Wielding the Symphonic Metal Sword: In Conversation with Thorsten Bauer of Leaves’ Eyes

Interview by Jason Williams

German-Norwegian symphonic metal group Leaves’ Eyes recently completed a successful North American tour supporting Sabaton. The band went through a major lineup change in 2016 with Elina Siirala replacing Liv Kristine as lead vocalist, but are still making just as strong of an impact, and continue to work on material for the next full-length. Our man Jason Williams sat down with guitarist Thorsten Bauer for an interview in Anaheim on the recent tour, to discuss all things Leaves’ Eyes. Enjoy the conversation below.

For Leaves’ Eyes, I would personally say this is one of the biggest tours you’ve been a part of, in North America, opening for Sabaton. How does the band feel about it, in terms of gaining a new audience as well, just your overall thoughts?

I have to say, we already had some tours before, like 2006 with Blind Guardian. 2007 with Kamelot, but it was a while ago, and we were here with Moonspell too. But you’re right, this is a really super amazing tour. Everywhere, sold out venues, playing in New York in front of more than 2,000 people! And I have to say that the Sabaton guys are really nice and are treating us very nicely, including their stage crew. So you’re right, we have a big opportunity with this tour, and at least the cool thing is, that the audience is also getting our sound, because we have a, I’d say, edgy and powerful appearance on stage. It’s been a year with Elina, our new singer, she has a very powerful voice and attitude, and that includes the band, and also Alex. So, I think it’s really a very good combination of bands, also with Battle Beast, every band has a little bit of a different orientation, but it works very well, including the reception from the fans, and we are very thankful. It is a great step for us.

About over halfway of the tour already, have you noticed any extra positives? Merch sale increases, traffic on your social media outlets, are those and other aspects increased from your eyes on this Sabaton tour?

Yes, we have. Obviously like many bands, the merch account is very important, and we are selling a lot of t-shirts, and we’re very happy with that. Yeah, and also the reception from the people. A lot of people that haven’t seen us, so far, they’re surprised because Finnish metal sometimes has a bit the image, of being a plastic sound, which is totally not the case in our material. If you look at our last album, like everything was played in real, no plastic sounds, no nothing, everything handmade and that’s also the approach we have on stage.

How did Leaves’ Eyes get contacted for this tour? Was it a request from Sabaton, or just mutual talks?

Actually, we were asked by Sabaton, and we already know the band since several years ago, because there’s always the Euro NAMM, the music exhibition, and we also play ESP guitars, and Sabaton as well, so we already met 3 or 4 years ago and had fun together. I think we like them very much, and they like us, so it’s really nice. There’s no stupid behavior, no rock star attitude, you see the guys, they’re just really lovely. We’re very thankful and are also down to Earth people, so that works very well.

I would consider Leaves’ Eyes to be, in that particular group of bands, like Wintersun, Augury, Anata, and others who many didn’t get a chance to really know back before social media really took over. The band formed in 2003, initially like a side project from the band Atrocity, where the members are all from, and in Leaves’ Eyes. Now, maybe in the past 4-5 years, more fans out there know who the band is. With the internet now, a lot of bands are able to kind of “come back” and make a refreshing return. Would you say it’s a positive to be almost around then and to still be here now? And to play devil’s advocate, is it also harder to stand out, because of so many bands and musicians able to record whole albums in their home studio or apartment?

It is definitely a sign of the times, which is basically also nice. People can now record an album so easily and put it out. But it’s also true, the main key now a days is to stand out and have may be a sound or something unique, that you can recognize. And we had always this, what you could say, from the beginning, this connection to nature, and Nordic mythology. We expanded that very much, starting with the ‘Njord’ album in 2009. We had a lot of native instruments recorded, Indian pipes, Nordic instruments like Nyckelharpa on the albums. We had the experimental album ‘Meredead’ in 2011, which was based also on a lot of Nordic folk songs, and I think that’s maybe the part where I feel we’re unique, with the symphonic and metal appearance, especially live. And also, a very Earthly, and how you can say, almost Folky approach to things.

Your latest record ‘King of Kings’, I would describe to be more straightforward than previous releases. The symphonic nature and atmosphere, a little less, not non-existent, but the drive is certainly more focused on the guitars. I believe it makes the album stand out more, allowing Leaves’ Eyes to be able to contrast from previous eras, from ‘Lovelorn’, a more Gothic style, to going for something, say heavier? A little more fast tempo from the band that longtime fans wouldn’t be used to at first listen. What was the band’s approach for that 2015 release, and is that a sign of more of the same to come?

I think at the beginning, when we started Leaves’ Eyes, we are also trying to make sure it’s not sounding like Atrocity. Because obviously when Alex and I are involved, it can always be the thing that it could sound like Atrocity, so at the beginning, I kept it back. So, it took the approach of new songwriting, to start with the vocals, or orchestra motives. But from the ‘Njord’ album onwards, when we were confident enough to say, “Okay, this is our way and style”, we also took a lot of the guitars, and I believe the bombastic and more metal attitude, that we had from the ‘Njord’ album, could also be found on ‘King of Kings’, and also ‘Symphonies of the Night’. I believe that’s one point of the development that we have, and I’m also happy with Elina’s voice, because it’s very powerful, and fits very well to the music.

And as most already know by now, the biggest change for the band is the new vocalist. This is Elina’s first real huge tour in a more well-known band, I believe her previous and only band, EnkeliNation. Obviously a huge jump, not only in the name, but being able to be on massive tours like this. Describe how you found her, and what she’s given to the band? What was your assessment initially of her impact?

Elina has been in the band for exactly one year. And her band was supporting us two times, once on a festival in the UK, where Elina was living in London. And also a Leaves’ Eyes show, so Alex and I decided to give her a shot, invited her to our studio in Germany. It all went very fast, because we had a show coming up in Indonesia, so her first show was in front of 22,000 people, traveling to Indonesia, like 30 hours (laughs). Elina did a great job, also on the following European festival headline shows, having a big viking ship, and huge six feet high swords which we set on fire, which isn’t happening here because we couldn’t bring it, but it’s what we do often in Europe. And yeah, she did amazing. And also, when we flew over for this tour, we already have almost all songs for the new album written. Elina also has recorded the demo vocals, she did a very good job for that too, and we’re happy the way she’s performing live, and also how she puts her voice in.

What was the moment for you personally, that you saw in Elina, either recording the ‘Fires in the North’ EP, or in a live setting, that you said to yourself, “She’s going to be okay, and the right choice to make.” Was it a particular show or moment with the band?

The first show in Indonesia, after she had may be 10 to 14 days time to learn to the set, in front of those 22,000 people, that demands already quite some courage. And then may be also, which is a totally different thing, where one festival is like a sprint, as you would say in sports, on the last tour we had 36 shows with Sonata Arctica, 17 shows in a row without a day off, and to manage that, with obtaining a stable performance each night, I think that’s the moment where you say, “Okay, this is really working out.”

And with that being said, Leaves’ Eyes’s former vocalist Liv Kristine, I believe wrote most of the lyrics for the band previously. Going forward, will you give writing opportunities to Elina? Or will it be from Alex? It’s obviously a very large change, so what would you expect, and has there been any discussion in the band about it?

Yeah. I think the main lyrics are written by Alex, also for this album because it’s easier. As we discussed earlier in this interview, we know where the band started, where it developed to, and where we want to go to. So it’s easier and Elina can now concentrate on the vocals, instead of having that trouble to also write the lyrics. But this could change may be in the future. But now the biggest challenge is to introduce her on a full album, and since I know the demos we’ve recorded so far, and the songs that we have, I’m very confident it’ll be a great album.

So there’s just demos at the moment, but will there be any info coming out soon about the band recording in the studio for the full album? Or after a set schedule of touring?

We have our own studio called Mastersound, where we do everything. So the songs already sound like, may be other productions, and I hope I don’t sound arrogant, but when you start working in the studio, you already have a certain quality. For us, it’s always a challenge with the native instruments, but the last time we had the London Choir joining in, the same choir who sang on Star Wars and The Hobbit. These guys are very expensive, and are paid in minutes, even seconds (laughs). Then we had the orchestral recordings in Belarus. And all in all, we had recordings in seven countries, like the native instruments in Switzerland, the Netherlands, for example. To get these recordings done, and to get it fitted into the material, is usually the biggest challenge.

I’m a very big believer that there are good attributes in North America for metal shows, and I also believe there’s a lot more we can do better, for example Europe having a much better system in terms of how many shows there are between each city and location, the quality of tours and festivals. In your previous band Atrocity, and Leaves’ Eyes for nearly 15 years, what have you caught on over the years that would make underground metal bands, and also popular ones, able to tour more comfortably?

I think you also have really good festivals here, like ProgPower, which I think almost every European band likes. They get a lot of European bands over, and also managed to get the Visa situations covered. To get the road Visa is very time intense and costs a lot, so a lot of bands can’t come to the US, because they can’t afford to pay for that. It would be nice, I mean, I grew up playing in Atrocity since ’94, and since then summer time is European festival season. When you play every weekend, and you meet all the bands, and meeting new friends, and that’s great and would be nice to have that in the US too. I’m not sure why it’s may be harder. Maybe it’s easier if you have the smaller continent as Europe. When we play at Summer Breeze or Wacken, there are not just people coming from Germany, they’re coming from everywhere. The distances are may be just a bit smaller. Organization is also very good as well, but I have to say, a lot of Europeans got a bit spoiled. In the European festival season, you can see any band, and when you tour in Europe, say around September or October, you’re, sorry for the words, you’re basically fucked. Because, nobody can afford anything anymore. They spend all their money on the European festival season. And the people get also a bit spoiled, now a days, which is the negative side of it. But the positive side is that it’s great to be outdoors and meet the bands and fans. The music steps a bit back, because you get a much better light and sound if you watch a band in a concert hall, instead of when you go to a festival, where a band could have a 10 minute change over, lights are may be not there even. But for a band of course it’s great, I mean we played for example, a Thursday evening at Wacken, there were only two bands playing. It was Leaves’ Eyes on the second biggest stage, with the Viking ship, and on the main stage was Iron Maiden. A lot of bands will say, “Hey! We played in front of 75,000 people!” But it’s not true, because half of them are on the camping site. But I say it’s both sides, because you’re reaching a lot of people, but it’s overall the majority getting spoiled, may be.

After this tour, would Leaves’ Eyes want to do more supporting tours like this current one? A lot of bands are doing this now to stay afloat for sure, and aside from the tour recently with Sonata Arctica, it’s been a while since the band has toured the States. Is doing support tours the key to Leaves’ Eyes growing even more so?

I think that’s the common thing all bands do, since even the ’70s, no matter if it’s AC/DC supporting Rainbow, or Van Halen supporting Black Sabbath. When you want to grow as a band, you need to do support tours. We used to do a lot of tours on our own, because we wanted to do a full show, especially in Europe. But it’s definitely a great thing to fit in a support tour, in the right spot. And there are also plans to come out next year, because the new album will be released in January 2018, and we’re looking to see how we can handle it. Of course as well, to tour Europe, play festivals, but we will also come back here.

And my last question: I believe the symphonic/folk metal style is making a big comeback. Even if you take Sabaton’s example, people are bringing their kids to shows, which is quite rare in metal. What do you think people see in this particular metal genre?

I think what you can realize is, it has a very positive atmosphere, in which the people that come to the shows they want to have a party, arriving with a positive attitude. A lot of conservative people say, “Oh no, this is Satan music! Only evil forces behind it!” Which of course is all bullshit. And I think that’s the cool thing about Sabaton, and what Battle Beast and we do, it has a real positive and good message. It’s different but also similar. Alex is obviously, you see here (in the dressing room) is his helmet, and his armor, wielding the sword onstage, and Sabaton has a tank onstage, so it’s maybe also that people want to experience something. Fans want to hear stories, and they want to have something handmade, and just something authentic. Maybe that’s something they get from Sabaton, as well as from Leaves’ Eyes.

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