On A River of Diamonds with Liv Kristine
On A River of Diamonds with Liv Kristine
River of Diamonds is the sixth solo album by Liv Kristine, the queen of Scandinavian gothic metal. Best known for her legendary tenure with Leaves’ Eyes and Theatre Of Tragedy, Liv Kristine has also presented an impressive catalogue of solo material that is vibrantly original and deeply heartfelt. River of Diamonds is an adventurous journey into the life of an artist, and the songs contained within are absolutely impassioned and unforgettable. A collaborative effort with former Theatre Of Tragedy co-conspirator Tommy Olsson, River of Diamonds also features appearances from Fernando Ribeiro of Moonspell, Østen Bergøy of Tristania, sister Carmen Elise Espenæs of Midnattsol – as well as the surprise participation from her own husband Michael Espenæs. It was an honor to interview Liv Kristine after all these years to discuss the wonderful songs on River of Diamonds. Read on…
Is there any overall story or concept behind the album titled River of Diamonds?
Well, if I wouldn’t have released the album River of Diamonds, I would’ve released a book. After (several) releases so far in my life, it feels like my very first release. Maybe it’s because I’m standing in the very middle of my life. I’m 47 years old, and it feels like coming home after a very turbulent first half of my life, especially during the years 2015, 16, 17, and 18, where I basically had to start all the new, to start from scratch, finding a new home, taking care of my family financially. My life was a mess after I was forced to leave Leaves’ Eyes. But then as things started to get clearer, and there was less stress and daily life was not only a struggle somehow to get through and to make sure that everybody was fine in the family but also thriving a little bit more. Then my mind was clear to sit down and work with the compositions of Tommy Olsson with whom I also worked in Theatre of Tragedy. When I had the time to sit down and really listen to his compositions, the words kept coming, the melodies kept coming. I felt like my life had calmed down a little bit. And I just felt like this album is a part of my personal process of coming home to myself, entering the second half of my life with all my experience and with everything that was there that makes me become who I am today.
Moreover, coming home as an artist – it’s just me. Liv Kristine’s just me. It’s Tommy, my composer, and I have a live band too. But it’s also about myself, being able to show more authenticity than ever, to feel authentic, to feel that this process is in my hands and it truly comes from the heart. And this time it felt like the universe kind of was trying to manifest something through me. It’s been a magic process of creativity, and it feels like the first album of the second half of my life. To sum it up, it’s in the darkness where you see the diamonds shining brightly – that’s where you find them. It’s a personal process as well as a process for me being the artist I am.
You mentioned a book. Do you want to write a book or have you written a book?
I did start writing a book, then I made a break because I actually happened to write a poetry collection. That poetry collection kind of got manifested before the book, but I wanted to release River of Diamonds first. And then in connection with the later release, I will also release the poetry collection. I’m still in that process where, sometimes when I’m having my morning cup of coffee, let’s have a look at that poem and then I change a word, and then the next day I change it back to its original form. I’m not really done with that process, but a famous poet told me, a Canadian poet told me, if you continue like that, you’re never going to release your poetry collection. So just settle for one of those future album releases and release the poetry collection with one of those releases because then you have a settled date.
The title track River Of Diamonds features Fernando from Moonspell. How did that collaboration come about?
Well, Fernando’s been a wonderful friend throughout the years. As I already mentioned, 2015 was chaos when I lost my baby Leaves’ Eyes. And I wasn’t really sure if I ever wanted to have anything to do with the music business, going back on stage releasing an album. I was fed up with everything. And Fernando has always been one of those friends who kind of sends an email or a message in that very moment when you kind of would love to have somebody writing to you – somebody like Fernando. So, he’s like, “I’m around, I have a show in Switzerland next week, would you like to come by?” And it’s always wonderful to see him. And when I first heard the composition, the instrumental version of River of Diamonds, instantly, the words kept coming, the melodies kept coming, and I thought I really need a male partner for this song.
And Østen Bergøy had already sung on Our Immortal Day. So, I needed to look for somebody else. And then I thought, Fernando is my number one wish for this song. And I wrote him an email and he was like “Just send it over.” Now actually, we’re in the middle of the process of setting up a music video for this track. Fernando is in Portugal, and I’m in Switzerland but we’re going to make this happen. So there’s going to be more good stuff coming in connection with River of Diamonds for the title track. Fernando is such a wonderful friend, and it’s great working with him.
Our Immortal Day with Østen Bergøy from Tristania, how did that come about and what is meant by Our Immortal Day?
Østen is one of Tommy Olsson’s best friends, and they live on the same island just outside of the west coast of Norway. When I was in Norway visiting my family, we took a boat to the island and recorded vocals in Tommy’s studio – and Tommy said Østen would actually fit perfectly well for this track. We asked Østen, and I’m very happy that he decided to join. Our Immortal Day is actually the first and the last day of our relationship. So it’s like we’re not supposed to be together because we’re made of different materials. We are in two different worlds, in two different spheres, like being a human being and a vampire.
You’re not supposed to be together because one would kill the other. But still when you’re in love and you decide to walk together and enter the next day and combine and join hearts knowing that it could lead to death, it’s the highest thing that one could do in favor of love. It’s about going into that eternity melting hearts, although you don’t know if that might be the last day. It’s one of those gothic themes, one of those romantic themes and it’s something that you find in the very two first albums of Theatre of Tragedy. It’s that impossible love theme again.
Tristania, I remember back in the day, they used to be one of my favorite bands too, so it was cool to hear you and Østen together.
Thank you. He’s a brilliant singer and it’s an honor having him on the album.
No Makeup, tell me the story behind that song.
No Makeup is about being yourself without any makeup, without any conditions toward yourself, leaving all conditions or expectations that the world or people around you, the surroundings will have towards you. Leaving all expectations and just being yourself, just being authentic. Sometimes you have those mornings when you wake up and your only goal is to make yourself a cup of coffee. And then the world kind of breaks loose and you have emails coming in, you have messages, you have all those portals where you might appear or be visible and you have to answer this and that, and then the day turns into a very chaotic day because you have so many expectations to fulfill.
It has also been a conscious process for me to become aware of those moments when you can be in the here and now, just being with yourself, to sit with yourself, whatever emotions you might feel – whatever is going on in the world outside you. It’s been a learning process for me to actually be able to sit down with myself and just be with myself in that very moment. It’s an important step when you really want to achieve that frequency of coming home to yourself. Sometimes you have those moments when you are alone and you feel the dark night of the soul, but that’s something we have to go through. And that’s when you start to see the light at the end of the tunnel – when you start to see the diamonds in darkness which this album is basically about. And that’s the message behind the album.
Let’s go to Love Me High with your sister Carmen. Tell me a little about that song and what’s currently going on with Midnattsol.
Midnattsol is kind of on hold because most of the band members got married and became parents, but we just recently talked about recording an acoustic album. So, whatever happens with Midnattsol, I’m going to be part of it. And of course, it’s great to join my sister. She was there for me during those very difficult years when I thought maybe I just should just leave the music business and stop singing. But my sister was there, she’s been there for me as my dear sister, as well as she supported me. You know, like, “Don’t stop singing. You can’t do that because it’s an authentic part of yourself.”
So that kind of backed me up and gave me the power to continue to go back into the studio and record a couple of songs. Carmen is living in Norway with a family and I’m living in Switzerland currently and every time we meet it’s like being high together because – well, none of us ever took any drugs, but when I’m with my sister, we’re just laughing. We’re laughing so much, and we’re having such a good time, and we can be really silly and funny.
Having Carmen on Love Me High is just like grasping that moment of feeling free, of just feeling joy and bliss with somebody else, and sharing that moment with somebody else. And every time I see Carmen, I know it’s a blessed moment. In some years my husband and I will probably move back to Norway but for now, Switzerland is the perfect place for me to be, but Carmen will come and visit us with her family. It’s wonderful to have a sister like Carmen, and I just wanted to share this composition with her.
Beautiful. Speaking of your husband Michael Espenæs, he appears in a song by Jon Lord of Deep Purple, Pictured Within. Tell me about why you decided to cover that song and why it was important to have your husband on this particular song.
Well actually a tragic thing happened a year ago. My father-in-law, Michael’s father, passed away all of a sudden. That was Summer ’22. And Michael as well as I find a lot of healing in music. And he was listening to Jon Lord’s compositions and Deep Purple’s compositions, and I thought maybe it would be a nice thing to cover Pictured Within, because that song is about the memories of those ones who we have lost, who are not physically among us anymore, and keeping those memories. I organized a couple of musicians to record the instruments. I had that instrumental version, and we drove to the studio here in Switzerland, and I recorded my vocals.
And my husband has never been on a stage before. He never stood in front of a microphone, but after I recorded my vocals, he asked if he could join me – and that was truly a magic moment. He recorded that in two takes and he has no experience. I never vocal coached him, and it came from the heart. And when you feel that – when you can grasp tha.t I think you can actually master any kind of singing technique if you just feel that, or you make that become yours, that voice or that melody. It was a beautiful moment. There was no doubt about having this song on the album. It’s interesting because I could have vocal coached him, but I never did, and he appeared in front of the microphone in the studio as a big surprise. That’s what I keep telling my students when I vocal coach them – that I have this story, everybody can sing. That’s good news.
Another cover, True Colours. What made you decide to cover that song and has Cyndi Lauper maybe heard her comment on it?
Well, Cyndi Lauper was a very authentic artist. We already talked about my own personal process, coming home to myself and also being the artist I am after all these years of experience, now feeling more authentic than ever, showing your true colors. That’s also something that you can really grasp in the song, No Makeup, which we all already talked about. It’s about that homecoming process and being able to show your true colors. I have a wonderful community, a very bright community. Every year I play an annual show in Germany, and the audience is coming from everywhere, and I have a group of people who are gay or lesbian coming to the show, and it has turned into some kind of meeting place and they’re really showing the true colors.
I feel like True Colours is an ode to everybody who really dares to show his or her true colors as long as it comes from the heart. I think that’s the most important thing – that you show your true colors. Cyndi Lauper is a great idol for me, and one of those artists I love listening to every now and then,when it’s time to sit down and listen to one of those records and spin all those vinyls.
Speaking of going back home, Tommy Olsson from your old band Theatre Of Tragedy. What was it like working with Tommy and how did he become involved?
Tommy and I both quit Theatre of Tragedy at some point in time and then we lost contact. But Tommy looked back to me in 2015, reaching out like I have a couple of songs, I guess he had 30, 40, 50 compositions. He kept sending songs, and I was so happy to hear from him because we always had a wonderful connection. I was going through rough times and Tommy was so patient with me. He said, “When you’re ready to sit down and work with these compositions, please do.” It opened up a whole new specter for me because Tommy gives me this space. I need to develop my melodies and write the words I need to sing, I need to convey the message I need to convey. There is this space he likes, he finds those magic tones and he stays with the tones, and then you have the next tone.
It feels like freedom when I listened to Tommy’s composition. And here we are 8, 9 years later, and we’re releasing an album together, which is a great honor for me. Tommy is one of the best composers I’ve ever worked with and it’s a great honor to work with him, and I’m so happy he reached out in 2015.
Would you like to tour back here in the States in support of your solo album?
I’d love to. I never played solo in the States. It’s a shame. You need to get me to the States. We told the universe to manifest this. It’s about time. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about lately because I have a 9 to 5 job here in Switzerland and I’ve had it since 2016. I’m a teacher for children with special needs, and I love doing this as well as singing. So teaching, working with children and singing is something, well, both of those things I didn’t study. I have a master’s in a completely different field, but I didn’t study these 2 things. It means that’s coming from inside, that kind of competence or ability and I realized I need both. I need to find a balance between both and I’m sure that is possible even with a tour to the US. So please have me.
That would be great. Do you have any messages for your fans out here in the States who haven’t seen you in a while?
I just want to say thank you for being patient and thank you for being around. I’m so happy that we have the chance to communicate through my sites, my Facebook page especially, and on Instagram. You are a continent away or I’m away, but still, we have the chance to stay in touch. Without you, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t release River of Diamonds. It’s a great privilege that you’ve been there all the time. I was absent. I was trying to fix my life. You’ve been there all the time, so thanks to you I’m back. I know that I have a great backup and a really open-minded audience out there supporting me. So, it’s time for me to say thank you and to come back and play more live shows and release more albums.
(Interview by Ken Morton)
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