INTERVIEW: Einar Solberg (LEPROUS)
They're the Norwegian gods of texture and experimentation, and after a truly astonishing 2017 the lads of Norway's Leprous are now casting their gaze to the new year - and lucky for us, that gaze is extending to Aussie shores as the group prepares to fire up the stages at Progfest in January next year.
Headlining a truly spectacular lineup of talent, Leprous will be whipping around Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne alongside Aussie heavyweights Voyager, Alithia, Orsome Welles, plus a hell of a lot more insane local talent set to pump the prog and showcase the juggernaut that is the Aussie progressive scene.
But to tide us all over until Progfest comes to town in January, Leprous frontman Einar Solberg took a few moments to talk the killer new album 'Malina', setlist game plans and simultaneously defying and embracing the prog label...
TIANA SPETER: Hi Einar! Great to chat to you today, it's been such an incredible journey to see with Leprous and you yourself how far it's all come since those early days of being a backing band and you're now considered to be one of the most important groups in the prog scene, both metal and rock....but what does it mean to next year to be headlining Australia's pinnacle prog festival 'Progfest' next year?
EINAR SOLBERG: It's going to be fantastic to be back in Australia and also to do these festivals this time, and Progfest seems like such a cool gig. So looking very much forward to doing it! And also to meet the Voyager guys again, we haven't met them in a long time, and Alithia of course who we've just met.
TIANA: Yes, it seems you've slowly been ticking off all these amazing Aussie acts who are now also on the lineup next year, that's awesome!
EINAR: Yeah, it's going to be really fantastic to get back there. And you mentioned we used to be a backing band, but the funny thing is it wasn't until 8 years into our career that we started being a backing band! It was like the first 8 years there wasn't that much happening to be honest (laughs).
TIANA: Well it's been an amazing progression. And 2018 won't be the first time Leprous has toured Australia, but what's been your impression of the music scene over here? You've played with Voyager in the past, and you've met Alithia over in Europe very recently, but have you been able to check out any of the other acts you'll be sharing the stage with at Progfest?
EINAR: Not the ones at Progfest, no, but I'm very familiar with and I know the guys from Caligula's Horse, and of course I'm familiar with Karnivool and probably more bands as well but I'm not super familiar with the Australian prog scene to be honest.
TIANA: Well the ones you've listed are definitely some solid ones, so you've done well there. And Progfest will see you hit up Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne as well as Perth for some headline sideshows...but you guys were out here a few years back as well, what was your last experience like playing here, did you enjoy it apart from the insanely long flight you would've had to take to get here?
EINAR: (laughs) Well it was fantastic, we really enjoyed Australia a lot, there were fantastic crowds, really into it! I really like the cultural, it's a very relaxed and nice atmosphere in general I think and, of course, I loved seeing all the exotic animals (laughs).
TIANA: Yes, we have many of them!
EINAR: Yes! I went to Rottnest Island in Perth to see the quokkas, and that was fantastic! (laughs) I'm very much an animal lover kind of person, so animals are always a highlight for me.
TIANA: I've just realised you've probably seen more of Australia than I have I think, which is hilarious!
EINAR: (laughs) Oh really?! But, yes, it's a very big country!
TIANA: Now with Leprous, your live shows are notoriously quite vibrant and exciting, and you guys haven't been shy in the past talking about how you like to deliver something a bit different onstage - can we expect something a bit different when you guys are here next year?
EINAR: On the shows we did in Europe this year we brought a full production, and we also brought a cellist. That, however, is a little bit difficult in Australia because when you bring a cellist you need to buy an extra seat for the cellist, which is an insane amount of extra money to bring an extra guys...so we were like "dammit!!". We would've loved to bring him because he adds a lot to the show but then again it's going to be cool to do some shows with just the band again as well. Australia is a bit difficult because you have to fly in between all the shows, so production-wise it's a bit more difficult to do what we want. But then again, we definitely want to continue to do the thing we've been doing with the setlist, so that we change up the setlist every night so that every night it's a surprise for people. And it's even a surprise to us most of the time! We right the setlist and then we just forget about it and then we go onstage and we're like "which song is the next one?!". And then sometimes there isn't even enough light onstage to see so it's just like "ummmm....??" and have to go completely close to the setlist just to see which song you're playing next. (laughs) But it keeps us on our toes and it's very exciting to do it like that. In the past we've been the complete opposite, we've been very predictable doing the same setlist every night.
TIANA: Ooh, it's also a good way to catch out people too if they're reviewing the set and don't stay for the whole show!
EINAR: (laughs) Yeah, exactly!
TIANA: 2018 looks like it's shaping up to be a huge year for Leprous, but 2017 has also been pretty massive as well, releasing your new album 'Malina', you've played alongside Devin Townsend plus a heap of sold out shows in Europe. But what's it actually like now that the album is out and you guys have taken over the world this year, have you had time to process it yet?
EINAR: (laughs) Well for us, the tour we did was definitely a highlight I would say, especially touring-wise. It's the first time we've ever done a tour with any sold out shows at all I think, and we had 10 of them so it was really, really like...wow! This has happened after 16 years as a band (laughs). So it just shows that sometimes you've just gotta be patient (laughs). And except for this tour, that was a very obvious big success for us, but everything else has been very gradual...the sales and everything, it's going very gradual, kind of a very slow snowball effect (laughs). A very slow one.
TIANA: Well everyone always says patience is a virtue, and it's nice to know it actually does pay off!
EINAR: Yes! Yeah, and I think patience comes with having the right attitude and that is to do it because of the music and not because of success or money or fame or anything like that. I think that's the only way you can actually have the patience is to still enjoy what you're doing at the lower level, or....not lower, but smaller level.
TIANA: It can be a bit of a rare notion in this industry, so it's definitely proof of why Leprous is doing so well now. And I'd briefly mentioned the new album 'Malina' earlier, but for me personally listening to it, what really blew me away was how it had these amazing cinematic moments, and then huge rock moments....it's kind of prog without being prog. How do you feel it stacks up against your earlier albums?
EINAR: I like your definition that it's "prog without being prog" because I don't like when prog is too "prog" (laughs). For us, songwriting comes before genre always. Songwriting and emotions....emotions to actually make people feel something, that's our main goal. Not to impress anyone, that's never our goal. We want to make people feel something. There are a lot of categories within music and art in general and I don't think in terms of genres just categories. So you have a lot of music that is meant to entertain and that is very important to have, because sometimes you don't always want to feel something very strongly when you listen to music, you know? And the same with movies, most of the time I watch movies that don't make me feel anything except just entertained. And I think it's super important for people to have these types of distractions, but Leprous is definitely not one of those bands, I think. Especially with 'Malina', compared to the previous ones, emotions were the main focus throughout the album and to go a bit deeper than we did before in our emotional register without being too (laughs) pretentious about it.
TIANA: It certainly has a bit more of a journey to it, I feel like 'Coal' (2013) was a bit more...not low-key necessarily, but compared to your later stuff it was a bit more along those lines, whereas other ones would bounce around and have a lot more light and shade. To risk me sounding pretentious, it's been an interesting evolution...
EINAR: When you're doing what we're doing, this emotional type of music, there's always a risk of being a bit pretentious....
TIANA: In the past you've listed bands like Radiohead and Massive Attack and even The Prodigy as some external influences...and I may be completely off here, but I believe you may also have been quite heavily into hip hop when you were younger as well?
EINAR: Yeah! That was my main genre when I was a teenager.
TIANA: How did hip hop lead to this incredible textured adventure you're on now?
EINAR: Well...it didn't really. When I was a teenager, like most teenagers I loved music with a lot of testosterone and a lot of bad-ass attitude. So I went straight from hip hop to black metal...because it was just the different side of the same coin (laughs). It's a lot of attitude and the attitude and being a bad-ass or scary is kind of the main thing, especially with that 90s hip hop and the black metal. There was a period where I was wearing really hip hop clothes and black metal shirts, I remember (laughs). A total transition period.
TIANA: I feel like we need photographic evidence of this...
EINAR: (laughs) Yeah, it does exist but it was in the time when the photographs were analogue! So it might be hard to come across, but I know I've seen it before in like my class photo from 9th or 10th grade. And I was just gradually evolving my musical tastes, so when we started taking Leprous seriously, that was when I got really, really into prog. So we've kind of been stuck in that genre ever since, and that's ok with me and I do feel that to a certain extent we do fit well in there. But then again the problem...whenever you're in a genre it comes with expectations always....
TIANA: Absolutely. But I suppose that's the beauty of prog, it's expected a bit to mix things up a bit so hopefully it gives you a free pass to change it up without the fans getting too upset..
EINAR: (laughs) Yes, it's not the worst. But the problem is, when you start doing songs that are just "good" songs without being very complicated....that can be a problem. When you're only focusing on songwriting and not any kind of complexity in the music, then the prog fans start to get pissed (laughs). We have a few examples of that on 'Malina', for example where people were crying because it was in 4/4 and it was too simple for them and it was just like "ughh, dammit". But that happens in all kinds of genres, and subgenres especially....it comes with expectations from people.
TIANA: I think too inevitably it can be a case of evolve or die, so either way people are gonna get annoyed. At least you can do it on your terms! And to wrap up, given your versatile sound and obviously your notable songwriting technique, are there any bands or artists that you've been listening to lately that may surprise your fans?
EINAR: I don't really listen as much to prog to be honest, and that was one thing that was really cool for us to be able to travel with Agent Fresco because both of us are really just put into the prog scene, but none of us are very "into" the genre normally. So we related very much around that subject (laughs). For me, it's not about genres but just about emotions, so different genres can have the same emotion. I like melancholic music most of the time, but I don't think people would be very surprised, no. And I'm very bad at checking out new stuff these days. It takes a lot of effort (laughs).
TIANA: Well thank you so much for your time and can't wait to see you out here with Leprous in 2018!
EINAR: Thank you, I'm very much looking forward to it, see you there!
For Progfest tickets head to: http://www.wildthingpresents.com/
For more Progfest info head to: www.facebook.com/Progfest
BY TIANA SPETER