interview by: Roberto Martinelli
Everyoneís got Ďem. Those songs that bring you back to a certain experience you had that was marked by a strong emotional state. Students of a technique called neuro linguistic programming call these things anchors. Thatís kind of a cold way to think about it. Itís more like flavors. The Gatheringís latest album, Souvenirs, is about such connections.
Itís certainly been a huge transformation since the groupís first record in 1992, when they were a doom metal band with pinch harmonic riffs, weedy keyboards and growly vocals. From the release of the first Anneke van Giersbergen-fronted record, The Gathering slowly eschewed their metal leanings, but never lost the emotionally heavy yet exquisite melody.
Since their last triumph, 2000's if_then_else, Hollandís favorite melancholic rock band has embraced the jazz/ trip elements from that record and devoted an entire work to them. Itís been a metamorphosis of somewhat Ulverian proportions, which is quite fitting as Kris Rygg, Ulverís main man, guest sings on Souvenirs. I spoke to drummer Hans Rutten about how things were going.
Maelstrom: Tell me about the new record.
Hans Rutten: This time we worked a lot on the rhythm section. We wanted more drums and bass oriented songs.
Maelstrom: You have a lot more of this jazz-type drumming. Itís more laid back and a lot of interesting use of the high hat. Theyíre not odd times, but they feel sort of odd. Itís a huge contrast with your first record with Anneke, Mandylion. Just in terms of the drums, itís a lot more interesting now.
Hans Rutten: Thanks very much. I think so, too.
Maelstrom: What was the impetus that made you start to go in this direction?
Hans Rutten: We never said to each other, ďletís not make a metal record this time.Ē It just sort of happens. We listen to a lot of music. We let our compositions run freely. There are a lot of exciting bands right now that affect us. Weíre not trying to copy them, but weíre trying to rebuild the Gathering sound every album. We had some feedback on if_then_else; we discussed what we liked and what we didnít like. Things we liked a lot were songs like ďAmityĒ and ďAnalog Park.Ē We flirted with a bit of stoner rock things with ďColorado IncidentĒ and ďShot to Pieces,Ē but itís not our strongest point. There are better stoner rock bands.
Maelstrom: I donít think there are enough of them.
Hans Rutten: That also!... We at really at our best at songs like ďAmity.Ē That was the starting point of Souvenirs. Hugo (Geerligs, bass) and I also wanted to achieve something more organic, and as you said, laid back. We wanted to have a groove in it.
Maelstrom: You donít play with your hi-hat open on the new record. The result is that itís a lot quieter.
Hans Rutten: It is. Itís all to achieve a crystal clear sound. The bombast is gone. At first we had massive guitars. Those are gone. With an open hi-hat, you fill the entire high spectrum. I come from a doom metal band: Always, our first record, has doom oriented drums. Thereís more in life than doom metal. I still love doom metal, but you want to grow and do new things.
Maelstrom: Kris Rygg does a duet with Anneke on the new album. Have you met Kris Rygg?
Hans Rutten: No.
Maelstrom: How did The Gathering hook up with him?
Hans Rutten: I bought the Ulver Perdition City album, and I really loved it. The development of Ulver touched me a lot. Itís more or less the same story as The Gathering. I really love Perdition City very, very much. I think itís a masterpiece. I sent him an email and wanted to give him a CD. He was very enthusiastic. We sent him a demo, and he sang on it and made some piano lines in his own studio. He promised us that heíd sing this song with us when we play in Oslo, though he hates to play live. Itíll be a very cultish kind of thing.
Maelstrom: You mentioned briefly about things you didnít like about if_then_else. Like what?
Hans Rutten: Production-wise, it was a total mess. We did some stupid things. Going from analog to digital, some things went wrong. We didnít have enough time or enough money, so we had to finish the album not totally satisfied, though we were satisfied about a lot of songs. This time, we said to each other that we would finish it first and then make an announcement, which is obviously quite difficult to do. We had already written a good bit of it in 2001. Itís like a good bottle of wine. ďKill your darlingsĒ is a good term for it. We killed a lot of darlings, because we had the time.
Maelstrom: I have to say that in spite of your comments, if_then_else is my favorite Gathering album. I like the songs a lot. Speaking of this record, I wanted to ask you about the last track, ďPathfinder.Ē Itís a wonderful end to this record. Is there any sort of theme about this? Youíve got this sort of bee-like, humming sound. Itís really wonderful.
Hans Rutten: Well, itís just a nice title. It was a sort of imaginary film title track. At that time, we wrote the theme from ďThe Cyclist.Ē We love to create movies in our head - maybe itís a stupid hobby - and then write the music to it. Thatís what happened with ďPathfinder.Ē
Maelstrom: One of the big contrasts I find between Souvenirs and the last records is that Souvenirs is a lot more cut and dried. What I mean is, the last two records seemed to have a theme or a lot of parts like on ďPathfinderĒ or ďAnalog ParkĒ that have this ambient wandering in it. It gave a lot more fullness to the record, whereas this one sounds like 10 separate songs that start and end.
Hans Rutten: Exactly. We wanted to have a more homogeneous idea. The diversity on the last record was maybe a strong point, yet also a weak point. ďPathfinderĒ is totally different from ďShot to Pieces.Ē Itís a bit too much diversity. So we decided to create an atmosphere to stay in for Souvenirs. We wanted too much on if_then_else. It was too much a playground.
Maelstrom: I really discovered if_then_else when I took the promo of it on my trip to Norway in 2000. I went to Bergen and was checking out the famous Fantoft church. It rains in Bergen like, 265 days out of the year. It was pouring down rain, and Iím standing there, listening to my walkman, listening to ďAmity.Ē Whenever I hear that...
Hans Rutten: ...youíre back.
Maelstrom: Iím back there, wandering through these little patches of forest, visiting this church, and it makes me so happy.
Hans Rutten: Exactly. So ďAmityĒ is a musical souvenir for you.
Hans Rutten: Well, that explains a bit the title of Souvenirs. I think thatís the best compliment we can get. ďAmityĒ is connected with some image you have. Thatís really great to hear. I have a lot of songs myself - not Gathering songs, of course - that draw me back into time to very good moments; sometimes bad moments. Most of the time good moments: holidays, ex-girlfriends, whatever.
Maelstrom: Can you think of a song that brings you back like that?
Hans Rutten: Well, Iím a big Police fan. If I hear Ghost in the Machine, which was the first album I ever bought, I go back in time to my youth. Iím with my mother and sheís making sandwiches for me. I smell the air, I smell the house, I smell the old cat walking around. When I put on that album, no matter how depressed I am, Iím there again. Itís a sort of catharsis.
Maelstrom: Where do you live in Holland?
Hans Rutten: In live in a small city near the German border, called Nijmegen. Itís a very old city, built by the Romans 2,000 years ago. In fact, I live in a house that dates from the 15th Century, or something. One of the first stone houses in Nijmegen. Thatís interesting, and sometimes a bit spooky, because itís really alive. Itís an organic building. Thatís what I really like a lot. I had two American friends from Chicago stay with me, and they didnít sleep at all. They heard a lot of noises. Not animals or mice...the house is very old and you hear everything.
Maelstrom: What are you most fanatical about?
Hans Rutten: Iím quite fanatical about defending things. It could be my girlfriend, the band, whatever. If somebody comes to the band and says something negative, Iím in flames, really. Iíve got a bad temper. Not killing somebody, but flaming. I know itís not that good, but itís there.
Maelstrom: You youíre the aggressive, passionate one in the band?
Hans Rutten: (laugh) Yeah. My brother (Renť Rutten, guitar) also.
Maelstrom: So it runs in the family.
Hans Rutten: Our name is Rutten. We originally come from Norway. It means ďrottenĒ in Norwegian. I think our ancestors were a bunch of Vikings - really harsh and loud and drinking beer. Roaming and plundering the little Dutch rivers. I think thereís still a bit of that left.
Maelstrom: If you guys are the fierce ones, what about the other people in the band?
Hans Rutten: Theyíre the more relaxed ones. Renť and I are by far the most hot-blooded ones. The other ones are always telling us to take it easy. So thereís a balance.
Maelstrom: If you look for Gathering records, you can still find them in the metal section, at least in the United States.
Hans Rutten: In Holland also. Itís a stigma we canít get rid of.
Maelstrom: Youíre not on Century Media anymore, right?
Hans Rutten: No.
Maelstrom: Why not?
Hans Rutten: The contract was fulfilled.
Maelstrom: They gave you pretty good promotion, didnít they?
Hans Rutten: Maybe in America... We wanted to go on and continue and do something else.
Maelstrom: So youíre on your own label now?
Hans Rutten: Yes, Psychonaut is our own. Itís very good to start our own thing.
Maelstrom: Are you going to have other bands?
Hans Rutten: Not this year. We are a very big band on a very small label, so we have a lot of work. In the end, we will sign bands.
Maelstrom: On your upcoming tours, whom are you playing with?
Hans Rutten: In our tour in Norway, weíll play with Pale Forest, a very interesting Norwegian band.
Maelstrom: Theyíre also considered a metal band, though.
Hans Rutten: Yeah, but theyíre not metal at all.
Maelstrom: I know, but...
Hans Rutten: ...but theyíre still in the metal section, yeah. But, what is metal? Maybe we have to redefine metal, then.
Maelstrom: Iím not arguing with you about that.
Hans Rutten: No, I know.
Maelstrom: Itís kind of funny that youíre going out with bands that are...
Hans Rutten: ...post metal...
Maelstrom: ...considered metal, but thereís nothing really metal about them.
Hans Rutten: Thereís a post metal scene going on... Art rock. Of course we still feel connected because weíre still in the metal scene, but we make more friendly music. Strange. I think maybe we have to redefine metal. For me, metal is not only distorted guitars and loud drums and making strange, satanic poses. Itís maybe a bit more broad than everybody thinks.
Maelstrom: For example, we were talking about Kris Rygg before. Kris Rygg sells most of his Jester Records albums through metal channels, even though Jester has nothing to do with metal at all.
Hans Rutten: Itís the darkness. Thereís still a sort of doomy darkness thatís present in his material. You have to get connected to something, or else you donít have an audience at all. You need a starting point, even if youíre a pioneer. With metal, you can experiment a lot. Itís a very healthy, experimental playground.
Maelstrom: Will you see yourself ever playing the Wacken Open Air festival again?
Hans Rutten: Uhh...weíd have to consider it.
Maelstrom: What was your experience like?
Hans Rutten: We played in Ď99, after our American tour. We had enormous jet lag. I donít even remember anymore. I was half awake. It was a good response. We played quite a lot of How to Measure a Planet songs, so the reaction was quite mellow, which is normal. There was sun, a lot of drunken Germans sitting in the grass.
Maelstrom: Do you think your fan base is mostly male or mostly female?
Hans Rutten: It think itís around 50/50. Itís good. Metal and rock and alternative kind of people come. Itís really great. Weíre really crossing over, and it feels good.
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