Evergrey: "We still want to be bigger than Iron Maiden and Metallica"

An interview with Tom Englund about "Theories Of Emptiness" and the band’s overall philosophy

Από τον Χρήστο Καραδημήτρη, 11/06/2024 @ 14:26

Evergey continue to be one of the most prolific metal band, as they release their fourteenth album "Theories Of Emptiness", their sixth work over the past ten years. The band’s main composer, guitarist, lyricist and singer Tom Englund talked to us about all things regarding their new album, the adjustments they felt that had to be done and how they formed the final outcome.

We also talked about the overall spirit that Evergrey have, why they still aim for world domination and how small changes are very important for the evolution and the progression of the band. Among other topics we discussed about the lyrics of the songs, the collaboration with Jonas Renkse of Katatonia on "Cold Dreams", and Tom’s participation in Ayreon’s recent shows.

The interview took place before the news (or the rumors) regarding Jonas Ekdhal’s departure broke out, so we didn’t touch on this topic, cause we had no clue. But, there are plenty of interesting stuff to accompany the listening of another great offering by the Swedish powerhouse called Evergrey.


Hello, Tom.

How are you?

I'm fine. How are you?

Good. Busy days… (laughs)

Yeah, it has started already…

Oh, it started two weeks ago.

So you're in the middle of it…

I would hope so… (laughs) I'm tired about talking about myself. No, it's OK. I'm happy people are interested, so it's fine.

We still want to be bigger than Iron Maiden and Metallica. It's probably never gonna happen, but that's our goal

Yeah, that's good. It shows that there is interesting what you do and that's well deserved. It’s always nice to have you, and you have a great album as well coming out. And then you have a consistency that you offer and I think it's important. You're not from this lazy bands that take four years to put out new stuff.

No, we don't. We can't afford that. I guess diving right into it, I think that's the key element of our success, if you will. It's that we still feel that we wanna have world domination. We still want to be bigger than Iron Maiden and Metallica. It's probably never gonna happen, but that's our goal. Still, our goal is still to make the best music ever. It will never change. And if it changes then we will quit.

Yeah, I think that's the wrong metric being always compared to Metallica because bands like Evergrey can be more important to less people, but still more important to them. You know what I mean...

Yeah, but if you're asking me, I'm comparing it to my expectations for my musical life… and that’s world domination. No matter if it's Iron Maiden or Metallica. I just want my music to be heard as much as possible.

The great thing about Evergrey is that we're still growing… very small on every album, but we're growing…

Well, I wish it happens, and then I wish we'll be here to talk about it then...

I wish it happens too, but at the same time, I’m super-super happy to be in a band that's still evolving and progressing and is contemporary and important enough for people to still listen to us. And the great thing about Evergrey is that we're still growing… very small on every album, but we're growing… Our numbers are still increasing all the time, which is quite unique in a sense, after 30 years.

It's very rare that I have a clear view of what I think about an album this early, but this album I feel is honestly probably the best we have done

Yeah, I don't think that's the usual case. First of all, it's not that common to reach 14 studio albums and about 30 years of a career, so it's not something to be taken for granted. And then if you look at most musicians, you’ll see they're in stagnant waters, probably disappointed that figures are going rather down than up. So it's something not to be taken for granted, I guess.

No! And we never do! Because we know how quickly things can change and people change. And, you know, we're five individuals in a band that have five families and in extension we're a lot of people that would be affected if something bad happened, for instance… and we're getting to that age where shit happens, you know… (laughs)

Let’s talk about more optimistic stuff, like I’d like to congratulate you for "Theories Of Emptiness", because I think it's definitely a very strong album. The thing with me is that whenever Evergrey put out an album I need some time to see where it lands among your discography. In the end, I think that's secondary, because the most important thing is that it's up to your standards and you show consistency there, so congrats for it!

Yeah. It's very rare that I have a clear view of what I think about an album this early, but with this album… You can backtrack my interviews if you want, but I always said that I can't judge it. But this album I feel is honestly probably the best we have done. And I must say that, because I believe that! Before that, many others… I know they are strong, but I never had this clear concept of the way I feel like I do now. Which is weird in a sense... I feel very revitalized in a sense, even though we haven’t been anywhere, we've been releasing so many albums for the last 10 years. It's crazy, right? It's just something with this album that sits right with me. End of story… (laughs) Maybe not to anyone else, but with me… (laughs)

I can understand your point, because one thing that struck me is that I could relate with each and every track from the very first or second listen. I've been listening to Evergrey for more than 25 years now, so your music and your voice and your style are familiar to me. Then again, being able to connect and relate with the choruses and the melodies that quickly – and it’s not you're playing pop music or something that sticks to your brain with a simple melody - for me it says something… I don't know if catchy is the word, but it has something like that...

I think it does! Like "Falling From The Sun" or "Say", these songs are more direct that they really have that pop structure in a sense...

That's what's so lovely about being in Evergrey. We are not restricted by anything or anyone. We can do whatever we want


…But adding of course the all the metal elements to it. Basically, we have done that all the time, but for throughout an album there are always going to be a journey for us. You know, you're gonna have these songs, you're gonna have the more epic songs and the darker songs and the softer songs. And that's what's so lovely about being in Evergrey. We are not restricted by anything or anyone. We can do whatever we want. One part of Evergrey is being direct and one part of Evergrey is being not direct… (laughs)


For the last maybe two or three albums, we knew exactly what we were doing. It was too comfortable to be good for us...

That's a fine balance that I was going to ask you about. But, before that, one major difference is that you have Adam "Nolly" Getgood the mixing the album. I know him from his work with Periphery mainly, but he's also a well-known producer/musician with the drums and all that stuff. And but if I'm not mistaken, he's more related to modern metal stuff, so how did you end up working with him and what did he actually bring to the table for a band like Evergrey?

I asked him! I just asked him "would you like to mix the new Evergrey album?". And he answered me within 90 seconds, without exaggeration, that he would like to do it. He's such a modest guy also. He's like a musical professor in a sense, because he has a deep knowledge about everything that he does. And he said that "Nowadays, I make one to two albums per year. I don't want to make more. I don't have time for it". He doesn't need to. Because he's doing all of these other musical endeavors that he does, with the Getgood drums and all that stuff. Of course, I knew about him being a sonic nerd, as me and Jonas are. We, of course, know his productions, not so much for Periphery, to be honest, but for Devin Townsend and other stuff. Also, always his drum sound has been something that really caught my ear, if you will.

What I think he brought to the table is a change in attitude for us, maybe from us… needing to step up and be on our toes, not be that sort of laid back and right in comfort. I mean, we never do that because it's always a lot of work, but we did five albums with Jacob Hansen, who was a great friend of ours and will always make you sound like $1 million. But, I've done this so many years now that I know that when a sense of comfort steps into a working relation then it's time for me to leave. Because then I need to challenge ourselves in order to wake us up again. Even if we weren't fully asleep, you become comfortable, like in a relationship with your wife or your man. It’s like, when things gets too comfortable and you're only lying in the sofa because that's nice, then you're going to have some pretty big challenges ahead of you. So that was pretty much the same decision as this.

And I think Nolly brought out the best in us. He also had a lot of ideas regarding the production, but also in terms of "maybe you should do a break here. Maybe you should add this chord here". And even though Jonas produced the album, he had production ideas that were very valuable. And even if we didn't change to his ideas, we at least had a thought that we never thought about, considering what he had said, which is in the production "nerdery", which is where we are. It was a very much a time of introspect also. You know, because all of a sudden you have to think about the things that you do in terms of production, whereas for the last maybe two or three albums, we knew exactly what we were doing, which is exactly my point. It was too comfortable to be good for us...

We will not make the same album over and over again. I don't think Evergrey will ever do that

I got it. You were in for a challenge and I think it worked. Now, as I mentioned before, Evergrey always gives me the feeling that you're striving for a perfect balance. You know, you'll always sound like Evergrey because it's your characteristic voice and your melodic approach that's very recognizable, but at the same time, from album to album, you present something new and different. Is that still the case? And how tricky and difficult is it for you to keep this kind of balance, and how did you try to form this balance on this on this album?

I think balance is human thing, right? We seek balance in order to achieve some sort of peace of mind in life. But for me, what I think I wanted to bring in production-wise from knowledge is some more grittiness or some more dirt actually, so that didn't sound as polished as it might have done for the last one to two albums with Evergrey, where everything sits in perfect balance. We needed something that sort of stood out. And I don't know what it is, but it's something that sounds more - it's a bad choice of words, but - more rock n' roll in a sense on this album. There's an element of the guitar drivenness for this album that I think differs from the last one to two albums.

And, yes, it's extremely important for us to have a certain amount of elements in our music and in our creative process that is new, because otherwise… We will not make the same album over and over again. I don't think Evergrey will ever do that. It challenges us, it makes us feel that it's awesome to make music… Having Jonas Renkse coming in as a guest or having Nolly mixing the album or changing the starting key of the song, or downtuning our guitars to G or whatever… Something needs to change for each and every album. Add some new elements. For this album, we have a lot of organic elements as well, like we try to keep it as organic as possible in this digital era. We have a lot of real organs and stuff like that, that really has emotion that you cannot recreate. If you do it once, that's it! You record that, then it will never sound the same again. Whereas if you do it on a digital keyboard, it will sound the same. And for some parts you are after exactly the same sounding thing. But, listening to a song like "Say" for instance, it will never sound the same live as it did on the album, which is also a cool thing.

My intention for that song, "One Heart", was a mix of "Youth Gone Wild" of Skid Row and "Fuck Like A Beast" of WASP

You mentioned you know the rock n' roll element and the organic stuff, so is it my idea or do I get the idea of some 80s hair metal stuff like WASP, with the gang vocals and stuff being fused in your songs?

Yeah! My intention for that song, "One Heart", was a mix of "Youth Gone Wild" of Skid Row and "Fuck Like A Beast" of WASP, and it sounds like a mixture of those things. So when I listen to that verse, it's like "oh, I stole that and I stole that and I stole that"… (laughs)

But, I put it in the Evergrey costume and it really worked. That was the challenge for me for that song, because that song was asked by Sweden Rock magazine. They asked if we wanted to do a song in collaboration with them and I was like "No!". I said no immediately. And then it started to grow in my head, like "Can I really make something with this that would have my dignity left within me? Or can I make heavy metal song and have it sounding like Evergrey?". And I think that's what we achieved in this song. It's sounding like Evergrey, but a very much heavy metal version of us.

It comes back to the catchiness that I mentioned before. Because, when I first heard "Falling From The Sun", I thought "OK, this is the obvious first single for an Everegrey album, there couldn't be a much better choice. Then I heard "Misfortune" and said "Oh, that could be also a first single". And then I heard "One Heart" and I said "Wow! That could also be the first single!". Which is a good thing, because it shows that the songs have actually something to tell you right away. I don't think this was the case in the previous album or the two last albums for that matter.

I think we have always one to two song songs that are extremely direct. And for this album… like you said, within the band we discussed "Misfortune", "Say" or even the last song… What is it called?

The title track?

No! "Our Way Through Silence"… that is more of an AOR sounding Evergrey in a sense…

When we brought it to the record label, we were all agreeing on "Falling From The Sun" and "Say" as the first two singles and that never happened before, that we were agreeing on that. So we said "OK, fuck it. Let's not touch this anymore". And then, of course, we needed to make some video with Jonas for "Cold Dreams" as well, right? So, that's what we have done. And then the rest is a luxury problem to have....

On the other hand, there is a track like "Ghost Of My Hero", which is certainly a standout track, very emotional… You know, you have that kind of voice and performance that you can deliver such a track in a very special and unique way. You always had that, with that kind of songs. Who is it about and what does it mean to you?

It's about my perspective of Johan's dad dying in cancer. It's about my perspective watching Johan and what I am imagining him thinking. Which is very weird and in a sense kind of respectful. But, of course, that's not my intention. My intention is to be as respectful as possible. But it's me watching Johan and what he has gone through. He wrote that song of the outside of the melodies and the lyrics. And he said "this is a song it's called "Hero". I think it's about somebody that you look up to". And I asked him, "Is it about your dad?". And he said "I haven't thought about that, but no…". "Maybe I should write about that then", I said. And that's what I did.

It was as emotional as I expected. Very nice tribute and fitting with the mood of the song…

It's weird in a sense also, because me and Johan haven't talked about it, because it's very close, right?



But I read in an interview where he said that the words struck him, because they were correct, and I nailed it for him so I take that…

That's something music can do and cannot be done in any other way I think…


When you don't have to strive for something else, or you don't feel like you have to run for a new goal or a new purpose in life… that is freedom for me

Also, I really love the way the album closes with the title track and the narrative. I think I can relate to the lyrics of this song. Indeed, sometimes being empty is being free. It it's not an obvious track to close the album, so how did you decide to end the album in such a way?

Because, all of these songs are in their purest form about some sort of emptiness… Missing your father or missing your place in life, or feeling that you're getting more and more distant from the warmth of the society… Whatever. It's all landing in my analysis anyway… after I've written six songs or something like that, I analyzed the lyrics and came to the conclusion that this is what it is about.

But for me personally, my position in life right now is in the ending song… When you don't have to strive for something else, or you don't feel like you have to run for a new goal or a new purpose in life, that is freedom for me. I am in a place where the last song is more than anything else for me. But at the same time of course, I'm also all of those other perspectives. But I think emptiness has an unfair negative value as a word. In a sense, emptiness can also be peace of mind.

I wish that the world would be like "The Night Within" song more than the "Cold Dream" song, but that's not the truth. And we all always write about the truth

You always had some thoughtful lyrics. It's always been a strong element in Evergrey music. I always pay attention to them, they're well cared, and there are some interesting topics that once again have here. Apart from the ones that we already talked about, do you have any favorite lyrics and that mean a lot to you throughout the album?

One thing that I really like is the juxtaposition in between like "Cold Dreams" that is about you having somebody close that you to you that you cannot help, that is beyond help, or that can’t see that you're trying to help them, or is beyond redemption in a sense. And you take that song and then you compare it to this song "The Night Within", which is about the opposite, where you have had the chance to help somebody find the spark or leave that hole that you've dug for yourself. I've encountered both of those worlds, which is also lovely to share, in a sense that you can say that "I have been through this, but I have also been through this". I mean, of course, I wish that the world would be like "The Night Within" song more than the "Cold Dream" song, but that's not the truth. And we all always write about the truth.

So you have Jonas on "Cold Dreams" and I have to admit that I had to listen to the song twice to spot Jonas’ vocals...

Me too! Me too! And I knew he was in it! And I thought, "dude, he's fucking stupid. He didn't understand where to sing!" (laughs) Because I couldn't hear the difference… (laughs)

With Jonas Renkse we shared many late nights drinking red wine and talking about life’s endeavors and being in a band of similar size and whatever… We had a lot to talk about

It’s really strange because he has such a distinctive voice… you can just hear him sing one word and say that it’s him. But that wasn’t the case. I just spotted the growls, the extreme backing vocals. So, how did this collaboration happen?

If you talk about the actual sounding of the voice first, I think it's also a matter of me sounding like him, getting influenced by his presence and him being influenced by my presence and my melodies and all of that stuff. Because, I wrote the melodies and the lyrics and I gave it to him like "this is what I think you should sing". That would also mean that he would step away a little bit from what he's singing normally, which is the challenge always when we have done all of these guests things. It was the same with James Labrie from Dream Theater, or Floor Jansen. That's the challenge… we put them in the Evergrey brand and then they have to sound like that somehow. Which is the great thing.

But me and Jonas have known each other for a very, very long time… Since October last year… (laughs)

Well, I saw that DVD last week…

But, it's the truth. Over the last year, we did some shows together for a band called Ayreon. We did six shows together and we became very good friends during that time. We shared many late nights drinking red wine and talking about life’s endeavors and being in a band of similar size and whatever… We had a lot to talk about. But also having issues like the "Cold Dreams" lyrics. And then after I came home, I asked him if he wanted to do it and he said yes. I guess I am a guy of good persuasion. I got him and only within two seconds since I made the question, so... (laughs)

In fact, last week I had too much of you, because apart from listening to the new album, I was also watching the Ayreon DVD that's coming out…

Really? I haven’t seen it yet!

It's really nice. I did like the "01011001" album when it came out and I thought you did a tremendous job back then. But what I liked in this DVD is that there is a lot of camaraderie one stage. You seem to have all to have a very nice time. And the show is spectacular, of course. The production is great and it's great to see you there.

It's so many people, it's crazy. We had a band photo and I was standing next to Arjen at the last photo, and just more and more people came up. And I heard Arjen say "am I paying all of his people?" I was telling him to "breathe in, breath out"….

Evergrey - Tom Englund

Yeah, but it must have been special for you because it's not something that you tend to live every day, to have a part in such a production. Did you enjoy it as it seems like?

Yeah, both. First of all, it's an honor, of course. And second of all, it's a lot of work to, to not fuck up somebody's music. Because you don't really don't want to do that. And then you feel special being among all of this talent. You feel like you're semi-talented yourself all of a sudden. Yeah, it's just great! We had a blast! And it's great to have it as a memory for the rest of my time.

I was thinking that there that there were quite a few singers from Sweden on the Ayreon show and there are some interesting links… Like, now Jonas is on your album and then there was also Daniel Gildenlow, who has recruited Vikram on Pain Of Salvation, whereas you introduced Vikram on the metal scene the Silent Skies project and it's like a musical universe, if you connect the dots…

Yeah, it's crazy… There’s also Redemption, where there’s me and Vikram and Simone Mulauroni from DGM. The branching is crazy… (laughs)

Now, "The Inner Circle" turned 20 this year. Although I find all these the anniversaries on the social media sometimes a bit boring, I think it has been a really crucial album for Evergrey, plus a personal favorite. I still remember how much anticipated its release was back in the day, so I'd like to know what's the strongest memories you have from this album and what do you think about it now?

I haven't heard it for at least 10 years, so I don't know what I think about it…

During the "Inner Circle" period we were drinking more than we were recording music, but apparently it worked...


I mean, I think the strongest memories I have is that it was the first album that we recorded in our own studio complex that we had, and then we spent five months in that studio environment just hanging out a lot together. I think we were drinking more than we were recording music, but apparently it worked… (laughs) I mean, 20 years ago we were young, we were having the time of our lives, in a sense. In that sense I was very-very free, but also at the same time debating a subject that was very heavy. And that is still, which is crazy, very much relevant.Catholicism, abuse of children… and not only children… You know, it's still relevant. Which is weird, but yeah…

I mean, for me "Recreation Day", "The Inner Circle" and "Monday Morning Apocalypse" are the three albums that in my head is like the same. I remember my life then… that's how I see it, rather than specific albums…

Evergrey only started because of Dream Theater…but we never labeled ourselves as progressive metal

I get it, but it's been 20 years and back then I think you were much more labeled as a progressive metal, than maybe you are considered today. So, how much do you think progressive metal has changed in those twenty years and how much you have changed in this 20 years?

We never labeled ourselves as progressive metal…


And we still don't. We have a progressive elements. And we have toured with bands that of course are pioneers of the whole genre, but I don't know… I think bands like Tesseract, Periphery, Leprous and bands like this, they are new school of progressiveness in my mind… Architects as well. They all sound great… but then, of course, you have all these older bands, like us and Dream Theater that have some sort of position in the world. I mean with Dream Theater it's clear that they are the pioneers of progressive metal from the start. Evergrey only started because of Dream Theater… But I don't follow the scene that much. In fact, I don't follow any scene. Because, I don't have time… Because then, I would be listening to music instead of writing music… (laughs)

Let's close this interview by asking you how are you going to deal with the headache having too many good songs and trying to shoehorn them on a live setlist. Also, if you're planning to come back to Greece to support the new album. Are there any plans? Should be awaiting you here?

Yeah! Thank you. We. We're coming to Rethymno festival in Crete… For sure that we're doing… and then we have close to 80 more shows for Europe that we have not released yet, so it's all coming very soon.

Regarding the set list, it's going to be a bitch. It is what it is. Even if we played only our videos, we would be playing 25 songs or something, so it's like crazy…