As I remember, the idea of recording acoustic songs started long ago with the intention of releasing an EP. When was that and can we – for a starter - go back to that initial idea?
Yes sure. You are right, that is quite a while ago. I think it was back in 2008, right after we released ‘Slania’. Then I wrote down the basic ideas for the ‘Evocation’ albums.
Yet it turned into a lot more. In the end it resulted in two albums and I was wondering: how far in the process were you with ‘Evocation II’ at that time?
Not far at all. I mean, the album is basically written during the last year. All I had back then was the very basic concept in a sense of Eluveitie going acoustic and the main idea was to take the pristine Celtic mythology and turn it into music. The basic idea was that everything was kept in ancient Gaulish language, but the particular songs were written now during the last twelve months.
With the new line-up already around you?
The titles are named after Celtic Gods this time. Can you go a little deeper into that?
As I just said, the main idea of ‘Evocation’ is to put music on Celtic mythology, but the first part of ‘Evocation’ takes original Celtic texts, based on ancient texts, written roughly around two thousand years ago and the idea on ‘Evocation II’ was kind of going back to where all this comes from in the Celtic understanding. The otherworld, the world beyond where we all come from and to where we all go at some point. Where all the Gods live. The album is actually like a journey through the Celtic otherworld, through the pantheon. Each track on the album is dedicated to one Celtic deity.
Yet the album is a homogeneous, acoustic based entity. It dawned upon me that there are several gods, like the God of war. Yet all the music is acoustic and rather calm. How do you explain that?
There is a Celtic god of war indeed. On the album, it is the track ‘Catvrix’. To me, music or art in general, (not only music, because an album is an overall piece of art to me, including the lyrics, artwork and so on) it is all about the expression. It is about the aura, the charisma of an album and the atmosphere it expresses. To me that is the main thing and it is not necessary to be heavy. For instance, if you want to express something grim or dark or mystical, you don’t need fast drums and loud guitars. Even if you only have one flute, you can create a dark and grim atmosphere if you do it right.
It is also a journey through the musical history of the band. Of course I hear some melodies and motives sounding familiar, but…
It is great that you have noticed that. This actually was a spontaneous idea that we had, when we were creating ‘Evocation II’. The Gods or Goddesses that are represented on the album, each of them is in one way or another somehow related to the topic in an older Eluveitie song. This is not necessarily that obvious, but for instance: in reference to the Celtic mythology, the God Ogmios is strongly connected to the Isle of Mona, to ‘Inis Mona’. Each God is in some way or another connected to the others or plays a role in what the songs are about and while we were creating the album, we spontaneously had the idea that we could actually also musically express these connections. In each track there is something which is already heard in an old Eluveitie song. In ‘Ogmios’ it is very obvious, that’s the melody of ‘Inis Mona’ and also a part from a song on ‘Origin’. That’s actually two tracks hidden in there, but in some other tracks it is hidden, just like small hidden details. On each track there is something to discover that already existed on another Eluveitie album. Sometimes only one sound, one second or a kind of noise you’ve heard before... It was a spontaneous idea to express musically those connections between the tracks and in the Celtic mythology.
Yes, I did some research and found ‘Svcellos’ was on ‘Origin’ and ‘Tarvos’ on ‘Slania’. But another thing: the melody of ‘Lvgvs’ reminded me of ‘Zeven Dagen Lang’ of the Dutch band Bots. Has it something to do with that?
Yes indeed. This is an old Celtic traditional, from Brittany, you know: from the North Western part of France today and it a very old traditional dancing song actually. ‘Inis Mona’ is also a traditional from Brittany. You can find that melody of ‘Zeven Dagen Lang’ in many versions in all kinds of music. Even Scooter, a kind of techno and rave DJ - he is very famous - he also has a techno version from that melody. (single ‘How Much Is The Fish?’ from 1998; it was a number one in Germany, nineteen weeks in the charts – Vera). In Germany it is a famous drinking song as well.
What also struck me in the song ‘Catvrix’: these percussions and male chants reminded me of the latest Rotting Christ albums… they are going in a very ethnic direction…
Really? I did not know that. That is interesting! I have to listen to that.
Another song I want to mention and stands out is ‘Artio’ with the nearly a cappella chants, rain and flutes. It has really an atmosphere of the Highlands…
It also combines two traditionals. It is not that easy to explain it in a few words. It is actually a very painful song. Basically it is like a prayer to the Goddess Artio which was a bear Goddess of Berne, which is today the capital of Switzerland. It is a very old city. It already existed two thousand years ago, when the Celtic Norwegians lived over there. It is a local bear Goddess and the bear is still the totem animal of the city Bern today. It basically is a prayer to that Goddess, but it is written from the view point of a young Gaulish woman in the time of the Gaulish wars. Hundreds of thousands tragic fates happened. So many families were torn apart, got killed in wars, so many were taken hostage or enslaved and turned into slavery by Romans. That woman was suffering from that fate. One of the parts of the song is strongly based upon the traditional melody of an Irish song that was written in the period of the British occupation of Ireland. It is basically expressing missing someone. It is basically like standing before this Goddess Artio and thinking of what you got lost and just asking her: how is my home? How are my beloved ones? Are they still alive? This is what the song expresses. It ends with a short instrumental part which is taken from another traditional, a tune which is seven hundred years old. It was actually from Bern. It is a very old Berne tune, basically expressing the same thing, but in a different way. It is actually a love song, expressing the pain of an impossible love. Musically it goes back to where it happened, in Berne.
The latest question I have about a particular track is about ‘Antumnos’, because it sounds akin to ‘Scarborough Fair’…
Yes there is ‘Scarborough Fair’ in it. It is an instrumental and it was actually made by Rossi, our guitar player and he wanted to use three different Celtic traditionals into his guitar piece. One of them is ‘Scarborough Fair’.
Everything is sung in Gaulish language and for the lyrics you work together with scientists and linguists. You have done that before, but I see there are even hand-written lyrics in the booklet. What about this experience now?
Well it was actually exact the same like always. Historical facts and figures have to be exact. I may be a nerd, but it is just important, at least to me, to us…. If you deal with history, you owe it to history itself and to the people who listen to it, that you deal with it accurately. From day one, from the early beginnings of Eluveitie, I started working with scientists. Back then I was just looking for a scientist who could answer me some questions. I had found one in Switzerland. That is now fifteen years ago. Over the years you get to know each other, you become friends. You work together and then it gets more and more. Then you get to know more people in that circle of scientists. Today, fifteen years later, it a network of scientists all over Europe. We are all working together when creating a new Eluveitie album. Everything is very friendship based, the cooperation was the same as for our last album.
Amazing that a bond with someone like this goes on and on and develops in such a wonderful manner…
This is really wonderful and something unexpected. There is like a lot of scientists from all over Europe that are actually very happy about the project Eluveitie, because it is something really outside of university. Some of them really appreciate that. Many of them are professors and scientists, but to them it is not only a profession what they are doing. Many of them – or at least the ones I know – are really freaks. They explore the Celtic culture and history not only because it is their profession, but also because it is their passion. They are pretty excited about the project. Over the years it went even further, we even started a project that has nothing to do with Eluveitie.
Now we are going over to the ‘changing of the members’ topic. Of course that must have been not so funny, but well, we have to shine a light on it. In great lines I think five members left the band since former album ‘Origins’. Let us resume what happened…
Well, I think it was back in 2014 when Pade Kistler (bagpipes, flute – Vera) quit the band. Nicole (violins – Vera) did not leave the band, but she went through a very difficult situation in private and she could not afford to be away so much all the time, because she really needed to solve situations and be there for her family. So she kind of stepped out of the band for a while, but it was clear from the start that she would be back. We did not say it like that, because we did not know exactly how long it was going to take for her. In the meantime we just hired a live session musician. Then in March last year three members left the band and that was… very drastic of course.
I was shocked when reading that!
Yeah me too actually, but what can you say? Things like this happen of course and in a pure mathematical way: the more members you have, the higher the chance for leaving. That was definitely not an easy thing in any way. It was quite tough for them, it was quite tough for us as people and as a band. And it was also tough on an emotional level, because we have been together for almost ten years and we did tour a lot. That means in these last ten years, we spent the biggest part of our lives together. That is something difficult, it is not easy to handle. Well, it still happened for us. When looking back, honestly I am rather happy with it I have to say. In March when we split, no matter how hard or tough a thing like this is, we all agreed that we were going to try to use this as a chance. A situation like this, or any kind of break up or changing situation, is somehow a crisis, but it always can be a chance if you use it as a chance and that’s what we all said. When now looking back, I think we both can say that we actually succeeded in doing so. I am really happy when I see how they developed with their new band (Cellar Darling – Vera). They just released an album and it is absolutely fantastic I think. They are really happy with what they are doing now and they are doing it well. For us, Eluveitie, it was really a tough year last year, but how things developed now is amazing. When looking back after almost one and a half year, I can say it was probably the best thing that could happen to us. It brought so much new passion into our band and it was a kind of reawakening. It was very tough, but after all, in the end it did something really good for everybody.
Finding new people with such a background and knowledge and dedication must not have been easy though…
It was extremely challenging to be honest. Actually yes and no. I mean, it was very challenging finding a singer, especially because Anna (Murphy – Vera) – of course it is a matter of taste - but at least in my opinion and my taste, she is one of the greatest female singers of our time, she is amazing. She really left huge shoes to fill and that was really challenging. It took me quite a while. I have travelled around in Europe for months. I met singers and practiced with them and recorded with them. I think we checked nearly one hundred singers before we found Fabienne (Erni – vocals – Vera), but everything else is really unexpected, but a very fortunate development. The thing was that, when Anna, Ivo and Merlin left, it was very clear to us that we really wanted to search well and choose carefully and take all the time we needed to find the right people, but at the same time we faced the problem that we already had many TV shows, gigs, festivals and tours booked and confirmed and we did not want to cancel the shows, because it is not the fans’ problem if we had line-up changes. And that was a situation in which we actually had not much time. Because of that, we pretty soon decided that we were going to hire live session musicians to play all the festivals and upcoming shows and then use this time to choose new permanent members. That’s what we did and this is how we met the guys that actually are in the band now. We did not know any of these guys, but they were all recommended to us by several people. They all enjoy the reputation for being among the very best on their instruments. So we contacted them and they all were available for a couple of months. We were lucky. Then we started playing all those festivals last year with those guys. Musically it was amazing, because they all were totally new to what we are doing, but still they did an incredible job. The shows really rocked. Just musically speaking it was like having the jackpot, but the really unexpected part was how these months last year developed on a personal level. With every show we played together, we grouped together more strongly and we became friends. The vibe in the band developed in a really amazing way and we got bonded together. The atmosphere within the band is really good and familiar. That was unexpected, but of course great and that’s why we ended up, in Autumn last year, asking ourselves: why the hell are we still looking for new band members when we already found them months ago? We talked with all of them and asked them what they thought about being part of our band instead of helping us out for a couple of months. Luckily all of them said yes and that’s how we became this new line-up. So in that sense, for the Fabienne part it was challenging, but for everybody else it was a very unexpected, but fortunate development I would say.
What can you tell about the making of the video for ‘Epona’?
I can say that we all needed a lot of anti tick spray. In that region of the forest, it is full of them (laughs). Not only visual in the video, but also musically we tried to express the character of Epona. In simple words, she is only the Goddess of horses and this is musically expressed. The song has something of a driving character, like gallop. There is actually more to Epona, because on one hand her appearance in Celtic culture is very humble. Not great altars or temples. There was no big fuzz about her. The main place where Epona was actually worshipped was mostly in stables with pictures on the wall of the stables or paintings… but this is just one side of Epona. On the other hand she was regarded as mother goddess by the Celtic people, really powerful. It is one of the Celtic deities mostly mentioned in literature all over Europe. In the late Antiquity Epona even got adapted by Rome itself, although they used to make fun of her. And the way to understand this, is to understand the role of the horse in Celtic society. That was extremely important. Maybe you can compare it with electricity today. In our society a day without electricity is completely fucked. We cannot travel, trade, supply… we cannot function without electricity and in Celtic society it was rather similar with the horse. Without the horses, the Celts could not do trade, they could not deliver goods to other tribes or among themselves, they depended on the horses for their agriculture, and that comes to food because they were farmers. The horse was used in everyday life to come from point A to point B. Then we have the horses in war: they could not win a war without horses. They are actually extremely important in Celtic culture. In that way a Goddess of horses is almost a Goddess of everything and this is also something that we tried to express in this video. The video is just a story with one Celtic warrior, but the way Epona appears in the video is very powerful. On one hand she is this humble person, in a simple dress and so, but if you look at her face and what she does, you realize she is literally powerful over life and death. This is what we tried to explain in the video for ‘Epona’.
Maybe you can say something about the artwork? Did you do it yourself again?
Yes I did. I did it in the studio. The studio time for ‘Evocation II’ was probably the most intense studio time we ever had. Never – or maybe never since our debut album or with ‘Slania’ – we have worked so closely and so intensely together as a group. During the recordings, literally all the band was there. Also the people who weren’t recording at this time, they were still there, just to be there or to cook for everybody. Every day in every corner of the studio, musicians were working on details for the album or just jamming. So whenever I had the time, I was just sitting in the kitchen and I was working at the artwork. Matteo, our bagpipe player, was also working on the artwork. He was doing the ancient Celtic handwritings. The cover is rather complex to explain. I just tried to create something that expresses the contents of the album. It is a rather deep and complex symbol that just combines many different Celtic symbols or symbolism that are important in Celtic culture. Just to give you a few examples: in the very background of this ornament, you see ‘the big wheel’ – as it is called in Celtic culture. It is basically just the cycle of the year with the four seasons and equinoxes and solstices, which is very crucial in Celtic culture. Then above that, there is an enneagram, a nine pointed star, but it is a triple enneagram which is formed by three groups of each three triangles. It represents the trinities in the Celtic pantheon. Also a very important concept. These things encircle the figure in the centre of the album and this figure is all again framed in other symbolisms. The figure itself is the depiction of the Celtic God Lvgvs who is a trinity himself. It means a three-headed god. But this depiction of Lvgvs is also framed by other symbols. On one hand, on the lower part of Lvgvs, we see the lord of the animals symbol, which is a very old Celtic symbolism that kinds of displaces mankind’s role among all creatures. It does not show mankind’s role like we have it today unfortunately, but it rather shows humans in the centre, surrounded by all other creatures, but deeply connected. All creatures are connected and it expresses this symbiosis, that we all are part of one big thing and that we all need each other. Then on the upper part, the Lvgvs depiction is framed by the hiking or the druid king symbolism, which is also a very important and very crucial spiritual concept in the Celtic culture, but it may go too far to explain that, because it is really complex. Where the lines of the nine pointed star and the lines of the great wheel cross, those small fields come up and due to the numbers, it is all groups of three fields. All these fields are filled with the capitals of the names of the gods that are represented on the album in the order that they are related to each other. That is more or less the content of the album, reflected in the artwork. And the writing around the whole thing is basically just the lyrics of the opening track of the album, of ‘Dvressu’, and this is something like an invitation actually. It is also something like a magical blessing at the same time. It looks at the album as a journey through the Celtic otherworld and it is like a blessing for the one who dares to enter this journey. So this is basically what the front cover is.
Wow, that is really detailed and awesome! To occlude, maybe we can shine a light on the tour plans, because that’s where the fans can enter this journey in a live situation…
Yes, right after the Summer festival season, we will start touring. Pretty much constantly until the end of the year. This year it starts with an extensive Europe tour. We are really looking forward to that tour. We decided to make it a full on, in your face metal tour nonetheless, but of course we will still play tracks from ‘Evocation II’. But the focus will be a full metal set, straight forward. I am also pretty happy about the line-up for this first part of the European leg that we found together. We will be joined by Amaranthe, a modern metal band, and also The Charm The Fury which is a pretty young band, but very powerful. I am really happy with the bill for this tour. In February and March we will go to Russia and Ukraine and so on. World tour is in the planning.
And a heartfelt and cozy ‘by for now’ rounded off our debonair conversation with loads of interesting details, with the plan to catch Eluveitie live in our areas in Autumn and further investigation in the piece of art called ‘Evocation II: Pantheon’!