Interview: Sharon Den Adel of Within Temptation
It’s been four long years since the release of their last album “Hydra”, and now with the imminent unleashing of their powerful seventh studio album “Resist”, symphonic metal heavyweights Within Temptation are returning to prominence with a vengeance. “Resist” has been described by the band as their saving grace, marking a significant turning point in the iconic six-piece’s career and the development of their sound into something “heavier, dirtier and darker” than ever before. Within Temptation’s renewed vigour is evident throughout the ten anthemic tracks in “Resist” – the quintessential catchy choruses are a staple, the band’s recently favoured 80s flavour pulsates through sultry synths, and the cinematic melodic soundscape the band are so renowned for is well and truly dialled up to eleven in this modern masterpiece. Now two single drops in, and partway through a mammoth European tour, the divine Sharon den Adel sat down with us to chat about “Resist”, freedom in the digital age and pushing the boundaries of the metal genre as we know it.
Hi Sharon! I’ve been a huge fan of WT for many years now, so it’s a real privilege to talk to you!
Hi, thanks very much!
So, your new album “Resist” – I’ve just listened to it, it’s such a powerful album! Something I found really interesting that you said about it was that you wanted to give pop music the rebellious edge you feel that it needs. Would you be able to elaborate on that further?
Well, I think that what we actually meant by that was that we were inspired by, in this case, a more urban kind of music. I think it’s a scene that has a lot of musical elements going on - the urban scene has been around for a long time now, and in the last few years has been inspiring a lot of types of music genres, and it sounds just very modern when you combine urban kind of elements into other music genres, and so did we [in Resist]. It just made some songs like “Holy Ground”, for instance, and “Endless War” a little bit more groovy, you know? Like, we were never a groovy band, and your rhythm starts to change. So, it’s more like, we used these elements, not just musically but also in production; we did it not only with orchestration but also with the heavy guitars, you know, those layers of music, and it becomes Within Temptation but then sounding modern and more 2018!
It’s a combination that just worked for the music we are making, and it sounds more updated because of that. So it’s not like we’re trying to give one type of music value over another, but we find pop music in general too light for us, so when you put our layers of heavy music together with that, it becomes more edgy, and that’s what we meant by that.
WT has undergone a remarkable evolution in your core sound over the years, and you’ve demonstrated incredible stylistic diversity through your discography. Tell us about WT’s creative process behind Resist, and the songwriting process.
Well, it all kind of started with “My Indigo”, which was my solo project. There was a lot of time between the previous album “Hydra” and this one, and this was because of the fact that I had a writer’s block – well, not just me, it was actually everyone who was writing for Within Temptation. But for me, there were also a lot of other things going on - my dad got really sick, and I wanted to have a bit of a reflection on what I wanted to do for the next twenty years that I might be in the band. For me, my whole adult life I’ve been in Within Temptation, and so I hadn’t had any other things besides that. My life has always been a certain way, quite different from family and from friends – you know, everybody has their normal jobs, and they go home for the weekend! And I have a family too, you know.
So with “My Indigo”, I was inspired by a lot of urban stuff to write “My Indigo”, which is totally different. It was more soul-searching, and eventually I did come to the conclusion that I wanted to continue with Within Temptation after a certain amount of time where I wasn’t sure that I wanted to. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to come back to Within Temptation because I didn’t feel it anymore, and I wanted to do something totally different. But because of “My Indigo”, I realised that there is a way to write for Within Temptation if there is another crossover again with this urban kind of feel to it. So that has been the new way for Within Temptation, and our new album has been inspired a lot by that kind of music, because we as a metal/rock band combining elements from another scene which makes it more modern.
As for how we start with writing songs, what we’ve always done before is we start with guitar or piano or a song base, so in the end you can strip down the song to play it by a campfire or even on the beach with just a guitar! You can play all of our songs on just a guitar or the piano – it’s not difficult, you just go back to the basics. That’s how we’ve always started, and we didn’t change that way of writing. The bands that we like, also, are more song-based bands. I do like Pink Floyd because they’re brilliant at it. You also have bands who are just making atmosphere, there’s no real chorus – it’s just atmosphere, which is also cool, but we have always been a band that you really have to be able to play every song on a guitar or on keyboard or piano.
There seems to be some really strong symbolism in the themes of Resist, surrounding questions of personal freedom in a dystopian future. What were some of your thematic inspirations for this album?
Well I grew up in a time when we still had, you know, Commodore Sixty-Fours and floppy disks, it was a long time back! The days of the first game computer, more or less, I guess, and I never thought that internet or social media would ever be the way it is today. Those kinds of things just grew gradually, and I think that that is very beautiful because we have a lot of benefits because of it, you know, life has become a lot easier because of this, but on the other hand, there’s a different side to it. I think we’re losing our anonymity, and I think our privacy laws should be better for individuals, and of course I think it’s very important these days when we have a lot of terrorist attacks that the government can trace and track down where people are, but it goes a bit too far in my opinion.
I think that if I was living in a different country where there is no democracy, and things get into the wrong hands, if you have a different opinion, then your government shouldn’t be able to do everything they want with it. If this was Second World War happening now in Europe, with this technology everyone with a different mind, colour or race that [the government] didn’t like, they would be able to easily track and trace. This is of course a very heavy comparison, but it is something that is possible, you know, because we have facial recognition and everything now. You know, your DNA is out there, and it’s dangerous in my opinion. I think there should be better laws to protect citizens, because you know now we’re living in a peaceful time, but when it’s not a peaceful time or if you’re in countries where it isn’t peaceful – like there are many countries in this world where having your own opinion is not a right, apparently – so it’s dangerous with this kind of technology. I wouldn’t want to live in those countries in this time.
I also think that we don’t realise when we’re just going about our busy lives, what we’re giving away, like even when you’re going to a [web]site, you have cookies that you have to accept to be able to read anything, but you don’t really know what you’re exactly giving away. So that’s why on our website, you also have to accept cookies, but then we show you also what we get to know. We do it deliberately, because we want to show you what you’re giving away for free, and we can see your postal address. So with Google Maps, I can even see where you’re living! That, I think is pretty dangerous, I don’t think anyone should be able to know where I live!
Although, on the other hand, people just write on the internet all the crap that they do sometimes, without thinking or without doing some kind of research of what they’re talking about, it’s just based on half information, which is also dangerous. For me, I think for the worst case scenario, for those kinds of situations, we should have better laws. And for us, it’s more like an inspiration, so it’s not like we have these conspiracy theories going on or anything, it’s more like trying to talk about these things and maybe for a little awareness. But for interviews, you know, I can still tell and inform a little bit, just planting a seed in their heads, like maybe just think about these things before you go to a site, before you leave your messages and everything. Also the thing is that you can’t erase easily your messages on the internet – there’s always some kind of data somewhere, and those are also dangers, I think. Because people can make mistakes, or they can change their minds, or they did something in an angry mood, and people should be protected somehow.
What I also find difficult is that algorithms are also choosing for you what you’re going to get to see on the internet, like if I go to a certain site, and I’m interested in going on a holiday to Cuba, for instance, and the next year I get messages from the same company related to Cuba. Also when I’m talking to my friend and the TV picks it up, and I’m talking about, I don’t know, tennis courts, I get all this information about tennis courts in the area and stuff like that. I don’t want anyone listening along when I’m having conversations and when my telephone is off, actually. It’s like I’m never alone, you know, I can never have a conversation without something in the back always being there – like Big Brother is watching you the whole time. But these kinds of things just happen now, and that’s the inspiration for us [for Resist].
Wow, those are some really powerful thoughts and themes to have for the new record!
Thank you! And yeah, I wanted to add that you know, freedom was never something that we got for free. That’s also what these songs are about, like okay, you know, you have to fight for your freedom. You don’t want to necessarily pick up arms or anything like that, but [freedom] never came for free and we should protect what other people gave their lives for. Freedom is something that we shouldn’t give away for free without paying attention – we have to be careful what we might lose in the end.
Now, you’ve just dropped the official music video for Raise Your Banner! It is absolutely incredible, and aesthetically, it really emulates the dark subject matter of the track. Tell us about the video and the production experience!
Well, the video was done in Amsterdam in a loft, and many fans joined for the video. So all the men who are in suits – the bad guys, actually! – a lot of them are fans, and the protesters on our side are also some fans. The idea behind the video is how human are humans, you know, like how much are we programmed to do certain things just being the way we are already; what are we creating also, in our own image? Like, trying to make computers look like us, and for what purpose also, how far do you go?
And that definitely translates in the video, it’s amazing! So changing the subject a bit now – you’re an exceptionally talented and renowned vocalist, perhaps you could give the aspiring vocalists a few tips. What are some of the measures you take to ensure you stay in optimum vocal health throughout long, intense touring schedules?
Well it’s quite boring actually! I really have to get my sleep – sleep is the most important thing that I need, a minimum of eight hours! I know this sounds so not rock and roll, but sometimes I have four shows in a row, and that’s like 1.5 hours of singing and talking to an audience, and on the same day I also have interviews, so I’m talking a lot and singing a lot on a day like that. So those eight hours at least are very important. Besides that, it’s very important to relax also, so sometimes sport, sometimes I have a walk through the city, see something of the city that you’re in because that’s something you can also use again when you’re on stage talking to the audience, and it’s nice to have experiences, to see where they came from, and to know where you’re actually at instead of stating the wrong city names to the audience! But it happens sometimes, and I can imagine that it happens to some people, but there is a way to go about it to make sure that doesn’t happen.
And another thing for your voice that is also important to me is that I’m a big fan of ginger. I use ginger in big chunks the whole day through – I use it in smoothies, as a tea - I use it through the garlic press, I put it in hot water, and that’s the most intense way of having the ginger come out of the tea, because then it will get all these juices blending with the water, and it’s just really hot like pepper. It really takes away a cold if you have one, and when your nose is blocked or your throat is swollen, this will help you to open it up, and of course with all the necessary vocal training that you need to do. Nowadays they also have this straw that you can blow through in water, and that also moisturizes your vocal chords, I think. I don’t know exactly how it works, but everyone here uses one and it’s actually working for me. Another thing that I use is a water spray, but it has lavender and chamomile in it, and it’s called Throat Coach. There’s nothing in there that can harm you, it’s all natural, and when you want to clear up your vocal chords it’s really nice. Especially when you’re doing interviews, it’s pretty useful!
Finally, another question pertaining to you, Sharon - who are your main musical inspirations, and what inspires you to write music?
Well, you know, what I’ve always liked to do is to challenge myself to write the best song ever – it sounds very arrogant in a way, but it’s not like the best song that anyone could write, it’s just the best song that I can make, and I always try to push myself to something out of the box, out of the ordinary, to feel free to do anything I like. And so aiming for mediocre is not good enough. It should be very good, it should be something special, something that you can use as little bits of a song, like if it’s a catchy line. And that’s always my aim – every time if I say, oh I wrote maybe not the best song but I really wrote a really great song, I’m so happy for two weeks, and then the feeling goes away again, and then I really want to write another song! It’s how you build up ideas, it’s how you challenge yourself, and keep on listening to other people and don’t be afraid of listening to different genres that aren’t your genre. I think that’s even better because otherwise you start copying other bands that are in your scene, and for us it’s more like we find more inspiration from other scenes than in our own music scene because you just don’t want to copy others and you don’t want to copy yourself.
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Written by Samantha Wolstenholme