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In Words: Midnattsol

- Liv Kristine & Carmen Espenæs - June 2011 - C. Ehrhardt & M. Thompson -

Leaves' Eyes
© Stefan Heilemann

Liv Kristine & Carmen Espenæs - June 19th 2011 (by email)

Recently both Leaves' Eyes and Midnattsol released awesome albums within a few days of each other. With this and the fact that they were due to play on tour together for the first time ever, I thought it would be cool to pose some question to both of the Espenæs sisters together. Here's what they had to say!

Both bands are signed to Napalm Records and you've both released albums your new albums at the same time, so is there any sort of sibling rivalry to see which album is more successful?

Carmen: First of all, thank you so much for this interview Mike, such a cool idea! :) No, it has never even hit my mind thinking like that, both my band mates and I want both albums to be successful. I wish Liv all the best in all areas of her life. If she's not happy, I'm not happy, we are like soul mates, even though there's years between us. It has been like that since I can remember, we have always been there for each other and have a very unique relationship, its like a part of me is missing when she's not around. She and Leon will stay here some days visiting me in my new house in Norway, and I really notice how alive I feel around them. Hope Alex can come next time too!

Liv: No, there is no rivalry whatsoever between the two of us, nor between the bands. Touring with Midnattsol was such a pleasure and great fun. You bet we had some unforgettable after-show parties. ;-) Carmen grew up with metal, including Theatre Of Tragedy, and even attended to our concerts at a very young age. She has always been a fantastic support, and an important critic in my life.

How do you both feel about the reactions to the new albums? From what I've read it seems that they've been greatly appreciated!

Liv: Absolutely. This warms my heart. The critics have been absolutely amazing for both Meredead and The Metamorphosis Melody. Moreover, the live appearances we just did were very energetic with a fantastic audience! It feels like something wonderful is happening, I am able to touch the hearts of my fans and friends with our art, I am incredibly happy! I know that this how Carmen is feeling too. It's all about giving and taking between the artist and the audience. I call it exchange of energy, inspiration and unforgettable, wonderful moments.

Carmen: That's great to hear, thanx for sharing! I guess both the members of Leaves' Eyes and Midnattsol feel that the new album is the best album till now in each of the band's histories, and then you of course have high expectations for the reactions, we walked around for a long time feeling these butterflies in our stomachs. Till now we have got overwhelming good feedback, people who have followed us for years say that they can hear our development very clearly. One of the first reviews and at the same time a review that means a lot to us was a statement from Esa from 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 can't put into words how much that meant for me and the rest of the band, thank you so much Esa! Of course, there will always be people who don't like our development too, but that's life in music business ;)

Everywhere I look I see good reviews of Meredead, which they really deserve, and on tour I saw the excitement about the new songs in the fans eyes personally. :)

Did either of you approach the writing and recording of the latest songs differently to in the past?

Carmen: Yes, all of the band members in Midnattsol are 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. I was working day and night with the melodies of the vocal lines and wrote the lyrics. 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! :)

Liv: In between the touring for Njord Thorsten, Alexander and myself felt a great inspiration to continue composing for our fourth full-length album. All in all we needed about 1.5 years, which is quite quick thinking about all the touring we did during 2009 and 2010. Alexander, Thorsten and myself are the song-writing and production team. Most of the time, music comes first, then vocal lines and words and then we work even more on the instruments. For the production of Meredead it was highly important to us that each song had its own 'face', individuality and perfect, crystal clear sound to strengthen the emotional effect. We just let the music inspire us to add new and interesting 'spices' to our music, like pipes, nyckelharpa (Swedish folk instrument), the fiddle, cello, classical orchestra or the flute. That's what makes the album that diverse and exciting as you discover a different story, different instrumental combinations, different ways of singing even in various languages in each song.

Be critics and tell us what you think of each other's albums! ;)

Carmen: I think Leaves' Eyes has created another masterpiece with Meredead, it's a wonderful album!! I just love the folky touch on the album, I think it's much folkier than the other albums, and the traditional Norwegian folk song Kråkevisa and heart-touching Mine Tårer Er Ei Grimme are among my favorites. My absolute favorite is Sigrlinn, a quite long song that has lots of variety, full of emotions and power. Of course it means a lot to me since I have sung on it, but its such a special and different song, and one of the best Leaves' Eyes has ever made I think. The album starts with the majestic and powerful Spirit Masquerade, and when I listen to it, I always get the great memories from our tour back, because their shows started with this song too, I feel the excitement so to say. The ballad Empty Horizon is also so beautiful! Liv's voice is so unique and has the most crystal clear voice I've ever heard. She never sings a false tone, how does she do that?! :) Interesting is that on tour when I heard the new.

Liv: The Metamorphosis Melody is running in my car every day! I think my son knows it by heart, listening to his aunt Carmen! What I love about Midnattsol is that the roots are obviously more folk-allied. The songs sung in Norwegian language really touch my heart, but Kong Valemons Kamp is also one of my favorites. Spellbound is sung as if Carmen is telling a complete story, but the melancholic The Tide and Goodbye (with mouth harp and cello) goes even deeper emotionally. The Metamorphosis Melody, is, in my opinion, the best Midnattsol album until now! Moreover, if you get the chance to hear and see Midnattsol play the songs live, you will experience even more wonderful and powerful 'Metamorphosis Melodies'! The best thing is that Carmen has a voice that is not comparable to any other metal female singer. She sings from the heart and has her own style!

Leaves' Eyes have recorded covers on the last two albums. Why did you decide to cover Mike Oldfield's To France for the new album?

Liv: To France that we covered, by Mike Oldfield and Maggie Railey, is actually our promotion single. Moreover, we already shot a video for it in Sweden a while ago in a Scottish castle with Revolver / Patric Ulläeus, my favorite producer. It was my guitarist Sander's idea to cover it. I practiced 'for fun' along to Maggie Railey when I was little, in front of the mirror, with a hairbrush in my hand. Her voice has always fascinated me.<br>
For To France you did a video, why did you choose the cover? And please tell us a bit about the making of the video!

Liv: This was the third time for me working with Patric, and it's always a pleasure! Wonderful things always happen in Gothenburg! That morning, as we arrived at the castle, the weather was quite gloomy, with rain and wind. One hour later, as I was prepared to be filmed, standing at the old mosaic window you see in the clip, the sun rays forced themselves through the clouds, and shone through the glass! Patric, his team and myself got that fantastic moment on film and you can see in the clip! That was truly a magic moment. The whole stone-built castle was filled with warmth and light, moreover, we had sun until we left Sweden two days later, which is very untypical for Gothenburg weather in February / March!

© Angst im Wald

Carmen, you choose Kong Valemons Kampf or a teaser video with scenes from the studio, please enlighten us why this tune and if you plan to do a video clip for this or another track!

Carmen: We get this request so often, but unfortunately I have to say that we don't have a concrete plan for the moment to make a music video for our new songs. The songs are quite long, which isn't that fortunate for music videos, and we also struggle with time problems due to the fact that we're all working full-time besides the music. But I'm sure that we will manage to make a music video one day, the will is there, and it would be great to finally fulfil the wish of our fans!!

The reason for choosing Kong Valemons Kamp is because its among each of the band members favorite on The Metamorphosis Melody, and because our keyboarder Daniel filmed some short video clips of all the Midnattsol's during the recordings in Studio E of exactly this song, so it felt natural to use this song then. We have also made other video clips for you; previews of the DVD, the release of the title and news, and there's even more to come, so check it out on our homepage!

Does Midnattsol have any covers planned and would you ever cover one of each other's songs, perhaps as an EP or something?

Carmen: Hehe, funny idea, never thought of that before! Normally we don't cover any songs in Midnattsol, we focus on our own written songs, but you shall never say never! :) What we have done is to make a new kind of metal version out of traditional Norwegian folk songs or melodies like the songs Tapt av Håp on our debut Where Twilight Dwells and En Natt I Nord on Nordlys.

This year you're touring together for the very first time. How's it going so far? What have the audience reactions been like to the duet of Sigrlinn?

Liv: Actually, we just arrived from tour with Carmen and Midnattsol. The live gigs were full of magic moments when 'the ladies' get together! It was fantastic to have my sweet and lovely sister next to me on stage, singing in Norwegian dialect on Sigrlinn and Kråkevisa! My heart was pounding, I am so proud of Carmen!

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! And the audience went crazy when they saw us sharing the stage and singing Kråkevisa and Sigrlinn together. We went crazy ourselves, it was an indescribable feeling, like a dream coming true singing with her, and the whole tour has given my band mates and me lots of magic moments. The members of Leaves' Eyes for sure 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 band mates jumped on the stage at the end of the Sigrlinn, banged like hell and we all rocked together! An unforgettable moment! :)

Will you record something for YouTube? Do a kind of vlog?

Liv: Whenever we get the chance, we will do so. I will see Carmen in a few days in Norway. You know what, last time we planned to do so, we ended up doing funny faces in the camera instead. Sorry about that! Carmen is the only one with whom I can crack these silly jokes. ;-)

Carmen: Hehe, that's true, its always ending with these silly faces and we're laughing around till we're laying on the floor, it's difficult to stay serious when we're filming stuff together! ;) But at least we made to film a little video message before the tour, and you can find some video clips of us singing on stage together during the tour on Youtube. And if there shows up a video of good sound quality, we will of course share it with you! :)

I must admit I'm a little gutted that Midnattsol aren't coming to the UK with Leaves' Eyes. Perhaps in the future? What's the reason for there only being a few dates with you both together?

Liv: I really hope so in the future! Carmen is working as a class-teacher in a Norwegian secondary school, and everybody in Midnattsol has their jobs. Finding fitting dates is always difficult. I am so happy we were able to tour together in April. It was truly one of my finest and best live experiences!

Carmen: Like Liv says, it's not easy for both bands to find many dates at the same time, because of the fact that there are two teachers in two different countries in Midnattsol. But that doesn't mean that we don't want to, we try everything to make it happen! It was so fantastic that it finally became true and we could have our first tour together, and we also played at the Durbuy Festival together. We're going to play at a couple of festivals together too, but unfortunately not in the UK. Let's hope for that for the future, we really want to show our fans in the UK the new songs! :)

At the show in Frankfurt you just announced that Matthias is now an official member of the band. Why not announcing it before the tour? Or did it need a few days on the road to be totally convinced that he's the right one?

Carmen: Yes, you're exactly right, we found Matthias a couple of weeks before the tour, and he got the difficult task to learn the songs in very short time. We got so impressed how fast he has learned the songs and got a very good feeling about him and connection straight away :) Still, we wanted to wait till after the tour, just to be on the safe side. Its 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 its 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! :) After having been on tour with him a few days, we were 100% sure that he is the right guy and didn't want to wait any longer, he rules the stage even though his last gig was at his school at a school celebration. Can you imagine? ;) We totally surprised him at our gig in Frankfurt where we knew that many of his people had come to see him, it was an awesome night! :)

Carmen, you gave a guest vocal performance on the song Sigrlinn. How did it feel to sing on your sister's album? Why did you choose this particular song for a duet? Will Liv sing on a Midnattsol album in the future?

Carmen: I guess Liv wanted to have more variation in the song Sigrlinn, because of the fact that its quite long. I felt so honored when Liv asked me to sing on the song, and it was an amazing experience! It feels like the connection between us gets even stronger when we sing together, and when I listen to the songs where we both sing when I'm home in Norway, I always get kind of sentimental, I miss her so much, and through the song, I feel that she's close to me in a way.

When I recorded the song, I immediately got a film in my head and could be one with the song. It was also a lot of fun, we went crazy like always and ended up jumping around and growling and stuff. Hehehe :) I learned a lot as well, because I contributed to a choir, which I haven't recorded before.

Liv: We have plans, yes, but we won't tell yet!

Liv, for the new record it seems that Alexander's vocals have been toned down compared to previous Leaves' Eyes albums. Any particular reason for this?

Liv: No, it wasn't planned that way. Alex is also our producer – he has more than enough to do in the mix! He slept only half of the night hours compared to Thorsten and myself, if he slept at all! Due to the number of guest musicians on this album, Alex is less present on this album. That was the decision of the three of us after having recorded all guest vocals. Alex is absolutely fine with that! You can hear much more of him on our just-released EP Melusine by the way!

A little about the cover art... Carmen, The Metamorphosis Melody is the first Midnattsol album to not feature yourself or Birgit Öllbrunner on the cover. Any reason for this?

Carmen: All the covers of the Midnattsol albums have had a special meaning and a deep connection with the title, lyrics and the music. On Where Twilight Dwells I am pictured on the cover, but its not Carmen, its Huldra walking around in the mystic Nordic nature where the twilight dwells. Hehe ;) Its the same on Nordlys, Birgit and I shall represent together the northern light (nordlys) which is created between the extreme poles. Last but not least the cover of The Metamorphosis Melody, which was made by the fantastic designer Stefan Heilemann, who fulfilled our expectations to the fullest, shows a little girl in front of a changing path, in deep connection with the title and the songs. The title shall symbolize that we in Midnattsol have gone through a metamorphosis ourselves, we have gone through a great development process since Nordlys. 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 a.s.o. This is reflected in the lyrics, 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. Ever song treats the common theme development, transformation or a change in some way or another, and should be an inspiration to development, personal as well as globally.

Regarding the cover, where is this path leading? Does she have a special goal that she will follow? Does the little girl enter in the end or does she change her mind? That's questions that we want to leave to you listeners, listen to our album and interpret and reflect yourself. :) There are so many tiny details to discover both on the cover and in the booklet, everything is connected to each other. Our goal is to lead your imagination and let your fantasy flow, hopefully The Metamorphosis Melody will give you something very special! :)

Liv, tell us a little about the idea behind the artwork for Meredead. Also, the title of the album is quite unusual, what does it mean to you?

Liv: We've known Stefan for some years already, he is also the mind behind the artwork of Njord, and my solo album Skintight. Stefan and Alexander (who is a fantastic painter) exchange ideas continuously. It seems like Stefan is able to read Alexander's mind somehow. Stefan is truly exceptional! He is also my favorite photographer. We are very pleased with the artwork of Meredead and Melusine, too! It's funny, many people already asked me why I'm not on the album cover of both of them. I think I look too 'sweet' and 'angel-like' for the album. She represents both the beauty of the sea and at the same time the dangerous ocean! I think the girl on the cover is really beautiful! I am going to ask Stefan if I can meet her someday, hehe. The title is my own word-creation: To my grammatical knowledge, 'Meredead' could mean 'dead by the sea', 'or the deadly sea'. Poetically, we could add some imagination and lyrical sound and say 'Sea of Death'. Secondly, the word 'Meredead' sums up some of the themes rooted in my lyrics on the album.

Leaves' Eyes just entered the German Alternative Charts at #10, a big surprise?

Liv: (blush). I am really happy about this! I am so proud of my band members, I sometimes call them 'Leaves' guys'!

It seems that you both have not just the love of music in common, also you both like teaching. Have you ever thought about combining this? Perhaps start some kind of singers camp / class...

Liv: I would love doing that! Actually, Carmen and myself already talked about founding a 'music school' for children with special needs, abilities and features. I am teaching English in primary school when I am not on tour. It such an inspiration working with children!

Carmen: Cool that you mention that, because for years Liv and I have been having this dream about sharing and combining our passion for music, languages and teaching and founding a school together where we music and languages would be the main subjects. It would be so awesome to work with my own sister! Now I work at a secondary school in a little village in Norway, I teach English, Spanish, German and Norwegian. And you know what, many of the students are fans of Leaves' Eyes / Midnattsol! :)

What are your plans for the second half of 2011? Any latest news to share?

Liv: Next week we are visiting my family in Norway! We are going to stay at Carmen's newly built house!

Watch out for more shows and new dates on our web site. We are planning to do one Asian and one American tour next to the European gigs. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to all fans and friends who have been there for us during the years!

Carmen: We have just played in Hungary for the first time, and our next gig will be a very special one, because its right in the nearby of our band members hometown (and my second home. ;) ): Ludwigsburg in the South of Germany. It will be on the great Arena stage on the 9th of July. Leaves' Eyes and Atrocity will play there as well – yeeh! :) Afterwards we're going to have a great after show party in the local metal club Rockfabrik, where all of us have spent uncountable nights.

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!

A big goal would be to play on different stages all around the world, also outside Europe, and we hope to be able to play an Asia tour later this year! We'll keep you informed on our homepage, which now has a brand new make-over, or on our other social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter or our brand new Myspace site.

Our fans are the best in the world, thank you so much for your great support!! :)

Also a big thanx from both of us once again for this special interview, we wish you good luck further on! :)

There's obviously a great deal of love and respect between these two singing sisters! Maybe we'll be lucky enough to see Leaves' Eyes and Midnattsol together at some festivals or shows in the future! In the meantime check out the latest albums!

A huge thanks goes out to Liv and Carmen for agreeing to this interview and for giving such great answers!

Claudia Ehrhardt & Mike Thompson


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