Amanda Somerville’s Trillium – All about Family

Thursday, 12th July 2018

While it’s been about 7 years since Trillium released a new album, Amanda Somerville has been far from resting on her laurels. She’s continued to build-up a name for herself, in both collaborations with other artists as well as other projects that she has begun (notably last year’s Exit Eden). So a sea of changes has swept through in the time between releases, both professionally and personally, as she married now has three children (two of them being twins born early here in 2018).

Tectonic is far from generic, symphonic metal. Somerville’s vocals are front and center, as they should be, and provide a rich variety as the album unfolds. From heavy to melodic, she is backed up by some memorable riffing courtesy of her husband Sander Gommans (ex-After Forever), providing a well-rounded attack for fans to dig deeper into. We were able to speak with Somerville prior to the album’s release to discuss the family aspects behind it, how she is balancing parenting and a career, as well as an update on things in the Exit Eden camp.

Dead Rhetoric: Before we get to the album, how are the twins doing?

Amanda Somerville: They are doing great, thanks! I’m actually standing in front of them right now – they are in their little playpen thing and I have to constantly wind up their music mobile. One is sleeping and one is wide awake, and needs entertainment [laughs].

Dead Rhetoric: I have two kids of my own, but can’t imagine what it’s like having twins.

Somerville: It’s pretty intense. I also have a little girl who is going to be 3 on July 17th. It’s never boring in my household, that’s for sure!

Dead Rhetoric: So what are some of the juggling and sacrifices you have to make in order to still be successful at both parent to a growing family and musician?

Somerville: I’m kind of figuring that out as I go along. The twins have only been here since January 17th of this year, and they came about 2 months early, which was a little bit scary. It was quite the experience to go through! Thank God everything went alright – we all came out in good shape. I’ve basically only been doing promo for the new album. I haven’t been doing any studio work or writing much since they have been born. So it’s a new aspect that I’m going to have to figure out how to juggle two more balls to the act. They are heavy ones!

With Lana, it was a lot easier with just one. My parents are really great and Sander’s mom too. His dad unfortunately passed away last year. But we are really fortunate to have amazing parents who help out. Otherwise we would not be able to swing it to where I could go out on tour. I’m not exactly sure how it’s going to work out with these two in the mix, but the plan is just to keep going on as normal and see how it goes.

Dead Rhetoric: It’s good that you have that support system in place. In the promo actually, it mentions the concept of family in regards to the album, so it seems like that would tie in as well. You are also working with Sander on the musical collaboration as well.

Somerville: You know the saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ It makes all the difference to have a good support net. It’s also really helpful that Sander and I work together so intensely and we can do most of the things on our own. Of course, we had my ‘family members’ from my live band from my hometown – Paul Owsinski and Mark Burnash. They play on the album as well. Another friend from Flint, Michigan – he wrote a song with us called “Nocturna.” The drummer from After Forever, Sander’s old band, drummed the whole album [Andre Borgman]. Erik van Ittersum we had worked with on keys with HDK already. It was a very close-knit bunch.

The things that we entrusted to others that we couldn’t do ourselves, or wanted to have some involvement from those ‘family members’ – it’s a family type of album. I’m kind of a posse person when it comes to that. Music, for me, is one of the most intimate things because it’s super personal. It’s my life story, my diary, my therapy all in one. I love working with other people, but with my own music, I really need people that I trust and whom I feel get it. So all those people that I just named, they are on that list. It was an honor and a pleasure, as always, working with all of them.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve noted that the album is more uplifting in tone this time around. What’s the challenge in making something that’s both heavy and uplifting?

Somerville: It was definitely a challenge. When you have something that sounds like a big downer and sounds really heavy, you tend to gravitate towards the heavier, darker themes. Some songs, of course, started out as piano-vocal demos. Most of them were instrumental demos that my husband came to me with, and said, “Hey, what do you think of this direction? How should we take it further?” Then we sat down and kind of working out arrangements, chord progressions, and lyrics/vocal lines.

A lot of this stuff was me taking the music – the basis of the song that Sander presented me with and then tweaking it to make it more positive. It wasn’t that hard for me actually, because I’m in a much different place – a much happier place in my life than when I wrote Alloy. So a lot of great things have happened, and it was easy to apply that positivity to the lyric writing and leave the restlessness and darkness of Alloy behind.

Dead Rhetoric: One thing I really like about the album is the variety in it. One song that stood out to me was “Cliché Freak Show.” Could you discuss that song a little bit?

Somerville: I have a song called “Carnival” on my solo album called Windows. It was released in 2008. I love the creepy, carnival-esque – I’m a big fan of the calliope and carnivals having this strange mix of super happy/want to have fun – you are on the merry go round…but there’s always this creepy aspect to it. With the carnies and the clowns, and these horses that are frozen in these weird snarls in the merry go round. I notice it a lot because my daughter Lana is a big, big fan of carnivals and fairs and always wants to go on the carousels. I just find it a fun, fascinating mix.

“Cliché Freak Show” has that element, and it’s also very sarcastic. The day and age of the Internet and social media. People being like, ‘my tortured soul is darker than your tortured soul’ kind of thing. I think it’s silly – that’s how that came about. It is this weird mix of carnival and seeing that and what goes on the Internet/social media/forums, where people have that screen of anonymity and feel that they can say whatever they want. It makes me laugh, but it makes me frustrated as well.

Dead Rhetoric: I feel you with that. I work with middle school kids and that’s what they are all about. Going on to social media and broadcasting to the world.

Somerville: Oh goodness. Yeah, and the ‘show me yours, I’ll show you mine.’ Whether it’s your breakfast, your kids, where you went on vacation, or tattoos/scars/etc. There’s all this craziness that goes on. Sometimes it’s just [crazy]. It’s a little bit of a freak show [laughs].

Dead Rhetoric: As someone who resides in the symphonic realm, what do you see the role of bombast in the music?

Somerville: I think it gives it an edge. The guitars are heavy and the riffs are great, but the aspect of bombast, that the keyboards add, just takes it up that much higher, level-wise. It adds to the emotion, it adds to the driving force. I’m actually a piano player. I’m not a great keyboard player with all the strings, but I come from that background. I love it. Sander has the background from After Forever, with that symphonic metal background, so he adds a great mix between the guitars and the keys as well. What Erik brought to the album was just awesome. I think it’s important for what we wanted with this album. We could have left some of the keyboards off, but I just love it. I think it gives it that force and that extra edge.

Dead Rhetoric: In touring/recording with a ton of high profile musicians, what do you take away from those you have worked with and those experiences?

Somerville: I learn a lot as a musician, of course, and as a songwriter. You open up your ears and your mind, and I guess your sense of being able to be influenced by things. Adding to the various facets as a musician, at least that’s how I take it. My background is more singer/songwriter, pop rock and folk. I kind of got into the metal scene by happenstance. I haven’t necessarily changed over, but metal has been something that has adopted me and I’ve also taken on as a new facet of myself, as a musician and a person. Holy shit – when you look at my husband…metal is definitely a way of life [laughs]!

I also learn, on a personal level, how I would like to be and how I would really not like to be. There’s the freshman that come in and the seniors who are like, “Okay, we are going to give these guys a hard time because we had a hard time and now we are on top.” Then there are the seniors that remember how hard it was and want to help them out. I prefer to take the stance of knowing how hard it was and wanting to help people out. I see the other side, and I think, “No no, that’s not how I would like to be.” I was raised with the ‘do unto others as you would like done to you’ and I see a lot of negative stuff going on in this scene with divas, if you will, and I think, “Oh wow! That’s not how I want to be.”

Then you have people that you work with that are legends, and so amazing. Ian Gillan, from Deep Purple, is such an incredible person. He’s generous, he’s down to Earth, he’s done everything there is to be done in the music scene, yet he is so real. I love that. People like that are real role models I think. That’s what more musicians should strive to be like. That’s a lot of what I take away from people that I’ve worked with and toured with. It’s a fabulous experience. I’m super fortunate.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that you are more selective in who you choose to work with at this point?

Somerville: Yeah – I’m also fortunate in that aspect that I’m to the point in my career where I can pick and choose. I still really like to collaborate with different bands and artists and do new things, new ventures – because I always learn something. No matter the seasoned pro that you might fancy yourself to be, you can always learn something new from somebody, even someone who has not been at it for a long time. I think collaborations are important, and a lot of fun. I do pick and choose who I am involved with, and who I work with.

Dead Rhetoric: Speaking of collaborations, what are your plans with Exit Eden at the moment? How do you view the way that the band will work, moving forward?

Somerville: It’s funny that you ask, because I just emailed our producer back. He was checking a song with me to see if the key was good. I told him that if he wants it to be a little more powerful, to make it a half-step higher. But we are actually in the middle of recording our second album. I shouldn’t say we are in the middle of it – we are at the beginning. We have just started. I have recorded 2-3 songs already. We want to tour with it, and do the whole program. It’s something that’s still unfolding. Everything goes in little baby steps.

It’s an exciting project. I have a lot of fun doing it. I know a lot of people were wondering why we only did covers. But that was the whole concept of it. We didn’t set out to make all original songs. We might have a few original songs on the next album – that’s all being discussed right now. It’s just fun to re-imagine these pop songs and let loose and have fun with them.

Dead Rhetoric: You had mentioned HDK earlier in the interview. Is that finished? I know that Phantom Elite was kind of the evolution into touring for HDK.

Somerville: No, I don’t think so. Not necessarily. I think it depends on whether Sander has the desire and energy enough to do another album. But I don’t think that just because Phantom Elite has come into the mix and taken over the live aspect, that HDK will totally be done. But I’m not sure. I guess that’s more of a question for [Sander] because it’s his baby. We haven’t talked about it in a long time because we’ve had so many other things on our plate, but I would be interested to know that as well!

Dead Rhetoric: Lastly, what is going on for the next few months?

Somerville: Probably getting the Exit Eden album more together and recorded. Continuing getting Trillium out there, and Tectonic. I don’t have anything live planned, at this point. It’s not that I’m totally opposed to touring for it, or doing some shows here or there. We’ll have to see. This is all relatively new for us. Technically, I’m on maternity leave but you can’t keep me down for long [laughs]. We’ll just have to see!

Amanda Somerville on Facebook