In 2022, Europe enjoyed the first tour ever of Two Steps From Hell, featuring Merethe Soltvedt, epic vocalist and main singer, better known as “the voice of TSFH” for her extensive involvement in their albums and concerts.
Last year, Josep Ferre and Gorka Oteiza attended the tour and met her in person in Paris. Recently, they had the chance to speak with Merthe about her career and her projects, and bring you this very interesting interview exclusively for SoundTrackFest, where she talked of her beginnings, her involvement with Two Steps From Hell, her career as a vocalist/guitarist/recording session artist and composer, her live concerts with TSFH and their new tour in 2023, her EP “Life is a dream” with Moe Espinosa, and many more interesting things.
We hope you will enjoy this interview, as much as we did!
Hi Merethe! Thank you very much for taking some time to talk to SoundTrackFest. The truth is that it’s been a while since we were with you on the Two Steps From Hell tour in 2022 in Paris. ¡Two concerts we enjoyed very very much! And there are several new things to talk about since then, so …. If you’re ready, let’s start!
Hi Josep and Gorka, thank you so much for having me! It was great meeting you both on tour as well!
First of all, we would like to talk a little bit about you and your career… What is your first musical memory? Is there any moment that you remember saying, “yes, this is what I like, I want to be a musician”… Is there any life experience that has marked you to take this path?
Hmmm, my first musical memory… I know I sang all the time as a kid, long before I could even talk, and I remember my mom playing acoustic guitar to my favorite children’s songs. We even have a recording from when I was 3 years old, mom on guitar, me singing, my two brothers playing their toy guitars, and dad recording and being the audience.
When I was a little older, like 5 or 6, my dad would give me his Elvis vinyl 45’s (singles), and I would play them over and over and sing along. That’s how I started learning English.
There wasn’t really any specific “YES” moment. Music and singing was always the most important thing in my life, and I wrote my first song (in English) when I was around 11 years old. I performed it in front of the whole school! That was before I got stage fright… (When I was home visiting family and friends earlier this year, a classmate found the original lyrics I wrote for that song!! I’m gonna frame it haha)
A few years later I started playing acoustic guitar with my oldest brother. I kept writing songs, bought an electric guitar, and formed a rock band where I was the lead guitarist. At that point, stage fright kept me from singing anything but backup vocals. It took years for me to get over that!
I knew for sure that music was my true love from when I was eight or nine years old, and The Eurovision Song Contest had a huge impact on me, but it wasn’t until Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill came out that something clicked for me. From that moment on it was the only job I wanted.
What would you be doing now if you did not dedicate yourself to music? Do you see yourself as a… let’s imagine… teacher, engineer, painter, baker, lawyer…
My formal training is Pre-School teacher, but if I had another lifetime to dedicate to something other than music, it would be to work in Africa at animal rescue centers helping baby elephants, rhinos, and other animals get ready to go back to live in the wild. I would probably sing to them though 😉
Two Steps From Hell – TSFH has been a turning point in your career, but before you got there, tell us, what were the beginnings like? I suppose it wasn’t easy to start a musical career like yours living in Bergen/Norway, was it? What were the challenges you had to face?
Before there was TSFH, I was a Singer-Songwriter (still am), writing and recording my own music, printing CD’s, making music videos, and playing shows, corporate gigs, and festivals, but I didn’t really make any real money from that. Just barely enough to get by, and sometimes I’d take part-time temp work to make ends meet. I had great support from friends and family, and I am very proud of the things I created and got to experience! One of my challenges was (and is) that I am stubborn, and I want to do things my way. This made me turn down opportunities that might have helped my career in the long run, but I felt they were trying to control me and my music, so I chose “the hard way”. I still won’t compromise when it comes to my music, so I am still doing things the hard way I guess.
How did you get into the world of Two Steps From Hell? What memories do you have of the beginnings together?
Thomas J. Bergersen and I were introduced through mutual friends/music producers we were both working with on separate projects. They asked if he had ever considered adding a female voice to his own music, he asked if they had anyone in mind, and that’s how we were connected. This was in 2005, before there was TSFH, and before high-speed internet, so CD’s were sent via snail mail, and conversations were held over the phone (landline!!), since we lived in different cities. This was a bizarre introduction to the epic orchestral world, but it felt strangely natural to me, and it has since then colored my musical expression deeply. It’s also fun to know that I sing on the very first Two Steps From Hell Industry Releases. I have actually lost count of how many songs and albums I am on.
In 2013 the first Two Steps From Hell concert is celebrated in L.A. What was the experience like? How do you prepare for that “first” foray into live performances with TSFH’s music? It has to be very different from working in the studio…
The concert in Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the time leading up to it is a bit of a blur for me. There was a lot of stress just getting the right Visa for me to be allowed to even enter the country and perform. On stage during soundcheck, we had some technical issues with monitoring that weren’t fixed by the end of dress rehearsal/soundcheck. I was terrified of having to perform without hearing what I was singing, and as we were standing backstage getting ready to start the show, I remember Thomas telling me; “If there’s ONE thing you know, it’s that you can sing!” He was right, so I took a deep breath, and when I sang the first note of the night, I found out that they had fixed the monitoring. The relief was huge! The rest of the show was a surreal experience, I couldn’t believe it was actually happening, and I remember that when we were done and still on stage saying thank you and good night, I asked Petr Pololanik (the conductor) if we could please just play the whole thing again right away. Knowing that people flew in from all over the world was mind-blowing, and I remember being joyously exhausted the next day.
Also, the biggest two adaptions for me singing live as opposed to in a studio, is that:
1) on stage I actually have to breathe. When recording in the studio, I can “cheat” and overlap takes so that breaths are taken out.
2) in the studio I can do a melody line over and over until it’s perfect. Live I only have that one shot = scary!
Then it’s quite some time until your next live concert with TSFH, held in 2018 in Prague. That was the first official concert in Europe of Two Steps From Hell’s music, although on that occasion, only with Thomas Bergersen. SoundTrackFest was there and wrote about it (read more) How was the preparation for those concerts? What memories do you have of them and of the festival?
I remember being very grateful that they let me arrive in Prague a few days early to recover from jet-lag, as that affects me pretty badly. That also meant I had some time to explore the beautiful city of Prague. Preparations leading up to the concerts for me were super hectic as I was finishing up my own full-length album “First Hand” with my Rogues, did a music video shoot for a song I was a guest artist on for a band named Daily Basis, and I had just had a huge Movie Trailer Placement for the Steven Spielberg movie “Ready Player One” with the song “Come With Me”, which meant doing more promotional stuff etc.
I also remember being a bit worried about doing two shows in one day, as the songs require some vocal gymnastics, and TSFH has some hardcore fans who know all the songs better than I do, and I did not want to disappoint. That day was purely for the fans. They are incredible, and I hope their expectations were met. As for rehearsals and preparations, I am glad I have only myself to worry about. Petr Pololanik and Thomas took care of the music.
And now let’s jump to your first official Two Steps From Hell live tour in Europe, which took place in 2022, after several postponements since 2020, due to the pandemic (read more). It must have been very exciting to finally get on stage, after so many months of waiting! Tell us how was this experience. How was that first tour lived from the inside?
This was my very first time on tour at any capacity, so I found it quite stressful with lots of moving parts, lots of traveling, and not always enough rest, but it was all worth it once I got on stage and got to connect with the audience. That part is pure bliss every time. They even made me cry in the middle of my performance of “Remember Me” one time, because they all pulled out their cellphone-torches and lit up the room so beautifully. I had tears running down my face, and was seriously struggling to not go into full on cry-mode. Due to COVID still hanging over us, I couldn’t be as available after the shows as I would’ve liked, but I did get to meet some people in person, and that always fills my heart to the rim. Also, I have the BEST Patreon Tribe, and I got to meet some of them in person. Since this was the first tour, it was sort of like a test run. I learned a lot, and will be much better prepared for the next one!
By the way, Kamila Nývltová sang at the Prague concerts, and then accompanied you on your European tour.
Yes, Kamilla is such a beautiful creature with lots of great energy. We didn’t talk much in Prague, because of the language barrier, but she did teach me a make-up trick I still use 🙂 Her English has improved so much since 2018, so it was great to get to know her better on the tour.
The new TSFH tour kicks off in August 2023 with a concert at W:O:A – Wacken On Air, the famous German metal festival. A festival with tickets sold out shortly after they went on sale. What a way to start the tour, strong and in style!
That is going to be beyond EPIC! I come from a hard rock/metal background and like I mentioned earlier I used to play lead guitar in a rock band, so this is something I am really looking forward to. I saw quite a few “metal heads” in the audience on tour, so I’m not super surprised that TSFH is found worthy of W:O:A.
I have recently created a Secret FaceBook Group where those who sign up via my website get access to my preparations for this WACKEN festival show. I’ll post videos and photos, we’ll do Livestreams, T-Shirt giveaways, behind the scenes from when we’re in Germany, and a Zoom Hang Out probably when I have returned to LA. This is already rolling since preparations are in full swing! Fun stuff!!
Could you tell us something about this second TSFH Live tour in 2023 (read more), which will revisit some of the main European cities? Things that you can anticipate and that the team is working on (new songs, stage changes, guest artists, etc…)?
I don’t know a lot, other than that the venues will be bigger, we’ll be more experienced, and I believe some of the songs will be switched out, but I don’t know which. I know that I will be better equipped to handle the general stress of touring, so I’ll be able to enjoy the journey more, and maybe I even get to see more of the cities we visit, and meet more of the TSFH fans.
And now let’s change the subject. You are known worldwide for being the voice of “Two Steps From Hell”, but your career is very extensive. What other projects that you have done or participated in would you like to highlight?
I’ve been recording and releasing my own music for 20 years, so if you were to stop by my Spotify page or any other digital platform, my discography is quite eclectic. I play guitar, piano, and percussion. I compose and record music in my own studio, and collaborate with other composers, songwriters, and producers in addition to being a session vocalist for composers. My latest single “You Are Not Alone” was released on December 1st of 2022, and it is performed, recorded, and rough-mixed by me, and my friend Rick Clark brought it to the finish line.
Some people may not know that I am also a virtual instrument. I recorded vocals for a sample library – “Jaeger” by Audio Imperia, so my voice can be played on a midi-keyboard. I will never get used to hearing that 🙂
I also have my own online store on Redbubble where I create Print-On-Demand digital art for merchandise. Both cover art and other fun things. It’s a different form of creative outlet for me, and I’m having a lot of fun with it. One of the best things about it is that I donate 30% of my net revenue to three of my favorite organizations that help heal the planet. One that cleans the ocean, one that plants trees, and one that helps regenerate soil to improve our source of nutritious food.
Another fun way for me to connect with my supporters is my Patreon Tribe. Patreon is a platform where people can support their favorite artists through a monthly subscription. I offer exclusive content, like unreleased songs, making-of videos, early access, and we do regular Zoom Hang Outs. They also get “behind the scenes” access during the tour and other things I do. It’s a small, but super awesome group of people that I am honored to have as supporters, and who gradually turn into friends.
Other than that I work on so many different projects like Video Games, movies, Movie Trailers, albums, music production libraries and commercials. I love my job!! There are some projects I am not at liberty to discuss, but fun stuff is coming out this year. One project I can mention is an upcoming album with Paul Dinletr, founder and owner of Audiomachine, where I sing on every track. It is currently being mixed and mastered, so fingers crossed it will be announced before long.
There is a very special project we would like to talk about, which has just been released on January 26th, 2023, after many months of work: “Life is a dream” a 4-track EP in collaboration with Moe Espinosa. Tell us a little bit more about this.
Miguel “Moe” Espinosa (Moe), is a prog-metal keyboardist, singer, and composer of Persefone – the Andorran metal band. And if you are now asking; “Andorra?”, it’s a beautiful, so-called micro-state bordering France and Spain. There – you learned something new:)
Moe reached out to me almost eight years ago, asking if I would consider adding vocals to some of their Persefone songs. Being a bit of a metal-head myself, I said yes, and we’ve been friends ever since. He is my brother from another mother.
Seeing as we both work with lots of different genres, and we overlap in the orchestral world, we wanted to combine our styles of songwriting and composing, and the EP “Life is a Dream” is the result of this blending process. We were fortunate to be able to record live strings with an orchestra in Budapest, and the drummer and guitarist in Persefone also contributed.
Moe and I both want our music to uplift, inspire, and empower the listener, and we are very proud of the EP!
For those who don’t know it yet, here are some links to enjoy this great work:
How was working with Andorran musician Moe Espinosa (Persefone) for the creation of this album?
The process was interesting because, for some of the months, Moe was actually in The Dominican Republic working with a very stripped-down version of his recording studio. He also experienced frequent power outages, so there were plenty of obstacles to make things extra challenging.
I was doing many projects at the same time, as well as preparing for the tour, and it was a small miracle that we actually released two of the singles during the tour – The title cut “Life is a Dream” and the more metal track “Stronger Together”. The sound guy on tour played “Stronger Together” over the speakers at the venue in Paris, and that was SO COOL! I wish we could play that song at W:O:A.
As for how the songs came to be, we talked about what we wanted, did some back and forth with ideas, then he composed and arranged the music, and I wrote lyrics and melodies, and recorded the vocals. Each song had a different approach, and everything was so intertwined, so we share everything 50/50. Moe is a brilliant composer, and he came up with some beautiful arrangements.
From what we have been able to read, the gestation of this album has taken many months of work, more than you had initially planned. What was the process? What difficulties did you encounter along the way and how did you solve them?
Once the songs were written and recorded, they needed to be mixed and mastered. This is such an important part of the process of releasing music, because it doesn’t matter how good the songs are, or how well the music is recorded, if it doesn’t sound good in the end. Having so many instruments, including the live orchestra, it was a huge job, and it took longer than anticipated. We actually ended up having to redo some mixes and master it all again after the tour, and the people involved had already taken on other projects. This is a big reason why it took so long to release the EP digitally. When it was finally done it was almost Christmas, so we decided to wait until the New Year had started, hence the January release.
Tell us about the cover of the album. In it, you can see a sea of clouds, a silhouette (which we assume is yours), and some stairs to the top… towards… the dreams? Clearly, there is a message behind that cover…
The overall look of the cover represents the title “Life is a Dream”, with the dreamy clouds, lights, and colors. And yes, that is my silhouette. The stairs represent life itself. We all have to take one step at a time, and we know that the best view is from up high. The lyrics also have this message of self-worth, the all-encompassing concept of love, and the power we all have to learn, grow and become better versions of ourselves. The silhouette is gazing into the distance, which to me represents locating your goal in life – the mountain that is your dream – and to keep that in your sight, like a compass of sorts, throughout your journey. Moe has some different interpretations that connects more to his specific journey, and I love that everyone has the right to interpret it in their own way, a way that resonates with their own journey through life.
And finally, two last questions… The first one… Which of the projects that you have done gives you very good memories, a project that may not be well known, and that you would like to rescue so that people know about it?
That would be “You Can Go Miles”! A project that is my baby in so many ways, including the fact that the music video for it took 9 months…
I wrote the song “You Can Go Miles” for a friend who was going through a bone marrow transplant. She was in Norway and I was here in Los Angeles, so I wrote it as a musical hug since I couldn’t hug her and cheer her on in person. She loved the song, but unfortunately, she lost the battle. When other people heard the song, I received so many messages sharing how the song helped them, so I invited them and others to send video clips of themselves singing along to the lyrics, and with the help of my now husband, Michael and our dear friend John Palisano, the clips were synched up in the music video. We even had a group of young refugees in Kampala, Africa send footage, and I later decided to make a new version where they start off the video.
I still get messages from people sharing how the song has helped them, and it truly cements my reason for continuing to write and release songs.
Here are links to the song and the videos, plus merchandise with the cover art. The original version with piano and strings was released as a single in 2016, and an acoustic version was included on the Merethe Soltvedt and the Rogues album “First Hand”. “First Hand” is also one of my babies, completely funded by fans/supporters. We were supposed to tour with that album, but then life and Covid happened. So I now have a few boxes of the physical CD in my studio closet. It’s a great album that I wish more people knew about, and it’s special because we recorded it the “old fashioned way” with the four of us in a circle, surrounded by microphones, to capture that pure acoustic “first hand” energy.
YouTube – the Official You Can Go Miles video:
You Can Go Miles Merchandise:
The original version on Spotify:
The acoustic “First Hand” version on Spotify:
And secondly, what projects would you like to carry out in the future? Any project that is already underway and that you would like to talk about?
I’m a singer and songwriter at heart, and one of my dreams is to have my songs placed in TV shows, movies, movie trailers, and commercials. This dream has been lingering in the back of my mind ever since Grey’s Anatomy Season 1. I am working more towards making this come true now, by myself and with collaborators, and I absolutely adore the process!
My all-time biggest dream is to do live shows with a band and orchestra playing my songs, and hearing the audience sing along. The last song on the new EP called “I Am Enough” was written with that in mind. Can you imagine having thousands of people singing the words “I AM ENOUGH” from the top of their lungs? Everything I do is meant to inspire, uplift and empower, and having that experience would render me blissed out of my brain! One day 🙂
Thank you very much Merethe for being so generous with your time. We know you are very busy and you don’t stop jumping from project to project! We were delighted to be with you on TSFH’s first European tour, and you can be sure that we will be delighted to join you again on this new tour starting in the summer of 2023.
Thank you again for this opportunity and for being so awesome! Looking forward to seeing you both again!
Interview by Josep Ferre & Gorka Oteiza
Pictures by Merethe Soltvedt