Painting a new picture
Liv Kristine Espenæs discusses the massive changes Theatre of Tragedy has gone through and how some of their so-called fans have reacted.
No-one could accuse Norwegian band Theatre of Tragedy of playing it safe. Originally a highly successful metal band, one so influential that they are often credited with inventing the now common style of Gothic metal with growling male and angelic female vocals, few of their original fans would recognise them now. Over the past few years, the metallic elements have been increasingly toned down. They first produced a more ethereal Gothic sound and more recently have come out with an electronic rock sound with serious dancefloor appeal.
Liv Kristine Espenæs, she of the angelic voice, has taken over most of the vocal duties. Visually, she presents a sassy and sexy front-woman with her stunning good looks and platinum blonde hair. She sees no need to defend the band for changing their style so much.
"No painter wants to paint the same picture 10 times. We've always gone our own way. When we make a new album, it's not like we sit down and consider what the fans would like to have. It's a natural progress and it's been like that all the time."
The album that took the biggest leap forward, and shocked their old fans most, was "Musique", an album they recorded and produced without a label contract. She points out that this was quite a big risk for them, they put their own money into it and asked the record labels if they were interested in signing them when it was finished. The band also went through some major changes in that period.
"The reason why there is such a big gap between 'Aégis' and 'Musique' is that there was a two-year break between the two and two members left the band in that time. It's all down to natural process and progress. After 'Aégis', we felt like, well, there are so many bands doing the Gothic metal style with female vocals, we have to change somehow. We didn't know then what we were going to, this is the result of it."
While the band is not averse to commercial success, she denies they changed their style just to earn money. "We sold even more of the first album than we have of these two last albums, so, I mean, we haven't got rich."
With the release of their fifth studio album, "Assembly", they've consolidated their sound and their live set-list concentrates almost exclusively on their last three albums. They've found that most of their fans are more open to new musical styles and accept this, though she laughingly points out that this is not the case in the country where Theatre of Tragedy was most popular as a metal band.
"In Germany, it has been quite difficult for us because metal fans don't seem to accept anything else than what we have done in the past. When we played in Germany, we had the feeling that most of them wanted to hear the old material. We had a better feeling when we played in countries like France and Belgium and in Lebanon; we played in Lebanon last weekend - that was fantastic. So I think it's time to expand our territory now."
Dark Jubilee marked their first ever trip to the UK and they were very excited about the prospect of playing to a new audience. The band was impressed with the diversity of the line-up and think it's a good thing to try and unite all music styles.
"I wish there had been more of this scene in other countries, well, in Scandinavia, we hardly have anything like this. In Germany, there are quite a lot of festivals, but the musical styles are always kept apart from each other. I think it's good."
As their new material reaches more new ears, they have noticed quite a few changes in the people who turn up to their shows. The age average has gone up a bit and there even are people without long hair.
"There's 'normal people' that just want to listen to music, enjoy it and have fun. And stage-diving - nobody does that anymore, not even in Paris, and Paris is known for having quite an extreme wild audience, but there was no stage-diving this time."
The mosh pit has been replaced by the dancefloor, a process helped considerably by the club success of the VNV Nation remix of 'Machine' from "Musique". But it's not something that influenced the new album much as Liv was completely unaware of it, though pleased to hear about it. She says that nobody in Germany seems to have noticed that they released it.
One factor that helped publicise the track was its proliferation on Napster, but she is not convinced that the added attention makes up for the damage filesharing has done to sales. She points out that, while it may suit those who make music as a hobby, it damages larger bands like themselves who have reached the stage that they can live from it. However, she is realistic about the problem.
"I think it hurts the medium bands the most, the biggest ones, of course, they have other money, they have everything, so that's alright. But how are we going to stop it? I mean, there will always be a way to download, to copy stuff, we started 15 years ago, we copied from the radio [laughs], so I don't think it's going to stop, we should deal with that."
by Girl the Bourgeois Individualist