By Eckhard Doll
Over the past one and a half decades, Delain has become one of the major Dutch metal acts touring the world and becoming more popular with every album release — albums made with Cubase. I had the chance to talk to Martijn Westerholt, keyboardist and founder of the band.
Martijn, the last interview we did was almost ten years ago. Since then, Cubase has reached version 10 and Delain has released five very successful albums and is about to release another EP in February. Busy times! To me, Delain doesn’t sound like any other symphonic metal band. You have found your own very modern and unique signature sound. But it’s not only the sound, it is also the visual aspect with unique cover artworks and music videos to go along with it. Has this always been your and Charlottes (Charlotte Wessels, vocals) goal to not “only” write music you have a passion for, but to really stand out and create something very special?
First, thanks for the kind words! It has been 10 years already? Yikes! Haha, time really flies! It has never been our goal to stand out, but we are just stubborn in doing our own thing and not following certain procedures other artists do.
I guess the automatic consequence of it is that things go a little bit differently in some aspects. Artwork is one of them. Charlotte has a very keen eye for art and has an educational background in that area. Regarding the music I make, I guess things just evolved in my own way since the starting point of when I played with Within Temptation. I somehow never get tired of the saturated fat guitar sound (that’s how I would say it in Dutch, but I’m not sure how to say that exactly in English!) and orchestral elements in music. I love dramatic, epic, big bombastic music. Always have. I also love the ’80s vibe in synth music which is why electronic elements show up from time to time in our music. This combination is a bit different than other music in our genre.
At the same time, other band members changed over the years. Did these changes have an impact on the way you work and compose?
After the first album, the way of writing slowly evolved and nowadays Charlotte Wessels, Guus Eikens, and I write all the tracks together and I produce it afterwards. However, our guitar player’s role (Timo Somers) grew in this whole process. He contributes a lot nowadays with guitar arrangements, riffs, and drums. In all, I’m very proud of our team as it has developed into clockwork that ticks just right.
Have the new features that we’ve introduced within Cubase over time changed the way you work on new material?
Yes, absolutely. My workflow has significantly increased over time thanks to all the tools Steinberg developed and I can’t imagine my job without it. We now not only use it to write and develop the songs, but we also use it for live shows. The next step for me would be to use it with my plugins too and make it a live performance platform for my keyboards as well. So please get on that Steinberg!
How do you discuss new song ideas in nowadays? Is it the good old band rehearsal with everyone around or do you use other tools to keep everyone up to date?
Haha. No. That’s indeed the classic view people have, but I don’t know a lot of artists who work that way. It’s good old Cubase (well, I only say “old” because I’ve been working with it since I was 14, but we use the latest version!) that we use to develop song concepts. After the initial development, Charlotte, Guus, and I come together to look at the concepts and go through them together. Once we have a basic song structure, I take it back to my studio and finish the song and key arrangements. Next it goes to Timo for guitar arrangements. In the meantime, Charlotte also develops her backing vocals on it and records the vocals for the album through Cubase herself at her own work studio. Finally, it comes back to me and I do the last tweaks before it goes to the mixing engineer. In all, a lot of ping-ponging back and forth.
Have you had a look at collaboration tools like VST Connect or VST Transit to help you with exchanging ideas over the internet?
I talked about it with a friend and producer of mine, Oliver Philipps. He is experimenting with it. It looks really interesting. I hear a lot about it, and it sounds really promising so this might be the next step we will implement in our process. I also work with an orchestral arranger and producer in Finland (Miko Mustonen) and this could be very useful when we go through the compositions and change it on the spot.
Ten years ago, you used an Alesis HD24 on stage to trigger all the samples. It was all about safety and it seemed you were rather reluctant to move to a DAW for that. I could imagine that this has changed by now? At least I think I saw Cubase running on stage on the live DVD/Blu-ray “A Decade of Delain - Live at Paradiso” released in 2017. It looks like Cubase became a part of your live shows after all?
Yes, you have a very keen eye. (laughs) We have used Cubase live now for around three years and I wouldn’t change it for the world! It makes changes in live sets very flexible and it runs in a very stable manner. We even use it to run our ground lights through a plugin using the MIDI engine of Cubase. We have microphone lights, keyboard stand lights, fog machines, and riser lights being controlled automatically through the Cubase system. So, one might say, Cubase now is the very heart of our live production, not only for backing tracks but also for visual effects.
What’s next for Delain? I guess that the EP “Hunter’s Moon” will be followed by another full-length album and more touring?
Yes, absolutely. “Hunters Moon” is a small taste of what’s to come later this year. This weekend we’re going to Russia for two shows. Next, we will do a small tour in South America in May then, of course, the summer festivals in Europe. Our next full-length album will be released later this year followed by an extensive headline tour through North America. And then right after that a European tour.