VERONICA FREEMAN (BENEDICTUM) INTERVIEW:
February 13, 2011
Benedictum, the heavy metal band San Diego, California, are back with their third effort Dominion (which is out now in Europe and due March 8th in North America on their new label Frontiers Records). The current Benedictum line-up consists of vocalist Veronica Freeman, guitarist Pete Wells, bassist Chris Shrum, keyboardist Tony Diaz, and drummer Mikey Pannone. Formed in 2005, Benedictum have two studio previous albums — their debut Uncreation in 2006 followed by Seasons Of Tragedy in 2008 on Locomotive Records. Recently Sleaze Roxx was granted an opportunity to talk with Veronica about the new album, their new label and their plans to promote it Stateside.
Sleaze Roxx: You were signed to Locomotive Records, and the last time we spoke you were very excited about Seasons Of Tragedy. Unfortunately that great album didn’t receive the needed push and the label folded.
Veronica Freeman: Yes it did. That was extremely disappointing, more so when the album was starting to gain some momentum here in the USA. One day the emails stopped coming in and I noticed that there was no push to promote the album. Then we started to hear rumblings about the label’s troubles and I think that is some of the fodder that you hear on this CD Dominion.
Sleaze Roxx: I recall that Locomotive Records sent out review copies of various albums that never hit shelves in the U.S. because of their issues.
Veronica Freeman: Right. There were a number of issues and the longer it went on the more I began to wonder how long this had been going on. It was a devastating blow when you stop receiving any kind of accounting — everything just stopped. I still have some of the CDs left, but I don’t even know how to get more at this point. I know they are still out there somewhere.
Sleaze Roxx: Seasons Of Tragedy was going to be the album that allowed Benedictum to do some touring nationwide in the United States.
Veronica Freeman: Yeah, that was part of the reason why there was such a gap — I was trying not to let the bottom fall out from under me. After Seasons Of Tragedy things just went dark for a while. I had to reflect and ask myself if I really wanted to do this. After Seasons Of Tragedy I had a mindset that it was going to be a lot easier from here. The album received great reviews and I was confident that we’d get a chance to play in the States. We thought, “okay it’s going to go up from here,” but the opposite is what happened.
Sleaze Roxx: You’ve been picked up by Frontiers Records who have distribution in North America. As a rock fan I’m excited because they’ve recently picked up Whitesnake, Mr. Big and have helped George Lynch tour extensively in the past year.
Veronica Freeman: What they did with Lynch Mob is what I’d like to see happen with Benedictum. I’m hoping that the fact that I’ve received more requests for interviews for this album than the last two combined is a good sign. Listen, we’d love to play on our home turf, there’s nothing like getting some love from home.
Sleaze Roxx: Playing the festival circuit is a great shot in the arm for bands when you play to 70,000 fans in a day – that’s how you guys built up your fan base in Europe.
Veronica Freeman: That was probably the best thing that came out of the Locomotive Records deal. In 2008 we did the whole summer festival thing; we did it the year before too but 2008 was more extensive. That was the last of the touring that we did. We want to get some stuff lined up in Europe by all means, but we’ve longed to get out in the U.S. as you know from our previous conversations. Let’s face it, the way you create new fans is to get out and play live.
Sleaze Roxx: You know how I feel about your ability as a vocalist, but I have to say that on Dominion the vocals are very commanding and dominant. Not to offend, but it takes on this kind of masculine role in the songs at times.
Veronica Freeman: Yes, that has to do with our producer Ryan Greene who pushed me to the limit. I’d have to say that the experience from the Locomotive Records deal was also a factor — it was a release for sure.
Sleaze Roxx: Is it a stretch to say that Dominion has a hard edged progressive metal theme throughout it?
Veronica Freeman: Not at all — I’m with you there 110%. A lot of what you hear has to do with our drummer Mikey Pannone and bassist Chris Shrum… I’ll throw Tony (Diaz, keyboards) in there as well. Pete (Wells, guitarist) and I have been writing together over a decade; but a lot of the progressive element that you mentioned has to do with Mikey and Chris because they bring that vibe. Tony brings in the orchestral influence — it was a different blend of influences that’s for sure.
Sleaze Roxx: Tell us about the guest appearances on Dominion.
Veronica Freeman: Right, that has become a tradition with this band that we bring in friends to guest on the albums. Since Jeff Pilson didn’t produce this album he played bass on it, we also have Craig Goldy playing the second solo on “Epsilon.” Jeff also sings with me on “Sanctuary” which is one of the bonus tracks on the album. We got Rudy Sarzo to play bass on “Bang.” We have three guests on Dominion.
Sleaze Roxx: I was wondering who was singing on “Sanctuary.” It is on the record as a bonus track but it’s far from filler; that’s a great song. I’m wondering why that wasn’t part of the album because it’s a beautiful song and could get airplay on various formats.
Veronica Freeman: I’m with you. I hope that it gets picked up, it’s been in the back of my mind ever since that song was recorded. I brought the song to Jeff Pilson — “Sanctuary” is a song that Pete and I wrote several years ago. I was excited to have Jeff sing on that with me because he has such a fantastic voice. When it was done I was so impressed with the end result. We’ll see what happens with that song down the road.
Sleaze Roxx: You mentioned Benedictum’s tradition of having guests on your albums — another tradition has been your outstanding choices in covers. I was absolutely floored when I heard your rendition of Rush’s “Overture/Temple Of Syrinx.”
Veronica Freeman: Can you believe that?! (laughs) We’re still cracking up about it! That came about when we were sitting around the mixing board in conversation with Ryan Greene. He thought it would be cool if we did it, you could almost see the wheels turning in his head. The more I thought about it the better it sounded. I always wanted to do that song and this was my chance. At first our drummer and bassist didn’t like the idea because it put them through the wringer. They screwed up a few times but we really had fun with that one.
Sleaze Roxx: When you guys hit the road is this something that you’d consider putting in the set?
Veronica Freeman: Absolutely, judging from the reaction we’ve received from reviewers we have to. That has received quite a buzz, which makes me feel good because that’s a song that I’ve always wanted to sing. I remember driving around before there was a Benedictum singing to the song — there’s always been something about that song that’s moved me. Just coming up with a set list is going to be tough because we now have a great repertoire to select from. I’ll say this about doing covers, you might not have people that are there for you if you’re opening for a band but if they are familiar with the cover they’ll run back from the bar area just to sing along. If you do a great version of an already familiar song you’ll win some people over. It’s going to be hard because we love doing “Balls To The Wall”, “Heaven & Hell” and “Mob Rules”.
Sleaze Roxx: Last question, what’s your involvement with Street Fighters, Inc?
Veronica Freeman: When I met my husband he had a company called Wild Hair Accessories, the site is www.whaccessories.com, and he always wanted to open up a second business. I have a background in book keeping so we set up Street Fighter, Inc. This is a business that he and I run together. We import motorcycle accessories from mostly Germany, its sport bike accessories but we do carry stuff for Harley Davidson bikes — the website is www.streetfightersinc.com. We also now have Alien Helmets and that site is www.alienhelmets.com — that’s what I do when I’m not talking to you.
Sleaze Roxx: Thanks and we’ll see you when you play Portland, Oregon.
Veronica Freeman: Thank you. I’ve got one last plug, I was just in Eugene a couple of months ago and there’s a company there in Oregon that’s called Swords and Shields, Inc. — they are working on an armor suit for me. I flew to Portland and drove down to Brownsville to get fitted — I hope we can do some cool stuff together in the future. So here’s to Swords & Shields, Inc. and to Nemesis Leather — their site is www.nemesisleather.com/Joomla. Thanks again.