Interview by Miriam C.
Amsterdam‘s The Charm and the Fury are destined to become one of the brightest stars in the musical firmament: if with the debut “A Shade of My Former Self” released in 2013 via Listanable Records shown what the band is able to offer with the new album “The Sick, Dumb and Happy” recently released by the Nuclear Blast imprint Arising Empire, they have simply confirmed that have what it take to compete and revolutionize the musical panorama. The Charm and the Fury don’t shy away from their responsibilities: lyrically wise “The Sick, Dumb and Happy” can be regarded as one of the most straightforward album that recently was published. In this long Skype chat, the singer Caroline Westendorp took sometime to delve into the new album, how the female in rock are perceived and how media can influence our lives.
Hi Caroline, welcome to Femme Metal Webzine, how are you?
I’m really fine, thank you!
So, we’re here to talk about your new and second album “The Sick, Dumb and Happy”, what you can share about its writing process?
Oh, it’s been a long process because it has been like 4 years or since our previous album and when we started to write this new album when the metalcore genre didn’t feel right for us anymore ‘cos we had the feeling when we released the previous album like all these bands were doing the same: we were just another one band on that wagon. So, we were like “We have to completely renew ourself “ and so, we started writing and writing and we have just killed all those songs and threw them away and at first we were like very rushed like “People are waiting and we have to come up with something” and then we started to work with Robert Westerholt from Within Temptation and he was like “No, let that rush go and just really focus on writing good songs and writing something you are happy with”, so he really toned us down and we actually with him went brainstorming for nights and we wrote a lot of songs and all the songs it kinda hit us because at first when we wrote the previous album we were kinda like “Ok, it has to be metalcore and we have to have a breakdown and we have to have a poppy chorus” and we kinda let that go and focus on.. well, we listen to a lot of metal bands such as Pantera, Metallica and Slipknot and it kinda hits us cos’ those songs they have made their time and they are still so good to listen to and they are even better all the new songs that now are currently coming out and we were like “Well, those songs are really great because they evolve around one great riff or one great hook” and that’s why we skipped our focus from writing a song structure, right down a poppy chorus to write like one killer riff or one great hook and that’s when all the creativity started flowing. So, that’s where we started, actually.
When Mathjis states in the press release that you have “stripped everything down to the core and worked super hard on that core”, what he is especially, in particular referring to?
Really to the core of one riff not like “Look at that song and it has to be like..”. When we wrote the previous songs we were like break down a poppy chorus but also really focused on.. we already had this breakdown and we had this killer part of the song and we didn’t want to repeat it anymore so we were really focused on the song as a whole and now we really focused on one specific element that will carry the entire song, a great riff that will be the core driving the entire song as a whole. So, really focusing on just on a particular element that is just great for the entire song.
Also, “The Sick, Dumb and Happy” marks you debut with Arising Empire, an imprint of Germany‘s Nuclear Blast. What do you remember about your first meeting with them and what was the thing that impressed you so much about them? I remember also that you were on Listenable Records for your debut, right?
Yeah, yeah, correct. Yes, it went kinda two ways: we were talking already with Arising Empire for a while, a representative from the label visited one of our shows. I think it was with KoRn and he was really excited about the band and we started to talking with him, so, he was such a nice guy and what really struck me about Arising Empire is that they just operate like a big platform for young and upcoming bands because they are an imprint of Nuclear Blast, they offered tools to reach bigger audience and reach like just for example get a lot of awareness around the band and they are so passionate new and upcoming music which is like really great. So, we started to talk to this Arising Empire representative and we went to the United States for a showcase festival in Los Angeles and that’s when Nuclear Blast US came at the show and Jordan, the label manager, was really interested as well and he was like “Wow, I really like the direction you guys are heading”, so it’s kinda like sticks together: we have the imprint of Nuclear Blast in Europe showing interest and we had Nuclear Blast itself in the United States showing interest, I think that all when meet together and we were like “I’m getting this is just IT!” and that’s when we signed the deal then.
I also realized that your second album it’s getting well promoted respect to the debut because with the debut I can tell you that I got the name of your band from a friend, so at the time, Listenable Records didn’t do any good promotional work because if it wasn’t for my friend I wasn’t supposted to know about your band. I think also that Nuclear Blast is promoting better your music….
That’s why we have decided to leave Listenable. There’s no bad word about Listenable ’cause Laurent is such a nice guy and he works really hard but like a small independent label I don’t think they don’t have enough tools for promote your album worldwide and Nuclear Blast is such a big company and such an household name with years of experience, so, that’s why we’ve decided to go for Nuclear Blast.
I was struck by the following sentence that I’ve read in your official press release: “The world is fucked, but it’s great food for writing!”. How would you like to comment this and in which way can be related to “The Sick, Dumb and Happy”?
Well, “The Sick, Dumb and Happy” is really about as the world as it is today. On the previous record, we had always this positive message to it like “Ok, this is happening but it will get better” and now we really that the world is actually going to shit and we write about it on our album for example “Echoes” was written during the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo when did this happened in Paris a discussion rose about whether we should speak freely even if insults another person and lots of people were saying “No, we can’t do this anymore, we can’t say that anymore” and just the freedom of speech is like one of the biggest rights we have and losing that…. if you won’t be able to speak louder anymore then is only going to shit and you don’t have like independence, lifestyles, races, religion. Everybody has the right to have their own beliefs and also it’s really about politics these days: for example “The Sick, Dumb and Happy” is really about the fat guy sitting on his couch watching mindless TV shows – just take all in, just taking in what the media saying and just watching how to live a perfect pictured life and not caring for the world anymore, just sitting and let it all in. A typical Trump fan I would say and on the other end, you have like the media spoon feeding us with particular images, really about “buy this type of cream and you’ll became a supermodel”!
You know, I think also the world is becoming shallow because we’re always getting proposed with these perfect models of young females that have to be slim, beautiful and perfect and the person that maybe has not a perfect body or something like that, it gets isolated and alienated and I think that someone should be aware of their limits and their physics and just be happy with it because if we try to resemble to each other there will be no more variety…
Exactly, exactly. That’s really a topic I want to sing about it and also I think we are becoming lazy. We’re just to see and take in just we want to see and just make the world extreme whether than focusing on what’s happening in the environment like the war in Syria and Trump getting elected. We just really become sick, dumb and happy, actually.
I really enjoyed the thematics and you are, without any doubt, one of the bravest band out there because many bands speaks about today’s world in metaphors and you aren’t afraid to speak out the truth and you don’t hide behind the bushes. On top of that I think that your interpretation is right about everything, so, out of curiosity, if you should name three people to associate to, who might be the sick, the dumb and the happy?
I’m guessing it would be Trump because he’s blinded by money and fame; the second one I wouldn’t like particularly a name but anyone who has voted for Trump and the third one it will be commercial companies really like abusing the media to just for their own commercial purposes: for example, let’s say Coca Cola. They invented Christmas, really, like with the big Coca Cola in the winter wonderland and everything.
Hereby, I’m quoting the official press release “On a lyrical level, “The Sick, Dumb and Happy” brims with mesmerising cautionary tales of self-destruction, the horrors of war and the spread of corruption through the political and financial worlds”: I was wondering to know how much difficult can be to talk about certain and delicate thematics like war and media?
I think it’s pretty risky in a way ‘cos when I see Corey Taylor (from Slipknot) on Twitter ranting about Trump and everything, he gets so much hate and he gets a lot of comments from fans saying “We’re not here listening to your opinions, we only want listening to your music and so shut up!”, it really strikes me. I think, like saying that we are against Trump, that we can incite a big audience in the inlands of the US but it would be hypocritical to put out a political album and not give meaning to it. So I think there’s some risk to it but as like a singer or a musician you have a platform and an audience to privilege, say something and give a message to bigger audience for reach bigger awareness so if you feel strong about it then I would say just take the opportunity to let your voice hear and don’t be pushy about it and don’t be like “You should not fall for this but we feel that”.
Probably this question doesn’t make any sense but how do you think that The Charm and the Fury has evolved from the 2013’s debut “A Shade of Former Self”?
I think we kinda matured in somewhere I think and skipped the focus on something. We really like… what I feel right now we can weight more on business, on first it was like all fun and game, just putting out a record and just blindly signing deals because we were young and eager but I think we matured both in some writing both also as people. We’re really aware in which direction we’re going and what we’re gonna put out and what we really want to do and focus on our ultimate goal which to tour the world which we’re psyched about it, then just play the shows and perform and make that as a full-time job. We have now our eyes on our prize and we’ve kinda grown and also how we gonna get that: not spending too much money, not going on tours that not working. Just, really like focus on the goal and be a bit more mature and a bit more business-y, I guess.
Even, if “Down on the Ropes” video scared the hell out of me but I want congratulate with you how great it did turned out. I was curious to learn more about the song itself and video’s behind of the scenes…
“Down on the Ropes” is about the guy sitting on the couch eating his hamburger watching mindless TV and just taking in what the media spoon feeds him while becoming blind for the real problems in the world, what what first the song is about and we had this second person, we hit on media abusing that exactly by the screen “You’ll become a supermodel” and this pictured perfect life, you want to be like the Kardashians. We hit on the guy that’s taking all in, the media and the commercial companies that are only there for their commercial purposes: selling, selling, selling. At the end of the day is all about the money. We’re like “Ok, we really want just portray the sit, dumb and happy in a person like the guy in the couch” and also “Down on the Ropes” is referring to a boxing ring like that on a rope so we wanted to do something with the boxing theme and that’s when we got in contact with David-Jan Bronsgeest that he works at Hazazah, this production company in Amsterdam. He was super excited about it, he just like write down this idea and he took it to another level like the guy in there that watch his TV and that just lives in his weird world with weird people and will be abused, tortured, punished for his own living days. So, David-Jan Bronsgeest brought everything to the next level and he wrote out the entire script and together with we went into production: it was an horrible day, it was -10 or something and we were shooting in this car company that was not heated and I had a throatache for a week after the shooting because I had to stand in my tiny bikini.
Here at Femme Metal Webzine beside music we’re really interested about the social impact of how woman that generally play rock are treated. On a more practical routine, did you ever encounter any problems about being a woman in a musical context? Also, did you have experienced any pressure and/or discriminated?
All the time. It’s just, you’ll say that it’s 2017 and there like a lot of female fronted bands and a lot of female in the music industry but whenever I see a review about the album there’s no review without the fact that there is this frontwoman and it’s always “I like the band because there’s the frontwoman… I don’t like the band because they have a frontwoman”: well, they have a frontwoman and nonetheless I care only about the woman. It’s always related to the fact that there is this female in the band and it’s never about the music and it’s always about there is a woman in the band and that strike us because we’re living in 2017 and it’s not that weird anymore and also, at first when we when we started like putting out the music and we were quite growing fans people would say “They are only growing faster because they have a girl in the band, it’s just a marketing tool” and then I’m like “Gosh, I’m just trying to do my best and just really be grateful” and it’s then when I felt that I needed to work harder, just like make people aware of the fact that I can actually do a good job as a vocalist and not being in the band for as a music marketing tool. So, no I’m definitely felt discriminated because also I’ve read comments saying “Whick dick did she suck to get on the stage?” and I was like “AH! What?!”. It’s just discrimination all over the place but I’m guessing that it’s just hate. When you grow as a band you’ll always get haters whether you are grow or not but it’s easy to get punished by the fact of a girl in a band.
What are your tour plans in terms of touring in 2017?
We’ll going on a tour next week Bury Tomorrow in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Holland and we’ll be back for flying out to the States to do some big festival show overthere which will be awesome and then we’ll head back and have a 22 festival show in Europe (Holland, Helsinki, Madrid, UK), so a lot of a great places and hopefully, we’re now working on our European tour and Dutch headline shows.
I would like to learn more about your vocal technique. How did you manage to grunt like that because for being a woman you deserve my congratulations: you’re really good. I’m really mesmerized about how achieve to sing in that way…
I’ve started out watching YouTube tutorials how to scream (for example Melissa Crows) was like “There are not so many girls actually growling in a band”, so I wanted to try out and at first I was like “Oh, I cannot last for more than a few seconds” and I’ve lost my voice but I’ve started to practice along the sunset light and I got in the run to do a couple of songs without losing my voice I was like “Oh well, maybe I can look for a band”and at first I was doing it wrong, I was shouting so loud and then got my knots in my vocal chords, so I had to work with a speech therapy and go to a vocal coach, he actually really helped me to find the right techinique and what basically he taught me is you have the vocal chords when you speak and then you have false vocal chords which are like flaps that are right above it and basically what I do is nothing more than just throwing out air against those flaps and you can kinda compare it to barking as a dog like “Woof! Woof!”. If you do that to the vocal flaps there will be like “Ahhh” and that’s it really the technique, so it’s not big of an effort, it’s just practice, practice. Your vocal chords are like muscles and you have to train them each day to make them flexible because if you’re playing shows every night, just really working hard on your vocal chords of course they are working so hard, they might become strained so just practising every day and make use of all the vocal practises to keep them flexible.
So, Caroline, it’s time for your parting words – I really thank you for your time – please greet freely our readers and your fans. Thanks again!
Thank you again for asking me those questions and take the time to talk to me, I’ve really enjoyed it!