Evergrey – Interview – “It’s a completely different band now”

Pic: Patric Ullaeus
Pic: Patric Ullaeus

Seeing as the very excellent Evergrey were making the effort to travel to the UK in support of the magnificent new album, ‘Hymns For The Broken’, I felt it would be rude not to make an appearance to support my favourite band and hopefully say ‘hi’ to my Swedish buddies.

I arrive in Camden and, within a few minutes, I’m spotted by vocalist/guitarist Tom Englund and greeted with hugs from the big man as well as keyboardist Rikard Zander and bassist Johan Niemann. ‘What are you doing here?’ Tom smirks, ‘come with us, we’re going to soundcheck’. Almost immediately, my decision to make the 150 mile round trip is thoroughly vindicated.

A little later, once the band are happy with their sound in the underground den of iniquity that’s The Underworld, I’m running through the pouring rain towards the tour bus upon which I sit with Johan, Rikard and returning drummer Jonas Ekdahl. I’m interested in getting Jonas’ perspective on his return as well as finding out how the new album, ‘Hymns For The Broken’ has gone down since its release.

My first question is directed at Jonas, who sits diagonally opposite me around the bus table. I ask him why he chose to return to the Evergrey fold after several years and two albums away.

“We realised”, he responds with a surprisingly deep and resonating voice referring to himself and guitarist Henrik Danhage, “that we missed playing music together, it’s as simple as that. But it took time because we needed time apart. If we had kept going with the vibe that was in the band at the time when we left, I don’t think that Evergrey would exist today. It was a very necessary thing to do.”

“We talked about it an hour ago actually”, Jonas continues. “It is so cool to see that it’s a completely different band now. The chemistry is like 180 degrees flipped. It’s so great and I could never imagine being back again in Evergrey and then to have this great vibe. It is great.”

I turn to Rikard and smile. It must be good to have your buddies back, I suggest.

“Yeah”, Rikard responds before Jonas cheekily interjects.

“No”, he says completely deadpan for a second before hearty laughter emanates from all corners of the table.

Composure regained, Rikard returns to his answer.

“At first of course we didn’t know how it would work because it wasn’t great before we split up”, he offers very honestly in his relaxed tone. “But its”, he pauses searching for the right words, “it’s just great. I can’t find another word for it – it’s going really well both musically and personally. Touring is fun all the time…almost.” Cue more laughter. “It’s hard work at times, we get tired of drinking. But everything is really good”.

“It couldn’t be better”, Jonas agrees.

The amount of smiles and laughter on such a grey afternoon in London leads me to believe all the positivity is one hundred percent genuine. The great thing for us fans is that the chemistry has led to the creation of a fantastic album in the form of ‘Hymns For The Broken’. After several months of steady rotation, I can safely say that it remains right up there with ‘In Search Of Truth’ and I cannot see that changing any time soon. Given that I consider the 2000 album as my favourite album of all-time, it gives you an idea just how special I consider this latest effort to be.

Pic: Patric Ullaeus
Pic: Patric Ullaeus

When I last spoke with Johan and Tom prior to the release, they were suggesting it was a special album. Now that the world has heard it, I ask Johan whether he is pleased with the almost universally positive reaction to ‘Hymns For The Broken’.

“Oh yeah, for sure, it’s amazing”, Johan replies in his typically soft and quiet voice. “I had hoped that this would happen but you can’t take anything for granted. Just because we like it and we have a good vibe, that doesn’t really mean anything.”

Everyone that I have spoken to loves the record and, in many ways, it feels like Evergrey have stepped up to the next level. The fact that the venue is awash with journalists speaks volumes in favour of this bold assertion.

“It’s amazing and we’re very thankful”, Johan replies with a genuinely happy smile before Jonas and Rikard both add to the answer.

“And we actually managed to be smart for once and build some hype with the return thing with Henrik and me”, Jonas offers.

“Exactly”, Rikard agrees. “But we also had the pressure that since they have come back, we felt that this new album would have to be really really good. If we’d have put out an album that wasn’t good, none of this would matter. But I’m surprised that we managed to do such a great album. I’m really, really surprised about it actually.”

The complete honesty from Rikard descends everyone into more raucous laughter. It really feels as if I’m in the presence of a completely new band. It’s almost as if they’re a group of best mates that just happen to be in a band together. I love it and I’m loving being in the middle of it, even for a short while.

Based on Rikard’s honest appraisal, the next question is obvious but a little thorny. With caution, I ask Rikard in particular whether he felt that perhaps, with hindsight, previous albums were not so good, or at least a little sub-par for Evergrey’s high standards.

“I don’t know”, he muses for a short while before Jonas deftly comes to his rescue.

“I know that you and Tom talked about it, that you weren’t even sure if you wanted to make another album before we joined.” Rikard nods in agreement before Jonas continues. “But then we heard we’d got a record deal and because the chemistry was completely different from several years ago we decided to continue.”

“But as you said”, Rikard re-enters the fray after a moment of contemplation, “this album brings it to a new level. We’ve done a lot of albums and we’re totally satisfied after every one when it’s made. I think ‘Glorious Collision’ is a great album and I was really surprised that we were able to make such an album after these guys left. So I’m super proud of that record. But it has been at quite an even level for Evergrey since the start so what’s so cool about this new one is that you can feel that we have gone up a level perhaps. That surprised me because after doing that many albums, you accept being at that level, I think. So we’re really thankful to be able to still do this and do it in a better way than before.”

“No, not really, I didn’t expect that”, Johan responds when I ask the guys whether they were ready for the increased level of interest. Everyone wants a piece of Evergrey these days it seems. “As I said, I hoped for it but you never know, particularly when you’ve been doing albums for quite a while and old members are back.”

Moving things on slightly, I ask about the latest video that has only just been released for the track ‘Black Undertow’. It follows the epic video for ‘King Of Errors’ that made everyone sit up and take notice but it’s equally impressive and has received a great reaction so far. Am I right in that assertion?

“The response has been awesome”, affirms Jonas, “but it should be because it’s an amazing video. We shot it in December, I think, and we’ve just been waiting for a good opportunity to put it out since then. We figured it was a good time now because it’s festival season and then we’re doing the North American tour.”

Seeing as the touring issue has been raised, I ask for more details about the North American tour. Rikard takes up the mantle.

“It’s our second headlining tour. We only did one headline tour before for ‘Glorious Collision’ and that was with Sabaton. They opened for us”, he laughs knowingly, referring to the fact that Sabaton poached Evergrey’s previous drummer, Hannes Van Dahl and appear to be the current darlings of the metal scene in certain quarters. “Before that, we only did support. They were bigger tours but they were with Iced Earth and In Flames, so you can’t really compare them. But now we’re headlining again, which is big.”

Continuing with the live theme, I enquire as to the reaction of fans at the shows to the new Evergrey material. Unsurprisingly, the theme of positivity continues, as Johan explains.

“People are saying to us that this is the best record that they’ve ever heard, which is very nice to hear. And people are honestly saying that.”

“I remember when it was official that me and Henrik were back”, Jonas recounts, “I got so many emails and messages from people. When they saw the ‘King Of Errors” video and saw us, people were crying because they were so happy.”
Of course, as a diehard Evergrey fan, I wasn’t one of them obviously. Judging by the smirks around the table, I don’t think the guys believe me and, to be honest, I’m not sure I believe myself either. There were certainly goosbumps galore and a strange feeling of elation, so I can empathise with the feelings of utter joy and excitement.

“There were so many positive reactions and comments about us returning and about the album”, Jonas continues.” I went to the restaurant where Henrik works on the same day that the video was released because I couldn’t grasp it. It was too much and too overwhelming that guys were sitting at home crying because we were back and because the album is so good. It was weird to take in but it’s also one of the nicest things I’ve ever heard as a musician. It has been strange to read stuff like that but it is awesome. Hey”, Jonas considers with a self-deprecating smile, “maybe they were crying because they were sad, saying ‘I saw the video and I hated it!”

Given the level of success that ‘Hymns For The Broken’ has been enjoying, it helps to put all the negativity of the constant personnel changes and talk of quitting way into the past. Even so, none of the three bandmates are willing to make any promises about the future. It appears that the entire mind set of the band has changed now. Rikard is first to enlighten me.

“That’s one thing that makes Evergrey so strong now”, he states. “I don’t think we look at things that way; we just appreciate the moment which we’re really happy about and then we’ll see. That’s the type of pressure that we didn’t want to have. I mean we probably will make another album but we haven’t done it yet, so you cannot tell for sure that we will. You never know what will happen but we live in the moment right now, which we like so much.”

“That really takes the pressure off”, agrees Johan vehemently, “because we don’t have to do anything if we don’t want to. If we don’t want to make another album, we won’t. It’s really simple.”

More good-natured and hearty laughter ensues when I beg the band to record a new album at some point. I’m not ready to say goodbye to Evergrey just yet.

Turning serious again, I recall to Johan that when we last spoke, he and Tom suggested that the songs on ‘Hymns For The Broken’ were not actually that difficult to play and that they were looking forward to playing them live. I ask Johan whether his expectations in that direction have been met. He doesn’t hesitate for a second.

“Yes, oh yes”, he nods and smiles emphatically. “But I also think that the old songs are more fun to play now too. I think that has to do with Jonas and Henrik being back and the completely new vibe in the band. We’re on stage, looking around and all you can see is happy faces, yaye!”

“I don’t know what it is”, Rikard interjects, “but there’s something different about the new songs. Usually, it takes a couple of tours before you feel that you have got the new songs. But these songs just clicked right away and personally, I think that they stand out from the rest of the material live.”

Pic: Patric Ullaeus
Pic: Patric Ullaeus

It’s a daft question perhaps but nevertheless I ask whether it has been tough to choose what to play on stage.
“Yeah, but we’re playing 50 songs so we can squeeze a few in”, Jonas chuckles, with a wink. “But yes, it is really tough. With ten albums and a bunch of videos, sometimes it can be a nightmare, especially on shorter sets because we can’t fit them all in. It can be really hard to pick.”

“Like yesterday, at Grasspop”, Johan offers by way of example. “We played 50 minutes, so it was like ‘ok, what do we play?’ But it is cool that we can actually play so many new songs from the new album because they’re so strong.”

“And the reactions to the new songs are kind of different to the old songs when we look at the audience”, Jonas adds. “At least for some of the new ones, the audience goes insane for them.”

Rikard then spookily pre-empts my next question. I didn’t even need to open my mouth.

“We actually talked about playing the whole album, every song. And I think we will when we get the time to rehearse them all. But we’ve not had the time at the moment. I think that would be cool to do that. We did it once at Progpower USA, with ‘In Search Of Truth’. We played the whole album but that’s the one and only time so far.”

With the evening advancing apace and with other journalists wanting their piece of Evergrey, the opening of the tourbus door signals the imminent closure of the interview. Based on the replies previously, I could have telegraphed the answers but I ask the question anyway: what does the future hold for Evergrey now?

“We have nothing really planned after the US tour at the moment, so we’ll see”, replies Rikard with a knowing smile before the last intriguing words come from Jonas.

“We have a bunch of stuff up in the air right now but nothing is certain at all. So we have the US tour and then take it all from there.”

And with that, I’m ushered out into the rain and into the Underworld where I take up a prime position in the venue and wait impatiently for me heroes to take to the stage and give me my first live airing of some of the strongest material that my all-time favourite band has written. Was it a good show? You bet your life it was!

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please check out some others that I have conducted:

Abnormal Thought Patterns
Earthside – Part 1
Kingcrow – ‘Eidos’ Track-by-Track Part 2
Kingcrow – ‘Eidos’ Track-by-Track Part 1
Triaxis
Native Construct
Distorted Harmony
Kingcrow
Wisdom Of Crowds – Bruce Soord & Jonas Renkse
Maschine

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