The Gathering have just released their first album with their new charismatic singer, Silje Wergeland. Twenty years down the road and still going strong, The Gathering continues to shake things up and touch the emotions. I finally caught up with Hans and Silje at Prostor Abaton – a fairly inconspicuous place in the Liben district of Prague – to speak about new beginnings in The Gathering.
I first heard of your band in an American metal magazine, Metal Maniacs, the description sounded interesting to me, so I ordered your CD “If Then Else” and was instantly hooked. I am familiar with your older metal stuff, but why is it that you get the continued coverage in the metal scene? I would describe your music as good for lovemaking or a rainy day on the train…
Hans: I do not know, but I think the main thing is that it´s a sub-genre. That what we´ve made together with bands like Anathema and Ulver, sort of an atmospheric kind of metal, it´s a sub-genre in metal and we do interviews with every magazine: pop, rock, alternative, sympho-metal. You name it, we do interviews and metal is still interested in us, so we still do interviews, and we play in metal festivals but I do think we sound metallish, we still have a metal structure. We are not as ambient as people sometimes say we are, The Gathering is not ambient, we are atmosperical but we are not an ambient band.
Perhaps something along the lines of what Opeth had done with their album “Damnation”?
Hans: They are quite heavy. I think that´s quite interesting. I think if metal wants to survive, they have to invent things; they have to do crossover things. I think that´s very important because it´s not going well with metal, I think, sales wise and concert wise. I think it´s good to stir the scene a little bit up, shake it a little bit up.
What has been the reaction to your new album “The West Pole” so far?
Hans: It´s good. We were quite afraid, reading all the magazines about all the bands who had changed their vocalists. We always had the idea like: ok, Black Sabbath changed vocalists, Marillion changed vocalists and they are still strong names. Black Sabbath with Dio, they had some good albums. The same goes for Marillion, you name them. But of course the story of Nightwish, it´s a horrible story; you see YouTube movies with angry audiences. There are a lot of childish fans. But we are very happy with it. Both fans and magazines are very positive and they both understand that Anneke went away, we didn´t kick her out. I think that helps us a lot too, you know.
What´s actually the meaning behind the title “The West Pole”?
Hans: No real big story behind it. If there is a story, it´s an observation thing, like you can sit in a pub and think about the title like “where should the west pole be? In the west of course.” It´s just an imaginary title.
Could you briefly describe the process of finding a new singer?
Hans: The main idea with the West Pole was to make an album with several vocalists, male and female, so we didn´t have the intention to find somebody for real, of course we hoped to find somebody and we were already busy recording with Marsela and Alma for the West Pole for two songs. Then Silje came in, we were busy with auditions, we had audition on the internet, then Silje came in, we had emailed each other, at a certain point she was coming by also one day, and at a certain point we were a band again. So it happened accidently, really. Of course it was great we were a band again instead of a project because the West Pole was intended to be a project.
You did consider a male singer, but now, do you see Silje as a new beginning for the band?
Hans: Yeah, it is a new beginning. It´s a new era. Sure.
What sort of differences would you see now, with the new singer?
Hans: With Anneke, well, she´s a different person. Though there are similarities in her voice, she seems different, she has a different emotion in her voice and as I said, there are similarities so she can handle the old stuff quite easily, though she´s doing it a different way. I know Anneke´s strength was that she could sing very emotionally, I think Silje is more in control. It´s a different kind of emotion, not the pouring out kind of emotion and it fits perfectly with her music and it was the main thing, of course. Could we find somebody with the same chemistry? And that´s what happened.
Where does the inspiration for your lyrics come from?
Hans: I think normal life, really. Things that happen, virtual things. With Silje, it´s not really fairy taleish. It´s not a story which is just made out of nothing. It´s not fairy tales and dragons and etcetera. It´s quite real life, really. Maybe written down poetically, not, it´s not, well, no bullshit.
What cities bring out the most people?
Hans: I think South America. Those are the countries where we are the biggest in a live situation.
Any countries in particular?
Hans: I think Chile. Yeah, we are most popular in Chile. Strange enough, end of the world.
Silje, what has it been like trying to fill Anneke´s rather large shoes?
Silje: I´ve never seen Anneke´s shoes so I don´t know. I´m just trying to do my job as good as I can and I don´t try to think about the size of her shoes or anything. I think of the band as having a certain standard and they want to do the level they are and I want to do my best and I want to stay on the path they are, of course.
How do you feel about the reaction from the fans?
Silje: It´s been very good. Really, really nice. I´d have to say the fans of The Gathering are a very good bunch of people, they seem to have a lot of respect for the band and they respect the situation the band is in, but, you know, you can never please everybody and everybody can express their feelings about things, but in general we have been overwhelmingly well received, the album.
Who are your major musical influences?
Silje: Many. It´s from extreme metal: Emperor, Slayer and Metallica and I grew up with some jazz and some folk music and you know, Sigur Ros for example, Pink Floyd has been of course been a big influence and Black Sabbath. I don´t have like one, but within certain genres there has been quite a few.
What has been your background in singing prior to Octavia Sperati?
Silje: Not very much to be honest. I started learning to play piano when I was six, and then I… My family has been into music for a long time. My dad is a jazz musician, he performed as a professional and my mom has always been singing and sings in choirs and my sister does the same and I did a lot of dancing when I was a kid. I didn´t sing professionally or any choirs or anything, I had a band when I was 13, but it was more, I was in it just for fun. I´ve done some singing lessons; I´ve done some rock courses for vocals.
It was really nice meeting you, and I guess we´ll be out of your way.
Silje: Are you staying for the night? For the show?
Silje: Then I guess we´ll be seeing you later.
Silje: You too.
Author: Lann Davis, transl. Kathleen Gransalke, photos: The Gathering, Dušan Hýl