Since forming in 1996, Holland’s Within Temptation has continued to gain steam and capture the ears and imaginations of fans across the globe. Fronted by vocalist Sharon den Adel, the band has become one of metal’s most successful female-fronted acts and garnered critical acclaim with each new album. Always on the lookout for new ways to express their creativity, the band elected to tackle its most ambitious to date! Their fifth studio album, “The Unforgiving,” is based on a comic book story written by script writer Steven O’Connell (BloodRayne, Dark 48) and drawn by legendary comic artist Romano Molenaar (Witchblade, Darkness, X-Men). The unique project will interest music and pop culture fans alike! Icon Vs. Icon’s Jason Price recently caught up with guitarist and founding member Robert Westerholt to discuss how the initial idea of a concept album grew into a multi-layered experience for the band and fans alike, the potential movie spin-off and what the future holds for the band in the coming months.
Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us today, Robert!
Thank you. No problem. It is a great day!
Your music has influenced so many people over the years, myself included. I was curious to learn how music first came into your life?
Wow! Well, pretty early. I think that my mother singing lullabies to me must have been the first time. [laughs] After that, it was the record collection of my parents. I loved to play the vinyls that they had in those days. What was it? The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley, stuff like that.
Who would you cite as your biggest musical influences and how have they helped to shape you as an artist?
It is a lot of different bands but I think it started off with the symphonic rock bands like Pink Floyd and Marillion, and then it became, The Cure and Sisters of Mercy. Later on it became the metal bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden, they were kind of the next step.
Looking back on the early days of Within Temptation, you guys have been together since the mid-90s. Did you think you would still be going strong all these years later?
No, no! Definitely not! I never even imagined doing this on a professional level or to have been doing it for this long already! The only wish that I ever had was to play at the Dynamo, which is a pretty big festival we have overseas. I saw another Dutch band called Gorefest, the death metal band. They were so extremely excited to play there. Then I felt like, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to play there!” Actually, a few years later we were playing there! It was the start of our career! From that day on everything else that came has been an extra! A surprise!
What do you think has kept Within Temptation together and thriving throughout the years?
I think it is the ongoing challenge to write your best song. You always feel that you have not written your best song yet. Also, the challenges that we still seek creatively has always kept driving us as a band. That goes on in life and on the stage where we are continually trying to expand and improve our live show as well as on the record and what we are trying to do now with making a concept album together with a comic book story and movies. We keep it going!
You released “The Unforgiving” earlier this year. How did you arrive at the point where you wanted to pursue a concept album?
We have always been inspired by movies and books to write songs by. We base a lot of our songs on existing movies and books. Through the years, we thought that it would be really cool to have our own original story to base a record on and write songs for that. We felt that this was really the time in our career where we could do that. We got in contact with a comic book artist because we had made some music for a video game, his name is Romano Molenaar (Witchblade, Darkness and X-Men). He put us in contact with an American comic story writer named Steven O’Connell (BloodRayne and Dark 48). We called him and told him the ideas that we had and what kind of story we were looking for and that is how it started to develop. He came up with a great story for the basic idea. From there, even with the directors of the short movies we have made, the story was further developed. So here we are! Today, I was just in a comic book shop in Baltimore where our comic was being delivered! It was quite an amazing thing!
You have a lot of layers in this project. What was the biggest challenge in putting the entire package together?
The most important thing was the good team of people who also liked this idea. Luckily, that is what we had! There were many talented people involved and the nice thing was that there were no egos, you know? Everybody was just working for the end result and I think that is the only way that you can pull something like this off in a relatively short time. Timing was very important.
I know you spent some time shooting visuals for the live show. What can you tell us about that and what can we expect from the live show itself?
For our music videos, of course, we have already done these short movies but for every song we have also shot a kind of short movie. There is a lot of video footage we have made. In Europe, we have this big LED screen in which we use that footage for our live show. That footage works really great together with these movies, these visuals. We have brought the projectors. I know that for the next tour we are already planning to bring our LED screen and stage show because everything is going so well on this tour. We are definitely now planning a longer and bigger tour to do our full show. That is really a dream of ours to bring to the States.
Is doing something in regard to videos or film outside of Within Temptation something that you are interested in pursuing?
No, not really. We definitely want to make a full length movie out of the story for “The Unforgiving” in the future. For me it is very inspiring to work with directors. To direct a movie is a very different thing and I think my talent lays more on the musical level and in the shows where I can incorporate all of these different elements in there. It is something which I really like! I think that if you want to have a good result, you must learn to work with the right people with the right talent and motivation. That is what is very inspiring!
Is turning “The Unforgiving” into a full length feature film something you are looking to do soon or is it still in the planning stages?
Yeah, yeah! That is what we are working on right now, although it is hard to predict when that will be definite. But yeah, it is in the starting phase.
Within Temptation has several U.S. tours under its belt at this point. How has touring in general changed for you through the years? I know you have a few children at this point …
Yeah! Through the years we have had a few children, which absolutely means that you can’t tour like you did before or at least one of us can’t. We already have a new guitar player lined up for me because I will have to stay home for the future. I can’t keep on touring as much as I did before. That is one change that we need to do because of that. On a positive level, we are now able to play in bigger venues and do a better show, which we never thought was going to be possible. It gives us all a lot of opportunities to schedule the tour that we think is the best, that helps a lot also.
What is in store for Within Temptation after this current U.S. tour?
After this tour, we are returning to Holland to start a European tour. That will run for about two or three months. We will also be playing Russia. After that we have a break where we are definitely going to dive into the studio to work on new material. Next year, we will start in again with more touring where we will visit the States again and take part in festival season. So, that is already a year where we have lots of things to do! We definitely plan on releasing a record way sooner than it took for the last record. It would be our dream to release a new record before the end of next year, 2012.
In your opinion, what does the future hold for Within Temptation?
Well, you know, we have learned never to look too far ahead! I think that you have to cease the moment and grab creativity when it is there. We are never looking further ahead than one album but one thing we know from the past is that with every album, we get inspired to do new things. That is definitely what we will be doing for the future, looking for new challenges and I am sure that we will find them!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.