Many know Charlotte Wessels from being the frontwoman for the Dutch band Delain, but she stepped out of her musical comfort zone by working together with well-known singer Georg Neuhauser (Serenity) and musician, producer Oliver Phillips (Everon). Recently this threesome released the concept album `Deviant Hearts’ under the name Phantasma. Charlotte speaks about her contribution to the project, which was not only singing but creating the story that is told through the song lyrics as well as a complimentary novella.
(Photo Napalm Records)
How did the collaboration between you and Georg Nuehauser happen?
,,I’ve known Georg from the tours we’ve done with Serenity and I did guest vocals [in the song ,,Serenade Of Flames’’] on their album `Death And Legacy’. So I’ve known Georg for a long time. I think even more importantly Georg wanted to do this record and he asked Oliver Phillips to help out with the music side of things. They were both really into this idea of making a concept record but both of them didn’t know what the actual concept should be. Georg and I have been working together for almost ten years now so we know each other well. He also knows that with Delain next to songwriting I am always the one who brings in the lyrics so he thought I could come and join the creative team and work on the concept as well. I never had the ambition to do a concept record and the concept records that I know I either love to bits or completely dislike. I knew I would be in good company knowing Georg and Oliver but I was still very hesitant. I thought how am I going to make sure, without any experience in this genre and not having thought about doing something like that before, I would do something that is special and personal and that is not repeating something in the style that is already there in the genre. It took me a long time to think of the concept and the infrastructure that I wanted to use to work with the album. I think it happened only when I had the idea of ‘Deviant Hearts’, both the storyline and the idea of not telling the entire story on the record and in the lyrics but to include the book, then I felt confident that I could do this in a way that would be personal and meaningful to me and put me where my experience and ambition is. Then I was really excited about it all and I started writing the music and the book. It was really cool working with Georg and Oliver. We all come from different musical angles: Georg really having that classical rock side, loving Meat Loaf and Queen, Oliver being from the more progressive side and me being from the alternative corner. The songs were very eclectic in a way. Oliver arranged all of it and produced all of it in a way that even though the songs were diverse, they all sound like a family. It was a really nice collaboration and I really enjoyed working with them.’’
I was wondering where you got your idea for `Deviant Hearts’. Can you talk a little bit about the storyline? If someone just hears the album and doesn’t have the book, they won’t get the whole story.
,,This is also the downside of having the book with it. I really wanted the songs on the album to work with the story and provide that poetic angle to certain scenes and characters from the story. So yes, the idea was that you would have the book and you would have the album and it will complement each other. About the book itself, I thought a long time about it. The guys had no idea what kind of story they wanted to have and basically said go ahead and do your thing. There is something scary about just telling any story. What do you want to tell? It was a point in time where there was something pressing on my heart when something affects you and at one point I thought about this and all the other things, and I figured what if one would have a condition that would make these emotions and these events affect you on not only on an emotional and mental level but actually on a physical level? So it’s a big metaphor about this hypersensitivity. I wanted to use this idea and make it bigger than it is and make it very visible. Just continue with the experiment of what would that be with the way that you live your life and of course the children are raised very protectively. And the older they get the more they learn that their life is not so much about experiences to be had and challenges to win but ambitions to be curved and expectations to be limited and this starts to frustrate them to a greater and greater extent. The book leads you there in a sort of fantasy way but the real question is how much do you let something like that limit you? Do you stay in your comfort zone knowing you are safe or do you take the risks knowing it could expose yourself to something that could hurt you mentally and physically? I tried to play with that idea and to a certain extent I feel like I wrote the story and to the other extent at one point it was just there and kept playing in my head and I just had to write it down. The biggest challenge was to make it look as good on paper as it did in my head. This proved to be quite hard because I have no experience writing longer periods of fiction or writing it in a language that is not my first language. It was a real challenge but I enjoyed it a lot.’’
When you are writing in a language that is not your first language, does it require a lot of extra research or work to find the right words or do you just write what you know?
,,It is more the latter. I also felt that whatever I write should feel natural to me. If something sounded too complicated in my head I didn’t look for the correct way to make a complicated sentence. I would find a way to say what I mean more easily. I know that from writing fiction the books that I enjoy the most they talk about complicated matters in simple words. So I don’t feel like I have to show off my knowledge of another language as much as I feel I have to tell the story in the way that will affect people hopefully. I did have a lot of help from a friend from the US who is a writer who edited it for me and if he found weird stuff he pointed it out to me and said: ‘Can you perhaps say it like this or that?’’’
(Photo Napalm Records)
How was creating the Phantasma album different than creating a Delain album?
,,It was different because on a Delain album every song is its own story. That’s why I wanted to have the book because I wanted every song to still be its own story too but they still have to work logically and they have to tie into the story. So instead of telling twelve different stories, you want to tell one story as a whole. For the songwriting itself, it was very easy. This is not so much with Phantasma or Delain, but with any artist’s first album compared to the second or third or fifth. There are no expectations yet. Nobody knows we’re doing an album. We were not limited on what kind of music we could or couldn’t do. The only thing that I said to myself to the songs I brought to the table was that if it could be a Delain song then I am not using it because what is the sense in that.’’
What goes into picking out the clothes you wear for the music videos?
,,I wanted everything to be centered on the story. I even suggested at one point let’s not include any photos of us. Let’s not include us in the videos. Let people figure out who is behind it. But I was told that was commercial suicide and not a good marketing strategy so we did it. I still felt like whatever I did or looked like in the video should not distract from the paper cranes and the children that we had in the video. I brought a lot of stuff and the photographer brought a lot of stuff and eventually we settled for this beautiful black skirt with all these drapes that had all this fantastic movement. The movement was the greatest thing about it. It was the photographer sister’s wedding dress and he used part of it and he dyed it black. It made it extra special when I was wearing it. I felt that the simple black silhouette worked better than something extravagant. Same with the hair, it was long classical waves. What I really wanted was one of those crystal crowns because I love them so much and this one I got. With a project like this I wanted to focus on the artwork of Marco Mazzoni. I wanted to focus on all the paper cranes. I folded hundreds of paper cranes for the video and photo shoots. My favourite part of the video we hung 102 paper cranes into a tree in a mountain and we did some scenes and photos there. It went really well so we were done in like a half hour and I was like, ‘No everything has been leading up to this I want to stay here!’ For me with something like this it is about the story around it then the people telling the story and I wanted to make my choice of outfit and styling be supportive of that…elegant but simple.’’
(Photo Napalm Records)
I can imagine. You have these ideas and then you are like, how do I bring this to life and make it visual? That is the exciting part of a concept album.
,,It is very rewarding to do the artwork and the photography and the whole visual. There was something that was very special as well. Marco Mazzoni, who did the cover artwork, also did some illustrations for the book and he confided in me that he always wanted to do illustrations for a book but never found the right story. I am a massive fan of this man so to hear that my story was the right story for him to the illustrations for it, it was mind-blowing. I was so happy.’’
Will you guys be performing `Deviant Hearts’ live?
,,We won’t make this a regular touring thing. We have so much ambition and busy schedules with our main bands so it’s basically impossible and we both want to be focused in whatever we’re doing This is something I don’t see happening. What I do feel is an ambition that it will lead us to the type of songs and the story behind it and the rich visual world that is attached to it really lends itself a big theatrical musical. I think at one point we would like to bring it to the stage with bells on and with a very big production. I don’t see this happening very soon but I’d like to see it in the future. But a few select shows that we go all out on.’’
I can see this lending itself to a nice DVD production.
So the rest of the world can see it … I like it how Devin Townsend and Ayreon do these big production one-off shows and then make a DVD so everyone else can see it.
Will there be another Phantasma album?
,,We’ve been working so hard to make this deadline for `Deviant Hearts’ that we haven’t really thought about what was coming next. And then Georg and I went right back to working on Delain and Serenity. So I don’t know. We all had a lot of fun making this project. And I think the result of this album was very creatively satisfying for me. So I certainly wouldn’t exclude the possibility of doing another album but we haven’t talked about whether or not we are going to do that. It would be fun to do something like this again.’’
(Photo Napalm Records)
Official video for ,,Miserable Me''