Interview w/ Carmen Elise Espenaes
Country of Origin: Norway/Germany
Midnattsol (demo, 2003)
1. Tonight we are speaking with Carmen Elise Espenaes the beautiful and captivating lead vocalist of the Nordic Folk Metal band Midnattsol. Hello Carmen, good to speak with you again. The last time I interviewed you was in 2008 after the release of the "Nordlys". Now we are happy to see the release of the brand new album "The Metamorphosis Melody". What should we expect from the new material?
Carmen: Wow, what compliments, thanx Jason!!;) Also thanx for having this interview, it`s a pleasure talking with you again! J We have given everything for this album and wanted to get out the best of us, so it feels so great now finally having released it! We have a whole new package for our fans, all the songs, lyrics, title of the album, the cover and the rest of the artwork are in deep connection with each other and has a deeper meaning. On this album there`s a lot of variation musically as well as lyrically. There`s a great mix of calm and heavy songs and they are about quite different themes, so they offer something for different kinds of situations and moods. The fans can expect lots of beautiful atmospheric melodies to sing along with and which are filled with deep emotions. Because of all the different influences and elements in our music, we think the album could be interesting for fans from different kinds of the metal genre. To get a picture of what the album can offer you, have a listen to the whole new song “Kong Valemons Kamp” and at the same time gain an insight in our recording- and song writing process in the video, e.g. on our homepage www.midnattsol.com !!
The fantastic designer Stefan Heilemann fulfilled our expectations to the fullest and have made a beautiful artwork to our new album, there are so many tiny details to discover both on the cover and in the booklet, so we think that the booklet itself is a specialty. Take a look at it while listening to the new songs and let your fantasy flow, hopefully “The Metamorphosis Melody “ will give you something very special! With the release of our new album there also comes a lot of special fun stuff for the fans, for the very first time we offer a live DVD called “En Natt I Wieze”, which is part of the Limited Edition of „The Metamorphosis Melody“ and which our drummer Chris has been organizing for months now.
The recorded concert found place on Metal Female Voice Fest 2009 and it was an unforgettable evening for us; it was on this concert that Alex became an official member of the band, and additionally we got more than surprised by the fact that we won an award. The atmosphere in Oktoberhallen was fantastic, and now the fans have the possibility to relive the great happening! Another part of the Limited Edition is a Bonus track, where Daniel Droste is singing, which is kind of special since he has just left Midnattsol.
2. Last time we talked about your love of the Norwegian natural landscape and the culture and legends of Scandinavia. Does the new album reflect more of this influence?
Carmen: Yes, Nordic nature and legends etc. have always given influence to our lyrics and partly on our music, and were still part of the inspiration on “The Metamorphosis Melody”. E.g. the lyrics of “Motets Makt“ have connections to the old nordic sagas, when I hear the song I can see the film clearly in my head, with the pure powerful nature as back-ground surroundings and the worriers on their horses. “Kong Valemons Kamp” is inspired by the Norwegian fairytale “Kvitebjørn Kong Valemon” telling about a prince being transformed into an ice-bear, and in “Spellbound” you will notice the influence of Nordic nature creatures like elves spelling and leading you away But at the same time, stronger than ever before, the lyrics of the new songs are inspired by the personal experiences and thoughts of the band members.
We have gone through a lot of big changes in our lives the last couple of years, and as a result of this, all the lyrics are about different themes that I guess people can relate to their lives in some ways or another, for example the songs “Goodbye”, “Forlorn“ or „The Tide“. Interesting is also that more than before concrete stories and poems have inspired the lyrics on the new album. Besides the already mentioned Norwegian fairytale “Kvitebjørn Kong Valemon”, the book ”The Metamorphosis” by the German writer Franz Kafka has influenced the song “Forvandlingen”. One time when I was visiting my sister Liv in Germany she gave me a book of beautiful little poems about animals and nature.
I fell in love with one poem “Hurt no living thing” which inspired both the title and the lyrics of „A Poet`s Prayer“. On this song especially, you will at the same time notice the inspiration of the actual situation in the world today both regarding the destruction of our valuable nature, animals and ourselves on the lyrics, as well as the often destructible way of thinking. Last but not least the Canadian journalist Carl Begai inspired my writing to another level, thanx for the help Carl!
3. Tell us about the writing of the album, is there a primary writer or does the band write as a whole?
Carmen: There has never been one main songwriter and decision-maker in Mindattsol, we are all involved in the song writing process. Everyone is contributing with their individual parts and influences to the songs, what makes the song writing very interesting; you see how the songs are getting better and better after each part. It varies who comes up with the songs-ideas, and sometimes a part is also made by sudden jamming in the rehearsal room where one starts playing and the other ones are stepping in and it just all fit together at the first second.
I went back to Norway some years ago, and of course that meant a change regarding the song writing process of “The Metamorphosis Melody”. In Germany they were so to say living in the rehearsal room making and filing on the songs. They couldn`t go out that much because of the time pressure we had, so they just celebrated and had a drink together there, which the huge empty Jack Daniel bottles in the rehearsal room indicates hehe ;) I was working day and night with the melodies of the vocal lines and wrote the lyrics. We we sent song ideas back and forth via mail and were communicating a lot through the internet, discussing the songs and planning the non-musical things around the record, which is very important I think. I came to Germany to rehearse regularly, so that we could file together on the songs, trying out new things and practice the whole songs letting it grow till next time. All in all I think we made it very well together, despite distance!
4. Even from the first album "Where Twilight Dwells" Midnattsol has had a unique sound. Do you feel with "The Metamorphosis Melody" that you have expanded the Midnattsol sound at all?
Carmen: Oh, that`s a compliment we really treasure, thanx a lot Jason! Yes, that`s right, we feel that we have gone through a great development process since Nordlys. Surely one of the reasons for that is that the band structure changed; Alex became a member of the Midnattsol family and just exploded over with good song ideas. There is a now a much better harmony between each single instrument and the vocals, we play together in a whole new way.
It`s like we have come closer to each other and the atmosphere within the band is better than ever before, which I think has an influence of the music as well. The new songs are catchier and have more to offer, but at the same they vary more and have many little details to explore. Our sound has developed to more heavy and powerful, the new songs rock like hell!! Atmospheric and melancholic melodies have been one of our trademarks since we started, but this album is even more melodic and contains even better melodies.
There are lots of great guitar solos on our new album, and in “Kong Valemons Kamp” the two guitarists take turns in a solo line in a way we`ve never had before in Midnattsol. One song contains one of our best refrains ever in Midnattsol, and that is “A poet`s Prayer”, our producer Markus Stock got goose booms while listening to it, which was kind of a great sign for us hehe ;) „Re-creation“ contains a very special start where there`s a unique interaction between keys, bass and vocals. In the rest of the song you can hear great drifting drums and it ends with another fantastic guitar solo. All of us have also developed musically, which is quite natural I guess when you play and sing a lot and when you push yourself to new musical boundaries continuously. Our drummer Chris is a great example of that, he loves challenges and to try different rhythms and he soon get bored of too monotonous ways to play. The result of all this was “The Metamorphosis Melody “, and you could say that we`ve gone through a metamorphosis ourselves, as the title among others indicates. Still, I think it`s important to mention that we haven`t left the typical Midnattsol sound, not at all, you`ll still find a huge amount of the typical Midnattsol characteristics in the new songs ;)
5. We are conducting this interview in late April, right now you are playing some live shows. How are these shows going and will we see Midnattsol playing more throughout 2011?
Carmen: We can`t put it into words how grateful we are for the fans` support on this tour, people were driving for hours to see us, they came with one present after another and were rocking with us like hell! We just love to hang out with the fans after the gigs, we have had some incredible moments off stage as well. After the last gig in Italy we had this long and crazy night where we together with the cool and funny members and crew of Leaves Eyes were banging with the fans on the dance floor hehe! ;) We also had a lot of fun with the other support bands, like the after-show party in a local bar in Frankfurt with Lisa Middelhauve and Serenity.
It`s kind of funny, because before the tour, we talked about it that we would probably go on another nerves after a couple of days and that we would be extremely exhausted after a few concerts. But the funny thing is that even though we had a huge lack of sleep, we had this energy and lust to play the new songs live, and we had so much fun together, we just didn`t want it to end!! It was a totally new experience for us, the first time ever going on a longer tour than a 3-daus-tour, and we had this great feeling inside that everything went that well, like a dream coming through. Even sitting beside each other with less space in the van was fun (can`t believe I`m saying this hehe!).
To have time to hang out together, partying together and just having fun is something that we had been looking forward to for a long time. I didn`t think it was possible, but during this tour, we`ve grown even more together as a group, and believe it or not, just after a week we miss the rest of the group not having them around us 24 \7!! It feels so strange when you`re rocking like hell on stage and having such a great time with the fans afterward for a certain period, and then suddenly everything turns up-side down and you start working again on Monday morning.. but fortunately we don`t have to wait that long before playing live again after the; Durbuy Rock Festival in a couple of days – and just a couple of weeks after that we will for the first time come to Hungary on the Metal Fest, we`re so looking forward to rock together on stage again together!! We will also come back to Belgium a second time this year and have a reunion with the great fans and crew on Metal Female Voices Fest in October. Hope you have the possibility to come and see us live, we would love to meet you there! We`ll keep you informed about our live activities on our homepage, so stay tuned!
6. In other big news from the road you have just announced a new official guitarist. Tell us about the newest member of the Midnattsol family.
Carmen: Yes, that`s absolutely right, Daniel Droste left the band some months ago because he couldn`t find time for both bands besides work and decided to focus on Ahab, so that meant another search for a new guitarist within a short period of time. And what a replacement we found, the fantastic guitar player from South of Germany, Matthias!! It`s so cool to think about, he has been a fan of Midnattsol since we started and followed us since then, and now he`s part of the band living out his dream, how cool is that? But it`s a dream for us too coming true, because besides controlling his instrument in a such a great way, his personality couldn`t fit better within the band, he is such a lovely young man, but still so cool!
He got the difficult task to learn the songs in a few weeks’ time, but that was no problem for him, and he made it impressing us more and more as time went by. After having been on tour with him a few days, we were 100% sure that he is the right guy, he rules the stage even though his last gig was at his school at a school celebration. Can you imagine? We totally surprised him and announced at our gig in Frankfurt during our tour that he is officially our new member of the band. And I have to say, we love him already hehe, as well as the audience!! ;)
I have to add a little story regarding Matthias: the other ones had told me about Matthias, they said they knew at once that he would be our new guitarist; they just felt in their stomachs. And my first meeting with him was very special as well. I was standing in Stuttgart Main station waiting for the tube to the rehearsal room. There were many people standing around, but suddenly I noticed one guy, and it hit me that this was him, this is Matthias! On the second thought I thought that it couldn`t be him, it could be anyone and I decided not to go over. We took the same train and then I noticed that he went off the same station as I. I went a couple of steps behind him and when we were almost there, I asked: hey you, are you Matthias? Yes, oh hi Carmen! he said surprised hehe So I guess we`ve found the right guy, with such a good feeling and connection straight away!
7. Now with 3 strong records in the Midnattsol catalog, what is the next big goal for the band?
Carmen: Thanx again mate! ;) Now at the moment we`re in a “playing live rush” and want to play live as much as we can and promote our new album, we just can`t get enough of it at the moment, our new songs make so much fun live and our fans the best in the world!! So a big goal would be to play on different stages all around the world! With such a great line-up that we are today, we are also slowly starting to feel the eager inside to write new songs for a forth Midnattsol album, it`s so exciting to think about where it will lead us this time!
8. I want to talk for a moment about the family support that you receive. Of course your sister is Liv Kristine of Leaves Eyes fame, and her husband is the famous Metal legend Alexander Krull of Atrocity. So music really is a family affair. How is it being able to create so much great music within the family unit and how does that creative dynamic work?
Carmen: It`s kind of funny, because believe it or not, it`s more like a coincidence that we all make music. Liv and I haven`t grown up in a musical home where we sit together and play guitar or sing like in the Kelly family hehe, and our parents didn`t courage us in a musical way, it has just been like that since I can remember, it was just inside us both. Still, we are two singers with two quite different voices with two different bands that make music independent from the other band. Some people think that Alex and Liv sit together with us telling how to play, but it couldn`t be more wrong, hehe, they`re doing their stuff and we do ours.
I guess that most people after nine are aware of that. But we are very grateful for all the good advices they have given us, they have lots of experience to learn from! And on the other hand, it`s of course a great gift to have the possibility to share something so beautiful as singing with your own sister, it`s a very special thing. It has been an amazing experience to sing some guest vocals on Sigrlinn on the new Leaves Eyes album, and share stage with Liv on our tour singing Sigrlinn and Kråkevisa, that can`t be described with words!
9. Getting to the core of the music itself, what does Midnattsol mean to you on a personal level?
Carmen: I don`t think anyone in the current line-up in Midnattsol could imagine being without the band at the moment, it is such a big part of our lives. Since 9 years, Daniel, Birgit, Chris and I we have used most of the spear time on the band, and in the last 2 years we have together with Alex put all our energy into the new album full of eager to give everything and let out our best. It has been our philosophy all along to not let the business lead our music, we want to make the kind of music that we want and identify with.
If a band member doesn`t like a song, it`s thrown away – hard one for the ones wanting it, but at least we only have songs that we all really like ;) We are involved in everything that has to be done besides writing music as well, so we`re not only musicians hehe ;) Midnattsol has given us so many unforgettable experiences, we`re living out our dreams so to say, and in the moment we got a record deal, our lives was turned up-side-down. We have so much fun together, we have become really close friends, also already with the new members.
There are these magical moments in the rehearsal room when we`re looking at each other with a smile while practicing and writing new songs, it`s very special to share this feeling with the other band members. This together with the goal of making songs that can make a difference for our listeners, motivate us continuing writing new material. It`s such a good feeling when you get the feedback that this and this song really touched me or that your music give me something, you just want to keep going and make more, even better than before ;)
10. In closing please leave us with any final thoughts or comments and thanks so much for your time.
Carmen: Thanx a lot for the interview once again Jason, wish you all the best for the future! We also want to thank our fans for the amazing support; without you, we`ve would never where we are today! Hope you like „The Metamorphosis Melody” and that it can give you something special. Stay Metal!