By David E. Gehlke
Charlotte Wessels was the undisputed face of Dutch symphonic metallers DELAIN from 2005 to 2021. And by "face", that also included the frontwoman appearing on a handful of DELAIN's album covers, a rite of passage for most acts of this ilk. While the band had yet to reach the heights of NIGHTWISH, EPICA and WITHIN TEMPTATION (whom keyboardist Martijn Westerholt was previously a member alongside his brother Robert and sister-in-law Sharon den Adel),DELAIN has developed a solid international fanbase, a figure that has grown with each release.
But when Wessels and every member not named Martijn Westerholt bolted from the band in 2021, it appeared the end was nigh for DELAIN. And certainly, no one would have faulted Westerholt for packing it in since Wessels was critically important in all phases for DELAIN. Still, the keyboardist and songwriter decided to forge ahead. Last year, the band added singer Diana Leah to the fold and assuaged most concerns with singles "The Quest And The Curse" and "Beneath", two songs that highlight "Dark Waters", DELAIN's newest studio foray. A few weeks ahead of the release of the album, a rather relieved and enthusiastic Westerholt caught up with BLABBERMOUTH.NET to discuss the lineup changes and the future of DELAIN.
Blabbermouth: There is no more difficult task than changing a singer. You introduced Diana with some singles before the album's release. But to backtrack: Can you share what this process has been like, including changing your entire lineup?
Martijn: "It was a roller coaster. [Laughs] First, it was burnout, then everything collapsed. It was sad for everybody. I would have preferred to continue the way we did. Some people had other ideas, which is their right, but you try to find a solution together to see if we could do things differently. At a certain point, we couldn't figure it out. First, you think, 'That's it. DELAIN is dead.' After that, I thought it was not announced, but we were done with the process, then I thought there were some possibilities to continue. DELAIN started as a project, actually. I got a lot of support from friends, who are also musicians, and my family and they said I should continue. I thought there needed to be enough DELAIN DNA to justify it. It was a big process, but eventually, I concluded there could be enough DELAIN DNA and here we are. It has been a very tumultuous journey. Then there was COVID on top of it."
Blabbermouth: It also seemed both camps kept things polite. Was there ever thought given to sharing what really happened?
Martijn: "The temptation was there, but it doesn't win you anything. You have already lost if you have to defend yourself on social media. I also don't want to talk badly about others because I have worked with people for a very long time and do not believe in black and white. Everybody has their own perspective. Of course, I wouldn't say I like things that former members did. I'm sure there are things they disagree with that I did. We're all human. I think it's very important not to get black and white on this. The biggest misconception is that people thought I fired the previous band members because I wanted to regain control. The thing is, there was never [total] control. It was my company with Charlotte, so the control has always been there. It's not about control. You want to do it together.
"On the contrary to what some people wrote, I'm a big team player. You have to do it together and appreciate each other's qualities and input. I definitely did not fire them. When we couldn't figure it out, then the three guys left. After the three guys left, Charlotte said, 'This is such a big change. I'd rather continue with my career.' She was also not happy with it at all. I'm not going to blame anyone online. That's simply stupid."
Blabbermouth: People tend to forget how difficult it is to be in a band. It's hard for any lineup to last a year, let alone over a decade.
Martijn: "People should be grateful for what you had and what you have. I'm grateful for the people who we had in the band. I like to be positive and not negative about it. Also, bands always have changes. In my case, they all came at the same time. There are so many examples. Take NIGHTWISH. If you compare the current members to the first album, hardly anyone is left. But it's still NIGHTWISH. The essence is still there. It's about the essence of things. Some people can't deal with that. It's their good right and if they don't think it's fun anymore, that's also their good right. Other people can deal with it and get enjoyment, good for them. It's just how life is."
Blabbermouth: What were the criteria for finding a new DELAIN singer?
Martijn: "It may sound simple, but the main criteria were that it had to be someone that fits the music. Plain and simple. To be honest, I didn't even look for a female. I also considered working with a male as long as it would sound good. But, I did have to conclude that it would be so different that there wouldn't be enough DELAIN DNA left. The main criteria is that the person sounds good. We also had a male singer who was a candidate to be the main singer. At a certain point, I went on YouTube and looked around at people covering songs, preferably metal songs. I stumbled upon Diana and I wrote down her name. I thought, 'I have to contact her. Her voice sounds awesome.' She did WITHIN TEMPTATION, NIGHTWISH covers and also CHRISTINA AGUILERA. I wrote down her name and after a week, I got an Instagram post for DELAIN. I saw a remark from Diana that said, 'If you ever need a singer. You know where to reach me.' It wasn't a serious post. It was done with a wink, but I thought, 'What are the odds? I have to contact her.' So I did. The criteria were someone with a voice that fits the new and old material and somebody available because we are a touring band. That was her. Of course, then you get into the process of sending her stuff and seeing how it turns out. That was the criteria."
Blabbermouth: Did you try out anyone else?
Martijn: "There were more singers I tried out. I sent out old songs. I chose the most difficult songs, but I felt a bit mean. [Laughs] I got songs back from Diana after one day. I thought, 'That's really fast.' It was the songs 'Masters Of Destiny' and 'Burning Bridges' from our previous album. When I started listening, it knocked me off my chair. That's how much I was surprised by what she did. Some singers were really good. There was someone who wasn't flexible; they couldn't tour. There was another person with an okay voice, but we weren't convinced. All the factors had to be right."
Blabbermouth: Diana seems to fit the DELAIN sound. You didn't make a drastic change here.
Martijn: "Absolutely. The other singer we looked at was phenomenal but had a different voice. They sounded great, but it wasn't DELAIN. Diana has it. She can sing the old and new. She sings the new stuff, obviously. It sounds like coming home. It felt like business as usual with the songwriting. Except for Charlotte, who is a phenomenal lyricist and, in the later years, started contributing more with writing, but for the rest, I wrote with my co-writer, Guus Eikens. I knew him from my time with WITHIN TEMPTATION, who supported his band, ORPHANAGE. We always kept writing together. That's how we worked. That's how we worked this time. I even used the same mixing engineer and orchestral arranger. I do it with Mikko [Mustonen]. He's a guy from Finland. He's helped me since 'The Human Contradiction'. He's helped with the orchestra parts. This was all kind of the same. When it comes to the record itself, the lyrics, in this case, had to be written by somebody else. That was the different part. I asked my wife. She's a native speaker, but more importantly, she's very much into lyrics and poetry. She also loves metal. Before the split, I never would have dreamt of asking her to write lyrics for DELAIN. But, it was an automatic and organic thing to ask her."
Blabbermouth: How would you rate her performance as a first-time lyricist for DELAIN?
Martijn: "I felt blessed with her help and contributions. Let's not forget the native speaker part. For Americans, it's your language. In Europe, it's not easy for everybody, even if they can speak English. Through Europe, a lot of people can speak English well. But it's still something else to think in your mother tongue."
Blabbermouth: The band's lineup situation is unique because you have two returning members and two new members. How do you envision putting everything — and everyone — together?
Martijn: "You have to be lucky. You will never know upfront. I can give the cliché story as all artists do: Our current album is our best. You will never hear an artist say, 'My previous record is better than the current record.' With a hand on my heart, I can say that the vibe now in the band is magic. It can be good, but everything is connected. Everybody does their thing and the old and new come together. Being onstage with the old guys. Ronald [Landa, guitar], I haven't played with him in a decade, but some of the old traits were still there. Sander [Zoer], our drummer, left after 'The Human Contradiction', but some of that logic was still there. With Ronald, it was weird. You have to get into it with Diana and Luda [Cioffi, bass/vocals]. You have to be trained and there's only one way to do it: to play, play, play."
Blabbermouth: Symphonic metal has run in the family since your brother, Robert, founded WITHIN TEMPTATION. You started DELAIN after you split from WITHIN TEMPTATION. Is it safe to assume you exceeded your goals when you launched DELAIN over 20 years ago?
Martijn: "My goal back then was that I wanted to prove to myself that loose from my brother and sister-in-law that, I could make a symphonic metal album. I wanted to challenge myself. That was my goal. Now it's my job! [Laughs] You need to appreciate the people in the past that helped you get where you are. I'm thankful for the fans. They're so important. I'm not taking it for granted."