Heart of Steel: Interviews

DREAM EVIL - Fredrik Nordström
Interview by EvilG
LIVE Photos By Arto Lehtinen From Sweden Rock 2002

 

Fredrik NordströmMost people know who you are as a producer, so if you don't mind I'd like to start out the interview by asking you some questions pertaining to the work you have done as a producer before we move on to Dream Evil. [OK] Since most people know you've produced bands like HammerFall, Dimmu Borgir, In Flames, etc.. Can you start out by telling us about how you began working as a producer and where you learned the art of producing?

As for producing I've obviously loved playing music and stuff but I've also been really addicted to technical stuff like recording equipment and stuff like that. So when I was young I found four track recorder. And from there I started and built a small studio. The plan was to record my own music. But for some reason I got in contact with Jesper Strömblad  and Oscar Dronjak now In Flames and HammerFall (respectively). They had a band together then. The bands name was Ceremonial Oath. So that's where everything started. I didn't understand it, nothing what they were doing, they were playing quite brutal Death Metal. I had never heard of that music before in my life.

 

So you kind of picked it up on your own? You didn't go to some type of technology school to learn about things?

No, I was purely dedicated to the world of recording. 

 

Looking at other people who are producers, or have been producers (past or present) do you have someone you look up to who is at the top of their game? 

Bob Rock.

Bob Rock? (laughs) For what he did to Metallica?

Not only, he did Motley Crue!

Yeah. Doctor Feelgood.

Do you know that album?

Yes, I own all the Motley Crue albums of course!!

On "Power To The Music (In the Streets)" with singing the chorus and first verse, I don't remember the name of that album (ed. note: It was self titled - Motley Crue). It had very good production I think. Almost everything he's done is very good. He's (someone I look up to), he's very good.

Anyone else that you want to mention or.....

Yeah, George Martin.

And what band has he done?

The Beatles.

The Beatles? I wouldn't know that, as I don't listen to The Beatles.

He actually got an award from the English Government. He's "Royal" now (as in "Sir George Martin").

Wow, isn't everyone in the Beatles are "Royal" (Sir Paul, Sir etc etc..), so why not him too right?

Haha, Yeah.

 

When you're approached by a band, or maybe a record label who says "We want you to produce such and such band", do you always want to hear what the band is about, or is it "Hey, if they want to pay to come in and have me produce their album, I'll do it!".

I prefer listening to it first actually. Sometimes the band are really good and sometimes not so good. I don't have any special things when I decide to do a band or not. To be honest I don't go around and call myself "producer" (laughs). So I want to listen, so it's not too bad. Sometimes recording can be the only reason why studios try to save their playing - for example. I've done it so many times that I don't want to do that now because it's very hard work and quite boring actually. For example, if you take a band like Spiritual Beggars or Arch Enemy with Mike Amott, those bands are very good musicians, and also from At The Gates are very good musicians. It's so much easier to get good results when people can play their instruments. There are some bands, they think that, for example, when they go into Bob Rock - he's a "magic guy" who can make them play good.

 

So that leads me to my last question related to production type stuff and that is, perhaps you can tell me what band has been maybe the easiest to work with in the studio, and why, and what band was probably the hardest and why?

(Laughs) I think it would be Dimmu Borgir in both cases (for easiest and hardest). I think the bands Spiritual Beggars and Arch Enemy have been very easy to work with because everybody is so professional with their instruments and stuff in both bands. Dimmu Borgir were also a very nice band to work with, but also it was one of the hardest because it was such big production. You know with so many songs, string sections...  The keyboard player he's a very talented guy and has great technique. He wanted a sound, like water dropping. It would end up we were standing with a mike in the kitchen you know, recording water until we got the right sound. And the singer he wanted so many different sounds of vocals. So I was burned out for two months after that recording because of all this creativity we had to come up with.

 

So did you take a break from recording for awhile after that?

I didn't. That was very stupid, I wasn't expecting it to be so hard.

Fredrik Nordström - Live At Sweden Rock 2002
Fredrik Nordström - Guitars & Keyboards

So onto the actual side of you that's involved in creating music, not just helping other people produce it. You're a guitar player, so how long have you been playing guitar? Has it been something you've been doing since before you got it in your mind to produce albums kind of thing?

Yeah, yeah absolutely. I started playing guitar when I was six years old, when I saw Jimi Hendrix on television. I was like "Wooowww!". When I was five I was into bagpipes.

Haha. Good you didn't take that up eh?

(laughs) I dunno, when I saw this on television with the kilts and the bagpipes it was very bombastic. It was forty people playing bagpipes and I was so impressed. And then I saw this guitar player and I was like "Yes, this is what I'm going to do." When I hit seven years old for a birthday present I got a guitar, that didn't work, so I think when I was ten years old I got my first guitar. I went to guitar school for two years and learned three chords.

 

Haha. It took you two years to learn three chords?

Yes. Then of course my mother bought me an electric guitar and I started learning because that's what I wanted to do. Because I'm left handed I wanted to play like Jimi Hendrix, but in guitar school that's all they know, you have to play the other way. It had to be right when it should be left.

So which way do you play now?

The normal way.

Besides Jimi Hendrix who else would you say was an early inspiration, or helped you develop?

Thin Lizzy, absolutely! I was listening to their album Black Rose everyday for three years. I was so impressed by the guitar playing. Also, early Scorpions. With Accept, I didn't discover until like seven years ago or something like that. That was the first time I heard "Balls to the Wall" and I was like "Whoaaaaa! What a sound!". So maybe I'm a little late.

A late bloomer.

Retarded maybe. Haha!!!

Hahaha. Have you ever looked outside of Metal for inspiration for guitar playing, or has it mainly been Hard Rock and Heavy Metal types guitarists?

With guitar playing I've been trying not, I'm not a big listener of music to be honest. I try to go my own way, always. It takes a long time to do you know, to go somewhere. But I've been trying to go my own way. Of course when you're listening to Heavy Metal, it's so powerful, so of course you get inspired by that music. I really don't know what I should say my inspiration is. (laughs) And finally, I once was playing a lot of pop music actually.

That must have been frustrating, Haha.

What?

Was it frustrating having to play Pop music?

No because I wanted to do it at the time, but I started playing this metal music instead.

 

Do you think that the time that you've spent in the studio with other musicians, has anything like that ever helped your playing or influenced your playing?

Yes I think so. Mostly it taught me a lot of stuff about what I think about music and what kind of mistakes that you shouldn't do. For example, when you take a band like Opeth, I had them in the studio. And the deal with them is I only do the sound, I have nothing to do with the music at all because they have a totally different way to looking at music, like nine minute songs and stuff like that. I'm not really into that kind of stuff. But I love Opeth, I'll tell you that, but for me it's not my world of trained music, you see. I'm more like you know, basic intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, solo. More simple structured stuff, and always trying to find a hook in the song. It sounds very like pop producer work but I think for example "Balls to the Wall" you know, that whole song is a hook. Everything you know, the guitar riff, the chorus, everything. What I try to do is take stuff forward and put it in the face of the listener.

 

All the while that you were working with bands, were you in some way envious of them, the way they were creating and recording their own material when you had this desire to obviously do this yourself?

Uh, no. I have never felt like that. But sometimes you feel, when you have finished with a band after recording, you feel like a member of that band. But then they go away on tours and stuff like that and I'm not jealous with people that go on tour because I know that touring means a lot of boring time, and I'm a guy who wants to be crazy all the time. Sitting in a tour bus takes sixty or eighty percent of your time and it's not something I look forward to. Of course it's going to be funny but I know it's time consuming....I'll find a way to have something to do in a tour bus, and everybody in a band is saying the same thing, and we are planning to write music when we're on tour.

Dream Evil

So regarding the band Dream Evil, perhaps you can tell me who came up with the name Dream Evil, and what is the story behind why you chose that name?

It was me that came up with the idea because I was sitting in the studio and listening to a Dio album.

Ahha! I thought it might have been Dio.

Actually it was. When I'm going to the music store and I'm going to buy some new music, I always come out with some old, good albums, you know, Accept or something like that. So now I came out with a Dio compilation. I haven't listened so much to Dio, and then I was like "Wow! This is a great singer". He's incredible. He's one of the best I think.

 Yeah for sure. And he's fifty plus and he's still kicking ass. Ha!

Yeah! So I was sitting in the studio and I saw this song title "Dream Evil." At that moment we were discussing what kind of band name we should have, everything from "Dragon Heart" to "Dragon Foot" and "Dragon Kidney". We didn't know, we had a lot of different names. All of the songs from that album are tied to a dragon story, so we were thinking of having something with a dragon name. We had this discussion with Century Media also, and I used to say that name to Century Media like "Oh, I came up with the idea of Dream Evil", and they were "Yeah that's very good, very good, very good!". So Dragon Slayer was actually an idea for the band name from the beginning. So they said "Yeah, you're going to have the name Dream Evil and the album should be Dragon Slayer", and we said "Okay, let's go for it".

 

The band first started to form I believe, was it in 1999?

Yes.

And you first hooked up with your guitarist Gus. Can you tell me about how you found him, or he found you or whatever, and was the chemistry immediate between the two of you for writing songs and things like that?

I met him on a vacation in Greece. He was living in Greece and he was living a lot in America also. So we were speaking out there and he said he had planned to go to Sweden. So when he came to Sweden I called him up and asked him "Do you want to come down to the studio?", and I asked him what his plan was in Sweden and he said "Yeah, maybe I'll try to find a band to play with", and I told him "I have this idea. I have some songs here for a band. Do you want to listen?", and he was "Yes this is very good" and suddenly we became a band, just me and Gus. We decided "Okay, we're going to do a metal album."

Gus G. - Live At Sweden Rock 2002
Gus G. - guitars

The very well known drummer Snowy Shaw is your drummer. So basically, from my point of view he's been out of the international metal spotlight since he left King Diamond, although he has been active in bands like Notre Dame and stuff like that. So I was wondering how did you recruit him? Were you buddies with him kind of thing? How did that whole thing happen?

Snowy Grisnäbbsdottir ShawI had seen him in the studio, one time doing recording and I met him him a few other times some more. We were never really friends, or nothing like that. After we met Peter (Peter Stalfors - Bass) in England and we were like "We need a drummer" and I was like "Yeah, but a good drummer because I don't want to record an album with a bad drummer because there's too many albums with bad drummers." So we were discussing it and I said "I know Snowy Shaw a little bit and I can call him up and ask him if he wants to play on the album anyway", and then after we record the album (with Snowy) we would have to find a (permanent) drummer. So he went down to the studio recording the drums. Actually he heard the songs not so many times, so every time we did a re-take of a song we had a new version of the drums. It was very cool. He has such creativity behind the drums, he's incredible and he can make such drum fills...you'd die. Then when we completed the album we started discussing about if he wanted to be a member and he said "Yeah, why not." He liked the songs and felt comfortable with the people in the band, and now we have a good chemistry between us. We're on the same level, everybody, maybe not Gus because he is much younger, he is every way on the same level but younger.

You discovered your vocalist Nicholas when he was doing backing vocals I assume, for the first two HammerFall albums. Prior to this was he in any other recording bands?

Um, no. He was in a couple bands, he was playing music in Gothenburg, nothing more.

Do you know how HammerFall themselves found him? And is there any reason why he wasn't the backing singer on the third HammerFall album?

Yeah, because they recorded the third album in the USA.

Right. So they didn't want to fly him all the way over there eh? Haha.

Yeah I think so. I don't know what's happened with HammerFall on their third album. I think they went a little bit "Rock Star" or something like that. (laughs)

No but actually Peter, our bass player, he's a very good friend with the Joacim, the singer in HammerFall, so when Nicholas came to the studio to do backup vocals we were like "What the fuck, this guy is a great vocalist" so he did a lot of harmonies and then Peter was together with me and we did the big choir stuff.

 

So that's how you first discovered his talent. What was the deal when you were looking for a vocalist? Did he come to mind right away or did you try out ????.

No he didn't. I didn't think about him first. We we discussing a lot and I was actually thinking maybe we should call up Dio (laughs). But we were discussing a lot of different vocalists and we didn't find anything we felt comfortable with. And then I was like "Yeah, I remember this guy. He was a very, very good singer. I will call him up." And then he came down to the studio and tried on three songs and like, you know, directly he was there, and Gus was jumping up and down and screaming "Yes!!! This is the guy. This is the guy!!", and he was like "Yes these are very good songs. Can I be a member of the band?!?!" and we were "Yes we need a singer", "Ah great. I know a bass player", "Is he good?", "Yeah he's very good. I will call him up. He's Peter. You know him.", "Yeah, call him up". It was like that. Very simple.

Niklas - Live At Sweden Rock 2002
Niklas Isfeldt - Vocals

Last question related to HammerFall. Obviously no doubt, I've read some of the reviews, not my own review but I've read some reviews, and people have been mentioning Dream Evil and HammerFall in the same sentence you know, kind of comparing the two in some way. And uh...

Yeah, and that's very easy to do of course. But not because we are the same musically, it's because Niklas, myself and Peter, and all three of us were involved with HammerFall.

Sure. The only place I could see where that comparison would have some merit would probably be a song like "The Prophecy", but the rest of the album didn't really come off sounding much like HammerFall, in my opinion anyway.

No, I don't think so either. Actually we tried to stay away from something that sounds like HammerFall when recording the songs because we know that everybody is going to compare this to HammerFall, especially the background vocals, and the company knows it and they write that in the bio, of course.

 

Sure. Do you mind that people compare or it doesn't matter or?

It's okay. I don't think they are right. I think HammerFall is a good band but if you don't know anything about metal we maybe sound the same, but if you're listening to metal music we're different.

 

On some of the songs on Dragon Slayer, first of all you use Gothenburg's Philharmonic string section for a few songs. What was that like for you to bring those guys in, or you to go to their area to record them for the album?

That was in the studio, and they are so professional. It's like, you think you're working with good people and when they show up, you are like zero! They don't tune because they have to tune with their fingers. Everybody tunes in their own way, everybody at the same time. You make sound check, thirty minutes. Sound check, the notes and you have the conductor and everything. And then you say "Let's record from bar thirteen", and then you press record, and then stop. It's incredible. They are very good.

 

Did you have the music written out for them, exactly what they were to play or?

Yeah but, because I don't know anything about scores and stuff like that, and I know this guy, the same guy who did the string arrangements for Dimmu Borgir, and so I called him up and he was very nice and he is very talented. So I called him up asking what to do to get the arrangement of strings. I told him which part I was thinking about and whatever I was thinking about for the parts but he did his own arrangement and it was very good.

 

The title of the album Dragon Slayer is something that fans of power metal will obviously  think "Oooh, this is going to be a great Power Metal CD." So do you mind that association, or do you consider Dream Evil to be power metal, or do you just not want to bother with the whole labeling deal?

I don't consider us as a Power Metal band, but I remember it was the guy from Pantera who was first lumped in power metal. But power metal, is it that the German "Book baak book baak book baak"? (imitating fast double kick drums) (laughung) No, I see us as a Heavy Metal band. If they want to call us Power Metal it's okay. We call it Balls Metal.

You call it WHAT Metal?

Balls Metal.

 

Hahaha! hmmmm...Okay......
And what are some of your favorite songs on Dragon Slayer, and why would you pick them?

Ummm...

You gotta say you like them all. Haha!

Yeah, I do. Maybe "Hail to the King" didn't turn out too good maybe. But I think the rest of the songs turned out very good. My favorite song right now is "In Flames You Burn". And the ballad...

The song "Losing You" you mean?

Yeah. I know many people listening to this kind of music hate ballads but "I'm a very romantic guy."

 

Haha, yeah. When I heard "Losing You" the first thought that came to my mind was this sounds like something that could receive, in some areas, some radio play. I was wondering if that was something you maybe kind of hoped for? Or do you think the audience of a band like Dream Evil probably aren't tuning into the radio anyway?

Yes hopefully. And no, I don't see the ballad as a radio play song. The ballad for me is something I want to perform live you know, with a string section behind the band. Me sitting with the piano, playing, Niklas alone. You know, arena rock size. Something like that is what I see with that song, but I know it's very hard to play ballads live. We already tried it live and it didn't turn out at all.

Dream Evil

And there's a song on there "H.M.J.", or I guess "Heavy Metal Jesus." So what or who in particular is that about?

All the songs are following a story, and in the song "Prophecy" he finds a prophecy carved in stone he has to find the guy who's going to bless him so he can kill the dragon. Because if he does not get blessed, the dragon will kill him. So he rides away to the town to find the blesser. When you find the blesser, that is the Heavy Metal Jesus. The Heavy Metal Jesus, he doesn't use water and stuff like that, he uses the flying "V". You can find it in the second verse: "If you want to kill the beast, you have to be blessed by the man from the east. So why don't you get down on your knees, and I will bless you with my Flying "V".

Haha, cool. Did you write most of the lyrics yourself?

No we actually do that together. That stuff about Heavy Metal Jesus I had a long time ago, I came up with it. Then I though it would fit in the story so I said "Hey listen, I have a song here" and it was like "Whoa, cool". It was a more fun project doing that recording of that song. One of the favorites in the rehearsal room.

 

The cover art of the album shows I assume the Dragon Slayer himself, but it didn't show the dragon that he is slaying. I was wondering why you didn't include the dragon on the cover too?

It was there from the beginning.

It was?!!

Yes, but when you scaled it down with dragon and everything, the cover was so messy. There was too much colors, too much stuff. So they actually cut it out. You can find it in the CD a little bit.

On the back. Right.

And there also you can find the whole story of the song.

Cool. I just got my copy yesterday actually, and I got the promo slip case from the record label. So all last night I had the CD going about ten times. Over and over all night, haha. It's really good.

Oh, you like it?

Yeah definitely, I liked it a lot! Related to touring, I know you said you don't envision touring to be something you're extremely fond of...

Maybe it's going to be the best time in my life, but from the stories I heard from the bands it's going to be like the small tours I've done before.

 

I know you're playing Sweden Rock, and I believe you're playing Wacken. So are you also going to do a tour, or is it mostly going to be festival things like this?

We haven't discussed a tour with the label, and it one of the things about signing the contract. We had the promise to do one tour, actually everybody is looking forward to go on that tour, but we don't know when. I think it's going to be a European tour. Because what I have seen of the marketing plan of the USA, I think the kind of music we are playing is quite dead in the USA, is that correct?

I don't know if I'd call it dead, but I'd call in unpopular. Unfortunately.

If we were playing with Limp Bizkit or P.O.D. maybe it would be better but I don't like that stuff.

No. I can't stand it either. It's not music. It's just mass marketed plastic stuff that the label puts together. There's probably one creative band out of all of them, and they make ninety clones.

Yeah.

All right, that's everything I had to ask you man. So I'd like to thank you for taking the time to call me. 

Thank you!!! 

Transcribed by Joel