25/08/2003 § Leave a comment
By: Sam Grant
With: Ellen Schutyser of Sengir
Sam: Sengir have been together since 1996. How did the band first get together?
Ellen: Actually, we met in high school.
Sam: How old were you when you first met?
Ellen: I was 15.
Sam: And that’s when you first started singing?
Ellen: Yeah, and the rest were 18.
Sam: Was that when you first realized you could sing? How old were you when you started singing?
Ellen: Yeah…. I was singing since I was a little kid!
Sam: What, like five or six years old?
Ellen: I really liked the pop music from the 80s!
Sam: Really?! What kind of stuff were you singing?
Ellen: You really want me to tell you?! Uh….. Kylie Minogue….
Sam: There’s nothing wrong with Kylie…
Ellen: I didn’t realize there was Gothic Metal at that moment.
Sam: Well nor did I, I didn’t realize it till I was about fifteen years old. But that’s what age you start, isn’t it. It’s that age you start finding a musical direction and before that you don’t really know where you’re going.
Ellen: Before I was 15 I didn’t know about the Metal scene.
Sam: It’s not something you generally find by yourself. You always need someone to introduce you to it. So what got you into the Metal scene in the first place?
Ellen: Well, I wanted to sing and there were a couple of bands in our school and Sengir was looking for female vocals so I offered myself as a candidate and I auditioned and they chose me.
Sam: How many people did they audition for it?
Ellen: Uh, three I think.
Sam: And you flew through did you?
Ellen: I did, yeah. I missed The Gathering audition[!]
Sam: Well, I’ve been reading a lot of your interviews and a lot of people have been making comparisons with The Gathering, which annoys me personally, because your music is not like The Gathering’s and it seems to me that when any Metal group with a female singer comes along, they are always compared to The Gathering, Lacuna Coil…
Ellen: ….Within Temptation….
Sam: Are you getting tired of comparisons like that?
Ellen: Yeah, but it is an honor when you’re being compared with those bands because those bands are good, but you know, in reviews we are compared with those bands and if you’re honest our music is different. It is softer, there are no sopranos, for example, our music is not so technical and it’s not so difficult…
Sam: Well, the stuff that The Gathering were producing early on wasn’t very technical, it was actually quite basic. At the moment they’re doing some quite ridiculous stuff – have you heard any of their new material?
Ellen: I thought Mandylion was their best album!
Sam: It so is, though. Have you heard Souvenirs?
Ellen: Um…..yeah…. but….
Sam: You don’t like it very much?
Ellen: No, but it sells…
Sam: It’s a good album and it’s very different, but I do think Mandylion is the best thing they’ve come up with. How would you describe the sound that Sengir produce?
Ellen: Well, in the first place it’s not Metal, it is Gothic Rock. There are some influences of Metal, of course.
Sam: Some of it’s very heavy though, some of it’s blurring the line between rock and Metal. How would you define Gothic Rock?
Ellen: um… keyboards??
Sam: I’m asking you because I don’t know! No-one seems to be able to pin down what Gothic Metal is, what Gothic Rock is. As a result, do you think people try too hard to define music rather than just get on and listen to it and enjoy it for what it is?
Ellen: I think it’s hopeless to describe what is Metal, what is Gothic. There are a lot of styles, Death Metal, Black Metal, and they always draw the line between styles…
Sam: Do you like bands like After Forever?
Ellen: Yes, but I like other bands too.
Sam: Of course, I’m not pinning you down to one style. What other bands are you into at the moment?
Ellen: I’m a very big fan of Tori Amos.
Sam: You all are, aren’t you? I haven’t heard any of her stuff since Under The Pink. What her newer stuff like?
Ellen: Uh…yeah…well… I have all her CDs!
Sam: Who else do you like?
Ellen: Um, Madonna?!
Sam: This is wonderful because I expected you to come out with these ridiculously harsh and intense bands and you come out with stuff like Madonna and Tori Amos.
Ellen: I like to sing that style of music because you can put the experience of singing that kind of way into Gothic Metal and into Sengir, so if I would only listen to Within Temptation and The Gathering I would not be singing the way I am singing now.
Sam: So how would you describe how you’re singing at the moment?
Ellen: Sometimes I sing very strong, sometimes I sing very soft and I would like to put a mysterious accent into it.
Sam: Are we talking an operatic thing?
Sam: So you’re not into that at all.
Sam: So you don’t like stuff like Nightwish?
Ellen: Yes, I like them…
Sam: You’re not crazy about them, are you.
Ellen: No… Not that I want to sing that way. I like the music, I like the style, but I don’t want to sing that way.
Sam: Are you happy with your voice as it is at the moment?
Ellen: I had some troubles a couple of years ago. I was not breathing the right way, so I was easily out of tune.
Sam: Have you had coaching since then?
Ellen: I took some singing lessons when we recorded our first demo, Autumn Tears, and I learned to breathe the right way. I haven’t had a problem anymore.
Sam: So you’ve been together since 96. A lot of people have left the band and a lot of people have joined. What’s kept the core of the band together? What’s driven you since then?
Ellen: The special thing about Sengir is the members that recorded the album, Guilty Water, we all like a different style. I like everything, I like pop music, I like Gothic, our guitars players are more into Metal and our drummer is more hardcore and our former keyboard player liked techno.
Sam: The band started in 1996 and 2003 sees the release of your first full album so a lot of work has happened between then and now. There must have been times when it was quite difficult, when you had other commitments. Was it as simple as this was what you really loved doing and you weren’t going to let anything get in the way of that?
Ellen: In the beginning you are friends at school, you know, and you just want to play in a band, doing some gigs etc and we really loved doing it because we were different from the other bands.
Sam: In what way were you different?
Ellen: It was with more keyboards, more mysterious and with more atmosphere.
Sam: What happened to them? They just flitted away?
Sam: Why is that? Why do you think you carried on and became successful, was it because you were far more serious then and they were just experimenting?
Ellen: You know, we are from the city Aalst – and there are a lot of bands in that city and we’ve always had the reputation of being different and people didn’t like us very much in that city.
Sam: Because the sound wasn’t what they were used to.
Ellen: Yeah, there were a lot of critics, but we didn’t give a damn, you know, and we continued playing and the other bands, they just gave it up.
Sam: So what kind of places were you playing in when you just started? Just pubs and things?
Ellen: Yeah, pubs, and how do you say….concours…you play with a couple of bands and who wins gets money!
Sam: Oh, is it like Battle of the Bands!
Ellen: We won a couple of times in the city, Aalst.
Sam: That must have given you quite a lot of confidence.
Ellen: Yeah, but the more we won, the more critics we got and at that time we were the only bands in that city who played a little bit further than the city. We went to the French parts of Belgium and the other bands were like, “whoa!”
Sam: What kind of music were the other bands doing?
Ellen: Mostly rock, pure simple rock, There were some metal bands, but that was harder stuff than we do.
Sam: This is the thing, because I was reading that the Gothic scene isn’t that big in Belgium.
Ellen: No, not really.
Sam: Is what sells just normal stuff and people don’t like anything that goes against the grain?
Ellen: Here what sells in Belgium is songs for children! Bands who sing the most ridiculous stuff…
Sam: Like what?!
Ellen: Do you know K3?
Ellen: Well write that down and look for their website or something! It’s pop music for children…
Sam: What do they sing about?!
Ellen: The world and about friendship and grandma….
Sam: Well, that’s happy music…
Ellen: Yeah, and then you’ve got the Flemish singers.
Sam: What are they like?
Sam: What do you mean Flemish??
Ellen: Um…music like it was fifty years ago. Things are standing still around here, you know.
Sam: So if you’re producing this kind of music when you’re 15-18 years old and also you’ve got that kind of music going on in Belgium, are you playing your music as a subtle rebellion because you’re thinking, ‘this is all very boring and tame and it doesn’t move me in any way’. Did you want to play something different and break out of the mould?
Ellen: You know, at the moment there are not a lot of bands here in Flandre that are successful. I think we are the only Gothic Metal band at the moment.
Sam: That’s quite an accolade, though. Does that make you feel isolated or proud?
Ellen: Proud because we survived!
Sam: Does that mean you’re the first? Have you ever heard of any other Gothic Rock/Metal bands before you in Belgium?
Ellen: Well, they compare us to Within Temptation, they had a hit single here a couple of months ago, and when we play they see as the new Within Temptation – the Belgian Within Temptation.
Sam: Now, what does the title of your album Guilty Water refer to?
Ellen: We wanted to give the album another title but the label decided that the title of the album had to be a song, you know.
Sam: What was it before it was Guilty Water?
Ellen: Um, Binoctium.
Sam: What does that mean?
Ellen: That’s a period of two nights. We liked that very much because our music isn’t really dark and it isn’t really heavy so when you have a period of two nights you have a dawn and then dark…
Sam: So then you went to the label…
Ellen: …and they wanted a title of a song so we chose Guilty Water.
Sam: Did that decision annoy you? How much freedom do you get to speak against the label that’s signed you?
Ellen: Well, it’s a very small label and we get a lot of freedom.
Sam: How did they find you in the first place?
Ellen: It all began with our former manager. He had contacts with Buzzville and there were certain moments when things were not going very well between us and our manager. He just left and we lost all the contacts.
Sam: What went wrong between you and your manager?
Ellen: Are you writing for a magazine or a newspaper?!
Sam: Is it a difficult thing that you’d rather not speak about?
Ellen: He was not really looking for a label. He told us he had contacts with four or five labels and all that stuff. He said he always had contacts but they didn’t alter him, you know. It wasn’t his fault. So we lost all our contacts and we went searching for them again and then there were three of four labels interested, also a major…
Sam: Which one was that?
Ellen: Um… the label for After Forever.
Ellen: Transmission, yeah.
Sam: So what made you choose…
Ellen: They had high demands.
Sam: What did they want?
Ellen: We were told to rewrite our music.
Sam: Did they want tiny changes or big structural changes?
Ellen: Yeah, the last one. We had contact with those bands, After Forever and Within Temptation, so we knew how things were working.
Sam: So bands like Epica and Within Temptation ‘submit’ their songs and then the label alters this, that and the other to make it more sellable?
Ellen: Yeah, they tell you what to wear and all that stuff.
Sam: And if you’re on a label like Century Media then presumably you get even less freedom.
Ellen: Yeah, so now we have all the freedom we want.
Sam: So the smaller the label, the more freedom you get to do what you want.
Ellen: Yeah, but they’re small so their impact is not so big.
Sam: Now, you were searching for a new keyboard player, weren’t you. Did you find a permanent replacement?
Ellen: Yep, in the city of Aalst, we found someone who lives nearby, it was amazing.
Sam: How did you find him, he wasn’t busking or something, was he?
Ellen: Actually, we met him at a bakery.
Sam: What was he doing? Was he serving buns?
Ellen: There was a shop where they sell sandwiches and all that stuff, you know, and someone who works there is very interested in our music and she knows a lot of people who play in other bands and I said to her, ‘if you find another keyboard player, tell me!’ and our keyboard player went….eating a sandwich…
Sam: How does he fit in with the rest of the band?
Ellen: Very good, because he was still in another band at that moment, but he wanted out. Because he couldn’t do his own thing in the band and he thought it was too rough.
Sam: Apart from your studies, what other interests do you have apart from Madonna and Kylie Minogue?
Ellen: What normal people do…
Sam: Going out and drinking…
Ellen: And chatting…well, I’m interested in a lot of things….like predicting someone’s future.
Sam: As in tarot or astrology? What particular medium?
Ellen: Tarot, and I’m not sure whether you’ve heard about I Ching.
Sam: What’s that?
Ellen: That’s a Chinese…
Sam: Can you predict my future?!
Ellen: Not by phone, no!
Sam: Aw. What’s the Chinese one?
Ellen: There’s a Chinese oracle and you have three coins and on one side you have Yin and on the other Yang, and when you throw the coins you get Yin or Yang.
Sam: Are you into astrology at all?
Ellen: Not really, I’ve read about it.
Sam: It’s not one of your big things.
Ellen: No, not really.
Sam: Do you think it’s a little flimsy?
Ellen: Um, yeah, it’s always fun when it becomes reality, you know, but most of the time it’s just coincidence.
Sam: Now what are you going to do for the future? Are you working on any more material?
Ellen: For the moment we are working on new songs.
Sam: Do you know Guilty Water’s at the top of the Sonic bestseller’s list at the moment?
Ellen: Hmm, yeah, I heard! In September the album will be released in France.
Sam: It must have come out in Belgium, surely.
Ellen: Yes, in February, in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Sam: After the album was finished did you take a break before working on new material?
Ellen: At that time we were looking for a new keyboard player.
Sam: How much time do you spend on music generally?
Ellen: You mean just Sengir?
Sam: Well, creating, writing and producing music.
Ellen: We rehearse two times a week and mostly we have a gig at the weekend.
Sam: Where do you rehearse?
Ellen: We have a basement, one of the band members’. The guitar player.
Sam: What are you doing for the rest of the year?
Ellen: In the Autumn we have a lot of gigs, especially in the Netherlands.
Sam: Is that like a tour?
Ellen: No, not really.
Sam: Did the label organize that for you or do you have to do some of the work yourself?
Ellen: No, we do it ourselves.
Sam: Well, very good luck with it, it’s been lovely talking to you and hopefully I’ll get a chance to speak to you again sometime in the future.
Ellen: Thank you!