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Benedictum

Benedictum was voor mij persoonlijk DE verrassing van het jaar 2006 en wist mij met hun debuut totaal omver te blazen. Die debuut-plaat 'Uncreation' eindigde dat jaar dan ook meteen op nummer één in mijn jaarlijstje. Ik was reuze benieuwd om men in staat zou zijn om dat geweldige album te evenaren of zelfs te overtreffen met opvolger 'Seasons Of Tragedy' en voor het antwoord op deze vraag moet je maar even naar de CD-recensies surfen. In ieder geval had ik het genoegen om met zangeres/frontvrouwe Veronica Freeman de geschiedenis van de band eens te doorlopen alsmede het proces van de totstandkoming van de nieuwe plaat en het uiteindelijke resultaat daarvan te bespreken.

Door: Sjak | Archiveer onder heavy / power metal

band imageWhen did you first get in touch with music in general and with heavy metal music in particular?
That must have been in junior high school, a real long time ago already in the pre-historic time when dinosaurs still ruled the earth ha ha. I won't go into detail on exactly how long time that was ago. During that period I had a friend there called Craig Goldie (who later got famous playing in Dio) who loved metal music and who encouraged me to start singing. As a result of that I did some sessions with him and at one point we even were in a high school band together. Those sessions were my first experiences into heavy metal music. Coincidentally many years later the same Craig Goldie would be the one who helped us out tremendously when we had started Benedictum.

What type of bands caused you to start getting interested in heavy metal music? What were your early influences?
I really like the more traditional bands at that time like Dio, Rush, Rainbow and Queen to name just a few.

When did you discover that you had a talent for singing and when did you decide to actually join a heavy metal band?
Many years after my junior high school experiments with singing I decided to give it another shot and joined a (for the most part cover) band who did club shows. The problem with that band was however that there was no real continuity because they started and stopped several times. At that time I had met Pete Wells already and we decided to start writing our own material and that later on evolved into a band called Malady. With Malady we did several shows and we had a lot of fun, but Pete and I wanted to take things to the next level whereas the other member wanted to keep being a local band and nothing more. So Pete and I decided that we would try it for real this time, got other musicians in and started Benedictum.

If I'm not misinformed, the band was first called Bound and later changed the name to Benedictum. Is this true and if so, why the name change?
Wow, you've really done your homework! Yes, the band in fact was first called Bound, but it was the label who really pushed us for the name change. We had a song written called 'Benedictum', which they thought would be a cool name for the band and much more metal sounding. We were upset at first, but we really like our new name now.

Did you get any vocal training or did things just come natural for you?
It's natural all the way. I think in total I got two vocals lessons during my whole singing career. I'm planning on doing some more in the future though, because I want to keep growing as a vocalist and I really need to learn to better use my voice in the material that we do. The Benedictum songs are really pushing my vocal capabilities to the limit, you know.

You already mentioned the band Malady, which you were in with Pete before Benedictum. How did you get teamed up with Pete in the first place?
Pete and I go a long way back. I think I met him for the first time when he auditioned for a band spot and I got hooked up on his style of playing. Pete and I match perfectly style-wise and he has become a real good friend of mine over the years.

Did you record any material with Malady and can this band style-wise be compared to what your doing now within Benedictum?
We recorded some stuff, but it was more rehearsal type of material. Some of it can be compared to the Benedictum songs, but we taken things more to the extreme within Benedictum. The early Malady recording didn't bring us any fame by the way.

Did you record any demos before you released your debut album 'Uncreation' and are there any songs on there which didn't appear on the debut album?
Pete and I have done quite some, but not always official demos over the years and there are quite a few songs on those demos that didn't make it to the first record. One of the few songs that actually made it to the debut album from those demos is in fact '#4”.

The story goes that you've been “discovered” by Craig Goldie. How did you get in touch with him and what specifically did he do to help you further along your career?
As said earlier, I know Craig already for a very long time and when he heard the Benedictum material he introduced us to Jeff Pilson, who made it really come together. He changed some of the arrangements of the songs and he took care of the production of 'Uncreation'. Craig further helped us out with the business side of things. You know that the music business is a very hard business and we needed to learn things really fast.

'Uncreation' was released on the European label Locomotive Records. Were there more companies interested in Benedictum and why did you choose for this European label?
We got no offers from any US labels, but we got a few from European labels. The person who helped us trying to obtain a record deal was familiar with Locomotive Records and he took care of the connection.

How does the record deal that you have with them look like?
The 'Seasons Of Tragedy' album is the last that we're contractually obliged to make for them, but we've started up discussions on prolonging the relationship.

'Uncreation' got rave reviews and really put the band on the heavy metal map in my opinion. Did you expect this immediate success and what do you think of your firstborn yourself?
We didn't expect immediate success, of course we hoped for it. We were very pleasantly surprised by the reception of 'Uncreation'. We ourselves also still think it's a very good record, although there are always some minor things that you would change when given the opportunity to do it over again. The majority of it is however still what we wanted to accomplish at that time.

Besides a bunch of great Benedictum tracks you also decided to record two Black Sabbath covers 'Heaven And Hell' and 'The Mob Rules'. Why did you decide to do this and what do you think of the actual outcome comparing it to the original?
We were planning on doing only 'Heaven And Hell', but we needed a last minute bonus track as well for the digipack version. Since we only had a few days left and Jeff had to leave the recording session soon, we decided to go for another cover. We could choose from 'Rainbow In The Dark' from Dio and 'The Mob Rules' from Black Sabbath and we decided to go for the latter. It was intended to be featured only on the digipack version but it ended up on the original record as well. This was not what we wanted but sometimes you don't get to take all the decisions. As far as the comparison with the originals go, in my opinion there's nothing like the originals but we gave it the best we got and I think that are versions are really good.

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Jimmy Bain was a guest musician on the Sabbath track. Why did you get him involved and how did you manage to get him to play on the album?
When we decided to go for 'The Mob Rules' as the bonus track, Jeff suggested to get Jimmy in. He had worked with him on the 3 Legged Dog album and gave him a call. He was available and thought it was kind of cool to do this. We were really proud of having him in to play on our record.

As said, the press really dug the first record but what did the album do for you commercially? Did it sell well?
I guess it did okay for a debut album, of course we would have loved to sell more. The least thing that 'Uncreation' did was put Benedictum on the map and get us recognized in the metal community.

At least you immediately got the chance to tour Europe in June 2006. What did that tour bring to you as a band?
It brought us many new fans and it was great to be able to come to Europe already in such an early stage of our career. The second show we did was the big Gods Of Metal festival. It also made us better musicians because we had the opportunity to play together on stage and gather experience as such.

Shortly after the June tour, in October to be exact, drummer Blackie Sanchez got replaced by Paul Courtois. What was the reason for Blackie leaving and how did you get in touch with Paul?
Blackie had his own reasons for leaving us and most of them had to do with the fact that he wasn't really comfortable with the style of Benedictum. We're still good friends though. Paul was in a local band called “Mother May I” and we went to see them during a show. He was absolutely fantastic and we're very happy that we managed to get him into the band. Paul's also a good singer and background vocals are very important for us as well.

In December of 2006 you came back to Europe as support for Doro. How did you get on that tour and what did this tour bring to you?
This one really changed a lot for us as musicians. It brought us much closer together. We had to be on a bus together for about a month and if you can cope with that, then you've really passed the ultimate friendship test. We got on the tour due to an e-mail from the label asking us if we would be interested to play with Doro and the only thing I could do at that time was scream. We were thrilled, it proved to be a good coupling and the very experienced crew of Doro treated us wonderful. We got very good support from them, it was an honour to share the stage with the metal queen and we really became good friends.

I've witnessed your performance in de Bosuil in Weert and was completely blown away by the intensity and musicianship of the band and in my and many other people's opinion Benedictum should have been the headliner. What do you think about such a statement?
We were just very happy to be on the tour in the first place and we will not complain about he limited playing time we got. We just tried to give it everything we got to convince the crowd that we're worthwhile checking out. Of course it's always good to hear that a lot of people believed that we deserved a higher place on the bill.

When I spoke to both Pete and you after the show in the lobby, you both said that you were working on the new album already and expected to release this in 2007. Why did it take you a little bit longer to get the job done, since it is now scheduled for an early 2008 release?
At that time we had just started putting the songs together for this new record, but it was a very long process. Although we started in December 2006 we were not able to work on the songs in one block, it was like a few days here and a few days there. When you work like this, it takes quite some time before a complete album is finished. Also during the recording process we worked in different sessions. We would do the drums first, then come back later to layer the rest on top of the drums in multiple sessions. We handed in the masters in October, but then time is needed to actually make the CDs and to get them in the stores.

What's the reason for the delayed release (March) in the US territory?
That a real good question, because I haven't got the slightest idea why they chose to do this. For the debut album a similar approach was chosen, so maybe it's for promotional reason, but I honestly wouldn't know the exact reason.

Did the success of 'Uncreation' put any pressure on you during the songwriting process for 'Seaons Of Tragedy' and how does this songwriting process look like in Benedictum?
The process of songwriting within Benedictum is still the same as it used to be. Pete comes up with the base riffs and I listen to those quite extensively to get ideas for vocal lines and lyrics. As a band we take the composition, rearrange it when necessary and finalize the tunes. Then we hand it over to Jeff, who might still change some arrangements before the recording process is started. The success of 'Uncreation' did put a lot of pressure on me personally. I'm always worrying about these kind of things, I wanted to make sure that the new record would be of the same calibre as the debut album and that sometimes put quite some stress on me. Pete didn't experience any pressure because he's really easy going.

band imageWhat do you want to accomplish with 'Seasons Of Tragedy' and what do you feel are the biggest differences and/or improvements when comparing this new album to your debut?
A few things have improved in my opinion. First of all the sound quality is much better compared to the debut album as a direct result of the better recording process and mixing job. Secondly the writing process has given better results in my opinion. The material that we've created shows lots of variety but still keeps true to the traditional heavy metal style. I really think that Pete has outdone himself this time, this is really his album, he truly shines!

As you just mentioned, the song material of Benedictum is always true to the traditional heavy metal style, but still shows a lot of variety. Is this done intentionally or is it just the way that the songs turn out?
It's a little bit of both I guess. We are doing this for a part intentionally because we don't want to stagnate as a band. Although we know that there are certain risks involved, we try to stretch ourselves to the limit when composing new material.

Why did you decide to open the album with a short intro called 'Dawn Of Seasons'?
We just thought that it would be a cool idea. The riff that forms the basis of that song is recurring several times on the album like in 'Within The Solace' and title track 'Seasons Of Tragedy', giving the album a certain theme.

What are at this moment your favourite tracks of the album and why?
There are at this moment three songs which are really my favourites. First of all there's the title track 'Seasons Of Tragedy', which is a really epic track and brings you all across the place if you know what I mean. Secondly there's 'Bare Bones', which is more modern and really heavy and shows another side of Benedictum. Furthermore George Lynch is playing a solo on this, which makes the song extra special. Last but not least there's 'Steel Rain', in which I'm able to showcase the variety in my vocals. At first I was quite nervous to do this, since I never had done this before. For the first album I didn't really feel comfortable doing this, but on this record I really wanted to explore myself and also do different things with my voice.

Is the lyrical side also important for the band and what type of subjects do you write about?
The lyrics are extremely important for me since I write them ha ha.. More seriously now: I see the writing of lyrics as a form of personal therapy and it really allows me to express something. Depending on my mood I really write about different subject ranging from things about society and humanity in general to fun and riding bikes like in 'Burn It Out'

Again a cover is placed on the album, this time Accept's 'Balls To The Wall”. Why again a cover and why this specific one?
We just thought it would be fun to hear this specific song with female vocals, there's really no more to it than that.

On the digi-pack version another cover is placed, to be exact an acoustic version of Rainbow's 'Catch The Rainbow'. Same question here?
I guess history repeats itself here, since we again needed a bonus track for the digipack version and we only got about thirty-six hours to complete it. Pete, Jeff and I were at Jeff's house at that time and we came up with 'Catch The Rainbow'. Since it was so close to the deadline, we knew we couldn't get all the band member in any more to properly record it so we decided to make an acoustic version out of it. After the recording, Jeff spent the whole night mixing it but the end result came out just fine.

Again several guest musicians were featured like George Lynch, Manni Schmidt, Jeff Pilson and Craig Goldy? How did you get George and Manni involved and what's the reason for using so many guest musicians this time?
Manni Schmidt is a friend of my husband and we went to have dinner with him and his family during the Doro tour when we were in Europe. It started off as a joke when we asked him to play on our next record. He said sure, but we never thought at that time that he would actually do it. Luckily he was able to make it and he really fought a great guitar solo duel with Pete on 'Burn It Out'. Getting George Lynch involved was really a dream come and we were at first too chicken to ask him. After a while we thought “what the hell' and we just gave him a call and much to our surprise he said yes.

What are your expectations from this new album, to what level does it need to bring you as a band?
We would love to get a little bit more recognition and be able to come over to Europe again to tour. I hope that 'Seasons Of Tragedy' will put us permanently on the map and that it will sell a bit better than our debut album.

The album will be released in early January, what are the next step that you're planning for Benedictum?
At the moment we're trying to get a tour together, which is difficult because each of us has his own life and business to take care about. My personal wish would be that we do a cool tour around spring time and do some of the big festivals in the summer. As it looks now we're thinking about coming over to Europe in the February/March time frame but nothing is confirmed yet.

Do you intend to still act as support act for a bigger band or be a headliner for a smaller club tour?
We don't really have a preference and as said, we're in the process of planning what the exact setting will be. The agency that's working on this hasn't gotten back to us yet, but maybe it will be a rotating headliner thing. We haven't gotten any proposals yet to support bigger bands, but normally that will happen just after the release of the record so we need to be a little bit more patient for that.

You've been praised quite a lot in the press for your impressive vocal delivery, both in a studio as well as in a live situation and you've even been called the female Dio (luckily you're much more attractive). How does that make you feel?
Ha ha…good to hear that I look better, but of course it's awesome and an absolute honour to be compared to probably the best vocalist around nowadays. I'm grateful for that recognition and hearing those remarks really put a smile on my face.

Whether you like it or not, you will always be the one who gets the most attention because of your appearance and because you're a woman in heavy metal. Does this put extra pressure on you, how do you cope with this and how do the other band members feel about this situation?
I didn't feel this at first, but during the marketing period I always needed to do the majority of the interviews and I seem to draw a lot of attention of the crowd. Now that I'm aware of that, I feel some extra pressure but nothing that I can't cope with. The other band members are quite comfortable with this situation, since they feel that the publicity that I seem to create is also beneficial to Benedictum as a whole.

Another one who will get some extra attention is Pete, because you don't often find a black guy as the lead guitarist in a metal band. How does Pete handle the fact that he's expected to like reggae and rap music more than heavy metal?
Ha ha ha…Pete is really a character, who himself jokes about this all the time. We both seem to have our own share of fans and it's of course great to see people change their opinion when they see Pete perform on the stage. The guy is such a great personality!

A lot of newcomer band are releasing DVDs nowadays. Do you already have plans in this direction or are you going to release some more studio material first?
We would love to do one as well, but it is really a money thing that prevents us from doing this right now. If the label would grant us this opportunity, we'll certainly go for it.

We've been talking quite extensively about the past, present and short term future, but what do you want to accomplish with Benedictum on a more long term perspective?
I'm just along for the ride and I will see what will happen in the future. The most important for me is that we feel good about what we've done so far and that we will be remembered by the fans as a great band. Of course we would also love the opportunity to tour a bit more and actually make some money from it.

Okay, Veronica, thanks for your willingness to answer my questions. The famous last words are yours?
Oh boy, the famous last words. Well first of all I would like to thank you for the attention and I truly hope that everybody will enjoy our new album and that it will be a solid base for a good and long career.

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