Delain’s Charlotte Wessels: “Speaking out against the ‘female-fronted’ genre has been frowned upon”

(Image credit: Press)

Since co-founding Dutch symphonic metal band Delain as a teenager in 2002, Charlotte Wessels has become one of metal’s strident voices onstage and off. Unafraid to air her views on everything from feminism to the climate catastrophe – the latter an inspiration for the band’s latest album Apocalypse & Chill (opens in new tab) - she looks back on the lessons life has taught her.

Change is a good thing

“Martijn [Westerholt, keyboards] and myself have been the core songwriting team for Delain since the very beginning but Timo [Somers, guitars] has really flourished on Apocalypse & Chill; he’s not just making arrangements and writing parts but writing entire songs, like One Second. The fact that we play live so much has had an impact on how we write this time. We’re writing from the idea of how it will work when we perform. Martijn did the entire production again and he’s done a great job! We wanted to do some things we haven’t done before while staying really true to our sound – we’ve added in some real choirs, which is something we’ve wanted to do for quite some time.”

Don’t judge a book by its cover

“A lot of things [in the process for this album] remained as they were for [2016’s] Moonbathers. For example, in the approach to song- writing, a lot has stayed the same. But when it comes to production, some things developed – especially the name. Some people think we’re joking! [The title isn’t] the gothic, romantic, frozen moon thing we usually go for. I had a demo called Apocalypse & Chill that didn’t go anywhere, and when I looked at all the songs on this album, all the post-apocalyptic content combined with people’s attitude today, it fits.

Let your own work shine

“There are a few guest spots on Apocalypse & Chill – such as Yannis Papadopoulos from Beast In Black and a guest violinist who used to play for Eluveitie – but not as many as we’ve had in the past. I think that was a conscious choice. In the past, we’ve always let ourselves be led by people that we really like but didn’t exactly fit into the music, but the exposure to their fanbase was also a factor. We didn’t think about that at all for this album; we were just doing our own thing and it felt like a perfect fit.”

‘Female-fronted’ is no more

“I’ve spoken out against the ‘female-fronted’ genre in the past and I’ve always thought it’s been frowned upon. Because there are, like, three women in metal and all the rest are guys, it was a term that used to work to group those bands together. I think by now people realise that there are women in metal, death metal, nu metal, symphonic metal and they’re all vastly different things, so I’m really happy to know people are warming to the idea of ditching the term altogether. For me, it wasn’t just about the term being disrespectful or inaccurate; it was also not nice to the rest of the band to let their genre be decided by what’s hanging (or not hanging) between the frontperson’s legs! That’s taking such a small part of the ingredients of the band. I’m still optimistic and I hear a lot of things that keep me optimistic both online and offline. I think we’re heading in the right direction; in general I think there’s more equality than there has been in the past. I also feel people are becoming more and more aggressive in their opinions and less open to conversation, as more conversations are taking place anonymously and behind screens. I’m not sure how that’s going to develop.”

(Image credit: Press)

Criticism can be motivational

“There are some conversations that really stick with you in life. I remember very early on in my career, when I was 15, my classical singing teacher once told me, ‘If I were you, I’d leave that band and just go join a choir – everybody is always looking for sopranos like you.’ She basically didn’t see the value in any non-classical music but to me, that was such a ‘Wait, I’ll show you’ moment in my life. It’s more reverse psychology than the best advice anybody’s ever given me but it had the most impact on what I ended up doing, even though it was a long time ago.”

Stop trying to make everyone else happy

“You simply cannot please everybody. That was a tough lesson for me. In a band like this, you’re doing everything together and when you’re writing with multiple people, you’re already making compromises. Within my creative group that’s fine, but there’s a limit to the amount of people you can keep happy while also staying true to you and your artistic vision. I felt like I really had to learn that the hard way because teams in music can get very big and it quickly becomes very complicated to have everybody on the same page. Sometimes you try to compromise too much and you end up with something nobody is happy with, so I’d rather have some very excited people and some saying ‘meh’ than having everybody on a medium level of excitement.”

Inspiration can come from anywhere

“I have different inspirations for different parts of music. I love Nick Cave for lyrics and writing words in general, and Thom Yorke for music. I’m always super-impressed by how Radiohead keep changing and evolving their sound, they’ve been my favourite band forever. Also, Amanda Palmer for the way she navigates the music industry. I think it’s very impressive what she’s built and how she is so radically herself in everything she does.”

Set your goals high

“Before Delain, I was in a band that had a side- project that Martijn was working on as well, that’s how we met. He asked if I could write a few lyrics for this project he was working on and it grew from there into me being part of the first album, but it was still supposed to be just a project. Now we’re 15 years later and Delain have grown so much. If I could go back, I’d tell myself, ‘Hey dude, this is going to be the next 15 years of your life at least so go all in, this is the real deal!’ There’s so many crossroads in life and you’re always going for the long-term thing but one day you wake up and it’s such a big part of your life and it’s amazing.”

Find a label that loves you for you

“When Roadrunner Records were sold and we were at Warner all of a sudden, Warner got a lot of bands alongside all the bands they actually wanted out of Roadrunner like Nickelback and such. I had the idea they were like, ‘OK, we have Delain, let’s see what we can make of it so people will buy it.’ They were looking into what we could become, which was very different from our own vision. When we were talking with Napalm Records, it was a night and day difference to that because they wanted to work with us for us, for what we already were. Of course we have our disagreements from time to time, but we really noticed what it was like to be with a label with all the best intentions for us.”

Touring life isn’t always easy

“You become a family of sorts when you spend so much time together on a bus, and everyone develops their own little habits to keep themselves sane. Touring can be loads of fun and it usually is, but it’s also very tiring at times. One of my things is I don’t really sleep well when the bus is driving, so at the beginning of the tour I’m usually alright but a few weeks on, I don’t know what day or time it is. It gets really weird but everybody has their own routines and it’s just a matter of giving each other the space to do what you need to do. In the end, it all comes together during those hours on the stage. There’s always days off where we go on hikes to nature parks. There’s not a lot of them but we always try to do it.”

Our new songs might surprise you

One Second is going down so well live already, I really like singing with Timo and it’s great being able to do that song together, I’m so happy to have that little duet. Combustion is really nice for me because I finally get a break! I think Let’s Dance will become a favourite, it’s kind of a party song and it gets people moving very quickly even though they’ve never heard the song before. It gives off a vibe that people can automatically roll with and it’s very nice to still get that kind of energy back from the audience.” 

Originally published in Metal Hammer #335