Neonfly – A New FutureTuesday, 20th July 2021
Intent on expanding upon a burgeoning fanbase excited by their melodic power metal ways established on the first two albums Outshine the Sun and Strangers in Paradise, Neonfly have been quiet on the release front outside of a few singles since 2014. No worries – they’ve signed with new management and a new record label in Noble Demon, while also ambitious in terms of reaching new modern/melodic horizons on their third record The Future, Tonight. Some may say the alternative nuances and attention to broader vocal melodies plus orchestration touches definitely hit mainstream moments throughout – and yet the talent in terms of songwriting and performances is undeniable.
We reached out to main songwriter/guitarist Frederick Thunder through Zoom and he was happy to bring us into the Neonfly fold. You’ll learn more about the crowdfunding campaign, choice of producer, special artwork, thoughts on mental health in the title track, the inspiration behind the special aspects to their live performances and what they’ve learned from numerous tours, plus some of Frederick’s most important records/bands when it comes to his outlook on music.
Dead Rhetoric: The Future, Tonight is the third studio album from Neonfly. Outside of a few single releases, there has been a seven-year gap between records. Where did you want to go in terms of songwriting and performances for this effort that maybe differ from the earlier discography?
Frederick Thunder: That is basically the whole point of this album. After we released the Strangers in Paradise album in 2014, when I had to start writing music for the new album, I wasn’t too sure where I wanted to go. I knew that I didn’t want to repeat ourselves. I wasn’t inspired by doing more of the same. At the time I started getting inspired by a lot of newer bands, modern bands that I didn’t listen to before. As I started writing, with time I started to develop ideas and a direction where I wanted to go. I wanted to make sure that the next Neonfly album would be an album that would redefine the band, that we would find our own sound and make the band stand out from any other band out there. We wanted to do something unique but that would also make sense to release today, be contemporary, modern, and make sense in today’s musical landscape.
In that sense I wanted it to be a good work that stands alone, and really defines a moment for us.
Dead Rhetoric: Were you surprised by how well the crowdfunding campaign did to support this record?
Thunder: Yes, to an extent. Obviously, we set a goal that we felt was achievable. The real costs of the album (were) much higher than what we set, but we wanted to set a realistic goal that we were able to achieve. It’s the only crowdfunding that we’ve ever done, and we needed to figure out how to make it successful. We did a lot of research online, trying out a lot of different things, and handled a lot of stress the first few days. It started well and that gave us a real boost of morale. We finished strong and tried to do the best we could. It was a great moment when we finally reached our goal, it was a two-month campaign. Our fans were amazing, the support they gave us was great.
Dead Rhetoric: You also recorded a cover of “Venus” – did you enjoy working on this and the special guest you had involved with the video?
Thunder: That was really fun to do. We didn’t have to do it this way- the perk for the crowdfunding involved us doing acoustic covers. That was one of the songs chosen for it, but when I was doing the arrangement on the acoustic guitar, I thought it could have a metal riff. The idea came from there, I spoke to the guys and wanted to do this as a full band cover, give it an odd twist lyrically. The different sections, a breakdown, and I thought of Dani Divine. That’s how she got involved. We needed a character for Venus, and Dani Divine came to mind. She is an alternative model, a social media personality. She lives in London. We have a lot of friends in common, she liked the idea and decided to do it. That’s basically how it came about.
Dead Rhetoric: You worked with Grammy-nominated producer Romesh Dodangoda, known for his work with Bring Me the Horizon, Funeral for a Friend, and Motörhead among others. What differences did he make to the outlook of this material that maybe you never took into account or consideration previously?
Thunder: I think that we took a really long time to find the right producer for this album. As I was writing songs, I had my eye on different producers, checking them out. It just felt like a natural choice, hearing the records that he produced – I felt that the sound those records had corresponded to the idea I had in mind when I was writing them. I heard that sort of production, Romesh’s natural sound was perfect for this album. There was no need to modify too much – these songs already were written in a way that could fit in. That’s how it came about really.
The first song we did with him was “This World Is Burning”, I remember when I got the first mix back from that I loved it. It was exactly what I had in mind. He was definitely the right choice for us for this album, and possibly future albums that we may want to do with him as well.
Dead Rhetoric: The title track features a guest vocal appearance from Björn ‘Speed’ Strid of Soilwork/The Night Flight Orchestra – can you go into the decision to reach out to him, as well as the significant compelling message about mental health, depression, and addiction in the lyrics?
Thunder: With Björn, I’ve actually known him for about fifteen years. I met him via a good friend that I have in Sweden, I went to visit him a long time ago- and he took us to visit Björn as they live in the same city. I ended up going to his house, watching a movie and all that, hanging out. We kept in touch ever since, he was always really cool. Whenever he was touring in the UK, in London, I tried to go see him and say hi. In 2019 we played a festival in Hamburg, called the Indoor Summer festival, and he was playing with The Night Flight Orchestra. I ran into him, and a couple of months before we were in the studio working on this track. I told him the message in the song, I wanted him to do some guest vocals on it. He said send it to me, I’ll check it out – so I sent it to him, he liked it, and decided to do this.
The message of the song mental health. That is a topic that is very important at the moment and is a discussion that needs to be had. There are friends of mine that are really close to me that have suffered with mental health issues for a long time – addiction and depression are often linked to those kinds of issues. I’ve seen how these things can really wreak someone’s life. Those lyrics are a way to open up the conversation about these things. In the alternative scene, it’s an important topic as it affects people from all walks of life – the people next door to the biggest rock stars, obviously Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, he had been battling mental health issues all of his life.
Ultimately people who suffer from these kinds of issues, have to make a choice by themselves. A lot of times what I see from my friends, at least what stops them from seeking help wasn’t so much what other people might think but it was themselves. They didn’t really feel that it was worth it. They have to realize they need to seek help and accept the fact that they have these kinds of issues and may need help.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us regarding the abstract cover art present on The Future, Tonight? How did the idea come about, was it a collaborative effort between the artist and the band, and how do you feel about the final work?
Thunder: It’s a Korean artist Noma that I found online. I saw his work on Instagram, he was the right artist for this. I looked online at a lot of different art, and I felt this connection and it would work with the music that we created. When I saw his work, I was impressed by it. I got in touch with him, explained the idea and the concept and he really liked the idea behind what I wanted to do visually for the album. Which also involves painting the portraits of the band members in his own style. We discussed it, he started with the portraits, and we did a video of him painting those – they are on the booklet of the album as well.
And for the album we picked something that he had already painted from his existing work. I asked him if we could use it for the cover, he agreed. It wasn’t something that we commissioned ourselves.
Dead Rhetoric: How do all of the special dynamic elements come together in your spectacular live show experiences? Did your fire-breathing action come about being inspired by an act like Kiss from the past, or were there other influences?
Thunder: No, actually (laughs). It’s quite funny how that came about. I’m half Mexican, and I spent a lot of time in Mexico when I was younger. The reality is there is quite a contrast between the people who have money and the people who are quite poor there. It’s quite common to see in the streets at red lights people who are asking for money or selling chewing gum, candy. Sometimes these people put on shows between the red lights, getting in front of the cars. It can be quite elaborate and include fire breathing in the streets. To people who are not used to that it can be quite strange. I grew up seeing that, my idea for fire breathing came from that. We did that for the second album Strangers in Paradise, which had a strong connection to the Aztec culture, from the album cover to the themes in the songs. At the time I was also wearing an Aztec helmet on stage for a couple of the songs. It was also with the intention of doing something spectacular and memorable on stage.
I am aware that Kiss do this as well. It’s quite a different idea behind it. There is a lot of energy when we play live. We run around a lot on stage, perform a lot. A lot of bands don’t really move too much on stage, but we like to go a bit crazy. We really like to give an exciting experience to the public. The fans give back to us and we feed off that energy.
Dead Rhetoric: Considering all the bands that you’ve toured with and played with at festivals, what do you think you’ve learned the most from some of these bands that you’ve applied to Neonfly as far as the live outlook?
Thunder: How flawless some bands sound on stage. You listen to them sometimes and you don’t imagine they would ever make a mistake, the performance is so perfect and so honed. Obviously when we were starting out, we go onstage and we don’t care as much about that, you think the energy is more important. Having the chance early on to tour with some really professional bands, it was pretty clear that no matter what kind of show you put off on stage and how energetic you are, you have to be flawless musically. That sort of separates the men from the boys, really.
We learned that early on touring with some professional bands like Freedom Call and Pagan’s Mind. It really boosted us, we made sure that we were 100% tight on everything before stepping on stage.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the UK heavy rock/metal scene these days? Do you believe you have the proper support and avenues of promotion to ascend up the ladder to become a future main attraction at the big festivals across your country and mainland Europe?
Thunder: Well, that’s a good question! (laughs) I don’t know. For us specifically, I think the music business is a hard business – not just in the UK but everywhere in the world. Ultimately, we are competing with every other band out there for the same festival slots and the same support tours. We have a new management now, we started working with in 2020 just before the pandemic started. Thanks to them we signed to our current label Noble Demon. Obviously the pandemic hit, so there was no chance to do anything yet on the live front. Now that things are opening up again, the management is working to get the shows we want to do to support this album.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess your approach as a songwriter – do you believe you’ve evolved and grown as you gain more seasoning and experience as a musician to achieve more of what you want in this regard?
Thunder: This album really shows that evolution, musically my approach has definitely changed. Detaching myself from my early influences and seeking a sound that is entirely my own and defines the band – that’s one thing. From a production point of view, I was much more secure about what I wanted. Before I had an idea, but I think my understanding of that kind of stuff has really evolved. I can dictate everything and know exactly what I want from each element. You can hear that on this album – the arrangements, the orchestration, the composition, the way the vocals are written and are more expressive. All of that I worked very, very closely with everyone involved.
The vocals we did a huge amount of work in terms of preparation. How the melodies were written, we tried different approaches. It wasn’t about singing the song well, it was about the right expression and the right intention for each section. We wanted to deliver the lines as a singer that could communicate something more than just his technical ability. So that’s definitely something we worked very, very hard on.
Dead Rhetoric: What would surprise us to learn about Frederick the person away from Neonfly? Are there particular hobbies, interests, and passions you like to pursue and dabble in to get those creative juices flowing again away from the music?
Thunder: One thing I love to do is travelling. I love being on the road, whether it’s with the band or just by myself. Living and having experiences, helps the creativity rather than going to the same places all the time.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you believe Neonfly has adapted to the current music industry landscape? Do you believe you have a solid grasp of how to engage your fanbase through social media, and the way that people consume music (streaming versus physical products)?
Thunder: Yeah. It’s something I have had to learn. In this day and age you can’t really run a band without doing all the social media stuff. There’s no point in lamenting about how people don’t buy CD’s anymore. My band started at a time when CD’s were sort of becoming obsolete. We’ve had to grow and adapt to a landscape that was already different. Everyone is very active on social media – maybe the older bands don’t have to be as active because their fanbase was created at a time where all this stuff did not exist and therefore will be with them no matter what. As a younger band, you have to go on social media, be active on there and engage the fans.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider three of the most important albums that shape your outlook on music – and what is your favorite concert memory you’ve had personally as a fan?
Thunder: Wow, okay. There is probably a lot of them. One of the most important albums that turned me on to heavy metal is when I was a teenager is Best of the Beast by Iron Maiden. That was my first metal album that I owned, I bought it based on the cover. I didn’t know of Iron Maiden before, I was so intrigued by it. I heard it and never looked back. Two more albums – hard to say. Bands in general, Edguy was a band that really influenced me. In terms of the early days, I really liked the overall vibe of what Edguy were doing and Tobias’ approach as a songwriter. I consider myself mainly a songwriter, and then a guitarist. Or Tuomas from Nightwish. They have definitely shaped my perception of music. Another album that may have made an impact. A recent album That’s the Spirit by Bring Me the Horizon. What is possible today within modern metal, that opened up my perception to a lot of things.
In terms of concerts, I’ve been to so many concerts and festivals. The most fun times I’ve had have been at Sweden Rock Festival. That has been my favorite European festival, I’ve been to that festival over ten times. Looking back, in 2005 I went entirely on my own. And that was one of my best years as I ended up making so many new friends. When you go and do something crazy like going to a different country entirely on your own, you open up much more to people.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next year or two setting up for Neonfly in terms of promotion, recordings, touring/festival situations? Are you hopeful to get a fourth album out to the public sooner than the break between the last two records?
Thunder: Yeah, we hope that we can get an album out faster than the seven-year gap. I think we will. There are a lot of factors that will help with that, we are happy with our current label. Each time we came out with an album, we had a new label, it felt like starting over again. We have the business side sorted. It’s just a case of writing the music we want to put out and being 100% happy with it before going into the studio. Other than that, next year we hope to tour this album. I want to make sure we tour this album before we put something else out. I know the pandemic was a weird situation for a lot of bands, putting out albums and then working on another one before they tour again. I don’t want to do that, I want to play this album live, it’s a very important album for us.