Evergrey‘s latest album The Storm Within was just released. Frontman Tom S. Englund and guitarist Henrik Danhage are in Atlanta to attend ProgPower, throw an album release party and do some press. That’s where I caught up them for a chat about the new record, the timing of a North American tour, the band’s level of popularity, the tenth anniversary of Monday Morning Apocalypse and other topics.
Chad Bowar: Is it true that the album started with a simple keyboard riff?
Tom S. Englund: It is true. Actually, it was not even a riff, it was a sound. It started with Jonas, the drummer, making this sound on the keyboard that sounded eerie and desolate. It’s a distorted piano sound, actually, which set the tone and the mood for the vibe of the album.
Was the music already written when you decided to go with the lyrical theme, or did you go song by song and then finally decide that we have a theme here?
Englund: We did it song by song. First came the sound, then we did the first song, then that song sort of decided the lyrical theme of having love and losing it. That created this world of emptiness and loneliness.
Then we sat down and talked about it actually, and said, “Where would you be the most lonely in the universe?” It would be if you were lonely on a desolate planet. That sort of inspired the ideas to go to Iceland and film the videos. It was this whole creative process that took on from those simple piano notes.
When things are going well in your personal life is it actually more difficult to write Evergrey lyrics?
Englund: Yeah, but it’s not hard to find inspiration if you look around you and if you’re interested in other people, especially looking at the world today. It’s quite easy.
When you’re recording, how do you divide up the guitar parts on each song?
Henrik Danhage: Even if it’s my guitar part, something that I came up with, sometimes it just makes more sense that Tom plays that part because he can make it sound better or at least in a different way than I can make it sound. I think we do that a lot. For some songs it’s only me playing and for some songs it’s both of us. There’s no logic to it whatsoever. It’s just so natural, what we’re doing right now with the guitars.
I think that is one of the things that really sets us apart from a lot of other bands because especially when you listen to a lot of the rhythm guitars with metal bands, it’s very safe and it sounds very studio, I think. We go for a more live sound where you dig in and do it. I think it really adds a lot of dimension for the few people that listen to guitar playing.
Does that change from the album to when you play it live?
Danhage: Live both of us have to play pretty much all the time. That is a different creature that we have to deal with later. What we do is with the albums we want to make every part as good as possible. Afterwards we don’t even know if we’re going to ever play that song live.
If you would think in those terms about how we are going to pull this off live, that is just going to put a limit on yourself. You make a great song then you have to figure out how to play it live. I think that is the right way to go.
Did you struggle with song order at all on this album?
Englund: Yes, but it was also a very creative process. We sat on the tour bus going home from Belgium to Sweden which is maybe like a 15 hour drive. We played the album over and over again because for us, it’s extremely important that the album experience is an album experience, not a song experience.
For us, it’s important with the song order. It’s important that the lyrics fall with the chronological order of things and not get too spacey. That being said, you could also play the album and have any song taken and played on it’s own. It would still represent that. If we could choose in the days of Spotify, then we would of course like for people to play the album from start to finish in the way that we have decided that it should be presented.
When you go back to back with the soft “The Impossible” into the heavy “My Allied Ocean,” that gives each song even more impact than if they were spread out.
Englund: It’s also written dynamically in that aspect of having those feelings going up and down from the sadness into anger and frustration and maybe even the more violent side of your psyche.
Tom, not everybody can keep up with you vocally, but your friend Floor Jansen from Nightwish is definitely somebody that can. How did her appearance on the album come about?
Englund: It was actually my wife who said, “Maybe you should ask her if she wants to be on the album.” I think the only reason that we didn’t ask her before since we are friends, was because we already had a woman singing on the album, which was Carina.
Carina told me, “Why don’t you ask Floor if she wants to participate on the album?” I guess she had gotten some sort of inside information from Floor. We asked her. When we had a song that sounded like sort of a Nightwish sounding song, we said, ” Yeah, this might work for Floor, definitely.”
It also adds a lot of new energy and other dimensions to Evergrey, which is extremely cool. We are extremely blessed and happy to have friends around us that are in more successful bands than Evergrey, and why not use them while we can?
In addition to your wife, was there any other family members that appeared on this record?
Englund: My daughter’s on it, too, with her friends. She goes to a music high school.
It looks like you have another musician in the family.
Englund: We’ll try to push her in different directions. Maybe becoming a songwriter instead so she can get a hold of the money. (laughs)
Looks like the response so far has been almost unanimously positive to the album.
Englund: I think this album is Hymns for the Broken‘s darker brother, if you will. It’s not as convenient. It’s not as safe as Hymns for the Broken was. It’s an album that demands more from the listener. At the same time, that’s the sort of gamble we took making it.
The reviews are by far better than for the Hymns for the Broken album, which I thought would never be possible. I don’t know what we have done. We have done something that people understand and appreciate. We are just super happy to be able to sit here now and talk to people that over and over tell us the same thing that they think that we made an album that counts and is contemporary and modern.
You are currently in Atlanta at ProgPower. Tell me about the release party that you had today.
Danhage: The release party was awesome. It was fantastic because a lot of those people, we have seen them for so many years at ProgPower. A lot of them stayed away from the temptation and not going in any of those leaking sites where the album is on. They waited so they could share the first experience where they hear the album with us, which I think is pretty cool.
When you are in the U.S. is there a particular restaurant or food that you’ve got to find while you’re here?
Danhage: For me, I always need to do at least one or two General Tso’s, the Chinese chicken. We don’t have it anywhere in Europe, so that is one. Obviously, you need to have some burgers as well and when you get to the West Coast, there’s a lot of those nice Mexican places as well.
You’re here in the U.S. now, but not doing a tour. When can we expect a full North American tour again?
Englund: I think you should expect that somewhere around May of next year.
Evergrey are celebrating your 20th anniversary as a band this year. Do you think your level of popularity is actually at it’s peak right now, two decades in?
Englund: I think the funny thing with being a small band is that it’s evolving and grows all the time. We are always at our peak, I think, because we never had a hit single. We have always been growing, and I think that it means that we are always at our peak, if that makes any sense.
This is the tenth anniversary of your album Monday Morning Apocalypse. Looking back, what do you remember most about making that record?
Danhage: It was a very focused album, but at the same time it was very, very loose. That was the only album that we did with an outside producer. I think that there are some really amazing songs on that one. I love Tom’s singing on that album as well because for me, it’s really cool to hear him being produced. That was just good. I really like that album. It has been 10 years. Time flies.
At that time were you getting along pretty well on a personal lever? Was it a pretty easy process recording it?
Danhage: I think it was before we were heading south, I would say. (laughs) That album was still fun to record. We always have fun when we do stuff.
When you go back and listen to older material, are you able to listen to it with an open mind, or are you critiquing it?
Englund: When I listen to it now, I’m done critiquing. We do that so much and so hard while recording and then you’re so tired of the album. For instance, the Recreation Day album, I couldn’t listen to that album for years. It was 3 or 4 years before I could appreciate that as a musical piece. For me it was just connected with work too much.
I can listen to Evergrey albums if they’re not too new and appreciate them as albums and as music without falling into the producer mode or critique mode.
We’re about out of time. Is there anything that you’d like to add?
Englund: Just that I am an amazing guitar player. (laughs)
(interview published September 9, 2016)