interview for DPRP by Andy Read
THE INNER CIRCLE
Known as the Kings of Morose Metal – Sweden’s Evergrey have unleashed an album that aims to tackle the difficult issues of child abuse and religion. Andy Read was invited to the band’s Gothenburg studio to hear the album and interview the whole band. Strap yourselves in for a roller coaster ride of emotions.
‘It’s a thing that makes me want to kill people.’
I’m sitting no more than three feet away from the tall, dark-haired figure.
‘To be honest I would easily take 30 years in jail if it came to killing a person who did something like that.’
From the mixture of intense sadness and anger in his dark eyes, I know that he means every word.
Until five years ago, I earned my living working as a daily newspaper reporter. It can be a pretty depressing job, spending much of your time retelling stories of heartbreak, incompetence, family tragedies, everyday mishaps and at times downright evil. From interviewing a mother who’d lost her husband and three children in a car accident, to daily witnessing the body parts of the victims of Fred and Rose West being carried out of 25 Cromwell Street in plastic boxes, there’s a lot of sadness in this world.
Out of all the stories I covered, there’s one that is lodged irreplaceably in my memory. I was in court and a man in his 60’s was in front of the judge on a horrific catalogue of child abuse charges involving children as young as six and seven.
He had pleaded guilty. Normally in such cases, the English judge is given the details of the case and hears any defence pleas before passing a sentence. On that day however, the judge was informed that the accused had actually videoed all of his ‘acts’ – accumulating a huge video library that detectives had discovered in a secret chamber under his home. So that the judge could appreciate the serious extent of the incidents, before sentencing, the prosecution announced it would show a ‘compilation’ tape relating to the 20 or so sample charges the man was facing.
As a result, that day I witnessed a 30-minute video that thankfully very few of you will ever endure but one that has left an indelible stamp on the way I view the world. Nine years later, barely a day goes by without something prompting me to relive the sick images I saw that day.
Therefore, when I see the intense sadness, mixed with intense anger in the eyes of Tom S Englund, as he speaks of people who abuse children – I feel I know exactly what he is feeling.
Having interviewed the band twice before and having seen them play live on three occasions, I make no apologies for the fact that I didn’t hesitate when asked if I wanted to travel to the band's studio in Gothenburg to have an early taste of the new album and speak to its creators. I knew I was going to listen to the album hot off the presses - although exactly how hot off the presses, would be revealed later!
Based in an old mill on the outskirts of the city, Division One is an impressive studio by any standards. The band has spent the past two years or so, converting a once-derelict building into a modern recording facility combined with bedrooms, office, gym and kitchen, plus a games/video room.
However, as we pop open the first beers, it soon becomes apparent that this isn’t quite going to be the usual listening session. Nope, the new album is to be called ‘The Inner Circle’ but as of an hour ago it was still being finished! As we drown the first drops of amber nectar, we are told to take our time because the tracks are still being burnt to a CD! Even the band members are yet to hear the new album in its entirety.
We assemble in one of the recording rooms. Bottles of beer cover the carpet, candles flutter around the edges of the room and we settle down on a mixture of chairs, settees or just lie on the floor, as Tom hits the play button. The nerves are evident on all the band’s faces.
The Album : The Inner Circle
‘The Inner Circle’ is a concept album of sorts. The theme surrounds the emotional journeys endured by the loved ones of someone who has become a member of a religious cult. Punctuated by snippets of religious rhetoric, female backing vocals and a string quartet from the Gothenburg Symphony, in terms of the music, it lies somewhere between their last two releases. Not as heavy as ‘Recreation Day’. Not as sparse as ‘In Search of Truth’. It has probably the best collection of melodies the band has ever written, yet retains their trademark sounds.
However, it is the depth of emotion and anger contained within the music that will, I’m sure, be its defining characteristic. The closing instrumental (yes instrumental!) is a stroke of genius. As the final notes faded into the room, most of those present just sat still – trying to take it all in. Normally you only get one listen to an album at these sessions. But again the band did not bow to convention and the CD was spun several times over the course of the night. A very good decision, as it is definitely an album that needs a few plays to reveal all its charms.
The rest of night offered the chance to talk to the band members in detail about the five-month odyssey to create the album. What became clear, as I passed from room to room, was that each had found the process of listening to the album for the first time very intimidating.
Jonas Ekdahl & Henrik Danhage
First into the firing line are drummer Jonas Ekdahl and guitarist Henrik Danhage. Having just heard the product of five months toil; I begin by asking whether their impressions were similar to mine. Jonas is the first to jump in.
‘Basically I’ve lived here since the American tour. It’s been a great experience in all ways. Tonight kind of left me with a sad feeling. But it was a good feeling. I was remembering how happy I was when I was recording the parts - but sitting there tonight felt so sad. I never thought it was going to be so deep.’
Henrik adds his opinion with: ‘Two relationships have been crushed through this album. It’s just a deep album that’s filled with all sort of emotions.’
Jonas is the one new member in the band since ‘Recreation Day'. Whereas his Henrik is sloped in the corner of the settee, already looking the worse for alcoholic wear, the youngster of the band is more animated, with evident enthusiasm for this new experience. Coming straight from High School, he got caught up with Evergrey as drum technician for his predecessor Patrick Carlsson. On the new album he’s more than maintained the standard and has also been involved in the song writing, with credits on two of the tracks. ‘We’d never have chosen a guy that’s just 20 years old to be in the band,’ states Henrik. ‘But he’s done 60 or so gigs with us and we knew that he’s very gifted. He looks like a rock star on stage but is not a rock star off stage which is important.’
On ‘Recreation Day’ the band stated that its intention was to have the guitars very much to the fore. This time, I sense it is very much a vocal-orientated album, with the close harmonies and Tom’s voice, by far the dominant instruments. The guitarist agrees. ‘Tom and me were talking before we started this project and we wanted to make a sadder album. This is a soft album. Even though it’s got some really heavy parts, if people like ‘Solitude Within’ and ‘Mark of the Triangle’, then they’ll be into this. If they love ‘Masterplan’ or ‘The Great Deceiver’ then I don’t know.’
And in terms of attracting new fans, a peep at the band’s web forum highlights the advantages of having a decent video and managing to get it aired on MTV. Initially it was the video for ‘Blinded’ that raised the band’s profile (you can see for yourself on the band’s website). Due to the response, the station has recently been airing clips from the first single ‘I’m Sorry’ as well.
‘It’s fucking doubled our album sales in the States,’ enthuses Henrik. ‘No matter what they say about Headbangers Ball, I don’t give a fuck. I wanna be on that show.’
When I spoke to the band a year ago, ‘Recreation Day’ had only just been released, yet had already outsold all of its predecessors put together. Current sales for the album stand at a healthy 100,000 copies. However many fans were disappointed that the much-anticipated European tour never materialised. With little less than a year between the two albums, I suggest the band could have done with a bit more time on the road to promote their last album before entering the studio again. Or is ‘The Inner Circle’ just something they had to get out of their systems?
‘The way I was looking at it, is that we just didn’t get the shows and the tours that we wanted,’ slurs Henrik. ‘We didn’t want to go on another Arch Enemy type support tour. We sat down and thought about our own headlining tour but said ‘Fuck it’ and took the other option, which was to do a new album.’
'We couldn’t have done a better album right now. It’s okay if people don’t like the album but I’m gonna hit the living piss out of anyone who says it’s not a good album. There’s no loose ends. This is our ‘Hysteria’ album - I feel really satisfied with it because we had the time to do exactly what we wanted to do.’
Tom S Englund & Rikard Zander
My second interview is with the pairing of Tom and keyboard player Rikard Zander. These two are far more jocular and we spend the first part discussing the merits of Tottenham Hotspur, (Rikard's team), Manchester United (Tom’s team) and Yeovil Town (my team!), as well as the various musical attributes of Take That, Y&T and Barry Manilow (all apparently in Rikard’s collection!). The last time I interviewed Tom, he was about to get married. Did everything go according to plan?
‘Yes thank you,’ he replies. ‘It was a good wedding. There were 40 people, which was nice. Rikard played a small piece on the piano and Henrik was my best man. The whole band did some Backstreet Boys stuff at the reception, which was cool. It’s on video somewhere. Rikard was the sexy one and I was drunk.’
Stretched out on a large settee he goes on to explain how ‘The Inner Circle’ came to fruition. ‘I wouldn't wish this on anyone,’ he says of the lengthy process, which ended only minutes before the assembled journalists would get to hear the album. ‘When we did the last album, we had a track called 'Unforgiven' that dealt with the issue of the Catholic Church and child abuse. We originally had in mind to do a whole concept album on the issues but didn’t have the time to research it and do it properly. It’s a thing that I’m really upset about. It’s a thing that makes me want to kill people. I have children and if anything like that happened … to be honest I would easily take 30 years in jail for anyone’s kid, if it came to killing someone who did something like that.’
This echoes the sentiments expressed more bluntly by his guitar colleague earlier. ‘Me and Tom, both having kids, it’s a subject we have really strong feelings on,’ said Henrik. ‘Those creeps should be fucking burned you know.’
Clearly moved by his feelings on the subject, Tom takes a breath before continuing: ‘This album isn’t about a specific religion or specific aspect of religion – Muslim, Catholic or whatever. It’s not about bashing religion. It’s about bashing people who take religion and use God or the bible as a justification to do this. Our concert t-shirts are going to say, 'I am my own God, God walking.’
‘We have four songs on the album that are really instant. But in order to make an album interesting and to tell the story, there has to be a bit of variety. There’s a couple of slower ballad pieces that are quite atmospheric.’
Rikard continues: ‘When I joined Evergrey, the thing that struck me, was what they can get away with. They can have just the keys and vocals going for nine minutes and the metal crowd is really into it.’
‘At the Progpower Festival in Atlanta last year,’ elaborates Tom, ‘we played the whole ‘Trilogy of the Damned’ thing. The whole place just went quiet. To have 1,500 people just standing, listening to you for nine minutes is very powerful.’
I again get two personal reactions when I ask what it felt like listening to the album for the first time. ‘The feeling on it is very dark, very melancholy,’ says Rikard. ‘I’m going to have to analyse it later. We do one song at a time and think ‘This is a catchy chorus’ or ‘I like that solo’. But when you hear the whole thing….’
Tom is more guarded about his reactions – partly the proud parent with new born child and partly like the father watching his child open a Christmas present – and not sure if he’s bought what the child wanted.
‘When it finished playing and I said: ‘That’s it’ to everyone, there was silence. The first second I was afraid – was it silence because everyone was thinking it was bad? But when I looked at everybody, I think it was because we left them with a feeling that meant something.’
‘I do feel it was really unfair to you. This is something that we’ve put down over five months and I’m giving it to you to pass your sentence on in 48 minutes. Even though we’ve done this before, I told Rikard straight afterwards that this is the most awkward situation I’ve ever been in. I think the depth of the album is what’s hitting us. It is not something that can be judged on one listen. Next time we’re gonna buy all the journalists a Walkman and tell them to sit down, go out for a walk, whatever and then we’ll do the interviews - when they’ve all listened to it at least three times.’
Tom provides most of the voices for the various characters, although there are some choral parts, some voiceovers and again his wife Carina plays a prominent role. One thing that does hit you straightaway, is how different his voice sounds this time around. Tom confirms that was a deliberate move.
‘I think I’ve developed as a vocalist, but it’s also the first time I’ve been the boss of the production - being able to say this is what it’s gonna sound like when I sing. I think I am the best person to know how I should sound on a record.
‘That’s been the real pleasure of doing it at our own place,’ adds the keyboardist. ‘Normally you just go into the studio and record your bit and leave the studio. But now, any of us can come back and say: ‘I can do this better’ or ‘I can do this different’ and now we have the opportunity to do it again.’
‘As Mutt Lange said when he was producing Def Leppard's ‘Hysteria’ – ‘Don’t be afraid to take things away’. That’s one of the best secrets about recording. In fact we were really influenced by ‘Hysteria’ in recording this album. As we’re using the same desk and microphones as well. Thankfully it didn’t take us four years though!!!!’
After the United States and Britain, Sweden is the third biggest music exporter in the world and other than cars, music is now the second-most important export for the nation’s economy. In creating the new studio, Tom says he has one of the best set-ups in the country and is clearly keen to develop that side of his career. ‘I get mails every other week asking me to produce or sing on someone’s record,’ he says.
The band is certainly building its profile all over the place. They were recently nominated for a Grammy award in Sweden! With other nominees including Backyard Babies, Opeth and Mustasch – they lost out to The Haunted. In the lead up to the release of ‘The Inner Circle’, InsideOut has just re-released special editions of ‘The Dark Discovery’ and ‘Solitude*Dominance*Tragedy’ containing extended artwork and bonus videos.
However, there has also been one major disappointment for the band. Especially as it followed what could have been their biggest breakthrough yet – and what, for Tom, would have been a dream come true. The singer takes up the story. ‘Our manager Edward had spent two months trying to land us an opening slot for one of the world’s best known metal artists. The tour would only consist of five dates in Scandinavia in arenas that take in between 13,000-16,000 spectators. The opening act slot was offered to us and three other bands in Scandinavia. We were of course not sure of not getting it, seeing that the other bands were more mainstream than us, but it would all be up to the management of the headliner.’
‘So one Monday morning all of us were sitting in our studio when the phone rang. I picked up and just awaited the bad news but as soon as Edward opened his mouth, I heard that he was all excited. ‘WE GOT IT!’ he said and I screamed the same words on the top of my lungs to my fellow band mates. We walked around in bliss for the rest of the day and called our endorsers and sponsors making them give us more stuff. Since we were now doing this high profile tour, everyone all of a sudden treated us with the biggest respect and I think we could have gotten everything we wanted at that point. At least it felt like it. We planned a film crew to film one of the nights in Stockholm for an upcoming DVD. So that night I went to bed and the last thing I thought of was of course the tour and what it would surely have meant to us.’
‘The next day, the phone rang and it was Michael. He only said – ‘This will ruin your day, Ozzy Osbourne has had a serious accident on a bike and is in hospital and the tour is cancelled!’ It felt like … have you ever have dreamed that you won a million dollars just to wake up and find out its not there.’
Earlier, I’d heard that an unfortunate journalist from Italy had been stranded at Milan airport because of snow. His flight was due to have taken off at 6am and he was due to be the first arrival. It wasn’t until 10pm that the poor chap finally arrived. After enduring a 16-hour Journey from Hell to listen to a 48-minute album and do a few interviews, it was nice to see the band all go out and welcome him to their studio.
My final liaison was with bass player Michael Hakansson ... in the bedroom! He may have been on his lonesome, yet despite the very late hour and a fair few measures inside him, I found him the most talkative and thoughtful member of the band. We started off bizarrely with the band’s manager coming in, having been asked by Jonas and Henrik to retrieve a bottle of tequila from the bassist. He was sent away with the message: ‘Tell them I bought it’.
Two minutes later, he returned with the same request. This time he was told that the bottle that was sitting half-full before us, was empty. Two minutes later he returned again. This time he had been told to only return with the empty bottle as proof. Michael duly poured the bottle into a series of small glasses for us and gave him the empty bottle!
As he polished off the first glass, he began by stating that his own musical tastes are by far the heaviest in the band. ‘I joined Evergrey as I wanted to develop my music in that sort of direction. Personally I like to listen to the more heavier sort of thing.’ I ask whether he has any plans to do a project on the ‘heavier side’. But he confirms that: ‘Evergrey is my main priority for now’.
However he does appear the most enthusiastic about the recent tour with Arch Enemy. ‘We were seen as the odd man out on that tour but that’s what we need to do at this stage of our careers if we want to reach a new audience. I actually think we have a lot more in common with Arch Enemy in terms of our melodies than the other two bands on the tour. It was a great and we’ve really got something going in the States now – there are two American magazines that have flown journalists in tonight, which shows we are building a profile over there.’
It seems Michael also has the eye for promotion and publicity. ‘The Swedish Grammy’s were great for us - even though we didn’t win. We were on the same table as one of the biggest dance music guys in Sweden and the cameras were showing us all night pulling faces and having a laugh. When he did an interview for national television and was asked what his favourite band was, he said ‘Evergrey’ which was really cool.’
I end by asking the same question that I started with four hours ago. As he’d had a little longer to evaluate his reaction, I wonder what the bassist felt, after hearing the album for the first time.
‘It was weird, because I came in and did my bits and went away. It’s definitely not an album you can listen to once and say this is a great album. Albums like that, you tend to get bored of after three listens, as they’ve revealed everything to you on the first date so to speak. The one’s that have many different layers and reveal themselves to you bit-by-bit are the one’s that become great albums. It’s a bit like this is going to be our ‘Operation Mindcrime’ in the way that it’s an album that people will want to come back to again and again.’
And on that upbeat note, we really do finish off the tequila and, as the clock strikes midnight, I make way for Michael’s final interview.
If I say that the food bill came to 300 Euros, the drink bill weighed in at 800 Euros and I finally got to bed at 4am, then rest assured that the band is at good as throwing a party as it is at making a record. I fell asleep, knowing that I had been privileged to be the first to hear what will undoubtedly be one of the most significant albums of 2004. Great band, great guys
The Official Evergrey Website
Read our Round Table Review of Evergrey's The Inner Circle" !
Live Images © 2004 Andy Read