Leprous are a group of five very skilled musicians who are better known in the wider Metal community as the backing band of guitar maestro and Emperor front man Ihsahn.
Having quietly perfected their craft over the last twelve years, the Nottoden natives created quite a stir last year through the release of their outstanding third studio album “Coal” – an album whose promotion found them visiting London for a show at the infamous Camden Underworld on the 9th of November.
Being quite impressed by the quality of the material on offer, I arranged an interview with guitarists Tor Oddmund Suhrke & Øystein Landsverk during which I was given an insight into how their latest album came to life as well as what experiences the band had gained by closely working with one of the biggest legends of the Norwegian Black Metal scene, albeit in a more Prog-orientated environment.
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis.
- Hi, Guys. What a great pleasure it is for me to be doing this interview with you. As I have already told you I am not acquainted with your musical activities prior to “Coal” so be lenient with me. “Coal” has massively impressed me so let me start this interview by congratulating you on an album well done.
Tor: That’s a nice start (laughs).
- One thing that “Coal” highlights is the impossible task of labelling the band: there appear to be are various musical influences behind its creation. For example, it is likely that someone who sees the band name “Leprous” will automatically assume that what you play is late 80s Death Metal which is, of course, far from the truth.
Tor: We really like confusing people (laughs).
- That you do indeed, but in a positive way. Ok, “Coal” is your third studio album this decade. What would you say is your target audience at this specific moment in time?
Tor: Actually I would say that we are targeting quite a wide range of music fans as we don’t like to trap ourselves in any one specific musical genre. Of course we are mainly advertised as being a Progressive Metal band and I am sure that, as you correctly said, there are people who simply look at our name and think “Ok, this is not for me” (laughs).
If you are a Progressive Metal fan then you should definitely check “Coal” out as it will definitely appeal to you. Even if you are a fan of 70s Progressive Rock, you will still find things about album that will be to your liking.
I realised now, as we have been playing in many different kinds of festivals, that we can actually appeal both to extreme Metal fans but also to people who do not listen to Metal at all. In my place of work, where no Metalheads can be found, there are people who listen to what we do and say “Wow, I really like this” – people that I would never expect to be supportive of what I do. I very often hear people who mainly listen to other kinds of music than Metal say good things about us.
As our albums are quite varied you will have people liking certain songs more than the others. Of course I would much prefer it if people were to like our entire catalogue as that is the reason why we make our albums so varied, so as to be able to have people from all scenes supporting us as well as the fact that we are a very complex group of individuals who listen and like different kinds of music.
Øystein: “Coal” is a totally different entity as, on previous albums, songs were much different when compared to each other. “Coal” is more homogenous so maybe people will enjoy a larger part of the music as a result.
Tor: Still, if you listen to the opening track (note: “Foe”) you will find that it has a different kind of intensity from the rest. I also, however, agree with Øystein. In most the songs we have performed people have mentioned how much they love the intensity of “Foe” but, of course, you have others who mention how much they prefer the more aggressive “Contaminate Me”. I can understand how they think but I don’t care (laughs).
- Well, you are both pretty young so let me tell you how lucky you are to be creating this kind of music now rather than in the late 80s as people back then were less than supportive towards bands with such a wide musical range such as yours.
Tor: You are right but what we do is like music. We don’t aim at a specific small branch of it but we just play whatever feels nice and right to us.
Øystein: Actually, we were talking about this very thing yesterday and we used Opeth as an example. I mean, it is quite weird that they made the change in their music that they did and still manage to have a massive following but, by doing that, they helped a lot of bands like us become more daring.
- This is a very Scandinavian thing indeed. I mean, I am a fan of Progressive music, both Rock and Metal, and I can safely say that Scandinavia has become the fertile ground for daring and unconventional bands, bands like Pain Of Salvation, Ulver and Arcturus, to name a few. Scandinavians love breaking musical boundaries so maybe it is also a question of origin which justifies your musical needs?
Øystein: It is part of the Black Metal heritage.
Tor: Just try to do something else than simply follow whatever trends are around. In genres like Black Metal where people who listen to music are angry, if you try to play something else…
…you make them angrier?!
Tor: Yes (laughs). They get angry if you flirt too much with other musical elements. Most people will go: “Oh, what is this? This is not what I expected”. Also, twenty years ago, and not only in Scandinavia, people were getting a bit tired of things supposing to sound in a specific way. We all ended up hearing the exact same things by many different bands. Many people nowadays truly appreciate the element of surprise.
- That is a very good point indeed, especially in view of the fact that the alternative would be for all of us to simply have five or six original bands to listen to.
Tor: Then again, I can also assure you that there are many people who do not appreciate the element of surprise as we found out (laughs). So many people asked us things like : “Why did you change your clothes” or “Why did you cut your hair” (laughs). The moment you change anything you should expect a lot of reaction from the fans but we like to do whatever feels right to us.
- That is human nature for you. We all like creating a safe environment that we learn to feel comfortable in and are quite protective towards it. Having said that, we seem to agree that it is both nice and healthy to ‘stir the waters’ every now and then.
Tor: That is what we’re here to do.
- Many people know you as Ihsahn’s backing band. Would you say that, at this point in your career, your association with said artist has helped you with regards promoting your music to a wider audience than you could have done alone? His contribution on “Contaminate Me” is indicative of his importance as a patron of sorts.
Øystein: It has been really good for us to play with him in big festivals as this has given us the chance to promote ourselves. It has been happening for many years and it has been very good indeed.
Tor: This is also one of the reasons why we started this collaboration. It was like a win-win situation for both of us as he had an already rehearsed band to back him up. First of all we’ve known him for a much longer time than the period we have been playing together.
He asked us whether we would be interested in becoming his backing band because he records all instruments in his albums alone so he needs help to perform stuff live and we, as a band, have a great chemistry together which is something he likes and needs. What we did was to rehearse all his songs on our own and then he would come to our rehearsal room and play with us.
This is an easy way for him to deal with employing personnel for tours and for us it means good promotion for our own stuff. Of course, when we first started playing with him our live experience, especially when it came to big festivals, was quite limited so, through this, we were also given the opportunity to travel around the world which was absolutely great.
I guess we will discover in the future how easy it is to cope with the fact that Leprous are growing bigger and more demanding with our responsibilities towards Ihsahn. So far it has been a very good cooperation, especially in view of the fact that the guitar work for “Coal” was recorded in his studio.
Actually our first EP, which was recorded back in 2004, it was all recorded with his help as well as our first LP “Aeolia”. For our follow up “Bilateral” we recorded quite a few things in Ihsahn’s studio and the same applies with “Coal”, with him contributing vocals on “Contaminate Me”.
- Well, Ihsahn is a top quality guitar player and composer. Have you found his style of playing to have infiltrated yours to any extent? Do you approach your craft differently since you started working with him?
Tor: Actually, I don’t feel that…
Øystein: I have actually known him for such a long time, as he was my guitar teacher in my formative years, so maybe it is true.
Tor: That was long before we started playing together. That was when we first started playing guitar as he is from the same town as we are.
- Well, Norway is indeed a small country…well, a big country with a relatively small population, to be more precise. You must all feel like you are part of a big family.
Tor: It is a town (note: Notodden) of twelve thousand people, so you are right. We have actually been asked this question many times before and, of course you get inspired by things you hear and the people that you play with but still, if I think about it, it feels different when I perform Ihsahn material to when I perform our own stuff.
I don’t think that the technical aspects of our music and the way we create our riffs is similar to his and that is perhaps as a result of the fact that we create songs in a way that is much different than he does. I mean, he creates everything himself: he layers his guitars all by himself while we write songs in the rehearsal room and if someone has a good idea I will try to work around it.
There are huge differences in the riff making process. He likes complexity, using three or even four different guitars in any given idea. The technical aspects of his playing are much different too as he likes playing fast stuff. Maybe, in a way, we have created faster material in our latest album as a result of us gaining the ability play that fast through him.
Øystein: I remember when we first started rehearsing and preparing for the first ever show with him, we simply abandoned everything we were doing for Leprous for about half a year.
Tor: I am not sure that it was for that long but it was at least for several months. We definitely gained some skills there (laughs). Another influence would be his involvement with the eight string guitar which he used in his albums.
We actually had to buy our own eight string guitars to be able to play his material but we got a great deal from Ibanez as he is sponsored by them. So suddenly we had two more strings to play with as so we started working on songs that featured eight string guitars as well. That had, of course, a massive influence on the music – not necessarily with regards the style but with regards technique. We literally have more strings to play with.
- I have to tell you: I am really looking forward to tonight’s show but, at the same time, I am also dreading it. In my view, the essence of “Coal” is in its fine melodic and vocal nuances and I am not sure that this venue is capable of supporting such an undertaking.
Tor: (laughs) I am actually a bit anxious myself (laughs).
- How would you describe your experience so far? I mean, tonight’s show is part of the closing section of this tour. How well have you found the material of “Coal” to have come across in a live environment?
Øystein: It has been really exciting to perform the new material live.
Tor: Yes, I agree. We had a very structured plan before we went on tour. We have synchronized all our material with supporting video footage which we filmed ourselves together with a Romanian guy we know. So every additional visual aspect is clicked with music so our set is planned to the smallest detail.
Today, however, we had to slightly adapt things to the space provided, which is limited, and that is why I am a bit skeptical with regards the result. It is not necessarily going to be the perfect passage today but that should not ruin everything else.
I must agree with you in the way that the essence is not in the riffs themselves but, as we have said in almost every interview that we’ve done, “Coal” is more about the mood that we’re trying to convey. Of course, some venues have been more helpful than others in helping us achieve that mood but, on the other hand, the key is also interaction with the audience.
If the audience is non-responsive with people bored and sitting down and talking to each other instead of participating then the mood will be lost. If, on the other hand, we see people being very into what we do and we get the intensity that we need from them throughout the show then all will be well. There will not be much talking involved.
Øystein: We do it deliberately so as to keep the mood in constant swing and not lose that feeling through any interruptions.
Tor: You will not have us cracking jokes in between songs or anything like that.
- Norwegian Metal bands seem to like this combination of audio and visual material in a live environment. Ulver have done it, Enslaved have done it – the list is endless really. Wardruna performed an absolutely stunning show here in London a couple of weeks or so ago. Anyway, much as I would have personally wished to have seen you performing in a different venue I am looking forward to tonight’s show and I am sure that you will do your utmost to entertain us and, at the same time, give justice to the material of “Coal”.
Tor: Well, hopefully we will convince you of our abilities tonight and hopefully meet again in a more appropriate venue next time we are in London.
- Well, all is left to say guys is good luck. I really hope you will enjoy tonight’s show.
Tor: It’s been very nice talking to you as well.
The latest Josh Taerk live session was streamed on Sunday 31 October. Next session 17 November.
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