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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Exclusive Interview with Amanda Somerville (Kiske/Somerville, Avantasia, Trillium)

She has one of the finest female voices in Rock & Metal: Amanda Somerville. The Michigan singer/songwriter/vocal coach is a real workhorse. In the last 15 years she was part of countless projects and background singer on many Metal records from Kamelot, Epica, Avantasia and the list goes on and on. At the moment she is on tour with Rock Meets Classic. That was the perfect time for me to meet her and ask her some questions about the new Kiske/Somerville album, the Metal community, talent shows, Rock Meets Classic and much more. Check out this interview and get a closer look at this talented woman.

Hello Amanda, nice to meet you. We are here at Rock Meets Classic tonight. This event feels always like some kind of class reunion. Am I right?

Amanda: Yes, definitely. It has become a small family.

Since the very beginning you are part of this event series. What has changed in the last six years?

Amanda: It has become much bigger in terms of production. There are about 100 people involved, including crew, catering, orchestra and so on. We know each other quiet well. It's like a well-oiled machine. We know exactly how we are working together. Every artist, who joins us for the first time, realizes that we are kind of a little family and they like that very much.

How can you ensure this high level of quality every night? Seems like you don't have the time to do rehearsals that much.

Amanda: We have three days. For the very first time in the first year we just had one day to rehearse, followed by the final rehearsal right before the first show. That was close and then in the last two years we had two days left for rehearsals and this time around we had three days. I think that was good for us. OK, the first show has always some glitches, but after the third show we are well incorporated and every night is so much fun. I mean, to me this isn't a development in my career, I'm doing this because it's fun. For sure this is mainstream and very differnt compared to the things I'm usually doing, but it's great to play all those hits from the 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's with the original artists. Tonight you'll see how much fun we have together, playing with each other, with the orchestra, the artists and every night it's a bit different.

Yes I know, I saw the show last year with Alice Cooper and it blew me away. By the way: how did you join Rock Meets Classic?

Amanda: Because of Mat (Sinner). We had recorded the first Kiske/Somerville album together and he said "you are so kind and easy to handle, I'm doing a new project that is quiet big and I know usually you aren't a background singer, but could you imagine to be choir leader in this project?" and that's how it all got started. At the beginning we were just three girls. I asked Tiffany Kirkland if she would like to join us, because she was part of the Scarecrow tour from Avantasia and I loved her voice and she was also a very funny person. So I told Mat there is another person that would fit into this show and over the years we have grown slightly. Ralf Scheepers from Primal Fear joined us. Unfortunately he couldn't attend the shows this year. But with four people it's still much fun.

Because of projects like Rock Meets Classic or Avantasia you've met so many famous musicians like Alice Cooper, Ian Gillan, or Eric Martin. Just to name a view. Did all those stars turn out to be those human beings you've expected? 

Amanda: You know what, I'm not a person that enters a new situation with huge expectations. I'm always very open minded, so that you have a good starting point. I let myself be surprised every time and most of the artists, beside two people or so, were so amazing human beings, very kind and it was a lot of fun working with them.

After working with so many great artists, are there any musicians left you'd like to work with in the future?

Amanda: I'd love to have John Fogerty on Rock Meets Classic. You know all these old Creedence Clearwater songs - this would be awesome. Same with Grace Slick, but I think she wouldn't do it anymore because of her age. She is around 75 years old and this could be difficult, but it would be much fun to do this old Jefferson Airplane and Starship stuff. Yes and for me as a solo artist my favorite singer/songwriter is Paul Simon and also Tori Amos is awesome. Working together with these two people would be amazing.

Let's talk about something different: the new Kiske/Somerville album "City Of Heroes" will hit the stores in April. Congratulations to this fantastic album, I enjoy it very much. 

Amanda: Cool, thank you!

In the end of 2013 Mat Sinner and Michael Kiske already talked to me about this album and how great it will be and then another two years passed by. So in the end the fans had to wait five long years for this second record. Why it took you so long to release a follow-up to the debut album?

Amanda: I think we started in summer or fall 2013 with collecting the songs. I don't really know. Maybe because both of us were so busy. We have to organize out timetables very carefully. Mat, Magnus, Michi and I we are traveling very much and we do many different projects. Frontiers Records has also a release schedule. Everything has to fit together.

What are the main differences between "City Of Heroes" and the debut album?

Amanda: I think it's very similar to Rock Meets Classic. We are a well trained team now. I recorded the first album in Stuttgart together with Mat and I wanted to do everything right, so I've sung the whole album and later we chose which parts should be sung by Michael and which ones belong to me. This time around I recorded all by myself, I experimented much, did many ad-libs and right from the start it was determined who sings at which point. Mat and I often talked about the different parts and I also told him which part fits better to Michi in my opinion and so on. I think the overall sound of the second record is a bit more heavy this time.

How much influence do you have when it comes to production, songwriting and song selection?

Amanda: I changed some lyrics and like I said I changed some parts  - we have some freedom. The songs were so good and everything was so well produced, so I didn't need to select that much. There was not one bad song. This is also part of the development of the team. You learn from each other, you learn about your strenghts and your weaknesses and what works and what not, so in the end everything comes together and it's fine.

Who had the idea to bring you together with Michael Kiske? I mean it could have been any other male singer.

Amanda: I think that was an idea from Serafino (CEO Frontiers Records) and Mat. Mat asked me, but the original idea came from Serafino.

I think many fans like to know if we will ever see Kiske/Somerville live on stage. Are there any problems to set up a tour?

Amanda: I hope we'll go on tour someday. I'm very open-minded, the problem is once more our timetable. We are travleing a lot, which makes it very hard to coordinate the whole thing. Avantasia needed also eight years to set up a tour, so we'll see. I never say never, it just has to fit together.

Beside Kiske/Somerville and Avantasia you joined various other projects over the years. Which points have to be fulfilled so that you say "Yes, I want to be part of it"?

Amanda: It has to be a good song, good music, good people. I also like guest appearences with people I don't really know. Years ago I rarely said "no" if somebody asked me to be part of a project, because I like it to work together with new people and to try something new. Nowadays I select a bit more, because I simply can't do anything. To be honest I haven't the time to do it.  

What about a new solo album in the nearer future? The last kind of solo thing you did was Trillium and that is already three years ago.

Amanda: Yes, definitely! Hopefully my new solo album will be finished soon, because at the moment I'm busy with my pregnancy. It's the sixth month now. My solo album should have been finished last year, but then there was so much in between. I married, we had the wedding plans. Sadly my own things always slip back slightly, although these things are most important to me. It simply brings me fulfillment as an artist. So first of all the solo album will be out and I also talked to Frontiers about a second Trillium album already. It will definitely happen. But like everything from my side, it takes a bit more time (laughs).

I'm very looking forward to it. How did you discover Rock and Metal music for you? What opened the door for you into this genre?

Amanda: I always made music, I was always a solo artist but more in the Pop-Rock genre, maybe with some American folk elements. I wanted to record a single together with my bassplayer and a drummer years ago. My bassplayer told me his ex brother-in-law owns a recording studio and his ex brother-in-law was Sascha Paeth. Sascha and Miro (Rodenberg) were on the spot and helped us to build up everything in the studio and then they listened to us. I liked them both and they said "it's cool music, cool voice" and so on, until they asked me if I would like to do something together with them - it was the classic snowball effect.

OK with Sascha and Miro it's clear that it has to be Metal at the end of the day.

 Amanda: Exactly (laughs). The first thing I did together with Sascha was Virgo - a project together with Andre Matos and then he asked me if I'd like to write the lyrics and the story for AINA. The record label, which put out AINA had also bands like After Forever, Epica, Edguy and many more of those bands under contract and so it just grew and grew.

Last year you were also part of the German television show "Keep Your Light Shining".  How did it happen? Did you made some special experiences with such a talent show? Unfortunately you were excreted very quickly.

Amanda: Like I said, I always like it to try something new, to get out of my comfort zone. It was definitely not my comfort zone, I can tell you that! But I think this is the only way to grow and to push you to your own limits. You can discover your weaknesses and you can learn to overcome them. You just can get stronger and getting to know new people is always advantageous, that's part of the business. They simply called me. They told me they found me online and they'd like to invite me to an introduction round. I did two of them and they always wanted me to come back. Finally there were three shows and then I said "I can not be there because I'm touring", "I can't travel to you, because I'm in Michigan" and so on and finally I said I can only join the third show and that worked. They have made a few exceptions for me (laughs). I mean I simply didn't need it at that time. Many people asked me: "Why are you doing this crap? You don't need it.", but that wasn't the point. For sure I didn't need it, but I wanted to do it and it was a good experience. I had lots of fun. It went a little goofy, but hey I'm not broken. I mean I was the only member with a career and some of the others came backstage and cried their heart out. But not me, I just said to myself "OK, next!" (laughs).

This TV show showed me once more that singers from the Metal genre are very undervalued.

Amanda: I don't know if this is the reason. There were technical problems, It just wasn't my good day. Maybe that is the reason or maybe it's all rigged ... I have no idea, but it didn't matter. The whole thing was over and I can live with it.

That's the right attitude. Let's talk about the Rock & Metal community in general. I think the cohesion is huge in this genre. It often feels like a big family. Everybody knows each other and so on. What do you think is the reason for this kind of loyalty between musicians and fans in this particular genre.

Amanda: I don't really know. It's definitely admirable. Perhaps because it is a niche market. It's not mainstream, I think you can stay a bit more authentic to yourself and towards others in this sector. For sure showbusiness is showbusiness, there are policy no matter where you go, but I think because the scene is relatively small you get to know many, many people and you always see the same familiar faces again and I think the fans recognize this as well and they feel like they would belong to this family, too.

Yes, I feel very much at home as well.

Amanda: That's good, that's good (laughs).

What is your personal highlight in your career? What was the most exciting experience for you?

Amanda: I just can say there was no special situation or a special concert or so. The route is the goal. I just go my way with ups and downs and I simply belong here. Right at this point where I'm standing now, right in this moment as we talk. I belong here with this tour, I'm expecting my baby and all those things. The road led me here and this is my highlight. I am incredibly grateful.

Yes and that's something everybody wants to achieve in his life. One last question: you already said it - you are married now and you'll get a baby. Do you like to settle down now?

Amanda: No, I don't think so. I've three residences in three different countries. I live in Germany, Holland and in Michigan. This will not change so quickly (laughs). 

Amanda, thank you for your time! I hope you'll have much fun during the show tonight. Will see you on stage! Bye!

Amanda: Thank you, bye! 

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