XANDRIA Interview

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Xandria Interview

Interview by Victoria Fenbane

Interview Photos by Michelle Murphy


Vocals: Manuela Kraller

Guitar & keys: Marco Heubaum

Guitar: Philip Restemeier

Bass: Nils Middelhauve

Drums: Gerit Lamm

Before their performance supporting Kamelot @ London’s HMV Forum we managed to catch up with Marco Heubaum and Manuela Kraller from the German symphonic metallers Xandria, to  discuss their creation process behind latest album ‘Neverworld’s End’ and their eventful and lengthy hunt for a new vocalist, aswell as their love of Newcastle Brown ale…. 

Thanks for joining us today!

This is your only UK date on this tour.  How is the tour going?

Manuela: It’s been great so far, the response of the fans has been really incredible and I myself am used to being on tour, feeling much comfortable on stage and feel at home there now.  The other bands are really awesome; we are on the bus with Triosphere and Blackguard  and we’re having so much fun.  

Do Kamelot have their own tour bus?

Manuela: Yes they have their own bus.  They’re really nice people too. 

Do you all get on well when you’re all on tour?

Manuela: Yeah, it’s fine.  It’s funny when you tell people who have never been on tour before that there are 18 people on the bus they’re like ‘What the hell, how is that going on?’ Upstairs there are the bunks and downstairs you can sit and talk and have a beer or something.

Marco: Only one…

Manuela: Yes only one per night, never more that is the tour rule! {laughs}

Has London been a good place for you to play in the past?

Manuela: To perform, yes London is really great.  Last time we played with the ‘Out of Dark’ tour at O2 Academy Islington(2011). It was very cool because it seemed like people were waiting to finally see us [with the new line up].  We got very good feedback.  

Many people wrote to me via the Facebook page and people asking when we were coming back to London.

Do you think you are going to come back to the UK for a headline gig?

Manuela: We hope so, there is nothing fixed yet. But it is our aim to make a headline tour as soon as possible.

From set lists posted online I’m guessing that tonight you are only going to be playing songs from the new album ‘Neverworld’s End’.  Is that correct?

Manuela: Actually yes that’s true. Not one old song

Marco: This is the first tour we are not playing old songs.  We have been all over Europe with Epica in the Spring; and you know as a support act you have 40-45 minutes and there we put some older tracks in and got so many requests for more new songs, for songs we didn’t play already on that tour and we thought like ‘OK!’ but when we put them in we have to kick old ones out.

Manuela: When we go to headline then of course older songs will be also part again of the set list but I think it’s good to focus now on new songs, to present the new material and it’s ok for us now and perhaps then next year there will be Ravenheart again you know.

Marco: And again and again….

So basically it’s you breaking from the past?

Manuela: In some way yes it is.  We have to look forward and it’s like this: that the older songs of course they don’t fit so much my voice.  I love to sing them but it’s different when I sing the new ones.  I’ve been a part of the writing process, so that is a different feeling also.  But of course I love to perform songs like ‘Ravenheart’, ‘Eversleeping’, ‘India’ you know.

Would you want to maybe adjust the older songs to your voice, change the songs slightly?

Manuela: that would be interesting….

Marco: That wouldn’t be possible.  I’d say that they are not too unfitting to your voice.

Manuela: No.  It’s just that I am singing them in a different style. It is just a matter of taste.  

Marco: I think if Manuela had been with the band when we made ‘Ravenheart’, when we made ‘India’, all people would say ‘OK the songs were made for her voice’. 

It’s just a matter of having gotten used to it. Of course there are some songs have been really tailor-made for Lisa’s voice for some, but if you take title track off the ‘India’ album, it already was a symphonic metal piece, much power metal influence. 

This one was really made for a voice like Manuela’s, and if she sings it now it’s the first time you really hear it.  It is how it is supposed to be originally, so it has been updated.

How do you feel about losing long term fans due to the change in sound?

Marco: That’s the way it goes.  As a musician you have to do what’s in your heart. 

If you just do what others like its shallow, there’s nothing, there’s no soul in it. 

So that’s the way it goes, we have to do that, to go where you want to go. Of course it is sad to lose old fans but we just hope that they will follow us, and we have so many new fans.

Manuela: Yes, as Marco said, we cannot look to everybody’s wishes; you know, you have to do the music that’s inside of you.  Not ‘Ok let’s see, the fans want to hear this, so we make this music’, it is not really right.

Marco:  To really tell the true in a harsh way, if I had written songs like I did on ‘Ravenheart’ just for the purpose of it, it would have been a lie.  

Manuela: It would not be honest….

I suppose you wouldn’t have enjoyed performing them either.

Manuela: Yes of course, because if you don’t have a feeling for it, if you just do it to satisfy others, that’s not right.

So you would like to keep old fans, but new ones will come?

Manuela: Yes, but many were happy also with the new album, so we were really lucky.

How do you feel the new songs fit with the back catalogue? Is there a continuum at all?

Marco: Songs like ‘India’, ‘End of Every Story’ were leading already to that direction we have now. In fact at that time I planned to make an album kind of like this now Neverworld’s End, more symphonic, more metal, more complex.

Maybe back then would have turned out a little different, because I also had to develop my song writing abilities and so on, so it was ok to have time for it since then. But I remember the label back then wanted to have another new album ‘Now! Bring it on! Come on Ravenheart was such a success, come on bring on a new album!’. 

I was ‘whoa! I need more time’, to make more epic, more ambitious stuff, and they wouldn’t let me. And not only the label but also internally, we had some different opinions on that, you know.  Some wanted to just go on and write songs, and I wanted to make it visionary. 

There are just a few songs on that album that show up what it would have been really, and it feels just so good to be able to do that.

I can see it now, the album prior to Neverworld’s End (Salomé – The Seventh Veil) was a bit more epic and the new one is just huge!

Marco: yes I agree.  I think even on other albums it’s not that far from where we are now.  It’s not like reggae or hip hop!

With Nightwish touring with Floor Jansen are you worried you may get overlooked, because you’ve got this new operatic sound and now that they’ve got Floor and everyone is saying they are amazing again!

Manuela: It’s ok, they do their thing and we do ours. They still have a different voice and the sound, of course is symphonic metal and it’s bombastic, and you know stuff like this, but we’re still Xandria and you can hear it. There will always be people following Nightwish and always people following Xandria, or both, I don’t really care about this.

Marco: they don’t even have to choose between!  They can own both CDs!  

Manuela: Yes they can take both!   Actually I think Floor would be a real good singer for Nightwish and I love her voice very much, so it’s good.

Some of the songs from Neverworld’s End have a folk feel (e.g. ‘Call of the Wind’/’Cursed’). 

What made you decide to go in this direction?

Marco: I have always loved this stuff.  It is meant in a cinematic way. It’s not like that we are trying to do alternative folk stuff or Celtic music; we use it as we would use it to make movie soundtracks because the music works a bit like that. I have a movie in my head and it’s the soundtrack to that song.

Will this sound be included in the next album?

Manuela: I hope so, I love violins.

When you looking for a new singer did you have some really dreadful applicants?

Marco: Well we had more than 100 candidates sending emails, because we put a request on our internet page and they sent us the stuff.  Emails, pictures, some music maybe.  There were just a few we invited to our hometown to get to know them.

Manuela: And I was one of the few!

Marco: In the end there were only 9 or 10, we chose to invite

I bet you had to listen to some awful stuff…

Marco: Yes of course, not everyone is aware of how talented you must be…

Manuela: When I was waiting I heard some stuff…

Manuela, I heard you applied very late…

Manuela: Yes I was really late and they complained always ‘Why have you come so late, to us?’  I saw it already but I had 2 bands already, and I’m not the person who makes 10 things and everything a bit. I want to do it with passion and won’t have time for it.  So well it seems like I already thought I would be the new Xandria singer!

When you apply you always have to think that it *could* happen. So I thought, well OK I have Haggard and Nagor Mar from Switzerland, and I just saw it and was ‘ah OK, they’re searching for a singer and I forgot it’.  Then half a year later I was talking to a friend and we were talking about ‘Tarja’?   We were thinking about that, and I told him ‘ Xandria are looking for a new singer’, and he was ‘you have applied right?’.  And I was ‘er, no why?’ And he was ‘it’s your style of music, you love symphonic metal, come on apply for it they need you!’ And after one day I didn’t apply he wrote this email ‘You have to apply for it! You have to follow your dreams or I kick your ass!’

Marco: Of course this guy is in the special thanks in the booklet also.

Manuela: So I did and I had really a lot of fun writing the application.  I was like ‘this is Manuela, and perhaps I am exactly the right one for you!’.  It was really at the right moment because another singer couldn’t join and they were like ‘on my God, we’ll never ever find a new singer’ and then my application came! Mwahaha!

Do you put much effort do you put into the band’s image?  You must do Manuela!

Manuela: If you mean outfits and stuff.  I really do!  Because at every tour I have again another 5 or 6 new outfits.  I have a woman who makes them for me, and sometimes I also create them, just for fun.  I really like to show new outfits.  I get so easily bored wearing the same outfits every night. Marco does not understand it is like this, but I am a woman!

Marco: Just a few days ago we were sitting in my car, driving from my home town to the rehearsal room talking about that.  It’s like ‘Why don’t you keep that outfit, that was really great, I liked it’. And she’s ‘Oh no I’m really bored of it’. But as long as the next is as good as the last that is OK!

Manuela: I really like it you know, it fits the experience and I’m still trying out to see what fits.  I’m not that fixed yet.

It’s more fun not to know what you are going to wear every night!

Manuela: The other bands are already like where you get all your dresses you wear every night! All my things are in there [points to a bag].  It is always getting smaller every tour.

Marco: With me it is the opposite, there is so much I would really like to get but I don’t get the stuff I want. The last two years I was always like it would be so great to come back to London again, to go to Camden and buy me some new stuff. Last time I had some time there I got stuff I liked, but in Germany I don’t get the stuff I like.   It’s a few hundred meters from here and I just don’t have the time today!

You need to get a sponsorship deal with an alternative clothing company!

Marco:  That would be great!

The band in its various incarnations has been in existence for quite a while now. 

What keeps you inspired to explore and create new music?

Marco: When writing the new album and had a voice in mind but I did not know her [Manuela].  You know what I mean?  I wrote the album for a voice just like hers, and when she came to the band it was just a perfect fit, everything worked.   Of course it was an inspiration to work with a voice like that in my mind. But I also get inspiration from my favourite bands.

Who are?

Marco: Mainly the classic stuff like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and some stuff from the 90s Tiamat , Paradise Lost, a little bit of middle Anathema and film soundtracks.  If you listen to stuff like Pirates of the Caribbean you can almost hear the guitars on the more powerful parts.  It’s just in my head then and [when I’m] writing songs it’s like I have a CD player in my head and somebody pushes play and something comes out.  I don’t know why, it’s just there, especially when I’m not too focused on it.  It works more when I’m on the road, driving long distances also on tour.

Some people say they can’t write on tour…

Marco: Yeah, its ideas come to my mind, inspirations.  I cannot really work on details. Just like working on the parts that making note fit every part fit, every part of the arrangement. That would not be easy on tour because you have to focus to do that.

Do you have a laptop or something for putting ideas into?

Marco: I don’t have one!  I think it’s one of the next things I have to get.  The last few years there was not so much going on for me, for the band, apart from song-writing. But now we’re getting on tour again; more and more tours than in the past, than we had ever in the past and I think it will be even more next year and there will be not so much time for me to be at home, and writing songs there.  So I will have to get me a laptop.

What do you consider to be the band’s main strengths?  What the best thing about Xandria?

Marco: For us I think it is that we all get along together so well, we have so much of fun on tour; and when doing rehearsals, we go to the pub afterwards. The very first time this has happened, the second rehearsal Manuela had been, we went to a metal pub in my home town after the second rehearsal we got so shitfaced with Newcastle Brown ale!  I had 6 bottles of that stuff.  And were had to do another rehearsal the next day! So we had fun from the very beginning and concerning the music I think the best thing, like I said before, is that you can close your eyes and see a movie.  It’s cinematic.  You’ll see stories when you hear the music, or at least I hope so.

What are your interests outside of music?

Manuela: Oh that’s an interesting question. I love painting I do it since I was a child.  I once wanted to become an artist.  I didn’t ever think that I would sing, I was like ‘I’m not able to sing’.  It changed.  Well I love hiking, I love the nature.  I’m living on the countryside, in a farmhouse with cows and dogs. I grew up with this. I love swimming, I love going to the cinema because I am really addicted to movies. I write poems, of course I’m singing and soon I hope to learn finally the piano. This is my new aim.  Oh and reading fantasy books.  I’m really addicted to it. When I don’t have a book I really get crazy. I need it!

And you Marco?

Marco:  we have so much in common but for me it’s more the science fiction stuff.  Since I was a child I have loved the science fiction stories.  I just love them but only the older stuff Asimov, etc.  Yeah today there are not many fans for it.  I think because in the last 20 years there is not so much happening, only very trivial stuff.  It can be great just to relax or watch a movie.  And I am also movie addicted really.  I also love going out in nature, I love exploring new countries; it’s something I really love about touring.  I also love painting.  I try to write science fiction stuff but more in my teenage days.

Manuela: And Marco sometimes tries to sing!

Marco: Yes I record vocal tracks when I write stuff, and send them to her and she always sends me mail saying ‘now I have more material to blackmail!’

Manuela: Actually it’s not that bad!  You put a lot of echo on it….

Thank you for your time and hope you have a good show. I’m looking forward to seeing you perform.

Thank you!

I saw another side of Xandria after interviewing them.  The chemistry between Marco and Manuela is brilliant and I agree with Marco that it is strength of the band.  Also after discussing the change in direction of the music, I now enjoy Neverworld’s End much more than before!  

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