A Gathering in Perpetual Motion
CoC chats with Hans Rutten of The Gathering
by: David Rocher
With a musical career spanning over nearly a decade, The Gathering may definitely be granted the right to evolve in their craft. Starting out with what can be described as a "symphonic" doom album, _Always_, the band developed a strong underground following, so atmospheric, meaningful and very nearly mystical was their art, that was only to be tarnished by their rather unpopular second output, _Almost a Dance_. However, with the arrival of the enrapturing Anneke van Giersbergen on vocals, the band developed a new sensitivity on _Mandylion_, which rapidly grew to be predominant in their music, and explains the immense distance between the brooding melancholy of _Always_ and the psychedelic, dreamy, somewhat non-metallic feel of their latest work, _How to Measure a Planet?_. Justice must be done to The Gathering for firmly taking the perilous decision to evolve, rather than opting for the cheap behavior that may best be called "the Metallica syndrome". In the following interview, drummer Hans Rutten displays great conviction when talking about The Gathering's new offering; a talkative, sincere, and gentle musician, who shows no shame in tending to leave the metal world, and displays great pride in having left a timeless milestone in it.

CoC: Firstly, what's gone on in the band since the recording of _Nighttime Birds_?

Hans Rutten: Jelmer [Wiersma, guitars] parted ways with us, because he didn't feel like playing guitar anymore. It's very simple, he was fed up playing guitar, he couldn't write any songs anymore, so we talked to him -- and we're still very good friends. He wanted to do something else, he wanted to do more "electronic" music, and now he's working as an engineer, mixing bands in a venue, so he's happy, and we're happy. We didn't feel like searching for another guitar player, because Anneke [van Giersbergen, vocals] can play a little guitar, and one guitar is enough for us now. I guess you can hear it in the songs, [they're] less bombastic... We had a lot of possibilities all of a sudden, and I guess we used them. So, after _Nighttime Birds_, we toured a lot, especially with Lacuna Coil, and we came to write a lot of material. So, we recorded a double album this summer, in Amsterdam, because we were a bit fed up with recording in Germany, for many reasons. I personally think too many bands record at the Woodhouse studios nowadays, they all have the same sound, everybody's complaining about it at Century Media -- well, not at Century Media, but the bands are complaining; for Century Media of course, it's very easy [convenient?] to have a home studio. So we decided to do it in Amsterdam, with Attie Bauw as a producer, and it was very long, because it was a double album -- we spent two months in the studio, but this is it: it's finished, we've mastered it, and now, we're doing interviews for it!

CoC: You were talking about the electronic music Jelmer is now into; what do you think of the way more and more metal bands are integrating electronic sounds and influences in their music?

HR: I think it's good to develop, not to be conservative and always play the same kind of music. You can say if you like it, and that's a matter of tastes, but I think it's good; experimental music is always good, otherwise it's no music for me -- music has to be something exciting and something new, and I'm really fed up with bands who make the same record every time, with the same producer, and so on... So I think it's good, I like it.

CoC: The way you're using keyboards in The Gathering is over time becoming less atmospheric and more experimental, and kind of psychedelic as well...

HR: Correct.

CoC: What's this due to?

HR: Well, we already did this on _Mandylion_ and _Nighttime Birds_. Frank [Boeijen, keyboards] and our producer Attie had a lot of ideas to experiment, and we did it a lot... I think the keyboards are very atmospheric, but in another way; this album is different from _Nighttime Birds_, so we did something else.

CoC: I guess the whole of your music is becoming more psychedelic, from what I've heard of _How to Measure a Planet?_... Somehow moving away from metal, towards a form of psychedelic... rock, maybe?

HR: Yeah, maybe a sort of doomy, gloomy rock, yes, correct. I think it's very diverse; we have songs like "Liberty Bell" and "Rescue Me", which are typical [The] Gathering songs to me, and on the second CD [_How to Measure a Planet?_ has been released in a limited 2CD edition -- David], you've got songs like "Probably Built in the Fifties", which is very heavy, or "Illuminating", which is another typical [The] Gathering song; but the title song "How to Measure a Planet?" is also on CD #2, but that lasts for 28 minutes, it's a very long, epic soundscape, a kind of psychedelic trip. There's a lot of diversity on this album, I think you cannot say it's only psychedelic; some songs are very short, and, for example, "Frail", the opening song, is very "relaxed" -- we wanted to open this CD in a very relaxed way, because we've always opened in a very heavy way, and I guess we're a little fed up with only playing heavy guitars; for us, it's not exciting anymore -- yeah, that's why we made this diverse album, I guess.

CoC: Do you still believe The Gathering rate as a metal band, or...?

HR: I don't know... I still love metal, progressive metal acts like Prong, Voivod, bands who develop, which is in my opinion very, very good. But it's music, so it's only... categorizing, as always, I hate it! Some songs on _HtMaP?_ are metal, some songs are psychedelic, some songs are really melodic...

CoC: I noticed you pay great attention to the visual appearance of your albums. When you look at your new release, are you satisfied with the layout and the cover?

HR: Yeah, it turned out quite well, I guess we're very happy with it; especially the CD booklet itself, it's very nice. We've always had and still have discussions with record companies -- Century Media didn't think [the cover] was "fairytale" enough, but this album is not "fairytale". We already wrote two "fairytale" albums, and this is something else, which they didn't like that much, but hey, it's their problem, because I'm playing in the band, it's our thing. It's a very creative kind of layout, maybe a bit more modern, also.

CoC: On the whole, are you satisfied with the way things are going with Century Media?

HR: What do you want, the honest answer or...? <laughs>

CoC: Go ahead, give me the honest answer!

HR: Of course, yeah! Century Media is only doing -metal-, and in quite a good way, I guess, but they're only pushing bands in a metal direction, and I really think Century Media have no -metal- acts anymore. I don't consider a team-up as a real metal band, or Moonspell, Samael or Lacuna Coil as metal acts -- I think Lacuna Coil are a pop-rock act, and I like them very much, but they're not really -metal- anymore, though they're more or less stuck in the "metal" field.

CoC: There are still bands like Old Man's Child, Twin Obscenity...

HR: They're black metal, and they don't sell that much, they're not the biggest acts. Of course, there's black metal, Century Media want to jump onto the bandwagon, it's stupid... Real black metal acts come from small labels, I guess -- it's underground music, but it's been booming, a lot of people have bought it, and Century Media wanted to make some money...

CoC: It's dying out pretty fast now, actually.

HR: It is going down now, and right now, it's something else -- heavy metal is coming back, acts like HammerFall... and Century Media have -no- acts like HammerFall [Nocturnal Rites? -- David]; Nuclear Blast have bands like HammerFall, they also have Manowar, and they're worth a lot of money. Nuclear Blast is a metal label, and they've signed metal acts, they have real heavy metal acts; I think Century Media have to make the crossover to another audience; metal is important, but [so are] the independent magazines and press, they need it... otherwise they'll drown.

CoC: Considering the Dutch metal scene... Holland is known for The Gathering, but also more brutal acts such as Consolation, Altar, Gorefest... What do you think of these?

HR: I only know a band like Gorefest. We're in the same business, we're colleagues, so we talk a lot, if we see each other, which is very difficult because they're touring, we do our own stuff, but it's always nice talks with Gorefest, and also with Within Temptation and Orphanage... We're not friends, but colleagues, we appreciate each other. But I don't think Holland has some -very- good acts. I think Scandinavia is quite good, but Holland... no. I don't think there's anything really good at the moment right now. It's a bit of a pity.

CoC: _Always_ is considered as a cult album in the underground metal world... how do you feel about this?

HR: Great! I have a new story about it: the record company Foundation 2000 are bankrupt, they're totally gone, and we have the rights back for our first two CDs; that means _Almost a Dance_, but especially _Always_. I know _Always_ is an underground classic, and I'm very, very proud of it, because it still has a very good atmosphere. Of course I'm doing something totally different right now, but I don't neglect it, it was a period with which I had a lot of fun, and you can hear it on the album. It was recorded in five days, and there are a lot of good songs on it, it's very atmospheric... We've started a little label to release it, and I'm also going to release the first two demos, which are very hard to get, especially with good quality -- I know the quality sucks anyway because they were recorded in a very poor situation, but a lot of people still ask for them. I'm very happy we've got the rights back, so I can do something big for the old fans; I know there are a lot of fans who don't like The Gathering anymore, but who still like _Always_, and I want to do something for them as well. I'm also very busy doing it on vinyl, [there will be] a very limited vinyl version.

CoC: Looking back upon your previous albums, before _Mandylion_, would you ever consider re-recording them with your current style, with Anneke on vocals?

HR: No, no, we did them at that time, it would be very stupid. We may do some live songs from that period with Anneke...

CoC: As a band, you've been going for ten years, of which about four years with Anneke. What changes do you feel she's brought to the band?

HR: She didn't change the music, I guess, because we all write the music; Anneke also wrote some music for the last album... She brought the band a beautiful voice, which fits in perfectly with our musical ideas, and of course we became a bigger act thanks to Anneke.

CoC: The approach to your music seems different now; when you look back on the philosophies and expectations in The Gathering when you started out and what they are now, what has changed?

HR: What can I say? We walk our own way, and I know we've got a lot of success, but we're not making music because of the success, otherwise we would never have made a double album: commercially, it's almost suicide. We love music, that's why we made this album, our heart lies in making music...

CoC: What are the lyrical guidelines to _HtMaP?_? Anneke seems to have made the band move away from the sort of mysticism there was in the beginning towards a more dreamy, sensual approach...

HR: Yeah, of course, she's a female, and females always sing about love, though there's not that much of that on this album anymore; there's a little kind of concept behind this album -- as a band we travel a lot, we see a lot of things, we get a lot of impressions which we turn into music, and that's closer to what this album is about. For example, the song "How to Measure a Planet?" is inspired by the movie "2001" -- the song could even be the soundtrack to the movie, it's so long... Some songs are more about a kind of inside traveling, for example, a song like "Liberty Bell" is about the excitement of going into a space shuttle or a rocket, and there's a lot of excitement in the song, musically. The song is really about an astronaut sitting in his chair, who feels the excitement!

CoC: Did you ever consider that you had written sad songs on _Always_?

HR: Yeah, but Bart [the band's first singer -- I think I got this right... -- David] was into a totally different kind of poetics; Anneke's style is more, in a way, girls' writing, very poetic and very "hidden". I guess Anneke is more direct in her writing, there are a lot of differences between them.

CoC: Talking about Anneke's writing, what inspired the track "Fear the Sea"?

HR: The song is about water in all its aspects, and water is the bringer and the giver of life -- when you're an embryo, you're in water --, life came out of water, and that's a little bit what the song is about. We don't understand the power of it, it's so common, people don't think about it anymore -- that's the sort of hidden message behind it.

CoC: As a band, you seem to get a lot of inspiration from the majesty of nature and the elements...

HR: Especially on _Nighttime Birds_.

CoC: ... Can this be considered as a form of paganism?

HR: Yes, we have a lot of admiration for nature. I think it's beautiful, I love to watch it on Discovery Channel -- see something, and think "that's the place where I want to go"... and you get back to the traveling aspect of this album, as we all like to travel and see things. There's not that much nature on _How to Measure a Planet?_. This is more the traveling aspect, to go into space but also into yourself, with or without drugs... It's a very introspective album, it's very introvert, it's not party music like Pantera -- put it on, drink beer, and have a party --; no, this is more difficult, something to put on before you go to sleep, to float away...

CoC: Okay, the last words are yours, anything to add?

HR: Yeah, it's a difficult album, it's not "poppy" as some people say, it's not cheap. You have to listen to it more carefully, there's still a lot of guitars -- some people disagree with me, but I still think there are a lot of heavy songs and heaviness, and intense songs don't have to be necessarily guitar-oriented for us, so you have to give it more time...

CoC: Metal audiences are kind of narrow-minded...

HR: It's a pity, there are a lot more flavors in the musical world than metal. I'm a metalhead, I always was a metalhead; as a kid, I'd always go see Iron Maiden, but when I see what Iron Maiden are becoming now... They don't have the guts to change, and I think that's the most stupid thing you can do -- you have to change, and this album is a big change, there's more space, more experimenting, but yeah, give it a chance.

CoC: Thanks for your time, it was really nice talking to you...

HR: Yeah, me too, thank you for the show, good interview!

(article submitted 16/1/1999)

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1/16/1999 P Azevedo 7 The Gathering - How to Measure a Planet?
8/12/1997 A Wasylyk 8 The Gathering - Nighttime Birds
6/7/1997 P Azevedo 9 The Gathering - Nighttime Birds
2/9/1996 G Filicetti 8 The Gathering - Mandylion
3/13/2001 C Flaaten The Gathering / Pale Forest Sirens Singing Soothing Songs
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