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Amanda Somerville / Trillium: She-Ra & He-Man STALKER series „Women In Rock“
Most of you know Amanda Somerville through her co-operation with bands like Epica, Avantasia and her awesome Metal-Opera AINA, which she wrote together with Sascha Paeth. She is not only a great singer with a variable voice, she is also a great songwriter and composer. Now the Power-women from Flushing, Michigan, is back with a new project called Trillium and a new record which offers many awesome songs and a duet with Mr. Jorn Lande. Amanda chatted with us via e-mail about her musical history and her new “baby”.
Hey Amanda, how are you doing? At the moment you are co-operating with Epica again, so how are you involved in the new record?
Hello there, I´m fine, thank you. I hope you are, too!
For Epica´s new album, I´m co-writing the songs, as always, checking Simone´s & Mark´s vocal recordings and also singing some choirs / backing vocals - some things remain the same throughout the years. :-)
Ok let´s first go a little bit back in time, can you tell me more about your musical history? How did all start, when did you realize you wanna become a singer and how did you finally succeed?
I grew up in a very musical family where music was a very basic and essential part of life. According to my mother, I was singing before I was talking. It was always a “learning-by-doing” process and I was fortunate to also have very good music mentors in both my family and at my elementary school, so I learned to read music and play piano at a rather young age. There was no sudden moment or conscious decision in my wanting to become a musician; that´s all I ever wanted to be and do. All throughout my life, I was giving concerts, performing in talent shows and competitions, even DJ-ing, hosting karaoke & singing in cover bands and jazz combos to earn money when I was in university. It´s just always been a part of my life!
It´s obvious that you have a great talent when it comes to singing, but what kind of education did you receive concerning your voice?
I never did study music formally, nor was I classically-trained in singing. My Grandmother taught me how to read music and gave me the basic foundation that I still use for composing today. As far as voice is concerned, I sing daily, but I´m not really too disciplined in terms of vocal exercises. I´m more of an emotion-based singer than into technique.
So do you also play any instruments?
Yes, I play piano / keys. My Dad tried to teach me how to play guitar, but I never had the patience!
You are American but you´ve been living in Europe since 1999, can you tell us why you moved here?
Initially, it was love that brought me over to Europe as a young girl, but then I met Sascha and Miro and ended up staying in Europe because of music and the work I was doing at the Gate Studios. The Gate Studios are located in Germany and we worked with a few Dutch bands, so that´s why I spent so much time in Germany and the Netherlands.
I heard your German is very good, so do you enjoy living here or is there still some kind of home sickness? Can you imagine spending the rest of your life in Europe?
I love living bi-continentally and traveling around the way that I do, but I couldn´t do it if I wasn´t able to get back to my hometown and family back in Michigan every couple of months. That´s a big priority for me. I can´t imagine, however, spending the rest of my life in any one place anymore. There´s too much I love on a totally different spectrum about Europe and N. America for me to choose one permanently! What do you miss most about your home country?
My friends and family. Also, there´s just a basic culture that´s ingrained in you. I´ve gotten used to other traditions, languages, social customs, etc., but when you´re home, you´re HOME.
How about the music scene in USA and Europe, what would you say are the main differences and which scene is better, from your point of view?
I wouldn´t say one is necessarily better than the other, because each has its own positive and negative aspects; they´re just different. I´d say the main difference is the lyrical content and the understanding from the audience´s perspective. Most non-English Euro bands write and sing in English and yet are performing for the majority of non native English speakers. There´s a huge difference between native English speaking bands performing for native English speakers and the opposite. It´s obvious that the lyrics will be different and have a different priority and that goes the same for the audience and their appreciation and understanding of the lyrics. I´d say that´s probably the biggest difference!
You started working with several Metal Bands from all over Europe, how did that co-operation come up and how did you catch their attention?
When I first moved to Germany in 1999, I was playing small gigs either by myself on piano and vocals or in a little trio with bass and drums (and me on piano). I needed some recordings done, because I hadn´t released a CD at that point, and the bass player who was working with me said that his ex-brother-in-law owned a studio. Well, his ex-brother-in-law happened to be Sascha Paeth. So, I recorded some songs in the Gate Studio and Sascha liked my music and voice and asked if I´d want to sing on his new album. That ended up being his duo project with Andre Matos, called VIRGO. He also did some re-mixes for my first solo album. Then, Sascha called me after we´d been working together for some time and asked if I would write a Metal opera together with him, which was AINA. Then I was asked to coach for, write and sing with EPICA, then AFTER FOREVER. ...and the ball has been rolling ever since!
You are not really a super-mega-metal-diva girl, as you name it yourself, so are your roots more in Pop/Rock music, or did that changed nowadays as you are mainly working with Metal Bands?
Your roots always remain the same, though you can grow new branches. :-) The music I grew up listening to was very diverse and eclectic, mainly in pop, rock and jazz. Since working with so many people in the metal scene, however, that´s definitely rubbed off and left its mark and I certainly developed into a new direction because of it, as a writer, a listener and a singer.
You new baby is called Trillium, why did you choose a new band name and did not just release another Solo record?
The motivation to make my own metal album came when I was working on HDK with Sander Gommans a few years ago. I LOVED writing and performing metal music and had planned to make my next solo album more uniformly in that direction. But after some careful consideration, I decided to make it a project to keep it totally separate from my solo music, so that I can still put a jazz ballad or Jamaican drinking song on my next solo album and not have to explain or apologize to anyone. ;-) It´s still 100% me and those who know me as a solo artist are used to me being rather musically schizophrenic, but since I´m relatively new in the metal scene, I wanted to keep it more clear-cut.
The record features a very beautiful duet named “Scream it” with Jorn Lande: why did you choose Jorn as partner and can you tell us a bit more about the story behind it? What is the song about?
I´m glad you like it! Since working with Jorn on Avantasia in 2008, he´s become a very good friend and won my utmost respect as a musician and vocalist. The man is an incredible talent and I adore his voice! He´s also a wonderful person and can play a role perfectly. I had him in mind when I wrote the antagonistic role in "Scream It" and I was fortunate enough to have him gladly take part. He did an incredible job and it was exactly what I had in mind. The song is kind of a metal “Romeo and Juliet” tragic love story. In the beginning, everything is wonderful (as it always is when you´re newly in love ;-), but then things hit a bump in the road and it turns out that Jorn is a psychopathic killer who was trying extremely hard to be “normal,” but it´s just not working out for him, so he keeps warning me that he´s no good for me. My character kind of knew he had a dark past, but still is optimistic and keeps brushing off his warnings, naively thinking that love conquers all. Well, he ends up killing me, so it didn´t quite work out the way my romantic character hoped!
How do the plans look with Trillium for the upcoming months, do you think we finally get you to see on tour with this band?
Though I can´t quite announce them yet until everything is 100% nailed down, there are plans for touring with TRILLIUM. I´ll announce them as soon as they are!
Your Solo-Records are more into Pop/Rock than Trillium, iwhere do you feel yourself more at home?
Every new album, each new project or band or artist I work with or write and record is a further step in my growth process as a musician and as a person. So each one has changed my life, because it left a lasting influence on me that´s led me to who I am today. I´ve always been very eclectic in the music that I write. Even though Alloy is stylistically diverse, it´s the most uniform album I´ve ever released. I think it´s always interesting to have various elements interwoven in one song. At the moment, I feel very at home with TRILLIUM, but it doesn´t mean I am limiting myself to it.
You released a great record with Michael Kiske last year, do you have plans to do another one together, or maybe a record with a different great singer?
It was a great experience and I really loved the album, though we´re both busy with our own bands / projects at the moment. Still, I´m always open for a new challenge!
You are also composing songs, which is really impressive to me; where do you get the inspiration for new stuff and how does your normal songwriting process look like?
Why, thank you, again. :-) Being that I´m as much a writer as I am a musician, the lyrics are of utmost importance to me as well as the music that goes along with them. My songs are always very emotional, because I don´t believe in writing or performing anything you don´t totally believe in or can´t make people feel along with you. On the most basic level, they´re all about human struggles and relationships; something we can all relate to, but many of the songs have a very violent streak in them. All of my songs are personal-based, whether it was something I went through or a dream that I had or someone / something that inspired me. My songs are little windows into the innermost workings of Amanda Somerville. :-) As far as songwriting goes, I don´t really have a “normal process.” Sometimes a song will begin as a chorus or a verse, or just a melody, or some chords. Sometimes it´s just lyrics and the body of the musical composition comes later. And sometimes a song will come to me from start to finish in its entirety; chords, vocal lines, lyrics and all! So every time, it´s different.
I can imagine that even the best songwriter get´s every now and then a writer´s block, so what do you do to relax yourself and get new inspiration?
I´ve never really been able to force a song. I don´t believe in doing anything contrived, especially when it comes to songwriting. I think it´s a blasphemy to one´s art. Music is my emotional outlet and I let it take me wherever it leads. If I have an idea that´s just not moving further, I set it aside and wait for it to “speak” with me again. Some songs have taken months or even years to finish for that reason; they just need their time. And sometimes, a deadline can be a miraculous motivator. ;-)
I am a singer too, so what I wanna know is : What kind of advice can you give to singers to keep their voice in shape, or how they can teach themselves to become a better singer? I saw that you even teach your dog how to sing, very cute. (Amandas YouTube : http://www.youtube.com/user/amandasomerville)
Haha!! Well, I must confess that Blitz is a natural talent and I didn´t have much to do with that! He started singing along with me while I was doing some recording when he was just a few weeks old and things just went from there. :-) As for other humans who want some advice, I can only tell you that the best way to sing is with your eyes closed and your heart open. Perhaps that sounds silly, but I think that makes all the difference in the world, rather than only focusing on technique. If you love to sing, then sing. you can become a much better singer if you work at it - I´m sure of that. However, if you want to make your career and living out of singing, then there´s a basic foundation of talent that needs to be there and no singing lessons - or Melodyne ;-) - will ever be able to compensate for that.
I read that your influences beside others are She-Ra and the Finnish men choir Mieskuoro Huutajat (screaming men choir), very nice, but why She-Ra? And how did you get to know this Huutajat choir? I know they have gigs in Germany, but have you ever been to Finland?
Wow - another laughing fit! I grew up as a huge She-Ra fan and actually felt a lot of female-empowerment because of her! It´s very fitting, because Sander (Gommans) is an avid He-Man collector, and when we first worked together in 2003, that was our point from which we hit it off with one another. And now he´s my He-Man and is very much involved in a lot that I do musically, so She-Ra has led me to good places in my life. :-) As far as Mieskuoro Huutajat is concerned, it was actually something my brother-in-law introduced me to and I found extremely interesting and entertaining. They served as a source of inspiration for the Krakhon characters in AINA! And no, so far I´ve never been to Finland, though I hope to someday!
Is there a special Band or Singer you would really enjoy working with?
My biggest idol is Paul Simon, so that´s a dream of mine to work with him, however farfetched it is.
So how are the plans for the upcoming month and for next year? What projects are you working at?
I´m currently finishing up the negotiations of a tour for TRILLIUM, which I´ll be able to announce soon. And I´ve been working on writing songs with Mark, Simone and Coen for the new Epica album. In January, I´ll be touring with Rock Meets Classic once again (with Steve Lukather from Toto and Ian Gillan from Deep Purple, for example), so I´m definitely busy! But TRILLIUM is my utmost priority and I´m very excited about the release, so I´m busy with videos, blogs and interviews, etc. for that. Very exciting!
Ok last but not least: What would you like to be asked in an interview that you have never been asked before?
Hm... I´ve actually had a few very good interview questions lately (including yours!) that I´d never been asked before, which is very fun to be thrown off-guard sometimes. Perhaps I wouldn´t mind be asked about the current state of the music industry and what I feel about people downloading music illegally. To go ahead and answer that, I think that people should think of music like any other service or job: you wouldn´t ask or expect your plumber to fix your sink for free if you´ve called him for that specific job, would you? So why would you expect us musicians to write, record and perform for you without any bit of compensation or support? And also, just because you do it in the privacy of your own home doesn´t mean it´s any different than sneaking a CD out from a store under your coat.
Thank you so much for your time and I wish you all the very best for the future, Amanda!
Thank you very much, Sandy. I appreciate your interest and your interesting questions! You really did your homework for this interview and that´s (unfortunately) a rarity and VERY COOL! All the best!
Author: Sandy Mahrer, photos: Band Date: 2011-11-27