Interview by Disgraced

Thanks to my dear friend Miriam (yeah, that’s me!) I finally have the chance to submit an interview to one of my all-time favourite bands… sort of dream interview, then 😉 It’s been a long, long time ago when I started listening to Tristania and just like I went through tons of changes in my life, the Norwegians themselves underwent a plethora of earthquakes, sometimes softer sometimes harder – and I think there’s no need to say in 2013 that the Norwegians are now 1/7 Italians… And it’s right with their Mediterranean siren Mariangela Demurtas that I have the pleasure to talk with, even though via mail; it’ll feel weird not to do the interview in our language but webzine-wise it’s better to do it directly in English, so let’s have this blast of questions!
First of all, thank you Mariangela for taking the time to answer these questions. Hope I won’t sound too fanboy-ish but since I’m a great supporter of you it’s really an honour to have this opportunity. And, second but not less important, big congratulations on the release of the latest album! We’ll immemdiately in-depth-dissect it.

Hello! Thanks for your kind words!

So, let’s start with “Darkest White”. I’ve been reading reviews for a month now and saying they’re mostly enthusiastic is an understatement. Since the first listening it is already clear that it’s not a “Rubicon” pt.2, just like in the good Tristania tradition who delight us since ’96 with ever changing albums; nonetheless it’s pretty obvious that The two aforementioned albums share more similarities than with the older ones. So why do you think “Darkest White” reached so much consensus if compared to “Rubicon”, which had been quite frustrated by negative reviews?

I would don’t think “Rubicon” did not receive too many bad reviews, but I guess some people didn’t like it as it was an album of transition, and since many fans were expecting the old Tristania they might have felt disappointed. I am sure that with this second album together we have proved our identity in certain ways, and this helped the people to trust us both as a band and as musician singularly, since there has been quite big line up changes. I think “Darkest White” is a much stronger album, probably the one where we can really prove what we are, the one that sounds fresh and colored, powerful and elaborated. It’s not that we don’t listen to others opinions, we just do what we like, honestly and with determination.

According to “Rubicon”’s song credits (a great, underestimated album for the one who speaks, with some of the best Tristania songs ever I believe) back then you had been responsible for a nice amount of music and lyrics; I still don’t own my good copy of “Darkest White” (extreme spendig review, you know… ;)) but I read on the web that this time you didn’t include liner notes so tell us a bit about your detailed involvement in most of the album.

I contributed on this album as much as I did in the previous one. I feel my vocal lines on “Darkest White” represent me much more compared to “Rubicon”, where I was more adjusting to the the old gothic atmosphere. I am very proud of all the work I have done with Tristania, though.

Well, let’s say it straight. Waldemar Sorychta is one hell of a producer but honestly I think he’s too much into average gothic/melodic metal nowadays, so it’s true that many of his works tend to sound all the same. For “Darkest White” you chose Christer-André Cederberg, (in)famous for his playing in Animal Alpha. Why did you choose him and what do you really think of his work?

I think Christer is a very talented producer and musician, he knows how to enrich the songs, the sound, respecting the artist s view and always trying to get the best out of you. It is amazing to work with him, also because he is a very down to earth and nice guy, positive and always enjoying his job. At the end of the recording I had the impression that I had participated in a funny session with musicians like I was not supposed to fill any other s expectations except from mine, I recorded the whole album in two days and a half. We did a lot of work, but I could never feel tired of it, and that is why I feel so grateful to Christer! We all are!

Before you start diving into the Anathema-thing I must tell you that I don’t hear any Anathema influence and I believe those who say that are merely impressed by the fact that the producer is the same of their latest album as well… Actually, I’ve never been a fan of Anathema except for their very early albums, while the latter ones tend to bore me to death –I must make deep amends for this, I know! 😉 Now, I remember than back into the glorious times of MySpace you had posted a pic of you and the mighty Agnete Kjølsrud after an Animal Alpha concert and you said that she was one of the best singers you had ever heard. I can’t imagine the excitement you must have felt working with Christer! Did you talk about a possible collaboration with him or Agnete in the future?

Actually not, I mean I like Agnete as a singer a lot, because she has personality and lot of expression in her voice – something that many modern singers are lacking – especially in metal. The fact that he played in Animal Alpha and with Agnete was not of importance for me, but of course I was really happy to know that I could work with someone that appreciates expression and character in the voice, beause that is why I started singing.

Going on with the featured staff, I’m more than glad to say that finally Tristania have a cover artwork worth of this name. Don’t get me wrong, your Salma Hayek-like beauty would make everyone gaze speechless and same goes for past covers with Vibeke but I c-a-n-n-o-t stand when a band puts the singer on the cover of the album; especially bands with a woman singing: I think that helps to spread the cliché of metal bands counting on female hotness more than musicianship – there’s a VERY GOOD saying in Italian for this, isn’t there?! This time instead none other than Eliran Kantor, a real Michelangelo of our time, laid his art on paper for you. What do you think of his painting?

I am very happy about my image and I enjoy taking pictures, for myself too, to me it is an art and I like it a lot. But as you can imagine a label, sadly, for an album cover sometimes has the last word. To be honest we weren’t really comfortable with promoting the band with my image, and that time we did not have chances. Long live to paintings and artistic covers! Thanks Eliran, because that is Tristania, Mariangela’s pictures have another place somewhere else. We are too devoted to music and honest in that, we really do not try to belong to this business -like a cheap product if you know what I mean, it is more about heart and decency too.

Let’s get it straight again, as fiery Italians we are 😉 There are three songs on “Darkest White” (i.e. the title-track, “Cypher” and “Arteries”) which you don’t sing anything on, apart maybe from choirs and harmonic vocals; and there’s an additional song, namely “Lavender”, that features just one strophe sung by you. The question is, why? Of course there’s no need that you or Kjetil share the exact amount of lead vocal lines; moreover it’s a quite original choice in the modern scenario of metal bands with women singing – you’ll never hear me saying “female metal”, what the f*** should that mean?! – and Mr. Nordhus alone would be able to make most goth chicks run away ashamed with no particular effort. But I’d like to know if there has been any pressure behind this, since many complained about the change of female vocals from opera-like to “normal” ones…

Let the people complain, we are not making music for that. Kjetil isn’t signing in “Requiem”, “Cathedral” and “Night on Earth”, just as I’m not signing in the songs you mentioned. In the end I think the main parts are shared quite equally between me and Kjetil.

Honestly, how do you like the older Tristania material? Be it clear that me myself, although being a big doom-death metal fan, I always believed “Widow’s Weeds” SO overestimated and that the real, classy guitar work one is able to love in Tristania starts from “Ashes”.

I liked the Tristania material from before, especially “Beyond the Veil”, but it is never been on the list of my favorite bands. When I joined them I did it because I know that it could have been something different and stimulating, at the end it worked, we have a very distinct sound, I am confident in saying that there is not band similar to us over there. The power of mixing ideas and sharing in music is something that brings music to another level. I have always been open in exchanging feelings with the unknown, it is just the way I am.

Honestly as well, do you like opera-like singing in heavy metal? And whether you do or not, do you like singing that style live? You deliver a perfect “Angina” after all! How is it, having another lead singer in your band? Kjetil is such a good singer I almost scream at the sky why he’s not worldwide famous like one Roy Khan or one Brendan Perry! Do you share suggestions about singing techniques, you happen to work together and so on or the two of you prefer to work each one on his/her own?

The good thing about me and Kjetil is that we know how to agree on our sound without talking too much about that, I am very grateful he has a good ear and a good heart in music. It could have been much more difficult if he was only technical and close to his own world. To be honest I am not a fan of opera-like singing in metal, even though I have fun singing like that sometimes, it is just my heart is not in there, it is only the fun of doing something different because you are trying out a new technique. Me and Kjetil, just match together thanks to our musical influences too.

Something related to the previous one, in “Cypher”, where Kjetil gifts us with one of his best performances ever, it almost seems to me to hear clear influences by While Heaven Wept, one of the most historical doom metal bands of all time. If you listen to both their eras, the former, more traditional, and the latter, more towards stuff like Fates Warning, you might be able to catch more than one similarity. Is doom metal still the leaving ground for Tristania, as I do think? Is the whole songwriting spontaneous or does it sometime take inspiration from…? You tell me 🙂

Well, to answer to this, we should also talk to the rest of the band. I can say that we all have different influences, everybody come up with ideas, and we all have to try to fit in the song s feeling, for sure the songs comes first, and if Tristania as an entity needs to be filled with minor keys and dark feelings we try to be fair and give what it is needed.

Two of the songs of this new album have been played live before: “Requiem” and “Cathedral”. In older interviews you had stated that you preferred the latter; as for me, I must say that it is so different from the youtube recordings I had heard that now I like it a lot as well! And “Requiem”, well I think it’s definitely one of your best songs ever. Maybe the middle growling part is a bit too weak but anyway, who came up with these wonderful vocal lines?

I wrote the verses and then we did the chorus with Ole, he is the one that wrote the whole instrumental part so he also knew how the song should have sounded like.

On “Lavender” you really resemble a sort of odd blend between Grace Slick and Black Sabbath. Even a deaf man would immediately recognize your blues-rock intentions; and we all know that you’re very active from that point of view. Did you bring these influences of yours in Tristania? Could we ever expect something like The Gathering’s semi-acoustic live album or concert?

I am not sure yet, I really hope so cause I love playing acoustic and I also do it on the side, yes,this is the first time I brought my modulated voice in Tristania, much more than in “Rubicon”, so that is more me.

Actually one thing I think definitely lacks in Tristania’s career is a kickass live album. I’m not going to ask you about it because I know the answer would be “we’d like to but we’ll see in the future”, so I’ll ask you to lay down a personal setlist you would pick – and also, where would you like to record it?

This depends on the kind of venue or place where we could do that. To tell you the truth when we thought about this album we wanted to bring the same energy we deliver in our live shows, because we found out the the albums where not really giving justice to the band respect the live performance, I guess we got there with “Darkest White”, but for a last one on .

Oh! personal list? “Night on Earth”; “Scarling”; “Diagnosis”; “Requiem”; “Exile”; “Year of the Rat”; “Arteries”; “Lavender”; “Himmelfall”.

A big, big train full of kudos for… not smothering your music with keyboards and orchestrations! 🙂 Might seem stupid since heavy metal is the matter here but it’s a fact that many, many melodic metal bands are nowadays so full of keys and orchestral stuff that guitars get actually lost in the whole maelstrom. This does not take anything off the great violin- and cello-laden tunes Tristania accustomed us to in the past because it’s a totally different thing. I’m just saying that guitars are what counts the most – do you agree? What can you tell us about Anders and Gyri’s work guitar-wise?

I just love guitars, Anders and Gyri do a great job in Tristania. I am not for the orchestral sounds either, especially during the last 20 years the sounds are too poor of personal taste in band s music. I am much more for the heavy guitars.

The band is now around since so many years one would be rightfully allowed to think that although you surely play for the sake of music, “something big” should happen sooner or later. Still, Tristania don’t get that much attention even in Norway (a country where even extreme metal makes it to the charts), never played exstensive tours like three months around Europe or the U.S. and so on and, last but not least, seem to have never gained a strong offer from any big label, but I’ll be on this one more in detail in the next question. What do you think about that? Does the fact that having seven (six, since Einar doesn’t play live anymore) band members affect the possibility of growing bigger? Are you afraid of selling-out? How much do you care about charts, money and so on?

I first care about my dream of playing music, of course I would like to make it bigger and probably find a way how to do it full time. There is something like music business that is lead by people and the people decides what people are going to buy. Masses are influenced by tabloid, magazines and so on…so we work hard, as much as we can, but who knows? Maybe in the future the people will search for good music and will discover us and will come to our shows and will ask for more, like in the old days. I look at the scene sometimes and I see what is going on and where the people s taste goes, it is so sad….and everybody try to do the same, even more sad…the world is going wrong, but as in “Darkest White” we give a glimpse of hope!

Unlike many other bands, Tristania seem not to love doing covers. Or do you have a hard-disk full of cover songs that someday will see the darkness of day?! Have you ever talked about that for “Rubicon” or for “Darkest White”? Singing someone other’s songs is typical when you are a songwriter in terms of folk singer like you are on your own, but what songs by what artists/bands would you like to re-make with Tristania?

Oh, I do not know if it would fit, maybe something from Dead Can Dance, or more popular songs, really I do not know if it could work for Tristania.

If I were to pair some songs off “Rubicon” with some off “Darkest White” I’d say that the anthemic “Requiem” is the “Exile” of the album, while “Lavender” is the “Amnesia” of the situation. But what about “Illumination” in your opinion? Please note that as far as I’m regarded we mentioned five of the most beautiful Tristania songs ever, so I was surprised that you haven’t made a longer song this time, too…

I think “Illumination” is quite unique and not like any other of our songs, so I really don’t know.

What do you remember of your times with Alight? In fact that’s where I knew you and I think one of the guys also sent me your 2006 demo in mp3 back then… How has the jump between an underground band and a worldwide-established one been? What about the fans? Did you have any problem, both with fan-atics wanting to marry you or those bitching about you?

Well, Alight was actually just a collaboration, it did not last long, since I joined Tristania quite immediately, and my real previous band is Reel Fiction, with them I released a demo which I am very proud of :”Transfer”. The jump to an established band it was what I was looking for in life, since coming from a small village in a small island can not help much when it comes of achieving such a difficult goal!

Are you in contact with some Italian musicians? Maybe for collaborations for your solo activity? Your rendition of “The Widow” by Mars Volta with Francesco Marras is wonderful! And I’m not a fan of Mars Volta… And what about other collaborations with foreign – Norwegian and not only – musicians?

I always have the opportunity to do it, but I only like to do it if my voice really fits the song. I think it is important to take care of my real emotions in this and respect the fact that I must be happy whit what I am doing. Francesco is a very professional guy and devoted to the music, he knows his own, and he really loves to play. I chose him because I trust his musical sense.

What do you think of Norway, overall? What are your feelings about what happened in Summer, 2011? And – but you’re free to avoid any political statements – what do you think of our particolar social situation when you compare it with your life in Norway?

I think Italy is in a very embarrassing situation lately, due to the crazy people that is taking care of our development as a country. The social aspect does not exist, I notice that living in Norway, I am so grateful that I have learned so much, here the people have values, and respect. The sharing is also more common here, in Italy the reality is too competitive, people try to be perfect instead being themselves, and always ready to judge in a negative way. No thanks, I prefer not to be back there for that. Anyway, of course my opinion about what happened in 2011 is almost the same as many others, what can you do, people can be crazy everywhere!

Do you think one needs to really feel sad and gloomy to deliver melancholic music or art in general?

Not really, one need to be open and sensitive, it is like when you open your heart to people and when you give it back, that is why many musician give their best in music and in real life they suck in being open, music it is a tool of expression.

I’d like to go on with tons of other questions but I think I already stole you too much time 😉 Thank you so much again for this interview Mariangela, and I hope you’ll forward my congratulations to all your bandmates for the latest, masterpiece-y release! Hope to see you soon on the road – bring the Vikings to the South! 🙂

Thank you, very happy to answer any time! I would say, bring the sun to the North, the rest you can keep! Just joking!  Horns up!

Feel free to say whatever you want as a happy ending…

People! Enjoy your head banging for a very happy ending!


Photo Credit

Photos by Sara Johannessen



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