INTERVIEW WITH PAGAN'S MIND
by Andy Read
The superb Celestial Entrance concept disc released late last year, firmly established Norwegian newcomers Pagan's Mind in the premier division of progressive metal bands.
Andy Read caught up with singer Nils K Rue and guitarist Jørn Viggo Lofstad after their impressive set at the Progpower Europe Festival last month to find out about their past, their future and the frightening illness that meant the loss of their rhythm guitarist.
Andy: Firstly congratulations on superb show. I believe, apart from your recent appearance at the ProgPower USA festival, this was your first gig outside Scandinavia. How did you feel it went?
Nils: Great. We had a ten-hour ferry trip and then a ten-hour drive and only arrived 30 minutes before we were due on! So we didn't have a sound check or anything - but you expect that at festivals anyway. There were a lot of people there and we got a great reaction - it's really fantastic for a young band like us to be getting prestigious slots like this and the chance to show what we can do and build our profile a bit.
Andy: And how did it go in America? It's a long way to travel to play for less than an hour.
Nils: One of the greatest experiences ever. We had the feeling we were very welcomed in every way. We're working to get some festivals next year and also a good support tour across Europe. I believe that a tour across America would be possible. We had the impression that the Americans really liked us. So many people told us that we sounded really American.
Andy: Now, hopefully most fans of the genre will by now have heard of Pagan's Mind through your current album Celestial Entrance but it's not your debut album is it?
Nils: We've been going three years now and Celestial Entrance is our second album. The first, Infinity Divine was on a rather small label in Norway which we had certain distribution problems with. We are actually thinking of re-releasing it again on Limb Music for people who couldn't get hold of it.
Andy: Having managed to track down a copy of the debut myself, the one thing you immediately notice is the huge step up in class between that and the current album.
Nils: People have been talking about the difference in quality between these two albums and that's our opinion as well. The main reasons were that we hadn't worked together on writing the songs and there were a lot of technical problems with the recording. We actually got together just three weeks before we started recording so all the songs were already written. We did a rather quick recording and everything was quite rushed.
Jørn: The only track we wrote as a band was A New Beginning. With the current album, we worked together a lot in rehearsals on the material and the whole band was involved in creating the music.
Andy: Now Celestrial Entrance is a fairly deep concept album, can you explain exactly what it's all about?
Nils: It's a concept album very much inspired by sci-fi and mystical topics with some philosophy in it. Everyone writes the music, but I write the lyrics and also the concept. It is really important for me to blend the lyrics with the music and the cover art to stand together - like one whole thing. I want to deliver a package that is quite inspirational, that leaves the listener asking all the questions. The main topic is about other dimensions and concepts out in space. I take a little bit of this, a bit if that and blend it together with my own opinions. It's a package of intricate music and intricate concepts, that make the listeners start to wonder about things.
Andy: For those who have yet to come across the band, I wonder how you would describe yourselves?
Nils: Ha! That's the million dollar question! We're really inspired by very different things all of us. The thing that makes the Pagan's Mind sound, is that everyone listens to different bands. Steinar listens to a lot of Black Metal and takes a lot of techniques from there. Ronny likes some jazz stuff and Jørn likes stuff like Van Halen, so plays with a lot of melody. I like a lot of Prog and Power Metal. My biggest band has to be Dream Theater.
Jørn: We try to blend everything into one big cauldron. We're also very lucky that we all live in the same town so we can practice a couple of times a week.
Andy: Will you carry the sound and direction of Celestial Entrance through to your next album?
Jørn: I think so, but we're gonna take it a little bit further
Andy: Have you actually started work on the next album yet?
Jørn: We've actually been working on songs for the past year or so. We've got a couple of gigs in Norway before Christmas but we're mainly going to be writing music. We hope to get into the studio in February and I guess the album will be out in the Autumn.
Andy: Now I've heard that Nils and bassist Steinar Krokmo are involved in a project with two members of Canadian band Eidolon. Tell me more?
Nils: Yes the project's called Dimension Infinite and it's really exciting. Guitarist Glen Drover and drummer Shawn Drover are currently writing all the music in Canada where they live and they'll ship all the stuff to us in Norway when they've finished. Then it's up to us to lay down the vocals and bass before we ship it back to them. It's gonna be a big surprise to both of us, as neither side knows what to expect.
Andy: But how did you even get in touch with each other, separated as you are by thousands of miles of the Atlantic Ocean?
Nils: It was a month before Celestial Entrance came out and I got this e-mail from Glen Drover saying he really liked our debut album. We got into contact and all of a sudden he was interested if we could do some kind of project with him. We all have the same influences and have basically agreed it should be very melodic but also very dark and doomy. I'm inspired by early Queensryche and King Diamond and the main attraction for me was that Glen is of course a former King Diamond guitarist. That band was the reason I first got into metal. It's a great honour for me to play with someone who's played with the King.
Andy: Maybe you could invite King Diamond in to sing a duet on one of the tracks?
Nils: Ha! Yes. Maybe he could just come to the launch party - who knows!
Andy: But this isn't the only side project involving the band. I understand Jørn has also been involved with one of his heroes.
Jørn: I'm really inspired by the classic stuff of Van Halen, Dio and Deep Purple and have been a great fan of Jørn Lande for many years and I really, really wanted to play with him. It was a year ago and we were playing at a festival in our home town in Norway, so I just asked him. So we got together one rehearsal and did a gig. Later he rang and said he wanted a guitar player for his next solo album and of course I said yes.
Andy: Well you were hardly likely to say no were you?
Jørn: Ha! Guess not! We started writing songs after Christmas. He went on tour with Masterplan and we did the rest in March and April. He also needed a drummer, so Stian Kristoffersen was brought in and Ronny contributed some keys as well. We mixed the album in Gothenburg a few weeks ago. It's called Out To Every Nation and it's due out on AFM Records in the New Year.
Andy: How does his new album compare with his first Worldchanger album which was very much in a classic heavy rock mode. I know Pagan's Mind are great fans of Conception and Jørn used to play with Conception guitarist Tore Ostby in ARK - so is he going in a more progressive direction this time?
Jørn: Well of course it's a little bit different because different people are playing. Yes it's a bit more progressive. One song is more Genesis inspired. But most people expect the Whitesnake thing from Jørn and they're gonna get it.
Andy: Other than the seemingly endless stream of Black Metal acts, Norway hasn't really been able to keep up with its Swedish neighbours in producing many notable metal acts in recent years. What's the metal scene like back home?
Nils: You're right, in recent years the only bands that people have known coming out of Norway have been Black Metal bands. But in the past year I think things have really started to happen for Progressive and Power Metal bands. The last thing we saw coming from Norway that was any good, was Conception. Pagan's Mind has started a new wave. There are a lot of Progressive Metal bands coming up to the surface now. Divided Multitude are good and there's a band called Circus Maximus - you have to mention those guys - they're really gonna make it.
Andy: Have you played many gigs in your home country?
Nils: We've covered most of the country. For festivals we play before 5/600 people and in clubs there's usually up to 300 - everywhere we play it's full.
Andy: From the album notes I see you used to have a rhythm guitarist, Thorstein Aaby, but there was just one guitarist on stage today. Has Thorstein left the band or was he just unable to make this long trip?
Nils: No that's a difficult story... you tell it better than I do Jørn...
Jørn: It started last year with him fainting a lot for no apparent reason. No-one knew what was happening, so he went to the doctor and they discovered a kind of object inside his forehead. First of all they thought it was cancer and everyone was obviously very worried. Anyway he had to undergo major surgery to have it removed and they found there was no cancer in the object. What they found, was that it was actually his twin that had started growing inside of him.
Nils: There were hairs, hands, even fingernails. It was a real person in his forehead between his skull and his brain.'
Andy: Oh, that it sounds like something out of the Stephen King novel, The Dark Half. It must have been a shocking experience for everyone who knew Thorstein?
Jørn: Apparently it happens in small number of people. It's from cell structures that were intended to be a second baby. In a small number of people it starts growing again when they're older. It's usually in relatively harmless places such as on the arm, but for Thorstein it was a dangerous operation and it left a scar on his brain surface which will take a long time to heal. A common problem is that you get a lot of epileptic fits, which he does get. Thankfully he's getting better but needs to relax and take its easy. As a lot of things are happening for the band now, he said: 'Look guys, because of my health I've got to take it easy.' So we've not got a rhythm guitarist. We've got no plans to replace him at present - you never know what will happen in the future.
Check out reviews of the Progpower Festival plus the DPRP review of Celestial Entrance - Links at top of page.
Band website : www.pagansmind.com
jorn lande website : www.jornlande.com
eidolon website : www.eidolon-nightmareworld.com
All photos by Andy Read for DPRP © 2003