Saturday, 25 October 2014

Interview: The Sirens - Metal's Maidens Unite

Liv Kristine (Theatre of Tragedy, Leaves' Eyes), Anneke Van Giersbergen (The Gathering) and Kari Rueslåtten (The 3rd and the Mortal) are undoubtedly three of the most influential women in metal. During the 90s they paved the way for a whole new generation of female-fronted metal bands, and have since then had highly successful solo careers of their own. Now they've come together to form The Sirens, celebrating their legacy and like the mythological creature, luring crowds once more with their enchanting voices.

“It's great to be here,” says Kari, as we sit in the tour-bus ahead of their show at The Garage. Liv follows saying: “Wonderful, just wonderful.”
“The audience in London is always so kick-ass,” Anneke adds with enthusiasm.

With a long career behind them, they've done a lot of touring and experienced the city many times. Kari spent three years living in London and Liv performed at The Garage last year with Leaves Eyes'. “It's a very good place to play,” she says reminiscing. The only downside to London is that they never have enough time to look around. Anneke explains: “That's always the case in London, you go in and out because you have to catch ferries and everything so there's almost never the time.”

It all started for The Sirens about a year and a half ago when their paths crossed at a festival. Liv recalls when they began to talk and came up with the idea: “What about sharing a stage, getting together the originals; the first soprano voices in Goth metal.” Liv and Kari are from the same country but had never met before then. “We come from different parts of Norway,” Kari explains. Fortunately they had exchanged contact so “it was just a matter of a few mails and phone calls and the whole thing started rolling,” Liv adds, going on to say: “I think it's amazing to have all three of us together on one set and one stage. For the audience I think, well I hope it's something very special.”

Most of us are familiar with the myth of the siren, a beautiful but deadly creature, that lures men to death with an enchanting voice. Owing to their soprano voices, many female singers including Liv, Anneke and Kari had already been termed the sirens of metal, and as soon as the idea for the group was born they knew what the name had to be. “We thought immediately about The Sirens, something with sirens because you know the sirens for like the female singers and so on. It has kind of mythical thing behind it,” says Anneke.
Liv adds: “They're enchanting, huh?”

There may have been women like Doro and Lita Ford in metal before, but The Sirens were three of the first to use soprano voices and the ones to begin the female metal movement. When Kari did her first gig with The 3rd and the Mortal, she recalls a lot of hype surrounding it, but people weren't expecting her to be the only vocalist: “There were loads of people and I walked on stage, started to sing and continued singing and people were like 'so where is the male singer, when is he coming?' I was like, well it's just me.” Before that it hadn't dawned on her that female metal vocalists were so uncommon. “For us it was very natural and I played in different bands in the metal genre,” she said. As they were jamming, their sound came naturally too and they knew they were going somewhere with it. “We kind of got together and then we figured that this is something, we really like this. So that was like the start.”

Between them they've had such an impact on metal, opening the gateway for countless other bands. I ask if they had any idea of what was to come, they all simultaneously respond with a resounding: “No we did not.” In Kari's view they were all just doing something they enjoyed, and the others agree. The record companies picked up on it before they did: “They thought this is really something, that's why we were signed and released worldwide because they thought there's something in there,” explains Anneke. “And we were just singers, right? We fit the best with that band, apparently we were girls but then after that...” she adds before taking a moment to apologise for speaking for the others. They agree and she continues: “Then after that we realised this is kinda special, then this whole movement comes along, it's great.”

When each of The Sirens started out, things were very different for women involved in metal. Liv didn't encounter any problems back then, but she agrees that women are more accepted now: “Speaking for me personally I've always been treated really well. There are more girls around now than there used to be, I'd say.” However, when Kari started several years before, one of her first bands wasn't so accepting. They just saw her as an addition, rather than part of the band. They also tried to change her vocal style: “It was a rock and metal band and they were like yeah yeah, you seem fine but now you have to start really singing.” She asked them what they meant by that, and they said they wanted her to do a rougher metal voice. She refused and left the band: “No, I'm not doing that. So that's when they let their drummer do the singing instead, so I thought OK fine I'm out of here because I need to sing with my own voice otherwise I'll just lose it.”

Kari believes that they opened the doors for many other bands, and made it acceptable for operatic voices in metal. Tuomas from Nightwish cites The 3rd and the Mortal as one of his influences and favourite bands, and they took the style to another level. “Nightwish and Tarja started it also, but even more-so operatic.” Kari says her voice is only slightly operatic, but she was one of the first to sing in a feminine voice, and now it's easier for others to do so. “I think it's also easier to just sing with a female like, nice voice, because both Lita Ford and Doro had this raw voice.”
“But they definitely opened a lot of doors for us,” adds Liv. Doro and Lita Ford were role models for all of them: “Doro was really important for me to see it's possible for a woman to be a front person in a metal band, she was really good at it,” says Kari.

Although all three of them had similar ideas, they all arose independently. Liv wasn't aware of her peers when she started in metal: “I think all three of us were going individual ways, The 3rd and the Mortal, Theatre of Tragedy and The Gathering all kind of sprung out of nothing and then we realised that yeah, cool there's another one, she gets it, let's have a listen to that,” says Liv. Anneke's band was aware of The 3rd and the Mortal, although she was not: “The guys of The Gathering, they listened to The 3rd and the Mortal before I did.”

Between them, they've almost covered the entire metal spectrum. There are so many metal sub-genres and The Sirens bring that altogether in one show. Anneke said: “that's why it's so cool that we are now together, because it's really special to combine all these things.”

Ozzy Osbourne is Liv's biggest influence, but Anneke takes a lot of inspiration from singers outside of metal. In her early days she loved Diana Ross and Barbara Streisand: “I like singer singers, that's why I just sing sing, not growling or doing anything else. I like this way of singing, it's lyrical with long notes.” One of her favourite bands is Faith No More, and she loves melodic metal but can't remember the name of her favourite band: “For some reason I always forget the name of one of my favourite bands in the world.” Liv suggests Radiohead, and Anneke responds: “No, this is stupid. Yeah, my brain just melted,” before continuing to talk about another of her biggest influences. “Also, Queen, Freddy Mercury, phenomenal singer. I'm very much inspired by those kinds of singers.”

Going back to the subject of combining three long and diverse careers into one show, you'd expect it to be a difficult task, but that wasn't the case. “It was relatively easy, wasn't it,” says Anneke. Each of them just chose what they thought would be suitable and what they wanted. She added: “We didn't have to change anything at all, all the songs just fit.” Each of them got to choose six tracks, and the only thing they had to think about was how to arrange the show. “We had to figure out where should we do it. In trios? We worked a bit on that, but there was no kind of a problem,” explains Liv.
One of the biggest experiences for Kari was how well everything went together at the show in Bonn, Germany. After that there was no doubt about everything coming together.

It didn't occur to them how many bands they were covering until someone mentioned it to them in Germany, Anneke recalls: “We just realised we are doing songs from seven bands, our three old bands, our three new bands and The Sirens songs and we were like holy shit! But it's such a homogenic show.” Having one band performing all of their songs helps to bring it all together says Kari: “It's one band playing all the songs so they're putting their signature onto the songs.” Liv is amazed by how they can transform into each Siren's world: “They're amazing, we just call them THE band.”

 So far The Sirens have recorded two tracks in the studio, but because they're so busy with their individual careers, that might be all we get for a while. Liv said: “We'll do the live shows, of course but as time is passing, when we have time we also have our solo bands.” Writing songs for The Sirens is something they don't want to rush. It has to be inbetween the rest of their work, when they all have the time to sit and think about it carefully. “It's not like OK, so yeah, we're going on tour but ladies I've got another ballad for you, please sing. That's not the way it is, that's not the way we do it. When the time is ready, we'll have bits and pieces coming together,” says Liv.

As we're discussing time constraints, I'm told that mine is up and this is my last question. So, I ask: If you could pick a fourth member of The Sirens, who would it be? Excitedly, Anneke says: “What a good question, I haven't thought about that!” But, it turns out they already have one. “We have Viki,” says Liv before telling me that she's a backing singer and keyboardist for The Sirens. Anneke says: “She's a solo artist, you must know her, she's fantastic,” before adding: “She has brown hair.”
“Brown hair, so The Spice Girls,” says Liv followed by Kari's suggestion of the name Spice Sirens.

“We say thank you, thank you for doing this. And thank you to our fans and friends here in the UK for supporting us throughout the years, we have a nice number of pre sales tonight so we'll lift the roof. It will be a special night, and were very honoured to be able play here at The Garage in London, for the first time as The Sirens,” says Liv to finish up.