Tom S Englund: “I am grateful for being an outsider today.”
Na meer dan een kwart eeuw emotioneel geladen progressieve metal is het Zweedse Evergrey toe aan het twaalfde studioalbum ‘Escape Of The Phoenix’ dat eind februari wordt uitgebracht. Nu het sympathieke vijftal geen concerten kon spelen, konden zij zich zonder interrupties concentreren op de creatie van het nieuwe album. En over die nieuwe knaller gaan we een gesprek aan met zanger/gitarist Tom S. Englund die net terug thuis is na een paar verkleumde dagen om een videoclip op te nemen voor ‘Eternal Nocturnal’. Ook ditmaal groef hij diep in zijn herinneringen om zijn ziel bloot te leggen in de teksten over deze opvolger van het al even beklijvende ‘The Atlantic’.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 15 maart 2021
After writing the trilogy, there was a total freedom again. What was the general mood deep within you when you started to write these news songs this time?
The beginning of writing an album is a mixed combination of feelings, where you feel eager to get started, but it is also very frustrating, because you don’t have a structure and you don’t know where the songs will take you, because they are not songs. They are just crap, a sketch of your mind’s ideas. So it is a combination of knowing that you are going to empty your brain and work for a very long time. I started to record my own ideas and then me and Jonas (Ekdahl – drummer – Vera) sat down, around the beginning of January 2020 till October.
What was the first song that came into being?
Oh it is so fresh, I have to take the list and see how it is called (chuckles). It was called ‘In The Absence Of Sun’. A melancholic one. I sat down on my piano, which is right behind me right now, and I started writing that piano intro. It is one of my favourites.
Is this the start of a new trilogy or not?
Help! No. I will not do a trilogy of albums again.
Indeed, writing the trilogy must have been quite a heavy burden, because it reflected quite a sad period for you with the divorce and things like that. Can we say that ‘Escape Of The Phoenix’ happens to be heavier and more optimistic?
At the same time, music comes after being in a feeling for a good while. Music is often the result in retrospect, you know. When I wrote ‘The Atlantic’ album, that was not what I was feeling at the time of writing it, it was more or less the feelings I had in the years before that.. You write based on the memories and the feelings and the ideas that you created during your life that had already passed. So when you are in the writing mode, it is extremely difficult for me to write when I am miserable. I need to feel some sort of joy in order to be creative.
What were the things that inspired you lyric-wise this time?
Everything. From more macro perspectives on who I am today maybe, to who I was as a child and how I became the person I am today. It is more like the whole journey and of course since ‘Hymns For The Broken’, ‘’The Storm Within’ and ‘The Atlantic’ are more literally portraying a transition in my life, I would say that this one is really summing up what has been and what is today. It is surely not the fourth chapter of that trilogy, it is more like the previous chapter of Evergrey basically. It is based on everything, from being an outside and feeling like an outsider in the outlook on the world today today, where we try to portray ourselves in the best possible way on line and on social media and maybe still feeling even more miserable on the inside. ‘In The Absence Of Sun’ is about the feeling that you are in the shadow of the sun basically the same theme as ‘Forever Outsider’. While ‘Forever Outsider’ is more a positive outlook on being an outsider when I was a kid and during my upbringing, that brought me very much strength and a positive look on myself. Things that were very hard in the beginning have turned to strength and inside, things that were tough when I was younger, today I am reaping the rewards from. So I would not want to be anyone else, rather the other way around, I am happy that I am different and I am happy with myself.
So we can call it a kind of struggle to get even with yourself and with what you are…
Pretty much the same things I write about on every Evergrey album (laughs). I write stories about myself and I write stories about my view on the road and my view on myself. It does not seem to differ that much from what other people are experiencing in their own lives, so I think that is also why people find it interesting, which is a great way to communicate in music and through music. Music is a language which is acceptable, readable, you can listen to the notes and hear the sounds and get a proper feeling.
I have also a feeling to be an outsider my whole life…
It is a great thing to be. Being like anyone else, then you just follow a stream. I am not a person who does that, I am a person who makes my own ways and created my own paths, but as I said before, when you are a young kid and you don’t have the courage or the self esteem to do so, life is hard. But I am grateful for being an outsider today.
I guess it was a relief that there was no concept to follow this time?
Yes, that is true, but on the last three albums it was nice as well, to be able to constraint yourself to one idea. It was also very liberating in the opposite way. We did not have to think about creating ten different topics. Of course there are ten different songs, but you know what I mean. The mindset for these three albums was set, which was great. It was a great experience to be able to lock yourself into a world, so to speak, pretty much like when you are reading a book. When you are reading a book, you can almost transfer yourself into the position when you feel and smell and hear and think about the things that you do while reading the book. It was the same for me when creating those albums. I had to transport myself into that theme and every time I started to compose, which was extremely rewarding and very nice, to be able to step into another world of my imagination and then when I was done composing for the day, I could step out. This time around it was very nice to do so in eleven or twelve different songs, I was not constraint by writing for a theme, maybe just adjust my writing to a sound. Me and Jonas tried to find a sound for the album, but we did not really find a specific sound. For other albums we found a specific keyboard sound on each and every album. We based that album then on that keyboard sound. For this album we found another vibe, which started from that, with ‘In The Absence Of Sun’ on piano. It was different. For me listening to it, I would say it is a pretty diverse album and you can listen to any song of the album in any order. It still gives you the same experience. Some parts are even more – I would not say rock-‘n-roll – but more rock based or diverse in that matter then before. So it is nice to evaluate and find new ways for a 26 years old band. That is the real gift. To be able to create music that matters after a quarter of a century, it is some kind of blessing I would say.
And you have found a buddy in drummer Jonas, he is involved in the writing process from the very beginning…
Jonas is just as creative as me, but he writes even more stuff than I do. He writes everything, from pop to metal. I do the same, but in that way we work differently. I write for TV games and I write for Silent Skies, but I am always much more focused on a project, while Jonas writes because he loves to write and it does not matter what the project is. That is the difference.
How does he manage to find a purpose for it then? He offers it and sees if there is interest or what?
I don’t know what he does really, that is the difference. The purpose is to write music and not the project. I could not spend 18 hours a day on writing music for myself, because I cannot afford that. I would not survive, and Jonas chose to have another job instead besides the band. So he can write whatever he wants and financially he can depend on his real work.
How did the duet with James Labrie came into being?
I know James Labrie. We are colleagues, if not friends at least colleagues. We toured together. He is a gentleman and a very funny guy and when we listened to one of the parts for ‘The Beholder’ song, the whole band was sitting in our studio and when this part came up, we said: we need to have a guest vocalist in there and everybody said: James Labrie which was very funny and then we just wrote him an email and he said yes. It is kind of coming full circle if you will, because Dream Theater and James were one of the reasons why we started Evergrey in the beginning. It was one of those amazing things that we were inspired by, very quickly realising that I could not play like them and we were not able to equal them at all. But that kind of formed and shaped the sound of Evergrey. And it is so great to have a voice that coloured your own musical upbringing, now being a part of your own music. It is an honour and a privilege.
How did you come to the album title ‘Escape Of The Phoenix’?
It is a play of words, you can see it on the cover, it is not a bird really. The phoenix bird has always been condemned to resurrect and then be bird on a stick again and I was playing with the thought of: when you go through heavy things in your life and you have to stand up and stand up again and I was playing with the thought: maybe he does not want to resurrect again, not killing himself, that was not the point, but not to be condemned to resurrect again and I put that into the context of my real life instead of doing things that you really dislike every day, trying to flee from that and create a new way basically. That was my main idea.
I have also the impression that the guitars are more featured this time and they have a very heavy sound…
Maybe. I never think of sound in that sense. I think of sound as something that comes to the total production. Very often it is like: this guitar sound works for this song and the first song sort of sets the tone for the album basically, but then I am not really that interested anymore. Then it is more up to when Jonas and me start the mixing and the final production stage of it, then it is more fiddling around with the sound. Well, it sounds the way it should sound I think. It is the sound that complements and supports the songs in the best way possible and then Jacob Hansen is the wizard of getting all our crazy Swedish stupid ideas into making it to a good sounding album.
You have also a side project called Silent Skies. How did that come into being with the guy from Redemption?
Well, he was not in Redemption when we started Silent Skies. We started writing for it four years ago. I saw Victor on line where he had made a piano cover of song of Evergrey, called ‘Missing You’ and he played it so lovely on the piano. I always wanted to do a project that was different than Evergrey and brought out a more soundscaping landscape and more – how shall I put it? – I wanted to make cinematic score music, but with vocals on it basically. That was the idea. So I contacted Victor on line and I said: dude, we need to do something together. And he was also a very big Evergrey fan, I mean, he was twenty one years old at that time and he was super surprised and very happy to be involved in one of his – as I was back then – music idols. For me it was great to have a young, eager guy coming in and it was all about passion. He is like a musical genius, that kid. He is not a kid anymore, he is 25 now. Yes, it was a long time in the running and it is a full band, it is not a project. It is a different side of me and my artistry and it is a different side of him as well. While we were writing, I was also joining Redemption and there I suggested to Nick that we should have Victor as our keyboard player.
Yes, I also follow Redemption and you fit so very well into it!
Ah thank you. It is fun to do different things. It is great to be able to do different things where I am not producing or writing everything. Nick has been doing that for Redemption and I just do the vocals and Nick is telling me what to do. It is a different experience and it is a learning experience as well. So it is great.
Now that you probably have more time with the lockdowns, are there still other projects or guest appearances that you did recently?
I offer my guest appearance services to all fans of Evergrey, Redemption and Silent Skies to contact me if they want me on their albums and I think I have done plenty. Every day that I am not busy with three of those bands, I did a guest appearance, so I think I am on at least fifteen different albums this year. It is a service that they want, it is a service that I do charge for of course, because I am spending time on it, but it is also very fun, but it is also a great learning experience for me. To hear new music, learn new music and also be around people that are compassionate about being musician. It is very rewarding I would say.
I think you were in writing and recording mode when the pandemic broke out, but did you as band suffer a lot from cancellations?
Yes we have a bunch of shows, ten shows maybe this summer. Well paid gigs in Sweden and some festivals and stuff like this of course. It is the same for everyone in this business, we are basically out of job. If we were not recording like we are doing now, it would have been a total catastrophe for us. Now we were just very lucky that we already had this recording plan.
Didn’t you need to go to Denmark for Jacob Hansen?
This time we just sent him the files and worked it out that way. The world is a changed place now. It is never going to go back to where it was before. The sooner people realize that you have to adapt and make changing in our living and our lifestyles – because this is going to affect us forever – the sooner you adapt to that idea and that thought, that sorts of open up ways in your mind in order to conquer the world again if you want, you know. It has led me to a bunch of different new ideas in ways of thinking and regarding my creativity and also regarding my business. So we have to think in new ways basically.
Is there contact with fans via social media?
We did a live stream in June and now I am going to be super busy with the release of the album, at least up until the end of February when it will be released and after that we will have to see what is happening and possible, but for now I just want to be caught up in that release process and at the same time I am also releasing Silent Skies, so I am also doing a lot of interviews for that. So at the moment we don’t have any other plan than that tour in October.
Is there still something you want to add…
I think when people want to check out a calmer side or a different lower side of me, check out Silent Skies. We actually released a Christmas song today which is not sounding that jolly as you might imagine it is, but go and check it out… I think every Evergrey album deserves a listen, because there is going to be something there that appeals to everyone. You just have to give it a chance and change your mindset that we sound in a certain way, because we don’t. We sound very different on every album, even though the sonic sound is the same. So check it out, maybe it is not for you, but if it is, welcome to the club.