January 5, 2017 Interview – Morten Veland of Sirenia
Everyone has something they are passionate about. For some, existence would almost be unrecognizable without those said passions, and for Norway’s Morten Veland, music is the pulse of life. Drawn into the art of song composition, by the age of twenty, Veland was already well on his way toward fame in the European Metal scene with the formation and development of his band Tristania.
Considered one of Goth Metal’s most important acts, after years of hard work and devotion, Veland was faced at a crossroad to move on or give up his musical dreams. Unwilling to give in, Veland found his new music in the form of the Symphonic Gothic Rock band Sirenia. Sustaining a career with Sirenia for over fifteen years now, Veland still has as much desire to craft music today as he did when it all began. Recently we caught up with the multi-talented songwriter to talk the early days with Tristania, the concept behind Sirenia, their plans for the future, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in the Metal world for over two decades now. From Tristania to Sirenia, you have one of the most respected names in Gothic style Metal. Through the ups and downs, what has this journey been like?
Morten Veland – Yea, it has been a journey full of ups and downs. That is a good way to sum it up (laughs). It has been some years, I think we started with Tristania around 1995 or so if I remember correctly. We got our first record deal the year after, released an EP in 1997, an album in 1998 and 1999, and ever since it has been really busy. With Tristania, I think everything went really fast, we were really young at the time. We formed the band and we made a demo, shopped it around, and got a record deal very fast. Tristania got a big name really fast. That was a very exciting and interesting period of course, and then in January 2001, everything was over very fast for my part in the band. I had to start over and I formed Sirenia.
With Sirenia, we also got a record deal very fast and everything went very fast with the band as well. It has been a very nice journey with some ups and downs along the way. Here we are now, we have released 8 albums to date with some EPs and singles. We have toured in 35 countries or so. We have played a lot of festivals, and we have had a lot of fun throughout the years. Of course there has been a fair amount of downs as well. I guess there are those downs in a band, everyone has their ups and downs in their careers.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it sounds like it has been quite a great ride. As mentioned, it all really began with Tristania, and they really had a strong underground following in the early days. Ultimately you decided to leave Tristania. How difficult was that to part ways with a band you devoted all your creativity to for so long?
Morten Veland – Yes, I didn’t actually decide to part ways, I got kicked out of the band. Obviously I had really been pouring my heart and soul into the band for all those years. I was a guy who was one of the forming members. I was the guy who came up with the band name Tristania, wrote most of the songs for the band, and took care of things. It was quite a bummer when I got kicked out. When I finally started seeing all the hard work I had put into the band finally getting results, the next moment I am out. It was quite a rough period. It was a couple of days and I tried to wipe the dust off my shoulders and said, “Fuck it,” and moved on to the next thing.
I formed Sirenia and continued working really hard with music. In many ways, I never really considered it work because music is one of my biggest passions in life. Every minute I can spend with music is a minute well spent. I really enjoy it and I cannot imagine a life without music. I just kept on moving, kept on doing what I was doing, writing music and looking forward. Luckily Sirenia was able to get a good name for themselves pretty soon as well.
CrypticRock.com – It has worked out in the end, although, at the time it was probably very frustrating. You soon after founded Sirenia, which saw you go in a slightly different direction in some ways. Looking back at 2002’s debut Sirenia album, At Sixes and Sevens, it really was quite an astounding effort. Do you look back at those beginnings proudly?
Morten Veland – Absolutely, I am very proud of every album I made. I think it has to do with I really put so much effort into everything I do. I am not a guy who does things halfway, I am more of a perfectionist. I really work for hours and hours and go that extra mile to make everything as good as possible to the fullest of my abilities.
Looking back at the back catalogue, of the albums I have released over the years, I am still very proud of each and every one of them. It is good to see how we have changed and developed over the years. Every album is like a representation of where I was musically and also personally at each given time period. It is kind of interesting every now and then to put on one of the old albums and just listen a little bit and see how things have evolved over the years.
CrypticRock.com – You can absolutely hear the evolution from album to album. One thing with Sirenia is the lyrical content seems to be a little more personal than fantastical with Tristania. Is that a correct assessment?
Morten Veland – Yes, I would say so. With Tristania, it was more fantasy lyrics. That was different in the way I wrote for Tristania and Sirenia, both lyrically and musically. After it was over with Tristania, I took a little time to think about how I should move on and what changes I should make. I wanted to form a new band and continue making music, but at the same time I didn’t want to form a band that sounded like Tristania #2. I wanted to make some changes with it to make sure it was a new band with a fresh sound, something a little bit different than Tristania.
One of the changes I really wanted to do was with the female singing. I wanted a modern style singer than an operatic/classical style singer back at the time. I think maybe also Sirenia was a little bit more Rock oriented than Tristania, where Tristania was a little bit more Metal. I think Sirenia is a 50/50 between Rock and Metal in a way. I just tried to renew myself a bit with the sounds and everything. Listening to the Sirenia demo, even today, it was good work put into the album. I still like it a lot and something I feel proud of.
CrypticRock.com – As you should. It is evident the differences between the two bands. You spoke about the female vocals and style changes from band to band. Sirenia has since grown and seen various lineup changes along the way. Has it been a challenge to find stable co-vocalists or are the shifts in female vocalists from record to record by design?
Morten Veland – It was definitely not a design. I think we had problems finding the right one actually. On the first album, we were not able to find a singer in time. The studio was booked and everything, and we ended up hiring a session singer just for At Sixes and Sevens. We found a singer in France. The producer in the studio in France told me he had some contacts with some really good female singers. As a result, it won’t be a problem for him to find a singer that would be interested in coming into the studio and track the vocals for that album. That is what we decided to do. As soon as we got back to Norway, we continued to search for a steady singer for the band.
After some time, we got in touch with Henriette Bordvik and she sang on the next album. She decided to leave after some time. Then we found Monika Pedersen, who did the next album, and that did not work out, so we had to search again. Then we found Ailyn, which worked out very well. She was with us for nine years or so, unfortunately, in the end, Ailyn was having a lot of problems with her health. It was affecting her work with Sirenia more and more in a negative way. At the end, it just came to a point it was just not possible to continue the cooperation unfortunately.
It was a nine year corporation and we thought we really found the right singer, but sometimes you cannot foresee. So we had to find a new singer and we found Emmanuelle Zoldan and it was a really smooth transition for us. We have known Emmanuelle for thirteen years, she has sang on all the Sirenia albums as a part of the Sirenia choir, except the debut. She has also recorded on some lead vocals even on a cover version of a song we did.
We know Emmanuelle really well. When it came to the situation where it wasn’t working out really well with Ailyn, it was the natural thing for us to ask Emmanuelle if she would be interested. She had a great career in Opera in France for many years. I always thought she had her career and she was happy with that. Singing in Opera is a lot more prestige than singing in a Metal band. I actually never thought she would be interested, but lately we have been talking and I discovered she likes a lot of Metal music and we like a lot of the same bands. When I asked her, she was very interested and that was very lucky for us that we would have a very fast and smooth transition. Normally, auditions and searching a singer is a very time demanding process, it can easily takes six months for sure.
We split up with Ailyn already in recording, the studio booked and all the plans were made. It just looked really chaotic and hopeless at some points. We had a good amount of luck in a situation of unlucky I guess (laughs). Everyone in the band is really thrilled Emmanuelle wanted to join. Now the situation in the band is really better than ever. We have a really professional singer who is really motivated, in good health, and album to tour a lot. I think, in the next year, Sirenia will tour more than we had in the last eight years all together.
The spirit is very good in Sirenia at the moment. We are happy that we can finally start touring again. We love touring, and in the last three of years we had a lot of problems with that and we were not able to tour a lot. Now we feel we are finally able to run the band in a way it should be run. Everyone is very happy at the moment.
CrypticRock.com – It seems it all worked out well in the end. As you said, Emmanuelle has been associated with Sirenia for some time. The band’s latest record, Dim Days of Dolor, was released back in November of 2016 and has received quite a bit of positive praise. This is actually your quickest turn-over between albums. What was the writing and recording process like for this new album?
Morten Veland – I think it was pretty much the same as before. Also, I spent about two years writing the album. I had already started writing material for it even before 2015’s The Seventh Life Path was released. It was a one and a half year period between releases. Also, the record company released it a couple of months earlier than planned actually due to the fact that we received an offer for a European tour. The record company really wanted to have the album out in time. They put a lot of effort into running everything fast and effectively so we could get the album out in time. That also shortened the wait period a bit.
I think the last two years have been a really productive period for me. It has been very inspirational, I had tons of ideas, and I worked systematically to get things done. Also, the fact that we weren’t really able to tour anything the last two years, because of the situation in the band, that gave me a lot of time composing songs. That is what I did, I spent a lot of time in the studio writing songs. I guess that is the reason why the period in between the albums was so short this time. The composing for this album was around two years as it is normally for a Sirenia album.
CrypticRock.com – The new album is quite exceptional and has been getting a lot of positive reviews. You mentioned touring, Sirenia has never actually visited North America with Sirenia. Is it is a possibility the band will now be coming to the USA?
Morten Veland – Yes, actually there is. It is true, Sirenia has never played the US before. It has turned out to be difficult for one reason or another. I don’t know exactly why, some of it has to do with the long distance and also the high cost of flights, working permits, visas, and all the paperwork. The cool thing now is Sirenia has signed up with a new management which is based in the US. They have a lot of contacts and we are actually working on a tour for North America in May. It seems 2017, it finally will be possible for Sirenia to come to the US. Hopefully we will have more news on that soon. Finally, it looks possible for us to come to the US.
CrypticRock.com – That will be very exciting. It is quite difficult for a band to come to the US. It is also not uncommon, many bands which have attained success in Europe, such as Sirenia, have not been to America. For example, Anathema took quite a while to make it over to the US, also, Paradise Lost comes to the US very sparingly over the last few decades. Sometimes it takes a while.
Morten Veland – For sure. We also have not really had the right contacts in the past over there. It has proven to be a bit difficult, also the costs were too high to bare and so on. It seems like it is now possible for us in 2017, hopefully it will. It will depend on a little support from the fans. We will put together a Crowdfunding to see if fans have interest helping us with visa costs, etc. This will help make this project easier to realize. At the moment, we have agencies working on everything with shows. The plan is to put together a tour for May of 2017.
CrypticRock.com – It will be extremely exciting to see it come together. Speaking of Dim Days of Dolor, the album sees less of your harsh vocals amidst the tracks. Was it a matter of feeling the songs did not call for them as much?
Morten Veland – You can say it is whatever the song calls for. I think for me, with Sirenia, it has been going from waves from album to album. There are some Sirenia albums where there are a lot of growls on it and some with really few growls. I think the previous album, I think I was missing a bit of the extreme elements in our music. I think The Seventh Life Path is a very dark, powerful, kind of old school Gothic Metal album in a lot of ways. With Dim Days of Dolor, I want to focus more on the melodic aspects again and giving the female vocals more space again. It goes a bit back and forth from album to album. I have periods of working with the growling parts and maybe I get a bit tired of that and want to work with the more melodic things. Then the next album it is less, it is just back and forth from album to album I think.
CrypticRock.com – It is good to change things up. You do not want to do the same album over and over. Clearly Sirenia does not do that.
Morten Veland – Exactly. It is important to keep the interest level up, it has to be interesting writing songs. If you work with some elements in music for a long period of time, at least myself, I come to a point where I have to change it up a bit to make it interesting for me to compose and work all these albums with music. I always try, from album to album, to change a bit; improve some things, try out new things, experiment a bit, and make variations on the vocals and such. At the same time, it is also important for me to balance out the level of experimenting and changing because I always want Sirenia to sound like Sirenia. I want it to sound like a new and refreshed version of Sirenia on every album, but at the same time, I do not want to take that too far where all of a sudden we sound like a completely different band.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it is difficult to find that balance. You want to experiment, but at the same time, you want to keep the band’s identity.
Morten Veland – Absolutely, also, you have a lot of fans who want us to change a lot more, and some people want us to change a lot less. I guess we are kind of the middle somewhere. We like to change, we like the band to go forward, but at the same time, we really respect who we are and our musical concept has been more or less the same since the beginning. We have kept the evolution going and making changes from album to album, but never really taking it too far, in my opinion.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed completely. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror/Sci-Fi films. If are you fan of these genres, what are some of your favorites?
Morten Veland – I think everyone is a fan of Star Wars. I had a period in my younger years, from fifteen to eighteen or so, I was watching a lot of Horror movies, especially older ones from ’60s, ’70s, and early ’80s. Back then, they were not relying as much on all these film effects, it was more the story that really gave you the creeps. I really like that and I prefer a really good story than a lot of special effects and things like that. I think there are some really good old movies.
Lately, I have not seen a lot of films the last seven or eight years. I have a hard time actually finding time to watch movies anymore. I hardly watch movies and read books anymore, life is just too busy these days to do so. I kind of miss it, every now and then to sit down and enjoy an evening watching a couple of movies.
CrypticRock.com – Many can relate to that hectic nature of life. There were some really memorable Horror films in the eras you mentioned.
Morten Veland – Yes, there was a lot. There was one film called The Changeling (1980 )and it was a good one. I have forgotten most of the names by now, but there were really a lot of good ones. I can’t recall films by the name anymore, it has been twenty-five years or so since I had watched all those movies.
Petr Marek (CZE)Posted at 15:41h, 13 January
Thank you very much for this interview! Sirenia is a matter of my heart <3 I wish good luck to Mr. Morten Veland. Please keep composing such great music! I am also very looking forward to another Mortemia album 🙂