Heart of Steel: Interviews

Evergrey's Tom S. Englund

Interview by Lord of the Wasteland

The prog-metal landscape is littered with pretentious bands that play overblown, long-winded songs that come off as self-important and, for the most part, useless. The music is used as a tool to show off how "brilliant" the players are and unless you are a musician yourself, listening can often be tedious. Sweden's Evergrey is the exception to this archetype. Led by vocalist Tom S. Englund, Evergrey's music foregoes meandering passages and wankery for thought-provoking lyrics, well-structured songs and, yes, excellent musicianship. Englund's voice ranges from a haunting clean vocal to a powerful metal rasp that enraptures the listener. The band plays a mix of melodic prog, traditional metal and aren't afraid to throw in a ballad for good measure. Evergrey's last CD, RECREATION DAY, was released in 2003 and they are set to release their fifth album, THE INNER CIRCLE, on April 27th. This latest opus deals with the idea of religious fanatics and the impact that a charismatic speaker can have on the masses.

I spoke with Englund on April 17th, the day that Evergrey were scheduled to appear on MTV's The Headbanger's Ball, the day before a live, acoustic show at a Cleveland radio station and the day before they were set to kick off their much-hyped tour as openers for Iced Earth and Children of Bodom. Despite this hectic schedule, Englund took 20 minutes out of his day to speak with Metal Rules about the new CD, the Iced Earth tour and finding the voice he never knew he had.

Evergrey's new album, THE INNER CIRCLE, is coming out on April 27th.

Is it? Okay (laughs). I know it's the twenty-something!

(Laughs) Yeah, it's the 27th…in North America anyway. I've been listening to it over and over the last couple of days and it really is a brilliant piece of work.

Thank you very much.


How have the early reviews been?

Extremely well. I haven't had one phone call that hasn't said it wasn't fantastic, so I guess that it's pretty good.



Your label, Inside Out, seems to pushing this new record heavily. Is the band feeling any more pressure than usual to maybe make it a success because of all the focus on it?

No, never. We always do the album before the label starts to push it, obviously, so it doesn't really affect us then. The pressure we feel is that MTV is starting to play Evergrey now, but we don't care. We make music to satisfy ourselves and that we want to listen to.



The Gothenburg Symphonic Orchestra appears on THE INNER CIRCLE. Is writing symphonic music more difficult than writing metal?

No, I don't think so. I usually write everything on the keyboard, all the harmonies. The hard part is getting it on paper, but that's what the drummer has to do.



Did the Mercury Choir sing on this record again?

Nope. We've done that. There are some choir parts that I did myself with layered voices. We didn't have as many choir parts for this album anyway, so it wasn't necessary to bring them in.

On all of the previous Evergrey CDs, your wife Carina has done some amazing vocals. Is this her again that I'm hearing?

Oh yeah. Quite a lot.

Does she tour with the band, as well?

No, she doesn't.

Her voice, especially on the track, "In the Wake of the Weary," is just amazing.

Yeah, she's awesome. Her voice is extremely well suited for Evergrey. It is pretty natural because she has been with us since day one.



"Waking Up Blind" and "Faith Restored" are slower songs from the new CD. Do you prefer singing the slower numbers to the heavier ones, or do you not have a preference?

No, I like them both, but I do enjoy singing the slower songs where there is not as much of the layered guitars and bombastic drums. I like it when there is a lot of air in the music.



On "Ambassador," there is a vocal part that sounds almost like monks chanting or something. Is that the layered part that you mentioned earlier?

During the first verse?


Yeah, that's it.



Evergrey's last album, RECREATION DAY, was just released in 2003. How did THE INNER CIRCLE come together so quickly?

We're a productive band and we couldn't find a suitable tour for us in Europe when we got home from the Arch Enemy tour in America. We wanted to tour with a bigger band as an opening act, but we couldn't find anything, so we went directly into the studio when we got home. We were in the studio from September to February.



I know the band was working around the clock on RECREATION DAY. Was the recording process for this record a little more relaxed?

We just had more time, but more time also adds more things that you want to do, so we still worked around the clock. Sometimes 16 to 20-hour days. At the same time, it is a much more relaxed result we feel. We can enjoy this album much more.



In the press release that Chipster PR sent, there is mention of some bonus tracks that were recorded acoustically in France.

Yeah, right.

Are they going to be on all of the CDs or are they limited to, say, the Japanese release?

No, it's only for the limited-edition, but that will be available in all countries.



Will the limited-edition version be released at the same time as the regular version of THE INNER CIRCLE, or is it coming out a bit later?

Yes it is. Same time.


Mattias Noren (www.progart.com) did the cover once again. How did you get involved with him?

I think we met him somewhere in Holland. He was a fan of the band and we played at Prog Power or something back in 2001. We first worked together for the IN SEARCH OF TRUTH album. He only lives about 15 minutes from us so it's really easy to have a dialogue with him. Of course, he also understands what we want and he can turn the ideas that we have into life.


Is he going to be like the guy who does Iron Maiden's album covers, where his artwork appears on all of Evergrey's CDs?

I don't know. It depends. If we get an artist or a guy that would better suit the next album, we most definitely would use another one. It's not like we are stuck with Mattias, but we won't mind working with him again. He hasn't disappointed us so far!



THE INNER CIRCLE is another concept-based album. This time the focus is on religious cults and their power of persuasion. Where did you get the inspiration to touch on this topic from?

I've always been really interested in the fact that a single person or group can have such an impact on a lot of people and make them do stuff that they wouldn't normally do, but they listen to this person just because they have such charisma. That has always fascinated me, because I could never be influenced by a person that much.

So you aren't a religious person yourself?


I read that you are going to put a statement on the tour shirts for this album.

"I Am My Own God."

Is that going to be across the front or the back?

It will say, "I Am My Own God" across the chest and then it will say "God Walking Earth" on the back.

(Laughs) That's a pretty bold statement!

(Laughs) Well, it's not me wearing the t-shirt! It's everybody who feels bold enough to wear it. That's what we are encouraging with this album. We want people to fucking think for themselves and not be part of a cult or sect. People should be strong enough to think for themselves, make their own decisions and have their own visions. It's not about bashing any specific religion. It's about bashing fanatics.



I wouldn't say there is any singling out of any religion. It could be any or all of them.

No, we aren't talking blasphemy here! It could easily have been about Satanism, or Islam or whatever.



There are a lot of spoken word parts that sound like religious sermons or broadcasts. Are they actual religious leaders speaking or were they just pieces recorded specifically to suit the CD?

It's actual people speaking.

Where did those samples come from?

I can't tell you.

Just from all over?

Ehhh, yeah! Really, I can't tell you because that would create a hassle for us.

I got you! Fair enough.




Evergrey is appearing on MTV's Headbanger's Ball tonight. Is that recorded live or did you do it earlier in the week?

We did it yesterday morning, actually.

On the show, you will be premiering your new video, "A Touch of Blessing."

It got stuck in customs so they won't be showing it this week. Probably next week, though. They will be playing two videos tonight, "I'm Sorry" and "Blinded."



Since we haven't seen it yet, can you explain the concept behind the video for "A Touch of Blessing?"

It portrays a person sitting strapped to a chair with an extremely bright light coming towards him through a window. It's also mixed up with a performance of us. It's hard to explain really, you'll have to see it. This is by far the most expensive video we have done. It's the first time we've had a real video budget and it shows. It was extremely expensive. It's a major step forward and now we have the means to do it. This MTV rotation that we have with the two videos is certainly creating a lot of sales and it's opening a lot of doors for us.



You're doing a free acoustic concert in Cleveland, Ohio tomorrow on a radio show and there are only about 20 people who get to attend it. Are you nervous about performing live to such a small audience?

(Laughs) Yeah! That is the worst thing ever, man, because you can really feel each and every one of them. I'm not worried about the performance at all because we've done this acoustic piano and vocals thing a lot of times. I think it will be cool because it's Evergrey in a much calmer mood, but still 100% Evergrey.



The North American tour with Iced Earth and Children of Bodom kicks off there tomorrow, as well.

That's correct.

I live in Vancouver and you have played a couple of dates in Canada-Toronto and Montreal-on the Arch Enemy tour, but this will be your first time playing out west. You're in town on May 14th and I know we're all excited to finally get a chance to see the band!

Yeah absolutely! We love Canada. It was a blast last time. You have very loud audiences up there. It's like playing in some parts of Europe.



It should be a great show. That's a fantastic lineup, so I know there will be a great turnout.

How many spectators get into that club?

The Commodore holds about 1,200, I think. It's not huge, but when the metal shows come through, they usually sell out. It's always a full house. We have a great metal scene in Vancouver.

Awesome! I can't wait.


How did you end up landing such a huge tour?

The booking company called us and asked if we were interested. We were, of course.

Is Evergrey opening the show or will it be Children of Bodom?

We are.

How long will your set be?

35 minutes, I think. Seven or eight songs.

Have you written your setlist yet? Can you give me a hint of what songs will be played?

We don't actually (laughs). We haven't really met because me and Henrik [Danhage-guitar] came over here earlier, so we haven't really discussed the final setlist. We'll try to mix up songs from the last four albums anyway.

You won't be playing anything from THE DARK DISCOVERY?




How has your experience been touring in America? Has the response been good at the shows?

Oh yeah. We were really skeptical in the beginning as this was sort of a death metal package with Arch Enemy and Hate Eternal, but we know that we come across extremely well live. The people that are really into the death metal music expect us to be really gay and then they see us to be monsters on stage.



What are the band's tour plans once the run with Iced Earth finishes?

We're going to do a lot of festivals in Europe over the summer and then a full European tour in the fall.



I read that you were trying to get on Ozzfest but what led to you not to?

We got the Ozzy Osbourne opening act back in Scandinavia. It was just Evergrey and Ozzy and then he broke his back. Some people encouraged us to contact Ozzfest but I guess that never happened. It's still cool that Sharon [Osbourne] chose Evergrey for an opening act for Ozzy.

They have a great bill this year, too. The best EVER, in my opinion.

Yeah, Lacuna Coil is there…

Lacuna Coil, Slayer, Dimmu Borgir, Slipknot…they have all different types of REAL metal bands this year. The last few years have seemed to be a bit heavy with the American nu-metal acts. Judas Priest is on this year, too.

Oh cool!



Getting back to THE INNER CIRCLE, Evergrey has a new drummer on this record named Jonas Ekdahl. Was he in another band that you knew of?

(Laughs) He was actually our drum tech, so he just moved up a notch from sitting below the drum riser to sitting on the chair! It was a really smooth transition. We left on great terms with Patrick [Carlsson], as well. He's still a great friend of ours. He was just tired of playing music and wasn't enjoying it anymore. Of course Jonas was very excited because Evergrey is one of his top three bands of all time. He'd been working for us for the past 2 years, so it was really cool because he was already in the family.



I guess he knew all the songs already, too?

Yeah, it wasn't much of an adjustment at all. We're extremely happy to have him…that little fucking turd (laughs).



King Diamond's long-time collaborator, Andy LaRocque, has been involved in some aspect with all of the previous Evergrey releases, whether as a producer or engineer. Was he involved with THE INNER CIRCLE at all?




You've self-produced the last couple of records yourselves. Will you ever enlist the services of an outside producer again?

I don't think so. Considering the result we've had for the last two albums, this is the way we want it. If I may say so myself, I think it sounds fantastic (laughs)!

There is a very full sound to the CD!

We have our own really expensive studio now and that's where we did this album, so we don't really need anybody else. We might use somebody to inspire us like a vocal coach or stuff like that, but so far we aren't thinking in those terms at all.



What is the name of your studio?

Division One. Divisiononestudios.com!

Oh, you have a website, too?


All right, I'll make sure I plug it for you in the interview (laughs).

(Laughs) Absolutely!



As we mentioned, THE INNER CIRCLE focuses on religious cults and IN SEARCH OF TRUTH centered on the theme of alien abduction. Will Evergrey continue to make CDs that revolve around a central concept, or will you do an album that just has a loose batch of songs on it?

I don't know, man. We don't plan it ahead of time or anything. We just go with a spontaneous idea we get and sit down to decide what the album should be about.



The official Evergrey website is going to be redesigned as well for this album, correct?

Yeah, it will be done around the same time as the album is released.



How much involvement do you and the band have in the design and content of the website?

We give it to Darren at Metalages.com. He creates a basic idea and if we like it, he'll just keep on going. We have full control, in any case. We're control freaks, all of us (laughs)!



(Laughs) Your label, Inside Out, just re-released the first two Evergrey CDs-THE DARK DISCOVERY and SOLITUDE, DOMINANCE, TRAGEDY-last month. You wrote some new liner notes and there are videos and things on them, too. What do you think of those albums when you listen to them now? I know it's only been 4 or 5 years but do you think they have they stood the test of time?

Oh yeah. Most definitely. I think THE DARK DISCOVERY is a really cool debut album and SOLITUDE is an extremely well-written album. I'm very proud of having those two albums.



How do you and Henrik split the writing of the solos and the riffs?

I think we write about 50/50. Of course when you get the real album, you'll see who wrote what song and whatever, but I think we do about 50/50.



I was looking around on the Evergrey website last night and I found the "Guitars" page. Do you design all your own guitars?

Yeah we tell him what to do. In Japan, a person can go into a store and buy them themselves but not anywhere else. We have tried to set this retail thing up before in both Europe and America, but he's not interested! He's from Japan. I don't know what the hell is going on (laughs)! We could sell 50 guitars in a week and that would give us a lot of money, but he's being an asshole (laughs)! No, he's fucking awesome. We've done five signature models each in two years, so of course we are extremely grateful for anything that comes our way.



Evergrey's lyrics aren't the typical cliché-filled crap that a lot of metal bands write. Do you consciously try to be above those types of lyrics?

No, I just write about stuff that has happened to me or let it influence a song that I write. I don't write about dungeons and dragons and crap like that! I'll leave that the 2,000 other bands that do that better (laughs)!



Your voice is one of the best things about Evergrey, in my opinion. Have you ever had any vocal training?

No. I started singing two months before the first album.

(Laughs) Really?!

Yeah, we had another vocalist but he quit 2 months before the album was recorded. Our bass player said to me, "You'd better try this, man." I said, "Fuck you," but I tried it anyways (laughs).


Did you know that you had such a strong voice before that?

No, I didn't have a fucking clue!



You did the clean vocals on the Nightrage SWEET VENGEANCE album that came out last year. Will there be another Nightrage album and have you been approached to do it?

(Laughs) I don't know! I'm not involved with that band. I just did a guest appearance but if they want me and pay me…(laughs).



Thanks a lot, Tom. It was great talking to you today. Good luck with the new CD and the tour. I look forward to seeing you here in Vancouver in May!

Alright, man. Take care!

Past Evergrey interviews in Metal-Rules.com
Evergrey -
In Search of the Truth with Thomas  Englund

Read Evergrey CD reviews in Metal-Rules.com

Visit Evergrey's official website:www.evergrey.net
Evergrey's label: www.insideoutmusic.com

**Thanks to Mark at Chipster PR for setting up the interview**