Eluveitie are at the very forefront of Folk Metal one could say the archetype for the scene. You have been pushing boundaries and kicking ass for over 15 years. Now gearing up to release your latest masterpiece Ategnatos in early April and are coming down under in May to tear up our shores once again.
Metal-Roos: I should start with the usual…is Eluvietie excited to be coming Down Under?
Oh yes, we can’t wait really. I mean, it’s about time we came back, it’s been way too long. Many things have happened since the last time since last we played in your country. We’ve released two albums, so there’s a lot to catch up on with you guys. It’s about time we came down and we can’t wait.
M-R: Is this any of your members first time to Australia?
Actually yes! Fabienne Erni, Jonas Wolf, Alan Ackermann and Michalina Malisz haven’t been there with Eluveitie. It will be their first time, and they are very excited.
M-R: Eluveitie are a relentless touring machine. Being a 9-piece band as well as the assortment of instrumentation you perform with, this must be a logistical nightmare, especially when transporting all that to Australia, which we all know is far away from everything. Was there any unexpected challenge in taking the show on the road? How has touring evolved for you over the years?
Honestly, it’s not that big a deal. We get that question a lot. I think being well organised, getting along and working together at a professional level is something you need to learn as a touring band. It doesn’t matter whether you have three or nine people in the band. The main difference it’s just much more expensive with nine. Booking flights for nine people compared to four makes a difference! But as you said before, we’ve been doing this for many years now and we are well functioning little machine.
M-R: With so many people and instruments on stage, do you ever use a choreographer to assist with movement? Has there ever been an on-stage disaster?
Hahaha. Of course, these things happen. The chances of these things happening increase with the more people you have, but they can always happen, even if you’re a three-piece. I think its just part of the deal a part of being a rock and roll show.
M-R: On that topic, how were the shows during the recent 70,000 tonnes cruise? That must have been quite a different experience than your usual festival…
Oh yeah, it’s somewhat different. I think it was the third or fourth time we played there, it’s always great. On this topic though, a funny thing happened on the very first time we took the cruise. We were playing on the outdoor deck and that was rather challenging because we were in the middle of the open sea and it was windy as fuck. The whole schedule had to be postponed for almost forty-five minutes because there was just too much wind and a big storm coming, it just wasn’t possible to play. Once we finally got on-stage when it was possible, it was really challenging, even just standing there and not getting blown away was difficult.
M-R: Talking of festivals, how does the energy of your headlining shows compare to that of a massive summer festival like Hellfest or Wacken? Do you have a preference at all?
It’s hard to say, when you play club shows at least you’re closer to the audience which is usually a good thing. Personally, I prefer the bigger festivals. That’s only due to the fact that we have more space on stage to move around.
M-R: Will the shows be in the same vein as the ‘An Evening with Eluveitie’ tour, can we look forward to a full two-hour set?
I think an Eluveitie show is always an Eluveitie show. Last time we came through we had an acoustic section during the show, we won’t be doing that this time. It will still be a two-hour set though because we have so much material to catch up on! Releasing two albums since last time we want to present you with some new music! Including the previous album Evocation II.
M-R: Do you know if there will be a VIP option available for this visit?
Yes, definitely, we’re currently working on that. We’re just gathering ideas on what we can do. The plan so far is to play some unplugged short folk session in the intimate setting of a meet and greet.
M-R: I know that you don’t have a favourite song to perform, but are there set staples that the fans have a bigger reaction to when you perform? If so, does this change from country to country?
If we’re talking about audience favourites, in the last 10-15 years there hasn’t been an Eluveitie show where we haven’t played Inis Mona. People always go really crazy when we start playing A Rose for Epona, and actually, it’s pretty much the same with some of the more recent songs like Rebirth, the first single off the upcoming album which we released like a year ago. But there is not much difference between the countries. To us this was a surprising thing, but after 15 years of experience, we observed that a metal-head is always a metal-head and a metal audience is always a metal audience, no matter where on the planet. I think this is a very beautiful thing. To me it shows the power of music. It shows how much music is able to unite people and to me that’s something very beautiful.
M-R: Ategnatos is based on the ancient concept of renewal as well as the key to change. Can you elaborate more on that? What is the core concept to the album?
Well, basically, more or less what you just said. Put simply, Ategnatos is dealing with Celtic mythology, but it takes it quite a bit further. We’ve previously had albums dealing with Celtic mythology like Origins for instance, but we were basically retelling ancient legends, ideological tails on a very historical and scientific level. Where this time I took it to a much more personal level. Everything is still historically correct, that’s just the way we work. What the album basically does is to contemplate ancient parables, allegories and archetypes of Celtic mythology from the viewpoint of our modern day lives. We don’t deal with these ancient words just to get some lyrics, we actually contemplate them as individuals, for ourselves, for our lives. This turned out to become a very intense experience, almost a spiritual one somehow and the result of that journey is the album Ategnatos.
There’s a core in all these stories and in one way or another, the core is always connected to the thought of rebirth. Not necessarily like in a Hindu way speaking of the afterlife or something like that but more an allegorical way, representing experiences that you have during your life. Like when life brings you to a certain place where you might die and get reborn in an allegorical way, this is the main core of what the album circles around.
The interesting and challenging thing that these ancient words of wisdom hold for us is, quite often, there’s a choice offered to us. Life often brings you to a place where you could, metaphorically speaking, jump off a cliff, you could die, but you could also fly. There is often a choice given to you and in the end, usually, it comes back to the question of fear. The question of, are you brave enough? Do you dare jump off the cliff and follow that direction to the end? Do you dare to do that? If you do that, a part of your life will die and fall apart. That’s when you get a chance to be reborn and be something new, or you could stay where you are. But, if you take that option, it’s usually out of fear of losing or letting go. This is this is the main core of what the album circles around.
M-R: You are quoted as saying ‘There is always suffering before bliss and darkness before light’ this seems relevant to the Eluveitie Camp at the moment. Also Ategnatos is a Gaulish word meaning reborn, is this all related?
No, actually not really. I’ve been asked a couple of times before and it does seem obvious, but no, it actually doesn’t have anything to do with it. How we ended up with this topic is actually reflecting personal experiences, just things that we experience as individuals… how life just kinda brought us to the point where we kind of deal with these topics.
M-R: Historical accuracy is obviously of grave importance to you; did you consult with Celtic Scientists and Historians again for this release?
Not so much now, except for the Gaulish language. I said before the album is basically contemplating ancient myths and parables. The scientific foundation was already laid by the album Origins and that album back then was pretty work intensive it took me one and a half years to create the lyrics. It’s just a lot of scientific work. But on the base of that, this contemplations of Ategnatos was made.
The idea that nine musicians with so many unique instruments jamming in a room is fascinating, can you describe what the creative energy in the room was like? How did it usually start? How did you keep up with what was going on regarding catching the magic in the room?
First of all, I have to say, that we didn’t spend a lot of time jamming together. But it was a development for the band when we created the previous album Evocations II. When we went into the studio the full band was there all the time which was a novelty for the band. There was so much room for spontaneous creativity, which grew, it became more and more over the past three years. So, when we started working on Ategnatos, we just we felt like we wanted to work together geographically, actually be together. Not just everybody working at home and just exchanging ideas they recorded, we actually wanted to be together.
So, we just looked around for opportunities like that, we even checked out holiday houses that you can rent and stuff like that. Then Jonas, our guitar player, who works part time in a University of Arts teaching music when he’s not on the road with us, had some free rooms at that time in the uni. So, we locked ourselves in there and it was a great environment to create music I would say.
M-R: Previously Eluveitie releases usually begin with a blueprint of your design that remains untouched, but on Ambiramus there were three tracks written by the entire band, and now Ategnatos was written as a unit. Was it difficult at all to relinquish some of the creative control? What inspired this evolution?
It was a very organic development. I still wrote the blueprint, the main concept and what kind of songs there would be on it. But when creating the actual music everybody contributed. It was just a natural development it slowly set in over the last few years which I think it’s very cool.
M-R: Have you ever surprised at how seamlessly Celtic instruments combined with the aggressive ad abrasive tones of Death Metal? Do you have an opinion on why they work together so well?
No, I’ve actually never been surprised by it, I mean, the reason why I formed of Eluveitie in the first place was I thought they were going to work really well together, hahaha…
I’ve been playing traditional Celtic folk music for many years, 20 years ago I used to go to folk sessions all the time in Ireland, England and Switzerland. I wish I could still do that, but I just don’t have the time anymore. Back in the day when I was still a beginner for the Mandola, I went to the sessions in pubs in Ireland and so on to learn from these amazing musicians and that’s when it struck me. If you look at a Mandola or Bouzouki player in Irish session for instance, if you look what their hands are doing with their instrument then you will notice that it’s not that much different than what the hands of a guitar player in a death metal band would do. This is kinda what struck me. It is different music and it has different instruments, but I think both styles share raw and powerful energy, which makes them connect so well.
M-R: You say that today’s society sees itself in the mirror of ancient Celtic mythology and the image is blood-curdling, does this mean the image of our modern society is horrifying? Can you explain?
I mean, in certain parts, it definitely is. There’s a song cycle in the album comprising the song Slumber and Worship, they both circle around the same ancient parable. This is actually one of the oldest ones we still have fragments of today, it’s more than two and a half thousand years old. It basically describes the psychological mechanisms that happen when an overly strong leading character, let’s call it a dictator, arises. What usually happens in peoples’ minds, most of them anyway, without being forced, bow their head, accept and just follow. So, the story deals with that kind of behaviour and shows a way to change it. Today we still have fragments of that two and a half thousand-year-old story, but that’s all we have, we don’t know what was happening back then. Apparently, something was happening that arose the need to write a parable like that, to show and explain to people something.
The crazy thing is, you read that parable like that and everything becomes so fucking clear. But, at the same time, it’s striking that it was written two and a half thousand years ago then, when you look at our society today, we haven’t learned that much. Less than 100 years ago you can look at Germany and it would have been very important to tell these people that story. Look at America right now, look at Brazil, look at Russia, this is what I meant by bloodcurdling. The album itself and all the thoughts in it are very positive, it is about rebirth, it is about life, it is about renewal and making things better. But, as these ancient words warn, there must be some sort of dying of things in ourselves so there can be a rebirth.
Some of the things that probably should die off, if you step back to look at them, are bloodcurdling. Especially the example that I just brought, this weird human behaviour of following without questioning. We still have that within ourselves and it’s weird and it brings up a lot of questions of why? We’ve been here a long time now and apparently, we still make the mistakes of two and a half thousand years ago and I for one would like to know why.
Interview Date: 2019-02-28
Interviewer: Jonathan Hurley