Two years after the release of “Pitfalls,” Norwegian progressive metal/rock outfit LEPROUS have announced the release of their new studio album “Aphelion,” coming August 27th, 2021, worldwide via InsideOut Music. We had the opportunity to talk to frontman Einar Solberg once more about the upcoming album. Watch the complete interview here or read the transcript below…
First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview about “Aphelion.” It’s been kind of a crazy year and a half for everyone; how has everything been for you and LEPROUS?
I’m relatively okay. Compared to many others, I think we’ve kept ourselves quite active and we got to do two tours for “Pitfalls.” The last one was right before the pandemic started, so I consider us to be one of the lucky bands. We also managed to do a lot of streams [and were] recording some music, composing music, so it’s not like touring is the only thing we can do. Of course, we’ve had challenges, like everyone has had, but you can either adapt to the situation and do something, or you can think about how much better things used to be before.
You were one of the bands actually that was – at least in my opinion – one of the most active bands during this whole period because you’ve had a lot of livestreams and you worked on music; do you feel it was a necessity for you guys to stay busy to survive this whole time?
To do all these livestreams and everything was just so important to us in many different ways. One of the reasons it was important is, of course, because we are performers, we like to perform, it’s a big part of our personality and it has become so over the years. For us to just suddenly stop what we’re doing would not really be an option, so we just figured out how to deal with it quite quickly and we’ve just been doing many livestreams. I think it’s also kind of helped us economically through the situation. We learned a lot throughout this pandemic as well; for instance, how to do things in different ways. So not everything is negative.
Actually, you put it really nicely in the statement you did for the press releases. You said something along the lines of that it’s not about thinking about what you had and what you miss about it, but about what you actually have and what you can do with it. Did that sort of attitude inspire you to write the new album?
Absolutely! Suddenly you have a lot more time some time on your hands and you can sit and play Playstation and wait for everything to go over – which I also did by the way [laughs] – or you can actually write music, which I believe to be the main part of what we’re doing. Without the music, we don’t have the performance part either, so music comes first, and then everything else is a secondary thing. So when you suddenly have more time to write music, it is not necessarily that negative either.
In 2020 you released “Castaway Angels” – was that the first song you wrote for this album? I read you were planning on making an EP first, so what made you change your mind?
It was the fifth song we wrote for the album. The first two songs we wrote for the album were “On Hold” and “Silhouette.” Those two, we had recorded already for “Pitfalls,” we really liked them, but we couldn’t find any way to fit them into the album, so we decided to build something else around them later. That was planned to be an EP first. We had two other songs that were also recorded for “Pitfalls” that we were not happy with at all. One of them was “Silent Revelation,” the single we just released. It had a few nice sections but we threw away everything else and then we just built a whole new song, with a new chorus, a new intro, a new outro. We only kept the verses more or less as they were. So we built a whole new song around the drums. Then we have the song “The Shadow Side,” of which we threw away the whole song and we only kept the drums, because the drums all sound the greatest, so we built a whole new song around the drum part. Then, there was the “Castaway Angels” project. With that one, we just went into the studio with just some simple guitar and vocal ideas. Then, we just played together and recorded it live in the studio eventually, and at that point, we started considering okay is it maybe a better idea to make an album out of this because it is starting to feel a bit too much for an EP and EPs are not really very relevant in our genre.
Concerning “Castaway Angels,” I understood that it was improvised in the studio. You called the process of this album very intuitive. Some of the songs were created just like that, others like how you guys do it before. Then, I also read that you also included fans in the songwriting process. Can you elaborate a little bit on that? How did that work?
That was for the last song of the album, “Nighttime Disguise,” which was also the last song we wrote for the album. We wrote and recorded it in the same week earlier this year. That was just an idea that I came up with that I thought would be fun. We set up a 24/7 livestream for 6 days and just see what we can come up with. People and the fans were able to kind of watch everything we did in the studio basically, in real time; the whole process of both composing and recording. How they were involved is that we made a poll in advance with lots of different parameters that they could help with, for instance, time signatures, the instrumentation, dynamics, tempo, the key, and vocal styles, so we just wrote down a lot of things, and of course, we ended up with a completely random combination of things because everyone has so different opinions. Then the result is a really strange combination of things that you have to deal with, but it was fun to write the song based on those restrictions. It was a fun project we did, this one time, and it was a lot of fun for us and for the fans too, from what I heard.
How do you feel about the song, now that it’s finished?
I like it. Of course, in the end, we wrote the song according to our own preference, but just with a lot of strange restrictions, basically. We tried to make a song that we liked as much as we could like it. Still, it’s good sometimes to make restrictions; for example, it can be that you suddenly decide someday that you want to write a song with layers of clarinets. A restriction is not a burden, it just takes you somewhere you wouldn’t have gone normally, and I am a big fan of going out from your comfort zone.
Is that something you might do again in the future?
No, because we’ve done it already. Now, we used that concept and it was fun. It worked. Then, we stop while we still have a good experience with it [laughs].
I feel like one thing that artists learned how to do differently during the pandemic, is interacting with fans. Do you think that this idea came from that?
Yes, definitely! That’s what it came from, and just using the internet for what it’s worth, basically for actually being able to reach out and communicate with our fans despite not being able to go out on a tour. In any way, we kind of communicated more with them this year than what we normally do, because normally I just go on stage, I play the concert, and I don’t see them afterwards there. I don’t very often go out and talk after the shows or anything, so I really felt that we kind of connected almost more with them this year than usual.
Now, going back to the album, one of my personal favorite songs is the opener, “Running Low.” Is there anything you can tell about that song, like how did it come to be?
Yes, definitely. I wrote that song on my phone, on the way up a mountain top. I just used this super small keyboard on my phone and that was about making limitations again. I thought to give it a try, to just for the sake of it write the song on the way up to a mountaintop, because it made no sense. It didn’t feel like it made any sense whatsoever. When I did it, in the beginning, on the way up, I was tired, exhausted, and trying to write at the same time on that crappy smartphone keyboard. It was awful, but it was at least a bit comical. We thought that if we filmed it, maybe we could make a comical situation out of it. Then, I came home, went further with the material, and then I was actually able to take it somewhere. Quite quickly after that, I came up with the main structure of “Running Low.“ We later on met in Cederberg Studios at Kristiansand to play and make it into a proper song together.
For both “Running Low” and “Nighttime Disguise,” you used a brass group – not exactly clarinet though; how was the experience for you working with them and is it fun for you to experiment with different instruments in your music?
It’s awesome. I mean I didn’t even meet them during the recording stage. They just got their parts sent to them in MIDI and they did it and we got it back perfectly, that was it. But it was a lot of fun to get the great result that they gave. The reason I included it in the first place, is that I got this brass library to work with for another project that I was doing, so I was doing some string and brass arrangements for another project and then I started like playing around the local brass library and used it in the composition of electronic stuff as well. I’m not a big fan of using samples for the main product, so we just asked Baard if he knows any good brass groups that could potentially do this. He knew of them, so then we just got in touch with them and that’s it.
In “Pitfalls,” you started using guitars in a different way. How would you say you are using them in this album?
I would say whenever using guitars now, it’s a quite free process these days. If you go back to an album like “Congregation,” for example, and also “Malina” to a big degree, I wrote all the guitar parts exactly how I wanted them, but from “Pitfalls” on to today, it’s more of a free process. I make the main composition typically, then the guitar players do their own thing, you know, so if there are no guitars in a section, it’s probably because we just agreed together that it doesn’t need it right there, it depends on the song. It’s all about the song.
Metal and rock music, in general, are so guitar driven, so how have fans been able to process the fact that there are sometimes parts in your music where you don’t use any at all?
That’s also the reason why the rock scene has been standing completely still almost for 20 years now. It’s because it’s all based around that same sound. I mean there are of course some innovative things here and there but when you look at commercial rock these days, there’s very little new happening. If someone does something new, it’s usually bands that already did something new a long time ago already. Sound-wise, it’s very restrictive if you have that wall of guitar. It kind of eats up everything else almost. We would rather want to use a guitar in a more dynamic approach to defeat constantly having this wall of sound. It doesn’t leave any room for other things and there is no air left in the music, it kind of sucks the life out of it a bit, in my opinion. When everything is guitar-based it’s limited… how many things can you do with just constantly having guitar, drums, and bass playing at the same time? There have been done an insane amount of different things with that instrumentation. That’s why we just tried to use it – and we have a lot of guitars in our music – so that it’s not necessarily always riffs, yeah. So how fans process it and how people like it, that’s just something we cannot think about. We just make the music, we make and either people like it or they don’t and we don’t control people’s taste. If you try to please people, I’m sure you would fail at it anyway. Some people say no, this just sounds like some ripoff of this and that. Yeah, exactly, that’s why we’re doing what we want to do.
What I also remember about last time is that you mentioned that for “Pitfalls,” you wrote a lot of lyrics, which you hadn’t done that much at that point in time. How was it for this album and what are some of the some of the themes?
I think I did the majority of the lyric writing for this album. It’s kind of a continuation of what was started on “Pitfalls,” because I felt like anxiety and depression is kind of a long-term subject that kind of takes quite a lot of time to gradually [become] less and less of a dominant part of your life, basically. That is kind of what it is about, it’s about the solutions, the setbacks, the patience about it, and the acceptance. I would say that it’s kind of similar, but it has a much more accepted and suddenly more solution-oriented approach to the same subject.
I think you hear that pretty well in the music as well; it sounds a little bit lighter, less heavy than “Pitfalls.”
Yeah, definitely. It’s definitely a bit less of an emotionally heavy album, I agree with that. I think, at least me personally, I’m also less emotionally heavy than I was before, so it makes sense.
Some artists have been inspired a lot by this year of isolation during COVID-19. Are there any “corona” songs on the album?
The songs are not specifically related to the pandemic, but I would say that the title and the cover are the closest things we get to something that is pointing to the pandemic. The cover is just like you were standing inside of this pyramid type of building, in a beautiful kind of mountain landscape, but you’re kind of confined to those walls inside of the building, you’re inside and you cannot go anywhere. You can only see everything outside without the possibility to do something but still you adapt and you do something about it. Despite that you’re heavily restricted, there are still a lot of things that you can do if you start looking.
I read also that “adapt” was going to be the original title of the album, but it didn’t work after all?
Yeah, it didn’t sound good. It made sense then for what we wanted to express, but it didn’t sound good.
For this album, you worked again with Adam Noble. How was the experience this time around?
It was awesome. He’s such a great guy to work with, a real professional. Definitely one of the most professional guys I’ve ever worked with. He has a different sound than what you typically hear in the metal scene. It’s much more bottom heavy, so you can feel the bass drum hits you here, there is a lot of bass in the bass drum, not just a click like you hear in a lot of metal these days. I really like how he’s able to make something sound massive without it necessarily being out of a wall of guitars.
I guess it fits really well with your music because it’s already so dynamic, in essence, and he kind of lifts it up even a little bit more, I would say.
Definitely, I agree with you. That’s what Adam is really good at. We spend a lot of time on the recordings. That what you hear is what is recorded basically and that is not just sound replacement, which is becoming more and more common especially in metal these days, typically with the digital simulators of guitars and then also lots of sound replacements on the drums and everything, so it sounds really good and powerful, but it doesn’t really have any character or air in the sound. That’s why we spend a lot of time on the actual recordings in the studio to make it sound like how we want it to sound, and then Adam is amazing when it comes to really honoring the recordings, but making them shine properly.
Now, you’re also having a livestream for the new album; what can fans kind of expect from that evening?
The album in its entirety. Two times. One time for the European time zones, one time for the US time zones.
Are you looking forward to perform the songs live for a virtual audience?
Definitely. It’s going to be very interesting. Of course, it’s a bit terrifying., since this is the first impression that you give many people of the album. If we do a really crappy show then, of course, it’s not very nice, but I think we’re starting to get quite experienced with this streaming. I think we should be able to avoid it. We’ve also gotten used to diving into material this year that has been new to many people in the band. For instance, the “Bilateral” stream, there are guys in the band who had never played many of those songs before. So I think it should be fun.
It’s also your 20th anniversary as a band this year. How do you look back to this whole time that you’ve been involved with LEPROUS?
It’s been a ride, and a bumpy one. So lots of great things, lots of setbacks, and it’s been a really, really slow, stone-by-stone process. We started out as a youth band. It was one of my absolute first bands, in general, in my life and it was TorO‘s first real band too. It started from that and today it’s a band that involves quite many people who work together with us. It’s been such a gradual, gradual build, but I look back on it in a very positive sense, mostly.
Well, I guess it’s about time, so I’m not going to keep you any longer! Do you have any last thoughts you want to share with your fans or other people who stumble upon this?
We can’t wait to be out playing for you! For real. In an actual venue with an actual crowd, but until then, you can watch our streams.
Written by Laureline Tilkin