Midnattsol (Carmen Elise Espenaes, Birgit Oellbrunner)
A few days after the conclusion of their European tour, we got the chance to talk with Carmen Elise Espenaes and Birgit Öllbrunner, vocalist and bass guitarist of the German/Norwegian metal band Midnattsol. We had a nice chat about their latest effort "The Metamorphosis Melody", a nice mix of heavy metal and atmospheric arrangements, and the days they spent together with Leaves' Eyes. Enjoy the interview!
Article by Marco Belafatti - Publish on: 21/05/11
Hi Carmen and Birgit and welcome to SpazioRock. How are you doing? I hope everything's fine!

Carmen/Birgit: Hola Marco and SpazioRock, GRAZIE for having this interview, hope you`re fine too! We are great, thanx for asking, just a couple of days ago we came back from our tour with Leaves Eyes, which is without doubt one the most memorable events in our Midnattsol history! We have to say it also feels kind of strange to suddenly go from rocking like hell on stage for then having such a great time with the fans afterwards and then go to bed when people normally go to work, and then suddenly everything turns up-side down and you start working again. It has been such a great time, even though we have a huge lack of sleep, we have this energy and lust to play the new songs live, and we have so much fun together, we just didn`t want it to end!!  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, we will miss each other like hell when the rest of the group is suddenly not around us 24\7! It`s a good feeling that we don`t have to wait that long before playing live again after the tour, we will play on the Durbuy Festival in Belgium next weekend, so right now it feels like we`ve done this for ages and I think we would get kind of depressed having to wait for months before rocking on stage again together!

Your third album “The Metamorphosis Melody” has just been released on Napalm Records. Did you get a good response so far?

Birgit: Oh yes, most of the reactions have been very positive, both reviews from magazines but what was even more important for us, the reaction of our fans. When we have been on tour we got the chance to talk to our fans and see their impression about the new album. It has just been out for a few days, but many of them told us that they already think now that this is our best album so far and that they love the songs. This means so much to us, as the last 1,5 years we have spent every free minute for the band, all our emotions and our heart blood is in this album. We have worked so hard for our ideas and we all already knew, that we, the band, would be very satisfied with the result. But to hear this from the fans  makes us more than happy! Reviews from magazines have in generally also been overwhelming good; of course there are also some who don´t like it that much…that´s normal and part of the music business. But the majority of them have listened to the album carefully, pointed out the positive development like sounding more mature, heavier and more complex, but still keeping our roots and having even more beautiful melodies. That´s really wonderful to hear.

“The Metamorphosis Melody” is definitely a very intriguing title. What kind of metamorphosis are you talking about? Is it somehow related to your personal and artistic growth or does it just narrate a story?

Carmen: Thanx a lot Marco, great to hear that you like it! One of the goals with the title was to see all the elements of the new album as a connected circle and the title standing as a symbol for it; the music, the artwork, the lyrics and so on., still avoiding a too narrow seen concept with less room for interpretation. We want the listeners to interpretate and reflect themselves, so the metamorphosis meant on the album is actually related to differnet kind of ones, also the personal and artistic growth.  One of the things that the title shall symbolize is that we in Midnattsol have gone through a a great development musically process since “Nordlys”, also beacuse of the fact that the band structure changed. You know, we were shocked by the fact that Christian left the band shortly after the release of Nordlys and we didn`t quite know where the next path would lead. When we found Alex, it was like a new beginning for us, Alex had so many great ideas, and we got more and more motivated to write songs. We came closer to each other, and the atmosphere within the band was getting better than ever before, which I think has an influence of the way we play together too. This was the start of “The Metamorphosis Melody”. The title is also an indication of the fact that every single member of the band has also gone through a change in life regarding something else; love, death, personal developments and so on, which all in all have brought us to another stage in life so to say. 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, and hopefully the songs can give the listeners something special. Additionally it shall reflect that the situation of the world today, with other words, globally seen. You will find different stories about metamorphosis on the album, like you mention, but there`s much more to it like already said. Behind the title there is hidden a deeper meaning, and you could say that the title shall be an inspiration for change. But how this development shall look like concretely, is up to the listeners to find out by themselves while listening to the new songs.

What can you tell us about the artwork? It shows sort of a fantasy scenery. To what extent is it related to the album concept?

Birgit: The artwork was done by Stefan Heilemann, he´s a great guy and did an awesome job! In this regard I have to tell you a story about the moment we realized that he was the right man for us. We shortly talked about our ideas on the telephone and then we met in a bar to make them concrete. I was drawing on a paper what we imagined to be good as a cover. After this he was getting another drawing out of his jacket and, I really don´t lie, it looked exactly the same as our drawing, like a copy! So we knew that we are one the same wavelength. The artwork which he made is very atmospheric and visionary, showing lots of tiny details which you will not see at the first look. The whole booklet is telling a story, which is connected to the cover and the title “The Metamorphosis Melody”. The cover shall invite you to dream, as our music shall do. You can also interpret and see it with different eyes. For example for one person it´s important to reach what is behind the luminous entrance in front of the little girl; you have a goal or something positive in your head and try to reach it. It might also inspire you to look forward and leave the negative behind. For the other one it means to dare to make the step through the gateway, to be willing to go new and unknown ways, which might completely change your life, not knowing where this will lead. This might be a new development for you, like a metamorphosis. Of course you can always stay on the safe side of life, but if you go new ways, which usually costs quite an effort, a new, wonderful and unexpected world might be opened for you, which makes life interesting. But anyhow, it´s open to everyone´s own fantasy and interpretation.

What do the lyrics of your songs talk about?

midnattsol_intervista_2011_02Carmen: Every lyric is about something different, and this time there were lots of different factors influencing the writing. The lyrics of “Motets Makt“ have connections to the old nordic sagas, “Kong Valemons Kamp” is telling the Norwegian fairytale about a prince being transformed into an ice-bear, “Forvandlingen“ is inspired by the German book “Die Verwandlung” by Franz Kafka, which is about a young man suddenly waking up as an insect. More than ever before the personal experiences and thoughts of the band members have inspired the lyrics, due to the big changes in our lives the last couple of years. One example is “The Tide” which tells about a band member being in the middle of an experience that changed this person`s life for ever. Another example is “Goodbye”, which touch me very deeply and bring back memories while singing as it would be yesterday. It reminds me about one day when I thought I had found happiness in my life, I suddenly got a call in the evening, a very sad one, and suddenly everything changed. When I hang up the phone I immediately started singing the beginning of the vocal lines in “Goodbye”, with most of the words still present in these lyrics. I sang all night just this part over and over, it was kind of like a therapy for me. Music has magical power in this connection. “A Poet`s Prayer” is a song where all the frustration about the unfairness and atrocity in our world today can be let out. The actual situation about the world today makes us so sad, we`re destroying our valuable nature, the animals and also ourselves with our destructible way of thinking, how far do we go before we start to realize what we`re actually doing? The worlds screams for a new phase to come… All in all I would say that all the lyrics are about different themes that I guess people can relate to their lives in some ways or another. But in spite of that, there`s at the same time a huge red line throughout all the lyrics, symbolized by the title “The Metamorphosis Melody” and the cover, every song treats the common theme of development, transformation or a change in some way or another.

You seem to have abandoned all the folk metal influences of “Where Twilight Dwells” and “Nordlys” to play a heavier, yet more balanced metal genre, which is actually very hard to label. How would you describe your new sound?

Birgit: Labeling our music style is a never ending discussion, also within the band. Some of us would say Nordic Folk Metal, the other ones Melodic Heavy Metal, a few days ago someone who heard the album said that we make Progressive Symphonic Gothic Metal. I would say that our new album is on the one hand very melodic and atmospheric, but on the other hand also heavy and rocking, combined with some folk elements. Sometimes fans or journalists compare us with bands like Bathory, Nightwish, Iron Maiden or Amorphis and on the other hand they say, that we have a very own style of music. So this is of course a very big compliment for us and it makes us really happy if we are not seen just as a copy of a band, but a band with a characteristic and own sound which cannot really be pigeonholed. This makes it maybe that difficult to find a clear categorization. The “Metamorphosis Melody” is in general heavier, more rocking and powerful and our sound has definitely matured. Compared to our two former albums “Nordlys” and “Where Twilight Dwells” we would say that the new album varies much more, which means we have a broader mixture of heavy, calm atmospheric and midtempo songs. Also if the songs are quite complex, they are more catchy and groovy. We really love the combination of both heaviness and atmospheric melodies - this has always been a typical element of Midnattsol, but I think is brought out even more this time. The music that we make is also not that kind of music you listen to and immediately have in in your head, like a typical chart song which often has quite simple structure. We often hear that you cannot explore all the details of our songs at the first listening, it takes a couple of passes to get into the music, but our fans tell us that even after years they never get bored of it and love it. We think especially “The Metamorphosis Melody” is an album which needs to be explored, where you hear an atmospheric melody here, a special drum beat there, a wonderful keyboard melody or groovy bassline in the background. On “The Metamorphosis Melody” we were not trying to make one chart hit, but a whole album which lets your mind flow and let you feel you the magic and atmosphere of the songs. A few days ago someone also said to us that the songs immediately activate a cinema in your head, taking you away into another world and your dreams.

I recognized the influence of a Finnish band which I really like on this album; I'm obviously referring to Amorphis. Do anyone of you consider himself a fan of this band? Besides, I know that Esa Holopainen has appreciated “The Metamorphosis Melody” as well, I think you achieved a great goal by enchanting him with your music!

Carmen: Thanx a lot Marco, you`re absolutely right! It`s interesting that you see it in that way, Amorphis is a band that goes among the favorites of all the band members in Midnattsol, many of us got all their albums and followed them since they started. I love the way they combine great folk metal elements with such wonderful melodies hitting straight in to your soul, still not being too soft or cliché, they're just doing their thing so amazing and professional. Not to mention how cool they are!!! Either I nor the other ones would expect Esa to do this, due to the fact that he is such a busy man, so it came like a huge surprise that he actually took the time for it, he`s such a nice person! So you could imagine how thrilled and flattered we were when we got to know that Esa wanted to share his opinion about “The Metamorphosis Melody”:

I was really impressed about how Midnattsol combines fragile and heavy elements within their music. Great arrangements and beautiful vocals makes this album a release which I can warmly recommend for everyone who love majestic and atmospheric music! Send me a copy, please.” (Esa Holopainen, Amorphis)

I don`t think I can put into words how much that meant for us, it`s such a special feeling when a band we have looked up to and that has been a great inspiration for us, suddenly wants a copy of our new album. We are very grateful for it and wish Esa and Amorphis the best for the future!
A great thing is that they will play in Norway on a festival in the nearby of my hometown in a couple of days, so my friends and I will go over to see them live. I hope to have the chance thanking him face to face then and to give him a copy of our new album personally, like he wished.

If you had to choose the most representative song on this album, which one would it be and why?

Birgit: That´s really difficult to say, as on “The Metamorphosis Melody” the songs differ quite a lot. So please let me choose at least two songs. One is the opener and title track “The Metamorphosis Melody”. This song is in my opinion perfectly combining heaviness and melodies. When we play this song in our rehearsal room we are always all smiling and feel kind of magical atmosphere. We really like the combination of heavy and melodic guitars in this song, the wonderful refrain and the way of drumming. This song is really rocking! The song “The Tide” is more representative for our dreamy side. It starts with a dreamy acoustic part and is quite melancholic. Later on it develops to a very powerful and emotional song, which is about a very personal and emotional experience. Further songs on the album we all like a lot are “Kong Valemons Kamp”, “A Poet´s Prayer” and “My Re-Creation” and … ups sorry, more than two songs now. But I´m a girl, so it´s hard for me to make a decision (smiles, ndr).

midnattsol_intervista_2011_03

You still have song titles or entire lyrics written in Norwegian. Can you describe your own relationship with your mother country?

Carmen: Yes, that`s right, like on the two other albums as well. In the beginning I thought that people would find it strange when I sang in Norwegian, but during the years we`ve got so many requests from fans wanting us to write more songs in Norwegian, that`s very fascinating, it seems like the fans just can`t get enough of it! I`ve also got a lot of mails from fans writing in Norwegian, many say that they got the interest through Midnattsol, that`s so cool! It has actually become one of our trademarks to have songs in Norwegian. When I sing in Norwegian, it is very personal for me, it`s very naked and direct. Sometimes it feels right to sing the folk songs in Norwegian, it gives the song the special Nordic folk touch, like “En Natt I Nord” or “Motets Makt”. It wouldn`t give the same feeling in another language. But at the same time Norwegian is very difficult to sing, and English gives me more opportunities to experiments with words and express in different ways, because English has enormously more words than Norwegian, and is of course more understandable, so I wouldn`t be without English lyrics either. My relationship to my mother country is good, I love Norway with all its traditions, legends, the open-hearted people, not to forget the beautiful and mystical, often untouched nature and the fresh air. My roots are very important to me, and history and nordic mythology has interested me since I was a little child. What I`ve seen around the world, makes me filled with gratefulness that I live here in Norway, I'm very fortunate. At the same time, I also love to explore different cultures, languages and traditions, every country and people have their charm and beauty. All of us in Midnattsol love to travel, and for Birgit travelling belongs to her daily life, she has seen so much of the world already during both business trips and vacations. She has a very special relationship to Asia, it would mean a lot to her playing there one time. Alex is related to Uruguay and has a special relationship with South-America. Both of us speak Spanish fluently, which makes it easier to stay in touch with our South-American fans. All in all we in Midnattsol want to rock the stages and meet our fans all over the world, hope to meet YOU on one of our concerts! (smiles, ndr)

I guess you have already listened to the new Leaves' Eyes album, since you were also featured on the song “Sigrlinn”. What do you think about “Meredead”?

Carmen: Yes, that`s right, I think Leaves' Eyes has created another masterpiece, it`s a wonderful album. Especially I like “Sigrlinn”, a quite long song that has lots of variety, full of emotions and power. When I recorded the song I immediately got a film in my head and could be one with the song.  It`s always a fun experience singing together with Liv, we go totally crazy together (laugh, ndr). I also learned a lot, because I contributed to a choir, which I haven`t recorded before. But I have to say that I liked the new songs even more when I heard them live. To be on tour with Liv and the other ones in Leaves' Eyes is something that I will never forget, she is there for me whatever it is, we are going totally crazy on the sound checks, and to share stage with her singing “Sigrlinn” and “Kråkevisa” has just been indescribable, it has given me lots of magic moments.  And the members of Leaves' Eyes know how to party, they`re so funny!!! A highlight of the tour was the last day of our tour in the Rock'n'Roll Arena in Romagnano Sesia, when my fucking cool band mates jumped on the stage at the end of the “Sigrlinn”, banged like hell and we all rocked together! An unforgettable moment! (smiles, ndr)

Since we are talking about Liv Kristine, the biggest news is that Midnattsol and Leaves' Eyes went on tour together for the very first time. Did you feel excited? How would you describe the tour?

Birgit: Just a few days ago we came back from the European tour though Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy, so we are soooo sad that it is already over. It was the first tour in our 9 years band history which lasted more than 3 days in a row, unbelievable but true! So we were of course extremely excited and looking forward to it. Before the tour we thought: either we all hate us afterwards and split up or it will be an unforgettable and wonderful experience. I´m happy to say it was the second option - we had some of the best days of our lives and came even closer together, ready to repeat this anytime! The studio time was also almost one year ago, so we were very hot to play the songs finally live. We actually don´t really have a planned stage show where every step is studied. We have our backdrop, side drops, our equipment…and then we just go on stage and rock, make music, headbang and have fun! I think our show is quite natural and you can see that each concert is also very special for us and that we always have a lot of fun. As we don´t play too many concerts, it´s not routine for us and thus we never see it just as a job. We also changed a song from day to day to keep it interesting. Carmen and Liv even sang two songs together during the Leaves' Eyes show and the rest of Midnattsol was cheering for them. It was really funny to see Carmen on stage instead of sharing it together. These songs together with her sister were of course very special for Carmen and I know it was a wonderful experience for her. But to be honest, we have not only we were looking forward to the concerts; it was also the time which we would spent together, hanging around with the fans, drinking beer and having fun in the tour bus. And I can swear you, we had an unforgettable great time together; also together with Leaves Eyes we had lots of fun and we want to thank them a lot!

Thank you very much for this interview, girls. Please leave a message to all your Italian fans and SpazioRock redears!

Birgit/Carmen: Thanks you so much Marco for this interview and thanks a lot to our fans in Italy. The concerts in Bologna and in the Rock'n'Roll Arena in Romagnano Sesia have been awesome for us! It has been our first time to have a concert in Italy and the fans have been incredible – they even brought us self made Lasagna!!! Romagnano Sesia has been our last show of the tour, so especially there we partied and headbanged the whole night with the bands and Italian fans. We hope to repeat this soon and see you again in Italy!!! Thanks a lot for hospitality and your support! You rock!!!


Intervista
Cindy Blackman Santana: Cindy Blackman Santana

Speciale
L'angolo oscuro #11

Speciale
Stardust - Highway To Heartbreak

Speciale
Sinner's Blood - The Mirror Star

Speciale
Keep Playing, Eddie!

Speciale
Intervista - The Blackmordia (Peter; Max)