Evan Anderson Berry: “After ‘Veil Of Imagination’ was released, definitely the most difficult record of the three, we kind of realized that the possibilities for what a Wilderun album could sound like were just greater than we originally thought. We wanted to be more adventurous and experimental.”
Een band aan het woord die net terug thuis is na een uitgebreide (Amerikaanse) tournee! Het is een zeldzame gebeurtenis geworden in coronatijden, maar Wilderun sloeg erin om samen met labelgenoten Swallow The Sun en Abigail kriskras door Noord-Amerika te toeren. De reden voor ons hartelijk gesprek met Evan Anderson Berry is echter de release van het vierde studioalbum ‘Epigone’, want dat is een even fantastische als verrassende opvolger van het eveneens volprezen ‘Veil Of Imagination’.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 24 januari 2022
First thing I want to cover, because touring is something rare these days. In December you did a long tour in the US with Swallow The Sun and Abigail. Please tell us about this adventure…
We were lucky to be able to make this tour actually happen. You may or you may not know that we had a few tours cancelled and so the other bands did. We had I think four different tours planned over the course of 2020 and 2021 that were cancelled. One of them was in Europe. Those were cancelled. Anyways it was a rough couple of years, especially since we were just getting signed by Century Media and released ‘Veil Of Imagination’ for which we still did not play too many shows in support of. So it was a rough time for us, disappointing overall. Luckily this one tour with Swallow The Sun was able to happen. Doing tours in the US seems to be more possible than anything international, Swallow The Sun were lucky enough to be able to make it successfully with coming over here. Century Media helped including us on that tour, for which we are very grateful. It just came out lined-up. They just got a new record coming out right before the tour. We have a new record that was going to come out. It was really good. Swallow The Sun and Abigail are both great bands. It was a little bit strange, for sure, we were a little bit apprehensive at first. A little bit nervous about the whole situation obviously, but we were as careful as it could be. We took our precautions, just trying to be smart. It was fun. There were a lot of great shows, I think overall it was a success. After almost two years without gigs, it was amazing to be on stage.
In the meantime the new album ‘Epigone’ has hit the shops. Let us start at the beginning: the writing process. I think you approached that in a different way than earlier for ‘Veil Of Imagination’, isn’t it?
Yes, it was a little different in the sense that more material was taken from earlier days, a different writing period for me. Some material I had saved for a few years now. Some of it was written before ‘Veil Of Imagination’ and some of it I had even written for a different project before Wilderun, A lot of it had to do with the fact that Wilderun has changed over time. When we first released our album ‘Olden Trails & DeathlyTales’ back in 2012, we were definitely a different band. We were much more straight forward folk metal and we stayed with that genre for a while, but when we made three albums, things definitely changed. We kind of realized that we wanted to get a little more creative and adventurous with our song-writing and our style overall. We just wanted to try more things, we just wanted to experiment a bit more. So after ‘Veil Of Imagination’ was released, definitely the most difficult record of the three, we kind of realized that the possibilities for what a Wilderun album could sound like were just greater than we originally thought. There were more sonic opportunities and changes we could take with the song-writing. Anyways, because of that, a lot of these old songs that I kept in the back, these old melodies, these old riffs, sounded different, a different atmosphere and feel. Suddenly I realized that they could be used in the Wilderun context. The new album is more a combination of these old things and some new things that I wrote. I fused them together to create this record. Overall I think the album has a good flow. Maybe it is a bit more experimental in nature and that is because it is. It is trying to fuse together some different worlds and different ways of writing. We try to do some new things to not sound exactly like the last record. That is what I hope we did.
There is a saying that claims that every record happens to be a product of the time you created it. Do you agree with that?
Yes, definitely. I think that simply the fact that this record was put together, arranged and recorded during the pandemic, influenced the sound and the feeling of it undoubtedly. Even though – like I said – the material was taken from a previous time, I think the way it was arranged, the way we approached the lyrical content, some of the orchestrations and the synth work that we put on it, I think a lot of that was influenced by the times and how we were feeling. Even if it is subconscious, even if it was not intentional I think it is impossible to deny that the way that we were feeling during the preparation time and being in the studio was affected by the time. Not surprisingly it is more of a sombre record. There is definitely more darkness on this record. Even on ‘Veil Of Imagination’ there were dark parts, but overall it was certainly a brighter record. It was definitely more eccentric overall and I think that ‘Epigone’ is a little bit more personal, it is more introspective in a lot of ways and that was inevitable, because so much time was spent alone, so much time all of us were just feeling isolated. We were just confused, worried and anxious about our future and I think, because of that, ‘Epigone’ has a feel of that on the record. This sense of uncertainty, I am sure that has found its way on the record.
In general, don’t you compose alone, on your own? Or was it too much this time?
I have always written a lot of music alone, so it is not anything entirely new, being isolated when writing music. For Wilderun I take care of most of the song-writing and do the core, fundamental song-writing for the band and the rest of the band flashes everything out with arrangements and orchestrations and all the other instruments and everything. The core song-writing on one single instrument is usually an isolated process anyways, so in that sense it was not anything new, but it is one of those things that felt different. Even though I normally write alone, the feeling of isolation regardless of the band started to affect me even if normally I had been writing alone as well. I have more opportunities in my daily life to get out and see other people and do normal things and that was sort of bounced the isolation of song-writing. When isolation is complete, it is even harder to write music, because you don’t have other normal things to balance that out, when you take a break from being alone. Even though we don’t meet for the core song-writing and only collaborate for the arrangements and recording process, it is still very valuable to get together and talk about things and see each other, mess around as a band in person, not being able to do that made the song writing even more difficult, even though song-writing is usually an isolated process – if that makes sense…
Yes, it makes a difference when you are obliged to be isolated or when you choose for it…
Yeah that is a good way to put it. We had no choice at that point. That is the biggest part of the difficulty.
Where does ‘Epigone’ stand for on this record?
Epigone is basically a word that defines like a sort of follower, a disciple, usually in the context of art or philosophy or just some sort of more esoteric thing. All my lyrics are very personal. Every time I write lyrics it is me, looking into words and just juggling with my own mind and my own state of feelings. I usually don’t extrapolate to the greater world or even not to the band as a whole, for me it is just really personal, but that is what I always used to do: keeping it personal. So epigone is basically just a reflection of how I deal with my anxiety and insecurities and self-doubt about myself and my life not even necessary having exclusively to do with the band and music. It started out as a personal look into my own self-doubts and insecurities and this time I think they are a little bit more upfront, everything I have ever been insecure about when it comes to being an artist and being a musician, not even only the insecurities, but just the day to day frustrations with choosing this as the thing I want to do with my life, the doubts that I have whether this is the right way of living my life. I think more than on other records, this theme of feeling like an imitator or a follower of other people, uncertainty, genuine or not, I think you can extrapolate a lot of other things and not just the musician or an artist, I think that can have a meaning in many people’s lives. Maybe you are following other people’s footsteps a little bit too much. I think that is quite a universal theme, a feeling that a lot of people recognize, although usually the word is used for an artist, that’s why most of the lyrics on the record have to do with some of play of an artiest, why an artist chooses to pursuit that life and everything it involves.
It is a mission I think, something you have the need to do…
Yeah, I think so. Sometimes it is like a reluctant calling in some way. Sometimes it is absolutely rewarding, sometimes it is a blessing and a beautiful thing. When things are going right, it can be the best thing ever, but there’s a lot of times where you can feel it a bit like a curse, you can feel like you have no choice but to follow, even if sometimes you don’t really want to feel like, that’s what you have to do. So it is a mix.
I notice it in the titles that you are struggling: ‘Identifier’, ‘Ambition’ on the other hand. These emotions may fight within you…
Absolutely and I think the song ‘Identifier’ is maybe the most ‘on the nose’ song in terms of some of the things I was trying to get out, the self-identification you have, defining yourself as an artist. I think a lot of times this can be really difficult, because you can lose yourself in that, you can lose yourself in this self-identification, I am an artist and this is the only thing I am now, this is who I am and if I don’t have this, then I am nothing. That sort of feeling. When the inspiration does not hit, when maybe you are not getting into the flow of art as well as other times. Then you may think: if I don’t do this, I am nothing. It is easy to forget all the other important things in life besides art and music. There are so many other important things in life that artists probably forget about a lot of times and lose sight on. I guess they are too focused on the self-identification of an artist. There is a real trap there. It is good to try to avoid it.
I can understand that urge in my writings. I put everything aside and maybe I hurt people. On the other hand, the result is something to cheer up people’s day…
Exactly, you have to focus on the positive things. Sometimes you have to stop thinking about you as an artist and you have to just think about what you bring to other people and realize that is ultimately the most important thing.
Let us make things clear about the changing of the guards on the guitar. I found out that Joe Gettler is still playing on the album, but now we have Wayne Ingram…
Yes, it was a little bit confusing for some people, because we made this transition within the new album cycle. So yes, Joe Gettler was our former lead guitarist, but he did indeed play all the lead guitars on ‘Epigone’. So he deserves all the credits. On the tour we did with Swallow The Sun, Wayne toured with us and he played all those leads live. He is also a great guitarist, so it was a pretty easy switch, but Joe certainly gets all the credits for the ‘Epigone’ lead guitar parts. Luckily it was a pretty easy transition, because Wayne was the original lead guitarist back on our first record and he was not really able to focus for a few years because of his personal life and his job, he pretty much only hadn’t enough time to do the orchestrations, the biggest contribution to Wilderun overall is the orchestration. He didn’t have time to do that for a few years, which is why Joe joined the band, but Joe’s life also had some changes and his full time career is actually as a tattoo artist. He is a phenomenal artist, he needed to focus on his career. He couldn’t find the time anymore which is totally understandable. We are still great friends. He is an amazing guy, he is a great artist and a great person, so it was very amicably and luckily it was easy, because Wayne was able to step right in again, it had worked out with his personal life too, he was able to step back in as guitarist. So now we are officially back as a four piece band.
‘Distraction’ is the longest track on the album, divided in four parts. What can you tell about that composition?
It was written as one song pretty much. There seems to be a current tendency for Wilderun writing a long, four piece song, because actually we had exactly the same thing on our second album ‘Sleep At The Edge Of The Earth’ (2018), a song called ‘Ash Memory’. It was about twenty minutes long and got cut into four parts. So we decided to do it again with ‘Distraction’. It is something about my song writing style. I seem to divide things into fours. We made the decision ultimately to split the song up, because we think the four pieces are really distinct and they really each have their own character, they are really distinct chapters in that one story. We just wanted to make sure that people notice those changes. It is definitely the song with the most dramatic shifts and dynamics overall. We wanted each part to live in its own world. They are all ending up in one big piece ‘Distraction’. One is centred around the vocals and the lyrics, the second part is surely the heaviest moment on the whole record, we wanted to have a moment focused on the guitars; the riffs and the heaviness. The third part is the longest part we have with pure orchestra on a record. Wayne put a lot of time into the orchestrations for this track, a sombre atmosphere kind of piece and ‘Distraction III’ is a bit of a climax. A sort of typical Wilderun epic climax, but because ‘Epigone’ as a whole is a very anxious and uncertain album, we could not end the record with that, because I think the atmosphere, the mood of the record is just too uncertain to occlude with that positive vibe. It had to end with the fourth part and it kinds of sums up the angst and the uncertainty we were all feeling. This is why the record is ending in such a dissonant, messed-up way. It is hard to explain, but we felt like that was the feeling needed to end this record.
Why did you decide to cover a song from the band Radiohead?
Well, I have a shortlist of a lot of songs that I always wanted to cover. I like doing covers, because then you have the opportunity to do something completely different from what you usually do, just try to rework it into your sound. Taking a weird song and try to make it in your own way is always a fun process. I mean, the previous cover we did was an Iron Maiden song, ‘Seventh Son O A Seventh Son’ and that one was a little bit closer to our style, metal. It is actually a stripped down version, so it is different. Radiohead was something very different. Far from anything you can call symphonic metal or folk metal or whatever, so we just thought it would be an interesting experiment to take something completely different and turn it on as heavy as possible. Sometimes I try to hear a song as a core song, without layers, just stripped-down to the bones. Just thinking about the core melody and the structure. When I thought about that Radiohead song, I was just thinking about the chord progression and I was just thinking about the melody and I started to realize that he took a lot of things that Wilderun does. The epic, symphonic parts, the heavy guitars, they really worked well on those chords with those melodies. It would be a pretty epic song in its own right. I was just inspired by the song writing and I have always been a Radiohead fan, as long as I am a metal fan basically, even though it is very different from anything in metal (chuckles). I listen to a lot of different music, so it was fun to take a song I have known for a long time and try to make it ours.
For mix and mastering you recruited Jens Bogren and Tony Lindgren. Why did you move to Europe to finalize the production?
We have a shortlist of mixing engineers and mastering engineers that we hope to be able to work with. We recorded the record in the studio where we actually recorded all the records. It is the More Sound studios in Syracuse, New York. Especially, given the pandemic situation, we wanted to record somewhere familiar and where we felt kind of safe. We had great experiences there and we decided to keep that part of the process the same, but we wanted to change up for the mixing and the mastering for a couple of reasons. One: just to try something new. I think it is always good to try to work with different mixers and mastering engineers, just to keep experimenting with your sound, just to see what different people bring up the table, to make sure not to get stuck in one particular sound for every record, but for this one in particular. Luckily we had a little bit more budget, because of the deal with Century Media, so we were able to hire someone a bit more expensive this time around. We could not hire Jens Bogren for any of the previous records, so a big thanks to Century Media for that. Jens Bogren is one of those producers that’s been always on our radar and he has made so many records that sound amazing and in particular for ‘Epigone’ there are so many dynamics, the difference between really heavy sections and the really soft sections is huge, there is a wide ray of sounds going on. I think there are even more softer sections on this record than the previous one and we wanted a producer and a mixing engineer that we knew and someone who could handle – not only metal but – delicate soft sections of music, because not every metal producer also knows how to handle soft music. Jens Bogren obviously did that very well on other records before, so we contacted him and a couple of other mixing engineers, but he got back to us and we were able to make it work, so as soon as we heard back from him, we locked it in. As far as mastering concerns, Tony Lindgren has done some great records. There is actually one particular record that has exactly the same line-up which was Jens Bogren mixing and Tony Lindgren mastering, I believe it was the most recent record by Orphaned Land, called ‘Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs’. That record had the same team and that record sounded great! It is probably the best sounding Orphaned Land record so far. So we thought: ‘those two make that record sound like that, so let us get both of them’. And we are really happy with the result, it really sounds great.
Yes, Jens Bogren, Dan Swanö… these are famous producers and in the US MorriSound studio, also famous…
You may be thinking of the Florida MorriSound Studios, but this is actually a different studio. It might not be the one you are thinking of. There is a pretty famous studio in Florida called MorriSound, this is actually a different one. I know it can be confusing, but this is More Sound Studios, very confusing indeed. Actually it is interesting, because the More Sound Studios that we go to in Syracuse has not produced that much metal music. It is a little bit more diverse, there’s a lot of engineers working there on a lot of different stuff, like folk bands and funk bands and fusion and rock and some metal as well, but they are kind of more a studio that produces a lot of different music. We actually wanted it, because so much of our sound is – like I was saying – not always metal. It is a mix of a few different genres and a few different types of sound, so we were happy to record in a studio that knew how to handle a lot of different things.
You dared to do something new on the visual side as well, because you have made a lyric video yourself for ‘Exhaler’. Did you enjoy that and what about this adventure?
Yeah that was a little project of mine. It is one of those things, a weird idea I just had. A couple of years ago I had this idea of making a lyric video where you literally just write out all the lyrics using pieces from the earth. Some people did not realize that all these lyrics are actually sticks on the ground. Some people thought that there were some visual effects done but it is actually nothing like that, it is a thing I wrote out on the ground.
I saw white letters on a mountain…
Yes, it took a long time. It was very difficult. It took about a week. Luckily there was this plot of land in Illinois. I am actually from Illinois, but I grew up in the Chicago area. My family is friends with the person who owns this beautiful plot of land in Woodstock, Illinois. A beautiful land, a lot of acres, horses and things are there and she was kind enough to let me use the land for this project, this idea I had in my head. I knew the only way I was able to do it was getting access to a decently large piece of land and be able to kind of leave things there for a couple of days. I was thinking for a while: ‘okay, can I do this in a public park or where can I do this?’, but when I leave maybe the next day all my work has been messed up, who knows? So the only way I could do it was on a private piece of land and finding someone who would allow me to use it. Anyway, I got really lucky with this place in Illinois and it took me about a week. I think it was probably three or four days, all day eight to ten hours of cutting off sticks and putting them on the ground and writing out the lyrics. My mom actually helped me with the sticks, it was a little bit of a family project and a lot of fun. My mom is also a big nature person, so she had a lot of fun helping me cutting and sorting the sticks and I was out there just writing out lyrics for hours. I had to write out one phrase of the lyrics and I had my drone – I obviously filmed everything with the drone – and I kind of float over a couple sets of lyrics and made sure that it properly turned out. When I flew with a certain speed it would line up with the lyrics. I had to do some things several times of course, very complicated, very time consuming, but it was honest and really rewarding.
Yeah I always love challenges. I had not too much experience with video or anything, but I love filming and I love music, I always like it when things are done with practical effects, so I think it is cool to see just something that you know is real and then you just take the time and effort to do something that is physically real and you film it. And I thought – especially for the song ‘Exhaler’ – it is the most really organic sounding song on the record. I wanted to make this video matching with the theme of raw natural organic music, what you see is what is actually there. It is a bit long explanation, but it was really fun and we are really satisfied and I hope people like it.
What an enterprise!
Yeah! It was a little bit crazy actually, I wasn’t convinced it was going to work, there were a couple of moments that I doubted if I was going to make it happen, but miraculously it all came together.
We have Kim Keever for the artwork. Did you work with that guy before?
No, he is an artist from New York. We actually found his art very recently. We are all fans of art, so we follow other artists on Instagram and so. One of the things I generally love on Instagram, is the ability to find new cool artists. We just found Kim’s work on Instagram one day. We kept it in the back of our heads and not long after the time when we started to think about ‘Epigone’ and what the visual style would be, one of us just remembered Kim’s work. So we started to go through his entire back catalogue and we thought it could fit. Kim’s style is interesting, because it is almost all water tank photography. What you see on the ‘Epigone’ artwork is a photograph. We had a few people looking at it and thinking it is a painting, but it is actually a photograph of a paint in water. I highly recommend to go checking out all Kim’s other work. He just has this amazing way of taking paints and photos into a giant water tank and just letting things happen and then taking a bunch of photos and trying to capture that little magical moment when it is in the water tank. For this one particular it was just a paint in the water. It kind of resembles a sort of storm and we felt like it worked well with the music, because there is something calming and peaceful about it, but I think there is something simultaneously brooding and unsettling. We just felt that it fits the music well. There’s a lot of serene moments on the record, calm and trying to find serenity and then find peace, but then they are often interrupted by something a bit more brooding, something darker. There is a sort of uncertainty always boiling beneath the surface, like I said earlier, and we thought this piece of art captures that in a single image. It is simultaneously beautiful and a little bit unsettling I think.
I see we almost talked for an hour. Let us round off with your plans for the near future?
It is a little bit uncertain still, keeping it in conjunction with the theme of the album. It is uncertain, but I feel optimistic. I think we still have to have some patience. Even now that the album has been released, I think there is still some more patience to be have. The only thing we have confirmed is ProgPower USA in June, we announced it a few weeks ago. We are really excited about this, it has been one of those festivals here in the US that we always hoped that we could be able to play. So it is really exciting that we are going to play there this year, because it is pretty much exact our audience I think. Unfortunately right now that is the only thing we have confirmed. We are doing our best trying to book some other things, obviously we want to support ‘Epigone’ as much as we can and we are going to do anything we can to support it. Our number one goal is to get over to Europe and tour, so many of our fans are over there and until now we had to cancel the two tours in Europe. I think half of our on line fan base is European, at least international to some extent. We will jump upon the first good and safe opportunity we have to make it happen. We are working as hard as we can to make it happen. Fingers crossed!