Interview with Lisette van den Berg (Scarlet Stories)

One day before the release of their debut album I had the pleasure of talking to the lead singer and songwriter from Scarlet Stories, Lisette van den Berg, about the album, songwriting, biology and what not.

Andrei: How are you doing?

Lisette: I’m doing fine. I’m working on all the shipments of the crowdfunding so that’s very exciting. How are you?

A: I’m very good! So for those who don’t know, can you introduce yourself? Who are you and who is Scarlet Stories?

L: I’m Lisette van den Berg. I am a singer from the Netherlands and I’m lead singer and songwriter in Scarlet Stories which is my own band together with Bram te Kamp, Carmen Raats, Tim Kuper, Maarten Grimm and Sophie Ansems. I also sing and participate in other projects. For example one of my proudest moments was of course with Ayreon for both the Theater Equation, The Ayreon Universe shows and also I sang backing vocals on “The Source”, the album. So that was really cool.

A: I actually wanted to ask you about Ayreon because I’m a really big fan and I’m curious, particularly about the live performance in the Ayreon Universe shows, what is it like to be a part of such a massive live production? Because I don’t even know how many people performed in those shows but it was huge.

L: Yeah indeed, I loved every minute of it. I had so much fun. It was like my dream come true and I just couldn’t help thinking “Oh my God! This is so cool and I’m so happy to be a part of this” and especially also with the audience and their response to the performance and everyone being so sweet. And all the performers, all the musicians! It was just amazing and I got to know some incredible musicians and incredible people.

A: Great to hear! I’ve actually just been to the “Into the Electric Castle” live shows so I can really relate to that. I guess pretty much everything surrounding Ayreon is so much hype that you can barely take it.

So why did you decide to be a singer and how long have you been doing this?

L: I’ve been singing since I was 5 years old or something, just like in the church choir, nothing special but I loved singing and I sang every week at school. We had to sing and we had to rehearse something and I’d sing that part every week or so, but I didn’t do anything with that because I studied other instruments like flute and saxophone but I never realized that you could also actually take singing lessons. So I think when I was maybe 15 or 16 I found out “Oh hey, you can take singing lessons as well”. So I did that and I had so much fun. Actually I studied biology cause I love animals and I always wanted to do something with taking care of animals or working with animals so during my stay in Indonesia, I lived there for 9 months, in the jungles of Sumatra and I had so much time to think because it was quite a remote place. There was no internet, no phone, no television, just you and your thoughts and books of course and that made me realize that I really loved music and I wanted to do something with that so then I started thinking and after I graduated I applied for the Rockacademy in Tilburg and, yeah, I got to do all these really nice projects so that’s the story in short.

A: Yeah that’s actually a lot to take in. So are there any musicians or singers that really influence you? Like you really look up to them?

L: Yeah sure, really. Do I have to name some?

A: If it’s possible yeah.

L: Oh damn I have to choose then. Ok, so the Dutch musicians who I also listened to when I was young like Anneke van Giersbergen, Marcela Bovio and Floor Jansen of course, they’re huge inspirations. But also I listened to a lot of male vocals when I was young as well, and of course I still love male vocals. Like for example Freddie Mercury is one of my greatest inspirations, and Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin, even Europe – The Final Countdown, that’s actually a joke between Arjen and Joost I think, but I remember when I was really young, I listened to that track and I was like, blown away like “Whaat is this? I want to do that!”. So yeah, so many great musicians. For example John Jaycee Cuijpers who also participated in Ayreon. He’s amazing. The list goes on and on. I have so many inspirations.

 

A: Yeah I can relate to that. If someone asks me about my favorite musicians I’ll start a list and then never stop talking. So Scarlet Stories actually started out as an acoustic project between you and Bram. Was it ever the intention to grow it into a metal band or did that just sort of happen along the way? And how did all of you come together?

L: Yeah so it happened along the way but our inspirations were already from metal, progressive metal and progressive rock. So we wanted to do an acoustic project actually translating prog into acoustic songs. But we felt that we had so much dynamic in our songs that we could actually expand that so that’s why we also eventually asked other musicians to join and create the band versions as well.

A: Now, the event of the moment. Tomorrow is the release of your debut album.

L: Yes!

A: How long has it been in the works and how excited are you to finally see it released?

L: Well super excited! I’m really looking forward to the evening. It started in 2018 I think, just before we recorded “Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers” with Joost van den Broek of  course and then the idea of a crowdfunding started to appear. At first we didn’t want to do a crowdfunding but in this case we just couldn’t do it without. It was really the only way possible because it’s such a huge amount of money and we don’t have that. So that’s when the crowdfunding started and it was incredible to experience so many people supporting us. It’s almost a year later and now we actually have a product and that’s really cool. I’m really happy with the end result!

 

A: So I want to ask you about the writing process of the album. Before writing this album did you have a clear idea of what you want it to be, like an image of what you’re trying to achieve or did you just write music and see where it leads you?

L: That’s a good question. Before we thought about the album, I already thought about what the title or theme would be and what kind of songs I would like on the album. So I started working out what I wanted to do, so which songs I wanted to have on it. And some songs didn’t exist yet, so I just knew that I want to have a song that’s with this theme and a song with this theme and I also wanted a Prologue and an Epilogue so that’s how I started thinking about it. And actually with the band we were already rehearsing every week and writing so for the new songs we really created all the music together and of course we use the stories as our guidelines and the lyrics are very important and come first. They lead us in our songs. So what we do, some of us, like Bram and I will write something and bring it to the rehearsal and play around with it and then I record it, I take it back home, I listen to it, I make arrangements, compositions and then next week we’re going to play that and rehearse and everyone is going say something and then we’re gonna take it back and it can be a really long process. And for some songs it’s really easy and for some songs we’re already there so yeah, it varies and it’s a really cool process to be working on. And then eventually I figured that the overall theme was people or creatures dying. I write a lot about that. So I felt that that needed to be the theme of the album. Like, I mean, it was already the theme of the album. With all the songs together I realized that’s actually what I’ve been writing about and unconsciously I’m doing that already so that was the overall theme.

A: Yeah I thought it was a really interesting concept and it really surprised me. Now I want to ask you, you said you also work as a biologist. Does that have an influence on your music in any way?

L: Yeah sure, of course, but that’s because personally I feel so much and care so much for nature and animals so I use that in my work as well. That’s one of the reasons why I studied biology of course and why I wanted to become a biologist cause one of my inspirations was Jane Goodall. Do you know her?

A: I don’t think I do.

L: If you don’t you should look her up. She’s amazing. She spent more than 40 years in Tanzania in Africa studying chimpanzees and she was actually one of the first that gathered all kinds of information about chimpanzees that we didn’t know. And she is such an inspiration, such a great person. When I heard about that I was like, I want to become a biologist and study animals and their behavior and help them in a way so yeah. It’s really personal.

A: Yeah and obviously your music is really personal too so even if you don’t plan it out there probably is a connection.

L: Yeah exactly.

A: So now I want to ask you about the video that you released just over a month ago for the single. I feel it expresses very well both the vibe of the story and the atmosphere in the live performances. Was that the aim with it?

L: Well thank you! Yeah we wanted to have a video that would show what we can do live, how we perform live because we didn’t have that yet so that’s why we chose to focus a lot on the band and on the other hand we also wanted to have portrayed a story in a way so that’s why we added some of the other elements to just make a story out of that as well. But the focus was also to see our dynamics as a live band on stage.

A: After seeing that video I’m really excited to see you live. So do you think you’d be able to choose a favorite song on the album, either to listen to or to perform?

L: To perform, I love “The Tell-Tale Heart”, in the sense that I don’t have to think about it. I just go into the emotions of the song and the performance. It’s such a storytelling song. I really like that so I can really exaggerate these parts in the song and also bring them alive. That’s what I really like! And I’m really pleased with “In Blood and Limbs and Gore and Clay” because it’s so dramatic. I love drama and just screaming and of course the end solo, I love that. And another one is “Dust”. I really love the vibe of that song and how it turned out because we wrote “Dust” and Joost actually thought it was a bit long so we had to rearrange it. That was actually one of the songs that we had to really adjust for the album and also Joost added some edits in the drums, so the shifting in the frequency. He suggested that and I think it turned out beautiful so I’m really happy and pleased with that as well.

A: Great to hear! I also wanted to ask you about Joost cause, I guess it’s safe to say I’m a fan of his. I know he worked with a lot of bands that I really look up to, a lot of my favorite bands. And I guess having the album recorded with him, at Sandlane is also part of the goal why you did the crowdfunding. What’s it like working with him?

L: Joost is like, a really really sweet, gentle and relaxed dude. He’s just a pleasure to work with and he’s very honest. So he will tell you if he doesn’t like something. He’s very straightforward in that but he always does that in a respectful way, in a polite manner so I kind of always agree with him. He’s just really a genius. So working with him, I already enjoyed that for the first single because he really tries to go with you. He wants to portray the music how you want it to be but then also does not lose sight of the production. Like it should be nice to listen to, it should flow, it should have something interesting always. And he really thought long with our stories. He’s very empathic so he can really relate and he really tries to think along and help you out and he suggests incredible things that I’m like “Whaat?”. “Yes that’s exactly what I mean”. So that’s really cool and I really enjoyed working with him and I think I can speak for the rest of us that it felt the same. So obviously that’s also why we wanted to work with him and of course we already knew a lot of the work he’s done. In fact I think I already know all the work he’s done so I was like “Of course we have to do that with Joost!” and actually, around the time of “The Theater Equation”, at the end he said like “If you want to go further with your band then just give me a call and we’ll see what we can do!” so that’s it!

A: Yeah that sounds awesome! I guess on some level I could hear his influence on the album. It feels very professional and very well put together and it somehow gave me the same vibe that I get from other music that he’s worked on. It feels like it never loses track of anything. It’s emotional. The compositions flow very well. And everything just sounds so pleasing like the substance of the instruments and the vocals and layers. It’s so immersive!

L: Exactly yeah! I agree!

A: So tomorrow you have your album release show. Is it gonna be the first time you’re gonna play all these songs live, like the full album?

L: Yes. Exactly. From Prologue to Epilogue we’re going to perform it. And in that order as well.

A: I love that! I love full albums played live! So do you have anything special prepared for the show?

L: Yes. We have the new music video of one of our new songs and we’re gonna play that on the evening as well. So I don’t know yet when I’m going to put it online but people that will be present will definitely hear and see the new music video!

A: I felt like “Necrologies doesn’t fit a genre. It has a lot of different influences. It’s progressive metal. It’s in part, I felt doom metal. It has like movie score and atmospheric parts. So it’s very diverse. Is that something you were aiming for or is it just the way it turned out because of what you were trying to express with the songs?

L: That actually really identifies what we do. I don’t like to have boundaries or to limit myself and our music because I think the story comes first. Of course I love metal and I love heavy sounds and I love dynamic and we all do and in the band there’s also a lot of variety of our own backgrounds and what we like as musicians but also as people who listen to music. But I am really fond of movie scores and I love how they really encaptivate the story and give you that extra emotion with the story, like what a movie can do to you emotionally. So I would always like to have that in our songs and that is actually what we strive to do. That’s also why the album is so diverse because we don’t have any limits and sometimes I have a song and I think this is gonna be a quiet song so it’s maybe more fitting to do it in an acoustic way, and maybe this should be more ambient and flowing and then this should be full power so yeah, that’s how we work and I’m glad you describe it like that. That’s really cool. Thank you!

A: Yeah like I really felt, especially with the intro and “The Tell-Tale Heart”. The first time I listened to them I didn’t even know what the songs are about and I didn’t have the lyrics in front of me and it just felt like watching a movie. Some images just showed up. So I think that’s pretty much “Job done” if you were aiming to tell a story. It feels that way.

L: Thank you! That’s really cool to hear!



A: Now one of my favourite moments in the album was the scream towards the end of “Nostalgia in a Closed Mind”. Do you also do screams or growls and did you ever think about also putting more of that in your music?

L: Yeah, I perform also with cover bands. We do heavy metal/hard rock songs. We don’t perform that often anymore. But yeah we also play like Ace of Spades and Iron Maiden and all kinds of songs that have these really great effects. So as a singer, of course I’m really interested in this kind of effects and I love using them as well because if it’s fitting to the story, I think that you should use them and they come from such an emotion as well so live I definitely do that as well. The scream from “Nostalgia” and also the song that’s not on the album “Dance of Narcissism” has a lot of drama and distortion as well. So yeah, I really like to expand my vocal styles and see what is fitting and what I can do with my voice. I’m not a grunter. I’ve never given that enough time because that’s really a difficult thing as well. But as an addition to my usual vocals I try to really use my voice as an instrument so I hope I can expand that even more.

A: So is there anything else you would like to say to me and our readers about your music and your band?

L: First of all thank you so much for doing the interview and also thank you very much for the incredible review you wrote and also the beautiful words you chose to describe our music. You really gave it a long spin and you really listened to the music and we really appreciate that so from all of us, thank you very much! That’s really really nice because we also put a lot of effort into our music. I mean of course a lot of bands put effort in their music obviously but to actually have that come out and working with these incredible people surrounding us, we were just really grateful for that. And I’m really happy that you got the movie score out of the whole album because that’s just what I like and I like to be in a different world which is like a fantasy world as well but it also has a lot of non-fictional themes.

A: Well I guess that’s it! Thank you very much for your time. I wish you a very successful release and an epic live show!

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