December 29, 2014 Interview – Sharon den Adel of Within Temptation
Genre classification can often be limiting to both musicians and fans alike. Why curtail one’s tastes when creative potential is limitless? Defying the exceptions of a label, Dutch Symphonic band Within Temptation know what they want and they are not afraid to go for it. Over the course of nearly two decades, the band has been nominated for, and won, countless awards while morphing their sound from album to album. Achieving international success with their distinct blend of Symphonic, Gothic, Metal, Rock, and countless other elements, Within Temptation push the envelope yet again with 2014’s Hydra. Recently we sat down with the angelic lead vocalist, Sharon den Adel, for a personal recollection of the years past, their hunger to keep creating music, staying healthy, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Within Temptation has really had an amazing career over the past eighteen years originally begun as an underground Doom Metal band and blossoming into the Symphonic band we all know today. Tell us a little bit about the transformation and growth of the band over the years?
Sharon den Adel – When we started, we were actually just all students doing this as a hobby band. After that, what happened was there was a band called The Circle before Within Temptation and it already had a lot of reviews. The guys such as Robert were in the band and only seventeen and eighteen years old and it all went too fast for them. They were just simply too young to get it all on the road and get it organized in time to do a real show. They had great demos and music, but to do it live, with all the orchestral elements, was quite difficult. A few years later when Robert and I started Within Temptation we learned a lot from that period. Still being students, we also took it very seriously. We felt, “Wow, people want us to put out a record,” which was amazing.
In Holland, we do not have much music history and not many heroes we can look up to. We had Golden Earring and Shocking Blue, but that was a long time ago that people had success. There was no real history we could look to, but there are a few names and we are very proud of the few we do have. Now a days, things have changed with DJ’s and bands which are having success, but the time during we were growing up, it was quite difficult. We never felt we would be doing this professionally, we always did it like a hobby. All of a sudden, when we graduated, we had Mother Earth (2000) recorded and it was received very well, like the first album, but for a bigger audience. Our fourth gig after was Dynamo , which was the biggest Metal festival at the time in all of Europe actually. A lot of people came and watched us, our name became bigger in a very short time.
When we released the video for “Ice Queen,” no one wanted to play it at first. They did not want to play our video but we had an option on our website to request our video on the video channel. Within an hour it went crazy with a response. The channel called us and asked to please take it off our website, “You are not even up for a selection.” When we took it off our website, within a month they put us up in the selection so people could vote for us. They saw people really wanted to see the video. Within one week time we were in the charts. Since that time, it all started at a different level and we broke through in the mainstream. During that time, we were able to go on tour with a band like Paradise Lost. It just gradually grew from there and went on tour with other bands. Playing with Paradise Lost was a dream come true because they were one of our heroes when we started. They are not even that much older than we were, they were young when they started, so they were an eye opener for us that you can do this Metal sound with melody and operatic vocals. Hearing that with bands like Dead Can Dance and our love for soundtrack music, we put it all in a melting pot and eventually we added our own flavors into things making Within Temptation. People really liked what we did, it was special and new. We had major success in many countries and it grew and grew.
With every album we did different things and tried to find different sides of ourselves that we liked musically. Mother Earth was very Celtic, then Silent Force (2004) was very Celtic but also had a lot of loops. After that was The Heart of Everything (2007), we got rid of the loops and wanted to go more organic again with big choirs. We finalized our sound on that album more or less, we found that symphonic sound on that album that we were searching for. After that, we felt we could write whatever we wanted to write and we will see where it ends, because we did not get as much inspiration from things we used to be inspired from. The Unforgiving (2011) album was the fastest written album we ever did, it came that way because in the past we had so many boundaries for ourselves or what we should sound like. After The Heart of Everything, we felt like we could let go and we knew ourselves. After that, we now have the Hydra (2014) album which is even more a feeling of we can write whatever we wanted, because The Unforgiving was so liberating for us. Out of all the albums we ever written, Hydra is the most heavy album sound-wise.
CrypticRock.com – It seems like it has been a natural progression for the band. The band really did flourish in Europe since the release of Mother Earth in 2000, but it was not until seven years later when The Heart of Everything was released that the North American audience really caught on to what the band had to offer. What was it like for yourself and the band when you saw the overwhelming positive response from the USA?
Sharon den Adel – We never knew we had that much of a positive response until we came over and toured in support of Lacuna Coil. We were totally surprised that people were so enthusiastic about the songs and music. We were thrilled by that because growing up as kids we always looked up to America, because so much music comes from here. The first concert I ever went to was Bruce Springsteen’s The Tunnel of Love tour, I still cherish that memory very much. You may not expect that from someone in the Metal scene, but that is also the reason as a band we sound very different with every album because we like so many different kinds of music. Although our heart and soul will always be Metal, heavy songs will always trigger us. We also like so many different other kinds of music, that inspires to combine it with Metal to try and make something new.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly, it is wonderful to be so diverse with music. The bands sixth studio album, Hydra, was released earlier this year. This album has a lot of fast and heavy tracks, but also shows great growth in the band’s sound. What was the writing and recording process like?
Sharon den Adel – Strangely enough, it all came very natural. The reason it went that way was because between the albums we had a cover album we did called The Q-Music Sessions (2013). It was a project we never thought we would do because we have never been a band to do many covers. We only did one cover song ever called “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush. We were asked for this project and we learned so much from the songs we covered. We tried to make Pop and Dance songs more Rock and heavier songs than they were. By evaluating those songs we learned so much from it. When we came to Hydra, we wanted to make a really heavy album. Also, one of the songs we covered was from Lana Del Rey called “Summertime Sadness” and what we learned from that process was while writing is we can play the songs in two different ways. The original version of Lana Del Rey’s song is actually half tempo, we made it double tempo, and it still worked for us. When Martijn and I wrote “Paradise,” it is actually a ballad, but you can make it double tempo. We can play it as a heavy version like it turned out, but we can also play it like a ballad, which is totally different. A lot of songs started out as a ballad, we wanted to have the freedom to one day play it as a ballad. A lot of songs that I wrote with Martijn turned out that way. I have always very much been a fan of Alice in Chains and a wink eye to them is “Tell Me Why.” The song started with humming and I had different vocal lines recorded of myself giving that feel like Alice in Chains, I loved the band so much growing up. Listening to old heroes again and taking small parts of that, we integrated that into our music.
CrypticRock.com – It is easy to hear the variety of influences on the record. One of the interesting things about Within Temptation is the band does not seem afraid to push the envelope and go past the Symphonic Metal label. How important is it for yourself and the band to continue challenging yourself and not feel confined within the label of a genre?
Sharon den Adel – I think that is the most important thing for us. Not to be different, but write an album we can live with. We like to challenge ourselves, but also surprise ourselves. We can only do that discovering new roads that we have not walked before. That is why we do it, that is what drives us to make new songs. We are driven and aim to want to write the best song ever, which we never will of course. It is the thing that drives us to make music. You make a song, you are happy for a few days that you made a great song, then you get an itch again that you want to write another great song. It is like adrenaline to want to write a song. For us, one of the ingredients is trying to make a combination of what people expect from us with something totally unexpected. One of those is what we did with Xhibit, which is one of my all-time favorite songs we ever did. A lot of people did not like the song in the beginning, but it was something outside the box. When people heard the song, they thought it actually sounded good. That is the best thing you can hear as a musician.
CrypticRock.com – It is good not to be compliant as a musician, you want to keep trying to better yourself and try new things.
Sharon den Adel – Yes, exactly. I think it also keeps the people wanting to check you out, because you never know what to expect. Although I do admire bands that can do the same thing over and over, it is very difficult for us. Somehow we could not even do it if we wanted to make another Mother Earth or Silent Force. We cannot do it, it does not inspire us to do the same, although I envy bands which can write great song after great song in the same style always; that is special.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it is different for every musician though. Now you certainly have a dynamic vocal range. With all the live performances and traveling, what do you do to keep your voice in such great shape?
Sharon den Adel – Well, it is difficult, especially the flying. Flying always dries out your vocals. A lot of times when I am traveling, especially in America, I am not used to the air condition. I really get colds very easily. One of the best remedies I use on tour is vocal training and ginger root. I used to take all kinds of medicine in the past and they were all taken from the market for some reason, so they probably were not so good after all (laughs). My previous tour manager introduced me to ginger root for muscle pain, it is a very good medicine to recover; it is a natural antibiotic. Take it pure and it is magnificent. You have to put it in hot water with large amounts or eat it raw. Actually, my vocal chords really benefit from it. I like it in tea. For me, it is the best medicine I ever had because it is a natural product.
CrypticRock.com – That is very interesting and good advice for vocalists. You returned to North America this past fall. How exciting was it for you to return to the states having a bunch of new material to offer fans?
Sharon den Adel – Everyone was very excited to be back, it had been quite a while. It was the first time we had really extensive promotion because it was the only way to get people to know we were there. It was the second time we came to America in 2014, but this time it was a proper tour. We were really happy because every time we come to America it is like coming to the land of music (laughs). America has the biggest history besides the UK, so those countries are always magical for us. Most of our idols always came from America so every time we come there we are wowed. We know our history and we read biographies and see movies about bands. It is amazing, so it is always a big adventure for us to come to America.
CrypticRock.com – It is exciting for sure. It is exciting for fans as well because North American audiences really adore the band. One of the stand out aspects of your performance is you are always such an elegant dresser on stage. What has inspired your wardrobe over the years?
Sharon den Adel – When I started the band with Robert, I always was into fashion. I have a fashion degree. I wanted to do fashion design, but I was afraid I would never get a job in the field. I was always inspired by big dresses. That was the first thing that came to mind when I heard our music, that it should be something epic. I cannot be up there in blue jeans; I love them, but not on stage. I wanted to draw on the epic sound that we created in the beginning. That is why I came across these big sort of Victorian dresses. I started renting them from specialized shops. I also wore my Dr Martens underneath because I wanted to have something closest to the shoes they were in the past. It was also a combination of the romantic part of the dress and the heavy boots underneath was a good contrast for me. The response always made people remember the band. For the longest time people did not know the name of the band because we had a difficult name to pronounce so it would become known as the band with the dress (laughs). That is how we started many years ago and it involved my passion for fashion that I always somehow became connected with designers. I also sometimes designed stuff myself and combining it with the picture I had in my mind for the music.
CrypticRock.com – That is extremely interesting. It does add theatricals to the live show. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Sharon den Adel – You should ask our bass player, he is probably one of the biggest Horror movie fans (laughs). Evil Dead (1981) of course is a classic. I am more into the epic kind of films. I do watch Horror films sometimes with the guys. The biggest now for me is Game of Thrones. I read those books twenty years ago. George R. R. Martin is one of my favorite writers of all-time. He can write the best books, he takes a long time to write a follow up of a story. The problem is there are so many characters in his storylines that when they release a new book you have to read the old books again. You need to figure out who was who again (laughs). Now there is the TV series and I am totally hooked. I cannot wait until the next season will be released. The storylines are so crazy and so many things are going on. There is a lot of intrigue with politics and it is done so well. They really did a great job and it comes close to the books. I am also very much into the police series called The Killing. I find the American version much easier than the Danish version. I love the actors in that. I really am a big fan of Thrillers and Detective films.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, the American version of The Killing takes place in Seattle. Being a big fan of Alice in Chains and other bands from that era that must be interesting for you, what is it like for you when Within Temptation play Seattle?
Sharon den Adel – Yes, it is like heaven for me. I know I make a different kind of music, but Alice in Chains, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam, along with Tori Amos, inspired me so much. What I learned from them was it is about emotion; how you want to connect with people is through emotion. I always try to put emotion and melody into our music. Although they make such different music, they brought to me emotion. It touched me so deeply that I should always show emotion in my music and if it does not have emotion then it is not a good song in my opinion.