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Evergrey's Johan Niemann: "Just because you want to play guitar like Yngwie Malmsteen or sing like Ronnie James Dio, it doesn’t mean that you can. Maybe you are amazing at something else"

Interview with Johan Niemann from Evergrey
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 30 January 2021, 11:07 PM

A depth looks within one's own hopes and dreams, how brighter would be the next day after a night's sleep? Will it be better than the previous or might hell will break loose in some sort of a personal version? When thinking about it, it is bound to dwell on it for quite a lot. But why let yourself sink in within the vastness of wonder, just listen to a piece of music what reflect that yearning. When it comes to a person's longing to become better, there is Evergrey's new “Escape Of The Phoenix”. Steinmetal had the chance to talk to the band's bass player, Johan Niemann, about the reflections of the new record, the course of the music and more…

Hello Johan, it is a major honour to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how has life been treating you lately, especially with all that has been happening around you in the country? 

It has been weird. But you do whatever you can in order to have some semblance of normalcy. We all have families and kids so that helps. Can’t imagine what it would be like to be all alone in this.

As it seems, it is merely a matter of time until things might have a shot of getting back to what they were, prior to the era of the pandemic. When you think about it, do you really think that eventually we will get our lives back?

I think we’ll eventually get back to going to shows. However, there has been so many restrictions put on people and so much money invested in security measures, I don’t think that will disappear anytime soon.

I am positive that as a musician, you felt that impact of this pandemic, with plans made gone and faded away due to the restrictions. Putting aside the fact that there was more time for the creative process of the album, how did you cope with the reality that there are no tours, no local shows, no culture? I know that many gone into a form of depression, in particular those that lost everything within that industry

It’s been rough. It feels like your whole life is on hold, just waiting and waiting. For what? Nobody knows. The uncertainty is really hard. ”Luckily” for us, we didn’t have many gigs booked because we were focusing on the album, but for other bands it has been devastating.

Evergrey made quite a milestone with a 12th release, proving that there is no ending to the thought patterns of a person and that personal wonders can come alive constantly. I am curious to know what keeps you motivated to push forward? I understand that there is something therapeutic about writing music, yet, is there more to it?

Music can be a form of therapy, sure. What one cannot put into words, maybe can come out in music. Curiosity is a motivator, finding new sounds, new ways to put notes and chords together. There is always a better riff to write or cooler notes to play.

“Escape Of The Phoenix”, now that is a title that puts behind the positivity of being a phoenix, rising from the ashes, finding a path towards new hope in order to become better and stronger. However, you battle against conformity, or common knowledge, arguing that people are destined and aren’t really asked if they wish to be. Do you really believe that people that are behind wouldn’t want that push to become something more?

Of course the need to better oneself is part of human evolution. But people are good at different things. Just because you want to play guitar like Yngwie Malmsteen or sing like Ronnie James Dio, it doesn’t mean that you can. Maybe you are amazing at something else. But it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try.

Without being less emotional or melancholic in your own special way, “Escape Of The Phoenix” felt heavier than previous releases, and somewhat darker. Were there any influences that made you take on this path for this album?

Just looking at the state of the world. It has been pretty bleak lately. Worries of what will happen in the future, and with our kids. It is frustrating. Whether it is conscious or not, it comes out in the music. More specifically though, Tom got a new 7-string guitar which he tuned down really low. That helped with the heaviness.

Even though you are veteran, and you have experienced a lot, there are new things learned everyday, how would you say that the band developed with “Escape Of The Phoenix”? Do you consider it as a step forward in the band’s songwriting?

I think we move forward with every album, in one way or another. We continue to challenge ourselves musically, but it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where we developed the most.

“Escape Of The Phoenix” is a cause effect of the restrictions of the pandemic, do you believe that it actually did good for the album and the band, virtually contributing to the depth of the songwriting and level of attention to details?

Hard to say. We work really hard on every record, making sure it is the best it can be. This is no different. Would it have sounded different had there not been a pandemic? Maybe. Maybe not. This is the record we had to make at this point in time.

What is your appreciation of the composing process of Tom's co-songwriter, your drummer, Jonas Ekdahl?

Jonas is a supremely talented guy. He has something very important – musicality. A sense of the big picture and attention to detail. That is rare. He plays guitar and bass and keyboards so he has a good understanding of those instruments, too, not just drums.

I noticed that there are comments that the songs on “Escape Of The Phoenix” are more direct than on your previous, “The Atlantic”. Can you elaborate on that please?

There is more straight-to-the-point songwriting, less fluff. Cleaner hooks. That’s not to say that this is a pop record, absolutely not. There is still heavy riffing and there are more fast songs.

The first song that grabbed me without letting go is “Stories”. Just by its title it became an enigma to me. I found it to be a sort of an inner battle of a torn person. Furthermore, the groove, the utter heaviness and the touchy vocal performance, are no less than perfection. What is your take on this track?

That started with Jonas. He had pretty much the whole song written. And it’s a bit of a departure for us, but not too much so. We wanted the light and shade effect of a beautiful verse and a really heavy chorus. I love it.

The other day I was saying how you guys are so different from Dream Theater, and right there, you released the single, “The Beholder”, with Dream Theater’s frontman, James LaBrie. How did you feel about LaBrie’s integration with an Evegrey song? As far as the duet goes, what do you think of the balance between your voices?

When we wrote that part of the song someone said that it would be perfect for James LaBrie. We all agreed and felt it would be amazing if we managed to get him to sing on that song. It’s a dream come true. And he sang his ass off. The two voices blend really well on that track.

I think that the album’s crude and heavy tune is the self-titled, an exciting kind of aggression that is so strong and tight that it is hard to ignore. Nonetheless, when it comes to the chorus and C part, it felt like scratching an open wound. Ohh the keyboards. What can you tell about the creation of this track?

Tom had that rhythm guitar part. That was the start. We were after that relentless intensity, something that doesn’t give up. Then the chorus comes as a relief. Again, light and shade.

What is your overall opinion regarding the live stream phenomenon? Is there anything planned in that direction in order to support the release?

I think it’s a great outlet. Both for bands (who get to play) and fans (who get to see their favorite bands). We would like to make something happen around the release date, but due to restrictions, it might not happen.

I noticed that you announced a tour further in 2021 alongside amazing acts, like Witherfell for instance. Do you believe that this tour will be taking place? What are your hopes for it?

I’m cautiously optimistic. I’d love to tour again, but I’m not sure about this year.

Johan, it was a pleasure having you, no doubt another powerful release for the Evergrey camp. Thank you for the enrichment of Metal music with every release. Cheers sir.

Thank you very much for your kind words and support.


 



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