WITHIN TEMPTATION – Hydra Is Upon Us
Rare is the day that a band that starts between boyfriend and girlfriend in college grows into an international success story. Such is the life of guitarist Robert Westerholt and vocalist Sharon den Adel, two key components of the Dutch symphonic metal/ rock band Within Temptation. Since 1996 the sextet has been steadily increasing the number of people who buy into their diverse sonic platform, moving up the ranks to headliner status in most parts of the globe.
In 2014 we will hear the sixth studio album "Hydra", filled to the brim with a number of surprising collaborations in terms of vocalists: alternative rock, metal, and even rap get a chance to mold with the band’s songwriting and ideas. Do not fear though- Sharon’s angelic, graceful melodies are in prime form once again, and Robert’s songwriting never wavers. So I arranged an interview through Skype with Robert, who proved to be a very soft spoken, intelligent man with an engaging sense of intuition as to what the band is all about and what they feel they have left to accomplish in terms of creativity and goals.
Tell us about your personal memories surrounding music growing up, and how you moved from being a fan into picking up an instrument and starting to play in bands?
"The first thing I played was "La Bamba" on an acoustic guitar, because my parents hired a Spanish guitar player for me and that was my first encounter with music. Then I started to listen to my father’s record collection which had The Beatles as well as Engelbert Humperdinck. I think I first became a fan of music with Michael Jackson- the "Bad" album, there was a love for the heavy stuff through hearing his "Dirty Diana" track that had a great guitar line in there. After that through my nephew I encountered a band called Marillion and became a huge fan of symphonic music and Pink Floyd. I got into more of the metal stuff with Iron Maiden and Metallica, at the age of 12 I picked up the electric guitar and quit my guitar lessons because I found playing in a band was a lot more fun. I also started writing songs around the age of 14 which were terribly bad, but that’s how it went."
Within Temptation live in Trondheim – August 23, 2013
(Photo: Victoria Bjørklund)
After recording and releasing a covers album with last year’s "The Q-Music Sessions", did you have a fresh perspective when it came to the recording and songwriting sessions for this new album "Hydra"?
"Um… I do think we had a fresh perspective, as far as you can get one (laughs). I don’t think we can ever get rid of a certain feel, a mark you put on your music because you are the person that you are. For us it’s really important to find something fresh and renewing otherwise we are not inspired to write new songs. I must say that doing this covers album where we turned more pop-oriented songs into rock and metal stuff that was inspiring. You learn from it, and I also think that there are some structures on this record that are a bit different are also because we did some of these things."
How did all the guest appearances come about with Howard Jones, Xzibit, Tarja, and Dave Pirner? I personally enjoy the diversity of musicians from alternate genres who help give this album more dynamic texture…
"For us, we have worked with a few different artists in the past, for instance Sharon has done some things with other artists, we’ve done work with Keith Caputo and it’s really inspiring to work with other artists. Since we like it so much we decided pretty early in the album’s creative stage for a few co-operations. We worked them in based on the feel of each song- the track with Dave Pirner we felt had a little bit of a Soul Asylum feel, so we thought it would be cool if he could appear on this track. The same goes with the track with Howard Jones- it’s really a song that is fast and heavy, which could be a Killswitch Engage track. That’s how we ended up asking him- the thing with Xzibit was, that was a personal thing for me. I wanted to work with a rapper for a long time. We tried it a few times in the past and it felt a little bit forced and unnatural. With "And We Run" for the first time, we now have a song that it fits and it’s still Within Temptation. And then of course you think what kind of rapper, and it was a bit of a goal to get a low, heavy voice- that is tough and a different contrast to Sharon’s voice which is nice and angelic. So we looked at rappers with low voices, and Xzibit was stuck in my mind for being such a positive character- what he did on this track was way beyond our expectations, for us it’s a really magical song."
"Hydra" release date 31. januar 2014
How do you view the evolution in sound for Within Temptation through the years? Are you concerned when some fans leave you because they feel you’ve gone into softer pastures or veered away from the original cause?
"Not really because it’s an inevitable consequence of who we are as a band. We only get our inspiration through new influences and if you are a fan of the band through one song or one particular album, and you want everything else to be like that, that will not be the case. So there are people who do trip on a certain album and then the other albums will not be there thing. However I do believe the majority of our fans it’s not that way. From the first album on you can hear it’s us, and there is an evolution but there is a certain heart and feel in the music that will always be there because we never change because we have to change but because we feel something and it goes quite naturally I think."
Do you think there is a specialness within the genre that you guys play, there seem to be a lot of bands that come from your country that play the symphonic, gothic metal and they each have a little bit of a different take in what they do?
"I think the genre in general gives a lot of opportunities to approach it in a lot of different ways. That’s because so much is a part of this genre. You can write songs in any tempo that you like, it can be ultra-heavy, ultra-fast, a really beautiful ballad, you can use grunge, you can use orchestras, synthesizers- to go so many ways. That’s the reason why there are also a lot of different approaches from different bands, not only Dutch bands it’s really from everywhere."
What do you consider some of the personal strengths of the rest of your band as far as musical ability or personality qualities that make Within Temptation special within your genre?
"Despite the musical abilities? I think they are the most important for a band. There must be something musically attractive for the fans. We try to give the most that we can as a band in a live situation, we are critical of our own performances. We are eager to overachieve ourselves, I think that’s important. We are a band that values our fans and people who come to our concerts. Our fans realize (we) are very approachable, we have a lot of respect for each other. We really appreciate this aspect a lot."
It’s admirable that a few years ago you stepped down from live touring activities with the band to raise your children, allowing Sharon to continue on both the recording and touring fronts. Was this an easy or difficult decision to come to? Do any of your three children show any inclinations toward music yet?
"First part- it was totally not difficult. When you start to have children, when you are with two people in a band there is a point where you want to give your children the opportunity to go to school with friends and live their life as normal as possible. You want to give them a solid home ground and base, and I am definitely easier to replace than Sharon! The choice was not hard and obvious. The other thing is I really love the fact that I can write all the music at home, I can work on video ideas, and I can do anything other than tour. It’s a small price to pay and I have a lot of fun stuff that I feel privileged to do. As far as my children and their musical inclination, I can see which one of them has a good voice, but the oldest is now 8 and I think it’s still too early… she doesn’t show a typical interest in a style of music, I think you develop this at a later age. Everything is still nice, fun, and playful and that’s what it should be."
How do you handle the changing tides with record labels, digital downloads, and fans who often feel that music should be ‘free’ versus properly supporting a band through purchasing not only their merchandise and live concert tickets but also their musical product(s)?
"You are almost so used to everything changing in the last years. Since we’ve started its changing with every record, nothing is the same anymore. On the other hand that’s the core of what we do, making a good album, making good songs, giving good shows and making good videos. Luckily we are still able to finance them because people still pay for our stuff. I have the feeling that there is a new time coming where Spotify with the ability to access everything stream-wise for a little bit of money, it’s getting easy for people to access a lot of music without having to pay too much for it. It’s starting to get a lot better, and it will still take a lot of time. I have good hopes for the future."
If asked to put a particular Within Temptation album into a time capsule to preserve for unearthing 100 years later, which record would you chose and why?
"Ha! (laughs). That’s a nice question if you put it like that. I think to be honest we would have to release a best of Within Temptation album in order for that to be the best album. In that sense I would pick "The Black Symphony" record right now, it has a bit of a collection of our albums, and it was a really great concert with the orchestra and everything. Every album has some really special songs, so it would be hard to pick one."
Do you find that the best material you write happens at a particular part of the day or when you are in a happy/ angry state of mind? Are you always writing or do you block out time to work on material for Within Temptation?
"This is something which took a lot of years learning, getting to know yourself and what works best for you. It’s different for everybody, especially for me it’s really a few hours in the morning- from 10am to 12pm, I have my most creative bursts, and I can then work a few hours on trying a few alternatives. What’s also really important for me is to feel really good and energetic, if I’m really tired I have no energy to put into creative output. I need to be fresh and strong, so I try to play sports a lot when I am in a writing time. We all reserve time for writing- we are not a band that can write material while touring. We need to load our batteries and we have learned that it’s better to make a few hours at it, reload the batteries the next day if it isn’t working."
What are some of your favorite fan stories you’ve heard through the years about particular tracks you’ve wrote or maybe live show memories?
"What I find remarkable is the fact that fans travel great distances to see you in a live concert, that’s always special. That’s also something I would do when I really liked a band, it’s fantastic to make travel and have a purpose for your trip. That’s very flattering to hear about this- it’s something that is important every evening to realize. People are paying sometimes their last money on your concert tickets sometimes, so give all that you can from the stage. Fathers and sons… there are so many different people who come to our concerts and we hear their life stories, we like to hear about the fans."
What are the long term plans in 2014 for Within Temptation, and are there any personal goals/ plans you have yourself set into motion?
"First thing we are going to do some promotion dates in Los Angeles and New York, I look forward to going to the United States. In my personal life, I love to play tennis, and I would like to play some amateur tournaments and see if I can go up another level or two so I have my goals there as well. So I hope everyone within the band stays healthy. I follow a lot of tennis players, I am a bit of a fanatic when it comes to the sport and watching the professionals. I like the style of Tommy Haas, this guy is 35 and still in the top 20, I think he ended the year at number 12. I love his technique and its admirable to work so hard at that age and perform that well."