Singer Helena Iren Michaelsen from Imperia
Interviewed by: Anders Sandvall
Thanks to Tom Hack at Massacre Records for setting up the interview.
Thanks to Massacre Records for providing the promo pics.
Imperia is the name of a great goth metal act that recently released their brilliant third album entitled SECRET PASSION. I was given the opportunity to hook up with the bands singer Helena Iren Michaelsen (ex- Trail Of Tears) and we sat down to talk about the new album, the label and her thoughts on performing live as well as some more personal questions about Helena herself. If you're into goth metal, make sure to listen to SECRET PASSION really soon.
SECRET PASSION is the name of Imperia's brand new album. Can you tell us a little bit about the album like how long it took you to record it and what's it about?
The recordings took about three months in total. We all live in different countries, so that's why some things take a little more time. The drums and keys were recorded in Germany, the bass in Belgium, Jan recorded the guitars in Finland, and the vocals we did here in Norway. Plus we have a cello player from America as a guest on the album, and then the whole stuff was mixed in Denmark in the end :-)
Lyrically the album is dealing with personal life-experiences of all different kinds; my lyrics have always been very personal and the new album is not exception on that.
Why did it take you so long to write the material?
Actually the writing process itself went very fast, it just took a long time until we finally came to it. The reason for that is private commitments of the members involved, that simply had priority over the music.
Who writes the material and what are the lyrics about?
Most of the songs are written by Jan, our guitar-player, but there's also a few of myself on the album. I do all the lyrics, and as said above they're all about personal experiences. So some of them are extremely dark and actually painful, but also there is very positive, sweet ones, like for instance “Sleeping Angel”, which is a song I've written for my daughter.
Your last album came in 2007, what have you been up to in between releases?
I moved back to Norway right after the recordings of “Queen of Light”; nowadays I live in an old farmhouse in the middle of the Norwegian forest with my daughter, and my dogs, cats and horses. I took on education for a “normal job”, so actually it's anything but a Rock'n'Roll lifestyle over here :-)
Do you think that the band has developed musicwise through the years? If so, in what way do you think?
I think the new album is the best we've made so far, it has the most catchy songs of Imperia up to date. We didn't really think much over which direction to take with the new songs, we just take the ideas as they come and follow inspiration. There's always a natural development in the music, we all change as persons, and that also reflects in the music of course. In terms of the vocals the most obvious change is, that I use far less of the opera voice this time. Simply for the reason, that the music we had written didn't ask for it.
Do you think that the fans are going to appreciate SECRET PASSION?
Yes they do, the response we got until here is extremely positive.
How come you named the album SECRET PASSION? Does the title have any special meaning to the band?
There is a special meaning to it, but as you see in the name, it's secret so I can't tell :-)
Who has done the cover art and what do you think of it?
The artwork was done by our guitar-player Jan, and I love the way it turned out. Creating artworks and doing graphic design is Jan's day-job actually, he has been doing artworks for hundreds of albums already.
The band uses a lot of orchestrations on keyboards on the album how are you going to solve that when you're performing live?
When we play live the orchestral parts are embedded into the music as samples or sequences. Actually it's kind of a standard procedure nowadays; since more or less nobody can afford to take a philharmonic orchestra with them on tour :-), you have to solve it differently. Fortunately nowadays there is good technical solutions for it, so it works just fine on stage.
There are a few guest appearances as well on the album who are the guests and how did they end up on the album?
As for Oliver Philipps he's been the producer of the previous Imperia and also the Angel album already. And Jan and him have been doing several other projects together. On the new album he´s doing the orchestrations, and also plays some additional guitar-parts. He recorded the vocals with me here in my house in Norway, so he also added a few backing vocals. Tina Guo is an American cello-player, and the contact came through Jan, who had been doing the design of her website. The other cello-player on the album is Clara Betancourt, who is the girlfriend of our drummer Steve. And then there is also contributions of Audun Gronnestad and John Stam, who are both previous members of the group, so it felt good to give them a spot also on the new album as well.
How would you like to describe the kind of music Imperia play? I have read several descriptions of your music as being gothic epic metal, goth symphonic metal and so on.
To me the only thing that matters, is that the music transports the emotions I want to bring out. And that there is people out there who relate to these emotions, and this is why the like what we're doing. As for whatever name you give to it, or which genre you sort it into, this is nothing I ponder over. I don't think it matters to be honest.
You put out the songs “Touch Of Your Hand” and “Secret Passion” in your MySpace site how did the fans respond on the songs?
The response to the songs is excellent.
There's a strictly limited edition digi pack of SECRET PASSION that features one bonus track what song is that and are there more things that separates that edition from the regular edition?
The extra song is called “Mistress”, it's kind of an electro-gothic dancetrack, so it's really different from the rest of the album. And of course the digipack comes with a different packaging then the normal CD, which has a standard jewel box case.
Did you throw any release party for the album when it was released?
Off course I had one here at home :-) But we didn't do a release-show or anything, with all of us living in different countries it's not so easy to do that. But we've played some of the new songs already on our latest gig in London. And we did have a hell of a party there, so when I think of it, we probably had a release party then :-)
The last song on the disc is the duet “My Sleeping” who is singing with you?
It's Oliver Philipps who is singing the male part.
Were there many songs that didn't made it on to the final version of the album?
Off course we had a few more songs than needed, so we just picked the best tracks to put it on the album in the end.
Is it important to you and the band to know what the critics write about you? Have you read any of the reviews of the album yet?
Of course it does kind of matter to get a positive feedback, when you put in a lot of emotions into an album, you want to know that there is people who understand it and relate to it. On the other hand I wouldn't change anything if somebody don't like it. Some people kind of have rules for what elements are supposed to be on an album of a particular genre, or which elements are supposed to not be on there, and I don't care for any of these rules. So for instance the bonus track of the digipack is a song which some people find totally misplaced on a metal-album, and others are completely in love with the song. As well there is people that think a ballad like “Sleeping Angel” may be too “cheesy” for a metal band, but also there is people who like this song best. You can never please everybody, so I think the best is to not even try but instead just be true to yourself, follow your own inspiration and do whatever feels right to yourself.
Are there any plans on shooting a video to any of the songs?
It's not decided yet, we'll see.
You are signed to Massacre Records and you released your last album there as well. Are you happy with the work the label has put into the album and into the band so far?
In general I think they do a good job for us. But of course as a band you would always wish for more support, so I think there is things which would really help in terms of reaching a wider audience, such as a proper promotion tour or a good video-clip. But on the other hand I am aware that Massacre is not a big company, so they cannot give us the same support that a Major Label could give.
Have you always been signed to MR? If not what label(s) have you been linked to prior MR?
The first Imperia album was released on a Dutch label named Ebony Tears. And the Angel album came out on the Greek label Black Lotus.
What's the main difference between working with Ebony Tears and MR?
Massacre Records is a more established and professional company of course. They have a wide distribution net all over Europe, so that makes quite a difference.
For how many albums are you signed for at MR?
To be honest I have no clue whatsoever :-)
Is it possible to buy your earlier albums in stores at the moment?
Yes, it is. You may not find them at every local store around the corner, but as for the bigger chains or big internet platforms like Amazon etc., they should all have them in stock.
Is the album released world wide?
Yes, it is.
Are you currently co-operating with any management or booking agency?
No, we don't. We take care of those issues ourselves.
In which studio did you record the album? And who had produced it?
We kind of produced it on our own with a bit of help of Oliver Philipps. Not for every part of the production process you really need a conventional studio. Technology has changed a lot, so it's a whole different world than let´s say ten years ago. The drums were recorded at Spacelab Studio in Germany, everything else was done in smaller project studios at either our own houses or at friends of us. The vocals we basically recorded at my bedroom :-) Oliver brought all the necessary recording-gear from Germany, and then all you need to do is built kind of a vocal-booth which is acoustically dry. If you have that, you can basically record vocals wherever you want.
As for the mixing and mastering that was done at Jacob Hansen's studio in Ribe/Denmark. For this part of the production you definitely need a professional studio, it's not a thing you could do at home.
How come you chose to record it several studios? Wasn't it hard to do that? Was it the first time you chose to record in various studios?
It was the first time, and actually the idea was born out of necessity. When we did the previous album, we all lived more or less nearby each other, but in the meantime I had moved back to Norway, and Jan moved back to Finland. So doing it the way we did was the most reasonable way, and actually it sounds a lot more complicated than it is. It's absolutely nothing unusual nowadays to record one album in different places. Digital technology has changed everything when it comes to how albums are made.
How come you chose Jacob Hansen to do the job?
Jacob is known as one of the best guys around when it comes to doing a killer sound for a metal-album. So he actually was our first choice, and fortunately he had time to do the job for us.
When did you first start to sing?
Actually before I could walk even. So I started with scream-vocals first :-)
Are you classically trained?
Yes I am, I took classical lessons for many years.
What do you like to sing the most?
My access to singing is purely emotional. So whatever piece of music will touch me inside, I will love to sing it. It don't matter at all which kind of style or genre it is.
Do you still live in Norway?
Yes I do.
You have been a part of the band Trail Of Tears how did you end up there and why did you leave?
I got in because they had asked me. I was in the band from doing the first demos, and then we did two albums and a lot of touring together. I left when I got the feeling I was about to lose my artistic freedom. So I left the band to get this back and start something new on my own.
Have you been part of any other bands prior to TOT?
I had not been in another band before, but already prior to TOT I was writing songs of my own.
Do you have any role model or idol that you look up to when it comes to singing?
No, I don't. There is a lot of singers out there I like and respect of course, but as for my own singing I just want to be myself. As explained before, my access to music and singing is entirely emotional. So I don't think of whatever role-models I could follow.
Can you play any instruments?
I play some guitar, but I am not exactly good at tuning it :-)
I know you have a side project as well what is that and can you tell us about the project?
The Angel album consisted of songs of my own, that were all written before the time of Imperia and some even before the time of Trail of Tears. So the point of making that album was getting the chance to record and release those songs after all.
When do you find the time to work with the project?
Just before it has to be recorded :-)
Do you think that you're going to record more albums with this project in the future?
Probably so, yes.
You have an amazing voice how do you manage to keep it in shape?
Most importantly, never smoke less than 20 cigarettes per day. And make sure you never rehearse, so you save all which is left of your voice after the cigarettes for when you need it ! :-)
And off course loud sex will help as well, it's a brilliant breathing exercise.
When was Imperia founded and by who?
I founded the band myself right after leaving TOT.
Where does the band name come from?
It started with the name “Imperium”, but “Imperia” sounded more female so in the end I chose for that.
Was it given from the start that Imperia was going to play this particular kind of music?
Actually it was, already the first demo included some of the ingredients you would still consider typical for Imperia, such as for instance the operatic vocals or witchy voices. But of course the music has developed from there, but from the onset of the whole project you could kind of see where it would be going.
The band did its first live show in 2004, how was that?
The first gig is off course special so I remember it very well. We had a great crowd that night, it was an overwhelming experience and really great fun.
You did a lot of shows in mainly Belgium and The Netherlands back then, why only there and not in the rest of Europe?
Because except Steve, who lived in Germany, we all lived in Holland (Jan and me) or Belgium (Gerry) at that time. Also Ebony Tears was a Dutch label, so it just happened naturally that we got most known in that area.
Have you done a lot of shows until today?
We did a hell of a lot of shows, in particular in those years where we were working with Mojo as our booking agency.
Both your debut album as well as your second album was chosen as album of the month in Belgium how did that feel?
I think that's really an honour, so we were very pleased with that.
Where in the world do you think you have got the biggest fanbase?
It's kind of hard to tell nowadays, since there is a lot of response also from countries like for instance Brazil. The whole South American market is a bit hard to keep track on, since you never really get to see exact sales-figures. But off course we still have a strong fan base in particular in Holland also nowadays.
Do you think it's important to be a part of the social networks sites on internet?
Yes, I think so. I use quite a lot of time to answer questions from fans on Facebook for instance. It's off course not possible to chat with everybody etc., but personal questions I try to always give a personal answer to, and people seem to appreciate that a lot.
You have a great website who runs it?
The website is also done by Jan Yrlund.
Do you get a lot of mail from fans? What's the most common question you get from fans?
I get quite a lot indeed. The most common question is probably how I am doing :-) And of course there is a lot of questions about the music, or my singing, and about particular lyrics. When writing lyrics with a lot of personal experience in there, there are also people who read it and feel reminded of themselves, and then they may happen to give you a feedback on that or ask questions or share their own experiences with me.
Are there any plans on heading out on a proper European tour soon?
That would actually depend on the support we get from the label. Right now there is no concrete plans yet, but we're certainly open to the idea and willing to put on a proper tour.
Are you going to do any festival gigs this summer?
We don't know yet.
Imperia did a show in London at the end of January how was that?
It was great fun and a really enthusiastic crowd at the venue. Also we played some of the new songs for the first time, and they were received very well by the audience.
What's the main focus for the band at the moment?
As for my part, what keeps me busy the most for the moment is doing interviews.
Do you look at USA/Canada and Asia to with this new album?
Massacre has an American office also, so the album comes out in North America. As for Japan we made a licensing deal with a Japanese company that will soon release the album for the Asian market.
What are the plans for the band for the rest of 2011?
Whatever comes up, you never know. I hope that the next thing is making a good video, and I hope the label will provide us with a budget for that.
Could you give the readers three reasons why they should buy SECRET PASSION?
Actually I could give twelve :-) And even 13 to those who buy the digi-pack.
Do you have anything you'd like to say to the fans and to the readers?
Just a big Thank You to everybody who's been supporting us until here, it's you guys we're doing this for! Kisses, Helena
That was all for me and metal-rules.com thanks a lot for taking the time to do this interview, I wish you and the band all the best in the future.
Thank you so much.