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By: Dave Cooper
Under the guiding hand of Norway’s Morten Veland, the veteran gothic metal band Sirenia have not merely survived, but prospered, despite several line-up changes. Dave Cooper caught up with Morten recently in order to look back at the band’s persistent appeal, what inspires Morten’s singularly dark outlook, and to look at what the future holds for the band.
(((o))): So: The Seventh Life Path. Logically enough, it’s your seventh album. But what’s with all the sevens, Morten? It goes all the way back: At Sixes And Sevens, The Seventh Summer, Winterborn 77, Sirens Of The Seven Seas, Seven Widows Weep… Is it fair to say that the number 7 has some special significance to you?
Morten: Yeah, I guess it would be fair to say so. I guess that the numbers has become one of many trademarks for Sirenia over the years.
(((o))): The new album – and the last album, Perils Of The Deep Blue – seem markedly more progressive in tone than the last few albums. Was it a conscious decision to move away from the more direct, dare I say mainstream, feel of the previous few records?
Morten: Yes, after producing The Enigma Of Life album, we had done 3 albums in a row, which was kind of straight to the point and focusing a lot on the melodic aspect. So when I began writing material for Perils Of The Deep Blue I wanted to make some changes, I was missing more intricate and progressive arrangements, as well as more of the extreme elements in our music. So I guess it became a natural thing for me to take the last two albums into the direction that I did.
(((o))): The last few albums certainly seemed to divide opinion more sharply than any of your other work. Do you think there’s a mindset among some metal fans that anything that is especially anthemic or direct is inherently disappointing? That more complex/less obvious material is in some way more authentic when that’s not necessarily the case?
Morten: I think that the last two albums might appeal to the part of our fans that has followed us since the beginning, or the ones who preferred our style from the first couple of albums. But at the same time I think that new albums have elements that will appeal to our new fans as well, but I think that they need to give the albums some time. Especially The Seventh Life Path is an album that needs some spins before you get under its skin; it’s a typical kind of album that grows on the listener with time. And it seems that more people are into the album now, rather than on the time of release.
(((o))): You do pretty much all of the heavy lifting in Sirenia yourself, it has to be said – so much so that Sirenia on record is essentially just you and Ailyn. Is there any particular reason why you choose to work that way, rather than as a unit, in the studio? What the pros and cons of doing so much of the work yourself?
Morten: All the song material is written by me as always, and I have developed my way of working over the years. I always discover some new things or techniques along the way, but the basics are more or less the same. At this point I try to write albums that has all the elements of our style, by that I mean that I try to capture our old sound, our recent sound and in addition I always try to add some new stuff. I always preferred to work alone when I compose, as I always felt that was the only way I could really give 100%. I easily get distracted and lose focus when composing with others. I need to be in a certain mode when composing, and I can only enter this mode when I am alone.
(((o))): Ailyn’s vocal work over these last two albums in particular is strikingly more confident and exploratory: the vocal training she undertook after The Enigma Of Life was released really seems to have paid off. She’s also your longest-standing vocalist by some distance now after some turmoil in that era in the earlier days. How do you feel about her development since she started working with the band?
Morten: Yeah, she has spent a lot of time on developing her style, range and expression. I also think that she is a more complete singer these days. She has been taking new steps with every album, and on the personal level she just fitted right into the band immediately.
(((o))): Your writing has always been preoccupied with the darker side of life: death, despair and loneliness are regular themes. Should we be concerned? Or is it just the case that writing about such things is particularly cathartic?
Morten: The music is my channel to get all the darkness and negativity out of my system, it’s kind of therapeutic in a way. I have lighter days in my life too, but I don’t have a need to write about it. Writing positive happy tunes is not something for me, I leave that up to others. Heheh…
(((o))): Your harsh vocals are wonderfully malevolent, and Ailyn makes for a great foil. The “beauty and the beast” vocal dynamic makes for great drama, but it’s a well-worn metal style these days – so many bands have plundered it. Is it ever difficult to find new ways to keep yourself and your listeners interested? I suppose what I’m asking is if you ever feel hamstrung by the stylistic confines of Sirenia? Do you ever feel like the music you’re working on is a bit too far outside the Sirenia envelope?
Morten: I always search for new elements to blend into our musical style, and I think that this is one of Sirenia’s strengths as a band – that we have so many different elements blended into a metal band. I feel that I have a lot of possibilities open with Sirenia, but of course there are some musical boundaries that I won’t cross. Sometimes it can be hard to draw the limit, but if I do not feel comfortable with it, I usually leave the ideas for possible other upcoming projects etc.
(((o))): You’re a pretty handy guitarist, it has to be said – there’s some superb soloing on this latest record in particular. Do you have favourite players who especially inspired you?
Morten: When I was young and first picked up the guitar, I was a huge fan of Slash. I totally loved his melodic solos, and he became my first inspiration musically. The melodic aspect has always been more important to me than the technical aspect. But I have constantly worked to improve my technical level too, but I never wanted it affect the melodic aspect in any way.
(((o))): How do you feel about The Seventh Life Path now, a few months down the line? I know you went all-out to make Perils Of The Deep Blue the very best it could be: was it a hard act to follow? Was there anything specific you really wanted to accomplish with this record?
Morten: I still did not sit down and listen to the whole album after it got released, looking forward to do that some day soon. I always give 100% for my albums, and when it is finally done I am totally fed up. Haha. I usually need a long break after that. With The Seventh Life Path I just continued down the path that I staked out with the previous albums, just trying to improve some things here and there and adding some new elements as always.
(((o))): Sirenia’s music is extremely dense at times, with a lot going on. It must be hellishly difficult to reproduce live sometimes. Has it ever been too difficult to reproduce any of the songs for live performance?
Morten: The studio world and the live world are two completely different worlds, that’s for sure. But we always try to recapture our studio sound also live. There might have been a few parts where we thought it would be for the better to strip down the songs a little bit. Sometimes less is more, and this is definitely the case at live shows.
(((o))): For a band that have released seven albums now, Sirenia haven’t toured a great deal. Is there any particular reason for this? Are you content with the current state of affairs or would you prefer to perform live more often?
Morten: We have done some touring over the years, but I would always like it to be more. I really enjoy the touring a lot, so I would encourage promoters all over the world to get in touch.
(((o))): I know there are quite a few people who’d love to see you back in the UK again following your recent appearance at the Dames of Darkness festival…! What was your favourite part of that weekend?
Morten: I really enjoyed myself at the Dames of Darkness fest. It was our second time in the UK and more people came to see us this time. The show was great and the people over there were awesome, I really hope to back soon.
(((o))): You are unquestionably the driving force behind Sirenia – what have been the highs and lows of keeping the band afloat for the last 15 years?
Morten: It is always a great feeling to put out a new album, and it feels like a huge achievement every time. So releasing albums and playing festivals and shows is always a high for us. Having line up problems is always a low. Luckily we have kept a quite stable line up the last years.
(((o))): What’s your approach to writing and recording for Sirenia? Do you have an established routine when working on your music, or does it just happen at its own speed? How much input do Ailyn, Jonathan and Jan Erik have?
Morten: As I mentioned earlier I am still doing all the composing on my own. Regarding the vocals, Ailyn and I usually work together though. I always write her melodies and lyrics at first, but next we come together and go through everything to see if there are certain things we can improve. In addition Jan Erik also had some inputs to the music, which was cool. He listens to music, which is quite different to what I usually make, so he helped out with some nice variations.
(((o))): When you’re not in the studio or out there on stage, how do you like to spend your free time?
Morten: I like to surround myself with music, drinks and friends. I also love to be out on the sea, fishing. Or taking long walks in the forest and mountains, that’s very recreational and inspiring.
(((o))): If you could be granted three wishes related to Sirenia and your music, what would they be?
Morten: I would like a bigger studio, more shows and a brand new achievement of any kind. It would be exciting with a totally new experience at this point.
(((o))): I have to ask about Mortemia, too. Will there be another Mortemia record any time soon, or is your focus purely on Sirenia at the moment?
Morten: I have some ideas for Mortemia as well, but I need some more time to see what I shall do with Mortemia next, but there are possibilities for more music in the future.
(((o))): So what’s next for Sirenia? Do you have any more live dates coming up in support of The Seventh Life Path, or is it back to the studio for album number eight?
Morten: Coming up next we have 2 shows in Russia and a festival in Romania, both in October. Furthermore we have a lot of shows in the works for next year as well, so I would encourage our fans to stay tuned for more upcoming Sirenia shows. See you on tour soon.