LEPROUS: On a Winning Streak

LEPROUS Release Clip for "Slave" from "Live At Rockefeller Music Hall"

Norwegian prog metallers, Leprous have been on a winning streak over the years. With their most recent full-length album “The Congregation” the band cements their status as one of the few modern progressive metal bands that actually understand the term “progressive.” 

Prog Sphere’s special collaborator, Ahmet Saraçoğlu talked with the band’s mastermind Einar Solberg about the new album, the creative process, Ihsahn, and more.

Hi Einar, first of all, congratulations for “The Congregation“. I think it’s your best album to date and I’ve been listening to it since it came out.

Einar: Oh, thank you very very much. That’s very nice to hear.

Your are welcome. The album seems like it’s a bit minimalistic compared to say, “Bilateral“. But I think it’s you most complex and hard to build album. What can you say about that?

Einar: Yeah, I agree. I kind of a mix between a minimalistic and quite complex approach actually. The structure of how we build it is, there are lots of ingredients that we used all together but they are also used in an advanced way now and then, so I can definitely relate to that?

How do you compare “The Congregation” with your previous releases, especially “Coal“? Were there any radical changes regarding how the album should shape up from the get-go?

Einar: “Coal” was kind of an atmospheric and slow album in a way. It was more impulsive. “The Congregation” is really arranged to the smallest detail. There is nothing left to coincidence on this album and it is very much a result of very hard work. “Coal” is atmospheric, slow and dark and “The Congregation” is melancholic, technical and catchy.

Leprous - The CongregationOne of the things I’m curious about LEPROUS is, how do you compose songs in general? LEPROUS’ music is really vocal driven, so sometimes I assume that you build a song around a vocal idea. What’s your take on song writing in general?

Einar: The funny part is, the vocals come as the very last thing we add on the music. So the first months, we only have sketches without any vocals. They are just added in the last part. The song writing on this album was a very structured process, where I set two deadlines for weeks for some months and I wrote two sketches per week and then we had thirty sketches. Then gradually we voted for which ones we should continue with. I wrote those sketches primarily on the computer actually, moving notes with a sequencer program. For me, it feel likes a more free way of writing, so that I don’t have to focus on my knowledge about music and theory. I just moved things here and there and eventually have it sound like I want it to sound like. There is no logic behind it. That’s one of my main things, logic and art don’t necessarily go very well. (laughs) It just happens. I think a good composer is someone who recognizes a good idea. Because in the beginning everything is random. I just try this and try that and I fail and fail and eventually recognize something like “Oh! That’s good.”

But what about songs like “The Cloak” and “Slave“, which are really vocal driven and are led by strong vocal melody. Are they also the same, music first and vocals last?

Einar: Yes, both of them… No, not “The Cloak” actually. That was on the previous album. Back then I was sitting on the piano and singing and writing at the same time. But for “Slave” for example, actually the nice thing about it is, when I find the foundation of a song, it’s so much easier to make a good vocal melody. Vocals are probably the most impulsive part of our music. I spent much much less time recording the vocals, compared to the keys. Because the vocals were recorded in only four days and the reason for that is because the rest of the music is so technical and very rhythmical. And so I want the vocals to be like a living counterpoint, so I wanted it to be quite impulsive. Normally there is a lot of soul and there’s a lot of nerve in the first takes.

Yeah it seems like it, because LEPROUS’ music is like a playground for your vocals in some aspect. Do you improvise vocally or is it all set before the recording?

Einar: Well, there is a lot of improvisation. I go into the studio with a clear idea, but I’m completely open for changing everything and doing new stuff. So there are several things that are completely improvised and some things that were very much arranged. So to have a combination is very good, I think.

You recorded at Mnemosyne Studios again, did Ihsahn have a role vocal-wise while recording? Were you completely ready for the vocals or did he come up with ideas?

Einar: Yeah, both me and Heidi, they all came up with some ideas there and then. Primarily it’s me who has all the ideas but they have suggestions there and then. They’re very creative people and tend to have many good ideas. But he doesn’t sing on the album, he actually does some clean vocals very much in the background because we wanted to make kind of a choir on “The Flood” and they both sang together with me to make it a bit more “living”.

And I also picked some Ihsahn influences in your harsher vocals on the album.

Einar: Yeah, that was actually not intentional, but I completely agree that it kind of sounded like him. (laughs) And it wasn’t my intention at all, it’s just that me and he ended up in the same situation. Once upon a time he had to change his vocal style to something less straining for his voice because he just really destroyed his voice with the old screaming and the exact same thing happened with me. I destroyed it so I tried many different things, he didn’t teach me anything. And then suddenly I thought “oh, this one! It’s very low in volume but it sounds very good and it doesn’t hurt my voice at all.” And then I realized “oh, but it kind of sounds like him”. (laughs) If I wanted it could sound even more like him, but I tried my best to avoid it. It’s probably the same kind of technique.

As a vocalist who can use his voice in many ways, what can you suggest to people who want to be a vocalist? I guess it’s like you find something that you’re comfortable with and then you improve yourself within this technique, right?

Einar: How I did it originally was to go way above everything that I could do, like just being way too ambitious actually and I think that’s better than sticking into your comfort zone all the time. Building a character takes years, so I think it depends of what kind of vocalist you want to be but if you want to be able to do lots of different things you just try tons of things, things that you can’t do. You just do them again and again and eventually you manage. But also, the thing about vocals is that it is %90 or at least %70 in your head. Most people are not improving because they don’t dare to improve. They don’t dare to challenge themselves. They don’t dare to try to go for those difficult notes or they put limits for themselves. And you can compare it with so many things. For some techniques, you need to really really go for it. You can’t hesitate and that’s the worst enemy of progress. The fear of making mistakes.

Leprous

Leprous (photo by Henrik Fjørtoft)

But that’s how you become unique, right? Because you know, when I hear just one of your words, it’s enough for me to see “Okay, that’s LEPROUS.”

Einar: Yeah and that’s also eventually daring to be yourself. It takes many years, because you spend so many years trying to be this or that and it takes really lot of time to get that confidence and just let your own character out completely. It takes really long time. First you need some talent that’s for sure, but talent is absolutely not enough to become a good singer. It’s really really hard work.

And it seems like in metal world, frankly it’s not very open-minded when it comes to…

Einar: No no no, i don’t think metal is so open minded actually. (laughs)

Maybe in its core, but in time it’s like, there are lots of limits like “you can do that yet you can’t do that”, etc.

Einar: Yeah yeah exactly. There are so many limitations in metal. The prog scene is a bit better I think actually. It’s a bit more open minded, but the metal scene kind of became the opposite of what it once was in my opinion. (laughs) It became very conformist actually, within its own environments.

LEPROUS is being considered as a progressive metal band but I think that term is not enough to fully express you music, since progressive metal is not an appealing term for many listeners today, because many of the so called progressive metal bands do it just for the sake of being progressive, rather than adopting the progressive adjective for their forward thinking artistic visions. What do you think about that, and the fact that the term progressive is being perceived as a genre, rather than an understanding?

Einar: I think in general, musicians and composers should think very little about genres, that’s my opinion. Whoever wants to categorize, that’s up to you guys, to music journalists. That’s the ones in my opinion, who should find good terms, good descriptions. If you categorize yourself to a certain band, you’re bound to just follow. You are bound to just do something fake, I mean. The originals, the ones who created the genres, they didn’t think “now we will do this”. They probably just let their creativity loose completely and suddenly that was the genre. (laughs) So I think people should think less about it. Most people are more comfortable in following than going in front. So there will always be followers and pioneers and something in between, like us. (laughs)

I see you as pioneers in some aspect, actually.

Oh thank you. I wouldnt use that strong words for ourselves. (laughs)

But when you listen to a song like “Foe”, maybe the ending part especially, I feel like almost none of the bands I listen to closes a song like that, or composes a song in general like that. It’s almost like you do the first thing you think about, and it actually works. (laughs) I know it’s structured and you work on it, but it flows really well and comes to me so sincere.

Einar: Thank you very much. I think that sincerity is the main problem of people. Because they are too afraid of people’s reactions. They are too afraid of disappointing their fans. If we had started considering all the feedback we get from everyone, we would be completely confused, and we would be losing ourselves completely. Yeah, those who are like “why aren’t you having guitars solos anymore?”, “Why aren’t you doing this anymore?”, “Why don’t you have longer songs?” or “Why don’t you have shorter songs?” , “Why don’t you do something more complex?” or “Why don’t you do something less complex?” It’s just chaos if you start to consider all those things. In a composition process, the most important thing is to just keep your distance to all expectations and everything. Just let the creativity flow. You’ll always disappoint someone no matter what you do. (laughs) That’s what I think so many people are doing wrong, if i can say it like that, that they are too concerned about it. They are just like: “Oh that works so well, we got good feedback last time, let’s try to milk that cow or squeeze that lemon even more than we already have.” There is nothing creative about that. But than again you have those bands where it works. Like AC/DC, IRON MAIDEN. (laughs) But it’s a different thing I mean. Like you’ve done it so much that it almost becomes cool again.

And there is a weird balance about change, right? People complain if you change your sound, but the same people also complain if you stay the same. So it is not easy for bands to evolve.

Einar: Yeah. I mean, being an artist is not exactly a win-win situation normally, because you always have people complaining no matter what you try to do. That’s my point. The problem is that maybe people don’t believe in themselves and they become insecure and I can recognize myself very much from that. I mean, sometimes for me it takes one negative feedback to destroy ten positive ones. But eventually I learnt to distance myself more and more from it. I don’t take it very personal. I mean I can get annoyed now and then, especially when people appear to think that they know how things work. (laughs) That tends to irritate me a lot and I should just try my best to stay above it. (laughs)

Speaking of listeners, today’s listeners tend to have a really short attention span and they get lost within this plethora of bands, since they can reach any band’s music within seconds. I think it’s almost impossible for them to express the value a band truly deserves, when compared to the listeners of eighties and such. With the rise of the internet, do you think the music became more of an asset for some bands to tour and sell merch and stuff, rather than being the ultimate artistic goal?

Einar: Yes, I do actually. Today it’s like a kid that has way too many toys and doesn’t know which one to play with.

Exactly.

Einar: And now all the money in the music business is in the live shows mostly. I really think the live shows are also a very important area of the artistic concept. For LEPROUS, it’s very very important and that’s always been very important. I think, I’m not sure what I like most, but I think I like to be on stage as much as I like being in the studio. So for me they are equally important. But you are right, now you make the record to promote the tour rather than make a tour to promote a record. (laughs) Because the money is in the touring.

I recently talked with Mikael Åkerfeldt of OPETH and he said he’s drowned to bands that sound odd, and some of his favorite albums are the ones that he hated on the first listen. I noticed that LEPROUS’ music has the same effect on some people. I know people who hated “Coal” on the first listen and then picked it as their favorite album of the year. Same thing goes with “The Congregation” actually, there are people who say “Okay, I was wrong with “Coal” but this time I’m sure that “The Congregation” is a weak release”. They were saying this last week and today they love the album. (laughs)

Einar (laughs): Yeah, that’s the best. (laughs)

Einar SolbergWhat can you say about this tricking aspect of LEPROUS’ music?

Einar: I think when people listen to something, even though they try their best, they are not completely open-minded because they are comparing and their expectations are really coming into place when they are listening. So firstly they cannot really get into it because it’s not all what they have expected. That being said, I think there was a bigger step between “Bilateral” and “Coal“, compared to “Coal” and “The Congregation“. But I still think it’s hard for people to adapt to something new. From a band they liked originally. I think everyone hears the music so different. I’ve heard so many things about this album, someone said that this is without a doubt the most instant album of LEPROUS; they loved it immidiately. While the others say this was the album that took them longest to get into. So everybody has a different perception of it.

I happened to feel the same thing actually. I couldn’t fully understand it on the first listen, but I was aware that it would eventually grow on me. “The Price”, I loved it on the first listened. But I fully got the whole album on my third or fourth listen. And I know others who got it even later.

Einar: Yeah, there are lots of information on the album so that’s understandable.

Yeah, and it also shows the albums value. It doesn’t pour it all on first listen so that means it is richer and has more texture.

Einar: Yes, absolutely. But if I think of all the interviews I did, I think it’s fifty fifty, where half of the people told that they get into the album on the first listen. It depends on the people. Because actually it’s more melodic and catchier, full of catchy choruses. (laughs) It’s a long album for sure, so there are lots of thing to digest.

I liked how you mentioned choruses. How do you write vocal melodies and especially chorus lines? For example, me and my wife, we sing “The Valley” chorus a lot, like (singing the chorus).

Einar: Yeah that’s sing along chorus. (laughs) And we heard that immediately when we wrote that.

So how do you come up with that stuff? (laughs) You try lots of different things or does it come naturally at the get-go?

For that chorus, we were jamming in the rehearsal room and I was singing this and that and this and that. Then I had that vocal idea and said to the other guys: “Is this too cheesy?”

(laughs)

Einar (laughing): Yeah and then we were like “Oh let’s keep it for now”. And I didn’t have the lyrics, I was just singing “a-a-a-a-a-a-aaa-aaa-aaa” (singing “The Valley” chorus). That’s normally how it is with me about the vocals, I don’t have the lyrics when I write the vocal lines. Lyrics come after normally.

Alright. Let’s talk about Baard. He seems like Norway’s favorite drummer these days. Was he a fan of the band before joining the band and what are his contributions to “The Congregation” and LEPROUS?

Einar: He was a fan of the band before he joined the band and he was really happy to finally join a prog band. He is much more of a prog drummer than a metal drummer actually. He did the “Coal” tour while Tobias was out with his other band SHINING. And eventually after the tour, we talked to Tobias and we all realized that it was easier to continue with Baard. For both of us, because Baard was very enthusiastic and Tobias was happy with playing with SHINING. Then immediately when he became a full time member, he started to take a lot of place in the band. He is a kind of guy who takes a lot of space, both musically and socially. (laughs) He became a very important part of LEPROUS I would say. He did an amazing job with the drum recordings, even though I had programmed approximately what he was going to play, but he of course had his twists on everything and made it much better, since I’m not a particularly good drummer. (laughs) He only used four days in the studio and which is great in my opinion, considering it’s a very complex album and that was his first time with LEPROUS.

As far as I know, you wrote all the music on “The Congregation” and %80 of “Coal“, right?

Einar: Yeah, approximately.

Leprous

Photo by Nihil

So can we see you as what Åkerfeldt is to OPETH, or Gildenlöw is to PAIN OF SALVATION? Is LEPROUS your band?

Einar: Tor has a very big part and he also is a very big part of the band. He writes most of the lyrics, I think he wrote the lyrics for %60 of the album. Musically, it seems like I’m gradually taking over more and more, and that’s not because I don’t let anyone else to write, I just seem to be the most interested in writing these days. It was a very open process where everyone was encouraged to write, but it was me who ended up writing the most. Also me and Tor, we feel each other out very well, because I am always being the main creative force and main driving the band, but he is also very structured and he keeps me on the ground when it’s needed. (laughs) So we are a very very good team.

Great. I’m also wondering about your EMPEROR gig. How was that experience, working with the guys and all?

Einar: Well, it was a nice summer job in 2014 (laughs). I had a great respect for the band and they were pioneers in what they do, but old school EMPEROR isn’t the music that is closest to my heart normally, so for me it was a very cool session job with very very good guys. It’s very different than what I normally do, which is nice to have a different experience.

What about Ihsahn? What can you say about him?

Einar: He is a very nice guy. Great guy, both musically and personally. He is also very humble.

Great. This is the last question, would you consider having a guest vocalist in one of your songs in the future, other than Ihsahn of course. Since Baard plays in BORKNAGAR, wouldn’t it be amazing to have a duet between you and, maybe ICS Vortex?

Einar: I don’t know, I would rather choose somebody who isn’t a tenor like me, so it would be more for the sake of it rather than a need. Everything he could do, I can also do (laughing). I’m not a fan of guest vocalists for the sake of it. I am a fan of guest vocalists when they can fill out with something new for the music that is beyond what I can do. So if there would ever be a guest vocalist, it will more likely to be a bass, really dark bass vocalist or something like that and should handle things that I absolutely can’t handle (laughing). For me, guest vocals are normally a PR stunt actually.

That was all Einar, thank you for your time and hope to see you guys in Istanbul soon. Again, kudos for “The Congregation” and take care.

That would be great, thank you very very much.

Leprous’The Congregation” is out now via InsideOut Music. Follow the band on Facebook for future updates.

Cover photo: Henrik Fjørtoft 

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: