Leprous Interview (Einar Solberg)

"Copying what Dream Theater did in the 90s is not progressive"

20/05/2013 @ 12:59
If you're into progressive music, by means of fresh, different, adventurous approach then you have to love Leprous. With their -once again impressive- new album "Coal" coming out, we caught up with their kind spirited and exciting singer, keyboardist and songwriter Einar Solberg and discussed everything about his vision for the band, the new album's character and more. Just don't mess him up with genres. And don't call him progressive, although he can do nothing to avoid the title...

Leprous - Coal"Coal" is much different than your previous album, as it doesn't contain the same amount of catchy melodies and easy listening - in a sense - songs. How did you decide to deflect at such level from a record as successful as "Bilateral"?
Firstly, I don’t completely agree with your definition. I, actually, think "Coal" in its way is more easy and accessible than "Bilateral", because it has a better flow in my opinion. In this album we don’t jump from one song to another like we did more with "Bilateral", but this time I think we have a stronger character as a band in a way and for me it’s maybe more accessible. But I guess it also needs time to listen to it...

The initial impression is that "Coal"'s character has much more in common with "Tall Poppy Syndrome" than with "Bilateral". Is there ever any intention to try and stay between some certain limits that have already been set, when you compose new music?
No! And I think every time we make a new album we are never looking back in anything we do. We are looking forward, trying to make a new piece of art and of course you can hear some similarities to the previous works, but still I think that if you hear "Tall Poppy Syndrome" and then "Coal" they are very different albums in my opinion, even though you’ll hear some similarities here and there. So, it’s never something we do purposely of course, but then we have a certain character, we have certain ingredients that we might add to our music, so -of course- you can hear similarities with things we’ve done before, but it’s never intentional.

LeprousA common 'pattern' in our days for a progressive metal band is to gradually evolve into more traditional progressive rock styles. Can you see yourselves still maintaining metal in your sound, in five or ten years from now?
I don’t see anything in 5 or 10 years from now (laughs), because as I always say we really, absolutely don’t care about genres. They are completely unimportant to me when we write music. We just write the music to express our own emotions and what comes out of it doesn’t have to do with any expectations from genres. But, what you maybe mean is that many people in their youth seem to want to experiment with everything in their heads and it’s difficult to continue with this 'youth' way of thinking. It’s the way we’ve been thinking before, so maybe it’s true that when a band matures that maybe there are fewer ingredients in their recipes. And with fewer ingredients you can build more of the character of the album, in a way. If you make a meal and you have too many ingredients you’ll have to take the individuals that can define it by any means, but if you have less ingredients you’ll have more of the character of the taste and this is what happens. We’re thinking more of this when we’re writing, to manage to have each note matter, not just add layer upon layer, upon layer, upon layer. So, this was a long answer to a short question... (laughs)

LeprousProgressive as a genre is a rather vague term, considering the amount of different directions a band could lead itself to. How would you define 'progressive'? And where would you place Leprous in today's prog scene?
Let me answer the first question first, 'How I define prog music'. As I told you earlier, it’s not my field in general to answer that much about genres, because I don’t think about it anymore when I listen to music and I just think 'do I like the music or do I not?' But, progressive for me has always been ...progressive from what has always been there. I think most of the bands that are truly progressive don’t call themselves 'we’re a prog band', because if they call themselves prog, it means that they borrow everything from already made recipes, in a way. I feel that most bands calling themselves progressive these days don’t deserve the title. Because, copying what Dream Theater did in the 90’s is not progressive, in my opinion.

LeprousIt’s a 'regressive progressive' thing...
(laughs). True. Regarding Leprous now, I am not really sure. I’d say we’re quite emotional. Emotional progressive. Emo-prog... (laughs). Just kidding. It’s quite modern in its sound, we’re not particularly retro. We have never been a retro band and I don’t think we will ever be a retro band, because retro to me is also just looking back to what has been made and remade again. This is what retro is to me. So, I would characterize us as... modern... oh, I hate characterizing ourselves (laughs).

Now, you’ve walked in my shoes when I try to characterize the music that Leprous play. It’s difficult... (laughs)
Yeah, it’s difficult. You are allowed to write whatever you want (laughs), because it’s something that we don’t consider ourselves. It’s something our record label and our manager use in the way they are marketing us. It’s not something we can speak about. And I think that you’ll hear it from so many people that play prog, that it’s 'ok, we play prog'.

LeprousSomeone easily understands that you guys have technical skills, but although you use them a lot on chord progressions, structures, orchestration or tempos you avoid to shred. Is it because you don’t like shredding or because you think shredding isn’t appropriate for your music?
We don’t avoid it in purpose. It’s just that I didn’t see exactly in which song it could fit in this album. We were thinking it, because, yes, we do have a guitar player who is a good solo guitarist and he can play these kinds of things if he wants to. But, as I’ve said, if you have the ingredients, it doesn’t mean that you have to use them. You don’t have to add everything. I didn’t feel that a guitar solo was appropriate for the mood in this album. I don’t know where I should put it.

Do you believe that "Coal"'s cover artwork is 'appropriate' to its content? Which aspect of the music would you say it expresses, mostly?
It expresses the dark and the quite melancholic side, mostly the dark side I would say. In my opinion, there’s a great dark atmosphere in the album. Also, I feel that this album we’ve made has a strong character, something that you’ll quite easily recognize when you hear it a few times. And it’s the same way I feel with the artwork. That it’s something that has a quite strong character. When you see it a couple of times, you’ll always recognize it, no matter if you like the drawing, it’s quite recognizable.

Einar Solberg (Leprous)Did Jeff Jordan listen to the music of the album before creating the cover and thus it came out so dark and cold?
I don’t know if he heard it. I sent him the songs, but he didn’t write to me anything about it. We gave him a description of what kind of mood we would like and he firstly had this suggestion with a skull and we were like “No, no, no! We can’t use a skull on the front cover.” It’s something that a bit too many metal bands have done before. And then he just added more and more to this idea and we ended up with it. But, before we did this cover with the skull, we had this other cover which we ended up throwing away, because it was much too neutral and it lacked a character. It was just a black cover with almost nothing on it.

Your "Black Album"?
Yeah (laughs). It was too neutral. There’s been too many of these covers through the years.

Leprous"Coal" is rather a simple album title. I guess you named the album after one of the songs. But why "Coal"?
Because, it’s quite a big subject, the way we mean it. It’s really about diamonds and coal, how they consist of the same ingredients, but still are so completely different. And this is the underline theme for the song and also in some other songs of the album. The reason that I chose this title is because I prefer short titles that people they can interpret how they want. It’s open to interpretation and it’s a bit more subtle, than writing exactly what you think. If we called this "Diamonds And Coal" I would give it away immediately.

Why was "Chronic" chosen as the first sample of the album? Would you say it is the most characteristic of its sound?
No. It’s not the most characteristic. And we were thinking a lot about which song to choose, but I thought "Chronic" was a good representation in a way. It’s a good representation of one of the sides of the album, because this album has a dark side and a quite melancholic side which is in the middle of the record. We chose this song, just because I just felt it was a good choice for a first song and the second song, the video will be something completely different. For that one, we’ve chosen the most mellow song, "Cloak".

Einar Solberg (Leprous)Well, these two are my favorite track on the album. Would you see yourselves fitting better in such melodic, mellow songs?
No. As all human beings we have different sides of us. So, yes, it’s a more mellow song, but even though it’s melodic, I feel it’s a quite dark song. The main guitar riff is very heavy. It’s a very dark tune and I feel it’s not a typical melodic song. So, even though the album has quite big dynamics, I feel we have a good flow through the whole album. It’s not that something suddenly changes, like for example we did in the previous album "Bilateral", when we chose to put "Waste Of Air" right after "Mb. Indifferentia" and just take the most heavy after the most melodic song. That’s not how we feel anymore. We feel that we want to see things in a different way, to build a mood almost more like a movie, in a way. You start from the first song which is quite light and you build it, then you come to the more mellow part and we just stop it with the most disturbing end you can imagine...

The last four minutes in the song "Contaminate Me" are among the most bizarre yet outstanding pieces you have ever done, in my opinion. Would you consider the possibility of evolving within this avant-garde side of yours, in the future?
We don’t make exact plans like 'we will do this' or 'we won’t do that', because we just create what feels right in the moment. But, I also really like this section and it’s improvised almost completely.  The violin was improvising and the only thing that was not improvised was the keyboards.  Also, the black metal vocals, they are completely improvised upon the music. I feel it’s very dark and still has a very strong mood, it’s not just improvisation for the sake of it, it’s about to create mood. And that’s what the whole album “Coal” is all about, always trying to create a certain mood for the songs.

LeprousOn your previous album you had a catchy song like "Cryptogenic Desires". After all, is there any use for a band with challenging music like yours to have a straight forward, short and catchy song?
Yeah, of course, but for us now it wouldn’t be that honest to have such a light song in a way and even though we also have really catchy songs on this album like "Valley", it’s much longer or like "Cloak" it’s catchy, but in a different way, not in a mood like "Cryptogenic Desires", it’s more melancholic. There was not space for such a song on "Coal". We had one song which ended up as a bonus track and will not be on the album, which is in this style. Not exactly the same style, just very tuneful and light in the mood and very catchy. But, we ended up not having it on the record, because it’s kind like you’re watching a very serious movie and suddenly there comes a clown and starts dancing and then moves out of the screen... (laughs).

Einar Solberg (Leprous)I like the way you described it…(laughs).Now, you’ve had quite some lineup changes over these years. Do you think your current lineup is the one to stay? Why is it so difficult to keep a steady group of musicians?
I can explain that, because only recently our bass player (Rein) also quit. It seems that the bass players are always the hardest to keep (laughs). So, now we just got a new bass player that hasn’t been announced yet, because Rein will still do the festivals dates this year and then the new bass player will begin. The reason is quite simple. It’s because it’s damn hard to be a musician and work as hard as we do with Leprous. And it’s really damn hard to make a living as a musician these days. So many people they give up, because it’s very hard, it’s hard to motivate yourself and believe that what you do will actually succeed and in the end it’s very hard for most people to believe in it. I’ve always been a dreamer myself, so for me I have always tried to keep the motivation that I will finally will get where I want, but it’s not the case for all people. Actually, it’s very hard economically.  I think that most people quit due to economical reasons. Economical and family…

It’s understood. I really liked your live performance when you supported Amorphis last time here. You play the keys while singing and it doesn’t seem easy. How challenging is it for you? Could this be a constraint on a composing level, by means you won’t write something that will be difficult to sing and play the keys at the same time?
It can happen, but I like to do both and then I can just rehearse that section for a while and usually it ends up being ok, always. Usually, I don’t have very advanced keys at the same time as I have very advanced vocals. So, maybe it seems difficult, but I’ve done it for so many years, since I was 15-16 years old and I’m so used to it that it’s not difficult to me. It’s very natural for me.

Einar Solberg (Leprous)How satisfied are you so far by Inside Out? I personally love this label since its beginning and I think it has helped your name grow. For its 20th anniversary it has some tour pairs with bands from its roster. Which band would you choose for Leprous to tour with, if you had the chance?
That’s two questions. Firstly, we very satisfied with Inside Out. They are very professional and they act always very fast with everything, they have everything on time. They are really professional to work with them and they are really honest people. If they like something they’ll say it and if they don’t like it they’ll say it. It’s perfect. For this album, they also think that we found our true character in a way, as we do, so they seem to be very interested to put a lot of effort to it. Regarding which band would be more suited for us to tour with, I think without doubt it would be Devin Townsend from Inside Out. Firstly, because we know him a little bit through Ishan and secondly, because musically I think we very easily could appeal to the same audience.

It would be a little bit of the gathering of the lunatics in such a show...
Yes. He’s much more lunatic than we are... (laughs)

Earlier today we talked with Mikael Stanne from Dark Tranquillity. When he asked him about the albums he listens to lately, he mentioned "Coal". Isn’t that cool?  Which was till now the most flattering thing you’ve heard by another musician?
Most flattering? (mumbles). Does it have to be from musician or can it be from other people as well?

Ok, let’s say it could be from anyone...
There was a guy that interviewed me quite recently who said that we are writing prog history and that was a bit too flattering for me, because I felt it was too much and I thought 'ok, are we?' and I didn’t agree and I was a bit embarrassed, as they were way too big words for a Norwegian... (laughs). But, it was flattering. Generally, we’ve got a lot of nice feedback, but it’s just hard to remember exceptionally what people say.

Einar Solberg (Leprous)Now, are there any plans or any discussions about seeing you in Greece for a full show, as you go on tour the coming fall? Is there any chance?
I really wish there was, but the problem is that it seemed impossible for our manager to put it to this route, because there was already many dates and it was impossible to squeeze it in as it was too far away. But, I promise that we’ll do our very best to put it on the next tour or maybe do some single shows there, because I really liked the place all the times that I’ve played there and we’ve never done a headline show before, so it would be really awesome. But, it’s one of the very few countries that we didn’t manage to squeeze in to that tour and of course I want every country to be a part of it... (laughs)

Before we end this conversation, tell me what you listen to most lately...
I listen a lot to classical music and I also listen to Radiohead, all their albums. Especially, "Ok Computer", "Kid A" and "Hail To The Thief". You know, the last 6 months were so busy that I didn’t have time to check new things. There are periods that I check out a lot of new music, but in other periods I have no time for it and this was one that I didn’t have that much time.

Thank you Einar for your time. Hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did and maybe see you soon here for a show.
I really, really hope so. It’s a shame we don’t play in Greece this time, but we’ll do next time.