Interview: Phantasma

On November 20th Phantasma released The Deviant Hearts. DutchMetalManiac got the opportunity to ask Phantasma’s Charlotte Wessels some questions. So Glenn van der Heijden asked her some questions.

It’s been four weeks since you released The Deviant Hearts, how is the reaction to the album so far?

So far I’ve only seen positive responses. The reviews have been great, most reviews so far have been focused on the music CD and not so much on the novella but that’s fine. The response from the audience has been really good as well. Actually the only negative response I’ve seen so far were from people who found the album not as ‘loud’ as they expected when thinking of Georg Neuhauser (Serenity) and my main bands. So far we can be really satisfied with the response that we’ve gotten.

It’s a beautiful album.

I’m glad you enjoyed it.

It’s the first time you did a side-project on your own, isn’t it?

It is not really but it is the first project we did within our genre getting this kind of attention. Last year I did the music for a Dutch television series for example but it wasn’t related to metal, and because it was for a TV-series the reach of that wasn’t quite as big.

How did the idea for working on this project with Georg Neuhauser, Oliver Philips and the other musicians came to pass?

I’ve known Georg for a very long time as Serenity and Delain have toured together. They have supported us on several of our headline tours and this resulted in a collaboration where I sang on Serenity’s Death & Legacy record on the song Serenade of Flames. I also have been working with Oliver for a very long time actually; for over 10 years now. He’s been involved with Delain’s records in one way or another, actually on every one of the records.
Georg initially had the idea to do a concept record outside of the parameters of his main band Serenity. At one point he asked me if I wanted to do some vocals and I said sure. He then asked Oliver Philips (Everon) whether he’d like to make an album together and they brainstormed about it. They both agreed that they would like to do a concept record but none of them had an idea for the actual concept.
It was Oliver’s idea to get me involved as part of the creative team and to come up with a concept. I thought about it for a very long time since I always like to do things on the side and it’s always interesting to step out of your comfort-zone a bit. However, I never really had the ambition to do a concept album. I don’t know a lot of them and the ones I do know I either love to bits or I don’t like them at all, so before I said yes I had to really think about how I was going to do it and make it personal and meaningful.
I was recommended by a lot of people to listen to a lot of concept albums, but I did the exact opposite and didn’t listen to any of them. Instead I really looked inside myself to see what I wanted to do. It wasn’t until I had the idea for The Deviant Hearts and the idea to actually include a book with the CD so that the lyrics don’t have to do all the work but you still have the freedom to make the songs a bit more autonomous with a little bit of a story of themselves. It wasn’t until I figured out the combination of the book and the cd and what the actual story would be, that I said yes of course let’s go for it and lets do this and then we all went in like 200% and did all the work.

How was it for you to include and write a novella for this project, because I hear you mentioning the novella so I think you would be pretty excited about that? I know I would be!

Yeah, its kind of like with all the things that I am really passionate about. At one point I just want to do it myself and that’s the very reason I ended up doing music, its not because I at the beginning thought I was such a marvelous musician, its more like that I loved music so much that I want to do it myself and I have the same thing with books, I love to read and I love to lose myself in a different world for a while, I wish I had more time for it, but also there I had the secret ambition of maybe one day writing a longer piece of fiction by myself too. I never had a really good reason to do that because of course I was busy enough doing music, but when Georg came with the question of doing the concept album, for me that was, first of all a reason to really kick myself in the butt, just do it, because I knew there will be a deadline, I knew it would be published and I knew that it also have to be done at one point. At the other hand it really solved a creative puzzle for me in how I could make a concept record that still works in the way that I like to write the lyrics for the songs. So, I am really excited about it, but it was also a horrible process because of course I have never done it before and me and my big mouth just said “yeah sure, I’ll write a book, no problem”. Of course it’s not as easy as that. So I spend a lot of time writing it and rewriting it. Fortunately I had great help from good friends, who pre-read and helped me on the editing. It’s definitely exciting, but it’s also kind of scary gets to read it now. From the people that have read it, I got positive response or they haven’t dare to tell me that it sucked, but I think so far everybody likes it.

That’s great to hear. I can imagine you never wrote a book before, so that must have been really scary.

Yeah, it was and the real thing is that the story itself developed quite easily. At one point the story was on replay in my head, like a movie. All I could do was get it on paper, but the problem was that what I got on paper was never as good as it looked in my head. So I really had to train myself and practice to really describe everything you envision there and put it on paper. This is where I actually could have used some practice of writing some shorter stories, before I said “Yes, I’ll write a book”. This is usually how I work, I like to jump into the deep and see what comes out. I’m actually pleased how it worked out for my first novella.

Do you think that storytelling in music is important in general?

I do think that every now and then there’s a song that’s just more fun and made you a bit more on the shallow side, but they only see through every now and then. Usually, on a record that’s not a concept record, I do like each song to tell a story, but it’s more like a collection of stories. With a concept album it’s a collection of stories that chronologically makes sense as one big story as well. I do think, especially as a singer, that it’s really important to tell a story, because what you saying must be interesting. It should get people listening, not only in the way the music flows. You can really add another dimension to it if you can touch people on their level of words as well. The funny thing is that I know a lot people that say they don’t listen to lyrics, but every time I come with bad lyrics, they feel like there’s something wrong. If you have very good lyrics, even if they are not really listening to what you’re saying, they will know, even if it is by the intention why you sing it. You will know too by bad lyrics.

If the music is instrumentally interesting enough, you could still have an interesting product but if you add something that worked lyrically as well, then it’s another point you can shine. I am not saying there aren’t any good songs with rubbish lyrics, but they probably would be better songs if the lyrics would have been good.

Do you think that you have been vocally challenged more than before?

I don’t really think I have been vocally challenged on this record. To be honest I think Delain records have been more vocally challenging. For me, when you get to the point when you’re going to record your vocals, the hard work has already been done, because in the writing process and getting everything where it should be this is the thing where you have to just do it. I never really concern on what I want to show with my voice, because in the first place it’s really my instinct to look at the song in total and look at what this song needs. A lot of songs don’t need a lot of vocal escapades to work.

You just want to release something that you feel very passionate about.

I want to think about the song in total, not just about my vocal performance, so I put the song first together with the story I am going to tell. For example, if you’re singing about something really sad or challenging, for me it would feel strange to put a lot of technical things on it, because usually, when you’re feeling sad your voice would be breaking from sadness. I try to make my vocal performance to serve what I am singing. I heard much people say that I am sing differently on Phantasma’s record then on Delain’s records. If that’s true, that’s just mainly because the songs are different and about different stories. I didn’t really think of singing different, it’s with the same person in the same studio. So the circumstances were quite similar. It’s really in the songs themselves that I did different things as well.

Music is a kind of feeling, right? If you don’t feel it, you won’t do it.


Do you think Phantasma is possibly going to have more albums?

So far, we have been so busy making the deadline for Phantasma and after that we were straight thrown back into Serenity and Delain’s deadlines. So, we haven’t talked about it extensively. What I think, at the moment, none of us have the time to embark on a second record for Phantasma. On the other hand, we did have a lot of fun doing this record and we all are very happy about the outcome, so I don’t want to exclude the possibility of ever doing a part two of this. It’s just not something we will do now or in the very near future.

I understand you are all very busy with your own bands, so it’s very hard to find the time for it.

Exactly, my motto is ‘you should do it right or you should not do it at all’. With Phantasma I found the time and I didn’t have to do any less because I was doing this, but I did not have a lot of rest. The rest is the only thing I have sacrificed. I would definitely been charged again before I throw myself in another one of these projects. Delain asks for fulltime attention, effort and energy. There’s always something that you could do more.

Did it feel differently working on Phantasma then working on Delain?

Nor with Delain, nor on this album I work alone, so it’s also the combination with different people which makes it a different result. One of the things that was very nice, as with every debut album, there’s no expectation of what we’re going to do style-wise. Basically, with every idea that I had, there wasn’t anything that we have to say no to based on not fitting it with whatever style. We don’t have fans yet expecting something from us and nobody basically knew that we were even working on it. The only reason why I put one of my own ideas aside is when I thought this could be as well a Delain song. That’s the only reason I have dismissed songs for, because doing a side-project like this is a nice opportunity to also work on the song ideas I have that will not fit Delain. That were the only boundaries. For the rest it was all very easy-going. We all presented our songs, they were all very different from each other. Georg with his classic rock background, Oliver with his progressive background and me more from the alternative corner. Oliver just did a very great job by giving all the songs the arrangements. Writing the novella was really hard, but the whole musical process of which Oliver did a lot of work, that was actually very easy-going. I basically brought in my song ideas, Oliver worked over all of it, I got them back at one point to work on the lyrics. So it was very easy-going.

So you say you had more freedom doing this then you have in Delain?

I wouldn’t say I had more freedom then I have with Delain, because the freedom is there in Delain as well, but let say this album is more comparable with the first album we did with Delain. With the first album for Delain it was the same, there weren’t expectations yet. It’s more of a matter of a first record, compared to a next one. The fact that it is a debut, that makes it easy. A thing that we didn’t have to think about, for example, when we write songs with Delain we know which songs will work live. Since we play over a hundred shows per year, the songs working well live is a very important criteria writing songs. For example, we won’t write such a big amount of ballads for Delain’s cd, because this is something you just do once or twice in your set when you play a headline set. Other than that, it’s not really a thing that we enjoyed on the stage, but since this project of Phantasma wasn’t really made especially with the idea of touring, this was also something that was easier to do. it’s not a matter of creative freedom, it’s more of a matter that this is a very different product, with a different goal, for what reason you can make different choices.

Is there a favorite song on the album or one thing you really proud of?

I am really fan of The Lotus And The Willow, because it’s such an odd track that I wouldn’t have used for anything else and it really felt in the right place on this project. I am really happy about that. I really like Oliver’s vocals there and I love what he has done in the middle part. I think it’s just one of those weird ideas and I am so happy that I could actually used it for something on which it felt totally into place. So I really like that one, but I am never good at picking favorites. I also really like Miserable Me, it’s one of Georg’s tracks and it fit so well with one of the characters from the book. It was like the lyrics wrote themselves. It was one of those presents where all just falls into places nicely. I really have a lot of tracks that I really like, so it’s hard to pick favorites.

I really loved The Lotus And The Willow, it’s indeed a very nice song.

I am really happy to hear that, thank you!

You mentioned you are all really busy with your other bands and we already spoke a bit about it, but is Phantasma going to tour a bit or something?

Phantasma isn’t a touring project. I need too much focus and I have too much ambition with Delain to have anything take that much time away from it. I wouldn’t know where to find the time for touring with something else. So, I don’t see that happening, but with how theatrical the music is, the story at the heart of it and with the rich visual world I do think this project would have the potential of being a very big theater show. I mean with a very big production and everything you could think about. Again, do it right or don’t do it at all, I would better do like a few very exclusive great shows than to do a long tour with more traditional things.

I would certainly go and see that.

That’s good to know. I will hold you to it, haha.

You worked with very different people over the years, is there anyone you would like to work with in the future? Or is there anyone on which you remembered that is was such a great experience?

I enjoyed all the guest appearances we had on albums, whether it’s on Delain’s work or Phantasma’s work, because it’s always such a great suprise to see how people interpret your music and what they do with it themselves. So I already striped a lot of my bucket list, I am really proud of that. For the future, I am just going to aim high here, Thom Yorke and Nick Cave are probably my biggest musical idols, but in the light of the record and the atmosphere we are talking about right now, if I could sing a murder ballad with Nick Cave, than I can die peacefully.

I have a suggestion, I would love to hear you sing with Anneke van Giersbergen.

I would actually love to do that too! She’s definitely on the list, she’s so lovely and I really enjoyed having her on the ride, so I’ll pen it down, thank you! Actually I did sing with her once, it was on a Dutch festival, it was celebrating Dutch music and we had like a band just for the day and I think we sang some songs together as well, but it was all Dutch language.

Is there anything left you would like to say?

I would love to thank everybody who listens to the album, who reads this. Thanks very much for the interest. It’s all very much appreciated. Thank you for the interview and hope to see you on the road someday.

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