- - - - - -

Benedictum Interview

Benedictum Interview

When I first heard about the band Benedictum, it was through the band A Sound of Thunder, when Veronica Freeman, Benedictum’s vocalist, guested on A Sound of Thunder’s alternate version of their song “Queen of Hell”. The two ladies sounded so great together; they were just such a force to be reckoned with. I finally got the chance to hear more of Benedictum’s music when it came time to review their latest album, Obey, and I was not disappointed. So when I got the opportunity to interview Veronica to accompany the album review, I thought it would be the perfect chance to not only find out a little about how she first started collaborating with A Sound of Thunder, but also to learn more about the band’s music and their history. I not only learned all that, but I also discovered that Veronica is one hell of a cool chick; very easy to talk to and not at all shy about expressing her opinions. In fact, she was so cool that not only did she take time to talk to me about the album, but she even put me in touch with guest vocalist Tony Martin so that he could tell his side of the story about how he hooked up with Benedictum for their collaboration on “Cry”. I can’t say I’ve ever had any other bands do that, but it goes to show what an awesome person Veronica is. So both she and Tony are here to talk a little about the new album and their musical merger. From her thoughts on the current femme-metal scene in the U.S. to her enthusiasm about the new Benedictum album, Veronica keeps it real and keeps it metal!



C.:  Tell us about the new album and recording process, etc.

Veronica:  The usual stuff…this is our fourth album; we are now on Frontiers Records, and the album is called Obey. Comes out on the 29th of November [2013] in Europe, and the 3rd of December [2013] in the United States. The producer is John Herrera, and we also worked again with our longtime friend Jeff Pilson, who is involved in pre-production and arrangements and stuff on the album as well. Pete Wells, our guitar player, and myself are the founding members of Benedictum. Usually the process is: he’ll throw some riffs down or whatever, and I love to listen to music while I’m driving. So I just throw some of the stuff he’s done on a CD and I’ll just listen to it, and the ideas just start percolating and everything. That’s how we put stuff together; we’ve been doing it that way for a number of years. Then of course, the album kind of comes together; you have a producer help you put it together. Then we have Rikard Stjernquist put a lot of input into the album as well; he’s the drummer. So has Aric Avina [bass]. We’ve been doing this for a little while, and it’s always fun to talk to people like you!

C.:  Since you mentioned listening in the car while driving, do you ever sing along with the music and that’s how you come up with the vocal lines?

Veronica:  Exactly; what I do is I listen to a particular riff...we used to record practices a lot, and I would just listen to that to get a feel for it. I’m not very big on the improv stuff; there’s a lot of writers that I totally admire, where you can just start jamming something and they just start working out a song, and I’ve never been like that. I’ve always been really jealous of that! For me, I have to sit with it, and then ideas start popping up. For some reason, usually when I’m driving, then I’ll just try ideas out. I got one of those little hand-held voice-recorders, so when I go on long trips…a lot of times I’ll drive back to San Diego [from Arizona], which is about a 5-hour drive. It’s always good for writing music; I’ll sing along with the stereo and kinda come up with ideas to see what works and doesn’t work. I like that process. It’s fun!

C.:  You guys have had some lineup changes in the band. What changes did that bring to the music, if any?

Veronica:  I don’t know if it brought a lot of changes to the music at that point, because we had already started working on this stuff. The changes would be that we have a new drummer, Rikard Stjernquist; he’s formerly of Jag Panzer, and he’s brilliant. I do think the change that happened with the music would definitely be contributed to his style of playing, because I think it suits Benedictum quite well. So what he brought to the table was…I don’t want to say a more “complete” vibe, but a vibe that really fit what we were doing, so that was cool. Then we got Aric Avina, who is our new bass player. And we’re all out here now in Phoenix, so that makes things kinda work out a little bit better to keep to the energy of the music. It was difficult when we were split between two cities, because it was difficult to put practices together and all of that. So sometimes you can lose a little of your incentive; so now it’s really cool. So far, so good!

C.:  For our readers first hearing about you through this interview or review, how does this new album differ from your past ones?

Veronica:  Well, I would say that it is another “growth spurt”, but we really wanted to keep it in sync with the first two albums. It’s hard to pigeonhole Benedictum, because we have a more “traditional” metal sound, but we have a modern edge to some of our stuff too. So I think it was just the continual evolution of that sound; to stay true to that vibe that is Benedictum, but also stretch our legs a little bit and try to do like we normally do, which is try to do a few different types of things. You don’t want to go stale, you know?

C.:  What was it like working with Tony Martin? How did the collaboration with him come about?

Veronica:  It was awesome! I had reached out to him a while back, just as a fan, because I am a big, gushing fan of his. I really at that time had no idea we’d end up doing this, so when the opportunity came…we’ve had guest guitarists and bass players on previous albums, and when the idea came up, I was like, “let’s go for it!” So I sent him a Facebook message and asked if he’d be interested. He said, “I’d be interested, but I need to approve the material”. Sometimes, [with other artists] they’re like, “give me the song”; but he wanted to check out the songs first to get a feel of which ones suited him better, and it went from there. It worked out really well; he gave a lot of input to the song. It was just a really great experience.

Tony:  Well, the initial idea was put to me by Veronica. She said she had some songs she wanted me to look at. In the way I work, I tried out some of them and sent the results back to her. She chose a track called “Cry”, which was quite different and unusual…Great fun to do!...Hopefully fans will like what we did.

C.:  Tony, were you a fan of Benedictum or did you know their music before you started working with them?

Tony:  Nope…first encounter.

C.:  Would you consider doing more stuff with the band in the future?

Tony:  Yes, why not? Maybe something heavier…but essentially this was a session that opened a new door this time. It was never a “Tony Martin thing”; it was all about “The V.” [Veronica] and the rest will be what it is. Happy to explore more with the guys and hopefully meet them along the way.

C.:  Yes, I did an interview with Nina [from A Sound of Thunder], and talked to her about their collaboration with Blaze Bayley. It always impresses me about the metal community and how the artists get together; it’s not like other genres of music where “your people call my people”. In metal, it’s always more like, “oh, I e-mailed them and just asked if they’d do it”, or “my buddy lives next door to the guy from this band”, etc. I have always found that to be one of the coolest things about the metal community.

Veronica:  I agree; I was really thrilled. I really appreciated Tony’s professionalism. I’ve had situations where—I’ve learned a lot from them—where I think “maybe I’ll do that next time”. I was asked to do a song on someone’s album, and I was excited about it. But I just got handed a song that didn’t suit me vocally…I understood where they wanted to go with it, but I felt like I was really trying to fit myself into something that just wasn’t my vibe. It ended up not working out, which totally made me feel bad, but I get it. I would have loved to have had a couple of songs to choose from, to find what would have been right for me. That’s what he [Tony] did. There was a particular song I had in mind for him, but he was like, “that’s cool, but let me hear some other ones”, and then, “no, I want that one!” Then to help develop it, he came up with some ideas for the orchestration in the background, and it was really cool how involved he was with it.

C.:  So he was more than just a “guest vocalist”; he got involved with the songwriting process and actually became a part of the band!

Veronica:  Exactly! And then I was so thrilled that I had a chance to go to the UK in April and meet him, and that was just great. A lot of fun.

C.:  How about you, Tony? What was your experience working with the band? Any funny or interesting stories to share?

Tony:  I haven’t met the band yet, but Veronica came to England. In the short time she was here, I was able to meet up and found her to be amicable and crazy. [Winks] Great mix!

C.:  So you guys didn’t do the song together in the studio, or in person?

Veronica:  I don’t think most people do it that way anymore, with the files and everything you can do nowadays. I was hoping that would be the case, but he’s in the UK and I’m in Arizona. But I got to meet him after the fact, which was cool.

C.:  Tony, are there any chances that you might show up to a Benedictum gig to perform onstage with the band?

Tony:  Well, we were trying to do that and it got messed up! Unfortunately, the promoter wasn’t up to the task and it’s still in dispute, which is stupid and unnecessary. We had arranged for me to make guest appearances at Benedictum’s shows…I don’t know if it’s still something we can do, but certainly not with the incompetent idiot that messed up this time!

C.:  Speaking of touring, what are your plans? When are you hitting the road?

Veronica:  We’re working on that right now. As a matter of fact, I have a meeting with a booking agent, so we’ll see what’s going on with that. I’d like to get over to Europe, I’d like to do some stuff in the States, so I’m working on that. We’ll see how it all goes.

C.:  Any plans to go to any places you haven’t been?

Veronica:  We just want to get out to play. We have a CD release party on the 29th of November so that should be a lot of fun here in Phoenix. We’re just looking forward to building a tour, and we’ll let you guys know!

C.:  What are your favorite things about touring?

Veronica:  Any time we have a chance to go to Europe, I just look forward to doing that a lot; simply because it’s a different vibe over there, ‘cause there’s a little more excitement around the music. In general, we just love to perform; so I miss that when I can’t do that. To me, that’s a lot of fun to be able to get on stage and expend that energy.

C.:  What are some of your not-so-favorite things?

Veronica:  The stuff that’s not so much fun…if things aren’t run well, or you get there and they’re not ready for you. Or you get there and nobody’s done any promotion; that’s very frustrating. Things like that. But meeting people…that’s what I live for. I love that stuff.

C.:  Any songs on the setlist that your fans might be surprised to hear?

Veronica:  We were thinking of pulling some stuff out that we haven’t played before; but right now, obviously we’re gonna be focused on playing stuff from the new album. We’ll maybe toss a couple “oldies but goodies” out there.

C.:  I know of you from what you did with A Sound of Thunder, so I asked Nina how it was to work with you. Now I will ask how it was for you to work with her on your album!

Veronica:  I’ve been a big fan of theirs; she’s totally cool, I like what they’re doing. She reached out to me a while back to do something on their EP [“Queen of Hell”], and that worked out really well. I was pleased by how good the song was. It was actually the song I worked on with John [A Sound of Thunder’s producer] for the first time, so we could test the waters on how we’d work together. We did that, and it came out really well. She’s such a powerhouse. So when it came time to do the Benedictum record, I thought about her…”wouldn’t that be cool?” I invited her to be on the record, she came out, and she kicked its ass. I really like her a lot. She’s a great talent. A great person.

C.:  Hopefully you guys will tour together someday!

Veronica:  I think we’re kinda talking about that! I think that would be a great idea.

C.:  Speaking of your band and A Sound of Thunder, I get the sense that there’s this sort of ongoing development happening here in the U.S. within the local femme-metal scene. I don’t even know if it has a name, but for lack of a better term let’s just refer to it as, say, “The New Wave of American Femme-Metal”; because your sound is so firmly rooted in the old-school metal style. Your bands are female-fronted, but you are not at all like your European counterparts. You don’t have the operatic vocals, orchestral/symphonic elements, or the elaborate stage costumes, so to speak. You have the more traditional sounds like Dio or Iron Maiden. Do you feel you’re spearheading a new movement, or do you feel like this was an evolution that was a long time coming?

Veronica:  Both! I think we haven’t gotten there because there aren’t a lot of people out there doing it. There’s lots of women out there in general on the metal scene; the majority of them are more of the operatic style. That’s cool, and that’s a natural evolution. I’m excited to see it and to hear it. However, there haven’t been a whole lot of real powerhouse female vocalists. I don’t think it’s because there are that many people doing it, in my opinion. They’re there, but it’s just now becoming more acceptable. I know I sing really aggressively and so does Nina. I was just talking to Leather Leone, and she’s been doing that stuff for a long time. She was never a little shrinking violet kind of voice; she goes out there and whips ass. It’s there, I just think that maybe people are paying more attention to it and there are a few more talents out there.

C.:  Yes, I’ve followed this scene since the late ‘90s, and over the last several years the divide has been either between the angelic/operatic voices, or straight-up “growlers”/”screamers”. There aren’t many in the middle who could go either way; voices like yours or Nina’s.

Veronica:  There are quite a few [of us], just not as many as the other types. I’ve been doing my thing, Leather does her thing, Doro kicks ass, Ann Boleyn…We’re there, but there aren’t just a lot of us! And I don’t think we get a whole lot of love either.

C.:  I was just about to get to that…I hate to ask the lame question of “what’s it like to be a female in metal?”, but there’s no denying that there are stereotypes and —I’m not going to sugarcoat it—women face certain kinds of bullshit. What are some of those things that you face? I think a lot of people have come to expect a very feminine stage presence with these bands, so is it better or worse when you face these sorts of audiences?

Veronica:  The people who know us, that’s what they love us for; or love me for. They love that it’s in your face and aggressive. We don’t worry about the female-fronted part; we just go out there and bring it. That’s how I’ve always felt; it doesn’t matter. If I go and see somebody and they’re wearing a ballgown, that’s fine. Be your best in your ballgown! So it doesn’t matter; just bring it. Just because it’s a female doesn’t mean it’s going to be good, or bad. I look at the individual. I think with that type of stuff, not everyone can do it. Some are better than others. If you can bring it, bring it. I think the look on some peoples’ faces…when I start singing, and they don’t know who we are…I don’t want to say it takes a while to win them over, but it’s more that they weren’t expecting that. It’s like the whole, “Oh, a chick singer, we know what this is gonna be…let’s go out and have a smoke or something”, and then they hear us, and “whoa, wait a minute!” I’m sure it’s the same for these other women too. It takes a while to win someone over because they’re used to the women in metal doing something symphonic. That’s really great, but that’s not what we do. It doesn’t take away from anybody else, but that’s just not our thing. We may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but some people are kinda surprised, and then they think, “hey, this is cool!” That’s the way it goes. It’s life!

C.:  So what advice do you give to young ladies out there who are looking to form their own bands or make a go at music?

Veronica:  OK, number one: remember when you say “music business”, that the second half of that is “business”. Remember that it’s a business. Make sure you have people who truly have your best interests at heart. Don’t believe everything you hear. Don’t be afraid to be unique, because no one wants a cookie-cutter of everything; that gets old after a while. Do your thing and do it well! Bring it! Believe in yourself, because not everybody’s gonna like you! [Laughs] That’s just the way it is. You can be the most talented person in the world; there’s always gonna be somebody that’s gonna be a detractor, or “haters”. I’ve got ‘em, a lot of other people got ‘em; it’s just how it is, everybody has them. Go do what you wanna do anyway. Make sure you surround yourself with wise counsel. And these days, you’d better be passionate about it, because unless you’re on a bigger label or something, there’s not a butt-load of money to be made. Otherwise, if you’re not really doing it because you love it, you’ll just be miserable!

C.:  Yes, it’s almost like going to a casino: take what you can afford to risk, and if you make any sort of profit or gain, get the hell out! Take your winnings and run!

Veronica:  That’s an excellent analogy; I’m with you on that! I wish I would have listened to you! [Laughs]

C.:  Real quick, before we part ways: I notice you guys say you’re influenced by Psychotic Waltz. I love Psychotic Waltz. So few people know about them, so I think it’s great you’re waving the flag and keeping their style of music alive. Hardly anyone ever talks about them. So I’m glad you guys are fans too, and I can definitely hear their influence in your music.

Veronica:  Yes, [I was] born and raised in San Diego; they’re a great band!

C.:  I know you’re super-busy and running behind schedule, so thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. Good luck with the new album and tour. Keep us posted!

Veronica:  Thanks sweetie, you too! I appreciate it. Gotta roll!

For more information about Benedictum, visit their official website.
Special thanks to Dustin Hardman at Frontiers Records.
Extra-special thanks to Veronica Freeman and Tony Martin.