Fans of the Dutch metal scene have undoubtedly heard the music of Blackbriar before. This band, originating in the city of Assen, has been active since 2012 and will release their second full album A Dark Euphony on Friday, September 29th, for the first time under the flag of Nuclear Blast Records. Zware Metalen spoke with band members Zora Cock (vocals) and René Boxem (drums) about the new album, the upcoming tour and their collaboration with Nuclear Blast.
Hello René and Zora, how are you?
René: Good! These are busy weeks in which we have to arrange a lot. Our tour starts next Tuesday, so we are working on the final preparations.
Can you introduce yourselves for those who don’t know you and tell us how you came together as a band?
Zora: We are Zora Cock and René Boxem, the singer and drummer of the band. The band was formed in 2012 after we attended a concert by Slash with Halestorm as the opening act. We thought they were really cool and decided we wanted to do that too! At the time, we were both studying music in Groningen and we decided to start recruiting band members to form our own band.
How did you come up with the name Blackbriar? Does it have any particular meaning?
Zora: Not necessarily. At that time, I just made a long list of all kinds of names. We actually wanted to be called Fractured Fairytales, but then I found out that there was already another band with that name, so we decided to use it as the title for our first EP. I think I came across the name Blackbriar somewhere and we felt it fits exactly with what we wanted to convey: a dark and romantic atmosphere.
When I looked up Blackbriar, I also found something related to Jason Bourne, but I guess that’s unrelated?
René: We probably need to have that removed from Wikipedia, haha. In the Jason Bourne film series, there’s a kind of Mission Impossible operation they carry out, called Blackbriar. It keeps coming up and some people on YouTube also think that’s where we got our name from, but that’s not the case.
You signed with Nuclear Blast Records last November. Why do you think it took so long? You have released quite a bit of music over the years, including your first album in 2021.
René: We always wanted to maintain a kind of DIY mentality as a band because that’s where we had a lot of fun: doing everything ourselves, taking care of every aspect of making music. We never intended to work with a label. Over the years, we grew, and we laid the foundation of the band ourselves. We got into discussions with Nuclear Blast through a friend of ours who is also a friend of the label. Those discussions turned into contract negotiations, in which we saw whether we could have a fruitful partnership where both parties would be happy. That took a while, about two years, but the deal has become something in which we can still maintain our identity and continue to do everything we’re passionate about.
Will there be any noticeable changes for the fans, now that you’re signed to Nuclear Blast? Does your upcoming tour, for example, have anything to do with signing with the label?
René: This tour doesn’t necessarily relate to us signing with Nuclear Blast since it had already been planned. But I hope you will see changes because we expect to grow. Nuclear Blast is creating exposure for our band worldwide. Up until now, we didn’t have that network, so from now on we expect to gain more recognition worldwide: people will talk more about us, doors will be opened, hopefully even outside Western Europe. So I expect that our growth will accelerate now.
Even without a label, Blackbriar really achieved significant growth on its own.
René: Yes, we were indeed our own label, built everything ourselves, entirely organically, without advertisements or anything like that. We did this on our own over the years, and we are very proud of it. Nuclear Blast thought they could add something to this, and on paper, that was the case for us as well.
Zora: That’s why we still find it important to continue posting our videos on our own YouTube channel; because we’ve built this up for so long, and we want our subscribers to continue to see those things on our channel.
While your music used to be leaning more toward the symphonic direction, it seems that you are now moving more towards the style of Lacuna Coil: gothic/alternative metal. Do you recognize yourselves in this, and how did this change come about?
Zora: It’s not intentional. We always write in a certain way and we continue to do so. It’s not like we intentionally think, “Let’s try this style now.” It just happens in a certain way, or the song requires it, and that’s how it evolves.
Zora: No, we don’t sit down together for this. I start with the lyrics, and when I have them, I come up with a melody. I record it, send it to René, and he creates the music based on that. This works perfectly for us and it gives me the freedom to come up with whatever I want for my vocals without being tied to pre-existing music.
René: Each song is written separately, which is quite normal, but even within an album, each song is written with new inspiration. Nothing is conceptual. Of course, there is an overarching story that Zora likes to write about or themes that she loves. But nothing is connected to each other. I don’t think anyone in this band feels that we’re making different music than five years ago, except that we have grown as musicians and Zora as a lyricist. As a collective, we’re moving toward a more mature sound and I think that’s the difference you’re referring to. At first, you have the Blackbriar in which we did everything ourselves: Zora recorded in the bedroom, and my drums were recorded amidst a big mess. That contrasts with the recordings we’ve done in the studio with Joost van den Broek in recent years. I think that’s the progression you hear, which makes you say that we’re making different music now. It’s probably a more mature version of what we’ve been trying to do all these years. We don’t listen to a band and think: oh, let’s do something like that. We are really, perhaps one of the few bands, who only focus on what we do. That might sound strange, but I listen to Zora and her recording and that’s also my inspiration. I didn’t listen to other bands before that and bring that into the writing process. Of course, we also listen to other bands, but that’s more for when we’re on the road, driving to shows.
You mentioned that you started the band after attending a Halestorm concert. Would this be a dream collaboration for you, or are there other artists you would like to tour/record music with?
Zora: Halestorm leans more toward the hard rock side, which we tried to do in the first five years but then realized it didn’t suit my voice, haha. But it would be really cool to do something with them because, in a way, we started because of them.
René: We’ve sort of come full circle with Halestorm. We first saw them in what was then called the Heineken Music Hall and three years ago, we played the aftershow for Halestorm at AFAS Live. So, in eight years, we’ve come full circle with both the venue and the band that started it all. A collaboration with Halestorm might not really fit us now. If you had asked us six years ago, it would have been our dream for sure, but now we’ve gone in a different musical direction.
Are there other artists or bands you would like to collaborate with?
René: Zora always has ideas about people she wants to collaborate with. There may even already be some collaborations in the works.
Zora: I’ve actually already written something new, for after the album, which is kind of a duet. I’ve already asked another artist for this duet, but you’ll have to wait a bit longer for that!
When can we expect this? Or will you only start working on it when things calm down a bit after your album tour?
René: Yes, definitely not until things calm down, if that will even happen at all, haha. But we have talked about how cool it would be to do something with Epica again. We’ve toured with them before and are friends with them now, so something like that would be really great. But we’re all busy, with different schedules and interests, so it hasn’t happened yet, but it would be really cool to record a duet with Simone Simons someday.
We talked about songwriting earlier. Zora, where do you find your inspiration and is it important for you to have a story behind your lyrics?
Zora: It’s often a surprise where the inspiration comes from. I enjoy writing about history, folklore, or mythical stories, but also about my personal life; it can be anything, really. When I have inspiration, I seize it because there are times when I have no inspiration for months and that’s always very frustrating, haha. Sitting down and just starting to write generally doesn’t work for me.
Your new song Forever and a Day has just been released. What is the story behind this song?
Zora: The lyrics were originally inspired by the TV series Poldark, but as I was writing it, the meaning changed for me. It’s now more about a woman in mourning who lost her loved one a long time ago. She tries to go on a date with another man but realizes that her heart still belongs to her deceased husband.
René: Forever and a Day is definitely one of my favorites, but I’m going to say Far Distant Land. That’s not just because the music turned out really well, but the whole song is just really well done; it’s exactly what we envisioned for that song, both in terms of lyrics and melody. It’s also a different direction for us as a band: we’re playing with some different elements. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be something we will be incorporating in our music in the future, but I do really like that song.
Zora: Far Distant Land was the song where I shed a tear when we first listened to the mix. Before that, Cicada used to be my favorite, but it keeps changing all the time.
You’ve released separate artwork for each single. Is there a story behind this, and who created it?
René: As long as this band has existed, all the artwork has been created by one person. That includes T-shirts, artwork for singles, and vinyl records.
Zora: Also the band logo!
René: Yes, all the visual artwork we have is done by one guy from Indonesia, named Alib. He once designed our logo for a competition and had the winning design. His design was so well thought out that we were really impressed. So, I approached him to do the rest of our graphic design too, and since then we’ve had a great working relationship. We have a very clear idea of how the music videos should look, and the artwork is usually an extension of that. The inspiration from the song is also the inspiration for the artwork.
Do you ask for specific things to be incorporated into the artwork, or do you show the video/play the song and let Alib have creative freedom?
Zora: Sometimes we show an image from the video to ask if he can do something with it, but more ofthe we explain it. There’s also a language barrier, so sometimes things are completely misunderstood and you get something entirely different, haha.
René: That’s why I sometimes have to draw in Paint to illustrate what I mean, so I might draw a simple stick figure and a flower, for example. What he does with it afterward, what we get from him, is really incredibly good; he knows exactly what we want.
Zora: Especially after seeing René’s sketches, it’s incredible how Alib can turn that into something beautiful, haha.
René: What’s also funny is that because Alib is from Asia, the people in the foreground on the album cover of We’d Rather Burn are Asian because those are the people he sees around him. So, on the cover, you see both the Dutch band members on the burning stake combined with two Asian people with torches in the foreground. We thought this was really cool, so we kept it that way. Alib has been involved for so long that he really feels like a band member to us.
Zora: I also like having a consistent style that suits our band; we’ve been lucky in that regard.
Is there a performance that you did as a band that you look back on fondly?
René: We have done several performances that have really made an impression on me. We once did a show for the military. They had just been on an exercise in Poland and had one day back in the Netherlands to let off some steam before they had to go back. We were invited to play there and we had no idea what to expect. It turned into a crazy party, with the lighting installation, the tables and chairs flying through the room.
Zora: The monitors almost fell on our heads, haha. It was a really fun experience though, it might not sound like it with what we’re telling right now, but it definitely was!
René: Yes, it was really crazy. In addition to that performance, we always have those highs; you go from the small pub of that first show, step by step, and all those intermediate steps are shows that have stayed with me. Like recently, finally being able to participate in Summer Breeze, a festival we have been following for eight years. Being allowed to play there was amazing!
So, it’s really those steps to bigger venues, bigger shows that stick with you a lot?
René: It doesn’t even have to be bigger; it can also be a location. We played at a festival in Switzerland by a lake a few weeks ago. It was a Dutch party almost, we knew someone from every band. Even the stage manager was Dutch; it was super cozy. The stage had a view of the lake and the hills, a location that beautiful definitely stays with you.
Zora: I agree with that, and all those first times we got to play with Epica, for example, I will never forget either. And I thought our last show at Wave-Gotik-Treffen was really cool. Oh, and it was one big party with dArtagnan too!
René: Actually, everything is a party, there are no unpleasant shows. We also recently did a few club shows with Charlotte Wessels. These are experiences that we really need as a band. We need to play as much as possible at the moment. Everything we do is fun, as long as it’s not like in the first three years.
Zora: I would like to forget all the shows from the band’s early days as soon as possible, haha.
René: Yes, that’s right, it was just bad. We played in small venues where people were all standing with their arms crossed.
Zora: We hadn’t really found our way yet.
René: What we were trying to do was not credible, but I think this is something every band goes through in the beginning. It’s tough in the beginning because no one knows your music, so no one thinks it’s cool. You don’t get any energy back from the audience. For the past few years, we have finally been getting that energy back from our audience: people know the music, sing along. That’s the next level you reach, that people know your music and specifically come to see your band. That’s a really cool feeling. That’s why we do this. It’s what we worked towards in those first six years.
Is there a location or festival that you would like to play at?
René: M’era Luna.
Zora: Wacken, Graspop.
René: Yes, Wacken sounds really cool too! But I would also love to play for a hundred people in the US somewhere. I would probably prefer that to playing at one of the bigger festivals in Germany because it’s a newer experience. Not that the festivals are all the same, but that’s closer to home, and you know the feeling better. A performance in Japan or in the US, those experiences are something we’re still looking for. ProgPower USA, a festival where many Dutch bands come, would also be a good fit for us.
Your performance at Tivoli is on September 28th, but your album is not coming out until the next day. Will we still be getting a preview of the new album during the show?
Zora: Yes, definitely! We will be on tour from Tuesday, and even though the album is not coming out until Friday, we will play the setlist with the new songs. It will be a unique experience.
Are you excited to see how people will react to the music, as you will see everyone’s first reaction live?
Zora: I always find it exciting, haha.
René: Absolutely, no one knows the new songs we’re playing, of course. We expect the room to be very quiet because everyone is listening. After a song, we’ll wait and see if the applause is loud enough or not, and then we’ll know if it was a good song, haha.
You will be touring with Ad Infinitum, how did this collaboration come about?
René: Ad Infinitum officially started a little later than we did, but as soon as we figured out what we were going to do as a band, they also started off. We had known Melissa Bonny, the singer, for a long time and had seen her with other bands. We have been working at about the same level all this time, so you follow each other as bands. Then we met each other and there was an immediate connection. About eighteen months ago, we discussed whether we should tour together, and then we actually started planning. That’s how the tour came about.
Is there anything else you would like to share with everyone reading the interview?
René: I am very curious about what everyone will think of the new album. We love to read your thoughts on it and will also respond personally.
Zora: Yes, we would love to hear what you all think!
Gotten curious about Blackbriar? A Dark Euphony will be available in stores and on all music platforms from September 29th.