Hi Alexander/Elina, the last full-length Leaves’ Eyes studio album ‘King Of Kings’ was released in 2015. What did that album do for the band?
Alexander: it was a great album for us with a big production. We brought a big concept to the table and managed at the same time to write good songs which we brought in quite a bombastic epic way. Song-wise the output was very good, which we are trying to lead to perfection now with ‘Sign Of The Dragonhead’.
Early 2016 the news was spread that Elina was going to be the new lead singer of the band, so what were you looking for in the new singer and why did you opt for Elina?
Alexander: we were not just looking for a temporary replacement, but we were really trying to have somebody with a very own unique personality and style to fill in the gap. To say it in sports terms, the new singer had to be champions league material. We were a bit pressed for time, but we wanted to stay loyal to our mission and really find the right person. We were thinking about the tours we did in the past and in the UK Elina had supported us with her band Angel Nation. Her name therefore popped up and we all thought that she would fit perfectly in the sound of our band, so we called her and she came to Germany to try things out and it proved that she was the obvious choice to be our new lead singer. One week later we had a big show in Indonesia in front of a very big audience and there she just nailed it. She’s such a gifted singer and she made sure that we didn’t have to worry about the future of the band anymore.
Of course it was going to be difficult for Elina to fill the footsteps of Liv, so how did you prepare for that and did this put any additional pressure on you?
Elina: there’s always pressure of course and I can’t deny that certainly in this case there was a lot of pressure on me. But as there wasn’t much time to think about this, I was just concentrating on learning the songs to sing them in the best way that I could bring them in my own interpretation. I was not going to try to imitate anyone, because that wouldn’t be very interesting. The feedback from the fans during the live shows was great and I’m really grateful for the fact that I was accepted that fast.
The first sign of life was the EP ‘Fires In The North’ with the new title track (both electric and acoustic) and three re-recorded songs. What was the idea that you had with this release and how were the reactions from both the press as well as the fans?
Elina: it wasn’t really planned as it turned out. We were going to record a new song, but it was never meant to become an EP. The fans more or less asked for this as they really wanted to hear some of the older songs with my vocals as well. Also the record company thought that this was a good idea, so we re-recorded some ‘King Of Kings’ tracks with my vocals, released it together with the new song as an EP and it became a great success.
When did you start with the actual preparations for this new album ‘Sign Of The Dragonhead’?
Alexander: the album should have been released a little bit earlier, but then the seven week tour with Sonata Arctica came up, which was immediately followed by the five week Sabaton tour. As we wanted to take the necessary time to further develop the songs, we delayed the release date a bit.
Elina: we had the pre-production for most of the songs already done before the tour and I recorded my vocals in the July/August time frame. Because the album was such a big production, it was not feasible anymore to release it in 2017, so we went for an early 2018 release.
Did the introduction of Elina have an impact on the songwriting process for the new album and if so, in what way?
Alexander: of course it changed something about the inspiration of the band as the entrance of Elina offered new possibilities that we couldn’t use before. In general the song writing process in itself stayed quite the same as we used to do in the past, but I would like to say that the energy on stage from the tours that we did together was really reflected in the material on this new album. We have a lot of spices in the soup, like orchestra and choirs and solo instrumentations, but that should never overlay the sound of the band. Elina should shine on the record and therefore she must have the necessary space for the vocal parts and that turned out really good in my opinion. I think ‘Sign Of The Dragonhead’ is the best album that we did so far.
Your music combines a lot of elements from different genres and you use a lot of non-metal instruments like fiddles and pipes. Is that something that comes natural to you or is it a deliberate thing to create variety in the song material?
Alexander: that’s just the sound of the band. If you have this concept of including Northern mythology and medieval things like Viking sagas you want to have something more on top of the regular metal sound. From the beginning we wanted to have that symphonic sound to create this epic feeling. It’s like painting pictures: sometimes you need more colors to give it more depth and that’s also what we do with the extra instrumentation that we use in our music.
So when is the picture the right picture for you? What are typical elements that need to be present in a great Leaves’ Eyes song before you decide to release it on an album?
Alexander: it’s like creating a recipe in the kitchen. Sometimes you need more or different spices to create the meal. It’s the same with music and we know exactly when a song is finished. Thorsten and me are doing this for so long together already that we know when we have created the right recipe for the songs.
The first single is the title track ‘Sign Of The Dragonhead’ for which also a video was created. Why did you choose for this particular track as the first single and how important is a video nowadays for a band like Leaves’ Eyes?
Alexander: I think it’s quite important to have a video nowadays as people tend to be more visual than in the earlier days. It was not easy however to determine which song we should use for the first single. In the end we decided to use the opening track which is like a punch in your face type songs and it suited very well with the album cover and the video concept. It’s also a kind of a message to everyone as we are setting sails to new horizons with the band and the songs. It’s also a connection to ‘King Of Kings’ as the start of this album is continuing where the previous album ended in the concept. Not all material is connection to the overall concept however and that might become a bit boring. We chose to also use other topics and interesting sagas.
Will there be more singles and/or videos released in near future and if so, for which song(s)?
Elina: there will be two more ‘Across The Sea’ and ‘Jomsborg’.
Alexander: ‘Across The Sea’ will be a very good live song, so it could have been the first single as well. With ‘Jomsborg’ we have this special connection with the Vikings on stage and it’s a homage to the original saga. We could have also gone for ‘Like A Mountain’ or ‘Riders On The Wind’, as these are also songs that would have been very suitable for a video.
On the digipack version two bonus songs will be added, being ‘Beowolf’ and ‘Winter Nights’. Can you describe what kind of songs these are as they’re not featured on the promo-copy?
Alexander: ‘Winter Nights’ is a perfect party song which could have been included in the regular album as well.
Elina: ‘Beowolf’ is a real power metal song, which was very hard for us to leave out of the regular album.
Alexander: it’s hard to make these kind of choices, but I think that most people will buy the digipack version anyway, so in the end it’s fine.
How do you feel about record companies that are releasing all these kind of different versions, as the real fans probably want to purchase all of them?
Alexander: the die-hard fans will probably go for the special edition which has a Viking shield included that you can hang on the wall. The newer fans will probably just try out the band and they will go most probably go for the regular version. There will also be people that want to have something more than the regular album and they can go for the media-book, which includes the instrumental versions of the songs on a separate bonus disc so they can do some karaoke maybe…haha. It’s hard to say, you just can’t please everyone I guess, but they can pick and choose what they want.
Did you write and/or record more songs than the thirteen that are offered on the digipack version and if so, which ones and what’s going to happen with them?
Alexander: there will be a tour-book edition coming up someday, which will contain some extra (live) stuff. At least, that’s the idea…it’s going to be a real collector’s item.
You chose to do the production job yourself, so I guess you didn’t feel the need for an independent ear to help you out here? Isn’t it a risk that you’re too close to the material
Alexander: I’ve produced the band since the beginning and I’m doing production jobs for other artists as well. It’s a very complex process as a lot of tracks are used to lay down the material and it’s a real nightmare to bring the pieces together, especially for someone who’s not involved at all. So it’s the safest things that I do it and as a matter of fact we’re all very happy with the actual sound of the album.
If you do an overall comparison between ‘King Of Kings’ and this new one, what are then in your opinion the biggest improvements that were made?
Alexander: on both albums we gave the best we could. But song-wise ‘Sign Of The Dragonhead’ is easier to get into, because we didn’t restrict ourselves to a strict concept this time. Of course we’ve become a more experienced band, which you can also clearly hear on the new album in my opinion.
The album will be released in early January, so what are you own personal expectation from this album? When will it be a success for you?
Elina: I guess it’s the same for every band, we just hope that all the fans and supporters will like it. It would be nice if we could get a good chart position from the album as well, which will create a good follow-up with live-shows and such. Hopefully the album will get us some new fans as well.
What are you up to after the release of the album? Do you have any concrete touring plans already?
Elina: we have the three release shows in January and there will be European dates in the mid-April and May timeframe. All the other plans are still in the making and are not concrete yet, so I can’t be specific about it, but obviously we will take part in the festival season, after which we most likely will tour North-America again.
Okay Alexander/Elina, I would like to thank you for your willingness to answer my questions. Is there anything that we didn’t cover that you want to express to our readers?
Alexander: we want to thanks everyone for their wonderful support and we can’t wait to be back on stage, so make sure to be there when we are in your neighborhood.