Five years ago Progressive Power metallers Evergrey looked as if they were heading nowhere, their towering front man actually contemplating calling it quits. Today, however, things could not have been any different as the Gothenburg-based quintet is a well-oiled machine, destroying every possible obstacle in its path.
This change of course was partly achieved by the re-introduction to the band’s ranks of Henrik Danhage – the forty two year old guitarist responsible behind the creation of some of the band’s most classic compositions to date.
A few hours prior to contributing to a killer show at London’s The Underworld, Henrik and I had a long an interesting discussion focusing on the release of Evergrey’s latest opus “Hymns For The Broken”, smart phones, egoism and the struggle that is to spend countless days away from your family in the service of music!
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis
- Hi Henrik. It’s great to have you guys back in the UK, especially when the reason behind this visit is to further promote an album as amazing as “Hymns For The Broken”.I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom (note: S.Englund – vocals/guitars) & Johan (note: Niemann – bass) a few months ago and I remember them feeling both excited and sceptical in anticipation of the album’s release. Now, you guys have been touring and performing the new material for quite some time now; what is the feedback that you have received from your fans with regards the album?
Henrik: Things have been really good, as a matter of fact. Everybody is really happy about this new album and that’s mainly because it is a little bit different from most Evergrey albums. This album has quite an uplifting feel to it. I am really happy to be back in the band and everybody feels very positive about things at the moment. We receive plenty of compliments everywhere we go and people state that they are quite happy that both myself and Jonas (note: Ekdahl – drums) are back in the band. Things are good – very good indeed.
- Do you reckon that this short break that you guys took from each other was actually beneficial for Evergrey in the sense that it gave you time to reflect what you want out of this band and re-focus on new goals to achieve collectively as a band?
Henrik: Definitely. At the point when both Jonas and I left the band, this was the only choice we felt that we had, even though I was literally in tears when this happened (laughs nervously). We obviously stayed friends and all – we only put this whole business aspect of our relationship on stop as it was not a fun thing to do anymore, you know? I hated it!
Then, I did one show with the guys because Marcus (note: Jidell – guitars) couldn’t do it and I remember thinking to myself “alright, this was fun” and all. It made me realise how much I missed hanging out with the guys, so when Hannes (note: Van Dahl – drums) joined Sabaton and Marcus left right after him Jonas and I started having meetings with the rest of the band. We had to make sure that if we were to do this whole thing again we had to do it for the right reasons – we did not want to just jump into the bandwagon and destroy the great legacy of this band.
- Were there certain signs that, on a personal level, you expected to see in order to become convinced that joining the band again was the right thing to do? Were there certain expectations in need of fulfilment?
Henrik: No! The only thing I needed to feel was the right vibe because being in a band is quite a time consuming process for me and if you’re going to be away from your children and your family it really needs to be worth it! I had a long discussion with my ex wife on why I need to be away three weeks there and four weeks there, why I should fu*k up her whole schedule completely in order to do that.
Now, if I was to do that I would at least need to be on a tour bus where the vibe is good, you know what I mean? That was the most important thing for me. I was really afraid that we might go falling back into old patterns but, luckily, it hasn’t been like that at all! We’re all older and instead of us all looking how to let our egos become bigger. We’re selling quite a few albums as things stand and we have a quite big and loyal fan base that’s solid in its support.
When you think of stuff like that you realise that this is a good thing that we really need to take care of. It’s really a relaxed and fun thing being on tour with these guys again. I am really happy that we managed to find a solution to all our past issues because now we can do this whole thing again.
- As a guitarist you have what one can describe as a ‘trademark sound’ and God only knows how much the new album has benefited from your personal contributions. I am, however, quite curious to know at which point of the creative process you became involved. Were the main ideas already formed by the time you started adding your parts or did you start with the rest of the band from scratch?
Henrik: From scratch! As a matter of fact, I think that around seventy five per cent of the ideas are Jonas’. He’s been responsible for so many of the songs sounding like they do. It is true that I may have worked on some of the riffs provided by him but the basic ideas of these songs were already sketched by him.
He had prepared something as crazy as twenty four songs or something for us to work at the early stages of the creative process. I believe that Tom and Rikard (note: Zander – keyboards) had three ideas based only on piano and singing. So yes, we were all there from the very start. We listened to Jonas’ songs and we decided which parts to use and which to throw away. He had so many songs based on high quality ideas and this is one of the main reasons why “Hymns For The Broken” sounds so different, you know?
- How would you describe the dynamics in your relationship with the guys now in comparison to how they used to be four or five years ago? Has it changed much?
- In what way?
Henrik: I think we all now understand that nobody’s pushing an idea simply for the sake of pushing it. We understand that the guy amongst us who does so does it because he thinks that this is actually the best part available, you know? The reason behind it is not for the purpose of starting an argument.
There are small things nowadays that make the difference. Everything we do is divided between five people, so no matter if Johan hasn’t written one riff on the whole album, he’s still going to get the same amount of money like the rest of us.
The fine thing with that is that, when one doesn’t have to think about the money, people tend to team up and look forward doing what is best for the songs. Things time things work well like that. It really doesn’t matter whose songs were included in the album as the main focus was to make sure that we include the best songs in the album.
- I understand where you’re coming from but for people who are as creative as you guys, it must be terrible to be told that one idea that one feels quite strongly for is not good enough for the album. From a psychological point of view, how do you manage to live with something like that?
Henrik: Something like that happens very rarely. At the same time, we have been doing this thing together for so many years that you kind of know and understand if a certain idea of yours is going to work on an Evergrey album or not.
It’s not like I am going to bring any Death or Destruction type of riffs for the band to work on, you know? It’s like with everything you love; ego…ego is the first thing that gets hurt but, for me, it is also the one thing that heals the fastest.
It’s just like you become separated or getting divorced with someone; the ego part is the hardest thing to deal with but it is also the first that heals as well. Ego is not good (laughs) – still, one needs it!
- I have been following the band’s career since the days of “Solitude, Dominance, Tragedy” and there are many elements in the new album which clearly reminded me of that era.A few moments ago you explained the process by which your latest album came to life, how an Evergrey composition comes together. The question is how does one avoid creating a song that sounds reminiscent of the past but still manage to retain a style and sound that’s typically his?
Henrik: For me, all the riffs tend to appear when I am simply messing around. It’s not like I deliberately sit down and say to myself “Ok, I need to write a riff”, you know? It never happens like that.
I can be playing my guitar for months and not coming up with anything and then come up with three really good riffs the very next day, on day thirty two, you know (laughs)? What you tend to do is keep these ideas in the ‘bank’ and maybe two days later you’ll find something else – something even better.
Maybe some of the other guys will come up with a great idea which is great because the more people that get involved the more flavour you add in an album. It’s a big risk having only one guy doing all the music as things tend to become a bit repetitive.
- Was there a specific song in the album that you found to be the most challenging to tackle?
Henrik: The whole recording period, even though we had fun working together as I mention before, I had to face some really big problems relating with my family so I really had one Saturday available in order to lay out my solos.
It was a case of “guys I need to meet you in the studio around ten o’clock as by three I need to be out of there”. Recording the solos was not an important thing for me at all at that point – my focus was to deal with an urgent family situation so I was simply keen to go in the studio, nail my solos and get the fu*k out of there.
I feel quite surprised when I hear my solos now as some of them are pretty decent indeed which is strange considering the fact that I had something like three hours to record them. At the same time, this approach felt really fresh because if you end up spending too much time thinking about the music you wish to write rather than actually playing it then this is not a good thing either.
All I need is to get the hair in my arms rise when I write something, nothing else. I mean, I have been playing this kind of music many years now and I have my own style and sound so I know what it is that I have to do. A solo is not necessarily going to sound better if I spend two weeks working on it – it’s most likely that it will end up sounding worse in the end.
- Henrik, I have been quite impressed by the way the album has been promoted via social media. It certainly looks like AFM Records has done quite a decent job introducing the album to fans and critics alike.Everywhere I look there is either a banner, a flyer or a sticker praising the laurels of “Hymns For The Broken”. Have Evergrey finally manage to strike the right sort of partnership with a label – the kind that’s needed to properly promote an album this day and age? Is there still more to be done?
Henrik: Yes, of course there is always something more that can be done but, at the same time, it feels great having had such an extended exposure in social media such as Facebook. I am not sure exactly how many followers we have on Facebook but there are a lot of fu*king people ant it is important to have that as people do most of their daily transactions via smart phones.
My kids are three and five respectively and they are quite capable of downloading their own apps which to me sounds absolutely crazy, you know? Every grown up person I know has their own Facebook page, an Instagram account…you can really promote yourself there as well, you know? I like that even though I am not a huge fan of Facebook. I got into it really late and it is too time consuming for me, whereas I really love Instagram. What is a bit scary with that is that sometimes people come up with comments on pictures that you post there.
Even though I accept everyone on Instagram, I still see it as the place that I post pictures for friends and family and the things that I post there are really personal so it is quite strange for me to have some random dude to say things like “Henrik, I really like your brown dog” – it’s simply strange (laughs).
- It sounds to me like a situation that balances between complementary and creepy.
Henrik: It is indeed (laughs). At the same time, it is a cool thing to have. Yesterday we played Graspop and we met some really cool old friends from other bands some of which told me “I haven’t seen you in a long time but I keep up with what you do via Instagram”. That means that this medium does help keeping people somewhat connected and I really believe that this is nice.
- A classic case of ‘everything’s good in moderation’ then.
Henrik: Yes, that’s for sure.
- I am certainly pleased to have Evergery alive and kicking and I do hope that you guys will continue recording music in the years to come, however, we all do grow older and some of us, like yourself, have young families to worry about.How do you see our involvement in the band as things stand? Are there any specific timeframes based on which you are working? Can you see yourself still doing this five years from now?
Henrik: This is, I mean, this is just…scary when you really think about it. Music is the first and the biggest love that I have. It has cost me many relationships and a marriage but this is what I do, you know, and I honestly love every fu*king minute of it! I do believe that you have to be an egoist in order to do this kind o job and if anyone says anything to the contrary then they are simply lying!
You cannot expect to do this job and not be away from your family for a long, long time and that’s simply on the basis that you love playing music. I am not complaining here, as I do love playing music, but sometimes this is a very hard thing to have to cope with as I do miss home but, as I said before, this is definitely worth it.
- One day you will have a musical legacy to present your kids with and hopefully they will understand why daddy had to be away sometimes.
Henrik: Hopefully. I mean, I could probably manage to get an office type of job, many people are doing that and it does mean that you get to be close to your family but I do believe that I would end up being horrible both as a husband and a father if I was forced to do that. Playing music is what I do, what I love doing pretty much my whole adult life so, in that respect, I really don’t have any other choice.
- While waiting to meet up with you or the purpose of this interview I looked at the queue that was being formed by you fans outside the venue and was pretty pleased by the fact that I saw quite a few young people amongst them, proudly wearing your t-shirts. That, more than anything, must be the greatest form of validation for you guys – to know that there is a new generation of fans willing to help Evergrey move things to the next level.
Henrik: That is true, especially as there are so many new bands out there and so little time that people have to spend listening to new music so to have anyone willing to put even one Euro into my music rather that to somebody else’s, that is simply unbelievable! There are people standing outside in the rain as we speak, waiting for the doors to open in order to see us perform our music – that’s simply mind-blowing!
- I agree but you guys definitely deserve that level of support – you have earned it through sheer hard work and commitment. Henrik, it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you and to have you back in the band. Good luck with everything you’ve planned to do, both on a personal and on a collective level, and enjoy yourself tonight.
Henrik: Thanks man.
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