© Jake Owens
Neonfly are a band on the rise at the moment. After successful tours supporting Magnum and Dragonforce last year and the release of their second album which has been critically acclaimed (reviewed here https://myglobalmind.com/2014/11/22/neonfly-strangers-in-paradise-review) it seemed a good time to speak to Frederick Thunder, founder member and one of the bands guitarists.
MGM: Hi, it’s Duncan here from MyGlobalMind Webzine. If I can start with the new album – I reviewed it a few weeks ago and I really enjoyed it actually. I loved the epic sound of the album, the strings and the whole ‘feel’ of it; you must have been very pleased with the way it came out?
Frederick: Yeah, yeah, I’m very pleased actually. Dennis Ward produced the album and we chose him for a reason, you know. We knew he was gonna deliver a great sounding album, which is what we wanted – I’m quite familiar with his production and stuff, so I had no doubt it was gonna sound great and I think he even exceeded our expectations when we heard the final mixes, so yeah, we are very happy with it.
MGM: And you had the album launch party a couple of weeks ago now?
Frederick: Yeah, that was on the 20th November in London and that was really good as well. We played a lot of new songs for the first time live, which it was really exciting actually to see people’s reaction to each different song. A couple of the new songs we’ve been playing for a while but we did play most of the album that night, so that was great, really good turnout as well so we were very pleased.
MGM: How do you decide which of the older songs to drop from the setlist?
Frederick: Well, it isn’t always an easy choice but I think that over the years we’ve played a lot of songs from the first album and a few of them we’ve dropped as time went by because it’s been a long time between 2011 and 2014 and since the first album we’ve had a chance to tour a lot and I think that throughout that time the setlist has been modified and I think right now we have a pretty strong setlist that we did with Dragonforce was working really well and I think it is really based on the crowd’s reaction to it. After a while you realise that the crowd might respond to it [the song] but not as well as to another song so that’s pretty much the way we’ve done it, we’ve had to realise which work and to keep playing those basically.
MGM: Do you have a particular favourite on the new album?
Frederick: Um, it’s hard to say actually because I wrote all those songs – I write all the music and some of the lyrics, Will our singer writes some lyrics too but they’re all kind of like my babies, you know and the thing with Neonfly is we write song that are a bit different, they sound a bit different and to me they all have their own space so I can’t really pick one. I think it’s very hard to say which one I like best – I like them all best, you know!
MGM: I can imagine, yes. That’s something I put in my review actually, that each song is very different and you don’t quite know what’s going to come next on the album he first time you listen to it.
Frederick: Yeah, yeah, that’s done on purpose!
MGM: You’ve just recorded a video haven’t you, in Cyprus I believe?
Frederick: Yeah, that’s right, yeah. That was really fun actually [laughs] we went out there for a weekend that was right after the release party that was on Thursday and we flew out on Saturday morning till Tuesday and we just shot a video – it was an amazing location, the scenery was just fantastic and it was a really cool place to do it and it didn’t cost that much, which was a good thing! [laughs] But it’s going to look amazing when we release it in January cos there’s Christmas coming up and it’s not a very good time to release a new video but after all that’s done that’s when the video will come out and there’s a really big surprise on it which I can’t…other than the fact we shot it in Cyprus!…I can’t talk about it right now but when we announce it, it will be a pretty cool thing.
MGM: Oh great, okay. I don’t know if you’ve heard about the Delain bassist recently? I think it was during this week…
Frederick: [Laughing] Yeah, I heard about that!
MGM: [Laughing] I don’t need to mention that then! [The Delain bassist, Otto Schimmelpennick was hit between the legs by an onstage streamer cannon and suffered a ruptured testicle] Have you ever had any on-stage miss-haps similar to that?
Frederick: [Laughing] I feel really sorry for him and congratulations to him for carrying on, you know, after what happened to him – what a trouper – but no, we definitely have not had anything as bad as that happen onstage and I really hope that this doesn’t happen to us! I don’t think we’ve ever had any miss-haps – I don’t really recall anyone falling over even. Other than technical difficulties you might have but nothing major like any injuries or anything like that.
MGM: That’s good! Do you have a particular favourite song to play live?
Frederick: I dunno, I think that…it’s hard to say. I love playing all of them but some of them are more fun to play than others. I generally…I’d say the ones that a bit more technical are a bit less fun to play live in the sense than we like to perform a lot, jump around a lot and sometimes when you’re playing a technical part you can’t really jump around much – you want to get it right, so…it’s fun, you know because you’re playing something that’s challenging and it’s exciting but I think live I really like to feel the energy and jump around and stuff, so in that sense maybe play some songs that are less technically demanding so that I have more freedom to move around and do stuff without messing up the song, which wouldn’t be good. Other than that, at the album launch party we played “Falling Star” which involved an acoustic guitar, which was the first time I’d played an acoustic guitar with Neonfly onstage so that was quite nice, fun.
MGM: You were saying about the difference between the technical songs and the songs with more ‘energy’ if you like, how do you feel about live albums that are technically ‘perfect’ – perhaps with overdubs and things – versus a more ‘organic’ sound?
Frederick: Um, you’re never really gonna know – nowadays you can pretty much retouch everything so you’re never really gonna know what’s been touched and what wasn’t when somebody releases a live album. It could sound absolutely perfect and you think, “Wow, they sound amazing!” but they re-recorded everything in the studio, so you never really know! I think when I pick up a live album I try not to ask myself is it 100% genuine, have they retouched a note here and there? I just try to enjoy it for what it is and I think particularly with older bands I like to pick up their live albums because sometimes, particularly if it’s bands from the 70’s or 80’s, sometimes the production on their albums was a bit…well not that powerful and when you hear them live nowadays with a fatter sound and everything, they really sound impressive and it makes the songs sound quite different, so I go more for that kind of stuff, you know, I really like the energy some of the older bands can have live opposed to some of their studio recordings. So that’s really what I go for.
MGM: I’m always interested to hear a musician’s take on that because you obviously see it differently to an ordinary audience member, you know, you would be beating yourself up over a dropped note or a slightly out of tune moment.
Frederick: That’s the thing – I try not to do that actually because I think that being overly critical can ruin the musical experience that you’re getting and I think that I prefer to, when I go and see a band live I try to enjoy myself and not think about…I don’t sit in the back of the room with my arms crossed kinda thinking “Hmmm, can he nail this part?” [both laugh] I go to the front, I jump around and have fun and I sing along to the lyrics and I don’t pay attention if they make a little mistake here and there. When it comes to that, I approach music like a fan because I think that it’s important to remain a fan of the music you’re listening to because otherwise everything becomes a bit too much like a job, you know.
MGM: I always wonder how musicians do see it – are you able to switch off your “inner musician” if you like and just listen?
Frederick: Yeah, I don’t think it’s that hard to do. It think it’s just specifically when I listen to anything, well yeah, you can stand in the back and really try to listen for every little detail, you know, if you make the effort you can do it but it’s not very hard to switch off either. I think everyone loves music, every musician loves music and I think that it’s pretty easy to enjoy it from a fan’s point of view without having to worry too much about whether they played everything perfectly or not.
MGM: You’ve had some great support slots this year, with Magnum and Dragonforce and last year with Alice Cooper as well, have you got any more like that lined up at the moment?
Frederick: Nothing confirmed. We’re working on getting another tour for next year, hopefully early next year we’ll be on the road but nothing is confirmed at the moment, we’re basically working on it, trying to get a good support tour, a full European tour that’s what we’re aiming for actually – go everywhere and play but we’re still waiting to find a band to support because we don’t really want to go out there on our own, we really wanna make sure that we support a bigger band to make sure we hit bigger audiences and stuff. So we’re still working on it but nothing confirmed but the moment something is confirmed it will be announced on our Facebook.
MGM: I believe you have one or two festivals lined up at the moment?
Frederick: One festival I think, in the Czech Republic, Masters Of Rock which is a festival in the Czech Republic and we’re playing the main stage there, it’s not the first time actually, we’ve played there a couple of times before and the Czech Masters Of Rock has been really, really welcoming and we love playing out there and it’s gonna be really exciting and we’re hoping to play at a few more festivals as well and we’re still working on it and there are a couple of things that are very close to being confirmed and again that will be up on Facebook as soon as we get confirmation.
MGM: That’s good. You’ve had quite a lot of success at past festivals such at Bloodstock last year.
Frederick: Yeah, yeah. In general we’ve always done well at festivals wherever we play. I think that the music we play is good for festivals, there’s a fun sound there that can appeal to a festival crowd but at the same time they’re not too straightforward either so that you forget them shortly after because of the right degree of elements and hooks that work really well on a festival. Because, I think, on a festival you don’t wanna…you’re tired and you’ve seen a lot of bands and stuff and suddenly there’s a really complicated band with twenty minute songs that come out and sometimes you don’t enjoy it that much. I’ve been in that position – I love twenty minute songs, don’t get me wrong but – sometimes there are some bands I’d rather see at their own headline show rather than at a festival. I think some stuff works better at festivals and hopefully Neonfly is one of those bands that really does work on a festival crowd, so generally we’ve had really good responses when we’ve been at festivals whether it’s been in the UK or somewhere else in Europe.
MGM: Yeah, I was gonna ask you actually, do you prefer playing festivals or touring? I know they are obviously totally different things aren’t they.
Frederick: Yeah. I love festivals – that’s probably my favourite thing! Because first of all you get to play to a really big crowd, which you don’t play to everyday and that’s always really exciting. For me, I love seeing a sea of people in front of me – that’s a great feeling when I’m about to play, you know – so…the bigger the better when it comes to performing on a stage in front of a crowd. Definitely I’m all up for big crowds and things like that but also I love festivals as a fan. I go to a lot of festivals every year and when I’ve played with Neonfly generally what I like to do is, unless we have to travel to somewhere else straight after but if we don’t I tend to stay for the whole festival, sometimes even stay there camping instead of…you know, obviously as a band there performing you get offered a hotel and stuff like that but I love being there, I love just taking a tent and staying there camping with everyone else, you know, just to enjoy the festival and see the other bands playing. I think festivals are just one of my favourite thing ever so, you know, I love playing them but I love being there as well! I like to stay for the whole weekend.
MGM: Ah great! I see, as you said earlier, that Neonfly is your “baby” if you like, how did you meet up with everybody else?
Frederick: Well, most of the band members, we met up in the same music college in London called Tech Music School where we all studying there and that’s where I met pretty much everyone except for the singer Willy Norton, he was not the original singer. Before we released the first album we had a couple of years where we had a different singer who was also from the same music school but he left the band and when he left he recommended Willy, who I hadn’t heard about. So I listened to him and I really thought his voice was amazing, you know, so we got him down to a rehearsal with us to see if he’d be interested in joining and I was really happy to see that he was quite interested, so he came down, did a rehearsal and it went down really well so we knew he was the right guy for the band but he’s the only one that wasn’t from the music school we were all in.
MGM: Yeah, I really like his voice actually. As you say, he’s got a great voice – I particularly like on “Highways To Nowhere”, which is probably my favourite on the album I think, he uses a slightly different tone or slightly different way of singing on that one that I really like. But all of the musicians…all of you, are obviously all very talented and it’s great, going back to the production again, how all the elements are all nice and clear. I know in too many albums it all sort of “runs together” if you like, it’s great to be able to hear everything, for example the drums are quite clear when you need them to be – Boris is obviously an extremely good drummer. He’s off out doing different things, isn’t he?
Frederick: Yeah, he’s involved in quite a few different things – he’s a very in-demand session drummer, so with Neonfly, obviously that’s full time band member and not a session guy, he’s a full-time member but he does a lot of session work for other bands. He sometimes plays for other bands…for example he’s toured with technical bands like Periphery and that was because the drummer in Periphery had an accident, he hurt his back or something, he couldn’t do a tour so Boris went and did a tour with Periphery and he does that kind of stuff with a lot of different bands. He’s quite in demand particularly in the more technical metal scene – he’s a very good drummer for that kind of stuff as well.
MGM: I was very impressed when I compared your music a little bit to Dragonforce, in that some of his drumming was quite similar but where, dare I say it, theirs tends to sound similar from one song to another, he does a lot more. He “does a Dragonforce” on one song and then something else completely different on another song and then he’s off doing something completely different again…
Frederick: Yeah, we leave him the creative freedom to do whatever he wants on the songs because obviously I trust Boris as a drummer to be able to do…to play the best drum parts for his sound. When I write the songs I write a drum part for the songs as well but it’s just a guide for him to go and interpret the way he wants. Sometimes he completely changes it or maybe not, I mean not completely changes it but tries something else and if it works then yeah, then obviously when I’m writing a song in terms of drums, you know, I come up with some rhythms that…for him to play, so he can obviously interpret all that stuff however he wants and he’s very good at that. He feels the song and he knows what’s good for it, so he’s got complete freedom to interpret his parts on our albums.
MGM: It’s obviously working well. I did notice there’s a couple of similarities between yourselves, you and Patrick, your guitar playing on the album, to Dragonforce again – but again, one song would have a solo similar to a Dragonforce style and then something completely different on another song, so I imagine you went down very well with the Dragonforce crowds actually when you supported them.
Frederick: Yeah, we did, we did actually. That was really, really fun. We did about 20 songs across the UK which is a lot of shows to do in 1 country, you know. So that was really cool because we really covered the whole extension of the territory, you know playing shows and going to places where we hadn’t been before. We’d go and play and every night – I can’t think of a bad night – on the tour we’ve always had great reactions, it was extremely hot and I think a lot of people in that crowd hadn’t heard of us before so you’re always playing every night to a crowd of new people that haven’t heard of you and I think that’s a challenge every night to get them to like you and I think that with the Dragonforce crowd we achieved that very, very quickly. First song or possibly second song and everybody was jumping and going crazy, it’s a really young crowd as well so they’ve got a lot of energy!
MGM: If I could just go back to the album again briefly, you’ve got an instrumental on there, “Aztec Gold”, not many albums have instrumentals these days – was there any particular reason, it just happened to be an instrumental?
Frederick: Well, I just couldn’t come up with any lyrics for it! [Both laugh]
MGM: Simple as that!
Frederick: I did want it to be an instrumental! There was no particular reason, I mean, our first album also had an instrumental and…it wasn’t planned – I didn’t say we have to have an instrumental every album, you know. It was more about…when I’m writing a song if the first thing that comes to my mind is the vocal melody then obviously I know it’s not going to be an instrumental! [Laughs] Sometimes it could be a guitar riff or some kind of melody or vocal melody, so in that case I continue writing the song and it may well be that after a while I realise that the song doesn’t really lend itself to having vocals and that it would be better to carry on as an instrumental. I think that’s what happened really with “Aztec Gold”, I just felt that it was more of a…it wasn’t really a song that called for having vocals so halfway through writing the song I decided I’m gonna continue writing this song from a perspective of it being an instrumental and I just did it that way.
MGM: It doesn’t sound as though it’s missing anything – I did think this morning when I listened to it again that it could almost be the instrumental section of a twenty minute Dream Theater song or something along those lines.
Frederick: It’s almost kind of like instrumental part two of the previous song which is “Heart Of The Sun” and I think “Aztec Gold” has a recurring musical theme that comes from “Heart Of The Sun” and in a way it’s…obviously I’ve separated the two tracks on the album but they could have been actually one very long track but we thought it would be better to have two different tracks but yeah, “Aztec Gold” is in a way…”Heart Of The Sun” and “Aztec Gold” really form what I consider to be the musical climax to the album, the most epic moments and it’s the central part of the album so it’s kind of like a big, two-part composition.
MGM: That’s interesting. There’s something I’ve always wanted to ask musicians about this – how do you name an instrumental?
Frederick: I think everyone works in a different way with that. I think, for me…with “Aztec Gold” it was quite easy because it was a song that was linked to “Heart Of The Sun” which is a song that talks about conquistadors and all that kind of stuff so obviously because it’s linked to that then it belongs to the same universe so “Aztec Gold” seemed to be like a fitting title for it, you know. Other than that I don’t know – it’s just happens! You just kind of think of something and think “that would be a good title for this song”. Hard to say really!
MGM: Okay, well I’m over my time now. Thank you very much for your time, it’s been great.
The bands new video for “Better Angels” will be out soon!