In the lead up to the release of ‘A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)’, the upcoming new album from Evergrey due to drop on May 20th, vocalist Tom Englund sat down with Carl Rourke to discuss the record. The pair also talked in depth about Tom’s other projects, including Silent Skies, as well as his approach to writing music in 2022, and more.
With each new album, Evergrey work toward creating a body of work that is unique and that faithfully reflects where the band are at the time of writing it. Tom shared some insight as to how they approached this on ‘A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean testament).’
“I mean, of course, it was very special times given the fact that we were in the midst of the pandemic. And also, we just released the [Escape of the] Phoenix album, and the fact is that we had a meeting the day after Escape of the Phoenix was released in February last year. We sat down and I said to the guys that I don’t see us playing live very much the coming year or years if we’re unfortunate. So, I told them I think we should see if we can keep staying creative, you know? See if we can keep on writing music.”
“So that’s what we decided to do. We decided to go back to our writing studios, and I went back here, and I was here for a month. Or a month and a half. Then we all met again and listened to the stuff we had come up with thus far. I think we had like, forty to fifty ideas already that we then sort of shook down to maybe twenty that we felt we should keep on working with. And this was totally brand-new stuff written for this albums purpose. I mean we have so much stuff, honestly. I think we have like, two-hundred songs lying around that will never get released anywhere because that was material that needed to be written in order to get to the material that gets to be on album. So that’s the way we approach it.”
The title of the bands new album, ‘A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean testament)’, is one that is both memorable and compelling. Tom went on to offer the thinking behind how the new album title came to life.
“If we take the first part, ‘A Heartless Portrait’ is more or less my testament during the last twelve or thirteen albums writing about myself and seeing how I fit in a world where I don’t want to belong anymore, because I find it to be becoming even more hostile and violent. Excluding at such an exponential rate that I have a hard time seeing where this will end. But it will not end in a good place. That’s my dystopian mind talking.”
“But outside of that I also had this idea of the Greek mythology with Orpheus going to Hades trying to save the love of his life. The only thing he has to do is keep watching that way, and he decided to not do that. So, in a sense, he’s an egotistic b*****d in the short term. A very short-term choice, right? And that’s how I see humanity, too. I think we have sort of lost track of what moral is and what the true values of being human is. Then, of course, there were all these looser connections to writing sad songs for the gods to cry about,”
Throughout their career, Evergrey have applied a great deal of care to their visuals in their videos, album artwork, merchandise and more. Tom discussed why it is that band still give their visuals this level of attention, and how working with long-term collaborator Patrick Ullaeus over the years has contributed to this.
“First and foremost it is because we are lucky to have started this journey with Evergrey when videos were an important thing. Even more so than today, I would say, when videos were appearing on MTV and whatnot. So, given that start, it’s sort of a big part of our artistic expression. Also, given the fact that me and Patrick [Ullaeus] have been working with Evergrey since 2002, I think, I mean it’s twenty years this year. It’s quite some time to, back and forth, inspire each other. Right now, we’ve never as inspired from each other and feeding off each other’s artistic expression as we are now. And even though the ideas come from me, he has a capability and a know-how to make that come to life.”
On two of the albums leading singles, “Save Us” and “Midwinter Calls”, Evergrey fans are featured in gang chants and harmonies. Tom shared how this idea came to be.
“The idea came along when I was walking out here along the Swedish west coast by myself and thinking. Because I always record my vocal ideas and lyrics on to this iPhone, and I was remarkably astounded by how great it sounds sonically to just sing into an iPhone. Therefore, I had this idea that maybe we could invite people and make that actually work sonically, like audio professionally. It was also a way for me, or for us, to remind people we’re still here and also check if they still remember us in the midst of this pandemic. [Laughs] Yeah, it was great co-creation at its best.”
In 2022, Tom remains a lyricist who makes a point of tackling the more confronting corners of the human experience. When asked why he thinks fans seek this out in his music, Tom went on to say,
“Thank you. But I think it’s also an important to address, that the real world is not being portrayed on TikTok, or on Instagram, or on Facebook, even though I am contributing as an artist to sort of fuel that image of being cool, or looking cool in a video, you know? Touchy subjects are something that need to be spoken about more. And louder! And even though I have been writing about myself since day one, from the start I wasn’t really aware that I was writing about myself. That has sort been the foundation for me wanting to understand myself better, and I think that’s what people connected with. I get so many emails telling me stuff, that I can relieve at least some part of their day. That they have something to look forward to, and that they believe me when I say that things have the ability to change. And even if you’re in despair right now, I have been there, too. And I have managed to leave that position in my life.”
“So, the lyrics are extremely important to me. But they seem even more important to other people, in a sense. So, for me, it’s about creating a world where I am totally and ruthlessly honest about my whereabouts at that specific and given time. That’s been the journey I’ve been through since The Dark Discovery album, and hence the title of this album. It really sums it up. There have been songs with topics that I maybe should have been more careful with letting out to the world. But at the time of writing them, I was unaware that I was speaking to myself. It was more storytelling for me.”
With Silent Skies, Tom works with pianist Vikram Shankar to weave a very different tapestry than he does in Evergrey. One that he agrees allows him to explore different avenues within himself than he would in Evergrey.
“Yeah, most definitely. I’m not certain how I approach it. I know that I approach it differently in terms of writing. I dedicate my day to writing for either or project, you know? Even if it’s Redemption or the gaming music me and Vikram [Shankar] write together also, or it’s Silent Skies, or whatever. I need to have my mindset when I wake up that tomorrow this is what I’m doing. Because then it’s easy for me to tap into that perspective. I mean, I view myself as a person, a husband, I’m a father, I am hopefully a friend to people. I am a musician. And I am all that other bad stuff as well. All of these shortcomings. I’m a bad husband. I’m a bad father. You know, all these things as well. So, of course, putting that into a musical context, I would say that I’m painting with the same brush, but with different colors.”
Tom concluded by sharing,
“In Silent Skies, it’s totally different. I have this outlet, and the possibility to express myself in any and all ways I can, which is an extreme privilege and liberation from having to be confined within a box of creation and creativity. I just feel super grateful, and I don’t take any of that for granted at all.”