Interview by Naomi RigleyCalling themselves THE SIRENS, Anneke van Giersbergen (The Gathering), Liv Kristine (Theatre Of Tragedy/Leaves’ Eyes) and Kari Rueslåtten (The 3rd and the Mortal) unite in celebration of a revolutionary move within metal that launched an entirely new genre. Referring to themselves as “the originals”, the trio performed at MFVF XII on 18th October 2014 showcasing a set-list featuring songs from their respective careers in addition new songs such as “Sisters of the Earth”. I had the chance to speak to all three of the ladies on how the live project came forth. Where did the idea come from for the project?
Anneke: Well, I met Liv at a festival last year…last summer and we took a Facebook picture – we put a picture on Facebook – and Facebook explode. Everybody was like, “Oh, you should do something together” and actually, we talked about it when we met and in another occasion I was in contact with Kari for my album, “Drive”. We were supposed to do a song together which didn’t happen but we kept in touch and we talked about, you know, the past and present and also with Liv so we thought it would be a cool idea if we just like…joined forces. With our old bands, we’ve all gone solo. We’ve all got children; we have much to share and we have a lot of things in common so we thought it would be cool to team up and make this really cool live project called The Sirens.What do you think about the roles women play in metal? I mean you’ve got Angela (Gossow) former Arch Enemy and currently Alissa White-Gluz. The you have the operatic side as well like Simone Simons and Within Temptation‘s Sharon den Adel – yourself, Liv so…
Liv: Some of the stories Kari told from her early days with The 3rd and the Mortal, they’re actually the same as my stories with Theatre of Tragedy because when we entered the stage, it was like, “Soooo yeah…erm…she’s walking directly towards.the.front.of.the.stage”. Everybody expected me to stay in the background [laughs] but then there was a sudden change in the mid ’90s when the press started to praise the female voices in dark metal. There was some kind of a turning point. There was a lot of criticism in the very beginning that this shouldn’t be legal and how can you put a soprano voice in doom metal…in this kind of metal. But things changed and nowadays, you already mentioned, many bands – a handful of bands – and nowadays, things are going really well for us, aren’t they? So…[laughs]. And we’re still around after 20 years. So that’s a compliment; yeah, that’s a real compliment and we have fans following us constantly and that’s something which I think is special for metal fans. The constancy behind the way that they follow your artistic work.What do you think to the whole “female-fronted” term because I know some artist don’t like the term because they argue, “Well, we wouldn’t really say male-fronted metal” so why is this a whole term? What are your opinions on them?
Kari: Hmm, I think it’s hard to kind of get to decide that because it’s a very male dominated industry – the whole music industry – and metal even more so.They don’t say “male”, you know, like…I think it’s hard to get beyond that point but at least we’re getting there and I think the more, you know, common it gets, then you don’t really think of it anymore as gender and it’ll be great to get to that point and I think we should, in one way, be happy that we’re where we are but also we’re still impatient to get rid of, you know, that “female-front…”, you know, just talk about music and not gender. We still have a way to go, I guess.
Anneke: Yeah, I agree. When we were at the beginning of the…females being in metal [laughs] and the whole thing evolved, we could feel quite proud of this fact so there was gender distinction like, “Ok, there’s more and more females now” and like Kari said, nowadays it’s quite common. It’s changed so much and not only vocalists are there in the metal scene but also technicians or photographers, journalists like yourself. There’s lots and lots more females inthis industry – in the metal industry. And I do feel proud, on the other hand I do agree with Kari; we shouldn’t talk about it so much as just to live the music and to be in the scene and to sing but maybe that will never happen. I’m not sure. I’m always, like, two-sided about it.
Liv: Well, I totally agree with the ladies and I don’t think it matters so much about the term “female-fronted” or “female-vocals” or whatever voices. I don’t think that’s the most important thing; the most important thing always come down to the impact that you have on your fans and the impact of your creative work. The most inspiring thing for me, personally in this genre – in this thing we are doing – is that we have so many wonderful contrasts and I think that’s also one of the points that the audiences really like about us – that there are contrasts in our genre, in our music, so yeah. But I totally agree with the ladies.
And where did it all start from because obviously, I read in the press release that you sort of consider yourselves as the ‘originals’, so to speak, in this genre. Where did it all start for you and who/what were your influences?
Kari: One of the first moments I remember about metal and female voices was of course, Doro Pesch and I think she was definitely the first lady but she sang really rough on the voice and I tried to copy that [laughs] so when I was 17 I was awful because I just lost my voice and sounded like a troll. So I just figured then that I have to, you know, do my love for this music but I need to use my own voice otherwise I just couldn’t go on. So that was, like, my starting point. I was studying classical music at the time so I was, like, singing and then I had a sort of operatic voice. I don’t know if that would have mattered.
Anneke: I really loved singers like Barbara Streisand and Diana Ross – singers of singers – Freddy Mercury who can have those long notes and everything. And then I fell for metal music like Metallica and Slayer, you know those days, and when I was asked to join a metal band, I just did my Barbara Streisand-like vocals on this music like it was a speed metal band and it seemed to work. We did one gig and we blew up so that was not really…there’s like this one guy who, our guitar player at the time, and I was asked to audition for The Gathering and he said, ‘The Gathering!!!’ because they made always this album and he really loved them. And he said, “The Gathering you have to join, to participate in the auditions” and I said, “Yeah, yeah” and he said, “…and I know you’ll be hired and I know you’ll be going away from us” and I said, “Nooo waaay. I be with yooou foreveeerr”. So, of course, I got hired and I left the band [laughs] so it was like lots of things combining and then there you had it, you know, there’s The Gathering with female vocals [laughs] and I love it! You know, I love the energy and metal; I love the roughness of metal and I love, like, melody and these still things combined, I just love it.
Liv: Well, the fact is that my parents were very young when I entered this world; they were 18 and 19 years old and they did a little bit of partying back then and Black Sabbath was the first..I think “Paranoid” is the first musical influence I ever had next to my mum when I tried to go to sleep so it was Black Sabbath. Iron Maiden, Deep Purple followed, then the thing happened when I was a toddler I didn’t talk. I was just listening and watching the world go by – pass by – but in my head, lots of things were going on. There was music all the time when I thought everybody was born like this and that that’s how everybody should be that’s how we are born. I started singing before I was able to talk so then the doctors told my parents that, “This child seriously needs therapy”, not just because of not talking but because of having music in my head and the thing was that it was also connected to colors which is autistic. I was painting and singing all day and I was perfectly fine in my own world. But I grew up like everybody else and when I was 16 or 17 it had happened at a party that me and my friends founded Theatre of Tragedy and things happened very, very fast. I’m blessed with something and I still need to take some classical singing lessons. I want to do that before I retire.So how do you think that your careers have sort of impacted on the genre then?
Kari: I didn’t really know actually before a couple of years ago that Tuomas Holopainen (Nightwish) said that, you know, The 3rd and the Mortal, The Gathering and Theatre of Tragedy had inspired him to create Nightwish which is really great! Nightwish is definitely big on YouTube so it’s flattering to think that and it’s strange to think about too because it wasn’t, like, in our minds; we just played music that was natural to us and that we liked to listen to ourselves so it was nothing we planned for at any point. It was very nice and…yeah, it’s still strange.So, Anneke you were in The Gathering which was huge in the ’90s. How do you think that your career has impacted on the genre?
Anneke: I don’t know what to say about it because when we started out, they were just looking for a singer. The best one in the auditions was me and I was a girl so the guys, they didn’t even think about it. They just thought “Okay, she can do the job” and then this whole thing came about like me and the ladies, of course, and Within Temptation are like the first group of “female-fronted”. That kind of caught on and also in that time, in Dutch radio there was just about a time that heavy music could be on national radio. They played Metallica and all those bands like pop-metal, you know? We’d (The Gathering) just released a single and it just blew up so we were in a good time spirit also in Holland for the radio. It caught on in many, many ways and that happens once in your life. I cherish it very much because it’s not coming back and I really enjoyed it.And Liv, how do you think that your career…because your career has been quite big from Theatre of Tragedy to Leaves’ Eyes and now The Sirens?
Liv: Hmmm…well first of all I’m turning red! [laughs] Thanks for the compliment. Anneke just nailed it; she said it was that kind of feeling that we’re doing something creative and we’re trying, maybe not so hard to follow a certain goal or aim, but we’re trying to be creative. We want to mix the bits and pieces of the puzzle that already exists because Doro was there, Lita Ford was there. But this was different. The 3rd and the Mortal, The Gathering, Theatre of Tragedy…this was different and what I think it is is a very decisive moment is that we just recorded, I think The Gathering also, a set consisting of four songs. We copied them and we sent them to different labels and we got a hand written letter back that was the offer of a deal within two weeks! That’s something that you can only dream of today. It was a thing, there was magic in it and we were able to spread our wings and be creative. It was a matter of giving and taking and it felt so good. I’m very happy to have been able to be part of this and this also shaped me in many ways. I’m very grateful that you – our fans and friends made this possible.How do you see the future outlook for women in metal and ‘female-fronted’ metal?
Kari: I think that the future looks bright. I think it seems like it’s growing and also I think that there’s so many really talented singers as well! It’s not just like they’re female, you know, they’re really good singers. As long as the music is great and as long as it speaks to the heart then there’s no way that it shouldn’t really grow.
Anneke: I agree. There’s so much talent around. We are like the first generation but we are up to the fifth generation already with ladies who have growling voices. In the ’80s and the ’90s, there were some ladies with growling voices but they could only growl. These ladies nowadays are super cute, super young, they’re 18 or 20 years old, they look smashing and they have these growling voices – very powerful – but they have this melodic sense. I really like this stream in metal…in “female-fronted” metal. Apart from the other ladies that are up-and-coming with these beautiful voices, I think they become more powerful characters and they’re more powerful women which I think is very good in this day and age.
Liv: I’m very happy that we have such a constancy in our audience, as I already mentioned. This keeps us going; the future is bright. Moreover, I really like what Anneke just added that how colorful the variety of the singers are. There are so many talents around and from, you know, smashing-looking, growling, classically singing ladies…hmmm…yeah [laughs] So I see a very bright future and I’m very happy that there are festivals such as Metal Female Voices Festival in Belgium where we’re going to play with The Sirens. This is a great celebration of our genre so it’s manifested and that’s a good starting point.Thank you very much for your time, ladies.
Kari, Anneke & Liv: Our pleasure!!
Photos by Stefan Heilemann