Amanda Somerville Talks Exit Eden ‘Rhapsodies In Black’ And More
First Published 11 August 2017
Taking a bunch of well known hit pop songs, pumping them up symphonic Metal style and putting four gorgeous, talented women out front to sing them. That’s an idea Jim Steinman would be proud of!
EXIT EDEN: RHAPSODIES IN BLACK
Release 11 August 2017 (Napalm Records)
Words: Ian Sutherland
This time around though it’s a new band project out of Germany and fronted by Amanda Somerville (Trillium, Avantasia) along with Clementine Delauney (Visions Of Atlantis, Serenity) and newcomers Marina La Torraca and Anna Brunner.
Combining Metal with pop is always going to be controversial and I wasn’t sure about the idea when I approached this album myself. It has won me over big time though.
If you love symphonic Metal and great female vocals it’s really hard to resist ‘Unfaithful’ and ‘Incomplete’, even if the original sources are Rihanna and the Backstreet Boys!
Some songs are just pumped up versions of the originals, like Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’, but others have radical rearrangements such as on Visage’s ‘Fade To Grey’. The version of Bryan Adams’ ‘Heaven’ is a step too far towards a pop ballad but everything else is both great fun and really enjoyable performance wise.
Put your prejudices to one side because ‘Rhapsodies In Black’ is a smash hit and out now after a release day event at Wacken.
Metaltalk caught up with Amanda Somerville for an in depth discussion about Exit Eden and more:
How did Exit Eden come about?
“It’s funny because it started as a studio job for me. I’ve made a name for myself in the spotlight, on the stage in my own right. I still do a lot of work behind the scenes. I like it that way, it keeps me on my toes, it keeps me current, you know what’s going on, also on the technical side. It’s something I like to do and keeps me fresh as a vocalist.
“Sascha Paeth, my producer friend who people know from lots of projects and who actually got me into Metal in the first place seventeen years ago, he called me up and said I’m doing guitars for a production team in northern Germany and they need somebody to sing pilot vocals for some demos.
“They wanted that to be in an operatic style and Sascha mentioned that he knew someone who could do it and asked if he could give them my contact info. I said yes, they sent me the songs, I thought it was good material, I sang the stuff, I didn’t know what they wanted really but it sounded great. I thought cool tunes and good arrangements but I thought that was the end of it.
“Then when I was doing Eurovision with Avantasia a couple of guys were hanging out backstage and one of them introduced himself and said he really liked how I sang on the demos and they sounded great. He said we’d like to talk to you about doing some more and as I was really busy I said get back to me in a few months. Sure enough they called back a few months later and said we want to make a band out of this and we’d like you to front the band!
“They also said they’d like to get other singers involved and would I be interested in bringing some other ladies on board. I said if I’m going to be involved I need to put a lot of input into this. I’m not just a voice, I’m not just a face you know, but they said we want to give you creative freedom, we think you’re exactly the kind of person we want to have behind the wheel on this.
“I said yes, I would have somebody in mind and I brought Marina [La Toracca] into the fold and then there was a girl who had sung pilot vocals on a couple of the songs before I did and I was like who’s got a voice like that, who is this girl? So I said what about that girl and they said she’s our secretary who works in our back office! That’s Anna [Brunner].
“It’s really funny because as I was sending files and emails and invoices I would talk to Anna and I had no idea that she was the one who had sung those songs. I said get that girl involved as she has a crazy voice!
“That’s how there came to be the three of us and then I had met Clementine [Delauney] a while back at one of the Metal Female Voices Fests in Belgium and we were laughing and talking and taking pictures.
“Then she and Marina met up and she came into the mix as well. Then it was the four of us and we started having Skype conference calls and Whatsapping and just kind of getting familiar with each other and talking about the parts and the songs and what we wanted to be called and all this stuff.
“So that’s how this whole thing came to be. It was a big chance happening and something that I love about this business is that you never know what a gig will get you.”
So someone has had the idea and brought you in later. Who is behind the project, who originally put it together?
“It’s a producer for Elephant Music, a studio on Flensburg, Germany who also produces Santiano who do kind of pirate songs in German. Pirate Metal in German is the short story!
“They work together with Starwatch, a sub-division of one of the big German television networks. They teamed up on the original idea but now they’ve given us an incredible amount of freedom.
“We have amazing support which is so rare, usually you have to fight for every cent. It’s such a struggle, you have to claw your way up, forge your own way but these guys are you girls tell us what you want to do and how you want to do it and we’ll make it happen.
“It’s really an incredible and rare opportunity.
“I’m sure there are people who’re going to be bitching and moaning and saying this is just a media made product. It might have started out that way but every one of us in this group, we’ve paid our dues.
“I’ve been around for a long time so it’s not that I’m suddenly getting handed something on a silver platter.”
Were you given the specific songs that are on the album or did you have a selection to choose from?
“The groundwork was already laid, when I was singing the demos these songs were already there. It was a matter of once we knew who was involved getting everyone into the recording process.
“It was us putting our heads together about what kind of message, what image, all of that kind of thing. It was more like we were shaping the attitude of the project but the framework was already there.”
Was there any input into the arrangements of the songs?
“That was already pretty much set. We were able to give our input and there were some things that we could help shape but the basic framework was already there.”
Some of the songs have been given a straight cover, just pumped up Metal style such as ‘Firework’ and ‘Question Of Time’ but others such as ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’ and ‘Fade To Grey’ are quite different to the originals.
“Yes, ‘Paparazzi’ too. I really like the choices that they made and the direction that they took with a lot of the stuff. It’s cool because we’re exchanging ideas for a possible follow up album and the debate is whether to go for original songs or to continue with cover songs.
“We have so many ideas in the meantime of songs that we all love that we would like to do next time.
“I’m sure that the process for the next album will be completely different because we’ll be there from the get go, we’ll be able to make choices and be part of the decision making process.”
That’s interesting, I wanted to ask you. You are one of the busiest people I know and I’m sure that the other ladies in the band have lots going on too. Will Exit Eden be an ongoing band or a one off?
“That’s the plan! We plan on touring, we already have a live show set up at the Metal Dayz Festival in Hamburg September 22nd. We didn’t want to wait, we wanted to make sure people knew this wasn’t going to be a one off studio only album.
“There are so many of those which pop up and just kind of die out. So we just wanted to grab that by the horns right away and let people know we’re going live with this thing as well. We plan on having longevity.”
Will there be more dates after Metal Dayz?
“We hope so! A lot is dependent upon how the album does and how this first show goes. It’s kind of a try out show, a showcase if you will. So there are a lot of factors which will play into whether we will go forth like we’d like to, but that’s the plan.”
Will you only play Exit Eden tunes live?
“I think we might kind of salt and pepper some things in there. We aren’t that far into it yet, we’re going to do a thirty or forty minute set at Metal Dayz. We were offered an hour but we didn’t want to do too long to start out with as that would be the whole album.
“I wanted to scale it back and make it a much more compact set so that when we do go on tour there are some surprises in store.”
Have you thought about what kind of audience you will get for Exit Eden? Many Metal fans don’t know some of these tunes you have covered. Despite Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ having one billion views on YouTube I didn’t know it! Who is this aimed at?
“I’m with you there. A couple of the songs I didn’t know! Of course some of them are classics and favourites so the nostalgia factor is there too. They know our fan base is Metal based and we’re also aware that a lot of Metal fans are going to reject it when they hear the words pop or cover. Especially that combination.
“That’s ok, this isn’t a popularity contest. I’m doing it because I like it, I’m having fun with it. It’s another facet I can add to my incredibly rich career that is my creative outlet.
“This is the most fun and the biggest dream I’ve had since I was Lana’s age [Lana is Amanda’s two-year-old daughter]. For me this is an adventure and I’m loving every bit of it, I have no regrets and also have no illusions or expectations that everybody’s going to love it.
“Starwatch are planning a big television campaign, being a television network they think in totally different terms than your typical Metal label who have a niche market.
“Metal fans are true, steadfast, amazing fans but it’s a small base of course. These guys are going to pump it to the mainstream and there’s a risk with both audiences but I have no expectations, I’m just having fun.”
Since it’s you that we have here can I ask how the new Trillium album is coming along?
“It’s coming along brilliantly. The weekend before last the drum recordings took place with Andre Borgman, the drummer in After Forever, Sander [Gommans, the producer and Amanda’s husband] will be doing the final mixes soon and we are ten songs in. I’m really excited about it.
“Of course this is a totally different process than I’m going through with Exit Eden. We composed the whole album, we’re producing it ourselves. We’re playing on all the recordings and everything, it’s just Sander and me doing this.
“That’s also been a new expedition for us musically. We’ve had a really great time doing it. It’s been a big challenge and also been difficult for me to find my way back into song writing and recording.
“I’d just been a mum for several months and then jumped back into doing things with Avantasia again. It’s totally different when you’re writing and composing and singing your own stuff. I had to relearn how to get in touch with my creative side.”
There are examples out there of musicians and actors who’s work has changed after becoming a parent.
“Exactly! I’m too happy! The only songs I’ve written for a while have been cute kids songs and lullabys since Lana was born. It was all happy or gentle and loving and sweet and I was like ‘oh my god I have to make a Metal album!'”
You didn’t want to try and invent a new genre, happy Metal?
“I told Frontiers, Trillium’s label, straight up, I don’t do happy Metal! I have to say though, this album has a more uplifting energy than ‘Alloy’ did. ‘Alloy’ was definitely pretty heavy and dark overall. I had a lot of demons I was working out.
“My creative output at the time was cathartic and therapeutic in getting out my frustration and anger and heartache and all of that stuff. Working through that felt really good, that was wonderful and I love ‘Alloy’.
“This new album is going to be a lot more energetic though. A lot of people have said that this has a totally different energy to it. Mark Burnash was playing some bass on it the other day and he just had a grin from ear to ear. He described it as energy Metal!
“There are a couple of songs that are a little darker, there’s a song called ‘Fatal Mistake’ that I wrote after Simon [Oberender, Trillium keyboard player] passed away. That’s about losing him and the profound effect it had on me.
“That song’s really intense and that’s probably the most difficult song I have ever recorded.
“I had to take a lot of breaks as it would just get too emotional. I can’t sing when I’m emotional, not when I’m emotional like that. It took me quite while to record all the vocals for that song but I really love it, I love the song. That one’s definitely not very uplifting!
“There are songs like ‘Time To Shine’, ‘Full Speed Ahead’, ‘Stand Up’, all very positive messages and dealing with me finding my way back to being a song writer and taking things as they come. Fighting forward, pushing forward and persevering.”
Do you have a release date?
“Masters are due in September and because of the Exit Eden release we have to coordinate things a little bit. They’re talking sometime early 2018.”