By Carl Begai
There was a time when Amanda Somerville’s name was merely another footnote in the metal biz. Her career as a solo artist had legs as of 2000, but in the world of greasy long-haired distortion and debauchery Somerville was a behind-the-scenes helper, credit given where it was due on a guest artist roster or in a thank you list. In 2003 she took the daring plunge into a realm that was still something of a mystery to her, creating the Aina – Days Of Rising Doom metal opera with her Gate Studios colleagues, finally putting a voice and face to her name. Since then, Somerville has become a popular member of the metal world, garnering a fanbase that follows and her work even if it may not always float their respective hull-of-steel boats. Now, after years of offering her voice and knowledge to acts like Epica, Avantasia, HDK and Kiske/Somerville, “the blonde chick” has stepped into a spotlight of her own making.
And it’s very, very metal.
“I’ve been throwing around the idea of doing this over the last few years,” she reveals. “It really kind of tipped the scales doing HDK. There’s a saying in German, ‘I licked blood,’ which is disgusting but appropriate I guess, since there’s a song about vampires on the album (laughs). I’ve always done my own thing. People know me mainly from collaborations I’ve done with and for other bands, but I started out as a solo artist and I stayed one throughout. Having done all of this stuff in the metal scene for more than a decade now, it’s only natural that it rubbed off on me. I like it, and the songs that I’ve written in the last several years have been very dark and gotten heavier. Basically, I was just going to make my next solo album more metal, but then I decided I’d prefer to keep the waters a little cleaner in terms of doing a metal project. It’s a little weird if I say I’m going to do a metal album and then throw in a jazz ballad (laughs). I don’t want to compromise, and I’ve got so much material now that I might as well do a total metal album and keep my solo stuff completely separate. That way I can do what I want and not have to apologize to anybody.”
Sounds suspiciously like a typical day at the office for former Strapping Young Lad mad scientist Devin Townsend, another prolific singer / songwriter / musician prone to switching musical gears and doing so effortlessly. Somerville is in good company.
“Yeah, like that. It’s me, Devin and Garth Brooks doing his Chris Gaines thing (laughs). It’s us funky musicians and our split personalities.”
This latest journey sees Somerville accompanied by two trusted long-time collaborators; producer / guitarist Sascha Paeth – her Gate Studios slavedriver – and HDK mastermind / former After Forever guitarist Sander Gommans. In spite of her co-conspirators’ credentials, however, Somerville is the one that ultimately calls the shots.
“This is definitely my project, although exhaustingly I do have to remind those boys that this is my baby (laughs). We’re going to do things the way I want to. They may have more metal clout under their belts, but this is something that I really want to do. Nobody can tell me what to do or how to do it, much to their disappointment sometimes. This is all me. There’s nothing contrived about it, it’s not something I’ve been talked into doing, although Sander would love to take credit for pushing me over towards the Dark Side (laughs).”
“It’s my darker side and my inner demons pulling at me to do something I’ve fought against for a while,” she continues. “I remember when you and I were talking six years ago about me coming out with a metal album, and I wasn’t at that point yet. I kept saying it wasn’t for me, but now it is. It has to be authentic, though, because I’m not into posing and I don’t want to be forced into doing anything for commercial reasons. I think that’s bullshit because you’ve got to be true to yourself as an artist. I mean, come on; in a business that’s already overridden with all kinds of crap you’ve got to keep your integrity intact. So, this is all me. The things that I want to do are multi-faceted and this is a big part of who I am now.”
The album artwork alone, courtesy of graphic artist Heile (heilemania.de) should be enough to convince Somerville’s non-metal fans she’s got an arsenal of new and potentially dangerous tricks up her sleeve. Call it fair warning for folks expecting to hear music in the vein of ‘Searching’, ‘Moth’ and ‘Inner Whore’ from her previous solo outings.
“This is the whole fun thing about it,” she admits. “I want to portray the sides of me that I’ve held back and censored. It’s going to be something totally different from me that you’ve never heard before and it’s good like that. I sent the artwork to my parents and my sister and they were like ‘Uh, we know we should be supportive, but that cover is pretty scary…’ (laughs). That was kinda the point.”
Make no mistake; Somerville planned out and painted every aspect of the Trillium canvas, music and all. Even though she doesn’t play guitar or drums, she had a clear idea of where she wanted to take the songs and was able to play director or dictator as required.
“Yeah, totally (laughs). It’s been fun because Sander had a windfall of inspiration when I said this is what I wanted to do. I played him some of the songs I wanted to put on this album, and all of a sudden he whips out all these song ideas. He has these great songs that I love, so I took them and finished writing them for the album as well. I’m a piano player, not a guitar player, so I’m not the riff person, but I definitely have an idea of how I want something to sound.”
“Sascha will get weird piano / vocal demos from me and I’ll be talking in the middle of the song – ‘So, this is the new chorus, it’ll have a beat like this…’ (laughs) – but he’s used to my weirdness, fortunately. Sascha just takes the ideas and runs with them. We’ve always worked that way and it goes brilliantly every time.”
It’s fair to assume that Somerville’s catalogue of metal studio collaborations and live performances have taught her valuable lessons about what works and, more importantly, what doesn’t.
“Everything that I’ve done in the last 10 years has led me to this and put me on the doorstep of Trillium. I would say I’ve learned much more about what I would not like to do than what I’d like to do. I’m kind of like a mouse building a nest with materials that have been sitting around forever. Everything has influenced and inspired me in some way. I’m not re-inventing the wheel here, definitely not, but I’m sanding it and painting it. It’s definitely going to have my glittery touch to it (laughs).”
Which explains giving the record an oddball title like Alloy. There’s always method and meaning behind Somerville’s madness.
“Definitely. An alloy is a mix of a couple different types of metal, like this album is going to be. An alloy can also be an impure element or an augmentation between good and evil, so it’s all of that. It’s definitely symbolic, and I love metaphors and plays on words, so for me the album title is perfect. You see me on the cover, and I’m being grabbed by these entities from behind, and it’s almost like they have this Midas touch; I’m becoming metal in the artwork.”
Trillium is a bold new step for Somerville, and an unexpected one for some. It might have been child’s play for her to cough up an album’s worth of material other bands would be happy to call their own; stupid money is currently being banked at that particular counter, and anyone sucked into thinking that way has swallowed a loser bet.
“The core of the music is the same as my non-metal solo stuff. I refer to it almost jokingly as singer / songwriter metal, but some people aren’t going to be friends with the term (laughs). Where I come from is the whole singer / songwriter genre of music, which for me symbolizes somebody who writes their own music, plays an instrument, writes from the heart and has a clear cut vision. The songs actually mean something. It’s not crap that’s put out there for the teenies to smack their bubblegum to; it has substance. This is definitely all of that put into a metal setting, with all of the dark imagery and anger I’ve been feeling for the last little while put into the music, and it works beautifully (laughs).”
Watch for the Trillium debut album, Alloy, due for release this November.
– live photos by Carl Begai. Al rights reserved.