For 25 years, IMPURE WILHELMINA has been creating singular music on the borders of rock and metal. The Geneva quartet has never been afraid to reinvent itself and to push back the stylistic barriers, without ever losing its strong identity. Intensity, melody, power, and melancholy are the keywords that guide the band’s discography, shaping record after record a subtle blend of metal, post-hardcore, new wave, and indie rock sounds.
We talked to singer-guitarist, main composer, and lyricist Michael Schindl about their newest material and many more in an enchanting interview.
CVLT: Hi! What has changed in your sound/music style and in the band since “Radiation” and which were those things that inspired you to write the music and the lyrics for this new album?
Michael: When we started to compose for the new album, we wanted some changes from “Radiation”. We considered that “Radiation” was in the continuity of “Black Honey”, and for this reason, we had to do something different. So we worked with a new producer, Yvan Bing, who helped us to try new things, during the whole writing and recording process. For each song, we wanted to find the accurate sounds, the best arrangements. But we tried to avoid losing some kind of unity, and for that reason, all the basic instruments (drums, bass, rhythm guitars) were recorded live for a short period of time in a studio in Germany (HOFA Studio). Being away from Geneva really helped us to focus on what we were doing.
The band itself has not changed. It’s the same line-up as in “Radiation” (the line-up has been stable for eight years), and the same way of writing the songs. As always, the lyrics are about the darkness of the human soul and the misunderstanding of human relationships.
Finally, another thing that has changed is the fact that I stopped drinking five years ago and this is the first album where I am totally sober. I was afraid I would lose my inspiration, but it seems I haven’t. But everyone can have their own opinion on that.
Is there a specific philosophy or worldview underlying your latest album “Antidote”?
No, not at first. But when I look at my lyrics again, I can see a kind of individualism by default. Human relationships are too difficult, it is better to withdraw into oneself, for better or for worse. But of course, all this does not make a philosophy.
When listeners make their way through your music and hear all the songs, what do you want them to feel? What kind of situation do you see your music accompanying?
We would like them to feel better, and that’s why the album is called “Antidote”. Everyone who listens to a lot of music knows that it has a beneficial effect, and metal is no exception. So if we can do a little bit of good for our listeners, it’s already a lot.
That said, everyone has their own way of listening to music. For example, someone told us about his walks in the forest or by the sea while listening to Impure Wilhelmina. Another told us about a good glass of wine because “Antidote” is an album that you have to enjoy, that requires your full attention. Another said he suffered from social anxiety and that our music helped him.
How do you think that the band’s sound has evolved over the years? Did you always have in mind to sound the way you sound today?
No, simply because I didn’t think that the band would last 25 years, and even more!
But I always liked to do melodic things, with care in writing and deep lyrics. So you could say that during our career, we have refined things that were there from the beginning, and all this in an unconscious way.
The most striking evolution is of course the growing importance of clean vocals. It tends to divide old fans, but for me, it’s a minor evolution, because the spirit hasn’t really changed.
Given the state of mainstream culture that permeates how we consume media, how would you introduce your music to a stranger?
Impure Wilhelmina is a metal band with rock influences. Our music is characterized by its melodic and melancholic aspect and also by a wide range of influences, going from gothic rock to black metal, passing by doom and even by pop. In short, it’s a difficult band to define.
What are some of your influences? Specifically, though I figure you’re pulling a lot of personal feelings and emotions, were there any musicians or writers that played a significant part in your life as this band came together?
Personally, I’m maybe more interested in bands where there is a single composer, like for example Death or Nine Inch Nails, but also the compositions of Steve Harris from Iron Maiden, even if I also like those of Adrian Smith.
Besides, analyzing the differences between Steve Harris’ and Adrian Smith’s songwriting helped me understand the importance of having strong personalities at the base of the songs, but also that the collective work, in this case of all the members of Iron Maiden, is fundamental to achieve a qualitative result.
What do you consider to be the essential elements of your music?
Things I’ve already talked about: the melody, the structure of the songs, the lyrics.
But when I speak about structure, it is not only “verse-chorus”, it is also about atmospheres, contrasts, in short, all that allows to transmit the emotion to the listener.
Because this is the real challenge: to transmit to the listener the emotions one feels when composing, which often come from personal experiences. This implies that in the whole process of composition, recording, mixing, the important thing is that the elements put in place are useful for this transmission.
What do you feel is the best song you’ve ever release and why?
This is a difficult question. Maybe ‘Black Horse’, on “Black Honey”, which is basically a song written on an acoustic guitar, but which we managed to turn into a more metal version very well, I think.
‘Race With You’, on “Radiation” for its pure emotion.
‘Unpredicted Sky’, on “Antidote”, because it’s a song that has been modified a lot from the basic version. In this case, there is always the risk that the emotion is lost, but here it is not the case, it is even the opposite if we believe the feedback we have.
How is the writing process working for you? Is there a captain of the ship or is it more of collaborative, organic work?
I’m the one who brings most of the elements. I propose riffs, riff sequences, or verse-chorus sequences, but often songs that are already relatively well done. We work on this basis, modifying, improving, sometimes rejecting, until all four are satisfied.
For “Antidote”, Yvan also contributed to the composition by proposing arrangements. And as I said before, there is also an organic aspect, but that comes more from the way we recorded.
How do you imagine your first live performance after the pandemic is finally over?
A rediscovery, like going back to a place you haven’t been for a long time, or listening to a record you haven’t heard for a long time. It will be familiar, but we hope to find something new.
When you perform live, how do you want your audience to feel as they leave the show?
Happy, because that’s how I feel after seeing a good show.
One says that artists have more time for themselves nowadays. Have you discovered new passions?
Not really, we are very busy with our jobs (for all of us), and families (for some of us).
An album is considered successful when:
For me, an Impure Wilhelmina album is a success if I can still listen to it after its release (which I very rarely do).
More generally, an album can be considered successful if it is considered a genuine work of art.
Photos: (c) Mehdi Benkler