Evergrey – Storm BroodingMonday, 19th September 2016
Legacy starts based on setting proper standards early on and then building upon them. In the case of Sweden progressive metal act Evergrey, they made an indelible impression right out of the gate in 1998 with their debut album The Dark Discovery – only to create two more benchmark releases in the follow ups Solitude Dominance Tragedy and In Search of Truth. Engaging on a multi-sensory level through stirring musicianship that at times can be quite heavy, diverse arrangements, and covering all shades of light and darkness in their lyrical content – it’s little wonder that they’ve become a promoter and fan favorite at ProgPower festivals here and abroad.
Closing in on twenty years together, albums like The Storm Within aren’t supposed to stun the world this deep into an act’s career. So much so that many around the globe may put this in album of the year categories as well as best Evergrey record to date. A concept record that vocalist/ guitarist Tom Englund discusses in our interview, the guest appearances from Nightwish’s Floor Jansen and Tom’s wife Carina are extra gourmet courses on an already spectacular main dinner entrée. Safe to say this will be an album talked about decades down the road.
Grabbing a quick chat with Tom during his whirlwind weekend at this year’s ProgPower USA festival (where the band would hold an exclusive listening session for the record), we dive into how Floor became a part of this record, how the love/loss concept came to be, as well as how he thinks about Evergrey as a legacy, influence-making act. Let the storm brew…
Dead Rhetoric: At what point during the development or recording of The Storm Within did you guys know that you had a special album on your hands?
Tom Englund: Never! (laughs). I mean not even now. That is not something you realize at all, I think it comes down to being humble. The only thing that we decided we were going to do was reach this vibe kind of thing. We did the album that was the best that we could produce at the time, and then whatever it means to everyone else when they hear it is a major bonus of course. Especially for me as a vocalist I never realize where we are or what we do, it’s just a bonus when we see the reviews coming in and the people think of this as a very special album, or the best that we have done. It’s an extremely gratifying feeling of course.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you have any fear regarding writing a whole concept album around an interstellar love/loss/survival theme – as it’s quite different than developing material about alien abduction, religion, or horror-related thoughts?
Englund: Well, I think I never decide to write about something unless I think I really have something to say about it. Not unless I feel I can talk about these ideas from different perspectives. There are so many feelings, everyone writes about feelings and the inner emotions that go on. Whether it be the alien abduction thing, religion, or the horror. That’s what we’ve done now as well, it’s about the loneliness, it’s about the darkness, it’s about violence, the moral thoughts you have, celebrating the life you have and realizing that if something feels like a loss or a defeat right now what comes out on the end of it, usually things end up turning out for the better.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you get Nightwish’s Floor Jansen involved on “In Orbit” and “Disconnect” – as I feel the two tracks showcase different facets to her stellar vocal delivery? And you also have a return appearance from your wife on “The Paradox of the Flame” – what are the differences you notice between Floor and Carina vocally?
Englund: How Floor got involved is my wife Carina told me I should ask Floor to be on the album because they are friends. They had a night together where they were drinking some wine and talked about it- Carina asked her why she has never been on an Evergrey album, as she’s been a fan of Evergrey for many, many years. The reason we never put Floor on there was because we already had a great female vocalist on the albums which was Carina. But now… we asked, and I think Floor and Carina are two very different singers. Carina sings purely on feeling and she’s not very technical at all. Floor can pretty much do anything that you tell her to do, she has an operatic voice as well. Carina- she can get the feelings across in a way that I’ve very rarely ever heard, anywhere. She is talented as well.
Dead Rhetoric: This long into Evergrey’s career, is songwriting an effortless or tedious process? Do you ever worry about repeating yourselves or not developing material up to the standards of previous records?
Englund: The only thing that we decide as we are going into any album cycle… I remember saying that the last album was a really great album, we need to really put our A game to be able to top the album. It’s about making music that we are happy with ourselves, that’s the main thing. How we critique ourselves is the biggest factor that we can have. We are extremely critical about what we let come through. We are not worried about repeating ourselves, I think we’ve done 111 songs now- if we borrow from ourselves a bit on certain songs, it’s just natural.
Dead Rhetoric: And when it comes to your vocals, do you have to set up certain conditions in the studio to get the best emotion out of your performances?
Englund: Honestly, for this album I recorded, I produced, I tracked- so when it was my time to do the vocals, I had 14 days and I also moved. I didn’t have my own studios, I set up a shitty studio and didn’t have any energy or any inspiration, but magically it happens. To answer your question, no- apparently I don’t need to set up in a certain way. I feel really lucky that I was able to pull this off.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the making of the breathtaking videos for this new record – how much involvement did you have in the treatments, and what challenges took place filming a lot of the scenes in Iceland?
Englund: I had 100 % involvement, and that’s why it was my idea from the beginning to have Patrick (Ullaeus) as my director, he is one of the guys that understands my ideas and has the ability and know how to make my dreams and ideas come true on film. We went to Iceland and we were there for five days, we filmed three videos. I don’t know how many miles it is but we drove 2,800 km (1,739 miles) in five days which is a lot, shooting 10 hours a day. As soon as we found a location that we thought would work, we stopped the car, jumped out, put the makeup and clothes on and started filming. It was a great adventure and a great experience but also a lot of work.
Dead Rhetoric: Evergrey has now been together for over 20 years and 10 studio albums. What would you want your legacy to be based on your discography and live performances?
Englund: The cool thing about being in Evergrey, if anything about being in Evergrey is cool, is that we are getting a lot of credit now for being the same thing that we always were from the start. All of a sudden it’s like the world has caught on and understands Evergrey- it’s not like we have changed, it’s like the world has caught up to us and they understand Evergrey now. We seem to be at the peak of our career now at 20 years, which is weird but also an extremely gratifying thing. So what I think people will remember, which is the same thing that I would want them to remember, that Evergrey has always been a band that did what they believed to be the best product for the time. We put everything we can into everything we’ve made- every song, every note, we always thought we did what was best for the band at that time. I hope that’s what shines through and what people appreciate.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s an interesting choice in opening for Delain across mainland Europe rather than doing a headlining tour out of the gate. Do you look at it as more of a gateway to gain a wider fanbase who may not be as familiar with the band as power and progressive metal audiences?
Englund: We look at it as a very smart business move in a way. The timing of the tour is perfect, the finances for the touring are perfect for us. It’s not necessarily a tour that we would do in order to… some of the places that we will play with Delain are places that we can do ourselves, and some places they are much bigger than us. It’s a great way for us to reach their audience in a way. We want to expose ourselves to people who may never have heard of Evergrey at all, we have to be modest about the fact that we are not a million album selling band, we are quite a small band that has been around for 20 years and still count. It’s a move we decided to make, and of course we will do our own headlining tour of Europe next year- the groundwork will be done with this tour.
Dead Rhetoric: What have been some of the best fan related talks that you’ve had regarding specific songs or albums from the Evergrey catalog that have really touched you?
Englund: I had one today at ProgPower USA actually. We have a woman that I know from Chicago and she has some sort of muscular or nerve disease that makes it very difficult for her to move. She decided to come to our release party here because Evergrey means that much to her. Those are the things … when you see a person that can hardly move and then they tell you these things, it’s very humbling.
Dead Rhetoric: Would you say the current Evergrey lineup is the ideal and definitive lineup given your history and ground breaking records you’ve made together?
Englund: For sure, without a doubt. Even though we’ve had the pleasure to play with a lot of funny and interesting people- the ones who are made to do this in Evergrey are the ones who are here today.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s another return engagement to ProgPower USA for you – outside of your own activities, live performances, and relationships you’ve made there, what have been some of the best takeaway festival moments you have from this one-of-a-kind festival?
Englund: ProgPower is extremely personal to me because it’s one of my friends who is the organizer. Glenn Harveston is one of the guys who brought Evergrey to the USA when we played in Baltimore, Maryland at the Powermad Festival in 1999. Then he was just… he was a music fan that started ProgPower in 2001 in Chicago and brought us over here again, which was in a bar. I’ve been there since the start, it’s one of the best, well run festivals there is. I have so many memories- we are here every other year, pretty much. One of the nicest things we did is we came here last year, it was the end of the tour and we played an acoustic set here which was sold out. I love that aspect of Evergrey, to be able to scale down things- we played a metal show and acoustic show and I actually appreciated the acoustic show more. You realize you are blessed to be a part of an environment this is so gratifying and loving.
Dead Rhetoric: Would you ever be interested in developing an Evergrey historical documentary on video – and do you have good relationships with former members of the band?
Englund: I have great relationships… but that’s a weird word. I don’t communicate and talk to the former members at all. When we meet each other again we have a great relationship. The only guy in my life so to speak is Michael the old bass player. We don’t have any beefs with anyone- that would be great to have a documentary and let the filmmakers capture how much of an asshole I was! (laughs) I could take it, no problem.
Dead Rhetoric: How have you personally changed as a person during your career with Evergrey?
Englund: Yeah, hopefully. I have grown fatter, wiser, smarter. I’ve learned to become… the drive I’m extremely privileged to have and I am extremely grateful for it. At the same time, I also may be very blunt in certain situations and maybe non-caring. I’ve become a person that is more interested in how people perceive my thoughts, my ideas, and how they take my drive in a way. I’ve become a better person, hopefully. I’m for sure a better musician, but that usually doesn’t go hand in hand. If you become a better musician, you usually become worse as a person. I’m more tolerant, in 1995-96, when I was 20 years old I definitely knew I wanted to become a musician as a career. Today I am a musician who releases albums, but I’ve come to appreciate other things in life. My family, my girlfriend, my friends – I respect people more. Overall I think I’m a better person, hopefully.
Dead Rhetoric: Do younger musicians ever ask you for advice about the music business, and if so what do you talk to them about?
Englund: Yes, we get a lot of questions on Facebook and e-mails, and people come up to us at shows. The main thing that I talk about is, be sure you are making music that you want to make, and write music you love to write. It’s a tiring business if you do things that you don’t like. Somebody said to make sure you love your work, because that will be the last time that you work in a way. That’s what I want to tell everyone. Nobody knows better than you.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next 12 months shaping up for Evergrey?
Englund: We have done some very extensive promotion for this album with the press since May. We will do the Delain tour in Europe for 5-6 weeks, then do some shows in Israel in the beginning of January. We will then do a headlining tour of Europe, and then a headlining tour of the US tour in May and it is festivals in the summer of course. The usual stuff.