In search of Evergrey
By Dave Schwartz
Photos Courtesy the Evergrey Web page
It's safe to say that most Americans are unaware of the band Evergrey. And that's not particularly surprising given that this export from Gothenburg, Sweden, is just getting around to releasing their first album in North America. Their new CD, "In Search of Truth," was preceded in Europe by 1998's "The Dark Discovery" and 2000's "Solitude Dominance Tragedy."
Evergrey plays progressive metal with all the twists and turns of a musical era almost forgotten. "In Search of Truth" is a concept album filled with intricate melody/counter-melody and the story of a man searching for an explanation of what is happening to him. Along the way, the listener discovers that the mystery involves alien abduction. Complex and honest, this is an album that demands more than one listening.
Evergrey's current lineup is Tom Englund, vocals/guitar, Michael Hakansson, bass, Henrik Danhage, guitars, Patrick Carlsson on drums and Chris Rehn on Keys.
I caught up with bass player Michael Hakansson during their New York City media day. After exchanging greetings and a few laughs, we got down to the business of the day-- discovering Evergrey. I offered congratulations on the release of the new album and asked about my two favorite cuts, "Mark of the Triangle" and, of course, the first single, "The Master Plan."
"'The Master Plan' is the most up-tempo song on the album. We are really hitting it all the time," Hakansson begins. "And it has a really good chorus. Everybody sings along. Most of the people really get into that song the first time they hear it. That is basically why we chose it as the single for the video. It's an easy song to get into. And 'Mark of the Triangle' is one of my favorite songs too. A lot of people have picked that one as their favorite, just like you.
"Concerning the album, we are very pleased with it," Hakansson continues. "We wrote it very fast; everything just came out so quickly for us. It turned out fantastic I think."
Evergrey's latest album once again visits tried and true territories. Where previous albums have explored the theme of alien abduction, "In Search of Truth" is a full-on concept album that follows one character on a path of discovery. Alien abduction is a topic that I don't recall being expressed in music, naturally I was curious where this interest came from.
Laughing Hakansson eagerly explains, "Well actually both Tom and me are very interested in extra-terrestrial intelligence and we both have read a book with this theme called 'Abducted' before we got to know each other, so we had that in common when I joined the band. It fit quite perfectly for us. It's a topic that we really can relate to and find interesting. For Tom, it is easy for him to write about that, he reads a lot of books concerning that topic and he gets a lot of ideas."
Evergrey has just completed a video for "The Master Plan," which was shot in Sweden and will soon be offered to all the video networks. I inquired about the possibilities of something larger, perhaps a
"I don't know about that yet, that would be real cool to do but we are going to wait," Hakansson says. "We are doing a European tour starting next week. Hopefully we will be able to get out and tour the states and, then after, another European tour in the summer. So it wouldn't be impossible that we create a tour DVD."
Evergrey has recently gone through a substantial line-up change. The primary concern of the band was dedication of time and energy. Until recently, Hakansson was also involved with the band Forsaken. I asked about his recent departure from Forsaken and if the move was designed to give Evergrey his full attention.
"Yeah, absolutely, that was the plan all the time" Hakansson acknowledges. "At first, I joined Forsaken to help them out with their demo recording. Then they asked me if I wanted to join them full-time and I said. 'Of course.' Evergrey is my first priority, but whenever I have the time, I am glad to be there. I mean, they are good friends of mine and we had an awesome time together, but I realized that I didn't have enough time or the energy to put my best work into the band, so for me and for them, I quit. You want to be able to do your best all the time. It's no fun when you feel like you don't have the ability all the time. You don't want to record an album and later say, 'Hmm, I could've done this better.' That's the worst thing that you can do as a musician."
Band leader Englund has commented that the new members of Evergrey have contributed more than he had expected during the recording of this CD. That's a surprising statement given Englund's dominance of the band.
"Evergrey has always been his little child. He wrote all the material on the other two albums, so he has always been the mastermind behind Evergrey," Hakansson says. "The three new members in the band all had strong minds and their own ideas. They wanted to put in new things. He started to realize that they had good ideas. Tom realized that the result got better when he collaborated with the rest of us."
Many times, collaboration really does round out the music, I agree.
"Yes, but I understand that it was hard for him in the beginning to let anyone else put their ideas in," Hakansson replies. "This was his creation, you know what I mean? But it's getting easier and easier. I know that the next album we will create together. We sort of did that this album too. He wrote a lot of the material, but we all arranged the final product. The album is very wide I think. It's wider than the two last albums. I think one of the reasons is that we contributed with ideas. It worked out fantastic and I know that we will write the next album as a band, not by Tom alone."
King Diamond guitarist Andy Larocque produced this album. What's it like to work with him?
Hakansson expounds enthusiastically, "He is fantastic; he's really down to earth, a very calm person. He's the perfect guy to work with in the studio. He has been a friend of ours for several years, so he knows us as persons and as musicians. The ideas that he comes up with all fit, they make sense."
And I hear he did some unaccredited guitar work on the album too, I offer.
Laughing Hakansson admits, "He did a small part of slide guitar. We, unfortunately, forgot to put his name on the album. We didn't even realize it until we got the album in our hands. We just made a mistake."
It's often interesting to learn about a person's musical origins. With so many great players around today, who inspires you as a bass player?
"Well that's hard," Hakansson smirks. "I don't really have one specific influence. There are a lot of good bass players out there. Billy Sheehan (Talas, Mr. Big, Nyacin), I mean one of my favorite bass players is De Gorgio. I've always been a real big fan of him. And of course John Myung (Dream
Hakansson hit a soft spot on me when he brought up Myung. Whenever I sit and watch Dream Theater, I am in awe. Chuckling, I comment to Hakansson that I have seen Myung play things that shouldn't be possible.
"Yes, that's true!" Hakansson agrees. "And another bass player that I admire is the guy from Cannibal Corpse. His fingers are all over the fret board. He does all this fantastic stuff and all the while he's just banging his head."
Fans don't often appreciate the art of running across the stage with lights flashing and amps falling over, all the while you're pulling off these incredible riffs. It's much more difficult than sitting in a recording studio on a stool and playing the same riff over an over until you get it right, I say.
"Yeah, exactly!" Hakansson agrees.
The Evergrey European tour begins in mid-November and extends through December. I asked what the plans were for 2002.
"We are hoping for an American tour in the spring, in March or April," Hakansson reveals. "There are no real plans yet, but we hope it will work out. That would open up THE door here. We hope to go out with a band that has a name here already."
With rare exception, Evergrey hasn't played outside of Europe. In mid-November they were scheduled to play a progressive music festival in Atlanta, Georgia. I asked Hakansson if this was the album that would bring Evergrey to the minds of Americans.
"Absolutely. This is the first album that we have released in North America," Hakansson shares. "This opens up a lot of doors for us now. A lot of people are starting to recognize us. We have done two shows here before, we did the Power Mad (1999) in Baltimore and we did Prog Power in Chicago last February. That was a real cool event for us. The crowd was fantastic. We're doing Prog Power 2 (in Atlanta) now and it's a real cool venue and lots of people are coming. I think we will have a great response there."
With their first confident steps, Evergrey has set its sights on North America. Non-pretentious, they understand the often-fickle nature of America will require extensive touring to break this album. Nonetheless, Evergrey seems ready and willing to take the plunge. And, with a little luck, they just may achieve their goal of making Evergrey a household name.
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