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Benedictum

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Benedictum is a relatively new band, although their members are veterans of the San Diego music scene. Their newly released debut record Uncreation is beginning to get a lot of attention. As well, they've just been tapped to open the Gods of Metal show in Italy this summer, a show headlined by Guns N' Roses and Alice in Chains. 

Uncreation is a powerful record with a strong set of 11 songs like "Two Steps to the Sun", "Wicca" and the title track. The music is accented by the extraordinary vocals of Veronica Freeman which are very Dio-esque. In fact, the band has two Sabbath covers on here. I spoke with Veronica recently to find out about the band and how the record came together.

antiMusic: Hi Veronica. The record is amazing. It's exactly the kind of metal I like --- heavy but not sludgy and you can actually make out the vocals. And speaking of that, you have a fantastic voice. 

Veronica Freeman: Well gee. Can I put this on tape? This sounds like a great way to start this conversation. Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

antiMusic: It sounds like you don't need a PA most of the time.

Veronica Freeman: Yeah I know. Some people have complained about that. (laughs) We did a backyard party one time and the p.a went out and I said well screw it, just put the mike down and started singing and there wasn't a problem! (laughs)

antiMusic: OK, before we get into the record, for those of us who are not familiar with your band, how did it come together and who is everybody?

Veronica Freeman: Well cool, you mean I can go and break down everybody one by one? I would love that. Pete Wells on guitar, Jesse Wright on bass, Blackie Sanchez on drums, and Chris Morgan on keyboard, and then you know, me. Let's see we all played in various bands. Pete and I were in together a band called Malady. Blackie was doing his thing with a band called Magni and RDK G-13 along with Chris. Jesse was in Cage and we had all also played in some Dio tribute bands. When Pete and I decided we wanted to do something a little different and get a little more serious and we had been jamming with Blackie for a while as well. It was cool that we all could come together and do our thing. We had a different bass player at first. He left just as we were doing the recording process so that's why Jeff was gracious enough to do the duties on the CD. And then we found Jessie.

antiMusic: Now Uncreation is your first record, is that right?

Veronica Freeman: Yeah.

antiMusic: Let me go out on a limb here: I take it you guys are Dio fans? Is this an interest by the whole band or just by you?

Veronica Freeman: Especially me. We all are but I'd say I'm definitely one. Chris, Blackie and I were in a Dio tribute band called Evilution at one time. Just for a short period of time and it was a lot of fun. But yeah, we're fans of Dio although Chris, Blackie and Jessie are into more hard core metal so we have a nice mixture of things which is why our sound comes out the way it does.

antiMusic: How was the decision made to cover two Sabbath cuts? 

Veronica Freeman: It wasn't (laughs). I'm glad you asked that one. I was singing some Dio stuff obviously for a while and I already went into this whole recording process knowing we wanted "Heaven and Hell" to be one of the tracks on the actual album. And just before the recording process was up and we were out of money and out of time and all of that, the label wanted a bonus track. So we were going to do "Rainbow in the Dark" and we had a chance to work with Jimmy Bain so we thought we'll do something we all know. We only had a couple of days to do this and we had to do it in San Diego. So we'll throw something together real fast. Long story short, we get to San Diego and we do our thing and we had enough time to do one more song, so we did "Mob Rules". When we heard the play back of "Rainbow in the Dark", it just wasn't happening. It just laid there. And "Mob Rules" came out a lot better. It was always supposed to be on a limited version digipack and unbeknownst to us, the next thing you know the CD is actually the actual CD end result one is out and it has that on there so we weren't real pleased about that at first because I thought it was a little much to do too. We didn't want to do it that way. We thought it was cool as a bonus track but not as part of the actually album. So what's done is done. We can't take it back. But it was not our decision.

antiMusic: And were you at all intimidated to put them on the record since "Heaven and Hell" is one of the most well known and regarded songs in metal history?

Veronica Freeman: Actually. To be really honest…no. I mean we…I have such a love for it, and so does everybody else. We wanted to do it the best that we could. I'd heard a lot of other versions of it on different tribute CDs so I know I'm not the first person to have done it so it wasn't like I was breaking any ground in my opinion. I just wanted to do it right.

antiMusic: It came out really well. It's just a bit faster than the original.

Veronica Freeman: Exactly.

antiMusic: I was a bit fooled by the intro. I didn't think it was the same song at first. It makes it interesting. 

Veronica Freeman: (laughs) Yeah. We tried to put a spin on it. I mean we weren't trying to recreate the wheel or anything but you know I loved singing that song and at the time it was going to be the only cover that was going to be on there anyway so and with Jeff Pilson's help on there, he added a lot of creative ideas to that so we weren't trying to completely mimic it or anything, but you know, yeah, it was a risk because so many people love that song and there's been some pro and con about it but it's been mostly pro.

antiMusic: I can't see how there could be any cons.

Veronica Freeman: Oh there was. Some people…the first review I think one of the first reviews I read was just like slamming. Like how dare they. (BIG LAUGH) It's like we were the first ones to have done it, you know. 

antiMusic: It's amazing how much your voice sounds like Ronnie as well, especially in "The Mob Rules". 

Veronica Freeman: That's my favourite one to sing as far as getting it down. Getting that Dio-esque sound down. For some reason.

antiMusic:Is this just a happy happenstance or do you really try to imitate him?

Veronica Freeman: I work at it but it's a combination of both. It's a happy, fortunate happenstance to be able to do it. But I've been a Dio fan for a long time. I'm a friend of Craig Goldy's which kinda works out well and I've been able to at least get the essence of it, you know so that's cool. I think he's incredible.

antiMusic: One of my favorite cuts is "Misogyny". Was this just an interesting topic for you to explore or are you writing it from your personal experiences?

Veronica Freeman: No, I'm so glad you asked that. You're asking all the right questions, yeah! Awesome. That song came from the biggest Court TV, A&E network, Discovery Channel, all the forensic file stuff. I love all that stuff, I'm really fascinated...it's a rather macabre fascination with all the serial killer stuff and all that. Actually what that song is and it's from the perspective of a victim, from a shoutback to serial killers the ones that prey specifically on women and demean women and stuff. So that's what that song is about, it's like the spirit of a woman shouting back saying "You may do things to me but you're not going to kill my spirit," so to speak. So a lot of people take those some lyrics out of context but most of those hillside strangler and other killers, they're all based on this misogynistic mindset. So that's what that song is about.

antiMusic: I also really like the title cut and "Two Steps to the Sun". The band has a real knack for making sure the material is not really hooky but have good melody lines as well as being heavy. Were you trying to make sure the record was really accessible or did it just turn out that way?

Veronica Freeman: Well Jeff had a lot to do with that. It's a combination of both. When we first went in to work with Jeff Pilson. It was just to do a three-song demo. And then we learned a lot with what he did with our material and so from that point we learned a lot in the writing process. And so yeah, we wanted the songs to be good and have some kind of hooks to them. We didn't want them to just laying there. So that was part of the writing process.

antiMusic: How long was this record in the works and what were some of the first songs to come out?

Veronica Freeman: The songs that were on the demo were "Benedictum", "Misogyny" and "Wicca", if I remember correctly. And let's see, with this particular lineup and everything, as far as recording goes, I think we started that back in May, we were recording in May of 2005. And then originally submitted things around October. We were going to originally have an October release. And then the European release happened in January and the U.S. release happened the end of March.

antiMusic: "Valkyrie Rising" is a great epic piece, a lot longer than other cuts on the record. How did that come about?

Veronica Freeman: We wanted that….I'm so glad you used that exact term! We were sitting with Jeff at his studio and we were talking and saying we need one good long, epic tune. So we went to the lighting table with that thought in mind and then it kinda, as things kinda morphed, we thought about it, war and battle, that kind of stuff, so it was a really good collaborative effort to try to create a specific thing. So we kinda take you through a little journey. So that's how that whole song came about. We wanted to do a long song, so we created that. That was a lot of fun doing that. I'd never done anything like that.

antiMusic: How did the involvement of Craig Goldy and Jimmy Bain happen?

Veronica Freeman: With Craig, he'd been a friend of mine for a number of years. I would say he's very responsible for pushing me to continue singing and doing this stuff. He's also from San Diego just like me and when he was visiting family like at the end of 2004 somewhere around there he was listening to some of our rehearsal tape, he was like, "Wow this is finally the line-up, I really want to help you." So he took some of his…we threw something together real quick and he took it to some of the people he knew. And they said this shows some promise, but it needs a little better production so that's when he introduced us to Jeff Pilson. I love this. I call it a fortuitous series of events. From that point, Jeff said yes, and then Jeff just before we were wrapping things up, he said you know what if you need to do this bonus track we think we can contact Jimmy. I just got finished working with him on another project. So that's how Jimmy came about. So it's like one thing led to another. It's wonderful …I'm very, very grateful.

antiMusic: You've already touched on it a bit but how was it working with Jeff Pilson and what affect did he have on your sound?

Veronica Freeman: He had an effect on like on everything. Working with Jeff, for me personally was a big turning point for me. There were a lot of things that I did vocally that I hadn't done before, that I did on this album. Like a lot of the high pitch…I never thought I could do that, on the high pitch screams and everything. So now it's like it's become part of my repertoire. But before that you never would have heard anything like that out of me. So absolutely. He is such an intense person to work with. We call him the sixth member of Benedictum. We consider him a friend as well as to watch him work is incredible. He gets so intense that I think his house could be on fire and he wouldn't know. You could actually see him firing off the ideas, firing off in his head as he getting an idea for something. He's just great to work with. He's not easy to work with as far as...he'll definitely take you to another level and he expects it to be well done and if it's not he'll let you know (laughs) but not in a bad way, you know. It's like he'll storm out and like "That's not it, you can do better." I've learned a lot. We all did, I think we became better musicians all the way around after working with him.

antiMusic: What was the recording process like for you? First of all did you record live all at once or did you put it down piece by piece?

Veronica Freeman: Oh, no. Piece by piece, absolutely, as it usually is nowadays. What was, I don't want to say difficult, but what was sometimes frustrating was working everyone's schedule in. because at that time I believe Jeff was just getting the gig with Foreigner so they would go on tour for a short period of time so we would get started and we would have to work things around that. So go up and do the drum tracks and Pete would come up and do the guitar tracks or I'd come up with them and lay down some stuff and then vocals, and keyboards and so it was kinda pieced in there and we'd try to get together as much as possible but it was very interesting practice watching it all come together.

antiMusic: Do you enjoy the studio or is it a necessary evil to get the final product?

Veronica Freeman: I love it. I absolutely love it. When I'm at rehearsal from a vocalist's standpoint, you know the voice is part of the human anatomy. It's vocal chords. It's not like an instrument you can play over and over again and have it sound the same. So being able to actually concentrate and hear everything I'm doing as opposed to being in the rehearsal environment where sometimes you have to kinda struggle to be heard (laughs), it's a good experience plus to work with someone like Jeff that I feel really understood my voice and was able to draw some stuff out of it. That was really cool. So I really do love the studio. It gives me a chance to really focus. 

antiMusic: You've been selected to open the Gods of Metal in Italy. That's quite an honour. You guys must be pretty excited?

Veronica Freeman: We were thrilled. I mean when I heard…I guess we're playing on headline day. But I mean it's cool, we're absolutely blown away. So we're getting ready, feverishly for that task. I've never done anything like that. I don't think any of us have, actually. We've all done our thing. But playing together over there is going to be quite something. I'm really looking forward to it. But I'm scared (laughs). That's a lie. I'm petrified! (laughs)

antiMusic: Do you think you'll get freaked out by possibly looking to the side of the stage and seeing the likes of Axl Rose or Jerry Cantrell watching you?

Veronica Freeman: I'd like to see that! As long as they don't throw anything at me, we'll be okay. (laughs)

antiMusic: Beyond your club tour in Europe, what are the plans for the rest of the year?

Veronica Freeman: Yeah, right after Gods of Metal, the next day we have a show in Barcelona, then Madrid, and then Holland, Belgium, then back to Holland, then Switzerland, than UK, so that'll be a very interesting and intense week. When we come home, we have to hit it again to start writing for the new album. We're probably take a week off to chill out and get over everything. We've already written a couple of new tunes and stuff and will be playing some of those at Gods of Metal on our little tour. And there's a possibility we'll be going back to Spain in July, then again possibly in September. So we'll just see what falls out from there. We just want to concentrate on this now and then regroup and see what opens up for us after this.

antiMusic: With the pressure increasing on the band as you gain a bigger profile, do you thrive on it?

Veronica Freeman: No. (laughs) For me personally…well, I can't answer for the rest of the band. I'm actually calling you from my room in Las Vegas. So it's like okay, I actually took a little vacation. I never expected to be doing this. I mean I've been singing for a while so now this attention is great, but you know be careful what you wish for you might get it type thing. It's a little intimidating, but now I've just got to do what I do. I'm still the same person, it's just now everybody's talking to me. So I've just got to bring it the same way I used to bring it and hopefully everything will be okay.

antiMusic: What's the significance of the band name?

Veronica Freeman: That was actually…I wrote that song with Peter a while back. And it became a new creature once Blackie and the rest and of course Jeff got a hold of it too. We were originally called Bound. And when we started working with Jeff and interest started to happen from the label, they didn't feel that that name represented us well and they liked Benedictum. We weren't real thrilled about that so it's taken us a while to get used to that so they went with that name and said if you could come up with something better, fine, but they ended up liking that name so that's the name that we chose and we were real thrilled when the pope got elected which was after we picked the name, I'd like to point out. We were like…how nice for us. So that was really cool. (laughs)

antiMusic: Anything else you want to tell us about the band or the record?

Veronica Freeman: Just that…give it a chance. I hope that people enjoy listening to it as much we enjoyed putting it together. I'm just thrilled with the attention that you're giving us. Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you.

antiMusic: You're welcome. Well, I'll be thinking of you at the Gods of Metal.

Veronica Freeman: Thank you and please send a prayer to the Metal Gods that I don't fall. I'm praying I don't trip and fall because of some custom made boots I just got. They have some absolutely ridiculous high heels. (laughs) And I'm like "I stumble in tennis shoes. What am I going to do with these, you know? C'mon give me a break." (laughs) So I may have to rethink this wardrobe. Don't want any Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunctions (laughs). 

antiMusic: I'm sure you'll do fine (laughs). Take care and all the best. Thanks for this.

Veronica Freeman: Thank you very much. Thanks for your interest. Have a great weekend.

antiMUSIC and Morley Seaver thank Veronica Freeman for this interview.


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