Interview with Merlin Sutter
November 1, 2017 – Koko, London, UK
Interview by Torbjørn ‘Toby’ Jørstad
We sat down with Cellar Darling and ex-Eluveitie drummer Merlin Sutter after the band’s show supporting Delain in London last week. Read on to find out about the biggest challenges following their departure from Eluveitie, how the band classifies their music, work on the new album and more!
How are you doing? Did you have the chance to check out London at all today?
I’m doing good. Probably a very fantastic start for us as a band, this is our first tour and we’re doing great. I actually live part-time in London, so I do get to check it out from time to time. My girlfriend and co-manager of Cellar Darling, we are kind of a family business, she’s lived in London for about 12 years.
First of all, how’s the tour with Delain been for you guys so far?
Fantastic, we’ve known Delain’s manager for some time, so we asked her to give us the chance back when we were working on the album, and she did, which was great. We couldn’t have expected almost all the shows to be sold out. It’s been a while since we’ve been at the Koko and tonight it was sold out, which is fantastic.
Are there any specific memories or moments you remember from the shows you’ve done together so far?
That’s a tough one. Well, today’s probably a memory that will stick with us for a while [laughs]. Otherwise it’s just a blur of good times, it’s only been six shows so it’s a short tour.
Your debut album This Is The Sound received quite positive reviews, and you’ve already supported big bands such as Delain, The Gentle Storm and soon Lacuna Coil. Did you expect the success to come so quickly?
Well, we couldn’t have really expected anything. As you might know, we left a fairly successful band, and that was a folk metal band, clearly, aso we had to make up our minds to do whatever felt good. We went in to the rehearsal room in a really old school manner, just played, and whatever came out ended up on the album. We figured we’ll just have to see if people would like it, because it’s different from what we used to do and it’s been fantastic that so many fans stuck with us. We really appreciate it, and it wasn’t much of an expectation we had.
Do you reckon a lot of Eluveitie fans naturally became Cellar Darling fans?
Some of them apparently. Which is cool, for us it was always more than just a style of music. Eluveitie was about the energy, playing together, the weird instruments working together and we kind of tried to carry that on in spirit, if not in the type of music we play.
What’s it like to be on the road again, but now as a support band rather than as a headliner like when you were in Eluveitie?
Well, it’s a throwback to back in the day for sure [laughs]. But it’s fantastic, we enjoy every second of it and it’s tougher for sure than what we did in the last few years with Eluveitie. But we’ve done it all before so there’s no surprise and it’s kind of cool to work our way up again.
You played the mainstage at Summer Breeze in Germany this summer, probably quite unusual for such a new band. What was it like to return to an open air stage that you’ve previously played with Eluveitie, and how do you feel Cellar Darlings music works in the open air setting?
Well, it felt fantastic to be given the opportunity for sure, and it’s a great stage and festival. But we are now three people and a session musician, so we felt quite alone on the big stage. But I think we have to get used to it.
With This Is The Sound, do you feel like you’ve already settled on a musical style or sound, as the title of the album implies, or are you considering the project to be more of a musical journey with your sound evolving as you release more music?
Kind of a mix, we figured more that the musical style has settled for us in a way. As I said earlier, we just each did our thing and it magically worked so we though “that’s cool, let’s just go with that”. If people like it then that’s great, if not then we gave it a good try. So now we’ll have to see, we’re working on a new album already and we have no idea what it’s going to sound like.
How’s the work on the new album been going so far?
It’s been going really good, but now we’re on tour for about six or seven weeks so we’ll have to wait until we get back home.
Of the songs you’ve done so far, which one would you say defines Cellar Darling the most?
That is hard to say, although some candidates have emerged. When we wrote “Black Moon” in the rehearsal room we though “this could be what we sound like”. Until then we had worked a little bit on all the songs and though “this is shit, this is really different”, and so we though “Black Moon” could really work as sort of a guideline. We’re all kind of fans of “Six Days”, we’re about to release a video for it. We made a really cool animated video together with an artist from Romania, and we’re excited about that.
What was the biggest challenge for you when leaving Eluveite and starting Cellar Darling?
Well, I guess the biggest challenge was, in a boring way, financially. It became sort of a survival kind of thing. With Eluveitie we made a living out of music for a while, but it was always like at the end of the month, we were really waiting for the payday to come. So after the last month with Eluveitie, there was just nothing. I currently live in the rehearsal room, and I also have a kind of office and merch storage. Anna had to get out of her apartment and lives with her parents again, Ivo is trying to work night shifts. So that was tough, but it was never on the table to just give up that dream of living off music. So it was a challenge to make that work, and the time as well, you need to put in the hours in the studio and the rehearsal room.
Do you work a normal job besides Cellar Darling?
No, I try not to. I run all the management and the online store and so we’re trying to keep as much as possible within the band.
So after Eluveitie, you never considered giving up on music?
No, that thought did not appear for a second. I think Anna joined Eluveitie when she was 16 years old… both her parents are opera singers, her stepdad is a director, and I just decided when I was 12 that I wanted to become a drummer and that was it, so we’re now kind of stuck with it.
When writing the album, did you actively seek inspiration or did it just sort of appear out of the blue?
We consciously made a decision to write in the rehearsal room, we never did that with Eluveitie but we always wanted to. Anna and Ivo and I planned to do a side project some day, we had a vague idea of a rock band, so we did that, tried out some different things in the rehearsal room, lot of beer [laughs]. That helped, and also we rented a house by a lake in Switzerland, really beautiful with mountains surrounding it, and then we lived there for a while, writing songs.
Do you think spending time in those surroundings affected the song writing?
I think so. It’s hard to say because we don’t know how it would have sounded otherwise, but that was important for us for sure.
Where do the musical influences in Cellar Darling come from? Are there any bands or any specific traditional styles of music that has shaped the band’s sound?
Probably too many to say, especially because it’s an individual thing as well. Anna has some classical influences that she always wanted to bring in because of her family, she grew up with opera and all that. My dad has a giant vinyl record connection, so I grew up with the 60s and 70s rock, and there was more room for this now than before. We had the chance to just let all the influences come in, because before in our previous band it was very a narrowly defined, really cool, but very defined concept.
What are the main influences on your drumming style?
Hard to say. I sometimes teach drumming on the side. I loved Queen when I grew up, so I was always looking at pictures of Roger Taylor. I think actually the pictures influenced me more than the drumming itself [laughs].
You call yourself the New Wave of Folk Rock… what characterizes this genre that you classify yourself as?
That is a good question. We had no idea how to characterize ourselves when we stared, and we actually had the same problem with Eluveitie many years ago. We were very frequently called pagan metal although we weren’t pagan in any religious way at all. At the time, there was a lot of New Wave of British Heavy Metal to find in Metal Hammer and all that, so we just went with New Wave of Folk Metal. Now with Cellar Darling we were thinking about it and I thought it was the same thing this time around, because we have the hurdy gurdy, we try to carry on the folk spirit, if not the traditional tunes, so that should do.
What do you do to relax or blow off steam when on tour?
On tour, nothing [laughs]. I wish there was room. Usually it’s just 16 hour days, and some drinking and that’s it. We try to relax in between, we love going to the mountains. I try to go to Scotland once a year and just hide my phone somewhere. We go different places every year, because they allow wild camping.
Looking ahead, what do envision the future for Cellar Darling to be like?
Well, we really hope to where we came from and take it from there. We want to be on tour or in the studio; it’s simple and I think it has to be simple if you want to achieve anything.
What are your plans after your tour with Lacuna Coil?
I wish I knew actually, our agent is here tonight so I hope she has a few minutes to spare for us so we can discuss plans, we have a whole list of bands we want to tour with. We’re working on a new album but we definitely want to stay on the road for another 12 months.
Anything you would like to add in the end?
Well, thank you very much for your time, I hope you enjoyed the show. We can’t wait to return to the UK. We really hope that we can get a footing here.