Interview with Eye of Melian: “I only work in emotions and feelings, but not in concrete lyrics”

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If there’s one hot new collaboration this year, it’s EYE OF MELIAN. This group of four consists of Martijn Westerholt, Robin La Joy, Johanna Kurkela, and Mikko Mustonen, some of whom you may recognize from other bands and projects, such as DELAIN and AURI, among others. With the crowdfunding of their debut release well underway, we took the first opportunity we could get to chat with them about everything to do with EYE OF MELIAN. Watch the interview on YouTube or read the full transcript below.

Hello and thank you for taking the time to talk to me today. Who am I talking to, for people who don’t know you?

Robin: Well, hello.

Martijn: Hello.

Robin: We’re from EYE OF MELIAN and I’m Robin.

Martijn: And I’m Martijn. Nice to meet you. [laughs]

Robin: Yeah, thank you for having us.

First of all, I know you guys are really busy with crowdfunding and the like, so just to get started, what have the last couple years been like for you guys?

Martijn: Oh, that’s a good question. I think for everybody it has been weird times. And I’m used to playing live and there was no playing or being on stage. So a lot of writing. And one of those things that came out of them was EYE OF MELIAN material. So yeah, it has been a little bit different than normal, so to say.

Robin: Yeah, we started with the music before COVID, but because of COVID, I think it gave you a chance to really dive into the music and really get it done. So yeah, it’s been… I don’t know, I feel like it was a very busy period, COVID. It didn’t affect us all that much simply because we work from home. But yeah, it was an interesting period.

Martijn: We were not bored. [laughter]

First of all, tell me how this project came to be, especially considering that you guys are a pretty international team. So how do you all know each other and how did you decide to do a project together?

Martijn: Oh, that’s going to be a long answer, which we are willing to do. [laughter]

Robin: The idea started in 2017. I was still living in the States. I live in the Netherlands now. We’re married, so that’s how we know each other. And the idea started. We had talked about it.

Martijn: Yeah, and I also play in a band called DELAIN. I was on tour in the US a couple times with NIGHTWISH. I was invited to Tuomas Holopainen‘s home – he is the songwriter of NIGHTWISH – and I also met his wife [Johanna Kurkela, singer for Eye of Melian]. Actually I met his wife on tour. She was assisting in the States. He invited me to come over to do some hiking in Finland. So I went to Finland and there actually also the idea got more… I would say more mature and really starting to make music. So I was writing, talking to Robin about it, and talked to Johanna about it. That’s actually where it took off. Mikko, he did a lot of orchestral arrangements for DELAIN, for the songs I wrote there. I also asked him for EYE OF MELIAN, to help out there. So yeah, actually, the whole preparation really evolved and got pretty intense in a good way. It was really… I didn’t really expect it, because it kind of started as a solo thing from my side, but it took off and here we are. It’s like a team of four people and we’re all really thrilled about how things evolved.

Robin: Yeah, I don’t think we could have asked for a better team with everybody that’s involved. I mean, Johanna is the perfect singer, Mikko with his orchestrations, and Martijn‘s music, and the lyrics, and I just think it turned into a really awesome team with how we all work together and the results.

Martijn: That was not really a plan, how this worked out. It just evolved like this and kind of beyond my expectations.

You love to hear it, when things just work out so nicely. Do you have any plans for this to be a touring band or is… because you’re all so spread out, is that a little bit hard to plan?

Martijn: Actually no, that we’re spread out is not really a big problem, because when you tour, we mostly do it internationally and you meet up anyway then do your tour. I did recently get this question before and it kind of caught me by surprise because initially, I didn’t see this as a touring thing, but now that we’ve got the question a couple of times, I would say we won’t rule it out. The only thing is, we really have to think on how to execute this, because there are so many elaborate orchestral arrangements going on. So you kind of need the whole orchestra to do that properly. Or you do it acoustically with some small string sections or something. But yeah, we’ll think about it.

Robin: Yeah, to do it justice, we felt like it would have to be a pretty big production, but I mean, maybe not. It’s something that we’re considering.

Martijn: Yeah, so we’re not ruling it out, but we have to do some some brain work.

Robin: Lots of planning.

Fair enough. It’s that kind of… ambient celestial fantasy sound. It puts a certain kind of visual in your mind. I imagine that like for the perfect show for that. I think, for example, the guys from AURI had talked about touring castles and churches and probably saunas, I think.

Robin: [laughs] Yeah, that would be amazing, actually. But you’re right, the visual aspect of the shows would be extremely important. So yeah, lots of things to consider.

Martijn: That should really fit, indeed. I don’t see us playing in an industrial place or something. It should fit the magic and the vibe of the music, which is fantasy, and it’s not industrial. [laughter]

Yeah. Well, speaking of the fantasy aspect, of course, I had to look up Melian and I understood that she was one of the Maiar in Tolkien’s lore. So how did you come up with the name, EYE OF MELIAN?

Robin: Well, when I was reading The Silmarillion years ago, my favorite character that really stood out – there was a couple – but Melian was one of them. The chapter that really discusses and describes Melian, it talks about her being the most enchanted or – excuse me – most skilled in enchanted song and everybody in Valinor or would stop their work and listen to her when she sang with the mingling of the light in the trees and that she taught the nightingales to sing and all these different things. Really, really beautiful descriptions. I felt that that really embodied the essence of what we’re trying to accomplish with the music so well, that I chose Melian for that. But Melian by itself just sounded boring. So to tell you the truth, the Melian’s eye part doesn’t have a whole lot of significance, because it was just something that sounded cool and lent itself to a nice… The Melian part is the definitely the part that’s important.

What I understood of her was that she was known for her wisdom, her beauty, and of course the singing voice. So beyond the, I suppose obvious Tolkien influence, what are some of the other fantasy stories and things like that, that were kind of inspiring to do this kind of music?

Robin: Oh, that’s a good question. I mean, as far as the music goes, do you have any…?

Martijn: Yeah, well, we both really like fantasy and science fiction and I always listen to fantasy audiobooks. I’m devouring Brandon Mull.

Robin: He’s one of our favorites.

Martijn: Yeah, he’s an author from the States, kind of almost… they say it’s kids books.

Robin: Well, just like Harry Potter were kids books, they’re nothing like Harry Potter, but you get the idea. I think all the reviews, it’s all adults saying how much they love it. They’re fantastic books, very imaginative.

Martijn: Yeah, and indeed Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, like this whole world of fantasy, the sky’s the limit. I always loved that vibe, that state of mind when writing music. I never want to think of limitations or how will we do some… writing songs or “how are we going to do this live” or… you know, the sky’s the limit and just let yourself entirely go and it’s just… for me, always a pure emotion with writing and I cannot even describe what it is. It’s just what you feel. It’s almost kind of like meditating, like getting in your own state of mind and then something comes up, and a vibe or fantasy really helps with that. Good surroundings. So that’s from my side. But when it comes to the lyrics and the story, and then of course, the music that comes out, that gives Robin an idea about what it should be about and then she takes off.

Robin: Yeah, and I’m an avid reader of all sorts of things fantasy, obviously particularly Tolkien. One of our songs, “Doorway of Night,” was taken from one of the Two Trees of Valinor, so that’s where that was inspired. So that was a pretty direct inspiration and reference in that song. With the rest of the songs, I think just in all the reading that I do, just like a small idea sparks from something that I read, and then that just kind of grows into an idea in the song and I think, as far as people recognizing the references, I would probably have to explain those to explain how it got to that point, as opposed to the “Doorway of Night” is a pretty obvious reference.

I love that. Before being a journalist, my number one dream in life was to be a fantasy writer. So I love when people write this kind of music. This is exactly what I want to listen to when I’m writing fantasy. So I love that… the musicians read the fantasy and get inspired for the music and then the fantasy authors can listen to the music and write more fantasy, so they feed into each other.

Robin: [laughter] That’s fantastic.

Martijn: It goes both ways. Everybody’s inspiring each other, and then beautiful things happen.

So like you were saying before you, have Johanna Kurkela on vocals, known from AURI and ALTAMULLAN ROAD, and of course her solo work as well. And then I noticed in your list of guests, you also had Troy Donockley listed, so would you consider AURI an influence on the sound of EYE OF MELIAN at all?

Martijn: No, I wouldn’t say influence. I think the music is beautiful, but it’s simply that I knew those people before, so for me it was a very fast link to Troy, because in fantasy music, having ethnical instruments and flutes, of course, is a very easy link.

Robin: It’s such a beautiful touch.

Martijn: I’ve already known Troy‘s music for a very long time, actually. Like almost 20 years ago, I also listen to IONA, for example, and I didn’t know that Troy was part of that and when we were on tour in the States, I was drinking something with Troy and there I discovered he was in IONA, and I already knew him for some time, but it was really funny. We just kept in touch ever since and yeah, so I asked him for a couple songs. I really heard these ethnic influences in there and asked him. So I wouldn’t say that AURI is kind of an influence, but of course I do love the music. And I also understand that people make a connection with AURI.

Robin: For obvious reasons.

Martijn: For obvious reasons, yeah.

Having the same singer will also do that.

Robin: One of those obvious reasons, yeah. [laughter]

On that note, actually, among your other guests was Leah, who I’m familiar with from her YouTube channel and things like that. I did an interview with her a couple years ago where she actually mentioned that she had been working with you and it was through you that Troy had worked with her. So was having her do vocals a natural choice then?

Robin: Yeah, and we do know her personally, and also, her voice. I just absolutely adore her voice, [those] ethereal vocals of hers. So I was really thrilled that she was happy to join us on a song, because I think it was a perfect fit.

Martijn: It’s funny because when you’re colleagues, you kind of help each other out. She’s helped me out with so many suggestions on social media, because she’s really good at that. I answered questions about production stuff to her and indeed I introduced her to Troy because, of course, for her music fits as well, as she makes kind of Celtic metal. And yeah, I also love her voice and she also worked with former DELAIN members on the albums. I actually got to know her through Robin. But I personally met Leah first, so it’s kind of like really weird, how everything was connected. It’s really funny. You end up on each other’s work, so to say.

I love it. I love just seeing how, as you guys have been releasing your guest list slowly and surely, it’s been like, “Oh, I know her, she’s the girl who does the fantasy Celtic metal music! Oh, that’s perfect.” And then Troy’s listed next. “Oh, of course. Yes. That’s also perfect.” So every time a guest is released, it’s really exciting to see like, “Ooh, yes. Who’s it going to be this time?” Do you have any/many more reveals coming out over the next month or so? I won’t ask who.

Robin: For guests?

Yeah.

Martijn: No, not for guests.

Robin: That’s it for this album, I think.

Martijn: I think, because its a debut album, it’s very important to develop your own identity. And if you use too many guests, then that might be confusing. But at the same time, it’s very refreshing to work with guests and you always get very surprising results. Or you kind of try to find the right balance in that, with Troy and Leah and Shir-Ran. I think we have some great people as guests, yeah.

Absolutely. Now, Robin, you’re the band’s lyricist, as I understand. And you also do some backing vocals?

Robin: A little bit, yeah. A little bit. And Johanna did lyrics for a Finnish song that we have, and she also did lyrics for one of the other songs.

What is it like being sort of in the background of this, yet still having such like a major part to play in it?

Robin: Well, this is all very, very new to me. I have a little bit of a background in music, not anything at all compared to what everyone else has. Not even close. So yeah, this is all brand new to me. So it’s hard to say, because… sorry, I haven’t been asked that question before. So now I’m like, hmm, how do I feel about this? But I actually kind of enjoy being able to be… I mean, doing the lyrics is absolutely wonderful. I’m having so much fun with it, and I already can’t wait to do more.

Martijn: Yeah, and it’s also such an important part of EYE OF MELIAN, to create the whole EYE OF MELIAN world, it’s essential. And I can’t write lyrics. As I said, I only work in emotions and feelings, but not in concrete lyrics. So therefore, I think everybody in EYE OF MELIAN has such an important role to play and it’s really four pieces of the puzzle that connect so well. It’s just perfect.

Robin: Yeah. And as I said, I enjoy my role so much, and I actually think I kind of enjoy being a bit in the background. [laughter] So I’m happy with that.

So what else can we expect from the album generally? Do you have a concept for it or are each of the songs a one-off story? What kind of things do you write about, beyond just… fantasy themes?

Robin: Well, I mean, there’s some that are a bit more emotionally charged, I would say, but as far as like if there is a theme, not really in story necessarily. However, we named the album “Legends of Light,” and the reason was is because, after writing a good chunk of the songs, I was… when we were thinking about the name, I looked back at the lyrics and realized a lot of those songs tend to focus on light in some form. Whether it be like literal or symbolic, just the beauty of light, the light of hope, and even the regret of some light lost. So that’s really, I feel like… I guess you could say the theme, but the songs do focus on a lot of various subjects, though. Different stories being told in each song.

Incredible. Are they all based off of some fantasy thing that inspired you or is there some day-to-day life stuff in there as well?

Robin: Yeah. A lot of it has that fantasy feel, just that little element in the lyrics that gives it that fantasy feel. But yeah, there’s a couple. One in particular, that’s just about how I was feeling about things. For example, “The Bell,” which is already out, I wrote that… that wasn’t directly inspired by fantasy, actually. That was… I had a lot going on and I felt very overwhelmed and rushed in life. Like, just time was moving so fast, and that thought came to me and “The Bell” came out of that.

Martijn: Inspired by time.

Robin: [laughs] Yeah, inspired by time.

Martijn: Also, I think it was a very… that’s one of the most ominous songs. How do I say… the other songs are a bit lighter in sound than “The Bell,” so also that fits it really well.

Robin: Yeah, I really love a bit of that darker feel. Actually, when I first heard the lyrics… or sorry, not the lyrics. When I first heard the music, what immediately came into my mind was – well, I guess you could say this part was inspired by fantasy – because I pictured the graveyard in Godric’s Hollow from Harry Potter, one of the last movies, where they’re in that snowy graveyard. So that’s the first thing that came to my mind. But then it kind of evolved into just like this clearing in a forest with like a little graveyard and that’s where everything really kind of flowed from.

Martijn: And thus we have a graveyard in the video. [laughs]

Speaking of the singles, you’ve released, I think, three singles so far? It seems like the response has been really positive. So how’s it been for you guys to see everyone getting so excited about this?

Martijn: Yeah, really good. I think beyond expectations, because we really realize this is kind of a new entity, completely new entity, and to build up something from scratch, that’s always very challenging. Even more now in these COVID times we experienced. So I was really surprised how people caught on, and I was also very nervous about the crowdfunding campaign. There’s a thought like, what if we didn’t spend enough time in letting it grow and letting people get acquainted with it? But yeah, it was kind of a chicken and the egg. Those are needed to do a crowdfunding campaign to be able to finish an album. So it’s going really well and responses are great. Actually more than great. So we are really happy with that.

Robin: Yeah, I think it’s been really exciting to see something that all four of us are extremely passionate about. We’re all very, very excited about what we’re doing. That’s fun. And to see that other people are excited about it, too.

Martijn: We don’t perceive this as a side project or something from our other bands or our music, things going on. This really is an important part of our lives. Something that will come back. We are already talking about writing new songs, and this album is not even out yet. So yeah, but it’s amazing.

The enthusiasm is strong right now. Speaking of the crowdfunding, how come you decided to do it this way as opposed to finding a label? Because I would imagine you know, you’ve got a name behind you now with DELAIN, so it wouldn’t have necessarily been too hard to find a label. So what made you decide to do it this way?

Martijn: Well, the thing is that, because we’re not making metal music, and it’s kind of difficult to place. They are not really a lot of artists that make movie score music with vocals, like in structure, but still movie score music, like orchestral arrangements, big, and that doesn’t really exist that much. I know there is this artist, TWO STEPS FROM HELL is amazing. Nick Phoenix is the guy working on that. But for the rest, we couldn’t find any comparable artists, which was kind of a problem too because when you’re, for example, streaming on Spotify, you need to fill out genres. And for record labels, therefore, it’s also difficult. So your weakness is your strength and vice versa because they need to place it somewhere. So I did talk to a couple people who… record companies, but then you immediately go to the metal niche, so to say, and this is not metal. So we were already thinking of trying crowdfunding but I was also really… well, nervous is not a good word, but what’s the right word for it?

Robin: Just slightly concerned. [laughs]

Martijn: Yeah, because it’s a lot of work. And you need to focus on what you’re good at, which is your craft, and in my case, my craft is writing. The crowdfunding campaign is more something like a whole marketing project, so to say, but at the same time, you always want to connect to your listeners, which is a beautiful thing about it, and you want to be able to share this road with them. That’s the beautiful thing about a crowdfunding campaign. So yeah, so we decided to just take a leap of faith and…

Robin: Give it a shot and it’s going pretty well so far, so we’re going to see how it ends up.

Martijn: Yeah, in the beginning, it really exploded and I thought, Wow. We all only had like.. at that time we had two or three singles, I don’t remember. But but you don’t have an album out. It’s your first one. And still, there’s so much support. So that’s amazing. I have no words for that.

Robin: It is indeed a lot more work then we had anticipated. [laughter] By a lot. Oh my gosh.

Martijn: And Robin does a lot of the crowdfunding stuff and the social media, and she works so much on everything.

Robin: It’s been a lot, but it’s also been fun.

I noticed also that you guys have your release planned for the summer solstice, which I love, because it’s dramatic and fantastical and perfect, but you said this was so much work. Was it hard to get everything ready to go in order to have it crowdfunded and everything before then?

Robin: Yeah.

Martijn: People are always asking Robin, what do you do during a day, which I totally understand that people don’t know what is so much work about it.

Robin: I don’t know but it seems to fill up a solid 10 to 12 hours each day. [laughs]

Martijn: She has to coordinate the artwork, that everything is going on a platform, how many products there are that people can buy, especially that it’s fun for people, and thinking of the descriptions. It’s everything. It’s so much.

Robin: It’s indeed a lot of work. We originally chose June 21st and it was plenty of time. As with everything, you hit small delays. We’re working hard to make it happen. It’s going to happen, but it’s definitely… we’re working hard on that. [laughs] The vinyls are already in production for that, but the CDs and everything, we have to wait until we have everyone’s names from the crowdfunding campaign, then those go into production. So lots of things to keep in mind.

Martijn: But fun things, again. We will all come together to do signings of the CDs, for example.

Robin: Which is a nice excuse for all four of us to get together, because as you said, we’re very international, so we’re not anywhere near each other. It’s always a fun time when we all get to come together.

Martijn: Also, by the way, for Mikko and Johanna, they also put a lot of work and effort into it.

Robin: Yeah, absolutely.

Martijn: Mikko, for example, is really good at making videos and Johanna, for example, loves to do some knitting for relaxation. So she knit a lot of items to sell.

Robin: Those sold out almost instantly for the crowdfunding campaign, so she put a ton of work into that.

Martijn: There were like twenty-five items and they sold out in one day.

Do you guys have any further plans coming up for before the crowdfunding ends? Are you releasing any more singles?

Robin: We are. We haven’t announced it yet, and that one’s going to be slightly different. I don’t know if you want to talk about it.

Martijn: Yeah, sure, let’s do it.

Robin: We’ll announce the name of the single coming out pretty soon, but with the first three EYE OF MELIAN songs that we’ve released, they’ve been very…

Martijn: Ethereal.

Robin: …ethereal in vibe, and this next one that’s coming out is actually one that kind of stands out on the album, because it is a bit different in style, but still very EYE OF MELIAN all the same, otherwise we wouldn’t put it on the album.

Martijn: It’s the only song, for example, that has drums in it, because the other songs have movie score percussion, and this song actually has drums in it, and even a bit of acoustic guitar as well.

Robin: So it’s a bit different, but it definitely still keeps the EYE OF MELIAN vibe, but it does stand out in comparison to the others.

Martijn: This will be released really soon, before the crowdfunding campaign is over. We could say the name.

Robin: Yeah, sure.

Martijn: The song is called “Everstrong.”

Robin: Yeah, that’s the next one we’ve got.

I love it. Anything with “ever” at the beginning tends to sound awesome and fantasy-like.

Martijn: [laughs] That’s true. Yes.

Robin: Actually, I have to give credit to Martijn for the word, “everstrong.” When he wrote the song… I don’t know if you want to explain how you do the melody lines.

Martijn: Yeah, so when I write melody lines, I sing, but it’s just gibberish to get an idea of where it’s going to, and somehow, the word “everstrong” got in there.

Robin: So when I did the lyrics, I actually had done completely different lyrics for that song and we ended up scrapping them and I started all over, and I told Martijn, I said, “Congratulations, you made your own word: everstrong. I’m keeping that in there.” [laughter] So he gets the credit for the word, “everstrong.”

You have to coin a word every once in a while. Well that’s about it for my questions and I think I’ve used about enough of your time. Do you have anything else you want to talk about regarding the album, the crowdfunding, anything like that before I let you go?

Martijn: I want to say that I was really surprised by how people attached to it and how supportive they are. We really feel like we have fanatical fans who are completely into this stuff and we feel so grateful for that, and humbled as well, that stuff you make, that people enjoy it. What’s more beautiful than you [creating] stuff and people enjoy that. It’s so beautiful.

Robin: A lot of people have reached out through private messaging on one of our social medias and I’ve actually gotten to know a few people just from chatting and people just being really wonderful and saying, like, “Hi, I just wanted to stop by and say thank you,” or something. There’s some really lovely people out there.

Martijn: And also, from everywhere. From Japan to Argentina, to… everywhere. It has been one heck of a ride so far.

I can’t wait to hear the rest of the songs and thank you so much for talking to me today. It’s been incredible.

Robin: Thank you so much, we really appreciate it.

Martijn: Our pleasure.