XENO – A Talk With RUBEN WILLEMSEN (Vocals/Bass)

Posted on December 2nd 2020

Questionnaire by Stefan on behalf of METAL TO INFINITY WEBZINE BELGIUM

While the Corona virus is still rampant among the world’s population, we can, thank God, enjoy good music on a regular basis. In spite of the fact that I want to declare 2020 the gloomiest year ever in my life, a lot of very interesting albums have come my way. I’m sure it will be a difficult task at the end of this year to uncover my favorite Album Top 20 list. Of all the efforts I’ve had the pleasure of listening to, there are a few that have taken me by surprise because of their unique musical approach. Some of them couldn’t fill in my personal musical taste, yet it felt nice to push my musical boundaries once in a while. We have a band from the Netherlands that caught my attention, not because they were my cup of tea but because of their complicated way of writing songs. Mixing different genres into one worthy whole is not for everyone but Xeno made it true to surprise me. The next conversation will give more clarity about their existence, musical ambitions and plans for the future. Let’s not waste time and get started right away…

Stefan: I would like to welcome you here at MTI – How are you? Hopefully the band has been spared from the Corona virus so far.

Ruben: Hey Stefan, thanks for the interview. We are doing great, hope you are also doing fine! Some of us think we caught the Corona virus even before the first lockdown. The symptoms checked out, but fortunately nobody had to go to the hospital. It did result in rehearsals being put on hold for a few weeks though. Thankfully we are healthy again!


Stefan: Xeno is the sequel to the band Semiazas, when and by whom this formation was founded… Which bands influenced you at that time?

Ruben: Ah yes, Semiazas was founded as a black metal band back in the days! Ruben, Lars and Borrit founded the band back in 2008, a while later Mr J joined and completed the line-up. Only Ruben remained from that line-up through the years, but Lars recently rejoined us. Our biggest influences at the time of Semiazas were Dimmu Borgir, Agalloch, Alcest and later also Opeth.


Stefan: Has any tangible material been released under this name?

Ruben: Yes! We released a demo EP called “The Seraphim”. You can still find it on YouTube somewhere. Sometimes one of us puts it on and we have a big laugh haha. We recorded the EP in one week in the living room of Ruben’s parents when they went on a vacation. We didn’t know ANYTHING about recording, or mixing for that part. It wasn’t pretty haha.


Stefan: When, and especially why you took the decision to change the band name?

Ruben: I think it was back in 2011. We founded Semiazas as a black metal band, but we didn’t play black metal anymore by then. We changed a couple of band members and our style just evolved to more of a groovy death metal combination. We felt like the name Semiazas didn’t fit that kind of music, so we decided to change the name to something more fitting. Our music became more and more proggy throughout the years and we think Xeno fits that name perfectly.


Stefan: Why was this name chosen, what is the meaning behind the word ‘’Xeno?

Ruben: The word “Xeno” has a couple of meanings, but it comes down to: “strange”. Our music is also strange, so it’s a perfect combination haha!

Stefan: What is the difference between the line-up of Semiazas and Xeno – have there been any significant changes over the years?

Ruben: Yeah, we’ve definitely had a lot of changes over the years. Changing band members is a difficult process, you lose a bit of soul from the band when it happens. But we believe strongly in the line-up that we have now. It’s become a very stable working envorinment, and we are all giving 100%. We focus on playing a lot more than we did back then. We used to fool around a bit more. It’s what friends do you know? Just hang out and play some music and have some fun, drink some beers. It has gotten a bit more serious now, music-wise, and it’s for the better.


Stefan: In which way would you like to define Xeno’s style and with which bands can a link be made?

Ruben: We don’t know exactly what style we could be defined as to be honest! We don’t really think in genres, we just play the music we love. We, of course, take inspiration from other bands like Periphery, Opeth, Tesseract and The Ocean. These bands are all labeled as progressive metal bands, but they do have their own distinct sound. So you might say we are also some kind of progressive metal band?


Stefan: You made your debut in 2016 with the album “Atlas Construct” – what is this product all about – in what way did the press and media react to?

Ruben: We didn’t really receive a lot of reviews and media-coverage concerning our debut album, but the ones we did get were pretty positive. Most of them spoke of huge potential. We’ve never forgotten these words, and they have definitely aided in us raising the bar even higher for our next album. “Atlas Construct” was an album about carrying the world on your shoulders, by choice. Most of the lyrics are connected, making it one big story.


Stefan: Xeno consists of six musicians which is a fairly rare fact. Which was taken into account when recruiting the right members. What had to be met before a place in the band could be obtained?

Ruben: We play with 3 guitarists. That is not unique, but you don’t see it that often. We believe it brings a lot of new opportunities and possibilities. When we started with 3 guitarists, it was a real puzzle sometimes to figure out how to play with so many noise machines, but we managed to make it work real quick to be honest. Every guitar player has his own style, and the combination makes something really special. We also have a dedicated keyboard player, which makes our sound even more diverse and big. We have two lead vocalists, one for the cleans and one for the growls, with the other guys as backing vocals. The recruitment process was different for each member. The newest members (Jasper & Edwin) were recruited through an audition process. Sean was recruited when Ruben switched from keys to bass, they already knew each other for many years. Daniel was first recruited as bass player, but switched to his main instrument, the guitar, not long after. Lars recently rejoined when we were looking for a new drummer! It’s a small world it seems.


Stefan: How do you convince fans who want to attend a Xeno performance? I read about some interesting bands with whom you have already shared the stage, can you tell me more about this?

Ruben: We LOVE live music, we live for it. When we play live ourselves we will give everything we have to entertain, but also just because it is who we are. One thing is certain, our shows are anything but boring. Having had the time to put together a nice show due to the Corona situation, we are very confident in our presence on any stage.


Stefan: Four years passed before the new album “Sojourn” came on the market, what happened during this period of time?

Ruben: When “Atlas Construct” came out we had a fair number of live shows. But after a while our guitarist at that time developed a medical condition resulting in him being unable to perform live anymore. A little over 2 years ago he left the band, and we went looking for a new guitarist. We were looking for one, but found two guys who we both equally liked. We eventually made the decision to ask both of them to join us. When we were complete again we started writing new songs and adjusting existing material to suit the new formation. Another big event was that we signed with Art Gates Records for the next release.

Stefan: According to your own opinion, in what way does Atlas Construct differ from Sojourn? Which one do you guys prefer and why?

Ruben: We prefer “Sojourn” by far. When we look back at “Atlas Construct” we hear the potential, but so many things need to be better. But more about that in the future! Atlas Construct was a big learning opportunity for us, resulting in a much, much stronger sophomore album. The sound of the albums are also very different. Reviewers used to categorize “Atlas Construct” as a progressive deathmetal album, and we totally get that. On “Sojourn” we don’t really identify with the deathmetal moniker anymore. We’ve also put a lot more time and effort in the production itself compared to our first album.


Stefan: Different genres are reduced to one whole in an elegant way. For me it’s all just a little too busy and complicated, but I do hear a certain kind of musical education. I wonder how you start writing songs like this, what are the basic rules?

Ruben: Most of our songs start with someone having an idea for a melody or a riff. That person records or writes down the idea and passes it on to the other members. we are all songwriters and do our own thing with it. We all have a different writing style, that’s we have so many different influences in our music. Nothing is too crazy. We use an appgroup to communicate most of the times, and it can get flooded due to this creative diarrhea easily. Fortunately we’ve all learned to wipe, so we discuss everyone’s input and end up with progress on the idea or song.


Stefan: Is “Sojourn” considered a concept album – what are the lyrics about?

Ruben: “Sojourn” is not written as a concept album, but it is connected. The lyrics tell a story, a journey. The story follows one person, the songs are telling his journey. At the beginning of the album the person feels trapped in ‘In Stasis’ and ‘Dusk’. Suddenly he hears a calling, an urge to get out there in ‘Epiphany’. He encounters the hardship of his journey in the brutal ‘Exile’ and ‘Nomad’ until he finds himself again in ‘Memories’ and ‘Closure’. When he discovers his own strength in ‘Resurge’ and breaks loose in ‘Uncaged’, he meets the end of his journey in ‘Sojourn’. We were inspired to continue the line of “Atlas Construct”, for that story did not have an ending. Does the story end now? Listen to ‘Sojourn’ to figure it out!


Stefan: Signed by Art Gates Records, would you like to say about this company – which bands they have on the roster?

Ruben: There actually are a lot of cool bands on the Art Gates roster. Spanning different genres, they have something suitable for any heavy music fan. Some examples are the awesome black metal band Noctem, the modern-sounding [In Mute] and the hard-riffing Game Zero.

As a label, Art Gates Records has been a great help to us. They believed in us and gave us all the support we needed, while allowing us to maintain all of our creative freedom. We released “Atlas Reconstructed” without a label, and found out there is so much more to making an album than just writing and recording some songs. We’re really grateful to have a professional team behind us to support us and work with us.


Stefan: At the moment due to Covid-19 you can’t perform live and that must be a pity if you’ve just released a new album. How would you like to organize a CD release in these difficult times?

Ruben: Yes, it is a real bummer that we can’t play live and promote our album the ‘old-fashioned way’! We did do a live stream when our album was released, and we are focusing on online presence right now. When the venues start opening again, we are more than ready to ascend those stages and play for our fans in the flesh.


Stefan: What are the further plans in the camp of Xeno, with the Corona vaccine coming, 2021 seems to be a lot more pleasant for everyone, isn’t it?

Ruben: We really do hope that 2021 brings more opportunities for everyone. Seeing all these bands at a standstill is heartbreaking… We are currently using our time to write music, but we can’t share what we are doing just yet. But, we’re sure that the fans who have been following us since the start will appreciate it!


Stefan: Stay healthy, take care of each other and if you want to add something to this conversation, I will gladly give you the opportunity to complete it now. Cheers and thanks for the cooperation !

Ruben: Thank you for the interview Stefan! We hope to visit Belgium in 2021 so be sure to come check us out!