Raymond Westland of The Midlands Rocks recently conducted an interview with AVATARIUM singer Jennie-Ann Smith. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
The Midlands Rocks: Can you start by telling how you become involved with AVATARIUM?
Jennie-Ann Smith: AVATARIUM started out as a project from Leif Edling (CANDLEMASS) and Mikael Åkerfeldt (OPETH). Unfortunately, Mikael wasn't able to really commit himself due to time constraints. Marcus Jidell (EVERGREY) was also involved with the project. He has a studio in Stockholm, so he and Leif started to work on some demos. At some point they needed someone to lay down some vocals and they gave me a call. They liked what I sang for them on "Lady In The Lamb" and "Moonhorse" and they asked me to join the group. At first, they were looking for a male vocalist, but Marcus couldn't think of anyone who would fit the profile, so he approached me and the rest is history, as they say. [laughs]
The Midlands Rocks: They were actively seeking someone with a blues/classic rock background…
Jennie-Ann Smith: Yes, they were really looking for someone with a blues/classic rock background. Leif and Marcus worked with a couple of male vocalists from the metal genre, but they didn't really suit the music for AVATARIUM. I come more from a jazz and blues background, so singing that sort of material comes very natural to me. The marriage of their song material and my musical background is a very harmonious one. I'm really happy about it.
The Midlands Rocks: Most of the material for the album was already written before you came into the picture. How much room did you get to put your mark on the music?
Jennie-Ann Smith: As far as the vocals, I got a lot of freedom from Leif and the others to work with the music as I saw and felt it. In the beginning, I had some preconceived notions of how the music and vocals should sound like, but in order to get the best results, you really need to let all the possible stereotypes about a certain kind of music go and approach it with an open mind. When I got in the right mindset, things went very smooth. Within the band, all members have a very different musical background and taste in music. That really helps us to inspire each other and try out different things. The AVATARIUM record is something that we really wanted to make without any pressure or possible expectations from the outside world. When you're true to yourself and you make the sort of music you like, others will pick it up soon enough.
The Midlands Rocks: Honestly, I'm very surprised you're not well-known, because of your considerable vocal talent. Did you receive any formal training?
Jennie-Ann Smith: Well, I've been singing since early age and I'm active as a freelance musician here in Stockholm from time to time. I've studied music for some years, before I enrolled into university to study psychotherapy. As a dayjob, I work three days in one of the major hospitals here. Otherwise I like to keep myself occupied with music that really makes me feel good and that goes double for AVATARIUM. [laughs]
The Midlands Rocks: There's also an acoustic version of BLACK SABBATH's "War Pigs" on the "Moonhorse" EP. Whose idea was that?
Jennie-Ann Smith: It was actually my idea. We needed a bonus track for the EP. We discussed multiple songs, but we settled for a song by BLACK SABBATH. It made perfect sense to us because BLACK SABBATH is one of the heritage bands for doom metal. With female vocals the track became more interesting, because it hasn't been done that much before. I think our version turned out quite well. The other day I read a review in which the author wrote that he prayed to Tony Iommi that I wouldn't use operatic vocals in that song. I think that's funny, because many people have this preconception that female vocalists only use opera-styled vocals in metal. With AVATARIUM, we do quite something different in that regard. [laughs]
Read the entire interview at The Midlands Rocks.