Leaves' Eyes are like a pearl sitting quietly on the ocean floor waiting to be discovered. Few people in North America have heard of them although that is beginning to change as their incredible talent gets heard. The band got together a few years ago when Norwegian vocalist Liv Kristine left her former band Theatre of Tragedy and formed a new unit with German metal group Atrocity.
Their latest record Vinland Saga was released earlier this year and got a boost from the exposure from Liv's collaboration with Cradle of Filth on last year's Nymphetamine song and video. The stunningly gorgeous vocalist was nominated for a Grammy along with the band for their efforts. Vinland Saga is a concept record which Liv will explain to us. Along with Leaves' Eyes, Liv is releasing a solo record next spring which displays different sides to the singer, from rock to pop.
I saw Leaves' Eyes and Atrocity in Montreal recently on the ill-fated International Extreme Music Festival and they were spectacular. Their music is lush, majestic and dramatic which makes for a compelling stage show. Unfortunately because of problems on the tour, the band ended up arriving late and were limited to a short set of six songs. However, they made the most of the time they had. Liv was resplendent in her royal attire and flanked by the band, delivered a powerful set. Highlights include the set closer and probably their best song, "Elegy" as well as "Into Your Light" from last year's Lovelorn.
Leaves' Eyes also includes Liv's husband, singer Alexander Krull (also the producer), Mathias Röderer and Thorsten Bauer on guitar, bassist Chris Lukhaup and drummer Moritz Neuner.
I spoke to Liv following the show and she is one of the sweetest, most genuine people I've had the privilege of meeting. After Alexander secured us a quiet spot for a chat, she talked about what a full year it's been.
antiMusic: How has your tour gone so far? I heard your tour bus was in an accident?
Liv: Yes, this has been a challenging tour (laughs). Our tour bus was involved in an accident in Detroit and we ended up missing a few shows. The fans have been great at all of our shows, however, and we really appreciate them coming to see us. As a mother though, I have been missing home and while I love all of our shows and fans, I'm anxious to get home as you can understand (Liv is married to Alexander and they have a son). We've been away for two weeks now and I think that's really the longest we can go. Both Alexander and I don't think that the road is any place for an infant so he stays with Alexander's parents.
antiMusic: It's been quite a year for you. You just barely got home from the Lovelorn tour and started the new record which was released this spring. You've been on the road ever since.
Liv: Well, we like to be busy (laughs). And Alexander always has to be doing something and he keeps busy with all of his responsibilities with both bands. We also own our own studio and Alexander helps with different bands and the record companies.
antiMusic: Congratulations on the record. It's definitely a progression over Lovelorn which was already a great record. How has Vinland Saga been received around the world?
Liv: We've been amazed at the response from around the world. It's sold well in places we weren't expecting like Australia and Japan.
antiMusic: Lovelorn was released in Aug of 2004. You really cranked out the new record which is amazing considering all that went into it.
Liv: We felt really inspired after finishing our European tour at the end of 2004. That was the first tour of Leaves Eyes. And the response from the audience was just fantastic. So when we returned shortly before Christmas….I just expected everybody to go home and to spend their time with the families and turn up sometimes after New Years. But everybody turned up in the studio early, eager to start composing new songs. So everything happened very fast. We needed about two months longer than for Lovelorn. So, it seemed like after we had written about 8 or 9 songs, we realized that the Vinland Saga was going to be a bit more complex than Lovelorn. We were a little bit worried, though, how to…you always want to be better…to develop as an artist and the response we got for Lovelorn was fantastic so we were afraid that…OK, are we going to make it happen this time? Are we going to make everybody happy? But still, we always want to do our own thing and follow our own minds and hearts and inspiration. So after having written 9 songs, we realized that OK, there's a lot more to do on this album: record strings, natural instruments…not using samplers anymore…which took a bit longer than planned. And trying out different singing manners like choir-like singing and Celtic singing, Norwegian folk-inspired singing. So there were lots of things going on. But I think we managed to put everything together in a nice way so we can all say that we're 100% satisfied with the album.
antiMusic: From what I read, Vinland Saga has a whole concept. Can you share it with us?
Liv: It's about the discovery of America, about 100 years ago. So I think I was just feeling a little bit homesick when I started thinking about the concept and the lyrics and I started thinking about a historical theme…something important that happened in Norwegian history.
antiMusic: Can we go through the record track by track and just get a couple of lines about each song?
It's the introduction to the album. Some of the lyrics are sung in Norwegian. And I written originally in English but the rest of the guys asked me to try and translate it into Norwegian. So I did and at first I thought, OK it's very personal to sing in your mother tongue and I had to get used to it. And now I really like it. I think it gives the listener an idea that this deals with Norwegian or at least Scandinavian history and culture.
"Farewell Proud Men"
At this point in the album, a group of men are leaving the west coast of Norway heading towards Greenland. So they are just about to leave everybody at home and nobody knows where the journey will end and how long it will take. But they are actually heading to Greenland to visit the father of the crew, Leif Eriksson.
The group of men have left and one of the men on board is a German which is actually a historical fact. But my own fictional story starts here because I just thought there are so many men in this history, we need at least one female. This young man has left his wife home in Norway and she is complaining about how she missing him and that she hopes she will see him again soon. And he is complaining too. He's starting to think about the situation at home and he doesn't know if he'll return so he's a little bit sad as well.
Bad weather. So the guys experience bad weather and they actually miss Greenland. They can't see it. It's just about the different moods of the ocean.
It's actually the track on the album that I enjoy the most myself concerning writing lyrics and composing it too. It's a song from her to him. Back then, they didn't have mobile phones or anything of course, so they often communicated by nature. So the tree is a symbol of life and for the Vikings, it's a symbol for the spring and summer. So she's actually going to the tree and the tree, she believes, transmitting her thoughts across the Atlantic.
The ocean has now become very angry and so the guys are now heading to America and there is a storm and the winds are high and they're fighting for their lives. And she is feeling this at home in Norway. And the fierce ocean is a thorn because of the battle to survive but she doesn't know if he'll survive this and ever return.
"Misseri (Turn Green Meadows Into Grey)"
Misseri means in Old Norse half year. So the Vikings have two half years. They didn't have spring and fall. They only had summer and winter. So the tree is a symbol of the summer and time is passing by and she begins to realize how much time as passed by since her husband left home.
"Amhran (Song of the Winds)" (antiMusic: I heard you made up your own language for this track.)
It's a track which is based on vocals. It was an idea that I had on my way to the bakery shop. I forgot about the bakery shop and returned to the studio and recorded the song right away. It was like a very sudden idea and the instruments were recorded afterwards. It's just a song that was inspired by the Middle Ages. We'll, in this case, it was inspired by Norwegian folk music and also Celtic folk music. Actually, I wanted to write a lyric in Gaelic because the title means "song in Gaelic" in old Irish but I couldn't find an old Irish teacher in the south of Germany so I had to forget about the Gaelic lyric so I just sat down and put together three languages, Old English, Old Norse and the little Gaelic I know. So it's just a fictional language.
New Found Land
Pretty straight forward. The men reach land.
We return to her now and she is hoping that he'll return because almost a year has passed.
One year has passed and the group of men are thinking about heading home. Because normally when Vikings build up new settlements, they spend at least the winter at the new place. So they spent almost a year there and they are now thinking about returning home. That's where they're looking into the twilight and thinking OK, it's time to go home.
It means arrival. So they are sailing towards the west coast of Norway and they see the houses and everything they love and everything they've been missing for one year and at least our main character arrives safely home. And Leif Erickson does too, as we know in history.
antiMusic: That's an ambitious project. Once you started, did you regret getting involved in all of this?
Liv: I had so much fun and pleasure doing this. There was certainly no lack of inspiration. So that's why we ended up with 16 songs at the end and we had to make a mini album instead of a single where you have 5 remixes which is what people normally do nowadays. So we said let's offer our audience a bit more for the money and make a mini album. It would be such a pity to leave out the tracks that didn't fit on the mini album but all of those songs are part of Vinland Saga.
antiMusic: How long did this whole project take?
Liv: It took about six months.
antiMusic: How does the song writing work in Leaves' Eyes? Who comes up with the initial idea and how does it develop?
Liv: Well, everybody is involved in the song writing process. But I'm responsible for concepts, lyrics and vocal lines but everybody is present when we record things.
antiMusic: Is it a challenge combining family life and your profession when you're a mother and also part of a band that is just starting to break worldwide?
Liv: Well, actually life has only become better. I'm the luckiest and happiest person in the world. I was a student for seven years and I just finished my studies two years ago…a master's degree. I was actually busier, at least when it comes to…..if you are involved in your studies, you have to read and write a lot. And it takes energy and it takes time. And being a mother, of course, you have to be mentally and psychologically with your child all the time but that's just a wonderful thing. I wanted to become a mother myself when I was very young but I waited until I finished my studies. I promised my grandmother to do it this way. And it was very good advice because when you don't have to care about your studies anymore, you DO have more time. And you have more mental space to deal with different things. So I think being a mother and being an artist just works…it's perfect. We also have our own studio (Master Sound Studios), so we actually take our child with us. So he's with us all day long. It's a dream for many people. I'm just so happy that everything works so well. Except on tour….but we try to space it out so we're not always gone long from him.
antiMusic: How did your connection with the Nymphetamine song and video come about? Were you familiar with Cradle of Filth prior to that? Did you work with them or were your tracks and scenes shot separately?
Liv: It was an honour for Cradle and me to be nominated for the Grammy. Doing the song was a great experience. I got the call from them saying they wanted me to sing on the song and they sent a copy over to me of the basic track and I just loved it. I called Dani and wanted to talk to him about it a little to see what his idea behind it was and I had a definite idea of how I wanted to approach it and fortunately we both agreed. I did my vocals here, which Alexander produced, and sent it back to them so I wasn't in the studio with them but I did meet them later when they were doing the video and they're all such nice guys.
antiMusic: With them doing a new record now, is there a chance you will collaborate with them in the future?
Liv: (smiles) Yes, I was just talking to them last week about doing something else. (Liv wouldn't give anything else away but by the smile you knew something is in the works --- something Dani Filth confirmed shortly later).
antiMusic: Can you briefly just give the readers a bit of info on each member of the band:
Now you might be a bit biased here (laughs) Alexander Krull:
Liv: He's the producer of the band and also singer of Atrocity. He does, every now and then, some growling vocals for Leaves' Eyes. It's always good to have Alexander on stage every now and then. He turns up every fourth song or so. And it's just very nice to have your husband next to you.
Mathias Röderer - Guitar
Mathias has just become a father a couple of months ago, so we actually have two sons representing the Leaves' Eyes/Atrocity family in the future. Mathias was also one of the persons starting Atrocity.
Thorsten Bauer - Guitar
Thorsten, like Mathias is an excellent guitar player. He's not only inspired by metal but also folk instruments like sitar and Turkish instruments and his fingers are very fast. He is also the joker in the band.
Chris Lukhaup - Bass
He is the guy who brings most of the classical inspiration apart for me. So I guess we are the two soundtrack people in the band.
Moritz Neuner - Drums & Percussion (the new guy)
Mortiz joined the band on the 2nd of Jan this year. And he is the perfect guy for us. He is the youngest guy in the band but he has just as much experience as the rest of us. He played in a number of Metal bands like Graveworm and Darkwell but he also used to play in an orchestra.
antiMusic: Since your records are so well put together, the band is obviously comfortable in the studio. What about live? Do you like performing?
Liv: My guys, of course, have all the experience we need from Atrocity. I mean, they've been going strong for 15 years. I have my experience from Theatre of Tragedy. That's why we stick to certain principles. When we record an album, we try as hard as possible to only record things we can also do live ourselves. I'm not a fan of playbacks and all that kind of stuff. We try to play live as much possible ourselves. The only problem is that after we recorded a complete orchestra ourselves on this album, we would love to play with one live but I don't think it's possible especially on another continent because everybody would have to fly all over. So it's just a question of expenses. But as far as possible we try to stick to what we have recorded in the studio and I would never dare sing a tune or tone that I couldn't sing onstage. I think that's a good thing to stick to. And as far as playing live, there's nothing like it.
antiMusic: What can you tell us about your upcoming solo record?
Liv: It was so much fun recording all the tracks. It's got a bit of everything that people have heard me do in the past. I can't wait until everybody gets to hear it. It should be out in March but there is an EP that should be out in January.
antiMusic: Is it strange to know that people are still discovering you over here in North America when you've got such a body of work behind you and Atrocity already have a greatest hits out?
Liv: I think it's always a pleasure when people tell me they just discovered me. It's always very nice. I think it's due to the promotion that we haven't been well presented in America until now. It's due to that. Well, because America seems to be very fond of this kind of music…females' voices in metal. We're a little bit late.
I think when we started dealing with this kind of music….it's been 11 years now. We've always been part of this progress. But we've always been presented on the European market. Which is a shame. Evanescence is huge all over the world. But bands like Nightwish, Within Temptation and Lacuna Coil…I think it's really time to represent ourselves on other continents too.
antiMusic: Is there more than a bit of personal satisfaction knowing that your band is completely eclipsing Theatre of Tragedy?
Liv: It was bad luck for me to be kicked out of Theatre of Tragedy. It was really bad. Because I had been part of that band for 10 years. And I had just recorded 10 demo tracks for the album. So I was just waiting for the guys to comment on my work. And I heard "Ok, great job". So I thought OK, everything's OK. But what I didn't realize was that the band was in the middle of a crisis. And of course, I didn't know that because I was the only one living in Germany, not being present when they were having meetings and going to practice. So I didn't know anything about this. So they thought they would take a revolutionary step and change everything. And I guess the most revolutionary thing you could do is change your female vocalist. So I think that's what happened. I haven't really got an explanation from the guys and we haven't really talked about it. Because I got to know about it via the Internet. That was the message that was posted on their web page. That's how I got to know it. I was very disappointed. I thought, "Wow. How is this possible? I'm just having such bad luck now." After 10 years of hard work but my family, the guys of Atrocity supported me and gave me strength to continue. And we soon realized that we're not only friends and family, we can make good music together. Let's start a new band. And I think this is good luck. So sometimes back luck leads to good luck.
antiMusic and Morley Seaver thank Liv Kristine for taking the time to do this interview.