DATE OF INTERVIEW:
22nd October 2012
METAL DISCOVERY: This is your first headline tour after jaunts supporting the likes of Therion, Amorphis and Opeth over the last couple of years. Are you enjoying it? How has the transition been from support to leading role?
EINAR: The difference is huge. It has its up and downsides. The upside is that no matter how many or how few people are in the audience, we still usually get a nice response from them, because most people are here to see us. You don't have to fight so extremely hard for every cheer, like you do on the support tours; no matter how hard you struggle, people can seem bored, and this is the curse of being a support band. However, regarding most other things, it's so much harder work to headline. We had planned to do the tour blog and make videos, but had to forget about that entirely. There's no time for it; it's a matter of making sure things are working, and getting the show going. That's our main concern, and we have no energy or time to do anything else.
(Einar Solberg on distinguishing between genuine and generic prog)
"...to me, to be a progressive band is to actually 'progress', and to do something based not upon expectations, but breaking boundaries in a way that feels comfortable to you. If you play in a Dream Theater cover band, which many of today's 'progressive' bands do, there's nothing progressive about that; you're just standing on the same level."
Interview by Rhiannon Marley; Photography by Mark Holmes
Official Leprous Facebook:
Aeolia (Demo Album) (2006)
Albums & EPs
Thanks to Freddy Palmer for arranging the interview.
You're sitting in some hypothetical dingy bolt-hole in Camden. You're hunched, pint-in-hand, over the table, chatting with some fellow metallers. Everything's going great, so you throw a name that's been rolling around your iPod for a couple of days. “Oh, they're fantastic,” remarks someone, “I just love progressive melodeath.” It all goes quiet. The Red Sea parts. “You've got to be kidding,” retorts another, “they're not melodeath; they're NWOBHM with fry vocals.” “Not my thing; I only listen to black or Viking metal.” “You're nuts; Viking metal doesn't even exist as a genre...” Your company are so busy nit-picking, they don't notice that you've nicked their Carlsbergs and legged it.
Leprous don't entertain such stylistic pedantries. Yet the Norwegians have created their own mosaic of sound: one as passionate as it is prismatic. On the London leg of their first headline tour, and riding the back of 2011's stunning 'Bilateral', the gents are putting their wares to the lions, and stamina to the test. Frontman and keyboardist Einar Solberg grapples the meaning of music, European bureaucracy and the cons of potatoes with Metal-Discovery...
Einar Solberg in The Underworld, London, UK, 22nd October 2012
Photograph copyright © 2012 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Official Leprous website:
Tall Poppy Syndrome (2009)
Silent Waters (Demo EP) (2004)
MD: Was it part of your master plan to get Leprous' music out there to wider audiences before doing your own headline shows, or is it just the way circumstances have transpired?
EINAR: I think it's nice to do a couple of support tours before you head out on your own, but no more than that, because people will never take you seriously; they'll think you never achieve anything. The band were extremely sceptical about doing this headline tour, because we thought, 'We're not big enough, we're not ready, etc.' But our manager pushed us really hard towards it, and it was a smart move to make, because everyone takes us so much more seriously now. We've already been booked for six really great festivals next year, and the response has been very good. Only in a few places has there been very few people turning up to the gigs. If you play on a Sunday, in somewhere you've never played before, after a week of promotion, it's bound to be a bit slow! [Laughs]
MD: I gather you've been test-driving your new material in your set; how has that been going down?
EINAR: We've been playing a couple of new songs; tonight, we're only doing one new one because of strict curfews, but it's called 'Coal'. Not 'cold', but the stuff you burn! We chose this particular song because it goes quite well with the previous stuff. But in general, much of the new stuff is quite different from ‘Bilateral’. This will be the case every time we make a new CD or album; it will always be something new and won't sound like the previous one. People will be disappointed upon first listen. But people think they don't want change, when actually, they do! It's just comfortable to have things as they were before; they don't like big surprises when they expect something to be as it used to be. But in art, when has there ever been a time of doing the same thing twice? Of course, people will have their favourites of the albums, but the day I choose to make the same album twice is the day I will quit. I think I've just completely distracted you from the actual question there! [Laughs]
Regarding this tour in general, it's not been a walk in the park at all. There have been many nice moments and positive surprises, but it's been extremely hard work. I think we've encountered technical issues that don't even exist, and that it wasn't actually possible to encounter! In Eastern Europe for example, radio signals will suddenly interrupt the right channel of my keyboard... It's something about the power in Romania and Bulgaria; don't get me wrong, they're some of our favourite places to play, regarding audience and everything. But the power is quite unstable, and really weird stuff can, and does, happen to the equipment.
MD: There was a spontaneous, one-off 'Aiming for Enrike' performance at the warm-up show in Oslo – what was that all about?
EINAR: It's the band of our drummer: a two-piece outfit of guitar and drums, and a really cool live act. It's very loop-based; one guitar, and tons of loop pedals, building layers and layers. It sounds really massive with just two people. I regret that we didn't bring them on tour; they would be a very nice addition. It ended up being more of a metal tour than I wanted it to be; I wanted it to be more diverse, and they would be a great flavour and spice to have with us. It's just instrumental, no vocals, but it's really cool. I think we'll bring them along later; after all, it's just one extra guy, and we already have our drummer! [Laughs]
MD: I understand you encountered some problems with the show in Serbia, and had to cancel – what was that all about?
EINAR: There is a lot of bureaucracy out there, and it's very unpredictable. Our Danish manager checked with the Serbian Embassy in Denmark to see if there were any papers we needed, but he said “No, you can just fill them out when you get there; go straight there.” Then when we got there, they said, “Oh, by the way, you need those papers...” So we said, “But we were told that we were OK...” Then we ended up waiting about 10 hours, and we didn't play. We got messages from people on Facebook, saying “The venue was completely packed! People were waiting with Norwegian flags!” And we thought, “Oh no!” So we're going to fly there and do a show before Christmas, because we never cancel. This was completely out of our control. We tried our best; we even tried to get in via another border, thinking we might have more luck there! But two days later, we went from Bulgaria to Croatia, and then through Serbia, and suddenly, it was OK; no trouble at all. As I said, it's completely unpredictable.
MD: Reviews have been glowing of ‘Bilateral’; it's such a composite of styles and influences, and one of the most original works I've come across in a long time. In your own words, how do you think your musical voice has evolved from ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’?
EINAR: It's just been a natural evolution; we never plan any change or going in this or that direction, because I think that gets very 'forced'. I think the best thing to do is to naturally let whatever happens, happen. It's also about being completely open when you write music: don't consider what you've done before, what others expect you to do, or anything other than what you have inside you. This is what we did with ‘Bilateral’; it was written over a long time, because I actually lived in the UK during one of the years in which we wrote it. I wasn't at home in Norway much, and I think that contributed to the songs being so diverse on it. Some tracks are fairly similar to those on ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’; I'd say the last song, 'Painful Detour', could have fitted onto ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’, for instance. It's very symphonic. But I think in general, ‘Bilateral’ is more playful than ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’, and I'm much more satisfied with the vocals on it. I cannot listen to ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’, because I dislike my vocals so much. Especially with my English, I just think it sounds horrible! [Laughs] But the downside of being a perfectionist is that you can't listen to your previous stuff. Even though I can understand why people like it, I can't enjoy it myself any more. I can still play it live, but if I listen, I just focus on what I should and shouldn't have done. You change all the time. But at the time, ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ was the absolute best we could make. Many people prefer ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ to ‘Bilateral’; it depends on the person, but I think it's good that each album has a strong character, and people can choose their own favourites.
[We pause temporarily as some of the band approach Einar about what food he wants later on. They converse in Norwegian, and he confirms Indian food.]
EINAR: I'm a vegetarian; I think Indian food provides the best for vegetarians. I love it. And even before I became a vegetarian, I preferred the vegetarian Indian food to the non-vegetarian! [Laughs] I really have nothing good to say about the meat industry and mass-production. At the point of changing my mind, I was actually eating a very big kebab, and suddenly, I just didn't feel good about it at all. I considered many things afterwards, and thought, 'I actually don't like this, or like supporting it.' I continued eating seafood for a while, but then I stopped eating that too.
MD: Concerning your song-writing, is there anything you bear in mind when penning a tune to make sure that all your diverse influences don't sound clunky when coming together? You manage to make your albums sound like flawless amalgams rather than patchy collages of sound; is there a method to this?
EINAR: I think we consider it differently, because we're not genre-conscious. We don't think about putting some of this here, and some of that there. Genres are just something human-made: boundaries made by humans, to either follow or ignore. If you think, 'I'm going to make a thrash metal album', then you're bound to do something that people have done before you. But if you just think, 'I'm going to make music, and whatever comes out, comes out', then it comes out. I think all our influences are from the subconscious, and not from choosing them on purpose.
The bands who truly last, with a few exceptions like AC/DC, are the ones who challenge, because people need to be challenged. It's the only way for many bands to survive and get somewhere: to reach new audiences, new places and new people. Just do your thing. Ihsahn has many good examples of this: he has always done what he wants, and that always has a very split reaction from his fans. For example, when Emperor released Anthems [To The Welkin At Dusk], they were slaughtered by so many people, because it wasn't In The Nightside Eclipse. But then, suddenly, Anthems was the grandest thing that ever happened to black metal. This happens every single time: when people receive something they're not used to, they run and hide from it, then accept it. From 'No!' to 'Hmm...' to 'YEAH!' [Laughs]
It's a matter of not being that interested in genres in general, and this is the case for the music I like as well. You can't put a label on most of the bands I listen to; for me, the important thing about music is that it's passionate. I'm learning to distinguish more and more between what's passionate and what's routine. 80-90% feels like routine to me, especially in the metal business, because there are so many conventions that people expect you to follow. When you slip into routine, you don't feel the passion; you just feel comfortable with a way of living, touring, drinking beer, etc., but you don't have anything to say any more. You just make what you think people expect from you. It's a comfortable thing to do; it's not always comfortable to challenge a listener, because people get annoyed with you if you give them something they don't expect. I think I’ve said this in too many interviews, but it's a good comparison – when the new 'Timeline' appeared on Facebook, everybody hated it. But now, when I look back at the previous one, I think it looks extremely stupid! [Laughs] Even though people think they don't want to be challenged, that they want to have the same bread and cheese every day, it's not really what they want.
MD: If you're not a fan of genre conventions Einar, how do you feel about Leprous being classified into the genre of progressive rock? Do you feel it's the most appropriate title for your music?
EINAR: Well, I know it has to be classified, because of promotion. I couldn't say, “Hey, this is music!” [Laughs] But it's more for the promotional purposes than from our own choice. And I guess it's quite comfortable for us to be in the progressive genre, because I feel that the listeners there are more open-minded than those in the metal sphere. I find metal audiences to be much more difficult to approach. So we aim ourselves towards the prog audience, and those metal fans that do like us can then feel free to join them. The metal environment is quite 'closed' in many ways; it's supposed to be, 'Yeah, you're free to do your own thing', but actually, it's the complete opposite, especially the extreme metal scene. Don't get me wrong, I really like a lot of extreme metal, but I don't like the attitude towards many of its fans. It's just very childish in many respects; like a teenager that has to belong to this or that subculture, they think, 'This is what I like, and I cannot go outside of this small box'. For me, music is just emotions, and a way to treat all of your own different emotions. Sometimes, I’m in the mood to trigger my aggression, and might put on some extreme metal. Other times, I might want to be completely quiet and locked into my own head, with candles, incense and classical music. It just depends.
MD: Many have also been asking about your blog photo after you head-butted your keyboard on tour – is this a regular occurrence?!
EINAR: It happened twice! Both times were this year, as well! One time, I had to have it stitched up, but the other time, although it was much more painful and was bleeding and such, it didn't have to have anything done to it. Now on my keyboard, I have this very soft protection on the place where I usually bang my head! But my keyboard got broken, so I'm borrowing another at the moment.
MD: I want to touch on ‘Bilateral’s artwork; you've been quoted as saying your cover, designed by Jeff Jordan of Mars Volta fame, “just screams prog rock”. What is it about surrealism and prog that you think goes so well together?
EINAR: I think the element of surprise, and not knowing exactly what's going on, goes very well with prog. You don't know exactly what's happening in either the music, or the picture you're looking at. But it's nice, because there's room for interpretation; I'll never tell anyone my interpretation of the cover, for example, because I prefer other people to have their own views and thoughts. It's like David Lynch movies: everyone makes their own judgements. It's a good subject to talk about with friends! [Laughs]
MD: I was also interested to see your iPad wallpapers, Firefox 'personas' and that you were the first band in the world to launch a mobile website. What are your thoughts on the scope that social media provides to access your audience?
EINAR: It's a great platform, I think. These days, when people don't really buy that much music any more, you have to take other measures to reach people. We in the band are all fans of technology, so we kind of use it to access as many and as varied a group of people as possible. It's everywhere nowadays; we have to go with the flow to be seen and followed.
[Someone onstage starts growling painfully into a microphone for the sound check, which can be heard over the speakers...]
MD: I've read in interviews that you think prog as a genre has been 'diluted' over the years. Do you think that's down to artists fusing it with other genres? Perhaps the current nature of popular music? Something else entirely?
EINAR: [Looking up at speakers above his head] It's so hard to concentrate when someone's doing a very, very bad impression of Lemmy! [Laughs] Yes, the prog scene... Most bands that are considered 'progressive' have nothing to do with progressive music, in my opinion. I appreciate that my definition is different to someone else's, but to me, to be a progressive band is to actually 'progress', and to do something based not upon expectations, but breaking boundaries in a way that feels comfortable to you. If you play in a Dream Theater cover band, which many of today's 'progressive' bands do, there's nothing progressive about that; you're just standing on the same level. I think too many bands are calling themselves progressive, and it's a title you have to earn. Progressive metal and progressive music in general has always been about breaking boundaries and continuing to build, instead of just taking what's already been made and remodelling it.
MD: I'm assuming that to you, to be a progressive musician in 2012 means to extend things along a new course, then? To continue inventing, creating, and exploring as much new ground as possible, in as many fresh ways as you can?
EINAR: Yes. And to be someone who doesn't consider limitations and boundaries, and isn't afraid to explore them.
MD: And finally, tell me about this juicer of yours that you all take on tour – what's the weirdest combination of fruit and veg you've sampled thus far?!
EINAR: [Laughs] We've had a lot of weird shit! The worst thing we had was actually potatoes; just potatoes in the juicer on their own, and they tasted like eating dirt and soil! Onions aren't great in there, either. I was about to try this high grass stuff that burns you when you touch it – what's it called in English? Not grass – it's some green plant. You have them here in England, I know you do! [Laughs]
MD: Rhubarb? Marijuana?!
EINAR: No! I don't know this word in English, but it's very common. You'll have to look it up! But I was going to try that as well...