Eluveitie Frontman: "It's Shocking To Realize How Little We Learned In The Past 2,000 Years"
As with most acts that helped popularize entire genres and subgenres, Switzerland's Eluveitie has found itself in a rare position vis-à-vis the so-dubbed "folk metal" movement: that of reluctant leader, the inspirational force with casual indifference to the trend that exploded around them. For this reason, the new LP "Helvetios" whisks the band yet a few echelons higher than the crowd and freshly re-stamps their inimitable brand of mournful, grinding Celtic fury. On the eve of the album's North American release, Eluveitie offered direct support to headliners Children Of Bodom at Montreal's Metropolis. It was here that band founder, songwriter, and frontman Chrigel Glanzmann made himself available for a few questions.
Mike Smith (OverkillExposure): “Helvetios” arrives in North American stores tomorrow. Outside the established Eluveitie sound, is there anything on this album that might surprise us?
Chrigel Glanzmann: I guess so, yeah. First of all, it’s a concept album. Our first concept album, in the sense of a continuing story, and that stuff. The special thing is that we didn’t want to simply narrate the story through lyrics; we also wanted to express it musically. So we tried to make the album a little bit like a movie soundtrack, almost. Because of that, there are a lot of epic moments and stuff. So yeah, I guess it is different. It’s the first time we’ve worked together with a choir, orchestrations, and that sort of thing. There are quite a few new things on it.
Mike: Could you take us through the tracklist to give us a better feel for it, and perhaps point out some personal highlights of yours?
Chrigel: To be honest, yeah, I could do that, but I think it would take some hours. [Laughs] First of all, there are seventeen tracks on the album, and it’s quite a long story. But basically, it tells the story of the Gaulish wars, which took place around 2,000 years ago and lasted for almost ten years. It was a war between Gaul and the Roman Empire, and the album tells the story from a Gaulish point of view, of course. [Laughs] It goes through the events chronologically, and is told with a lot of emotion. And there are some songs that actually tell of certain events through the viewpoints of particular people. It’s a pretty emotional thing.
Mike: As the band’s principal songwriter, I know you get this question all the time, but for my own personal curiosity – there is SO much going on in an Eluveitie song. Can you explain how you approach one from scratch?
Chrigel: It’s different from song to song, to be honest. But usually, it pretty much falls into place altogether. I don’t have any special techniques or rules or anything. The songs are basically written in my head. I don’t write anything down or record things; it’s just within the head. And then the songs just develop, just happen, in a way. It’s not that I write metal riffs first and then add folk melodies or something; all the instruments just kind of come together. For this album, it was a little different; since it’s a concept album, there was a certain framework to the music – and as I said, I wanted to express the story musically as well. I think it got quite diverse, actually. It starts quite epically, and – well, I wouldn’t say “happy” – but y’know, with a positive sounding character or aura or something. And then it kind of gets darker and harsher the further it goes.
Mike: Eluveitie’s lyrical subject matter is deeply rooted in history, folklore, and ancient spirituality. As a listener, I find catharsis primarily through the music. How does that work for you? What are you projecting onto the music to express yourselves, when dealing in lyrics that seem somewhat removed from our everyday 21st century lives?
Chrigel: I would say, in a way, the lyrics ARE connected to here and now. Especially with the songs we’ve written about the Gaulish wars, for example. Digging into history, it’s kind of striking to see how many parallels to today you can find. It’s sometimes quite shocking to realize how little we learned in the past 2,000 years, because it’s the same crazy things going on, over and over again. So I wouldn’t say the things we’re singing about don’t have anything to do with our everyday lives; I think they actually do. But when I’m writing the songs, I don’t think too much. They grow pretty much out of intuition, quite organically. The emotions sort of form the music, and it’s hard to explain, because I don’t really think about those things.
Mike: Do you envision tackling some unexplored musical territory for future Eluveitie work?
Chrigel: Maybe, I don’t know yet. There have been some interesting and challenging ideas around, but then again, our album is just about to be released, and we just started the touring cycle for “Helvetios” a couple weeks ago, and it’ll keep us on the road for more than a year. But we’ll see what happens.
Mike: Seeing Eluveitie live in 2008 was my first serious introduction to what everyone is now calling “folk metal,” and it seems that bands like this are everywhere now. Do you ever feel unfairly lumped in with a trend?
Chrigel: To be honest, we really don’t give a shit. We don’t care about labels. As you said, it pretty much exploded, especially over in Europe. It’s huge in countries like Germany, for example. But it’s basically the press that tends to label us as “folk metal,” or “pagan metal,” or whatever. We don’t really care. When I formed the band, there was no “folk metal” scene. It wasn’t like, “Hey, let’s form a folk metal band!” It was basically the realization of a long-cherished dream I had, which was to combine the two kinds of music I personally love most: melodic death metal and traditional Celtic folk music. That’s how we started, that’s what we’re still doing now, and we don’t care what’s going on around us. Of course, as you said, some years later this “pagan folk metal” thing, or whatever you want to call it, got huge in Europe. There were a lot of bands popping up out of nowhere. But we don’t feel connected to that scene that much, to be honest. We don’t even like the music that much. We love OUR music, but none of us would even remotely listen to “folk metal.” I don’t want to be rude, but that’s just the way it is! [Laughs]
Mike: Can you tell me a bit about the sequel to [2009 acoustic album] “Evocation I – The Arcane Dominion” you’ve mentioned? When do you think that might surface?
Chrigel: It’s a thing we’re looking forward to a lot, but we haven’t decided when we’ll do it.
Mike: Having toured so much of the world over the past few years, where do you feel you’ve been best received so far? Where’s your most loyal fan base?
Chrigel: Hard to say. Canada’s always really good for us actually, and we love playing here. But how do you judge? If you look at the record sales, I’d say it’s about the same in the States. Of course, we’re doing really well in central Europe, but basically it’s more or less the same everywhere.
Mike: If Eluveitie were asked to perform a selection of cover songs, what might those be – whether due to your personal taste or how well you could adapt them to your sound?
Chrigel: We actually planned on releasing a covers album once. It’s still an idea we have for “Evocation” Part II. Maybe for a deluxe edition, we could add another CD that just contains cover songs – acoustic folk covers. But we had some… What did we have? Oh we had “Breathe” by Prodigy, with hurdy-gurdy and stuff. That sounded quite cool. We had something by Lynyrd Skynyrd, probably “Simple Man.” We also had some metal stuff… We had something by Sepultura, I guess it was “Roots Bloody Roots.” Then we had “Mad World” by Tears For Fears, and some others that I can’t remember.
Mike: And when it comes to your two most loved genres of music that you mentioned, what artists are you listening to most regularly these days?
Chrigel: It’s actually not that much. I’ve been listening to pretty much the same bands since… like forever. [Laughs] For death metal, I’m into the old Entombed stuff like “Clandestine” and “Left Hand Path,” and some good old At The Gates and stuff like that. For folk music, probably my favorite band ever is The Bothy Band, an Irish folk band from the ‘70s. I love their music – everything they ever did.
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