An Interview With: Morten Veland (Sirenia)
5th May 2015, 10:12
Posted by Chris
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If you don’t know who Morten Veland is, you might have been living under a rock for the past 20 years! A man who needs only but a brief introduction as the undisputed kingpin of the gothic metal scene, writing huge albums for his previous band of Tristania, and now his own brainchild of Sirenia for the last 14 years.

With the imminent release of a new Sirenia album, We caught up with Morten to ask a few questions about ‘The Seventh Life Path’, and how he has managed to keep up his unbelievable creative energy throughout the years.

So, The Seventh Life Path is your first record back on Napalm. Do you think the change in label has affected the songwriting process at all?

No, no. I have always had full freedom to write and compose whatever music I wanted, and that’s what I’ve been doing all of the years from the beginning until now and it’s what I will continue doing. It’s very important to me as music is my life and spent so much time on this, making a lot of sacrifices to spend so much time on the music.

To me it would never work out if I had to write some music I didn’t want. So it’s very important to have that artistic freedom to do whatever I like with the music.

 

You have been in music a long time, you wrote your first album at the age of 16! Do you feel like you still have a lot of creative energy after releasing so many albums?

[laughs] Wow, I can’t even remember what I wrote back then. But I do remember that I started my first band back in 1992, and back then we played a completely different style of music. When I bought my first guitar then I think it was only a few days before I started writing songs.

Of course at the time the songs were totally shit, no doubt about that! [laughs] I still had a lot of ideas though, and as I learned how to play the guitar I got the possibility to express myself and kept on growing from there.

 

Obviously you shifted more in a gothic rock / metal direction for your songwriting, what kind of musical influences did you have in this transition?

Well when I first started out in 1992 I was in to bands like Metallica, Guns & Roses, AC/DC, Motley Crue, Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper…stuff like that! I learned playing guitar to riffs from these guys like a lot of guitar players have done over the years.

But it didn’t take very long for me to discover the gothic scene from the UK, bands like Sisters of Mercy, Fields of Nephilim, The Mission, Nosferatu – with these kind of bands I was almost immediately intrigued by this atmosphere that these kind of bands had, very dark and mysterious. It was kind of natural for me to lean towards this music, it was something new and fresh and easy for me to go in this direction. I had an even stronger connection with this music than I did before, so for me I think this was the turning point to get me into that [gothic] direction.

Later on I learned how to combine all the elements – the gothic sounds with metal and classical, with some rock stuff in it…all kinds of different stuff really!

 

Do you feel that all these old influences are still alive today, especially on The Seventh Life Path?

Yea, I still feel that there are these influences in small breaks, but Sirenia is definitely more metal than gothic rock. The songs though are built up by different themes, different styles, different ideas, but there are still parts that lean toward that old direction – for example there is a song on the new album called ‘Elixir’, and on the verse I definitely think you get a Sisters of Mercy vibe, so there are definitely still some gothic elements in Sirenia’s music! It’s always been there and it’s still an important part of our sound.

 

We know that Sirenia has had quite a few vocalist changes in the early days of the band. Do you feel that now you have had a consistent vocalist for the past few albums that it is easier to write for Sirenia?

Yea, having a consistent line-up is definitely a very good thing. For every band I think, well at least definitely in our case! Having a consistent line-up for the past few years enables me to focus on what I need to be doing – spending time in the studio, working on new songs and just focus 100% on the music.

When you lose band members and need to replace them it’s such a time consuming process. When the vocalist leaves and you have to find a new one it’s a pretty unnerving situation, at some point you start to think ‘will we be able to find a singer for the band?’  and ‘how long will it take?’ you know – it could be 2 years, and during that time it’s a very uncomfortable situation where the line-up is not full.

Now we have had the same singer Ailyn for 4 albums now [including ‘The Seventh Life Path’]. We have had the same line-up for some years now and it’s a very good feeling!

 

We can imagine it would be a good feeling. As you had a different vocalist on each of the first 3 Sirenia albums, was it a very uncomfortable time then?

Yea it definitely was. You do get really worried. You keep thinking about the fans, the label and our partners and whether they will like the singer. Lots of things go through your mind! But having the stable line-up has been a very good thing.

 

Now back on to ‘The Seventh Life Path’, are there any new elements or influences we can expect from the album?

I think the new album has little bit of everything, and by that I mean it has elements that sound like Sirenia in the past, elements that sound like more recent Sirenia and some things that we have never done before. We experimented a bit with new styles and sounds to create some ideas and add them into the music, just to add something that we haven’t done before.

I always like to experiment and try new things, but I also think it’s important that we do so paying respect to Sirenia’s musical concept. Experimentation in controlled forms you know? It wouldn’t be good to let things get out of control and let things onto the music that shouldn’t be there.

 

So all experimental stuff is rooted into the basis of Sirenia’s musical philosophy?

Yea it is. But when we write we hope to always have a sort of refreshed version of Sirenia with the experimentation, and with ‘The Seventh Life Path’ it’s definitely what I have been striving for.

 

We’ve noticed that ‘The Seventh Life Path’ has longer songs on them. Is that a transition of Sirenia maybe becoming a bit more progressive?

With the arrangements I feel that we are heading more towards the past. The arrangements are more intricate and the songs are longer, maybe a bit more progressive as you say. The first two albums were in this style, but after that we got hung up on writing more melodic and catchy songs and right down to basics, simpler structures and songs that were easier to grasp in a way. We did that for a couple of albums, and now we feel it’s time to change again and go back to the way we wrote before. I missed writing in the old style, but writing for them – I don’t know if I should say challenging – well it’s inspiring. Songs like these are ones that you need to listen to several times before you really start to like them and get into them.

On the couple of albums before we tried to make listeners like the songs on the first listen, and we wrote catchy songs that stick to the mind very easily but it’s important to vary, and after 3 melodic albums it’s time to move on, and now it feels really fresh again to go back to this kind of way of writing songs with more intricate structures and such.

 

So it sounds like the longer songs weren’t written like that intentionally, it just came naturally?

They did just come naturally. It’s that way of doing things that keeps me really interested and inspired.

 

And moving on the lyrics of the new songs, did you have any specific lyrical inspiration for the new album?

Well with the lyrics I feel I am more or less writing about the same subjects that I’ve been writing about the whole time. I do try to renew the way I express myself rather than changing the subjects so to speak. When I write songs I always write the music first, so when I write the lyrics after it’s important to write words that reflect the feeling and emotion that is already there in the music.

 

I was going to ask whether there was a flowing lyrical theme to the album.

All the songs are written individually, each having their own individual stories. It’s not a typical concept album or anything like that, but they do have some things in common, mainly that they are all leaning towards the dark side!

 

We also wanted to ask that we noticed a lot of the Sirenia albums have numbers in the titles, such as ‘At Sixes and Sevens’, ‘Nine Destines and a Downfall’, ‘13th Floor’ and now ‘The Seventh Life Path’. Is there meaning behind the numbers or any relation to the albums titles?

Well I always like to write titles and lyrics that make people think. I was never really into writing direct and have it just out there or that the person immediately understands what the artist is saying. I always like the lyrics that you really have to think about to understand, and it’s the same thing with the titles.

I’ve always been into mythology, numerology…these kinds of things. I always use them as tools in my lyrics too to make them harder to understand, and bring some mystery into them. Lots of people ask about them, but I never say too much about them because that is my whole intention, to make people really think about what they are hearing or reading and trying to figure out what they mean – rather than having me serve everything up on a silver platter and explaining the exact meaning behind that stuff.

 

Do you like the idea of people of interpreting the titles and lyrics their own way?

Yea of course! With music and art there is no such thing as a correct interpretation of the meaning or the wrong interpretation. It’s all about your interpretation and I want everyone to have their own meaning behind the songs.

Actually in the past some of the bands that I listened to I used to read the lyrics, and I thought the artist was meaning ‘this’ or ‘that’, and I actually found out later in an interview [with the artist] that he was talking about something else, [laughs]. You can even get disappointed by it! You have that relationship with the song, like it means ‘this’ and ‘that’ to me, and then I find out that it wasn’t what it was about at all. It can be more of a disappointment than a good thing when the artist is explaining or interpreting his own works.

 

And of course the album art on ‘The Seventh Life Path’ is very interesting. Can you explain a bit about that?

Yea, I just had a few ideas about what I wanted on an album cover. And I presented this to the designer who did the actual artwork – his name is Gaiola. He sort of took the few ideas that I had; I wanted a path, a picture of death, the scythe that would be formed as a number 7 as the album is called ‘The Seventh Life Path’. He took the basic ideas and came in with his own ideas, there was so communicating back and forth along the way and we ended up with this cover. I think he did a really great job, just when I look at the artwork it triggers the same feelings and emotions that I get from the album. They really match up, and I think the cover really represents the music.

 

So the album art provides an atmosphere for the music on the album?

Definitely. Usually what we do when it comes to create the album art is we provide the artist with lyrics and music so he can get into the album and understand, and just get behind the feelings of the music and based on that try to create a cover that represents those feelings.

 

We’ve also noticed that Sirenia has recorded all of the albums in a studio in France. Does staying in this studio for each album help the creative process for the band?

Yes it’s true, we’ve been working in this studio for at least part of the production of every Sirenia album. The studio is run by a friend of mine, he is called Terje Refsnes, and he formally ran a studio in Norway. In the year 2000 he decided to relocate his studio to Marseille in the South of France, and since I worked a lot with him in Norway after he moved we decided to move along with him when it came to recordings [laughs]! The first two albums and the EP ‘Sirenian Shores’ we recorded all there, and later on we started recording other places but we always go back there to record choirs and acoustic instruments.

It’s also practical for many reasons as we’ve known each other for so long and we work well together, and also the choir that we use on the Sirenia albums are based Marseille area. It’s also a beautiful location – it’s really inspiring, it feels like you get a great studio session a bit of a holiday at the same time – and of course getting the opportunity to spend time with a friend, it’s like a second home and helps the album creation process a lot!

 

Do you think the natural beauty of some of the places you record in have some inspiration in the music?

I’m not so sure, but if definitely brings a lot of positive energy out. I like being outside, I love nature a lot especially in springtime and summertime. I can spend a lot of time standing by the sea, out in the woods or up a mountain, there are beautiful sights that can really inspire you. In France you just get this feeling of being really relaxed and it allows you to wind down a bit and really focus 100% on developing the music. You don’t get too caught up in anything else, for example if the studio was in the centre of a big town there can be a few distractions that will take some focus away from the music.

 

And I’m sure some good wines help too!

[laughs] Yea for sure! All the red wines and cognacs help!

 

And last question, what are the future touring plans for Sirenia in support of ‘The Seventh Life Path’?

We have some festivals lined up for the summer; we’re looking into wrapping up some agreements. We’re also looking into touring possibilities – we’re hoping there will be a longer European tour either by the end of the year or the beginning of next year. It’s all being looked into!

 

Well thank you so much for your time Morten, it has been great talking to you and we look forward to hearing ‘The Seventh Life Path’!

Not a problem at all, it was nice talking to you and thank you!

The Seventh Life Path‘ looks to be yet another gem in Sirenia’s back catalogue, and hits shelves May 8th via Napalm Records.