Long Read: We sat down with singer Milena Eva and guitarist Thomas Sciarone of GOLD to talk about their finest album to date

GOLD return to represent their dark and nihilistic world through Why Aren’t You Laughing? out via Artoffact Records. The band has put their blood, sweat and dramatic tears in this new album that combines hypnotic gothic vibes with soulful heavy rock, overlaid with atmospheric, often dream-like vocals.

GOLD released their debut record Interbellum in 2012 on Germany’s label Ván Records. No Image followed in 2015 released by Ván in Europe and Profound Lore in the USA, and in 2017 GOLD released the brooding and hypnotic Optimist. Every song of Why Aren’t You Laughing? faces strong and important topics. We sat down with singer Milena Eva and guitarist Thomas Sciarone to talk about their finest album to date.

Why aren’t you laughing? is the title of your new album. I asked myself this question very often listening to it and my answer always was that there’s nothing to laugh about in living in this world and society in this particular historical moment. Did you ask this question to yourself and what was your answer?
Milena: I think you’re right with the answer. I think the answer is that the album, all the other songs on the album explain why we’re not laughing. It’s two things: so, the title of the album is Why Aren’t You Laughing? because there is a song called “Why Aren’t You Laughing?” and that song is specifically about people asking you all the time why you aren’t laughing if you’re not laughing and especially men asking women. Because somehow men think that they own the rights to women smiling all the time and being pretty and whatever, which I don’t agree with and hate. So that’s what the song is about. With the album, we thought it was a nice album title because it’s just, as always, a typical GOLD album with so much darkness and a lot of light, which is, I think, probably the way that I look at the world. Not really glass half-full, but half-empty.
Thomas: No glass at all. The thing is that, as well as when men ask this question to a woman, maybe in that moment there is no laughing happening, but there are always moments of joy and fun and no matter how dark the world is. We all experience our lighter moments, and especially on tour there’s a lot of laughing happening.
Milena: Yeah, of course. There’s also a lot of laughing – well I don’t know if it’s laughing – but there is definitely a lot of jokes or a bit of a sarcastic edge to songs. It’s not that it’s only darkness but it’s definitely not fantasy as well. It’s just the real world we’re talking about, which isn’t that happy, I guess.
Thomas: I think what the title is partly, is entitlement. The whole question, when a man poses that to a woman the man feels entitled to be laughed at. Every person is there own person and nobody dictates what you do or how you should act and I think that’s also an important part of what we are about.
Milena: Behind the scenes or behind everybody there is this story that you don’t know of and those stories are definitely on this album.
Thomas: It’s individual empowerment. For me it’s the same when somebody cries and another person says, “Oh, don’t cry!” Why not? What the fuck is wrong with crying?” It’s kind of the same how somebody’s personal state affects somebody else and the other doesn’t appreciate it so it’s uncomfortable for them and they make a remark about how the individual is acting. That’s something that’s so common in the way that we interact. There’s no comfort in saying “Don’t cry.” It’s not comforting at all. Cry! That’s comforting. If you feel like crying, cry.

The song “Why aren’t you laughing?” has a precise meaning. I remember a phrase that my grandma used to say to me: “smile or you’ll never find an husband with that stern face”. I’ve always hated it. In a world where the woman is portrayed as a stereotype, where every gesture is sexualized, how important was it to you to write a song like this one?
Milena: Well, it’s interesting because there are just a lot of women in my life and also my own experience, I think, that inspired that song. There’s this girl I know, she has a kid. When she told me this story, the kid was really small – so a baby still – and she was holding him in this thing on her chest so he was really close to her. She was struggling with getting him into the [wrap] and she got harassed when she was doing that on the street because somebody just started talking to her. At first it seemed kind of nice and then he told her, “I can help you,” and he wanted to touch her and she was just like, “No, leave me alone.” Imagine, you being a woman, that happening to you but especially with holding a tiny kid you are so vulnerable. She told him no and he said, “Oh, fuck you. You’re a whore,” etc., and he followed her home, which is the weirdest and scariest thing to happen. I just felt like it’s just so weird that there’s this whole idea that men can do this. Also what you’re saying about your grandma, it’s weird that she was actually so involved with you getting a husband. What if you don’t want to have a husband? I really just don’t understand the whole, why would we all be in this strict norm?
Thomas: That’s why I think it’s important as a female to take this kind of stance, and also as men of course. Men have to take this stance as well. Because in the rock scene, and especially in the heavy metal scene, a lot of women play along with the stereotype.
Milena: I think it’s actually one of the reasons I wanted to write this song as well. It’s not really that I thought, “Let’s write a feminist song” or whatever, it just came out like this. But to me it’s really important because– well, now we have two women in the band – but first we were men with me in the middle. There’s just so many comments in interviews, on tour… it happens a lot that Tomas or somebody else in the band is the leader or whatever and they don’t ask me because I’m just the singer. Or they ask me if I write my own lyrics, which is just the dumbest question ever. You can ask me what inspires me or whatever, but why would you assume that I don’t write my own lyrics? These are all these things that happen to you when you’re in a band and especially in a rock band, I think. Even more as a woman in metal.
Thomas: Because Bruce Dickinson is never just a singer, Bono is never just a singer, Ian Curtis was never just a singer. But if you’re a woman, you’re suddenly just a singer.
Milena: We seriously had stuff happening to us like doing an interview or we would send out a press release stating that the two of us are kind of what we called the “headquarters” of the band and we had press rewriting it saying that Thomas is the mastermind and I’m just the singer. We had that once with this one zine. We sent them a press release after that about something else and we wrote in that press release – to just check what they would do – “mastermind Milena and guitarist Tomas” and they switched it around! So it’s not that they don’t want to, I feel like they just don’t really understand how it works. They just think that he’s the mastermind and the brains of everything.
Thomas: They’re so stuck in their own fiction, they’re own idea.

The thing that I really like about this record is that it is actual and faces a lot of difficult topics. Mental health is one of these. The record opens with “I put one foot in front of the other/ I allow myself to follow my body/ Never really going anywhere” and again “I’ve become so used to darkness/I’m surprised to see the light”. I know depression really well and this song seems so accurate. What inspired it?
Milena: It’s interesting that you ask because nobody ever asked this about this song. Normally what happens, or maybe for this album, it was more than ever that I was inspired by things that actually happened to me instead of just general feelings or just vague ideas on what it was about and then afterword I would think about what it was about. I was more or less not that clear and on this album I think the reasons why I wrote all those songs are very clear to me. With “He Is Not,” it’s about a friend of ours that just died out of nowhere. It just happened to him. He had a heart attack. From one moment to the other he was just gone. That’s something that’s so weird to happen to you, especially when you’re depressed yourself because then you sometimes think that you don’t want to be there. Then if it happens to somebody else… I don’t know how to explain it better than the words in the song, but to me it’s just weird that somebody who wanted to live that bad had that happen to him and then you’re the one who lives on, maybe not wanting to live on because of that loss. I think that’s one of the hardest thing[s] about loss is that you just don’t get to choose it yourself.

“Inspiring vulnerability, because vulnerability is often seen as a weakness but it’s the ultimate strength. If we can all be vulnerable and laugh at those who try to attack us because of that – that’s the ultimate power – because the bullies, in the end, they’re losers.” Thomas

At the end of the song you say “A word from you would cure everything”. Do you think music or society should talk more about mental health?
Milena: I feel like there’s not a lot of space for people to talk about mental health or loss or whatever. It’s something that you really don’t feel comfortable telling about. It’s also one of the reasons why I wrote “Things I Wish I Never Knew,” because that’s a very clear, obvious traumatic experience that I talk about. And it’s something that when you tell people that you experience something like that, they get scared. They don’t know what to say. They never really respond to it. Somehow, it blocks the whole situation so you end up deciding to never talk about it, which is weird because with trauma, it is obviously – and I think something that people who have been in counseling or whatever have experienced – it’s just important to talk about it and get over it or at least have a way to work around it or live with it. So for me it’s very important to sing about all those items because I think that there are definitely not a lot of people singing or sharing those stories.
Thomas: I think that’s the main theme of GOLD.
Milena: Yeah, creating empathy by telling about everything you experience yourself.
Thomas: Inspiring vulnerability, because vulnerability is often seen as a weakness but it’s the ultimate strength. If we can all be vulnerable and laugh at those who try to attack us because of that – that’s the ultimate power – because the bullies, in the end, they’re losers. So I think that that question, “a word from you would cure everything” just… Now I hate the term “safe space” because that suggests or acknowledges that society itself is not safe, but creating this personal safeness [safety] and comfortability [comfort] almost within you, which should always be. Building it within you kind of puts the responsibility on the individual but it’s a shared responsibility where we all take care of each other and give room for each other and don’t laugh at those who are dressed weird or those who have funny taste in music or whatever. If you’re a metalhead, you would probably laugh at somebody because they like Kanye West and I like Kanye West!

Every morning I’m scared of waking up because I don’t want to read the next bad news, I don’t want to believe this world is hopeless and completely fucked up because this makes me really sad. So, I try to spend as much time as I can in nature. You face this topic in many songs of this record. Do you think there’s still hope in all this darkness? And how do you escape this brutality?
Thomas: I never attempt to escape it. I actually look it up as maybe the wrong word, but I acknowledge it. It’s there and I think you have to face in order to be able to change it, to address it. That’s maybe also how at least I view hope, because there is hope, I think. I do think people, at least 95% of humanity, is in the core good-willing. I even think a lot of bad behavior is even driven by goodwill but combined with misinformation. Personally, I like to address what is happening and put it in a context and share it on Facebook with my friends or whatever and give my personal view on what’s happening.
Milena: I think so too. I think for us, what we kind of find not so interesting about the scene we’re in – or at least I’m not sure if there’s a scene we’re in but the heavy music or whatever – is that there [are] also a lot of bands talking about fantasy, which I don’t really understand. At least I don’t really find comfort or hope in fantasy. It’s just something I feel like doesn’t exist, so for me, it’s probably most interesting to talk about the realness and be okay with that. It’s okay to feel shitty sometimes. It’s not important to be happy all the time. What is that, “being happy?” I don’t know. I think the one thing I do to escape it, sort of, is being in this band and writing music, especially writing the music. I’m not sure if the touring and everything adds a lot to escaping. I’m not sure but touring is always a bit interesting to me, not always fun, but writing the music is. And having that super cool moment where we feel like we have something or Tomas writes something or I write something and it comes together and it works, that’s just one of the reasons why I wake up every morning. I definitely feel like there’s hope. I hope that people hear that there is hope on this album as well. There’s also just a lot of acknowledgment in it, but there [are] also love songs on this album, and I think that love is not everything but it’s a lot.

The same theme is repeated in “Killing at Least 13” the song that made me fall in love with this record. When you say “Massive manhunt, after van rams crowd Killing at least 13” you’re talking about the Barcelona terrorist attack, right? What brings you to write this lyric?
Thomas: It’s funny, you are the very first person to notice, at least that we know.
Milena: It was just the headline. We took the headline. I thought, “News, that’s what I’m going to write about.” You don’t need fantasy, you can just turn on the news and you’ll feel shitty as well. You don’t need warm movies. Thomas: If you want to create a utopia, that’s something different, but if your fantasy is about evil, about how shitty, about how dark the middle ages are, turn on the news and there’s your evil.
Milena: There’s the same amount of evil.

So that’s why you wrote that song?
Milena: Yeah, it’s actually about that and about girls asking on YouTube… There was this period where young girls would ask on their YouTube channels if they were pretty or not which I thought was the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard about. At the same time, those incidents all over Europe – at that moment when I was writing it, Barcelona happened, so those things combined.
Thomas: Sometimes all you have to do is be a mirror and that song is a mirror. It’s just like, “Okay, here. See what’s happening.” Of course it doesn’t show everything, it’s a fragmented mirror, but…
Milena: I feel like it ends, well, it maybe doesn’t end really hopeful, but to me it ends hopeful because, “I keep my head above water / my feet on the ground.” So you’re really in this place where the water is up to your mouth, you can’t really breathe anymore but you’re still there. You’ll manage.

In your opinion, what do we need to do to change something in this world?
Milena: Well, I feel that there’s this whole idea of people wanting to change right now. There’s definitely a lot of people that see that there’s just too many things going on in the world. There was this week that everyone was posting about the Amazon. It’s still on fire, we just forgot about it. There’s just a lot of shit happening. I think the most important thing is that we all talk to each other and we try to be open-minded. In the Netherlands there [are] a lot of right-wing politicians getting a lot of attention, there have always been these left-wing people saying they’re stupid, the people who vote like that or feel like they are right, but I think that’s the wrong way to approach it. I feel like it’s more important to just listen to what they’re saying and try to understand what they’re problem is and why they think the solution is the right-wing option. I feel like if you talk about it, then you can just come closer and maybe find a way to work with it. I feel like there’s not enough people helping each other in the world.
Thomas: You realize that each individual has their own complex history and complex character just like you have. I think that that should be the core of how we treat each other. Being a vegan and an animal rights activist, I always find it difficult that people are cheering that the bullfighter in Spain is being killed, because that person was also driven by a complex set of whatever to become that. Of course what they did is never cool, it’s a ridiculous job, but when somebody like that dies, I’m never cheering. It’s the same when a big game hunter gets killed or when a cop gets killed in riots, a lot of people would cheer, “Yeah, the pig is dead!” Not all cops are bastards, you know. They are also complex individuals with families, with children, with loving wives or whatever and somehow they got into that place by a complex set of…
Milena: Or men! Not only wives, or husbands!
Thomas: I think if somehow that extreme level of empathy would ever be realized, I think we would achieve a lot more.
Milena: I think the whole problem with, for example, Trump, is that he’s the opposite of empathetic. He just only thinks about himself. It’s that simple. I feel like a lot of people are driven by their egocentric way of looking at the world and their own wealth and their own happiness and I think it’s important to understand that if somebody else is feeling better that it might be better for you as well.
Thomas: I even think that, because that’s absolutely true, but next there’s the egocentrism or whatever, but that fire gets even more fueled by not seeing the other as a real person. The whole immigrant situation is because politicians and media tell us that they’re less than human.
Milena: Which, when you talk about somebody who’s totally against opening borders or whatever, and you just tell them that people were born there just because they were born there and they couldn’t decide on where they were born, then you see them maybe changing their ideas about it.

“I think that what we do is try to cross those boundaries that are there, those norms that are there, those things that we’ve been doing for all these years. We always try to invent new stuff. That’s one of the sides to it.” Milena

Is there something that you are proud of as a human being?
Milena: I try to do the right thing every day but I understand that there are still a lot of things that I need to learn about. I think that not only the band is mirroring, but I think that we’re self-reflective of ourselves as well. Thomas and I just talking about how we can change or make things better.
Thomas: I’m proud that I’m definitely a better person than I was ten years ago. Definitely. And that’s something to constantly strive for, to be a better person than the day before. If you achieve that, I think that’s something that you can be proud of.

Musically speaking, how difficult was to give the right atmospheres to the words?
Thomas: I think that’s where Milena and I just really, really…
Milena: Connect without saying anything!
Thomas: It’s not an effort. This is my kind of music. Even though maybe if you would very broadly compare Milena and me, I might be the happier person, the more optimistic person, the more – maybe outgoing is not the right word – but I probably seem happier. But I really need this outlet and this catharsis to maybe even keep my head above water. For me, there’s this super strong, maybe sad core in me that I give room in my music.

Were you looking for a particular sound with this album or did it come naturally?
Thomas: There’s always preparation in the way that you fine-tune whatever you’re doing but I think on this album, it’s not that different from Optimist. I think that it’s super dense sadness, the layered sadness is something that we’ve been doing for quite a while now and what did connect better at the studio with Jaime Gomez Arellano as producer who really found room for every detail to flourish. I think that that makes Why aren’t you laughing? our most accessible, most direct album so far.
Milena: I also think that it’s more accessible because there’s not only this tension but also a release on this album, which we never really do. I don’t know why we never thought about that, but there’s not a lot of release in our former albums. So I think for this songwriting period for this album that somehow we focused on that maybe a little bit more.
Thomas: Somehow you always get influenced by other people saying and we heard that remark about us building up a lot of tension without ever releasing it and we thought, “Ah, that’s very interesting. We never looked at it that way.” Maybe for like a couple songs on this album, we were just, “Yeah, let’s try it. Let’s see what happens to add that certain element.” It was never something that we did intentionally. It’s just the way we wrote and recorded. Probably many artists would want to build the image like, “I don’t listen to what other people say. This is what I do.” But I think we are always very reflective and we definitely digest what people say, never assuming it as a truth, but it’s a way of looking at stuff that if you don’t have yourself, it’s interesting to notice and maybe even use.

“I feel like a lot of people are driven by their egocentric way of looking at the world and their own wealth and their own happiness and I think it’s important to understand that if somebody else is feeling better that it might be better for you as well.” Milena

Why is it important to you to write music with GOLD in 2020?
Milena: I think it’s pretty simple. It’s because there’s no other band that sounds like us. I think that what we do is try to cross those boundaries that are there, those norms that are there, those things that we’ve been doing for all these years. We always try to invent new stuff. That’s one of the sides to it. The other side to it is that we just really love to write the best song possible. I think it’s obvious in our music that it’s kind of pop-driven. Somehow we write these pop-structure songs which we try to make our own. I feel like there’s no other band sounding like us. I feel like there’s not enough women in heavy music. I think there’s also maybe not enough vulnerability in louder music. So I’ve been listening to loud music my entire life but there’s just a few bands or acts that I really appreciate because they could be vulnerable, which is I think is really important to make that connection.
Thomas: For me personally, I couldn’t imagine a life without making music. Maybe that’s a self-centered drive because it’s kind of an addiction. But when I make music, I cannot do it without ambition and without trying to have impact. Because of that – Milena I’m sure is the same – I think GOLD is a very valuable band to the world. There are too few bands like us around. For me, music is a vessel just like any art form. If it’s not a vessel to really bring something across to the audience, it’s just entertainment. And I’m not against entertainment because I think entertainment is important as well, although it’s often also overestimated because I think you can be very well entertained without the Hollywood formula or the pop formula or whatever. I think that’s important in what we do. It’s using what we do to get something across that other people don’t do or at least that particular view that is our own, to bring that across though.
Milena: It’s funny that you say it’s a vessel, because I could’ve easily been in fashion – which I am a little bit but not in the creative part of it or whatever. Everything I ever made creatively has always been this mirror to whatever I feel like the world is. I think if I wouldn’t make music, there would definitely be another way to release that. We always try to show that in our artwork, in our band merch, in our videos, everything.

But also on stage?
Milena: But also to show people that there [are] more sides to it. There are literally more sides to the outfit. I feel like it’s stupid to just be a girl in a skirt for the whole set because I feel like there are so many other facets to it. It’s in everything. That’s exactly what you’re saying. It’s in your musical taste, it’s in the music you make, it’s in the art you like, the movies you like, the books you read or write.
Thomas: That’s why we probably could talk on and on and on about GOLD and what we do, but a very important aspect for me to what Milena is doing onstage with her clothing is transformation. Transformation is often viewed as a weakness, because it’s vulnerable because one day you’re this and the next you’re that. People would often say you’re not true to yourself. No, I think that transformation is probably one of the most important things as a person that you can achieve and not for going from one hype to the other hype but growing and evolving and improving. And never being trapped by what you’re used to. That’s one of the main problems in society is that there’s this norm and people are stuck to a norm and it’s always easy to – it’s safe – to adhere to that norm although better things might be achieved personally but definitely as a society if we move on and let the norm go.

Words: Marika Zorzi // Photos: Pim Top – Why Aren’t You Laughing? is out now on Artoffact.

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