LEAVE'S EYES // official interview 2018 // AFM Records

Buy the new Leaves' Eyes album "Sign Of The Dragonhead" here!

First of all, congratulations with the new Leaves’ Eyes album! Like your previous works, it is dedicated to Viking tales, Nordic history and legends. What makes you interested in this particular period of history? Where do you usually get ideas for your songs and albums? And what particular story do you deliver with the recent work?

Alex: That’s very nice asking, thank you. First of all, it has always been a big part of the history of Leaves’ Eyes. When we started the band we were already thinking while and even before doing the music, that we want to create a band with symphonic sound and atmosphere like painting pictures in music with great landscapes, Norse mythology, the ocean and all the tragic tales around it. And the Vikings, of course. So, it’s what we had in mind when we started the band. And Thorsten and I, we both are history nerds. And it’s a great inspiration when you have epic Viking sagas in front of you while making music. So that makes it more special for us when we create the music.  But we’re also writing not only about Viking sagas…

Albums that we recorded in the past, such as “Vinland Saga”, “Njord” or “King Of Kings”, of course, had a great concept. And now, we come up with “Sign Of The Dragonhead” which is actually starting where “King Of Kings” was ending.

The previous one was a concept album about Harald Harfagre, the king that was uniting Norway. And the first song of the new album, “Sign Of The Dragonhead” is actually starting where the last album was ending. And it’s also because for us as a band it’s always a kind of similar situation: we go through stormy winds with the Viking ship, as you see on the album cover, looking for the new horizons!

Harald had not only friends, but a lot of enemies as well. And the Vikings started to expand, they went out driven by force sometimes, banned out, and he was hunting those guys, going himself on expeditions. So that’s like the Shetland Islands, Faroe Islands, Iceland – all those lands were actually also starting when that happened. So for us it was a perfect start for the record as well. But it’s not only about one character, it’s not a full concept album, but it’s about different matters, other Viking sagas as well. So it makes it all very diverse and yeah, we like to write about stuff like that.

So each song has its story, right?

Alex: Exactly. We, for example, have a song like “Völva” which is very strongly connected to the strong feminine influence from the time when Völvas were like foreseers, advisers of leaders of the Vikings. They were foretelling the future, advising to leaders if they should go to a battle and stuff like that. And that’s also a mystical side, because the Vikings believed they were connected to the gods themselves. It’s not only about battles, axes and swords with this band but also about such topics. So, that’s important for us as well.

As I understood all the stories are not so happy? They’re quite sad…

Alex: Yeah, that’s true. That’s another song called “Like A Mountain” which is connected to a hermit in Iceland. She was actually not such a holy woman herself! (laughs) She dreamt about her four marriages and they all ended tragically. And she saw it coming in her dreams and it’s a great Icelandic saga which is actually, if you put it altogether, could be a movie like Games of Thrones or something like the oldest chapters in a very long story. And the song turned out really great with Elina’s vocals.

What kind of musical things do you use to reflect these special concepts about Vikings and Nordic kings stories? Besides rock instruments and symphonic orchestra one can hear folk instruments, for example…

Thorsten: What we did at first hand is that one maybe basic thing: we recorded all the sounds by humans, by people, instead of using ‘plastic’ sounds, and it works very nicely with the concept as well. And then, you’re right, we used instruments like nyckelharpa, whistles, Uilleann pipes, fiddles and percussions and choir recordings, the same that we used already on “King Of Kings” with a lot of voices. And Victor Smolsky’s orchestra. So it has totally different effect than just using plastic sounds.  It makes the music and the concept go hand in hand for us and you can still hear a rock band, a metal band but you get a lot of different spices to that music. And I think that’s also which makes the sound of the band distinct and also sets us apart from the other metal bands.

Alex: And I think it’s a very good teamwork in general. I have to say that a lot of our guest musicians we invited for “natural” instruments recording like nyckelharpa, the percussions, Uilleann pipes and whistles and everything –are the same people we worked in the past together with. Also the harp player which is outstanding! And, yeah, it’s always great when we have such a very good teamwork with people who are experienced and whom we know for a longer time. It’s really cool to have something like a working family around us!

Our regular nyckelharpa player wasn’t able to come to the studio because she was having a new child. So, for the nyckelharpa we’ve found a guy, actually from our city and it was quite amazing because he’s a friend of Ritchie Blackmore and inspired him to do medieval music with his band, Candice Night.

Talking about London Voices Choirs, I understood that they work with very big projects. How was it possible to collaborate with such an important orchestra?

Alex: Yeah, the London Voices Choir is really famous, they record for a lot of blockbusters and videogames and stuff like that. They were also working with some rock bands like Queen, Paul McCartney or Pink Floyd but never with a metal band. So it’s a very big honour for us. And we are really-really happy that Leaves’ Eyes is now the band they worked together with and they’re really into our music. It was really cool. They worked with us on “King Of Kings” but now, for the second time, we’ve known each other well already and Elina is also living in London. So, she was also coming along and it was really-really great recording. I really have to say it was outstanding.

With so many instruments and orchestrations how do you play these songs live?

Alex: For us it’s very important in general that the metal band is not overshadowed by symphonic elements or folk elements. So we do the same like, I guess, all the other symphonic bands: we’re using backing tracks, but that’s not a big deal. We’ve played so many tours and live shows, festivals, it’s always working out really great and we have powerful performance and, you know, it’s also quite impossible to bring an orchestra on stage every night. (laughs)

Where do you prefer to perform – at big festivals or at local club shows?

Thorsten: It depends on… if you play as a headliner at a festival – it’s, of course, great, because we have all these effects, we have swords, a 6-meters high Viking ship. But it also requires a lot of preparation and many people involved. It can also be great to play a club show only in front of a few hundred people. Sometimes I like personally better the energy of a club show. And at the big festivals it feels more like standing on the mountain looking at the great landscape.

The title track “Sign Of The Dragonhead” has been recently released as an official video, and it was produced by Rainer Zipp Franzen. Why did you decide to work with him?

Alex: Actually we worked with Rainer in the past, but the main point on that video, its focus was that we had a great location and a lot of Vikings who were coming actually even from other countries and a very great support from the new Yomsborg Vikings. They’re from that area in Oldenburg. We have also other song on the album called Yomsborg which is connected to the Yomsborg saga. And my father is actually from that area where the legend was born, so it’s very personal on the top of it all. The video shooting actually was really-really great, I have to say, as we had fantastic crew and everything, and, of course, Rainer is an expert with action stuff. So that was really cool to get this shooting done. But it was also a funny thing, once Elina said: Ok, on the next Leaves’ Eyes videoclip I want to have a horse. And I said: All right. And then in exchange if you ride a horse, and you’ll get it, you have to swing an axe and become a shield maiden! And she did it actually and she did really good job and the story of the video starts very romantic but it ends bloody. (laughs) Very metal, that’s great.

This will be the first full-length album with your new singer, Elina Siirala. She is from Finland and lives in London and she was relatively unknown in music industry before, so how did you get in touch with her?

Thorsten: We met Elina when her old band Angel Nation supported Leaves’ Eyes in England. And… back then we were on the King Of Kings tour, but we remembered that and when Liv decided to leave the band we didn’t have any big contests here where we would check a lot of people. We were contacting Elina and we were very lucky because she was brave enough to learn the set and we played just in a few days in Indonesia in front of 20 thousands people. And she’s great, she’s very ambitious, she’s a classical-trained singer. And it was actually really nice also to work in the studio with her. Alex and I, we are like taking care of every note, like to see how we can make everything better and she has the same kind of spirit. And that was great also. We had now two North American tours done and in the first one we had 17 shows in a row without any day off. And when you have such kind of experience, you know if something works out or not. It’s like Big Brother container experiment. (laughs)

Alex: We were also headlining some big festivals. At the Metal Female Voices we played with the Viking Ship with 20 vikings on stage, the pyros, fire burning swords and everything… It’s insane and I don’t know but, I guess, not everybody just can do it – I mean, going on stage performing so great like she did. And we played at the Full Metal Cruise and also we did these big tours like in support of Sabaton. And everybody said that Elina is amazing and such a great performer. And you know, sometimes some bands are great live and some bands are delivering great work in the studio but performing ain’t so good live. But we were so lucky because in the studio it was also great to work with Elina. We found out it already in the “Fires in the North” EP when we were re-recording some of the “King Of Kings” stuff because the fans said: Hey, we don’t wanna wait until the next album, please, release something, we wanna hear the songs you play live. And then we made from scratch “Fires in the North” and we knew: OK, it’s working great with Elina. With than experience it was really-really cool to work on the pre-production of “Sign of the Dragonhead” album. And then on the final recording. And it’s turned out really-really great.

Has it changed anything in your approach to studio work and touring with the singer change?

Thorsten: There was not much change for this album because from the beginning Alex and I have been like the creative musical backbone of the band. So it was, in terms of writing the songs not that much of a change, but, of course, it was a change to work with another singer. And what I like about Elina’s live performance is that she’s very powerful, very charismatic and it has very nice band feel also. She’s very well with interacting, chatting with everybody on stage. Really nice.

You played three release shows in January. How about the full European or even world tour next year? Anything’s already booked?

Thorsten: Yeah, we will play festivals like Wacken and Ragnarokl and a few others. And we will do a European tour in April and May with two other great bands just announced. And then you can expect us to be on tour for the next two years, like everywhere we used to be.

I know that you will release various editions like digipack with a bonus CD, could you tell a bit what special things do you prepare for your fans?

Thorsten: I think it’s pretty cool to give the fans the option to have different formats: you can download it, of course, you can have a regular CD, limited edition with instrumental versions which is very nice on this album because you hear all the details. You might hear but not fully recognize when you hear it at the full blast album. At least, in the first row. And then we also have a fanbox which is amazing because it features a Viking shield which is 30 cm radius. And we also have an autograph card on sailcloth which is signed by the band. And you can choose different vinyls. There is something for everyone. Any version you like!

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