Hydra is a super production: expensive video clips, guests, big photo sessions – how did you come up with its idea and business plan?
Sharon: It always starts with just writing the songs. Then we see what the album needs, what would be nice to do. That was the starting point. Then we came with all the ideas on how to make the songs sound the best possible. And then we made a list of the people we really like and we just asked them to join. We make videos every time but it doesn’t always have to cost a lot of money. People we work with are mostly artists themselves so we always have a team of very creative people working together. In the end, of course, it is a big production and takes a lot of team work to have it all done.

photo: V Spectrum

When was the moment you said: „Ok, that’s it, that’s Hydra. Nothing is missing anymore”?
Martijn: It’s always a difficult choice. It’s like with an artist and a painting. If you ask an artist when the painting is finished, it is never finished actually. We could’ve easily written 3 or 4 more years for this album. It’s difficult to call it a day.

S: Yes, absolutely. You need certain basis for the album to be finished. You must feel like the key songs are there – the songs that make the album so special and different. Then you’re done in a way and you can write anything you like, as long as it fits the album, of course, but the foundation has been set. This is the most important thing. Another thing is that an album is an ongoing process. Even now, when it’s out, our work also depends on how well a song – like now for example Whole World Is Watching – is doing. Maybe you can do more things or expand the time you already invested in the song. If people don’t like the song, you go to another one, the next single.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of such a huge project, particularly when you compare it to recording an album only with your bandmates and a producer?
M: I think the moment you start, you work with a few people really. You start from scratch, writing ideas. You work with two or three people and you can easily move around. Later, we do production in which more and more people are involved and if you wanna change something, you have to do small moves. In one or two songs we had some changes in the production so we had to drive back a few steps and redo them again. Working in a big team takes time and more effort. The more people are involved the slower you can move. But of course a lot of choices are made in the beginning when we’re flexible. Sometimes it’s like gambling.

Before releasing Hydra you let your fans listen to some demo tracks and you made a statement that you wanted to „show how you capture song ideas at an early stage of creating a new album…”. Do you always know where you’re going with a song?
M: No. [laughs]
S: At the moment we wrote that, those demos were pretty much how the basis was gonna be. But we still had to do a real recording – add an orchestra or somebody who plays cello. Things can sound differently. We just wanted everybody to hear what it was more or less gonna be. Sometimes songs really change. I think on the song Silver Moonlight was changed a little bit. Let Us Burn was the only one we had the real vocals already on for the album. But you can still hear some differences. That demo was to take everyone on a little bit of journey to see where we were going finally and what the difference is between a demo and the real thing. So these things can really change sometimes and sometimes they’re pretty much the same. It depends on a song.

photo: V Spectrum

Do you like being surprised by the effect?
M: Of course.
S: Yes, of course!
M: Sometimes the song develops in the direction you would’ve never expected. It is like a present.
S: For example, with the song Edge of the World, it started actually as a grunge song with a very basic guitar. And later on it was transformed into a piano ballad and finally it became a very psychedelic song with a lot of new parts into it and also it had guitars and piano that goes all over the place. It was probably the most strange version I’ve heard from A to Z. But also the songs Silver Moonlight and Paradise were ballads at the beginning and we made them up-tempo by making them double tempo. So in the end, they are heavy songs but they were ballads.

Now there is another transformation ahead of you: You worked very long on arranging and producing the songs to sound perfect. Now you have to transform them or re-arrange to perform them on stage. How does this process look like? Do you need to rehearse those songs again?
S: Yes, exactly. It is so different than in the studio. In the studio you play what’s in your head. We really have extremely idiotic solos and the guys have to practice that. After a few shows they will be able to play it without blinking, probably. They won’t need practicing them anymore.

photo: V Spectrum

Can you make any sound you hear in your mind real?
S: No, I can’t. Sometimes I have an idea and everybody looks at me with big eyes. „Ok, what kind of music do you want here?” I’m like: „I hear it in my head! I hear it in my head – it’s like lalalalala”, and they are like: „whatever Sharon, go and write the song yourself”. [laughs] Mostly it works when we are working together. We all try to tell each other what we are thinking about a song – we say: „Ok, play a little bit like this blablabla”, and then another person goes: „yes, but you can try a little bit slower tempo”, and maybe it fits with the rhythm that you have in your mind.
M: Most of the times, we start with listening to music, just to get inspiration, to get in the mood or something. And also a lot of times the mood that you have when you start the session, for example when something happens or anything that you read or see in the news, can affect you and influence what you would write that day.
S: Yes. It can be lyrics but it also can be a rhythm or anything. Also many times when you play music by other people, you can try different things you’ve never heard of. You may be surprised by a rhythm of a certain band. You want to try this rhythm. And something totally different comes out of it. You are inspired lyrically by other things or emotionally by other things.

photo: V Spectrum

What’s the thing with Dutch women that they can rule on the metal music scene? No other country has so many rock stars among ladies, I guess.
M: There is something in the water. [laughs]
S: The thing is that when we started – it was like 20 years ago – not only like a Within Temptation but as The Circle which was similar to Within Temptation – we were one of the first bands on this scene. We had success already at that time. People got inspired and started doing more or less the same kind of thing. You see – the more successful the scene is, the more people would be inspired by it. So I think that together with some other bands, we inspired the whole scene.

Do those younger vocalists come to you to say „thanks for inspiring me”? Or do you compete? However, I don’t think you have to…
S: Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. We don’t feel like competing. Even when you are on the same scene, you have your own battles. It is difficult enough to write a good album. You have to believe in your own strength. You have to do what you like. When we write our album, we care just about our album. If that’s better or not – it all depends on your writing skills. If you’re not good enough, you won’t be successful and someone else will have more luck.

Do you like singing a cappella?
S: Sometimes yes. With other vocalists it is very cool.

When I listened to Hydra for the first time, I played it really quiet. I thought that the beginning of Edge of the World was sung a cappella. Later, I turned it up and discovered instruments in the background. But my first thought was: „her voice reminds me of this woman singing The Nightingale in Twin Peaks!”
S: Really? That’s a big compliment. That was one of my favorite series! I really loved that song! Maybe somewhere I was inspired by this. You never know.

Do you sing lullabies?
S: Yes, I do. My youngest son always wants me to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in English. And he sings along so we start singing together. I do a harmony on his vocals and he looks at me and is like „oooh, what is she doing? She’s doing something different, but it’s nice!”. He has a good ear for music. And he wants me to sing at least 20 songs before he sleeps. When I say: „I’m going”, he’s begging for another one. I’m like: „Ok, Ok – we’ll do another one”. It’s blackmail. [laughs]

photo: V Spectrum

How do you maintain the balance between your two lifestyles – being on the road and being a wife and a mom of three?
S: It’s difficult. Martijn also became dad of a son a few weeks ago and he already has a daughter. Everybody in the band has kids, except for Ruud and Jeroen. We all try to juggle between two roles, of course. We’re trying to keep the balance. We’re lucky that our partners can stay at home and take care of the kids. In my case, it is Robert [Westerholt – the band’s guitar player – RA] of course, unfortunately in a way. But it gives me a lot of rest and it can be combined with music. He is still doing all the things that he used to do, except that he is not on stage with us anymore.

Is there anything that people might be surprised to know about you?
S: Do you have any dark kind of hobbies, Martijn? [laughs]
M: Yes, a lot of them. I don’t even dare to say. [laughs]
S: I think that people may not know that Robert is racing cars. I like painting and enjoying life. I play tennis, I love playing tennis!
M: I live among animals in the countryside…
S: He also does a lot of projects with other bands and other stuff. Ruud also has Iron Maiden cover band and he has a symphonic metal band For All We Know. He is also working for the first metal school in the world in Holland. Two weeks later, a UK version came up but it was in the Netherlands where the first metal school was set up. He’s a teacher there. They teach everything about metal. He also works for a rock academy. So he and Martin do a lot of stuff besides Within Temptation, they are involved in so many projects. And I started a jewelry line. At the moment, it is still called a Within Temptation and Gem Kingdom. We work together with Gem Kingdom and it’s fun because I admire them a lot.

photo: V Spectrum
About Karolina Karbownik 107 Articles
Creative soul & metal music nerd. Editor-in-Chief and Journalist with 15 years of experience. Music consultant in the worldwide known lifestyle brand. Deeply interested in new media and cultural science, PhD to be. After hours enjoys horse riding and skiing as well writing novels.