Dream Evil interview (07/2008)
|With:||Fredrik Nordstrom [guitars, keyboards]|
|Conducted by:||GRIGAL (in person)|
It was against all predictions that Hammerfall had become a major success. That was 1997 - a time when many thought old-school Power Metal was all but dead. Now Dream Evil threaten to inject the genre with another significant boost of life. Of course there's another reason that I'm comparing Dream Evil to Hammerfall - it was during the recording of the latter's debut, in the famed Fredman Studios, that the band started taking shape. In fact the man who engineered Hammerfall's sound - Fredrik Nordstrom (alias Richie Rainbow) - is also the founder, mentor and guitarist of Dream Evil.
In the interview that follows, Fredrik gets candid about Dream Evil, the band's aspirations and about his own rise to success as an influential Metal producer. At the outset I must state that the quality of the telephone line that conveyed our conversation was very poor and this may have led to some misunderstandings between us. Nevertheless I have strived to convey Fredrik's exact responses.
Dream Evil operates within a very specific niche so you know what to expect from the band. What does set the band apart is a combination of great individual musicianship, an impeccable sound and, most importantly, consistently impressive songwriting skills. Songs such as 'Chasing The Dragon', 'Evilized' or the…er…anthemic 'Crusader's Anthem' are a few of the pearls in their discography.
"United" is the latest album to have come out of the Dream Evil powerhouse but this was nearly 2 years ago. So I ask Fredrik if a follow-up to this chart-penetrating album is on schedule.
Fredrik: Yes, it is.
-Chris: Could you give me more details about it?
F: Although not all the songs are written, we should be keeping the same Dream Evil sound. I think, however, that it's going to be particularly similar to the "United" album.
-C: In album "The Book Of Heavy Metal"  what is this book of the title?
F: It came up during a recording session when we were experimenting with various sounds. I had said "Let's have an 'explosion' here and somebody said "No". I replied [jokingly] "Can't you see that it's in the manual of Heavy Metal that we have to do this." You know, sometimes you come up with stuff in the studio and it's so obvious that they fit into our songs. Well, someone suggested we put these aspects together and use them as the Dream Evil recording method. We said "Yeah let's do that and let's call it 'The Book Of Heavy Metal'".
Eventually we decided to do an album called "The Book Of Heavy Metal". Plus the songs of that album can each be linked to a Scorpions song, to a song by Judas Priest and so on. So in a way the whole album is like a tribute to the big Heavy Metal bands and that title comes across as highly appropriate.
-C: You willingly acknowledge Dream Evil's sources of inspiration…
F: Yeah, kind of…
-C: Most of Dream Evil's songs speak of Metal. Doesn't the band ever feel the need to express other ideas?
F: No. We are a very simple band [laughs]. You know, we are all big fans of classic Metal songs - anthem songs you can sing along to and have fun.
-C: Especially Metal of the 1980s I guess…
F: Yeah, absolutely.
-C: Some time ago Dream Evil experimented with a peculiar image. This image was also adopted for the video-clip of 'The Book Of Heavy Metal'. Have you dropped that image?
F: Yes. We had actually planned to keep on going with that image. In a short space of time we had had a number of line-up changes and each time we had to come up with different images for each band member. It was also very tricky to clean up all that greasy make-up after a gig and not everyone was comfortable with that. We realized this risked setting the band back so we just decided to drop it because it was becoming too much of a hassle really.
-C: Recently I saw Dream Evil perform in London (May 2008) and I was amazed at how you fired up the audience. Was it more difficult to do that in much larger venues such as (in 2005) at Bloodstock?
F: Well England has always proved to be a very good country for Dream Evil. Dream Evil likes England and England likes Dream Evil you might say. In fact before the gig you referred to, we hadn't been to this country for almost 2 years and yet we had a very good attendance showing a lot of interest in the band. There was a similar reaction when we had played in Scotland.
While riding an unprecedented wave of popularity, Dream Evil was hit with a number of line-up changes in a short space of time. The most recent being the departure of co-guitarist Mark Black in 2007 (since then replaced by Dannee Demon) due to issues unrelated to the band itself. I try to get Fredrik to shed some light on these circumstances…
-C: Why do you think Gus G, a founding member of Dream Evil had decided to focus on Firewind instead of on Dream Evil?
F: We had said from the very beginning that this cannot be like a full-time touring band. Most band-members had families and good jobs. Gus however really wanted to be out touring full-time and we were also aware of this. It came to a point when he said "Guys I want to go and do my thing."
You know, tours are great fun when you play and for a few other hours. The rest is very boring really.
-C: What do you remember of when, around 1999, the band was coming together?
F: Originally I had met Gus in Greece and later on he had come over to meet me in Gothenburg where we had started recording our first album. He seemed like a crazy guy and we had a great time writing those songs together.
For some time I had had this idea for a Heavy Metal band and had already written some songs such as 'Chosen Ones' and 'Heavy Metal In The Night'. I just needed to find the right people to put this band together and I decided Gus is the guy I want to do this with. He worked hard pushing the band forward.
It was a very nice time and everything went along very smoothly. The right members were quickly found. For example Nicklas, who became our vocalist, liked our music straight away. Peter, our bass player, needed just 5 minutes of auditioning to become a member of the band. Snowy [Shaw, ex-King Diamond, Memento Mori, Notre Dame, Therion, Cans, etc] was just our session drummer at the time but he was having such a good time that he ended up wanting to join the band as full member.
-C: Snowy seems to be a very colorful and multi-talented personality. With hindsight how would you describe his contribution to Dream Evil?
F: [laughs] I remember of course not only good stuff, because as you said, he was a 'multi-colored' and very strong guy. We were 5 guys in the band but he wanted to run everything. He needed to hold himself back. However he did awesome songs and often came up with good ideas. While we were working on "The Book Of Heavy Metal" Snowy was writing music every day for 2 months. From 7 o'clock in the morning to midnight he was totally burning himself up.
-C: In fact, considering all the bands he's played with, he must be some workaholic of sorts.
F: Yeah, nobody works like him! You know, sometimes you can't make a decision with a guy like him and he gets frustrated because people are not like him. I think right now he's working on some good material with Therion and at the same time he can also concentrate on his own stuff.
-C: And how do you feel about the current Dream Evil line-up?
F: We are more equal within the band with this line-up. We don't have characters that are too big - like Snowy and Gus - but at the same time we're a stronger whole in the long run. We simply want to have fun and actually we don't have the goal to be the world's most famous band. We do just enough shows for this to be fun for us.
So many bands, in fact, start out for fun but then end up doing it to pay the fuckin' rent. I never want to be playing music just to cover my expenses. I know some might interpret this as a lack of dedication by us. Actually we are dedicated - it's just that we are not living on music. Myself I do other work related to music but Dream Evil is more of a genuine fun thing.
IN THE LION'S DEN
Opeth, Spiritual Beggars, Dimmu Borgir, Arch Enemy, At The Gates, The Haunted - these are only a few of the bands to have entrusted Mr Nordstrom with the demanding task of engineering the sound of their releases. The influence of many of these bands on the whole spectrum of Metal is undeniable. It will therefore not be an understatement to say that Fredrik has somehow contributed to the development of Metal itself. He had some interesting and surprising thoughts to share about this aspect of his life…
-C: Earlier on you made reference to your involvement in sound production. Could you please briefly tell me how you ended up doing this work?
F: I don't know...it was a long time ago. [laughs] I remember that when I was 16 or 17 years old I came in possession of a 4-track tape recorder. I started tape-recording my own stuff at home.
At the time when I did my compulsory military training, I had been working as a music teacher for some years but I felt I wanted to do something else. I got really more interested in recording equipment and, well, all in all I liked the studio environment. So I became a part-owner of a recording studio and began recording my own music as well as songs of friends. I was happy when I got a record deal and recorded my first albums - that had been a big thing for me.
Things then kept growing and growing. After I had recorded about a hundred albums for other bands I realized I hadn't yet recorded my own music. And that's how Dream Evil was born.
-C: Clearly today you've earned a reputation as both a musician and sound engineer. Doesn't this dual role you have ever caused you to lose focus in either fields?
F: In fact I think it's the opposite. When you're recording an album you only see the recording aspect of a band but when you're out playing you see another side. You get a bigger picture of the whole thing. In fact I think it's harder to communicate [with a band] in a studio when you don't play so often. When you tour you notice aspects such as tightness that could help you in a studio.
-C: Sweden is one of the few countries linked to a specific style of Metal, namely Swedish Death Metal. How do you think this happened?
F: I think the people who play Death Metal here always had a strong feeling for melody. In fact they don't just listen to Death Metal. Do you know about this Danish/Norwegian pop band called 'Aqua'? Well, once I went to their concert and met a lot of metalheads there. You even have In Flames who listen to the likes of Tom Jones. I think that if you are open-minded and you don't just listen to Metal you can compose better music. From my experience in the studio I honestly think [Metal] musicians like a lot of melody.
-C: Especially the musicians of Dream Evil!
-C: Fredrik, you've produced many successful albums for bands such as Dimmu Borgir, Arch Enemy, Opeth…..to name but a few. How much of these albums' success is due to your production?
F: [pauses] Well…I don't know. Honestly, I think that if you have a good band without good songs then you don't have a good band at all. So I think it's very important that first of all a band has this skill. Then if I do a good production……I don't know if this is what gives the album success. I think good songwriting is the most important aspect - without that you have nothing. If you have a good sound but shitty songs, well who wants to buy shitty songs?
-C: Which album did you find the most technically challenging to produce, and why?
F: I think it was the first Dimmu Borgir album ["Puritanical Euphoric Misantropia"]. The third one I did for Dimmu Borgir was also tricky in the sense that there was a short time to have it done. But the first one had all those orchestras and backing vocals that made it quite a challenge to produce. An example was when I had to mix 2 different extreme vocals together. I had sleepless nights thinking how should I do this and how should I do that - all in all it was a pretty hard album to make.
-C: What shall be your next work as a producer?
F: We have a band in the studio called Zonaria - they're from the Northern part of Sweden. And then we're going to have a band called Eyes Of Noctum from USA. Eyes Of Noctum are a Black Metal band and there's an interesting thing about them. One of the guys in the band is the son of well known actor Nicholas Cage [band vox Weston Cage]. And he [Weston] is a huge Dimmu Borgir fan. I spoke to [Dimmu vox] Shagrath about this and he thought it was cool.
-C: Had you ever imagined that Dream Evil would get where it is now?
F: Actually we had the opportunity for Dream Evil to be 10 times bigger than it is now but we said "No thanks". And in fact that's the reason why Snowy had left the band because we didn't want to tour and do all that stuff. I know really that Dream Evil should be a much bigger band than it is today. But I know that if you don't work hard enough on the band it's not going to happen. So it's better to aim lower and be consistent about how much time and energy the band members can put into the band. Plus it also means that money isn't everything for Dream Evil because we don't depend just on this band to survive. So all in all I'm happy with how things are.
© Chris Galea - luciferlament[at]yahoo[dot]com
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