It’s not uncommon to hear about how much someone’s favorite band means to them. For as long as there has been music, people have been drawing strength and comfort from their favorite performers. Finding a band that speaks to you and that you can relate to can be an immense sense of relief when you realize that you’re not alone in how you think and that someone else knows what you’re going through. For Swedish symphonic metallers Eleine, that appreciation and love is a two-way street.
Since forming in 2014, Eleine has built a dedicated fan base through their powerful and emotionally honest records. The band’s main creative forces, vocalist Madeleine Liljestam and guitarist/vocalist Rikard Ekberg, are just as likely to find confidence in the love and support of their fans as the other way around. Talk with either member for any length of time and you’ll be struck with how genuine they sound in their praise for their fans and how much that support really means to them. With their latest full-length, We Shall Remain, on the verge of release, I talked to Ekberg and Liljestam about their latest record and what it takes to build a following.
You guys just finished your first North American tour. How did that go?
Rikard: Great! It was our first time doing a North American tour and it was great on many levels. It was also very challenging. We did 23 gigs over 25 days. From the outside, it’s brutal but in it, it was a breeze because we got to meet so many of the North American legions so it was super great.
How did the writing/recording process go for the new record?
Madeleine: Nothing really that is different from Dancing in Hell until the end. We’ve done our thing, as we usually do, and the thing that we’ve been sticking to is that we want to create music from what we feel and what we experience. We don’t sit down on, like, a Monday and go ok, what’s the next record going to be all about? How do we want it to sound? We give ourselves the creative freedom of just going with what feels right. Who knows how we’ll do it in the future but this is how we’ve done it so far.
You guys are pretty open in your music about different struggles that you face. Does that creative process help you deal with those struggles?
Madeleine: It is a part of the process, yeah. Take the chorus of “War Das Alles,” for example. That is in German but it’s based on a poem that I wrote a while back. That was important for me and for the struggle that I had. Everything is. We feel like we can let it out and it becomes part of a very important process of accepting what you’re going through and accepting where you are right now and what you have to look forward to. It’s very complicated to sit here and listen to but, for us, it’s also a healing process, without sounding too cheesy.
Rikard: It’s a very important thing, the platform that you’re given as an artist. It has become, naturally, a platform for us and so many people are now looking toward us. They gain courage, they gain strength, they get inspired. We also get inspired, we also gain courage, and we also gain strength through our listeners and through our fans. We feel that it is important, when you are given this platform, to use it in a good way and the best we know is to talk about things that we have been through, know, and feel.
Did the pandemic have an effect on the creative process for We Shall Remain?
Madeleine: It’s hard to say that you’re not affected at all. We’re all sitting here in the same boat. The depression that I went through started before the pandemic. We’ve had our personal struggles with trying to find ourselves. Like Rikard, he was diagnosed with ADHD in [his] mid-30s, and I got my high functioning autism [diagnosis] last year, approximately a year ago, which gave us a lot of answers to how we had been living and how we have felt about ourselves in the eyes of others and ourselves. Of course the pandemic has affected us and we have learned a lot, but it’s not an album because of the pandemic.
We touched on it a little earlier but what does it mean to you guys to see how much the fans resonate with how open you are about those struggles you face away from music?
Rikard: It means, and I’m speaking personally now, everything. We went so many years with people telling you that you’re wrong with how you feel about yourself. That is just, like, holy shit, a gas-lighting life. It’s terrible. We actually have had fans come up to us and, this happened in Atlanta while in North America, he came up to us and, we have a free meet-and-greet after every show that we are able to, and this man came up, he waited in line and he said “I’m not going to take up too much of your time but I wanted to say that your last album, Dancing in Hell, it saved my life.” That is just so powerful and it’s not only him that has said it but this is the closest that comes to mind since it was recently. That was just so powerful that you feel like you’re giving something back.
Madeleine: Everything that we have been through and decided to write music about, and everything that we are going through, that someone can relate and feel strength and even get help from it, that is very hard to grasp. We also feel that way. Without this, it would be hard. I don’t know how I would end up with my depression if I didn’t have Eleine and our fans. That is actually what dragged me out of bed when it was at its worst. It really did and I’m really grateful for it.
With the experience of multiple albums under your belts, is it harder or easier to create new records now? I imagine that the experience factor must make things more comfortable but not repeating yourself is always tricky.
Rikard: I get as surprised every time a new song is created [laughs].
Madeleine: After Dancing in Hell we were like, ok, how are we supposed to top this? Is it even possible? But it was time to create and we started to create. One song after another was created and we were like, fuck, this is the best thing we’ve done. It’s a very interesting process. I both love and hate the songwriting process. I can feel on top of the world one hour and the next hour, everything we have done…we should just stop, we should just end it. It’s very interesting but so far it has gone well and I feel the same right now. Do we have more? Can we create another album after this? It is always the same.
Rikard: I think, for me, I feel like I have more of a hunger now. After Dancing in Hell, it was such a shift from our second album, Until the End, to our third album, Dancing in Hell…it was such a big shift that after Dancing in Hell, I wondered if it’s even possible to do more. Now, the album is complete and right now, I can say that it’s the best album we have ever made but during the process, it has been the best and worst piece of shit that I’ve ever heard. If you’re a musician or any kind of artist, your stuff will suck for the longest of times but let it suck. It’s ok to have it suck. It will get progressively better and people will think your crappy shit is somewhat good and then all of a sudden, you have a fan base that agrees with you and what you create and it gives them something, you don’t know what it is, but it’s something and you get something back from them. Keep going.
How do you fight through those moments of self-doubt?
Madeleine: I grab a coffee and just reflect on life.
Rikard: I say that I have you.
Madeleine: We do support each other. We write all the music so sometimes we can both sit there being awfully miserable, but sometimes you’ve got to call it a day. Leave it, we’ll be back tomorrow, and listen with fresh ears.
We’ve talked about Eleine being a source of inspiration for fans but who are those go-to bands for you two?
Madeleine: It depends. I have periods with different kinds of bands. If I find an album that I like, I can listen to that over and over again. If someone is reading this with autism, I’m sure they can relate. It’s apparently a very typical thing. I try to be more open-minded, which is why I have a section on my Twitch streams where I ask the viewers to send in links for me to check out music videos and I’ve discovered quite a lot. I always feel like listening to Rammstein; I always feel like listening to Rotting Christ.
Rikard: I have whatever you’re listening to because we’re often in the same room [laughs]. I don’t really listen to music in that way but when we’re in the car, it’s Rammstein, it’s Rotting Christ, it’s Arch Enemy. I just thought about this so it’s a very interesting question. There’s the classical ones that you’re always supposed to say like Dio and I listened to a shitload of Nirvana in my teens. Here’s the thing, I didn’t know that I have ADHD before my mid-30s so when I was a kid, I had no idea. I honed in on special things. I honed in on the Swedish artist E-Type. There was something about the thumping bass.
Talking about the album, “Never Forget” is a killer opener. How did that one come about?
Madeleine: It’s a smack in your face to wake up and it’s a very complicated song, musically, which is a bit of a nice challenge. Even though it can be considered complicated to play, it’s not hard to listen to. That’s the thing, it’s pretty straightforward.
Rikard: It’s a shit ton of riffs. If we’re just looking at the guitar riffs, which there are many of, that is what I call the flow moment. I feel that fire, that special thing that I can also talk to myself through the riffing. When I feel that moment, I hit record and start riffing and that comes out. It’s beautiful. Sometimes I have to do more takes, sometimes it’s less but it’s the fire, what you feel, not only what you hear.
Madeleine: I’m very riff-based. I love riffs so I approved. I was like, this is fucking awesome, let’s do it [laughs].
You talked about flow in that song but, in general, I feel like the album itself flows really nicely from song to song. Was it difficult putting together the sequencing on the record?
Madeleine: Usually it comes pretty naturally. We usually take the lyrics sheet out on a table, just so you can see the lyrics and hear the song in your head, and you just get a feeling. We always talk about dynamics. It comes pretty naturally. This track list, I think we just did it once.
How about “We Are Legion?” From the show I went to in Joliet, that one’s already a fan favorite!
Rikard: That’s a great one to ask that question for. The music and the lyrics…”We Are Legion” is aimed towards our listeners and our fans, which call themselves the Eleine Legion and we love that. They call them that so we call them that and now they have their own song. It’s our battle hymn together with our legions. It is their song. We created that and we wanted that.
Madeleine: It’s created from wanting to feel empowered, that’s the core of the entire song. You will be empowered by having others around you, it gets you. Everything else you don’t really have time for, you only live once. It’s better to focus on what is giving you something in life. Music wise, Rickard started to do some riffing and I loved what I heard and was like, fuck yes, we’ve gotta go with this. I remember it like it was yesterday.
Rikard: It came very naturally.
You talked a little about “War Das Alles” earlier but I was hoping you could go a little more in depth about how that one came about?
Madeleine: I wrote the poem a while back in English, as I usually do, but I didn’t feel it. I saw the words but I didn’t feel it so I figured that, you know, maybe I need to use my own native language but it was terrible in Swedish. I love our language but it was so cringey. I didn’t feel it. I love the German language, it really speaks to me, and Rickard has German heritage. I tried it out and everything made sense. For me, some expressions within the English language make more sense than the Swedish versions and this just made sense. We were already working on the song and I presented him with this and it just fit great.
Rikard: Super great, no question about it. It just fits so good.
Madeleine: I think with how the atmosphere is with that song and the chorus, I don’t think we’ve done that ever. It was something else.
How about that killer closer, “We Shall Remain?”
Madeleine: That is, to me, in all honesty, a great ending to the entire album because I feel it has something from all of the songs within the song. It was one of the first songs that we wrote but I feel that it has something from all the songs and really represents Eleine. If one wanted to dive into Eleine, I’d say go for “Never Forget,” “We Are Legion,” and “We Shall Remain.” It really is a reminder that if we stick to each other and remember that together we are strong…it might sound cheesy and I’m sure you’ve heard it so many times, but it is true.
Rikard: It’s very interesting, that song in particular, because the message speaks of being here and looking forward. It’s a hopeful and somber phrase. I’m really proud of it.
It’s a great close to a killer album and it brings the whole thing together nicely in a cohesive package.
Madeleine: We don’t want it to feel like a collection of songs, we have a thought behind it. We have been creating and have been through this Hell of a process of the songwriting so then you want them to get into our world of how we think and feel. We want to take them into this experience and have people hopefully feel something. If one person can relate and feel empowered from the album, we are happy.
We Shall Remain releases July 14.
Photo at top: We Shall Remain album cover.