Heart of Steel: Interviews

Dream Evil Guitarist & Producer Fredrik Nordstrom

Interview by Lord of the Wasteland
Promo pics courtesy of Century Media & Dream Evil

Fredrik Nordstrom is a name that any metalhead has certainly read about. His production work has become a benchmark with such bands as In Flames, At The Gates, Arch Enemy, Dimmu Borgir, Dark Tranquillity, The Haunted, Opeth, The Crown, Soilwork, Sinergy, Hammerfall, Zyklon…the list goes on and on. He is the man responsible for producing such landmark albums as THE JESTER RACE, SLAUGHTER OF THE SOUL and DEATH CULT ARMAGEDDON. It seems that whatever he touches turns to gold. While his production work is enough to immortalize the man, he also finds time to record music as part of the traditional/power metal group, Dream Evil. The band’s music is written with tongue planted firmly in cheek, but this is not a joke band, either. They like to play fun, catchy heavy metal! Since 2002, the band has released three full-length albums and their latest CD, THE BOOK OF HEAVY METAL, just got top marks from me. Dream Evil was also voted 2002’s best new band by the Metal Rules staff.

When I received word that Fredrik Nordstrom was available for interviews, I leapt at the chance. In fact, I ended up doing this interview at my in-laws’ house during my lunch hour from work! Fredrik was an extremely funny person and had me laughing through a good portion of our 45-minute interview. Read on as we discuss his storied production work, Dream Evil, what is required to be in THE BOOK OF HEAVY METAL, In Flames, cheesy lyrics and “heavy metal accidents.”

I have been spinning the promo of the new Dream Evil CD, THE BOOK OF HEAVY METAL, almost non-stop since it arrived from Century Media last week. The rest of the country won’t get to hear it until July 13th, but from what I have heard so far, this is the best Dream Evil CD yet.

You mean it’s not out there yet?

No. Not until July 13th.

OK. I heard it was out in the U.S. now?

I wish it was out already (laughs)!

(Laughs) I don’t have full control of that. I just play guitar and drink beer (laughs). They take care of the rest.

(Laughs) Well, as I said, this is definitely the best Dream Evil CD so far.

Thanks. I think so, too. This one and the first one.


How long did it take you to get this one together? I know you were kind of rushed to get the last album, EVILIZED, in stores.

We had to try to make a better album than EVILIZED this time. Everybody was concentrating since we finished EVILIZED until we started this one with writing songs, so we had over forty songs to choose from. We chose eighteen of them and we actually left some really good songs behind. We thought we would try to pick the songs that fit best to that album title because the working name of this record—THE BOOK OF HEAVY METAL—was supposed to be the name for the second album. EVILIZED is a very ordinary title, but THE BOOK OF HEAVY METAL, people are going to think its cool or are going to be upset and give us the finger (laughs). That’s why we chose that name and the record company was actually quite nervous about that name.

Why is that?

A lot of people think that we are trying to WRITE the book of heavy metal and tell people how to play metal. The idea for the name actually came from my work in the studio. I’ll be working on a doomy ballad for a band and I can feel, like, “We need a church bell right here!” and they’ll ask “Are you sure about this?” and I’ll say, “Yeah, yeah! This is in the manual of heavy metal. A church bell!” Listen to “Hells Bells” by AC/DC. What would that song be without the church bells? When we did the second HammerFall album, I was sitting with Stefan [Elmgren, guitar] and I said, “On this part here, you should put harmonies on the guitar solos,” but he said, “No, then it will sound like Helloween!” I said, “I don’t give a fuck about Helloween! Your solo is screaming for a harmony because it’s in the book of heavy metal. It has to be there. You need it to make it better.” I told the guys in the band about this and, of course, I had said it in the studio many times doing our music, as well. Everybody said that it was a fucking good album title. It was supposed to be the name for EVILIZED, but I, and the rest of the band, felt that it wasn’t the album that you could call “The Book of Heavy Metal.” We had two working titles for this album—THE BOOK OF HEAVY METAL and the other one was ARENA ROCK, like big gladiator arenas or big rock stages. That’s why some songs were left out. They were more fitting to the name ARENA ROCK. Maybe that will be the fourth album?



There are a lot of songs on this record that are anthems made for big crowds going crazy in arenas! The title track, of course, and “Let’s Make Rock” are great anthemic, fist-pumping songs!

Thank you.

How does the band go about writing so many songs that will get fists pumping and heads banging and just making people go crazy and having a good time? Do you have to go out of your way to write songs that are this catchy or melodic or does it just come naturally?

I actually recorded “Let’s Make Rock” for EVILIZED. I have always been fully sure that this was a good song, but the singer and the bass player were always like, “No it’s too fucking cheesy.” You know when you take a beer when you’ve been out working in the fucking forest or doing hard work and you open your fucking cold beer and take the first sip…”OHHHHH GREAT!!!!” That’s the feeling I get for this song and when you get this feeling, you know it’s right. We don’t sit down and think, “Oh, okay. Let’s do Ozzy Osbourne down here.” You just do stuff.



There’s a line in the title track that goes, “I don’t need a flashy house/ No car or ugly wife.” I laughed my ass off when I heard that (laughs)!

(Laughs) Yeah, that’s Snowy’s [Shaw, drums] lyrics and its fucking funny also because that’s how he lives. He lives in a trash house in Gothenburg with his rehearsal room and he has a coffin in his living room. He’s a totally weird guy and that’s his lifestyle. I have a fancy house out in the countryside because I have so many kids and stuff and Niklas [Isfeldt, vocals] just bought a new car and our bass player is getting married (laughs). One thing I remember very clearly is that when we were jamming and recording, I thought this was right. I don’t need all this stuff. Playing music is all I want to be. The only thing I want is what my parents don’t, so this line is how Snowy is but also a tribute to the young metalheads. Metal music is still rebellious even if you are old.

I’m 32 and I still love it!

(Laughs) And you rebel, too?

(Laughs) Well, I try but only if my wife lets me (laughs).


Who did the cover art for the record?

I don’t know (laughs). Honestly I don’t know! We had been fighting with Century Media over EVILIZED. We told them we didn’t want this fucking painted cover. I like painted covers, but I like the covers of the first Van Halen or Judas Priest’s PAINKILLER album or BALLS TO THE WALL by Accept. Very straightforward…no bullshit, so we wanted to give them ideas of what we wanted. I think it was one of the normal artwork guys who works for Century Media who did the cover. I still think there’s too much on the cover but it’s on its way to being something simple, you know? They always ask me what I want on the cover and I always answer, “I want only a dead fish” (laughs). “OK. We’ll speak with the other guys. Thank you” (laughs). I don’t want 200 painted dragons on the cover. There are still the dragons on the cover!



I just noticed the two of them there!

Yeah. We don’t use the word “dragon” even one time on this record. We didn’t do that on the second one, either. They are very nice dragons, though (laughs). They are!


(Laughs) There are some guest musicians on THE BOOK OF HEAVY METAL: Mats Olausson, the keyboardist from Yngwie Malmsteen’s band, “Metal” Mike Chlasciak from Halford and Stefan Elmgren from HammerFall. Which songs do they play on because the promo doesn‘t mention it?

Stefan did a guest solo on a song called “Reciting Metal”—that was the working title—and that song never made it to the album. We recorded eighteen songs and along the way, we threw away two songs and me and Snowy did a new song called “The Sledge.” So we took out two songs—“Let’s Make Rock”, which was leftover from the second album but was perfect for THE BOOK OF HEAVY METAL. We played these eighteen songs for eight guys who like Dream Evil and metal music and took them to the studio, gave them the names of the songs, put in the CD, gave them a paper and pen and told them, “Be honest. Say what you think. If it’s crap, it’s crap. If you love it, you love it. Don’t worry about me or anyone else in the band.” Then I let them listen for two and a half hours. I went in after with a big box of beer, a couple bottles of whiskey, stuff like that and took the papers and let them drink and have fun right there in the control room of the studio. Then I made them listen to the CD again and there was no difference between what they liked sober and what they liked drunk (laughs)! I told them to give me the twelve songs they wanted and that is what you have in your hands now as chosen by people who like metal music!

Now that’s the way to do it!

I think it’s a good way to do it. Some songs that I didn’t think were good enough would have ended up on the album because we vote as a band because everybody writes music and we try to be democratic. This lets the listener decide instead. The European version and the North American version are the same, but they also gave us a Japanese version with a song called “The Enemy,” which will be track thirteen for Japan. The song is perfect for Japan: fast, with a lot of guitar stuff. More power metal style. They know power metal! I hope that song will be on our next album everywhere else because it is very good. They have this weird system in Japan. All CDs are very expensive there and they pay a lot of money for a CD, so the record company needs bonus tracks. Otherwise the Japanese people import the album from the U.S.. That is why they always get the bonus tracks. What we try to do now is do good bonus tracks to put on the Japanese album and for the next album, we move these bonus tracks to the normal running order of the next album like we did with “Let’s Make Rock.”


It’s funny, too, because in North America, the Japanese CDs are collector’s items and we end up paying extra to import the CDs from there so we can have the bonus tracks (laughs)!

Yeah, I don’t like all these bonus tracks on the albums. I like the Japanese audience but the system they have is weird. They need all these bonus tracks because the prices of the CDs are so high.



Well, you have given the North American fans something extra with the release of THE BOOK OF HEAVY METAL—a bonus video for the title track and a DVD packaged along with the CD!

That is true but it will actually be released like that worldwide. I hate this extras, bonus…whatever. I love it but I want to give it to everybody, so that was the plan with the DVD. It is about one hour long but the filming was done mainly by us and our tour manager. It isn’t professional because I wanted it more like a documentary so it’s a low-cost DVD, but at the same time, it will be nice for the people to see how the band works.



So is it just footage taken while the band was recording the CD or is there other stuff on there, too?

Half of it is the making of THE BOOK OF HEAVY METAL and the other half is backstage stuff. Unfortunately the main stuff is from the Japanese tour because that was the only place we brought the cameras. We only did a few gigs after that, so there is very little from the HammerFall tour and so on.



I just watched the video last night for the title track and it’s a pretty cool video!

We worked with Patric Ullaeus on that.

He did that new Dimmu Borgir video, “Progenies of the Great Apocalypse,” too. Pretty slick stuff. Who else has we worked with?

In Flames and don’t forget he worked with N’SYNC and Rollergirl. Have you heard of Rollergirl?

Just from the movie, Boogie Nights (laughs)!

Different. She has been selling millions of albums in Europe. Patric was a guy that was a high-class video director who did commercials and then he said, “Fuck this, I like heavy metal” and moved back to Gothenburg and did heavy metal videos instead.


In the video, there is a guy in the sky—kind of looks like a God or something—who does the spoken word part. Who is that?

It’s my boyfriend (laughs). No, that’s our drummer Snowy Shaw!

He looks like a guy out of the Mad Max movies or something in this video! He has a big Mohawk and the weird outfit! I didn’t even recognize him in the picture on the back of the CD without his moustache and regular hair.

He always changes haircuts. Always. Me and Snowy put a lot of work into designing clothes and things like that to make something extra, you know, instead of standing on a fucking mountain looking angry (laughs). This was an expensive video.



What is it like working with Snowy Shaw? He is such a big name from working with King Diamond and such a talented drummer. Does he ever pull the “rock star” attitude (laughs)?

Yeah, he’s got a big ego (laughs). But he is also a very skilled singer, a very skilled guitar player—much better than me actually (laughs)—and he is a brilliant drummer. He is a really good songwriter, too, but especially lyrics. People who say we are singing clichéd lyrics are totally insane. I don’t think so! Listen to Joacim Cans solo album! Or HammerFall! “Hearts on fire, hearts on fire, burning burning with desire.” THAT is fucking cheesy (laughs)! I like to light farts on fire, but…actually I love those metal clichés (laughs).



Do you actually write while you’re in the studio or is everything ready to go beforehand?

We have never rehearsed as a band before a studio recording. We did the first two albums mainly with acoustic guitars and then arranged it along the way, but with this new one, we did quite a bit of decent pre-production with one mike on drums and one of the guitar and one on the bass. We never, as a band, came down for rehearsals. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s bad. For example the fourth track on the album, “No Way.” Gus and I did that song very fast—in one week—before we started to record the album but we never checked to see if the tuning—the pitch—of the song was good for Niklas’ [Isfeldt, vocals] voice. It turned out to be too high, so we had to work really hard in the studio. You can hear it on the high parts because he is almost on his way to puking (laughs).

He almost sounds like Ozzy Osbourne during the lead in to the chorus of “No Way.”

It is Ozzy!

(Laughs) It is not!

(Laughs) No, it is a Swedish singer from a band called Hellfueled.

Really?!? I just listened to their CD yesterday, actually! It’s called VOLUME ONE, right?

(Laughs) Yeah!

I swear to God, I just listened to that CD yesterday and I couldn’t believe how much the singer sounded like Ozzy! This was also going to be one of my questions for you later since you produced VOLUME ONE (laughs)!

When we were in the studio, I became really good friends with this guy and I said we had this song called “No Way” that I was adding verses and pre-choruses to. We did that song really fast actually and everybody said after that it was fucking Ozzy Osbourne! I’m not an Ozzy fan, but I just put in what I felt was right for the song, you know? It turned out to be this awesome Ozzy tribute. Andreas, the vocalist from Hellfueled, is actually the singer in an Ozzy tribute band!


Has there been any pressure from the label to try to top the sales of the previous two records with this one?

No, not really. They are quite easy to work with. It’s more us who try to push them to find the right market for our music. They do what they can do with the money. I know that if they had ten million U.S. dollars, we would sell ten times more albums but they don’t have the money. Everything is left up to marketing, unfortunately. You have really good bands that sell nothing and you have crappy bands that have a great image and sell so many albums.



Very true. Gus G. really has a dominant presence on this record. His leads really help to get the listener into where you are going with the theme of the record. What is it like working with him?

Yeah, he’s a fucking good guitar player! I try not to do very many guitar solos (laughs). This is what happens, though. I worked on the first three Soilwork albums and I was like, “Fuck, there’s so many guitar solos here! How did this happen?” It was a heavy metal accident and then on the next one, NATURAL BORN CHAOS, there were no guitar solos and everyone said, “Where are the fucking guitar solos?” “Oh, uh, we forgot.” (laughs) It was not on purpose…it was a heavy metal accident.

“Heavy metal accident”…I like that (laughs)! I’ll have to use that as the header for this interview (laughs).


How did you and Gus end up working together anyway?

I was on a vacation in Greece where he is from. It was actually a vacation but I also had a production meeting for a death metal band called Exhumation and he was a friend of the guitar player. He followed me back to Sweden and I tried to find a Swedish band for him. I told him I had some songs that I had been working on and he listened to them. He liked them very much and we started writing music together. That was also a heavy metal accident (laughs). But a good one!


(Laughs) Will Dream Evil be touring North America for this album?

I don’t know. We cannot decide where we want to play. People write on our website, “Please come to America! Please come to Brazil! Please, please, please!!” Yes, we know but this is politics and money. We need somebody who arranges concerts to contact us to do it.



So it’s in the hands of the promoters.

Mainly, yes. So if people buy the albums rather than download them off the internet, then we will be able to come and play. The company sees that we sell enough albums. We actually had an offer to go to Mexico and play three headline shows. We sold ONE COPY of our first album in Mexico (laughs)! I think the second one sold 227 (laughs), but there was a market there to have us play live. Korea is the same. We get offers to go over there and play and be one of the main bands. There are 15,000 people at this festival. Even if a band sells well—600 to 800 copies—in Korea, 15,000 people come to the show.

Is that the Busan Festival?

Yeah, exactly.



So this is the band’s third CD now. Is Dream Evil becoming a real band and not just a side project for all of you?

Oh yes. We have been a band from the first album. Everybody has side projects. I have my studio, Peter [Stalfors, bass] and Niklas have their normal day work and Snowy has Notre Dame. He has also joined Kee Marcello’s solo project, K2. Gus has, I don’t know how many bands—Firefart and Nightgay…

(Laughs) Hey, now that’s not nice!

(Laughs) Don’t write that! He will be upset. He’s too serious (laughs). I can make the joke with him only. When I did interviews for the first album, everybody asked me about his real name and I said it was “Konstantin Guitaropolis” and he was so fucking angry about that!

(Laughs) “Guitaropolis”???

(Laughs) Exactly, come on…Guitaropolis (laughs)! It was a joke but he was like, “NO NO NO!! You are making a fool of me!”



(Laughs) So how do you set time aside to write, record and tour for Dream Evil when there are so many other projects on the go, too? Which gets top priority?

Snowy and Gus work full time with music, but Nklas and Peter have normal daily work. When they are working on Notre Dame or Firewind, I am working at the studio and Niklas is selling heating cables and Peter is some kind of evil Hitler in a computer company (laughs). It fits actually quite good, though. Everybody has the same amount of time to spend on the band. It would be bad if the only band Snowy had to work with was Dream Evil because he would have nothing else to do, while three other guys are doing work to support their family. You cannot support a family with a band like Dream Evil. I have been doing this for four years and I have made…not very much (laughs). But I have a lot of fun and that’s what really counts.

How has your life changed since you have become part of a band rather than being someone who is behind the scenes in the studio?

In a positive way, I think. I have been able to see more about happens after the studio because before that I didn’t. I would work with a band and say “thank you, goodbye” and they would be off touring for two years. Of course my life has been much more hectic working in the studio all day then doing all these interviews. I’m coming home and saying hello to my family then I have top pick up the phone and start calling until one o’clock in the morning. Then I go to bed and start all over at seven o’clock in the morning again. I don’t have much time for other stuff. I get up and drive my kids to school and then back to work again.



How do you keep up the energy to do such a hectic pace?

Sometimes I don’t have the fucking energy but you have to do it anyway. “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” You’re probably thinking, “Again with the lyrics” (laughs)! I remember one time on the Hammerfall tour and I was sitting on this tour bus spending 21 hours doing nothing EVERY DAY! You sleep and then you get up and do nothing, nothing, nothing! Snowy is also a productive guy, so we bought a tape recorder for ten dollars or something and some cassettes and we recorded some music. We couldn’t just sit there doing nothing and watching a wall. I guess you get used to that if you are a touring band and it’s not hard to sit and do nothing and have a good time with the wall (laughs).



Since you have worked with so many great bands over the years, I wanted to ask you a few questions about your production work if that’s alright?


Out of all the CDs that you have produced for other bands, which are you the most proud of?

The first really good sounding death metal album that I did was SLAUGHTER OF THE SOUL for At The Gates. It was a brilliant work from the band. Everything was performed so well and I still think it is one of the best I have done and that was done ten years ago in 1994. I liked Spiritual Beggars’ AD ASTRA. That is one album that I can take and listen to and enjoy very much. Both of the Dimmu Borgir albums I did [PURITANICAL EUPHORIC MISANTHROPIA and DEATH CULT ARMAGEDDON] have been challenging traveling to Prague and recording the orchestra. It is almost over my capacity of what I can handle (laughs). Also they have six egos in the band and everybody wants to be heard the most so I had to tell them to shut up because there were eighty people in the fucking orchestra!



Do you find that you are more critical of Dream Evil albums than those you produce for other bands?

I think I’m more critical with other bands, actually. When I started up Dream Evil, I wanted to have loose feeling music…beer drinking music. That is Dream Evil. The first album was very hard to do because it was important that it sounded good. The people who know me know me as the guy in the studio, not the guy who plays guitar. I think I am more critical of other people’s music because the songs are not my babies, you know? There’s a saying that you hold your own kids one way but you hold someone else’s kids another because you don’t want to drop them on the floor (laughs). I think it’s the same here.



Are there any bands that you would like to work with that you haven’t got a chance to yet?

Yes, but all those bands have been splitting up or are very old (laughs)! Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, The Scorpions…one of my favorite songs by The Scorpions is “Still Loving You.” Do you know that song?

Oh yeah! I’m a big Scorpions fan!

Whenever I hear it, the hair on my arms stands up because I get the feeling that the guy who wrote those lyrics is really meaning what he is saying. It gets my attention. The last song on Thin Lizzy’s album BLACK ROSE [“Black Rose-A Rock Legend”] is an amazing song as well. AC/DC…straight rock and roll…no bullshit! I like that.

I thought you were going to say Judas Priest for some reason?

Some songs I like very much but I’ve never been a big Judas Priest fan. I like their work but nothing connected with me when I was growing up. Maybe at some bad parties when I was 14 years old and drunk (laughs) but I have never had an association with Judas Priest. I like Halford a lot, though.



And now he is back with them again, too! What do you think of these bands who get back together? KISS is still dragging their show around with the makeup on and some big bands from the 80s have released albums this year…like The Scorpions!

If a band is going to get back together, they need to have some fucking energy when they perform live. You need that to get back the highlights of the glory days for the people who go there. People want to hear songs like “United” and “Breaking The Law,” but not some lame version of the original they did when they were twenty years younger. Hopefully it will be the same with Europe, for example. If they are only there for making money, that is boring, but if they come out and have lots of energy, that is good. They have to have some kind of happiness and not just do it for the money. This reunion stuff can bring some money to people. They were headliners before and now they play festivals and that means money. I know that.



Which band has been your favorite that you have worked with in the studio?

There has been many actually that have been easy to work with. Spiritual Beggars. I’m working with a band in the studio now called The Fifth Sun and they are becoming more like friends than clients. It’s tough to pick out one specific band. 95% of the time, they are very nice people that I have worked with.



I spoke with Mikael Stanne from Dark Tranquillity yesterday and he mentioned that you worked with them on their upcoming CD.


I’m a big fan and I was wondering if you can give me a hint of what it sounds like?

It’s ten times better than HAVEN, which I don’t like personally—only the first song. DAMAGE DONE was a much better step forward and I think this is some kind of a development over DAMAGE DONE.

Are there any clean vocals on this one (laughs)?

No, there is not. This has been a big issue for the band I promise you (laughs)! I think that it was a good move for the band to have clean vocals like they did on PROJECTOR but for their career, it was not a good move. Before that album, in Europe anyway, there was Dark Tranquillity and a small band called In Flames. Then In Flames started going in one direction and Dark Tranquillity was going in another direction and suddenly In Flames totally ran over them. But now, Dark Tranquillity is the big European death metal band instead of In Flames. They have a very good man on the mike—Mikael Stanne.



What is your opinion of the direction that In Flames has taken their sound?

I haven’t listened too much to their latest two albums, but…if I say anything bad, it’s only going to sound like I’m angry (laughs). The band was the leader of the genre until they did CLAYMAN and then with REROUTE TO REMAIN, they rerouted to follow bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit, whatever. The American style of music. It’s turned out good for them sales-wise. Their original style has disappeared but they sell more albums, so that’s good for them. Now In Flames is a big business.



They are doing extremely well over here in North America. They’re on the Billboard charts and they have sold more copies of SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR ESCAPE than any other album, but there are a lot of their older fans who are angry that they aren’t still playing the music they did on THE JESTER RACE and WHORACLE.

They might go back to that some day. I don’t know.


In fairness, too, those albums were recorded almost ten years ago and people get older, their tastes change…

Yes, but I think they were breaking ground with that music but they aren’t breaking ground today. That’s what I think about the music I’ve heard anyway. I haven’t heard the whole album over and over again. They had to do what they like, you know. They also earned that success because they have been touring and touring and touring…so much. I don’t know any band who has been touring as much as In Flames have done.



I just saw their show about two weeks ago, actually.

They have developed as a live band and they always get very good reviews for their live shows. They spend so much time on the road so they have to be very good. I never said they were a bad band (laughs)!



Well thanks very much for the call today, Fredrik. It was a great talking to you and I have had some good laughs.

Uh [loud crash in background], same to you. It was nice talking to you also. Sorry I was just killing a chair (laughs).

Good luck with THE BOOK OF HEAVY METAL, too.

We need it (laughs)!

Hopefully we can have a beer together here in Vancouver if you make it over to Canada.

I would like that! It would be very nice to come over.

Take care, Fredrik. Thanks again!

Take care!

Band: www.dreamevil.se

Label: www.centurymedia.com
Thanks to Heather at Century Media for the promo
& for setting up the interview.

Read all reviews of Dream Evil CDs in Metal-Rules.com