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Helena Iren Michaelsen's Imperia

Opmerkelijke optredens, pikante foto's in de Aardschok en een dijk van een cd: het zal weinigen zijn ontgaan dat Helena Iren Michaelsen's Imperia hard aan de weg timmert. Maar wie is deze rondborstige, Noorse zangeres eigenlijk? Lords Of Metal sprak met de zangeres in haar huidige woning in één van de volkswijken van Groningen. Een openhartig gesprek met troubadour, gothicdiva en sexbom Helena.

Door: Ferdi | Archiveer onder gothic metal

band image“Everyone has his or own package that they carry on their back and that they fill with their personal experiences. We all carry along that package throughout our lives, because that package is what makes us the person we are today. My package, my world, started in my birthplace: a very little village in a countryside region of Norway. We lived in a very big house, three flours, with a family of four children. The place was a really, really small community. Completely deserted, situated in the middle of the woods. I cannot say that I had a happy childhood. The first years of my life were filled with much pain and sorrow. There was a lot of violence in my home.”

What was the reason for that?

“My father was an alcoholic. When he didn't drink he was okay. But as soon as he got drunk he went mad. My mother was abused by him and I was sexually abused.. When I was a little girl I had to see how my father almost beat my mother to death with an object. Every night he became angry and whenever he did my mother screamed my name, but there was very little I could do. The strange thing was that, as I was growing up I wasn't even aware of the absurdity of the situation. It all seemed normal to me, because I simply wasn't used to anything else. It started to get through to me when people started asking me about all my bruises and why I was afraid to go home after school.”

What effect did the violence and the abuse have on you?

“I did not speak much as a child. I was scared of other people, could not look them in the eyes. Insecure. I loved animals, but could not find myself to trust other humans. I never felt safe at home, so how could I feel safety anywhere else? In those days I started creating my own world within my head, where I escaped to whenever I felt unsafe. My own fantasy-world, where everything is secure. That is where my music comes from: form the imaginary world within my mind. I have never been good at expressing my feelings through anything but music. I remember that I was a little girl and went into the bathroom. I dressed up in white curtains and imagined I was a princess. Those kind of feelings are expressed in my music.”

When did the abuse stop?

“I ran away from home when I was fourteen years old to move on my own. My mother got a nerves breakdown after all the experiences and was forced to spend two and a half years in a recovery house. While she was there my dad went of with another woman and divorced my mother. I did not want to have any more contact with my dad after this. I visited my mother as often I could to be there for her.”

When did your musical life start?

“I have been making music for almost as long as I have been able to remember. Probably from the age of six or so. I have always been singing in choirs and making lyrics. I started making my own songs during my early teens. With one of those songs I won a talent competition at the age of eighteen. I lost the original demotape, but I still remember the lyrics. The song was about a child living on the streets who had nothing for a guitar to try to earn a little money with.”

And that child was you?

“That could be. I do not know.”

Soon afterwards came your first band, Trail Of Tears.

“The guys from Trail Of Tears actually met me through the talent-competition that I won. So I went straight from singing in church choirs into singing in a dark metalband. I did not know about metal at all, but I was impressed by the emotions of their music. Sometimes I think that people who do not understand metal are the people who have not been through serious issues in their lives. They simply didn't experience the same pain and anger as most metalfans and musicians went through during their lives. For me metal is the most emotional music that exists.”

The success of Trail Of Tears came quite fast.

“It came really, really fast. We jammed, we wrote songs, I wrote lyrics, and we released a demotape and signed a contract to DSFA Records. Then we went on tour in Europe and played a lot of places including Dynamo Open Air.”

Those tours were your first trips abroad. What was your first impression about the world outside Norway?

“I loved it! I never wanted to go home again after that, I just wanted to stay on the road. On the end of a tour I usually ended up crying because I did not want to return to Norway. Just wanted to keep on playing and staying on the road and meeting people. That is a strange feeling: I do not even know the audiences I meet, but it feels like I have a feeling for them. At the time I still did not have a permanent place in Norway, going back and forth from one place to the other.”

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What was your first impression of our country, the Netherlands?

“I fell in love with this country the first time I was here. I guess I just like weird things, hahaha! But serious: everything about this country is totally different. There is just so much to see and to do. People are more free and are not afraid to be themselves. There is a lot of culture and nice architecture that it is hard to find out what exactly to look too when you are visiting a new place. I remember our first time here, when I said to the tourbus driver that this would definitely be the country that I wanted to move to.”

Why did you move to the Netherlands in 2000?

“I moved to the Netherlands because of the love of a man and because of the love of music. That was soon after I was finished with Trail Of Tears. I did not know how long I would stay here, or where I would stay. Sometime after the relationship and my cooperation with Saharah Dust (now: Epica - Ferdi) ended I found myself going back to Norway again.”

You still returned to the Netherlands a year and a half later in 2002.

“Forming a successful band is much more difficult in Norway. When I realised that I had much better opportunities considering gigs, musicians and record labels in your country, I left Norway for the second time in 2002, this time with nothing but my suitcase and my demo. I didn't have a place to go, but fortunately I knew some people that I could stay with. I lived some time with Michiel Dekker from Monolith Deathcult, who is a good friend of mine. After that I moved around a lot and lived in the houses of boyfriends, good friends and temporarily rented apartments or rooms. I lived all over the Netherlands since I came to Holland for the second time - I have been living in Kampen, Almere, Alkmaar, Brielle and Groningen - moving my stuff back and forth and taking up every job that I could get. I worked picking orders, cleaning toilets, in a disco, cleaning hotel-rooms, working for a DJ, dancing in bars, but it never mattered to me how bad the jobs were. All I needed was money to pay my rent and to eat so I could continue making music here. It wasn't living, it was surviving. Whatever it takes, I'll do it to keep on making music in this country because I realise I have the most opportunities here. I never considered moving back to Norway since I came here for the second time. For me that would be giving in to weakness, to let go of my dream. That is the one thing I cannot do.” And to be on the road is my home. And the audience and band are my family.

While you were living here, you got in touch with Cold Blood Industries (now: Ebony Tears) from Groningen.

“I showed my demo to Robbie Woning from the Aardschok when I was living at Michiel Dekker's place. Robbie said he liked the demo. That was a comforting thought, because I think Robbie is one of the best people in the field and I have a lot of respect for his opinion. After doing interviews with Anita Boel and Metal Mike, and after getting my demo played on the radio, I caught the attention of Cold Blood Industries, who also helped me to get in touch with a number of bandmembers.”

Your mother died while recording the cd. What impact had this on you?

“My mother had a new boyfriend, but little had changed compared to the situation with my father. My mother's new boyfriend started beating her too when he was drunk. At the same time I was in a relationship with a lot of domestic violence too. So she, just like I, was back in the same situation as fifteen years ago. Then one day came on of the worst moments of my life: I received a phone call that my mother was murdered the night before. Her boyfriend was drunk again and they got in a fight. He beat her for three hours straight, ultimately resulting in her death. My whole life changed the day I heard my mother was murdered. The same evening my mother was beaten to death I was beaten by my own boyfriend. I then wanted to get out of my own relationship as soon as possible Her death was a sign to me. When I heard the news the next morning I felt like she was somewhere up there, looking down on me, and telling me: 'Helena, get out of that relationship as fast as possible'. I was truly scared the same thing would happen to me. After some time I made the big decision to leave my boyfriend. I did not know where to go because I didn't have contact anymore with most of my friends, which was caused by my boyfriend's jealousy. But I still was in touch with a couple from Germany who volunteered to help me out. My neighbours helped me moving out all of my belongings while my boyfriend was at work and I moved away to Germany for a couple of weeks. From there I arranged a place to live in Groningen and took some time away from everything to recover mentally.”

band imageAfter that difficult time you concentrated on the recordings of your cd 'The Ancient Dance Of Quetesh', which was already in progress.

“I am so happy with the result. A lot of pain and sadness and hard work went into the production and I hope it shows. I got together a great band with great guys: Steve Woltz on drums, Gerry Verstreken on bass, Jan Yrlund on guitar, John Stam on guitar too and Audun Gronnestad for the orchestration. They are not only amazing musicians but also incredibly nice people. We make a lot of good music together and I can talk to those guys about truly everything. The whole cd is dedicated to my departed mother because she have always supported my dream and wishes for music and because I love her very much.”

What can people expect when they go to see Imperia live?

“A lot of emotions, for starters. A lot of the emotions from my life went into the music of Imperia and I hope that comes across on stage. The emotions are even bigger on stage, because there are five people who channel their sounds and emotions. Sometimes it is so completely intense for me that I am crying on the stage. At the moment I am planning to turn the cd 'The Ancient Dance Of Quetesh' into a musical. I am still arranging it, but the idea is that I will use a number of extra singers and dancers to play out parts of the cd, against the backdrop of moving images. What people have seen so far from us live is only the beginning, as I am planning to turn it into something huge. I do not know when I will put the finishing touches to this, but chances are that the production will premiere during the show in the Heineken Music Hall when we open for Nightwish.”

You might be aware of your image as a sexbomb. Part of this is because of your revealing outfits you wear on pictures and on stage. Do you consciously dress like this to establish your image?

“No I do not. The clothes I wear are part of the person that I am. I could practically go out on the streets or to the metalbar wearing exactly the same things as I wear on stage. The person that you see is the same person you see on stage. I do not think anyone should be able to hide his or her own identity. The clothing that you see me wear on the cover of my cd, for example, weren't chosen because they were revealing. I choose them because they fitted the Arabian atmospheres of the album. I prefer to deliver a cd as one big package and that includes the artwork and the photography. The artwork and booklet of the album are done by Rutger de Vrees, by the way.”

We have been through a lot of experiences in this interview that obviously made a big impact on your life. When people buy your new cd, will they be able to relate the lyrics to the things they have read about?

“In one way of the other, yes. In some songs, like 'Scared For Love', the connection is quite obvious. In others it is less more clear to trace the song back. A lot of the lyrics come from the fantasy world in my head. Some songs have fantasy lyrics that you cannot immediately trace back to a certain event. But if you would look beneath the surface, you could notice that some of the underlying emotions are my. The emotions, the feelings are the same, even though the actual lyrics tell a story that in itself has nothing to do with my life. The song 'Into paradise' is another exception. The song is dedicated to my dead mother. The lyrics are some of the most emotional I have written together with 'Angelchild'.. When I sing the song I usually have tears in my eyes, even on stage. I still believe my mother is looking down on me from somewhere, feeling proud of what I do. I am not a religious person. I do not believe in God, I do not believe in Satan. I do believe in mother nature. I believe in the air we breathe and in the earth we walk upon. I am not a religious person, but I consider myself a spiritual person. Definitely.”

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