Beyond the Black – Weathering the StormThursday, 30th August 2018
So you put out two albums in two years and start to build up a following in Europe. Things are going well and then suddenly all of your band mates leave and you are the only member left in the band. What do you do? This is the prospect that vocalist Jennifer Haben faced back in 2016, after the release of Lost in Forever. While she could have simply ended things, she chose to move ahead with Beyond the Black. She enlisted new members into the fold and they began performing and writing. The first result of this new iteration of Beyond the Black (aside from some bonus tracks on 2017’s Lost in Forever reissue) is that of Heart of the Hurricane.
At first glance, one may not notice a huge difference from previous albums, but Heart of the Hurricane grows more with each listen, and shows them willing to take some creative steps towards a unique sound (including some of their heaviest tracks to date). We were able to talk with Haben with about a week to go before said album’s release, and were able to dig into thoughts on the new material, being ‘The Ballad Queen,’ her experiences that led her to the band, and their relationship with Wacken.
Dead Rhetoric: You formed Beyond the Black in 2014. What was your vision of the band then, and has it changed since?
Jennifer Haben: I just did something, I’m not sure that I had a vision. I just knew I wanted to make this music. I worked for like 4 years before Beyond the Black with different styles of music. I started with rock, and singer/songwriter, and everything. I discovered that I wanted to go back to the heavier stuff. It went into this Evanescence/Within Temptation kind of style. I didn’t know it was symphonic metal, I just wrote it and that’s what it turned like, so we called it that [laughs]. I didn’t know how successful it would be, of course I hoped that it could be, because I wanted to sing in front of a lot of people that have the same emotion that I have in this moment. I think it worked out pretty well so far! I couldn’t wish for more.
Dead Rhetoric: You parted ways with the entire band back in 2016 and you started anew. Do you think things have settled down with this second iteration of the band?
Haben: Yes – I think that everything is getting better. I think that what happened over the past 2 years with the new guys has been really amazing. I thought about songwriting and I was asking them if they could write some song ideas, since I wanted to know the styles they wanted to write. I had a lot of ideas after a few weeks, and it was amazing. I didn’t have that before. They really wanted to do something – we had the same goals. I’m very comfortable with the direction, we are all looking the same way.
Dead Rhetoric: Your first two albums came right out in 2015 and 2016. Was it important then to take some time with this release to make sure that this third album was going to best represent the new line-up?
Haben: Definitely, that was one thing that was really important for me. We did Lost in Forever in three months – songwriting and all! When I think back, it was too short and we had to make a lot of compromises. With this album, we could do everything. We have two producer teams and we are able to make sure that everything had the same sound. We couldn’t do that with Lost in Forever, but we did now and I think everything sounds good. It sounds cohesive.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you think that Heart of the Hurricane builds upon in comparison to your previous releases?
Haben: I think it’s still Beyond the Black because of the different sounds we have on this album, but it’s more on point. Every kind of style – if it’s the heaviest song we’ve ever had with “Freedom” or a piano ballad like “Breeze,” everything is different but sounds cohesive. I also think the whole album is a bit heavier than before.
Dead Rhetoric: I would agree; it’s funny that you mentioned the two songs that I specifically wrote down to talk about since they are some of my favorites on the album. How do you approach a song like “Breeze” compared to a heavier track like “Freedom?”
Haben: Those two songs are from our producer Sascha Paeth, whom we wrote with. “Freedom” was one he wrote together with me. I don’t know why, but first of all it was meant for a Wacken Hymne but we ended up doing “Rage Before the Storm” that time. But “Freedom” was such a good song and we decided to put it on the album. When it’s a Wacken Hymne it needs to be heavy as hell [laughs]! Maybe that’s the reason it turned out that way!
With “Breeze,” I have heard people call me ‘The Ballad Queen’ a lot [laughs], so they love to record songs like this with me. I love it! The same with “Escape from the Earth,” it was the same. Just going into the emotion so deeply – I had a special moment with “Escape from the Earth.” When I sang that song, from the first words to the last moment, on the first track I couldn’t breathe after the last sentence. The lyric is “To leave my life in the end” and it was completely silent for a minute. It was an amazing moment for me in that recording session.
Dead Rhetoric: That reminds me, I was looking on your own official Facebook page and I saw the cover that you did of “Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman and it completely floored me.
Haben: I love that song. It was really amazing when I first heard it. I always have to do a cover when I’m surprised and overwhelmed by a particular song.
Dead Rhetoric: Knowing that you’ve also done some other things like that with Beyond the Black, such as an acoustic snippet from “Heart of the Hurricane” just recently, would you ever consider doing some sort of acoustic or piano set?
Haben: Of course. We don’t have plans for now, but I would definitely think about it. I’m learning cello now, by the way, so we could do a lot! Maybe when I can play it a bit better, we could do something with it as well, and maybe do an acoustic tour.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned being referred to as ‘The Ballad Queen,’ which I can’t really argue with. What do you like about doing those types of songs?
Haben: I think when you do those heavy songs, it’s so powerful and forward-moving. The people are dancing and screaming. When you play a ballad, they are in more of a dream world. I am as well! Maybe that’s why I love it. I want to have both of these worlds. I love to surprise people, and that’s why I love to do all of these different styles. Ballads were always something I really loved. Maybe because I’m such a fan of Whitney Houston? I’ve just always loved them.
Dead Rhetoric: Going onto those few years before Beyond the Black, you were in a more pop-sounding group called Saphir. What do you feel that you took from that experience and brought into Beyond the Black?
Haben: That I don’t to want to be in a band with 14 year old girls [laughs]! No, it wasn’t that horrible, but I like to hang out with guys more than girls, I don’t know why. But most of all, when we did Saphir, I learned I didn’t want to sing in German. I always wanted to sing in English. I feel more comfortable in singing English, even if I don’t feel more comfortable talking in it [laughs]. Singing is always different, and in German, it sounded a bit harsh/gruff and I didn’t like it. I like the sound to be smoother.
Dead Rhetoric: So what drew you towards metal after the experience in Saphir?
Haben: It’s like I was saying before. In Saphir, I was the ‘rocker’ of the four girls so when that was finished, I started writing rock songs. I tried everything, and I wanted to have both of these worlds – the heavy stuff and the emotional ballads. There’s a difference on stage. When you just do ballads, it’s so boring I think. That’s one reason I wanted to make something more powerful.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve done some big tours already with bands like The Scorpions, what have you learned from playing alongside much larger bands?
Haben: What I’ve learned as these people in bigger bands are just like normal people. It’s not that I didn’t expect that, but when I was talking to Klaus [Meine] in a German interview, it was for like an hour and he was so emotional, at one point he said he felt like we were like The Scorpions when they were younger. That was amazing to hear. He had a big heart, and whenever we saw each other, he was really nice. That’s what I learned. I like nice people, and there’s none of the rock star shit that you hear. [I also learned] You can also have the power to rock the stage when you get older. It’s really amazing.
Dead Rhetoric: Could you discuss your relationship with Wacken Open Air as you have played almost every year since the band was created.
Haben: Yes – we had our first show at Wacken Open Air and we didn’t even have an album out then. It seems like there’s a special bond between us. And it is. We wrote songs and we sent them to Thomas [Jensen] and Holger [Hubner] and they said, “Ok, let’s try this!” They invited us! Every year after that, we played on a bigger stage. They believed in us and we are like family now. Wacken is a second home for us. We were there this year, but only for promotion. Maybe we will be there next year, but nothing is planned yet.
Dead Rhetoric: You had fans pre-listen to Heart of the Hurricane at Wacken this year. How crucial is the fan feedback for you at this stage of the band?
Haben: It was very emotional. When we played “Breeze,” one of the girls had tears in their eyes. It was amazing! That’s what I really like about these kind of things. We never did a pre-listening thing before, so it was very exciting for us. For me, it’s very important to have close contact with our fans. We always meet with the fans after a show if we can do it – not so much at festivals, but every club show that we have, when we are not driving the same day to another country. When we have the time, we always meet with them. That’s the most important thing for us with every show.
Dead Rhetoric: I’m going to bring out the inevitable question – now that you are on Napalm, are there any plans to bring the band to North America in the near future?
Haben: [Laughs] Maybe! It would be amazing. We always talk about it, and I always say that we have no plans for now, but we would love to go there. Maybe if the North Americans are buying a lot of albums, it would give us a big reason to get over there to do a support or headline tour. Let’s see!
Dead Rhetoric: So what are your plans once the album comes out next week?
Haben: We have a short release tour in Germany – four dates. Then we have some festivals and special things, like Full Metal Cruise, Full Metal Holiday, and Femme Festival in the Netherlands. We have a big, big support tour – I can’t say what band for now, but it’s really amazing for us. Then we plan to have a headline tour next year – European, or maybe we can go to other further countries.