We’ve been reporting about Leprous for many years, so you should know them already. The outstanding Norwegian prog band is currently on tour after releasing their successful new album “Pitfalls”, setting new standards with their live shows. We took guitarist TorO aside in Frankfurt to ask how things are going.
TBP: So, how is the tour going so far? Any highlights yet?
TorO: Yeah, well, first of all playing the new songs has been a lot of fun, to be honest. When you play that many shows with the older albums, and I mean we really toured a lot with the “Malina” album, and then just to have some new songs in the repertoire, it’s really nice. And the feedback so far has been really great. But the response is a bit different from previous tours. To some extent, it seems like people are more into watching and it takes a while before they give their feedback. And I think it’s a bit much to take in with all this, especially the ending is intense and epic and it’s difficult to know which response would make the most sense, I think. But I feel like the feedback when we’ve gotten it, has almost been better than ever. It’s really great to hear that people actually enjoy the new material that much. Because every time we play we feel like a bit more insecure when we play new things, but finally we feel like we’re landing now and enjoying the new songs more as well.
TBP: Did you see the support acts Pot Noir and The Ocean already? Found some new favourites?
TorO: Yeah. To be honest, I don’t necessarily know the names of the songs, but I checked them out and I really like this package. I hadn’t listened that much to Port Noir before we went on tour, but they have a really cool live show. It sounds so massive even though they are only 3 people on stage. If you are the support, it’s kind of like a basic set up, but I think they do so much out of what they can as that act. I love their songs and the lightning and everything is very suitable. Furthermore, they are super nice people, so we enjoy touring with everyone in the tour party so far. I haven’t become sick of anyone yet. Probably that will happen at some point. 😉
TBP: Does a band actually have any right to say “Yes” or “No” to the support acts? Or is it all the promotion label who decides such things?
TorO: It depends a bit. Sometimes we book a tour with us first, and then we decide which bands we want. And sometimes, like this time, the package with Leprous and The Ocean was set to begin with. Then it’s up to the promoter. Let’s say it like this, if we suddenly had to change one of the bands, we would probably have to make a new agreement with each promoter, depending on how much the promoter specified the support act. But we are the ones to decide which bands we want to go on tour with. There is no one above us that decides “You have to go with this band”. We see which bands we like and then we suggest them and then we get our booking agency to reach out to them to see if they want to be a part of the tour. And then it’s presented to the promoter, usually.
TBP: There were a few people who claimed that Pitfalls is rather an “Einar solo album”. Please clarify this from your point of view. How much work was it really for all other band members?
TorO: It has never been a plan to make this a solo album for anyone. It has been the same kind of evolution as it has been on the last albums. Einar is the main composer, because he has the biggest drive in the band, musically, and he has most ideas. And then everyone is free to bring in their ideas. “Distant Bells” is the perfect example. It’s been 100% Simen’s project. He has spent a lot of time on. Then Einar came with his suggestions to this song. He made the lyrics and the vocal lines, which had a big impact on the general sound of the song. So they shared the composition part although Simen has a bigger part in in a sense of the song. But Einar has also a big role in the composition. We don’t think too much about who made what. For instance, usually I write most lyrics. But this time Einar wrote most lyrics, but I also wrote some of the lyrics. I also came with several ideas for the compositions, but in the end we did a complete mutural, non-biased evolution. We say which songs we want to continue and bring into the studio and make something out of. We went into the studio with the best ideas, with those ideas that suited best for the album. And when you look back at it, it was mainly Einar’s compositions. That’s why it seems like that.
Another reason why I think people talk about “Einar’s solo album”, is because these songs are less guitar driven. It makes sense, because Einar can’t play guitar. On previous albums, he has also made a lot of guitar riffs, which we then just adapted to our guitars. But this time he made the ideas for the songs and then it was up to me and Robin as the guitarists to find out how we could add the role of the guitar onto the tracks.
So in the recording process Einar has the overview, because he has the artistic idea of how he wants the end product to be. But we came up with the ideas of how we wanted to play the guitar parts. But then we’re always open for everyone’s input. Everyone can bring their own ideas into the project and everyone will be heard. I feel very lucky having all the others giving me inputs on what they feel with this or that thing. I don’t think I would be self-confident enough to make all the decisions with the guitars by myself without the others. Especially with Robin as well. I feel like I work very well with Robin, and I get a lot of inspiration and ideas from him as well.
TBP: In a previous interview Einar said that you know him so well, that you could indeed write the lyrics for him. So how can we imagine it when you wrote the lyrics to “I Lose Hope”, for instance? Did you sit and imagine how you would write it if you were him?
TorO: The difference this time compared to the last time is, that I’ve been writing about themes that I think about. It could be something that just drops into my head like “Okay, this could be a cool thing to write about”. Before we decided the theme of this album, I had several lyric ideas which were more like a general thing, more similar to lyrics I had written before. But then it was Einar’s suggestion that this time it could be cool to have a certain consistency in the lyrics that was about something he could connect to on a more personal level, instead if him singing as him about something that I feel strongly about, but he may not. I think that’s what it means. Because it’s not that hard for me to know what he can stand behind and express. Because I also completely understand a lot of the same things. I mean, everyone has gone through hardships and hard times. And I’ve been very close to his heart in his difficult periods. We have a very close relationship, so I know him very well. So it’s easier for me to come up with ideas and also to talk to him about “Is this something that represents your feelings on this Pitfalls album?”, I guess. So that’s how it went for this album. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be the same for the next album.
TBP: Did the “Pitfalls” album earn more criticism than your previous albums? Or do all your new albums earn the same amount of criticism once they come out?
TorO: I was surprised that it wasn’t more critical. With every album, it feels like we’ve become more and more criticism, so this time we expected a LOT more. The criticism usually is more about “Oh, it’s not metal enough” or “It’s not prog enough” or “Oh, you don’t have guitar solos”, things that shouldn’t be an important thing in itself. If the music is good, then why would you complain about some things that would make a difference, but wouldn’t necessarily make it better? But I understand that some people would like us to stick to where we were and not to “run away” from them. If they like where we are, they don’t want us to evolve into something else, I guess. I can understand that, but we’ve never really taken that into consideration. If people are boycotting our tours, like “I didn’t come to any gig of the Malina tour, just because of this…”, then I’m like “Yeah, whatever. Feel free to not come”. I mean, we didn’t play only Malina songs, we played 40 songs altogether, so we also played so many of the other songs, too. I don’t really see the point. So, every single release we’ve had, we’ve gotten kind of the same criticism, since Bilateral, I guess. So it’s something we expect. We definitely expected it on Pitfalls.
But I also noticed people who said: “I hated Malina, but Pitfalls was a step in the right direction again”. So I don’t really see the “system” of who likes what. And that’s also why you can’t really care about single people’s thoughts about things. We just do what we feel comportable with.
I figured out that most people enjoy Pitfalls. Every album ends up being more and more successful. Not that this is the main thing, but as long as we do what we feel is right, it gets more and more successful. It’s a win-win situation. Sometimes it seems that people are claiming that we are only doing things to satisfy others. But the funny thing is, the only people that are trying to tell us what to do, are those guys that try to tell us “No, you should do like on Bilateral” for instance, but if we did that, that would be like cracking under the pressure and going back to please someone else. But what we do now, is we do what WE feel closest related to. And if more people love it, it’s just a bonus, we feel. It’s not that we want to be as popular as possible, so that’s why we do this or this… it’s opposing to what we feel we are. We just do what we feel is true to ourselves. And if that’s something that’s popular with others, then it’s a win-win situation.
TBP: People during this tour are really going crazy, the crowds are bigger and at the gigs they give immense applause and really seem to celebrate also the many slower songs. Did you see this one coming?
TorO: It’s difficult to take in what’s happening. We’re normal guys and we are the same people as in the past, even though the apparatus around us gets bigger. We always did it DIY – do it yourself. And now we realised, when we do everything ourselves, it becomes too much, especially live on tour, because we get so many messages. We now have a bigger system around us, but we’re still the same guys with the same humour and whatever. We appreciate everyone who comes to our shows and we really hope we can stay connected with the fans. And also fan groups in the internet, it’s fun to watch from a distance and to see that it lives its own life. We appreciate all the people who spend their time trying to make it into a community. It’s nice to see the “big bus” around the band. It’s definitely difficult to describe how it is.
Also, sometimes we see people at our shows and we’re like “Oh, did you see this one? It’s that person that we saw online.” So, we’re kind of star-struck by people we’ve seen online at some point, because it’s kind of fun.
TBP: Now that we talked about seeing the fans, let’s talk about hearing the fans. When you are live on stage with the in-ear-monitors, how much do you actually hear of the fans when they sing along loud (and maybe wrong)? Does it affect your concentration on stage?
TorO: It’s the opposite way because of the in-ear-monitors block so much sound. So it’s more the fact that it’s difficult to take in the crowd sounds. It would be nice to hear a bit more from the crowd. Sometimes you get such a big distance from the fact that there are so many people screaming and shouting and singing along. It could be cool to have that along with what you’re going. But we need the in-ear-monitors to focus on the advanced and complicated music we’re playing (even though people are like “No, it’s pop-music”, but it’s very complicated things to play). So it’s important for us to NOT hear that much.
But one of the most difficult things is when people start clapping because it’s very rare that they are on time. 😉 We usually have a click in our ears, so we need to avoid paying attention to the clapping. Although now we have some songs that we do without the click, we just choose the tempo as we go. Like for instance on “Distant Bells” which is a very dynamic thing, we just play together in the tempo that we feel like at that time.
TBP: Which song is the most challenging to play live on stage on the guitar, from the new songs?
TorO: “By My Throne”. It’s a difficult thing to play to begin with, the chorus, and I also do some tapping thing. And what makes it extremely difficult is that I’m also singing. The singing is so polyrhythmic and very loose, I’ve been rehearsing so much. And still it’s a very complicated thing. We were thinking about if it’s better to do the backing vocals or not, because it’s so difficult to do it together with the guitars, but I feel like I started to crack the code now.
Riff-wise it might also be “The Sky Is Red”. The main riff there needs to have a certain attack and a certain groove. To play that together with Robin is a difficult thing, we rehearsed that a lot as well. It was also one of the most difficult things in the studio. Robin actually made the way of playing it, and he had to teach me how to play it. It’s difficult to learn how another person touches on the guitar, but it needs to be very similar for it to sound as massive as on the record. So “The Sky Is Read” is one of the most difficult ones to make it groove the right way.
TBP: You all are playing various instruments on stage on this tour that some learnt extra for this show (except for Baard). Is this part of the concept to take the new shows to new heights, as you have promised your fans a while ago?
TorO: Yeah. It’s a combination of random events. One of the reasons for this is that we want Einar to be a bit more mobile on stage, so he doesn’t need to be stuck at the keyboard. Or in a specific part, we asked ourselves: “Do you really need to stand there to play a pad while singing and not doing anything else?”. Then it’s cooler if another person could do that job and Einar can move around a bit more, that’s also more interesting for people to see, I think. And also the vocals are better if it’s separated instead of playing while singing. So that’s one of the reasons to make him a bit less depending on standing there with the keyboard all the time. Robin, Simen, Raphael and I are actually doing keys at different points during the show, that’s kind of cool. But also it’s a matter that there are so many layers of keyboard sounds. In the past, Einar did one of the voices and the rest was on backing tracks. It works, but it’s actually cooler to play it live. On the Malina cycle, we started to play more of the synth base, like the Moog. And on this album, we started to realise that there are so many things that need to be played in a certain way. And a lot of the songs do not have those guitar-driven parts, so instead of Robin and me standing still and waiting to do something, it’s a lot more fun for us to actually have something to do on stage. I felt it was a challenge that was a cool thing to do. Playing synth base isn’t that difficult, it’s holding the beat and finding the rhythm and the structure of which keys to press. I definitely wouldn’t mind learning more about playing the piano or the keyboard. But I haven’t gotten the drive yet to sit down and learn, so this is the perfect way of starting to learn it. It’s like a win-win-win-win-situation, I guess. 😉
TBP: The jokes that Einar does during the songs, is it something you added intentionally to have a little distraction from the gloomy and sad feeling of many songs?
TorO: Actually it wasn’t anything we planned at all. We always talk about the shows like “What could be done better?”. After we started switching the setlists all the time, it was a lot of work to set the setlists in the project. We have a project with all the songs that is timed with the lights and all the visuals and the click and everything. Before, when we did this “one-show-every-single-day” then we could rehearse all the transitions and he never really said anything between the songs. And now after we switched it, the transition between the songs doesn’t necessarily flow that well. I mean, it works very well with Raphael, because he can play some cello. But we’re trying to analyze it like “Was it a bit too long this time?” And then we realised: Maybe some kind of talking wouldn’t hurt while things are being fixed, just to loosen up a bit. So Einar just started talking. And now he started talking about being bad in talking in between the songs. 😉
When we listen to our really old tapes of concerts, when we were a young band, we said so many stupid things. It’s embarrassing to listen to like we’re trying to be funny and joking. So we went from that to not saying anything and being very introvert on stage. But now we’re trying to loosen up a bit. It’s a very natural thing that’s happening now. It’s a bit less serious in between the songs, maybe it lightens up a rather gloomy setlist. But we’re still analyzing “Is this the best way to do it? Should we do more, or less, or whatever?”. It’s an ongoing valuation of how things are going. I think it now works, not too much, but a little bit, just to connect a bit with the audience. I guess it’s nice. We always try to set a certain mood. But it seems a bit like we’re pretending something if every time in between the songs there’s always jolly and fun, and then suddenly we play a super serious song, and then back to jolly. So we try to make portions. We try to set a mood and then some portions as a kind of break.
TBP: “The Price” seems to be the one immovable, constant song in your setlists. Would the crowd not be happier about some variation like with “Restless” or so?
TorO: Well, “The Price” is the song that people usually give the best response to. Every time we start it, there’s loud shouting. It’s obvious that people still like it. They wouldn’t shout louder to “Restless” for instance. That’s our experience. We definitely learnt how to evaluate which songs are popular, not only based on what people write. What people write comes mainly from the hardcore, old-school fans, they really want us to play “White” or “Restless”. On the previous Malina tour we played one show where we did “Passing”, announcing it like “Finally you’ll get something special”, but there was no reaction at all. While online, when it was mentioned, some fans were like “Wow, I can’t believe I missed this” and “Oh my God” and so on. So you treat one or two people in the crowd, but there are so many others that are more enjoying what they’ve heard before. I am not saying that we will never stop playing The Price, but I feel it’s a song that we play pretty well and it usually has gotten a very good reception. And also: I like it. 🙂 So it’s a mix of several different aspects.
TBP: Pitfalls is a bit like a soul strip, lyrically. How do you or the other guys in the band feel with it that Einar does open up so completely to the public?
TorO: It’s completely up to him. He put his entire self into this album. He was in the studio the entire time, keeping an overview on what was happening. He was the main drive behind the album, but that’s also kind of his role in the band. And if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have released an album. We would probably still try to agree on which songs to choose. You could say a lot about we should have more time, but I know myself and the others in the band. Some would say there would be a better product if we had spent more time on it, but I like Einar’s work. He’s setting deadlines, “We need to do this, this, this…” and he’s a lot better at forcing himself to make a lot of ideas, even though he’s feeling horrible and is not inspired at all.
A good song idea can come out of misery. Or a song can sound super miserable, but you don’t have to be miserable necessarily. You never really know what can come out of a situation. Some songs are also about that aspect, like “At The Bottom”. When you’re at the bottom, it’s like the analogy of a candle burning out. When the candle reaches the bottom, it sparks in light, before the candle dies. That’s like sometimes great ideas come out of being completely at the bottom when you feel worthless. But some of the greatest ideas you ever had can come out of this situation.
When Einar came with the suggestion that this is what the album could be about, the lyrical aspect, I definitely felt that this was a good idea. I know him so well and I’ve seen what he’s been struggling with. It was at a point where all songs were basically made, and then he came with the idea that the lyrical aspect could be about his depression period, and I felt it was definitely a good idea. I had to rethink the subject lyrically, about how to write on his behalf. It’s also about him in a way, but also kind of from my position as well.
TBP: Who discovered the art of Elicia Edijanto, that ended up as the album cover for Pitfalls?
TorO: The first time I saw this painting, we were in Einar’s cabin, him and me. He was looking through different suggestions of artists we could ask to do a cover. He had a list of maybe 5 different artists and he showed me and instantly when I saw that design, I thought this was really cool and it would look great on an album cover. And realizing this is a Buddha silhouette, which goes well with the theme of album, like finding your inner peace, I suddenly got so many ideas that connect to the album. So, I right away thought this would be a really cool one. And Einar told me he thought the exact same thing. This design was something that Simen had suggested to him, if I remember correctly. I felt a very instant connection to that design. And I’m very happy with it now as well.
TBP: It also looks good on T-shirts.
TorO: Yeah. Now that we’re on tour it was the first time that I actually saw the record, and it looks really good also on the vinyl version. Something I could hang up on the wall. I love that design.
TBP: What about those festival reports that say you (Leprous) are a casting error because you play among rock or death metal bands? Are you intentionally choosing festivals that are not prog, to win completely new fans, maybe?
TorO: Actually not. I mean we get festival offers depending on what festival feels that we could add something to their line-up. But I also agree that at some festivals we don’t feel that connected with the other bands there. But still, I can see that usually a lot of the audience there still enjoys our music. And it might be that the festival promoters wanted to have us to broaden their spectre of the festival. We had a lot of fun on extreme metal festivals as well as on prog or general festivals. We would be open to play most kinds of festivals. But of course we can see that sometimes it was not the best match crowd-wise. For instance, at Slasher Metal Fest, there was us and Steel Panther as the headliners and some gore slasher thing. It was kind of fun. We felt like half of the crowd was there for them, half of them was there for us. But that’s also how you reach out to a new crowd as well. It’s not that we like to separate ourselves from our history of prog and metal because we still have a lot of elements from both genres. But we’re very open for people who don’t feel like they’re stuck in a specific genre but expose them to our music. I believe our music can reach a lot further than only those subgenres.
TBP: Last two questions are more fun questions. What challenge must someone offer you to make you wear your silver pants again as a wager?
TorO: Actually I randomly found the silver pants in our storage room. I don’t think anyone knew where they are. But when we were packing for the tour now, I was like “Oh, there are the silver pants – who would have known!”. But first of all, the silver pants are Einar’s pants, they would probably not fit me. About the challenge… maybe if we did a crowdfunding thing, if we reach a certain level, then Einar would wear the silver pants again. At one crowdfunding we actually offered to sell the silver pants, but no one bought them. I think, probably people rather want to see Einar wearing them than to have them for themselves. Or maybe for charity we could offer it. In regular shows we are not really the guys that do “last show pranks” or so. We would like to give the same experience to whoever comes. We don’t want to ruin it for them, just because we want to have fun. But of course, if there is a special event (like f.i. the HeartSound festival was this year) things could happen. 😉
TBP: Which band would have to propose to you to join them, so that you would consider leaving Leprous?
TorO: I’ve been playing throughout my life with Leprous since I’ve been 15. I mean, I’ve been in the band for more years than I’ve been without the band. So I don’t really think ANY band … If there was a famous band where I would think “That would be so cool”, I would just be such a small piece of that entire thing. While in Leprous I would feel like an important part and they are so close to me, like a family. I mean, would you leave your family to become a part of the Kardashian family instead? I mean, I would probably get some money, haha. But I really think there is no other band I would like to be with, to be honest.
That being said, we wish the band ongoing success and a good time on the current tour. If you cannot catch them in November anymore, check out the tour dates for February 2020, they might come to a city near you. Their show is unique, don’t miss out on this breathtaking experience if you have the chance.
Interview by Uta Arnold