The Specials Page

Specials Index | DPRP main

An interview with Lana Lane and Erik Norlander

"The new phase in the evolution of progressive rock is prog metal."
By Remco Schoenmakers


Wednesday 16 may, I met Lana Lane and Erik Norlander after their concert in Vosselaar, Belgium (see concert reviews). I had the pleasure to be able to ask them a couple of questions.

Remco:
Congratulations on a fabulous show! To be able to give such a performance at the end of a tour...

Lana:
Yeeehh! Glad you liked it, thank you!

Remco:
The tour lasted three weeks?

Erik:
Yes, just a little bit over three weeks, maybe fifteen shows. We had to cancel Barcelona, but we added two more in Germany. So there were some that we played that were not announced on the website. We played last night in Kaiserslautern in Germany.

Remco:
Did you enjoy the tour?

Lana:
Absolutely, we really enjoyed it.

Erik:
Very much, we got a very good audience response everywhere we went. In some places, like for instance in Spain, we had huge audiences, whereas at a couple of gigs in the very north of Germany, that were not promoted very well, there weren't as many people there but everybody was really enthusiastic. It was still great. Last night in Kaiserslautern we had a really full house and had a couple of people that had also come to previous shows and came from even as far as Hamburg to see the show again. That was great.

Remco:
Erik, you have quite a lot of gear you have to carry around. It must be quite a logistic undertaking to get a show on the road like this. Did you arrange everything yourself?

Erik:
We have a small crew that travels with us and everyone in the band helps out and at the venues we have stagehands that help us load and unload. We had a nightliner tourbus for most of the tour, but the last two gigs we used cars as we were based in Holland for the tour [they stayed at Arjen Lucassen's place].

Remco:
The Moog [the big black box behind Erik on the pictures] must be really heavy...

Erik:
You know, people have asked me that, but I have no idea...it must be 400 Lbs...not quite as heavy as you would think, but still quite heavy. [Somebody walks in] How heavy is the Moog? 300 kilos. [Lana agrees].

Remco:
It has quite some dimensions as well ..

Erik:
Yes, almost 2 meters tall and about the same width.

Remco:
You were having quite a battle during Neurosaur, attacking six different keyboards at once. Is that the way you always play it? It seemed to be an intermediate between the versions on Threshold and on Into The Sunset.

Erik:
That's a song I have played for several years now. It has basically four different sections, and there are all weird synthesiser sounds and I try to use my whole brick during that. On Into The Sunset I did it with Arjen Lucassen on heavy guitar. It started as kind of a joke, as the main riff in it is very much a guitar riff, but I played it on Threshold with no guitars, but if you play it on a guitar it is perfect, it's like a Rush song, or Led Zeppelin. I thought for Into The Sunset, let's do a remake of Neurosaur with very heavy guitar and I approached it really differently than on Threshold. On the tour, I think it is indeed in between the two. Still no guitar in it, but Ed Warby plays it differently than Greg Ellis, who is the drummer on both of the other versions and I think the keyboards are a bit more aggressive due to the live setting and the modular Moog and I hope it will continue to change.

Remco:
Was the tour profitable for you?

Erik:
You won't get rich touring on this level, but if you're careful about the money... it would have been nicer to have a bigger crew, two busses and a bigger truck, but we tried to spend money where it really counted, give the musicians good salary and wanted to have a nice tourbus, so you're fit when you're starting the show.

Lana:
We had a doubledecker bus, 16 beds for 9 people...really nice.

Erik:
But the way we make money is by merchandising, we make more money on selling t-shirts and CD's than we do at the actual shows. So it's a combination of the two. I think in Europe the ticket prices are cheaper than in the United States, a gig in the US we charge about $25 for a ticket whereas here it is not even 25 guilders. It would be nice if ticket prices were a bit higher.

Remco:
How did you decide what tracks to use for the set?

Erik:
We wanted to represent all of our recent work and we released quite a lot of albums in the last few years. The most recent ones are the Love Is An Illusion re-issue, which is Lana's debut album, and before that the Ballad Collection double CD and Lana's last regular CD Secrets Of Astrology, which was released in 2000. So in one year she has released three albums, and then I did Into The Sunset and at the very end of 1999 we did the Rocket Scientist Oblivion Days, so we had those albums that we wanted to represent and wanted to take at least two songs each from these albums. And then the one before Secrets of Astrology for Lana was Queen of the Ocean, and we played two songs from that, Symphony of Angels and Escher's Staircase.

Lana:
I think it was quite nice for people to get a taste of a lot of different things, like the Stick solo, the Prog Medley... and it gives me a break..it's a nice pace I think.


Remco: Lana, what do you prefer, recording or being on tour/performing.

Lana:
A difficult question as they are so entirely different. In the studio it's very focussed and deliberate what your doing. Live you have the reaction of the audience and try things that I would normally do recording that may not translate live. I like to do both, I have no real preference. I think you have to do both to be a well-rounded musician. If you're always only recording I think you will become a little safe in what you try, you can work things out for ever and ever. If you only like to play live, I think you may become a little reckless, maybe not pay enough attention to certain things... I couldn't choose.

Remco:
How do you work together, since you're married? In your situation, do you think of something and then immediately run to Erik and vice versa?

Lana:
No, that's not true. We work separately for the most part., I will compose songs on the acoustic guitar with just a little tapedeck, and I will play the chords, sing the melody and create the lyrics and bring that to Erik and tell him what kind of song I see it as and he'll take over the arrangements from there. And it works the other way around like that as well.

Erik:
Yep, even when I write songs for Lana on my own, I write them on my own in a vacuum, and put a demo together. Then Lana will come and sing a reference vocal over it and from there we decide if we like the song. It's the same as anyone, the fact that we're married and been together for over 14 years doesn't really change that, it is still a normal working relationship.

Lana:
Maybe a little better in some ways, as there is total trust and honesty there, because we rely on each other. If Erik doesn't like something or thinks a lyric is weak, I go away and think about it and come back and say, well there's no other way for me to say it, or re-write it.

Remco:
Erik, you seem to have developed a structure in all your albums now with a prelude, interlude and postlude, structuring the album. Are you continuing with that in the future?

Erik:
When I was growing up listening to music I always loved albums that had a theme that ran through them all, especially when the theme would come back throughout the album. I like listening to an album, much more then I like listening to individual songs. A lot of people will make a mix of 15 different songs by 15 different artists, I don't like that because I want to get into the album. You can say something in one song, but you can say a whole lot more in an entire album. I really like progressive rock because you don't have to do everything within a three minute song, or get to the chorus within 30 seconds. It's much more free, creative and artistic and if you have a long instrumental theme that has a lot to say, you can just play it and the vocals come in when the vocals come in. I really hate the pop formula and I don't want to work with that. All the albums I grew up with, Yes, ELP, Procul Harum, Supertramp, Rush, Pink Floyd, King Crimson.....

Remco:
... those are bands that indeed are symphonic rock, but the vocals have always been a bit lacking. I believe you are breaking with that and get the vocals up front as well...?

Erik:
I think in the late sixties, early seventies, it was OK to have a weak singer. But now, in 2001, it is not OK to have a weak singer. The new phase in the evolution of progressive rock, I believe, is prog metal. You have bands like Ayreon, Rhapsody, Stratovarius, Symphony X, Angra and Dream Theater... These bands are the new progressive rock. All of those bands have strong singers.

Remco:
But male. There are very few female singers in prog.

Erik:
To me, that has never been a limitation, I never thought, oh the singer has to be male. On my solo album, Lana sings, for me it is not necessary to have a male singer. In fact, it might even make it a bit more artistic to have a female singer.

Remco:
Do you have an idea Lana, why there are so few female singers in progressive rock.

Lana:
It's sort of uncharted territory for women. I think that they don't realise that they can make it there own thing. I am sure there are a few die-hard progressive people that would not consider me progressive and deep down, I don't consider myself progressive, I consider myself symphonic.

Remco:
What do you then consider the difference between progressive and symphonic?

Lana:
Symphonic is very lush and there are, for lack of a better term, commercial elements in the structure of those songs. In progressive music, to my ear, often it's more a journey you take, there is no structure to the songs. Long instrumental pieces, a little vocal here and there, odd timing, whereas symphonic is more structured to me. I think maybe women may be afraid of it a little bit, as it is really technical and like Erik was saying it was OK to have a weak singer early on, but the musicianship was so great, and it still is, I have always felt: why are the vocals so weak, why shouldn't that be on the same level as well? If women would try it, they might find their way...

Remco:
...The only two other singers I can come up with so quickly are Anneke and Tracy. Did you ever meet?

Lana:
No, neither of them, even though Anneke and I are on a Ayreon CD together. It has been such a male dominated style of music, it might be a little frightening for women. I have Erik to guide me, I really am a bigger fan of metal and of melodic rock and he has introduce me to many progressive acts. Maybe they don't have anybody to guide them.

Remco:
Are you planning any new albums or collaborations ?

Erik:
We are already writing songs for the next Lana Lane album that will be out early next year. I just finished mixing an album for a band called Ring of Fire, which is fronted by Mark Holmes (?), which is a singer from Yngwy Malmsteen, a really great rock singer. I am also starting a project with Bob Darma, who is the guitarist and singer of Blue Oyster Cult, hopefully we'll be doing something later this year. Arjen Lucassen and I are of course really good friends, always working together. There are no immediate plans with the Rocket Scientists. Mark McCrite has a new daughter and is spending a lot of time with his family. We respect that (we're the godparents !) and think it's great. We tried to get Mark on this tour, but he couldn't be away from home this long. I think that when the daughter gets a little bit older, maybe in a year or so, we'll do another album. In the mean time, it seems that there is always a few years between Rocket Scientists albums, so I think the next will be no expection.

Remco:
When you write new material, do you do it with a certain project in mind, or do you decide afterwards on which album it will go?

Erik:
No, it is always very focussed. If I am writing a song for Lana, it is clearly for Lana. Unfortunately, I do not have the luxury to sit behind the piano and go, " I wonder what I am going to write today". We're doing a Lana Lane album and for the next three, four, even six months I am thinking of nothing else but that album. So in that frame of mind, the vocals and melodies are up front. For Rocket Scientists, it is totally different. It's very much a collaboration between Mark and myself, which is very interesting as Mark has more of a pop influence, a kind of psychedelic sixties influence, Beatles, Moody Blues, that kind of thing. We do a lot of writing together, and it always ends up as it's own....thing. A totally different way of thinking. For my solo work I want to do things that I can't do with Lana and can't do with Rocket Scientists. Into The Sunset came about because I wanted to do music that was more towards prog metal and it was too heavy for Rocket Scientists and too instrumental oriented for Lana Lane.

Remco:
I myself find Oblivion Days heavier than Into The Sunset

Erik:
Really? But I think you can't think of Mark singing Rome is Burning?

Remco:
No, ok. But the title track is quite heavy, as is 1999. Whereas Dreamcurrents and Fly is powerful, but calling it heavy?

Erik:
Maybe it is more a question of the singers, Glenn Hughes, Robert Soeterbroek are much more aggressive singers. I would never have written those songs for Mark to sing. Writing for Mark is different. Oblivion Days and Aqua Vitae were tracks that really pushed Mark, he never sung that aggressive before. He was very enthusiastic about it, but it was not his natural tendency, that's sitting on a coach with an acoustic guitar playing Beatle songs. So it was a stretch for him, and it was good.

Remco:
Talking about Rocket Scientists, will the older albums be re-released in Europe?

Erik:
They have never been released in Europe. We don't have any plan to release them in Europe at the moment, but they are definitely available through import, through Think Tank, but I hope within a year or two we can make a deal to release the first album, Earthbound, Brutal Architecture and my first solo album Threshold, it would be nice to release them here. We sell a lot of copies through mailorder, but you can't go to the shop and get them yet. But we don't want to do a thing like take Earthbound and Brutal Architecture and make a double CD, stick a low price on it and sell them like that...

Remco:
Sounds good though....

Erik:
It's just, I don't know, I think those albums have a life of their own, and I would hate to combine them for marketing reasons. But it's probably what we have to do anyway, so who knows....

Remco:
Thanks a lot for the interview, both of you.

 

 


2001 - Remco Schoenmakers (text) & Samantha Jagersma (photos)