Folk metal? Whatever. Chrigel Glanzmann of Swiss eight-piece Eluveitie doesn’t concern himself with genres or labels. For him, music is all about combining your passions into a single package. Only in this case, his passions include death metal, traditional Celtic music and Galuish history, the kinds of things you don’t expect to see on the resume of a metal musician. When he’s not writing music, Glanzmann spends large amounts of his free time buried under ancient literature and manuscript fragments, searching for the topic that will inspire their next album. Just don’t treat the songs as a history lesson; all Glanzmann wants is for you to rock up to a show and bang your bloody head off!
By Peter Zaluzny.
Eluveitie are coming to Australia soon, so you’re touring in a land you’ve never been to before, which must be pretty exciting.
Well we will see if it’s exciting or not [laughs]. But for sure it’s exciting. We’re really, really looking forward to it a lot.
Aside from playing the shows, are you planning to do anything else while you’re in Australia?
No, I mean we would if we had the time but unfortunately on tour usually there’s no time to do anything besides, you know, what you’re there for which means playing the shows then travelling to the next destination. So unfortunately there won’t be any time for sightseeing or anything like that.
Also Anna Murphy, your hurdy gurdy player, has been ill, which forced her to pull out of some shows this year. Is she on the mend?
Thank you very much for asking, and yeah she’s definitely doing better. I don’t think she’s perfectly fine but she’s doing a lot better. You know she’s been in hospital since January actually, but two days ago we had a show in Norway, which was the third show that she’d played with us since January which was great. A couple of weeks ago the doctor said, “Okay she should be ready to at least try to play a show,” so she did and I think she should be back on track pretty soon.
So she’ll be well enough for the Australian tour?
You’ve previously mentioned that you feel like your sound has matured with each album. Can you explain what you mean by that?
I think that’s basically a very natural process that pretty much happens to any band, or at least I think it should happen to every band [laughs]. On the one hand, the longer you play the longer you learn – you get better just playing live as a musician, but the more you play together, the better you become as a live band as well. Also the longer you tour together and work together, the better you work together. You just become more of a team, or more of a family or something, so you’re working together pretty smoothly. Usually there’s not much we need to talk about, pretty much everything’s clear to everybody because everybody knows everybody so well and knows how everybody works.
What about the people who work around the band like managers and so on. Have you been working with the same group of people for the past few years and have they matured with each album as well?
I definitely think so. I think it always depends on how you work as a group and how you work together. In our case on the one hand we work quite closely together with our manager for example, we give him quite a lot of work pretty much every day. But the other thing, it doesn’t matter if you’re playing in the band as a musician or if you’re working with the band as a manager or whatever, it’s always very important to us that we learn constantly, and that we try to get better in whatever we are doing. Of course that also includes, for example, management or merchandise or whatever, so in that sense I think pretty much everybody in the group around the band has evolved together.
You’re part of the new wave of folk metal but from what I’ve heard that title was just a joke. What’s the story behind that?
[Laughs] Yeah that’s correct, it originally was a joke and it was actually us that came up with that term. It was around the time we recorded our debut album and, well back then this kind of combination of traditional folk music with extreme metal was kind of a new thing. But, at least in Central Europe, it actually started to become a thing; there were more bands doing that so the music press actually came up with new descriptions for that kind of music every now and then. After a while there had been so many descriptions or labels for that kind of music, we actually thought, ‘Come on, this is becoming ridiculous.’ People were talking of folk metal, of pagan metal, of Celtic metal and Viking metal and whatever you want. We thought, ‘Come on, please, after all it’s just rock’n'roll, calm down’ you know [laughs], so actually because of that, really as a joke, we thought, ‘Let’s come up with another description.’ After a year or two the scene and the press actually started getting serious about it and started adopting that term for our band, so we thought, ‘Okay, that’s what we are doing, fine by us’ [laughs]. But originally as you said, it was a joke.
Did you know a lot about the folk metal scene at the time?
Actually no to be honest, without wanting to be rude, none of us [Eluveitie] listen to folk metal, not then and not today. When I formed the band there was no folk metal scene, it was hardly known. It wasn’t that I liked folk metal and thought, ‘Let’s form a folk metal band,’ it was basically the realisation of a long dream that I had to combine the two forms of music that I loved which were death metal and traditional Celtic folk music. Some years later this kind of combination kind of became, as I said, its own thing or a trend or something like that, but originally there was no intention to do this folk metal, I didn’t even really know what folk metal in that sense was.
So you were the trendsetters?
No I wouldn’t say that, it was a thing that started to emerge in diverse places. Of course there had been bands around like Skyclad and they did include metal and some folky stuff, and also there have been some former black metal bands in Scandinavia that started to focus more and more on their folk roots, indeed only lyrically but still. I think it was something that just started to emerge in different places.
Your lyrics are mostly historically influenced, so with so many periods of history that you could write about, what drew you to Celtic history and mythology?
Basically I would say it’s the place where we live and grew up. When you grow up here it’s something you already hear about in school, it’s kind of the early history of Switzerland, the early history of Switzerland is part of Celtic history. It just felt natural singing about our own culture, our roots and where we come from. It wasn’t something that I even thought about really, it was just clear.
Can you tell us a bit about your research process? Do you use primary and secondary sources in your research?
Before I start writing an album, I think about what the album should be about, for example we decided that the last one should be a concept album telling the story of the Gaulish wars. It’s only when this is clear that I start writing the music. Once the main topic is actually set, then it really depends on what the topic is, I mean, studying Celtic history and cultures is a personal passion and something I’ve been doing for many, many years. No matter if I need it for the band or not it’s just a personal preference. For many topics there isn’t that much research needed because if you’re dealing with something for many years, then you kind of know things. I have a lot of literature at home but it depends, so for example I started working on a concept for our next album, which will be on a topic that’s actually quite difficult to write about because on a scientific level we don’t know that much about it. Right now I’m dealing with a lot of scientific literature and I collect all the bits and fragments of historical literature on this topic that can be found.
Can you tell us what the topic for the next album is going to be?
Yeah roughly I can say it will be, let’s say, it will basically be on Celtic and Gaulish mythology, and especially a focus on some religious aspects of it. The mythology of different cultures like myths of how the earth came to be, of how humans came to be and also of how this particular culture came to be. It’s mythological stories about how the Gauls came to be. There are quite a lot of fragments on this topic but it’s all still pretty much patchwork if you want to say, because all we have today are basically fragments.
Obviously you can speak Gaulish because you sang in it on one of your albums, but can you read and speak any other ancient languages?
I wish, but no I can’t. I don’t think you can actually say that someone fluently speaks the Gaulish language because it’s a dead language, it’s more scientific work, it’s more dealing with the ancient language on a scientific level. By doing that it’s usually needed that you deal with some other languages such as Greek, Latin or earlier Gaulish, stuff like that. But you couldn’t actually claim that you can speak Gaulish because as I said, it’s a dead language.
A lot of what we know about these times comes from the Roman perspective. How do you go about finding those fragments from the Helvetii perspective.
What you are referring to are matters regarding our last album since it told the story of the Roman Empire against the Gauls and especially the Helvetian tribes. I think it’s pretty much always the same; if history has been told and especially if it’s the story of a war, it always sounds a little different if it’s the victorious party telling it than if it’s the other one. On the one hand there are a lot of historical facts that we can assume and improve scientifically today by archeological findings and stuff like that, which you can compare to what Caesar says in his writings. It pretty much gets you a clear picture of how things most likely were back then. But besides that there was a lot of questioning, there was a lot of reading between the lines, it was quite a bit of work and quite a bit of scientific work. I’ve actually worked together with scientists quite closely on that matter.
Do you use your music to question historical perspectives and historiography?
Yes and no. After all, Eluveitie is about music. Eluveitie is a metal band, end of story. I’m not a big fan of using music as a medium to transfer any kind of message, whatever it is, because I think if you go to a metal concert you go there to bang your bloody head off and not to get some kind of deep message. Eluveitie is about music, I’m not trying to give any message or question or something, but nevertheless, I’m writing the lyrics because it’s something that means a lot to me. The thing is, If you’re dealing with history it’s actually, in a way, inevitable that this kind of raises questions on how things are today, that’s just a natural thing. If you’re dealing with history, you’ll see parallels with things we are doing today and this of course raises questions, it’s a logical consequence of dealing with history. This might be part of it but it’s not the reason I write lyrics. Eluveitie is about music and that’s it.
Eluveitie Tour Dates
Thu May 23rd – The Zoo, Brisbane (18+)
Fri May 24th – Billboard, Melbourne (18+)
Sat May 25th – The Metro, Sydney (18+)