Norway’s Leprous have been around for a few years now, but really burst onto the Prog scene with their latest album Bilateral. This release got a DPRP Perfect 10 rating from our radio-show host Andy Read; I have to admit I would have come to the same score as it’s my favorite release of 2011 – and there were a LOT of fabulous releases last year. Supporting Finnish prog-metallers Amorphis on a huge tour around Europe, the penultimate gig brought them to Belgium’s Biebeob venue in Vosselaar where I had the pleasure to chat to singer/keyboardist Einar Solberg and guitarist Tor Oddmund Suhrke before the gig.
Before we get into the interview proper, you may not be aware, but DPRP has a radio show that goes out weekly on Stroud FM and a podcast a few days later. The presenter, Andy Read, is currently making two special shows that countdown his personal top 25 of 2011 and I’m pleased to tell you that Bilateral is number 1.
Einar, Tor: Wow, seriously? That’s cool!
So guys, you’re just coming off the end of a very long tour. How many dates was it?
Einar: If we include Japan it’s 45
That’s a really serious tour, you guys must hate the sight of each other, stuck in a bus all day?
Einar: No, no problems at all. We travel very comfortably, the bus is very nice. There’s enough space and the Amorphis guys are really nice to share a bus with. Everyone gets along and there have been no problems at all.
Tonight you also have The Man-Eating Tree on the bill… but they weren’t on the initial tour?
Einar: No, they’re only here for the second leg.
So how has it gone down? You’re making new fans? Selling lots of merchandise? Spreading the word?
Einear: I think it has been going really good as we’d hoped for. We get quite a good response every night, there haven’t been any shows where it has been horrible or anything and we feel the interest is growing, going as planned. Even though Leprous music is quite different from Amorphis I think that can only be a good thing as we can reach out to people we wouldn’t reach out elsewhere, if you know what I mean.
In your personal lives are you full-time musicians?
Einear: I’m like a full-time musician, well almost, I’m a musician/music teacher. I do singing lessons with youths and somepiano lessons too, but there hasn’t been too much of that for the last two months!
Tor: We can’t make a living out of just playing, if that’s what you mean, we have to earn some money doing other things
Well that’s pretty normal in the music industry, especially in Prog
Einear: But it’s what we’re aiming for, my goal is to have it as a full-time job. Well, I can’t say anything else can I, I have to say that or it becomes impossible
Tor: That has to be the final goal
Sure, I think of the bands I know personally, in the Prog scene anyway, perhaps five percent are making a living from their music. I think they survive by spreading their product and having their fingers in many pies
Einar: The way we’re trying to do it is although we’re a Prog band, we’re trying to make our package more like a rock show, in a way. Not just standing there performing the music, but tons of energy so that even though people might not be that familiar with progressive music they might find it interesting to just watch.
Well you certainly do the head banging well, doesn’t that hurt your neck?
Einar: Not the neck any more, but my back needs a break after this tour I think!
Tor: And I’m a physical therapist and I do some needling…
Tor: Yeah, acupuncture and stuff
I’m not sure physical therapists are qualified for “needles” Einear, be aware, I think he just wants to sick pins in you!
Einar: Oh he’s using a very special type of needles…
Einar: …that he sticks very deep
Guys, I think you might want to talk about this!
I think it has been a very good year for leprous. Bilateral got a great reception, and not just from DPRP of course, but across the board. Why do you think that is?
Einar: To be honest we were very satisfied with the album ourselves, but I would have expected the reviews to have varied much more, to have some really great, some really bad, but there have been very few bad. We browsed around and found about a hundred reviews or so and worked out the average grade, which was like 8.7 out of 10
Tor: It was over a hundred actually and there were a couple that we around 6 or 7, but the rest were really great
Einar: I’m just really flattered and glad
Why do you think it was so well received?
Tor: I think one of the reasons is that we’re not that famous to begin with, so not so many people were expecting anything. Also perhaps if someone heard the CD and thought it wasn’t very good then I think perhaps they didn’t bother reviewing
Einar: Musically though I don’t think that’s the reason because although it’s quite a complex album it’s still quite catchy in a way. For me it’s very easy to hear although I have heard people say different stuff
Frank, from InsideOut, introduced it to me while we were talking about Opeth back in June. He said “You’ve got to listen to these guys”. I must admit the first play I wasn’t so sure, but second time, perhaps a month or two later I was just floored immediately, the album caught hold of me and I’ve listened to it nearly every day since. There’s so much to discover, even now.
Of course when you hear a new band, one of the first things you think about is “who do they sound like”, so when you grew up, who were you listening to, in fact how long have you guys been playing together?
Tor: Ten years already
Einear: Yeah, but I don’t feel like we’re a ten-year old band at all, we’ve only done this seriously for four years maybe. Before that it was just some random youth band to be honest
Tor: When we started we were also just learning to play, I think I had been playing for only six months
Einear: I had hardly touched an instrument before I started playing with Leprous, well I played trumpet for some years when I was a kid…
And now your teaching people? That’s not bad!
Einear: Vocals is my main instrument that I have been studying mostly
And you have people coming to you for rock or classical tuition?
Einear: Both. My mother is a classical singing teacher and has been for 35 years, she very good at technique, breathing andstuff, but she’s not so good at expression. I had to get that from jazz teachers here and there, plus of course inspiration from the music I was listening to.
And what was that?
Einar: Typical symphonic metal when we first started.
Tor: We went to junior elementary high-school together and both of us listened almost exclusively to hip-hop for quite some years. Then it went over to black and power metal.
You went over to the dark side…
Tor: Well it’s the the common triangle of music – black metal, power metal and hip-hop and that’s what turned into Leprous. We played for the next six years, just like a youth band and then we got a bit more serious when we started recording. Our first album was in 2006.
Tall Poppy Syndrome?
Tor: No, Aeolia.
Einar: That was the point that we really started got get into progressive stuff and as a result the album is just over-the-top progressive, just for the sake of it.
Quick, change the time signature!
Tor: Oh no, this song is only 8 minutes long, we have to double it. Do you have another riff? Yes? Then, throw it in there!
Einar: We need to have at least three drummers playing on this song…
Tor: We’ve heard that some people actually still prefer that album. I actually don’t understand that, but there you go!
Einar: The songs were just way too difficult for us to play at that moment in time, so we didn’t manage to play them well at all.
Tor: Ambition, but not the talent!
Tor: For me this is one of the most obvious changes with our more recent albums, we’ve become better at choosing what to include in each song. I mean they’re still quite complex songs, but now there’s just one main theme perhaps. Not just a random mix of ideas. We’re able to say “OK, this sounds cool, but it’s not right for this song – maybe we’ll use it another time, maybe we’ll throw it away”.
Perhaps this is one reason why Bilateral has been such a success, it’s more focussed
Einar: Yes, it is more focussed. For example, take Restless, we were thinking that we only have two or three sections and that’s not enough. Well, it is enough, we didn’t need to make it any longer.
Tor: We just find different ways of playing around with the same thing.
Einar: There are songs that have a different approach, Painful Detour for instance.
Tor: Yeah, I think that’s the one which is most like what we did on Tall Poppy Syndrome
Maybe, but it’s cohesive within itself
Einar: It has it’s own feel, but along with Forced Entry it’s the most Proggy song we have on Bilateral
You’ve managed to avoid naming any influences, but when I listen to Forced Entry and look for comparisons then I often think Pain of Salvation
Einar: Yeah, I can understand that.
Dave: So I always say, if you like Pain of Salvation then you’ll like Leprous. But then of course you do have your more jazzy and avant-garde side too
Einar: And we can be extreme to, like the song Waste of Air, I’m not sure your average Pain of Salvation fan would like that.
Well I disagree, if I can get on with the whole album…
Tor: It’s our experience that people who are into soft Prog are quite open to harder things, but if we’re playing to extreme metal heads they don’t like it being soft at all.
Needs to be brutal?
Tor: Yeah, it’s more often that we are too soft for the extreme rather than being to extreme for the soft.
In your other role though you’re the backing band of Ishahn, which I guess is quite brutal music?
Einar: Yeah and that’s how we ended up with 8-string guitars, which isn’t a typical instrument for a Prog band or style, but now we have them we thought that we may as well use them! So we them on two or three songs.
You play them tonight?
Tor: Yes they’re the first thing you’ll see before we go on, and the last.
So what do you find yourselves listening to these days?
Einar: We’re searching outside both the metal and Prog scene and looking for other stuff.
Tor: Not necessarily searching, but that’s where we often end up.
Einar: This year I’ve been listening a lot to James Blake, if you’re familiar with him? I found it very interesting, very authentic and I like it very much. Last year it was Massive Attack. Always of course listening to bands like King Crimson… Porcupine Tree…
Is there anyone that doesn’t listen to Porcupine Tree?! I did pick up quite some King Crimson influence, on Tall Poppy Syndrome too, the opening track, Passing, has a hook that really Crimsonesque.
Thor: Yeah, we’ve heard that said before.
Actually, the overall feel of Tall Poppy Syndrome wasn’t so different from that on Bilateral
Einar: Yeah, but I would say that Tall Poppy Syndrome is more of a metal album with some progressive parts, whereasBilateral is more a progressive album with some metal parts.
Tor: I think these two albums are quite similar when compared to Aeolia.
Einar: Yeah, that’s just really far-out there and weird!
Sounds great, you have them for sale today? I think I have to buy it!?
Einar: Yes we do. But what I dislike most about that record is that the bass drums are triggered (Ed: Einar makes sounds like short bursts of a pneumatic drill), it sounds really bad. I mean it’s a just a really weird album that doesn’t make that much sense to be honest and I get really embarrassed listening to it…
Tor: Well I really think it has got its charm and it’s a natural part of the way that we have become what we are today. From the youth band, very experimental and trying different things and that album really set the mark of gathering what we did the first years, and when we were really trying. But OK now we’re doing something more serious. After that we really learned a lot and you can hear the evolution.
Einar: You will of course hear lots of musicality in there, but you’ll also hear that we’re not mature enough.
Tor: Yes, I can listen to it today and think, “why didn’t we just do this and this and this”, would be so much better.
Coming back to Bilateral, for Restless you made a music video and, well it’s a little bit strange… So what’s the thing with the fish?
Tor: I think that was one of the first ideas
What “Hey guys, how about we shower ourselves with a fish”?
Einar: To be honest, our goal with that video was to give people the “what the fuck” reaction. So they might want to watch it over and over – it has got quite a lot of views and is till getting a lot. I think that’s because it’s the type of video you have to watch many times to see what’s happening.
Tor: There are many details and our idea was that it should catch the eye not necessarily just because of the music. We wanted something that people would want to share with their friends, not just on the level of “Hey listen to this band they’re great”. I think that’s a great way to reach people. Also the visual things of a band are also important, of course the music is the most important, but also with live performance the whole thing is a package. Also the music video introduces our style, it’s pretty surrealistic.
Einar: We have these surrealistic themes these days, like with the front cover of Bilateral.
Yeah, it’s a great cover; what does your mother think of it?
Einar: She loves it! She’s a big fan and attending many of our shows.
She doesn’t criticise your singing afterwards?
Einar: No, never, she’s the most partisan mother you could imagine.
Tor: My mother as well, you can never quite trust if we’ve been playing well or not, it’s always “Oh, this is the best yet, I’ve never seen you this good!”. No matter how badly we play.
Einar: But when it comes to what the music video is actually about, we want to leave that up to the viewers, leave a little bit to the imagination. It think that’s what surrealism is all about, you have to spend a lot of time interpreting things and then you might end up with something that’s completely wrong…
Tor: Like David Lynch movies, if you just had him tell you what it meant then it would be boring, and then you never want to see the movie again because it’s so interesting trying to figure it out. Of course I’m not trying to compare our music video to him, but that’s the kind of inspiration for some of the ideas. We didn’t really want it to make sense.
(At this point we have to leave the room as the opening act The Man-Eating Tree need to change for the gig. Tor offers to continue the interview in the toilet, but we decide instead to use Amorphis’ room…)
So you guys are yet another fabulous band coming from Scandinavia. Why does all this great music come from Scandinavia?
Einar: Thanks. I think I can explain that though. It’s not because Scandinavians are more talented or anything, I think it’s because it is very easy to become a musician in, for instance, Norway. We get tons of governmental support…
Tor: Everyone except for us…
Einar: We got governmental support…
Tor: Finally we got some…
Einar: Yeah, but it’s easier when you live in a country where they make it easy for young people to make music. There are many rehearsal rooms…
What, government sponsored rehearsal rooms?
Tor: Well youth clubs, with rooms…
I think they have this youth movement thing in Belgium, the UK though I don’t think so
Tor: We started out playing as a youth band for many years, and one of the reasons we continued playing was that it was so easy for us to keep doing it and to start as musicians. I don’t think it’s so easy for bands in other countries to play live with good instruments as in Norway, or at least where we come from, it was very, very nice. We had arrangements with other youth clubs in other parts of the country and you’d exchange the bands, go there and play.
So you get a very easy exposure to playing live
Tor: You don’t even have to be a good band to play live, you can play tons of shows.
So what are your next plans? Have you been writing while you’re on the road?
Einar: No, but we will start with that immediately when we get back.
Tor: And we need to play some single shows in Norway.
Indeed, you need to play for your fans who have been following you around Europe
Einar: Yes, we need to play Helsinki for them.
Tor: They’ve been following us around, so now we’ll go to them.
Thanks guys, have a great gig.
Einar, Tor: Thanks!