Interview by Alessandra Cognetta

“Dim Days of Dolor” is Sirenia’s latest effort and their first album with long-time collaborator Emmanuelle Zoldan as lead vocalist on the whole record. We had the chance to ask Emmanuelle a few questions about Sirenia’s music, her take on the new songs and how she worked with mastermind Morten Veland to bring them to life and about her career as both a metal and an opera singer. What does opera have in common with metal? Read below to find out!

Hello and welcome to Femme Metal Webzine, Emmanuelle! “Dim Days of Dolor” has just been released, what kind of response did Sirenia get so far?

“Dim Days of Dolor” receives every day really nice critics from the press and the fans. Even if I was sure that people would love the songs, because of their quality and the variety of atmospheres Morten created on this album and the amazing mix made in Denmark by Hansen studio, I was a bit stressed with how the fans will accept the new sound with my voice. But I’m really happy that the most of them seem to like it! I receive every day a lot of sweet messages telling this album is a really good surprise and they love what my voice brings to the band.

This is your first album on lead vocals with Sirenia, but you have been singing choir parts with them for many years already. I’ve seen from my own experience that these are two very different ways of singing. How did you approach the vocals on the new album as a singer?

Yes, I sang choir parts on every album since the beginning, but singing lead vocals is not something really new for me. I also did lead vocals on Sirenia EP “Sirenian Shores” on the song “First We Take Manhattan”, on other metal albums too, and before I focused my career on Opera, I began singing in a rock band as the lead singer. Singing choirs and lead vocals is not exactly the same, technically, and emotionally of course. But I think classical technique, helps a lot in all kind of music styles. It teaches to know well the body and the way it works. On this album, I approached the vocals the most naturally possible. Even if the album was already written for Ailyn’s voice, higher than mine, we found compromises with Morten on some parts, I sang the songs mixing the techniques I learned of course, but overall I tried to sing with my heart, because before technique what is more important is emotion.

What are, in your opinion, the pros and cons of singing lead vocals versus choir parts? I believe there is definitely a lot to learn from both of them.

Of course there is! What I love in choirs parts is the power of the way of singing, the mix of different voices and harmonies; what is interesting when you sing choirs is you learn to listen, to open your ears, not to be focused only on yourself but listening and trying to merge perfectly with the harmonies of the other voices. You learn the humility to sing to serve a sound unity and not to do a personal vocal demonstration. I had the occasion to sing contemporary polyphonies, a very difficult and exigent repertoire, and I really loved this experience that taught me to be more attentive, humble, in a research of pureness of music before expressing something personal. When you sing lead vocals, there is something more intimate… The voice is something very intimate, fragile, always linked with our emotional mood; when you give it, you give a piece of your soul, of your guts, of your fears, of what you are inside, deeply. Choirs is collectivity, with its force, lead vocals it’s just you, “naked” and the music… and it’s as well terrifying as exhilarating 🙂

You have a very rich musical background, Emmanuelle. Would you mind talking us through your studies and past experiences?

I learned the piano when I was child, and I tried drums later, but I had to admit very fast that I was better in singing 🙂 So I began to sing in a pop/rock band as the lead singer. We made some really nice shows, and won some competitions, it was a really nice period of creativity and concerts we did in the same time we did our studies at the university. Then I decided to go the conservatory to learn a good vocal technique, and after some years of work and 2 years of specialization, I began a career… In opera. It was a bit unexpected but life can be really strange sometimes.:-) But doing my operatic career, I never stopped doing a lot of other music projects, in different styles (Rock, jazz, R’n’B), creating music, making concerts and I recording metal albums for many bands, choirs parts and also lead vocals.

I had the chance to listen to “Dim Days of Dolor” for this interview and I really enjoyed the epic-and-dark atmospheres that Sirenia is able to masterfully portray with each new album. How did you work to convey the lyrics in this sense? Did you receive any guidance from Morten in order to give your own spin to it?

The lyrics had been written by Morten. I didn’t participate in the creative process of the album but only did a work of interpretation on the songs. I only made a French adaptation of the English lyrics of “Aeon’s Embrace”. But the dark atmosphere of Morten’s songs is something that speaks a lot to me, so it’s not so hard to suit them for me 🙂 It was not difficult to find the “right” way together because I think we were looking in the same direction regarding the songs; I made some propositions that we kept, and sometimes he asked me something more soft here, or more powerful there, and I just adjusted.

You also worked as a session musician for some of the biggest bands in the metal scene, such as Turisas and Trail of Tears. What are the memories you cherish the most from those times?

It was some really nice collaborations; I remember it was so cool that, at the end of a choir session recording, Ronny asked me if I was ok to stay a bit more to sing some lead parts; really nice that he gave me a great freedom in the interpretation, letting me improvise vocal melodies. I love their album “Existentia”.

What is the process to work as a session musician in metal? It’s not exactly the kind of job one would apply for on LinkedIn, right?

Hehe, no, especially when you’re a classical singer; I was finishing my studies at the conservatory when I’ve heard about a man who was searching classical voices for recordings in a studio close to Marseille. It was Terje Refnes (Sound Suite Studio) who from this time, contacted me regularly to sing the choir parts, on some metal albums. It was really nice for me to be back from time to time to metal. I hate the idea of being locked in one and only genre. And metal is not so far from classical music. Mozart himself should have been a metal head if he had lived in the 21th century, I’m so damn sure of it! 😉

You regularly sing roles in opera as well, Emmanuelle. What is the role you enjoy playing the most and why? Is there something “metal” about opera?

There is a lot… The most of the times, I love to play the women of strong temperament, and overall, the bad dark heroines 🙂 (you know, those ones everybody hate at the end of the opera 😉 But if I have to chose, two ones I cherish the most are Bizet’s “Carmen” and Amneris in Verdi’s “Aïda”. Carmen because of the personality, the temperament of fire of this gipsy woman who prefers to face death rather than to give in to a man, and also for the beauty of the music, so perfect, from the beginning until the end of the opera. Amneris because of the complexity of her psychology, she has several facets in her personality, and interpreting the role is a very strong experience emotionally, very versatile; In the beginning she’s a proud powerful and beautiful Egyptian princess with beautiful singing lines, and she becomes jealous as hell, until she sacrifices, in spite of her, the one she madly loves, becoming at the end totally mad and desperate, and abandoning the beauty of the singing line for the sobs and desperate shouts. At the end you really have to throw yourself on the ground, and to cry real tears on stage. It’s very strong to live. In fact I think I really love tears and blood on stage. Of course in opera there is something “metal”; first in the themes, often dark, about lost love, madness, war, sacrifice, suicide, death and so on… No happy end in opera 😉
Regarding the musical aspects I often “hear” some saturated guitar and double pedal in my head when I listen to Verdi or Wagner’s music!

Something I see very often whenever there is a discussion about female vocalists is that it quickly escalates into a matter of who can sing higher. I believe this is a little reductive, as singing is so much more than just hitting a high note, it’s more than just range (and, of course, it’s not only about technique either). What would you say are some of the ingredients that make a good singer?

I totally agree with you… I really find it reductive, of course. Music is not pyrotechny, music is emotion before everything. And I think It’s true in every genre of music. Hitting a super-high note, is not something difficult to do if the singer is a high soprano, the same for a very low note for a loud bass. It’s a question of range, a personal genetic distinction like the color of the skin. You’re born with it. A low voice can’t reach super-high notes, like a soprano can’t reach very low ones, it’s not a question of talent. Beauty is not in the high, beauty is in the color and in the emotion and every kind of voice can give it in his own register, high or low, there is no hierarchy; The high voices can evoke the voice of angels, The resonance of low voices the depths of darkness. It’s a question of sensibility. The 3 more important ingredients that make a good singer? In my opinion they are: EMOTION, EMOTION and… EMOTION! A singer has to speak to the heart of people.

Sirenia recently released a lyric video for “The 12th Hour” and shot another video for “Dim Days of Dolor”. Is there something you can share about the shooting with producer Owe Lingwall?

The shooting took place in Sweden in October. It was a really nice experience, with a really nice team. Owe Lingwall is a great guy, patient and very professional, it was a pleasure to work with him. It was my first experience of shooting behind a green screen; In the very beginning I felt a little bit strange, almost ridiculous, moving my body and my lips behind a camera, like I did in my bedroom when I was a child. But after a while, I began to feel more relaxed, enjoying the moment, and I’m looking forward already to do it again!

Sirenia is going to bring “Dim Days of Dolor” on a European tour quite soon. How is the band preparing for the shows?

Morten, Jan Erik and Roland (who replaced Jonathan on drums on this tour) have some rehearsals together in Norway, especially to work on the new songs from the new album that we never played live yet; for me it’s more complicated because of the distance and my other engagements to do those rehearsals with them, so I work my parts in France and we join all together directly on stage.

I saw that the show in Cologne was cancelled, and a replacement show was recently announced for the 21st of November at different venue. How do these kind of unexpected events affect the band’s work?

Of course, this kind of unexpected things are not comfortable especially for the fans who bought their tickets for Cologne and saw the replacement venue was so far to be able to come… The reasons of the replacement are not the band’s decision and I think people understood that and never blamed us for this even if they were disappointed… I think they know those reasons have nothing to do with us and with music. These kind of bad surprises should not affect a band’s work, the show must go on!

That was my last question, Emmanuelle. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your insight with us! This is a space where you can freely greet fans and readers.

Thank you, it was a pleasure! 🙂 Just would like to thank all the fans who follow us, for the sweet messages of support I personally received, we really are looking forward the next shows and tours! Love for you all!


Photo Credit by Hérvé Brouardelle and Andreas Kalvig Anderson