In conversation with Liv Kristine of Leave’s Eyes
Comprised of members from Norway and Germany, female-fronted symphonic rock/metal sextet Leaves’’ Eyes have always displayed as much depth and diversity in their music as they encompass different nationalities. A union between former Theatre of Tragedy singer Liv Kristine and death metal quintet Atrocity, featuring Kristine’s husband, Alexander Krull, Leaves’ Eyes deliver complex, layered music that’s instantly recognisable and far more memorable than that of other, more conservative peers.
As well as convincingly melding influences including Celtic sounds, progressive rock and folk with hard rock and metal, their lyrics have similarly encompassed all manner of themes from nature and ancient cultures to Norse mythology, ghostly historical figures and pure fantasy.
Latest album ‘Symphonies of the Night’ represents a bold and exciting maturation of their sound, with incredibly fluid textures, transitions and nuances that weave together in a way that demands repeat listening. Kristine’s ethereal poetry and pure vocals are buoyed by huge sounds and arrangements that bring her themes and concepts to life more cohesively than ever before.
Adam Stanley of Heavy Music Artwork sat down with Liv prior to their January London show to talk about why their new release sounds so invigorated, where their inspiration comes from, and how so many diverse elements unite to result in something that’s always unmistakably Leaves’ Eyes.
HMA: Your new album seems to tie together operatic metal, prog, folk and rock and other influences more seamlessly and more excitingly than you’ve done before. I’m even hearing bits of Tori Amos in your singing, I don’t know if this is accurate, but why do you think all these influences have come together so well for you?
Liv Kristine: It’s a very good question actually, about how this album happened. Basically when we started the production I told everybody to just bring in any influence he or she would like to lend to the music, be very open-minded. I just told everybody to feel free and do whatever they would like to do, and in the end, because we had so many creative sources, we knew it was going to be a very strong album. It actually sums up all the good things about Leaves’ Eyes, and we really believe and feel that we’ve put across the best things we could – and yeah, that’s how it happened. I feel very comfortable when I am standing with my band right now, it’s good, it’s a good beginning for another journey for Leaves’ Eyes.
HMA: There’s kind of a new heaviness and technical fluidity to the way everyone’s playing and it’s very satisfying to listen to, it sounds like you’re not holding back. What were you feeling that made you take on a heavier approach? For me it sounds a bit like your ‘Njord’ album.
Liv Kristine: It is. It’s heavy and organic but still has a lot of contrasting elements in the music, and strong influences. It’s hardcore Leaves’ Eyes. Though every Leaves’ Eyes album is different you do need to hear the guitar, and the voices of course, and then it’s Leaves’ Eyes.
HMA: Can you tell me about the writing and recording process for this album, because I’m interested in getting into the creative headspace you guys go into when you record – prior to recording and then going into the studio?
Liv Kristine: Actually, one of my guitarists has another job, he’s a street worker, a social worker; so he won’t be in the studio Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Those are the days when I will be in the studio, or Alex or anybody else; and it helps in terms of the studio in that he might be the one who might sit down and have a listen to what we’ve been doing. Then every Monday I’m back in the studio again and listening to what he did, so that’s how we’re working. There is always something going on, there’s probably two or three people in the studio. We actually had two recording rooms [running at the same time] so after we’ve composed a song in the demo, Alex would probably mix it just to hear how that would sound, if it’s a good track!
HMA: Yes, it must be very helpful to have that setup.
Liv Kristine: Yeah. It might happen that we say, “It’s a great idea but it wouldn’t fit to the whole thing,” so we might rewrite the part or leave it for another album. Like ‘St Cecilia’ and ‘Eileen’s Ardency’ didn’t make it on the ‘Meredead’ album, they didn’t fit. They’re very, very good strong songs but they just didn’t fit onto ‘Meredead.’ So they were kind of left over without sounding negative, you know. So we worked on these tracks and I thought, “Hey, two female characters, maybe that’s the way to go!” For me, when I start, when writing lyrics and vocal lines, it’s always the music that inspires me, which language I should write, which themes, concepts – it’s always the music which decides first.
HMA: I was going to ask you to talk about ‘St Cecilia,’ some of the lyrics – is one line “the age of Christ is here?”
Liv Kristine: ‘St Cecilia’ was a virgin of course. She had devoted her life to God. As a virgin she married and made a kind of agreement with her husband where she would stay a virgin in the marriage. Then the Catholic Church came to her country and she wouldn’t convert to the Catholic Church, so she was actually beheaded, and they needed to try three times to cut her head off. The ghost of St Cecilia is actually walking through the church carrying her head in her hand. She’s buried somewhere… I’m not sure where but it’s a very interesting story.
HMA: Yes, it sounds like it, I’ll definitely go and read up more on that. Moving back to your album, it’s got a really huge-sounding production that’s bigger than anything you’ve done before. Was it a conscious decision to go for a much bigger sound?
Liv Kristine: That’s basically down to Alex, because he’s just a fantastic producer and spent a lot of time after Atrocity’s latest album working to get even better, to improve upon the process because he’s one of the biggest perfectionists there is – no doubt about that. He’d stay up nights and nights just to focus on things in the studio, of which I haven’t a clue (laughs). So that [the production] is basically up to Alex, definitely.
HMA: It really does stand out for that.
Liv Kristine: Absolutely!
HMA: With the artwork, this album is more literal because it features yourself on the cover. Is it important to you that there’s always a female figure on your album covers, or is it just coincidence?
Liv Kristine: Not really. We hadn’t decided about the cover and the artwork at all, and then we had a photoshoot with our favourite photographer in Stuttgart. This one picture turned out so great that the guys said, “Hey, come and have a look at this… would you mind having yourself on the cover?” because I never thought that would happen – it’s not really my decision (laughs)!
HMA: Are you involved with the artwork decisions most of the time?
Liv Kristine: That’s basically Alex, and our photographer. We’ve worked with him for most of our albums so it’s always Alex and him. Alex is the one who has the original ideas and our photographer is the one who has the knowledge about how to bring them to life.
HMA: Tell me about some of the central lyrical themes on the album, if there are any topics you hold dear or the thread running through the songs for you?
Liv Kristine: Well as I said, all the ladies, the female characters and figures from history; and then Shakespeare’s ‘Ophelia.’ Shakespeare was the author for me during my studies, and in the old days of Theatre of Tragedy we wrote the first two or three albums in Shakespearian English, so that’s something we’re interested in generally, Shakespeare. So I decided to write this lyric about Ophelia, and I was digging for books in my cellar and I found the novella ‘Carmina’. I already had ‘Eileen’s Ardency’ and ‘St Cecilia’, and so it all began.
HMA: Do you think it’s important for a really great band, that stays in people’ consciousness and captures their imaginations, to have something strong outside the music to carry them through?
Liv Kristine: I think so. I put a lot of weight on that, on having a concept and having really good lyrics – not only linguistically but also that are interesting to sing with. Something that will stick to people’s minds. It’s also important to me that our music is able to give listeners a visual input as well, so the visual and the audible kind of go hand in hand. My dream, of course, would to be able to write music for a soundtrack or a film.
HMA: You can hear that in how you write.
Liv Kristine: I would love to do that, it would be my dream.
HMA: As you get older you look back and listen to your favourite bands, and they all have something there that’s coming from somewhere else.
Liv Kristine: Yes, there’s something else, that’s the creative core and the source, which I think is very, very important. Without sounding weird here, I don’t pay much attention to what’s going on around me in the music business. I see many female-fronted metal bands at the moment that are just going with the flow and becoming more modern, and that’ something I would definitely not do; I would rather just concentrate on my own creative mind.
HMA: Because’ it’s about art, not about a template.
Liv Kristine: Exactly, it’s about art and it’s got to come from heart, so I would absolutely not accept having people telling me what to do. I had that once with my second solo album and I actually had to go to court to get out of the contract, because it didn’t feel right for me to do country-rock Shania Twain stuff on my second solo album. That took me three years and everything I had, I lost. But I got my freedom back, so it’s much more important that I can remain honest to myself. I’m not very good at giving short answers, haha!
HMA: No, no, that’s all good. Your music is quite mournful but uplifting as well. Can you comment on why this contrast of feelings exists?
Liv Kristine: That’s something I felt when I was little, and my parents played Black Sabbath to me as well as classical music, and there was always a contrast in music. Yesterday after we left the venue in Birmingham, my guitarist put on Black Sabbath’s ‘Black Sabbath’ in the van, and I got this feeling again from back when I would sit and listen in my room. Music has always been very important to me and I’ve always been singing, ever since I’ve been able to talk. Apart from my family, music is the most important thing in my life. I was born with perfect hearing and some very good vocal chords, and I still haven’t had a single singing lesson in my life so I don’t know anything about notes, actually. I’ve been given this and that’s something very, very special and I’m grateful for that. I know that I owe so much to my fans and friends because you’ve been so good to me for 20 years, through ups and downs, so this is something that I live for.
HMA: What is it about darker art and music that attracts you, and how big a role does fantasy play in Leaves’ Eyes’ music?
Liv Kristine: I’d say the visual side is very important as I already mentioned. Fiction or non-fiction work, it doesn’t really matter. If my band members would compose songs that would require a fictional theme from me then it’s something I would come up with. Like on our first album, one of the songs is actually a fictional story I came up with myself , but I’m not sure when something like that would happen again. For the next Leaves’ Eyes album we already have a couple of songs demo’ed, and we’re going to the more dark side! (laughs)
HMA: What would you say are the real positives about playing in a band with your husband?
Liv Kristine: We’re a very, very good team. We complement each other, we fulfil each other when it comes to private life and music business – of course we do. We’ll have discussions now and then because it would be boring for two perfectionists to always agree on everything (laughs), we are both very strong minded and both perfectionists. We’re very, very different but as I mentioned we complement each other. The only negative thing about touring is that there always has to be someone at home to look after our son. It’s OK for me to be on a solo tour because Daddy’s at home, and the other way around when Atrocity’s on tour, haha! But for the upcoming American tour we’ll have our son with us on the road, and he’s been touring with us for two or two and a half years. After the US we’re on to Europe and then home for a break.
HMA: Thanks Liv, really enjoyed talking to you and have a good gig!
Liv Kristine: Yes, very nice talking to you! Thank you.
Interview by Adam Stanley – Copyright 2014 © Heavy Music Artwork. All Rights Reserved.