A new festival arrives in Mexico City
Xandria Interview (Marco Heubaum and Ambre Vourvahis)
It’s no secret that melodic metallers Xandria have gone through a few line-up changes in their 30-year existence, with founding member Marco Heubaum being the only constant. While this does given them something of a troubled history, there’s no denying that, throughout their 7 albums to date, the band’s music has grown more and more powerful. By adopting a “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” approach, Xandria have evolved from being one of a million symphonic bands into a unique project that offer fans surprises with every release.
With their new line-up hot off a European tour with Visions of Atlantis, and their 8th album – The Wonders Still Awaiting – on its way, Xandria are ready to take it the next level. This Day In Metal sat down with Marco Heubaum and new vocalist Ambre Vourvahis to see exactly what kind of wonders await…
This Day In Metal: Heya, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. For any of our readers who aren’t familiar, how would you describe the sound of Xandria in 2022?
Marco: Probably something like film score metal. Very diverse, but each song is special on its own. Big and complex, and there´s a lot of heartfelt passion in each of the songs.
TDIM: There’s a noticeably heavier vibe to some of the singles from The Wonders Still Awaiting. Especially Ghosts. Did you start out intending to do something heavy or did it just evolve organically into that?
Marco: We love heavy and dark metal styles, so it’s natural that it finds its way into our songs. Ghosts was directly inspired by bands like At The Gates. You can recognize it by that guitar riff right in the beginning.
TDIM: Yeah, I can hear that. Also, Ambre is fantastic, I feel like she’s really pushed the band to another level of heavy. I read that you two were considering working on another project together but then that turned into just bringing Ambre into Xandria? Is that right?
Marco: Yes, that’s right. It just clicked. The other project was at the time when I was having the first new ideas for Xandria songs, so it came together very naturally. We could immediately try her voice on the new demos I had, and it was just sounding amazing!
TDIM: Until that point, had there been much of a search for new singers?
Marco: There wasn’t any search before. I had been giving Xandria a break to have some time to breathe and get some fresh thoughts before thinking about continuing. I loved her voice a lot also because I was looking for a different type of voice than we had in the past, which means not a mainly classical voice. I wanted a more diverse voice, and also a more direct and intense emotional expression. Ambre is bringing both, she has a beautiful voice, but can also growl, and even do the “operatic” thing for parts that need that “majestic” touch to it.
TDIM: Ambre, I read you trained to do the harsh vocals by yourself. Out of interest, how do you start that? Just wake up one morning and growl in the mirror until it works? Or is there a particular routine?
Ambre: Hahaha! Almost! I started recreating the sounds I was hearing, when listening to Amorphis for example, when I was younger. And it actually worked, so I kept on experimenting with it. I continued pursuing it later with my vocal coach to build it safely and perfect it.
TDIM: How did you find working with Lukas Knobl? Was his approach notably different to arrangers you’ve had in the past?
Marco: He is coming from the film score world, composing for Hollywood movies, so working with him instantly brought that soundtrack feeling even more into the music, and we could talk about the arrangements in a way that very much related to movies. You know, I could tell him, here it should be that sinister Hans Zimmer vibe, like The Dark Knight, and here I have more John Williams in mind. We got along very well and we already plan to work on the next Xandria songs together.
TDIM: You’ve worked with the non-profit Eden Reforestation projects on the promotion for this release, which ties in with the album’s concept of choosing to create a better world. How did this collaboration happen?
Marco: We wanted to do something more than just writing about things we are worried about and that we want people to think about, so we were thinking of ways to do that. We liked the Eden Reforestation project because they are doing so much. It’s such a beautiful idea, to reforest the destroyed areas on this planet and it gives some hope in a time when there is not that much hope in general. We need those beacons of hope, so we can all feel the motivation to change something. Because we see that it is possible, if we only want to.
TDIM: I totally agree with you on that. Great thing to do! So… speaking of doing stuff, you’ve just finished touring with Visions Of Atlantis and Ye Banished Privateers! How was that? And how did it feel being the only non-pirates on the tour? Are you now thinking about becoming pirates?
Marco: Haha, for sure it felt like we were on a pirate ship more than a tour bus and we were doing a lot of plundering all over Europe! But to give you a serious answer, we find it important to keep Xandria open for any topics we want to touch musically and lyrically and stay “universal” if you know what I mean. I would not give Xandria some overall “party” image, as we want to be able to do serious things like we did with the You Will Never Be Our God video clip for example, and no one could take that seriously then. Although the occasional pirate vibe can be fun. I mean, we’ve also had songs like that in the past, like Cursed on Neverworld’s End back in the day. And it was fun to tour with the pirates for sure!
It was just great to meet all the fans all over Europe after such a long time. It was a really wonderful experience to celebrate music together with them, after we all had been deprived of that for too long now.
TDIM: What’s next for 2023 and beyond?
Marco: We are still in the planning phase for tours and some festival shows, so keep your eyes open for that! And at some point in the not-so-far future we will work on new music again.
TDIM: From the future to the distant past… do you remember the moment you first heard heavy metal music and the effect it had on you?
Ambre: It was actually a song from Within Temptation from the Mother Earth album and I just fell in love immediately. I recognized myself in it despite the fact that it was so different to anything else I had heard at the time. Then I heard Nightwish and that was it. I was around 11 and I never looked back and became a metal fan right there at that moment.
Marco: It was Black Sabbath, the seventies Ozzy era, when I was a child and listened to tapes from my father. I remember Sweat Leaf and Children of the Grave being the heaviest songs I’d heard and I was fascinated by the dark and serious vibe of them. Later, I discovered that vibe again in Metallica and Iron Maiden, and that was got me into these bands and then I became a full-hearted metal fan.
TDIM: We also like to post trivia facts about bands/artists but often the commenters tell us our facts are too obvious. Can you tell us some trivia about yourselves that no one else knows?
Ambre: So… I have a thing with daylight in any rooms I sleep in. It needs to be pitch black. I don’t think I’ve ever opened the window blinds once in 10 years in my old bedroom… I did open the window for fresh air though, haha! It makes you get creative when you’re in hotel rooms without proper dark curtains…
Ambre: Let’s leave it at that, haha!
TDIM: Haha, okay then. And Marco?
Marco: I love licorice, it´s my favorite sweet. When Ye Banished Privateers were giving out super strong Swedish licorice candies to the other musicians and crew members to see how they react, I was the only one liking it. Everyone else was spitting it out, literally, but I loved it!
TDIM: So, the wonders still awaiting are blackout curtains, super strong licorice and some first class metal… Thanks for joining us today, Xandria! See you on the road!
The Wonders Still Awaiting is released on 3rd February 2023 by Napalm Records
Learn more about Xandria 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