Interview by Miriam Cadoni

Photo by Turan Ugurlu

Behind each song of Angel’s Helena Iren Michaelsen, there’s a literal piece of her wounded soul. However, it’s well-known that music is a therapy for both heart and soul, and the Norwegian artist use her compositions and lyrics as an escape from a world that it has always challenged her and made her suffer since her childhood and now, throughout the adulthood with the terrible event related to her daughter Angel. In the end what’s is disarming, it’s her fierceness, her absolute determination in believing in a better society and a better world. Let’s discover this amazing artist through her words and her two LPs “A Woman’s Diary – Chapter II” and “A Woman’s Diary – The Hidden Chapter” both released via Germany’s Massacre Records respectively in April and December 2020. Enjoy!

Hi Helena, welcome back to Femme Metal Webzine. How are you and how these precarious days are treating you? 

Hi there, for the moment I’m busy with the new Imperia album and its upcoming promotion. About this, the new video clip will be released on the 5th February and out of this new record, there will 3 or 4 videos. Also, I’m in the middle of my court case for my daughter which it will take place on the 2nd February.

As you can imagine, it’s a lot of work because it involves thousands and thousands of sensible documentations to be prepared. For the rest, I dedicate much of my time to my 2 dogs and horse-riding. Both the music, my animals and my relationship are helping me out in facing this court case. 

So, Helena, back in April 2020, you have released your second album of your solo project Angel. Do you mind recall us how your solo project started? 

It all started back when I was still in Trail of Tears and at the time, I still had a lot of songs that I’ve written when I was around 11 years old. They were all recorded in an old cassette but most of them, were still in my mind. Of course, I couldn’t use any of these in Trail of Tears or Imperia. So, I simply thought to set up a separate solo project where I could release them together with my music.

All my lyrics revolve around my life and they are true stories that I’ve been already happening. They are a better fit for my solo project than for Imperia. That’s simply why I’ve chosen to create this outlet. Back in 2005, I have released the first album “A Woman’s Diary – Chapter I” on which I worked with my band. Even if it’s passed a lot of time, I’m still collaborating with my band but on the second album, my husband Oliver is much more involved with the orchestrations.

For example, when I explain to him the vocal line that I have in my mind, he immediately understands how the violins, the cellos and the piano on which tone they will sound. In this album, Oliver was really good in picking up what I meant. Actually, I wanted the same type of music present on “Chapter II” on the debut album but every album has its story and époque. 

Let me get it straight, on “A Woman’s Diary – Chapter II” only your partner Oliver Philipps is involved. So, how was to share with him the general production? And, why you did you feel like you had sort of comprise on the first release?  

Basically, it’s because everything that Jan Yrlund produces is just metal. Of course, this is really good but Oliver has a wider musical spectrum. He creates music for the television, for movies and things like that. Thanks to his experience, he can create all kinds of music styles. In that way, I can achieve what I would like to. But, back in day, I created my songs on an acoustic guitar. For example, the song “Fallen Angel” from “A Woman’s Diary – Chapter I”, was conceived like that.

While the song “Don’t Wanna Run”, it was born at a friend’s place with an acoustic guitar. I played a couple of notes and they stuck in my brain to the point I had to play it on the grand piano. Back at the time, I was still in The Netherlands, precisely in Groningen.

I still remember when I played to my friend this song on the grand piano. For the recording of the song, we switched the roles and we recorded in just one take. It turned out something quite emotional. In the long version of “Don’t Wanna Run”, you can hear some papers falling down and that’s because I had still needed to read the lyrics while recording the first take.  

Do you think to be much more satisfied with this second chapter then the first one? Or do you feel the same about the first? 

Well, during “Chapter II” is happened so much in my life that results much more intense and even, more emotional. During the recordings, I started to cry because its lyrics are really about some hard moments. If you listen to the album, you can sense that there’s a balanced mix of different music styles. You know, take for example “Imprisoned” which is more metal-influenced and “Happy Birthday Angel” which is softer and more emotional. 

Photo by Turan Ugurlu

About, this last one I had the chance to listen to “Chapter II” and I really love “Happy Birthday Angel”… 

Yeah, if you want, I can tell you a story about it. This song is about my daughter Angel which was kidnapped from me in 2014. She’s a victim of child prostitution, she’s been neglected and abused, she’s in a terrible shape. Since I’m out of the country, this past August 2020, I’ve hired a private investigator to spy on her and this person told me that she’s quite skinny and apparently on drugs.

As long the police don’t take any action in this matter, I can only keep sharing this story in my lyrics and my interviews. I just hope that speaking publicly about it can move the police consciences’ and stop them from take money from these criminals. Actually, my last telephone call with Angel was back in 2015 and I haven’t seen here since November 2018. Since, I cannot send her any birthday card or call for her birthday, I thought “In which way can I reach out to her and show her that I still trying to help her out?”.

About this, already back in 2015, I promised her that I’ll do my best to help her out of this terrible situation. Even after all these years, I still do it and “Happy Birthday Angel” is one of my desperate attempts to save her. Although, she been denied to the use of telephones and access to Internet which nowadays are basic fundamentals human rights for every child, my hope is someone else has access to YouTube and show to her, through my songs, that I didn’t forget her.

That I love her every day, that I think about her every day. You know, we always had a tradition: put our hands together and create a heart with it. I did it in the video of this single and almost nobody knows this expect me, my daughter and few other close people.  

Let me tell you, despite this dreadful circumstance, I can feel when you speak your inner force to not give up, not even in front of this. You are just a warrior and you are surely an inspiration for everybody who has been dealing with some difficult times. Essentially, where do you find all this strength to carry on? 

So far, what I can tell you that the important things that give you energy are helping other people, help animals and in the end, help broken souls. I’ll offer you a couple of examples. So, when I left Norway at the beginning of 2019, I started to help people on the streets. I brought them to a shop and bought them some clothes, some food. I also pay for their sleeping room.

While I was in the shop with him, the employees were judging him with piercing looks, I just told them to never ever judge someone for his tattered clothes. In the end, it doesn’t matter which possession you own because we are all human no matter what. After, we bought the clothes for him was so difficult to waste away his old ones. Luckily, he did it and he accepted my gifts.

Another time, I was stopped in the middle of street by this homeless and bleeding person and I dedicated to him an entire day by bringing him to the restaurant. He didn’t want to believe me and I just told him that can order whatever he pleases. 

Of course, after he had washed his hands. At the end, he ordered more and he took what he has left and shared with someone else. After our meeting he told me that it was the nicest day in a long time and it was something he could remember in years. 

Now, I’m busy with my dogs. When I rescued Estrella, her eyes recalled me the sadness in my daughter’s eyes. So, when I read the advertisement, I called the number and asked to the interlocutor “What happened to this soul?”. In short, I did an agreement with the shelter, I paid for her travel from Portugal and I went to pick her up in Amsterdam Schiphol. 

When I saw this dog the first time, I thought that I should have channeled all my effort to help this dog like it was my daughter. Initially, I’ve slept with her in the sofa because she wasn’t able to walk on the steep Dutch stairs and I wanted to make her feel safe. However, the most important thing is whenever is possible, to help the others because it makes you richer inside of you. It gives you purpose to be in this world. 

Photo by Turan Ugurlu

Both albums are set up like some sorts of diaries, whose main role is played by the storytelling. How do you know that the music you have composed is the perfect match for that lyric? 

It mostly relates to feelings. Basically, the music has to express what I feel in the lyrics and it has to perfectly match with it. For example, I’ve received a lot of emails about the song “Mother” that has helped a lot of fans who, unfortunately, have experience the loss of a family member or their pets. 

While reading their emails I started to cry but I understood that the continuous listening of this song helped a lot of people through a complicated period. At least, they didn’t feel alone. For me, this kind of feedbacks truly represents the essence what music is about. Ultimately, music is both an universal language and a therapy. 

Simply, if you are angry, it can help you release it but if you are happy, it will just go better. It’s simple as that. Also, I’ve learned throughout my experience as a teacher for pupils with special needs. I used to sing, play music and dancing with them. Even in these moments, music is everything.  

After Angel’“Chapter II” which was released back in April 2020, it followed a new full-length. What can you disclose about the general production of your new chapter “A Woman’s Diary – The Hidden Chapter”

The story behind “The Hidden Chapter” is that both me and my husband Oliver Philipps are musical aficionados and due to this, we decided to include in this record some of our preferred covers. These lyrics have an important meaning in our private life or private moments such as our holidays.

Having our studio at home, we can do that anytime and its final outcome proved to be so good to not be featured in a release. So, we ask to our label Massacre Records if they were interested in a release and they showed interest in it. Additionally, to these cover versions, there are included some previously unreleased songs. In the end, this record wasn’t planned in advanced and it did come out quite naturally. 

Considering the short span of time from the previous chapter, why did you opt for such a close release?  

The fact is that, when we have released “A Woman’s Diary – Chapter II”, we have missed a couple of songs for a real full-length album. So, we had these additional songs that were previously recorded and it’s how came to life. 

Secondly, in which way “A Woman’s Diary – The Hidden Chapter” relates to “A Woman’s Diary – Chapter II”

The only link that “The Hidden Chapter” has with “Chapter II” is the lyrics embedded in these cover songs fit to my life experiences. They hold an important meaning and they relate to a special period of my life. 

Photo by Turan Ugurlu

This time “The Hidden Chapter” features a bare sound composed by just Oliver Philipps’s piano and your classical singing. Was the choice of these arrangements deliberated? 

Of course, all was meant to be that way. To be more specific, some of the songs present on the album, I already studied them during my period at the singing academy with my singing teacher such as “Memory” and “Calling St. Cecilia”. After so much time, these two songs are still so paramount for me because of what my teacher taught me.

He’s really important and I had a really good relationship and when there was an occasion, we always met for a coffee and had a chat. He’s always pushed me for singing in a musical and more acoustically too because in that context, my voice shines. He finally managed to see this coming through in a way because I fulfilled his dream but he didn’t manage to coming through due to his death happened a couple of years ago. 

Most of the songs included are covers. What meaning these songs have for you? 

Well, for example “Don’t Let Daddy Kiss Me” is self-explanatory and it refers to my childhood. Also, “Leave the Light On” refers to my childhood. When I was a child, I preferred to always leave the light on for sleeping because I was exposed to a lot of abuse from my parents and a teacher and also, incest from my uncle and my father. Actually, I was really scared of a man coming to my room, so, I was even locking my door.

While “Lost in This World” represents me in this world, a world that don’t like anymore how it turned out. How people they become, how people became materialistic. I think, the world develops in a really negative manner and also, the people that comes with it. It’s all about money and status. If before someone was falling on the street, surely someone would help him up. Now, what it happens is just that the person lies on the street and no one helps him. Once again, now people want just to have nice things, money, big house and design clothes and they don’t care other people. In a sum, “Lost in This World” represent me having a naïve approach to the world and how it really should be. 

So, no harming and just dedicate to help the others, be in harmony with the nature and my animals. Throughout my life, I gave a decent education to my child and I wanted to not be bothered and vice versa, but everything changed when this building company come into my life and brought in some ugly complications which involves my daughter. On a last note, we miss empathy for each other to help people when they are in need and we are being too much egoistic for ourselves. 

Next to these covers, we can find the previously unreleased songs “Little Ballerina” and “Keep Your Head High”.  What insights can you share about these one? 

Well, “Keep Your Head High” is dedicated to my daughter and it’s my own way to say to her to hold high and don’t lose hope. Despite to the fact that she’s scared, she tried to break out and she has been exposed to awful things, “mommy is still here trying to help you out” . Instead “Little Ballerina” is about my childhood. During that period, I didn’t have so much choices and this little carillon with the ballerina helped me out to escape the terrifying and abusive situation by dreaming of being somewhere else. In effect, this little and swinging ballerina was the only joy I had.  

What the future holds for you? 

As I told you before, I do my best to stay safe and away from the people linked to the case of my daughter. Also, I hope this court case was will help me out once and for all, to solve this terrible situation. I struggle every day and work on it since a lot of years and my highest hope is that, all this nightmare will finally end where I’ll get reunited with my daughter Angel and the people harmed her will be fairly acknowledged for their bad deeds. 

My goal is to help my daughter in her recovering process and to get back to who she was before it was forcedly kidnapped from me. You know, a happy and healthy child who is aware of her freedom who her eyes are capable to fully shine of light. Unfortunately, all this is gone and she needs my help. Thank you so much for this interview.

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