Amanda Somerville – Kiske/Somerville (2010)




Interview by Robin Stryker

When Femme Metal last spoke with American singer/songwriter Amanda Somerville in late 2009, she had just released her solo album “Windows” and was looking forward to an exciting new project. Fast-forward to today, and Amanda’s project — an album of rock and metal duets with Michael Kiske (Helloween, Place Vendome) — is ready to hit the streets on 24 September 2010. Read on for the inside story on Kiske/Somerville, little pink pig butts and the windows to Amanda’s soul.

Amanda, a warm hello to you and a belly-rub to Blitz! Thank you for returning to Femme Metal for Somerville Part Deux.

Thanks so much! It’s nice of you to have me, and Blitz is pleased, as well.

We are thoroughly smitten with “Kiske – Somerville”, your new album with Michael Kiske. Duet albums are rare creatures in the world of metal. Who was the mastermind behind the idea of recording an entire album of duets?  

Why, thank you; so am I! It was actually Serafino’s (of Frontiers Records) idea. It seems that Michael has the boss of a record company as a huge fan and a musician couldn’t wish for anything better, I suppose!

When and how did you first learn about the project? What was your reaction?

 It was sometime in the spring of last year, I believe. Mat Sinner called and asked if I’d be interested in doing a duet album with Michael Kiske and I was very flattered that I was on their list of prospective singers. I thought it would be great to finally be able to work and sing directly with Michael after a long time of kind of indirectly working with him on projects like Aina and Avantasia, so I was thrilled!

“Kiske/Somerville” has a stellar line-up of musicians. My doodle of who worked with whom and on what projects ended up looking like a diagram for a microchip. Would you introduce your cohorts, and tell us which of the gentlemen you have collaborated with before?

 Certainly! Mat Sinner (Sinner, Primal Fear) was the creative mastermind behind the project as the producer and principal songwriter. I’d never worked with him before, but it was really a great experience because he’s very competent as a musician/producer/songwriter but he’s also a very laid back, nice guy. After we did the recordings, it went so well that he asked if I’d like to go on tour with him with another project he was overseeing called Rock Meets Classic and that was also a lot of fun.

Magnus Karlsson (Starbreaker, Primal Fear) did some great guitar work and songwriting for the album, as well. I’d never worked with him before this and haven’t had the chance to meet him in person yet, but I’m sure I will.

Jimmy Kresic (Voodoo Circle) co-wrote some songs and performed keyboards and did an excellent job. This guy is a freak, and I mean that very positively!! He was on the Rock Meets Classic tour with Matt and me and totally blows me away as a musician and as a person. He’s quite the character! 

Martin Schmidt is a great drummer and all-around good person. It was in his studio that we recorded my vocals for the record and he did the engineering. He was also on the Rock Meets Classic tour and we had a blast together.

Sander Gommans and I had worked together already back in his After Forever days and he and I also did the HDK project together. We wrote 3 songs for the album and he also played some guitar parts on the project. He’s also quite a talented guy and has become an even better musician and songwriter since I first started working with him back in 2003.

Was this your first time working with Frontiers Records? Was it a good experience?

It wasn’t really my first time because I’d helped Oliver Hartmann out with a few things for his albums while he was still signed with Frontiers, though it was my first time being really involved with them. And yes, it’s been a very good experience.

Mat was originally slated to write the entire album but you and Sander ultimately wrote three of the tracks – “Arise”, “A Thousand Suns” and “Set Afire”. How did the switch come about?

After Mat had asked me to be a part of the project and sent me some songs, which I liked, I called him back to ask if there was any room for getting involved in the creative side of the music. He said they were open to ideas, so Sander and I got busy and wrote 4 songs for the album initially but one was too heavy on the metal side, so 3 made it onto the album, which is cool. I’m just as much a songwriter as I am a singer, so it was really great that I was able to add to the creative side of things on this album, as well. It makes my connection with the project even closer and more personal and it’s like my baby, too. :-)

Considering that you all live in different cities, what was the song writing and recording process like?

Well, I’m not sure how Mat, Magnus and Jimmy went about their songwriting and recording exactly but nowadays with the internet, it’s so much easier to collaborate from afar. I like to do my songwriting one on one, if at all possible, so Sander and I wrote and recorded the songs we did in his studio (Eternia) together in the Netherlands. Michael recorded his vocals in his own studio in Hamburg and I recorded with Mat and Martin in Martin’s Audiospezialist studio in Stuttgart.

A quick detour before getting back to the music. I laughed myself silly reading your recent twitter post: “You know you’ve made it when girls are taking their clothes off to your music. Yep. Strip clubs are playing my songs.” In your wildest imagination, did you ever think your music would be the soundtrack for the thong-and-stiletto set? As a public service to, errrmmm, stimulate the global economy, are there any particular tracks that really make those dollar bills and Euro notes fly?

Haha!!! I’d never really given it much thought, to be honest, although I always could picture “Get Me” in a movie soundtrack set to some sexy club scene. Once a couple years ago, a woman who gives lessons on how to strip actually asked me if she could use that song in an instructional video she was making, so that was already the start of it. Apparently, “Get Me”, “Inner Whore” (surprise on that one, eh? 😉 and “Out” are favorite choices.

The other completely random thing that caught my eye was the jingle you wrote and recorded for a swine flu vaccine. What was your inspiration while writing the song – rashers of bacon, piles of pork chops, endlessly watching the movie Babe? And where, oh where, can we get a hold of it?

Oh, man, this is funny! Yes, it was truly one of the weirdest things I’ve done in my career, but I still think it’s so cool. I mean, it was for a vaccine against this sickness that caused diarrhea in pigs and the ad campaign had a huge pic of a little pink pig butt. How hilarious is that? I’m extremely silly, so I didn’t really need any big preparation for writing this but I’ll tell you what: it was the hardest singing job I had because I could not stop giggling while I was singing! And seriously – you cannot sing well when you’re laughing. As far as where you could find it, I really don’t know. Only my family (it was a huge hit with my nieces) and the company I did it for have it. Perhaps that’ll be a Somerville Rarity that I’ll include in some compilation at some point!

Okay, back to more serious things. The first single “Silence” and its music video were released on 20 August 2010. Why was this song chosen to introduce fans to “Kiske/Somerville”?

I think it’s a great song but it’s also a good “middle road” pick to sum up what people can expect from the album. It’s one of my favorites that I didn’t write.

It was interesting to read that, despite having worked on albums together previously, you and Michael met for the first time while shooting the videos for “Silence” and “If I Had a Wish”. How was it to finally meet him in person?

If you’ve seen my video blog I did for the video shoots, you can see that I was very excited, of course. And it’s funny, because those videos I record are really candid. I’m just shoving my camera in people’s faces at random intervals and so when you see Michael’s face when I explain that it’s the first time we’ve met face-to-face after working together on earlier occasions, he looks a bit confused. That’s because he never realized that it was me who sang the “Silver Maiden” demo for him, for example, or that I was also part of Avantasia, so that was all news to him! And it’s great that I got that initial surprised reaction on camera. :-)

Michael is known for his vocal range, including the ability to hit some impressively high notes and his fast vibrato. Which songs on the new album best showcase these particular talents?

I don’t know that one song particularly showcases his talents better than the others because you can hear his trademark sound in every one. However at the end of “One Night Burning” there’s a high harmony in that little “This love is killing me” part and he’s singing that together with me. That’s HIGH!

In your previous work, your vocals have spanned the range from operatic (Epica) to rock/power-pop (“Windows” solo album) to fiercely hard-edged (HDK). Where along that continuum do your vocals on “Kiske – Somerville” fall?

This was a very comfortable album for me to sing, range-wise. Wikipedia states that I’m a mezzo-soprano and I don’t know who entered that but it’s not correct! I can actually sing everywhere from tenor to soprano but I’m most comfortable as an alto. I don’t like singing really high because I think it just sounds silly and I was happy this album wasn’t operatic and all over the place. I’d say that stylistically it’s pretty much in the middle of things I’ve sung, probably more rock than anything. It’s powerful in some places and delicate in others, so it’s a nice balance.

The new album is a vocals-driven album but the musicianship is also top notch. What tracks most appeal to you for their composition?

Taking the biased route, I’d say that “Set Afire” is probably my favorite but more so because of the extremely personal meaning it has to me, but my other favorites are “Second Chance” and “Silence”. I think both of those songs are beautiful and heart-wrenching.

My personal favorite for sheer emotional impact has got to be “A Thousand Suns”, a personal song that feels like first being flayed and then sprayed with acid. It’s a lovely track, but the lyrics are nothing short of painful. Do you ever have second thoughts about spilling your heart into lyrics that a bunch of strangers will hear?

Thank you. Yeah, it’s kind of a heartbreaker! Michael says that’s his favorite song of the entire album, which is a huge honor. You know, I can’t do things any other way, so I really don’t have a choice in spilling my innermost feelings for the world to pick apart as they will. Songwriting is the highest form of communication and expression that I have and so it ultimately ends up being the biggest crack in my privacy, as well. That’s actually what “Windows” is about: I see my songs as the windows to my soul and it’s not always easy living with the breeze that comes in through those open windows. But not only for me. It’s not easy for the people in my life who sooner or later end up in those songs, either! But I guess that’s the price of being (or being involved with) a songwriter.

People who attended Sirens of Metal II in Detroit (USA) were lucky enough to be the first hear you perform two of the new songs – “Set Afire” and “A Thousand Suns” – with Ashley Peacock (The Times) singing the male vocals. How was the reaction?

Yeah, all 3 people in audience loved it. Haha! No, the reaction was very positive and more than anything, my band loved playing those songs and so did I! Seriously, I love-love-love performing those songs and when you pour that much energy and enthusiasm into something, people usually appreciate it.

Is a tour for Kiske/Somerville in the works?

We would love to do one but it certainly comes down to how well the album does. So it’s up to the fans!!! Unfortunately, the people who would be doing work for a tour like this, which would be very expensive (as tours simply are), need more security than just Michael’s and my desire to want to perform the songs live.

You have been quite cryptic about your future plans, except to say that something BIG is in the works. Can you give us any more hints? The suspense is *killing* us.

Well, I guess the unveiling wasn’t exactly as much of a sudden *bang!* effect as I’d envisioned it being a while ago but the big surprise was that there’s going to be another Avantasia tour in November-December and I’ll be a part of that again but this time also with Michael!!!! I’ve known for a while but it had to be kept under wraps. Surprise! 🙂 I think it’s super cool and have been really excited about it, I just couldn’t say.

Thank you again, Amanda, for talking with us. Do you have any parting words for your fans at Femme Metal?

Thank you for your interest and excitement about the album, and I very much hope to be able to play somewhere near to you and get to meet some of you sometime soon!!!! xox


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