There are few people who I have thoroughly enjoyed talking to over the years in my capacity as a music journalist, and Liv Kristine, leading member of the Symphonic/Gothic Metal sextet Leave’s Eyes is certainly one of them.
Hours prior to flying to Russia for a two day visit, Liv was willing to sacrifice half an hour of her precious time in order to share her excitement about the band’s latest studio offering “Symphonies Of The Night”, describe in detail her quite demanding touring schedule and, most importantly, prove once again how passionate she is about her music and how grateful she feels towards her fans for enabling her to enjoy such a long and illustrious career!
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis.
- Hi Liv. It’s great to be able to have this discussion with you with regards your band’s latest album “Symphonies Of The Night”. I appreciate the fact that you took the time to do this interview after having returned from touring recently and it is only a couple of days from now that you have to hit the road again. I believe that your next trip will take you to Russia for a couple of shows. Time is valuable, I know, so thank you for doing this.
Liv: Thank you very much. It’s really my pleasure to talk to you and the honour is on my side. I just wanted to say that I am very grateful that you take the time to talk to me on what is your free evening which you chose to use in order to chat with me. That’s very nice of you, thank you very much!
- You’re most welcome. Before we begin talking about the new album and your plans for the next few months in relation to it I would like to start this interview by talking about the last few dates that you guys spent playing shows in exotic countries like China and Thailand – places that are still too remote for most bands to visit and play in. How would you describe the experience of playing in these countries?
Liv: It was absolutely amazing. It was actually the third time that we were trying to get a visa to China and, of course, we needed to have a Chinese visa if we are to travel to Asia. Beijing and Shanghai are two huge cities and there are a lot of Metal fans living there so, now that we finally got a visa for China we thought “Ok, now it’s time to organise a few more gigs around that part of the world”. We were also given the chance to play in Taiwan and in Thailand too which was amazing because people down there are not at all spoiled by this kind of music – they are hungry for more.
The audiences there went absolutely crazy so we had a great tour. Everybody was so friendly to us and we really hope that we’ll be able to go back there next year. We are planning an Asian tour for next year. As you already mentioned, tomorrow morning we are flying off to Russia and afterwards I will do a couple of exclusive shows with my solo band Liv Kristine following which we will have a few days off for Christmas with the family.
Then we will go on tour again, a tour which will include the UK, a 70.000 Tons Of Metal show, Puerto Rico, USA by which stage we will be ready for our summer festival appearances. I am already (laughs) thinking about things we need to do in 2015! There are a lot of things happening right now but that’s great because, of course, we want to play “Symphonies Of The Night” to our fans and this is our main priority now.
- I’ve had the pleasure of watching the band live a couple of times so far, one being an amazing performance in support of Kamelot at Koko (note: a former theatre in Camden) and I know very well how much you guys enjoy yourselves when you’re on stage.
There’s a great amount of energy involved that’s highly addictive and very nice to experience. How do you manage, as a mother, to cope with such a busy schedule? You have a young boy that I am sure you miss terribly every time you have to travel. How can you keep the balance between being a mother, on one hand, and a professional singer on the other?
Liv: It is a very good question because this is something difficult. Before planning on becoming parents, my husband Alexander Krull (note: keyboards /vocals) and I were very well aware of the fact that fulfilling two different dreams in one lifetime (laughs) requires a lot of good planning.
I’m telling you: I’m a world champion when it comes to planning things (laughs). Luckily, this thing works out really well. Our son is going to turn seven next week and he’s been absolutely brilliant on tour, something he really loves doing.
He’s actually the one saying after several weeks on the road in the US, when everybody else is fed up and wants to go back home, to say things like “Ok, why don’t we stay here another couple of weeks – I love this so much” (laughs). He’s been really easy going and I’m so grateful for that because if he would have a hard time touring, I would not have taken my child with us on the road.
I make sure that, when he’s travelling with us, he is as comfortable as possible and I do make sure that, when on tour, there are certain quality standards that are met with regards time spending. I don’t do any Punk Rock tours anymore (laughs) – that’s out of the question!
We travel mostly as a family and that’s my way of dealing with this whole music vs family thing. I need both these things but being a mother is the most important thing in my life.
As long as my child is fine with what I’m doing I am fine too. Of course there are times that I really miss him. He will not travel with us to Russia tomorrow because he has school obligations and it is a long distance to travel to just for two concerts. He will be staying with his grandparents during that time which makes him happy and, of course, he knows that when I return there will always be a big present for him (laughs).
- This year we celebrated two important things. First of all, the release of yet another Leave’s Eyes studio album, the fifth in line, which I am sure is quite pleasing for you, but, most importantly, we are celebrating ten years since the band was first formed. What a way to celebrate such an important milestone with an album of the quality of “Symphonies Of The Night” which, in my humble opinion, is the band’s best release to date.
Liv: Wow, thank you very much! It makes me really happy to hear you say that.
- It’s quite a heavy release and not so much in terms of sound quality as it is with regards mood, atmosphere and lyrical content. Very strong, passionate and all encompassing. It’s indeed a lovely piece of work. Well done! What prompted you to record such an album?
Liv: First of all, thank you so very much from the bottom of my heart for your kind words and compliments which are indeed very nice to hear as, you know, there’s a lot of hard work behind every album that we make.
We have our own studios so, you know, we take as long as we need for every album but “Symphonies Of The Night” was a kind of process which I let myself and my composing team go with the creative flow. I told my composing team “Ok, whatever it is that you want to do, just do it: there are no limits. Be open towards other people’s opinions in the band. There should be no limits whatsoever”.
So, there is everything you wish to find in this album; everything I wanted to include, everything I was hoping for. We just went with the creative flow and I have to say: it feels so comfortable to stand where it is that I am standing today with album number five in my hands and enjoy our tenth anniversary together as a band. This is a nice round figure, ten years, and I am sure that we can go on to play for another ten years together.
Actually, I don’t pay so much attention to what is going on around me, what other female-fronted bands are doing at the moment. I understand that current trends force bands to try and sound more commercial but that is something that I would simply not do (laughs) – especially not when everybody else is doing it.
I am trying to concentrate on my composing team and on my artistic heart and soul because everything I do come from the heart. I have to be honest with my art and “Symphonies Of The Night” is very, very pure and very honest. It turned out sounding really great, bombastic and huge. I really enjoy taking up a challenge and I feel very happy about this album.
- The first things that attracted my attention were, as expected, the catchy hooks and melodies involved together with your vocals which seem to work on levels previously unexplored by you. I cannot recall having heard you sing like that ever before: it’s like you have somehow re-invented yourself as a singer – something very difficult for me to describe in words. Am I on to something here?
Liv: Thank you – thank you very much! What happened with my vocals: well, actually, it has always been the music that inspires me to sing and write lyrics in the way that it turns out to be in the end. The instruments are responsible for my personal input and, actually, I have to tell you a little story.
After the release of “Meredead” (2011), our previous studio album, I had a visit from a very good friend of mine whose name is Maite Itoiz and she’s the singer of a band called Elfenthal. Maite came for a visit and she’s a brilliant singer who’s been properly studying music and knows everything there is to know about it. I, on the other hand, never has a single singing lesson in my whole life. I actually never had the time to do it and I don’t really know much about notes so I said to Maite “If you’re asked to teach me all the ‘dirty tricks’ you know in just half an hour, what would that be” (laughs).
She pointed out a few things to me, she listened to me singing and indicated a few things, and that made me really think “Hey; there’s so much more to take in, so many things you can do with your vocal chords”.
When I realised how impressive the demo tracks for “Symphonies Of The Night” were and the influence that the music had on me I thought “Now it’s time to develop, to make a kind of vocal cord evolution”.
So I just went along with the creative flow of the rest of the composing team and that’s when I realised that I need more power, so I learned where to get that extra power from and that is actually what my friend Maite told me “There’s so much inside you – you just have to know how to get it out”. You know, when we are playing the new songs live I often think “Ok, I can reach much further with my voice than I did before” and that is a very happy moment for me.
- I am sure that it will be for us too!
Liv: Fantastic, yes (laughs).
- There’s plenty of layering involved in “Symphonies Of The Night”, not only as far as vocals are concerned but also with regards the music on offer. Every time I see you live, the burden of recreating such complicated vocal signatures has been solely on your shoulders. Were you never at all tempted to acquire the services of backup singers to help with the more complicated parts of the music?
Liv: I would love to do it, I would really love to do it – absolutely. I love the idea of having background singers. I would love the idea to have a full choir and a full orchestra on stage with us and I appreciate the inclusion of some of the wonderful instruments we have used on our latest album like the dulcimer, the fiddle and the Irish whistle. It would be great to have all such things on stage with us but, first of all, you need a big stage to host all that and, secondly, you need a good budget (laughs).
- Yes, I gathered that it would be a question of this being too expensive.
Liv: Yes, that’s always the problem and when you have to go to faraway places that involve flights and many beds on the tour bus, that’s when all questions begin to be asked. Maybe there will be a chance to play in Wacken again.
We headlined Wacken with Leaves’ Eyes back in 2012 and we’ve had lots of guests, classical instruments, twenty Vikings and a complete Viking ship with us on stage and that was indeed amazing! That, of course, is something that you cannot do every time you go on tour so we will have to wait for as new opportunity which will enable me to follow your advice (laughs).
- Thank you for making me sound more important than I actually am!
Liv: Oh, come on (laughs)..I’m here to tell you how grateful I am because people like you, lovers of this kind of music, and my fans and friends all over the world, it is you that have made me become who I am! It’s because of you that I’m here, so gratefulness is the key word here. I am a full time musician and, next to being a mother, being a full time musician with all this coming from the heart, I consider myself to be very lucky so, of course, showing gratefulness to you should be my utmost priority actually.
- Ok, not much I can say against that really! From a strictly lyrical point of view, the album revolves around some powerful and very interesting female personalities like the Maid of Lorraine (Jeanne d ‘Arc), Ophelia and Cecilia – women who really left their mark on world history.
Once cannot fail but appreciate that, when you sing about such subject matters, there is a certain level of connection with these characters. When you have to stand behind the mic and sing songs about these women, do you feel that you perhaps to a certain extent undergo a transformation yourself?
Liv: Hmm…the main thing for me is actually to…when I write my lyrics, when I perform on stage or even when I record in the studio, the main goal for me is to feel comfortable with what I’m singing.
Of course there’s always a part of me, of my private life and personality which flows into the concept and my lyrics. For example, Ophelia is a character in Shakespeare’s very famous play “Hamlet” and she is…hmm…I don’t know; I’ve been reading Shakespeare since I was a teenager, the time that I started studying English, literature, phonetics and phonology and I love the very beautiful language that was used by Shakespeare. These are the things that I also try to evoke through my lyrics and my music; to achieve the most beautiful things possible in sound – that’s my goal.
Ophelia is not chosen simply because I like to write songs with Shakespeare in mind: Ophelia is chosen as a main character for that song because I believe that her story works well with this piece music.
It’s purely a phonetical issue for me. My goal is to achieve the most beautiful sound possible for my songs and that has been my goal ever since I was a little child. There are many things that come together in my songs – my personality and both literary and historical influences and my immense interest in Nordic mythology.
When I sing any of our songs I have to feel a certain level of closeness to its theme. It would be very hard for me to perform a song on stage which doesn’t fit my personality at all – that would be very difficult for me to do.
- You have created a very powerful and symbolic video for the opening track of the album “Hell to the Heavens”: one that revolves around a very strong minded and eventually powerful woman who uses the forces of nature to get back at her tormentors when pushed to her limits. In the closing theme of the video, when said woman shows her immense power do you associate with her character on any level? How much of Liv Kristine do you see in that woman?
Liv: (long pause) Well, I’ve always felt sorry for those women who, throughout history, have been treated the wrong and brutal way by institutions or, in many cases, by misunderstanding relevant to religious beliefs.
The history of witches in Europe and their treatment has always been a subject of great interest to me. Even in my home country Norway, the Middle-Ages were so brutal for people who were different.
Granted, there were less people living in Norway proportionally to Europe but the authorities there still burned people as witches, which leaves you to wonder why this happened. So yes, I wished for my witch, whose name is Hekate, to be strong and survive – not get burned. I wanted her to survive this.
There’s also a natural power that she’s connected to which I admire as I grew up by the sea in Norway, right by the fjords. I had the mountains in the back of our house, the forest just next to our garden and we had the fjords right in front of us so I always felt the force of the weather and the power of nature. That’s why I wished for a happy ending for my witch – I just didn’t want her to get burned.
- You describe a connection with nature that’s lost by many of us these days. Nature is our mother, our lifeblood and we seem to turn away from her with every passing day. Anyway, this is a subject of discussion for another day and occasion…
Liv: …we can indeed go on talking about such things for hours… Maybe over a coffee one day!
- As you mentioned before, next month you will be visiting the UK for five much anticipated shows, one of which is going to be in London which I will most definitely attend.
I believe that the UK in general has been fairly kind and supportive of Leave’s Eyes over the years and I know that there are many people who are really looking forward to those shows so as to once again show you their love and appreciation. How would you describe your UK fans and what is it that makes them different from people who listen to your music in other countries?
Liv: I have to tell you that we’ve always had an amazing number of people coming to our shows in the UK. It’s so good to see that British people are hungry for this kind of music. In some places in Europe there are just too many concerts, too many bands, and people are really spoiled for choice and so they just stop going to concerts.
I see that in the visiting numbers of people attending our gigs, compared to the UK where I see that the Metal scene as well as the Goth scene is really growing and that makes me really happy.
I can’t wait to be back in the UK especially as we will be playing five shows this time starting in Cardiff and then visiting Nottingham, Manchester, Birmingham and London’s Garage to finish it off. Next time we’ll be able to do more shows. We are able to do this small UK tour this time round because end of January we are going to perform at 70,000 Tons of Metal following which we will do a complete US tour.
This is just a short UK tour which happened as I asked our booking agency to arrange something between Christmas and the 70,000 Tons of Metal show. We, of course, have to come back to the UK and show our gratefulness to our local audience.
- That’s great to hear. Well, much as I like to continue chatting to you there is an important flight that you need to catch tomorrow so I have to let you go. I’ll wrap things up by thanking you once again for talking to me tonight. “Symphonies Of The Night” is a beautiful album that deserves all the respect and support it can get. I really hope that all these long hours and days on tour, all those days away from your child and your home will be worth it for you.
Liv: Thank you so much! These are really kind words and I will keep them in my heart. We really need people like you. I am hoping that the powers of the universe will conspire so that, one day, Leave’s Eyes will get to play on the biggest stages, do even bigger tours.
This means really much to me as I have been around for almost twenty years and this gift I have, of composing and singing, is something I have been born with and you really don’t know how much it really means to me when you give me such compliments. So, thank you so very much, from the bottom of my heart and I hope that we’ll get the chance to have that coffee together some day and chat – that will be my pleasure. Take good care and have happy holidays and Merry Christmas with your friends and family.
- Same to you Liv. Good luck with everything!
Liv: Thank you so much!
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