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Interview conducted October 17 2023
Interview published December 1 2023

Metal Covenant talked to singer Sharon den Adel and guitarist Stefan Helleblad of Within Temptation about the band's new album Bleed Out.

Tobbe: 7 songs out of those 11 songs on the album have been released from May 2020 to September 2023, so there are only 4 brand new songs now as the album is out on Friday. Is that the approach that Within Temptation will take from now on with record releases?

Stefan: Not necessarily. I think it was maybe a tad more released than what was the idea from the start. Because of the pandemic and everything we wanted to release stuff, for ourselves and for the fans. So, it just took so long. That's the whole ordeal. So that's a bit why it happened.

(Sharon:) Yeah. I think next time we still wanna do more than the traditional way of 2 singles before an album, but 7 is a lot. But we had to keep people engaged.

Tobbe: As a lot of the songs were released so early on, I actually don't feel the same kind of excitement for the new record coming out on Friday as I usually do.

Sharon: For me it's the same thing, but for me it ends also an era that we had of making music, releasing music and playing at the same time. I think these are different times. We did it for the fans also and they have been enjoying it for a long time now. So it's a bit of give and take.

You know, you give something and you hope that people will stay engaged. Because what the past brought us was, like, you have 2 or 3 singles before an album, and that happens in a 2- or 3-week time span and then everybody goes to the next band who brings out a new album. You've been working on that album for 3 years and you have 2 or 3 weeks of exposure. That's insane.

That's not fair either to the band, I think. And now everybody has been engaged for 3 years, so for us it was a huge success. But I do agree. It's not the way I wanted to do it or how the band wants to do it. It just was circumstances.

Tobbe: By releasing so many songs now before the album, maybe people will start asking for more new songs now really quickly instead of waiting a year or two.

Stefan: Yes, that might happen. (Sharon:) But we are going to start also with writing very soon again. Also just for fun. We just love doing that. Not saying that we're gonna record it immediately. You know, that's for us also relaxation, dealing with the world, therapy, and we need same maintenance, so I think it's good to start writing again.

Tobbe: It's been 4 years and 8 months since Resist was out. Okay, the pandemic struck, but still, it was over 5 years between the records Hydra and Resist. Are you trying to pick up the pace a little bit now?

Sharon: I think we did already by releasing so many songs. Like you said, there are only 4 songs that people haven't heard. So actually they have heard the album already quite early on. And I think this was nice. I really think it had a lot of benefits as well, especially in this situation. But also next time we're gonna release more songs than normally. But not that many as this time; this is of course absurd.

(Stefan:) Between Hydra and Resist, of course, Sharon did her solo album also. That's also why that took longer, and now it's the pandemic a bit. So we always have something to blame it on. (Laughs)

Tobbe: Tell me in what way you guys write a song today, from an early idea to a finished song. Do you all put in stuff? Are there main writers still?

Sharon: Well, we have main writers, but on the other hand everybody does put their own stamp on it, because everybody has their own specific quality and their specialty. So I'm not a guitarist and they're not a singer. We all have our talents and I think everybody brings something to the table. So that's nice. Everybody brings their own stamp and identity to it.

Tobbe: Do the songs usually start with a riff, or a keyboard part, or a melody, piano?

Sharon: It never starts with a riff. It starts with rhythm. Rhythm is actually the essential thing. We always start from there. Never from lyrics. (Stefan:) And then a melody or a vibe.

(Sharon:) Yeah, it's first vibe and then, like, a little bit of a synthy kind of thing that you get in a certain atmosphere, and in the meantime we listen to all kinds of stuff, that we like, that we've heard throughout the last few months. We're like, "Did you hear this guitar? Did you hear this sound? Oh, my God! Did you hear this voice?".

And then just talking about what we like and also social subjects and things happening in the world, and then all that together will be the start of the day and the start of a new song most of the time.

Tobbe: Do you have any more songs or did you just work on these 11 songs and that's it?

Stefan: There were more songs… (Sharon:) There were 2 more. (Stefan:) …that didn't make it or just didn't fit right now. Songs we still like. (Sharon:) Yeah, one song definitely. (Stefan:) We'll see if we'll do it later.

(Sharon:) Yeah, maybe we'll try it and see if there's a different way of recording it. Because it took a wrong turn and came out of the vibe of the rest of the album. (Stefan:) And of course there are more unfinished songs… (Sharon:) Yeah. They will never make it. (Laughs)

(Stefan:) …in different stages, you know. You never know. (Sharon:) And sometimes you look back on those things and think "Maybe we can try this." and then it doesn't work out. And there is a reason for it because the first time didn't work out either. That's how it goes most of the time.

Tobbe: Within Temptation generally explores new grounds with almost every album. In what way have you differentiated yourselves musically this time from the past albums?

Sharon: That's Stefan's department, I guess. The tuning of the guitars is most essential on this album. (Stefan:) It's a bit more riff based now. Especially really downtuned. It becomes more brutal in a way. Cold and brutal. (Laughs) It fits really well with the mood of the songs. (Sharon:) And the topics.

Tobbe: With the last couple of records you have been heading more and more towards, like, a rock sound and a little bit away from the original metal sound, but now I feel with this new album that you have gone more towards metal again.

Sharon: Yeah, exactly. I do agree with you. We've been listening a lot to metalcore actually. Not that we're a metalcore band or have made a metalcore album, but we've just brought certain elements that we liked from metalcore into our DNA and made it something refreshing and something new again, I think. I hope, anyway.

(Stefan:) It feels like it, to us at least. (Sharon:) Yeah, yeah, for us. Most people say, "You're still the same band. What are you talking about?". (Laughs)

Tobbe: Even if you do change between albums you're getting more and more fans all the time.

Sharon: Yeah, we are. Which is nice also, that people can still discover us after 27 years. "Who? What? 27 years already? Okay, I've got some catching up to do.". (Laughs)

Tobbe: But you haven't done so many albums. You have to keep releasing them every 5th year so people can catch up quickly.

Sharon: Yeah. Well, we're lazy Dutch people, and Swedish people. (Looks at Stefan and laughs.)

Tobbe: Today, as you've made 8 albums, what is the hardest part with not repeating yourselves too much when writing new music? Some repeats will always occur of course.

Sharon: Yeah, yeah, of course. Your DNA is in there of course and you will tend to do certain things in a certain way. But that's why we are always looking for new bands to get a different direction and to get new blood in. (Stefan:) I think it would be much more difficult if we were gonna do just Silent Force all over again. Then it would be really difficult to create completely new types of songs.

(Sharon:) I think we're not even able to do that, because we would end up writing a song that almost already exists. And we wouldn't wanna do that. I wouldn't be happy from that. I get happy from when we do something new, like, "We haven't done this before. Wow!". Surprising ourselves is the best thing there is.

Tobbe: Is it hard to find new subjects to write about? Is it also hard to not use the same words that have been used before?

Sharon: Yeah, words is a thing. But subjects, at the moment there's so much craziness going on. We can pick any topic at the moment, from any country, and you're spot on. So it's a mad world, which we wrote a song about as well. (On the Resist album.) On this album a lot of the songs are about the Ukrainian war, that happens because Russia invaded them, and we take a stand on that.

We also bring out a flag during our shows. We have done that through festivals in America, Hungary, Poland, every country in Europe. I'll tell you a little bit why we are doing that: Because we think it's important to keep that subject alive to support the Ukraine, because of the reason that we don't need another country that is oppressed by a Russian regime or by some kind of elite that doesn't have any democracy.

Our grandparents told us about the Second World War and that's still something in the back of your mind. We never wanna go back to that again, do we? Freedom is something to keep fighting for, and they are fighting for democracy, in my humble opinion, because I know there's a lot of people thinking differently. We are living in a democracy, so let's talk about what kind of world we do wanna live in, because in some countries you don't have that option in life.

Tobbe: That was subjects. And now to not repeating the same words.

Sharon: Yeah, that was really hard. We have a lot of songs where "running" is in the lyrics. But that was in the past. I really have no song here with the word "running". (Laughs) Because one of the fans mentioned it on the internet. I was a bit annoyed by it; "Why did you say that? Now I can never use that word again.".

It's in the back of my mind; "Never use 'running'!". [Sharon starts singing "Run to the edge of the world" and "And we run".] So we are doing a lot of 'running'. (Laughs) Somebody noticed. But it's a nice word because it really flows.

Tobbe: Obviously, the band has a pretty successful career. Do you guys always strive for more, to become more successful, or are you quite satisfied with where you are at the moment?

Sharon: Well, to be honest we get asked so many times for television programs and those kinds of things, like "Be jury of this! Can you be the masked singer of that? Can you be blah, blah?" and… I really hate it. I think it depends a little bit on if there is something we would like to do, like enjoy being on television because it's about music and if we can talk about our own music also.

I don't need to be somebody that people would recognize on the street. I'd rather not. I don't need that limelight. I actually hate it, to be honest. It's a love and hate situation, for me personally; I'm not sure about you, Stefan. I don't envy that, that people are recognized on the streets. So we avoid television programs as much as possible. So we don't envy being famous or something, but we do wanna grow as musicians.

(Stefan:) Yes, being able to play the music that we like and keep having people liking it. Just to keep being able to play live. That's the main thing. (Sharon:) Yes, that's the main thing. Because sometimes you feel almost forced to do certain things because you need that publicity to be booked and to be asked by certain festivals.

There are so many bands around, so the competition is big to get on a certain festival, and then, of course, hopefully they still think of you. And so far we're doing good and hopefully we'll stay that way for a little longer.

Tobbe: The European tour for this record is in October through December next year. It's a whole year after record release. Kind of weird, I would say.

Sharon: Yeah, maybe it is, but that is normal for how most tours are being announced, because people need to have the time to be able to buy tickets. Ticket prices have gone up everywhere.

We're almost sold out in the Netherlands and Belgium and some other countries as well, but in other countries it goes a bit slow, especially in the East of Europe and the South of Europe because people don't have that much money and they really have to save up maybe for something.

And another thing is that they really wanna know if you're really coming also. That's another thing that doesn't help the ticket sales. So it goes a bit slower. But it's the culture that's different from the West of Europe that we all live in.

And I think a lot of people have serious problems to buy tickets actually. There's a big group of people. That is becoming a problem in the Netherlands as well, which is a very wealthy country, you know.

Tobbe: And besides this European run, what will touring look like for this record?

Stefan: We're doing a run in South America and Mexico for 2 weeks. That's pretty much it. (Sharon:) Yeah. And they're asking us for festivals. We're doubting if we're gonna do that, because we had a really, really long run with festivals and playing as support to Iron Maiden in America for 3 weeks.

Then going on the Worlds Collide tour almost immediately. We only had one week in between. Then ending last December, had a very short period off, then immediately went into the studio and didn't get out of the studio, and then festivals and everything, and here I am still doing promotion now.

I'm looking forward to having some time off and to actually be a normal human being that is actually home sometimes. For us that's important, I think. Most of us in the band have a family and to keep a balance between touring life and family is important.

Tobbe: It's been over 26 years since the first record, Enter, was out. Is that hard to even comprehend?

Sharon: Yes, because I don't feel that old. (Laughs) But I am. It's hard to believe almost. But it's been a rollercoaster and we're still loving what we do. We're hoping to continue a little longer and just having fun.

But also, like I said, balance is crucial, because if you're going on tour for too long you start to become a narcissist very quickly. The whole world turns around you and everybody just loves you. Every night you're getting applause. You need to get home where people are just disagreeing with you and fighting you.

(Stefan:) And where kids are just challenging you. Back down on Earth, which is good, and which is where I wanna be. And then I wanna go back on tour right away. (Laughs) Where life is easy, where someone else takes care of everything. I just have to be on stage.

Tobbe: And you could actually keep going for, like, another 26 years. It's possible, if you're lucky. Is it kind of hard to imagine being so old and still having the same dream that you had in your early teens or something like that?

Stefan: I think I just try to not even think that far ahead. I mean, if I would still love it then and be able to do it, that would be awesome of course. As it is now, playing live is one of the best things I know, so. But you never know. That could also change. Maybe one day you're fed up with it.

(Sharon:) Same for me. It's not the best thing I like, but I do like it after a period of creating something. The most magical thing for me has always been and will always be creating music. Nothing beats creating a new song, where you're like "Wow! Where did that come from?" and you're amazed about it. It's magical.

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