DATE OF INTERVIEW:
1st October 2010
TOR ODDMUND SUHRKE; EINAR SOLBERG; ØYSTEIN LANDSVERK; HALVOR STRAND; TOBIAS ØRNES ANDERSEN
Formed back in 2001, Norwegian quintet Leprous only had a couple of demo releases to their name, 2004 EP 'Silent Waters' and an album two years later, 'Aeolia', before they burst onto the scene good and proper when they unleashed debut full length 'Tall Poppy Syndrome' on Sensory Records in 2009 to ubiquitous rave reviews. Although metal at core, the poly-genre approach they adopt in their compositions and seamless blend of disparate musical styles makes them one of the most exciting bands to emerge from the scene in a long time, and forging an innovative sound that is uniquely their own and instantly discernible as Leprous, they are undoubtedly one of progressive music's brightest hopes for the future. Also Ihsahn's backing band, it is their own music for which they have started to make a name for themselves and deservedly so, for based on the strength of material on 'Tall Poppy Syndrome' alone, one gets the feeling Leprous are on the threshold of major success. Booked to perform an hour and a quarter set at the 2010 edition of Holland's ProgPower festival, the talented Norwegian musicians chatted to Metal Discovery in their dressing room a short while after coming off stage...
METAL DISCOVERY: Last year’s ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ is actually one of the best albums I’ve heard in the last decade. How pleased are you with how it turned out, and did it meet your own expectations of what you were aiming for?
EINAR SOLBERG: We are very pleased with the result, but we’ve grown a bit tired of it! [laughs] So we’re just focussing on the new material.
(Tor Oddmund Suhrke on trialling new material live)
"...we often play several times live and then change them after we’ve played them because then we find out that...“oh, that part went on a bit too long so we’ll change that”...sometimes, we’ll also just throw away entire songs because nothing seems to work!"
Leprous in their dressing room in the Sjiwa, Baarlo, Netherlands, 1st October 2010
Photograph copyright © 2010 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
TOR ODDMUND SUHRKE: But, of course, when we play concerts we play a lot of ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ songs because we know that people want to hear them. Until we record the new album then that will be our main…erm…
MD: …the main focus in your live sets.
MD: It seemed half and half tonight though; you seemed to put a lot of new material in there.
ES: It was a bit more of ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’.
ØYSTEIN LANDSVERK: When we recorded the album we were happy with the result, but now it’s a little bit boring! [laughs]
ES: We’ve heard the songs a couple of times! [laughs]
MD: It’s not boring for me and other people who are maybe hearing them live for the first time!
TS: Actually, for my sake, I was a bit bored, but now I’ve got like a renaissance and I think it’s cool again! [laughs]
MD: The reviews have been generally incredible; virtually every review I’ve read has been glowing…
ES: Almost everyone. We got a 1 out of 10 or something.
MD: Who was that?
ES: Metal Crypt.
MD: Constructive criticism?
ES: No, no, it was like they just didn’t like it.
MD: Did you realise you had a work of such awesomeness on your hands and anticipated good reviews, or did you just put it out there and waited to see what came in?
TS: Well, I think we were satisfied with the material and hoped it would catch the attention of many people, but you never know.
ES: But we do believe in what we do or else…
TS: Of course, else we wouldn’t have recorded it. We used a lot of time making the songs and we actually played most of them for a long period of time.
MD: I heard it was a two year period over which you recorded it?
ES: Yeah, and throwing away stuff, and adding stuff, and…
MD: So quite a long time.
ES: It’s not that we could have done it faster but we have to finance everything ourselves so…
TOBIAS ØRNES ANDERSEN: We made it in two years but it was recorded in three weeks.
MD: And you recorded the album in summer 2008 I read, but it didn’t actually see the light of day until last year – was that a frustrating period having recorded it and not being able to get it out there for so long?
ES: Yeah, we were just selling it round to labels and hoping for the best.
TS: Actually, it didn’t take that long until we got the contract. When that was settled it took some months for them to get ready to release it.
MD: ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ refers to when people are criticised for their achievements and what they’re good at doing – what does that concept mean for the band in terms of the album? Do you use it metaphorically at all?
TS: Yeah, well, it has many meanings because, first of all, we try to not let people tell us – “don’t think that you are that special”. It’s a very common thing for people to say that “oh, we think you’re so cool because you play…”…
ES: Especially in Norway.
ES: Very typical.
TS: So we try just to…I think bands should not try to copy other bands. Of course, Leprous sounds like other bands, we don’t create something completely new, but we don’t have any rules.
MD: Yeah, I guess to do something completely new you would have to build your own instruments that are unlike any other instruments known to man. Everything is influenced by something to a degree.
MD: Is the songwriting process a fairly natural one for the band or is it more of a struggle to get to where you want to be because the songs have so many different parts and layers?
ES: It’s very natural, actually. We work very well together as a team.
TS: And we often play several times live and then change them after we’ve played them because then we find out that “oh, that part didn’t work, or…”
MD: In terms of gauging audience reactions?
TS: Yeah, yeah. It’s like “oh, that part went on a bit too long so we’ll change that”. You know, it’s like that. And, sometimes, we’ll also just throw away entire songs because nothing seems to work! [laughs]
MD: Ones where the audience are just stood there motionless perhaps!
ES: It’s more like when we hear it ourselves…“yeah, this is okay, but it isn’t great”, and then it gets thrown away.
TS: And because we record all the concerts and watch them afterwards.
MD: So you’re kind of trialling new material the whole time?
OL: Yeah, it gives a different perspective hearing it from the outside.
MD: So what we’ve heard tonight might not be what we hear on the new album when it’s recorded?
TS: Well, for example, ‘Passing’, you should listen to some old recordings of that because it went through several major changes.
MD: So when you get really big and people bootleg your gigs, the songs will be nothing like the albums, and people will be buying the old bootlegs and…“this doesn’t sound like the songs, is it the same band?!”
MD: Some of the songs, like the chorus of ‘White’ in particular, and on ‘He Will Kill Again’, there are some very melodramatic melodies and vocal lines…I don’t know if melodrama’s a good word to describe those, but they wouldn’t sound out of place in a musical…
ES: Yeah, I’ve done some musical stuff but I haven’t done it in a while so there won’t be so much of it on the new album.
MD: So the musical stuff you’ve done proved to be an inspiration when you wrote those parts?
ES: Yeah. I’ve done stuff like ‘Les Misérables’ and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’…
MD: You should keep those melodramatic parts in there as they sound really good! ‘Passing’ sounds like it has a big Pain of Salvation influence but in the interviews I read when I was researching this, you mention a lot of influences but not Pain of Salvation.
MD: Okay, maybe I read the wrong interviews!
ES: They were a really big inspiration for all of us many years ago but we haven’t listened that much to them in a while.
TS: I actually thought about it sometimes…‘Oh, I forgot to mention Pain of Salvation’ in that interview”. Yeah, everybody was listening to it some years ago but, of course, you still have it in your subconscious.
MD: You seem to get compared to Opeth quite a lot in reviews and stuff but I think that’s kind of lazy journalism because people just hear the mellow parts and the heavy parts and say – “right, Opeth”. I was thinking about it, why that might be and comes about so much, and I think that when people first hear the album and they’re reviewing it, I think the first few bars of ‘Passing’ are quite Opeth-esque, and maybe that frames the rest of the album in people’s minds that it all sounds like Opeth, even though it’s nothing like Opeth at all. Is it frustrating to get that kind of comparison?
OL: I’m glad you noticed it!
ES: It’s not that it’s frustrating; it’s not the worst band to be compared to, but…
OL: …it seems lazy, like you say.
ES: People have a need to compare so they need to compare us to someone. All journalists just seem to need to compare.
MD: Exactly, rather than talking about the merits of the music.
ES: The first question people ask is – “So, who do you sound like?”, and – “I don’t know!”
MD: People ask you that?
MD: Because they’ve never heard you?
MD: Like you say though, there are worse bands to be compared to so there’s kind of a compliment in there as well.
TS: And, of course, they have a large fan base so if everyone who listens to Opeth also likes us…! [laughs]
MD: So you need to be compared to the Rolling Stones, Radiohead…I’ll do that next time!
TA: Yeah, we sound like The Beatles!
ES: Michael Jackson!
MD: Britney Spears…you’ll be massive!
MD: You switch between a lot of different styles in your music – would you say Leprous are a metal band at core or more of a diverse band who have metal as one influence?
ES: It’s a metal band but we don’t have any particular rules so we do exactly whatever we want.
OL: We just make whatever we think sounds cool and just try to keep it consistent.
ES: Without a doubt metal, although no-one listens particularly very much to metal anymore! [laughs] Some bands, of course, we still listen to them.
MD: The way you layer both guitars with disparate parts is untraditionally metal as it’s not riff-based that often.
TS: That’s probably because it’s not just the guitars that make the music…
ES: Yeah, it’s done on keyboards as well.
TS: We transfer what he plays to the guitars and find something new.
ES: That’s probably what makes it somewhat diverse.