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22nd September 2009
METAL DISCOVERY: Hi, Mark from Metal Discovery.
HEIN FRODE HANSEN: Hi Mark, it’s Hein from Theatre of Tragedy calling.
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(Hein Frode Hansen on Theatre of Tragedy's Raymond István Rohonyi and his growled vocals on new album, 'Forever is the World')
"...he’s the one who’s been vowing never to do it again...It turns out he read an interview with a former member of the band implying we’ve gone a bit gay on our older days, and he’s like, “well, I did this to prove him wrong!” "
Theatre of Tragedy - uncredited promo shot, 2009
Photograph supplied by, and used with permission from, Mike Exley at M.E.P.R.
Interview by Mark Holmes
Hailing from Stavanger in Norway, Theatre of Tragedy are widely credited with helping engender the stylings and idioms associated with the second wave of goth metal with their pioneering dual vocal approach of a growled male voice alongside clean female singing, predating the likes of Trail of Tears, Tristania, After Forever and, in more recent years, Epica. Introducing a strong element of industrial rock and electro-pop sounds into the mix mid-career on fourth and fifth studio albums 'Musique' and 'Assembly', it is that latter release which would transpire to be the last to feature Liv Kristine (or Liv Kristine Espenæs Krull as she now prefers to be known) when it was requested she leave the band due to unresolvable musical differences. Enter talented vocalist Nell Sigland, co-founder of The Crest, to take over female vocal duties, and next release, 2006's 'Storm', marked a partial return to Theatre of Tragedy's erstwhile darker metal aesthetic. Recently released new album, 'Forever is the World', follows that trend, although the Norwegian metallers have seemingly gone full circle in making an album that oozes all the atmosphere, melancholy, and melodious essence that made their self-titled debut the success it was fourteen years ago. I took the opportunity to quiz longstanding member, drummer Hein Frode Hansen, about this stunning new release, as well as discussions around an array of other topics including what constitutes the subgenre of 'goth metal' and singer Raymond Rohonyi's alter-ego of a particular character from a British sitcom! Read on...
MD: How you doing?
HH: Pretty good. Sorry I’m calling a bit late; I was in the middle of a huge house sale discussion here!
MD: No problem, it’s only ten minutes late! I heard the new album a couple of weeks ago, ‘Forever Is The World’, which I’m loving; it’s really good. There’s a really nice balance between atmospherics and good catchy melodies in the songwriting. It’s been just over three years since ‘Storm’ was released, so was that three years of composing, or was there a more concentrated period of writing for this one?
HH: I should do the professional musician answer to that and say oh, it’s constant writing, but I think it was three years of laziness! [laughs] To be honest, I think a little bit of both. We sort of set out not to take another three years. Those three years…actually, it was almost four years between ‘Assembly’ and ‘Storm’, and in that period of time we also changed female singers. Obviously we needed a little more time to finish up the record, but this time we set out not to take as long and try to be a bit more speedy with things but, you know, we’re not exactly the fastest band in the world and, when we come together, it’s not like we’re always completely in accordance with each other on what we want. We spent a lot of time, probably about a year after ‘Storm’, coming to terms with what people wanted and trying to find a method where everybody could work together in an okay way. And then our guitar player Frank pretty much said one day - “well, if we’re gonna make another record, we need to just get everybody down the rehearsal room and everybody needs to suffer just as much as everybody in the band to make this record.” And that’s what we did. We just went down to the rehearsal room and just started writing stuff together, and that’s the first time in ten to twelve years we’ve probably done that. And I think, for us, it probably shows a bit in the record because it’s not your typical copy and paste Pro Tools kind of album. We sort of dared to try and make the arrangements a bit more back to basics like we did in the old days, not worrying too much about - “we need another chorus here; and we need this and that; and we need some element that people can recognise in the end of the song” and all of that sort of stuff. We threw that formula away and just headed out, and…old school territory.
MD: I think you can kind of hear that togetherness in the songwriting, and the album as a whole - you know, it’s not patchy or too diverse or anything like that; there’s a good togetherness about the whole thing, and I think that comes across in the recordings as well.
HH: Well, I’m glad you say that because we worked really hard to combine the songs in this perfect order where, when you start a record, you get a feeling of what’s going on and there’s some kind of red line between the whole record and the title track. We didn’t set out to say that we were gonna make all these up tempo hit songs, but we still need to be catchy because we always try to have a lot of hook lines, and a lot of melodies, and combining this with all the heavier stuff. It ended up being a lot more atmospheric record than we set out to be but, in the end, it’s just something that Theatre does really well, to be honest. We know how to make these songs emotional and that’s just the way it turned out this time, you know [laughs]
MD: Well, I think like I said in my first question, the balance between the atmospherics and catchy melodies is perfect, but without the hook lines and catchy parts being completely in your face. I read in an interview recently, I think with yourself, where you said you planned for there to be no growled vocals on the new album…
HH: [laughs]
MD: …and if I can quote you - “I don’t think anyone could drag Raymond into the studio to do growling vocals anymore, it would have to be a million euro contract for him to do that”. But, I listened to the first song, ‘Hide and Seek’, and growled vocals! Did he have a change of mind or a million euro contract from AFM?
HH: To be honest, there’s no million euro contract on the table for this record, that’s for sure! I have to eat my words there because the journalist I did this interview with is an old associate of the band who’s been following us for a long, long time, actually for the past twelve years. He’s been constantly bugging me about this ever since I said that and I have to eat my words! To be honest, there wasn’t any growled vocals planned. There was not any discussions about having it; there wasn’t any plans or we didn’t scheme together and say “oh, we’re gonna really surprise people with growled vocals”. It’s a funny story because what happened was one week before we were gonna enter the studio we had a band meeting where we went through all the songs, and we were constantly hounding our singer Raymond because he was a bit slow coming up with vocal lines for the record. We said “well, you have about four days left now and you need to have vocals for at least three or four songs in that period of time”…and he’s like “yeah, yeah, I’ll get to it, no worries; the recordings are still a week away, don‘t worry”. And, you know, it’s one of those typical Theatre of Tragedy things - you necessarily do anything before you definitely have to! [laughs] And then he went into his home studio, and in one day he set out three demos with growled vocals on all of the tracks! What the hell’s going on here?! You know, he’s the one who’s been vowing never to do it again; he’s been “never in hell would I do that again”! And, we’re like, “what the hell came into your mind?!” It turns out he read an interview with a former member of the band implying we’ve gone a bit gay on our older days, and he’s like, “well, I did this to prove him wrong!” [laughs]…“I did this out of spite!”
MD: I think it works well though.
HH: The thing is, it’s like time stood still when we got those growled vocals. We were like, “Jesus Raymond, why didn’t you do this earlier, it sounds perfect!”
MD: Maybe more in the future then.
HH: I hope! Now he’s all keen on recording everything with growls. I’m sure if we recorded the record now, there would be growls all over the place!
MD: There’s obviously some sort of repressed growler inside him then itching to growl again!
HH: Yeah, maybe some hidden aggression that he needed to get out! I think when we listen to it now, it suits the songs. It makes sense to have it without being completely nostalgic in this retro kind of way.
MD: Definitely, and I think the progression the music has taken again, it does fit what you’re doing with the music.
HH: Yeah, I think so too, so we’re happy about that. It’s a bit funny that he did this growl thing because we end up doing things really late. We had a mutual friend of ours who was gonna do some orchestral arrangements based upon Lorentz, our keyboardist’s playing and stuff like that, and he had an idea he wanted to make it a bit more majestic and more orchestral on some songs. We set out to do that and I think we had a deadline with all the strings by the 1st June…I think that was the deadline because the album needed to be finished in the mix June 21st or something like that, like three weeks later. And I think the last orchestral arrangements came in June 25th [laughs]. So it was like four days before it went into mastering so it just proves that, if you’re patient enough, it will come in a good way, you know! [laughs]
MD: Three years between albums and you still have all the last minute stuff! I heard the album’s being released in the double vinyl format as well, like a limited edition. Are you a fan of vinyl yourself?
HH: I am, for sure. I’m very old school when it comes to my records. I had a bit of falling out to the CD format during the nineties because, basically, you couldn’t get hold of vinyl anymore but, since the past three years, as a statement against all this mp3 downloading thing, I’ve recently started taking up buying records again. So it was pretty much my idea to get this vinyl together and I see also that it’s growing a lot more. Especially in the rock/metal market because I think they’ve always been happy with that format but it hasn’t been that big anymore. But I think it’s coming back as a reaction to the whole non-physical releases that’s going on.
MD: Yeah, and I think people are always into nostalgia, revelling in the past, and that maybe reminds them of when they first got into music and collected vinyl, and it becomes a nice thing for them to do again.
HH: Yeah. I mean, I started out buying records on vinyl when I was young. I still remember ordering…because we couldn’t get any good metal records in Norway back in the mid-eighties, and I remember ordering from places like Resurrection Records in…no, actually it was Shade Records, you remember that?
MD: Yeah, yeah.
HH: Yeah, that was like my holy grail - their ads in Kerrang. You know, and I was completely eating up all the English magazines. I still remember to this day getting a package with the Candlemass record ‘Nightfall’…
MD: Oh yeah, I’ve still got that on vinyl myself.
HH: Yeah, I still have the original version, and it’s just an amazing record, and that pretty much set my foot in doom for that time being. It was like my definition of what really good doom metal is. So, I mean, nothing can beat that feeling in the days where you just bought one record a month because you didn’t have enough money. Although there wasn’t many releases at all; there wasn’t a hundred releases each week. There was maybe two or three important releases each month. So I think that’s what we wanted to go for with this record and make a complete record, not with hit songs but with a package that is set out to fit the format of a record. You know, you can’t really pick out one song and say “oh, that’s a hit; that one needs to be sold”. The label really wanted us to have more of those but obviously they’re record labels and they…
MD: …they want to make money!
HH: Of course they want to make money, but I think everyone makes more money if you sell a complete record than if you sell one single song on iTunes.
MD: Some bands will always be album band; some will always sell more singles and not so many albums, so…it kind of leads me onto asking - ‘Deadland’ was released as a single at the start of this month?
HH: Yes, that’s true.
MD: Was that a label or band choice for that particular song to be the single?
HH: That was a complete label thing; we had nothing to do with that! [laughs]
MD: Right, you just let them get on with it and put out what they wanted.
HH: The way I see it, we record the record and we make the songs, and if the label wants to release a digital single with the most commercial track…I mean, I understand their point of view because they need to promote the record and they want to sell records, but I think our audience is a bit past that. I think the general reaction has been to the B-side; they’ve played with that more because it’s a heavier, darker tune.
MD: Is that ‘Hide and Seek’?
HH: Yeah. So I think our fans are more interested in longer and more atmospheric songs than just up tempo Goth songs, you know. I mean, it’s always been a tradition of Theatre of have at least one up tempo Goth rock song on there. We need to be true to tradition, you know! [laughs]