DPRP’s Jon Bradshaw speaks with
Evergrey’s Hannes van Dahl
Evergrey have been around for 14 years now and they have just released Glorious Collision, their eighth studio album. Over this time, they have had a shifting personnel with guitarist, vocalist, composer and producer Tom S Englund being the only constant since the beginning. Since 2004, the line-up had been stable but then last year in May, Evergrey surprisingly announced the mutual break-up of the band leaving only Tom and Keysman, Rikard Zander to carry the Evergrey flag. Undeterred, this partnership set about writing new material over the Summer of 2010 and then recruited new blood into the fold in the shape of Marcus Jidell on guitars, Johan Niemann on bass and Hannes Van Dahl on drums to complete a brisk European tour at the back-end of the festival season and start recording the new material.
Now, Evergrey would probably be the first to furrow their brows at being lumped into the progressive genre, and I know that Tom has previously eschewed the idea of Evergrey being a ‘progressive metal’ band. Nevertheless, what they do is different and very much their own within ‘Metal’ as a genre. Theirs is a brooding and dark but melodic and grandiose take on the idiom and, for this individuality, they are one of the few metal bands I still hold a pennant for. DPRP were offered the chance to put some questions to Hannes Van Dahl, the new Evergrey drummer, so I asked him about being a new boy and how the new album was sounding.
JON: Hi Hannes, thanks taking the time out of your schedule to answer some questions. I’m preparing this the day after the release party for Glorious Collision in Göta Källare. Presuming that everyone who was there is already a friend of the band and you are entitled to a positive reception, what was the general reaction to the new material from a fan’s point of view? And for those of us who weren’t there, what can fans expect of the new material?
HANNES: The release party in Stockholm was a great time, we did an acoustic release tour with 4 gigs and Göta Källare was first out. A lot of friends came and everyone had a great evening. It’s fun to do something different from the ordinary full electric set. It’s a bit of a challenge to get the acoustic set sounding really good, and doing the songs justice. But we really put time in arranging them and rehearsed a lot. And it turned out really sweet.
For the new material, you can expect a Mature, Glorious, Heavy, Dark, Emotive record. The album sounds tight and alive, we worked with Daniel Bergstrand (Meshuggah, In Flames, Behemoth) for the drums and mixing and he really felt like the right decision for us. He understands and knows how to get a live atmospheric sound to stuff, and I think that GLORIOUS COLLISION sounds really alive and FOR REAL. A lot of bands nowadays have records who sticks computers all over them, and in some cases I enjoy that, but I think you should play for real and what you play is the same thing that will end up on the record.
Tom produced the album, and he’s really serious and knows what he wants. And with a goal set from the beginning and no compromises I think it makes recording easier. We were two weeks in a studio last summer recording the drums in a big red barn, and with 30 degrees outside and broken air conditioning, it wasn’t always the most fun thing to do every day. But we managed to stay alive, and got some pretty serious stuff down. Marcus [Jidell – Guitars] did some of the guitars in his own studio in Stockholm (Damage Done) and the rest with Tom in his studio down in Gothenburg, and Johan [Niemann – Bass] came in and kicked ass in only like a day or so, and then he drank margaritas and flew back home. Rikard [Zander – Keys] did a huge part writing with Tom, before they decided to start searching for new members, and there’s much more of Rikard on this one around.
This is my first album with Evergrey and for me personally, I think it’s quite different from all of the previous albums, but still with the Evergrey thread in it. Glorious Collision is somewhat of a musical journey, and I am sure that all Evergrey fans from the beginning and the later ones can find their element of Evergrey which they’ve always enjoyed. It’s an album that everyone in the band is really satisfied with and you call tell this band is hungrier than ever.
JON: Looking back to only 9 months ago and Evergrey was in upheaval with Tom and Rikard parting ways with Jonas, Jari and Henrik. What can you tell us about all of this and how was it becoming Evergrey’s new drummer?
HANNES: Of course being in a band with people for more than 8 years, you tie a very tight and special bond and the guys are still great friends and talk every now and then. I think with new blood in the band it brings in a fresh way of thinking and everyone inspires each other. We come from other bands and other musical experiences and everyone is really serious about their musicianship and really puts their soul into it.
After the break up with Jonas, Henrik and Jari, Tom and Rikard decided to continue with the band. They took their time and started the recording of Glorious Collision. With no time-pressure, no deadlines and no pressure from Record Companies they could do whatever they wanted and concentrate on the original purpose of what music is all about, having fun. So in a 1/2 of a year, they met up once in a while and discussed and recorded their ideas. And I personally think it’s great that Rikard was more involved on this album, there are more songs that’s based on Keyboard or Piano melodies and melody is what it’s all about. When they felt the time was right to bring in new people in the band they did. Marcus Jidell was the first one in, and he and Tom actually recorded the guitars on the album in Tom’s studio before we tracked any drums.
They had programmed drums to work with, and then me and Johan got in the picture. Of course we did some tours before we started the recording. Then me, Daniel Bergstrand who did the drum sound, and Tom who produced the record started the drum-tracking. After a day or so in that studio, the air conditioning broke…and this was a wooden house and 32 degrees Celsius outside. So your brain got fried, and every decision took 15 minutes. This was really a hard time. But we got those damn drums in, and it sounds fantastic. Johan Niemann, flew down to Gothenburg and laid some sick bass-stuff in one day or so… Then Tom, nailed the last pieces of the vocals and now we’re stoked on starting to record a new one.
JON: I mean absolutely no disrespect to Jonas with this question, but you’ve added a fresh dynamic to the Evergrey sound. What did you do that’s different in the production of your kit and what is it that you do that differs in style from Jonas?
HANNES: Thank you very much! We had a guy named Daniel Bergstrand (Meshuggah, Behemoth, In flames, Soilwork etc.) setting the drum sound for this album, and he of course played a big part in the sound of the drums. He’s extremely talented and experienced. We got that acoustic drum sound we wanted, and you can hear that it’s real drums and not over-triggered bullshit which a lot of the metal acts today do. I think me and Jonas has a very different style of playing from each other, and I try to play those songs with as much respect for him as I can, but at the same time put my mark in there. I am a huge fan of him personally and his work on The Inner Circle, A Night To Remember, Monday Morning Apocalypse and Torn.
When we met the first time, he was really cool and down to earth and said if I’d had any problems rehearsing the songs just to give him a call, which was a cool thing to do. We both joined this band when we were around 20 years old and stepping into a band with such experienced musicians makes you grow musically very much. Hard work and dedication is what it’s all about.
JON: I have to confess I’ve only heard a promo MP3 version of the album (always inferior if you ask me) but there’s an incredible chemistry in the feel of the songs on this album for a band who’ve been together such a short time. How do you cultivate that in the studio?
HANNES: I personally think that the new blood and inspiration in the band almost by itself gives the music another feeling, besides from that there’s new guys playing of course. Tom and Marcus recorded the guitars in a relaxed environment in Tom’s studio, they had the time listen to each other’s ideas and give their point of view in every song. The same goes for Rikard, who was more involved in the writing process of Glorious Collision. There’s a lot of clean classic piano playing on this one, which brings another feeling upfront. It’s very important to have a clear vision and set the goals before you start recording, Tom produced the album, and did this with no compromise, and I think that’s what it has to be like. Everyone of course contributed with their style of playing and ideas. New guys, new sound, new inspiration for everyone!
JON: Yeah, one of the things I really like about Glorious Collision is Rikard’s keyboard work which is definitely more prominent in the mix and more ‘aggressive’, for want of a better word, than on previous Evergrey offerings.
HANNES: It’s great that Rikard is more hearable on this one, he does a cool job and was more involved in the songwriting for Glorious Collision He has a cool way of thinking of music, he thinks it doesn’t necessarily have to be complicated, just play it with your heart and put your soul into it.
Actually we listened to the Torn demos yesterday and there’s a LOTof Rikard on that one as well, but unfortunately, he disappeared in the final mix. But I think the difference is that it’s more classic Piano sound and classic piano playing, and less distorted keyboards. He’s a great musician and you can really hear that on this one.
JON: Glorious Collision is being heralded by many critics as something of a definitive, watershed release for Evergrey in that it takes elements of their whole career and stamps them into a new and revitalized mould. With this in mind, are there any plans for remasters or reissues of your back catalogue with the new label? Sorry, closed question. If you were to remaster any of the earlier albums would you want to change anything and if so, what?
HANNES: Hard questions for me to answer, but I wouldn’t change anything about the previous albums, I think they sound just like they should sound. And that’s what makes them, them. We’re doing this acoustic album this year, which is going to include everything from early songs to later ones. We’re going through the back catalogue, and arranging the songs we choose in an acoustic style. We enjoyed playing those acoustic gigs so much that we have to get it on tape 😉
JON: I think at this stage of their career, Evergrey are an established international band with a unique and instantly recognisable sound. I imagine that you probably influence many young musicians out there. Do you feel any pressure to keep up with trends in the ever evolving metal scene and are there any new bands you’d tip as someone to keep an eye on for the future?
HANNES: There’s a lot of band out there that really rocks, nowadays it’s really important in the scene to be able to play for real. What I think is great, young people are taking this serious as hell and maybe I’m wrong, but the metal scene is getting bigger than ever. Bands team up and do co/headlining tours, they sell special packages with goody bags in them, arrange meet-and-greets. And soon I guess, this involvement will be more important than ever when the records stop selling.
JON: What would be your advice to anyone starting out and dreaming about being where Evergrey are now?
HANNES: Work hard and never compromise with your dreams, no matter what it might be.
JON: What are your main musical influences?
HANNES: I come from The Who and Zeppelin, but it’s not only music that gives me inspiration. It’s everything from life and the daily problems that comes with it: taking the dog for a walk, happiness, girlfriend, things that I see, or hear or feel. Mix all that up and start writing.
I wake up every morning and the first thing I think of is some song, or a new riff or a great fill on the drums. And I hope this is the way it always will be. I often listen to music and start automatically thinking of how they should have done it different, not that I’m always right, or a better musician, but it gets as a challenge for me to always improve my way of thinking round music.
JON: What’s getting rotation on your iPod/iPad/mp3 device/CD Player? What’s floating your boat musically at the moment?
HANNES: I have been listening to Machine Head’s The Blackening lately, which is a great album. I’m really looking forward to them releasing the sequel to that one, and the other day I had a couple of friends come over and we went through the King Diamond discography, which I always enjoy doing. I try to listen to as much new music as I possibly can. A “new” band that just got a spot on my ipod is Three Inches Of Blood, they mix classic heavy metal with the most brutal death metal, and they do it with style. I enjoy bands that you immediately hear that they’ve put their soul and heart in the work. When it’s for real.
JON: What are your views on the mp3 as a format?
HANNES: The download’s I think is a great way for the business to stay alive for a little longer, but I don’t really understand why anyone would want to miss all the fun of having the actual digipak in their hand. Listening to the songs and reading the lyrics out of the booklet. That’s half of the fun when buying a album… We have this dude called Michael Gullbrandsson doing all the artwork for Glorious Collision. Instead of writing all the lyrics plain in the booklet we let him listen to all the songs and then paint a custom picture for every song. So that you can look at the picture and listen to song, and there’s lots of details that you don’t want to miss on this one.
It’s also cool like in iTunes when you can buy a song or an album as a gift, and they get an invitation by email. When you have friends on the other side of the planet it´s a cool thing to do. I use Spotify daily and think it rocks, but I don’t really know if it great for artists who still release records. Its going to be very, very interesting to see what the music industry looks like in ten years.
JON: With a tour fast approaching, you’re not likely to get any for a while, but how do like to spend your downtime?
HANNES: Playing drums, writing new songs, that’s what I do. Maybe watch a good movie once in a while 😉
JON: Thank you so much for your responses. Best of luck with the new album and have fun on the road. Hope to see you in the UK sometime soon!
AFTERWORD: Since this interview, I’ve got my actual copy of “Glorious Collision” and, I have to say, I think it’s the best thing Evergrey have done! Hannes’ kit sounds awesome. Tom has never been in better voice and Marcus’ guitar work is first class. I also want to pick up Hannes’ point about the artwork. The packaging for this album is superb and Michael Gullbrandsson’s artwork is brilliant.
Interview by Jon Bradshaw