BENEDICTUM: You Shall Obey!
Revved up and ready to roll with their fourth album "Obey", the US traditional metal band Benedictum serves up another strong effort of songs with catchy chorus, strong riffs, and powerhouse vocals from Veronica Freeman. If you miss acts like Dio, Savatage, and Jag Panzer with a little more muscle and grit, than this would definitely be a band worthy of your attention and support.
I recently had the chance to speak with Veronica one early afternoon on the phone, and her infectious laugh and talkative nature made this conversation go over very well. Heed her call for supporting the metal bands you love not just with your eyes and ears, but also through merchandise and live performances. If we want things to survive in the coming years, where you choose to put your money will have a lot to do with the outcome your desire.
Tell me a little bit about your personal background as far as what your first memories surrounding music were and how you developed a love and passion for heavy metal? Do you remember some of those first bands/ albums that captured your attention?
"Time out! That’s a great question. I’ve been doing interviews all day and that question kicks ass! Okay, cool… I never really thought I was going to be doing this music thing to be honest, I always thought I was going to be some sort of break dancer or something. Both of my brothers loved listening to music, they had an eclectic taste in music with everything from the Beach Boys to James Brown and stuff and it just happened that I liked all kinds of music and didn’t think I would be inclined to singing it. It wasn’t until I met Craig Goldy that he encouraged me to try singing and the whole little story with that is he had a band at the time that he was jamming with and he asked me to work on a song with singing it, but I was too shy. They were right outside the door and they came in and told me it was really cool. It’s the performing thing that I am more passionate about- I like being out there and expressing myself musically and expending that energy out on stage to be able to connect with people.
Rainbow- Rising was one that captured that my attention. I am a big Queen fan, especially Freddie Mercury’s singing. I had won tickets to a Queen show from a radio station and it just so happened that the concert was on my birthday. I was floored, seeing Rush for the first time as well. The way certain people perform just blows me away. That sort of stuff cemented the whole idea of the metal thing for me, seeing how certain people performed."
When you first started singing heavy metal, did you have just as many influences from the female side like Doro Pesch and Leather Leone as you would of male singers like Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson and Ronnie James Dio?
"Honestly no, I did not. I had heard of them, but it wasn’t like I was into metal, into metal, into metal… and now I am going to go sing it. I liked all different kinds of music and I got kind of tricked into singing and found out I really liked it, then metal resonated with me and in particular I loved Ronnie James Dio. The people turned me onto Doro. An influence later on as I developed my style, Doro was there yes. Freddie Mercury, let me think off the top of my head… at that time I really didn’t know a lot of women that were involved in singing heavy metal. I adore Leather… I’ve gotten know her and she asked me one time if I was influenced by her, we sound a lot alike in many ways. I knew of her but I was developing my own style before I realized she was really bad ass. I discovered them after I was doing my own thing, which was very cool."
Describe the frustrations behind changing your band name through the years before signing with Locomotive Music for your debut album as Benedictum with 2006’s "Uncreation"? Did this originally start with you and Pete as Malady in the 1990’s, then change into Regime and Bound before finally sticking with Benedictum?
"There weren’t any frustrations because Malady was a completely separate entity. That was after Malady that Pete and I decided that we were going to go for this, sometimes people are just happy with playing locally and we had a different goal. This was the inception of Benedictum. The only frustration was changing the name from Bound, because we thought the name was cool. That was the first demo we ever sent out- the Regime thing came and went. We put out demos that way, and "Benedictum" was a song on that demo, and Locomotive signed us and told us we love your sound, but that name Bound has to go. That was frustrating, and they wanted us to be called Benedictum. We said no… we knew that most people struggled to pronounce it correctly (laughs). It took us awhile to get used to it, now it’s no biggie. I remember Blackie Sanchez our drummer at the time told us, ‘oh hell no’. The proposition was made that if you come up with a better name, they will let us go with it. We went searching through lexicons and dictionaries and thesauruses and we made all these submissions, and they said no- we like Benedictum."
The two Black Sabbath covers that appear on the debut with "Heaven and Hell" and "The Mob Rules"- were they previous covers you often played out with the tribute band Evilution? Did playing out as Evilution eventually develop the chops and skill set you needed to write and record original material as Benedictum?
"We were already on our way to doing our own stuff when I was approached to do Evilution. Back in the Malady days we were already doing "Heaven and Hell"- it’s one of my favorite songs of all time. The Evilution thing was something that I was just supposed to be a guest singer- I sang two songs "Heaven and Hell" and "Neon Knights". They approached me to be their full time singer- we didn’t do many shows together though."
You’ve had the chance to work with a number of professional musicians in the metal business in Benedictum- from Jeff Pilson to George Lynch and Craig Goldy- in either a production or performance capacity. Describe to us what you’ve learned most from these sessions and experiences that benefits the band in the long run?
"Let’s talk about Jeff- that was my first experience with being produced and that was different for me. Previously it was more like home recording sessions, I did stuff here and there and had been in a studio a couple of times. I was terrified, thank god Jeff is such a warm, wonderful, and personable type of person. What I also learned from him is the way he has his environment in front of him- the guitar, bass, keyboards within arm’s reach and his intensity. The beauty of realizing that spark of imagination and creativity to have things physically set up so you can take advantage of that. I have taken that with me as far as when I drive in the car I make sure to have a voice recorder to capture an idea or a notebook with me to write down lyrical ideas, being prepared for that creative spark and focus like a laser. Dealing with Craig Goldy I learned a lot, especially from another standpoint with being okay with who you are and developing your own sound. The quote I like to use with him that has stuck around me the most is: don’t be afraid to be unique. Especially in my case the comparisons with my voice, it is different. I don’t exactly sound like so and so, I wasn’t the voice de jour at the time. When I was growing up people would find out I wanted to sing metal and they would tell me I should be singing rhythm and blues or something else. I wasn’t afraid to be unique so I went for it. I saw how different people approached their craft."
How would you describe your second and third albums "Seasons of Tragedy" and "Dominion" to our readers? What do you think are the strengths and distinctions between the two records?
"Let’s go back to "Uncreation"- that was our first record and it was really raw and the excitement behind it was really great too. We learned the art of the game and how to put the songs together, Jeff helped us along with that greatly. "Seasons of Tragedy" was a little more polished- I’d say traditional metal… Benedictum has been described as traditional metal on steroids, and I like that because we still do the songs with a chorus and a structure, and those things are important but I think "Seasons of Tragedy" we stretched a little bit and added some more bells and whistles. With "Dominion" I think sonically the tones are there, it might be a little darker but more, the actually sonic quality was different because of the way it was produced, which isn’t a bad thing. I think that had more of a modern edge to it than "Seasons Of Tragedy" and even the new album "Obey"."
Do you see a major difference in terms of promotion and communication now that you are with Frontiers Records compared to your first deal with the Spanish label Locomotive Music?
"Pass on that one… yeah in a way. In the beginning I will give Locomotive their props, it was the band’s first record deal and things were going well when they were alive and well and flourishing. By the time "Seasons of Tragedy" came out you could tell the communication wasn’t as well as it used to be, then I got in touch and found out what was going on over there and things started to fall apart with them as a business. I know they went under and it worked out well for us because we were getting ready to negotiate a new contract with them that had come to an end. We were given a proposal for a new one and they weren’t really in business anymore. Now with Frontiers, the communication is great and I love those guys. We keep in touch every day, I always wish I had tour support but I admire the fact that we are on a great label with such an impressive roster of bands that I admire."
How did the run of US dates go in November of 2011 up and down the East Coast? Unfortunately I had to work on the night you played near my stomping grounds at Ralph’s Diner in Worcester, MA. Did you meet many cool bands and fans who have followed your career?
"That was the best! It went great, I would have loved for there to be more promotion and stuff but that was something that we set out to do for the band. We had a blast and I wish you had been there at that show."
"Obey" is the fourth Benedictum record, and appears to my ears to be a balance between the traditional metal sound you’ve been known for along with current production values and occasional modern tones that you started to explore on 2011’s "Dominion" record. Where do you see this record in terms of the Benedictum discography- and how do you think the songwriting and recording sessions went for this?
"I think you so nailed it, you put it perfectly. That’s how I would describe "Obey" – taking those elements from "Dominion" and then going back to the traditional things from the first two records. When the producer John Herrera was doing this, he really studied our discography and we made a conscious effort with Frontiers to know what they were looking for as well and take all that into consideration along with what we wanted to do. The songwriting went relatively smooth. The rhythm tracks were done live- they took Rickard, Pete and Eric’s parts and he had them woodshed things to capture that vibe as when you are jamming together. It was cool so you may have figured it happened in editing… it wasn’t completely perfect but we wanted things special for "Obey"."
How did the duet with Tony Martin come to be on "Cry"?
"We have guests of course on all these albums but they usually happen to be guitar players, and I wanted to do a duet but I didn’t know what song. When I heard "Cry" for the first time, Pete was actually singing on it, and I said ‘damn- I didn’t know you could sing that well!’ on it. But he was too shy to do it. So that is when I reached out, but just as a gushing fan, to Tony Martin previously and he responded. So I asked if he wanted to do this, and he was very accepting of the idea and was quite meticulous. He wanted to choose a few tunes, so we sent him some files and he would figure out which would be the best one, and he gave a lot of input to "Cry"- even lyric ideas and delivery ideas, we just might do it again."
Do you have a personal preference between recording and live shows with the band? Where do you see the major differences between the two?
"Hands down live. I don’t want to say I struggle in the studio, but it’s very intense. I like to perform, so the live stuff there isn’t even a comparison."
How does the band handle this ever changing music consumption and touring climate? It seems like for a metal band to survive and thrive, there needs to be a constant social media presence along with a strong touring, merchandising and hands on aspect to keep your music in the face of consumers…
"Yes, that’s a challenge. It’s a big challenge for all of us in this band because I have a company that I run called Streetfighters Inc., a business, Rikard works- and it is not like we can be glued to our phones and on a computer constantly. Maybe it’s because I am more old-school and all that kinds of stuff, it’s a blast and a game changer. For us that’s one of our biggest frustrations is I would like to get out and play live more, and it’s frustrating for me that we are not able to do that as much. You have to make this an investment to go tour, with the merchandise and stuff like that. We want to make sure to get out there, as it’s definitely not about CD sales anymore, it’s almost like a dinosaur, you have to stay up with it."
When looking at the worldwide metal scene, there seems to be a distinct difference in terms of shows and festivals in America versus Europe – how do you view the scenes, especially considering you’ve been able to perform shows and festivals in both areas of the world? What things do you think need to change to make things better domestically for bands and fans?
"That is a good question too. One of the major things in Europe has to deal with the intensity of the fans- not to say we don’t have intense fans in the US because we do- but where they place the whole music thing. People go to shows and they support the bands. More often than not in Europe there will be quite an eclectic gathering at festivals in terms of the bands- maybe they will be within the metal genre but you’ll have a mixture of stuff- hardcore death metal and something more melodic but the crowd is still intense, it’s not as if everyone walks away. Everybody is supportive of music and appreciative of it, here it is more that people pair bands up to make sure things go well together, and you get more division within the types of metal. I would like to see more people here accepting of the differences or enthusiastic of the types of metal in general. You were talking about social media earlier, and one of my pet peeves is when there is a situation of loving the band, not just my band, but just because you hit the ‘like’ button on Facebook, think about the last time you bought a band’s t-shirt, or when was the last time you bought the band’s CD? That’s important because you can be passionate about music but you have to be able to do something in order to sustain these bands. If you don’t have a label that is behind you financially or is giving you a lot of tour support, a lot of bands are doing the majority of that work on their own. It makes me feel sad- I remember when the term ‘pay to play’ came out many years back. When you have a national coming through, that is still alive and well for a lot of bands and its tough. People aren’t coming out to support music, paying for a ticket to go to show.
Go to these local shows and support metal bands! Back in the day if you heard of a new band you went out and supported them if they came through your area. Clicking a YouTube video is not the same as going to a show. If you watch something on YouTube that is recorded through a phone, a lot of times the sound isn’t as great, or you get a shot of someone’s foot (laughs). It’s cool, but so many times… it’s becoming the norm that people check us out on YouTube, but they don’t see us live in the flesh. Telling Pete for instance that he really shreds on the guitar, we ask them which show they saw us at… and we find out it was from the internet. I make a conscious effort to walk my talk- there was a festival in Ohio called Warriors Of Metal that I made a campaign to go to. There are all these bands making this effort to be really cool, I co-hosted it, and I wanted to be there. You have to show up- there weren’t a lot of people there, but more than the last time I had seen it. Flotsam and Jetsam, there were lots of bands there- I would just love to see so many people there. This festival was very European-esque because of the feel of the metal community, there was a sense of that there that I want to see get bigger. I can’t go to a show every week, but I like to get out there when I can and buy a t-shirt."
What would your top 5 bands of all time be and can you tell us the best concert you witnessed in your career as a fan?
"I’ll pass on the top 5 bands because it changes every week (laughs). It depends on my mood, I can go through phases where Rammstein is the best band, or Patsy Cline is the best, and then I go through from one end to the other. I’m going to go with 2 concerts, and they were festivals and this is because of the feeling of community. Gods of Metal in Italy- we played it, and that was the first time we had played a large festival, and after we played we got to walk around and people recognized us but there was no need for security. Nobody got into fights- and the same thing with Wacken. Both were exciting to be a fan, and we had passes to go back stage and watch people playing. It was so cool to be there with 70,000 other people and you didn’t see any violence. Everybody got along and enjoyed themselves and the music."
How do you balance your musical life with family and personal time? Do you think it’s important to have the support of friends and family in your Benedictum endeavors?
"Especially in Benedictum endeavors, because it isn’t bringing in a big paycheck (laughs). For me it’s either one way or the other. Like today, all these interviews I’m doing which I love, I end up missing business calls. I don’t get to do this like I am doing with you all the time. I go with the flow and I enjoy it because I’m sure there’s going to be a point in my life where I’m not going to be able to do this."
What does the rest of 2013 and early 2014 look like for Benedictum?
"I am hoping we will be touring in January. We will do a CD release party at the end of November in Phoenix, and go do some touring in Europe and the US during early 2014."