Other than being really funny to say, the hurdy gurdy has been available to European musicians since the 11th century. Used in churches to go along with choral arrangements, the hurdy gurdy eventually was reduced to instrument of choice for peasants around the 17th century due to its limited capabilities, only to be revived by the French the following decade. The instrument eventually spread through Scandinavia and countries to the east, where it endured persecution from the Soviets in the 1930's and eventual name-dropping from British singer Donovan in the 1960's. A resilient instrument if there ever was one, it has become one of the sonic staples for Switzerland's Eluveitie, who are its biggest proponent in metal. They have made it cooler than ever before, thatís for sure.
Eluveitie's reliance on exotic instrumentation is one of the reasons why they're one of the folk/epic metal's premier bands. In addition to the hurdy gurdy (which is played by female singer Anna Murphy), the Swiss use bagpipes, whistles, gaita, pipes, and violins, all congealing into iron-clad folk metal anthems. Since joining up with Nuclear Blast in 2008, the band's four-album streak consisting of 2008's Slania, 2009's acoustic Evocation 1: The Arcane Dominion, 2010's Everything Remains (As It Never Was), and this year's Helvetios is one of superior quality, able to take disparate elements and a deceased language (Gaulish) and make it easy to grasp.
In our third go-round with singer/founding member Chrigel Glanzmann, Blistering inquired about the band's frenetic pace, concept for Helvetios, transparent social media use, and much more. Here's what the affable frontman had to say, including a quick name-drop for the mighty hurdy gurdy...
Blistering.com: Five albums into your career, do you think the Eluveitie sound is totally established? Meaning, you're able to differentiate yourself from your contemporaries?
Chrigel Glanzmann:To be honest - I don't know if our music is more established than it was ten years ago. To me personally, it is the same. It was as intended to be back then and so it is today. But I actually do think that we're able to differentiate ourselves, yes. I mean, it only begins with the lineup - show me one other metal band besides Eluveitie playing with fiddle, hurdy-gurdy, whistles, bagpipes, mandola and other acoustic instruments. But however, we actually don't really think about such questions, to be honest. Basically we just do our own thing the way we like it and because we like it and we don't care too much about what's going on around us.
Blistering.com: The album-tour-album-tour pace you've set is daunting. What keeps the band so busy and more importantly, motivated?
Glanzmann: I would say: music. We're all music addicts. As long as we can play, life is good. But of course, I must agree and confess - it has been a lot the last couple of years. I probably grew 20 years older during the last 10 years, but then again, we love what we are doing, so there's nothing wrong with that.
Blistering.com: You've worked with some high-profile producers/engineers in the past, so what made you decide to work with Tommy Vetterli from Coroner?
Glanzmann: Well, we recorded Everything Remains with Tommy already. There were several reasons we decided to also mix and produce with him this time. One reason was, that we became very good friends over the years. But the main reason was that he simply convinced us most. He did a test mix - among other producers - and it just completely blew us away, 'cause it pretty much covered everything we wanted.
Blistering.com: He certainly brought out a more lively sound on the new album...it sounds different compared to your previous efforts. How would you rate the production?
Glanzmann: Pretty much best. After all it's always a matter of perception and taste. And in retrospect you'll always see things you could have done better. Of course. But still, we perfectly happy with Tommy's work! The mix has the transparency of Everything Remains, which already was amazing, but at the same time it still has the rawness and "dirtiness" of our older productions. That's what we have been looking for. We wanted a raw, natural, and honest sound. And this is what we were able to achieve together with Tommy.
Blistering.com: Helvetios is your first stab at a concept album. In terms of compiling the storyline and arranging the songs, is it safe to say this is your biggest undertaking to date?
Glanzmann: Well, yes and no. I mean, there have been challenging projects in the past. Well, writing music itself is, I would say. Or let's put it the other way round: Personally I believe that if you stop doing things the way it's challenging and if you stop doing things with passion, it's probably time to stop at all and do something else. So, in that sense each of our albums have been "big undertakings" to us - each in its own way. But yeah, this time the songwriting process was different of course, since it was basically a whole story to be set into music and I wanted to create an arc of suspense all through the whole album. And if we're talking about quantity, then yes, Helvetios has definitely been our biggest undertaking, since we've been working together with many diverse parties this time - such as a choir, orchestrations, a narrator and also diverse guest musicians.