Metal Chick of the Month – Amanda Somerville

I hide you, I find you, I catch your fall…  I’ll be there when the lights go out…

She has already been involved with so many distinct bands and projects it feels like she’s a 100-year old veteran in heavy music, when in fact she’s just about to turn 39 years old. I’m talking about the unstoppable American vocalist Amanda Somerville, our metal chick of the month who’s not only a singer and songwriter, but also a vocal coach, being known primarily for her work with several renowned European Symphonic Metal bands such as Edguy, Avantasia, Epica, Kamelot and After Forever, and having also produced two solos albums and two solo EP’s so far, as well as a wide range of more underground acts like Aina, Trillium and Exit Eden. also, there are countless albums and songs from other artists in the world of heavy music where you can find the stunning Amanda delivering her beautiful vocal notes, only proving how professional she is and how much other musicians admire her talent and skills as a vocalist. Having said that, are you ready to get delightfully “lost” in the world of Amanda Somerville?

Born on March 7, 1979 in Flushing, a city in Genesee County in the U.S. state of Michigan, Amanda Somerville, whose full name is Amanda Somerville-Scharf, attended Flushing Senior High School, graduating a full year early and winning a scholarship for graduating with high honors to the University of Michigan in Flint, Michigan, where she majored in psychology. In 1999 she moved from the United States to Wolfsburg, Germany, working mainly in Germany and in the Netherlands. Her voice has a wide range, but she has said herself that her tessitura is in the alto range, and if you have no idea of what that means you can take a quick look at this short and sweet explanatory video HERE. On August 19, 2013, she announced that she was engaged to be married to After Forever’s former guitarist Sander Gommans, and the pair were married in July 2014; less than one year after their marriage, on January 8, 2015, the couple announced they were expecting their first child, who was born on July 17, 2015 and named Lana Elise Gommans, and now in January the couple and little Lana were joined by the identical twins Anya Jayne and Juliet Marlies (and you can expect to hear more from Amanda and her new babies through her official blog).

Amanda has started singing from a very early age in her life, having grown up in a very musical family where music was a very basic and essential part of life. Furthermore, not only she had that influence and inspiration at home, but she mentioned she also had very good music mentors at elementary school, learning how to read music and play the piano at a rather young age. In addition, she said she has always dreamed about becoming a musician, and that’s all she ever wanted to do. For instance, throughout her life she has always performed in talent shows, competitions and concerts, hosting karaoke, singing in cover bands and jazz combos to earn money while she was in university, and even doing some appearances as a DJ. However, albeit being famous worldwide for her participation in several metal bands and projects, Amanda said that when she started her career she was a solo artist directed to the Pop Rock genre with some American folk elements. It was only when she decided to record a single with her bass player and drummer years ago that she met German guitarist, bassist and musical producer Sascha Paeth, who at that time was related to her bass player and owned a recording studio. Both Sascha and German keyboard player and musical producer Michael “Miro” Rodenberg were at the spot, helped them set up everything and listened to them performing, until they asked Amanda if she wanted to do something together with them, opening the doors of heavy music for our stunning diva. And regarding her education in music and arts in general, she said she never really studied music in a formal way, nor was she classically trained in singing. Amanda mentioned that it was her grandmother who taught her how to read music and gave her the basic foundation that she still uses for composing until today. Furthermore, as a vocal coach she was able to work with several distinguished musicians, always being open to learn from her students and to face new challenges they might bring her, therefore growing as a musician and as a person.

Trying to list every single band and project Amanda was or is still involved in Heavy Metal might be one of the toughest tasks one can try to accomplish, as she has already written and recorded with several renowned acts like the ones mentioned in the beginning of this essay about our gorgeous American vocalist, as well as her solos releases (which by the way were primarily soft and elegant Pop Rock with some Hard Rock, folk and soul music influences) and a rock opera, among other distinct endeavors. Let’s start with her solo career, with the releases of the albums In the Beginning There Was… (2000) and Windows (2008), and the EP’s Blue Nothing (2000) and Never Alone (2003), with her upcoming album Conformity Challenged to be announced soon. You can have a listen at her softer and more graceful side in songs like I Miss America and Puzzling Rapunzel, from her debut album, and Inner Whore and Sometimes, from Windows, but that’s the lightest music you’ll find in this tribute to Amanda, as from now on it’s going to be pure heavy music flowing through her veins and vocals.

Her first venture in metal was her collaboration with German multi-instrumentalist Robert Hunecke-Rizzo (Heavens Gate, Luca Turilli, Kamelot, Rhapsody of Fire), co-writing the rock opera Aina, a Symphonic and Progressive Heavy/Power Metal project featuring a number of guest appearances including Glenn Hughes, Michael Kiske and Candice Night, where the concept and lyrics were written by Amanda herself. There was only one album released under the project, the 2003 opus Days of Rising Doom (which you can listen in its entirety HERE), and don’t expect to see anything new from Aina in the short or even long-term. After Aina, she made a similar collaboration with her husband-to-be Sander Gommans, providing vocals and lyrical concept for HDK (the acronym for Hate Death Kill), a Melodic Death/Gothic Metal project with whom she released the albums System Overload, in 2009, and Serenades of the Netherworld, in 2014. Do you want to bang your head to the music by HDK? Try the songs System Overload and Mortal Zombie, one from each release by the project, and see if you like this more ferocious side of Amanda.

Perhaps her most remarkable project to date is her partnership with the iconic German vocalist Michael Kiske (Helloween, Unisonic) on a musical project entitled Kiske/Somerville, also featuring Primal Fear’s own Mat Sinner on bass and Magnus Karlsson on guitars (who by the way are the two main songwriters of the project), and Czech drummer Veronika Lukešová. In 2010, the project released their debut self-titled album, followed by another full-length release named City of Heroes, in 2015. From their debut installment, you can enjoy on YouTube songs such as Silence and If I Had A Wish, and from City of Heroes you should take a listen at Walk on Water.

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Another very interesting project by Amanda goes by the name of Trillium, a Symphonic Metal band formed in 2011 in the Netherlands (where she currently resides), featuring some of her longtime fellow musicians Sander Gommans, Sascha Paeth and Michael “Miro” Rodenberg, having released in 2011 the full-length album Alloy. She described the music by Trillium as “more like an expedition with my musical family to explore and celebrate the metamorphosis I’ve gone through as an artist over the past several years”, while the name of the band “symbolizes a trinity because things are always showing up in 3s in my environment and there are a number of triads occurring in this project, as well”. And she went on saying that “the name of the album, Alloy, is symbolic and metaphorical. An alloy is a substance composed of two or more metals, or of a metal or metals combined with a non-metal, intimately mixed. It also means standard; quality; fineness and is an admixture, as of good with evil. I’m a Pisces, so I’m all about duality and combining known elements – sometimes opposing each other – to create something different. Though I’ve been working myself further and further into the metal scene, I still always feel the need to add an extra element to make it shine, bling, stand out”. From Alloy, you should check the song Coward, and if you like what you hear you can enjoy the full album HERE.

In 2017, Amanda joined a new project entitled Exit Eden, featuring four female singers from the rock and metal scene from four different countries, those being Clémentine Delauney (Visions of Atlantis, Serenity) from France, Marina La Torraca (Highlight Kenosis, Phantom Elite) from Brazil, newcomer Anna Brunner from Germany, and obviously Amanda Somerville. The band was conceived with the plan “to show the world that almost every classic song can be transformed into a solid metal-rock song”, a concept similar to Finland’s Northern Kings, releasing in 2017 the album Rhapsodies In Black, comprised of 11 metallic versions for some of the biggest pop and rock classics like Rihanna’s Unfaithful, Depeche Mode’s A Question Of Time, Shontelle’s Impossible, Lady Gaga’s Paparazzi, Backstreet Boys’ Incomplete, and Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse Of The Heart, with the stunning Dutch goddess Simone Simons also appearing in two songs of the album, Madonna’s Frozen, Adele’s Skyfall.

Apart from all those bands and projects, Amanda has also been involved with several iconic acts either live or as a guest musician in some of their studio albums. For instance, in 2008, she toured America with Dutch Symphonic Metal icons Epica, while Simone Simons recovered from a staph infection; she was also one of the live guest vocalists for Tobias Sammet’s metal opera Avantasia world tours in 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2016, where she performed both backing vocals and lead vocals for a few songs; she was featured on Douglas R. Docker’s space metal opera Docker’s Guild in 2012 in a duet with Goran Edman on the debut album The Mystic Technocracy – Season 1: The Age of Ignorance, and again in 2016 in the Flash Gordon Suite on the album The Heisenberg Diaries – Book A: Sounds of Future Past; and also played the part of the “Queen of the Nile” in an album titled The Book of Gates, by a metal opera project from the Middle-East named EON, produced by Lebanese guitarist Amadeus Awad. And the list goes on and on with Amanda lending her beautiful voice to several interesting songs recorded by bands like After Forever, Edguy, Lunatica, Serenity, Wolfpakk, Shaman, DesDemon, Hollow Haze, Sebastien, Soulspell, and many, many others.

When asked about her experience working with several renowned artists such as Alice Cooper, Ian Gillan and Eric Martin due to her role in projects like Rock Meets Classic and Avantasia, Amanda answered that working with all those metal icons is always a pleasure for her, as she always enters a new situation or project with a very open mind and loves to be surprised by those artists, not to mention she also said most of them are amazing human beings. In addition, when asked which musician or artist she would love to work with in the future, Amanda mentioned some important names in music such as John Fogerty, the mastermind behind Creedence Clearwater Revival; Grace Slick, an American musician and former model, widely known in Rock N’ Roll history for her role in San Francisco’s burgeoning psychedelic music scene in the 60’s, being the voice of bands like Jefferson Airplane and Starship; and as a solo artist she would also love to work with Paul Simon and Tori Amos. As you can see although those musicians listed by Amanda are not your regular metal icons, they do have a huge influence on countless metal artists and bands from different styles, proving once again heavy music is not and can never be isolated from the rest of the world of music.

Regarding her inspirations for her music and lyrics and her full creative process, Amanda said she doesn’t really have a “normal process” as far as songwriting goes, with her songs beginning sometimes as a chorus or a verse, sometimes as just the lyrics with the body of the composition coming later, and sometimes the song will come to her from start to finish in its entirety. She complemented by saying that as a songwriter, the lyrics are of extreme importance to her, and that her songs are always very emotional because she doesn’t believe in writing or performing anything that can’t make people feel along with her. All her songs are personal-based, talking about human struggles and relationships, whether it was something she went through, a dream, or inspired by someone or something, and all being “little windows” into the innermost workings of Amanda Somerville.

Last but not least, apart from all her projects and adventures in music in general, Amanda still found some time in June 2014 to be part of a German television show named Keep Your Light Shining, which aired from the end of May to June 2014 by ProSieben, singing the song Addicted To You by Avicii (and you can also see her personal message about the show HERE). She said she accepted the challenge because she enjoys getting out of her comfort zone, pushing herself to her own limits. However, the show had to make some special arrangements for her due to her touring schedule and other details, as she was only able to join their third show. Many people asked her why she was doing that, because she didn’t need it, but she said she actually wanted to participate on the show as a new experience for her. Moreover, despite the final result not being very positive for her, she said she wasn’t sad or anything like that as in the end she was the only member with a career while some of the others went backstage and cried their hearts out. What’s next for Amanda Somerville? Now with the twins she will probably take some time off from all her endeavors in heavy music, but I’m sure it won’t take long for us metalheads to have the pleasure of listening to her beautiful voice once again accompanied by some flammable guitar riffs and headbanging beats in another ass-kicking song, band or project.

Amanda Somerville’s Official Facebook page
Amanda Somerville’s Official Twitter
Amanda Somerville’s Official Instagram
Amanda Somerville’s Official YouTube channel

“I’ve never really been able to force a song. I don’t believe in doing anything contrived, especially when it comes to songwriting. I think it’s a blasphemy to one’s art. Music is my emotional outlet and I let it take me wherever it leads.” – Amanda Somerville

Metal Chick of the Month – Marjolaine Bernard

Behind shivering drops of my soul… Dancing under a dry sky the void’s pouring inside…

Let’s take a flight to Paris, the capital and most populous city of France, where among several activities and attractions you can visit the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum and the Notre Dame Cathedral, or simply find a traditional French café on the famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées to enjoy a nice, traditional croissant. If you’re a metalhead, there are also some excellent metal pubs and venues for you to go, such as Le Black Dog, James Hetfeeld’s and Le Cavern, and if you’re lucky enough you might enjoy a live concert by Wildpath, a female-fronted Symphonic Power Metal band formed in Paris in 2001 where, since 2008, our metal chick of the month has been giving life to their lyrics. I’m talking about French vocalist Marjolaine Bernard, a very talented and young musician who will certainly attract the attention of fans of melodic female voices like Floor Jansen and Tarja Turunen.

Born on June 4, 1983, Marjolaine started in the world of music at a very young age, first with the piano, then by joining a choir after watching a children’s concert, and since then she has never stopped singing. Furthermore, our French girl has been singing metal for a long time, being part of different small independent bands as a teenager and being clearly inspired by names like Floor and Tarja. However, Marjolaine stated that, despite Floor and Tarja (among other renowned vocalists) still being a reference to her, they’re not necessarily what she listens to nowadays and she doesn’t see herself as a Symphonic Metal singer, but just as a musician among other musicians trying to work with her voice in the best way possible, always in line with the music being played.

Marjolaine and her bandmates from Wildpath draw inspiration to create their music from several distinct sources, from electro to reggae, from metal to ambient music, like a giant melting pot. Furthermore, she mentioned she loves movie scores and soundtracks, being highly influenced by amazing composers such as Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman, also getting ideas from music from video games. She said that metal is a style where you’re allowed to let go with musical expressions and experimentations, and that’s the path that’s being constantly explored by the band in recent years. Forging elements from rock, metal, electro, folk, symphonic and traditional music, always caring for harmony and energy, Wildpath are a band in continuous evolution, and Marjolaine’s voice is exactly what the music needs to become more lively and appealing, as you’ll see below when we talk about her career with the band.

However, before Wildpath, there was Ad Vitam Aeternam, which is Latin for “To (or Towards) Eternal Life”, a Melodic Gothic Metal band formed in 1999 in Paris with whom Marjolaine played until 2005. She recorded the album Abstract Senses with Ad Vitam Aeternam in 2004, that being the only official release by the band since their inception. You can take a listen at the entire album HERE, or also enjoy individual songs from the album such as Dementia and In The Throes of Apocalypse, always paying attention to how different the music style by Ad Vitam Aeternam was from Wildpath, which only shows how versatile Marjolaine is as a vocalist.

It was in the year of 2008 that she finally joined Wildpath, which as already mentioned was formed back in 2001 by keyboardist Alexis Garsault and guitarist Olivier Caron in Paris, having released their debut album Nyx Secrets in 2005 (without Marjolaine on vocals, obviously). After Marjolaine became the lead singer for Wildpath, the band released three full-length albums, Non Omnis Moriar in 2009 (which by the way had its name inspired by the Odes by Roman lyric poet Horace and means “I shall not all die” or “not all of me will die”), Underneath in 2011 and Disclosure in 2015, as well as a very special release featuring acoustic versions of tracks from previous albums in 2016, titled Still – Acoustic Live Experience. You can get a very good taste of how smooth and tuneful Marjolaine’s vocals are in songs such as Petrichor, The Raven, Absentia, Confined and Excinere, listen to the entire albums Disclosure and Underneath, enjoy the acoustic versions from Still for the songs Everlasting Wish and Unborn, or also have fun with Marjolaine and the others with two live “studio” versions for the songs Buried Moon and Secret’s Case.

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If you prefer Wildpath live in front of a bunch of metalheads, I recommend this 2012 version of Buried Moon and Dive live at Le Grand Rex in Paris during the IronSquid StarCraft 2 World Championship Finals, as well as Non Omnis Moriar live in Eloyes, France in 2010; Unborn and Ghost Memories live at Le Divan Du Monde in Paris in 2015; or even this full concert  in 2012 during a mini-festival named Metal Symphonic Quest II in Tours, a city located in the centre-west of France. The festival also had the bands Adrana, Lost Opera, Roman Rouzine The Tria and Eidon, but it was Wildpath who headlined the night. And if you think you need to go all the way to France to watch Wildpath live, you’re wrong, as in 2016 the band played their first gig in the UK at The Quinphonic Festival 2 at The Roadhouse Birmingham. How far do you think Marjolaine and Wildpath can go?

As a guest musician, Marjolaine was part of the only album released by French Melodic Heavy/Power Metal band Silent Fall, entitled Otherwise, from 2010, doing choir vocals in the whole album and main female vocals on the song This Could Have Been. If you’re curious to know how she was invited to be part of the album, the answer is quite simple. Olivier Caron, Wildpath’s own guitarist, was also the lead guitarist for Silent Fall, making it a lot easier for Marjolaine to add her vocals to their music in an effective and exciting way.

When asked about her favorite song of all time, including all types of music and eras, her answer was quite unique, citing the classic Sanvean: I Am Your Shadow (or simply Sanvean) by the iconic Australian musical project Dead Can Dance, featured on their first official live album Toward the Within, released in 1994, an album that contains 15 songs, of which only four appeared on their previous albums. Sanvean was later re-recorded by one of the masterminds behind Dead Can Dance, Lisa Gerrard, on her 1995 solo album The Mirror Pool. In regards to heavy music, her first rock album was the classic Angels Fall First, the debut studio album by Finnish Symphonic Metal band Nightwish. With cult songs such as Elvenpath, Beauty and the Beast and Astral Romance, it’s easy to understand why Marjolaine fell in love for Symphonic Metal, right?

Marjolaine was also questioned about her favorite or best moments as an artist, and albeit she said there have been already lots of amazing memories with Wildpath, one of her favorite experiences was a concert with a “quatour” (a special form of string quartet that developed in Paris around 1775 and became one of the leading genres of Parisian music until the French Revolution) and a choir at La Scène Bastille, saying that seeing a symphony coming alive was truly fantastic. In addition, she also listed as one of her favorite moments when the band played with French progressive guitarist Patrick Rondat, and lastly the band’s famous performance in 2015 at Le Divan du Monde.

As previously mentioned, among her main influences we’ll find names such as Floor and Tarja, with Floor in particular being a huge inspiration for Marjolaine as she’s one of the few contemporary female singers who can combine lyrical songs with very dynamic rock vocals in a precise manner. However, out of the metal and rock scene, her favorite singer is Lisa Gerrard, who apart from her work with Dead Can Dance was also responsible for several other renowned projects, including a Golden Globe Award for the music score to the film Gladiator, on which she collaborated with Hans Zimmer.

Another interesting fact about Marjolaine is that her stage outfit is created by one of her students, who proposed to create special clothes tailored for their live performances, working with the band’s colors and adding her own personal touch to the creations. That stylist is from a company called Le Paon, a new brand from the independent French scene. Marjolaine and the stylist collaborate with each other in the creation of the outfits, first discussing new ideas orally and then working together on drawings and other details, until the stylist begins working on the whole realization of the clothes. One of her first new looks debuted at the concert at Le Divan du Monde in 2015, and in her opinion it was already a great evolution from her previous costumes.

Lastly, when asked about places or regions she would like to play with Wildpath, Marjolaine answered she would love to go to Brittany (a cultural region in the north-west of France) because she has family there, or also other French cities such as Lyon. Outside of France, she mentioned Belgium, Switzerland and Luxemburg as countries she would love to visit with her band, as well as other more distant places like Japan and South America, but that the high cost of playing in those places make the trip almost impossible, at least for now. It’s interesting that she didn’t mention the United States or Canada on her list, two major markets for heavy music, in special our French-speaking province of Quebec here in Canada. Well, let’s hope she just “forgot” to mention Canada, and that one day we have the pleasure of seeing Wildpath kicking ass live in our home and native land.

Marjolaine Bernard’s Official Facebook page
Marjolaine Bernard’s Official Twitter
Wildpath’s Official Facebook page
Wildpath’s Official Twitter
Wildpath’s Official YouTube