VOLA: Mental Mazes


It’s no secret that the Copenhagen based progressive experimentalists, Vola, are currently one of the most praised bands on the current scene. The band’s innovative approach in mixing different music styles on their debut album “Inmazes” was received enthusiastically by both fans and media. Vola have recently released an animated video for the song “Emily,” and we talked with singer/guitaris Asger Mygind and bassist Nicolai Mogen.

Define the mission of Vola.

To make music that creates movement in lots of ways.

What evolution do you feel “Inmazes” represents for the band?

Asger: With “Inmazes” we’ve tried to expand our songwriting to the full album span with all the obstacles that may present. It takes time to create the right flow and dramaturgy within a song but to also create this coherence in a bigger scope across 10 songs is the real challenge. We haven’t had to deal with this kind of complexity before but I think we somehow succeeded. That’s an evolutionary step for the band.

Tell me about the creative process that informed the album.

Nicolai: Usually we record the ideas at home individually and send them out to each other before rehearsing, both to get feedback but also to learn the parts beforehand. When we meet up all together it’s a matter of sculpting the songs and testing the material to see if it feels good. Also, few of the songs were created with a more collective approach, where we recorded the demos together at Asger’s studio. The song “Gutter Moon” was made that way.

VOLA - InmazesHow did you document the music while it was being formulated?

Asger: We record all our ideas, plain and simple. But we do it at home with programmed drums. Not in the rehearsal space.

Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected or is it an organic outgrowth of performing them together?

Asger: It’s very rarely that big decisions about the songs are made when performing them together. When we are rehearsing we tend to focus more on makin the vocals gell together, mixing in the keyboard sounds and the performing aspect of it all. The flow is something we primarily discuss when we are composing and listening at the computer.

Describe the approach to recording the album.

Nicolai: We start out by recording demo versions of each song to get an idea of the final outcome before we begin recording the record for real. The demos are very extensive, but we are working with programmed drums because it’s gives us more flexibility in working with the music. When the demos are done we sequence them like we would like the final album to be and listen back to the whole thing start to finish. When everything makes sense we begin the tracking of the album. We start out recording the drums. Felix plays along to the demos to get a sense of what the song is like with vocals, keys and so on. Afterwards we add bass, guitar, keys and vocals, using the demos as a guideline all the way through the process.

How long was “Inmazes” in the making?

Asger: About three years if you include the songwriting process. I think it pays off to really nurture your recordings. You can release your music with much greater confidence if you know that you took the time to get everything as good as possible. Of course you must be able to let i go at some point, which is a challenge, but having a mastering date planned helps a lot.

Tell me about the themes the album captures.

Asger: The album mainly deals with the decline of free mental movement. No matter how fit and freely moving you are in your physical domain you won’t be able to achieve anything in life if your mental proposition isn’t corresponding to your body’s. The album tries to capture this feeling of being trapped in mental mazes and not being able to fully experience happiness, basically. How is this struggle visualized in your own mind and how do your surroundings react to the behavior caused by it? Those are the main themes.

Describe the creative process behind the propulsive, mercurial title track.

Asger: The easy thing about making the last song on a recording is that you don’t have to worry about how it fits with a song coming after it. Therefore we wanted the ending to be as big as possible and sort of a conlusion of the emotional built-up throughout the album. I always liked long fade-outs, because the music will have a tendency to keep on playing in your head even when the fade is over. It’s a good moment to get your message across, and it felt right to give it everything there. With the intro riff I wanted to create something that literally sounded like a maze but still had a straightforward groove. The lyrics in the verses have a very bleak vibe which I wanted to portray in that riff. It is probably the most disharmonic sounding piece of the album.

Delve deeper into what “Your Mind Is a Helpless Dreamer” is communicating.

Asger: That songs is centered around the feeling of nostalgia. When you’re in a difficult place mentally, on of the hardest parts is thinking back on periods of your life that were unproblematic. ”Why can’t I view the world in the same way again?”. That measurement of your own well-being can be shattering and it keeps you from focusing on actually getting the best out of what is right in front of you.

Provide some insight into the group’s chemistry that allows this music to emerge.

Asger: We all love groove-based, polymetric music and are very interested in building soundscapes and moods. We rarely have to explain anything technical to each other because we all have the same basic mind set. We also have our differences which helps bring out certain flavors in the music. Martin fx is very much into grandiose, electronic music while Nicolai likes to explore jazzy, modal chord progressions.

How do you collectively determine the duration of a groove before the change is required?

Asger: We spend a lot of time listening back to demos and try to be obejctive about what we hear. Does everything make sense? Sometimes the same riff can run through an entire song and not be boring if the orchestration around it is done right. That is what we hope to achieve at least.

How do you know when a piece is complete?

Asger: When you listen to the piece and feel that the all the parts are meaningful and have a strong presence. We don’t want a strong chorus to ”make up” for a weak verse. Every part has to be able to stand up for itself.

Which bands or artists influenced your work on the album?

Asger: I am very inspired by groove-based, monotonous music. It doesn’t have to be metal at all as long as it just has a spectacular beat, groovy odd-time groupings, an interesting mood or something else along those lines. Massive Attack‘s “100th Window” is a big influence. It’s monotonues but it still feels like it’s constantly evolving. Steven Wilson‘s “Insurgentes” and Ulver‘s “Shadows Of The Sun” both have a darknes that I find very fascinating. Some big influences of heavier music are Porcupine Tree, Devin Townsend, Soilwork and Meshuggah.

Nicolai: I think Meshuggah and Mew are the two bands who have influenced me the most making this record. I really like the way Mew can make catchy choruses without sounding corny and predictable. No need to explain for the Meshuggah influence.

Vola - Inmazes CD

How would you describe what you create to someone who didn’t hear you before? I love to think that Vola is the bridge between Depeche Mode and Meshuggah. (laughs)

Asger: We definitely apply some of the same rhytmical ideas as Meshuggah. When you start getting used to the feeling of playing odd-time figures against a straight groove it becomes very addictive. We’ve never listened much to Depeche Mode. But I think I would describe it as heavily groove-orientated and melodic music that tries to fit a variety of moods and soundscapes into pretty basic song structures.

What kind of gear do you use for recording your music?

Asger: All guitars and basses for Inmazes were recorded through the Line 6 POD HD500. It was unfortunately stolen shortly afterwards and is now replaced by the 500X model, which is even better. Keyboards were done in Ableton Live. I have mixed everything in Pro Tools 11.

What is your view on technology in music?

Asger: It’s great to be able to do so much youself in terms of music production. Music recording software is generally easy to work with if you take some time to learn the basics, and amp emulations have made recording and performing with amplified instruments much more flexible. I’m so happy that I don’t have to carry around heavy gear anymore, and that I very specifically know what sound comes out of the PA. You can stand beside a loud 4×12 cabinet, feel the floor vibrate and be very overwhelmed by what you are experiencing but the audience won’t be able to share that sensation unless the sound translates well through a micing setup live. With amp emulations going straight to the FOH you can somewhat mix you live sound even before it reaches the mixing console and from there on just let the sound guy do the final tweaking to make everything sit right. The control is very satisfying and luckily todays emulations sound extremely good.

Do you see the band’s music as serving a purpose beyond music?

Asger: Yes, definitely. Hopefully people can groove along to our music and sing along to the melodies, but if the songs can also unfold something in their personal life, I will feel very gratified. We put a lot of effort into making the abum and gave it all we had, and I hope you can sense that, no matter how it reaches your ears.

What advice or philosophy might you impart to other musicians, be it in forms of creativity, technical stuff, the business side of it, or anything else?

Asger: You should spend some time trying to find your own sound. To emulate your idols is a great way to get started with music, but once you have built a foundation you should take the elements with you, that you like the most and explore your own route. All the greatest artists in the world have a very distinctive sound that sets them apart from everybody else. So keep an open mind and don’t be affraid to experiment even though you may reach shaky grounds.

What are your plans for the future?

Asger: We have self-released “Inmazes,” which means that we’ve had a lot to do after the release in terms getting the music out in the world. That’s one of our main focuses right now. But we are also gearing up for future live performances and have started rehearsing the songs from the album. A big upcoming show is Euroblast Festival in Cologne in October which we very much are looking forward to.

Buy “Inmazes” from Bandcamp here. Like Vola on Facebook.

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

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