EVERFROST – Benji Connelly & Mikael Salo; Helsinki 2018

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Musicalypse has been waiting for another performance by Everfrost for months now, and we finally got our wish at Valurauta 2018, a university student event at The Circus in Helsinki. These up-and-coming symphonic power metallers, if you don’t know them, are from Finland and haven’t been out and about too often just yet, but we’re expecting that to change.

After having randomly bumped into Benjamin “Benji” Connelly [keyboards] at Sonata Arctica’s show in February, we agreed that the next time they were around, we would have to meet up to talk about their music and background, and Valurauta provided just such an opportunity.

It took us a while to find each other following their set, but we were finally able to get together backstage where the band was relaxing and enjoying some refreshments. While our interview was, in essence, with Benji Connelly [keyboards] and Mikael Salo [vocals], the rest of the band was lurking around or sitting nearby, and offered their two cents every now and then. The exception here was Markus Laito [guitar], who had been sick, powered through their set, and headed off immediately after the show.

 

“Personality is important, but also unity.”

Everfrost are a pretty new band on the scene, which meant that there was a lot of subject matter to be covered, from their live performances to their new outfits, and of course, the music and stories from the village of Everfrost itself. The band were eager to discuss their tales and writing style, as well as the ups and downs of creating music. 

Photo courtesy of Laureline Tilkin of Tuonela Magazine

First of all, welcome back to Helsinki.
Benji: Yay, thank you!

Was this the second show in Helsinki, or have you played any other shows since the last time we saw you?
Mikael: Second show ever in Helsinki.

Benji: Yeah, the first one was in Arabia.

Mikael: Yeah, and the 23rd we have our next and last show for a while. We haven’t planned any other shows.

Were those new uniforms that we saw on stage tonight?
Mikael: Yeah, we picked them up today at 08:00 in the morning. We were really fresh before the show.

Benji: That was an idea I had – I wanted a ‘look’ where we all had a color scheme and something to unify each band member. I think it’s good everybody has their own things they wear underneath and whatever, but having a jacket that fits Everfrost, because of the winter theme and everything… it was something to do to make the band look a bit more unified, like I said.

Mikael: One of Benji’s biggest influences when he started music – well, [he’s] told me many times – was KISS, and KISS had wanted to create this new thing, having a unified outfit and everything. So it’s funny, because it’s a very different kind of music. We have this symphonic power metal with progressive and industrial influences, but we wanted to have that unified look like KISS has.

Benji: It’s also like each person has a unified look, but everyone has their own way of doing it.

Mikael: Personality is important, but also unity.

You have the last of your shows coming up soon, and then will it be straight into the studio to finish up the songs and work on the album?
Mikael: We have two songs we haven’t finished composing yet. After those two songs are finished, drum tracking is going to start. Then it’s all about the studio. Recording, mixing, mastering. That takes a good half a year, I think. Finishing the two songs we have left is the main thing.

Benji: And that’s going to happen pretty quick. In summer also I’ll have a bit of a break for myself, because I’ve been very busy. But then we’ll hit the studio and get everything done. There’s a possibility we’ll have some summer shows, but there won’t be many. Some festivals. The focus is just getting this album done. Already with the artwork, it’s already happening. That started early. The manuscript is finished, the character designs are all set, and I’m working together now with the mangaka on panel design and all that stuff. We’ll get there. Part of doing something that you love doing is trying to go into areas that haven’t been covered before.

Mikael: We have a pretty clear, unified vision of what the album should be and now it’s just getting the quality up to what is in our minds.

Benji: It’s great having these guys now, because the first album I did more or less alone, but now having feedback is so valuable. That’s so important when you do stuff. If you want to do something yourself and write songs, that’s fine, but you still need feedback from people, because you don’t see your own faults.

Your second full-length question is due out within a year or so, if I’m correct?
Mikael: I think it’s less than a year.

Benji: We’re hoping for January 2019.

Matias: Weren’t we supposed to start recording it like last autumn?

Benji: No. That’s complete bullshit [laughter].

Mikael: Hey, Matias – FAKE NEWS!

Benji: That was back in Arabia, when we were interviewed by Vincent. He was saying, when are you expecting the next album out? I think we said… summer 2017?

Mikael: Things happen. We had masters for the new songs and we were not happy with them. We worked with those masters for like half a year to find the right thing for the next album. Now we’re like, okay [snaps fingers] the mastering thing is done, but we had a half year delay to get what we have in our minds. That kind of stuff happens and you just can’t… as an artist, because of your integrity for your work, you can’t let B-quality stuff out. It needs to be the best possible that you can do with your resources.

Benji: The biggest thing we learned with everything, going back to what we said, was that we had a problem where we would just take something like, “This is now ready,” because we put time and effort into it, so we’re just going to release this. The biggest thing we learned is to not just take everything as finished. Now we’re at the point where we’re making sure everything we put out and everything we do is done and we’re completely satisfied. That included the jackets and stuff too. Everything.

Mikael: We kind of feel this “inner pressure” from our own motivation to become the same level as our heroes, like Sonata Arctica and Nightwish and whatever. Bands we love. We want to push ourselves and that means we can’t stay on the same level. We have to go harder in production, in song-writing, in everything. So that’s tough. It’s not easy. Delays and stuff like that happen. But! At the moment, the estimated time for release of the album is around January of next year.

Benji: I have two more songs to write and then we’ll start recording.

Matias: Tumor songs? [laughter]

Is there anything that you can tell us about the upcoming album? Will there be any story or concept? What are you willing to ‘spoil’ at this point?
Mikael: Hmm, what should we spoil? “Cold Night Remedy” is going to be there. That’s one surprise.

Benji: It’s the middle song on the album. There are elements from the first album for sure. There are some songs where I was writing in the same way that I constructed songs on the first album. [I’m] now trying to really focus on getting stronger and clearer melodies. More catchy elements in the music and things are much neater as a song.

Mikael: More hook-y, and also more… we were listening to like Star One and Ayreon and stuff, and I was talking like, “I love that the story takes me on a journey!” Even if it’s The Human Equation or Space Metal or whatever. I was showing a lot of the stuff to [Benji]. You weren’t that familiar with the band. We were talking about the story and everything, and it’s got to be connected to Blue Eyed Emotion somehow. It’s the same universe, the same story.

Benji: The same characters. It’s kind of a sequel to that. We actually have a new Japanese mangaka working with us, alongside the mangaka from our first album, Michiru Bokido. They do much more with just traditional manga pages. So what’s going to be done is the story is going to be much shorter and the whole thing is going to take place mainly in one location. Basically, the inside of the booklet and the way the songs go, it’s going to be very easy to follow the story from beginning to end. It’s going to be like reading a manga inside the book.

Mikael: No other metal band has done this before, so we also want to have this thing that’s new.

Benji: We’ll announce the artist in June or July. But about songwriting, the biggest idea is to push things creatively. The last song on the album is going to be over 10 minutes long. It’s going to be the first epic I write. It’s a lot of pressure, but I think the biggest change is that once Mikke joined the band, he introduced me to a lot of different ways of song-writing and storytelling. The whole thing about what we do is that… there isn’t a lot to go from when you’re telling such a specific story, but having new inspiration now and seeing a different way of [doing things], and getting a lot of feedback from the first album… I admit that the story is really cryptic. Now we can actually really focus on getting that nailed.

Could you tell me about the world of Everfrost (as opposed to the band), and the story from the first album, and any relevant material from the EPs, etc.?
Benji: The [setting] is basically a hidden town in the middle of the forest. You could say it’s on earth or it’s a totally different dimension or universe. The town is hidden and the people who live in the town are isolated and have been told they can’t leave because a nuclear disaster happened around the town.

Mikael: It could be a fantastical story or it could be a dystopian story from the future.

Benji: Depends on how you see it. The actual reason is that there is an object outside of town that’s cursed. That’s what the “Three Tier Terror” is about.

Mikael: It’s part of the legend and lore of the city.

Benji: There’s a tower – it’s kind of a symbol we’re using now – a tower with three levels. It came to me in a dream – I visited this tower and it was very beautiful. I went back and told someone that I was in this tower, and as soon as I told that, the person just said, “Oh no, you didn’t go there.” And then I said the name of it, and then they committed suicide. So it’s all about this idea that there’s this cursed tower behind the town. Originally there was another town, an earlier version of Everfrost, that got totally destroyed and wiped out by mass suicide. So they keep all the people in the town to stop them from finding this thing. In Blue Eyed Emotion, one of the characters, or a character related to one of the characters, finds it and all of the songs tell about the lives of these characters falling apart and trying to live through it and trying to rectify the situation.

Mikael: It was a very personal album. There were a lot of metaphors and it’s really deep.

Benji: I was in a really dark place personally when I wrote that album, so a lot of it became cryptic because I didn’t want to tell everybody what I was going through, but everything came out emotionally that way. It was unfortunately cryptic in that way. So now it’s about telling people exactly what’s happening with this.

Mikael: Now we want to have a bit more of an entertaining storyline.

Benji: These characters – there’s going to be two of them – that continue on with Winterider, and they meet some new charcters. Two of the characters from the first album are actually dead, so they’re not going to appear in it, but they’re obviously going to be mentioned.

Mikael: We’re going to make sure the booklet will be magical. It’s hard to tell everything.

Benji: It’s a big thing. But that’s basically a brief overview of it.

Artwork by qhostkid (https://www.facebook.com/qhostkidart/)

Can I ask about the white-haired girl on the album art?
Benji: Yeah, her name is Casey-Rose, and she’s the sister of the brother that found the tower originally.

Is she still alive?
Benji: Yes, she will be one of the people that continues on. One of the younger characters is also alive. I can say that the person on the cover of the first album is dead, as we’re talking.

Is that the lonesome prince?
Benji: Yeah, it’s him as a younger person. “Lonesome Prince” talks about him losing a friend. He couldn’t get over it, so he slept in a graveyard with his sleeping bag, next to the person’s grave.

Mikael: Just like you!

Benji: I actually have slept in a graveyard myself. I was at a friend’s place one time. It was the end of fall, so it was quite cold. Some shit went wrong with the party and I got locked out and couldn’t contact anyone, so I couldn’t get in to my stuff. I was stumbling around drunk, because I’d just been drinking – absinthe included, all kinds of shit – so just wandered into the graveyard and passed out. I woke up at 04:00 and I’m surprised I didn’t die, because it was that cold.

Mikael: And then you wrote a song about it.

Benji: That was actually after. I almost wrote my future. Luckily, I got in contact with a friend and I got to go to her place. Once I got to her place, I realized that I was covered in mud and scratches and bruises because I had fallen over walls to get in there. It was one of the worst hangovers I’ve ever had in my life.

You guys did a live cover of Ke$ha’s song, “Die Young” – tell me a little bit about that?
Benji: How did it go? How did it sound?

I thought it was great. I loved it.
Jope: I have never heard the original version.

Benji: That song is actually going to be on the upcoming album. We are making an official studio version of it. The idea was because, there’s always metal bands at some point who cover a pop song.

Like Children of Bodom and Britney Spears.
Benji: Alestorm’s “Hangover.”

Mikael: Blind Guardian’s “Mr. Sandman.”

Benji: It’s made in the same kind of way. It’s a song that has really good potential and can really work well in metal. Not to slander anybody or say that anyone’s doing a bad job or whatever – opinions are opinions – but I’ve never found a good metal cover of “Die Young” by Ke$ha. The song itself, the position on the album is going to be quite interesting. It’s going to be quite bittersweet, because it’s near the end.

Will it fit in with your story then?
Mikael: It actually fit lyrically perfectly into the one spot on the album that was kind of missing, lyrically. We were like, “Holy shit, this song fits perfectly!” We’ve got to change the lyrics a bit, so it’s going to fit even more. But that was like, [snaps fingers] that song actually works with the story so well. And it’s a good song. It has good hook lines and melodies, and we made some riffs around it. It was fun to do.

Benji: Good foreshadowing. It’s fun and a good singalong song.

Mikael: It got a good response.

Benji: Everyone remembers it. It isn’t something that’s just come out and everyone’s sick of it, but it probably brings back memories from 2012 or whenever it was released.

You also covered “Megalovania” from Undertale on your EP. I just played it for the first time in October and the soundtrack is amazing. I assume then most of you have played it and enjoyed the music as much as I did?
Jope: I cried when I played the Genocide run, because I first played the True Pacifist run. Papyrus is one of my favorite characters in gaming ever. Then there’s the time when [spoiler] you have to press “fight” [/spoiler], I was crying before I pressed the button. And then he says, “I still believe in you.” I went to the fridge and got some Valhalla and went outside to sit, like, “This fucking sucks.” The music in that game is fucking awesome.

Benji: “Megalovania”, when I heard it… I liked the game more because of the soundtrack. It’s so good, and “Megalovania”, I thought was the perfect cover song. From what I heard… there is probably more stuff now because more people have done it, but I never really found a cover that keeps the integrity of the original, the drama that’s going on, the sounds. I wanted to keep the sounds as close as I could to the original, just make it bigger and make it more metal and heavy, things like that. So that was the idea for that. It was originally just a cover I did on YouTube, but then we put it on the EP because it was fun.

You’ve got a manga coming out with your second album already, so if you guys were to dream really big, as big as it gets, what would be the ultimate thing you could achieve with Everfrost?
Benji: Getting the story and our music made into an anime.

Mikael: And having a soundtrack of the music we play. Film score.

Benji: So obvious to say. Having an anime.

Mikael: I want to have an anime character of me! [laughter]

Jope: I talked with Benjamin, that we wouldn’t make our characters into main characters.

Mikael: We’ll be some side-character bums.

Jope: I told Benjamin that I want to be a villain.

 

“You get the escapism that you want from art like this.”

At this point, people began coming and going from the backstage area, stopping by to chat or adding their thoughts to the discussion. No one wanted the dull job of standing outside and keeping people from interrupting, so interruptions became a part of the game. The band was very casual and comfortable as we talked, and the discussion became almost more of a sharing of favorites, as opposed to Q&A. 

Are there any books, movies, shows, games, concept albums, or any sort of media that has been a huge influence on you guys both individually and with Everfrost?
Benji: On our website, it has our favorite albums and things like that, but I think we can name some key ones. A top album for me, that has always been up there is Century Child by Nightwish. I think I could also say Days of Greys by Sonata Arctica.

Their most under-appreciated album, perhaps.
Mikael: Yeah!

Benji: I love their earlier stuff, for sure, but that’s one of the later ones that I got really into.

Mikael: I love that album.

Benji: And the first Wintersun album just blew my mind.

Mikael: Ayreon. The first album I ever heard was 01011001, and I love that album because Hansi Kürsch [Blind Guardian] is one of my favorite singers, and Jorn Lande is there, and they have Anneke van Giersbergen and Floor Jansen… all the greats. But maybe my favorite would be Into the Electric Castle. It’s just fun. You get the escapism that you want from art like this. You dive in and then you enjoy the journey with the characters and the story. I love that. It’s the same with The Human Equation.

Benji: One album that I think sparked a lot of theatrical storytelling – also a thing that gives a lot of color to the music I write – is pop star Mika’s The Boy Who Knew Too Much. There’s just something about it that always brings back memories from my teenage years, and those were the years when I started coming up with all these characters and stories and the universe. So it’s been with me forever. The nostalgia value is there. I love the album, but the theatrical side of it… it doesn’t give a shit about what anyone thinks. That guy will do anything and not care.

Mikael: I like that. It’s a bit like Queen. They didn’t give a fuck about being one style, they just made songs that they liked. Because they felt the songs, the chances are the listener feels it as well, because the feeling in the song is genuine. It’s the same with The Beatles. They didn’t give a fuck about styles. They cared if the music had emotion and feeling. I think Arjen [Lucassen, Ayreon] does that too, because there are so many different colors and spices.

Noticing your [Mikael] hoodie, did you go to Tilburg to see Ayreon Universe?
Mikael: Did you go?

I did.
Mikael: I… fuck. He’s my favorite composer ever. I was there on the 15th – which date did you go?

I was there on the 17th, the last day. How did you enjoy the show?
Mikael: The last day, okay. It was the best show of my life. I really loved it. Everyone should check out Ayre… not Arion! Well, Arion is also awesome, but Ayreon is the other one. What is your favorite Ayreon album?

The Human Equation.
Mikael: It’s really fucking good.

So good. I think that might be the best concept album I know.
Mikael: It’s really great. There’s good stuff on The Source too.

The Source is my solid number two on that list, for sure.
Mikael: I love how it’s got captains and presidents and they’re going to space and I love the cheesy stuff.

Benji: “Everybody Dies.” That’s the perfect cheesiness and…

Mikael: I can’t believe that they were able to recreate that live. That song. It’s such a hard song.

That song is also Mike Mills in his element
Mikael: Flawless. Even though it’s super hard shit.

What are some of your favorite animes or mangas?
Jope: Helsing was one of the first animes that I’ve ever watched and it has been one of my favorite animes ever since. However, recently I watched an anime called Re:Zero and I was fucking mind-blown. Sorry, Helsing, you’re moving into the second slot. I actually started watching anime more when I joined the band. I did watch some famous animes like FullMetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. I started watching a lot of stuff with Benjamin too.

Mikael: I got Benjamin into an anime called Queensblade.

Benji: I cry every time I watch that anime. Mikke, your favorite anime?

Mikael: My favorite anime of all time… actually, it’s funny, but nowadays I don’t really like Naruto that much. In 2005, when I was a kid and used to western cartoons, I saw Naruto and I fucking loved it. It’s such an important part of myself. Now I don’t really watch it, but I have fond memories. That’s maybe the most important one. Of course Dragonball Z. Everyone watched it in Finland. It even came on TV.

Benji: One thing we should mention is Yamishibai.

Mikael: The first season was amazing! Everything else was shit.

Benji: Oh, and Super Danganronpa. That’s one of my favorites. It’s just so hard to say a favorite. A lot of the animes I watched growing up were nostalgic. Dangonronpa is excellent. Steins;Gate is excellent. Even just some slice-of-life animes. There’s one called Tanaka-kun is Always Listless. It’s about this guy who always falls asleep everywhere and he has a friend at school who carries him around. This guy will not spend energy on anything, and it’s just such a chill show to watch. All kinds of anime are good for different reasons, so it’s hard to say what a favorite one is.

Jope: Talking about video games, at the moment I’m playing a game called Persona 5. It has a lot of anime visuals and stuff. It’s really cool. I can’t wait to play it to the end.

How many of you guys have been to Japan?
Mikael: I’m the only one. I’ve been five times and I’m going there in 2 weeks. I have a Japanese girlfriend. I taught Finnish and English there as a part-time job, because I didn’t have enough booze from Kela when I was an exchange student. [laughter] I love the fact that I can go any time in Japan and have a party. Whereas in Finland it’s very regulated. I love the freedom [in Japan]. Everfrost is all about freedom.

Do you have any fan stories from meeting other musicians?
Jope: I ran into [Tuomas Holopainen] at the traffic lights. I was like, “Hey, Tuomas!” and he was like, “Hey.” [nods; laughter] I’ve also been to see Kai Hahto. He taught me drums. Last year we had a weekend session. He taught me how to fix my playing style and everything else, which was really cool. Then after the first day, we just went back to his house, drank beer, and watched The Walking Dead.

Benji: I haven’t met many people that I’m a fan of. One is the Finnish band Whispered. We got Heli Mäensivu [who made Everfrost’s outfits] through Jouni Valjakka, who is the guitarist/singer of Whispered. It’s funny, I just sent a Facebook message and asked, because I was curious about some music video stuff that he did with them, and we got talking and he seemed really cool about the Everfrost idea and everything, so I kind of met him through that. Then we found out about Heli through him.

One thing recently though, I’ve been really grateful for and has been really cool and eye-opening, is that Mikael and I are playing in a band – it hasn’t been officially announced yet, but we’re doing a lot of preproduction and working on writing the album – the name is chosen, Metal De Facto, and it’s going to be released hopefully this year. It’s a project that’s been started by Sami Hinkka [Ensiferum] and Esa Orjatsalo, who played with Dreamtale in the early years. He’s the guitar tech for Ensiferum [these days] and they wanted to start a power metal band, so Mikke and I… they found Mikael through YouTube and they were looking for a keyboardist, so they found me through Mikke. So we’re working on this stuff now. Getting to meet them and hang out and write music with them has been really eye-opening. I never expected it to happen, but I’ve been really grateful for it.

You also know Nino Laurenne [Thunderstone]. He was with you when we met the first time at the Sonata Arctica show. 
Benji: Yeah, I’ve met Nino. That’s really cool. He mixed one of my favorite albums, which is the very first Wintersun album.

Mikael: In one week.

Benji: The production he did on that is… I mean, it was well-recorded obviously, but still. Meeting him and talking, he’s a very interesting person. Sonic Pump Studios as well. So many bands are doing their things there. It’s cool to talk to him.

 

Well, that’s the last of my questions. Thanks for taking the time to do this!
Benji: Thank you, anytime!

Mikael: Sorry for giving 3-hour responses to these questions.

Benji: And thank you for coming!

The band’s first live release, A Cold Night Out, will be available on May 18th, 2018. 

Photos: Twister MacKinnon | Photo Editing: Amy W.

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