Interviewed by: Anders Sandvall
Thanks to Emil Westerdahl at Inner Wound Recordings for setting up the interview.
Thanks to Inner Wound Recordings for the promo pictures of the band.
Additional promotional pictures taken by: Kristian Heat Renter, Kenny Swan, Kamil Janowski
From London, England comes the melodic heavy metal act Neonfly. When it was time to do an interview with the band, I had the pleasure to talk to Frederick Thunder who is one of the guitarists. STRANGERS IN PARADISE is the name of the bands’ second album, which was released at the end of last year. I was curious to know more about the band, and if you read on, you’ll see what Thunder had to say. One of the things we spoke about was why the band headed over to Frankfurt, Germany to record the album with the famous producer/musician Dennis Ward. Neonfly has gained some massive success in Great Britain during the last couple of years and I wondered how the band handles that. Read more below…
Hi Frederick, hope you’re doing fine today. Are you ready to take on metal-rules.com?
I’m doing fine, thanks! But I’m definitely not ready.
The brand new Neonfly album is great. I thought we could begin the interview with talking a bit about STRANGERS IN PARADISE. Is it correct that you have worked on material for the album for 3 years?
Thanks, I’m glad you like it. I suppose you could say so. On and off… we’ve also toured a lot but we don’t write on the road. Generally I come up with ideas, and I like to work on them for long periods of time, sometimes I write a section, I leave it for a while, and come back to it later when I feel more inspired. I always want to make sure that whatever part I write is the best part I could ever write for any given section, so I try a lot of different things until I’m completely satisfied. It can take some time.
Why did it take you so long to get the material finished?
Well the material was actually finished in April 2013. Then we went to the studio and we had a finished product by July of that year. The release was delayed because we were not happy with the offers we were getting to release the album, and we wanted to make sure that we gave the album a good release with good promo, etc. So we held back until the right offer came, because we felt that this album was too good to throw away with a label that wouldn’t promote it properly.
I read that you you work on the material when you are on the road, how was it do work like that?
No, that information is actually wrong, I don’t know where you read that, we’ve never written on the road. We’re too busy engaging in general rock and roll debauchery while we are on the road. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Do you write all of the material in the band, or is it a team-work?
Thank you! Well, I write all the music and arrangements on my own, and I share the lyric writing with our singer Willy Norton. Sometimes we also co-write some lyrics. Willy sometimes also contributes some vocal melodies, but I write the biggest part. Then I take the songs to rehearsal where the other boys get the chance to completely destroy all I’ve been working on for months… We fight, we throw some punches, chairs fly around the room, until eventually we agree on something and I am forced to admit that in fact their ideas and suggestions weren’t so bad… and we end up with a better song in the end!
Were there many songs that didn’t end up on to the final edition of the album?
No, we wrote exactly 10 songs for this album. I don’t write songs if I don’t think they’re good enough to be on the album. Any ideas I come up with that I don’t think are good enough get discarded, and I keep working until I have something good, so I don’t waste time writing songs that I’m not 100% happy about.
The previous Neonfly album was released back in 2011, what took so long for you to release a new one?
As I mentioned above, the album was ready in summer 2013. We just needed to wait for the right deal.
Has the bands musical direction changed, if you compare the STRANGERS IN PARADISE and the previous one?
“Strangers In Paradise” is the realization of where we are in terms of music and in our lives. I wouldn’t say the musical direction has changed, but we haven’t done the same album twice either. I think this album features more mature songwriting, the production sounds bigger and better, the arrangements are more polished, and the production also helps to bring them forward sonically. All in all I think our debut album is great, but this one is much better in my opinion.
Before the album was released, the lyric video to the song “Heart Of the Sun” was unveiled on youtube. What did fans think of the song, and what’s the purpose of releasing a lyric video?
I think the song was really well received, we’ve also been playing it live for a long time and it always got a great reaction. It became an instant classic as soon as we included it in our live set-list and we saw the fans reaction to it on stage. Lyric videos are just one of the many promotional tools that are available nowadays. It’s just a way to release a song with something that’s a bit more fun to watch than a static image, and fans usually like to read the lyrics.
Why did you name the album STRANGERS IN PARADISE? Does the title have any special meaning to the band?
That title is linked to a lot of different things. “Strangers in Paradise” has an idea of conflict and struggle, being a stranger in paradise is like being in a place where you don’t belong. I personally believe, as a songwriter that a lot of great art is born out of conflict, be it internal or external… and a lot of the songs in the album have a lyrical theme that connects to a certain idea of struggle.
As a band, I believe that Neonfly have always been considered a bit as strangers within the metal scene. So it’s a title that also appeals to us. There is an idea of non-conformism. Wherever you go, when you try to make your way in, into a certain pre-established order, there are always going to be people that are going to be against any idea of change and will try to put obstacles for newcomers. But we are here to prove to those people that we are not going away and that we are going to come in anyway.
The title is also connected to a song on the album called Heart Of The Sun, which talks about imperialism, the conquistadores and Lope De Aguirre. There is an image of the conquistadores approaching the virgin sands of the beach in the new world they were about to discover, like strangers in paradise…
Are you happy with the cover art made by Jorge “Qetza” Garza? I read he was inspired by the aztec/meso-american culture when he made it.
Yes, I’m extremely happy with it. We tried to do something original with it and avoid the standard metal clichés, the concept idea was ours, and then he created the artwork by himself. It’s a picture of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl. We thought the image of Quetzalcoatl standing defiant as a feathered dragon on our album cover was a great image for Neonfly. Jorge Garza, is really influenced by pre-hispanic culture and he knows it really well. I found his work online and I thought he would be perfect to bring my idea to life.
He did a fantastic job! I’m half Mexican and I spent a few years growing up in Mexico so I grew up surrounded by this kind of art, and I think Jorge really did a great job of capturing that vibe on our album cover. It’s really genuine. The cover is also linked to what we consider to be the musical climax of the album with “Heart Of The Sun” and the instrumental “Aztec Gold”. Heart… is a song about imperialism, the Conquistadores and Lope De Aguirre.
How would you describe the kind of music Neonfly plays?
It’s a bit like Orchestral Manoevres In The Dark, but actually not at all.
The album contains 10 tracks and clocks in on about 40 minutes, do you think that’s a decent amount of music for the fans to get for their money?
Yes, I think so. It’s all killer, no filler!
The longest song on the album is “Chasing The Night” which clocks in on 6.30, what are the song about?
You’d have to ask Willy Norton, he has strange dreams sometimes…
What are the lyrics on the album about? I’ve read that the songs contains matters like invasion, addiction, political corruption, and so on, is that correct? Well I guess it’s not hard to find inspiration to write lyrics about that in today’s modern world.
Well you are right! Those are some of the lyrical themes in our songs. I generally don’t like to give too many details about the lyrics I write; I think it’s better if people try to find their own explanation for them. You can always find inspiration if you know where to look for it!
The media has given the album a warm welcome and the reviews I’ve read have all been positive and what I can see is that most in England how is it in the rest of Europe or the USA?
I think the album was really well received everywhere, particularly in Europe there was a lot of press for it, and I’m really happy with the reviews we got. I can’t wait to play some shows in Europe and present the new songs live!
Does the band care about what critics and media writes about your work?
Only when they write good things!
What have the fans had to say about STRANGERS IN PARADISE?
When we meet them after the show, they usually say: “Would you mind signing my copy?” Which we’re always happy to do, because we’re nice like that.
Heart of the Sun [OFFICIAL LYRIC VIDEO]
I think that especially you, singer Norton, guitarist Harrington, do some amazing work on the album, are you happy with the outcome of the disc?
Thank you, I appreciate it. I think everyone did a great job, and I’m extremely pleased. I have listened to the album a lot, and I don’t think there’s a single thing I would change on it.
The single and the video to “Better Angels” came at the beginning of March, what can you tell us about the song and the video?
We shot the video in Cyprus, and it was extremely fun to do. It features Jade Faulkner and Lynne Hutchison, two members of Team GB who competed in rhythmic gymnastics in the London 2012 Olympics. Once again we wanted to step out of the traditional Heavy Metal clichés by doing something that looked a bit more artistic with the athleticism and grace of the girls against the stunning backdrop of the Cyprus coastline… And then ruin it all by throwing in our faces in there.
Better Angels (Official Video)
There’s a bonus song featured on “Better Angels” in “Falling Star”, what can you tell us about the song?
Falling Star is actually an album track, the bonus song, is a different version of this track with piano and vocals only. The piano was arranged and played by Günter Werno from Vanden Plas. When I wrote that song, I thought it would lend itself well to being played in a more intimate piano & vocals setting, so I asked Günter to have a go at it and I really liked the way he interpreted it.. Then we re-recorded Willy’s vocals, adapted for this version, and I think it gives it a very cool vibe, different from the album version, which I also love by the way.
Are there any plans on shooting videos to any of the other songs on the disc?
If we sell enough records…
The bio states that the album is a work of band who have patiently grown in stature and now very much developed their own musical and lyrical voice. That’s some great words, what are your comments to that?
I believe that sentence is beautifully written and grammatically correct.
Studio and production
How come you chose to record the album in Hofa Studio in Frankfurt, Germany? For how long were you in the studio and what did you think of Frankfurt?
We were in the studio for about 5 weeks. It was Dennis’ suggestion to work there, he lives close by and he knows the studio well, he’s done a lot of productions there and it’s a great place to record. The studio is not actually in Frankfurt, however I can tell you what I think of Frankfurt because we spent a couple of days there whilst touring with Alice Cooper in 2013. It was in summer and it was extremely hot, but we got the chance to walk around the city and see the sights, it was quite nice.
When did the recordings began?
We started in April 2013.
It was great to work with him, he has many features as a producer, he knows what he wants the album to sound like and advises us on what kind of sounds to use to achieve that goal, but he also listens to our suggestions. He’s very honest as well, he’s not afraid to say when he thinks we should change something.
Ward also mixed and mastered the album. Were any of the band members part of those processes?
He did the work by himself but sent us various mixes via email. We would listen to them and tell him what we wanted him to change, until we were all completely satisfied. That process went on for a while because we were extremely picky, he might now hate us forever because of that.
Do you think that the band is going to work with Ward in the future?
I don’t see why not, schedule permitting.
I mainly learned how to piss him off with tiny annoying demands.
I also learned a lot of great stories and anecdotes from all the bands he’s worked with, but those cannot be shared on an interview.
Label and management
The debut album OUTSHINE THE SUN from 2011 was released by Rising Records, how come you chose to sign a deal with them?
At the time they made us a good offer, which was surprising considering the guy from Rising turned out to be a renowned conman. He did an ok job with the album, but his efforts where somewhat diminished by the fact that he was planning to close his label and flee to Barbados where he couldn’t be prosecuted legally. Go figure.
Why did you end your work with Rising Records? Was the band without a record deal a long time?
The label closed its doors and Mark Daghorn escaped to Barbados at the end of 2012, that was a year after our album had been released and all the promo had been done, so in the end his actions didn’t impact our release, and we continued touring as was our plan. We wouldn’t have signed with him again even if he would still be here running the label, so actually that wasn’t so much of a problem for us. But he really scammed a lot of other bands. We got off easy..
IWR is an honest and hard working label run by a great guy who genuinely loves the music and wants to push his bands. Rising… was none of those things! We signed with IWR in Summer 2014.
How come you chose to work with IWR? Are you happy with the work the label has put into the band and the album so far? Do you see any problems or difficulties in the fact that IWR is based in Sweden and the band in England?
IWR understood the needs of the band in terms of what our expectations were and where we were at with our careers. They’ve been very supportive and have done a great job, I communicate very regularly with them and it’s a very proactive relationship. Their being based in Sweden isn’t a problem at all, we do have ze internets after all! I’m extremely happy with the work they’ve done so far.
I’ve heard no complaints!
IWR releases the album in Europe and USA but what about the rest of the world? Who takes care of the distribution in other territories?
In other territories they operate via licensing deals, however as far as our album is concerned, it was only released in Europe and North America.
Is it possible to download STRANGERS IN PARADISE anywhere legally? Can you listen to it on Spotify?
Yes, all the usual online platforms offer legal downloads, and it is also on Spotify. It’s also possible to download and stream it illegally, and then say it to my face with a big smile and no shame whatsoever.
Yes, it’s called Freddy T’s giant thunderballs touring Ltd. To be honest they’re pretty bad, we’re thinking of suing them.
Who founded the band and when was the band born?
I founded the band in 2008. I’d spent some time writing before that, and when I was ready to record what became our first demo, I decided to put a band together and officially gave birth to Neonfly.
Has the line-up been consistent from the start?
No, before we released our first album we had a few different drummers and a different singer. Since 2010 the line-up remained consistent until last year when we parted ways with our guitarist Patrick Harrington. He was there with me from the start and it was sad to see him go, but it was the best for the band, and we have an amazing new guitarist now called Andy Midgley, so I’m really excited about the future, and I believe this line-up will last for a long time. Even if we hate each other, can only stand to see each other on stage, and need to travel separately, I’m sure we will remain together for a long time.
Did the members know each other from the start?
Not really, we met through the band in most cases and we all hate each other.
Are all of the members from London?
No, we’re in fact all strangers in paradise. Aaaaaa see what I did there?
I came up with the band name as a silent protest after realizing that Orchestral Manoevres In The Dark was already taken.
Does the members have any common artists or bands that they are inspired by? If so what bands or artists?
Hard to say, we all listen to different things, we have a few things in common but I don’t really know if there is actually a band that unites all of us.. That’s all for the best though, we can constantly be inspired by everyone else’s diverse influences.
Did the band record any demos before the debut album was released?
Yes, we released a demo called Clever Disguise in 2008.
The debut OUTSHINE THE SUN from 2011 went really well amongst media and fans, could ever imagine such a great success from the start?
I always thought Outshine The Sun was a strong album and had some great songs, I write stuff that I want to hear as a fan and for that reason I always believed that it would find an audience. Success is a relative thing. I am happy with what we have achieved so far, but for me, this is just the start of the road. There’s still much more I want to achieve with this band.
Those were UK tours only. Freedom Call have become great friends since then, we had a great time together on tour and I would love to go on the road with them for a longer period of time.
And the band supported Sonata Arctica in 2002 that also in your home country, how was that?
That was cool too. We went down really well, and it was a very exciting time for us because we were actually in Germany in the middle of our recording session, which we took a break from just to fly back to the UK and do these 4 shows. After the last show, we didn’t sleep, we partied all night in London and got the first plane back to Frankfurt in the morning to continue recording.
During 2012 the band performed at pretty well known festivals as Masters Of Rock and Download how was that? And you were invited to play at Masters Of Rock in 2013, you must have made an impression on the organizers..:)
I love festivals, it’s always fun. They were both special for very different reasons. Download was a mess, it had been raining non-stop for 3 days straight when the festival started, turning the whole festival area into a massive mud pit. You should look for pictures of Download 2012 online, I’d never seen something like that before. The weather conditions created huge traffic jams on the first day getting to the festival, queues went on for miles and somewhere in that queue were our singer and bassist, stuck in traffic up until 20 minutes before we went on stage.
Having arrived a day earlier, myself, Boris and Patrick were behind the stage waiting for everyone else to arrive thinking we weren’t gonna play. The biggest UK metal festival ever, and we’re standing behind the stage watching the dream slipping through our fingers… In the car Willy and Paul were feeling the same way until they decided to leave the car with a friend driving, and started running through the mud and rain, carrying their gear, and made it on to the stage 5 minutes before we were meant to go on, covered in mud.
As for Masters of Rock, that was really fun. It was our first time playing at that festival, and we were on the second stage. We completely packed that stage and were the most successful band there on that year, so the next year they invited us to play the main stage. The festival organizer has been extremely supportive of Neonfly since then and it’s always a pleasure to return.
It seems like the band have gone from success to success how does it feel? Have things gone too fast?
I wouldn’t say so. It’s not like we’ve jumped from playing small pubs to playing stadiums. We’re doing ok, but there’s so much more we could do. I don’t believe our music is meant to be niche, and I won’t settle for less than the biggest exponents of our genre have achieved. Until we reach that level, I will keep fighting for us.
In 2013 the band also supported Alice Cooper during the German leg of his tour, how was it to be on the road with such an icon?
That was really amazing. Alice is obviously such a legend and having the chance to tour and share the stage with someone like him, meeting him backstage, listening to his advice, watching him perform every night… it was an amazing experience. And all the rock and roll debauchery that ensued in the Neonfly camp during that tour definitely made it quite an experience! Haha
Do you think the band have gained a lot of new fans with thought of all the touring?
No, they all throw tomatoes at us.
When Neonfly was on tour with Magnum last year the band suffered a burglary in the bus. What happened? Did you loose all of your gear?
We didn’t lose all our gear, they didn’t take the heavy stuff, but we lost about £10000 worth of equipment. I lost all my guitars. I came home from that tour without owning a guitar anymore. It was a pretty shocking experience. WE had a day off and we were in Bradford. We’d arrived at the hotel, and parked the van next to the hotel. It was securely parked and locked, and we were often coming and going so the van was in our sights most of the time. But during 10 minutes that the van was left unattended (whilst still being securely parked and locked) the burglars who had clearly already targeted our van broke in and took half of our things. They were professionals, they knew very well how to break into a van and were ready to make a move straight after.
Have the police found any of the stuff you lost?
The police never found anything, they mainly came to the crime scene to take a report of the burglary, other than that nothing was done. There was no CCTV filming the incident so there wasn’t much that they could do.
You managed to continue the tour with borrowed gear, what was the thoughts in the bandcamp during the remaining parts of the tour?
Well, it was all pretty grim as you can imagine, but there was no time to think about that, we had to finish the tour and keep rocking, between Magnum, their crew, Gibson guitars and some friends we borrowed all the equipment we needed to continue with the tour. There was nothing else we could do, dwelling on it wasn’t going to help. We had to move on.
Did you try on any of the new songs when you were out supporting Dragonforce last year?
Yes, the album hadn’t been released at that point so we couldn’t play that many new songs, but we played Heart Of The Sun and Fierce Battalions, which went down really well.
How was it to support Dragonforce in England?
It was extremely fun to support Dragonforce. The crowds were extremely enthusiastic, and the guys in DF are really fun to tour and party with. After a very long party night somewhere in Wales, I remember our guitarist getting a call from Herman Li in the morning asking us if Sam was with us because nobody knew where he was, his phone was off an they were about to leave for the next show… He wasn’t with us, but he did eventually turn up!
Where in the world do you think the band has the biggest fanbase?
Probably in the UK, which is not surprising. But also in Germany, Czech Republic and the Baltic. I think those are the places where we are strongest due to constant touring.
Your’e about to open for Hammerfall in London at the beginning of May, are you exited?
Yes, I think it’s going to be really fun, I’m really looking forward to it, we’ll play a lot of new songs!
Yes, personally I don’t have any of their albums but I’m very familiar with all their singles, which I like. I enjoy their best of material; I’ve seen them live quite a few times.
You have most played in England do you think that you will play more in the rest of Europe this year?
I sure hope so! At the moment we are looking into supporting other bands, so consequently we are not in control of the tour itinerary, but I hope we’ll get to go on a tour that covers as many countries as possible.
Is the band going to continue touring during 2015?
If Quetzalcoatl wants it, then it shall be done.
Do you have any festival shows booked for the summer so far?
We’ve got 3. We’re doing the Main Stage at Masters of Rock in Czech Republic on July 11th, We’re co-headlinging Klang! Festival in Latvia on July 24th, and co-headlining Roko Naktys in Lithuania on August 1st. We’re excepting a few more confirmations.
How is the reactions from the USA market on the album?
They’ve been really positive, but we still have a lot of work to do in that market where we’re still not very well known at all. A good support tour would definitely help.
What do you look on with this new album is it Europe and USA?
I’m open to anything, Europe is obviously our closest market, but if there are opportunities to go anywhere else we’ll definitely take them. We believe this album deserves to be heard beyond the borders of the old continent and we intend to take it as far as we can.
The band is once again going to perform at Masters Of Rock this summer, how are you going to top the previous shows you’ve done there?
Yes we are, and we’re really excited about it because it’s a great festival, and Czech fans have always been extremely supportive, since our early days. And that’s why we plan to give them the best show we possibly can. And we’ve planned a very exciting new stage show that is related to our album cover art… and that’s all I’m allowed to say for now! But this will be our biggest and most polished stage production ever. Not to be missed!
How come the band doesn’t have a proper web site?
Are you insinuating that our presence online is improper? Do you mean to say that we are lacking in modesty and decency? Or perhaps you mean that we are inappropriately represented in the World Wide Web according to today’s accepted standards of quality?
Is the band active on Facebook, twitter and so on? What’s the most common question fans mail to you?
Yes, very active indeed, the most common question we get asked is “Oi m8! U a hairdresser m8?”
I saw that Neonfly has got a fanpage run by fans on Facebook, who runs it? Are you co-operating with the page?
Two German fans of Neonfly run the page. They’ve seen us live many times when we’ve toured Germany, and they did tell us about their intention to start a fan page. We gave them our blessing, but we do not cooperate with them, they run it entirely on their own. We’re very flattered that they do that though, and we really appreciate it.
Record stores won’t exist anymore by the time we release our next album.
What would you like to say to the ones who haven’t discovered the music of Neonfly yet?
Visit the temple of Quetzalcoatl in Mexico.
Could you give them three reasons why they should buy STRANGERS IN PARADISE?
Do you have any words of wisdom to share with fans and the readers?
I am the table.
Thanks a lot for taking the time making the interview. I wish you and the band all the best in the future and I really hope to see you live in action soon.
Thank you, I hope we get to play near you soon!