DATE OF INTERVIEW:
THEATRE OF TRAGEDY
22nd September 2009
HEIN FRODE HANSEN
METAL DISCOVERY: You’ve used Thomas Ewerhard for the album artwork again, and I understand that he’s incorporated elements of covers from all six previous studio albums - was that the band’s brief for him in designing the artwork or did he arrive at that concept himself?
HEIN FRODE HANSEN: Actually, we sat down and discussed the cover artwork together as a band and we thought - what are we gonna do? We’ve done just about everything in the world. I feel the most difficult thing is getting a record title and an album cover ready. It’s easier to write ten songs than to get these two ready! We sat down and thought - what can we do this time?…and we figured, okay, the general sound of the record sums up our career. It’s got stuff that can be reminiscent of the first record all the way up to ‘Storm’, and how can we make an album cover without being too nostalgic and too arrogant about it. So we thought what if we get Thomas to incorporate one element from each record and then add a seventh element for this record, and we combine this into one album cover. And we sent out this huge email, thinking - oh my god, if the guy pulls this off, he’s a graphic genius! How can he possibly be able to do this?! A couple of weeks later, he sent up a sketch which was ninety five per cent done. We were amazed! We were like - “you really nail it, completely what we had in mind”.
(Hein Frode Hansen on Theatre of Tragedy's musical direction with material on the new album)
"I think we’re back to square one now, doing stuff that we really know what the hell we’re doing. I think we got a bit lost in the technological jungle out there!"
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
MD: It’s done very subtly as well; it’s not in your face in the sense of here’s a bit from that album, here’s a bit from another album.
HH: Yeah, I was really happy with the way it turned out because I had an idea in my head of how we wanted it then, when it came about, we were just stunned. Also, when we continued with the rest of the booklet and the album cover and everything with Thomas…he’s done the last three records and it’s like he reads our minds. He just knows what we want. He is so completely on our page, and I think we’re probably never going to make a record without him. It’s just the way he has the feel of what we want, and we can make these really weird explanations and he understands completely, immediately, what we want.
MD: So there’s a good chemistry between you and the actual artist.
HH: Definitely, and he’s quick and really efficient, so that’s also a plus for us, you know, we don’t have to wait three months before he makes the corrections and stuff.
MD: You’ve had a few different labels throughout your career - how does your relationship with AFM compare to the previous labels, and do they allow you complete artistic freedom with your music?
HH: Well, they never ever told us what to write. I mean, one or two they sort of hinted about maybe doing some heavier songs on this record, and we did. Unfortunately, our perception of heavier songs, and their perception of heavier songs was not completely a coherent understanding. But, I think they’re happy with the record. I think they see it has potential as more of a grower record, and can be more self-sufficient over the years rather than a quick hit record. They never really told us where to record or where to produce it or anything like that. We’re control freaks when it comes to all the parts of the process and we always pick out our own producers, and our own studios, and cover artwork, and band photos. You know, we never sent anything out to the label until we’re a hundred per cent satisfied with it ourselves.
MD: Have previous labels imposed any of that on you before?
HH: Well, there’s always a matter of the front cover. You need to agree on the front cover and that’s pretty much it. But when it comes to the rest of the stuff, they try sometimes to ask us about stuff but generally we don’t give a shit! [laughs] I know it sounds harsh but it’s just if you get too caught up in this record label bureaucracy you end up being a parody of yourself. If we’re gonna be a parody of ourselves, we choose to do it ourselves!
MD: Yeah, so you’re always putting out what you choose to represent Theatre of Tragedy and not the record label’s idea of what they think people would want from your band. Like you say, a prime example is ‘Deadland’ as a single and the B-side is the better song.
HH: Yeah, for us it’s much more representative than the other song but, still, we made all the songs so we can’t really tell them - “oh don’t use that song, that’s crap”, because that would be like shooting yourself in the foot! You’ve made the song, you know.
MD: Of course. I gather that ‘Musique’ and ‘Assembly’ have both been recently reissued on Metal Mind - why the decision to re-release those two albums, or was that purely the choice of Metal Mind?
HH: I think that’s got to do with rights, to be honest. Nuclear Blast holds the rights to ‘Assembly’ and ‘Musique’ and Metal Mind has a cooperation with Nuclear Blast re-releasing all the records from them in remastered versions. I think Nuclear Blast was keen on the idea because, obviously, they didn’t have any hassle with re-releasing them and they can create a little bit of a buzz about their back catalogue a bit more. So they contacted me and asked me if we wanted to participate in the making of these because there’s nothing worse than unauthorised reissues with a bunch of crap. Not that I can say all of the tracks on these CDs, you know, the bonus tracks are the most brilliant stuff we’ve come up with but there’s a reason why they’ve been left unreleased. That’s usually with all the bonus tracks, especially when they’re re-released like ten years later or five years later. But, in the end, we tried to figure out which songs we could put on there as bonus tracks that might actually interest people. And we added some photos, and a biography, and stuff like that so, in the end, I’m happy with those two as well.
MD: Yeah, so at least there’s something extra there for the fans if they buy them again.
HH: Hopefully it will actually be people buying it, you know, not again, but for the first time because I’m not a huge fan of re-releasing stuff to get people to buy it again just for a couple of tracks. If you’re gonna re-release something, at least give them a complete bonus disc or a DVD…something relevant and not just a couple of tracks.
MD: Definitely. It’s generally acknowledged that Theatre of Tragedy helped forge the style that became known as Goth Metal, obviously a subgenre that’s still thriving in the current scene, but what does the label Goth Metal mean to you in 2009 because it seems, to me, to have become an overused term in describing any female fronted band who dress in black regardless of the actual style of music or metal? Do you think it’s a term that’s become a bit redundant?
HH: I think the Goth Metal term is not so commonly used anymore. I feel that the bands that were named Goth Metal in the mid-90s and the beginning of 2000 and stuff like that, maybe like Within Temptation, and Epica, Nightwish and all these bands, but they’re more like symphonic stuff, a bit too bombastic and a bit pompous, to be honest. It’s a bit too big for me, to be honest. It’s got atmosphere but I wouldn’t call it Gothic. For me, the whole Goth Metal term was a bit…I wasn’t too keen on it. I don’t really care if people call us Goth Metal, to be honest, but, for me, Goth Metal was just like a derivation of Goth Rock that originated in the UK in the eighties. So, for me, that is more like the definition of Goth…it’s like Fields of the Nephilim, Cure, Joy Division, and Bauhaus…Sisters of Mercy, Mission and all that stuff. You know, like earlier Cult was pretty Gothic. So that’s like my definition of Gothic, but it’s like I’ve grown accustomed to the term…in a bad way! [laughs]
MD: Yeah, it’s funny how many bands from your original era of the early nineties will kind of say the same kind of thing. I’ve read interviews with Moonspell who probably are more overtly Goth Metal than any other band from the third or fourth album onwards and they denounced that term and said they aren’t Goth Metal, and don’t like the term at all.
HH: Yeah, that’s true, and I know because we toured with Moonspell back in 1996 and if they weren’t Gothic back then, I don’t know who were! But I understand their reluctance to not be a Goth Metal band because if it’s just associated with just female vocals and all of that stuff, then it’s a bit misguiding, at least for Moonspell.
MD: I think as well, I can see why any band would maybe denounce any subgenre they’re labelled as because that cements them in that style, and it doesn’t allow them in the media to progress, and when they do progress, like you’ve progressed with your sound, then people start criticising by saying - “what are you doing?…this is not Goth Metal” kind of thing. So I can see why a band wouldn’t want to be associated with a particular scene maybe.
HH: Well, we were part of creating the whole Goth Metal with female vocals genre so it would be sort of redundant to refuse to acknowledge something you’ve been part of making. But there were a lot of bands copying the earlier Goth Metal bands and it’s flattering. You can still hear a lot of Goth Metal stuff in Nightwish and Evanescence, and Lacuna Coil as well comes from a more Gothic place. I think a lot of these bands won’t be able to hide that they’ve got a Theatre of Tragedy record in their collections.
MD: I think I’ve read that Theatre of Tragedy have been a big influence on Nightwish as well.
HH: That’s actually true. I think he’s quoted us as the main influence when they started out. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing! [laughs] It depends on if you like Nightwish or not! I have no relationship to the band whatsoever. They started out after I stopped listening to that average Gothic Metal band. But, I mean, I still feel the band, with Theatre, we’re drawn to the darker side of stuff. It’s what we do best. We’ve tried the whole electro-pop and industrial stuff as well. I think we’re back to square one now, doing stuff that we really know what the hell we’re doing. I think we got a bit lost in the technological jungle out there!
MD: I don’t know if you’ve listened to any Paradise Lost with the past couple of albums they’ve done, or the new album…?
HH: Actually, I used to be a huge Paradise Lost fan. I remember when we started out with Theatre, I remember that ‘Icon’ was a big influence on me. So, for me, Paradise Lost is one of those bands which I call Gothic Metal, or Doom Gothic Metal. I started out buying the first ‘Lost Paradise’ album…I even have that on vinyl as well! [laughs]
MD: And they were one of the original, genuine Goth Metal bands I guess. There’s kind of like a parallel between your band and Paradise Lost because you both started off in that subgenre, or style, or whatever, and then mid-career strayed from that like Paradise Lost did with ‘Host’ and that kind of thing, and then you’ve both returned to your former sound. Was it kind of conscious on your part to go back that way?
HH: I think we just sort of grew tired of the way things were going with our sound. We had longer discussions about what sounds to use, what programming to use, and how the songs were actually going to sound, and we sort of got lost in the whole possibilities of doing sixty or seventy tracks for each song. On this record we just said we’ll write songs that are good and then, if they need programming on there, let’s not do it.
MD: There are still a lot of nice layers on there, but in a different way.
HH: That’s true. But I think the Paradise Lost aspect played a big part for us back in the day, you know, the female vocals kind of thing. You know, when we suggested that, we had the song ‘Gothic’ in the back of our heads, but I think what separated Theatre back in those days was that we decided to use the female and male vocals 50/50 per cent as equals. The female singer wasn’t just some backup singer doing some vocals on the choruses, she was a permanent member of the band, and performed side by side with the band, not someone we just got in there to do a song or two on the record.
MD: I’ve occasionally read, or I still hear people say today, “oh yeah, Theatre of Tragedy, that band that once featured Liv Kristine”. Does it ever bother you to read or hear that because, at least for me, it’s kind of ignorant to everything you’ve achieved and all the great music you’ve produced since she was asked to leave the band.
HH: I think what we’ve done with Liv in the band, I’m really proud of it, and Liv was a huge fan of the band for a very long time, and she did a tremendous job in Theatre of Tragedy, so we had no complaints about that. We’re proud of what we’ve done with Liv, and we’re proud of what we’ve done with Nell because they’re both brilliant singers. It’s just that, for us, we never defined ourselves from each individual member. We defined ourselves as a band, like a group of people making music together, and each person in the band is equally important. But, understandably, when you have a female singer which is not actually bad looking, then obviously people are going to be more obsessed with that member, especially in metal. That’s just the way it is. So people are free to like the stuff with Liv Kristine - it’s still our songs; it’s still our band, and I’m quite proud of it. So no, I don’t react to that; I just think that people could be a bit more open minded about it because I think if you just gave it a chance you would probably love these albums equally. If they were released in ‘98, I think they would be just as successful, even more maybe.