Vocalist Floor Jansen
Interview by EvilG
Transcription by Mike ‘Fucking Hostile’ Holmes
Live Pics by Arto Lehtinen
Floor Jansen is the vocalist for the Dutch melodic metal band, After Forever. Floor’s emotional vocals are something you not only hear, but feel, especially on the band’s newest self-titled album where the band has outdone themselves. In this interview we talk to Floor about the music on the band’s latest album, the deeply personal nature of some of the lyrics on the album, and a range of other relevant topics.
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You’re doing a press tour throughout the U.S. right now I believe, aren’t you?
Yes, well it’s a promotional trip only to L.A. where the head office of Nuclear Blast USA is located. Yeah, we’ve been around here, doing interviews and station id’s and stuff like that. We are going to have a listening party tonight here in the ‘Key Club’ on sunset blvd., so that’s very cool.
So, is this the first time that a record label has gotten you to the U.S. to do this type of thing?
Yeah, we’ve never had a record label doing our CD’s or previous work in the states; this is going to be the first North American release.
That must be pretty cool for you, to finally be able to make a crack at doing something over here.
Yeah, for sure, thanks to the internet North Americans have been in touch with our music, but always had to import it from Europe or South America even, to get to the music. We’ve never got to play here, we’ve never got to be here; it’s cool that we can finally make a start.
One thing I read about the other day was there was some kind of shopping spree, or promotional thing, that the label had set up for you to go shopping for ‘He-Man’ stuff.
Yeah, indeed, we had a meeting up with friends at a collectible store here in L.A.. It was really to meet people and combine it with one of our hobbies, our guitar player, Sander Gommans, is a huge ‘He-Man’ fan. For him it was like ‘wow’, this huge compound filled with collectibles.
Were there many fans that showed up for that?
Yeah, there was quite a few people, and it was really nice to meet them.
Cool, so what do you think is one of the biggest hurtles to overcome, to become more of a common name to metal fans in this part of the world?
Well, nothing has ever been done to make our name bigger here. I think it’s really important that we get some interviews; that we have our name in reviews, and interviews, and magazines here; get our name and music on the radio here. We need people to talk about us. And of course to come out here and play; show our face and play our music live. Those are things that I think people have been waiting for. The people who have been in touch with us, thanks to the internet, help us in being on this side of the planet more often.
You probably hear this one a lot, but right now in North America it seems female fronted hard rock and metal is doing pretty good, with bands like Evanesscence, Lacuna Coil, Nightwish, Within Temptation, Epica, etc. etc. There’s even a recent tour called “the hottest chicks in metal”, which was kind of a strange title, but it seems that these types of female fronted bands are becoming more and more popular here, so do you think that you have a chance to ride that wave, and do something with that?
Well yeah, if you look at Europe, the same wave has been going on there for years. We are actually one of the first (female fronted) bands to be to be in it. We were even there before Nightwish, Within Temptation, and certainly before Epica and some others. We were one of the founders of this entire genre and we have a lot of experience through the years, with a lot of albums behind us. If there is an interest in the scene, it’s so easy to step in; that’s what happened with a lot of the bands after us. We are now apart of the evolvement of the scene here. Our music is so different of course, apart from the others, we have our own sound. I think we are the heaviest, definitely heavier than the ones you mentioned. Also, what I notice here, especially here in the states, is that the bands most popular in the metal scene are the heavy ones. I do feel that we will fit in here; we will show the American market a whole new female fronted music style. The reaction so far has been amazingly positive, so we do have a chance. We are amongst the others, but we also have a distinct sound and we’re going to use that.
With regards to your style – fans and people like me, critics, are always categorizing bands with silly tags such as power metal, goth metal, whatever metal. Since After Forever takes a little bit from several styles, do you even bother to label the type of music you do? Is it metal and that’s good enough?
Well, it’s good on one hand to say that it’s this or that so it’s recognizable for people. If you go to a store and search for a certain type of music it’s cool that you can fit in the picture so people know how to reach you. Like you, you’re going to write something about us, what are you going to say is our genre? If there is one word to describe the music, how would you describe it? It’s always so hard, but it’s somehow necessary. In Europe, every metal band with a girl singing is considered gothic metal, whether its power metal or thrash metal with a girl singing. To me, gothic has nothing to do with what we do. It just became a name for female fronted bands. I would definitely not go with the gothic name. One thing that we are is a metal band; we have a lot of melody going on. We either call it melodic metal, or simply female fronted metal. We definitely do not want anything gothic in it. (laughs)
With regards to your home country of Holland, do you enjoy some sort of a superstar status in your home country now? Or has the rest of Europe embraced you at a greater rate than your home country?
Well, truthfully, we’re not superstars. This genre still stays underground, the only band that sticks above the underground scene is ‘Within Temptation’. In our country, in Holland, we have a very, very stubborn, narrow-minded music scene where they will literally say that you sound like ‘Within Temptation’ and we don’t want two bands of the same genre on our commercial television, magazines and radio. You can have 10,000 different bands with the pop-rock sound; you can have 10,000 different kinds of R&B but you can’t have 2 bands in the same genre that don’t sound the same?!?! It’s kind of weird there, there is this boycott with everything that has gothic in it, and once again the stupid name works against us. That has been a struggle for us for many years. We are now at the top of the underground scene. We actually do very well in Holland, I don’t want to sound like I am complaining, we just want to keep on growing, and for that we need attention from the commercial networks and we’re not getting that. It’s an ongoing struggle that we will continue. We want to prove that our music is so successful for so many more people than it is today…without putting it in the wrong category that works against us. In Europe it’s definitely growing, so far we’ve been working with a small independent label from Holland that had a problem getting decent distribution and promotion done anywhere outside of the Benelux. So, we do have a lot of fans and it is increasing since we have joined Nuclear Blast, a better and well oiled international machine that we have just stepped into, and they are getting our CD out there. We are definitely growing, but it’s not a superstar status at all, it’s basically stayed underground. There are so many countries in Europe that do not have metal as a main genre; it always stays underground. I think Finland is the only country on the entire planet that when you switch on the radio or television you can get a metal band; the rest is all Britney Spears and 50 Cent and stuff like that.
On to your latest album, I know bands always like to say their latest album is their best, however in this case if you said that, I would agree. I’ve heard your other albums and liked them; but listening to your latest album the past few days, I really do think it’s the best album you’ve done so far. It seems like you’ve turned a new page and everything overall seems better. Does the band seem to have this kind of an opinion, or is this another album in the catalogue kind of thing?
I definitely agree with you (laughs). We really feel that we have made a step forward with this album; a necessary step as well. Especially since the whole scene is booming and there are so many other bands, you have to stick out and deliver a product that’s really good. Songwriting wise, we have 4 albums of practice; our instrumental skills, and my vocal skills have developed so much. At the end of our writing process we noticed that all the songs kind of became an overview of everything that we have done in the past. All of the ingredients of all the different sounds on our albums, and elements have come together on this album in a renewed and refined way. But still, we have new elements. We’ve always tried to evolve and keep on growing. On this album, everything kind of came together. We also got the chance to work with a producer (Gordon Groothedde) because with these kinds of songs we are going to need a producer to finalize it and perfect it; to give the objective input you can’t have as a band. Especially not as a band as we are, since we’ve been making all of the other albums ourselves. All of the songwriting, all of the production has always been done by the band itself. To get it to a higher level we thought it would be a good idea to get a part-time 7th band member that has an objective input that can lift it to the next level together with us. That’s exactly what he did. I also think production wise he did an amazing job in getting all of the ingredients we have out there in the music. First of all, we are a metal band, and we want to sound like one. We also have the orchestration next to that. It’s a part of our music but it’s not the most important thing. With bands in this genre, and with us in the past, it’s either heavy or orchestral. We wanted to have both. With all of the variety in our music we wanted every element sticking out decently without losing the heaviness of the metal sound that we have. He is the first one that actually got to do this, that’s another reason why we think this one sticks out.
I assume that’s why gave the newest album the self titled name ‘After Forever’ because it’s sort of a summation of the band’s styles up to date.
Exactly, we feel that we’ve been a stubborn band; we’ve always done what we wanted to do, not let the expectations and desires of the fans or whoever drive the band. We write what we want to write and whatever comes out is what comes out. That’s why there is a huge difference between ‘Decipher’ and ‘Invisible Circles’, which became way more progressive and less melodic. It was a different style. ‘Imagine’, the fourth album was even more different and it was hard for people to follow, although people started to respect us for our change and growth; evolving and creating our own sound. Each album is different, but it’s still recognizable to us as ‘After Forever’, it still has that sound in it, it’s typical for us. All of these things came together on this one. That was funny to notice that, a little bit of history repeating itself in a modern, better way. Combined in new fresher elements, new influences, new songwriting and new playing skills; and vocal wise, I have grown again and I am more open to try out new things, to utilize my voice fully from all sides, from pop to opera, form low to very high, I want to have it all in there. These factors have made the recent album our musical overview, and sort of a musical conclusion after 10 years of ‘After Forever’, and that’s the reason why we thought a self-titled album would be a very appropriate name for this one.
As you mentioned, I do agree that your vocals have improved after every ‘After Forever’ release; do you feel that you are constantly learning? Does singing become something that is more effortless for you to do, or do you still work really hard and struggle, or do you find things may come easier come easier for you now?
To be honest, and maybe arrogant, I feel things have always come easy for me. I was just born a bunch of vocal chords that cooperate whenever I want, and that’s one of the biggest reasons I started studying music and vocals. I have worked hard to perfect my techniques, and make it a very ‘variated‘ voice, to sing in all kinds of styles. Of course you need both techniques, and to work hard for it, you need a good pair of vocal chords to start working with. This is a basic talent I guess. I’ve worked hard for it, like everybody should to get this done. I am the type of person that doesn’t just want to sit and wait until the next album. I will always evolve and keep on growing. Now I am not studying anymore, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not learning. I am teaching singing myself and the vocal lessons also keep me sharp. Everything that I listen to, that I like, becomes a source of inspiration. Sometimes I will hear something and say “hey that’s new to me” and I want to try it out and see how it feels if I sing it and that’s a way to keep on growing and learning; evolving.
I know you have been responsible for writing lyrics and vocal melodies in the group for a few years now, it seems like you put a very emotional investment into your lyrics. Do vocal melodies and lyrics like this come to you quickly after you hear the music, or is it something that takes a long time to come up with?
It depends, usually it comes pretty quickly actually. I usually work with a bunch of subjects in my mind. I have a paper where I write all of the ideas on, where I collect subjects and ideas for lyrics. When I get a song, I start working on the vocal lines and sometimes after hearing it twice I have something, and sometimes it takes me longer. The way for me to know if a melody line is good or not, it may sound stupid, but is if I can remember it or not. I never record anything up until the finalized pre-production because it has to be in my head, or else it’s not good enough. That sometimes takes a week, and sometimes it takes a few months for a song to really ‘perfectionize’, to really get it right. It’s often a growing process, some melody lines are instantly there and sometimes it needs to grow. When I know what I’m going to sing and I get a feeling to the sound, then I know which subject I already had in mind; what fits to that particular song.
Do you like to discuss exactly what inspires certain lyrics, or do you like fans to read the lyrics and let fans come up with their own interpretation?
Both actually. I wrote them with a certain intention, feeling, and emotion but it doesn’t mean that everybody has to have the same opinion or feeling to it. I would like to tell my point of view and the reason I wrote it the way I did, but I would like to give people the space to give their own interpretation. It’s not like my point of view is the only good one; especially since I write so much about questions. Especially in the past, I write a lot of lyrics about questions of life; ‘why is this happening’? ‘Why is that happening’? ‘Why am I feeling this way’? A lot of people can relate to that, but it’s not like they have the exact same opinion. I don’t want to put my opinion onto other people’s feelings.
Perhaps you could take a song or two from your new album that stands out lyrically for you and just give us a quick run through on what inspired the song and what message you might like to get though to people.
I would definitely start with ‘Cry with a Smile’, that’s my most emotional and personal song. I wrote it after our dog died actually. People would think ‘it’s just a dog’. But to me it wasn’t just a dog; it’s a dog that had been in our family for 15, almost 16 years. When he died I came to realize because of that event that losing somebody, not only a dog, but somebody you’ve loved, when that person or animal dies….to me it felt so different. He had a happy life and even died in a ‘nice’ way, as far as dying is ‘nice’. He just went to sleep and everything was ok, there was no struggle or pain. Losing someone who does in a ‘nice’ way is so different than losing someone who is way too young and dies in a horrible way. I know both losses are horrible, you don’t want to take say goodbye to anybody, but death is inevitable and can come to you in so many different ways. That’s why the song is called “Cry With A Smile”, it’s sad and you don’t want to lose anybody but its inevitable and if it happens in a good way like it did, then it can have something beautiful to it. There’s a certain peace to it that isn’t there when somebody dies tragically and too early. That is something I would consider to be like a message that maybe some people can relate to.
Let’s see, another lyric…. Well, there are a couple of lyrics connected by a theme, around energy. So it’s not like this is a concept album, ‘Cry with a Smile’ doesn’t fit under that theme, but there are a couple of songs that relate to that theme of energy. I started to notice that there is energy in so many situations and so many elements and things. I started writing that down in my little subject book (laughs). There’s energy between people that can be either positive or negative, you can have a nice conversation and both be energized by it, it gives you energy. That’s that “Energize Me”, our first European single, is about. But it can also have the exact opposite reaction like this person I don’t like, or even hate, they give me so much negative energy, they take energy away from you. It wears you out and sucks you dry; and that’s what ‘De-Energized’ is about.
The song ‘Withering Time’ is about the energy there is in time. ‘Dreamflight’, the long song, is about the energy around dreams; which is a fascinating theme anyway to write about. ‘Evoke’ is about the energy in nature – why do you feel energized when you are in an open field, or a forest. These things can energize you in a weird way, why does it happen?
With regards to the songwriting, do you get the chance to make many suggestions with regards to a guitar melody, a riff or an arrangement, or do the other guys focus on that side of it?
Well, songwriting has kind of changed through the years. The last two albums Sander and Joost took charge of the basic melodies and shape of the song. When I start listening to it and I have second thoughts about something, I definitely get to say something and we work on it. Or I will make my vocal lines and things may change because of that; but we finalize it together and then bring it to the rest of the band to finalize it. I must say that Joost and Sander are so good at what they do; I never really feel that I have to (change anything). Sometimes I don’t have enough space in a melody, it is hard for me to make a vocal line on this, or ‘hey, I think this should be the chorus, why is it only played once, can it be longer so I can make a good melody over it’? But that doesn’t happen too often. I am a part of it, and I get to say my share, but Sander and Joost are very good at what they do. Everybody is basically doing their share and we talk it over to perfect it and finalize it.
On the flip side of that, do they ever come to you and say, ‘when I wrote this riff, I had this in mind; would you try it this way’? Or do they just say, ‘go ahead and do your thing’?
Usually its just, ‘Go ahead and do your thing’, and sometimes they have a certain idea, not for the melody, but like they want me to sing a different way to their melody; long notes, or short notes, or with more rhythm, or to use more of the operatic voice to try and sing it like this or that. But those are only suggestions, ‘we thought that it would be cool, but do your own thing’, but sometimes it inspires me to do it their way, and sometimes it doesn’t. They are all suggestions just like mine to their parts.
A track that I like on your latest album, because of the vocal duet with Doro, is ‘Who Am I?’. How did it feel to work with one of the pioneers of female fronted metal?
It was exactly what you say, it was a huge honor and we chose her because she was a pioneer of the female fronted scene. Especially in Europe now is so focused on lyrical singers, that people have forgot that it started out with heavy metal. To make that cross-over with the music and also with our voices, it was very cool and Doro thought the same thing, It was a huge honor for us to do this. On the album we didn’t sing together, it was done in separate studios, but she did get to sing with us on our CD presentation and that was awesome as well. She still rocks, and she is still amazing.
So, you’ve already done the song live with her once, maybe it will be something you could do again for a DVD release for people to see.
Yeah, definitely, a DVD is something that is high on our priority list right anyway. It has been on the pipeline for god knows how long. Due to our previous record company it was just not possible, but now we are released from them and working with a professional team; we would definitely want this.
Do you have footage recorded that you could possibly use?
We’ve been recording stuff for 10 years now and have so many things we could use. We would like to record a decent live concert and put some extra effort into it. We are not sure which it will be, but we have a lot of (material) to fill god knows how many DVD’s. I definitely think that we will be able to make something that people have been waiting on for so long.
You joined ‘After Forever’ basically as a kid, you were 16 or so. Now as an adult, you’ve basically grown up in this band. Being in this band and performing must be so ingrained into who you’ve become now. So is it hard to look at a life outside of ‘After Forever’, or a future in 10, 20 years where you might be doing this kind of thing? Or are you content with basically being along for the ride as long as fans want to hear you singing?
Well, kind of both, despite the fact that I’ve been in the band since I was 16 and that determined my path in life, I also had a life next to the band, and I highly value that life. I studied, and I finished my studies. I see young bands in Holland now like Epica, and some don’t even finish high school because they think the band is number one priority. This is the beginning of your career and you have so many years in front of you, what are you going to do when the band stops? That has always been in the back of my mind, things may be going amazingly well, but it’s not something that you can rely on for the rest of your life. It’s very important that you have a life next to it. That’s the reason I chose different studies, to become wise and very focused and varied singer. That has always kept me aware of life next to the band and is something that I’ve found to be important, and up to today that is still the case. But yes, I would like to keep on doing this as long as possible, but if there is a day where there is something after ‘After Forever’, I don’t know what I’ll be doing, but I hope something in music; it’s in my blood, it’s my passion. We’ll see.
You mentioned earlier about singing lessons and I know you’ve taught lessons. Is that something that you still have time for or is it on the ‘back-burner’ now?
It’s more on the back now, it’s hard to really continue to do this and have a good continuation of the lessons; now I’m a week in L.A., then we tour through September, October, November and after that we keep on touring. Yeah, it’s pretty hard. Last year I was only able to teach half of the year and then I picked it up in January. It comes next to it, but the good thing is that my students know where I come from and a lot of them have lessons with me because of ‘After Forever’ so they do understand but it is hard to do both.
Yeah I was going to ask you that, do most of your students come to you because they know of your success in ‘After Forever’, are they mostly female singers, do you get many male singers as well?
Yeah, I get both male and female. It’s funny because most of the guys that I teach are in bands too. They were local for a vocal teacher that knows what its like to be on stage. Next to all of the classical techniques, what do you do when you are on stage? I have the stage experience and that’s also a reason why they come to me.
What is one of your tips you would give to a singer who says ‘how do you maintain your voice on a tour’, its one thing to do this in a studio when all conditions are perfect, but if you have to perform at that level night after night, it’s difficult the way you sing to maintain such a voice? Do you have any special things you are doing, don’t speak all day or some crazy things like that?
Yeah stuff like that actually. The vocal chord is a muscle and you should treat it as a muscle. Muscles get tired so it has to rest. Muscles work best when you warm them up before doing sports, same for a voice. Know your muscle, know the capacity, and know the capacity of your body, its better if you really know your capacities vocal wise. Your body is your instrument and you have to take care of it, and don’t wear it out. Those are things that I always pay attention to. After a show nothing is greater than going out and meet your fans or meet other bands, have a few drinks, talk and laugh, being in smoky areas for a while; those things are the worse for your voice. Speak loud in smoky areas and drink; those are the worse combinations that wears your voice out way more than singing will do, especially if you technique is good. Be careful and search for the borders of your capacity and don’t cross them. And another thing, when you are on stage and you have a big crowd in front of you or a very enthusiastic crowd; the first thing you want to do is embody your crowd and the space that they are in, and that always comes with singing too loud. That always wears your voice out way more. When this is awesome and the adrenaline is awesome but I am not going to sing louder than I should.
Sometimes it must be hard to reign in the enthusiasm I guess though.
Yeah, I always notice it; that after one song my breath is high, I’m out of breath. I stay in shape as much as I can to never lose my breath and have just enough breath to keep on doing it and that’s also why the right breathing techniques (are important). When you so enthusiastic and have so much adrenaline going on, your breathing techniques become wrong as well, that’s always when I notice and go “ok, ok, slow down” (laughs).
That comes with experience as too, from playing live a lot.
Yeah for sure.
Well that’s all the questions I had for you for this evening.
Ok, well I’m going to be taking off to our listening party that we have here in LA which is awesome. So thank you very much for the interview and the support of After Forever.
Watch After Forever’s video for “Equally Destructive”:
Watch After Forever’s video for “Energize Me” here: