Of hurdy gurdies, hamburgers, and Polish curse words

An interview with Michalina Malisz of Eluveitie – By Sam Riffle

Swiss folk metal institution Eluveitie experienced serious upheaval in its ranks this past May, when long-time members Anna Murphy (hurdy gurdy, vocals), Ivo Henzi (guitars), and Merlin Sutter (drums) announced their departure from the band. However, Eluveitie has found a more-than-worthy replacement on the hurdy gurdy in Michalina Malisz, a gifted young player from Poland. Metal Exposure’s resident hurdy-gurdy enthusiast Sam caught up with Michalina in the backstage dining room at Metropolishalle Potsdam on the last date of the band’s Eisheilige Nacht tour with Subway to Sally, where they discussed Michalina’s transition from fan to band member, Eluveitie’s upcoming acoustic album Evocation II, and what the future holds for both her and the band.

Metal Exposure: Anyone who follows your YouTube channel, Helvetion, will know that you were an Eluveitie fan before you joined the band. When did you first start listening to Eluveitie?
Michalina Malisz: I was at a Children of Bodom gig in 2011, and the venue played “Thousandfold” on the loudspeakers between bands while they were setting up the stage. I didn’t really know Eluveitie or even the name of that song back then, but it just had the right vibe. I was like, “Give me more of this!” Then I found them on last.fm, and I just went nuts, getting CD after CD!

ME: When did you see them live for the first time?
MM: In 2012, in my home city [of Jaworzno, Poland]. It was that year’s edition of Metalfest; they just played a short set of about an hour. My home town isn’t that big, so it was really nice to have the chance to see them there for the first time. And I was in love, of course!

ME: Did you do what I always do and stand right in front of the hurdy gurdy?
MM: Of course! When the band was on tour, I would always look up the videos and pictures online to see which side of the stage the hurdy gurdy was on so I would know where to stand. I’m a maniac; I had to see the hurdy gurdy! Because it’s magic!

ME: I read that the band contacted you after seeing your videos on YouTube. Did you have to audition?
MM: No. *laughs* The announcement that the former members [Anna Murphy, Ivo Henzi, and Merlin Sutter] were leaving was made in the afternoon [on May 5, 2016], and [Eluveitie frontman] Chrigel had actually sent me a message on my Facebook fan page the night before that. He was like, “Your videos kick ass, and I’ve been watching them for a long time, but I never wrote to you; now I’m writing to you because I want you to know that you’re awesome.” I was like, whoa, dude, this is amazing!! I actually didn’t reply that day, because I was so excited that I didn’t know what to say. But then the next day, I saw the announcement about the former members leaving, and part of me was like…what the hell is going on? But another part of me was like, oh my god, this is my chance! That’s why Chrigel sent me a message! YEAHHHHH!

This was the craziest moment of my life; it was beyond my imagination. But then I had to think about how to reply! What should I say?! “Is there maybe, possibly, some slight chance that I could [join the band]…?” So I wrote back to them to say thank you very much, and of course, if there’s anything at all I can do to help you in this hard situation – you know, I could wash your stage clothes or clean your tour bus – anything! Let me help you! So they invited me for rehearsals; we started talking in May, and it took about a month of constant e-mails and phone calls to set everything up. I went to Switzerland to rehearse with them a week before our first gig together.

ME: Your first show with Eluveitie was in Loreley, Germany in June 2016. What was that experience like?
MM: When you go on stage with a band you already know people like, it’s a different feeling than if you perform your own music or don’t really know the audience. If you don’t know the audience, you might be stressed or nervous, but with Eluveitie, I knew exactly how the crowd felt because I’d been in that crowd before. So I went on stage like, “Yeah, whatever! People love us, so what can go wrong?” *laughs* But actually, a lot went wrong; we had lots of technical problems at the beginning, and it was my first time playing with in-ear monitors, so it was different from rehearsal. The feeling on stage was also really overwhelming – all those people watching you, and the really high level of adrenaline! But I wasn’t stressed or anything; apart from the technical problems, it was just amazing. I knew that I wouldn’t be good on stage at first, because it’s something you have to learn; I watch videos of all the gigs afterwards, even though it’s very painful to watch yourself – sometimes I look so stupid, I can’t believe it. *laughs* But I’m constantly learning how to act on stage and trying to improve. With time, you get used to it, and you can actually have fun on stage without always worrying about how you look.

ME: Had you ever performed live before?
MM: No, not with a band. I performed in a lot of concerts with my music school, so I’ve been on stage in that context, but playing live with a metal band was new.

ME: I read that you were a studio session musician for Polish folk metal band Netherfell.
MM: Yes, I recorded hurdy-gurdy tracks, flute, and whistles for their first album, “Between East and West.” It was actually the first time I’d really performed with the hurdy gurdy; before that, I’d only practiced at home.

ME: Will you continue working with Netherfell in the future?
MM: Yes, I think so. I will make some contributions to the new album. Netherfell was [Eluveitie’s] supporting act in Katowice [in December], and I performed one song on stage with them. It’s my boyfriend’s band, so… *laughs* But now, the girl that plays violin in Netherfell also has a hurdy gurdy that she’ll play live; she has the same model that I have, made by Jan Malisz in Poland.

ME: You aren’t related to your hurdy-gurdy luthier, are you? Since you have the same last name…
MM: No, this is a trick! We actually tried to find out if we’re related, but it seems like we’re not.

ME: What did you do before joining Eluveitie?
MM: I studied editorial studies at Jagiellonian University in Kraków. I finished my Bachelor’s degree this fall; I studied for three years. My program focused on literature, the book market, book design, stuff like that. I learned about typography and how to use InDesign, and I was considering publishing as a career. I also learned German, so I’ve been thinking about combining the two things, but I haven’t really been working on my German while on tour in Germany – it’s easier to speak English all the time!

ME: Is the band a full-time job for you now?
MM: Right now, not really. This tour [Eisheilige Nacht] is full time, of course, because I’m on the road 24/7. But when I go back home, I’m still studying. I haven’t started my Master’s degree yet, so I have a year of break, but I’m still going to classes at the university so I don’t forget what I’ve learned, and I’m hoping to start my degree in the future. But I don’t know how long the break will be after Eluveitie & Friends.


ME: Do you play any other instruments besides the hurdy gurdy?
MM: I play the flute and whistles and a bit of piano. When you attend music school, you have your main instrument – mine was the flute – and then you have an additional instrument, which for me is piano. I had a few years of lessons for both; I attended a sort of afternoon music school in another city where I took music lessons after my regular high school classes. I learned classical music, though, because that’s all that public music schools in Poland teach.

ME: Do you come from a musical family?
MM: Yes, my dad is a musician. He plays trumpet. He actually worked in Switzerland for a few years; I used to spend my summer holidays there. It was a really nice childhood memory! He studied classical music, but he has his own big band in our hometown now; it’s called “eM Band.” He also works in a few other places where he plays more contemporary music – jazz, pop, musical theater, that sort of stuff. But my dad is the only other musician in our family.

[[At this point, someone walks by with food. Michalina: “Are we having hamburgers today?! Oh my god, hamburgers, yesss! I’m really tired of normal catering food: meat, rice, and grilled vegetables with a lot of oil. So let’s hope for the best today; this is the last day of the tour, so we should have some delights!” She orders a burger, and we get back to the interview.]]

ME: When did you first start listening to metal?
MM: I think I was about 13 years old. It was the usual story: You start with some lighter bands – Metallica, AC/DC, that sort of thing – and then you go deeper and deeper. Metallica was my first metal gig. After a few years of listening to metal, I discovered Eluveitie, and then everything changed – after that, probably 90 percent of what I listened was Eluveitie, and then a little bit of everything else. *laughs* These days, I really like metalcore and djent, and I recently started listening to progressive music – which makes sense, since djent and progressive usually go together. I think it’s really amazing when music has groove and flow and is still heavily technical at the same time. Some of my favorites right now are Periphery, Veil of Maya, In Hearts Wake, Monuments…there are many more, but I’m still getting into it. I actually have a hurdy-gurdy cover of Monuments on my YouTube page.

[[The waiter arrives with an enormous burger loaded with pickles. Michalina: “DUDE! This looks amazing. He said it’s made of deer! If you don’t mind me talking with my mouth full, we can keep going.”]]

ME: So when you’re at home in Poland, you practice on your acoustic hurdy gurdy made by Jan Malisz. Can you tell us anything about that instrument?
MM: I have two melody strings, one in D and one in G. I often tune the D to C or C# and the G to A or F#. Changing the tunings like that isn’t really advised, but I do it all the time; I didn’t know it was bad for the strings! Now I know…but I still do it. *laughs* I have broken strings like that before, though. I took the black band hurdy gurdy [a custom black Accento made by Sebastian Hilsmann of Drehleierwerkstatt] home to practice, and I broke a string tuning it. The band hurdy gurdy is very different from my acoustic one; mine is very light, and I don’t need much pressure on the keys, so I can do a lot of tricks on there. But the black one is like a tank! Playing it requires a lot of force, and I need different techniques for ornamentation. I really have to practice on this instrument; I need more strength in my left hand, and the crank is different too, so I use the trompette string differently than on mine.

I only have one trompette string on my Malisz gurdy, in G, and I don’t have capos, so I often tune it up to A. And this is unusual, but: I have three drone strings – one in C, one in G, and one in D. Smaller, unofficial makers don’t really have “standard” hurdy gurdies – two drones, two trompettes, two melody strings – so they produce different instruments every time.

ME: What are the specs of the band gurdy – the custom Hilsmann Accento (a solid-body electric instrument)?
MM: I have two drones – although one is broken right now – and two trompette strings, one in G and one in C. The G string has one capo and the C has two capos. I usually play the C trompette with two capos on, so it’s tuned to E. The four melody strings are tuned to C, G, F#, and D right now. But I avoid using the F# and high D, because they’re very quiet and I have a lot of trouble tuning them. The strings are really loose, and when I take them off the wheel, they’re out of tune when I put them back on. I’ve only tried the band hurdy gurdy, though; I would really like to try Hilsmann’s Largo model.

We recently played a gig with Faun, and I got to meet [Faun’s hurdy gurdy player] Stephan Groth and try out his [Weichselbaumer] hurdy gurdy; he is such a charming person, and when I was introduced to him, I said, “SHOW ME EVERYTHING! I WANT TO KNOW EVERYTHING! COME TO OUR BACKSTAGE; SHOW ME YOUR HURDY AND I’LL SHOW YOU MINE!” *laughs* I acted like a kid; I get so excited about everything! His instrument is just incredible.


Hurdy gurdy madness with our friend from Faun… #eluveitie #faun #hurdygurdy

Een foto die is geplaatst door Eluveitie (@eluveitie_official) op

ME: What was it like to go from a traditional gurdy to the custom Accento?
MM: When I switched from my hurdy gurdy to the band gurdy, it was like a playground – it was an amazing feeling! I had everything I ever wanted! Well, maybe not everything, because I would really prefer to be able to play acoustic as well. But I’d need an instrument with a big body for that; I mean, Stephan Groth is very tall, and he looks good on stage with a big hurdy gurdy – I had no idea how tall he was in person. But imagine me – 163 centimeters tall – with a huge hurdy gurdy like that! *laughs*

ME: Do you have any plans to purchase an electric/acoustic hybrid gurdy?
MM: Well, it’s hard; with my currency, if I wanted to buy a hurdy gurdy from abroad, it would be four times the price. You could buy a really amazing car with that money. *laughs* And my parents, you know…when I first started playing, they kind of laughed: “Oh, this funny instrument that you play alone in your room!” But now they’re starting to change their minds; they think maybe it’s not so funny. Serious hurdy gurdy! *laughs*

ME: If you could have any hurdy gurdy you wanted, which one would you choose?
MM: I’ve always dreamed of Hilsmann’s Largo, but after trying the Weichselbaumer hurdy gurdy, I don’t really know! I haven’t tried the Largo yet, but I think I can get sort of a vague idea of how it feels based on the Accento and having tried the similar Weichselbaumer model.

ME: What can you tell us about the recording process for Evocation II?
MM: Well, the problem is that we can’t use the electric hurdy-gurdy to record this album. We need an acoustic one. I don’t know if or when we’re planning to buy one; it’s very difficult to find a hurdy gurdy to borrow. When makers have a hurdy gurdy ready, it gets sold immediately; they don’t have spare ones lying around to loan to people. And borrowing one from a player isn’t easy either. Imagine if someone would say to you, “Hey, can I borrow your hurdy?” Um…how about no?! So I don’t know for now, but we definitely need an acoustic hurdy gurdy to record that album.
We plan to start recording in January 2017…if we can find an instrument, of course! But drums and guitars will be recorded in a studio in Switzerland, and that will probably start in January.

ME: So what are your plans for the next few months?
MM: There’s the Eluveitie and Friends Festival on January 6th and 7th, then the recordings for the new album; right now, we don’t really have any tour plans lined up. I heard something about a tour in autumn, but there are no details yet. We will play a lot of summer festivals this year, though. Summer Breeze and Greenfield are already set, plus one in Norway in May; my schedule is starting to fill up! But after Eluveitie & Friends, I don’t know when the next gig will be; maybe March. I’ll also keep studying this year and try to pass the exams. I’d really love to finish my studies soon, because my parents are like, “We know you’re a rock star, but you’d better finish your degree, or else! And be in bed by nine!” *laughs* But if I stay on schedule with my studies, I’ll be done with my Master’s in two years.

ME: What are some Polish words that every metal fan should know? Like in Germany, fans will shout “Zugabe!” (Encore!)…
MM: Oh, I always thought they were saying “Flughafen” (airport)! Like, “We didn’t like you, go home – Flughafen!” Well, in Polish, they mostly shout curse words. One of them is “napierdalać” – I don’t know if you should publish that, because it’s really a bad word! In this context, it means something like, “Come on, give us music, give us a show!” It’s usually before a show, or when the break between songs is too long and the audience is getting impatient. We also have a Polish version of “one more song” – people usually shout “jeszcze jeden,” which means “one more.” That’s about it!

The last time I was at a metal show in Poland was November, maybe; I’m usually the kind of person who just stands so I can see the musicians and be in front, but I don’t go too crazy. It’s low-level interaction. I used to go crazy at metal gigs, but not anymore, because I’m worried about breaking my hands or hurting myself! *laughs* It’s funny, when I was invited to join Eluveitie, the process took a month, and during that time, whenever I’d walk down the street, I’d tell myself, “Don’t slip. Don’t fall down. Be careful; don’t break your arms, because you need them now!” I walk a lot – I don’t drive or use public transportation all that often, and I just walked around with my arms at my sides all the time. It wasn’t great for my mental health, but that’s just how it was! *laughs*

ME: Anything else you’d like to add?
MM: I would like to add that the hurdy gurdy is the most amazing instrument in the world. That is my statement for today – and forever!

ME: We’re in total agreement! Thanks so much!
MM: Thank you!