PureGrainAudio recently had the pleasure of sharing an afternoon with Sharon den Ardel, the voice and face of Dutch symphonic metal band Within Temptation during a Toronto stop of their tour. We enjoyed wine, explored old Toronto, talked about their new album, Resist, making music, and the changing world around us:
It’s two in the afternoon. I find myself in conversation with fans who voluntarily subject themselves to the sub-zero temperatures to wait outside Rebel Nightclub, the lakeside venue where Within Temptation is scheduled to perform later in the evening. One gentleman reveals he purchased a meet-and-greet with the band to take place later in the evening (not for the first time) but decided to arrive more than three hours early with the hopes of catching an early glimpse.
Sharon takes a break from rehearsals to join me. She and the band’s Canadian publicist arrive, and I better understand their fan’s willingness to brave the cold. In addition to being a skilled musician and songwriter, Sharon has an almost supernatural ability to make the people around her feel comfortable. The photos that made the cut (found in a gallery below) don’t fully capture this; it’s something to be witnessed in the moment.
Put some heavy-duty sunglasses on and enjoy a “Supernova” with Within Temptation.
Within Temptation was invited to play in January, but Sharon knew enough about Canadian weather to postpone the show by a few months. She chose March because, after looking at the long-range forecast, the weather was supposed to be warmer this week. Little did anyone know, we would be surprised with a blizzard. We decide to escape the cold by venturing inside Rebel Nightclub while waiting for our taxi. Sharon shows us the new “Psychotic? Psychedelic?” wallpaper in the backstage area: comparing the shapes, colours, and textures to gothic paintings. It’s clear she’s well-versed in art history.
Sharon is also well-travelled. As a child, she experienced a cross country trip through Canada with her family, and she remembers the experiences fondly: “I’m going to come back somewhere later this year in the summer. I want to go to places where I went as a kid with my parents. Because two times I had a road trip with my parents: when I was eight and when I was ten. We did the East Coast and the West Coast and I want to go to Niagara Falls and the Rocky Mountains - all the places I’ve been to. The Red Forest I want to go to, most definitely. Going back thirty-five years later and just seeing how things turned out. Just fun. And I’ll take my kids.”
“Robert (Westerholt) really wants to go to America and to Canada. I want to do the same kind of thing my parents did with their kids, and maybe take my mom as well. We have this really huge van, so we can all take several people. It’s nice.” Sharon also considers the possibility of building a future tour around exploring more of Canada and the northern United States with the family: “We’ll do a show in-between. We’re driving there anyway, and then hopefully see a couple of people.” The publicist jokes about a geography quiz at the end. “NO, NO, No! No test!” Sharon laughs, “I’m going to mix things up. I’m under pressure.”
Sharon getting ready back-stage in Toronto, before the band’s show on March 6th at REBEL.
Our scheduled taxi arrives. Sharon talks and takes in her surroundings, fully present within the world around her. We pass the parking lot on Cherry Street that’s frequently home to Cirque du Soleil’s travelling shows, and she professes appreciation for the costumes, performers, and the music. It’s on her to-do list as something to experience, but they never seem to be in the same region at the right time (true today, as the grounds are empty).
Sharon points out different architectural features, able to identify the era many of the buildings were built in by their windows or masonry. We pass The Distillery District on the way to our destination. Sharon expresses interest in walking the cobblestone streets, visiting the boutiques and cafes at some point. Her publicist reminds us this would involve a lot of time in the icy wind. Sharon vows to visit during her next visit to Toronto. “It’s good they preserve buildings here.”
Our driver asks where Sharon is visiting from. She tells him The Netherlands. He perks up and begins speaking Dutch to Sharon. We’re all caught off-guard. She discovers he has family in The Netherlands. She makes him laugh.
We arrive at our destination: The St. Lawrence Market. Her publicist snaps a quick cell phone photo of her in front of the designated World Heritage Site, as I pay the driver. We discuss options for food while strolling the indoor market. The subject of ethical meat production comes up. Sharon casually mentions that her family is phasing out meat, but, when they did consume it, she ensured it comes from a farm where “it’s done in a more ethical way. [The animals] had a nice life, more or less.”
Are you ready for “The Reckoning”?
More recently, Sharon and her family have embraced veganism. She researches and experiments with nutritious and delicious meatless meals. “Nowadays, you have this product called the ‘vegetarian butcher,’” she tells us, “In the English way it’s more ‘butch[er]-y’, but it sounds really nice in Dutch. Which means it tastes like chicken. It’s not chicken. It’s soy, beans, those kinds of things, and it’s amaaaazing. It really tastes like meat. The sausages don’t smell or taste like sausages, but it’s all vegetarian and I love it. Actually, the kids say, “We would like this for breakfast more than real meat.”
The publicist and I note the surrounding fromageries. We note the many, many butcher shops with whole or half animals dangling on display, fully intact. Almost everything sold at the St. Lawrence Market is comprised of meat or dairy. Is this the worst possible place to have brought her? Sharon notices the publicist and I exchange horrified looks. I apologize about our very un-vegan excursion, but Sharon responds gracefully, “I already ate before I came because you never know.” We visit the fruit stands and she proposes sharing a smoothie. Our hunt for a smoothie takes us to beverages of a different variety: Wine Country Merchants.
The wine seller invites us to participate in a tasting of ice wines. Sharon points out the variety of ice wine gifted by a fan - she’s been looking forward to trying it. During the tastings, Sharon falls IN LOVE with another variety as well, so we (PureGrainAudio) gift her a bottle to take home. We find a smoothie place in the basement and return upstairs to talk in the eatery, pausing briefly to look at a jewellery stand.
Check out our exclusive gallery of candid shots of Sharon den Adel by Anais Rozencwajg:
We sit down and discuss how making music has changed over two and a half decades. Sharon tells us, “The music industry at the time we started had a different way of recording stuff. We still had tapes and everything. Now everything’s done in these digital ways. We had these huge tapes to record on, and it was a different way of recording, also the music itself, and, also, budget-wise for us, of course. For instance, on our first album, I had to sing all the songs in just one day – one and a half days. At the time, I think we had nine songs on the album. That was a lot, and it was like ‘sing it, and move onto the next one’. And now, it’s like I take a day for every song; and, if I need more, I take a little bit more. And, of course, the budget is different and we have a little more time. That changes when you have a little bit more success; you get more time. And it was our first album. But it was also cool doing it that way. We have good memories of how we started trying to record music.”
I mention that a lot has changed for her personally over the past twenty-plus years and ask how family has impacted her both in the creation of new material and in the way they tour. Sharon responds thoughtfully, “In the past, we would go on tour for seven weeks in a row, and now we do it in a different way. Everyone has kids in the band. Not just us, but also crew members even. And they’ve been with us for fourteen years, almost. Most of them. So, we do three weeks. We go back three weeks. We go on tour again three weeks. We do the same amount of shows, it’s just more cut up. It’s more expensive to do it this way, but it’s also to keep a good balance between the real life and the touring life. It’s nice to touch base here and there. It keeps everything in balance. We had to learn that, of course. That’s how you learn.”
I ask if the kids ever go on tour with them. “In the beginning, when my daughter was a half-year-old we took her on tour, but that was not a success. She was there with us for almost, well, a long time, and it wasn’t good for her. It wasn’t good for us. You always feel like you can’t spend enough time with them, and, even when you do spend time with them, it’s not in her natural environment. She’s on a bus! She can’t play the way she should, and then, after a while, it’s not the right way anymore and then Robert left the band and he took care of the kids, so it was okay. And since 2007, it’s been like that. It’s better for everybody.”
It’s a mad, “Mad World” out there.
We discuss their album of covers: “It was never meant to be an album eventually, but we did this project with this radio station in Belgium. They asked us to write a duo cover every week - which is a lot - and we were at the same studio, why not just make a new cover every week at the same time? That was a lot of work. Especially as we are trying to make it our own. That’s how it came about that we have so many covers. We don’t play them anymore, but, at the time, it was fun doing it, and we had to choose from a list of songs the radio station had played in the past. It could be from twenty years ago, or it could be something from that year. So we chose the songs that we liked and/or had certain memories that we could tell a story around it. So that’s why we chose the songs that we did for that album, it’s called The Q-Music Sessions.”
Sharon divulges some of the goings-on in her private life and the impetus for her solo project My Indigo and the self-titled album, recorded over the course of 2016 – 2017 and released in 2018. “It was a long road to getting to where we are now, sitting here. Because after the last album, we’d been touring a lot and I just felt like… burnt out is the best way to say it. And I had writer‘s block. And it was all combined together. Then my dad got really sick, and I’ve been doing this for such a long time. Do I still want to be in the band? Do I still want to be on the road? I’ve been doing this for my entire adult life.”
“I had only one job after school, then this just came on my path and we just chose to go for it because this is our biggest passion. This is what we love doing. And we took a chance and here we are doing the same thing and we love it. At the same time, it has also a big price that nobody really sees. They only see the glamour or the rock and roll. On the other hand, you miss out on a lot of stuff that happens at home with your parents, with family, friends. You lose touch with some of them, and that’s sometimes a tough pill to swallow. And because you miss out on brunches, birthdays, school plays, those kind of things. I really had to make up the balance for myself and see how I wanted to continue and if I wanted to.”
Resist dropped on February 1st, 2019, via Vertigo/Spinefarm.
“So, coming from that point to where we are now, things eventually turned out okay. But I had to do something for myself; and it’s a solo project called My Indigo, and I got all of this stuff out of the way that was giving me this writer’s block, and I had to do a little retrospective thing and go through my own youth and things I have to deal with during the tour; the ups and downs that we never had time for. And I wanted to be there for my dad and my mom while he was sick. He died last year and during that process we were in the middle of this album, and I was really happy that I was able to come back again to making this music, because I lost my love for it a little bit. But, because of My Indigo, I found a new way back. Strange thing. But I’m happy that we’re here, enjoying this tour very much, and I'm happy to be with the crew and the band and everyone who’s involved with it because we’ve been around for such a long time. More than just band and crew; we’re friends. And it’s nice to be here.”
We discussed Within Temptation’s newest album, Resist. “In the past, it was a lot about history: history of our countries, second world war, other stuff going on, or films that we were inspired by. But, I think, more than ever with this album, it’s more about the world we live in now. It feels like we’re living in an upside-down world. Everything is turned around. It’s unreal, it’s evolving in certain ways in certain countries that are becoming less democratic. And also with social media, it’s like, when I was growing up, we never thought social media would be like it is today. We like development, but it also has a darker side to it. It controls our lives a bit too much.”
“Also, what inspired me to write the lyrics for a big part was the fact that you don’t know what happens when you go on the internet, on the other end of the computer. What’s done with your content and who owns it. And because, if you make a picture, or you put something on it, it’s very difficult to remove it afterwards. So even kids now going on the internet, they might apply for a job and they can see everything you’ve done so far. And it’s very difficult to get everything from the internet. Not only that, but what do big companies do with your content? And you give so many things for free and then you have those algorithms decide what you’re going to see; it’s like you don’t have free choice anymore.”
Take a “Shot in the Dark” with this track from 2011’s The Unforgiving.
“I hate the fact that we’re put into this box. If I want to see something about politics, not everyone needs to know what my politics are. I wanna see what I wanna see. I wanna see from left to right. I wanna see everything, because I need to know what other people are thinking as well. But if algorithms decide for me, because I chose only a few times the more middle kind of parts, then I don’t get to see everything that’s out there. It feel a bit like we’re being put in a box, and that’s something, when you’re into metal music or rock music, you don’t want to be put in a box. You’ve chosen to be out of the box, and now they’re putting you back in, trying to label you somehow. And that just gets the bad side of me. And that’s the album.”
I ask about the online sources which suggest Sharon is a fashion designer. But, it turns out the internet is a liar - sort of. She clears this up. She has a degree and her ‘plan b’ would have been in the fashion industry, just not as a designer. “I have a degree in fashion management. Not creative, more the marketing side. I worked in fashion for one and a half years, and then “Ice Queen” from our second album became a huge hit, and we were able to try and see if we could make it in the music industry. At the same time, the company that I worked for went bankrupt, unfortunately for them. Everybody got sacked. It was just before Christmas and they didn’t tell us until the last day before Christmas.
It’s never “In Vain” with these guys.
A week or two later, when I came back to pick up my stuff, our song became a huge hit on the radio and everyone was playing it. And it was like, okay, I don’t need to find a new job at the moment. I’ll just see where this brings us and enjoy the moment. I’ll find a new job whenever – it doesn’t have to be fashion. If you’ve got a degree for management then you can work pretty much anywhere. So, I never had to find another job after that because it just turned out… really well, actually. I’m still here doing the same thing twenty three years [later]. Twenty three years ago, when we started, I was still in school, so I did school alongside music. For first record, I was still in [post secondary]. I did the college/university thing and then I was like, I’m done. I was like, I could get my masters, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to make music and see where everything ends.”
The publicist reminds us of the time and we leave the St. Lawrence Market so Sharon can get ready for the meet-and-greets with her fans, and, when we reach the venue, despite the wicked wind, Sharon agrees to pose for an obligatory CN Tower shot by the water’s edge. Politely resisting the publicist’s warnings, Sharon choses to pass the fence just slightly to find the best light. We’re all visibly shivering, but Sharon never once complains. She’s an excellent sport. “I’m really thankful that you took me, really. It’s so nice to be out because otherwise I would have been in there all day. Of course, I could go walking, but you never know how far it is.”