Interview – Liv Kristine of Midnattsol

Norwegian Songstress Liv Kristine Espenæs is no stranger to Heavy Metal. With the voice of a siren who sounds like an angel, Kristine got her start with the Gothic Metal outfit Theatre of Tragedy, with whom she spent nearly a decade and released 5 studio albums. With Symphonic Metalheads Leaves’ Eyes, Kristine served as the centerpiece of the band and helped to author and release six full-length studio albums, ranging from 2004’s Lovelorn to 2015’s King of Kings.

Fortunately or unfortunately, in life and music, oftentimes the fates have major surprises to unleash upon us. When Leaves’ Eyes parted ways with Kristine in April 2016, Liv found herself one truly talented woman with her entire life ahead of her, but without a band. Enter her beloved sister, Carmen Elise Espenæs, Lead Vocalist for Midnattsol, a Nordic Symphonic/Folk Metal band who already had a superb catalogue of three albums – 2005’s Where Twilight Dwells, 2008’s Nordlys, and 2011’s The Metamorphosis Melody.

Now, with the combined vocal prowess and songwriting abilities of the Espenæs sisters at its helm, Midnattsol has produced the gorgeous epic, The Aftermath. Showing a tremendous amount of eloquence and grace, Kristine recently sat down to discuss her history in Heavy Metal, her surprise departure from Leaves’ Eyes, and most importantly, her newest work with Midnattsol and all things The Aftermath. – You have been involved in the Metal scene for over twenty years now. What keeps you coming back for more?

Liv Kristine – Metal is the music I grew up with through my very young parents. This genre has always fascinated me, most of all because there is a build-up of so many contrasting elements. As I heard “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath in my early childhood and the smooth, doomy guitar harmonies next to string instruments and Ozzy’s vulnerable but straight-forward voice, I thought, can I be a singer in a band with that kind of a sound? I love the contrasting elements of darkness and light, rough, Metal sound and smooth melodic tunes; it gives me goosebumps.

Music is such an inspiration to me, moreover, writing lyrics, diving into poetry, and dealing with phonetics and languages. As it was clear that I would be replaced by a new singer in my own band, I instantly felt the support from my fans and friends to stay involved with my passion for music. This gave me so much power and helped me to get through very rough times. Today, I feel stronger than ever and I know that I have the best fans in the world. Music will always play a highly important role in my life – it is a strong feature to my identity.

Roadrunner Records – As you just alluded, you spent thirteen years with Leaves’ Eyes where you were arguably the center of that band. When you left, was there ever a moment’s hesitation as to what you would do next, musically? Did you need to take any time to regroup, or were you more inspired than ever to forge onward?

Liv Kristine – At first, I was devastated as the whole situation was unbearable for me, especially because everything happened without any warning. My life fell apart on all levels, professional and private, and I had to deal with the problems of other people that hit me as a woman and my family badly.

On a professional level, I had to start all anew. I think the whole decision of replacing me “all of a sudden” and continuing with the band was not the right decision. Why not just choose another band name and change the band’s concept? The Viking concept of Leaves’ Eyes was brought to life due to my own history and heritage. As soon as I got the news that Elina would replace me and that she was ready for touring with Leaves’ Eyes, I just hoped that they would change the name of the band and come up with their own new concept in case of a new album.

My urge and power to move on has always been there and will always be a strong force in me. As already said above, I have the best fans in the world! Most of my fan club leaders gather in Nagold, Germany, every December, at my yearly special show where we all sit together. I feel such a strong connection to my fans, and the support I have gotten over the years is absolutely amazing and I am forever grateful. 2016 and 2017 were years of connecting to other artists, bands, and projects, like e.g. Tanzwut, Eluveitie, Orden Organ, Cradle of Filth, The Sabbathian, and finally Midnattsol, moreover, it was important for me to strengthen the status of my own solo band. – You have faced a lot over the past several years and done it all with a sophisticated eloquence and a beautiful grace. Let us focus on the positive and speak more specifically of Midnattsol, who are an established band that had already released three albums prior to your arrival. Realizing that it is often exceptionally hard to evaluate ourselves, what would you say you have brought to the band?

Liv Kristine – I guess and hope that my entry in Midnattsol strengthens the identity of the band through my Norwegian heritage (like Carmen) and interest in Norse mythology and history. I am very happy about this as a continuation in my own artistic process, as this was something that defined the identity of Leaves’ Eyes to a great extent. The album was released in May, last month, and I am amazed by the band’s work and artistic quality. It makes it so much fun to sing in Norwegian and Swedish, and just suck up the raw, clear, Nordic Metal sound. I am very happy to be in Midnattsol, moreover, I feel such positive vibes and good friendship in this band. There is something magic when our voices join: we have completely different singing manners and techniques; however, we complement each other.

Napalm Records
Napalm Records – You and Carmen absolutely complement one another beautifully and flawlessly. Does working alongside your sister bring an organic nature to your work together, or is there ever ‘sibling rivalry’?

Liv Kristine – Carmen and I have always supported each other; we have a very special connection. There is one experience that made me see into the future: since we performed “I Am Free” on-stage in Wieze, MFVF 2016, we both knew that the future will bring more possibilities for us as sisters in music. That was a magic moment! Carmen said on-stage, introducing me, “Remember, Liv, you are always free!” I was moved to tears. It is a revelation to join Midnattsol, and Carmen and I have always given each other strength and security. – It is wonderful that you have found new inspiration and musical happiness, all at your sister’s side. Speaking of inspiration, your lyrical content would suggest that you are a fan of history, mythology, and folktales, and probably a dedicated reader of both? Do you have any favorite authors?

Liv Kristine – Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, the Edda, Karl Ove Knausgård, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Henrik Ibsen, Sigrid Undset, just to mention a few. However, my main influence comes from linguistics, especially from historic languages, Scandinavian languages and Norse mythology.

Napalm Records
Napalm Records – So, you are a bit of a scholar as well as an accomplished songwriter. In fact, much of The Aftermath is presented in Swedish/Norwegian, and even the lyric sheet maintains this original format without a translation. How important is it to both you and Carmen – and the identity of Midnattsol, as a band – that your lyrics maintain their original presentation and not simply be “Americanized” for the sake of ease or expanding the band’s fanbase further?

Liv Kristine – It was important to Carmen to strengthen the identity of the band, especially after the reunion and reanimation. Keeping the lyrics in their original form is, therefore, important, like in “Herr Mannelig.” Swedish is a cool language, especially in folk tales and Folk music. I like the raw Metal sound of Midnattsol’s version of “Herr Mannelig.” I had a lot of fun writing the lyrics for “Eitrdråpar.” The lyrics for “Eitrdråpar” are taken from Edda (K. Ødegård‘s version). I translated it into ‘drops of poison.’

Eitr is a mythical substance in Norse mythology. This liquid substance is the origin of all living things: the first giant Ymir was conceived from eitr. However, the substance is supposed to be very poisonous, and is also produced by Jörmungandr (the Midgard serpent) and other serpents. I find it highly-interesting that poison is the substance of life in Norse mythology. Moreover, life and death are opposite states in the process of living organisms, as well as death can be seen as rebirth. Most of us really start living in the here and now after we have experienced suffering and pain. Carmen and I avoid any kind of American-izing. Identity comes first: our fans and supporters know that. – That is what makes Midnattsol so very special and sincere, as you stick true to your roots and fans greatly appreciate that. To further delve into myth, “Syns Sang” is loosely based off the mythology surrounding the goddess Syn, who is known for her need to refute what is wrong and weigh in favor of righteousness. Is there a kind of social commentary and/or feminist ideology loosely embedded in the track?

Liv Kristine – The album’s title, “The Aftermath,” just blew me away as if that could have been the title of my own musical work. As I got to hear the songs in their demo versions, it was such a revelation. The message of the album brings my own experience during the last years to this point. Carmen sings about the painful process she had to go through, watching her own band falling into pieces. I can feel this in her words so clearly, as it reminds me of my own personal past situation. We are both so glad that all this belongs to the past and the fact that righteousness, fairness and clarity, next to the will of the good, is stronger than anything.

“Syns Sang” is my favorite track on the album. The ending gave me space to sing with all my strength, passion and creativity; it’s like freedom, a revelation for me as a singer. I embrace and believe in karma; karma is always, and karma is everywhere. The goddess Syn judges the wrong and sees the right and good. The song sums up a lot in my life so far!

Napalm Records – Okay, so as with all great music, there is a personal quality to the stories, and an underlying belief in karma. There also seems to be a bit of a theme of time on the record, especially in regards to the destruction of our planet (“The Aftermath,” “Forsaken”). Is it important to you to offer an environmentally-conscious voice to your fans?

Liv Kristine – As I heard some of the new tracks, including lyrics of “The Aftermath” in autumn 2017, I thought, “I wish to be a part of this.” The album had a very important message for Carmen, and also for me personally, as mentioned above. Whoever hurts others intentionally will have to take the consequences of his misdeeds and criminal or bad acts. This also concerns nature. How can human beings believe that we can force nature?

For me, the lyrical themes on the album cover themes that are important to me in my personal process of life. To take better care about nature, moreover, the power of Mother Earth is highly important to me. Norway is a country where we actually do have a lot of wild nature and landscapes where no human being has ever set his foot, and we are actually taking care that we keep it as it is. We are aware of the fact that this is where we come from, this is our heritage, and we can never force nature. – That is a wonderfully important and conscious view to have, and Norwegians should applaud themselves for their respect of nature – something we do not have here in the U.S. To step away from that however, let’s discuss some of your other musical projects. Aside from a lovely solo career, you are also a frequent feature vocalist with other bands (Cradle of Filth, Delain, Eluveitie, etc.). Will you continue to pursue these avenues of your career and, assuming that this is the case, where might we see you pop up next?

Liv Kristine – I love all collaborations with other interesting artists and their projects! If I like what is being presented to me, if I feel inspired, no matter the status of the band or artist, I will go for it. Currently, I am working on my solo album, moreover, on a handful of solo shows for later this year.

Liv Kristine live at Gramercy Theatre, NYC 2-17-2014. – That is wonderful! Fans will be very excited to welcome you to stages once again, as a solo performer. As for Midnattsol, are there any plans to tour in support of The Aftermath and, if so, do you intend to visit North America?

Liv Kristine – North America is truly a goal for us. First of all, we will settle a cool, professional and stable line-up for the live performances, then we will start planning shows. – Wonderful! We look forward to hopefully seeing you, Carmen, and the band on our shores very soon. So, let’s end with a random question. In 2014, we spoke with you and explained that CrypticRock covers music, as well as films – particularly Horror and Science Fiction. You stated that you were more a fan of historically-based movies. That said, have you seen anything recently that struck a chord with you?

Liv Kristine – Yes, I remember! It is an interesting question. Last night I watched Frida, the 2002 American Biopic Drama directed by Julie Taymor, in which the private and professional life of the Surrealist Mexican painter Frida Kahlo is depicted. It is a beautifully and aesthetically made movie, however, in some scenes, quite brutal and horrifying. It is very impressive!

For more on Liv Kristine: Facebook 
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