Swedish symphonic Metallers Eleine are a rare good news story in the midst of COVID-19 music industry chaos, with their new album ‘Dancing In Hell’ riding high in their home country’s charts and getting rave reviews around the world.
MetalTalk’s Ian Sutherland caught up with singer Madeleine Liljestam and guitarist/growler Rikard Ekberg over Skype to talk all things Eleine.
MetalTalk: Congratulations on the new album! You are fighting with AC/DC for the top spot in the Swedish rock charts! How does that feel?
Rikard Ekberg: “It feels great man. Everyone knows that AC/DC always comes out on top but we are very happy to be there at Number two.
You are a hard working band, you have your own record label, you make your own videos. Do you think being in so much control of what you do is the way to go in the modern music industry?
Madeleine Liljestam: “We formed our own label to release ‘Until The End’ but that was only for that album. Since our EP last year and for the release of ‘Dancing In Hell’ we have been signed to Black Lodge Records. They are great to work with. I have to say that having our own label to release ‘Until The End’ taught us a lot about the industry. It feels like we have a better understanding of how everything works. With that we know how to work more closely with another label and that’s where we are now. We work together as a team with Black Lodge. We don’t want it to be them and us, we just want to be one big team.”
Rikard: “The deal is that they do what they do best and we do what we do best. We have full artistic freedom, we still do our own music videos and probably will for some time yet. That is because we have a vision and it is easier to get it out there if you do it yourself.”
Madeleine: It’s an extension of the song so we have the vision in our heads and we really want that to get out there.
Rikard: It might change in the future if we have a budget though! Right now the videos just cost us time, cost us coffee and cookies, that’s it! Sometimes a side story in a video is cool but in the end it’s all about Metal!
I’ve been a fan of the band for a while and enjoyed the two full length albums and the EP you have released previously immensely. I think ‘Dancing In Hell’ sounds like a big step forward for the band though. How do you think it relates to your previous work?
Rikard: “I think it relates to our previous work very well but I agree that it is a big step forward. It just happened naturally though, natural progression in action. As you go on, you get better. The same old story. We always write what feels right. We did that for the debut album, for ‘Until The End’ and again for this one.”
Madeleine: “It feels like we matured as a band. I feel that as well for this album, it’s here is Eleine, 100%. That is how I feel. There’s a lot to that. A lot of reasons and I feel really satisfied and proud of it as there’s a lot of ourselves in it.”
How as the album put together? What was the writing process like?
Rikard: “The writing process varies from song to song. A lot of times I’m riffing on the guitar and that leads to an interlude in a song or a chorus or whatever. Or sometimes we get inspired by a lyric we come up with or playing around on a piano or a melody that Madeleine has come up with. It’s always different but it’s always Madeleine and myself that comes up with the songs.
“We get inspired, but when I say inspired I don’t mean I’m going to play what I heard on our record but it’s about being inspired in the way we feel something. We watch movies, animes(we love animes), play videogames for hours and hours…..”
Madeleine: “It is really a vibe or a mood that really inspires you, that makes you feel a certain something which makes you write that song in the end.”
Rikard: “I just did that yesterday! I was playing a video game and I was feeling something so I stopped, thought this is making me feel something and recorded that on my phone and I’m going to start working on that next week.”
The next album is in the works already then!
Madeleine: “Yes! You never stop making music. We’re always on it!”
Rikard: “It’s like all the ideas are out in space and then they come down to our heads(laughs). We often talk about this, that we have surprised ourselves how we came up with some stuff. We can listen back to the album and think that sounds so good, this is kick ass! How the hell did we come up with that?”
Is there a theme to the songs on this album? Are they connected in any way or is it just individual ideas?
Rikard: “We always write what is true to us, we write what we know, about what we feel and we write about what we see. This album in itself is about being trapped in your own personal hell. You need to learn how to navigate in that hell, to not get burned by the flames, to dance around the flames and tame them, to come out the other side stronger than before.”
Madeleine: “We just came up with the material song by song, written about what we have seen and what we feel. There wasn’t a thought from the beginning that we are going to make an album and it will be about this. It just evolved into this strengthening, empowering kind of album that I have really understood now that people relate to in very many ways, in their own way.
“That is a beautiful thing to hear someone say that your song has made them feel empowered today. That is one of the biggest compliments you can get in my opinion, because we want our fans to feel good and be empowered, to feel strengthened and to power through. It is beautiful to know that we can give that, especially in these times. It feels very relevant even if it was written before the pandemic happened.”
Rikard: “All of our music is really empowering and also addresses subjects like mental health, abuse in physical or fiscal form, the fear of death, the conquering of the fear of death, that kind of stuff. It has always been about that, that is such a huge part of ourselves but not right on the nose lyrics wise. It is relatable and that is the key to it all.”
I’ve only seen the promo download so far and it has no lyrics with it. Listening to you I’m curious about what the empowering message contained in ‘Where Your Rotting Corpse Lies’ is?
Rikard: “Lyrics are really important to us so we hope that people pay attention to them though of course, some will just listen to the song! ‘Where Your Rotting Corpse Lies’ is the ultimate song about deceit and retribution. I think you are going to like those lyrics.”
Are there any songs you’re particularly looking forward to playing live? Or are you going to play the whole album on the next tour?
Rikard: “That is a thing that we often do, that when we have a release party we play the new album from start to finish. When we did that for the last album people said great show, but it is rare to see a band play every song from the album from start to finish. We are like, isn’t that what you do?”
Madeleine: “We are looking forward to playing all of the new songs live. We had a scheduled release party which was postponed to February because of new restrictions in Sweden, so we really hope that can happen. With COVID-19 it is going to be just fifty people with a lot of space between and people sitting down and we really hope it is going to happen.
“We have a nice setlist prepared. I really long to play all of the tracks on ‘Dancing In Hell’ but I cannot wait to play ‘Where Your Rotting Corpse Lies’.”
Rikard: I’m looking forward to playing that one too, also the title track and of course ‘Die From Within’ as I have two solos in that one!(laughs).
We are all feeling withdrawal symptoms about not being able to go to gigs and play gigs nowadays. You guys were out on tour when Covid hit, right?
Rikard: “Yes, we did three weeks of a tour in Europe that was planned for five weeks. It was scary because we started the tour and it kicked off really, really well. Then there was more and more on social media about the virus and fewer and fewer people were coming to the gigs. We played at one place, we left that place and it shut down behind us and that sort of continued for the best part of two weeks.
“Eventually we decided let’s cut our losses, let’s shut it down now, otherwise we will get stuck somewhere or help to spread the virus and we did not want that to happen. We barely got home by the way, they shut down the borders in Denmark so we couldn’t drive through Denmark, we were in Germany at this point. Then Madeleine came up with the idea of using the ferries that go from Germany to Sweden.”
Madeleine: “We basically just slept on the restaurant floor! We were just lucky to get on it.”
Rikard: “That was like a five month tour in one boat trip! We slept on the floor of the restaurant, we had no food. Anton, he threw up, the toilets flooded, there was poop everywhere!”
Madeleine: (laughing) “Yes, but that was the third and last week and everything was exploding, everything came down then and that was awful. We really want to highlight though, the full three weeks because it was such a success. That was three of the best weeks of my life when it comes to touring and playing gigs because of the audiences.
“Oh my god, it was beautiful, it was crazy. It is easy to focus on all the shit after that, but we are grateful that we got that at the beginning of 2020 and it has stayed with us. For many fans on the tour, it was the last gig that they saw for the year so we all have that together.”
Rikard: “It is easy to focus on the tour being cancelled, but f**k the cancellation. We went out on tour and it was really cool.”
Touring income is really important for bands now. How have you been coping without that?
Rikard: “We are full time musicians and it is total chaos, really, really bad.”
Madeleine: “All of our possible income for 2020 just went away, the bigger part of it anyway and it has been awful to say the least, it has been a struggle. So we put our focus on other things. We started to talk about postponing the release of the album, it was scheduled for November 2020, but we decided let’s go ahead and do it, for our sake and for our fan’s sake. We’ll release more singles and make more music videos instead.”
Rikard: “We normally do two music videos, but since we have time on our hands, let’s do four since we do them ourselves anyway.”
Madeleine: “We wanted people to have something to look forward to, to feel empowered by that, to keep our focus. What will get us through this is to keep the focus on certain things so it gets easier day by day. We also got to spend more time on our Patreon, allowing us to focus on something specific.
“The third thing was when we got home from the tour I swore a lot, I can say that! We have some sayings in our Swedish dialect, in the southern part of Sweden. I thought I would like to run our own Eleine webshop but have another that uses these Swedish expressions in our dialect.”
Rikard: “It’s a very special dialect, a lot of slang words.”
Madeleine: “I thought I can keep busy with that as well. So I launched it and it has been going very well, that has really saved the company, Eleine Productions. I am grateful for that, as if we had to close down that company and start another one, that is crazy expensive. It wasn’t possible, I had to save it some way.”
Rikard: “Also the Eleine merch has been rolling, but as you said, it is on tour that you make your earnings, because I like the fact that people can stream our music but they have to do it a lot to make it go around. I really appreciate people who buy physical copies of albums or buy them from iTunes or Amazon as digital downloads, as it helps us out immensely, it really does.”
I think this is an important side of how the music industry works and should be talked about more.
Madeleine: “It should be talked about, otherwise how are people going to know – how is it going to get better? There are still people who think that this is not a real job! It is important to highlight that it’s f**king hard right now!”
Rikard: “At the same time, while we are struggling to get food on the table, I love doing what we do. We are in it for the long run and just because we have hit a major bump in the road, it does not mean that we will quit. The bigger you are, the more money you have, the longer you can survive, that is partially true.
“We had to get rid of our van, we loved that thing, it helped us out a lot. We held on to it because our mindset was things will open up soon, we held on to it for month after month, we had it on lease. We had to get rid of it though to survive, to continue to do what we do here and also, once again Patreon.
“I can not express enough how much we appreciate any and all fans of course, but the ones on Patreon, we do not know what we’d do without them.”
Madeleine: “Patreon is there, if you can and if you want and it is possible from $1 a month. It does not mean you are worth less as a fan if you are not on Patreon. We can say though that right now, without the fans on Patreon, we do not know what we would have done. It has helped us out so, so much.”
Patreon is becoming the modern way to run a fan club.
Rikard: “Yes! Could you have imagined back in the eighties for example, that you and I joined a fan club and it is the artists themselves that are writing back to you? Way back it was just run by some guy, but now you are dealing directly with the artists.
“That is the correct use of this technology, talking to each other like we are just now from different countries and to connect people around the world. All our Patrons say our Patreon is very much about empowering each other. If you have a bad day and you go in there and talk to the Eleine Legion, the Eleine family, to feel better, that is a wonderful thing. Both Madeleine and I were seriously bullied when we were younger and to have something like that to lean on….”
Madeleine: “That would have been so cool. We have scheduled an online pizza party with all our Patrons, it is an idea that came up when we were talking with them and it’s going to be fun!”
Will you use Patreon to fund making albums in the future?
Rikard: “We already fund the making of our own albums. There are different kinds of deals you can have with labels and we pay for the recording part ourselves and Black Lodge are there for the promotion and distribution parts. That is why we have the big collectors edition box, because they wanted to do it. We were like are you sure? And they said hell yeah! As for recording and stuff like that, it is crazy expensive but we will do it because we want to own it.”
Madeleine: “I love Patreon. It is not just the financial part it has played this year. It is the mental part as well. It has been a struggle this year. I’ve had times when I am depressed and every day, when it is extra tough to get out of bed, I have felt that we have a Patreon so I need to do something creative. I can’t just leave them, I need to post something.”
Rikard: “Yes, we have a responsibility.”
Madeleine: “That has made me get out of bed and helped me to stay creative. It has reminded me that we have our fans. We don’t have live gigs right now, but we have our fans, we have our music, we have our creativity still and no one can take that away from us. I am grateful for that, that it has kept us going.”
With all the current uncertainties do you have any concrete plans for 2021?
Rikard: “Oh yeah! You need to stay focused and positive and be ready to run out of the gate when it is possible. It is always in the back of your head that it might not be, but there is no reason to stop and just be negative. If you do that then you bring everything down, everything is in a funk. It does not have to be that way. You do not pump your brakes when you are driving uphill!
“We have just recently signed with a booking agency called Dragon Productions, a big, big booking agency based in Germany. We are really happy with that because we are planning the future. There is nothing we can say right now, but we have some things upcoming. One thing we can say is that we are playing Sweden Rock Festival next year.”
Madeleine: “And we just announced that we are playing our first ever festival in Finland. All we can do is announce and wait and see, but we are hopeful about next year.”
Rikard: “It is an important part for everyone right now, that if you can and if you want to, you prebook tickets for events like that. Buy the ticket beforehand and make sure you can get a refund if it does not go ahead. That helps everyone to keep going!”