Seventh Wonder interview

Formed back in 2000 and having 3 studio albums released so far (the fourth one will be out on December 4th 2010), the Swedish band Seventh Wonder is quite a wonder among today's progressive names out there. I personally have discovered them a few weeks prior to the Helvation festival that took place in Helsinki in November 2010, and after the first few songs of their album Mercy Falls I fell in love with their music. I took my chances in obtaining an interview with them at the festival, and the organiser was nice enough to arrange some time for me to talk to the band. I had a lovely dialogue with 4 of the band's members (the guitarist, Johan Liefvendahl, couldn't make it), which I would be more than happy to completely write down for you, but unfortunately my recorder decided to screw up the first half of the tape. Hence, instead of listening to that half of the tape and writing it down, I decided to spend my time searching the internet for information about the band and try to give you an accurate picture of who they are and what they have done so far. At the end of that I will add the part of the interview that didn't upset the gods of 21st century technology.

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Andreas Blomqvist of Seventh Wonder live@Helvation Festival
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu / StudioRock

As I said, Seventh Wonder formed in the year 2000 when the previous band (called Mankind) of bassist Andreas Blomqvist, guitarist Johan Liefvendahl and drummer Johnny Sandin fell apart, and they hooked up with keyboard player Andreas Kyrt Söderin later on the same year. Two demos came out, the first in 2001 (Seventh Wonder) and the second in 2003 (Temple In The Storm) while the singers kept on changing. For their first album, Become, they had Andi Kravljaca as a vocalist, but he also decided to part ways with the band. Around that time, Andreas (keyboard) remembered Tommy Karevik, a singer he had played with on another project. Tommy was available, liked the idea of the band, and joined them before the release of Become. You can find some reviews on the band's website: to me it looks like it has surprised the critiques in a positive way. And the great scores for their music got even better once the second album, Waiting in the Wings, was recorded in 2006, reviews here. They are all mentioning a great deal of epic melodies, so complex and technical for such a young band. This album was recorded in a shorter time than the previous one, thus being more compact and homogeneous, with a clear heavy sound.

The successful release was followed by a number of concerts in Europe, together with acts such as Jørn Lande, Pagan's Mind, Queensrÿche, Testament, but it also meant a lot of work on writing music for their new album. Which album turned out to be a concept about a man who, after a car accident due to hearing some terrible news from his wife, drops into a coma, dreaming of a place called Mercy Falls, while the family makes desperate efforts to wake him up. Again, I will link you to the band's page to read reviews about the album - and I highly recommend you give it a try. It is very emotional, it flows so well from end to end and it's an incredible blend of instrumental skills that put together thrilling music, as the band seems to favor the melody the most (yet, they do not lack the right technique). The story overall is fictional, but the band members have added bits based on their personal experiences, especially since it seemed that for many of them the period of writing the album was also a more negative one in their lives, from various reasons.

Reading some chats about the whole making of of Mercy Falls, it resulted that the idea actually started while recording the previous album, Waiting in the Wings, when Andreas Blomqvist and Tommy got thrilled about the idea of a concept album and decided to make it happen. Then it turned into something that movie directors are probably familiar with: finding the right story, writing the outline, filling it with details, going back and forth to make everything add up together and have continuity. This was actually so time consuming that, when the band members found them under the pressure of finalising it, they had to give it all to find the most suitable melodies for their stories, yet not lose the track of the story. The album booklet is used as a filler for the parts where things didn't seem to fit in the lyrics, so in order to get a perfect picture I recommend you acquire that one and read the complementary information. The band also loves a bit of mystery, so you might find some interesting debates on their forum about song meanings.

Altogether, most of the compositions seem to be the work of Johan (guitar) and Andreas B (bass) at the beginnings. After that Tommy and Andreas B work on the lyrics, while the overall sound is the result of 5 minds working together and putting their own trademark in the songs. The lyrics are 'invented' after there is a song structure, which the vocalist uses to get the right feeling of what it should be about and to find the right melodies. One of the key ingredients in the originality of their music is that all five members have different musical backgrounds, thus their songs are appealing to a wide variety of tastes.

After such successful releases, the band has been invited to two of the greatest festivals in the world of progressive music, ProgPower (both Europe and USA, in different years) where, if you read the forum afterwards, they made a great impression. And, with the existing recipe for successful music, the band has worked on their 4th release, The Great Escape, which will be officially out on December 4th, 2010. They have already released a video for the song “Alley Cat“, plus a bunch of videos that follow their progress in the studio during the recording process. The album, not a concept one this time, is bound to appeal to the fans that considered Mercy Falls a worse album than the first ones. It is going to bring out some surprises, the people will notice the evolution of the music for sure, but everything will still sound like Seventh Wonder. There is going to be a 30 minutes long song, idea that came to Andreas B after reading the book Aniara by Harry Martinsson. And, to quote Andreas, “it sounds dry, hard and fresh with more guitars but maintained clarity.”

Unfortunately, the band is going to part ways with their current drummer, Johnny Sandin, after the release party of the new album. However, they are committed to carry on and do what they have done best, while respecting Johnny's decision and supporting him. Currently they are looking for a replacement, so if you feel you're up to the challenge, contact them.

Below is the rest of the chat with these gifted musicians. Also, if you would like to see some photos from their performance in Helsinki, have a look here

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Johnny Sandin of Seventh Wonder live@Helvation Festival
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu / StudioRock

Me: Do you get compared to any bands in particular? Do you hear people saying 'oh you sound like this or like that'?
SW: We've mostly been compared to bands or albums that I've honestly never heard of. For instance, the Mercyful album (laughters and growls and a mention about a stalker)… correction, Mercy Falls album, was compared to an album by a Dutch guy, Arjen Lucassen, called The Human Equation, and I didn't know there was such an album nor heard any tune from it. So probably what made us do what we do is further back and it inspired other modern or contemporary progressive bands that we now get compared to. But obviously there's always going to be comparisons to Dream Theater or Symphony X and those are very valuable for us. I think that Dream Theater's Images and Words album or Symphony X' Divine Wings of Tragedy are some of the albums that actually everyone in the band really loves. And that's like the only common ground. That's why we can never play cover songs actually, because we cannot agree upon a song. Everyone would chose one that everyone else hates. And since we don't have the energy to learn five covers, we never do it. This is an ongoing argument among ourselves, but we forget about it afterwards. Anyway, in the end we leave the comparisons for the journalists who analyse such stuff, since we cannot compare ourselves to stuff we haven't heard of.

Me: Would you dare to go for a Symphony X cover?
SW: We started working on something, but we never played it live. Actually we've done a couple of Dream Theater stuff. Some of us played with three guys from Circus Maximus, after the show was over and we did a Dream Theater song and Final Countdouwn. But now, after four albums, we have enough trouble fitting our stuff in the shows, so…

Me: So tonight we're going to see some preview of the new album as well? Is it mainly promoting the new stuff or it's still from the released albums?
SW: Not so much promotion for the new stuff yet. That will eventually happen when we have released the album. When playing songs that the people haven't heard yet we don't get so much energy back from the crowd as we would with familiar ones. And we're not here for us mainly, we're here because people pay us to play what they wanna see. I don't get the bands who are too full of themselves to play what people wanna hear. It is people who should chose, especially since they pay for to hear what they like, otherwise it's just ridiculous. They could as well stay at home. So it's obvious that we try to pick the songs that make the most enjoyable set, despite the fact that everyone has different tastes. So we try to change things between shows, see what works and what not. The setlist we're going to play today was made during 10 minutes at dinner, so we hope it's going to work fine. But when people go to a concert they are most happy during the songs they know so that is why we cannot add too many new ones. And if people do know the new stuff it means they have downloaded them illegally and we're going to trace them and hunt them down. But we hope that after they hear some bits from the new album, they're going to like it and buy it, of course.

Me: Do you keep an eye on fan interaction pages like facebook, myspace, forums, etc?
SW: Yea, I think we are everywhere. We are actively checking them, especially on our forum. We really try to take the time to interact with everybody. For example, for ProgPower we had an extra show. We were the only band who did two shows there, the second one being a special show for Gold batch holders, sometime around noon. And for that one we asked on the forum what would be exciting to see. So we asked for people's feedback and we tried to satisfy as many tastes as possible. But we also use our artistic freedom to try to do things that no one expects us to do, because we thought it should have been a special experience for those who made it to that show. I think we are one of the most present bands when it comes to fans and we take pride in that. We think it is very valuable.

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Tommy Karevik of Seventh Wonder live@Helvation Festival
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu / StudioRock

Me: When it comes to the show on stage, you don't rely on any theatrical show, right?
SW: No, we don't go around slaughtering pigs, but we try to be as entertaining as we can without sacrificing the core of the music. We want to deliver the energy that we feel when we are out there. And we like to think that we're somewhat entertaining, yet we get slapped at times because we don't look like Slayer on stage. On the other hand, playing the music that we do, you have to be realistic at some point and think of the fact that people coming to our shows (and maybe most of the modern progressive bands shows) are either musicians themselves or people very much into music. And for such people you have to be aware that it's silly and ridiculous to play a music as complex as ours if you don't do it well. So that's what we want to do first of all, not to fuck up due concentrating on acting or so. We do fuck up sometimes because we're human, but we hope it doesn't happen too often. So our goal is to deliver at a great technical level and if anything else is doable, we will push it fully to make sure to get people involved. I think in our 10 years experience we have become better and better live band and it has been appreciated by people who came to see us. But we can't deny it - we have to have a focus on music as we don't want to be embarrassing for the people coming to see us.

Me: You just mentioned complexity in your music. Do you guys have any trainings or studies in the music field?
SW: It's different from member to member. Tommy - I personally have no formal training whatsoever. Andreas (keyboards) - I went to music school for 9 years and I studied keyboards and drums; I used to play drums in an orchestra and that's where I got myself a lot of influences. Johnny: I am self taught. Andreas Blomqvist: And me too. Johan has also attended music school after high school.

Me: I find it pretty daring that without musical education to aim for such complex music.
SW: It's a matter of patience. It's a lot of work. With or without talent, with of without training, you cannot do what we do without sacrificing the years between 15 and 25. That's what it costs. I think what we bring to the table is the mix of technical stuff, the know-how of how it should be done, and then the feeling, emotions of whatever sounds great. I think that all these together get us to this result.

Me: Yea, if you think of it people who study music learn the 'ways things should be done' and they might never step out of the patterns, unlike people who just go out there and do things their way.
SW: We do have discussions like that every now and then though. 'It HAS to be this way' 'No, it does not, THIS sounds better'. But at some point you just have to rely on the answer to 'Do you actually think it sounds better?'. So this is our helpful guide. And it makes sense. If you analyse types of music like pop for example, they more or less sound the same and there's a reason for that. I mean, obviously there has to be some truth in that as well, but it's far from being the whole of it.

Me: About the novelty on the album. Did you guys mention you used fretless bass when I asked about interesting stuff on it? Was there any other new instruments or techniques?
SW: For me (Andreas B) personally the fretless bass was the new thing, other things are perhaps that we used other combinations of instruments, like full band effort but acoustic guitar with that instead of electric guitar. Previously when we have used acoustic guitars there was only the guitar and the rest of the band was quiet. That way we got a more pop-band sound here and there which felt pretty fresh for us.

Me: What's the story of the band name?
SW: The short answer is that there is none… I (Andreas B) came up with some suggestions and presented to the band and this is what they liked the most so we chose it. I guess the feel of the name somehow conveys something grand and awesome and that is what we hope our music is.

Me: What's the story of your current stage uniforms and the hour glass on the shoulder? Tommy explained me something about Aniara, and time passing while being out there in the endless space,but I am not sure I got it right.
SW: Well yes and no… The suits we wear on stage and in the video can perhaps be interpreted as the uniforms of the supposed space pilots on Aniara. But at the same time the song title The Great Escape is referring to the book Aniara, but the album title The Great Escape is not limited to that but also looks at the real world today what with environmental disasters and all. The hour glass can be thought of time running out for humanity, and perhaps we are the evil that destroys the earth, and spiders are evil, right? So it is not a clear statement but a combination of several potential meanings and messages.

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Crowd at Seventh Wonder live@Helvation Festival
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu / StudioRock

Me: I'm more or less out of questions. Is there anything you would like to say at the end of the chat we had?
SW: I think it is safe to say that at the extent that you ever appreciated what we have done before, it's certainly worth checking out our new stuff because it's gonna be different from what we've done before since we've grown, yet it is still our sound. And I think that if you liked what you heard before, you're going to like this one as well. Even for the fans who were turned off by Mercy Falls, I think we have found a way back with our new material, without disappointing the fans we have gained through Mercy Falls.
We would also like to add one last thing, like everyone out there who'd like to say hello on the TV to their loved ones. I'd just like, on the band's behalf, to send a very big FUCK YOU to a guy called Roger Bakås from St. Andrew booking, who really screwed us up. It is a Norwegian promoter and booked us there. We have written about it on all of our pages if you want to know more details, but just stay away from that guy as much as possible. It wasn't such a big amount of money, it was mainly that we have sacrificed so much to do this, we worked 40-50 hours a week for our regular jobs, at nights for the band, saving vacation days for this, being away from family - which are things that we'll obviously do again since we love doing music - but we certainly don't need dicks like him to screw us up with the money after all these. So we recommend to everyone who is looking for a booking agency to not look at this name ever again.

Me: On the happy note, after this interview I am looking forward for the new album and to see you guys live tonight and in any other country that would offer me the chance to do that. Thank you very much for the nice chat!

By Andrea Chirulescu