madonna of the macabre

The Show Must Go On: Metal Hammer, August 2017

From going DIY to career-threatening medical conditions, nothing can stop In This Moment from realising their grand vision. We head Stateside for their biggest-ever tour to find out why…

Words: Mischa Pearlman | Pictures: Jeremy Saffer

From the outside, it looks like an ordinary tourbus, casually parked outside a music venue like on any other day of the week. Climb inside, however, and it’s anything but. Swathes of black fabric cover the furniture, the smell of incense fills the air and candles adorn almost every surface possible, creating a peaceful, mystical vibe. Even when Maria Brink, dressed in a long, black gown, sits down and accidentally knocks one of the candles over, she doesn’t panic at the thought of fire or impending doom. Instead, the In This Moment singer simply picks it up and places it back on the table. It’s a plastic flame, after all - if there’s going to be a raging inferno, it’ll be when they’re on stage in a few hours. Because In This Moment have what must be one of the most incredible stage shows in alternative music right now.

Tonight, the LA band are bringing that show to The Palladium in Worcester, Massachusetts, as they hit the home stretch of the first leg of their Half God/Half Devil headline US tour. Doors aren’t quite open, and a huge line snakes around the block. There’s also a large group of diehard fans - known as the Blood Legion - waiting for a meet and greet. It’s a solid indication that this tour’s been going well.

“It’s been spectacular,” beams Maria, sitting across from guitarist Chris Howorth, with whom she co-founded the band in 2005. Her voice is chirpy and friendly, matching her demeanour perfectly. “Ninety-five percent of the shows have been sold out. We’re so grateful. It’s blown our minds, because we were off for a while and didn’t know what to expect coming back.”

That must be something of a relief, given the epic scale of their live show on US shores. There are props galore, outrageous costumes, disturbing masks, moving platforms, smoke machines. And then there are the Blood Girls, a cast of faceless women who dance throughout the gig, taking up different roles for different songs, diverting attention for when Maria escapes to change outfit, stalking the stage like creatures from the Underworld. Each song is a true performance piece, with visuals and choreography designed to enhance the power of the music and the message while also creating its own unique scene. It’s somewhere between the Thriller video come to life and the most fucked up Katy Perry performance you’ll ever see. It hasn’t always been this way, but it was always meant to be this way.

“I think Maria always knew it was going to be like this one day,” says Chris, whose jovial tone is at odds with his imposing presence, “but when we started out, we didn’t have anything but our own microphone. And it’s evolved into this.”

“I always had a big vision,” confirms Maria. “I’m one of those people who loves to seek out new things and learn and evolve and push our vision as far as we can. At the beginning, I started telling Chris these things I was seeing in my head and we started doing them without the budget. We were building stuff in the parking lot with nails and wood from Home Depot. And when I started seeing that it actually was possible, the sky became the limit.”

Twelve years into their career, In This Moment are still reaching for the skies and pushing those limits. After four albums on influential label Century Media, they signed to Atlantic Records for 2014’s Black Widow, something that brought the reality of achieving their vision closer than ever. Yet that doesn’t mean they’re close to where they actually want to be, even in terms of the seamless and polished show we see later tonight.

“Right now,” says the singer, “we have a crew of 20, including the drivers. There are two buses and a semi. But in my mind, with the show I want to create, it’s probably going to be double that. There’s a bunch of new things in the show that we’re doing, and we’re still putting pieces together and figuring out some little things. There are so many little details, and people behind the scenes working incredibly hard. By the end of this tour going into the next one I think we’ll be at 100%.”

Her fascination with the theatrical began as a young girl, when she’d put on plays for family and friends. That developed into a love of Madonna and Michael Jackson, before settling on the more macabre imagery that dominates In This Moment’s stage show. Equally inspired by the aesthetic of Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, an In This Moment gig is much more than just a concert. It’s an all-consuming experience for both the audience and the band, and Maria admits her ultimate dream is to have a Las Vegas residency. But although the performance aspect is incredibly important - it’s not just at the centre of what the band do, but of who they are - they’re aware that they can’t only rely on the visuals. The songs also need to be good. More than that, though, they need to work together as two sides of the same coin. So while pre-production for the live shows starts a month before a tour, the seed for the visuals is planted incredibly early on in the songwriting process. Rather than divising the live show for the song after the fact, the two are pretty much interlinked from the beginning.

“Before we even go into the studio,” says Maria, “I come up with a storyboard for everyone. From there, it goes into writing the songs and then working out how to bring it to life onstage. You have to get the balance right. If the performance is really amazing but the music sucks, it’s a flop. And if the music is great but we’re trying to do a performance that’s not quite working and we’re tripping and falling and it’s turning into Spinal Tap, that’s not great either.”

“It’s much more than just making sure you play or sing everything right,” adds Chris. “She’s thinking about the show while she’s writing the songs. As this gets bigger and bigger, we’re going into places and things we’ve never done before. It’s a constant learning process, and we’re learning every step of the way because things are always developing.”

That ambitious vision has led to some logistical issues, not least when it comes to taking that gargantuan production abroad, where the band aren’t as high profile as they are in the States. “We want to take this as far as we can go,” insists Chris, “and we want the show to get better and better. Maria has so many ideas that we’re not able to make realise right now because of money and practicality. We also want to take the show overseas, and we haven’t really got to that point either.”

“What happens,” explains Maria, “is you can blow up here and have a certain budget for all these people that you have to pay for, but we can’t necessarily afford it where we’re not as big. But we’ve got to go there anyway in order to get this big there, in order to bring them that show. We don’t want to cheat anybody of the full experience of what it’s supposed to be, but we realise that we have to tone it down a little. You can still pull off something magical without all the bells and whistles.”

Being so invested in their art doesn’t come without its physical consequences, either. Both Maria and Chris admit that the spectacle of the band’s live show leaves them physically drained, and it has caused their health to suffer. In particular, in April 2016, the band were forced to cancel a UK tour after Chris was diagnosed with acute arthritis. It’s something he’d been suffering from for years - and which had led to a painkiller addiction - but it had gone undiagnosed. Although he’s better, he’s unable to move his neck much because it’s fused to his back.

“I thought I was never going to be able to do this again,” he says. “I was watching [tour support band] Avatar the other day and got depressed because they’re all young and banging their heads like crazy and I’m never going to do that again. But it is what it is. I did that at the beginning and that’s what got me into this situation, because I wasn’t taking care of myself properly.”

“We never thought we’d be those people who have to get physical therapy every day,” adds Maria, “but we took what happened really seriously because it was so devastating. So now we’re dorks who get physical therapy every day. It’s not just about the exercise and how hard you sang physically, but when you’re connecting with a crowd, that’s a lot of energy coming at you. You’re moving your soul and your energy, so you’re pretty drained at the end. We take care of ourselves and get massages and do yoga, but we’re still in pain. You just have to push through.”

That’s exactly what they’re doing, both in terms of their show and the music. The band’s new album even features a guest vocal from Rob Halford on a song called Black Wedding, something that happened after the Judas Priest singer saw the band live (“He wanted to come see us,” exclaims Chris, “which blew us away.”). Clearly, things have come a long way since the band began life over a decade ago, and even further from the productions Maria used to stage as a child.

“She’s directing a play that costs a lot of money now,” jokes Chris. Maria looks across the aisle of the bus at him. “But when are we going to make any money?” she laughs. “We spend it all on the show. It’s kind of like betting on yourself.”

They shouldn’t worry too much. At the rate they’re going, the odds look very good indeed.

Ritual is out on July 21 via Atlantic Records.

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