Metal Maven Podcast Transcript: Episode 7
The Power of Evolution with Lisette van den Berg
Welcome to the Metal Maven Podcast, where we explore and discover the process and passions of artists in the Metal music and art community.
Metal Maven: Scarlet Stories is an exploration of mankind’s darkest emotions and acts, inequity, beauty, and murder. Music that creates and encourages a deeper observation of the world we live in. In episode seven, I’m joined by lead singer and biologist, Lisette van den Berg. Thanks so much for being here with me Lisette, how are you?
Lisette van den Berg: Thank you very much. I’m doing fine actually. Yeah, having a bit of a holiday, well, and working, and a bit tired from the weekend as we did a photo shoot, but how are you?
Metal Maven: I’m doing great. I’m so excited that you’re joining me today and we’re going to be discussing your debut album coming out next month. Necrologies, it’s coming out September 19th, congratulations.
Lisette van den Berg: Thank you.
Metal Maven: I understand it was quite a journey to get here as the band is self-funded. To receive that level of support from fans and achieve the milestone of publishing a full-length work, how does that feel?
Lisette van den Berg: It feels really, really great and really awesome. I’m so happy that we got all the support to actually make this album happen. So thanks to all the fans, and friends, and family that were helping out. And then, yeah, to have something – I mean, we don’t have the physical copy yet, so I don’t get to hold it in my hand yet, but soon we will and that’s going to be really, really awesome. So, everything will come together – I’m really excited for everything.
Metal Maven: I would be super excited as well. And I was curious as to the origin of Scarlet Stories. How did you get to this moment of releasing Necrologies out into the world?
Lisette van den Berg: Well, actually it started at the Rock Academy. I studied vocals there and I met Bram te Kamp and we decided to do a project together in our first year. So you had to make a band or form a project, and we decided to do an acoustic project making Progressive Metal music, but then in an acoustic form, because we both love Progressive Rock and Metal music. So that’s actually how it started out. And we started writing songs and that went very well. And then we recorded our first acoustic EP. We also did some performances, like assessments, for the Rock Academy. And we felt that some of the songs because we were writing in a pretty dynamic style, that some of the songs really needed more dynamics. So, then we added the band members and that was really, really cool to actually translate our acoustic songs to band and full version songs.
So, that’s what we did. And finally, we also added Maarten Grimm, and of course, Carmen Raats, Tim Kuper, and now also Sophie Ansems on violin – so to complete Scarlet Stories in its entirety. And then, yeah, I met Joost, of course, Joost van den Broek, through Ayreon. And, he actually proposed to – like he said, “Okay, so if you’re ready for the next step, then give me a call or contact me because I would love to help you.” And that’s what we did. So yeah.
Metal Maven: How was that experience working with him?
Lisette van den Berg: Yeah, it’s great. He is really, really dedicated to music, to his work, to art. And he is really, really lovely to work with because he kind of – he really, really gets into your music and he tries to understand the style and the stories behind it.
He really thinks along and he actually proposed a lot of things that I was thinking, but I didn’t say it out loud, and then he was thinking it, and he was saying it, and I was like, “Yes, that’s exactly what I meant!” And I really liked that – to work with him. So we first did the single to promote our crowdfunding campaign and he also helped us, giving information on how to – well, like gave us advice on how to set that up. And yeah, it was really, really cool. And so we had this single and we were really looking forward to also record the entire album with him. So yeah.
Metal Maven: Well, it’s good when you have someone to help you who wants to keep your voice and message authentic to you and not try to change it in any way.
Lisette van den Berg: Yeah, exactly.
Metal Maven: So you’ve stated, this new album is very personal for you. Could you talk more about what this new album means to you?
Lisette van den Berg: Well, obviously, as I’m writing all the lyrics and the stories, they are quite personal. And also, in these stories, they’re sort of an outlet for me, for the way I think about the world sometimes. But then I really mix it up with fiction. So I really love the classic stories, like gothic horror stories, for example, Edgar Allen Poe and Lovecraft. And I like the vibes of that. And I’m also thinking about the world and about the animals. I’m very aware of everything that’s going, especially – well, it’s also one of the reasons I started in biology. And so the lyrics and the stories I write, they come from personal, well, not personal experience per se, but from things I see or I encounter also in my work. So, yeah, in that sense, it’s the theme of the elements that’s quite personal for me.
Metal Maven: Well, let’s go into your background as a biologist for a moment, since we’re on the subject. You have a Master’s degree in Science, and did you always want to be a scientist? How has this aspect of your life and knowledge base informed the artistry behind the new album?
Lisette van den Berg: From a young age, I loved animals and I was always going out in Nature and playing there, and climbing trees, and doing everything outside. And my mom was always sometimes upset with me because I would tear my clothing and I would get stains, and whatever – knots – but she was – they always encouraged me to explore that and to do that. So I really, really loved working with animals. And I wanted to – initially I wanted to become a veterinarian, but it’s really hard and difficult to get in. And also I didn’t want to work in the livestock industry, so I was also searching for something else. And then I read the book by Jane Goodall and she’s a really, really famous behavioral biologist. She studied chimpanzees in Africa and I was so inspired by that. So from that moment, that’s all I could think about, like, “I want to do that.” And of course, I also already sang quite a lot, but not as much as I do now. I started out in a choir for example, but I never realized that also was an option to actually explore music further. So I did that after my Master’s degree actually – I went to the Rock Academy then.
But yeah, in biology, as a scientist, I encounter a lot of situations where things are not yet ideal or can be improved, and actually, you are working on things to improve the lives of animals. And for example, I spent some time in Indonesia chasing orangutans as a behavioral biologist, so observing their behavior, and what I got from that experience is that the world is so beautiful and we humans are destroying it. We want our palm oil, and we destroy a lot of the Nature there, and a lot of the home of a lot of other creatures, so that inspired me to write stories as well, and all kinds of other things – so I can talk about that for a long time. But yeah, so for the new album, I also used these inspirations to make the stories and, of course, pairing them with fiction, but there’s always a truth behind them – and for me, that’s very important.
Metal Maven: Well, it makes me think of my favorite Scarlet Stories songs, so far, is “Resurrection” and I interpreted it as the revenge of Mother Earth and all the natural systems that have been here forever, outliving man’s hubris and shaking humanity off like a bad cold. So I feel like now that I know – at the time I didn’t realize you were a biologist when I listened to it – I get to look at it from a different perspective. And you interwove your background in science with this mythological story to follow.
Lisette van den Berg: Yeah, yeah, indeed. Yeah, I’m really happy that you got that out of the story. I wrote the lyrics for the three songs, and, of course, Bram and I wrote the music of two other songs, and the third one is “Resurrection.” So, it’s like the final scene where the forest actually takes revenge on humanity or everything that’s destroyed and comes back to life. Yeah, and then I really liked that quote also from Jules Verne that actually reflected that – I only read it after this story, but Jules Verne, he says at a certain point in Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers – so the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, he says, “Nature’s creative power is far beyond man’s destruction.” So saying that, even though we are destroying a lot of things, Nature will always come back and well, be there, although maybe not all the creatures living in it. So, yeah.
Metal Maven: Well, that’s what I was also finding interesting because we’re currently living in the Anthropocene, so I was wondering if – and I feel like it has, had an effect on your creativity and the message you want or need people to hear through Scarlet Stories?
Lisette van den Berg: Yeah, so for me that’s really personal. Like I said, I’m never a big fan of really shoving things in someone else’s face and say, “You are wrong,” or, “We are wrong.” So I use a lot of symbolism so people could get that out of the song, but they can also just listen to the story and me describing a story, not necessarily listening to the deeper meaning or the deeper message. I think everyone should do everything they want, but I think we should have more respect for each other as well, but also for the world around us – so the world we’re living in. And we all have a part, we all play a role in the destruction of the world, but we also play a role in building it and taking care of it, and we humans can actually think about it and we can actually care for other animals.
So then I think we’re obliged to do that and to have more respect, and that is important for me. But, like I said, I use a lot of symbolism to incorporate that into songs and in the stories, so you can just listen to it and think, “Oh, this is not really a nice or happy song, but this is a nice mood.” But you can also, well, maybe take the personal message from it, and I like to read and hear that you did that. And some other people I talked to also did that, so that’s really nice.
Metal Maven: The subtlety is quite powerful in it because that’s the point of making a song – anybody can interpret it the way they want, even though it may be you listen to the song, you take it at face value, perhaps, later on, you think about it a different way. And I feel like that’s what the power of music can be. It’s evolving and can constantly change your perception of the world.
Lisette van den Berg: Yeah, I liked that as well.
Metal Maven: Well, since we were discussing the Anthropocene and our place in it, let’s dive into Necrologies a little bit more. The title essentially means, “obituary” or “a list of those who died.” Why was this name chosen?
Lisette van den Berg: Yeah, so I was thinking about the name for the album and the recurrent theme for all the songs – initially I was thinking about, “Okay, so what kind of songs would be on the album?” And we were still in the middle of writing also all the songs, but a reoccurring theme in my lyrics at least is death or suffering of innocent beings, being that humans or animals. So, that was actually the theme that happened. So it’s, for me, it turned out to be like a tribute to all the creatures, so humans and animals, who suffered and died by the greed of others. And that was the overall theme and actually, every song on the album has that theme or is linked to that theme.
Metal Maven: Well, I love that you said that because paired with the artwork, there’s this element of macabre alluding to the potential death of humanity or everything. And I feel like the cover artist – he did an amazing job evoking a very emotional scene through the lens of a classical art style, which I feel adds a more ominous tone to the work. It’s like a premonition you’re seeing before you even listen. How did you connect with Jelle?
Lisette van den Berg: No, yeah, yeah. Well, it’s Jelle Steenhuisen – he’s an incredibly talented artist. Everyone should check out his work. I met Jelle through Karmaflow – I sang on the album and also in the video game as well – and he was one of the artists working on Karmaflow, and I really liked his artwork already. So when I was looking for someone to do the artwork of the album I was like, “Oh, maybe he can do that.” And he was very excited to do it and he immediately started out on some sketches. So first for, of course, the single, so “Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers” and then I was blown away by his sketches already. And then when we selected the one we liked and the amount of detail and the final piece is just incredible.
And so the artwork for the album we also asked him, and he made a sketch of the artwork of the album. And I was just blown away, it was so emotional. And he based the artwork on my lyrics and the theme of the album, so I did explain somewhat to him and I sent him my lyrics as well. And then he combined some of the lyrics of some of the songs in this picture, and it’s fantastic. He was inspired also by biblical artworks, so like old art pieces. And then – like the elephant is one of the stories that I’m writing about, so about the illegal wildlife trade and also ivory poaching, and stuff like that. And the other one is “In Blood and Limbs and Gore and Clay” which is a song about – it’s a symbolism for people fighting over each other and not taking care of each other and just going over dead bodies to reach something that isn’t really there.
Metal Maven: I love how complex Jelle made everything. It’s just, again, it’s playing in subtleties until you hear the lyrics and then you can really get the full meaning of it. Not only are you drawing on science, but literature as well. I know you said you were inspired by Edgar Allen Poe and the latest single from Necrologies, “Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers” that’s inspired by 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I was wondering, was literature where Scarlet Stories began the exploration of these darker aspects of humanity? Is there a commonality in the type of literature Scarlet Stories is influenced by?
Lisette van den Berg: Yeah, definitely. Like I said, I love reading the classics, like Jules Verne, but so many, many more like The Lost World, Sherlock Holmes. I’m also a collector of a lot of books as well, so I love reading, and I love stories. But also they have, always quite dark themes. I really like that atmosphere and mysteriousness about them. So yeah, I definitely use that as inspirations for shaping also the stories.
And so for the story of “Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers” I tried to focus on the character of Captain Nemo because in the story it’s more narrative of Professor Aronnax and you kind of meet Captain Nemo through him, but he’s a really mysterious character. And he’s also fighting an inner battle, he’s very disappointed in the world. He created his own world in the Nautilus, exploring the seas, and he really loves Nature, the world, and all its creatures, but he just really hates suppression. And his family was actually killed in a war and suppressed by other people. So he feels let down by the world. And I use these emotions that are described in the book as inspirations for the music.
And so Bram took these emotions as well as inspirations for his music, and he wrote some of the parts and then we always sit together and then I’m like, “Oh, I really like this! And maybe that is a great piece for that emotion. And that is a great piece for that emotion.” So together we really compliment each other in writing the songs. And at the end, Captain Nemo gives up his fight, and then he has an inner battle because he actually killed some innocent people because he was really, really angry – a loved one was killed. So actually, he turned out to become the one he hates. And then he just gives up and he sails into the maelstrom – so that’s like a whirlpool. And that’s actually also the artwork that Jelle described. So it’s the fight of the Kraken, le poulpe, combined with the end of the story where he sort of steers into a maelstrom and perhaps killing himself, or that’s something we don’t know from the story at least, but yeah.
Metal Maven: Yeah, so it seems like the literature that you’re reading, it’s fantastical. And for “Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers” – the new music video – I liked how you were, I guess you were, covered in water and it was just your face. I know it’s kind of haunting and everything, but were you trying to portray one of the characters in the book? Or is this just kind of a version of who you want to be as the lead singer in Scarlet Stories?
Lisette van den Berg: Yeah, well, the faces in the music video are actually mine and Carmen Raats, so our guitarist. It wasn’t really a fiction thing because there are no sirens, for example, in the story of Jules Verne, but I imagine that maybe there were who are narrating the story. So that’s kind of the idea behind it. And we created this scene, doing it in the bathtub of Carmen – so she actually found the way to make the water really, really black, and then we recorded this ourselves, so it was really, really fun to do as well.
Metal Maven: That’s actually amazing to hear that it’s just simply just being in a bathtub and recording the music video. Nobody would ever know that.
Lisette van den Berg: No, but now they do! I really like dressing up, and using makeup and grime, and creating outfits. I also did that for the new music video – I created the whole outfit of a creature that’s going to be portrayed – and I love to do that – so that’s really fun to do for me, so I really like to be involved in that kind of artistic development as well.
Metal Maven: How much more can you say about the new music video because I’m pretty interested? I really liked the last music video. So what do you have in store for this new one, which I believe you’re releasing around the time of the album coming out?
Lisette van den Berg: Yeah, we hope so. At least we will present a teaser at the album release show, and we hope to release the music video of the song relatively fast after that. And we have been working again with Nick Bökkerink, but I also called in the help of my good friend, Sebastiaan Donders who directed the video because I had so many ideas, but he is really, really good at making it more practical and say, “Okay, so this can be done like this, or this can be done like this, or maybe we can create something like that,” because we are all self-funding and we have to pay everything ourselves, of course. So we have a low budget to records my really, really fictionious ideas. And then, you are in need of some creativity. So we’re going to do the song, “In Blood and Limbs and Gore and Clay” and we actually created the mud pool in my own backyard.
Metal Maven: Oh, fun.
Lisette van den Berg: And yeah. And we were crawling in it, and crawling in the bushes, and wearing white blind lenses so we didn’t see anything in the middle of the night – so my neighbors must think I’m crazy, you know?
Metal Maven: You’re like, “Guys, it’s just art. Don’t worry about it. Go back to sleep. It’s okay.”
Lisette van den Berg: Exactly, yes! And that was so much fun to do. So we finished that this weekend and, yeah, it was crazy.
Metal Maven: Oh my gosh. Well, I’m excited to see that one. Thank you for inviting me to the album release. I wish that I could make it.
Lisette van den Berg: Yeah, I know.
Metal Maven: But sending all of the good vibes your way. I’m sure it’s going to be an amazing night.
Lisette van den Berg: Thank you.
Metal Maven: Well, let’s discuss Scarlet Stories four years ago. We’ll talk about that evolution compared to 2015’s Resurrection EP. How has Scarlet Stories progressed in artistry and sound? What changes have been made or what traits were advantageous to elevate and adapt your music to what it is now?
Lisette van den Berg: Yeah, actually quite a lot of things. So for the new album, definitely what changed is that we involved the band even more in also the writing process. So, usually Bram and I write the songs in an acoustic way and then we interpreted with the band, but now we actually also started out writing with the band. So we had some ideas and then we got together in our weekly rehearsals, and then we started playing around, and we went back, I re-recorded it and had to listen to it, and then I placed everything somewhere and then we started rehearsing again. So everyone really had a part in writing the music. And also Bram sat together with Carmen as well to write some songs. And yeah, so that is something that definitely changed.
Another thing, of course, is that Joost van den Broek really helped us, lifting our music to a new level, as our producer. So he really was also involved in the production of the album and, of course, we decided to really dedicate ourselves to this album. So weekly rehearsals, but also creating our own world and just like Captain Nemo almost. So I really envisioned some – I wanted to emphasize the vibe of the songs and the stories more so everything comes together. So the looks of the band, the photoshoots we do, the music video, the stories behind it – everything came together actually.
Metal Maven: Well, it’s good, I mean, for an album release, especially the first full-length, it’s good to have all that consistency and have everything in place that way. There’s also new versions of songs from the last EP. Do these songs carry a foundational message of Scarlet Stories and does the importance of their meaning give them precedence on the debut album? You don’t have to specify which songs you chose because we can keep that a secret, but perhaps what qualities they have that make them true to the Scarlet Stories sound.
Lisette van den Berg: Well, actually we created a poll after the crowdfunding campaign. So everyone who supported us got to vote for their favorite EP song because we said, “Okay, so we want to record one of the songs at least again with Joost,” because we felt that our EP – we felt that we could complete the stories even better, and tell them even better. And also adding a Sophie on violin to the stories actually completed them entirely. So actually, the fans selected which song was definitely on the album and actually there was sort of a 50/50 voting so we decided to do another song as well. So it’s actually fan-based, or the decision was actually really made by the fans. They liked these songs best, but also one of them, it’s really difficult to not give them a name, but it really also, again, fits the theme of the album as well.
Metal Maven: I guess everyone’s going to have to find out which ones are on there next month, so have to stay tuned for that one. Let’s talk about you as an artist as well. From listening to the new single, your voice has developed more refinement and character, especially dynamically, with whispers and the contrast between honeyed sweetness and unfurling, raspy chaos. For me, when I hear you, it’s like the sea – it’s terrifying at moments and life-giving. But you’re also, as we discussed about the music video, like a siren and death-bringing. It’s quite a beautiful polarity. Is your voice and style something that has always been there or what have you done to reveal and improve your instrument, your voice?
Lisette van den Berg: Yeah, that’s a good question. So I think you are never finished with learning, you always learn and get inspired more, and I want to seek out also new things to do with my voice. So I already, when I was a very young girl, realized that I could sing pretty loud, which was something that I had to develop. I also really started developing the sound of my voice because at the Rock Academy, for example, so one of my vocal coaches, Babz Verhoeven, she pointed out that I could do so much more with my voice in creating, for example, soft and a more lighter sound, but also choosing which sounds I wanted to make. So I really focused on that during my time there.
And also I like to have the freedom to create music without boundaries. So just letting the story guide them and let, especially, my emotions, guide my voice. So when I am raged or when I’m sad, I want to hear that in my voice as well. So I’m really trying to incorporate that into songs. And luckily, also Joost really, really understood that, and so he really helped me as well. And also during the recording, he said, “Okay, so maybe you can do it even more sweet, or maybe you can use that voice, or you can use that voice.” So together, we created that for the album as well. But live, I really use my emotions for the songs, for the stories that I write, to guide my voice. So when I’m angry on stage, I’m really angry on stage, if you get my drift.
Metal Maven: They’re like, “Stay clear of Lisette, she’s angry right now. She just needs her room to get this out.”
Lisette van den Berg: Yeah, exactly. Well, it’s sort of a – it’s really therapeutic to do like that. Yeah.
Metal Maven: It just releases energy so it’s not pent up in your body.
Lisette van den Berg: Yeah, well, in a way. And it’s also a way to express my songs, I think, so what people see is real emotion. It’s not fake and it’s what I feel. So, and that’s, of course, it helps when the stories are personal or actually related to my own feelings in that way. But I also like to be a storyteller and to get everyone involved into the story. And I think a way to do that is really in captivating your audience and taking them in the story and using your voice to do that.
Metal Maven: I always am interested in how vocalists begin singing and progressing to who they are today. There’s going to be things that change you and you discover more and unlock things about your voice that you maybe never saw or heard before. And sometimes, I mean, I know you went to the Rock Academy, and just having other people listen to you because it can’t be just in your head, judging your voice. When other people encourage or help you refine it more, that’s an awesome thing.
Lisette van den Berg: Yeah, definitely. So I started out when I was really young, I think five, six, or something, singing in a church choir. I think everyone starts out like that (almost everyone at least). Yeah, and so I think, I’m not sure, but only when I was 17 or so that I realized that actually, I could take singing lessons to actually do something with that. So I did sing, but only privately. So I locked myself in my room and was completely isolated so I could play my music really loudly and then could sing. And, so even my parents couldn’t really hear what I was doing.
Metal Maven: What was their reaction the first time they ever heard you sing? Were they like, “Lisette, who are you? We’ve never seen this part of you!”
Lisette van den Berg: No, I mean they already knew because like I said, I was already singing when I was five years old, so I was always singing at a birthday or, I don’t know, even like a funeral. Maybe that’s not a really nice – I mean yeah, it’s a really nice thing to do, but – so then, of course, they knew I was singing and I had a really musical upbringing, so I played the saxophone, for example, and flutes. So actually, I explored that and I think also that playing the saxophone, for example, helped, my singing as well. Because also, for playing a saxophone, you really need a lot of air and support. So I got to develop that as well, and I remember noticing that when I played saxophone, and then when I started singing, that I could sing better. So actually, I started to do both.
Metal Maven: So did it strengthen your lung capacity? Is that what it was? The saxophone was a workout for making your voice stronger? They’re complementary to each other?
Lisette van den Berg: Yeah, both. Yeah, so of course, your lung capacity, but also your support – the support that you need in your body to control your voice and to control the air coming out and coming in, air flex. So, I think that really helped. And then I had a classical singing teacher as well, and it was really a lot of fun because he was not used to any Pop or Rock vocals, but he was really willing to explore that. So I had a lot of fun singing with him, but I never realized that you could do that as a profession or something – or, I mean, that was something that other people did, for example. I was really a fan of Queen, for example, Freddie Mercury he was just an amazing singer. But so many, many other singers. I was a total – yeah, I was really a fan of a lot of singers, but I never realized I could do that on a professional level. And then actually my time in Indonesia, so sitting in a jungle and thinking about everything, I really decided that I – or I at least noticed that – I missed making music or singing. So then I decided to apply for the Rock Academy after I graduated. And then I got accepted and that’s when actually everything started so I could develop my voice.
Metal Maven: It took you traveling to Indonesia to realize that music was also the way you needed to go. See? Quiet times in Nature you get all sorts of revelations.
Lisette van den Berg: Exactly. Yeah, that I needed more Rock and Metal my life, I think, yeah.
Metal Maven: Exactly. Well, my last question for you, Lisette, is if hopes were made truth, what would the future of Scarlet Stories be?
Lisette van den Berg: Yeah, that’s a good question. Well, I really, really hope to be performing really nice shows. So actually, what I hope, is that we always will grow and we’ll reach new things. So playing in nice venues, touring – I would really love to do a tour. Maybe first Europe, but I would like to travel the worlds with my band as well, playing at extraordinary festivals, extraordinary venues, meeting new people, making a new album after this. That’s the sort of thing I really would like, yeah.
Metal Maven: Well, I hope that all comes true.
Lisette van den Berg: Thanks!
Metal Maven: It would be a wonderful thing. I’ll put those good vibes out there for you guys.
Lisette van den Berg: Thank you!
Metal Maven: Well, that’s all the questions I have for you today, Lisette. Thank you so much for joining me.
Lisette van den Berg: Yeah, you’re welcome. Thank you for inviting me.
For more information on Scarlet Stories, new album, Necrologies, and to purchase tickets for the album release show on September 19th, visit scarletstories.com.
Visit metalmavenpodcast.com for links to Lisette’s social profiles, videos, and read the full transcript of this interview. Thanks for tuning in, and be sure to subscribe to Metal Maven Podcast on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, and Google.