We reviewed Sirenia’s newest album Riddles, Ruins and Revelations earlier this month which impressed with its symphonic/power metal underbelly. We wanted to find out more about the band’s current state, so we sat down with Sirenia guitarist and composer Morten Veland to talk about the state of live music, his process for writing albums and the future of his musical projects during lockdown.
So, let’s get right into it! What are your thoughts on the state of live music in 2021? In the UK, it’s highly unlikely that gigs and festivals are going to be returning soon; especially when we’re nearly at 120,000 deaths now due to COVID.
MV: Right now it doesn’t look so good in terms of live music. I don’t really have high expectations for the next 6-8 months or so. Hopefully, at the end of the year at least, things will begin to get back to normal so bands can start touring again.
I think it’s very unsure at the moment, what’s going on. I have already seen festivals moving and being postponed, pushed back into 2022. So yeah, it’s really hard to tell what’s going to happen this summer. My expectations aren’t really high, if some festivals will make it and go ahead this summer, then it’s a big bonus in my book.
I know that you compose pretty much all of the music for Sirenia with help from your guitarist and obviously Emma’s vocals; can you talk me through the process of how you write these albums?
MV: Yeah, I do a lot, composition-wise. The guys are helping me out with stuff on the album. For example, on the new record, our guitar player did most of the guitar solos and our drummer helped with the percussion arrangements. Our singer helped with translating lyrics, and so on. I always have these guys helping me out with things, but I tend to write all the lyrics and compose overall.
How do you manage to keep writing music that sounds so different and so distinct? Sirenia is now almost 20 years old, and the newest record is the band’s 10th entry.
MV: There are so many possibilities in music, so even in a lifetime I feel that I wouldn’t be able to explore it all. As long as I’m able to keep things fresh and find new elements to incorporate into the music, and compose albums that sound different from what we’ve done in the past, it’s all good. As long as I’m able to do that, the motivation and inspiration will remain there.
The thought of making two albums that sound exactly the same would probably kill it. I think that my biggest secret is to try and keep things fresh. It’s been important to us as a band since the beginning. We never wanted to release the same album twice, we always tried to bring something new and fresh to the table with every album. As you said, it’s been like 20 years now and I still feel inspired and motivated to continue.
Emmanuelle joined the band replacing Ailyn in 2016. Your newest album is the third record to feature Emma’s vocals, how does writing songs differ now?
MV: Emmanuelle really found her place in the band and she’s an extraordinary singer; very experienced, highly educated, and has an amazing voice. She’s able to sing in so many different styles, whether it’s rock, metal, opera, classical, jazz or pop. Whatever it could be, she’s able to sing in all those different styles.
For me, as a composer and a songwriter, I feel that I have totally free hands. I can go in whatever direction I want to. She will always be able to sing the parts on the songs and really perform it in a way that really enriches the song. I feel really privileged having a singer like Emmanuelle in the band. As a songwriter, it’s reassuring to have a singer of that calibre.
Your newest album ends with a cover of Voyage, Voyage by Desireless. What was the inspiration for covering an 80s pop song on your metal album?
MV: When the pandemic broke out, our recording sessions were postponed for like six months. All of a sudden, I had a lot of extra time on my hands. That’s when I decided that I wanted to do something different and that’s when I started working on that cover song.
Choosing a song from the 80s made sense to me. Voyage, Voyage is one of my favourite songs from that time. I still remember, to this day, the first time I heard it on the radio in Norway; It became a number one hit not only here, but throughout Europe, too. Instantly the song caught my attention; it had this kind of melancholic vibe to it, even though it was like a typical pop song at the time. That’s something unusual to find in pop music today.
I’m still a huge fan of the 80s, there was so much great music coming out of that decade. Making a cover version of that song kind of felt like a natural choice, I kind of had a clearer vision of know how I wanted to arrange the song and which direction I wanted to take it in, to try to make it sound like a typical Sirenia song. I was not only happy with how it sounded, but as a bonus song, it really complimented our sound naturally.
It sounds like the 1980s really means a lot to you. What else can you tell me about this time period?
MV: A lot of the rock music also that came out in the 80s was absolutely fantastic. Bands like Metallica, Guns and Roses, and Alice Cooper. So many bands released fantastic albums in this decade. I think that the best Ozzy Osbourne albums came out at this time too. There’s a lot of good stuff from the decade.
Do you think that the next Sirenia album will continue to explore the 80s influence?
MV: I don’t know to be honest, that’s it’s hard to say. Every time I start writing music for a new album, I always tend to spend the first couple of months experimenting and searching for a new sound or a new direction. That’s what I’m going to do when it comes to writing the next album.
It’s too early for me to know at this point, but one thing is for sure, and that’s the next album will be different compared to this one. That’s always our main goal. My worst nightmare would be to make two albums that sound exactly the same. It wouldn’t make any sense. There would be no excitement or interesting aspects.
At the same time, we also try not to stray too far from the fundamental basics of our sound. We always try to bring in new elements, but at the same time, try to maintain the basics of our sound. Every time we release a new album we still want people to hear that this is Sirenia, and that it’s not a different band. It’s still us, but we always want to have something new and exciting for our listeners.
Especially these days and in the genre that we’re in. It becomes more important to remain unique and original. We try to not pay much attention to what other bands are doing. We always try to follow our own path and do our own thing.
As a musician myself, many of those points I can definitely relate to. It’s a challenge existing in a genre like metal with so many bands doing so much. What would say your favourite Sirenia song is and why? What are you most proud of?
MV: I would have to say Addiction No.1 because it’s one of those songs on the new album that’s completely different to everything we’ve done before. To me, that song sounds really modern and very different in the genre. That’s what we were trying to do with this album, release something modern sounding, really fresh and different; an album that hadn’t been released in the symphonic genre before, so to say.
I know that during live performances you guys played with a bass backing track until very recently, in the past couple of years. How did you feel playing bass live for Sirenia after so many years playing guitar on stage?
MV: I played bass live for around a year or two, but now I’m actually back to playing guitar, where we’re again using bass backing tracks when playing live. I’ve been used to playing bass on albums since the very beginning. I feel kind of comfortable with the bass, sitting around in the studio and in the rehearsal room and all that; but going up on stage and doing the vocals in addition to bass playing after so many years of playing guitar was unusual in the beginning. I definitely feel more comfortable with the guitar. That’s been my main instrument now for over 30 years.
When we’re on the other side of the pandemic, are there any particular countries or places that you want to play first?
MV: No, not really. I basically just want to get out there as soon as possible, but I think that Europe would be the first place to start because it’s the most practical.
How is the COVID-19 situation now in Norway?
MV: It’s a bit different when looking at different cities. Where I’m living in the Southwest, I’m out in the countryside. It’s somewhat quiet here, so it’s not that bad. In the bigger cities like Oslo and Bergen and areas around it, it’s way more complicated.
Now they have all kinds of restrictions for travelling and are basically shutting down the city. I think they have one of the mutant strains of the virus spreading there really fast. The Government are really worried about it, but they cannot just close down the whole city and the area around it. It’s not that bad right now but it was around the Christmas period and New Year’s. Thankfully though the number of new cases in the region is dropping dramatically.
I really hope that the vaccines will be a success and that the vaccination programs around the world will go forward and fast. Hopefully, things will get under control soon and everything can go back to normal. The sooner the better.
Me too. One last question for you. It’s been ten long years since your first Mortemia solo album. Are we due to get more from that project soon, seeing as you’ve got more time on your hands?
MV: Yes actually. I’m working on some new songs as we speak. These last 10 years have been so busy that I didn’t really have the time to work on any other projects except for Sirenia. But now, with the pandemic, I have more time than ever in the past decade. At the moment I’m working on new Mortemia songs and I’m intending to start releasing singles one by one with the first release coming very soon. It could be as soon as March. Then I intend to release new songs depending on how much time I have. I’m even working on a different project as well. With quarantine and everything, not being able to travel and tour I’m spending a lot of my time in the studio composing new music. All of a sudden I have time to work on Mortemia again. As you’ve said, it’s been like 10 years since I released that first album. It’s all coming in the next few months, so keep an eye out.
You heard it here first people. Exciting stuff! I’m looking forward to hearing it all and hopefully getting to see you guys play when the pandemic is said and done. Thank you so much for speaking to me Morten.
MV: It was my pleasure.
Keep an eye out on Vinyl Chapters for more Sirenia news and details of the upcoming Mortemia project from Morten Veland. Also, check out the Sirenia website to keep in the know about upcoming gigs when the world is allowed to enjoy live music once again.
Photos Credit: Richelle ter Heege