SCARLET STORIES: Eclectic Musical Journey

Interview with Scarlet Stories

After two EP releases, Dutch progressive rock/metal six-piece Scarlet Stories returned last September with the release of their full-length debut album titled ‘Necrologies,’ a “a tribute to all animals and humans who suffered or died by the greed of others.”

We talked with singer and lyricist Lisette van den Berg about this multi-faceted release, its creative process, Prognosis Festival, and more.

Describe the musical vision propelling your album Necrologies.

Lisette van den Berg: We tell stories, and create the soundtrack of the stories with our music. For this, we draw from various musical, film and artistic inspirations, to design the world or picture belonging to the story, and try to stay away from (musical) boundaries. We write what we love or what we think describes the story best.

When writing the lyrics, I have a clear vision of the scene I am writing for, and I try to convey this as much as possible to the rest of the band. We wish to create the atmosphere that goes with the story and emotions in that story; telling the tale through our music. So, not only lyrics will guide you on this journey, but also the chords, rhythms, intensity of the music and melodies.

Scarlet Stories - Necrologies

What made this the right time to pursue that vision? Tell me about what you’re communicating with the album cover.

Necrologies is a tribute to all animals and humans who suffered or died by the greed of others. It’s about their death or suffering, how this came about and pays tribute to them. I think the stories are not necessarily time-specific, they have happened (and will probably continue to happen) throughout the ages. It’s about the dark side of mankind, and what we as a species do to our world (and even our own kind). We are capable of so many great and wonderful things, but also very devastating and stupid things. Nowadays, people are becoming more aware of our responsibility to take care of the earth, all creatures and each other. I hope this will persist and people will be intrinsically motivated to be more kind and more aware of their actions. At least most people, because there will always be people who do not care about anything but themselves.

What was the creative process for Necrologies like?

Well, after releasing two EP’s, we felt it was time to make a full-length album, so we could tell our stories in the best possible way. Like a book, with a start and an ending and chapters taking you on a (musical) journey. We realized we could not financially afford to make a full-length album, so therefore we setup a crowdfunding campaign. Most of the songs of the album we already wrote before the campaign, and we had a clear idea of what kind of stories and themes should be on the album. We had already recorded one of the album’s songs “Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers” with producer Joost van den Broek, and we were so pleased with the result and working process, we just knew we wanted to have him on board for this full-length album. And luckily he felt the same. ;)

As to the writing process: this really depends on the song, but many of the songs started out as an acoustic song or acoustic parts Bram [te Kamp, guitar] and I wrote together. However, for this album we wanted to involve the rest of the band more, and so we started rehearsing once a week to write. Bram and Carmen [Raats, guitar] also had writing sessions, and would send the recordings of these sessions to us. During rehearsals we would play around with the different riffs and elements and I would record everything. At home, I would shift around the parts, keeping the vision and story of the song in mind. This I would play back at the next rehearsal, and from this, new inspirations would come about. So this is how the songs evolved. One thing never changed: we would always start with the story and the lyrics. They would guide us in the process.

After making the preproduction, our producer Joost van den Broek would listen to these recordings and we had some meetings where he would give advice and recommendations. Also during the actual recordings he asked questions about the story, and provided suggestions and his incredible expertise. This really lifted the songs and they would come to life. Wonderful times these recording sessions!

To someone who hasn’t heard the album, what can he or she expect from Necrologies?

A true eclectic musical journey ranging from progressive rock and metal to ambient soundscapes and acoustic songs! Discovery of new elements and sounds when listening to our stories multiple times.

What were the biggest challenges you faced when working on the album?

Our biggest challenge was to collect the money to record our album and make it become reality. However, this turned out to be quite successful after we started our crowdfunding campaign in October 2018. So many people contributed to our album and we are forever grateful!

Have you managed to make any new discoveries as the time passed during the creative process? Do you think that at some point of that process your writing approach changed drastically?

I think everyone (or so I hope) makes new discoveries everyday or at least every week! So many things can lead to inspirations to write music, from things that happen in the world to great books and movies. Also, we listen to a variety of bands and musical genres, so we get inspired from many things and use this to create our own stories.

Tell me about the complexities of creating this album.

As mentioned before, collecting enough funding to record the album was a challenge, but we were helped by some many great people! It’s an amazing feeling to have so many people supporting our music. Especially Joost van den Broek helped us tremendously by challenging us and getting the most out of our music and ourselves.

What types of change do you feel this music can initiate?

For us, having this album out in the world displaying our capabilities, songwriting and music in the best possible way, this album has already initiated change for us in that we now have a product we are very proud of! Hopefully this will open doors to new adventures, and will help us get our music to a larger audience. Of course we hope our album will convince (inter)national festivals, venues and fans to invite us over and will give us the opportunity to do even more amazing shows. We love performing live! And of course, this album made us challenge ourselves and helped us grow into better musicians. We are always learning and trying to get to the next level.

Photo by Ted Gijsman

Did the environment in any way influence the vibe the album transcends?

Personally, the environment, nature and animals have always played a huge role in my life. From a young age, I have worried about so many things going on in the world; about injustice, suffering and the pain we humans inflict to each other and the world around us. This has definitely shaped my life, and therefore also my lyrics. This is what I write about. However, nothing is just black and white and we all have a role to play. We have knowledge, power, empathy, creativity and so many other wonderful capabilities, and I think it’s important we are aware how much change we can make ourselves. We have a responsibility to care for each other and care for the world. So yes, these themes have had a great influence on the album’s stories. That being said, I am a big fan of fiction, horror stories and the ‘weird’ genre and in our stories reality and fiction are intertwined. In our music we have tried to create soundtracks to these tales, and make them come alive. Taking the listener on an adventure and trying to portray the emotions in the stories.

Do you tend to follow any pre-defined patterns when composing a piece?

Not necessarily. Usually Bram and I start out with the lyrics, and I often have a mental image of the scene of the story. Bram uses this to create riffs and chord progressions that captivate the scene or emotions of the song. Together we shape the basis of the song, and bring this to the band. Everyone writes their own parts, and we inspire each other to create new songs. For the new songs Carmen and Bram also composed pieces of music together, and these have inspired me to write new stories as well. And for some other songs I wrote some things on piano, and Bram used this as an inspiration to write. So, it’s definitely a mix.

What non-musical entities and ideas have an impact on your music?

For me personally that would be books, movies and nature. However, I think I can speak for everyone when I say we do not confine ourselves to just musical art. We all have a passion for art in the broader sense. An image can inspire me to write a stories, but a beautiful drawing can convey a certain emotion that might inspire to write a guitar riff or melody. Obviously we used two famous stories by Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe as inspirations for two of our songs on our album, and it’s safe to say we will keep on being inspired by other artwork in the future. By the way, this might be the perfect place to highlight the wonderful artist Jelle Steenhuisen who created the beautiful artwork of our album. He was inspired by the lyrics, and what he managed to draw is just beyond amazing! Check out his artwork here.

What kind of gear do you use for recording your music?

Bass: Bo-el 5 string bass, Darkglass B7k ultra and 8 x 10 ampeg cabinet.
Guitar, Carmen: Squier Vintage Modified Baritone Jazzmaster, Musicman 7-sting John Petrucci signature and Squier Strat.
Guitar, Bram: Bogner top, London city 4×12 cab, Ibanez TS-9, PRS SE Custom 24 7-String TEBB60, Elixir guitar strings and Dunlop jazz III Max grip plectrums.
Drums: Yamaha Beech Custom Absolute, 22” bass, 12” 13” 16” toms, Mapex Mars Pro 8” tom, Tama Steel Series 14” snare, Zildjian Hybrid 14,25” K hihats
Zildjian A Custom Medium 22” ride, 17” 18” 19” crashes, Wuhan 18” china, Paiste PST5 8” 10” splashes and Pearl Demon Drive 3002D double kick pedal
Violin: acoustic violin built in 2007 by Klaus Deimer, Mörendorf Germany and violin bow by W. Seifert.

What is your view on technology in music?

Kind of a broad question I think. Technology is a definite requirement for recording and performing music nowadays and it creates so many great and wonderful opportunities to elevate your music. This album would not have existed without technology. However, we still write many of our songs (or at least the basis) by acoustic guitar and voice. So, it’s definitely not impossible to make and create music without technology.

Scarlet Stories - Prognosis

You are scheduled to play at this year’s Prognosis festival in Eindhoven. What can lovers of prog and beyond expect from your set?

We aim to perform a dynamic, melancholic and eclectic set, delivering our stories to the Prognosis audience. Do not expect pure technical progressive metal, but a more dynamic, storytelling and atmospheric vibe. We hope the audience can (and is willing to) take the opportunity to delve into our stories and let our music carry them away.

What advice or philosophy might you impart to other musicians, be it in forms of creativity, technical stuff, the business side of it, or anything else?

Wow, tough question! I guess ‘listen to your own creativity and create what you love (or hate)‘. There are no boundaries to making music, or art for that matter.

Scarlet Stories’ album Necrologies is out now; stream or purchase it from Bandcamp here. Follow the band on Facebook. Scarlet Stories performs at Prognosis Festival in Eindhoven on March 21st.

Cover photo by HW van den Berg

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