Interview / Tom Englund is Evergrey’s Phoenix from the Flames (Part One)

The day has been a fraught one for Tom Englund, Evergrey’s polymathic frontman. An excessive amount of snow has fallen in the region of Sweden that he resides in and this has caused huge problems with the internet connection.

Not the best scenario when you have endless global interviews lined up to promote your latest album. His last scheduled call, a journalist from Brazil, had cancelled on him last minute, leaving him to lose time needlessly on an already testing day. To make things even worse, the internet had then threatened to crash entirely.

Evergreen – Escape Of The Phoenix (AFM Records)

Release Date: 26 February 2021

Interview: Paul Monkhouse

With scheduling issues for us both having delayed our chat some weeks already, this latest obstacle almost ground things to a halt altogether. Fortunately, though, by sheer force of will and more than a modicum of patience, Tom got things sorted and we were able to catch up.

With his highly acclaimed work, not just with Evergrey but with side project Silent Skies and also as a member of American Prog Metal kingpins Redemption, the perpetually working Swede is a force of nature. Friendly, genuinely charming, witty and with a razor-sharp mind and real emotional depth, he is the sort of easy and enjoyable company that makes him a pleasure to spend time with.

We sat down to chat about the stunning new Evergrey album ‘Escape of the Phoenix’, his other musical endeavours, mental health and Gene Simmons, along with various other famous faces.

MetalTalk: How are you…apart from having a bad day?

Tom Englund: “[Laughs] Other than that, just peachy. I am doing good, just long ass days of interviews but that is a great sign that people are buying your music.”

How are things in Gothenburg?

“I am actually on the west coast, as about as far as you can get to the west in Sweden, a bit north of Gothenburg, hence the connection out here isn’t fantastic.”

I’ve got some friends who live just on the outskirts of the city near Angered…

“Oh yes…I was born there.”

You are doing the promo with the new album, but you always seem so busy.

“Yes, I am…it’s a lifestyle I chose. I do so many different things as well but at the same time I get to do what I want. Having a Swedish band and American band and a duo with Silent Skies, it’s keeping me busy.”

Silent Skies ‘Satellites’ album came the tail end of last year but was my favourite release of 2020. A beautiful album, full of melancholy but uplifting too.

“Oh wow, thank you so much. It’s an album I’m extremely happy with as well. [Laughing] I had a good last year.”

Were you pleased with the response to the album?

“Yes, absolutely. We ended up in a lot of the Top Ten lists of the year in a lot of Metal magazines which wasn’t at all expected as we figured a lot of the Metal audience wouldn’t accept us at all. I’m mind-blown to the response to all of this.”

How did you tie up with Vikram [Shankar – keys for Silent Skies] initially?

“I saw him on YouTube because he had done a cover of an Evergrey song called ‘Missing’ where he played on the piano and played all the vocal lines on piano too.

“I had never seen anything like that, how he had interpreted it and had the same feel as how I had when I was singing it. I was extremely intrigued by him and checked out other stuff that he had done, so I then sent him an email saying “hey…we should do an album together”.

“He told me he was a huge Evergrey fan, that I influenced his music writing since he was a kid and that makes writing for Silent Skies a unique thing, since he also writes with the sort of language of melody and approach to mood and atmosphere which is great. It is amazing.”

He hinted that there is so new material coming soon from Silent Skies…

“Yes…this Silent Skies album was mixed, mastered and done three years ago so we are quite eager to get on with it.

“We have some stuff coming up and are launching a Patreon site, trying to involve our audience a bit more.

“I mean it is also very evident to me that I am starting a new thing, so it is not as easy launching new stuff as it is with Evergrey.

“With Evergrey we have a lot of stuff going for us, I wouldn’t say for free, but we have working it in for twenty years, but with Silent Skies we have to start from scratch….which is humbling in a way but also tiring as hell (laughs).”

And, of course, you work with Vikram in Redemption as well…

“I actually brought him into Redemption. Nick, the who is the band leader of Redemption, has been a friend of mine since twenty years back and when I joined the band I said “we should get a keyboard player for the live stuff and I have the perfect guy…”

“So, Nick went out with him and they sat down and wrote some music together and I understood that he was the perfect guy for the job. That turned out really well.”

So, when Ray [Alder- vocalist] said he was leaving Redemption, were you the first and most obvious choice to bring in?

“I don’t know…I might have been the tenth on the list [laughs] but I told Nick ten years ago that “if you ever run into a problem or encounter a situation where you need someone to sing your music, I’ll be there for you”.

“He called me up basically and said “dude…it’s that time now” right in the time when I have been the most busy in my life [laughing].

“But it’s great…I’m so grateful to be able to participate in people’s music and stretch my own branches into many other branches of music…it’s a blessing.”

I reviewed the live album (‘Alive in Colour’) and it is a great release with Ray guesting on it and Chris Poland, ex Megadeth, appearing too. It is a different beast from Evergrey isn’t it.

“Yes, it is a totally different thing and I am grateful for that, as not having to be the main writer or captain of the ship…more or less being an instrument…I am following the lead that someone else takes and following their vision.

“It is a cool experience as it is quite rare that you get to be both in a way…I get to lead my own ship and I get to travel with other people on their journeys as well. Again, it’s a blessing.”

I know that, in at least the past decade, you have done so many vocal guest spots for people and production. It must seem like the phone is constantly ringing and emails pinging through.

“Yes, it is quite a lot, but this year I had an amazingly bad tax debt in the midst of having a pandemic so it was a horrible year for me in terms of how the hell am I going to survive?

“I think came up with the idea that I should at least offer my services to my fans and to people wanting me on whatever project they want. Of course, I am charging them, but it’s a win / win situation as they get what they want and I get some money for it.

“I think I participated on something like forty different songs, on albums and all kinds of great stuff. I did something for a UK guy called Adam Sayer and he didn’t even have a band…he just wrote the music and I wrote the melodies and vocals for it.

“During the process he named the band Devoria because he is from the south of England and I think we made ten tracks. I just received an email from him today saying that he wanted to do a single for the next album [laughing].

“Yes, it is all great. I mean, now I am aiming on setting a new world record by participating on as many people’s recordings as possible in a year [lots of laughter]. Ah, but it’s all fun.”

Do you think that because we had a global pandemic and you therefore weren’t able to do what you may normally have done that enabled you to do these other projects? That and the technology we have now?

Oh yes. It’s almost like if I had been religious, which I’m not, that the Universe forced me to think in new ways and develop new ideas to pay the bills basically. I have an academic degree as well…but at the same time my passion is to make music and if I can do that while making other people happy and I am doing what I’m happy doing, why not do that? It’s like people thinking that I do it and it’s only giving for the people I’m singing for but no, I learn just as much as they are learning by having new harmonies coming into my life and you know, approaching music in different ways and just being a tool or an instrument. It’s very rewarding.

Oh, and the technology we have…that’s why you have stocks today in digital communication because, all of a sudden, the world understands that you don’t need to travel that much. You don’t have to sit on a Jumbo Jet back and forth to New York five times a week. At the same time though I’m afraid that it will make us a bit more less social.

I think you’re absolutely right and that when things do go back to ‘normal’ it is going to be a shock for some people and will take a bit of adjustment…

“Yes, for sure…and I am not that certain that things will go back to how they were. There is certainly going to be a before and after.

“What I am worried about is the effect it will have on psychological health in the long run. Kids are being brought up in the context where death is very evident, close by and that will affect world health in different ways, but also in good ways.”

So, with Evergrey, last year was the 25th anniversary since forming the band…

“I actually think I formed the band in ’93 to be honest…but the record label likes this twenty five years anniversary idea…and in two years they are going to say “oh yes, it’s the 30th year…”. It’s a long ass time for sure.”

Did you ever envisage that things would go on for so long? Was there a long-term plan?

“I would say that it has changed over the time. In the beginning I always believed that I would sell ten million albums, that was the initial dream. Then, growing up and not doing that changed your perspective on things.

“It did not change the dream and it still hasn’t changed the dream, but we have become a bit more realistic, coming of age as well [laughs] but the dream remains.

“When we did the tenth album I thought that was it, or maybe the ninth…[thinks]…‘Glorious Collision’ [actually their eighth studio album], after that I was ready to leave all of this because I was not happy doing it and it did not go very well at the time due to a bunch of changes that I did not enjoy either.

“But then we did the ‘Hymns for the Broken’ album and I found some new energy.

“All of a sudden you start selling more albums than ever, growing bigger and bigger. ‘The Atlantic’ [their last studio album from 2019] is the most commercially successful thing we have done.

“It is insane that you can still do that after twenty-two years back then or whatever. That is the advantage of being a smaller band: we are still growing [laughs]…the band is going to make it [more laughter].”

I think that was what is was like for me. I first came across you relatively recently, around four or five years ago on the tour with Delain and Kobra and the Lotus. I had not heard of you before, but you absolutely blew me away that night.

I think you have a fanbase that are incredibly passionate about you and that just keeps growing.

“I am so grateful for that too. Not having immediate success but something that steadily grows is good. I would not say that it is something that I would prefer because I would not know what the opposite is like…like the Def Leppard story where you are selling one billion albums…but I am happy with what I have got so it is great.

“Did you hear about Delain today? [singer Charlotte Wessels announced that she and three other members had left, leaving only co-founder and keyboard player Martijn Westerholt as the only person remaining].

“It is what it is.”

Bands come and go but Evergrey is forever…

“Yes, hopefully [laughs]. It is quite an accomplishment to say that you can still say that you release contemporary music that matters, twenty-five, thirty years after the fact that you started the band.

“I made myself a promise back in the day that when I was looking at myself in a video and looking old and slow headbanging that I would quit…but it has not happened yet…I hope [laughs].

“I hope I am not wrong [more laughter].”

Part Two of the interview with Tom Englund can be read here.

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