Leprous – Creating Special VibesTuesday, 10th August 2021
Hard to believe Leprous is approaching twenty years together as a group – but that indeed is the case for this Norwegian progressive act. Continually exploring new horizons, atmosphere, and textures from their original progressive metal base, the incorporation of post-metal and alternative influences ensures that the band remain true to what they want to achieve. The exploration of new ideas gained through life experience, challenging themselves record to record. The latest record Aphelion continues that tradition – containing solid emotional resonance, vivid songwriting, and deep, rich angles that go from softer ambiance to louder bombast.
We reached out to singer/keyboardist Einar Solberg who conducted this interview while getting a solid walk in from his native Norway. Prepare to learn more about the multiple studio scenario employed for this record due to the pandemic, the lyrical content that digs into mental health, how he views the twenty- year career of Leprous through the eyes of two different people, and discussion about what progressive music means to him plus hopes for future touring.
Dead Rhetoric: Aphelion is the seventh Leprous record. At this point in your career, how do you approach each new creative vision when gathering ideas, developing them, and getting to the final output? Do you separate the past discography when approaching the present work – as you’ve obviously evolved through seasoning and experience as musicians?
Einar Solberg: Yeah, definitely. I don’t intentionally separate myself when I am going into a new album, but I don’t feel compelled to look back to the past work for inspiration though. Whenever I am composing something for a new album, I want it to have its own life, and you are hearing something you haven’t heard in the previous album. I want each album to have its own special vibe when you listen to it, and that’s very important for me when I am writing. It’s not very important for me to think I really have to write something brand new and completely different, that’s not what I’m talking about. Gradually you go with the flow, your life at that moment basically.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you think you’ve made the most growth in terms of your range, melodies, and emotional magnitude when it comes to Leprous and specific tracks for this new record? I personally enjoyed the subtle diversity and intensity of “Running Low” and the dramatic nature of “The Shadow Side” as favorites…
Solberg: That’s cool, I like that. I love those moments, and also for me it’s the most different song that excites me a little bit. It’s always good for me to explore new territory. I improvise sometimes in the studio, when it’s made. I also really like “Running Low”, that was the reason we really chose that song as a single, because we enjoy it. I wouldn’t know where to answer with where I feel the most growth. I don’t think of it like that, become better, or think about music in that way because it’s all so subjective. A song resonates with you or it doesn’t. It may have a lot of objective qualities but you still don’t like it because it doesn’t resonate with you. I struggle a bit more with finding standouts for this record to be honest. It was easier for me to answer on the previous albums I think.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you discuss the challenges you had recording this album during the pandemic and the three studios you used?
Solberg: The reason why we did it obviously was because of the pandemic. We were not able to do everything in our regular studio because we were not allowed to travel there. We didn’t plan to do an album, we had some songs ready like “On Hold” and “Silhouette”, they were ready at the start. And then we had some parts for “The Silent Revelation”, and the drums for “The Shadow Side”. “The Shadow Side” originally was a different song, but we didn’t hear too much for the song. We threw away the rest of the song outside of the drums and built a new song around that. Suddenly we had more and more material, so we considered making an album. We went to Ocean Sound first to do some things – we heard it is a really good place to record from a technical as well as inspirational perspective. And we went there and recorded some songs there. The same thing for Cederberg Studios, we decided to record some songs there. Even some of the songs like “Out of Here”, and “Have You Ever?” have been recorded in all three studios. The drums in Cederberg, the bass and guitars in Ghost Ward, and the vocals recorded in Ocean Sound. We went for this to try something new while we had the chance.
Dead Rhetoric: You mention in the background information many of the lyrical topics for Aphelion deal with mental health and anxiety. Has it been healthy for you personally to express your viewpoints and experience in these areas through these lyrics – and have you heard positive feedback from the fans for opening up these discussions which often are swept under the rug or not taken as seriously in total well-being?
Solberg: I think definitely I’ve never received more positive feedback about our lyrics than with Pitfalls and this new album Aphelion. Although not many people have heard the full album yet outside of the singles. But still, there is something about being honesty that people can see through it if you are not. Whenever you are honest, it feels genuine and people more easily can recognize themselves in (the lyrics), its more transparent and resonates more with the fans. Especially in these times where quite a lot of people have mental challenges during this pandemic. It’s more important than ever just to be open about it. For me it was never a big deal to be open about my mental health, I’m just like that by nature. I don’t see why I should try to hide this kind of stuff. At the same time, it never felt natural for me to include Leprous in that openness before the Pitfalls album.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the idea come about for the Norwegian brass group Blasemafiaen to appear on the record – a first for Leprous?
Solberg: I actually bought myself a brass library, just to do another project that I was arranging, for a musical. I started playing around with the library, since I am not such a big fan of using samples, I asked Baard who is the most connected member of the band if he knew a brass group. Of course he did, so we hired them to replace the samples I had in this song to do the real thing, and that was it.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve released two videos for the new album so far – do you enjoy the process of developing the visual clips with directors, and how important do you believe the visual medium has been to promoting Leprous – is it as important as the records and live touring?
Solberg: No – but it’s very important still. The music always comes first. For me it’s music, lyrics, then the visuals. Music is always what will always be most important for me because I am a musician. Some other people might see things differently, we like the visual package but the music to me is the main thing. Leprous has always been a band with taking things seriously, including the videos. We always put a lot of thought behind what we do on all three fronts.
I still feel I have a lot to learn, as I’m not an actor. At the same time, we feel we could have used external actors but we feel when people watch a Leprous video they prefer to see the members there, and not external actors that they have no relation to. Definitely, I enjoyed it but I have to put a lot of work into that.
Dead Rhetoric: In an older interview on this site you talked about wanting to make more of a foothold in North America as far as touring to establish the band a bit more here. How would you say those goals have worked out – and what do you enjoy most regarding the fans/relationships and the passion that they express for your music?
Solberg: When it comes to touring in North America, we did a lot in 2018. We did two quite big tours in the same year. We were planning on touring there again in 2020, and it didn’t happen for obvious reasons. We were planning for 2021 again, and that didn’t happen again, so let’s see if we can do this in 2022. The plans have been going well, it’s a bit hard to say now during the pandemic as we don’t get a chance to see how it’s going after Pitfalls.
When you asked about how important the connection is with the fans. It’s very important, we have a lot of hardcore fans who enjoy almost everything we do. At the same time, you have to keep a certain distance, and I feel it’s how it should be. In these times it’s easy to become too close to your fans, and if you do that you can ruin a bit of the magic and for people to make up their own interpretation of who they think you are. We are aiming to find a good middle ground. We are not very mysterious but not too close. When we invite our fans to partake in something it’s usually like the livestream, they were a part of composing things together with us. When it’s a musical hangout, it’s better for us. I deeply appreciate our fans, but we like to keep a certain distance.
Dead Rhetoric: During the lockdown you did a series of livestreams – how do you believe these livestreams went for the band, and how does the band handle the differences of channeling the live atmosphere through recorded means without an audience to play to?
Solberg: Of course it was quite different, but so much better than not playing. These livestreams have been rich for many reasons. We were able to get an income in that way. We kept ourselves more relevant and keep up the communication with the fans. We were able to keep our live shape, so that when we can tour again it’s not going to be a shock for us. It’s been good for us in many different ways.
Dead Rhetoric: We are coming up on the 20th anniversary of Leprous. Did you ever imagine you would sustain Leprous for this long – and how have you grown and evolved with the band since your teenage years to today?
Solberg: When it’s gone on for that long, you almost feel like you are two different people. When we started the band, I had almost zero life experience. I was a typical youth in many ways, a fearless youth without too much life experience. We started out there as something cool to do. I had big ambitions and this is what I wanted to do for a living. I never changed that plan at any point. I remember the first time I was on a stage, we were playing Radiohead and Rage Against the Machine covers and this is exactly what I wanted to do with my life. Before that I didn’t have any specific direction.
But now of course, I’m a grown man with good and bad life experience. The music aspect is a big part of me, but not only as a performer, I see myself equally as much as a composer. Which is something that I feel I’ve learned over the years. It’s hard to compare your young self with your current self. I would say life experience is the main thing, and you gradually change a little bit when you grow older. I think we have allowed ourselves to go a bit deeper now than we did in the earlier days, in the emotional and feelings department.
Dead Rhetoric: What impresses you regarding music today? Do you consume and process music much differently now than in your teens and twenties?
Solberg: I think I enjoy music even more when I was younger, because I didn’t have this annoying analytic method doing this for so many years. It’s so much more often I think about the typical overuse of the snare sound and so on, think too much versus enjoying the music. Which is why I tend to listen to music in different genres, compared to what we play ourselves. I listen to a lot of classical music for example, because it has a calming and soothing effect on me. I listen to bands like Radiohead, one of my favorite bands because they don’t try to impress anyone, they don’t try to be something specific. They just do their thing, and you can like it or you don’t, but they are true to themselves. That is what impresses me with music, if everything seems effortless in that way, it seems natural. I always love that natural vibe when it comes to music.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been a part of the InsideOut Music roster now for a decade. What type of relationship do you have with the staff there – do you believe they understand properly how to get Leprous out to the biggest and best sources to build your following?
Solberg: This is a bit tough to answer. We always have some discussions about how to reach further and how to get out there. I focus less and less now on success and more on the music. It’s liberating, because you lower your expectations but you focus more on what you do best, which is music. We are not businessmen, that’s not who we are. When it comes to our label, we have a very close relationship with them. We’ve known them for ages. In the beginning they were the big and scary label guys and we were the small band from Norway. Now we have a much more natural, easy-going, friendly tone over the years. Knowing each other much more, and we are not one of the smallest bands there anymore.
I think we have very similar goals, but the problem of course is we are a prog band, and that’s how things work. Whenever you are a part of the scene, that’s the scene you are going to be a part of, whether you try something else. Which is fine with us, but I believe there is some potential in other types of styles that we haven’t explored that much.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think the definition of progressive music has changed over the decades?
Solberg: I never knew what exactly the definition of progressive music was. For me, it was always music that progresses and doesn’t stand still. I know that isn’t necessarily what it was in the beginning. In the beginning progressive rock was a genre where you mixed rock with elements from classical music. I think it’s such an open term. We have been put in the prog scene and we are fine to be there. I feel that we wouldn’t classify ourselves as a typical prog band. Does it mean that you play advanced time signatures and fast guitar solos? I don’t know, I don’t think too much about these definitions because I don’t think they are very good at describing genres. It only describes the sound, and what kind of instrumentation you can expect to hear.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the schedule for Leprous over the next twelve months or so? What do you think the touring/festival landscape will look like coming out of this global pandemic?
Solberg: We have a tour booked in December this year for Europe. If it will happen or not, I don’t know. I was slightly optimistic a month ago, now I’m a little more pessimistic. What I think about it isn’t going to change the outcome. Whenever we can go out, I think people that are into music will be quite ready to go to concerts again when they feel safe. It may be a tough start, but I really don’t know.