Wilderun – New Horizons Ahead

Sunday, 2nd January 2022

A lot to discuss with Wilderun since the last time we spoke with them before the release of their previous album, Veil of Imagination.  Since that time, the band has been signed by Century Media Records (who re-released Veil afterwards), recorded a new album in the form of the soon-to-be-released Epigone, and hit the road for a fall US tour with Swallow the Sun.  So there was plenty of catch up to play with guitarist/vocalist Evan Andersong Berry, who gave us all of the details concerning the tour, realistic differences in being signed to a label vs being independent, the new album, and plenty more.

Dead Rhetoric: How are things going with the Swallow the Sun tour?

Evan Anderson Berry: They are good, but its very stressful.  This is really the first tour of this sort that we have ever done.  It’s a full month across the country, booked by an agent.  We have done tours before, but it has been self-booked and no more than 2 weeks or so.  So it’s a totally different game.  It’s longer, and some of the drive times are longer.  It’s booked for the headliner, who has a tour bus.  They have the advantage because they have a driver and they can all kind of crash and the driver has a different sleep schedule.  We don’t have that, so we are driving ourselves around.  Also, the load in times are a lot earlier.  When you do DIY tours, you can often just load your stuff around 6 or so.  A lot of times now, it’s like 1 or 2PM load ins and when you do an 11-hour drive, you leave the gig the previous night and you just start going.  I don’t to complain or sound overly negative – it has been a lot of fun and some of the shows have been excellent!  It’s been a little bit of a mixed bag I think, for a few reasons.  Obviously, with the COVID situation, people are still feeling a little iffy and aren’t coming out to shows, which we understand.  It’s also about getting back into the groove of things.  It felt a little weird at first.  But overall, it’s going very well.

The best part about it has been the fact that we didn’t really get to tour after Veil of Imagination was released.  We did like a week run in the northeast and that was it.  We were planning more stuff for the spring and more Veil tour cycle stuff and then the world shut down.  We felt a little robbed of playing those songs.  Even though we are still pre-promoting the new record, it also sort of feels like it is making up for the lack of touring on Veil.  That’s fun.  There are a lot of new fans that found out about us with Veil who have never seen us before.  It’s not just playing to the fans that were there before, there’s a bunch of new people this time who have only recently gotten into us.  It’s been really fun to meet those people and play songs for them.

Dead Rhetoric: I think it’s a bit impressive too, that you are going out there and only playing three songs [laughs]!

Berry: Part of that is that all of our songs are really long and there are probably a couple of songs that we could have chosen that maybe we could have squeezed four in, but we knew what we wanted to play.  We wanted to do a new one, which was the single that was released, and we wanted to play Veil tunes.  Those are all pretty long.  It’s a little bit of, “it’s only three songs…” but it’s still cool.  People of course want to see more that are fans of ours, but it just gives them a reason to come back next time.  It still seems like it’s somewhat satisfying [with three songs].

Dead Rhetoric: What stands out to you about Epigone?

Berry: I would say that first off, it’s always hard for me to know exactly how it feels because I’m so inside of it.  When you work on a record for so long, you almost get to a point where the outside perspective is more accurate than your perspective or mine.  You stop being able to be objective about it.  One thing I can say, objectively, is that it is the best sounding record that we have made.  The mix, the master, the production, the orchestrations – everything sonically about it, we feel better about it than we ever have.  Wayne [Ingram] is the orchestrator and he upgraded all of his libraries and spent a bunch time, so that’s the best it has ever been.  We also spent a lot of time in the studio just getting the tones we loved.  We got Jens Bogren to do the mix, who is amazing, and Tony Lindgren, and just sonically it feels really good.  There’s not one record that I look back on and think that it sounds like shit – I like them all.  But there’s this other part of me that heard this production and thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if this old record had this production?”  So that’s the most definitive thing I could say.

In terms of songwriting and all the other elements that go into it, it’s just different.  It’s not totally different.  It still feels like a Wilderun record and it makes sense to us in terms of the discography.  But some writing choices are a bit different and I think that comes across in the overall tone.

Dead Rhetoric: So was the production something that you were able to spend more time on because of COVID or was it because of the full label backing this time?

Berry: I think it mostly has to do with the label backing.  We were able to increase our overall budget for the record.  Not by too much, but more than we were able to do for the other records.  But we were able to sign a contract and get that amount that is just dedicated to recording and mixing/mastering.  Due to that, we could spend a couple more days in the studio, maybe 2 or 3 extra days.  It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it can make a big difference in finding the tone of the guitars and things like that.  Then working with Fascination Street Studios, they were more expensive than what we have previously worked with and we could pay for that, and it makes a big difference.  We are definitely grateful that we were able to have that opportunity.

Dead Rhetoric: The last time we had talked before Veil came out, it sounded like Veil was meant to come out on a label and you held onto it a bit before it had the initial independent release.  How did Century Media end up coming into the picture after the album was released?

Berry: I think it was a couple of things.  Part of it was definitely the releasing of Veil.  It’s so interesting.  We showed the completed product of Veil to a bunch of labels, I am pretty sure Century Media heard it – I’m sure there’s so many different complicated factors that go into it.  Even just not the right person at the label hearing it, there is always going to be differing opinions in a company like that.  So maybe one person heard it and passed, or it could be that they saw the public response to it.  Obviously, they are running a business and maybe they saw something.  Honestly, I haven’t really talked to them about this, so it’s just me guessing.  But maybe they saw that people liked it more than they were expecting, so they were like, “okay, I guess there’s something there.”  But that’s just me guessing.  I think it was that, and then I know that it was a small thing – after the album was released and we played the 70,000 Tons of Metal Cruise, and there were a lot of people there that saw us in the industry.  We got some more contacts after that, and some more phone calls and emails.  I’m having a hard time remembering what the final factor was that sealed the deal, but it was a few things.

Dead Rhetoric: How has the transition been in going from doing all of the legwork yourselves for a release, to having a label that is helping out with the process?

Berry: It is definitely good.  It’s increasing our marketing and promotion.  We can get more professional hands on deck with what we are doing and it’s great.  It’s nice to have some help with some tasks and have things that are just taken by people at the label.  There are certain people at the label that are way better at that stuff than what we could do.  So it’s great to have those tasks taken off our hands by people who are better at it.  On the flip side, when you throw more people in the picture, it is interesting how you have less of those specific tasks to do, but you now have different tasks that start to pile up.  The communication sometimes becomes more complicated.  When you deal with more people, you are dealing with longer threads of emails and phone calls and that adds it’s own complicated scenarios too.  I honestly think some of it is just a learning process.  We did DIY for 8 years so I think we still have to learn how to delegate tasks and just fit into this new role that we are doing.  It’s not totally different.  In this day and age in music, it’s not like it was a few decades ago.  There are still things we are doing on our own and there is still a lot where the label does more guiding than taking over.  It’s a little bit of both.  They take over some tasks, and some of it is help here and there.  But that’s fine.  So overall it has been good, but there’s been a bit of a learning process and transition.

Dead Rhetoric: Looking back through all of your albums, there’s always some very striking artwork.  Do you feel that having that pairing works well for the band and what you are trying to do?

Berry: Yeah, we definitely care about it.  We are all fans of good art.  So many of my favorite records…there are good albums there with shit artwork, and sometimes it can ruin a record, but it usually doesn’t.  But we value it.  We take a lot of time with it.  We hunt around.  We follow a lot of artists on Instagram.  We like to find new artists.  If something catches our eyes, we keep it in mind for the future and see how it fits.  Come album time, once we get into the process and we have an idea of what the songs feel like and a vague idea about the atmosphere is going to be, we start simultaneously thinking about what the album looks like.  Like, what is a visual that comes to mind?  We will end up listening to demos and pairing it with different artists just to see how they connect early on.  It’s just what makes sense given the atmosphere of the record, or the lyrics sometimes.  It’s a long process, because we are picky.  It has to be a gut, emotional thing.  We have gotten lucky for all of our records, actually.  I’m pretty happy with all of the visuals we have had.

This time around, we happened to find Kim Keever, who does waterpainting.  The art for Epigone was an already existing piece of art that we licensed.  It’s not a painting.  It’s literally paint that is flowing through water.  It’s a photograph of paint in water.  I love his style so much, and we are huge fans.  We happened upon his work, luckily mid-album process.  We saw it and knew that was it.  That was the vibe.

Dead Rhetoric: Knowing that you guys can churn out some longer songs, when you visualize a song, do you look at it in terms of how long it should be, or is it about filling space and when you feel like it has gone far enough you know it is done?

Berry: The length of track is never considered until it’s done.  The song is done when it’s done.  I write very linearly.  I start from the beginning and just keep going.  Sometimes I will take things that I have previously written and put them in the middle of songs, but it is always done thinking about a song from start to end.  I always start at the beginning and just keep adding to it.  Even if I am seven minutes in and I’m stuck, I always have to go back to the beginning and play it all the way through, and see if in that moment it hit right.  It’s all about context.  It could be a great melody or riff, but if it’s not in the right part of the song, you are going to spoil it.  If it isn’t in the right spot, it will die and be wasted.  So I always feel the tension and release that happens over the course of a song.  But because of that process, it sounds corny, but the song kind of tells you when it is over.  You just keep going and then there it is.  I am usually like, “Oh wow, it’s that long…interesting.”  Sometimes there are some that are 5-6 minutes and that’s what it needed.  We don’t pay the length any consideration until we are done.

Dead Rhetoric: This does run into something more silly that I wanted to bring up.  You have the radio edit for “Passenger.”  I assume that is more of a label thing to begin with, but I’m curious about your thoughts about having this shortened version that can go onto say radio stations, in addition to the full album piece.

Berry: It was definitely a long conversation.  When we first gave them the demos/record and the idea was brought up to us, we definitely were like, “uhhh, I don’t know…” and were hesitant about it.  But we had some longer conversations with them about it, and there were a few reasons we began to think it was a good idea.  First off all, we aren’t very aware of this because we are in America, but all the people we talked to said that metal in Europe seems to be very much a thing on the radio, at least a lot more so than over here.  There’s more airplay, and if your song is more than 6-minutes long you just don’t get airplay.  So part of me thought that as long as everyone knows it is a radio edit and it’s a known fact, it’s better to have more people hear it and if they like it when they hear it on the radio, then they will check out the full song.  Ideally, we don’t want people to be looping the radio edit, we want people to just check it out and entice them to hear the record.  It’s like a preview.  I think that’s what most people do.  I don’t think there’s a lot of people out there going, “I prefer the radio edit.” I mean, maybe there are a few if they are impatient.

But seriously, with our fanbase, I think that 99% of the people are just going to listen to the full version.  If it helps get the word out there, we need all the help we can get with exposure.  I am not going to let my ego get too far into.  If someone at the label told us to mess with the version on the record, I would absolutely put my foot down and there would be no discussion to be had.  It’s the record.  If we can’t make the record we want, it’s not worth it.  That’s the whole point.  So the record is final, but when it comes to putting a song on the radio, or with the music video…it was a budgetary thing.  Either we could do two shorter videos or one longer video.  The amount of exposure for two, and the press, is doubled.  When it comes to music videos and the type of stuff we are doing, if we had the budget for a long dramatic storyline with actors…which we would love to do someday but we don’t have the money for that…then we wouldn’t want to do a radio edit and would need the full song for story flow.  But for the videos we have been doing, it’s more performance and atmosphere-based videos, and for those, it’s fine.  Again, just watch the video once and hopefully you dig the song.  Maybe you will come back to it a few times, but I just think that if you dig it, you’ll go listen to the record.

It is a business decision, which I know people don’t like hearing, and saying we shouldn’t do anything for the money.  But we would also like to attempt to make some money with this [laughs].  I should say, we’d like to support ourselves in some minor way, which we are still struggling to do.  As long as it isn’t deeply sacrificing our artistic integrity, like messing with the record that’s a no, but for promotional things like radio, it makes sense to us and we are okay with it.

Dead Rhetoric: I feel like sometimes people get the impression that when you sign to one of the bigger labels, suddenly it’s like the red carpet is rolled out.

Berry: [Laughs] Yeah, that ain’t how it works.  There are maybe a few bands at the top that can make a good living from this sort of thing, but I guarantee to everyone that most of these bands on these labels are struggling like hell.  Everyone needs to understand that.

Dead Rhetoric: Knowing that Wilderun has done some intriguing covers in the past, is there a song that sticks in your mind recently that you would be up for converting into a Wilderun track that you haven’t touched before?

Berry: There are a lot.  But I usually randomly get an idea and forget about it.  There was a song by The Chameleons that I was listening to a few months ago that I really love off of Strange Times.  They are kind of a post-punk band, kind of ’80s and goth-y.  I am forgetting the track but there is a beautiful song on that record that I could imagine doing a lot of things with it.  But some songs just kind of pop into my head and then I forget about it.  Maybe I’ll try to remember this one!

Dead Rhetoric: What’s planned for next year after Epigone is released?

Berry: We are going to try to tour more.  Nothing is confirmed now, and the world is a little weird still.  There are tours being booked and tours being cancelled at the same time.  So no concrete plans yet but I can vaguely say that we are going to try to tour as much as we can for the new record.

Dead Rhetoric: For old times sake, you could always pull off a nation-wide Wilderun/Aether Realm tour…

Berry: Hey, that possibility is always open.  If not next year, then I’m sure Wilderealm 4 will happen at some point.  They are our buds and we love them.  So definitely at some point.

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