Leprous – Continued (Prog)ression

Sunday, 13th August 2017

Never a band to sit idly by, nor content to churn out more of the same with each new release, Leprous have steadily climbed towards the top of the progressive heap. No surprise really when one examines the music. Their continued growth and development merges the tight, precision and technical exploration that the progressive scene thrives on while providing an emotional core to it that transcends the genre. It’s intricate music that can carry you away if you let it.

Continuing their “once every two years” release schedule, the band is about to unleash their fifth studio album in the form of Malina. As it could be predicted, the band isn’t out to relive any past glories. Some intriguing moves towards progressive rock (rather than say metal) feel perfectly natural in the band’s very capable hands as they continue to expand their sonic template. Vocalist Einar Solberg gave us a few minutes of his time to talk shop about line-up changes, the new album, alongside topics like vegetarianism in metal and the mindset of the prog scene.

Dead Rhetoric: I liked one of the things that was said in one of the press releases for Malina. Can you explain the quote, “This album is the perfect example of how you can start with a vision and end up with a result that has nothing to do with the original idea?”

Einar Solberg: We started off with a similar approach to what we had with The Congregation. I was writing 30 sketches on my computer – we wanted to perfect that approach and try it once more. We were narrowing it down to 15. Then we kind of realized that this album definitely doesn’t appear to be The Congregation Part II in any sense. So we wanted to really purify that and really go for that new sound 100% for the new album. For us, it’s not as important to change as it is to deliver a new piece of art, that is not the same as our previous [albums]. That’s the main thing for us. We looked at the previous album and said, “We don’t want to do this, and we don’t want to do that” and then we had a completely new direction going on.

Dead Rhetoric: So basically, you started out the same and then veered off and let the direction that you wanted to go in guide you from there?

Solberg: Exactly, and that’s the beautiful thing about music. It’s hard to control it – you just need to follow it, in a sense. I’ve never made the composition that I’m planning to make. It doesn’t work like that. It’s too random with all the choices you have. Composition isn’t united very well with logic [laughs].

Dead Rhetoric: You had some changes to the line-up since your last album. What does Robin Ognedal bring to the table for Leprous?

Solberg: The original plan was that Øystein [Landsverk] was going to do the album. Then he wasn’t able to do any tours, and very few shows in the last couple of years. So we were like, “Okay Øystein, where’s this going? Is there something you want to tell us?” We talked about it and realized that it was too hard for him to combine his other career and family with being out on the road so much. We decided that if we get a new player, we also want him to play on the album. Then they could immediately be a bigger part of the band. Instead of going for the safest choice of letting Øystein do it and then find another [guitarist]. The good thing was that Robin had already played with us before. He did the last US tour with us as the fill-in guy. We have also known him for many years through both friendships and bands in the same type of environment. We knew that if anyone could jump into a big project like that, it was him. He has a different [style], and that’s cool – we don’t want anyone to copy each other here.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that the band has gone in a more rock-ish direction with this release?

Solberg: Yeah, but I think it lies mostly in the guitar sound. If you base it on the two singles that we have released, then definitely. But there are more, heavier sections, on the album as well. But to look at it as a rock band with no metal in it – that would be a complete lie. Even though I said in a statement that we are more accurately described as rock, which is partly true, it’s more of a provocative statement than anything else. It’s not like we drastically changed. The new album, even though it’s different, it will work well with the majority of our old fans as well. It’s not like bands like Opeth or Anathema, who went from extreme metal to the other side of the rock table. It’s not that drastic I would say, but it’s mostly in the guitar sound. We love that low gain sound where you can hear the strings properly.

Dead Rhetoric: It’s one of those things where the genre doesn’t matter so much anyway, it’s more just about the music itself…

Solberg: Yeah, and that’s always been the case with us. We love a lot of different stuff, and you have to go a long way back in time until we were mostly listening to metal. We listen to lots of things and genre isn’t that important for us. It’s never been. You need to say something in the press statements as well – might as well say something that gets some attention [laughs].

Dead Rhetoric: Could you talk about the collaboration with cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne on the album.

Solberg: I’m glad you brought him up, because he’s one of the most gifted musicians I’ve had the pleasure to work with. The funny thing was that we met him by coincidence when we were playing in Ottawa, Canada last year. We had four bands on the bill, and there were three [local] supports…a typical North American thing – way too many bands [laughs]. We were stressed, and I was kind of tour managing that run, so I went down from backstage to tell them to finish their set. Then I saw it was just this guy – he was the first local support. One guy with a cello on stage, and I was completely blown away from the first note that I heard. I forgot all about asking to finish the set. I was like, “Just play as long as you want, because I’m just going to stand here and listen.”

It was one of the most touching experiences I’ve had in many years, musically, because it was just him and the cello and nothing else mattered. It was pure music – it was not fame, it was not recognition, it was not all that other stuff you can easily get hung up in when you are in a band…it was only music. You could see that he was just 100% into what he was doing. So I went to him straight after the show and said that we had a lot of strings written for the album. I was planning on hiring someone from Norway, but then I saw him and I said he needed to be the guy [laughs]. He wanted to do it, so we flew him over to Sweden, where we recorded. We had a great time there. It was amazing. He really lifted the album up to a new level in my opinion.

Dead Rhetoric: Could you also discuss a little bit about the video for “From the Flame?”

Solberg: “From the Flame” is the first video that we have done with actors. Actors in Norway – they are expensive [laughs], so it’s not something that we thought about before. We spoke with the storywriter and he mentioned that we should have some true actors. So we hired some, and we got an industrial hole in our old hometown, Notodden, where Leprous started. That’s the first time that we have done a music video in our hometown. Then we wanted to unite the story and the band in the end. It was a funny project that we had not done before. It was a lot of fun to make, and we are very happy with the results. As for the video itself – we don’t like the story to be over-explained in a music video. I just don’t like it. It’s definitely related to the story.

Dead Rhetoric: I know that you are a vegetarian, and you’ve covered the meat industry with “The Slave.” Do you draw a line about putting your personal beliefs into the music?

Solberg: Yes and no…if I’m not putting my own beliefs there, whose beliefs am I putting there? There is a balance there, with moralizing, but it also needs to be honest. It’s the only song we’ve ever done about the subject, and it wasn’t even me who wrote the lyrics – it was Tor [Oddmund Suhrke]. It’s not been a subject that we have visited very frequently, but we tend to write about what we think sucks about society [laughs], and I think we aren’t the only band to do that. Also, several of the lyrics to songs on the new album are very personal – taken from our own lives but written in a subtle way. We want to be honest, but at the same time we want to be private. It’s a tough line.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you find it interesting to hear about the number of vegetarians/vegans in the metal world, considering the rest of the world’s view of metal fans?

Solberg: Yeah, I think it’s great! When we are going to festivals, there are always a bunch of veggie options, both vegan and vegetarian. It’s so nice, because it’s not how it is in the daily life at all. Sometimes you go to a wedding and you might be the only vegetarian out of 100 people. But if you are on tour, with two or three other bands, sometimes more than half are vegetarians or vegans. It’s an interesting phenomenon. I don’t have a very good explanation for why it’s like that – maybe musicians are slightly less conventional than the average person? Just maybe…

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that the band has gotten more of a foothold in North America in the past few years?

Solberg: Definitely – but it’s a territory that we want to focus much more in the future. We never did any big supports there or built the band there the same way we did in Europe. We still have a way to go in North America, but we are planning and willing to go. We love playing there – very passionate fans. It’s as big a market as all of Europe, so it’s definitely a place to get a foothold.

Dead Rhetoric: How important is the visual aspect of the band when you play live?

Solberg: It’s super important. For me, if a band sounds great, but there’s nothing going on…the lights are just random by the local guy, and there’s nothing else. To me, it cannot be a “great” concert. For the audience, in a way, it’s super important to have something to look at. It’s very easy to be bored at a concert. It takes a lot for me to pay attention for an entire show. That’s one aspect that can really help getting people into your atmosphere and getting them into your world, more than if you just stand there and perform the songs. So it’s extremely important for us.

Dead Rhetoric: So do you think it helps to have that ‘larger than life’ aspect – it’s not this everyday thing that you are going to?

Solberg: A show is supposed to be a show. When you go to the cinema, you want something a little bit spectacular. Either visually or emotionally – it needs to be something special. It’s the same with music. If the movie is really good, but it has super boring music, it’s not that good anymore. You need to think about all the aspects of a live show…or else it’s not a [good] live show.

Dead Rhetoric: Is progressive music more of an open box that can be expanded upon, instead of more static/confined material like black or death metal?

Solberg: I think so – yes to a certain degree. But all subgenres – you have a lot of pretty conformed people in all subgenres. They conform to their subgenre in how they believe it is supposed to sound. No matter what genre you are in, you’re going to get some of that. But I think it’s a little bit less in the prog scene, even though today we released the most straight-forward track on the album [“Stuck”], without the epic outro that is on the album. There was a lot of worried fans out there. We knew that was going to happen when we released it. We know prog fans. They very often believe that, “Oh, it’s not very complicated…I’m going to close all my doors and not give it a chance.” It’s the same in black metal if it’s not evil or extreme enough – it’s not cool. It’s not true enough or whatever. So you see a little bit of that everywhere, but I think the prog scene is still better than many other genres, when you try something new.

What I’ve found over the years, is that what people despise you for in the beginning – they will respect you for it eventually. I don’t think anyone would actually like us to make a Congregation II or a Coal II or Bilateral II – I don’t they would actually like that because that’s not us and they know it. We’ve always made each album sound different to the previous one…that’s who we are.

Dead Rhetoric: It’s about staying true to yourself than anything else…

Solberg: That’s the only thing you can do when you make music and art. If you aren’t true to yourself, then what is it that you are doing? Especially in our genre, if people for a second believe that we are doing what we are doing to sell more or appeal more, they are completely wrong. We do what we love. If you see the bands that we like, it’s definitely not only complex prog. We do what we love, and we cannot expect people to like it. We cannot have an expectation about what people may think about it, but they cannot have an expectation of us to follow their vision for how the band should sound like either.

Dead Rhetoric: Lastly, what’s coming up for Leprous before the year’s end?

Solberg: There is a very long tour in Europe that we are doing in Europe. We’ve brought with us Agent Fresco, a fantastic band from Iceland, and a few other cool bands as well. It’s going to be Leprous in a more surprising package than before. People are going to see a different kind of show than what we have done before, so we are really looking forward to that. Then the release of the album will be here – then we are definitely going to continue with tours next year. We are staying busy so no worries about that.

Leprous on Facebook