Interview: Evan Berry of Wilderun
Interviewer: Tim Finch
Wilderun have taken a far from normal path into growing their music career. The Berklee College of Music graduates have built slowly, releasing three critically acclaimed albums independently slowly growing their foothold in the market. In the next few week's the third album, 'Veil of Imagination', gets re-released via Century Media Records in what is the bands first record deal. Tim joined up with guitarist, vocalist and pianist Evan Berry to find out more...
The Razor’s Edge: So let’s get this question out of the way right at the start… how are you guys coping with coronavirus?
Evan: Hanging in there, you know. I feel bad complaining about it all as every musician right now is having the same problems. Unfortunately we had to cancel our April tour, we had our very first plans for Europe in October - we were going to be playing Prog Power Europe and Euroblast in October - those got cancelled of course. Definitely a bummer but we're hanging in there. There's nothing we can do about it, so we are just trying to be production in the mean time and keep busy. Luckily we've been dealing with the re-release of the new album, I've been compiling studio diaries and we did an acoustic at home video. Just trying to keep ourselves busy and sane you know.
The Razor’s Edge: Have you had to change anything or adapt as a band to cope with the current climate?
Evan: Basically everything is remote, we already as a band are already somewhat remote. Only three of the five of us live in Massachusetts, one of us - our drummer - lives in North Carolina and our guitarist/orchestrator lives in California so he is way far away. We've got used to a remote set up already and we do most things remote until there is some sort of tour or show or we have to go into the studio and then we get together for a "powerhouse" rehearsal. In a lot of ways it hasn't been that much different.
We did a quarantine acoustic youtube session which we might do some more of. That was different, we've never done anything where we have each recorded from our home studios. That was a new thing to try and I think it worked out pretty well.Besides that it has been business as usual.
The Razor’s Edge: So talking of those sessions – with some of your older material - how has it worked piecing these together?
Evan: Luckily we all have some sort of at home recording equipment, if we didn't have that it would have been impossible. I have a really stripped out set with just one microphone and like a speaker and keyboard set up. Both Dan and Wayne have more expensive home studio set ups. We just used what we had and mic'ed up. Wayne is a better recording expert than I am so he gave me tips on the best position to mic up the acoustic guitar and just make sure everything sounded ok.
Both me and Dan sent our recordings to Wayne and he compiled it in his own studio and mixed it. I think it turned out pretty well, it's not as high quality as a record but it sounds pretty good for being home recorded and Wayne did a great job with the mixing.
The Razor’s Edge: How do you feel the fan base has reacted to them?
Evan: Pretty good I think. For us personally it was nice to go back a song from 'Sleep at the Edge of the Earth' as we've been in 'Veil of Imagination' territory for the last two years so it's nice to go back. A good portion of our fan base found out about us through that record, so it was kind of cool for people to hear an older song that they like again. The response was really good and people have not seen us in that scenario before, we've never taken a video from our homes before, it was positive.
The Razor’s Edge: Thats the thing about the industry at the moment, we as fans, are all getting a window into the home life of band members.
Evan: It's kind of funny, it's like a forced level of intimacy almost. All these artists probably would have never shown the fans a deeper look into their homes, but what else are you going to do these days?
The Razor’s Edge: Going back to your roots, you wrote most of your debut album in your dorm room at Berklee College of Music, Boston. What inspired you to get started back then?
Evan: I've been writing music on my own since I was 16, so I have a fundamental baseline where I've always been writing music and I kind of like doing it no matter what. For Wilderun in particular about 2008/09 was when I really got into the folk metal scene and that was the inspiration behind Wilderun. I wanted to make a folk metal band, but I wanted to do it in some unique way, with an American twist on it. We used a lot of folk songs and folk tales from North American on that first record and that was the inspiration, the main type of music I was listening to then. That was the idea I had an I just ran with it. That's evolved and changed a lot now, we function very differently as a band now.
The Razor’s Edge: Most, if not all, of the band have ties to Berklee. Was this a natural formation of the group through your college years?
Evan: It was a bunch of different things actually. The first person in the band who I knew and hung out with was Jon the drummer, we met from playing in another band out of Boston called Replacire who are like proggy death metal and he played drums in that band for a while. So met there and we remained friends.
There was an original iteration of Wilderun, but that only lasted a couple of months and didn't really amount to anything and kind of went away for a year and a half or something. Then in 2011, this is totally stereotypical, but I had put up flyers at Berklee looking for band members and the first person who reached out to me was Wayne. During the first iteration of Wilderun in 2009 I only planned for one guitarist, so when Wayne reached out to me and said he played guitar I was like "Well thanks but I don't think I need another guitarist but maybe we can talk later". Then two years down the road, knowing that Wayne had also been a film scoring major I was like "Hey I think I'm going to use a second guitar now and I think we are focusing on orchestration, so do you want to make this happen?". Thats really what started the process of creating the first record. So Wayne actually joined the band off a flyer which is such a stereotypical story that never really happens, but it actually did for us.
Then they [Wayne and Jon] both knew Dan from different things at school, so he joined the band last. Pretty much the first thing we did was go into the studio in 2012 and make the first record.
The Razor’s Edge: What were the course you were taking at Berklee and how much did they feed into your song writing?
Evan: I did like split major between composition and business, it's one of those things where it's hard to say what direction connection there was. The way I have always written for Wilderun and for my own projects is that I am not theory based. I know theory and learnt it a lot in classes, but when I'm writing for the band I try to put that to the side as it can get in the way and be limiting if you focus on it too much. It's one of those things where I know my composition course helped me, but it's hard to say how specifically I think it was a general working on it and living it kind of deal.
The Razor’s Edge: Your writing is a juxtaposition of styles. One minute the listener is listening along to some folk rock and then this tidal wave of death metal comes rolling in. It works well, but was this always a vision from the start?
Evan: I guess so. I think a lot of the bands that first got me into metal like Opeth and Orphaned Land bands like that. I think what happened was I got into metal in a very unconventional way, I didn't start with the basics... I listened to a little bit of Metallica and Maiden but I wouldn't say at all that I was a metal head. But when I heard the more progressive out there metal bands I was like "woah" and that really sucked me in. I think that is my song writing foundation is that sort of dynamic writing, I've tried simpler songs, chorus/verse type songs and they are always shot. It's weird as there is a bunch of bands I listen to that write like that I love so I have nothing opposed to simpler music styles. But whenever I try to write like that I hate it and I feel like I can't figure out how to do it. Theres a subtle art to writing simple songs that I haven't figured out how to do. Whenever I'm writing all I can do is keep going and add something else... I don't really know why I am like that but it's something to do with what I was listening to when I was young.
The Razor’s Edge: Do you think you’ve built upon that style over the three albums, developed it somewhat?
Evan: If anything it's almost like deepened. I think 'Veil of Imagination' is the most dynamic album that we've done. If anything I going even more extreme... the heavy parts are heavier, the dark parts are darker and the quiet parter are quieter. I don't really know why that is, there's something enticing about finding extremes of either side of the musical pallet. Whether its really soft and loud or light and dark, I like the dynamics and the tensions you find between those two things. I think you can only take the extremes so far to where it just gets ridiculous and maybe at some point we'll start to rein it in. As the band has gone on we've pushed those extremes even further.
The Razor’s Edge: With your band name taken from the ‘The Shannara Chronicles‘ do these or any other fantasy series feed into the concepts of your songs?
Evan: No. [laughs]. Absolutely not. I wish I could say it did, but it was just a case of finding a cool name. The vibe of the music has always naturey, fantastical and whimsical and that world felt aesthetically right. I was reading that book at the time and I saw the word and thought ok thats cool. Theres really no literal connection which i know is uninteresting.
The Razor’s Edge: Up until now, your three albums have all been released independently. How has it been trying to establish a foothold in the scene without any label backing you?
Evan: It's been a long road and it's definitely tricky. We've had to try and learn everything as we go and each album cycle we've tried sending it out to labels and only now we've got any kind of a response. I should say we had a couple of "thank you but we are not interested" responses. It's been a long road and I'm sure every independent band has the same story. We just try to use the tools that we can you know... we hit the road only a year into being a band, we wanted to make sure we didn't get stuck in one town. We booked two week tours around the US to try to get the word out. We tried to use online stuff as much as we could, we used Facebook adverts with whatever limited funds we did have, which I think helped somewhat.
Without the backing of a label or some serious PR it's pretty hard to get your name out there, so it's been a slow road. Luckily I think the music has held us, I think wee've done a good enough job, we wanted to make the first record sound really professional. The first thing we did, we didn't release a demo, we started the band with a professional sounding product and stand out that way.
Beside that it's been a slow acclamation of fans and luckily now it's starting to pay off, we'll see how the next few years go. It's been slow but rewarding.
The Razor’s Edge: ‘Veil of Imagination’ your third album, was initially released independently. How many labels did you approach before going down the independent route for this one?
Evan: Probably like ten or so maybe. One of the things that might have kept us getting signed early on is that we kind of shot high. We went to just the bigger names, whenever you are signed to a label you are signing a contract for a good amount of records and we had this fear if we went with a smaller label, we could have gotten help with a smaller label and that could have worked out, but we were always fearful if we entered into a four album contract then a year later a big label would contact us and we'd be stuck. So we just stuck to ten or so of the bigger names.
When we sent out the press kits to those ten labels or so, I guess that was early 2019 and we heard back from two of them. It was the same situation where the A&R rep would hear it and dig us and look I'll share it with the team and we'd never hear back from them for like a month and it was "unfortunately not everyone went with it".
The Razor’s Edge: Despite the independent release, the album received critical acclaim. Did that wake many labels up to you guys as a band?
Evan: The first two records definitely got pretty good reviews overall as well. I think what happened was more good reviews all at the same time. A lot of it is not just about getting good press and reviews, but getting a lot of it simultaneously so there is a cumulative effect of buzz. On the first two records there wasn't enough of a burst it was spread over a couple of years so we never really got a "buzz" going.
Probably most importantly we finally hired a PR company and used our own money called Adrenaline PR and that really helped. I want to say that was probably the most important difference on this album cycle, which in retrospect makes me think we should have done this years ago. But it's costly, you know, it wasn't cheap but I think it was worth it and that got our name out there to the point where people really started paying attention. I'm sure the label reps were like "Ok, I've heard this name Wilderun a few times, I've heard the title 'Veil of Imagination' probably 20 or 30 times and it's all been positive, so now I'll go check it out".
The Razor’s Edge: So how did the Century media deal come about?
Evan: At the very beginning of this year we got onto the 70,000 Tonnes of Metal cruise, which is awesome, we got booked for that super last minute. When you are on the cruise you have no internet for four days, unless you want to pay for it, which we didn't. So we were isolated for the four days. It was actually during those four days that Mike Gitter the A&R rep for Century Media contacted us. He had heard about us through a couple of people, including Adrenaline PR. He showed the record to the head of Century Media who also really dug our material. That was mid-January and started the conversation and we were talking for a month or so before we secured the deal.
The Razor’s Edge: It must open up a lot more/big opportunities for you guys.
Evan: So far it's just been more press, just an extension of what we were doing before. It's more interviews and articles and thats half the reason we wanted to get on a label was for the exposure and that seems to be heightening. We've only been signed for three months or so, so it's hard to tell what the effects of being on the label are it seems like exposure is the big thing.
The other main thing is we are working with a manager who is connected with Rock Nation Touring and that seems to be producing us some more show and touring opportunities. Obviously not for a few months, but that seems promising.
The Razor’s Edge: It must be difficult at the moment, re-releasing your album and not being able to tour to that now bigger audience.
Evan: Yeah, it's a little disheartening for sure. We are just trying to be thankful, we have this label opportunity, it seems like our fans are still interested and our fan base is growing regardless. We are just doing the best with what time we have right now and hope that when things open back up we'll be able to get back out there.
The Razor’s Edge: So finally… where do you take the band next. Where can you go from here?
Evan: Definitely new material. I kind of just write all the time so we have been working on new material, the new beginnings of it. Since we haven't been able to get out on the road, we haven't had that many options it just makes sense to spend the time and try and get the next record prepared. It's at the very beginning stages so it's hard to say when it's going to come out or anything.
The other thing we have locked in, with Rock Nation Touring, in the fall of 2021 we are doing our first big European tour, opening up for Soilwork. That is great and we are really happy we got that locked in.
The Razor’s Edge: Is that a tour that would have been the fall of 2021 and it's been pushed back because of the pandemic?
Evan: No, it started to get booked after the pandemic had begun so I think that this was going to be a later thing from the outset.