The Gathering: Happy music depresses us

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THE GATHERING is one of those bands that has managed to continuously change its sonic identity without sacrificing the essence of the music.

After Anneke van Giersbergen’s departure in 2007, the band didn’t wait for chaos to ensue and quickly found a replacement: the charismatic Silje Wergeland, whose mermaid-like, hypnotic voice added even more melancholy to the already heart-wrenching brand of "doominess" professed by the Dutch band.

The year 2012 is an important one for the group. In September they’re releasing a new album, "Disclosure", followed by a limited-edition EP called "Afterlights", which contains songs inspired by the tracks on "Disclosure".

Maximum Rock Magazine decided to give you the opportunity to quench your thirst for sonic tears by reading the brand-new The Gathering interview below. Silje and Hans were kind enough to speak with us, so we advise you to enjoy the results thoroughly.

The vastness of your musical spectrum is overwhelming. On this new album, „Disclosure” youâ’re experimenting with a brand of highly harmonic and emotional music which verges more toward the sonic friendliness of pop. Is it hard or easy to be in between niches, seeing as youâ’re not a 100% rock band, but youâ’re not a pop act either?

: When it comes to making the music, it happens naturally and it is not something we think so much about. Itâ’s not something we plan; we just make what we like. When it comes to the music industry, it can be a little tricky, as journalists and the business constantly want to put you in the ‘boxâ’ of either metal, rock, prog or whatever. So, if we cared about that, weâ’d start making it easier for them to „place” our music somewhere, if you know what I mean.

Youâ’ve successfully managed to do something that many bands run away from – youâ’ve situated your style outside the labels that were once associated with you (doom metal, progressive, alternative). Do you ever feel that this versatility threatens to dissolve your identity, or will The Gathering always have something that will make the band recognizable?  

Silje: On each of those (soon) 10 albums we released, in spite of the rich style variations, there is always a specific The Gathering sound. It is there and it will always be there.

: It works both ways. It is hard to pigeonhole our music. Everyone, from listeners, to record shops, to record labels, seems to have this problem. On the other hand, nowadays people expect something ‘newâ’ when we bring out some fresh material. Thatâ’s our trademark, our main feature: we experiment and try new things.

In a recent review, the author of the piece said that your heaviness was replaced by something else, but youâ’ve managed to remain intense. What brought about the desire to renounce the riffs and the instrumental doom in favor of a more luminous sound?

Hans: If you listen to ‘Disclosureâ’, you hear a lot of doom. Itâ’s not layered with 100 distorted guitars every time, but we didnâ’t change radically either. And to be honest, we donâ’t care about our ‘heavinessâ’. We just use our tools to craft the best albums we can make. Whether we use bagpipes, string ensembles or distorted guitars, it depends on the mood and on the song, in particular.

We took the time to make the best possible album.

Talk to us about „Disclosure”. What sonic secrets are you „disclosing” on this new record?

Hans: ‘Disclosureâ’ is an epic trip; it is the most personal soundscape we ever crafted. Itâ’s a marriage between electronic and organic sounds, and colorful, diverse arrangements. It is difficult to describe it in words, so you have to hear it. We tried a lot of harmony singing; in fact, Frank, our keyboard player, is singing lead in a piece called ‘Meltdownâ’. We use trumpets, string ensembles, and even the Theremin, which is back again. We took the time to make the best possible album.

Your video for „Heroes for Ghosts”, a song featured on „Disclosure”, lasts for 10 minutes and itâ’s a beautiful cinematographic piece created by Marcus Moonen. How did this collaboration come about?

Hans: Marcus is a talented friend of ours. He was able and willing to make this video with us. We sent him over to Norway where he, Silje, and a production crew worked very hard to finish the video in just a couple of days. Marcus lives in Nijmegen (a city in the Netherlands),and he has a keen eye for beautiful shots. Heâ’s also a true professional.

„Meltdown”, another song off the new album, is an experimental piece, which features the vocals of your keyboardist, Frank Boeijen. Was this a onetime affair or will Frank continue to deliver vocal pieces on other songs?

Silje: I donâ’t think there are any limits to this. If Frank wants to make another vocal contribution that weâ’ll both enjoy, I hope it will work out. But we have to wait and see what happens on the next album.

The only feeling we have is that happy „feel-good” music depresses us.

Tell us the story behind your special EP „Afterlights”. Why did you want to „dress” the songs of the album in different sonic clothes? I imagine that, when youâ’re in the studio, you come up with different versions. Is it hard to settle for the one that will appear on the album, and what argument exactly makes you decide which song version stays and which goes?

Silje: I guess this also comes naturally. We kind of like the same things, more or less. Sometimes, democracy wins if we disagree about things.

Hans: The songs on ‘Afterlightsâ’ were mainly written after we wrote the songs for ‘Disclosureâ’. Those songs inspired us to write a couple of new tracks. The songs on ‘Afterlightsâ’ are more electronic, spacey; theyâ’re different from those on ‘Disclosureâ’, so it wasnâ’t a real competition. The songs are really strong, and could end up on a full-length material. But as Silje says, it happens naturally.

Despite the lighter and less rocky instrumentals, youâ’ve held on to that melancholy and gloom that make your music a feast for the tear-hungry soul. In a day and age when most people listen to happy-feel-good songs, what is the role of profound, often sad music?

: The only feeling we have is that happy „feel-good” music depresses us. For me things work in the opposite way – I get depressed by happy tunes! I donâ’t know. We just like to make this kind of music. If music can move us, inspire us, thatâ’s whatâ’s most important to me. But you need party music as well, of course, when thereâ’s a party. When I come home, I love to listen to bands that actually have a story, a trip, something to say.

If you could choose a book or a movie that youâ’d write the „soundtrack” for, which would they be? I donâ’t know why, but I always think about Anna Akhmatova or Sylvia Plath when I listen to your songs.

Hans: A good Exo-Science Fiction would be great. I think our music fits many film genres.

Can we expect to see you in Romania any time soon?

Hans: I hope we can play the Sibiu festival once again. Maybe next year?

Thank you so much, Silje & Hans!

(Alexandra Furnea)

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