In response to the upcoming release of The Charm The Fury’s new album called The Sick, Dumb & Happy DutchMetalManiac’s Henric van Essen got the opportunity to question vocalist Caroline Westendorp.
Hi, how are you doing?
Crazy busy now with the new album, but doing good, thanks.
Congratulations with the new album, can you tell me a little about it?
Thanks, it has been a real arduous task this time, it was truly terrible. It took some three and a half years, the previous release was back in 2013, and we have spent many evenings debating who we are, where we are going, what do we want with the new album, do we still want to make metalcore? The answer to the last question was ‘no’, which raised new questions: What are we going to do now, how are we going to define ourselves, who are we really? To figure that out we have spent many more evenings writing, brainstorming and starting all over again like crazy until eventually we came into the right flow. That resulted in 10 new songs, which we have recorded, but we redid the drums twice, threw the guitar parts out and so on, so like I said, it has been arduous. I am very happy with the result though.
So it’s safe to say it’s a great album?
Yes, it’s very different from what we have done before, but I personally think it’s awesome.
I have not had the opportunity to listen to your new album yet, but I did see the clip of Down On The Ropes. If anything it’s clear the style is different from A Shade Of My Former Self. Despite enjoying the previous release I also very much enjoyed Down On The Ropes.
Thanks, I’m glad to hear. We have received quite a number of negative responses from within our fan base about it. They weren’t happy with the fact the song is not metalcore anymore, which they prefer over the style of Down On The Ropes. You lose some you win some I guess. In all honesty though, there’s a lot of other tracks on the new album that are way more similar with our earlier work, while this one, I must admit, is quite far from that. The same goes for Echoes, another song from the new album we have made a clip to.
Why did you choose these songs to promote your new album then?
Actually to make a statement, to stir things up a bit, to show we are back after a couple of years of absence, completely different, but back nevertheless. And of course to kick against the system, which is inherent to metal.
It must have been great fun shooting the clip of Down On The Ropes, you look charming in it, hehe.
Hehe, thanks. It was one of the coldest days in January when we shot that, and I had to walk around in a tiny bikini all day in temperatures below zero. I have spent the whole of next week in bed with a throat infection. Nevertheless it was awesome. This timed we have used a new producer, where the previous clips were done by a production company, so it was a bit of an experiment. Instead of at band shots this clip is aimed at the story line of the song, which forced us to step out of our comfort zone, but which, in my opinion, turned out great.
I agree. It does underline your statement as well.
It does and it also fits the overall theme of the album. The title, The Sick, Dumb & Happy, actually stands for the life fat man in the clip leads. He lets his entire life be influenced by biased coverage of the media that tries to force their picture-perfect life upon us. This makes us pretty much blind for the true problems in the world. It’s about the short-sighted perspective of modern society, perfectly exemplified by Trump followers, and the media that abuse that very short-sightedness. And then to think Trump made it to president and we could very well be facing a similar situation here depending how the election develops. There’s a few other themes and some more personal lyrics on the album, but the general message is that we continue to grow dumber and more blind and that we’re basically killing our world, stripping ourselves from all perspective. We close our eyes and choose the easy way out regardless the consequences. It all looks grim at the moment, which is why, in contrast to on our previous album, there is no positive vibe or message at the end.
I agree. Do you exaggerate the feelings in the songs compared to the feelings you have in real life?
Well, to be honest in my direct surroundings I don’t feel these things as strongly, but when I see what happens in the world on the news I definitely do feel the same fierce anger I express in the songs.
Do you have the idea there’s anything you can do about it?
Every vote counts, use it to say how you feel and what you think whenever you can. When you give up your freedom of speech because of fear all is lost. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
True. Interesting discussion we got going here, I’d love to continue it on another occasion. For now, back to the music I guess. I have seen you play as opener for Delain in Arnhem, and I must say I was surprised to see this combination. How did that come to be?
Ah, Arnhem, I did that gig while suffering from a food poisoning. The combination with Delain has been instigated by Robert Westerholt of Within Temptation. We work together, he has more or less been our creative mentor throughout the creation of our new album, triggering us to think about how we want to profile ourselves, which we have integrated in some of the songs. Through him we met his brother Martijn who is part of Delain and he thought it would be great to do a few shows together. The combination was cause for concern for me at first as well. I wondered if it would work, but Delain’s fans are open minded, so I think we did manage to grab a few of them. Nevertheless, the majority seemed stunned to be honest, even though that particular gig was one of the best when it comes to response from the audience, hehe. We have had another gig with Delain where the audience all but left when we played. We still had fun though.
Good to hear. Earlier you said this album is very different from your previous work. Can you explain what and how?
The most important difference is that we’re no longer explicitly a metalcore band anymore which is clearly audible. We used to listen a lot to metalcore in our earlier days, mostly to Under Oath, Killswitch Engage and As I Lay Dying, and when our previous album was released we noticed there were so many bands that made more or less the same type of music that the entire genre had been saturated. We didn’t have the idea we could renew or distinguish ourselves among the other bands anymore. Also we used to focus on song structures when composing songs instead of trying to find the ‘yeah-factor’, which can be an awesome riff or a vocal line that hits you. We felt a song should be built according to a specific structure with a verse followed by a chorus, then a break, you know. We have completely abandoned that particular approach and started with writing about every type of metal you can think of, from djent to technical metal to, of course, metalcore, but nothing felt truly right. While writing we used to listen to bands that have had the most influence on us, and they kept popping up on our paths. Music from bands like Metallica, Pantera are timeless and still sound awesome despite the fact they have been written a long time ago. At one point we decided to start all over with a clean sheet, and we came up with a super great riff. We decided to build the song around that riff and not around the expected song structures and copied that method for every new song we wrote. The result is that every single song is less complex, verse-chorus-verse, and they all have one special thing that makes that particular song. This can be anything from a fantastic riff to a vocal line and we feel all songs have the ‘yeah-factor’ we were after. We now no longer play metalcore but ‘just’ metal.
Nothing wrong with that if you ask me, but it does raise the question why you come up with this only now?
Hehe, I guess, as cheesy and cliché as it sounds, we have grown up and matured. We listened almost exclusively to metalcore because we thought the world of it and it was only natural we played that as well. At the time we didn’t take into account if it was a type of music that was bound to stay and now it’s obvious it wasn’t in contradiction to the timeless metal we used to listen to as kids which will remain for a long time to come.
True, but that means many more bands will try to compose music along those lines. It is evident the metalcore genre is saturated, but that goes for all metal genres. How do you plan to distinguish yourselves from all others which is vital?
Of course we are not trying to reinvent that music. I too noticed many more bands are trying going back to the eighties and nineties metal nowadays, making us one of the million once more. We try to create a sound of our own within the music, a bit organic and, of course, a chick screaming is not a common feature in that genre, although their numbers increase big time lately as well. I have to stay sharp, hehe. But in all honesty, we’re still looking for our own sound, and I think we are well on our way with this release.
You definitely got my interest piqued concerning The Sick, Dumb & Happy, I’ll be sure to check it out and, when given the chance, review it. And now it’s time for touring I assume. I have checked the list with upcoming gigs and it looks impressive. Are you looking forward to it?
Definitely, there’s a few bucket list gigs in that schedule. Download, Into the Grave and we’re in a different country every weekend. From Lisbon to Helsinki to the Czech Republic, it’s going to be a bizarre but awesome experience I’m sure. And imagine running into your heroes backstage, holy shit. I hope we’ll have success and that we don’t have to play for half empty venues and fields. I still feel stress when I have to expose the music we have been working on for years not knowing what people will think of it. Also the fact a large label is behind all this (Nuclear Blast) who we want to convince they have made the right decision, adds to this feeling. Luckily Nuclear Blast knows metal is something for the long run, giving us the time and the rest we need. Hopefully it will turn out a to be a success.
I’m sure you’ll do just fine. I assume you weren’t booked for gigs like this because your music is crappy. Being on the road so often might be a big interference with your everyday life. Is your artist life compatible with your everyday life?
That is getting quite pressing at the moment. I still have a rather dull office job, which brings awkward situation at times where a work relation all of a sudden asks me if it was me he saw on stage the other day. ‘No that was my alter ego’, hehe. But seriously, the way it looks now my days off are no longer sufficient to cover the days I am away on tour. I’m currently on a crossing point in my life, where I have to choose to give up my regular job or not. At the moment I need the job, because metal is not a genre where you can make loads of money nowadays. On the other hand, keeping both is not an option either, so it’s a bit of a make it or break it situation and I’m not sure where I’m going yet. Giving up the certainty of a job is huge, but I am definitely going to give it all I have to make The Charm The Fury work. I don’t want to look back wondering what could have been. Hopefully we get enough shows so our music will spread among the masses in due time, making it possible for us to earn a living. I don’t need to get rich, I just want to be able to live the life of a metal musician. That is my ultimate goal and this is the moment to make it all happen. The chances are there, now it’s up to us.
Do you feel confident about it?
Most definitely. If I had a say in this I’d quit my job today rather than tomorrow.
I hope it works out, I’ll keep an eye out. If you had to choose between studio work and touring, what would you choose?
Touring, without a doubt. Studio work is tedious, extremely demanding and stressful. You are demolishing your voice for hours and hours every day for weeks on end, wondering if you will sound good enough the next day or not, all in an effort to record the perfect lines. Every little detail has to be better than perfect, which is exhausting and then there’s the frustration to add to it as well. When you have tried to record the same vocal line for seventeen times and it still isn’t good enough you start to doubt it will ever be perfect at all. Touring is simply just fun.
Speaking of voice, has your voice always been like this?
No, practice makes perfect in my case, I think everyone can scream. I started in my bedroom listening to metalcore bands like Underoath and Every Time I Die and it dawned on me there were many women in metal who all could be placed in different genres, like the women in dresses that are more or less gothic, but in the genre I preferred at that time, southern metalcore, they were few and far between. So I decided to check tutorials on YouTube on how to scream.
Your neighbors must have loved you…
Well, my alcoholic downstairs neighbor knocked on my door twice while drunk asking whatever was happening and if he could do something for me, hehe. Anyway, in the end I could keep it up for a few songs, but when I met the guys I noticed I wasn’t using my voice too well because I developed nodules on my vocal chords. From there on I started working with a vocal coach, which is some five years back now, and I have a lot to thank him for, even though it’s extremely boring. Every day the same scales over and over again, but it’s like going to the gym. You can compare vocal chords with muscles, you have to keep them flexible to keep them in shape and maintain your reach.
Obviously it works, I thought you sounded pretty good live. Sadly it seems time is up, many thanks for your time, it has been a pleasant conversation. Last but not least, is there anything you would like to share with our readers?
Give our new record a chance, it has so many different tracks that, even though you might not like the songs we have released, there’s most likely some other ones you will enjoy.
You can read our live review about The Charm The Fury and Delain in LuxorLive, Arnhem here.
You can read our review about The Sick, Dumb & Happy here.