Interview: Martijn Westerholt – Delain

In February 2021 Delain made the shock announcement that four of the band’s five members had left, including longtime vocalist and chief lyricist Charlotte Wessels. The last man standing was Delain creator, keyboard player, and songwriter, Martijn Westerholt, and now after two years Delain are back with a brand new line-up (including some familiar faces) and an incredible new album ‘Dark Waters’ – the first to feature the stunning vocals of new Delain vocalist Diana Leah. Martijn was on hand to talk about the difficult last few years, and how the band are firing on all cylinders again and can’t wait to get back out on the road in support of ‘Dark Waters’.

The new album ‘Dark Waters’ comes out on February 10th, now that you are so close to the album being out there in the world, did you envisage this day happening when the split happened and the roof came in so to speak? Or did you think a new Delain album would never happen again?

There were days when I thought ”Okay, this is it, goodbye” [laughs] “Delain is done!”. So to have this album set for release in a few days is a very momentous occasion.

Will you be raising a glass in celebration come midnight on February 9th when the album goes to streaming sites?

Yes! That’s a very good idea actually! It’s a nice excuse to raise a glass, so I think that I will do that.

It must be quite bizarre for an artist when a new album comes out in one territory hours before another, and everyone in Australia is posting comments about it when those in Europe still have hours to go.

True! It’s all so different now. Perhaps I’m a little bit of an old geek. Because we were signed to Roadrunner, in the old days we would have a promo day in London, and in Paris, and we would shake hands with all the journalists and have days of interviews, now, it’s all through Zoom. People will go to streaming sites to hear the album as soon as it is released and Australia always gets the scoop! [laughs]

On ‘Dark Waters’, Ronald Landa and Sander Zoer are both back on guitar and drums respectively, was it crucial that when you relaunched Delain that you had these guys from the early days rather than an entirely new line-up?

Yes, that was important. For myself, one absolute condition of relaunching the band was that there was enough Delain DNA to justify that. So we had the split, and there is a big misconception that I fired the previous line-up because I wanted to make it a project, but that is absolutely not the case. Only after we tried to work things out, talked things out, and tried to find solutions, and the sad outcome was that it didn’t work out…only after that did I think was this the end, and do I move forward as a project or as a band. I know who makes the majority of the music, that’s Guus Eikens (long-time collaborator) and myself, but that was not enough. There needed to be enough Delain DNA, so Ronald and Sander coming back, and also the guests like our previous bass player Rob [van der Loo] who is now in Epica, so once I had all of them then it was the complete [2009’s second full-length album] ‘April Rain’ line-up, without Charlotte of course. So, long story – yes, important that Ronald and Sander returned! [laughs]

When you called Ronald and Sander about coming back, did you have to twist their arms to come back or were they onboard from the off?

Actually, it was the other way around! [laughs] So, we always stayed in touch, Ronald, Sander, and I, and they told me…”Why not continue as a band?” And this happened after the split, so then I was forced to think about it…so it was them that kind of come up with the suggestion of them coming back. We were always in contact but on a friend basis rather than a work basis, so that was how it originated. It is fantastic because these people have my back, they want this and that is fantastic.

You’ve always struck me as a private person so it must have been quite uncomfortable for you to watch how the split played out on social media or did you just have a total media blackout once you issued your statement about the split?

No, I am actually really an open book. You can ask me anything, always, so I am very open. But I really don’t like social media. I like the direct contact with people, and after the split, I even told fans that if they had any questions then they could ask me. No problem. Fans are important and they could ask me anything. But, on social media, people draw conclusions but don’t really do research. And I saw such funny remarks! [laughs] And I was like “Come on guys!”. So I suppose there are pros and cons to social media.

One of those pros would be that Delain’s new vocalist Diana Leah came to you via Instagram when she contacted you on the official Delain page. Before Diana came on your radar, did you ever consider going with more of an established “name” as the new vocalist?

No, purely for practical reasons, because if someone is known then it means that they are busy! And Delain is going to put a high demand on someone’s time. It’s like Olympic rowing, if you are rowing then you can not have some people only rowing for 50% of the time, because you don’t get to the finish line in time. Delain requires everyone’s dedication.

Diana is such a fantastic fit, you must have been overjoyed to find her…or for her to find you I should say!

Yes! I felt spoilt and blessed…and still feel so grateful. You need to be lucky because luck is a factor as well. It was fun because everyone was speculating on who the new vocalist could be, and the only thing that people can do is speculate with familiar names because you can’t speculate with a name you don’t know! Plus, if you take someone who is really well-known then the identity of the band changes.

The other new band member is Ludovico Cioffi on bass, where did you discover him?

That’s all thanks to Ronald and the internet and social media. Ronald was online and he stumbled across Ludo’s social media pages, and he liked what Ludo was doing. He is in a few death metal bands – Nightland, and The Modern Age Slavery, he’s actually the guitarist and frontman for Nightland – completely different music to Delain, so Ronald contacted him to find out if he was open to exploring the possibilities of being the new bassist for Delain, and Ludo jumped on the wagon! And talking about luck, man, I feel so freaking lucky with these people because you need to have the right people around you to be a band. I’m just a lucky bastard! [laughs]

You created Delain, you have been the one constant throughout, do you think that you don’t get as much credit as you should simply because you are the keyboard player, and not the guitarist or the vocalist?

Mmmmmmm there were some of those moments, yes, because people are looking at the vocalist and the front person, and that makes total sense. Recognition is not needed by me for pride – I couldn’t care less – but it is desired for practical reasons for my job…that people know where all this is coming from. People have this very classic idea about how a band functions; they rehearse in a garage; write songs together; they are going to go to the studio together and record together, and then they are going to tour together. And that’s not how it works. There are always a few people writing music, and not everyone that plays live will have been on the album because some people are better suited to being in the studio than playing live. Those are two completely different animals.

What was it like during the first of the “secret” shows that the new line-up played last year, and you locked into the first song? What was the first song while we are on the subject?

Good question! It was a special occasion because we had invited fans – no tickets needed – we are blessed with such a loyal fanbase and I want to involve them. Because of the fans…we can do this. We started with ‘Hands Of Gold’ from [2016’s] ‘Moonbathers’, and it just felt like Delain had come back to life…come back from the dead. It was very emotional for everybody, onstage and offstage, and for everyone in the crowd also…I will never ever forget it.

It must have been a proud parent moment.

Yes! There were tears!

Charlotte was not only the vocalist, but she also wrote most of the lyrics for Delain, with her leaving, that left a huge hole, who took over the lyric writing?

Charlotte is, in my humble opinion, a very gifted lyricist, she is really good at that. I never had to think about who was going to write the lyrics because Charlotte wrote 99% of the lyrics, and this meant it was hard for ‘Dark Waters’ but – again with the luck – I am married to an American, so a native English speaker, and she happens to love writing lyrics and is into poetry, and loves metal as well! So for me, it was an automatic reflex to ask her if she would be open to writing lyrics for Delain…and never in the past did I think to ask my wife to write lyrics for Delain! So it was bizarre, but I think that she did a tremendous job.

The cover art for ‘Dark Waters’ is as stunning as ever, it seems that there is a continuation running through the last few Delain albums released, it’s the same artist I believe?

It is yes, it’s an artist from California called Glenn Arthur. We started working with him on [2012’s] ‘We Are The Others’, Charlotte introduced him, and I really became a fan of his work. His work is very recognisable for Delain, if you see his type of art in metal, then you know that it is Delain…a bit like how Iron Maiden has Eddie. And now more than ever, it is important to include that…and I just love it.

Was it a conscious decision on ‘Dark Waters’ not to tinker too much with what is perceived as the trademark Delain sound when there was so much at stake?

Actually, no. It was business as usual. It was an absolute condition to have as much Delain DNA as possible on the album, but I never write analytically, I write what comes from the heart because music is emotion. It needs to be real. I think that it has my fingerprints on it, and Guus’s also. I was nervous about whether or not people would like it…and still am! But I was not nervous about the sound because I knew that it would be who I am. Of course, you are missing some people from previous line-ups who did some tremendous stuff, but the core of the sound is what it is.

You said that you are quite nervous for people to hear it, but apart from the usual keyboard warriors who had dismissed the new album without hearing a single note, as soon as the very first single from the new line-up was released, ‘The Quest and The Curse, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

I was nervous because I was asking myself if people still wanted this, and those people decide if Delain can live, or not. I am really grateful that people have had an open mind, and of course, there are always going to be people who say “No, not for me anymore” and that is fine. But you will always have that, even with the same line-up you will always get that when you release a new album. We are also getting people who are only now just discovering Delain, and with such an extreme line-up change that is quite something. You have to be sure of yourself. I thought and hoped that in the end the music would prevail and it seems to have.

Got to bring up one special guest…Marko Hietala on ‘Invictus’; how great is it to hear Marko again! His connection with Delain goes back decades, had you always stayed in contact with him during his self-imposed exile?

Yes, I’ve always stayed in contact with Marko. We are friends, he also went through a difficult time as I did. The coincidence is that he has a place in Spain where he lives, and my parents also have a place in Spain, within two hours of each other. So during last Summer, I went to see him and because we know each other so well it was easy to ask him to appear on the album. I went back in October to record him and we recorded it in an hour!

With regards to touring, Delain are out on the road in April 2023 with dates in Manchester and London and Europe, and then you have the big festivals such as Wacken and Graspop…busy times!

Yes, but I want to tell you that we are already working on a dedicated UK and Ireland tour. We are working on that. The dates in April are a “getting into it” tour! These shows will give Diana and Ludo time to get into it, and also because of covid the effects of the lockdown are that so many bands are touring now. We won’t earn any money on these tours, we will break even, but it is important to us to meet the fans, to meet people, and I just love it so I am really looking forward to it.

 

‘Dark Waters’ is available February 10, 2023 via Napalm Records, more details here.

Europe Tour
14.04.23 NL – Tilburg / 013
15.04.23 NL – Haarlem / Patronaat
21.04.23 UK – Manchester / Academy 2
22.04.23 UK – London / O2 Islington Academy
24.04.23 LU – Luxembourg / Rockhal
25.04.23 FR – Paris / Le Trabendo
27.04.23 CH – Zurich / Komplex 457
28.04.23 DE – Munich / Backstage Halle
29.04.23 DE – Stuttgart / Im Wizemann Club
30.04.23 DE – Berlin / Hole44
02.05.23 DE – Hamburg / Knust
03.05.23 DE – Essen / Turock

DELAIN online:
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Napalm Records

Interview – Dave

Photo credit: Andrea Falaschi

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