Special report by Maria Nayef
Whether adorned in an ankle-length gown singing a PUCCINI aria, on stage with NIGHTWISH clad in leather, windmilling and wowing audiences around the globe, or belting out growls on her new album, FLOOR JANSEN has pulled many aces from her sleeve this past year; one she wears her heart on for REVAMP’s sophomore release, Wild Card.
The conservatory-trained soprano, composer and lyricist has garnered much praise and adoration from peers, critics and fans in the metal world, from her eleven years with AFTER FOREVER to her recent highly publicized stint with Nightwish, one that saw her join the Imaginaerum world tour at the eleventh hour last October following the sudden departure of Anette Olzon.
Jansen’s ability to perform Nightwish classics from the operatic TARJA TURUNEN days as well as the more modern anthems made popular by Olzon, not only with ease but by adding her own personal flair, saw her show with the Finnish symphonic metallers at Wacken Open Air last month recorded in order to be released as a DVD/BluRay. In the official press release, Tuomas Holopainen referred to Jansen as Nightwish’s “darling flying Dutchwoman” announcing her incredible journey with the band would be “immortalized.”
Despite the accolades Jansen refuses to become complacent, and Wild Card sees her pushing the boundaries, not only of her own musical capabilities, but those of how a symphonic metal band (who happens to be fronted by a female) should sound. Wild Card is a rich and diverse ensemble of songs and a multilayered production that delves into new territory for 32-year-old Jansen, an artist who is constantly evolving.
“That was part of the idea behind this record,” Jansen says, “let’s make something using the same ingredients, but shake them up into a different cocktail and try to come up with something that sounds relatively new and fresh: bring something modern to the table.”
As I’m speaking to Jansen she is at her home surrounded by and sorting through the various merchandise making its way to the backers of ReVamp’s successful Kickstarter campaign. It raised over $19,000 to help get the band on the road to showcase their new songs. Jansen is also fresh off ReVamp’s try-out show a few nights before where the new songs were performed in a live setting for the first time. “It was pretty good considering I haven’t been on stage with ReVamp for years,” she reflects. “The album is very, very tricky to play (live) and for me also vocally there are a lot of new things I’ve never done.”
One of those things is the growls she performs on the record, a vocal challenge she chose to take on in order to “add a little more colour” to her expression. She “almost” enjoyed performing them live, she laughs, adding that the experience was still new, not only for her, but also for the ReVamp fans in attendance. “You could see the audience was also a bit ‘woah!’ so it was a whole new experience, but I think it was a pretty good start,” she says.
Jansen chose the title Wild Card for the new ReVamp record, one she calls her heaviest effort to date, to define the unpredictability and diversity of the songs, and the cover sees Jansen portraying two opposing sides of the Queen of Hearts. “It visualises the elements within the music. One side is softer, rounder, more melodic, more romantic, more nice. The other is raw and aggressive,” she says.
After enduring a long and debilitating burnout in 2011, Jansen openly shares that experience on Wild Card and the album features three songs intrinsically linked to that time. The first, The Anatomy Of A Nervous Breakdown: On The Sideline, jumpstarts the album with a vibrant vigor that embodies the versatility of music and vocals featured on the album. The second, The Anatomy Of A Nervous Breakdown: The Limbic System, despite the heavy and violent vibe of the music, sees Jansen’s elegant vocals soaring powerfully and triumphantly above it. The third, The Anatomy Of A Nervous Breakdown: Neurasthenia features a high-profile guest in DEVIN TOWNSEND, and Jansen was more than pleased to once more collaborate with the distinguished Canadian. “I was super happy indeed because for me Devin stands for versatility, and he has the kind of voice that can do anything. He really gave a little bit of himself in that song, so I was really, really happy,” she says.
Another special guest on Wild Card is former After Forever band mate, EPICA’s Mark Jansen, on the track Misery’s No Crime. The song brings a nostalgic feel to the record, with Mark taking over the rough vocals while Floor leads the operatic choruses and emotionally recounts the grief and disappointment that troubled her during her burnout. Despite the personal stamp on the songs on Wild Card, also felt on the powerful and evocative track 'Nothing' Jansen was not apprehensive about being so honest about such a private experience.
“If you read my lyrics throughout my past, I think there are more open and personal lyrics. I’ve always written about things that I think about or have happened in my life, but this time so much had happened in my own life that I couldn’t ignore, and I just wrote more about it. My style of writing became more direct, not necessarily more personal, more ‘in your face’ and I think that’s why the lyrics may seem more personal than before,” she says.
Jansen is evidently a woman who is in great shape and is extremely fit, known for her high-energy moves on stage while delivering her exquisite trademark vocals. “Well I don’t practice windmilling, I’ve just always done it I guess and maybe during the years I’ve gotten more experience,” she laughs. “I watch what I eat and work out to stay in shape and to stay in good condition, to not get out of breath and to not get sick.”
Responding to my question about the pros and cons of being the only woman in a band of five men, Jansen says she wouldn’t know, for she’s always been in that particular scenario. “I’ve always only been the only girl,” she says, “I don’t consider myself any different than the guys because I’m a woman.” Within specific regards to women in metal, I ask Jansen for her thoughts about commentary in the media by female writers claiming women in metal are only sex symbols, remain under-appreciated and do not have the respect of their male counterparts.
“In all honesty that sounds very arrogant maybe,” Jansen responds. “There are a lot of not-so-good bands and not-so-good singers who fight for their right just out of this feministic thing, but it starts with good music, and it starts with good singing, and the appreciation comes afterwards.
“I’ve been doing this for 14 years, I’ve always been a girl amongst guys, I’ve never made a big issue out of it. It might be that you have different routines or needs, but that doesn’t mean you’re a complete alien amongst men. If you see yourself from that perspective, the guys will start seeing you like that as well. I’ve never had the feeling I’m not appreciated, nor have I had the feeling that it has always been about the way I look,” she says.
This type of sentiment towards women in metal agitates Jansen a little, for she believes that focussing on gender rather than the music will not equate to respect. “If all women keep emphasizing that there is a big difference between females and men in metal, that’s not getting to an equal position – that’s emphasizing differences. Like I said before, I’m a girl in metal, the only difference is I’m a lady, I have boobs and I don’t have penis. And sure, there are more differences, but by dividing the female and male worlds – even by using the name 'female fronted metal' – says nothing about the music, nothing about the singing or the quality of it, and I think it should start with that.”
Jansen says she has never bowed to pressure to look a certain way, and as for ever having encountered any sexism in her profession, she responds: “Of course, there is some, yeah, there are always rotten apples in a basket.
“It all depends how you position yourself, and that goes for men too: if you act professional or slutty – and if someone mistakes your behaviour for something else, you can tell them, you address the problem. I’ve never been slutty or been around just to get laid – I’m around because I like to sing and because I’m good at it, and I’ve been in successful bands and I know my business,” she says.
To any ladies who aspire to have a career in metal, Jansen offers this advice: “Just pick up your confidence, be good at what you do, ignore the rotten apples in the basket and focus on the rest of the basket. You should always stay true to yourself – do whatever ‘you’ like. You know if you want to go super feministic in a male dominated world, hey go ahead, I don’t think you’ll have much reaction. But if you cooperate and if you stand for who you are and you ignore sexism if it’s there – and like I said, it’s barely been there in my perspective – that’s because I don’t look like the kind of girl to play around with.”
For Jansen, remaining a singer in the metal genre is all about the music. “I like the music and I like the world I’m in as a musician, the way that we work, get to travel, it might be a cliché, but it’s really the music that talks. It keeps me going and makes me want to do this.” Jansen also believes the success and future of metal musicians in the ever-evolving music industry lies in the quality of the music. “The bands, whether female or male fronted, that stick to the concept and make really good music, will be the ones that get big and stay big, and grow bigger,” she says. “I think that is the most important lesson that I’ve learned throughout the last years.”
Later this month Jansen will appear at the Female Metal Dream Fest-II in Russia and the Metal Female Voices Fest 2013 in Belgium in October. ReVamp will join KAMELOT as special guests on their Silverthorn European tour in November.
Visit Revamp at Revampmusic.com
Visit Nightwish at Nightwish.com
(Live photos by Maria Nayef)