Interview: Einar Solberg of Leprous

Norwegian juggernauts Leprous are the band of the moment in the global progressive metal sphere. This year has seen the genre-defying quintet release their fifth studio album Malina to critical acclaim, and then embark on a sellout European tour promoting the release. Malina showcases the band’s quintessentially inventive and innovative take on progressive metal, building on the polyrhythmic grooves, intricate melodies and hypnotic atmosphere from earlier work that has captivated the prog metal world for so many years. Now, with Europe conquered, Leprous will be making their way to Australia for the second time to headline the 2018 Progfest tour, an announcement which has the Australian prog scene positively buzzing with anticipation. We sat down with vocalist Einar Solberg to hear his thoughts on the success of “Malina”, touring, vocal tips and the upcoming Progfest.

Hi! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with Insert Review Here!

Thanks, nice to speak to you too!

Now, you guys have just finished a mammoth European tour to promote your new album, “Malina”, with many of those shows selling out completely. Were you pleased with how the tour panned out?

Yeah, it was above all our expectations, actually, how the tour panned out. Firstly, it was so good to tour with so many great bands and again, to sell out shows and see such an upgrade in the amount of people compared to last time; that’s always great, you know. It was highly rewarding – definitely the best headline tour we’ve done so far. Everything turned out perfect!

“Malina” has been out for a few months now; how do you feel the overall response has been?

It’s been fantastic, but I just, I tend to kind of distance myself from it because I feel that no matter what we do, the reaction is usually kind of the same in a way; it’s always that a lot of people like it and then some people don’t like it. Lots of people want us to go in this or that direction, and other people think that this is where we need to go. So I think that I tend to kind of distance myself a little bit from it because in the end it doesn’t really make a difference, because we just need to focus on doing what we think is right and what we need to do. So if we absorbed much of the blabber from people, it could disturb our creative process. You can’t control other people’s reactions anyway, so the only thing you can do is to be proud of your own product and your own piece of music. We also spent a lot of time thinking about how to transform all of this into the live setting as well.

From a stylistic and compositional perspective, “Malina” is somewhat of a departure from your previous record “The Congregation”; “Malina” features more jazz elements and dispenses with the traces of extreme metal that can be found on “The Congregation”. What, if anything, inspired this decision?

I never see things in terms of genres; I think of it in terms of more of an emotional landscape. For me, two bands can be pretty similar even though they’re from very different genres – I’m just thinking of the emotions that they deliver in that sense. So I think definitely that “Malina” is a much more emotional album than what “The Congregation” was. I think “The Congregation” was probably the most calculated album we’ve done so far in our career, because we had a new bass player and new drummer back then when we recorded that, so we went, okay, we need to control this completely because we don’t really know each other well enough and we don’t have the confidence yet to do anything else. But then we let ourselves much more loose with “Malina”, and even though I’m not sure I agree with the jazz reference, what you may mean with that is it’s much more loose in how it’s played. It’s more dynamic also, the sound and everything; but it was something that just gradually kind of happened. We just, we wanted to kind of continue where we’d left on “The Congregation” but during the period of the writing and the recording, we just changed our preferences completely.

Your vocals, while always a cornerstone of Leprous’s quintessential sound, are even more of a focal point in “Malina”; this album really highlights your technical skill as a vocalist as well as your capacity for highly emotive delivery. Throughout your years in Leprous, how have you ensured your voice stays in tip-top shape?

Firstly, thank you very much! Secondly, one thing that I learned is just that, okay, first back in the day I learned technique etc., but then still what you’re doing in the first years of your career is kind of forced still, so it’s just about learning to get the technique in there and never think about it anymore. So the technique is there, and then the only thing you eventually think about is how to express and how to let yourself loose. Don’t overanalyse yourself while you’re singing, analyse afterwards. Because that’s the problem with many singers, that they get too stiff and too, kind of, afraid to make mistakes. How I do it very often is that if there is something wrong with my voice, I find that thing and I do it over and over again exactly. If I have a crack in my voice at a certain place during a tour, when I warm up I find that crack and I sing around where the crack in my voice is, and then eventually – it sounds horrible to people around me, of course – but you just need to remove that pride and just go, okay, I found it and I’m working out how to cope with it. And eventually, you’ll find a way to go, okay, now I have it. So that’s for live use, for example.

But I think how I learned to become a better singer is just by doing it a lot; like through touring experience, studio experience, then rehearsals of course. You just pick up a lot of stuff about what to do and what not to do, but I’m not really that conscious about it either. In my subconscious, yes, but I’m not really that conscious about what I’m doing. Experience is the key here, because we’ve been so active as a band. We’ve been touring so much for so many years, and I feel that on every tour, that’s when I evolve the most as a singer normally, because then I need to do the shows under sometimes very difficult circumstances, like my voice sometimes gets strained, for example. So you learn a lot working under not that great circumstances as well.

Last time you made the trek over to Australia, you toured here alongside one of our best prog metal exports, Voyager. Soon you’ll be back here for the Progfest tour. What did you enjoy most about touring Australia last time?

Well, one of the things I really enjoyed was hanging out with the Voyager guys, because we became really good friends with them! Also, they toured with us in Europe afterwards, so they’re real buddies of ours. They’re great guys and we really have a lot in common. So that was fantastic. I really like the atmosphere; I love all the animals! I remember I went to Rottnest Island outside of Perth to see the quokkas – that was fantastic, hanging out with them and such. That was our first time in Australia, and we were really surprised that there was such a decent amount of people at the shows. I remember we had no idea what to expect. But from what I’ve heard, the sales are going really well this time round, so I think it’s going to be fantastic to be back there. We can’t wait!

This year’s Progfest tour will be the biggest one yet. What about this opportunity to come back to Australia and headline Progfest attracted you?

Whenever we release a new album, we want to go to all the territories to play, and Australia is definitely no exception there. So when we got the offer to do the three Progfest shows, and the offer made sense economically, we were like, of course we’re coming back.

Progfest will showcase some of Australia’s very best progressive rock and metal bands. Are there any bands on the Progfest lineup you are particularly looking forward to seeing live?

Voyager, definitely! I haven’t seen them in a while.

Do you feel that there is a distinct flavour to bands in the progressive metal genre that differs based on where they hail from? For example, I hear a certain melancholy quality in your music that to me is reminiscent of Norway’s unique climate and natural scenery. From what you’ve heard, do you believe that Australian prog bands have a quintessentially “Australian” flavour?

I think that the scenes aren’t that locally based in how they sound anymore. That’s how it used to be – before globalisation and the internet, it was much easier to kind of hear where a band came from, like the grunge from Seattle, and you had the trip-hop from Bristol, and you had the black metal from Norway, and just like a lot of different geographically based music. But I think there’s less of it now. I don’t think really that the melancholy part in Leprous, I’m not sure it has anything to do with Norway as much as it has to do with me and my way of writing. Actually, Norwegians are pretty jolly people; I mean, Norwegians can be a bit reserved and everything, but it’s a pretty happy country I would say, it’s a good place to live. So I don’t think it provokes any melancholy. Most Norwegian music is definitely not melancholic, so I think that sometimes people can just kind put these geographical submissions into a band even though, in our case, it’s just got to do with how I like to write. But I think from Australia, I think also the bands that I know from Australia, they’re pretty different from each other. Like Karnivool, they might be the biggest in that scene, and they have created their own kind of thing, and then you have Voyager, who are like super jolly, like very positive kind of spirit in their music. And then Caligula’s Horse, again, they’re very different to that. So, I think, I don’t really hear that much of a geographical trait in any way in any of those bands, to be honest.

Overall, how do you feel Australia’s prog scene holds up in the global stakes?

Well, the problem with Australia is that it’s super hard to make it outside of Australia because it’s so expensive to travel. So it’s hard for an Australian band to go on tour and promote themselves on a support tour in Europe, for example, and in the States, because it costs really a fortune with the flight tickets. I know the Australian bands I mentioned, and then you have Alithia of course, who we just toured with, have a lot of buzz in the press these days in the prog scene, I feel – particularly Caligula’s Horse with their latest album. And Karnivool, they have always been a band that a lot of people like, but we don’t get to see them a lot.

Written by Samantha Wolstenholme

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