FeaturesEvergrey – Working Through the Silence

Evergrey – Working Through the Silence

Photo: Patric Ullaeus

On the verge of celebrating thirty years together as a band, Evergrey appears very productive at this stage of their career. Theories of Emptiness is the group’s latest studio record – their third over the past four years. A wide range of power/progressive metal tracks encompass this outing, including a lot of writing this go around from bassist Johan Niemann. We were able to reach out to drummer Jonas Ekdahl, who provided insight into the recording/songwriting process for the record, his thoughts on Tom’s unique abilities as a singer and musician, the video work include pyrotechnic action for one song in particular, plus discussion on Jonas leaving the group, favorite times, and what the future holds for him.

Dead Rhetoric: Theories of Emptiness is the latest Evergrey album. Now that the album is about to hit the streets, where do you see this record sitting in the catalog of records? What specific differences or elements stand out in your eyes?

Jonas Ekdahl: I see it placed it in the front line (laughs). It has a lot of good songs; it’s packed with good songs. I don’t hear any filler songs on this one – I don’t see any filler songs on an Evergrey album to be honest. If we feel it would be a filler song, we wouldn’t release it. I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish with this album. We always give our all when it comes to recording and writing an album during that certain period of time, and that’s exactly what we did with this album. I like the outcome of it.

What differs from this album amongst the other albums is it was done in a bit different way. We worked with another mixing engineer, another mastering engineer, we took another risk on the album cover. Johan, our bass player, has been the one who contributed the most in delivering song ideas, by far. Especially compared to the previous albums, and especially compared to the rest of us. It was a very refreshing way of working, for me and Tom, in terms of writing and producing.

Dead Rhetoric: Working in a co-production role with Tom Englund, what aspects do you believe you both brought to the table to ensure a dynamic, final sound that we experience? How important is it to remain objective when looking at the songwriting and performance aspects as band members without stepping on toes or egos, so to speak?

Ekdahl: Yeah, we let the ego side out the door. We only focus on the song that we are writing. We know each other so well by now. We know that by now, and I think we are similar, Tom and I, in a lot of ways. When it comes to hearing certain arrangements, hearing how the song will develop. We are different in other ways – melodically, we have different senses which are to our strengths, and we can collaborate back and forth.

Dead Rhetoric: Did it surprise you that bassist Johan Niemann had so many great ideas to contribute in terms of the songwriting for the new record? As I understand it took a bit of the normal workload off you and Tom in this regard…

Ekdahl: Absolutely, and yes it was. I always knew that he’s an amazing musician, but he never talks about that or brags about things. He’s too humble of a person, you have to pull things out of him. Once he started delivering these ideas, it was like somebody opened a faucet and all these great ideas poured out of him. It was amazing to watch and to hear out of him. He just kept going – the first batch he delivered was like fifteen ideas and after a while, Tom asked him, ‘is that all you have, or do you have more?’. And he handed him another bunch of fifteen ideas, it was almost like we had too much to pick and choose from. It was great and super inspiring – it took a lot of the workload off mine and Tom’s shoulders when it comes to writing the songs, arranging the songs, and producing the songs. We thought we could just pick all the best parts of Johan’s ideas and then start making those into cool songs, instead of just trying to come up with riffs and song ideas on the spot. We could focus on enhancing his ideas and producing if that would be necessary – and a lot of times we didn’t have to, because the (first) ideas were so great from the start.

Dead Rhetoric: Is it a tough process this deep into the career of Evergrey to take thirty or forty ideas and try to siphon them down into what will make the final songs?

Ekdahl: It’s becoming easier and easier. For every album, you grow as a musician, you learn new things. Outside of Evergrey we do a lot of different things as well, you mature and learn as a songwriter from that as well. When it’s time for a new album, you have even more skills and tricks to use. At least my feeling of it, it gets easier, it’s more relaxed and confident in what you do. Not to confuse that with comfortable or nonchalant. It’s only a positive thing, we feel that we are growing constantly with every album that we are making. I think that shows.

Dead Rhetoric: What in your eyes makes Tom special not just as a songwriter and guitarist, but within his dynamic, passionate vocal range for Evergrey? Are there any special moments on the new record that really stand out to you in this regard?

Ekdahl: It’s what you said that makes him special. His expression when he sings it’s amazing, and I like his lyric writing. His sense of melody, he has a unique melodic style when he sings, that defines the Evergrey sound. What I like about us when we were writing in the pre-production stage of the album, shooting out ideas all of a sudden, he would get a melody line, a vocal line. We had everything set up in the rehearsal studio, so we were able to capture anything if we wanted to. We would plug in the mic, he would do a couple of takes, just singing gibberish as he usually does in the beginning just to get a sense of the melody and phonetics as well. It’s so cool to be there and elaborate on stuff with him – other times he has a goal and sings whatever comes out and tweaks it from there. I really enjoy that process.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel the video shoots went for “Say”, “Falling From the Sun”, and “Cold Dreams” on this record? Do you enjoy the process of exploring the visual medium in dynamic and engaging ways to give people another dimension to the band’s imagery and style?

Ekdahl: Yeah. Doing music videos is a lot of work, for some reason I need to be involved in a lot of the band shots, since I am in the background more or less during every shot. I have to be on camera the longest. At the same time, it’s nice to see how it shapes, it grows, you see the raw footage on location as we shoot and you have that image until you see the final results from Patric, and it’s a nice surprise in a good way. We’ve done three super cool videos for this album that represent all of these songs there. I’m very happy about the outcome of all three of them, in their own way.

Dead Rhetoric: Did you have any worries on the pyrotechnics you used for “Falling From the Sun” – the heat or the dangerous elements?

Ekdahl: It wasn’t that scary, but when the pyro just started to land a couple of meters from me, I knew it was happening. That was just cool. The pyro was so huge during the video shoot, we had to put them so far away just to be able to capture them on camera, the tallest one shot up forty meters in the air. They made a lot of sound, it was weird. Everything happened behind us, so we couldn’t see what was going on, we would see the light coming out, but we had no idea how things looked until afterwards. It was almost over the top, but still bad ass.

Dead Rhetoric: Why was now the right time to step away after being in the band for so long and playing on nine Evergrey studio records? Do you feel like you were able to say, do, and accomplish all you wanted personally and professionally within this band during your time there?

Ekdahl: It was the right time emotionally for me. I have felt done playing live for quite some time, it just got to the point where I needed to do this. I don’t know if it was horrible timing to mention this and bring it up, but I had to listen to what I feel and what I want to do. That’s the most important thing. We’ve known each other for so long, there are no bad vibes from the other guys, and we are still talking to each other as much as before. It had nothing to do with me feeling like I had accomplished a certain number of things within the band, it was a feeling of I want to do something else. I want to focus on writing songs and producing songs instead of going on the road, going out on tour and playing shows. It’s a simple as that. I’m super grateful and proud of everything I’ve been able to accomplish within this band, together with the four other guys. I’m proud and happy they wanted to bring me in as a drummer in the first place. I can’t stress that enough, I’m happy to have done so many amazing things with these four people.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the special memories you have within Evergrey over the years – are there specific touring cycles, festival appearances, or album recordings that will stay forever embedded in your memory bank?

Ekdahl: There are so many that it’s hard to just pick a couple. Sometimes I forget about them until a certain situation pops up, and I remember this. Releasing our DVD, the first live DVD in Gothenburg, was a huge deal. A Night to Remember. The first album I got to record with the band The Inner Circle, which was also a huge deal and a dream come true. It was my first studio album I recorded and was a part of writing as well. A big deal for me. The first North American tour we did, to be able to visit the United States and Canada for the first time, which was also so cool. Even up to now, to this album, together with Adam ‘Nolly’ Getgood who mixed the album and engineered, he tuned my drums so to be able to be with him when that happened, I never thought I would be able to experience this as I’m a huge fan of Periphery and his work.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you assess your technique and abilities as a drummer? Do you have specific strengths when it comes to your approach and attitude at the drums, and who are some of your favorite sources of inspiration that fuel your passion at the instrument?

Ekdahl: I don’t really think about it, but if I had to think about it… a couple of years ago I didn’t see myself as a drummer, I see myself more in the sense as a musician playing drums. That might benefit my drumming, in my own opinion. I always want to play for the song, and in a way that benefits the song instead of doing my own thing or doing cool stuff. It has to make sense in a song, that’s the number one thing. It has to groove. If it does all those things, then I can do cool stuff. It’s more like that in that sense.

It depends, it’s been different for basically every album. For some reason, except for this, I imagine myself as other drummers that I admire, and I am a fan of. Sections of a song, or different songs – I try to have the same approach as they do when I hear a certain part. This section sounds like a Vinnie Paul section, and I channel that for this part – or a Ray Lucier section. Dave Lombardo section – and I try my best to interpret that as good as I can with my own touch. That’s my go to process of inspiration when I am on the spot or recording drum parts.

For this album, I was into the whole thing because the process was different. I recorded it with my laptop on the side, monitoring the big computer in the other room. The drum sound was in my ears thanks to Adam, a super amazing drum sound for me to record with. I was inspired with that, I don’t think that channeling thing of other drummers as much for this record.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some tips or tricks that you employ to take care of yourself not only on a physical level, but also an emotional and mental health level, when it comes to being a musician?

Ekdahl: For me, its been mentally and emotionally that I’ve felt that I’ve grown over the years. I guess it’s a sign of getting older, you learn more, and you get more experience. I’ve been listening to a lot of books on mental health, audio books. How to develop your mental abilities. That has helped a lot. I’ve started meditating, that helps a lot too. A great way to get away from all the noises in your head. Comparing yourself to other musicians and other drummers, it’s so easy to be hard on yourself, and to be negative and not see what you are good at. Only see what you can improve on. That negative side of yourself as a musician and a drummer, and that’s going to wear you out. It’s important to learn to see the positive sides, the positive features you have as a musician as well as your strengths. I’m starting to adapt that to my life as well. Meditating is a good way to clear out all the mental noise.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you hope to accomplish in the next stage of your life away from this band? Will you explore more production or session work keeping things close to home?

Ekdahl: Yes, I want to write more and produce more. That’s what I intend to do. Besides that, I don’t have a plan, and that feels refreshing to me. Take everything as it comes. Trust that. As soon as I feel alive, everything else is going to be alive. That’s how I feel now. As much as I can, I’m going to take it from there.

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