While they may have made a name for themselves being Ihsahn’s backing band for a number of years, Norway’s Leprous are quickly becoming one of the most important groups in progressive rock/metal in recent memory. Their upcoming release, The Congregation, is going to be released on May 25th and is both a masterful amalgamation of their previous work and a step in an almost simpler direction. The album may not be out quite yet, but you can check out a sample of The Congregation at the bottom of the interview with the band’s new music video for “The Price.” I had a chance to speak with Leprous’ frontman, Einar Solberg, about the stresses and inspirations for the new record, balancing the band and a full-time job, keeping this simpler in the music, and much more!
I just heard the new record, The Congregation, about a week ago. It’s pretty awesome, man! I’m really excited to see what people think about it!
Wow, thank you very much!
So let’s talk about that a little bit. Did you have any new themes or ideas or soundscapes in mind that you wanted to explore?
When I started writing the initial sketches for the album, I started out with just one small plan, and that was I wanted everything to very focused. Very straight to the point. I know that no matter what kind of ideas you start out with, in the beginning the music kind of lives its own life. So no matter where you’re trying to steer it, it’s like “Yeah, I’m planning this kind of album now!” And then it ends up completely differently. What I did this time was to just write a lot more than I ever have before for an album. We wrote 30 sketches for songs, about two per week, for a period of time. I like forcing myself to have deadlines, because that’s when I work the best. When I have to write, and then I have to force myself to do it even if I’m not inspired at all. I force myself to write, because you never know when the good stuff comes.
Right! That definitely makes sense. So when you said that you wanted it to be straight to the point, did you think that Bilateral and Coal weren’t straight to the point?
Bilateral is absolutely not straight to the point! Bilateral is really all over the place, and a lot of people love that, and that’s fine. But it’s not what I wanted to do now. I mean, Coal is very, very atmospheric and slow in a way as a comparison. I wanted something that was drier in the sound, and to explore inspirations from things that are different than prog and metal. Even though it is definitely a prog album, the inspirations are different than many others.
What kinds of inspirations are you talking about here? Was there anything specific maybe in the last year or so that you’d really been into?
Yeah, there’s one band that I’ve been into for many, many, many years now, and that’s Massive Attack and their way of writing. It’s very inspirational to me because they write in a very simplistic way. Very repetitive patterns…
Yeah, now that you mention that, I could see a song like ‘The Flood’ having a lot of Massive Attack influence on it.
Exactly! And that’s very inspirational to me, when the foundation is very simple but strong. Then you can build upon that. Instead of just building layer upon layer of everything you can think of. I like to compare it a bit to cooking. If you cook a meal and you add all the spices available to you, it will have no specific taste at all! It just tastes like…food? I mean, what I wanted here was something where each taste was much more defined. So let’s say that I’m only using rosemary for this one. Rosemary and maybe some salt.
Okay, I think I know what you’re getting at here.
The other day I actually did that! I made a meal with tons of spices and lots of different things. Lots of good ingredients, but it ended up being really crappy because there was way too much different stuff in there. The next day I did with very few things, but I just did it right and I focused, and it tasted much better!
Now going into the recording of the album, you said you worked on a deadline obviously, did that ever become stressful? Did you feel like you had enough time?
Yeah, there was constant stress. I mean, I definitely had a moment where I just felt like I hated this album! *laughs* It was an insane amount of work, especially having to work the same full-time job I have. But as long as you’re determined enough, there really is no limit to what you can do. So I just really literally forced myself. I even wrote a song by myself on the metro on the way back from a night shift one time, and I wrote several songs on my night shift. It’s like everywhere can work!
What’s your full-time job, by the way?
I work with autistic people at the moment, because it’s a very flexible job. I used to work as a singing teacher and a piano teacher, but that was too draining. It drained too much energy from me, and this one fits a bit better into my daily life. It’s easily combined with being out touring, etc. My goal is that within a couple of years I will probably not need to work that much more. It’s getting there with Leprous now.
Now that you have this album coming out, do you have any plans for touring?
Europe is already announced and booked, and we do a pretty good amount here in Europe. We’re doing a month on the road in Europe, and it’s very good venues and nice cities. In 2013 we went on a very long, very very long European tour and kind of tested which places were necessary to go back to! *laughs* So this time we chose only the good places. We’re also definitely planning something for the US, but it’s still not official, so I can’t speak about it.
Do you think it will be this year, or not until next year?
I hope so. I sure hope so.
Are you guys still playing with Ihsahn?
No, actually last year… no, I think 2013 was the last year of that. Last year he didn’t play any shows, and I was with him doing Emperor. It was a bit different style than what I’m normally doing…*laughs*
I saw that he was doing festival shows this summer, and I didn’t know if that you were going to balance that with Leprous or not.
No, he’s using other session musicians now. We had the talk with him, and we’re still on good terms. He’s practically family with us. So of course it’s good, but it came to that point where it would be too risky for him to be really dependent on a band that is out playing that much. So when he gets very good offers, he can’t say no because his band can’t do it. He’s just using very good session guys now, and he’s using our old drummer still actually. It’s probably still going to sound killer live!
Are there any bands out there that you haven’t played with yet that you really want to? Is there anyone you’re looking out for?
I mean, there are some bands that it would be a dream to tour with. Let’s say insanely huge bands like Tool, for example. I’ve never heard them live before, but I’ve heard that it’s supposed to be stunning.
Yeah, I’ve seen them live once and they were absolutely incredible! You would fit that bill pretty well too, I think.
For us we could reach a whole new audience, because even though Tool works for the prog fans, they also work for tons of other kinds of people. They’re basically one of the bigger rock bands in general. They play really huge arenas when they go out. So that would of course be a dream, but I would be a bit surprised if that happened in the next couple of years. I’m sure there are plenty of others out there who want that spot.
Do you think for your live shows the visual style will change? I’ve seen videos of you from different albums and it’s changed each time. Will there be anything different for your new shows?
Right at the moment we’re working to perfect these songs and to play them properly. It’s really difficult material to play, and it’s the most difficult album to perform so far. I know some people might think that it’s Bilateral, but it’s really much more difficult and challenging now. Personally we’re just focusing on that until the summer festivals. Some of these shows we’re not allowed to do visuals anyways because the change-overs are too short. Then we’re starting with planning in the summer. We’re working to take it to a new level visually, so that the music isn’t the only interesting thing. It should also be very interesting to watch. The point of a concert for me is to make something special and a whole experience that you use all of your senses with. Well, not necessarily all of them. I mean, we could throw out candies to the audience.
Maybe you should add that for the next tour! I just have one more question: Since the album’s not quite out yet, what do you hope or want people to take away from this? Are you trying to say anything directly, or what do you hope people will think about it?
I hope it will be a touching album to them, emotionally. For me, it’s a very emotional album that’s very melancholic. I hope that they will go beyond the technical stuff and hear the melancholy of it. Many fans listen with expectations that are not very open for changes. I hope that people will just be completely open. This is a different album than the previous ones. It’s a new sound, and it’s still obviously Leprous. For a Leprous fan, it’s important to be open-minded, because we do change a lot.
That’s the most important part about being a fan of progressive stuff, I think.
But of course, I get it. I know… why doesn’t it sound more like Tall Poppy Syndrome? But I don’t think people would really want that if we did another album like that. It would be uninspired. People would be uninterested in it because they already have it. They can already listen to it and enjoy. It’s important that each piece of art is a different mood and a different sound.