Interview with Cesair (2019)

Photographer © Samantha Evans
Interviewed by Joshua Becker | September 26, 2019

I wasn’t able to see the show at Wacken this year, but the founder of this webzine, Jessica, did and she shared her video with me- I have to say you all did an amazing job! That was also the first time I had heard of you. How exactly were you chosen to perform at Wacken this year?

Sophie: I don’t know exactly how we were chosen, but I can say that Wacken was on the top our list of festivals we’ve always wanted to play. I guess we have our booker Jeany to thank for this one.

Was it difficult to narrow down the song choices you would perform at Wacken?

Sophie: Not particularly. We have a broad range of songs to choose from, from dreamy and slow to more heavy and dark ones, and for Wacken we obviously decided on the last category. But we did sneak some more uplifting songs into the set, and I must say it was a joy to hear all those metalheads sing along to those as well.

Were you nervous performing at Wacken in front of such a huge, boisterous crowd? Do you ever get nervous on stage performing?

Sophie: Over the last years we have performed a lot, so nerves are not as much of a thing as they were back in the days, but my inner 16 year old did make some saltos in that backstage. Being a long time visitor of the holy metal lands myself, playing Wacken was a major bucket list item, and saluting thousands of metalheads and getting just as many devil horn hands back is an amazing feeling I will never forget.

Monique, the dress you wore for Wacken was fabulous- it reminded me of an ancient Celtic-style. How did that outfit get chosen?

Monique: Thank you so much! In most cases, the outfits worn by me are from my own hand. I find sewing and working with my hands very soothing, plus these unique dresses fit the style we have as a band. In this case, the dress was indeed inspired by the Celtic iron age over here in Western Europe. The fabric reminded me of the ominous skies so typical for Celtic countries and it seems this ambiance has been conveyed just fine. Over the last years, the emphasis in my designs lays on prehistoric motifs and styles, because it fits so well to the music.

It’s a possibility I will be seeing the shows at Wacken next year. Are there any plans to come back? I’d love to see you!

Thomas: We’d love to come back! Wacken was a blast. We are coming back to a large festival in Germany next year but we cannot yet say which one. Our supporters can always help by asking festival organizers to book us and sharing our music and our name. Be it in Germany or anywhere else. That’s the main thing – in the end, by supporting what you love, you guys decide who gets to play on your favourite festivals!

Being in the U.S. I would be ecstatic if you could tour here. Has that been discussed, and are there any plans to do so?

Jan: Interesting ideas. We talked about it on casual moments, maybe more often than I can recall, but we have never really discussed it. Some bands do an actual tour for weeks in a row but when we ‘tour’, we travel for one or maybe 3 shows at the most. After never more then 4 days we’re all back home to continue our lives and obligations. This is mainly because there’s just not enough money to be made to cover logistics, hotels and so on. Imagine if we were to fly across the Atlantic with our instruments and crew, we could only do so if we had a cunning plan. A plan or maybe some help from the States itself, like someone who can book us gigs or knows some great places, festivals or venues we really need to be. Prior to these actions, we should ask ourselves if we were to tour the States for money or for experience, and for how long would we want to go on tour? Maybe it’s because that these questions were always left unanswered, ‘talking’ about touring the States never became ‘discussing’ touring the states. That being said, your question might be the trigger to get these ideas and conversations rolling again and turn them into serious discussions and plans. At least it made me try to imagine how it would be, travelling with my friends, near family, from state to state, from adventure to adventure… Will we ever tour the US? I don’t know, I personally would really like the adventure and the experience!

What is your favorite country you have been to?

Thomas: Do we have to choose? Haha, each country holds so many great memories for us. In all honesty, it’s the trips themselves we remember, and the places all kind of blend together. I fondly recall a night in Italy, where after the concert night, all bands had gathered in the swimming pool and were making a song by blowing on beer bottles. Imagine the sight of rows of people in a pool, entrancingly focusing on blowing their bottle. That never lets go of you.

Do you ever worry about forgetting words since you sing in so many languages?

Monique: Not only do I worry about it, it also happens every now and then. Although I always research the meaning of the words and their correct pronunciation, using a language you’re not familiar with relies heavily on memory. Once something gets me out of my concentration, I may just invent some interesting new words! And then I pretend it didn’t happen, or have a laugh with the audience.

Are there any plans for a follow up of the album ‘Omphalos?

Thomas: We are working on new material right now! It’s interested to see how things are evolving this time. We’re very proud of what we did with our follow-up to Dies, Nox et Omnia, Omphalos, which allegedly is the hardest album for a band to create. And now we’re free to tackle a whole new world of myths, legends and music. Keep an eye out for more news regarding our upcoming plans.

What are the bands favorite hobbies when not performing?

Monique: Well, those are rather diverse! Some of us like to read, especially since we share a past of studying languages and cultures at University, where most of us met. We have our fair share of history buffs within the band, which is useful given the subjects of our songs. I also recognize the urge many of us have to create something with our hands. I like to work with yarns and fabrics, Sophie paints and draws beautifully, Jan prefers building furniture and technical equipment and Luka designs and creates musical instruments in his spare time. Thomas on the other hand is our digital wizard and creates websites, digital art and videos from scratch. These diverse talents actually enables us to do much of ‘the behind the scenes’ work ourselves.

Monique, did you have any vocal training?

Monique: About a decade ago I started with classical training with a private teacher. After a few years, I became curious to try different things, such as Bulgarian singing. This year I have come full circle and started working with a new method combined with classical singing. I love medieval music and its use of clear, ethereal singing, such as within the works of Hildegard von Bingen. I am always finding new ways to direct my sound towards this passion.

What places would you want to perform or visit if given the chance?

Sophie: There are so many beautifull festivals we still want to play, it is hard to name specific ones. Playing in South America would be amazing, as we know we have quite a few listeners there, but really anywhere in the world we have not been would be awesome!

What would you say is your greatest inspiration for writing, composing and performing music?

Monique: Although we are infuenced by many cultural traditions and historical periods, in the end the biggest inspiration is the music we listened to during the writing and composing process. Since Cesair’s members listen to different music genres, there is a mixture going on with hints of metal, folk, world music, gregorian and Bulgarian choirs, gothic and rock. But we sense that momentarily, we start to shift into a more experimental mood, so other influences might follow.

When it comes to performing, I suspect we grew into it. We have always put the music first and the musicians second, which means that we move according to the songs we play while on stage. It is such a unique experience and we have heard on many occassions how the audience loves to witness the joy and brother-/sisterhood feel that is weaved within our performance.

Who writes the majority of the lyrics? Or is it a collaborative effort?

Monique: We use many lyrics written by poets through the ages. Usually we select a beautiful text and the melody follows. When the music is written first, I go searching for the words that fit to it, or write a text in English, such as for the song Ahes. I suppose it makes sense for the singer to select the lyrics, but Thomas every now and then also contributes the lyrical gems he comes across.

Are there any songs you recommend for new listeners to understand the message you are trying to convey as a band?

Jan: Every time somebody asks me about my band and to put on a few songs, I try to bear in mind what kind of music they like so I can put on songs accordingly. Our music is so diverse, I think it’s nearly impossible to point out one or two songs and say “This is Cesair!”

Nevertheless, when it’s about the message, we could point out a few songs. Erda, which is about the awareness of our mutual homeland the earth. The Ruin, which is about respect for the transience of all that’s build or has ever lived. And of course Enuma Elish which tells to story of the beginning of all worlds. We should also not forget songs like Dies Nox et Omnia where Monique sings about the death of the princess Cesair who we named ourselves after and last but not least Troll Kalla Mik and Canso for a burst of metal and some healthy dancing.

What would everyone do for a career if you were not in a band?

Thomas: In fact, we all do something else besides making and performing music. It’s not all romance and unicorns and puppies for us! Some of us are teachers, some of us are audio / lighting technicians, and I work as a programmer and desktop publisher. For me, it’s good to stand still and consider how throughout the years, I’ve seen everyone in our group grown into a place where we’re comfortable combining doing what we love with something we’re good at, and actually being able to afford food.

I learned the songs are about a 5,000 year old myth from the same name Cesair. What inspired the band to choose this as the overall theme of the music you make?

Monique: In our time as students, Sophie, Thomas and I came upon the story in the Lebhor Gabhala Erinn, the Irish Book of Invasions. It took us to the very first settlers to set foot upon Irish soil. Intrigued by the mystery of this, we kept on reading. The leader of these early people was the mythical princess Cesair, in later times related to the Biblical Noah as his granddaughter. We felt the journey she made from the Near East to the (then) far West to be a beautiful narrative within which to create our songs, then mostly a mixture of Celtic, Occitan and Sephardic traditionals. After making this choice, the music started to, figuratively speaking, write itself. The inspiration came still further from home.

The band sings in many languages, how exactly did that decision come along?

Monique: It has not been a conscious decision per se. The music we were inspired by was also multilingual and so, it came natural to us. Language is simply the tool through which ideas, feelings and stories are shared. Therefore, any language might be perfect if the content of the text resonates with us and our music. I think the only choices we make regarding this are whether we can use a text from a tradition which is far removed from our own, since we want to honour the value it has to people from the tradition in question.If we choose to incorporate text, we want to do it in a respectful way!

How many languages does the band know fluently?

Monique: Dutch, English and German, so three in total. The rest is bluff.

What would you say the best and worst things about performing are?

Jan: I can only answer this question from a personal perspective. Let me start with the worst, and I really have to think hard about what actually is the worst. Maybe it’s something simple as loading or unloading vans or the moments these old vans are dropping parts on the highway like exhaust pipes for Luka to play didge on. Since the last few upgrades these moments are less likely to happen luckily. For me personally the worst parts of performing are that often I never really have the time actually enjoy or experience the festivals we play for I’m busy building up the drum kit or finding stuff to eat. Is that all? Yep, that is all!

The best parts are the soundchecks and the performances themselves. The soundcheck for I’m already getting in the zone, making jokes, sniffing the atmosphere, spacing the stage and watching our crew perform miracles (besides getting spoiled for I’m a technician myself and in these moments I’m off the job as being the artist). But as soon as the intro starts or when we storm the stage, that’s the best part. I get into a different state of mind. Everything that used to be an issue in life, now simply isn’t there. And that’s exactly what I want our cheering crowd to experience as well as we play for them. Of course I’d like to get this state of mind myself, but as soon as I see people dancing on the wilder songs or dreaming away with their eyes closed on the softer ones, I know for sure their issues in life are as good as gone as well. Though it might not be for long, they were able to let go, refresh their minds and walk away clean, ready for a spicy shot of reality.

Rúnatal was a visually stunning piece of work. Very well done. What was the process involved with making the music video?

Thomas: This was a fantastic process to witness. As you can see from the final product, it’s a rather complex story we’re trying to tell – reworking a story about Odin’s sacrifice from the Hávámal into a modern-day hero’s journey of self-discovery. We worked with on the story of the video with director Jasper Van Gheluwe and production manager Femke van Hilten and took a long time to prepare, creating clothing and props, and gathering all the lovely extras you see in the video. They’re all friends and fans who helped us out, sometimes standing in the rain for hours. It’s great to see so many people working together for a common goal and I’m very proud of the result. Let’s hope many people get to see the video.

Is the band currently signed to any record label?

Thomas: Yes, we are signed to the German label Foxy Records. They specialize in our genre of music (and related ones) and have been a great help in getting our latest album across.

The web shop has beautiful merchandise. It seems to be very Celtic in nature. How were the products for the web shop chosen?

Thomas: Thanks for the compliment! As with our music, we try to incorporate elements from all around Europe and the Orient into our designs. This has grown and evolved over the years. During our first album, you find see various elements from nautical navigation in our designs, to reflect the epic of princess Cesair, the mythological person we derived our name from. You can still see this in some of the artwork in our shop. Our latest album Omphalos was partially inspired by the celestial bodies in the sky, which we incorporated into the artwork, and our newest merchandise was inspired by Rúnatal. You can see the world tree with its animals on the back of our new shirts and hoodies. This design was made by Monique and in fact features the actual tree which Odin hangs from in the music video. Go see for yourself and compare!

Follow Cesair on Facebook.

Review on Leah’s “The Quest”

Review by Brian Kelman

“The concept for “The Quest” is very simple: we’re all on a journey, and sometimes we lose our way. There are adventures, wildernesses, treasures, monsters, looters, and people out to send us down the wrong path. Through it all, we must grow in wisdom and experience, find our compass once again and find our way back to the true path in order to reach our full potential: our destiny.” —Leah

“The Quest” represents a unique blend between Celtic folk and metal; unique in the sense that it is more folkish rather than the usual mix between orchestra and really heavy metal instrumentals thus producing a lush and soulful sound. This is heard in the interesting or original harmonies, arrangements and vocals on the album. This way of blending the unique sounds and arrangements injects a much needed ‘newness’ to a genre that in some quarters has become quite formulaic. I dare say that Leah is creating a new formula with “The Quest”.

The title track was definitely inspired by the fantasy video game Skyrim; the scenery, landscapes and story line. Fantasy themes abound and given that I’m a voracious reader of Fantasy Literature (Tolkien, Jordan, Modesitt, Jr., Buroker, Hair plus many more), “The Quest” makes for a perfect thematic accompaniment. Of the many adjectives I can use to describe them and this amazing sound track these seem most fitting: Epic, Atmospheric, Enchanting and Magical. Oh there’s more but those are at the forefront. I know your fertile imagination will personalize your list.

In the last three years there have been two albums that I’ve played over and over again. Tarja’s “The Shadow Self” (2016) played continuously at home and especially in my car’s disc player for a year (44 weeks out of 52 I reckon). Leaves’ Eyes “King of Kings” (2015) had a great five month virtual non-stop run, too. If the last two weeks are any indication, Leah’s “The Quest” is at the start of a similar epic run. Like the others, I awake in the middle of the night with the melody of one of the songs (“The Quest” or “Edge 0f Your Sword” melodies at first and now the vocal harmonies of “Abyss”) playing in my head. That isn’t to say they are the ‘best’ tracks on the album. The fact is that there isn’t a weak track on the album. Period! It is a fantastic trek from start to finish.

To accompany her enchanting vocals, Leah has assembled an impressive array of musicians and technicians in the making of the “The Quest”. The players are:

Leah McHenry—Original Music/Vocals/Keys/Orchestration
Troy Donockley (Nightwish)—Flutes and Pipes
Chen Balbus (Orpaned Land)—Saz & Oud
Barend Courbois (Blind Guardian)—Bass Guitar
Timo Somers (Delain)—Rhythm & Lead Guitars
Sander Zoer (ex-Delain)—Drums & Percussion
Beatrice Wissing—Violin (on ‘Ruins of Illusion’ and ‘Labyrinth’)

Oliver Philipps (Everon, Delain, etc.)—Producer/Arranger/Orchestration
Jacob Hansen ( Volbeat, Epica, Amarante, etc.)–Mixing & Mastering
Jan Yrlund (Tina Guo, Apocalyptica, Manowar, etc.)—Graphic Artist & Designer

Given their familiarity and skill playing and/or producing within the Symphonic Metal genre, in general, and given a creative freedom to do what they do best and put their own personal stamp on their contributions, in particular, the players high quality performance shines through.

If you are a fan of Symphonic Metal a la Nightwish, Delain, and Within Temptation, for example, then “The Quest” is right for you. Prepare yourself to take an uplifting, inspiring, positive journey of discovery with Leah and “The Quest”.

Overall Rating: 4.8/5

LEAH Overview

Review by Zach Brehany

I want you, dear reader, to sit back and relax. Imagine you are transported into a new world, one of lush, green fields. There is an ocean on the coast and you see a gorgeous woman standing on the edge, looking out into the sky as her red hair flies in the wind. You can tell that there is something deep within this woman’s eyes and when you see her face, what a face. There is a childlike innocence to per presence yet her eyes tell of tales of wars, princes, her being a princess joining on long adventures where she turns into a warrior, defending her land. She looks at you, smiles, and then sets on. Wherever next, who knows? But one thing is for sure: her name is Leah.

I found Leah about a year or so ago. One of my online friends who happens to have similar interests as me told me about her. Using my Amazon Prime account, I found her first two albums and EP. I played them as i continued on with my day and before the day was over, I already ordered all her CDs and pre-ordered her vinyls. Such a feat has never been accomplished before.

Leah is a more unique performer in the vastly growing world of symphonic metal. For the most part, the basic formula for this genre is taking the elements of power metal, grand operatic styles of symphonic orchestras, and having an opera based (or heavily influenced) lead singer who creates a calm, soothing presence when on stage. Knowing this formula, what we have is someone taking traditional celtic music and making the hard rock/ heavy metal formula I mentioned bend for her. Got to give her props on her style.

The more I looked into this lovely nightingale, the more I found myself respecting and appreciating how she is handling her fame and platform. On YouTube, she has this basic masterclass over how to promote her music, how to write it, etc. this is amazing and masterful to use her knowledge to build up and help other struggling musicians. It is something i respect because it shows her true love, passion, and respect for this art form and willing to share with us her secrets and tips to making music work.

Now, to talk about the albums. This will be a bit fun because her music is. This is fun, inspiring music that you are never able to really dig deep into in terms of other groups. As i listen to ‘Of Earth and Angels” She sounds confident. She sounds like she knows what she is going. While a few songs towards the end do lose their magic for me (favorite track towards the end was ‘Mainland’), the over all experience is what makes this a frequent visitor to my turntable. She has talent, and she knows she does, and this was a solid debut album over all.

Now into “Otherworld”. It’s a nice treat between both ‘Of Earth and Angels’ and ‘Kings and Queens’ to show us that she is nowhere near done yet. On this EP, we see a bit more emotion in her, we see more of who she really is as a person. Listening, i found this EP asking more important questions than most music could. This EP makes me think about how the world could be, it brings to mind hope that we are all striving for, and above all else, even our own mortality. This is a complicated and more serious tone to the previous album. Short, sweet, gives us more dimensions to her and her way of being.

Finally with ‘Kings and Queens’. I read some reviews of this album after listening to it. Originally, I felt it was over long, kind of pretentious, and i felt a bit of a let down. But i listened to it on and off until the album clicks. I don’t know why it never had before, but I was starting to fall into a realm where I was able to see the true beautiness and wonder of the world. With having more of a control over her influences, she is more mature in her writing, found wonderful collaborators that are able to enhance her style, and what we are left with feels like a fitting end to the story she has been telling sense Prisoner off of “Of Earth and Angels”.

Thankfully, this isn’t the end.

At the time of writing this, she has announced the release of ‘The Quest’ coming out in October of 2018. After what we have gotten so far, one can only imagine what she has in store. Looking at the list of people who worked on this album, this one needs to be on digital, cd, and vinyl soon. I have high hopes for her and raise my beer stein to her growing legacy as a warrior princess of symphonic metal.

Author’s note: At some point in the future, I will be doing a song by song breakdown of her first three releases. Should be written and finished in two weeks after this has been written (as of 09/07/18).

Interview with Leah

Interviewed by Joshua Becker

I see you have been an artist for many years
without the help of a record label. Is it by choice you are not signed,
or have you not had your “big break” yet?

is by choice I remain independent. Unless there was a great offer which
could accommodate my first career of being a stay-at-home mom, I can’t
see myself signing anything. Most labels want a touring artist, which I
am not at present. Maybe one day. Never say never.

I see
you have become quite a success with social media. How exactly did you
get the fans you have now? What I mean to say is how exactly did you
market yourself and your music to get to where you are now?

social media, I’ve just tried to be consistent. I post every day, or
whenever possible. Since I’m not currently touring, I rely on
interaction with my fans to spread the word and fan the flame. There’s
only a few platforms I use, mainly Facebook and YouTube. There isn’t
much time for more. It’s tricky because things constantly change and it
seems like you have to learn how to use these platforms all over again
every six months. But consistency has helped. And knowing that if the
music is good, the cream will rise to the top and people will hear about
it. So I have to relax, knowing that after I give 100% in my music and
100% to my fans, that’s really all I can do.

What are your hobbies when you are not singing?

I’m not writing music, I’m usually reading or studying something.
Sometimes I get creative in other ways, like sewing, or costume-making
(I made my attire for the Otherworld promo photos). I also enjoy just
chilling with friends and family.|

What do you hope your music will bring to listeners far and wide?

hope they like my music! I think those who liked the music I made in
the past will love my new material. I’m going into deeper waters now. 🙂

also hope it will give people a new “soundtrack” of their lives. That’s
what my favorite music does for me. I’m usually playing the same album
over and over for a while and it becomes the soundtrack of my life. 🙂

Do you think that there is a market in your native land for metal, specifically celtic-type metal?

Canada here, there’s isn’t a huge metal scene, as far as I’m aware.
There’s a few more metal fans in Vancouver and Toronto, and other
smaller cities. Celtic music, yes. I think many people here enjoy Celtic
music. So maybe the fusion will open a new door for people here.
Luckily, with the internet, it doesn’t matter which country listens to
what – everyone has a chance to hear one way or another!

How long have you been singing? Did you ever have lessons?

sort of discovered my voice around age 11 or 12. I did take some vocal
lessons in high school, mostly classical. I felt somewhat frustrated
with those, since it didn’t teach me the power I really wanted in my
upper range. It just wasn’t the style or technique I was looking for. So
I eventually quit. But more recently I have found much better vocal
training, through my friend Brett Manning’s program, “Singing Success”
which I highly recommend for any style of vocal training. It’s amazing.

Was singing always a dream of yours?

Yes, I always wanted to be a singer!

Do you have any ties to music in your family?

Yes, my mother’s side is quite musical in their background and she still leads choir at her church.

In terms of your fans, do you feel you have more fans here in the States, or more so back in your native land of Canada?

hard to say, but yes I probably have a few more fans in the US. I think
even more so in Europe and other countries as well. I hope to gain more
Canadian fans as I continue to get my music out there.

mentioned earlier that you were a fan of “Lacuna Coil.” Out of
curiosity, how long have you been a fan, and how did you discover them?

I’ve been
listening to Lacuna Coil since their first album! I don’t remember who
introduced me to them, but they thought I sounded like her (hmm… what do
you think?), so they said, “you need to hear this band!”

They’ve often
been the soundtrack to my life. They’ve changed and grown over the
years, but you know, some bands just stick with you no matter what.

Do you see singing as fun, or do you see it as a creative, emotional therapy?

of the above. Song writing is “work” in many senses. Sometimes songs
just fall out. Other times I have to shed blood and tears to achieve the
song I wanted. But I think work is therapy more than we know,
especially if the work you’re doing is your passion. I’m very blessed to
be able to do this from my home, where I can pursue my passion while
keeping my family career #1.