The trendy Holborn Studios of East London’s ultra-hip Hoxton is not the sort of place that we at Metal Hammer are used to inhabiting. Populated, as it is, by expensively attired, chiselled-looking arty types standing in front of fish tanks and framed pictures of Kate Moss, looking airbrushed and beautiful, whilst talking in overly loud voices about the various shoots of celebrities that happen daily.
In Studio 5, Radio Times are shooting One Direction… or five quiff-sporting, homogenised stage-school brats that look exactly the same as One Direction. Who they actually are we never do find out, because we are in the studio next door. And today it doesn’t seem like a particularly fun environment to be in; there are worry lines, furrowed brows and concerned glances being exchanged between the various management and label folk that look after In This Moment. It’s been a good couple of hours since we were meant to speak to Maria Brink, but so far we’ve yet to see a glimpse of the band’s enigmatic frontwoman. Due to, so we’re told, a pair of rogue and unreliable hair straighteners.
As our minds start to wander, it’s hard not to imagine some huge diva strop is taking place. Because that’s what the legend and preconception of Maria Brink might lead you to believe; she’s the single-minded control freak, dictator of a band of faceless, everyman puppets. And In This Moment is nothing more than the backing band of her own, solo vanity project.
Of course, as the saying goes, you should never judge a book by its cover, and Maria Brink is one hell of a colourful book. When she does arrive, immaculately attired (and with perfectly coiffured hair), she is a magnetic presence, immediately and effortlessly sucking all of the focus of the room toward her and working the camera with a natural ease during the ensuing photoshoot. She is also hugely apologetic about the delay and nothing but polite and friendly throughout our time together.
“I’m sorry about that,” she begins “we really didn’t expect it to take so long.”
Well, when a band take so much care over their image it’s obvious that things need to be just so, right?
“Well, the basis is in the music,” Maria counters. “It’s true that our imagery is strong, but I would like to think that if someone was in bed listening to us in the dark then they would still be able to pick up on the themes that we are trying to evoke. We try and create these movies, these visuals, even as we are just composing the music. But, yeah, I like the visuals to be strong. And I think we’ve done that more than ever on the new album.”
Ah yes, their fifth full-length – Black Widow – the finest realisation of the In This Moment philosophy so far. Where previously the conceptual ideas may have sat uneasily or overwhelmed some of the more instant metal pleasures to be gained from their sound, Black Widow is undoubtedly their most cohesive and enjoyable record so far. And, with the muscle of Warner imprint Atlantic Records behind them, it’s quite possibly the record that will launch them into the metal major league.
“I hope so,” says Maria. “I used to be unsure of myself. I used to put myself in a box wondering, ‘Is this metal enough? Is it too melodic? Will people get it?’ I possibly didn’t fully commit to blending our ideas, but, when you think about it, metal is supposed to be anti-conformist, anti-fake; it’s about being true to yourself. And freeing myself from other people’s expectations was where I found magic.” “That is metal,” adds guitarist Chris Howarth.
So far, Chris, the only other remaining founding member of the band, has been happy to let Maria take the limelight. Sitting out the photoshoot, keeping himself to himself. But he’s an important and integral part of this machine.
“I’ve seen all the online comments!” he says. “But we’re trying to create something new, and I don’t know if people can always accept the metal thing mixed with the uniqueness of what Maria brings to the table.”
The history of rock is filled with many stories of jealous bandmates, unable to accept the attention that the lead singer gets from their fanbase. You’d imagine that this would be a potential problem for a band like In This Moment, although Chris sees it differently.
“That’s just pride, dude,” he argues. “If she wasn’t in the band then it wouldn’t be the same. She’s got something special. She needs to be held up as the front person for this band because she is awesome; I don’t want to downplay her role in the band just to appease some stupid, grungy idea. But come and see us live and you will see that we’re a real band and I know my role. I’m happy in my place and with my contribution. Look at Star Wars; yeah Darth Vader is cool, but if it was just him on his own then it’d still be cool, but it’s so much cooler with all the other stuff.”
Maria is also in no doubt that In This Moment are a real band and not a set of backing musicians plus one focal point. “I love Chris,” Maria adds with genuine emotion. “He’s always been my biggest supporter and he is literally my brother. We’ll know each other when we’re both 90, I know it. And those guys are rock stars! They bring it every night onstage.” There is a steeliness and determination bubbling beneath the surface in Chris that works as a counterpoint to Maria’s wide-eyed wonderment and unsuppressed positivity; together and individually they embody the very opposite elements that combine to make In This Moment what it is. “We do like to play with those juxtapositions,” explains Maria. “When you’re angry you want to scream, but when you are happy you like to scream about it, too, so there’s something powerful about taking these extreme, complex emotions and putting them over this simplistic, Godzilla stomping sound. And I’m not afraid to throw in the red lipstick and my hair blowing in the wind. For the first time I think we can genuinely say we’re comfortable in who we are now. I feel like the crowd used to own me. Now I’m happy to just stand onstage with my confidence and own them.” And there you have it: Maria Brink, far from the aloof, tantrum-throwing diva naysayers have imagined, has, like many of us, been wracked with uncertainty and a lack of self-confidence. So it must feel good to have succeeded to this level, surely? “It feels surreal,” she sighs. “Well… actually, it doesn’t, because I had this in my mind for so long. I wanted to be a singer since I was a little girl. As I got older the vision in my head became clearer and I moved to LA when I was 18. But this is an ongoing process, we’re still growing and progressing. So I don’t look back, I still follow all the big stars and see what they’re doing or what they did. I used to watch all of the documentaries of these great singers and performers to find out what made them so unique. I know that if they did it, why can’t I?” But it is strange to think that someone as enigmatic as yourself would experience those sorts of emotions in the first place. “Oh, we had some tough times,” Maria shrugs. “I moved out to LA and for a while my son and I had to stay with Chris.”
Again, this is another revealing insight into the greater depths of Maria Brink. Pop-metal glam queen is the story we’ve all heard, but why hasn’t the story of the single mother with an ambition who risked everything and succeeded been told more regularly?
“I’m very close to my family,” she begins. “And I don’t always want to go too deep into my personal life as it can get awkward. Our fans are great but I’ve had people trying to contact my son and so I prefer not to expose him too much to all of this.”
How does he feel about what you do?
“Well…” she pauses. “I actually have to run some of the things I’m going to wear onstage past him sometimes. Just to give him a warning, because the hardest part for me being a mom is that I’m very provocative and in touch with my sexuality. I don’t want to put boundaries on my art but I don’t want to do anything to upset my son.”
It’s going to be tough for him to rebel.
“He’s making rap music! He’s really good, too,” Chris chips in.“He is, and I have to try to stop him from using… certain words,” Maria laughs. “I don’t want him disrespecting women, but he always says to me, ‘Mom! You have a song called Whore!’ although I’m obviously using that in a totally different way. I also caught him smoking a little pot and I grounded him for a month but, hey, as long as he doesn’t get into really hard drugs. He’s a good kid.”
It’s becoming blatant that Maria Brink the brand and Maria Brink the person are totally different. It’s tempting to wonder how the person speaking now feels about the brand that she has created.
“It’s amazing,” she says. “I just have so many ideas and it goes to prove the power of the mind that I can achieve them.”
It certainly is some achievement, and when Chris points out that the band are “still the same people with no diva strops”, you actually, against all preconceived ideas, see that it’s true. Maria Brink may look like a superstar, and her band may well be about to become superstars, but to pre-judge or dismiss her would be foolish. This is a band, not a solo project, with layers and depths much greater than any surface-level judgements. And with a career-best album in Black Widow under their belts, things could be getting even bigger very soon. Seemingly, the only thing standing between them and success is a decent pair of hair straighteners.
Black Widow is out November 17 via Atlantic