It’s no secret that we at Musicalypse are huge fans of EVERFROST and are waiting with extreme impatience for their sophomore album, “Winterider,” to be released. On August 7th, 2019, we sat down with keyboardist/songwriter Benji Connelly to have an in-depth discussion about the new album, the music, and its story and concept.
So first things first, how’s it going?
Not bad! It’s been ages since I saw you. What was it, an hour ago?
I know, it’s crazy! [laughter] For real though, last time we did an interview, “Winterider“ was still in the making and there were a still a couple of unfinished songs. Now it’s coming out next month! How do you feel?
Relieved, happy, proud… a little bit sad too, because it was a huge process and I kind of can’t believe that it’s finished and ready. At the moment, a lot of the work and focus is on promotion leading up to release day. But we’re satisfied and happy.
That leads right into my next question: how are you feeling about the album itself now that it’s done? Confident, nervous, that sort of thing?
A bit of both, I guess. We’re confident and the main thing is that we’re happy with it and we did the best we could and we really tried to do something special with it. Obviously what we did is something that’s quite different for a metal band in our genre. We tried to experiment with some things while keeping it honest and keeping elements that are in traditional metal as well. The main thing we are anticipating is how the manga will be received. It’s never really been done before, combining a manga comic with an album and trying to tell a story. All of the story is told through the lyrics and the visuals and the music. It’s going to be interesting to see what people think of that.
You’ve worked with a different mangaka, Ren, this time, as opposed to Michiru Bokido who did “Blue Eyed Emotion.” How did you start this collaboration?
Ren was somebody that I’d been following online ever since I was a teenager. She used to do a lot of doujinshi or fan comics of things like Legend of Zelda and a lot of other things that I was into. I’ve always loved her style. It’s very much [originating from] traditional manga but it’s mixed with her own unique flavor and it’s a very “eye candy” style. We needed a proper manga for this album and I had a bunch of artists in mind, but Ren was the first I asked. I thought that style would really fit Everfrost and the characters. So I sent her a message and she was really interested and got to know me more; we got along together and made it happen. It was a great experience.
If I recall correctly, there were actually three artists doing the work from “Winterider.” Can you tell us who they all were?
The cover art was done by a guy named AD Souto. He’s a Spanish artist who does anime/manga -styled artwork. We wanted the cover to be in color, something really eye-catching with a lot of movement in it. It actually took a while to come up with that cover. I don’t know why, but one day when I was about to fall asleep, I had this idea of a horse dragging people. The idea was pitched to him and he made it happen. One thing I love about all of his work is the use of speed and movement. I also love his character style. It’s very sharp and eye-catching.
The manga was then made by Ren and the scenery art from the digipak was made by my wife, who goes professionally by H.Klint.
The manga is used to elaborate a bit more on the story in case the lyrics are too metaphorical, so how did you put it all together as a complete work?
For this album, the main focus was to keep things a bit more simple, particularly the story, and try to make things more clear. In the lyric writing on the first album, I use a poetic or cryptic way of writing, very metaphoric. With this album, I tried to keep elements of that but make the meaning more clear and give stronger images about what’s happening or what might be happening. Part of that too was to work with the images and the story and the character interactions. The biggest difference is that, like I mentioned before, the story is more simple and in such a smaller span of time. The characters are trying to survive an endless winter in a cottage, so it’s about their feelings going through that time, about their ways of coping with it.
So the “Winterider” is the character on the horse from the cover art, but does he actually appear at all in the story? The monster in the manga looks quite different.
That’s right. There are two different monsters. What’s happening on the cover art is the last thing that happens in the manga. So you can take that as you will [laughter].
This character struck me as a sort of grim reaper, taking his unwilling victims away.
Yeah, the idea behind the horse – not necessarily the character, but the horse – was inspired by the Jäärouva from the Muumi show. It’s a character from an episode that traumatized a lot of Finnish kids. It’s very well done, one of my favorites. This lady of the cold is the only one who can take the winter away, so they build her a snow horse.
Does the other monster have a name?
They don’t have names within the story, but the monster that is seen in the manga is the same creature from the news clipping that we cryptically put out about some offerings being made in the east perimeter, which is where the characters were in the cottage. The people there believe that it’s some spirit that will help take the winter away, but it’s actually something called a preta, which is a hungry ghost from Asian mythology. If you look it up, it’s believed to be a spirit that sinned in their life and are cursed to be a hungry ghost that can never satisfy its hunger. So it’s born of a curse or problem.
Is the preta hunting your five characters specifically, or is it hunting anyone?
I think you could say that it’s hunting the characters because of a connection they have to a certain thing, if that makes sense.
We’ve already talked about the story from “Blue Eyed Emotion“ before, and “Winterider” takes place a couple years later. We’ve lost a couple of characters in the interim, but we have some new faces. Tell us a bit about the new characters.
After the events of “Blue Eyed Emotion,” once they save Tibbie from the tower that had harvested his soul… once they get him back, they all went back to school like normal. At that point they were in high school, so they finish high school and make new friends there, who are Chihiro, Timjami, and Maggie.
Maggie was a character that kept failing the final year, so she’s much older than the others, around 23 when this album takes place. So she’s kind of a motherly character to them, but also has a bit of a drinking problem.
Timjami and Chihiro are a couple. They’ve a little bit younger than Maggie, the year above Tibbie and Casey-Rose in school. Timjami is a guy who… I guess you could call him a weeaboo, but he has eighth grade syndrome, or chuunibyou in Japanese. There’s a phenomenon of people growing up and as teenagers they feel like they’re nothing and they want to be special, so they believe they have magic powers. So this guy thinks that he can save the others from this situation they’re in because he has magic powers. Then he has a nerdy girlfriend named Chihiro who is half-Japanese. She is in love with him and believes in his powers and thinks he’s amazing, but none of the others believe it. Chihiro has a protective father who doesn’t like their relationship at all.
In the manga art, Chihi’s father seemed like he might be an abusive father or an alcoholic. Was that intended?
It’s meant to be left up to whatever people want to see, but I would say that he’s not a nice guy. “Chainlace Angel” is about her and her father and the relationship, and there’s a line in there that also hints about what’s going on, “something wasn’t right back at home that coming night / in the violating candlelight.”
Talking about the story then, “Winterider” and “Juhannus in January” set the scene, and then we progress onto the characters individually, and then a period of lightheartedness where the characters are living life in the moment. You managed to work your Kesha cover into the story like you had wanted!
Yeah, I was thinking of doing some kind of pop song, something that hadn’t really been done well before in metal. If I remember, I found a metalcore cover of “Die Young” but didn’t really find any metal stuff. Another song I had in mind was “Tick Tock” by Kesha as well. But “Die Young” fits really well with the whole “live while you’re alive, live while you’re young, enjoy your youth, enjoy your life” [part of the story]. At that point, things aren’t looking good and the characters know that and they know that they’re either going to escape or [die]. “Brandy and Antifreeze,” which comes before it on the album, is about drinking and coping that way, but it’s also about breaking social ice. There’s a line in there, “we’re all insane but it’s hard to be sure / give me a sign and I’ll open the door,” which references opening up to people about personal feelings, romantic or not, and by the time “Die Young” comes they’re getting desperate.
I noticed you changed some of the lyrics in “Die Young” too, to fit in a bit better with your whole concept.
Yeah, we changed “while you’re here in my arms” to “while you’re here in our arms,” so whether you’re watching live or associating with the characters, you know to make the most of the moment. Then also one of the verses has some changes: “Young hunks taking shots / stripping down to dirty socks” became “late nights taking shots / heating up the sauna rocks.”
It works so well too. Usually cover songs are tacked on the end as a bonus song, and when it comes to concept albums, that extra song can ruin the overall feel.
That was the idea. We didn’t want to do it just because we can; it actually has a point. It’s cool to have bonus songs at the end, but when you have a strong story in an album, I wanted a clear point to the end of the album and this is the last song, that’s all you get with nothing to distract from that. We wanted “Whisper in a Frozen Tale” to be [snaps] that’s it.
So for those who are following the story, let’s talk about the grand finale, “Whisper in a Frozen Tale.” It’s really cool, it’s really complex, it’s got the three acts, some great lyrics, great melodies… so tell us about the song!
That was quite a thing to put together. When we were making it, we didn’t know if we were going to get it done. We really just pushed and made it happen. At the beginning of the song it goes back and talks about when they were in high school, “the humble lights of the halls.” In a place where they were taught the “literary fairytales of the world.” Being told things are a certain way, it isn’t that bad, and when you’re young you don’t get taught about life and the struggles. Then you grow up and you realize how things really are and it’s an awakening. I wanted to pair that with what happened in the first album when a character is just killed because of an unknown curse. It’s something that hits them in the face, “couldn’t save our mortal souls from the curse.”
[SPOILER WARNING] For the next while, we’re discussing the end of this chapter of the story, so if you don’t want the “Winterider” story to be spoiled, skip ahead to the end-spoilers notification.
Then there’s a line that says, “was it ever really that cold or were my eyes just closed.” That’s talking about an idea – and these are really spoilers – but the characters have been dead the whole time, having died in “Juhannus in January” from the cold and never made it to the cottage. Everything that happens in the cottage is a sort of purgatory before the afterlife where they come to terms with their personal struggles and come together. The monster is there waiting for their souls. So that line, “was it ever really that cold or were my eyes just closed” relates to the fact that they weren’t even alive.
Then the harpsichord parts then that accompany the “you’re a child” parts have the responses “stay a timid child and play in the park” or “stay in the dark,” that’s about literally going back and being young and innocent being told you don’t deserve the right to know about what’s going on. I wanted to include the contradictory lines that show that young people aren’t taken seriously, but at the same time they tell you constantly to grow up. There’s a metaphor there about the curse and the characters discovering that, as well as the way the town is trying to hide it.
The last part then – because the second part is instrumental – is about the characters’ deaths. The chorus, “tears as white as snow / fall and dampen your clothes / as your eyes forever close” is about a funeral, having to say goodbye to someone. Then if you look at the ending, the lines that go “why must we die” and questioning death, they tried so hard and died anyways, so their finest moments remain a whisper in a frozen tale. The frozen tale then might be what happened in the cottage. Their finest moments are them before they died, getting over everything. Then it talks to people in general, telling to live your life and make it worth it.
By the end of the album there are a lot of unanswered questions. All of the characters from “Blue Eyed Emotion” are dead, as are their new friends. So is that it for these guys? Are they just dead, or…?
You’ll have to wait for the next album!
There are a couple of characters, like Zolberg, that we haven’t heard from in this story. We know that Tibbie’s parents have died but we don’t know under what circumstances. And of course, there’s still the whole mystery regarding Everfrost and the tower, we haven’t gotten any more hints towards that.
There are reasons that I didn’t want to focus too much on the tower on this album. Joakim and Asta are definitely dead, that’s it. They’re not coming back. And I can’t say anything about Zolberg yet, nor the other characters now. Again, you’ll have to wait and see.
What are the plans going forward from here then?
Once “Winterider” is out, we’re going to do some shows eventually, but it’s going to take a bit longer for a tour or anything to happen. We’re really focusing on the album itself and then we have to do a lot of rehearsing and get a really nice show together again and improve everything, before we start doing shows. In terms of a third album, at the moment we have talked about it and we have a name for it, but all I can say is that it won’t be on the same tracks as the rest of the story. It’s going to be a little bit different.
But it’ll still be related to the overall concept?
It’s still going to be related to EVERFROST and the characters and things going on there, but it’s going to be done a lot differently.
Then the last question I had was, the first album was written completely by you; now you’ve got a nearly completely different band with you. So were the other guys involved this time around?
Yeah, Mikael was the co-producer because he gave me a lot of feedback, especially when I was mixing it. He’s very invested in it, so I would send him how things were sounding and he would give his feedback and we would work together through that.
Regarding the songwriting, for the music geeks out there, I write all the songs in Guitar Pro 5 still, so I make the whole song from beginning to end with drum tracks, guitar tracks, and bass tracks. Keyboards,
I would give myself an outline and then I would fill it in later as I needed to with the arrangement, and I would put just a simple vocal line played on the piano. Then everyone came to record their parts and everyone would add their own spice here and there. The guitar solos are all done by Markus [Laito] and everyone adds their own flavor to the songs and the riffs. Then Mikael, with the vocals, he and I were here together and he took the melodies and we talked together about what we wanted to achieve. He had a lot of ideas to bring to the harmony arrangements and the way certain things were sung. We just bounced ideas off each other about how they would work and that’s how the vocals were built.
The lyrics were all done by me, except Kesha. Unless you count those small changes. Mikael will sometimes work parts around so they can be sung more naturally. But, in the third album the other members will do some writing too, so it won’t just be me.
Any last words to anyone who might be reading this?
I hope, wherever you are, you’re having a fantastic day! I hope you check the new album out and I hope you enjoy it. Let us know what you think!
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us!
Thanks for having me!
Interview by Bear Wiseman