The Norwegian prog masterminds LEPROUS are in full swing on tour and promoting their upcoming album, “Malina.” Hot off the heels of their appearance in Ilosaarirock, vocalist and synth player Einar Solberg was kind enough to extend us a phone call.
Hello! You’ll never guess where I am!
I have no idea, dude…
I’m in a water park near Helsinki. All of LEPROUS is here, actually. What was it called…
Yeah, that’s the one! [laughter]
I never thought of you guys as the waterpark-type.
You’d be surprised. I mean, we write melancholic music but we’re not that melancholic in our daily lives. The other guys are in the water right now.
I see, I’ll try not to keep you then.
No, I planned for this, it’s fine.
You guys just played Ilosaarirock. How did that go?
Really really nice! It’s a nice festival, very well organized. The staff was super nice and the location was just beautiful. It’s really nice for us to play something other than a metal or prog festival. This was something different. It was really cool.
So that’s what, two shows in Finland already this year?
Three! And we’re gonna do three more later.
Oh yeah, that’s right you did two with THE DEVIN TOWNSEND and BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME before this. That was February.
I saw you in Helsinki – that show was amazing. The atmosphere in there was just electric!
Oh, thank you. Helsinki is one of our cult cities! Just following on Spotify, I think Helsinki has like the most streams of us, for some reason. We have a following there, that’s very nice.
Definitely. Seeing you live, your performances are always absolutely impeccable – you never miss a beat! And considering that it’s practically impossible to tap along to anything you do, so everyone’s mostly standing there in stunned silence.
Yeah, some of the songs are really rough time signatures live, but others are a bit more straightforward. We love the mix between simplicity and complexity – mellow and aggressive. Yeah, we’re a pretty dynamic band.
I would say so. You seem to always be on-key. I’m starting to notice a pattern of synth and/or piano players being very consistently on-key singers.
Maybe [laughs]. Maybe because, like guitars can more easily go out of tune. With the piano it’s something I’ve put a lot of work into; just finding the right balance. Sometimes I’ve been thinking that I’ve been singing perfectly in tune but then I listen to it afterwards and it’s not! Sometimes it’s just that I’ve been singing too loud. I think now I’ve found the right level – that it’s a little bit lower but not so low that I’d strain my voice. You know, people who generally sing in tune can always do that if they have all the proper conditions for it. Know what I mean?
Yeah, I know exactly! As a singer myself I’ve noticed you don’t always have to hear yourself. As long as you can hear at least some of the musical cues that can tell you where you’re supposed to be.
Yeah, exactly. And it helps us a lot that we’ve started using our own in-ear monitors. If you look closely, you can see that I have an iPad on stage. That’s my mixer, so I don’t need a monitor-technician.
Right, because it gives you direct control!
Yeah, and it gives you a lot of confidence for even those bad days. You know, how singers – almost all singers I know – are not confident [laughs].
No argument here. Before I get to the new album, I have to ask about Ihsahn. You know, a lot of us know you guys through him, as you guys are credited as his backing band. Besides that though, do you have any further involvement with him?
Nothing except that he’s, well, family to me! I’m also doing some shows with EMPEROR this summer and last year I did some Ihsahn shows. We still have a working relationship, mostly as friends helping each-other out a bit. On a regular basis, however, we do not work together.
Right, but it does to the listener seem like you guys have a lot of the same ways of thinking. So much so that I’m almost surprised you don’t literally work on the Ihsahn albums.
I have to disagree with you a bit there. I don’t think we have that similar of a sound these days. There are similarities, yes. But he’s more interested in that gritty, dark sound. Much more distorted guitars and that growl… We have kind of matured more into prog. We’re a bit more atmospheric with more alternative rock sounds while he’s still much more extreme metal. The thinking and how the compositions are made are also very different; I know that from playing in both of those bands.
There is a bit of the same, some integration. There are moments, like “Foe” from the album “Coal.” That sounds a lot like what Ihsahn was doing at the time. Aside from a few incidents like that, I think his latest album and ours are very different.
Getting into that upcoming album, “Malina.” I’ve been listening to it for a bit now and I’m really into it. It’s a bit of a departure from “The Congregation.” I’d say if “The Congregation” was prog metal then “Malina” would be more prog rock, wouldn’t you say?
Yeah, the sound has more elements from indie rock, but just sound-wise not composition-wise. The guitar sound especially is very clean. It’s a big change from “The Congregation,” where the sound was just kind of tight. This one is more open, more organic. It sounds more like we’re a band playing together.
Was that a conscious decision?
It didn’t start like that! We started with a vision of perfecting what we started with “The Congregation.” But then gradually we started to think it was the wrong direction. Eventually we just started following the vibe and gradually moved towards that open, atmospheric sound. There are some songs that could fit more on the last one, like “Captive” – it has that rhythm. Mostly it’s very different, though. The first thing on that album is “Bonneville”…
Yeah, the first time I heard that, in that first 15 seconds before your vocals started, I was sure they’d sent me the wrong link!
[Laughs] Great! It’s good we surprised you.
Yeah, there are some really outside-the-box sounds on that album. Especially on “Mirage.”
Yeah, the sound is something else. In terms of time signatures, it’s definitely the most prog. The chorus does have some very LEPROUS-vibes. In a way, I think it’s the safest song for the LEPROUS fans that have been with us for the earlier stuff.
Hey, in “The Last Milestone,” are those real strings?
That’s a cello, actually. It’s a real cello that’s been layered. All the strings on the album were played with a real cello. There are no samples or anything. It’s a fantastic cellist from Canada. We saw him there and we flew him over. We thought we needed him immediately for the new album. I’d already written some sting-arrangements, so we got him.
That song is very solemn, even for you guys. How did that come about?
I made it as a string composition at first, with the thought that I’d develop it into something more. It was one of the hardest songs I’d ever written. The lyrics are super personal, very sad; so much so that I don’t want to talk about it. It was very difficult to record because it was very emotional for me. So, I realized it had to be pure and clean – it was the way it was meant to be.
That song has been very intriguing to many people. Like “is this LEPROUS?” To me, music is music – it’s not genres. It’s different moods and atmospheres. Imagine the spectrum of human emotion; it would be weird to just play some of them, if you understand what I mean?
I hear you. You guys have a few albums now and it’s good that you’re changing them up. It’s not like some bands that shall remain nameless who have like 14 or so albums that are exactly the same.
Yes exactly! For us it has always been a natural change. We’re always listening to the previous album and thinking what do we want to do different this time. For me, each piece has its own identity, and if it loses that identity, I don’t see the point in releasing it. It’s important for us to create an atmosphere for each album that we won’t do again on other albums.
So I’ve been meaning to ask you guys – last year you came out with “Live at Rockefeller Music Hall“ and it has a nifty little feature titled “13 Years Earlier”…
[Laughs] I was sure nobody noticed it was there.
Now, I recognize you, but how much of LEPROUS is in that?
Tor [Oddmund Shurke]! Me and Tor are the only ones who have been there from the beginning.
Is that still LEPROUS, though?
Yeah, that wasn’t even the beginning. We started 2 years earlier. We started out as a local youth band, called LEPROUS.
Cool, there were elements of LEPROUS there. It wasn’t quite the well-oiled machine you are now…
Definitely not, yeah! We had the attitude but that was pretty much it. We kind of started with too high ambitions, considering what we could do at the time. But in a way, it was good for us to push ourselves like that. If you dare to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone, you gradually get somewhere.
Agreed. So you are coming back to Finland later this year?
Yeah, to Helsinki, Tampere, and Jyväskylä. That’s the venue everybody’s been talking about; I’m looking forward to it. This will be the first time we’re doing a proper headlining tour in Finland. It’s gonna be cool.
Great, we will be looking forward to those shows and also the new album, “Malina,” out on August 25th. I’ll let you get back to your swim!
Thanks, but we’re really just waiting to get to the airport; we already checked out. But it’s been really nice talking to you!
And you as well. We will see you in Helsinki then, cheers!
Interview by Vincent Parkkonen