About Me

Interview with Impure Wilhelmina

Impure Wilhelmina have been creating singular music for 25 years. The band’s never been afraid to reinvent themselves and to push the boundaries of stylistic barriers without losing their identity. Recently they released their newest opus “Antidote” via Season of Mist. 
Metal Imperium caught up with Michael Schindl, the band’s main composer, lyricist and singer-guitarist to talk about the aptly titled 7th full-length “Antidote”. Keep on reading...

M.I. - How did you come up with the name Impure Wilhelmina? Who is Wilhelmina? Why is she impure?

Michael: In the novel "Dracula" by Bram Stoker, Mina (Wilhelmina) is the main female character. She is "impure" because she’s a victim of the curse from which Dracula's death will free her. 
I came up with this name because I was interested in 19th century horror literature when I started the band. 

M.I. - Michael Schindl is the only member that has witnessed Impure Wilhelmina in all its stages and albums. How have the line-up changes affected the band’s sound? What are the main differences between Impure Wilhelmina in 1996 and now?

I've always been the main composer, but the other band members have, of course, the freedom to play their instruments as they feel. That's why the sound of the band has always been influenced by every musician who has played in it. 
The main difference between our beginnings and now is the place of the clean vocals, which has become more important. Indeed, the band has been focusing more and more on melodies. We have also taken more care in the song writing. But, despite these changes, which are rather natural, I think the spirit of the band has remained the same. 

M.I. - The band’s been around for 25 years... wow! That’s a lifetime! How do you feel after all these years? 

I feel very proud of what I have achieved. When I started the band, I didn't think it would last this long. I've spent more than half my life playing in this band, so I guess I'm happy with it...

M.I. - The press release defines your style as “Post-metal/ Rock” but I’ve seen the band categorised in many other ways. In your opinion, what’s the most appropriate?

Impure Wilhelmina has always been difficult to define. At present, we think the least bad definitions are "post-metal" and "dark rock". Maybe we'll find something different... in 25 years?

M.I. - The reviews of “Antidote” have been mind-blowing. Have your expectations been met?

We are delighted with the feedback on "Antidote". Most of the reviews are indeed excellent, but we also receive warm feedback from listeners, and that's what we appreciate most. All of this exceeds our expectations. 

M.I. - “Radiation” has opened doors to wider recognition. Has this put any extra pressure on you, knowing that all eyes were on this album?

No, not really. Maybe because we wanted to do something different from "Radiation". So, we never tried to compare what we were creating for "Antidote" to "Radiation". 

M.I. - In one Facebook post, the band wrote: “We've been working on it for almost two years, which seems like an eternity, especially under the current strange circumstances”. How much did Covid affect your plans, the release date and all that?

We were quite lucky with the situation, compared to other bands who had to cancel all their shows, tours, etc. We didn't have any gigs planned during this period because of the recording. In fact, the recording was done in February 2020, just before the lockdown. We went to a studio in Germany (HOFA-Studios) to record the basic tracks (guitar - bass - drums) live. Then, during the lockdown, we recorded additional guitars, vocals and other stuff in Geneva. But that wasn't a problem either because I was mostly alone in the studio with Yvan Bing, who produced the album.  

As the crisis situation continued, we didn't feel any pressure for the release date either. In fact, it's now that it's getting tough for us. We have cancelled some shows in June and hope to do them in September or October. We're also trying to set up a tour, but it's very complicated because the venues are also in limbo. And since there are a lot of other bands' concerts and tours that have been postponed, it's hard to fit in. 

M.I. - Has “Antidote” turned out the way you envisioned it? Would you make any changes in it now?

I think so. For us, an album is always a bunch of songs that we put together, and the album finds its unity and personality in the fact that all the songs are recorded in the same place for a limited time, with the same mindset. And I think this process worked well with "Antidote", even if the songs are very different at the beginning, which is always the case with Impure Wilhelmina. In fact, the only "vision" we had when we started to work for "Antidote" was to do something different from "Radiation".

I wouldn't change much, maybe some details here and there, everything can be improved. In fact, I could spend my life in the studio working on an album but, at some point, you have to let go. 

M.I. - Was “Antidote” the name for the album all along or it is a reference to the pandemic and what the world needs today to get back to normal?

No, at the beginning we didn't have a name for this album. "Antidote" came along when the pandemic was already well established. Of course, it is a nod to this pandemic, but it has a much broader meaning. Indeed, in a deeper sense, you could say that music is an antidote, or a medicine, something cathartic. All people who listen to a lot of music have more or less this vision. They know that music is essential for their existence. 

M.I. - The clear vocals occupy an increasingly important place in the compositions, reinforcing the intensity and melodic depth. Why are clear vocals more and more present in your music? Do they fit the music better? Do they express your emotions better?

Yes, all answers are in your questions. But I would add that since there has always been a melodic aspect in Impure Wilhelmina, you could say that melodies call for melodies. Indeed, when I compose, when I play a riff, I always have a melody that comes to me and that I want to put over the riff. Sometimes one, the second guitar is there for that, sometimes two, so I use the voice. 

M.I. - Your lyrics are quite intense, depressive and melancholic. Do you need to be in a specific state of mind or place when you write them down? Or do they just come to you naturally?

The best is when the lyrics come to me at the moment of composition: a riff, a melody, a sentence. But that's not often the case. Most of the time, writing lyrics requires an effort. I don't need to be in a particular state of mind, I just need to be quiet, to take the time for it, which I find increasingly difficult to find. 
It's true that my lyrics are very dark, they are a kind of outlet.

M.I. - In the context of the pandemic that marked part of the recording of “Antidote” and its long completion, this title also resonates in a very particular way. Were any tracks influenced by this virus? Have you been affected by it somehow?

No, none of the songs were influenced by the pandemic because all the compositions were finished beforehand, including the lyrics. The only trace of the pandemic is in the name of the album and in the title of the instrumental track "Antidote". Giving this track the same name as the album was a way to give it a little more importance since it was very short compared to the other tracks. And since it is the less heavy track on the album, it can be seen as an antidote, or even an antithesis to the rest of the album. 

Personally, this pandemic didn't affect me much, I didn't get sick, nor did my family. I was a bit scared for a week in March 2020, then there was the lockdown, which in the end was not an unpleasant time for me. Working at home was not very stressful for me, and in Switzerland we were still allowed to go out, in my case to go hiking or to the studio. 

M.I. - The track “Midlife Hollow” is about a midlife crisis of any of the members?

Sebastien: Not exactly. It's mostly a theme coming from Michael's observations of human life difficulties. It is a fact that in the band we're all between 35 and 50. And that’s exactly the life time concerned by midlife crisis. The lyrics of that song are pretty cruel. I don't think that one of us feels like «sour», «shrinking» or «reduced to nothing». Maybe it's just a fear that Michael tries to exorcise through that song?

Michael: Yes, my lyrics are a kind of exorcism.

Sebastien: But on a personal level, this song touches me a lot. I am in a kind of midlife crisis. Loss of sense in my work, exhausting family care of three kids. And bam! The pandemic shit over it. But I know that midlife crisis is a temporary situation. As a Swiss man with money, I have privileges that I can't deny. So, I don't complain. For sure my «Spring and summer are now dead and gone», but I will enjoy my Fall with all my guts, once the crisis is gone. And touring with the band in Fall 2021 will help a lot.

M.I. - “Gravel” is one of my favourite songs on the new album. What’s yours?

Michael: Maybe “Torrent”, I love the haunting melancholy that goes through this song. And “Unpredicted Sky”, because it is a song which was difficult to compose, with a lot of questioning, but I think that the final result is better than expected.

Sebastien: I love “Solitude”. The instrumental opening to the album is great to play. And when the voice of Michael comes in, I feel a sentiment of emotional and absolute revelation. I always have a large smile of delectation on my face when I play this part.

M.I. - Care to do a short comment on each track of the album?

Solitude: We knew since the beginning that this one would be the opening track, with his long introduction. So, we start the album in the opposite way than we did with “Radiation”, were the voice in “Great Falls Beyond Death” came in after exactly 5 seconds. In “Solitude”, it is after 3 minutes and 5 seconds!

Midlife Hollow: We discussed the significance of this song above. We think it's a good second track because of its dynamics. The long weird outro is quite unexpected, something you don't really find on our older albums. So, it's really something that gives a kind of identity to the whole album.

Gravel: A song about the human condition, its suffering and insignificance. We chose this one for our first premiere because it was representative of the album without giving too much away. 

Dismantling: A song about the inevitable dark side of self-fulfilment. I like the progression, the way the song leads you to a relentless black-metal finale. 

Jasmines: We tried to do a "German power ballad" :-) but we are neither Rammstein nor Scorpions. Our producer Yvan Bing suggested us to use a piano and an organ for this one, which leads to an interesting progression. So, it's a different song, a challenge, but we think it fits well in the album. 

Vicious: A song about our childish behaviour and the end of the world, so once again about our insignificance. A very catchy chorus. Funfact: in a review someone compares this song to Metallica's "Load" era (?), but no, the main riff of "Vicious" is a rip-off of "Seek and Destroy"! 

Torrent: A sad song, a turning point in the sequence of the album. The lyrics are about the emptiness of our lives, the difficulty of finding one's place in this world, and the beauty of a torrent in a lost and lonely valley. I hike a lot, I love the mountains, sometimes I feel like it's the only place where you can find some inner peace. 

Unpredicted Sky: The verses sound like "old school" Impure Wilhelmina with the growling vocals, but the chorus brings us back to the present. A long and deep song in the continuity of "Torrent", but with more varied atmospheres. 

Antidote: This small interlude with acoustic guitar reminds me the album “Master of Reality” by Black Sabbath, where you can find tracks like “Embryo” or “Orchid”, who are really beautiful interludes. You can find something similar in the album “Deliverance” by Corrosion of Conformity, with tracks like “Without Wings” or “Mano de Mono”. I really love these albums, and I think that “Antidote” is influenced by both of them (and obviously “Deliverance” is influenced by “Master of Reality”).  

Everything is Vain: We knew this song would end the album. The words "Burning in darkness burning in pain" is an example of where I wrote the lyrics during the composition. It's good that this sentence didn't change throughout the process of creating the album. 

M.I. - The band put a lot of efforts in the elaboration and production of its new songs, notably by calling on Yvan Bing, producer and sound engineer, to accompany the four musicians throughout the creation process of the album. How did this collaboration go?

Yvan Bing has worked a lot with rock and pop bands, but he knows metal very well, so he's between the two worlds, just like us. That's why we wanted to work with him for a long time. We finally decided to call him for this album because we were looking for something new, something different from "Radiation", as I said.
So, he came to our rehearsal room, listened to our demos, made some suggestions about the song structure and arrangements. We talked a lot about the sound, what we wanted, what we didn't want, etc. He was really the fifth member of the band during the whole process. 

M.I. - How do you know which vocal style (clear voice or growling) works better in a song? 

I don't know what works best on a specific part of a song, I sing the way I feel, there is no preconceived idea.

M.I. - If you had to play a show with only the ten best songs of the band, which ones would you pick and why?

What are the ten best songs of the band? I think everyone has a different answer. So, it's a difficult question. But what we do know is that some songs work better live than others. So, we're looking forward to getting back on stage to see which “Antidote” songs will blow the audience away. I think "Dismantling" is a strong candidate. And Solitude will perfectly work as an opener.

M.I. - Fortunately, things seem to start to ease up with covid and concerts are about to start soon... or so we hope... what are your plans to promote “Antidote”?

As I said, we'll start playing shows in September/October in Switzerland, hopefully with some tours through Europe in 2022. 

M.I. – Sound wise the band has evolved quite a lot. Have these changes in your sound and style been programmed or did they happen naturally?

I would say it's natural, there was nothing programmed. We just became more confident, more experienced, and curious to try new ideas, new arrangements. Nothing special, I think every band with a long career could give you a similar answer. 

M.I. - You signed to Season of Mist and this is your 2nd album to be released through them. How has Impure Wilhelmina’s life and career changed ever since the deal was inked?

We have more visibility. A lot of people discovered us with "Radiation", some with "Antidote", so that's great. But many aspects of the band's activities are still done in a DIY way, so it doesn't change much. And maybe that's a good thing because it helps us keep the spirit of the band intact. 

M.I. - The band has worked with several labels throughout the years. What sets them apart? The money they own or their ideals? Why is Season of Mist the best label for Impure Wilhelmina?

Season of Mist is a great label that does an excellent job. And the name is cool, it fits well with our music. Before Season of Mist, we were on Swiss or French labels (Hummus Records, Division Records, Get a Life!, Space Patrol Records, ...), and it wasn't a question of money because there was almost no money! But these labels are (or were) run by passionate people we knew personally, and that's maybe the main difference with Season of Mist, which is bigger, involves more people, and has to deal with many bands.  Despite a – shall we say - more entrepreneurial approach, Season of Mist listens to our needs and accompanies us with care and professionalism. Thanks to them.

M.I. - Michael Schindl has once said that singing is a good antidepressant. Does playing music still work as an antidepressant for you? 

Yes, of course, more efficient than chocolate or antidepressants.

M.I. - Most bands say that playing works as therapy. When did you realize this was the best therapy of all?

It's not the kind of thing you suddenly realize, it's just that one day I picked up a guitar, and I've never stopped playing it since. So that means it has some kind of function on my balance. But I don't know if music is the best therapy for those who practice it, because it is well known that musicians don't have the longest life expectancy.

Sebastien: Well, when I'm on tour I feel so free. I hope everyone getting on tour is feeling the same. Rehearsing with my bandmates is fun; touring is more than that: it is a real therapy.

M.I. - Is your musician life as exciting as you imagined it when you first started off?

Michael: I've never said to myself "I'm going to be a musician because it sounds exciting". In fact, it is exciting, but for reasons that were unexpected, or unimagined by myself when I was young. For example, we got a message from someone who told us that he listens to Impure Wilhelmina while hiking in the forest and on the Baltic Sea shore. And that kind of feedback is great and exciting for me. But Portuguese shores are beautiful too!

M.I. - Are you full-time musicians or do you need to work regular jobs in order to get your bills paid?

We all have regular jobs in Geneva, some of the highest wages in the world for the most expensive bills. Which means we are not that much rich that people may think. But, yes, we do eat chocolate and cheese. 

M.I. - Switzerland isn’t the first country that springs to mind when one thinks of metal bands... how’s the scene over there? Any bands that one should pay attention to?

In Geneva, there are our friends from Rorcal, but also Nostromo, H E X, Stortregn... In other parts of Switzerland, there are Zatokrev, Schammasch, Bölzer, Zeal and Ardor, who are already relatively well known. But Switzerland IS the first metal country, thanks to Celtic Frost, which has influenced all metal bands in the world, even if many of them don't know it. Ugh!

M.I. - Diogo Almeida is one of the band members... has his Portuguese heritage had any influence on the band whatsoever?

Diogo: No, I don t think my heritage has an influence on the band. 

M.I. - Are you familiar with the Portuguese metal scene? Any Portuguese bands you enjoy?

No, I’m not so familiar with the Portuguese scene I know a few bands / friends like Process of Guilt. But give us some bands to listen and discover!

M.I. - The band was one of the four recipients of the 2019 grants for contemporary music awarded by the City of Geneva. How did it make you feel? How important is an award like this? Did it change anything for you as a band at all?

Michael: It's an official recognition. When you start a band, especially a metal band, and you're looking for a rehearsal room, you're looking for gigs in your area, just trying to exist, it's never easy. You always feel like an outsider to the establishment, to the official authority, etc. And it's hard to gain credibility. For us it happened gradually with the local venues, the local media, funders, and of course all the activist of the local scene and the fans. This grant is the most recent step in the whole process. It gave us a financial facility to produce "Antidote".

M.I. - Have you got any advice for young musicians?

Compose with your heart, play with your heart, record with your heart, communicate with your heart. 

Sebastien: At rehearsals, play your songs, again and again. And again, until the music becomes a pure emanation of your heart & body and not a cerebral activity or the result of your dexterity alone. 

M.I. - What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in these 25 years of Impure Wilhelmina?

Michael: In music, trends last a maximum of five years. Only Heavy-Metal lasts forever. 

M.I. - If you could go back in time and meet your younger self, what would you say to him? What advices would you give him?

Do what you feel, be confident and only listen to advice if you hear it echoing in yourself. Communicate more. Stop drinking. 

M.I. - Hope to see you live soon here in sunny Portugal! Please share a final message with Metal Imperium’s readers. 

Hopefully we’ll be back in Portugal! See you there!

For Portuguese version, click here

Questions by Sónia Fonseca