"Music is life to us" - Eluveitie's Chrigel Glanzmann

After five studio albums, two live albums, two compilation albums and an EP, Swiss Celtic Folk Metallers Eluveitie are finally making the trip to Australia. Metal as Fuck caught up with singer/songwriter Chrigel Glanzmann to find out a little more.

When my phone rings on a muggy Queensland weeknight, the call comes from a rainy cold spring day in Hungary. Eluveitie’s frontman Chrigel Glanzmann is handling the press interviews for the day while on tour in Eastern Europe, and despite have been on the road almost constantly is upbeat and looking forward to the next show. After a quick lesson in how to properly pronounce Eluveitie (ell-VY-tee), I shuffle my pile of questions and find out what 2013 brings for the Swiss Folk Metal band.

In May this eight-member band, dubbed the 'New Wave of Folk Metal', will arrive for their first Australian tour, but Glanzmann has no idea what the reception down under will be like, “That's why we're coming, to find that out. None of us have actually been to Australia, personally or as a band, so we actually don’t know what to expect to be honest. But that's probably also the exciting part. We're really looking forward to coming. I think we'll play quite an extended set. We always try to do a good balance between the old stuff and the new stuff, but we'll try to focus on the last album. Maybe even some acoustic stuff, we don't know yet but we'll see."


The melodies of Eluveitie balance traditional folk elements, with heavy guitars, against clean singing and the rough screamed vocals of Chrigel. Folk instruments included in the mix are the fiddle, the bagpipes and the rarer (if funnily named) hurdy gurdy. The hurdy gurdy is played by Anna Murphy, who also takes main female clean vocal duties. However, Murphy is currently not on tour with the band, having taken ill."She's not good, thanks for asking, she's still in hospital.” Glanzmann does have some good news though, “Three days ago I got a phone call from our manager and she's doing better. So, things are going up at the moment. It's looking much better now actually.” At the time of the interview it looked like Murphy would be able to make the Australian tour.


Eluveitie released their fifth studio album, Helvetios, last year to rave reviews from folk metal lovers worldwide. The reception from the community has blown Glanzmann away, “[It’s been] absolutely amazing to be honest. How can I say, when you release an album you usually don't really have expectations. What happened with Helvetios was much more than we ever thought could happen. It was very good. [It’s] by far our most successful album, it hit the charts in many countries, surprisingly well. Also, playing the songs live turned out to be really cool. The songs are received really well, and turned out to be good live songs. They're fun to play and the audience seems to like them a lot."


A notable element of the lyrics of Eluveitie is the occasional use of the extinct Celtic language, Gaulish. "Well, essentially Eluveitie is focused on Gaulish or Celtic culture, basically Gaulish and Celtic is the same it's just different words for the same thing. That’s what Eluveitie is about. It's not that we really use Gaulish as the language for our songs, most of our songs are in English obviously, but our use of the Gaulish language is more artistry,” Glanzmann pauses to find the right words. “What we are doing lyrically is basically narration of history; it means that the use of the Gaulish language is to make the narration of that history a little more livid. Give it some flesh and blood."  


The founder of Eluveitie in 2002, Glanzmann still finds it easiest to write the majority of the music himself. "For our last two albums I was working together with Ivo [Henzi] one of our guitar players. But basically it's me who writes the whole concept of the music and stuff,” he tells. “We're not that kind of bands who sits together in the rehearsal room and jams and creates songs, I don't think that would work for Eluveitie since we have eight members plus! Every single one of us comes from a completely different musical background. It could be interesting, but I'm sure it would turn out quite chaotic. It’s me writing the music and when the song is done I roughly record it at home and hand it over to the band, to kind of refine it and work it out as a band. It can sometimes happen quite quickly.”


Folk metal as a genre has grown in popularity over the last decade, with Eluveitie one of the notable players. The selection of traditional Celtic instruments that would make up Eluveitie’s sound was obvious to Glanzmann from the start. “When it comes to the instruments, of course they are a little unusual in heavy metal, but all the instruments we use are really common in Celtic folk music. When I formed the band, it was very clear to me that those instruments would be part of Eluveitie. But I didn't plan to make a folk metal band. I didn't even really know what folk metal was. There was no folk metal scene basically, at least not in Central Europe. Folk was basically my past time and I wanted to combine the two types of music that I personally love most, so that was the idea of Eluveitie. So it was also very clear from the beginning which instruments should be involved. “


With such a range of non-traditional metal instruments, the line-up of Eluveitie changed often in early years. Of the original line-up, only Glanzmann and fiddler Meri Tadić remain. “At the beginning it actually was a little challenging to find people to play in a band like this. Especially in the first few years we had a hell of a lot of line-up changes. The reason was actually, always time. When we formed the band it was very clear that Eluveitie should become a project where everybody works really hard to move forward and to get as far as possible with this kind of music. So that's what we did. As a consequence we grew constantly, and each year there was more shows, more festivals, more tours, more of everything. So that the time that needed to be invested in the band became more. This is basically the fact why practically every year a member left the band. Because constantly everybody needed to ask him, or her, -self the question ‘Can I still do that?’ and some couldn’t. We had some people that were still studying, and didn't want to stop their studies due to the band, and some got married and had kids and so on, and so on. So, that was basically the reason why in the early years again and again people left the band. Today it is like a fulltime job to everybody in the band.”


Eight members onstage, often with unwieldy instruments, can mean a lot of bumping elbows. Glanzmann admits that it used to get quite tight onstage in the early days, but these days the stages are a bit more accommodating. “I remember on the first tours we played, there were some really small stages and we were like really squeezed on stage with hardly room to play. So yeah, it can be challenging. But, today luckily that is not much of an issue anymore.  We enjoy playing live a lot, and in that sense it doesn't really matter, it's just nice to play.”


Australia doesn’t have many ‘traditional’ instruments, given our multicultural heritage, but we do have one that is synonymous with Aboriginal music. Glanzmann laughs when I suggest they add a didgeridoo to the line-up for the Australian tour, “It's a cool instrument and I think it has its use in metal music, I suppose. It wouldn't fit Eluveitie, as all the instruments we use are traditional instruments in Celtic music. But maybe we will have some people join us on stage with their didgeridoos!”


Eluveitie tour Australia for the first time in May 2013:

Thursday 23rd May, The Zoo, Brisbane QLD

Friday 24th May, Billboard, Melbourne VIC

Saturday 25th May, Metro Theatre, Sydney NSW

Tickets available from Metropolis Touring