meant that the band was already exposed because people knew that there was something coming. It was a nice way to connect with fans and prepare them a little bit. The support has been immense, the feedback from people has been incredible, it’s a very nice community that we have!

You mentioned feedback from fans, the three youtube videos that have been released in advance have been met with a great response, it’s quite rare that the response for a new band is so positive..

It’s very, very nice to get such good feedback from people. Of course there are always negative people, haters are going to hate, but thanks to Eluveitie I’ve experienced it and learnt how to handle it. It is uncomfortable, and bothers me more especially now when I am more involved with the composing and everything. It hurts you! Especially when people say…I don’t like the song..I’ve learned that you cannot please everybody. And now with the Illumishade community we’ve got a very loving atmosphere and this gives you an extra push because you see that what you are doing resonates with people who are listening and watching it.

ILLUMISHADE is quite an ambitious project for a first album, it’s not just two people with acoustic guitars! Where did the idea for such a massive project first come from?

Well everything actually started because I was studying music in Zurich, I was studying to become a singing teacher, I did my masters degree last September and the thesis involved having to make a music project of whatever you wanted. It could be yourself, it could be a band, a choir or whatever, and you had to make a concept around it, and since this was 2019 and everything was so busy with Eluveitie I was like…how the hell am I going to compose all this music, make the concept, as well as school stuff! So I said to Jonas..you and me are together so many days this year, you have to be part of it, you have no choice!

He couldn’t really say no could he!

No! He’s at the same school, he teaches there actually, we have mutual friends and he knew some people from my class. Our drummer Marc (Friedrich) and bass player Yannick (Urbanczik), I was studying with them for five years, so we all knew each other, we had played concerts together, so it was pretty normal that Jonas joined.

The ILLUMISHADE concept started because I love, love, love fantasy worlds! And musicals! If I have a story, it helps me to create songs around it because for me it’s hard to say..yeah, let’s just write a song….about what? But when I have a story then I’m like…okay I want this and this…so I had a story in mind and with Tamara,  who is my best friend, she’s taken over the role of manager and the label by kicking our asses if we are late and stuff like that! With her I wrote down my first ideas about the story and we developed it together, and Mirjam (Schnedl, synth & orchestrations) is a huge fantasy fan anyway so everything came together and fitted. But then it got to a point where the whole story thing was too much for just us to handle, because language wise we also do everything in English, and we are not native so we lacked some expressions and stuff. We found a very amazing concept writer online, she’s a metal fan as well, she was actually at our Eluveitie show one time when we played in Canada, so it all fitted together really well. We developed the world together, and are still developing the world because we are just in the beginning. It’s nice having this world that people can dive into.

The possibilities within the concept, with the different tribes, are limitless really, that must be an amazing feeling knowing that boundaries are quite non-existent?

Yeah, it brings many different ideas with it, social media for instance, how to interact with people, how we can make them part of the world, how we can make them feel at home. And even new albums, there are five tribes, you can make an album about each tribe, you can continue the story, you can make a pre-story, so many ideas that I like!

Did you take the interactive quiz to find out which tribe you belong to?

Yes of course! Everybody took it! So this is how the tribes fit to each band member, every band member has their own tribe, and they are the chosen ones from their tribe to be in the order of ILLUMI. The band is the order of the ILLUMI and we protect the world, we protect the heart of the world so that the world stays in balance. The tribes fit the characters and the personalities of the band members.

I took the quiz and became a member of the Faeva tribe..

Ahhhhhhh! You’re a Faeva! Okay welcome! That’s lovely, there are many Faeva’s because they are very kind people and I think metalheads are like that! So there are a lot of Faeva’s because they are super nice!

What tribe do you belong to?..

Okay I am not actually allowed to tell you!

No?! Boo! Okay then, back to the band members, the orchestration work from Mirjam is crucial to the ILLUMISHADE sound, where did you meet?

Mirjam is still at the same school as we went to, she didn’t study the same topic as us. Marc, Yannick and myself studied pop music to become a teacher, that’s the main goal, and Mirjam, she is studying composition. We somehow met and we got onto the topic of metal as she’s a metal fan, and I was singing with Eluveitie, we connected and stayed connected. For myself, it was clear as we had this story that needed film music and epic-ness, so I just asked her and it just clicked because she is also a fan of fantasy.

Her orchestrations are incredible….

I’m so, so happy to have her on board, I really think that she brings magic to the songs, without her it would be really empty and we would miss the magic. She also keeps all the songs together, they can be very different but with her sounds and her ideas…and she’s a very nice person as well, very nice to have her around.

The name of the band; ILLUMISHADE, conjures up two contrasting things; light and darkness, a bit like the music on the album as well isn’t it?..

Yes I think it is, it represents the story but also the music, it’s all about the contrasts. We have really big cheesy ballads, but also some heavier songs, and I think that it represents both Jonas and myself really well. The cheesier the better! Also Jonas, he has a very cheesy side! A heavy side as well and you can hear that, he writes the riffs. So there is contrast there, and it’s nice to have that in the name as well!

You can hear that contrast in the singles released from the album; ‘Worlds End’ is heavy and progressive, then the ballad ‘Rise’, and finally ‘Crystal Silence’ which is a fantastic mix of both….

Exactly, yes, when we were deciding which songs to use as singles, we thought that ‘Worlds End’ represented us very nicely. We were of course still finding our sound and this would be the first music that people heard, there are a lot of different aspects to it, then with ‘Rise’, a total ballad, we wanted people to know to expect a wide spectrum of styles on the album. We wanted to create a playground with no borders, just have some fun, because it’s different for example with us both in Eluveitie where that world is already created and you compose to a certain world that fits, with ILLUMISHADE it’s a wide paper where we can just paint it! We can draw on it, do whatever we want, this is the nice aspect here because we can create something new from different influences, and everything is fine so-far and we can just have some fun!

The album is obviously a concept album, but the tracks also work really well as standalone tracks and you can dip in and out of the album with ease..

Yes, this was our goal, that if people were not interested in the concept then the songs should also work on their own. That was important for us so I’m happy that you have the impression that it works!

It certainly does work, yes! The project is obviously a deeply personal one for yourself, and with so much invested in it, it must have been crucial for you that it was completed independently and without any interference from a label?

Since we have Tamara onboard, she has taken care of so much. We try to help her of course and where we can, we do. Without her we would have come to the point where we were overwhelmed with everything, there are so many new challenges for us and with Tamara it works really well. And we hope that we can continue like that because it’s very nice to have all the rights and everything, we will see how things continue but I’m very positive that we can stick to that and see how far we can get without a label.

When you are so involved with, and so close to a project like you are with ILLUMISHADE, can you be objective? Or do you need to stand back and take a break from it?

There was actually a really nice moment when we were all together at Jonas’s place once, and we listened to the whole album for the first time and it was a very special moment, also a very emotional one! It was super-nice listening back to the finished product. But of course you are so much involved with it that you might see it differently from other people, you see how the songs grew, how they developed from beginning to end. So it’s hard in some ways, even to pick a favourite song it’s hard!

Your backing vocals were recorded by former Eluveitie, and current Cellar Darling, band member Anna Murphy I believe?

Yes, everything took longer than expected because we were doing everything for the first time, without Chrigi (Eluveitie founder Chrigel Glanzmann) as well! He always guided me, and now I was on my own, so everything took longer than we expected and I don’t remember how it happened but it was like…okay, now Anna will record the backing vocals. It was very, very nice to work with Anna. I’ve never worked with Anna before, I knew that she was a crazy good singer and musician, but to work with her was super fun! We went a little bit crazy because if you put two singers into a studio, especially with backing vocals, it’s like more is more and the higher the better!

On the subject of backing vocals, and going back to your earlier comment about ILLUMISHADE being a real community, the opening of the album features fans that had recorded spoken word segments and sent them to you online..

That’s correct yes, actually this idea came up..when was it..like three in the morning at Jonas’s place! It was very spontaneous and three days later it was online and people could apply. It’s the most important sentences, these are the rules of the world, each different tribe has its own sentence and yeah, we wanted to give a platform to the people so that they were involved even more.

That’s one of the great things about crowd-funding an album, not only does it mean that an album gets made, but it gives those that pledge the feeling that they’ve played a small part in its creation, that they’ve invested in an album.

Yes, the crowd-funding was such a good thing to do, as you said, people invest into something because they believe in it and they are a part of it, because thanks to them we could actually make this happen. We are very, very happy about all the support that we got.

You’ve also been busy away from the ILLUMISHADE project with your weekly “Corona-talk” on the Eluveitie youtube channel, having special guests like Lena Scissorhands from Infected Rain and Clémentine Delauney from Visions Of Atlantis each week seemed great fun! But one thing that does come shining through these videos is how much of a positive person you are, has this positivity been tested over the last 6 weeks or so?

Oh, thank you! No, it’s alright as we’ve been so busy with the ILLUMISHADE release that I’ve never felt bored! With the “Corona-talk” that was also super cool to connect with other singers, I knew Lena as we had toured together but all the others I didn’t know, so this was a positive thing. I also found time to do other stuff, I actually recorded some covers which I would have never done, because I never would have had the courage or the time and now I have the time. I try to see the positives in these moments because we cannot change this situation, we will play shows again when it is allowed, but it’s just about making the best out of it. I’ve also got more time to teach as now I have a few students.

It’s also a positive to look at the fact that things have calmed down now, it feels like the world turns a bit slower at the moment, which is nice as it gives the world and nature time to recover. For example I heard that in some countries, without traffic, the pollution reduced so much that the air was so much cleaner, then there are the waters in Italy being so much clearer, I hope that this continues.

I also see the huge downsides, like economically and financially, it will take a while for everyone to recover. I just hope that everything calms down soon so we can go on tour with Eluveitie, maybe even ILLUMISHADE, and for all the other bands as well of course.

Speaking of gigs, you have the album launch online gig coming up very soon, how are the preparations coming along?

We planned to have a normal show but of course that can’t happen, so we found a club in Switzerland that has the facilities to make a live stream. We will be there, we have a stage, we will be social distancing so it will just be us and a few technicians who will be wearing masks and stuff. I’m super excited actually to play a ghost show, I’ve never played a ghost show before so I’m curious about how it will feel without a crowd. The energy is going to lack, we will be playing a show in a club with lights and everything, but there is no audience!

It’s going to be very interesting, but we are super happy that we found a solution, that we can actually play this release show. We’re launching an album and we’ve never played live for the world, and we want to! The positive thing about this is that we can reach people all over the world, we had initially planned to do it in Zurich and we knew of people who were intending to travel from all over for the show, including the UK, they had already bought the tickets. Now we can at least play a show of sorts, always look on the bright side of life!

Cellar Darling played an online gig last week and it worked really well, obviously it lacked a crowd but it was still enjoyable nonetheless..

I missed Cellar Darling, but caught up with it afterwards, it was super cool and it worked very well. I think that this is how you can stay connected with the fans, although we are in a lockdown, thanks to social media and all these live streams at the moment, maybe you’re even closer to people at the moment? When you have a live stream you feel the person, you see how they talk, so this is a nice opportunity for everybody to connect and say thank you to the people for their support during these times.

 

‘ECLYPTIC: Wake of Shadows’ will be available from Friday May 15th, find out more information about the ILLUMISHADE album launch online gig here, and connect with the band on social media here.

Interview – Dave

 

 

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