WITHIN TEMPTATION – What do you put in the centre of your life
Within Temptation have by now released great albums and have experienced well deserved success. Imhotep & Eternal Terror reporter Andreas Aubert got hold of Sharon den Adel and Stephen van Haestregt and discussed the production, New Age and the heart of everything with the band’s vocalist and drummer.
I start the interview by asking if the tour has been good so far. Sharon says: “Yes, very good. We have been in England for five days, and did a video in between in Romania.”
Drummer Stephen continues: “Yesterday we played in Copenhagen, it was a full house, and today we are in Oslo, and it is a great venue.”
Sharon adds, laughing: “So we are spoiled people”.
I tell them that I think the new album is very good. It has a very powerful production, which is much better than on the previous album. Sharon agrees:
“Yeah, I agree totally. I think we needed to learn from “The Silent Force” to get where we are now. When recording “The Silent Force” we had a certain sound in our mind, how we wanted the sound, but there were some problems. We had a big orchestra and we wanted to have the heavy sound as well, but it did not work out. So, “The Silent Force” became more of an orchestral album. This time it did work well. Sometimes you need one album in between to learn from that and go in the direction you want to go. And learn from that point on.”
I think the drums and bass are very central to the sound. Drummer Stephen agrees, but says that the guitars are very central as well:
“There is more riffing, more rock going on. It was also so on “The Silent Force”, but now it is more audible. There is a better balance now; we found a better balance between the orchestra and the rest of the band. We kick ass now! You can hear it better now.”
Considering the amount of orchestration, choirs and so on in the music of Within Temptation, I ask how the songs are performed live. Do they use a lot of playback? Stephen explains:
“We try to do that as little as possible, but the orchestra stuff – We cannot put them on stage. Well, it is doable, but..”
“…well, we did it a few times already, with a big orchestra and a big choir, we did some things in Holland. But it needs to be the right setting, and it takes a lot of time to get the right sound.”
“And it is incredibly expensive to bring 80 people or more. Cost-wise it is not interesting.”
Sharon says that this would make the tickets very expensive, and Stephen adds that they would also need many coaches in order to do this.
Do they use playbacks in a way that it sounds very similar to the albums (Sharon says yeah), or do they also play more “stripped” versions of the songs. The drummer says that some of the songs are kind of stripped. Sharon continues:
“Some songs are exactly like on the album, the orchestra is going to be exactly the same. Sometimes it is stripped versions. Depends on the album…”
Stephen: “…and depends on the song. There are quite a lot of songs we can play acoustically. They say sometimes that if you have a very good song you can play it with guitar and vocals only and it will still be a good song.”
I then ask if they do that. Sharon replies:
“Yeah, we have done a lot of acoustic things as well. We like it as well. It still sounds very big and epic even if you bring it down to the core – guitar and vocals, it still stands, which is nice. When we write songs we start with guitar and vocals, or piano and vocals, and then it becomes bigger and bigger, and we add too much stuff to it actually.”
“Then we have to get the stuff out again”.
I ask Sharon if she usually writes her songs together with the keyboard player. She confirms:
“Yes, and nowadays and even on the last album Robert writes some songs alone and some with the producer, he is his best friend, they have a really good click. In the past I wrote a lot of songs together with Robert – on the “Mother Earth” album and the “Enter” album – but it does not work anymore, because we – I don’t know – we know each other too well, maybe. And it is difficult; we always get to fight – maybe – when we are writing songs together. Even lyrics are difficult for us, but it has always been that way. We always sit in different rooms. He sits with his laptop and I with mine, and we are sending each other emails “what do you think?” First we have to decide what to write about, what the topic is going to be, and then we send each other emails with the topic, with the vocal line in mind; we know how it should sound. And then we write the words down, what we think it really should be totally about.”
So you usually write the vocal melodies first, and then the lyrics afterwards?
“Yeah, absolutely; most times there is already a lot of feeling in the vocal lines, because of the words also. It already goes into a certain direction. And I get triggered by the music to sing in a certain way and with certain words. And afterwards that makes it sometimes more difficult, and sometimes more easy, because you are already in a certain corner. If you want to go to a different corner, a different story or feeling, or totally different lyrics, it is difficult, because then you have to find exactly the same feeling – sounding wise – and also rhythmical words which fit with the words that you invented when you improvised.”
Is there an overall lyrical theme on the new album?
“Well, there is a lyrical theme; we always have that a little bit. On this album, what it basically comes down to is: What do you find important in life? What is in the centre of your life? What do you put in the centre of your life? In every different stage there are things which you find more important, sometimes it is more family, sometimes it is issues you have to deal with from the past, or that you have to really make clear for yourself. For instance when you are forty – a lot of people just live and live without any direction or thinking about how they want their lives to be. If they do not think about it, you see those people a lot of times will come back on their lives when they are forty, thinking “what have I done in those years? I have not become what I wanted to be, I feel a little bit like a failure”. Or they get this midlife crisis because they are not satisfied with what they have accomplished so far, but it is mostly that people most of the time do not think about what they want to be or what direction they want to go in, they do not make a strategy for years, like “ok, I want to have my own firm, or I do not want to have any ambitions – I want to be a mother and just be happy with my children.” You have to make a plan so that you do not wake up one day and say “I’ve done totally wrong”, and then you are unsatisfied.
That is what the album is more or less about, that you choose very carefully, because we have many choices we make in life about religion, politics, about everything we do. You have to be very sure what you decide, what you find important.”
Following up on what Sharon just said, I ask if it was her big plan in life to be in a band and to be successful, when she started.
“No. We were just… Robert and I started the band many years ago, 11 years ago by now, and we had a band before that called “The Circle” (?), making the same kind of music, only that we had a drum computer, we could not find a drummer at the time. Anyway, we always liked that kind of music, and we started as a hobby band. When we start something we want to do it good, although it is a hobby band it is our passion. And then it becomes more than just doing something that you are not thinking about. You start “ok, this is how I want the album to look like; this is what I want it to sound like”. The idea I have about how we are presenting the band, how we are on stage, something that fits the music. How do you want to express yourself, what should the lyrics be about? It is all one thing, it says a lot about who we are, but also – you can put so much passion, imagination and fantasy into your lyrics and everything you do, like stage decoration – what picture fits your songs emotionally and also visually?”
What about you Stephen?
“For me it was always that when I was a young boy I had a dream, but dreams do not always come true. But – I always wanted to become a professional musician. So in a way it became true. I am doing what I like to do, which is playing drums in places like this, which is what I am happy about – Making nice music with nice people in a nice group.”
Sharon laughs, and adds that Stephen is also a producer and produces a lot of bands. She seems to be proud of her band mate. I ask Stephen if this was something which came naturally for him, or if he had to make a lot of effort?
“You always have to make an effort for it – you have to work hard, otherwise… You do not get it for free, that is how it works in life. We all have to work for it. Of course you need to have talent, and … there is only one in the band who really got schooled for music, Ruud…”
Sharon follows the thread:
“He is a professional guitar player, but he has also had the education to teach others how to play guitar. He is a jazz musician actually; he graduated as a jazz musician. No, we have two, because Martijn…”
“Yeah, Martijn, he did more of the technology side.”
Sharon adds: “But he also did a master degree in music.”
Stephen says that for the rest of the band music is more of a hobby, and Sharon adds that you do not always need to have an education to be a musician. It is a passion. Sharon continues:
“Yeah, and then you learn by yourself, that is sometimes…” She takes a brief pause. “…because schools does not always teach you what you want to learn. As a musician you have to be original in a way. When you go to a school they learn you from the basics from a classical background. Most schools have this classical approach about how to teach people, which is good, but sometimes it…” “…Creates barriers”, Stephen suggests, and Sharon says “yeah, barriers to develop yourself. It depends on the person. Such a school is terrific for some persons, for others it does not work.”
Unconscious Quoting Of Gandhi
I then ask about the lyrics for the song See who I am. In the song there is a quote, was it from Gandhi? Sharon replies enthusiastically:
“Oh yeah, it was something unconscious.“
The line which I am referring to is “we must be the change we wish to see”. Sharon confirms:
“Yeah, and later on someone told me it is a sentence from Gandhi, and I looked it up and thought “Cool!”
I point out that it seems to me that in the song there is both the individual side of things as well as the collective perspective.
“Yeah, absolutely; when we wrote this album, it was about the fact that a lot of things where changing because of 9/11, also in our own country – there were some assassinations of political people and people who were in theatre who were speaking their minds, not always in the correct way, they were provocative sometimes, making movies that…”
Fortuyn? – I suggest. She confirms:
“Yeah, Pim Fortuyn, and Theo van Gogh, the nephew of Vincent Van Gogh. He was a film producer, and he did the film “Submission” together with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a very famous politician in Holland. It is a story about suppressed women in Arabian culture. And they were killed for making that movie. Of course he was provocative, but he also had a good relation with many Arabian people who were living in Holland, so it was more like someone who was totally extremist killed him, and just wanted to make a statement, but he was so young and totally brainwashed by people around him. He did not know what he was doing when he killed the guy.
Also society changed so much because people were getting really scared at the time, and also realizing that sometimes there is also limits to what you can say, probably, but also not. So it is a thin line, you should be able to say what you want without hurting people deliberately. The whole album was really focused on that atmosphere and that feeling, torn between two visions, you know. Of course we understand that when people are always putting you down you get aggressive, we understand that. But on the other hand we live in a free country and we should be able to say anything we want, although I still think people should not hurt other peoples feelings if it is intentionally, that is stupid. There is a thin line with everything, which is what the whole album was about. Ok, we have this nice society, and if you do not understand, I will come to you, and if you do not understand me, please come to me as well, I will tell you my story and how I see things. Let us do this together, see what it is all about.”
I tell Sharon that on the previous album and also on this album it seems like the lyrics often communicates the fragility of life, that things are fragile – this kind of feeling.
“Yeah, absolutely, things are very…” She pauses for a moment. “This album was different lyrically in the way that it is more individual, how you as an individual experience things, whereas on the “Silent Force” it was more about community and how society is developing, how should we be together, how should we find solutions for all the problems we have now – this distorted relationship with certain groups in society. That was more the previous album. The last album is more about how you see life individually, that you have the make the right choices individually, think about religion also, and also…”, she hesitates, then alters what she just said about religion: “not… religion…we have this song “The Truth Beneath The Rose” – our first song about religion actually, which is more about the fact that we have always hidden throughout history behind religion to get certain things done, in a bad way, and then “but I had to do it for God”. Always using Religion as an excuse.
And we still do it. Now you see Arabian countries in the phase we were in at the time of the crusades. They are now at that point, in my opinion. Not everybody, of course, but certain groups say “yeah, we need to have the jihad” we still see that happen, we are still hiding behind religion to do things which are not ok. That is what the truth beneath the rose is about.”
Into New Age?
I was a bit surprised to hear the front woman say that “The Truth Beneath The Rose” is the band’s first song about religion. I feel that other songs are kind of spiritual, if not necessarily religious. I ask her if she agrees.
“Not spiritual, sometimes they are a little bit. “Mother Earth” was very spiritual, very nature orientated. But, like “The Cross” that we have on our latest album is more about a personal song which is more a metaphor for a lot of things, we use religious words which are metaphors for other things.”
The song “Aquarius” makes me think about the Age of Aquarius and the New Age.
“Yeah, the New Age time, we also think about those things. That is more spiritual, that is true.”
Are she and the band into these things?
“I am interested, but I do not… and always, when I am writing lyrics together with Robert, we always get into these things, and then we start digging up certain subjects and try to get informed about it and try to think about it, and give our opinion about it. It is not that we are really this New Age people, you know – or into that – but it is interesting what they write about this, and whether you see the development happening or not, it is good to think about it. If it is true or not, that does not matter. You should think about it and make your own opinion about things, that is what I want people to (do)”
Browsing the web for information on the band prior to doing the interview, I found something interesting and ”cute”. A teenage girl (or perhaps even younger?), writing a school work about Within Temptation. She writes about “Ice Queen”: The song is about fear and loneliness, but it has also very beautiful words in it, so it is difficult to know what it is meant to express. I tell Sharon and Stephen about this, and Sharon explains what the song is about:
“Actually it is also a metaphor for a lot of things. On the other hand we made like a double version in the lyrics, so you can get two things out of it, like it is really a fantasy kind of feeling, which is a metaphor for a lot of things, and a nature song, like winter coming (and ruining), like Narnia. We did not know that, until we saw the movie Narnia, because it is really a Scandinavian story. People said “hey this is about Narnia, the queen of… the ice queen. Is it about that?” And then when we read the lyrics; my god this is exactly… it could have fitted on the story of Narnia, but it was not inspired by that. It was really fun to see that afterwards. Fits so well with the story of Narnia, could have been a nice soundtrack I think for that sort of movie. Would have found that pretty funny.”
I ask Sharon if it is so that it is she, the keyboard player and Robert who are the main songwriters. She confirms that at the moment it is so. If Stephen would make a song which could fit Within Temptation, would it be used? The vocalist says:
“Yeah, of course, if it fits it would be ok, no problem. But it is like – everybody already adds their own things to it. Everybody has their own ideas, how to the drums or the guitars… Ruud is really into the guitar solo things, trying out new things. Robert is really a sound guy also. Everybody has their skills added to the songs, even though we made the basics of the song, everybody puts a lot of their own ideas into it.”
On the bands first album, “Enter”, Guitarist Robert used growling vocals. I ask the two band members a hypothetical question: if they felt like using growls again, even if just on one song, would it still be impossible to do it because of the record company? Thinking that the record company has a lot of power, I am surprised by Sharon’s answer:
“The thing is: we do not care about the record company really. We make the music we like; otherwise I can not be on stage for so many days in a row. I still like the growling voices, but we also think that everybody is doing it and it is a bit boring for us to do it as well. Seen that, done that, been there, do not want to do it again. Maybe if there is a song one day which we like very much and we think ok, growls – we need them – we would do it again. We also had one song…”
“…”Jane Doe”? That was b-side on the single for “Mother Earth”.”
“It was like three years ago. And then we did growling. We had already stopped using growling voice on the album, but we did on this b-side track. It is a bit weird if you have one song with growling voice and the rest is not. We want to have a balance between the songs so it becomes one big picture. If you have this one song which is really weird and out of place it is strange, so that is not what we are going to do. We feel it is like a trick or a gimmick that is used a lot of times, and then it gets boring to us in our opinion. But other bands still use it and do it very well. And Robert does not really like to growl, it is not his favourite way of singing. He does not feel comfortable with this.”
Within Temptation is a band which is somewhat hard to categorize. While it could be said to be a metal band, the music has a lot of elements from other genres in it as well. The band appeals to a very diverse audience, and even though a lot of the basis of their sound could be said to be metal, the term could probably be seen as limiting, especially because the band may appeal to a – to a large extent – non-metal audience. I ask if they see themselves as a metal band, or if they do not really care about labels. Stephen replies:
“No, we do not care about labels. We play music we like to play, if somebody calls it this or that – it is a name. Listen to the music and that’s it.”
“People have to decide for themselves what it is. Some people call it metal; some people call it rock, we see ourselves as symphonic metal or rock. It is different for every song, because we combine so many different influences: we have the Celtic sound, we have the “filmic” sound, we have the orchestral sound, and every album is a bit different. Now it is more the guitar sound combined with the orchestra, and I think this album is probably the heaviest we have made so far, in our opinion. Of course we will never be a Thrash Metal band. We are a band which likes melody a lot, and we will always be this epic and melodic band. Some people who are into really HEAVY Heavy Metal may say: “ok, this does not really sound like metal”. But if you listen to the guitars, the way they are tuned and the way they are played, it is very much metal or rock, but we do not care about labels, we just make the music we like, and everybody has to decide for themselves if they like it as well. If they do not, that is their right of course.”
The Heart of Everything
There is a saying that we see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear – in the sense that all external input goes through a filter of conditionings. Thus it is very hard to have a clear perception. Because of my interest in spirituality I quickly drew the conclusion that the title “The Heart of Everything” must refer to “God” or “the universe” or something like that. It turned out I was very wrong on this assumption. As a reply to my suggestion to what I think it means, Sharon says:
“No, it is more, like I said… The main theme is what you put in the centre of your life, the heart of everything, the heart of the body, the mind, what is in the centre of your life? What do you find the most important things in your life, and are you doing it at the moment? That is the question? That is why we call the album like that. The song is related to the title, but also not, because it is more specific, it is about “Sorry” of William Wallace, that Scottish guy from Braveheart. It is about freedom, if you do not have freedom you do not have anything, that is what the song is about. And the song is in a way about putting some things in the centre of your life, and thinking about that, deciding….
People have to make choices about that, does not matter what choice you make, you just have to make a choice that will make you happy in a way. Making choices is making life easier. That is why you see all the different symbols and the hands on the cover, and the blindfold to stay neutral; deciding between things. If you make a decision it makes life much easier. Do I want to be religious, am I anti religion, and why am I this, and why am I that, and why am I…. in every corner of everything you choose in life, it is very important to decide in a neutral way and be honest with yourself about what you find important. Why do I find it important, why am I in this way? That you explore a little bit yourself, that you know why you do the things you do.”
Being honest to yourself?
“Yes, absolutely; finding out what you find important in life. Sometimes it is not only that people just live on, and come from one job to another and then they become something or not in a certain profession, it is also about sometimes people are coming in a certain position or doing a certain job not because they want to. Maybe someone wants to be a musician and is talented, but their family says “I want you to be a doctor, I want you to be this or that, musician is nothing”; or the other way around. It could be anything, “You want to be a journalist but your father says you should be something else”. Everybody has so many expectations from you; everybody has an opinion about things. Other people make you become something you might not want to be. Of course it says also something about the person, but if you do not think about it, you let other people decide for you. If you think more about what you want to be and what you want to do in life, it makes life much easier than when you are 40 and you go “my God, I have not become what I wanted to be”.”
I tell the two musicians that I would believe there are a lot of teenagers in their audience. Sharon confirms this. I ask if she thinks that it is empowering for teenagers that Within Temptation are good “idols”, with this message. Sharon surprises me:
“No, because we do not really have a message; the only message is that you have to think for yourself, it is not like “you have to do this, you have to think like this”. Think, please think!”
I still see that as a kind of message, and suggest that the appeal to think for your self is just what teenagers need.
“We can also have love songs, but they are pretty boring to us if it does not have any emotion, feeling or idea behind. We are not writing for teen… Kids, you know, we have so many different people listening to our music – even people as old as 60 and as young as 15. We have this open disc system with our new album, and we can see what ages the people are in every country (people who buy the album may register some information about themselves on the web), and the biggest part of the people who listen to our music is between 20 and 40. That is really interesting. I do not have the illusion that a lot of people listen to the lyrics, because most of them do not. But the few that does, and finds it interesting, they will get out of it what they want.”
The tour manager comes into the room and asks us to finish soon – sound check is just around the corner. I ask if the two have anything special they want to say at the end, or any statement. They laugh about the statement thing. Sharon says:
“You have a beautiful country (Norway). This morning I woke up nine o’clock, and went downstairs, and all these lakes and forests – for us who are coming from Holland, it is very rare to see a country which has so much nature, and I think us Dutch would be very jealous of your country. They know it is beautiful, but when they see it I think a lot of immigration would start. Norway and the Scandinavian countries are very beautiful countries. I hope we will be back for a festival or something, it would be nice.
The drummer has been quiet for a while, and I ask him if he would like to do some self-promotion for his work as a producer? He laughs and says no:
“I am here as a drummer, it is what I like to do, it is nice on tour and seeing different countries and visiting places, when we have time. We have not had much time to see Oslo so far, just one music shop.”
“You can say what you did – you did the After Forever record…”
“I recorded “Mother Earth,” before I started playing drums in the band. If you goggle, you find everything.”
Then I ask him if he has any advice for people who want to work with music production. He asks “as a band?” and I clarify; No, as a producer, do you have any advice for people who wants to work with producing records?
“You have to get together with a band, and try to make something special, and get the original thing – make the band sound better and better. Find a way to make it kind of special… My English today is really bad… I have a block.”
Sharon helps her bandmate:
“It is important to find a unique sound.”
“Unique! That was the word I was looking for!”
This marks the end of the interview. I thank them both for their time and tell them I am looking forward to the performance taking place later the same day.
This interview is a co-operation between Eternal Terror Webzine and Imhotep!