Being a fan helps me keep the magic alive – Diana Leah (Delain)

Delain has been one of the bands closest to my heart for so long, who allowed me to meet a lot of great people, form friendships, travel around to see them. So, of course, it came as a shock to hear about them disbanding. It felt like I was losing a piece of my soul, of the nostalgia of my fangirling youth days. But this isn’t about me or any other “butthurt” fan. Enough time has passed to see everyone move on and do their own beautiful things. 

Right now we have to appreciate we still have Delain, under another form. Though the core is still there. We have Martijn, Sander, Ronald, so that is indeed very Delain. And, of course, new additions Ludovico and Diana.  Needless to say, the most impactful change is that of the vocalist. That’s what could make or break the band, and thankfully, it made it. I wholeheartedly believe Diana is such a good addition to the band, she can do justice to the existing songs and create new exciting ones.

When I first heard rumours of the new singer, someone mentioned her to me as “the Romanian singer”, which intrigued me. How did I not know that a Romanian singer is going to be part of Delain? You can expect that that’s what I started my interview with, asking about her ties to our country:

“Yeah, that’s a good question. Well, the thing is I left Romania when I was 14. Now I’m almost 33. I left the country, I came to live in Italy and I lived in Italy for maybe 10 years or so. I lost count. But after that I went to Canada in 2014. So I lived in Italy from 2005 until 2014 and then from 2014 until 2019 I left and I lived in Canada. I went there just for work. But I did come to Romania a few times in between. Not as much as I wish I could. I still have relatives there. I have uncles and cousins. My dad actually, he’s still there. My mom and my sister are here. So we’re kind of separated basically.

I speak Romanian with my mom, but not always, because we try to speak Italian for the most part since we’re also surrounded by Italians. And if we only speak Romanian, they would not understand us, of course. With that comes the downside of it, which is I cannot speak Romanian anymore the way I used to.  So I can say very, very few things. “

I bet those are still going to come in very handy when Delain comes to Romania again, which we all hope to be soon. This year their tour is obviously already booked, but she says she’s pushing for it to happen next year, so that’s very good news.

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Photo Credit: Andrea Falaschi

But let’s get into it and talk about Dark Waters, the new Delain album. If you haven’t heard it yet, give it a spin. You might find something for you there. I mean, if you’re reading this, you’re obviously interested. The process of making an album is complex and mysterious, so let her explain it to us:

“With every band there’s always at least one main songwriter or two. So in this case, in Delain,  there are two main songwriters now, Martijn and Guus. Guus is not really in the band, officially. You don’t really see him in the band pictures, but he’s a very important part behind the scenes when it comes to the songwriting, since the beginning of Delain, actually.  And then I came into the picture as well. Usually, one of them writes first. So let’s say Martijn writes the structure of the song, or maybe Guus writes the structure. It really depends. It all starts from the structures. Maybe Martijn writes the keys for the song first. He has an idea and then he sends it to Guus, who then adds guitars on top of it, and bass, and stuff like that. Next, he arranges the song. So he makes the main structure: the verse, the chorus, the second verse, bridge, and last chorus, and so on.

Once they have this structure of the song, the demo phase of it, of course, then that version gets sent to me and I work on it. Most of the times, they write the vocal melodies as well, so what I’m supposed to sing. But if they don’t do that, they just send that version to me, the instrumental part, and they ask me to write something on it. I do that and then I record my vocals. I write lyrics. I try to add backing vocals to that song and then I send them back to them.

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Photo Source: Diana Leah Facebook Page

It’s a back and forth process between the three of us. Actually for this album, I flew to the Netherlands to work together, the three of us in the same room. And it definitely is a little bit easier because it’s quicker, because we’re all in the same room, and we can really exchange ideas very quickly. I just step up at the microphone and start recording while they suggest things to me and stuff like that. 

But for the rest of the album, it was just me working here in Italy, and they are in the Netherlands, and they just send stuff to me, and then I record here at home. Once we have the demo of the song with my vocals on it, of course in a very raw version of it, then they work on the song even more, on the arrangements, on the orchestrations, on the choirs. And they just build things on top of it until it becomes, you know, finished. You have to decide at one point, okay, this is it. I think we’re good. We need to stop. Otherwise you keep going and it’s going to take you months for just one song. Once that happens, then they record the instruments in the Netherlands, they record the drums, the guitars, and all the rest. After that comes the mixing and mastering part, where everything gets polished even more sonically, from a sound point of view. That’s basically the business aspect of it.

Now the creative part of it, that’s a little bit trickier, because of course Martijn does write the majority of the songs for the albums. And the creative process can vary, because maybe one day you’re not in the mood to really write music, and so you have to really find that flow of creativity. That’s the trickier part. Even for me, sometimes they send me something and I’m not really in the mood.  I love the song and everything, but nothing comes up. Not a cool melody or something that I really like. So that’s the trickier part, because that takes a while to just get in that flow of the writing process.

This process was really new for me as well, because I’ve never worked with a band before like this and writing a full length album was really new for me. I always worked differently. I would record a song and release it right away. But when you have a body of work with like 10 songs to listen to from the beginning until the end, it’s a totally different feeling. It’s so much more rewarding and satisfying to listen to at the end.

So to answer your full question, I had a chance to contribute with lyrics on this album. I wrote the lyrics for Tainted Hearts and for Moth to a Flame  and I also wrote the melody for Tainted Hearts, like the whole thing. I wrote bits and pieces on Invictus. I think I wrote verses there. Yeah, I really had the chance to, and the freedom, of course, to just express myself a little bit.  And that felt really, really nice, because I love to do that. Really cool.”

With all that going on, what was the most dramatic change of the album? Was one of the songs meant to be something else and then suffered a drastic change? Or anything you liked that was left out?

“ Actually, nothing was left out. Everything that we had and worked on was put on the album. Maybe one song or two didn’t make it. But not too much. And for the other thing… Well, I think Invictus was a really tricky song because it had so many layers. It had so many choirs we have me singing, but we also have two other guests: Paolo Ribaldini and Marko Hietala. That was really tricky for the songwriting part because it’s like a mini opera song, with a lot of things going on. So at one point in our time, we had to cut things off.  Also because we were making his life harder for the mixing engineer because there were so many vocal tracks and so many orchestral parts. The demo phase of that song started really like… It was really rich. It had a lot going on. But then eventually, you have to make decisions and cut things off for the sake of the song to finish it and make it sound good in the end as well.  So I think that was the trickiest song of the album. The other ones went pretty smoothly, I would say.“

Now that the album is done, time to hit the road.  How is getting to sing live with Delain different than what you expected? Or maybe the same?

“Honestly, of course, whenever you join a band, especially Delain, you have your own expectations. I knew people had expectations as well for me and for the rest of the band and that puts a lot of pressure. I didn’t know what to expect. At one point, I was like, what if I get up on stage and people are gonna just stand there and stare at us and be like, oh, we don’t like this. I don’t know. So it was a bit scary, to be honest.  It was like nothing I had ever done before. Even though I had bands here in Italy, where we did play some shows, it was totally different because we never had a fan base like with my other bands. We would just play random shows.  Maybe a couple of people would know who we were. But here it’s totally different because everyone knows the songs of Delain. Yeah, it’s a step up. People know the band. You go on stage and you know that as soon as you step there, people have expectations from you. And that puts a lot of pressure, of course. But eventually I learned to ease into that feeling of fear.

Let’s say it was fear, even though I wasn’t really scared. I was just anxious. So eventually I learned to deal with that and be okay with it. I also told myself, you know what, even if you’re nervous, I think it’s healthy to be nervous before you go on stage. Because it means you care. You care about what you do and about the people. “

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Photo Source: Diana Leah

Since we talked about the existing fanbase, how do you feel about fan clubs now from the other side? Were you ever actively involved in a fanclub?

“I know what you mean. I’ve always been a huge fan of bands, of course, like Nightwish and Within Temptation. But I’ve never been part of a fan club or stuff like that. I tend to be an introvert and I don’t really like to put myself in the spotlight. Even though it sounds weird because I’m part of a band now and I am under the spotlight. How does it feel? Oh, gosh. I don’t know. I still feel the same. I’m a fan of Delain in the first place because I’ve been a fan of the band before I joined. I found out about the band in 2009. That’s a long time ago. So even though I sing in the band now, I’m still a fan. And I tried to be one because it makes me see things differently from a different perspective.

Because when you join a band like this, there’s a lot of things going on.  There’s a lot of business aspects and there’s the music industry. When you’re outside of it, when you’re just a fan of the music and of the band, you don’t really see these things. And once you’re part of it, sometimes a little bit of the magic kind of fades away.  So you really need to keep that magic alive within yourself. So being a fan allows me to keep that magic alive. “

Let’s now step away from Delain a bit and get to know Diana some more.

If you could have a Carpool Karaoke with anyone, who would you choose?

“Oh, wow. That’s such a hard question.  I have one in my mind. That would be Hayley Williams from the band Paramore. I love her. She’s been a huge inspiration for me since I was a teenager.

And I would love to just do that with her and sing. That would be really fun. “

Say your car fits more than two people :)) who else are you taking on?

“I would take Sharon from Within Temptation. And I would also pick… I have to pick a male singer. I have so many. Oh, gosh. I would pick… I don’t know. The Weeknd. That would be very interesting.”

What is the weirdest thing you have ever eaten?

“I don’t think there’s… I don’t really eat weird things because if it looks weird to me, then I won’t eat it. But I think it is… You know when you go to a sushi restaurant and they bring the… wasabi? I hate that. I hate what it does to my mouth and to… It’s weird.”

What’s the best vacation you’ve ever had?

“It was probably in Sardinia last year, actually. Well, I’ve been on cool vacations before, of course, but I picked this one because of the location. Because Sardinia is so beautiful.”

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Photo source: Diana Leah Facebook

Are you the kind of person who enjoys her birthday? And what would be a safe bet to get you as a present? Something you might always enjoy?

“Yeah. I don’t like when I… I’m not a huge birthday person. I don’t really celebrate it with huge parties. I usually go to my mom’s place and maybe she cooks a cake for me or a nice dinner or something. But if someone wants to buy something for me, then… Well, I love candles. Like scented candles. And I also love video games. Like World of Warcraft. So, anything Warcraft-related or candles, and I’m happy.“

Interview: Martijn Westerholt (Delain)

There’s no secret about how big of a Delain fan I am. They are bringing it every time with new albums mixing heavy songs and softer ballads, with pop and electronic influences. Their shows are always a good party. But more than anything, they are just the coolest bunch of people. So of course I jumped at the chance to ask Martijn Westerholt more about their brand new album, Apocalypse & Chill, to discuss music and life and so much more.

Simona: Congrats on the new album and the tour and everything. Something that has surprised me personally the most about it was the very techno and synth infused beginning of the album, which really was stronger than on any older material. How did that come to be?

Martijn: That’s funny because I hear that a lot. But you know, when you make music, you kind of are in your own bubble, so you don’t really notice those things. You just write a song and you go with the flow. What I do know is that we  used elements we always used. However, we used more of it. I think that with the arrangements. But it’s also with Charlotte’s vocals, with the choirs, with the electronic elements, with the guitar riffs. So I think all the elements are there and it’s the same, but there’s a little bit more of everything.

Simona: Listening to the album, I realized there were a few clusters of songs in terms of sound and message. Did these come about from having different periods of writing and recording?

Martijn: You know, my role is also to be the producer. I always say, OK, I want heavy and hard songs, because those are the most difficult to write for us. The ballads and the more soft stuff comes easier. So we started with the more heavy stuff and a song like Burning Bridges, but also a song like Masters of Destiny, which is just more intense. But that’s what we started with. And in the later period, we we did more the softer stuff.

I think the time factor really did kind of separate the the style of the songs a little bit. Normally we always write in one go, and then we record in one go, the classic way of doing it. This time we split everything in pieces. So that might have helped as well.

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Photo credit: Carlos Funes

Simona: What song from the album came together the easiest and which one gave you the most trouble?

Martijn: Masters of Destiny was really easy. I wrote the instrumental part really quickly and then I gave it to Charlotte and she gave back pretty quickly as well. Vengeance is Mine was a really hard one. Its internal structure was really hard and also with guitar riffing. It just didn’t click entirely and we worked a lot and changed a lot to make it work.

It’s funny because you can never predict when the song is easy or when the song is difficult just sometimes it just is so. Another easy song would be Ghost House Heart. I first thought it needed more flesh to the bone, but no, it doesn’t. It’s just short. People say “oh, it’s too short”, sure, but that’s kind of a compliment because it makes people hungry. But I did put it aside for a long time before finishing it and making a decision on it. The Greatest Escape was difficult because it has kind of two parts and we needed to connect them. It was kind of difficult.

Simona: When you have a song like this one and you just can’t seem to connect it, how do you get about getting through that? I wouldn’t say it’s a writer’s block, but maybe a composer’s block?

Martijn: How we work is that we have a little concept. So, for example, a verse and the chorus, or a riff and a chorus, or something like that. And we have let’s say twenty-five of those. We then sit together and say, okay, let’s work on that. I feel like working on this one, so we start working on that one. And really quickly if we try to elaborate on it and nothing comes, then we don’t even give it a chance to be finished. We just write it off. So we have songs laying around because they don’t make it. If we work on it and something comes up and there’s little more flesh to the bone, then it goes out. I often finish it with writing in little parts and then put the structure together. Sometimes I go to Timo and then we have the parts but not the structure complete, so we finish that. That’s a little bit how we work. But we don’t really have songs where we think, oh, we really want to finish it, if only we knew how. Then we just write it off and don’t give it a chance.

Simona: You don’t force it.

Martijn:  No, because it has to, you know, it will sound forced.

Simona: Is there any song on the album you would’ve liked to have as a single, but it just didn’t make the cut?

Martijn: Oh that’s a good one. Yeah, that’s a good one, because I never thought about it. We kind of made four singles with One Second and with Ghost House Heart, Masters of Destiny, and Burning Bridges. But if there would be another one, one I really, really like is Creatures. Because Creatures has a very gloomy guitar riff. We called it the Amon Amarth song because of that. But at the same time it’s also not very heavy because it’s almost like The Hurricane on our previous record. It’s almost a ballad, but it has really heavy duty elements and it’s a really weird combination, and I really, really like the sound. When we play it live, it really touches me. So it wouldn’t  be the first choice as a single, perhaps, but for me, it’s kind of it’s nice.Simona: I asked because sometimes some songs from different album get forgotten, or I would not say forgotten, but that they are not as highlighted.

Martijn: No, it’s true. But the good thing about that is that a lot of those songs  become audience favorites when you play them live. And when it works really well, you keep playing them.

Simona: How has it been taking the album on the road with the UK tour?

Martijn: Well, I was really pleasantly surprised when we played the stuff live because they really work and that’s never a given. You know sometimes you have songs on an album which work really well in an album but not live. Sometimes it’s the other way around. We have a song, for example, Don’t let Go, which was kind of a bonus track on The Human Contradiction. But live it always creates a party and it puts a lot of energy out there. I guess that’s that’s a good example.

But I think Burning Bridges works really well. It’s really intense live. I always put a softer song after, because any song you have after will always sound less heavy than Burning Bridges itself. It will always lose, so that’s kind of funny. But so far, the crowd really likes the songs and this is a kind of surprise. Whenever you do a new song live, you know, you worked on it for a long time and then you put it up on stage for the first time. And it is a surprise if it will work. So far, yeah, really good experience with it. I’m really, really pleasantly surprised.

Simona: I know you sometimes play a couple of songs way before the album was out and showcase them. Would you ever go back and change something to the songs after their life debut?

Martijn: Yes, actually, that’s a very good question. Not a lot of people asked. We had for example for the song Turn The Lights Out and we even had it with songs in the periods of We Are The Others, where we changed Get The Devil Out Of Me, for example. We changed the entire chorus. And it’s funny because indeed sometimes when you play a song live you notice certain things. For example, that song is too fast and you make it slower, so we did that a couple times. From our debut album there’s a song called Shattered, and we almost played it faster live. And now the other way around, we played Ghost House Heart in the UK for first time and it sounded rushed. So I  stretched it down with a couple BPMs. And now it sounds better. It’s really funny.

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Photo credit: Carlos Funes

Simona: Now that we talk about like creating the music and presenting it live, how separate is art from entertainment in your view? Not just for you in Delain, but in general.

Martijn: That’s a that’s a difficult question. I think it will offend people but I will say that I think that art is entertainment, but entertainment sounds a little bit too light for some art. Do you know what I mean? But in general, art is to amaze or inspire people, or make people think. And to me, that’s kind of what makes life interesting and does entertaining. The word entertainment is almost like Bugs Bunny with a hat.

With our music, what I sometimes struggle with is that, for me, a show is successful when people will go crazy and the roof blows off, so to say. But there are also people who don’t really express themselves like that and just stand there and take the music in and enjoy it just as much, only it’s more difficult to see. Sometimes I kind of measure the success to the amount of intensity I get back from the crowd. But that’s not always trustworthy. So, to say, OK, we need more “party” is not always good, because some songs are too serious for party in our genre. That’s kind of always a little bit of a struggle. Therefore, in a sense, I also kind of make this sequence of the setlist and I’ve tried to make a flow in that. We start with the big bang and then we have some serious songs. And then in the last part of the set we go to the party songs. So there’s kind of a flow in the set and that’s what I’ve tried to do.

Simona: With The Gathering and Don’t Let Go.

Martijn: Exactly, We’ve never played The Gathering as a first song.

Simona: Too much :)) people would then be able to handle it.

Martijn: No, you’re just sober or something, you know?

Simona: What was the first time you thought of yourself as an artist?

Martijn:  Oooh, sometimes I still don’t think of myself as an artist. That’s a good question, when did I think of myself as an artist? I think when I played live with Within Temptation on Dynamo, where we had the backstage pass say “no artists, just talent”. And I thought of what it said, just talents. Like, oh yeah, so I’m regarded as an artist. But I don’t know if I see myself as an artist. Good question. I’m not usually thinking like that for myself.

I also remember that people can look at you differently when they know  you are an artist or make music. People experience a bit of magic. I also have that with … let’s say Star Trek. I love Star Trek very much. I am Trekkie. Definitely. That’s magic. But if you meet an actor like that in real life, that magic is kind of gone. You know what I mean? That is how people approach me and I think and like unjust human being. But for them, it’s a special moment. I don’t want to take the special moments away from them. Those are special moments, to see how your music touches people. I mean, what bigger compliment can you get. That’s  really beautiful.

Simona: Finding out those are just actors or musicians is the best case scenario. There is reason why we have a saying “never meet your heroes”.

Martijn: Its funny. For example, Tuomas Holopainen is a good friend of mine. And when I met him for the first time, I was like “I’m a really big fan of your music” and he said “no, I’m a really big fan of your music”. And that was so weird.

Simona: Like the Spiderman meme.

Martijn: Yeah, really funny. And at some point, he said, for example, I don’t want to meet Hans Zimmer. He had a couple of moments when he could meet Hans Zimmer. The reason he didn’t want to meet him is that he wants to keep that magic there.

Photo Credit: Tim Tronckoe

Simona: Are you personally an Apocalypse& Chill kind of person or are you more worried than cynical?

Martijn: I’m actually an optimist. Also, when I look at the world Apocalypse& Chill for me is not judging. It’s more like observing. It’s just very interesting to see the two worlds. One, like, for example, the social media, where you see really awesome pictures of people’s lives, where it looks really cool. On the other hand, there are always articles where you see Australia on fire or California. And it’s the same world, which is kind of fascinating. It goes without saying that I don’t like it with when forests or houses or things are on fire. Not at all. It’s terrible. And I’m kind of worried about global warming, which I think it’s scary. But then again, I am also very optimistic because the best feature of the of the human race is that it’s so adaptive. There’s not a single specie on here which is as adaptive as the human race. I kind of have faith that we will solve it. I hope so, at least. That’s more who I am.

Simona: Are there still any music acts you’re excited to see?

Martijn: Oh, yeah. Rammstein. That’s a big experience and I am always excited to see them life. Nightwish is another example, but that’s more because I know them personally and I like the people very much. And I love the music, but it’s more of a weird position. The same is with Within Temptation. I’m so excited to see them, but that’s family and I want them to have success. But also Sabaton, for example. I really admire how those guys build their bands and what kind of spectacle they make. And I’m a history addict, I love history. They are very much about military history, which I find very interesting. So, yeah, I am excited about it.

Simona: Lastly, what are your best tips and the words of wisdom when it comes to traveling?

Martijn: Well, I think you get life experience when you travel because you see how other people live. And if don’t only go to the tourist places, but also go where the tourists are not and try to soak in that place and the space, it just keeps you life experience. I don’t have a phrase for it.

Simona: It’s called going off the beaten path.

Martijn: Yeah. I am totally  with that. Absolutely.

Simona: Yes! Thank you so much for the interview!