HAILSWEBZINE’s Leja Siv Harju spent some thirty minutes on the afternoon of July 4th catching up with BENEDICTUM siren Veronica Freeman, who’d just finished gathering the annual stash of fireworks and, like everyone else across the country, was eagerly awaiting the sundown.
LSH: First of all, how are you doing this evening?
VERONICA: I am doing great! Happy 4th of July.
L: Thank you, you too! What are you doing tonight [to celebrate]?
V: I am looking at my great array of fireworks (laughs) that my husband and I will be setting off as soon as it gets dark.
L: What kind did you get?
V: Let’s see, what do I have… some kind of Star Fire, you know, the Purple Rain stuff, then we got another box over here somewhere so we should be pretty well-set.
L: How and when did you join with your new label, Frontiers?
V: Oh, okay, well that was… what is it, 2011? I think we signed with them in 2010, and when the whole thing happened with Locomotive, we were kinda like, in that limbo stage… well it kind of worked out well, ’cause our contract with them was up, and then they kinda went under, so it worked out perfect – that we weren’t like held in limbo, like I know a few bands were, because they weren’t completely defunct, but they weren’t doing anything either so I know some people kinda got caught in the fray there, but we were fortunate that our contract was done, and so we were looking for a new home. And I had done a little bit of research about what labels might be good – and it’s tough out there anyways! – so, they were willing to take us on, and… so far, so good!
L: Tell me a little bit about your influences – are there any bands or musicians in particular who shape what you guys create in the studio?
V: I think that probably – well, I guess you’d need to ask everybody else [in the band] that too – I mean, in general I have a really eclectic taste in music anyway, so I was into everything from…jazz and country, and of course metal, and when I really heard metal for the first time, it was, you know, really in earnest. I was just really sold on the whole energy of it. So the influences are just very varied as they are with the members that we have now. So, of course the old school metal and all that kind of stuff… I really believe, personally, that you really have to listen to a lot of different kinds of stuff, otherwise, that thing that you draw from within, it gets stale if you’re only gonna listen to the same things over and over so that’s why every now and then I listen to some country, I listen to a lot of classical music too, just to keep things fresh and keep the “gene pool” diverse. (laughs)
(she asks me how I heard about BENEDICTUM, I recount the discovery to her for about a minute)
L: The festival you just got done playing… it was in Tijuana?
V: Yeah, it was in Tijuana, and it was cool! They closed off a section of Revolucion and it was three-day festival, and the last part of it was last night… and we were just treated like royalty. The fans there are so passionate, so it was a lot of fun!
L: And in October, you’re doing the Metal Female Voices fest too?
V: Yep! We’re doing that too and I’m waiting to find out about any dates around there. We’re trying to nail down the last specifics so I should have – hopefully! – some news about that by the end of the week. But I’ve been saying that for months now… but I know we will be doing that show and I know I’m looking forward to it.
L: Is that your first time playing there?
V: No, it’s the second time actually; we played it in 2008 and that was an absolute blast so I can’t wait to go back.
L: What was the last time like?
V: It was just a lot of fun – it’s a big, indoor festival, with a great stage and great sound and everything, and it was very well-organized which I really can appreciate! …And, just a lot of great bands and, there was an awful wide variety of music, too… it was all metal and everything, but [bands ranged] from the symphonic to [types more like] BENEDICTUM… and it was a blast! We had a really great time connecting with the fans and they were just a hoot… we like to hang out with people anyway… that’s what it’s all about, really, trying to connect with the people that appreciate your music. It was just a really good time, so I’m really looking forward to it.
L: Do you have any dates back in the US planned for anytime soon?
V: Yeah, we have a date in San Diego coming up on Friday, we have a show in Atlanta which I haven’t posted yet, I believe it’s 11/11 – what is that?! 11/11/11? (we laugh) A Friday night, if I remember correctly, so I’m working out the details for that… and hopefully we’ll get some information up about three or four shows on the East Coast… and then we would love to do something in the Midwest, we’re just kinda in that period where, all of a sudden, things are starting to wrap up, so… anything could happen!
It takes a lot of work to do this stuff, we don’t have a lot of tour support so we just kinda have to make things happen on our own, and that’s exactly what we’re doing, and we’re getting out there and makin’ it work.
L: A lot of bands have the same rapport as family members, and I’m wondering what the dynamic between all of you is like? Especially since you’re the only female in the band.
V: That’s a cool question – and it’s always been… it’s like I’m the Mama Bear. I’m not an aggressive person, but I’m the sort of person [who feels like] “this is my baby”, and we all look out for each other… and that’s the fortunate thing about this band – that even from its first inception and the first lineup, we’ve always been very blessed. We’ve gone through a lot of members, but we’ve always been very blessed that the internal thing has always been really cool. And that’s probably almost – if not more – important than how you play musically. If you don’t get along – well you see what happens! You can have the best musicians in the world, put ‘em all together in a band. But if they don’t get along, or if there’s no real strong dynamic or tie between you, then you end up imploding.
So.. it’s really important, especially if you’re going to do any kind of touring… a lot of people who aren’t in bands I think have a different conception of what it’s like… it’s a lot of spending time with each other, and under maybe not always the best circumstances, or in really cramped quarters, and I can tell you – you better get along! ‘Cause if you don’t, that’s when it all comes out. You’re tired, maybe you haven’t had anything to eat in a while, or you just haven’t had a chance – you get cranky and things have a tendency to get on your nerves more… you had better get along! (laughs) So that’s the way it works!
L: Is it ever stressful to be the only girl in the band?
V: To be honest, not really. I don’t consider that aspect of it stressful, I just think the music business is stressful. The guys look out for me, I look out for them, I feel really safe around them, they know that I look out for their interests as well, so it’s never really been a stressful thing for me. Maybe it’s because of how we are or whatever, I don’t know – I’ve never felt unsafe. You’re gonna always have weird situations, so I think that could happen for anybody. So you gotta be careful. We always like to be really close to the fans, but, as with anything else, the world is what it is. You always have to keep both eyes open and be aware of your surroundings.
L: What’s the songwriting process like for you? Do you have any special routines when it comes to getting creative?
V: We have our own routine, I guess you’d call it – Pete and I are the primary songwriters, we’re kinda the founding members of the band, but, especially with this lineup, there’s a lot more input from the other members and usually, they’ll be jamming and send me some stuff they’re working on, and I’ll just listen to it over and over again until something really inspires and strikes me. It’s not like I sit down and go, “Okay, this-is-the-song-I’m-gonna-write-today!” It’s kinda like, the music will speak to me and I’ll go, “Okay, I want THIS piece and THIS piece, and then I’ll come up with the lyrics and melodies and arrangements,” and we kinda build it from there. It kinda goes through its own little process. It used to be, when we were all in the same city, that we would just jam and record the practices and stuff, and I’d take that home and listen to that. We’re [now] part in San Diego and part in Phoenix, so we do a lot of sending files back and forth as well. There’s a little bit of a different energy there, but it’s the same principle.
…We’ll plan out a certain time for writing, because, with the way our band dynamic is -and I run my own business, as do a couple of other band members- and we all have our days off, so to speak, so we try to say, “Okay, now let’s just get in writing mode.” And then we’ll focus more on that. When we used to jam all the time, it was a little different. It was easier. And now that we have to coordinate things, it’s just a matter of working around it… Pete’s always coming up with stuff, as are the other guys, so it’s really just a matter of where I settle in and go, “Let me get into that frame of mind”, and then we get the creative stuff going.
L: Have you ever taken “formal” vocal training or lessons?
V: No, I have not. I kinda learn as I go. I learned the hard way on the first actual tour I did, which I think was with DORO back in the day – I learned a lot from her, actually; she was just such a giving and warm person, and I learned a lot from her professionalism. And you know, she’d been doing it for a while. And learning how to pace yourself is the greatest thing. I put a lot of energy out on stage, and I have a tendency to get so excited and amped up and ramped up that I start to push pretty hard… so it’s about pacing the breath, and everything else, too, so that you can have a more even-keeled show and maintain your energy, and not sputtered out at the end… and I’m still a work in progress, I’m learning not to not blow your voice out, and making sure you warm up adequately.
L: How do you take care of your voice?
V: I try to stay as hydrated as possible and try to warm up as much as possible. For me, that’s really important and that’s something I don’t think I do enough. It’s a part of your body, it’s not like it’s an instrument that, if you just tune it up, that it’s always gonna sound the same… it’s something that I have to look at… even what I eat and how I feel, and how much rest I get. It really effects everything.
I’m learning over the years that my body responds a certain way to certain things, especially the climate – and a lot of vocalists will tell you that, too. Especially if it’s an outdoor festival. There will be some places where you’ll play, and there will be a lot of pollen in the air, and your voice will FEEL different. The temperature has a lot to do with it. If there’s more moisture in the air, that’s a plus for me, or if it’s more dry or whatever… it DOES affect it. You just have to work with it.
If you’re on your game, you kinda know ahead of time with these things. So that’s why it takes a lot of practice. I think that’s one of the things I need to discipline myself a lot more with. To keep my chops up on the times we’re not playing.
L: I read was reading another interview in which you remarked that BENEDICTUM is nowhere near as big in the US as in Europe. What are some of the differences in turnout and response?
V: I think that after this particular album [Dominion], things are starting to shift a little bit – it’s always a work in progress – but [our] label is a European label, so obviously they are going to promote more IN Europe. The only real difference, I think, is with the fans on an individual basis. If you love music, you love music, period. However, the difference in the musical SYSTEM… in Europe, it’s still very much press-driven and word-of-mouth, and magazines, and people will get out there support shows. Whereas in the States, it’s a lot more radio-driven, and it wasn’t until the advent of all the things on the internet and the files and all that kind of stuff, that a lot of times people are able to check out bands that normally they would have no way of knowing about. In Europe, you can pick it up on any magazine shelf, pretty much, that’ll have a whole section on the touring schedules of a ton of bands, whereas here you don’t see that – you need to go seek it out on the internet… it’s very different, the way things are promoted and what drives it. It takes a little more effort in the States and that’s why a lot of people like yourself, and all the fans out there that do get out and really do support music – not just in words but in deeds, and who show up for shows and all that.
I was just talking about that today. Because that’s what drives things over here; well, you gotta show up to the show, otherwise the promoter’s not gonna bring the band back. But the energy itself, once things get going, it’s the same. I mean, it’s people that love music. And that’s what counts.
L: What do you guys listen to in your downtime?
V: I was listening to RAMMSTEIN today. (Laughs) I absolutely adore that band. It’s just great. What a great concert they put on, too. I went and saw them in Vegas a few weeks ago. Let’s see, what does Pete listen to a lot… he listens to everything from Christian music to… well, it just depends on what hits us at the time, to be honest.
L: What advice would you give up-and-coming musicians?
V: Wow… things are different than they used to be. I think it’s much harder now. And for up-and-coming musicians, just be realistic. Don’t be afraid to take a reality check. I definitely believe in having great dreams, but also in having a practical plan of action. That’s very important. Knowing “the business”, and I put that in quotations because it is a business, that you’re in. It’s really great if you’re the greatest guitarist in the world, but it doesn’t do any good if nobody hears you. You have no way to promote yourself, or to get out there. Surround yourself with people – to the best of your ability – that you know can be trusted. Realize again that it’s a business, get an attorney when the time comes and make sure it’s worth the initial investment, to make sure that what you’re getting yourself into is something that you’ll be able to get the maximum out of. And try to bring as much information from people who have been in the business, whether it’s just seeking out people who maybe aren’t even doing it anymore, but can tell you a thing or two about what to look for, and also, stay up to speed on people who are just getting into the business but are from a marketing standpoint, and are learning about what it takes now to stay on the cutting edge of what’s out there.
So there’s a lot to be aware of. It’s a lot more than “let’s just get in the garage and jam.” You have to look at the practicalities, the transportation, the fact that the economy’s not what it was, people aren’t showing up in droves like they used to, and making each moment count, making the most of it. ‘Cause it’s a wonderful thing. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t really love it. But there are a lot of things to be aware of… just to get real about.
There are a lot of people I know who ask that. And I guess the things in life that you go through, they have a little more meaning, at least to me, if someone else can benefit from the mistakes. And I can’t lie to you, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Thinking with the best intentions, and thinking “oh, it’s gonna be like this”, and it’s NOT, and unless you really love this, you’re gonna walk away disappointed a lot. And there were some times where I said, is it really worth it? And then you have those few moments onstage, and you make that connection, and you realize how much you love it, and go… “yeah, it was worth it!”
Plus, the more you know, the more you can watch out for pitfalls and just get practical about it. If you’re not good at crunching the numbers, get somebody who is, because it is a numbers game. You can’t say [imitating the voice of a clueless optimist]“Oh, I’m just gonna go on a tour!” I know people who’ve done this, and they come back and didn’t have things in place, didn’t even have places to stay, shows got canceled, they had no promo – they had nothing! – and they come back completely defeated. And nowadays, you gotta make sure all that stuff is set, get a contract (laughs). ALWAYS have a contract, even if it’s an email. Something in writing… that either your meals are provided for, lodging. Something. Or what kind of amount you’re going to get from [ticket sales at] the door… make sure.
Get a count. Don’t be afraid to cover your ass!
L: I hear you’re a big motor-sports fan. Where did this love start?
V: Actually, that came from my husband. Always loved to go fast, and love to drive… my great love now is Formula 1[racing]. I just absolutely love it and went to Grand Prix last year in Canada so my goal is to go to another one, and I believe they’re bring the Formula 1 circuit back to the US in Austin, Texas. It’s next year, so as those as those tickets go on sale I’m gonna be there. And I have a business that imports accessories, we import accessories for sport bikes from Germany. It’s called Streetfighters Inc. And we also sell helmets, we have alien helmets from Germany … so [check out] alienhelmets.com and streetfightersinc.com.
L: If you could be stuck in one music video forever, which one would it be?
V: Wow, good one… I have to give that one some thought. Can’t go wrong with [Michael Jackson's] “Thriller”! I mean everybody knows it, that was just groundbreaking. And I like being groundbreaking, so that’s great.
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