An interview with Chrigel Glanzmann of Eluveitie
Swiss folk metallers Eluveitie haven’t had the easiest of years. Three of the band’s long-time members – hurdy-gurdy player/vocalist Anna Murphy, guitarist Ivo Henzi, and drummer Merlin Sutter – departed the band last summer, leaving behind some pretty big shoes to fill. Eluveitie frontman and mastermind Chrigel Glanzmann spoke to Metal Exposure interviewer Sam about the process of finding the right musicians to rebuild the band, recording Eluveitie’s long-awaited second acoustic album Evocation II: Pantheon, and fangirling over Irish folk musicians. Read our Eluveitie Interview here!
Metal Exposure: Let’s start with the topic that you’ve probably gotten the most questions about: After three of your long-time members left the band last summer, Eluveitie has essentially become a new band, with lots of new people and a new energy. How has that transition been for you personally?
Chrigel Glanzmann: Obviously, the split was a tough thing to have happen – it was tough for them, and for us as a band. It wasn’t easy to handle on a personal level; touring as much as we do, we had spent most the last 10 years of our lives together. Last year was a hard and uncertain year for Eluveitie. It was just…weird and difficult.
But looking back on how things have developed, I’m actually extremely happy. It was probably one of the best things that could have happened for everybody. The [internal] split happened in March of last year, and all of us agreed that as difficult as it was at the time, we wanted to treat that crisis as an opportunity. Now, I can definitely say that all of us – Anna, Ivo, Merlin, and those of us in Eluveitie – succeeded in doing just that.
It’s also been really beautiful to see how Anna, Ivo, and Merlin have developed in the last couple of months – especially Anna – and how happy they are with what they’re doing now. We’re in touch every now and then, and their work is awesome musically – it’s a really nice development. It’s the same for us; I’m really glad we survived this last year! *laughs* The way things turned out, it’s just amazing – it’s a super fucking cheesy thing to say, but it feels like an Indian summer or a second spring. It’s extremely good.
ME: The new members of Eluveitie are all quite young – in their early 20s – so I assume that’s changed the dynamics of the band, but it sounds like it’s been a positive change for you?
Chrigel: Honestly, it was so much more positive than I ever thought it could be. The age thing is true; it makes me realize how fucking old I actually am! But the age difference doesn’t really play a role. All our new members are ridiculously great musicians. The way things have developed in the last couple months – also on a personal level – is just so much more than we ever expected. The atmosphere within the band completely changed, and we developed this very dedicated vibe. Very motivated, very focused, very creative, but at the same time very familial. We’re all in contact all the time, also outside of the band – our new singer [Fabienne Erni], for instance, comes to visit Nicole [Ansperger, fiddle] and myself now and then and takes a trip with Nicole and her kids. It’s really like a family, even after such a short time. That’s something we really didn’t expect to happen, but it’s a very fortunate development.
And of course, that also affected us musically – our time in the studio recording Evocation II: Pantheon was really intense and creative. I don’t think we’ve worked together so closely as a whole group of musicians and people since our debut album. Virtually the whole band was in the studio the entire time – even the musicians who weren’t recording were there to listen to how the album sounded or to cook for everybody else. So every day, morning to evening, in every corner of the studio, band members were sitting together just jamming or brooding over details of the album.
ME: I know you’ve been getting questions about Evocation II since Evocation I: The Arcane Dominion was released in 2009, so with that in mind, how much of Evocation II was written before the split with your three former members?
Chrigel: Back in 2008, I wrote the “concept” for Evocation – I had the rough idea that it would be two albums, acoustic, about Celtic mythology and entirely in Gaulish. That was basically it. No concrete songwriting was done at all; I left that completely open. I did start on the song “Epona” probably two years ago, but I just had blueprints of it; nearly all the tracks on Evocation II were written in the last couple of months. Actually, three tracks on the album weren’t even planned; they just arose from spontaneous jamming and creative energy in the studio. It’s the result of how things within our band have developed within the last 12 months, and I’m super happy about that development.
ME: Those of us who were lucky enough to attend one of the “Das Zelt” shows last year got to hear the first single from Evocation II: “Grannus.” If I’m not mistaken, the first tune in that song was one you also used in “Slanias Song” many years ago – I think it’s called “Humours of Tullycrine.” Did you have a thematic reason for reusing that tune?
Chrigel: Mythologically, all the Celtic gods are represented on Evocation II; each track is dedicated to a specific god. All of these deities are connected to the subject matter of one or more old Eluveitie songs in some way. While we were working on the songs for Evocation II, we had the idea that we could pick up on this theme and express these relationships musically. Now, on every track of the new album, there’s something from an old Eluveitie song. To give you an example: the god Ogmios plays a crucial role on the Isle of Mona. The song “Inis Mona” obviously isn’t about Ogmios; there’s nothing about Ogmios in the lyrics. But mythologically, Ogmios is deeply connected with the Isle of Mona. The connection to our new song, “Ogmios,” is rather obvious – it uses the chorus melody of “Inis Mona” [Breton song “Tri Martolod”]. But in many other songs on Evocation II, the connection to old Eluveitie songs is much more hidden – just some tiny details to discover.
ME: I heard that you’ve used the traditional Breton tune “Son ar chistr” in one of the songs on Evocation II. Most people these days know that tune from Alan Stivell’s rendition, or as a drinking song by The Bots (or even Scooter’s “How Much Is the Fish?”). Is that particular song on Evocation II dedicated to the Celtic god of wine, or has the time just come for an Eluveitie drinking song?
Chrigel: No, absolutely not! Of course, the traditional version is related to drinking – it’s “the song of the cider” – but to me, it’s just a beautiful old Breton tune. Our version has nothing to do with drinking or partying. Rather the opposite: it’s sort of a mystical theme in our song “Lugus.” But I’m totally aware of the fact that it’s known as a drinking song. When this song started to happen in the studio, I really loved it, but we honestly debated a lot about whether or not we should use the tune, precisely because it’s so famous and most people just know it as a stupid drinking song – no disrespect intended, of course, but you know what I mean. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful tune, and now, with the song finished, I think we really managed to take this sort of drunken party thing out of it. Our song has this rather melancholic, mystical atmosphere to it; it’s nothing like a drunken party song.
ME: You’ve primarily used Breton and Irish traditionals as the basis for a lot of your songs in the past. Is most of Evocation II going to be traditionals, or are there a lot of your own compositions?
Chrigel: It’s actually both. I’d say the mixture is like Evocation I. There are a lot of traditionals on it, but there’s also a lot of weird Eluveitie stuff. There’s actually a “Bernisch” tune on there; the last part of the song “Artio” picks up a very sad traditional tune from the Swiss city of Bern. The track deals with the goddess Artio, who was a local bear goddess of Bern – that’s why the symbol of Bern is still the bear today. It’s a very emotional, very dramatic song – it expresses the longing and unfulfilled love of this bear.
ME: Do you have any guest musicians on Evocation II?
Chrigel: Yeah, sure! I’m very happy that we have Brendan Wade again; he’s a good old friend of ours who played on “Everything Remains (As It Never Was)” and performed at the “Das Zelt” shows with us; he’s awesome. He plays uilleann pipes on two tracks. Of course, like on Evocation I, we have Oliver “SaTyr” Pade from the German band Faun. And we also have Netta Skog from Ensiferum on the accordion in the song “Lugus.”
ME: Any folk musicians you’d like to work with in the future?
Chrigel: Oh Jesus Christ, yes! Actually, I had an experience with this album that was so exciting I almost had a heart attack, and a few months later, I was extremely crushed and disappointed about it. We had two other guest musicians planned, both confirmed, and at the last minute, things didn’t work out time-wise. The original plan was to record Evocation II in November/December last year and release it in March, but we had to postpone it because the search for our new singer took way longer than we thought it would. So we had to book the studio for spring and release the album in summer instead. But because of that, those two guest musicians couldn’t be part of the album. Those two musicians would have been Alan Stivell from Brittany on the harp, and Paddy Keenan [from legendary Irish folk group The Bothy Band].
ME: OH MY GOD.
Chrigel: Yes, exactly! You know how much I admire Paddy Keenan; when I heard that he confirmed, I almost had a heart attack. I was like a 13-year-old teenage girl, completely freaking out because she just met Justin Bieber or something! *laughs* But he and Alan were both on tour during our new recording time and couldn’t make it, so I was really, really disappointed. I will definitely ask them for our next album, and maybe – hopefully! – it will work out then; it would be so amazing!
ME: When you first started Eluveitie, how did you decide which folk instruments you wanted in the band? Did you just say, “Let me make a list of all the instruments used in Celtic music and put them all in the band!”
Chrigel: Yes, actually, it was kind of like that! Our main focus wasn’t Irish music or something, but strong Celtic music, be it from Galicia, or Brittany, or Ireland, or Scotland, or even fucking Switzerland! *laughs* So it was very clear from the start which instruments would be there. And I always wanted the harp, and I’m so happy now that Fabienne plays the fucking harp!
ME: Any chance of a purely acoustic tour in the near future?
Chrigel: Not a tour, no. That’s more or less what we just did with “Das Zelt.” That tour was only in Switzerland, of course; that’s the downside. But even before “Das Zelt,” we did something similar in the US; we’ve been playing these long acoustic sets for more than two years now. We will do an acoustic release show [at the Summer Breeze Festival in Germany] where we’ll play many tracks from the new album and also quite a few tracks from Evocation I, but for our tour afterwards, we plan to do a pretty in-your-face metal set, because we just need it! *laughs* But we will play Evocation II songs on that tour, too, of course; I think there are many tracks on that album that we can beautifully blend into a harsh metal set. And we will definitely do that!
ME: You guys are one of the hardest-touring bands out there. Are there certain things you absolutely have to take with you on tour?
Chrigel: To be fair, it’s been quite a while since we toured really heavily; we’ve always played a lot of shows, but our last real, hard tour was at least two years ago. We’re so ready to finally hit the fucking tour bus again! *laughs* Anyway, you know Switzerland; maybe you know the store Migros? Well, I wear contact lenses, and whenever I can, I always buy tons of the lens cleaner from Migros before I go on tour, because I think it’s the best! Also, my laptop and shitloads of hard drives always come with me, but besides that…I don’t have much with me, actually!
ME: Those of us who are long-time fans remember that in the early days of the band, one of your hallmarks was your famous druid cloak. So I have to ask: Will we ever see the return of the druid cloak?
Chrigel: That was my fucking wedding outfit, actually! *laughs* So of course I still have it, yeah! But it’s not really stage wear these days, and I guess if I were going to get married again, I probably wouldn’t wear it. But, you know, we all get older! *laughs* It’s still in my wardrobe, though; I’ll never get rid of it.
ME: Thanks for the interview!
Chrigel: Thank you so much, it was a pleasure!
Interview by Sam Riffle
Also read our interview with Eluveitie hurdy gurdy player Michalina Malisz here !