Veronica (I got her name right this time) is the lead singer of Benedictum and has just released her first solo album, The Vee (Frontiers Music, July 3rd 2015). After several technical problems, including my inability to read a flipping clock, I finally managed to spend half an hour chatting to this lovely lady over a dodgy Skype / phone hybrid as the forces of SkyNet did their best to disrupt proceedings.
Verily, though, the forces of metal didst win out in the end, and here follows the results of said endeavours… minus Veronica’s swearing at the dodgy phone line*.
*May actually have been me doing the swearing.
You’re just back in the USA, aren’t you?
Yessir. Getting over the jetlag and hitting the ground running!
So do give people a little bit of background, your main band is Benedictum which formed in 2005…
Yeah, the first album came out in 2006.
You managed to release four albums in seven years which, these days, is quite the output. Did you find it hard work being creative and original in such a comparatively short timescale, or are you still full of ideas?
Oh, it was hard work. Very. I know a lot of bands who just spit albums out like crazy and I wish I could do that, but all of us have day jobs; all of us have lives. The industry just doesn’t pay so I haven’t made any money – maybe I could have and didn’t do things right! – but the bottom line is that music can’t sustain me financially, but I’d love for that to change. We’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunities we have had, though.
It never seems to have been an easy task. I think the first two albums were the easiest to get done. We had the same producer with Jeff Pilson, but even then he has a lot going on so it had to be done in stages. we’ve never had a situation where we have, say, six solid weeks to record an album. It’s always been getting things together, then arranging the songs, then laying down the bed tracks for some of the songs… It ws always a drawn-out thing because of scheduling. That does give you a chance to sit with the songs, though. Rather than laying them out and listening to them. You know how sometimes something hits you and you wish you’d done “that” or “this”… So I have a little more time to sit with stuff. Not nitpick, but see if there’s anything structurally I’d like to change.
Some people may have expected a new Benedictum album this year, but you’ve taken a sideways step with The V. What was the reason for this?
What actually happened was that Obey was released towards the end of 2014, but the plan was to do the solo album before Obey. What ended up happening was trying to do the two albums at the same time, but that didn’t work. Stylistically they were different, so one was going to suffer and I didn’t want that. We ended up working on one album at a time. Originally Frontiers wanted to release The V first – it wasn’t finished first, but they wanted that one to be released before Obey.
But I didn’t want people to hear it and think “Oh, this is what te next Benedictum album is going to be like.” I thought it made more sense to release the Benedictum album then once that was done release the solo one. That way people are more free an open to accept it one way or the other. I’m kinda glad it went that way.
The line-up for the album is essentially the usual Benedictum crew with some extra guests?
Something like that. Everyone was involved. Pete (guitars) is on almost all the songs, Rikard did the bed tracks during the pre-production… but it wasn’t like Benedictum in the studio. At the beginning it was kind of like that but as things developed we had more people come in, made some changes, then Michael Sweet came in that changed things again and we went back and adjusted stuff here and there.
How did you manage to get so many guests on there?
I have been really blessed. I know that might sound a little cheesy, but for all the crazy stuff I’ve gone through at the end of the day when it came down to the eleventh hour and things needed to get done, there were a lot of people who really stepped up. A lot was already in place. I knew Jeff Pilson was going to be a part of it, and Mel Brown and Pete and the rest of Benedictum in one way or another. But Mike Lepond, Gary Bordonaro, Jimmy Durkin, Mick Tucker, Michael Harrison… everybody that stepped up.
There’s a litany of people, many of them knew what was involved at the beginning. Leather, for instance, I knew I wanted to to do something with her – I adore her and she’s so much fun. I had about half the guests in place. These were people who I knew, or who friends had directed me towards – like Michael Harris who I’d not heard of before. It was cool to explore new talent that was new to me.
The second half of things was trying to tie up all the loose ends, because one thing would change which threw another thing off then something else had to be re-done… There was a lot of work, but also a lot of people just jumping in and saying they’d help. In the end, I’m eternally grateful for that.
Are there any people on that list that, say, fifteen years ago you may have thought “I wish I could work with that person”?
Almost everybody! Mike Lepond practically saved my life, I would say. I had all these problems with my back and he made sure I got home safe. It’s just people you meet and connections you make over the years. I always wanted to do a slightly different type of project and do it with Pete, so that was fabulous. Another Peter (Tintendo), did a great job too. Everybody who was involved was on my wishlist in one way or another.
Often when a band or an artist says that they’re going to try something new, or start a side project it’s very obviously influenced by the “main” act. The V very much isn’t. Was it difficult keeping the “Benedictum” out of the mix?
In the beginning I think there was a little lack of communication. It was more “this is what we don’t want” but it left a very big space for “what do you want?”. I had a particular idea for it, the producer had a particular idea for it… and we kinda met somewhere in the middle. It’s easier to do a Benedictum album because you have a blueprint of what has come before. So with this, I did struggle. A lot!
I struggled physically as far as actually performing the stuff. From the way I walk up to the microphone… everything! There’s a certain approach, a way that’s ingrained in me after all these years, so it was very difficult for me to find my “power” at first – so to speak. Trying not to sing too aggressively, but still with power and melody. I learned an awful lot – that part was hard at first. I was getting really discouraged as I thought it sounded to wimpy, but I’m of the mindset that if you’re going to do a solo album, then what’s the point if it’s just going to sound like revamped material from the band you’re already known for?
I knew that not only did the label want something different, I did too. I didn’t want it to be so left field or so watered down that it didn’t bring across my emotion so I’m glad it turned out the way it did. It was a very different experience and I’m looking forward to working this stuff out live.
Who led this project in terms of ideas and writing? Was it still a Benedictum kind of project or very much Veronica Freeman?
It was a combination. Pete Wells and I had a bunch of songs we’d played together before, but just didn’t fit Benedictum. We had the chance to show this material off, but had to get the songs for this record approved ahead of time. Kind of a rough mix. They [the label – Mosh] were real nervous this, maybe worried that I was just going to go back to the Benedictum thing. This was new for me because in the past I’ve always pretty much had carte blanch over whatever it was I wanted to do.
But it was great. I had a lot of writing with Pete, there were songs from other people like Michael Sweet, a band called Age of Evil… and other songwriters on there. It’s always a challenge to interpret something that someone else has already done. It was challenging all around – in a good way.
Back to yourself. Your singing voice – both in Benedictum and The V – is quick rough and husky. Is this natural or a style you’ve developed?
I think it’s both. With the Benedictum stuff, it’s something that developed – it’s my schtick so to speak. It is natural but became much more natural the more that I did it. I don’t want to say I had to “un-learn” it, but when I’m singing around the house… that’s more like what you hear on the V record.
That part of it’s cool now that it’s done. I’ve always had a loud, powerful voice it’s just what I want to do with it. It feels good that it did a lot of the things that I wanted it to!
You’ve traditionally had a cover track on each of the Benedictum albums. This time you’ve picked “Helter Skelter” by Warrant. Why this song?
I wanted something that was still hard rock but that I could have fun with. I had been dealing with Jerry Dixon [original Warrant member – Mosh] for a while, just emailing back and forth. He sent me a link to a lot of their songs that were available to be recorded. I fell in love with “Helter Skelter” and one other I can’t remember the name of at the moment. I submitted one and Frontier said “no”, so I said “how about this one?” and they said OK. I just thought it was a fun song.
So you didn’t consider “Cherry Pie”?
Errrrm……no [laughs]. Not for me!
Is The V likely to be an ongoing project, or was this album to to release the pent up light-rock artist within?
I really hope it becomes ongoing because I’m enjoying the freedom. First it seemed very restrictive but at the end of the day it’s allowing me so much freedom. It’s opened up another avenue for me. So whether it’s under the moiker of The V or whether I join another project that’s completely different we’ll have to see. But right now I want to focus on getting the word out about this record as much as I can. I’m glad you like it! You’ve already reviewed it, right?
Yes, about two weeks ago.
You’re not the one who put “Vanessa” instead of “Veronica” on there, are you?
[laughs] I was dying! There was this really good review, and I was reading this and loving it and then I thought “wait a minute – it says Vanessa Freeman”. If it’s you, I’m going to kick your ass! [I’m sticking with “erm…” – Mosh] The whole reason why it’s called “The V” is because no-one ever gets my name right. So I about died when I saw that! I get called Vanessa… Virginia… Victoria… anything but Veronica! So I just said I’d respond to anything with a “V” so they started calling me “The V”.
So I thought this was all cleared up and would never happen to me again and then I see this review and it mentions “Vanessa’s voice”… I have to laugh! I am going to have a fun time clowning you! But that’s OK – I still love ya! Really, I don’t mind – I think it’s hilarious!
Have you got any live dates planned for The V?
Yes… but I can’t announce anything yet! I just got some information this morning and I’d be over the moon if it happened. It will be something in March of next year and will actually be in the UK! That’s all I can say at this point.
I’d also like to get something going this year because I’d like to just get busy with it and ride the lightning, so to speak. I’m currently trying to put something together for over here [the U.S. – Mosh] and something for Europe.
Would you consider doing a “double-tour” with Benedictum and The V on the same tour?
I would do it all as one thing. It would be more bang for the buck as far as promotion and everything else is concerned. There’s four albums of Benedictum material and in amongst that are some tracks that are more melodic than others, so I don’t see why there would be a problem with blending both. It would be great to do The V stuff live, but I’d also like to play some of my favourite Benedictum stuff. I think the crowd would like that, too. Then maybe some cover songs just to make it a complete, full-on show. I think that way it would work out fiscally.
You didn’t make it to Wildfire in Scotland – what happened?
That was very much a heart-breaker for me. What had happened was I was approached by someone who said they could provide me with a backing band so that we could do a Benedictum show. It was a difficult decision for me as I would rather have taken my guys, but none of them were able to go. But pretty much at the last moment, someone had to drop out. I didn’t want to further delay anything if we didn’t have anything more concrete in place so I took the decision not to do it.
Plus, I had just had surgery on my back and the date I had originally planned on leaving just didn’t work out. So I cancelled my flight and I was a bit devastated about it, but I didn’t waste the time. I did some recording, did the show with the Tygers of Pan Tang… a big shout out to them and the people who put that together for how well I was treated. It was a blast! It was hard to come home – I had a great time.
So with The V album done and dusted is the next album likely to be a Benedictum one?
I don’t know. I honestly don’t know how to answer that question as everything’s up in the air. What I’d like to do would encompass everything, so I would have the people who are on fire about doing this. That would be on fire about doing another Benedictum album and then also having no problem playing some of the solo stuff. Maybe switch a few players, but I’d love to have my core people and get some writers together for another “V” thing while still working with Pete at the very least on a writing level. I miss performing with him and I have to light a fire under him. I want my partner back! There’s just nothing like the way he plays.
I see people doing something similar – hooking up with bands who are in other countries and making it work – so we’ll see what happens. Or we could just fade off into the sunset. One of the two!
But the plans we have for March, or sooner, are close to being a contract and if it goes ahead then you better be there!
As long as my wife lets me I will be, believe me! Thanks so much for your time and patience in waiting for me to finally contact you at the right time, Vanessa…
Heeeeyyy! Nice one! Thank you for everything!