When the march on bands like WITHIN TEMPTATION, AFTER FOREVER, AUTUMN and newcomers EPICA began to expand in Holland, things also started to look really well for the bands in Belgium. One of these well-talented new bands are SENGIR. Founded in 1995 as a doomy death metal outfit, their music slowly evolved to the well-known gothic fantasy power metal sound, led by the beautiful female vocals of the only Metal Maiden in the band: Ellen Schutyser. In this interview we take a look at the history of the band, their debut CD “Guilty Water” and of course we talk about their plans in the near future....
When did SENGIR get together and how did you actually meet up?
ELLEN SCHUTYSER: “The original members of SENGIR met in highschool. SENGIR was a doom-metal band at that time (1996). At a certain time the members discovered THEATRE OF TRAGEDY and being impressed by “Velvet Darkness They Fear” and “ A Rose For The Dead”, they decided to look for a female singer. I offered myself as a candidate and they liked my voice very much, because it was a little bit similar to the voice of Anneke van Giersbergen. THE GATHERING was very popular at that time with their album “Mandylion”. I sang “Eleanor” as audition. This is only my story, you can read the complete history at our website; http://www.sengirweb.com.”
The band first started out with a male singer, Pieter De Lannoy, who's also their guitarplayer. How did you (Ellen) get into the picture?
“Before I joined the band, Jurgen (grunts & bass), Pieter and Kris (clear voice & guitar) were taking care of the singing. Pieter and Kris didn’t like the singing anyway, so I took over their parts and sang along with Jurgen. The result was a combination of female voice and grunts. We also introduced the keyboards. Pieter played the piano very well, so soon he’d be also the keyboardplayer. As keyboards were getting more important in our music, it was time to find a real keyboardplayer. Jurgen (grunts) left the band shortly, before this. By that time, our music had evolved strongly, since the beginning of SENGIR.”
Did you sing in other bands, before you joined SENGIR?
“No, just in the bathroom.”
How would you describe your music?
“I would describe our music as gothic rock. We have songs that rock, but they are also very emotional. The keyboards are rather dominant and bring a mysterious atmosphere into our music. We have influences from different kinds of music from THEATRE OF TRAGEDY (Liv Kristine) to the old CRADLE OF FILTH.”
Are there any bands (or musicians) that can be seen as a major influence to SENGIR?
“SENGIR is not really influenced by nowadays gothic bands, but more by bands who have been very successful in the mid-nineties. For example, PARADISE LOST (“Draconian Times”), MOONSPELL (“Irreligious”), AMORPHIS (“Tales From The Thousand Lakes”), THE GATHERING (“Mandylion”), THEATRE OF TRAGEDY (“Velvet Darkness They Fear” & “A Rose For The Dead”) and LACUNA COIL (“In A Reverie”).”
Who came up with the name SENGIR and why did you pick this particular name?
“In fact, SENGIR is part of a name of a character in a card game, called ‘Magic: The Gathering’. You have a whole family of Sengir: Baron Sengir, Grandmother Sengir, Sengir Vampire, etc. We wanted a name to fit all styles of music. Not the traditional ‘evil’ names in English. The only criterium for the name was, that it had to sound a little mystical without referring to any style.”
For the people, that don't know SENGIR very well; let's introduce the band a bit closer. Who's in the band and which instrument(s) do they play?
“We have Pieter De Lannoy on guitar; Kris Scheerlinck on guitar (Note: he has been replaced by Frederik De Dobbeleer!!); Olivier Roelandt on bass; Wim Schokaert on keyboards; Filip Vinck on drums (Note: he has been replaced by Bruno Goedhuys!!) and myself, Ellen Schutyser on vocals.”
Not long ago, you released your debut album "Guilty Water" on Buzzville Records. How did you get in touch with them and why didn't you go for a huge (major) label? Or didn't they show any interest in SENGIR?
“That’s a very long story, but to make it short. Labels were already interested in SENGIR after the release of our demo “Autumn Tears”, but we decided to record the album first. That way, we didn’t have to compromise about the music. After the recordings, we sent the unmastered version of the album to different labels. We got about five positive reactions (labels who wanted to sign the band). Due to bad management we lost all the contacts, so we fired our manager and contacted the labels ourselves. After two months, we gained interest again by four labels. One of them was even a major label, but we decided to sign with the little independent label Buzzville, because we were an absolute priority to them. Besides, they also give us a lot of freedom. We need a small label, where we can decide things on our own, in consultation with the label. Major labels are sometimes suffocating for a band, because of their high demands.”
What's the response of the press like until now?
“Great! We’d never expected anything like this, especially for a first album. All reactions in reviews are positive (80%) to extremely positive (the maximum score).”
Did you get any negative reactions and how do you deal with that kind of criticism in general?
“We get the most negative reactions by people, who don’t like this style of music in general. They see us as ‘intruders’ in the metal scene, because of our rather ‘soft’ music (referring to the female vocals and a lot of keyboards). We also got some negative reactions from bands, that have lost their record deal.”
And how did you get in touch with producer Xavier Carion (ex-CHANNEL ZERO), who did a great job on this album, by the way.
”Xavier produced the first album by MANIC MOVEMENT. Because we were in touch with that band, we knew who produced their album. So all we did was call the guy! And he said: “Oh, what the hell, OK I’ll do it!! You fuckers..” So he produced our demo “Autumn Tears”. Because we were very happy with the result, we decided to let Xavier produce our full album as well.”
How does a SENGIR song come about?
“Mostly, our keyboard player or our guitarists come up with an idea. The music is made first and I write the lyrics afterwards. When we are writing songs, sometimes it works out immediately and at other times it takes ages to finish a song. For example, “Cry Before The War” was written in about thirty minutes, but it took us months to arrange “Guilty Water”.”
Who writes the lyrics for SENGIR? Are they based upon fiction or do you write about the ‘normal’ things in life?
“I do. I don’t write about fairytales or lugubrious stuff. I just write about the world, things that happen in our daily lives. So my lyrics are very emotional. Most songs deal with searching your way through life and never let you bring it down by somebody else.”
Who decided to use "Guilty Water" as the title of the album? And maybe you can explain the deeper meaning to us?
“Well, the label wanted the album to be called after a song on the album. We thought, that “Guilty Water” fitted best here. The song refers to the search for freedom and wisdom and the restrictions you have to face during that search.”
What does "ACS" (title of the seventh song on "Guilty Water") stand for?
“We kept it a secret for a very long time, because the meaning is rather ridiculous. Originally, the song contained a tune, that was very similar to a song by a Flemish female singer. So when the song did not yet have a name, we called it “A.C. Song” (the initiales of the singer’s name). The song is mostly instrumental and the lyrics only contain the words “Let me hold your hand“. I guess, it’s the most special song on the album. When we didn’t find a right name for the song, we just called it “A.C.S.”.”
Who was responsible for the artwork on “Guilty Water” and what does it represent? It looks like a female figure, but very contorted in a way...
“The artwork was done by Kitty Van Der Veer (Caretaker Creations). She also designed the artwork for WITHIN TEMPTATION. AFTER FOREVER and the EPICA website. The image on the album is really special, because you don’t really know what it is. Some say, it’s a creature that isn’t yet formed into a human being, like it is in its first stage of growth. Some others say, it is a contortion of a rain drop. The image is really a barbie doll, who’s been abused by Kitty (the legs have been torn off, contortion by heat) and afterwards heavily shaped with Adobe Photoshop. But the most important thing is that the image stimulates your curiosity about the music and the band without referring to any music style.”
Bands like WITHIN TEMPTATION, AFTER FOREVER, are doing very well at the
moment. Do you think their success is good for your own career and that you will be able to benefit from it along the way?
“It’s a good thing that gothic metal bands are being appreciated by a big audience. We hope that their audience will also like our music. But on the other hand, we are being compared to WITHIN TEMPTATION and AFTER FORVER all the time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really an honour to be compared with them, but we are not that similar to those bands. We play gothic rock and our style is a little bit different to theirs: we have no sopranos and we are not so technical as WITHIN TEMPTATION and AFTER FOREVER.”
Did you record a video clip for your single "Soul's Alive"? Or is that not going to happen?
“Soul’s Alive” is not yet a single, but if there will be a single in the future (probably in October/November 2003), we will choose that song. We haven’t recorded a video yet, it depends on the success of our first single.”
You already supported THE GATHERING, IMMORTAL, MARDUK, etc. Maybe you
can tell us a few nice stories about these gigs, and were you actually able to get in touch with these black metal giants from IMMORTAL and MARDUK backstage?
“Most of those people are very friendly, I think. They don’t behave like rockstars at all.”
Are there any specific bands, you would like to go on tour with and why?
“We would like to go on tour with WITHIN TEMPTATION, AFTER FOREVER or LACUNA COIL. Why? Because they play great music!
What can we expect from your live shows? Do you play any covers, or do you stick to your own written material only?
“We don’t play covers and I don’t think we will ever do that in the near future.”
Did you already get an offer to play at one of the summer festivals?
“We played some summer festivals, but not the really big ones like M’era Luna, Summerbreeze, Graspop and/or Waldrock. We hope to be on one (or more) of them next year, since the album is being released in Germany and France in September. We still play at a couple of festivals in the autumn this year.”
What's your favorite SENGIR song and why?
“My favorite song on the album is “Times Of Change”. I have always liked the song and it has never bored me, even after two years.”
To what kind of music do you listen to in your spare time?
“I like a lot of styles of music. I am a very big fan of LACUNA COIL, TORI AMOS and MADONNA.”
Do you have any hobbies or interests, besides singing in a band?
“I am still studying, but that’s not really a hobby. Furthermore, I like movies, going out, and chatting on the internet. I am also interested in tarot and I Tjing. So if you want to know your future, you have to visit Madame Ellen.”
How does it feel being the only female member in the band?
“I like it! I think it’s easier to cooperate with boys than girls. Being in an all-girl band would be a torture for me (and for those girls!).”
Did you take any singing lessons?
“I took some singing lessons, while I was in the studio for our demo “Autumn Tears”. Because I wasn’t breathing the right way, I was out of tune easily. Now that I have learned how to do abdominal breathing, I don’t have that problem anymore.”
What are your plans for the future?
“We have already started writing songs for the second album. We hope to release it in the autumn of 2004. We hope to do as much gigs as possible and have a great time.”
Metal Maidens magazine is dedicated to all the female rockerz in the music scene. Do you think that female musicians still need this kind of attention, or do you feel that women have slowly gained equal rights in 2003?
“When it comes to music, I think that men and women have indeed gained equal rights. ‘Men’s World’ is definitely breaking down! Most of the men in metal bands are trying to look so cool, strong and rough. I think we should introduce the ‘new man’ in the metal scene. Haha.”
Do you have any messages for our readers?
“Take a look at our website. You ‘ll find daily new info about SENGIR and our gigs. We also have a forum and a chatroom, which is daily visited by the members of SENGIR.”
The last words are for you....
“If you want to see us live on stage, check our future gigs at the website. Our album “Guilty Water” and merchandise is available at: http://www.popshop.be. You can book SENGIR by contacting Marleen Van Vliet from Scorpion Bookings at: firstname.lastname@example.org."
Visit SENGIR's website at: http://www.sengirweb.com
*Guilty Water ('03; Buzzville Records)
*Sign Of Devotion ('06; Buzzville Records)
This interview was published in Metal Maidens #34/December 2003