Sharon den Adel Talks About Redefining For "The Unforgiving," Touring In America, And Fond Memories Of Beantown
Within Temptation is one of the creators of the female fronted symphonic metal scene and has been innovating it since the late 1990’s. Since then, the genre has exploded and spawned hundreds of other bands who have followed in the band’s footsteps. Earlier this year, Within Temptation released “The Unforgiving,” a comic book, a short movie series and arguably the band’s defining record. However, in order to expand on the success of “The Heart Of Everything,” the band was forced to do serious soul searching to redefine a sound they had spent thirteen years perfecting. The path to new inspiration was found, not with the future, but buried deep within the past of co-founders/co-writers SHARON DEN ADEL (vocals) and husband Robert Westerholt (guitars).
Now, on the heels of a successful festival season in Europe, the band finds itself on the precipice of major progress breaking into the elusive North American scene. “The Unforgiving” tour starts with a small stint in Canada and the eastern coast of the United States and Metalunderground.com was on hand to speak with vocalist Sharon Den Adel for the first stop on American soil. The place was Worcester, Massachusetts and the venue was the mysterious and appropriately haunted Palladium, a stopping point on any major metal tour.
CROMCarl: Is it a common goal among European bands to break into the American market outside of reasons relating to worldwide appeal or record sales?
Sharon: You know, it is not our goal, it never has been to conquer America, because it is such a big country you lose touch over Europe where we have basis, where we have a certain status and where we have built up our history and people know ourselves for many years and when you come over here you have to start over again, which is no problem at all, and which we learned a lot from, actually, the last two times we came here. But it has never been our goal to conquer America, but it is nice to go to another country, and your country is very big, and every part of your country has a different almost culture and it’s really different ‘cause its so huge. But in Holland, everybody who is there and has no realistic picture of America – its like the big goal for a Dutch band, well not [the] bands, it’s mainly the media. It’s like ‘Oh, they’re going off to America, so they are going to try to conquer America.’ Come on, how stupid is that, like they don’t have any sense of how much time this cost and how big the chances are. It’s like zero, because you have so many cool bands coming from here. Why would you be waiting for somebody from Europe?
CROMCarl: I always felt the opposite, which is that the better bands come from Europe. I know bands here that have a goal to go to Europe because of all the festivals you get to play.
Sharon: Oh really? Well we have a totally different culture in Europe, music wise. Also, the way the music is built up. You know, we are a female fronted band and it is more of something that happens in Europe, where it is normal to have a female singing in the band and also being played on the radio. It is not that it is always happening. Because we have heavy music, it is becoming more difficult, just like in America. But In America, it seems like it’s almost weird to have a female singing and even when you say for the radio it is twice as difficult to get on. For us, the first time we came here we played in very small venues with LACUNA COIL with six other bands. It was crazy, but we had such fun and we learned so much about performing again. We had been a band for such a long time, and then we came here and we had to go back to the basics without any lights, without any projections, without any spectacular thing to show you, just mainly the music and convince you with that. We learned so much from that. It was really a good experience.
CROMCarl: WITHIN TEMPTATION, THEATRE OF TRAGEDY and NIGHTWISH are all credited as the creators/innovators of the female fronted symphonic metal genre back in the late 1990's. NIGHTWISH was more power metal and WITHIN TEMPTATION and THEATRE OF TRAGEDY more gothic style. Since then, the movement spawned numerous other bands. When the band looks back, does it see itself as an influence and the creators/innovators of this genre?
Sharon: Yeah, I do think so. We were one of the first to make this kind of music, together with the bands you mentioned, but the bands that came afterwards they still have their own identity. We are a pioneer, maybe inspiration, but still everyone has their own identity and that is so beautiful to see because that gives diversity within the scene. It becomes a scene that is worth mentioning because there is so much diversity within it. I feel that is really cool. Also, Epica, has developed a really cool sound, it’s not like they are a copycat or anything like a lot of people might suggest. That is not the case at all. There are so many bands alike, but they are all doing their own thing.
CROMCarl: Do you see yourself as an inspiration to other women aspiring to be lead singers?
Sharon: Yeah, especially young kids – teenagers that are starting up.
CROMCarl: When I first heard “The Unforgiving,” I thought Within Temptation created their
own version of “Operation: Mindcrime”!”
Sharon: Oh really? Hahahaha….
CROMCarl: On “The Heart of Everything” the band was an eyelash of hitting the big time and reaching an even higher status. In America, the song “What Have You Done Now” was played widely on commercial radio. Now the band comes back with “The Unforgiving,” which in many ways is the defining release for the band. It is an uncanny parallel to QUEENSRYCHE. I have read so many interviews and I haven’t heard anyone draw that parallel.
Sharon: No, nobody did. QUEENSRYCHE is such a different kind of band, they are really a prog/symphonic band.
CROMCarl: Right, but they also had a concept with a female protagonist.
Sharon: Yeah, yeah exactly. I love that song, “Suite Sister Mary,” by the way. When I was fourteen, I was in a cover band with guys who were five years older than me and they were really into ‘Operation: Mindcrime.’ It was just released at that time. I bought the album because of that song. We played a lot of songs, not QUEENSRYCHE, but more like the blues/rock kind of songs doing covers. ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ was very special.
CROMCarl: Take me through the process of creating “The Unforgiving.” Did the band believe that this really is the defining album”?
Sharon: With ‘The Heart Of Everything’ we felt we finalized a certain sound that we were working towards for many years. We couldn’t go over it, but also we were done with it, more or less. We had to renew ourselves to get new inspiration and to go on somehow. We were in a tough spot after ‘The Heart of Everything’ because we toured too much. We were really tired…tired of each other, but also from the music, and we needed a break. We took the break and the good thing was we could really see what we needed to do differently. We needed to reinvent ourselves and get inspiration again. We have been a band for such a long time and we couldn’t even make that kind of music [finalizing the sound on ‘The Heart Of Everything’], because we did the best we could for ourselves in that direction. So we felt like we had to open ourselves again. First we had tunnel vision and now we were lost, like where do we go from here? Quite quickly, we said to each other that the only way to get further from this is to open up and see if we can get inspired by different kind of music. Normally, we would never let WITHIN TEMPTATION be influenced by bands that are so far away to be an inspiration, but now we did. Robert works a lot with the producer and I work a lot with Martijn, the keyboard player. The four of us all went back to our youth to what we liked, METALLICA, IRON MAIDEN and KIM WILDE even – pop songs. If the 80’s would have been written now, it would sound like this. [It is] a new sound and a new production, but still with a lot of influence of the 80’s still in there.
CROMCarl: That leads me to my next question. The first time I heard “Faster” I thought it was
nod to CHRIS ISAAK’s “Wicked Game.” Was that intentional?
Sharon: (Laughs)…I could imagine. No, no, we didn't do it intentionally. I came back from writing a song with Daniel (the producer) and I told Robert, ‘you can’t believe it, this is really good.’ And Robert said, ‘you've written CHRIS ISAAK.’ I started checking into it and it was different. It is the chord scheme, but they are played in a different order. You have the same kind of feel, but it is different. We have had that reaction a lot of times. To be honest, [CHRIS ISAAK] was also someone I listened to a lot when I was growing up. ‘Wicked Game’ is still such a beautiful song.
CROMCarl: I heard that “Sinead” was remixed by a German DJ named Scooter?
Sharon: I had worked with Armin van Buuren on the song called ‘In and Out of Love.’ I wrote that song together with him and afterwards I really wanted to make the same type of song, but for our kind of music with guitars. That is how ‘Sinead’ came about. So then it was remixed as a dance song. We approached some DJs who liked to do that, just to know what would happen if [they] used the song. Everybody had a different approach, some used the guitars and some just left it out and it became just a normal dance song [laughs]. But it was really funny to see how artistic it would go. It was just something we wanted to try out.
CROMCarl: What mix of old and new songs can the American audience expect and does the set list selection differ widely between here and European shows?
Sharon: No, it is the same. Because we are at the beginning of the tour, we play, more or less, the same set list. We don’t know the American venues very much. We really have to see what soundboard we are going to get. Also, with the lights we keep to the same set list to not make it more difficult for ourselves or the crew we are working with. Sometimes we have to rearrange the whole thing, because they are fixing things that are broken and there is no time to do the things they should be doing. Next time we will make it more diverse when we feel more at ease.
CROMCarl: Are you able to do something to incorporate the story of “The Unforgiving” into the live set?
Sharon: Normally, we would have a LED screen [if we were] in Europe, but it is very expensive to bring it over here. It is huge and you have to have a truck. If it gets better in America [for us], then we could do those kinds of things. It is too expensive at this point. So we brought 'beamers' to give a little bit of the feel of what we do in Europe. Toronto was more difficult because the 'beamers' were too far away from the screen, so you could see something but it was not very clear. Yesterday [in Montreal], it was much more close up and it was just beautiful. It is very intense and I think tonight it is going to work out as well.
CROMCarl: If the Within Temptation was asked to contribute one song to a “Soundtrack of Music History,” what would that song be and why?
Sharon: That is difficult because we have so many different kinds of styles.
CROMCarl: Is there one that just sticks out in your mind?
Sharon: I think ‘In The Middle Of The Night.’ Everybody in the band likes that one so much. It is one of the songs we are most proud of, just the way it is with the cool riff that we have.
CROMCarl: If the band could only pick one song to play live, what would it be?
Sharon: "Sinead!" The roof goes off every time. Every night, people just go crazy for that song. It is really cool.
CROMCarl: It is definitely one of my favorites, but my pick is “Iron.”
Sharon: Yeah, "Iron" is also a very good one with the fans. They just jump, especially in the middle.
CROMCarl: What is your favorite city to play?
Sharon: Well, [it is] not just because we are here now, but Boston really stuck with me. We played there and we really had a great crowd. It was crazy, I don’t remember what [the venue] was called, but it may have been near a university. It was sold out and it was such a crazy atmosphere, but in a good way, of course. People were so enthusiastic. Also, the city itself was very European. We just had a really good vibe from Boston.
CROMCarl: I heard the show in Montreal was spectacular last night.
Sharon: The show was sold out and the place was just as beautiful a place as The Palladium, but a little more new. The crowd was amazing.
CROMCarl: The Palladium is haunted, you know….
Sharon: Oh really [laughing, with a look of horror]?
CROMCarl: It was investigated, but nothing was found…
Sharon: Whew….good! I’ll think about it when I am on stage when strange things happen [laughs].
CROMCarl: When the band is not touring or recording – what other activities do band members like to engage in?
Sharon: Well Robert is a race car driver, and I am going to get my license as well. That is something [which] is planned, but I am not sure when I will have time for it. I like all kinds of arts [too], like painting. I also see friends that I normally do not have time for because I am almost always on the road or writing songs or doing something. I like to play tennis and I have many hobbies. In my free time, I write a lot of songs just for fun.
CROMCarl: Do you write short stories as well?
Sharon: Sometimes, but also doing research for songs for the future. I have this notebook that I write things in and just in case I need certain senses or certain kind of vibe I just look up my notes and that is how it works for me.
CROMCarl: Finally, after this short stint in North America, where does the band go?
Sharon: First we go back to Holland, then to Germany and to the rest of Europe. We end in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Carl Frederick is a staff writer for Metal Underground.com. From the early to mid-90's, Carl published his own fanzine called C.R.O.M. In 1997, he released a compilation entitled "CROM: The Resurrection of True Metal," which featured songs from bands from around the world, including the first U.S. release of any kind for bands like Italy's Rhapsody (n/k/a Rhapsody of Fire) and Brazil's Angra. Follow Carl on Facebook and Twitter: @CROMCarl.
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