Delain Interview: Martijn Westerholt and Diana Leah on Dark Waters and more!
Dutch symphonic metal legends Delain have been forerunners of the genre since their 2006 debut – Lucidity – amassing a passionate fanbase in and out of the metal scene. However, during a difficult 2021, the line-up imploded, with all members except founder Martijn Westerholt exiting the band. Fans were understandably shocked and the future seemed uncertain until August 2022 when suddenly a new singer (Diana Leah), new album and new band were announced. Three incredibly strong singles have proven Delain are no spent force and on February 2023, the new line-up will release Dark Waters; a remarkable album that comes with no small weight of expectation…
This Day In Metal caught up with them ahead of this highly anticipated release:
This Day In Metal: So, for the benefit of any of our readers who’ve not heard you before, how would you describe the sound of Delain in 2023?
Diana Leah: I would have to say… epic…………. [long pause] Yeah. [laughs] I have to think about that. Good question.
TDIM: [laughs] I mean, you can probably stop at “epic” to be fair!
Martijn Westerholt: Hmm, that is a good question. Epic! Bombastic! Contrast! Pop! Metal! [laughs] All those elements are in there.
DL: I wanted to use the right words but definitely EPIC.
All: Bombastic. [laughs]
TDIM: Martijn, you mentioned “contrast”. Do you think with Dark Waters, your new album, that you’ve gone to more extremes with that contrast? Like, Moth To A Flame is probably the most pop track you’ve ever done but then something like Invictus is maybe the most heavy, epic, metal, bombastic, etc…
MW: Yeah, actually, it’s funny you say so. I think you could definitely describe it like that. Invictus is kind of like a rock opera, a mini rock opera. There are a lot of poppy things in there but we still have growls, it captures all those elements. So yes, that’s true, completely.
TDIM: Obviously it’s been an “interesting” few years for Delain. You released your previous album – the fittingly-titled Apocalypse & Chill – right before COVID-19, global lockdowns and cancelled tours. Then in 2021, your previous line-up all split. You released an Eye of Melian album, your other project… and then in 2022 you just announced “yep, new Delain line-up, new singer, new album!” and here we are. It’s been a wild ride. Do you think all of that flux fed into the writing of Dark Waters?
MW: Well, you’re completely right, it has been a huge rollercoaster. But as for writing the music, since day one I wrote the music with Guus and that has always been an anchor. We always did that and we kept doing that. Of course, Charlotte, our previous singer, wasn’t there any more and that was something we had to get used to. But for the rest, it was just business as usual I’d say. Not talking about Diana and I, because of course that’s a completely a new thing. But the part with Guus was very much business as usual.
TDIM: So when did you and Guus start writing the songs on Dark Waters?
MW: Ummm. Partially already when COVID hit. It was therapeutic for me. I had burn-out as well and a lot happened and then COVID, for me personally, was kind of a blessing. That may sound weird but to me it was exactly what I needed. So that’s when we started writing. And the fun thing is that we finished it together with Diana after she stepped on board, so it’s really an album of transition in that regard. It has a lot of meaning to me for that reason.
TDIM: I think it resonates with me, and probably will with other listeners, for the same reason. A lot of a people had a transformative few years, for better or worse, with COVID and the changes that brought. The lyrics were relatable in that sense. And, of course, Diana, you wrote some of the lyrics on this? I think Tainted Hearts and Moth To A Flame are yours, is that right?
DL: You’re correct!
TDIM: Is this the first time you’ve written lyrics? Or do you have, like, reams and reams of notebooks full, just waiting to be unleashed?
DL: Well, I’ve always written lyrics for my own songs and for when I was in other bands and doing different projects. I’ve always liked to write because I like to sing stuff that I can relate to. If they’re lyrics that come from my personal experiences, it’s always easier to sing them. So I’ve always been familiar with writing lyrics but I’m happy that I had a chance to write the lyrics for those songs. And yeah! I do keep a notebook with lyrics. I sometimes write bits and pieces whenever something comes to my mind and I had that for Moth To A Flame. I had, like, two or three phrases where I picked them and thought “Oh! This! I can use this, it connects with the rest of the lyrics I wrote” and it was really fitting. It’s good to have those notes as a backup.
TDIM: You mentioned some of your previous projects. I think for a lot of metal fans, you’re quite a new face because your background has been in all sorts of different types of music!
DL: Of course, like every singer, I’ve had different phases in my life. I like to merge into things because I like to be versatile. I started with rock music, that was always my thing when I was a teenager – punk rock at first, then I got into heavier metal and metalcore, then I merged into symphonic metal and that was my thing. I liked everything about it, the singing, the instrumental parts, everything, it just clicked with me and my style.
And then eventually I switched to dance music because I loved music in general – since I was a little girl, I would sing to anything – and a friend of mine was doing that type of music. Like, dance and trance music. He suggested me to another friend of his, we reached out to each other and he said “you can try to sing on this and see if you like it”. And I loved it because trance music also has this magical vibe and a lot of strings, it’s really cool.
So I said you know what? I’ll just do this. I’ll do it as, like, a solo thing on my own and not try to find bands, because it’s really tiring to find the right people sometimes and manage everybody. I did that and it was actually pretty good. I had a few releases on cool radio shows and even if you search now my name on Spotify, all those songs pop up. If you search for me, I’m definitely more known in that area – dance and trance music – but my heart has always been in rock and metal music.
In fact, I went back to my roots and started doing covers on my YouTube of symphonic metal bands like Within Temptation and Nightwish. Just for fun, really, I wanted to incorporate that part of music in my life again because I needed it. And once I did that… Delain happened. And it was like “wow… is this a sign from the universe?”
TDIM: I mean, that’s pretty awesome. To go from your symphonic metal covers to suddenly singing in one of those bands. I believe you just reached out and sent an email to Martijn?
DL: You’re right, yeah. I actually left a comment on their social media, asking him “hey, can I audition?!” It was pretty direct. I came across one of their posts and just commented. Of course, I had no idea what was going on, they hadn’t gone public with the whole thing about auditioning new singers so I just went for it to see what would happen and a few days later, Martijn reached out to me and said “you were actually on my list! Because I found out about your YouTube channel!” and I was shocked. Like, my YouTube channel had 1,000 subscribers – how did you find it!? And that’s how the audition process started. He sent me some songs to sing on… Burning Bridges and Masters Of Destiny…
TDIM: Woah. Didn’t want to start gentle then… start with the really intense ones!
MW: I felt really mean doing that. I have to say, I felt guilty… but she had payback because she knocked me off my chair when I got it back.
TDIM: Was that the moment then? When you just thought “yes, this is the right person”?
MW: I had a hunch, yeah. [laughs] I thought like “oh wow”. She sent it back in a day, too! Also I sent her new stuff later on and I thought we really have to invite her over to the Netherlands. So she flew over, she met us, and then we knew. From my side, it was funny. I saw her YouTube channel because I was indeed searching online for channels that did covers and I was really impressed with what she did so I wrote down her name. I thought “I really should contact her” and then a couple of days later saw that comment on Instagram.
TDIM: And yeah! Obviously you guys recorded the album together and now you’ve done some shows as well, which is exciting. How did it feel before you did the first one? I know you did some small warm-up gigs for fans only, but now you’ve done some big shows and festivals.
MW: Well, it’s tricky. The very first show going public as the new band was at a festival. Playing directly after Status Quo! I thought “oh man, we’re gonna be fried alive” [laughs] A new band, onstage for the first time, no experience besides those try-out shows and just like [high-pitched weird voice] “uhhh yeah, let’s go out and see what happens!” But I’m so proud of everybody. I take my hat off to Diana for how she did that day. The pressure is humungous. And then you have Status Quo, these veterans, and you have to go on after that. We were really lucky we had a soundcheck!
DL: Yeah, 100%! I did feel pressure but to be honest, I felt more pressure when playing in a venue with a smaller crowd. I don’t know why, maybe it’s just a mental thing for performers. But whenever there’s such a huge crowd that you can’t see where it ends…
MW: It’s like we’re anonymous.
DL: Yeah, then I’m like “we’re good”. I feel a lot more relaxed. I still had a bit of nerves going on but that’s just normal whenever you have to perform.
TDIM: It’s kinda the same for an audience member. When you go to a small show there’s a much deeper, more intimate connection with the performance.
MW: Yeah. You see faces more. Like, if you played for two people it’d be way more scary than playing for a thousand!
TDIM: Totally. But, you know, the fans have been really positive. Obviously there was a lot of concern over what the new Delain would be like but since you released the singles and have done the shows, the reception has been very warm, people are excited.
MW: Yeah, the try-out shows really helped. Delain has a very loyal and fanatic fanbase so it was really important to involve them in this whole process. There were no tickets sold, they got an invitation, fans who’ve come to a lot of shows, kind of experts. We asked them not to use photos because Diana wasn’t announced yet and it worked beautifully. No pictures were leaked. It was very emotional. It was the first time the music came back to life, fans heard the new music, we were able to share that, together with those fans. And they kept such an open mind.
TDIM: I think the reception will be positive to the album too. I mean, it’s a great album and I think it fits beautifully into the Delain lineage.
MW: Thank you so much, that’s awesome.
DL: Thank you!
TDIM: Thank you! [all laugh] So yeah, you’re doing a proper European tour soon. Diana, are you ready for the heavy metal lifestyle?
DL: I’m getting ready, yeah! I’ll be fine because you know, it’s going to be so much fun with the guys. Even when we meet up to do these shows and rehearse, we always have so much fun together. It’s so easy just to do everything together, it comes so quickly and natural. So I’m not worried for that.
TDIM: I hope you’ve got some good pranks ready.
DL: [laughs] Yeah, that’s one thing I’ve not been thinking about. But I should. I should prepare some pranks for everybody… just in case…
MW: [laughs] I have a large pool of nonsense from the past to dig. I can tell you so many pranks. I will tell you one, I told this in one interview before. We toured with Sabaton and Nightwish once and while Nightwish were onstage, Sabaton removed EVERYTHING from their dressing room. When I say everything, I mean everything. Lightbulbs, even the toilet paper in the restroom! The sofa! It was completely empty. Nightwish came back to the dressing room and were like “huh? What the heck?”
TDIM: [laughs] I dunno why but I can picture Sabaton as being the kings of pranks. They definitely have that vibe…
MW: Yes they do. But they are also willing victims for pranks, I have to say.
TDIM: Good sports, all’s fair in war I guess! So… obviously this website is This Day In Metal and we like to look back and do a bit of nostalgia stuff. Do you remember the very first time you heard heavy metal and how it made you feel?
MW: Oh, well. Gosh. Does Europe and The Final Countdown count?
TDIM: Ehhh… Well, I mean, it’s definitely on the hard rock border. It’s borderline.
MW: It’s borderline, isn’t it… Hmm. I think it was in ’86. I heard it in my brother’s room. And after that it was Wasted Years by Iron Maiden, from my other brother. I heard these while I was walking to my room and it was coming from their rooms. I will never forget it. So awesome. So much energy and power. It’s funny, after I heard my oldest brother play that theme on the guitar, from Wasted Years, on an acoustic guitar… wait, how long ago was that? 30 years? If not more? Phew. I think my brothers raised me with the right music.
TDIM: It explains a lot, to be honest. Final Countdown is “epic, bombastic, contrast, pop, metal” – all those words you used earlier to describe Delain! How about you, Diana?
DL: It was Dream Theater. A friend of mine was always listening to them and at the time I was listening to Evanescence and Avril Lavigne, that type of music, and he let me listen to a Dream Theater song – Pull Me Under – and that was it. That started the whole journey towards my other influences. I had to get used to it because coming from a more pop-rock background and hearing James’s voice, it was such a different vibe. So many things going on, I wasn’t used to that.
MW: Yeah, that’s quite a vibrato James has!
DL: Yeah! And so much range! I listened to it a couple of times to get used to it and after that, just loved them.
TDIM: I can hear that influence too. You certainly bust out quite a range on the album! Okay, let’s finish with the trivia question. At This Day In Metal, we like to post trivia facts about bands but the commenters always tell us our facts are too obvious. So can you tell us something about yourselves that no one else knows?
MW: Uhm. Well. Talking about the 80s, I like Transformers very much. I am a Transformer nerd. LET ME SHOW YOU.
[Martijn rustles around under the desk and pulls out a gun!]
MW: Do you recognise THIS!?
TDIM: [betraying a total lack of Transformer knowledge] Oh. Um. Yeah. That’s the one that looks like a gun…
MW: [transforming the gun into a robot in disguise] It’s Megatron!
TDIM: Oh yeah. Megatron…
MW: I’m a nerd.
TDIM: So do you have, like, a whole wall of Transformers?
MW: Let me show you… I’m still working on this… [Martijn shows TDIM a massive wall of bookcases covered in Transformers. It is pretty impressive, a whole bunch of shiny robots interspersed with metal CDs, limited editions, etc… a proper collector’s paradise!]
TDIM: Wow. I’m impressed. That is a cool fact, thanks for sharing!
MW: My pleasure!
DL: Well, when it comes to me… this is such a hard question…
MW: No, it’s easy! I know one!
DL: Okay, let me say it first and see if it’s the same one. So this is stupid but I think I watched Titanic like 9 times? I really like movies like that; love movies that also have a bad ending. [laughs] And if you want another one, I think I played around 12 hours of World of Warcraft straight without taking any breaks when I was in high school. Because I had nothing better to do…
(a long conversation about World of Warcraft ensues… cut for brevity!)
MW: Okay, so the answer I had for Diana was that she is an insanely good cook. She cooks food so well and even has an Italian cooking channel where she makes dishes and always when I see it, I need to eat immediately! [laughs] That’s one people should know.
DL: Oh, I always forget about it because I’m like, “eh, yeah, I do this too” but yes. I love to cook.
TDIM: And where can people find your cooking channel?
DL: It’s like a very long Italian name… [laughs] But if you… [gives elaborate directions, almost like a treasure map, to find the channel]
TDIM: I will find it… and I will put it at the end of the interview so that everyone can see your cooking!
[It’s “Videoricette per i gruppi sanguigni” to be precise!]
TDIM: Annnnnd, that’s it. Thank you both so much for your time. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you.
MW: Same here.
TDIM: See you on tour in April!
DL: We can’t wait!
MW: Thank you so much. And we will back in the U.K. again later, with a more dedicated tour of the U.K. and Ireland.
TDIM: Awesome. I will definitely look forward to it. Thanks, Delain!
Dark Waters is released 10th February 2023 on Napalm Records
Learn more about Delain here:
YESTERDAY, TODAY, EVERYDAY HEAVY METAL!! 🤘🏻👍👊
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CJ Lines is a metalhead, writer, podcaster, ninja historian, master of K-pop, and award-winning pie-maker. He’s written two books. He lives in Sheffield, U.K. Follow him on Twitter at @cjlines