Metal Maven Podcast Transcript: Episode 9
The Power of Revolution with Iris Goessens
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: In episode nine of Metal Maven Podcast, I’m joined by Iris Goessens, lead singer of Belgian Metal band, Spoil Engine. Thanks for being here, Iris. How are you?
Iris Goessens: Yeah, I’m fine. Thanks for having me today.
Metal Maven: Yeah, I hope I added enough [Dutch G pronunciation] on your last name there.
Iris Goessens: Yeah, perfect. How are you?
Metal Maven: I’m doing great, and I’m so happy that you’re here to join me and talk about all the new things happening with you and Spoil Engine. There’s been a lot of excitement brewing. You guys are close to releasing Renaissance Noire on November 15th through Arising Empire and Nuclear Blast, so congratulations on that.
Iris Goessens: Thank you. Thank you.
Metal Maven: You’re welcome. This is your second album. Since joining the band, with your first display of Metal prowess being 2015’s Stormsleeper (EP). Compared to the prior album, how does Renaissance Noire continue to redefine Spoil Engine?
Iris Goessens: Well, we moved on as a four-piece, so at first we were with five, so we are now back as a four-piece band. So that’s – I think that’s very different from Stormsleeper. So our lead guitarist, Steven, he did most of the songwriting, most of the rifts. From the rifts we started to add drums, add bass, and then, in the end, we added vocals. So it’s mainly his and the bass player’s influence, and they listen to bands like Pantera and Machine Head. So it’s more riff-based, more direct than Stormsleeper I guess.
Metal Maven: So when you guys produce albums, it seems everyone records in their home studios, and then final mixing and refinement happens at Henrik [Udd]’s studio in Sweden. What is your favorite part of the recording process?
Iris Goessens: I like the songwriting actually. So creating a song from nothing until it’s 100% that’s my favorite part. The recording process itself? It’s just, yeah, I do enjoy it, but I like the writing process more.
Metal Maven: So what are your personal influences and inspiration regarding lyric-writing or songwriting?
Iris Goessens: Oh, a lot. I listen to many kinds of music, many genres. So I think my influences are from Metal bands, I’m a huge Bring Me The Horizon fan, to like, Taylor Swift stuff. I listen to so many things that I think my influences are very wide.
Metal Maven: All right, cool to know. I was just wondering how that all worked out for you guys. I also want to talk about the visuals for the new album. The artwork for Renaissance Noire was created by Adrian Baxter based in the UK. How did that collaboration happen?
Iris Goessens: Well, I think our bass player, he went on a big search for artists on Instagram actually. And then he found Adrian Baxter through Gojira and he sent us a few pictures of his work and yeah, we all really liked his style, really liked the detail he puts into his drawings. So we were convinced that he was our man. So we messaged him and we sent him some basic ideas. We wanted the Renaissance theme to come forward in the paintings, and after that, we gave him just a carte blanche because he’s so talented. He just has to do his thing and then the magic happens. So yeah, that’s how that happened.
Metal Maven: Okay, because I was looking at it and I was just like – I see Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vetruvian Man” in there, the torso of him.
Iris Goessens: Yeah.
Metal Maven: And there’s a lot of Renaissance-style flourishes – it almost has a tarot card appeal too with the two daggers.
Iris Goessens: Yeah, yeah.
Metal Maven: And I was also wondering, is that checkerboard frame surrounding the central figure – does that hint at a game being played?
Iris Goessens: Yeah, the political games that are played in this world. So that’s a good catch to see that. So yeah, some of our songs are political like “R!OT”, like “Warzone”. So yeah, that’s a part of that.
Metal Maven: Well this plays into my next question with music videos. So for “R!OT”, the aesthetic is very clean with surveillance and events of change as subject matter. So the common thread or pattern I’m seeing is revolution. It’s like each album – this is just me, I always just come up with my own theories for bands. But for me, it seems like each album takes place in an alternate reality where we’re still fighting for freedom. So how does this topic of revolution play into your music?
Iris Goessens: Yeah, indeed. In Stormsleeper there were also hints in the lyrics about revolution, about standing up for your rights, standing up for other people’s rights. It’s a topic that keeps evolving. So I write about it a lot because I think it’s important, and it’s important to support like the climate movement that’s going on around the world. So, we just wanted to do our part in that, and as an artist, you have a stage to speak up. So yeah, you should use that in my opinion.
Metal Maven: That’s awesome. I also see a futuristic, post-apocalyptic vibe happening too. So, for me, it may not be the band’s intent, but when I listen to “Doomed To Die” it’s like a spell that takes you into these other worlds, these alternate realities – like you’re inviting others to join you in what is a fight for the future?
Iris Goessens: Yeah.
Metal Maven: I go hardcore when I listen, I try to see what the common thread is.
Iris Goessens: Yeah, you’re very good at this.
Metal Maven: It’s fun to do.
Iris Goessens: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Metal Maven: So, you guys have a new music video out and single, “The Hallow” and I was just wondering why this song for the second single and music video?
Iris Goessens: Oh, well, because we had this great collaboration with Jeff from Carcass, so we really wanted to use this song to show the people that we did a collaboration and we’re very happy with the end result of this song. I think the chorus is one of the catchiest that’s on the album. So yeah, it was a logical choice for us to put that out as a second single.
Metal Maven: So how did this collaboration happen?
Iris Goessens: Oh, well we have the sound engineer called AK. He also does sound for Slayer and for Carcass. And Jeff was in his studio doing some pre-production vocals for Carcass at AK’s studio in Belgium. And Steven knew this, so he went there and talked to Jeff and he asked him if he was interested in laying down some vocals on our track. And then he showed him the song, “The Hallow” – it was already recorded at that moment – and he told Jeff, “Just do whatever you want to do on it.” We had some lyrics and he recorded it in a few takes and that’s how it happened actually.
Metal Maven: That’s fun. Featuring other people and having their style infused into your work.
Iris Goessens: Yeah, yeah. I know Steven and Dave, they are huge Carcass fans so it was a dream for them to have Jeff on the album. So when the opportunity came, they grabbed the chance.
Metal Maven: So for the music video, what was the idea behind the concept?
Iris Goessens: Well, it was me doing a music video on my own because our drummer, Matt, he was in Australia for a few weeks – and I did the video for “Disconnect”, I did the video for “Black Sails”, I did the video for “Singing Sirens” – so I do a lot of video stuff. I studied Media Design for a few years. So yeah, I had to be kind of creative in, I only had myself because Matt was not here. It’s weird to only put Dave, Steve, and me in it. So then we decided, okay, it’s just going to be me and we’re just going to make some psycho, weird, glitchy vibe in it. And it’s kind of a long song, it’s four and a half minutes, so it was a challenge to fill the whole song with shots with only me and a few from Jeff, of course. But I had two friends who helped me out with this, with the filming process. Yeah, I’m really happy how it turned out. It took some hours but yeah, we did it.
Metal Maven: Well. I’ve also read that this album is part of a rebirth for you guys with a lot of heavy emotions and subject matter. So the title basically means “dark revival” or, essentially, “a comeback” and I just wondering, what was that trigger, that driving cumulative force, behind Renaissance Noire?
Iris Goessens: Yeah, we had a lot of stuff going on through our Stormsleeper run, like we got robbed in Milano when we were on tour – stuff like that. So there were personal things of every band member that happened to them in that period. And we were kind of unlucky at the end of our Stormsleeper run. So we were kind of down, but there was a lot of frustration and just anger in general. So we had to write this album and just put everything in it, and I think that went very well. So yeah, that’s how Renaissance Noire became how it is today. And we went from five people to four people. That’s also kind of a rebirth again as a band.
Metal Maven: So do you think this provides a bit of closure to all of that – all of those things that happened in the past – and forge a new future, a fresh start for you guys?
Iris Goessens: Yes, definitely. We look forward to the future. We’re all very happy with the new music. So we are very positive now. So it’s like the opposite of the end of our Stormsleeper run. So now we just have new power, new force, and we want to go for it.
Metal Maven: Nice. I definitely know you will.
Iris Goessens: Yeah.
Metal Maven: So how has assuming the role of lead singer, and that transition, been for the band, for yourself, and for your fan base? Why did Spoil Engine choose you over all the other candidates vying for this coveted position?
Iris Goessens: Yeah, they had 30 auditions before me, so that’s quite a lot. They searched for over a year for a new lead vocalist because they wanted to grow bigger and do it very different from the previous singer. So they didn’t want someone who could do what he could do. They were looking for a new sound and they found that in me. So that’s how that happened.
Metal Maven: You’ve been doing this for four years as the lead singer. I want to go back basically to your beginning with this – you’re “Introducing Iris” video. Your style of singing is generally a male-dominated arena, so I was just wondering how this emergence has been for you in this regard, because if you read the comments – like the second comment on “Introducing Iris” is, “I could fap to this,” and then another one is like, “Metal is so completely dominated by male vocalists that hearing a woman behind the mic is refreshing.” So you have this polarity with how people regard you as a front person of a band. I was just wondering how you feel about that?
Iris Goessens: Yeah, you know, sometimes if you’re a female in the music industry in general, they always try to push you into that role of “sexy front lady” and it’s not really my style. So I’m just, you know, I don’t care showing off some skin, but it’s always on my terms, and if I don’t feel comfortable doing something, I won’t do it. And you always have guys, males, who want it more sexy, want it more this, or that, and blah, blah, blah. But yeah, I’m just not going with it, so I think you have to stand up for your gender in that case. We should get away from sexualizing women in general, I think, because that’s a path through history that we maybe can end in our generation. I don’t think so, but I like to do my part in that.
Metal Maven: Let’s hope so.
Iris Goessens: Yeah, we have a long, long way to go.
Metal Maven: Did that inspire you to – because I know you said that you got into Metal vocals because you just wanted to see if you could do it – was that a little bit of the reasoning behind it as well? Did you want to be a woman in the scene to kind of stir it up a bit?
Iris Goessens: Yeah, I just discovered that I could do grunts and stuff and I didn’t realize that, “Oh I’m a woman, now I’m special in the scene,” because I hang out with guys all the time. I think 80% of my friends, they’re all males, so I’m surrounded by guys all the time. So when I started, I didn’t really realize this. But now, when the band becomes more popular, you see that it’s like, “Oh, it’s special,” and they have certain expectations from you, and you have to look certain ways, and everyone has their opinion. But when I started out doing Metal vocals, I didn’t really think about it.
Metal Maven: So in that regard, just doing what you want to do, what has your evolution been musically and professionally since 2015? How has your presence and expertise fortified the band’s sound and overall appeal?
Iris Goessens: Stormsleeper was my very first album that I had to do. I did some stuff in local bands before, but that was not comparable with what I had to do with Spoil Engine, so my skill level had to go up in a few months because we were recording very fast at that time. And I’m very happy that I had so much guidance from the guys and from the producer that we worked with in that time. So it gave me a chance to grow really quick. Then I started to do vocal coaching for other students. Yeah, and that’s what I’m still doing today. So I’m teaching other people how to do it, how to apply Metal vocals, and that’s a lot of the stuff that I learned along the way, so in my first, I think, first two years of Stormsleeper.
Metal Maven: Well, I’ve been listening to the new album, I was lucky enough to get a chance to preview it, and I really enjoyed it, particularly the polarity of range and style. My favorite song is “Golden Cage”. I was just wondering if you have a new favorite song from this album and if there’s any song you feel that you’ve surpassed yourself and created a new standard vocally?
Iris Goessens: Yeah, the same issue, I like “Golden Cage” the most, and after that, “Venom”. So these are my two favorite songs on the album. I really explored my vocal range there, added some different effects, so that’s something you heard well in that song, and I really like the build-up to the chorus. So yeah, that was a new standard, I guess, for myself.
Metal Maven: Not only do you refine your own craft – as you said, “Golden Cage” is your favorite, where you’ve made a new standard for yourself and played around with the strengths of your voice – you also help other people improve their skills as a professional vocal coach, as you stated before. You’re currently based in Maastricht, Netherlands at Vocal Center, and you focus on the Metal genre with grunts, screams, distortions – and you also do other types of music as well, but Metal is your focus. You began as a student there, so what made you want to return after your training to be a teacher?
Iris Goessens: Well, I had a workshop at Vocal Center from my colleague, Marcel years ago. So when I was 15, I got in touch with the company. After years, I just landed on their website again and I saw that they were looking for vocal coaches. So then I sent a lot of Spoil Engine stuff to them and I told them, “Yeah, I can do this stuff, but I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, but I know that I can do this for hours without hurting my voice.” And then they called me immediately like, “Yeah, we can explain to what you do and teach you how you can explain it to other people.” So then I had a training of five months with them in Amsterdam and after that, I started teaching myself.
So we have our own method also, It’s called Vocal Essence® – it’s actually for clean vocals, but I added a lot of grunts and screaming stuff there. So we all use the same method in the team, it’s just the way that the company teaches and looks at singers – we look at singers like athletes, basically. So that’s how we train them, how we support them. It’s not only like a vocal class, it’s really a coaching triactant when you work with me.
Metal Maven: So what is the secret to not completely destroying your voice singing the way you do because it seems to require a lot of agility and control?
Iris Goessens: Yeah, control is the right word. If you’re not in control while you do this, you’re going to fuck up. So what I always try to teach my students is to relax the throat area, because if you put too much pressure on your vocal cords, you’re going to damage stuff. So the trick is to relax everything and then push from your body to produce the sound and not use your normal vocal cords. You have something called false chords in your throat that are going to vibrate when you do the grunting. So yeah, you really have to learn how to control this because when you speak or when you do normal clean singing, your vocal cords, they close. And when you do the grunting parts or the aggressive parts, they have to open up and they have to be relaxed.
Metal Maven: If you did damage your voice, that’s not a permanent thing or does it take a while to recover?
Iris Goessens: Yeah, it depends on what you have. You know, sometimes you have to go to a doctor and you need surgery, as many singers in the scene have if they tour a lot and they have a wrong technique. The first signs when your technique is not 100% – it’s raspy, weak, or some people cannot talk for hours afterward, so then you know you’re fucking up. And in the long-term, you’re going to have to go to a doctor because you cannot do this forever.
Metal Maven: So what is your teaching style? What makes learning from you unique?
Iris Goessens: Well, at Vocal Center we all work with the same methods. So we also call each other when we don’t know something. Like if someone is in Amsterdam and I’m in Maastricht and they have to know something about Heavy Metal, they call me. If it’s the other way around, I call them. So I also train people who do like Pop or Rap, Hip-hop vocals. What makes us unique is that we ask our students every lesson again and again, “What can I do for you today?” So we work on what they want, every lesson. So it’s not like, “Okay, you come in and you have to do like exercises with a piano for 20 minutes, and you can sing for 10 minutes, and then it’s, ‘Bye, see you next week.’” No, it’s really every lesson you decide what you want to learn and what you want to do.
Metal Maven: What is the most common improvement people request your help with?
Iris Goessens: Yeah, there are many people who cannot do the grunts for 30-minute shows, one-hour shows – so then they come to me and then I check, “What are you doing wrong?” – and I teach them how they can apply the right technique. And there are also people who come to me who are just starting out, they don’t know how to do songwriting, or they don’t know how to do proper stage presence, and then I just guide them through that. So yeah, they choose what they want to work on.
Metal Maven: Before even this, and I’m not sure if this is before you were a student at Vocal Center or if it was after, but you’re also involved in Pop in Limburg.
Iris Goessens: Yeah.
Metal Maven: This year, I saw on Facebook, you announced that you’re a panelist as well as a judge. So I feel like it’s a bit of a homecoming and a proud moment because I know you were involved as a contestant in 2014.
Iris Goessens: Yeah, I was a contestant in Pop in Limburg. They have many contests for local bands, so everything that happens in Limburg, they basically support it. I’m a judge for Nu of Nooit and the winner, the winning band of Nu of Nooit, they can open a very big festival around here, it’s called Pinkpop, I don’t know if you ever heard of it.
Metal Maven: Yep, I have.
Iris Goessens: Yeah, but it’s huge. So a local band gets the chance to open up for their favorite bands on Pinkpop – that’s a very nice prize if you’re just starting out as a band, it’s very cool. There are five evenings where they’ll play five bands, and me and two other judges, we choose who are the five best bands, and then they go to the finals, and then they choose a winner from that, and they can play at Pinkpop, and they get a lot of coaching, very good stuff for a band who just starts out.
Metal Maven: That’s amazing. Yeah, it’s so awesomely strange that this is where you are now, returning to this event in this way. So this opportunity at Pop in Limburg, did that help motivate or prepare you for Spoil Engine?
Iris Goessens: Yeah, sure, because I also had lots of coaching from them. So I started a band in high school, and from that point, we had just local gigs at cafes. But when we joined Pop in Limburg’s Popsport, it’s called, the contest, we really could play in better venues, bigger venues, I got lots of coaching. We worked with Sander Gommans from After Forever, so he could tell us lots of stuff about the Heavy Metal scene and how things work, and so I already kind of knew what was happening. And then I joined Spoil Engine.
Metal Maven: Well, next month you guys are having your release show at the Trax Concert Hall on the 16th in Roeselare, Belgium. You’ve stated previously, it’s the energy at concerts that made you love Metal music, so how are you feeling about the new album and the upcoming performance? What do you want your music to do for listeners and fans?
Iris Goessens: Yeah, the same I think – I just want the audience to feel the energy, to feel the message and have a good time in general at our concerts. I think many people go to concerts in their weekends to just have a good time, be entertained, have some beers with friends. Yeah, and just support the community.
Metal Maven: So this is the first show of 2019 for you guys. And everything’s new, from the set down to how the live show is performed. What should fans expect from this kick-off and new era of Spoil Engine?
Iris Goessens: Yeah, well we just built a bigger show. So there’s going to be a lot of awesome stuff on the stage – I’m not going to say much about that. But yeah, it’s really a new start for us, we have new energy. They should all just come enjoy the new songs and join our new journey with the Renaissance Noire.
Metal Maven: Nice. Well, good luck with everything. I know it’s going to be an amazing night for you guys and I’m just happy that you guys are able to start this new album in such a positive way.
Iris Goessens: Yeah, thank you.
Metal Maven: Yeah, of course. So why Metal music? You live and breathe it, scream it, sing it, teach it. It’s ingrained in your life and your identity. What’s the deeper appeal that makes this genre essential to your lifestyle?
Iris Goessens: Well, I started listening to Metal when I was in high school and the first thing that I loved about Heavy Metal is the energy – and I still love. I can find it in some other genres, but not as in Heavy Metal. The people are friendly, the energy that comes from a stage when a band is playing, just the whole scene around it, it’s just lovely. And that’s why it will always have a special place in my heart because, you know, if you grow up on something, it’s never going to leave you.
Metal Maven: So my last question for you Iris, is what else do you want to do? Like full bad-ass, maybe too crazy to say it.
Iris Goessens: Oh, I want to travel a lot, even if it’s not with Spoil Engine. I really like traveling. I’ve been to New Zealand a year ago and I loved it so much just being able to travel around the country, get to know different cultures, see different places. I think that really changes you and makes you richer as a human. So that’s my thing – I want to travel, I want to guide more musicians, and I want to do more collaborations with other artists, musicians, maybe even outside the Heavy Metal genre because I just love music in general. So I’m open to anything.
Metal Maven: What’s your hope in the future for Spoil Engine? And I know you really want to come to the US and tour.
Iris Goessens: Yeah, we would love to do that. We just want to play lots of shows, bigger shows, but also the smaller shows because I love them. So we just want to grow as a band basically – we want to see new places, reach new people, and just come to the United States. That would be really, really awesome. I’ve never been to the States.
Metal Maven: Well, we have lots of fun over here at Metal shows, so expect me there when you guys – and I know you will – get over to this side of the ocean.
Iris Goessens: Yeah, it would be awesome.
Metal Maven: All right, well that’s all the questions I have for you today. Thank you so much Iris for taking time out of your evening to join me and answer a few questions.
Iris Goessens: Yeah, thank you so much and hope to see you soon in the States.
Metal Maven: Oh, of course.
For more information on Spoil Engine’s new album, Renaissance Noire, out November 15th, and to purchase tickets to their album release show, visit spoilengine.com.
Visit metalmavenpodcast.com for links to Iris’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.