November 30, 2020 Interview – Eskil Simonsson of Covenant
Helsingborg, Sweden’s greatest export to the U.S. just might be Covenant. With their 1994 debut, Dreams of a Cryotank, the group found themselves welcomed into the Synthpop/EBM community across the globe as they established a new standard for artful integrity within the genre. Touring the world did not hurt the band, nor did the release of additional albums—such as 1996’s Sequencer, 2002’s Northern Light, 2011’s Modern Ruin, and, most recently, 2016’s The Blinding Dark—which helped Covenant to attain the uppermost echelon of their craft.
Throughout these past three decades, Vocalist, Composer and Lyricist Eskil Simonsson has been one of two constants—the other being the equally multi-talented Joakim Montelius—who have kept Covenant continuously moving forward and evolving musically. After a recent set of carefully planned and socially distanced shows in Germany and Switzerland, Simonsson sat down to discuss playing gigs in a global pandemic, the Fieldworks project, 25 years of Sequencer, and more.
Cryptic Rock – It has been nearly three decades since the release of Covenant’s debut LP, Dreams of a Cryotank. What has all of this time taught you about yourself as well as music?
Eskil Simonsson – The world is an amazing place, and it is an amazing experience to meet people everywhere, from Bogotá to a small petrol station in Texas to the far east of Russia.
Cryptic Rock – The world really is magical. That said, Covenant’s oeuvre of material is impressive, as you’ve been quite prolific throughout the years. When you sit down to try and compose a setlist does that make it easier or more difficult to decide what songs you’d like to present?
Eskil Simonsson – We try to make setlists that challenge ourselves and our fans to go outside the box of expectations. Song selection is a collaborative process amongst the band and also the audience. We include recent material, such as tracks from our ongoing Fieldworks project – sounds collected and recorded during our diverse travels that we weave into songs or experimental tracks. We also include a few crowd ‘old-school’ favorites, like “Call the Ships to Port” from the 2002 Northern Light album.
In the lead up to a show, we also often ask fans what songs they want to hear, with an emphasis on songs they may not have experienced live before. Lately, for example, we have been performing a lesser-known song, “Atom Heart,” from our 2003 Bullet EP album. Fans sometimes post our setlists to the Setlist.fm website, which I think reflects the sort of song and album diversity I describe.
Cryptic Rock – We ask this specifically because, obviously, Covenant recently performed an open air show in Leipzig, Germany. As your very first performance since before the global pandemic began, how did it turn out and how was the fan reception?
Eskil Simonsson – On the very eve of the pandemic, on March 13th, my bandmate Andreas Catjar and I actually put together an impromptu, improvisational performance broadcast from the window of our hotel lobby after our show was abruptly cancelled.
But, yes, the Leipzig show on September 19th was indeed our first official performance since the pandemic stopped the world. In the days prior, it felt tenuous and uncertain – Would people feel safe at a socially distanced gathering? Were they ready to experience a live, in-person show again? But it all came together so well. The promoter, In Move, did a superb job creating a limited, socially-distanced seating arrangement with an outdoor venue. The result was a show that proved cathartic for us and, I believe, for fans, too. We have all felt weary and worn by the pandemic, and we all long for a return to normalcy.
Since we entered a second lockdown all shows are postponed, so now I am working again on the upcoming album. We have made a lot of demos this year, in all directions, and had a lot of fun experimenting. But in my soul I long to be on stage again. It is such a special moment to share music and sing together. Meanwhile, take care.
Cryptic Rock – From what we have seen on your social media accounts, fans are already making their song requests for the upcoming gigs and you’ve just released a set of 2021 dates for German fans to look forward to. What are some of the most requested tracks?
Eskil Simonsson – It’s gratifying that fans consistently request songs from our full catalog of material, from the debut album to EP-only songs, to club hits to new material.
Cryptic Rock – Covenant fans are very dedicated, that’s for sure. But to speak of your most recent music, the band released the 5-song Fieldworks: Exkursion EP in 2019. While Covenant has always explored different sonic textures and lyrical subject matter, Fieldworks sees you utilizing environmental sound captures and presenting differing cultural philosophies. Might this become a series of EPs?
Eskil Simonsson – Yes, we envision Fieldworks as the first release of an upcoming cycle of records attributed to that theme of inspired field recordings collected over time from many places around the world.
Cryptic Rock – It’s a very intriguing concept. As you mentioned previously, you are currently at work on new music. Will this be a full-length follow-up to 2016’s The Blinding Dark, an entry into the Fieldworks project, or something else entirely? What can fans look forward to from the new material?
Eskil Simonsson – With this year, all things, including our music, have taken a different turn. Maybe we do a lockdown album instead? Reflecting the times and how we feel, and the music we created and experienced while we didn’t have any shows.
Cryptic Rock – This year has certainly been full of surprises, yes. That said, what is it that still manages to inspire you when you sit down to create new music?
Eskil Simonsson – In one post for my Patreon friends and supporters, I composed an instrumental track inspired by Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds, one of several contemporary Neoclassicist composers I enjoy. I think of my new composition as a “soft side of Covenant.” Arnalds collaborated with Spitfire Audio, a London-based musical software developer, to create a sound program library. So I created a piece using these wonderful sounds that carry a lot of vibe and character.
Cryptic Rock – That sounds wonderful. While we’re speaking of songwriting, let’s take a moment to look back at your entire catalogue of music. Do you have an older song (or album) that you feel still encapsulates what you are doing with Covenant, or, more simply, just that you still love performing all these years later?
Eskil Simonsson – I think a favorite that has stood the test of time is our second album, Sequencer, from 1996. Next year it will be 25 years since the album’s release, and we are preparing a 3-CD anniversary edition with a remastered album and singles, and a whole CD with rare compilation tracks and remixes all by the band. And a few weird unreleased tracks!
All the songs that the band performs live are meaningful to us, and we continually switch up the set list to keep it fresh for us and for fans. We feed off the audience’s excitement for the best-known Covenant songs, but strive to make our shows fresh and unexpected with new or lesser known material.
Cryptic Rock – A celebration of 25 years of Sequencer will be the perfect thing to look forward to in 2021. To ask something a little left-field, it seems that, unlike many other music ‘scenes,’ the EBM/Synthpop scene is much less competitive and much more supportive of one another—which is wonderful. That said, have you heard Assemblage 23’s brand new Mourn and what did you think?
Eskil Simonsson – We performed with Tom on our first tour in the United States in 1997 and have been friends ever since. They are great!
Cryptic Rock – They are and Mourn is wonderful. But to get back to Covenant, are you doing anything special to keep engaged with your fans throughout this strange year?
Eskil Simonsson – I started a Patreon presence as an alternative to the live, in-person music experience we could no longer have together. I wanted to offer fans a new way to stay in touch and experience my artistic laboratory in real-time.
Cryptic Rock – Okay, last question. At Cryptic Rock, we cover music as well as films, particularly Horror and Sci-Fi. We are going to assume that you are a fan of Sci-Fi, are you also a fan of Horror? If so, what are some of your favorite Horror and/or Sci-Fi films?
Eskil Simonsson – Our debut album, Dreams of a Cryotank (first released in 1994) sprang from our fixation on Science Fiction dystopia, such as Blade Runner (1982) – the song “Replicant” being the most overt reference. Another favorite film is Persona, a Psychological Drama from 1966 written and directed by Ingmar Bergman.
For more on Covenant: covenant.se | Twitter | Instagram
Check out list of upcoming Covenant shows in Germany for 2021 here