Interview with Charlotte Wessels: Personal insight into her “Tales From Six Feet Under” solo album

Author Samantha Chilli - 17.9.2021

Dutch metal songstress Charlotte Wessels will formally mark the commencement of her solo career 21 September with the release of “Tales From Six Feet Under”. Wessels, who split from Delain alongside former bandmates Timo Somers, Otto Schimmelpenninck van der Oije, and Joey de Boer in February 2021, found a creative home amongst her Patreon fan community and began releasing a Song of the Month in May 2020. The album is a diverse collection of those monthly efforts.

 “Tales From Six Feet Under” weaves together different genres and moods. The dark, Muse-esque “Afkicken” shines in Wessels’ native Dutch language, and a goth-electronic cover of Gerard McMahon’s “Cry Little Sister”, made famous in “The Lost Boys” movie soundtrack, is also a welcome addition. “Lizzie” features a duet with Wessels and Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz, something of a haunting vocal ballet in which the two powerhouses navigate both hushed and crescendoed musical passages together.

In an in-depth interview with Chaoszine, Wessels chronicled the birth of this album, from building her home studio to the assembling the more cohesive end result. She didn’t shy away from articulating the deeply personal meaning behind the songs “Soft Revolution”, “Masterpiece”, and more — as well as her “very Bob Ross approach to life.”

So, we’re here to talk about “Tales from Six Feet Under”. It was born from your home studio with the same name, which you’re currently sitting in. Can you tell me about this space, and what about the atmosphere in your home studio sparks your creativity?

Wessels: Sure! So it’s here in my home basement; we moved in here a few years ago and I’m really, really happy that we did because we didn’t know quite how much working from home we were going to do at the point when we bought the home. It’s a wonderful space because it’s a basement, and the neighbors don’t have basements, so I’m quite isolated when it comes to sound and bothering no one when I’m playing music loud.

It is quite a low space, just over six feet tall, so the Six Feet Under Studio was too easy, too goth, too fitting to the space. I put bright colors up everywhere; it is a basement, but if it is a space that I work in a lot of time, I want it to be bright, I want it to be happy so it can spark inspiration. There is actually some daylight, and a small skylight that if you stand in our kitchen, you stand on the glass, so yeah—this is where I’ve been spending most of my time the last year and the year before!

And according to your social media, you’ve got a cat helper, Iggy, in the studio?

Wessels: I do! I have a little basket here on my desk and usually she sits with me. I can work with her when I’m arranging things and have my headphones on. The sad thing is as soon as I start to sing or put music on the speakers, she’s out of here. She’s like, “Moooooom!!!” and doesn’t really enjoy it for some reason, which I’m trying not to take too personally [laughs.]

There is a lot of variety in musical style on this album. Were all of the ideas ones that were born in the downtime of the past year, or were they ideas you’d been sitting on for a while?

Wessels: Some of them I’d been previously sitting on. The record is a collection of the songs that I’ve released in the first year of Patreon. I started this Patreon in May last year, because I had a lot of material sitting on a hard drive that I wasn’t using. At that time I thought that Delain was still going to be a thing in my life, so I thought, “What do I want to do with all these songs here?” I could start a side project, but these songs kind of go everywhere, and at the same time I also didn’t want that kind of commitment towards another group of people because we were very ambitious and busy with Delain.

I really wanted something that I could do individually. When I started, I thought that I’d do a song every month because I had such a big pile of ideas. If I just finished those ideas, then I thought I would spend quite some time before I actually had to start from scratch every month. I’m still here and the pile hasn’t run out; I’ve been doing it all myself, learning a lot of new things.

When I listen to a lot of those songs from back then, I think there’s so much that I would do differently now, and that it might be easier to start something new. There were a lot of ideas that I had before, that kind of sparked the entire idea of beginning the Patreon in the first place. But I also had moments last year when I thought, “Well I have this song done, I could release it, but I also just wrote this song yesterday, and I feel like that should actually be the song for this month.” So it’s kind of a mix on this album.

You either played or programmed all of the instruments on each “Song of the Month”, and did all of the production work. Can you tell me about a moment or an idea during the creative process for each of these songs that was especially a learning experience for you?

Wessels: I think during the entire thing, I was figuring out what I was going to do, and how I was going to do it. One of the things that some people might hear is that almost all of the guitars and all the drums are programmed. It would be good if you can’t hear it, but I know that some people will hear it. And on a lot of albums, even if they are made like that, they will choose one overall sound for all those elements. With every song I wanted to try something different and then I bought this new instrument or that new software, so there were a lot of learning processes.

When you talk to actual producers, when they open their projects they have their instruments lined up and kind of have a standard template for the songs, and I don’t. Which is maybe why some of the things sound all over the place, but for me that was also one of the lovely things about it. For every song, since they weren’t in the first place made to be on an album together, I got to decide what each song needs: does it need organic drums or an electronic beat? I really made that choice for every song, and a part of the learning was then making it sound cohesive. The one thing that I don’t do myself is a mix and a master.

But I don’t think I could pinpoint one moment; I don’t think I’ve ever had such a steep learning curve in my life. There’s like an, “A-ha!” every single track, and I like that. I really wanted the spontaneous process of a new song every month, where you basically don’t have time to overthink things. I also wanted that as a balance and contrast to how we were working on long-term things with Delain, because I really like and value both of those things.

Charlotte Wessels in her home studio. Photo credit: Otto Schimmelpenninck van der Oije.

In the collection of songs on this album, which one or two is the most personally significant to you, and why?

Wessels: The first ones that comes up are “Superhuman” and “Soft Revolution”. “Soft Revolution” is because 2020 was just over, and I wasn’t feeling well—a lot of people were not feeling well—and I wanted to have a song that addressed that. No one hears, “Okay, that’s okay, you don’t have to pretend, you don’t have to put your energy into masking how you truly feel.” And that was one that was good for me to write.

Another one that was very personal was “Masterpiece” in the sense that I wrote the beginning of the song in January 2019, but it kind of gained new meaning to me in the month I was finishing the song. Over the last year besides Covid and [splitting with] the band, I’ve been working on myself. I’ve been following therapy for an eating disorder that I’ve been struggling with on and off since I was 14, and then I was finishing this song as I was finishing therapy.

Officially finishing therapy is really scary and weird, because you have that safety net and when you quit, it’s kind of daunting to go back to then doing that on your own. The feeling that was already in the song, that really got more meaning for me at that point, was the whole thing about, “What if you have a fallback?” You know, if you mess up, you can try again. Nothing is ruined if you make mistakes. They’re all brush strokes in your masterpiece. I have a very Bob Ross approach to life, you know, there’s no mistakes, just “happy accidents”.

That kind of the gave the song more meaning to me, wrapping up the therapy at that point, and finishing the song that was about, listen, even if you don’t know exactly where you stand or who you are or what you’re going to be, even if you make those mistakes, even if you’re not going to do it perfectly, that all shapes who you are. That is something that I felt was an encouraging thought, and that’s how I approached songwriting. If I have a feeling, rather than describing the feeling in song or wallowing in it, I feel like, “What would I want to hear now, to feel better?”

Wow, that’s really powerful. You mentioned working on future “Songs of the Month”, and perhaps some longer-term material. Which elements do you plan to carry forward into future material, whether that’s musical style elements, or more songs in Dutch like “Afkicken”?

Wessels: I like the combination of the heavier stuff and the electronic music, that dark electronic feel. That is something I think that I will carry forward, but I’m not entirely sure of it yet. One of the things that I enjoy most is that I can get to decide every month. For a more long-term project I might start to think about “my sound”, but at the same time I don’t feel like I want to define or limit myself to one sound.

Do you plan to bring any or all of this album to a live setting, as you recently did live with Timo Somers at Tim Tronckoe’s Studio 23? How would you plan to bring this to the stage?

Wessels: I am confident enough that I want this to the stage that I’m making plans, and talking to people about how I’m going to do this. I definitely feel the setting that you saw [in the video] was fantastic, and it also really brought back my desire to play live. That was really cool, but it was really weird having no drummer, for example.

We’re all used to playing with in-ears and backing tracks, because in symphonic metal there’s usually quite some orchestral work and choirs and stuff, but you don’t have that bombast of the actual drums on stage. I feel like you need a bassist as well. So I do feel like if I were to bring it on stage, I would need some extra folks with me. I’m not rushing, because here in the Netherlands shows are either seated or postponed. I’m working on it, but I’m also giving myself some time.

Let’s talk a little bit about the album art. Can you tell me more about the artist you chose, and why the groovy-funky-doomy aesthetic represents this body of work?

Wessels: Yeah, I always lean toward these ‘60’s and ‘70’s poster-style aesthetics, because my first love musically, well, I always wished that I was at Woodstock. I just really love the style and it also represents the part of me where I got really excited about music. Even though you couldn’t necessarily tell if you listened to some of the songs, some of the earliest records I listened to were Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Joni Mitchell, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young.

That influence is there, and I always like following visual artists who still work in that rock’n’roll style. I’d been following Maarten Donders for a while, and I’d had an idea for the studio’s logo. It’s Six Feet Under Studio, so I thought one of my speakers as a tombstone was fitting. So I approached him and we worked from the vibes in the songs; I think he did a great job giving it a visual world. That style is fitting to me as a person, even though when you listen to the music, it varies.

“Tales From Six Feet Under” album cover, 2021. Art by Maarten Donders.

Lastly, I want to talk about your Patreon community. It’s such a big part of this album, and you’ve amassed a loyal group. How has connecting with your fans this way enriched your career, especially now that you’re a solo artist?

Wessels: It doesn’t only enrich my career, it makes it possible, really! Even though I envisioned it as something to exist next to Delain, it quickly became clear to me that the community was fantastic. When the split happened, I didn’t give it a second thought if this was going to be my main thing, I just knew. At this point, it’s everything that I do creatively, but also my bills are paid by it. It doesn’t only enrich it, it makes it possible.

The second thing is that it’s given me a positive purpose over the last year—with Covid, with the split, you know, all the other stuff that’s been going on. It would have been easy to get really down if it wasn’t for the fact that I had a song to finish, I had a video to make, and I have a community that supports me in doing those things. I’m excited about this material, and I’m happy to get to work; I want to run into the basement in the morning to work on this song.

On a creative level it’s been really good to have something positive to work on, but also on an emotional level that these people have your back. That’s nice, and it has been massively important. I felt really privileged to be able to do this, and the release itself I’m doing independently, but the vinyl through Napalm Records. I only have a production and distribution deal with them, and they’re supporting me way beyond that. I really feel very supported from all directions.

Find Charlotte Wessels’ solo material on Spotify here: