With their fifth release, titled Heavenly Ecstasy, Pagan's Mind have delivered an album which touches on many different genre styles without ever being completely defined by one. That in itself is no mean feat however the really impressive part comes in the shape of songs which are immediately accessible, while having the depth and emotion to still make a hefty impact after they become familiar friends. Sea of Tranquility staff writer Steven Reid recently caught up with the band's bassist Steinar Krokmo to discover how Pagan's Mind created an album that so thoroughly lives up to its name.
SoT: Hi Steiner, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions about the excellent new Pagan's Mind album Heavenly Ecstasy. I've got to start by saying how much I enjoyed the album, you must be really pleased with the reaction it has received?
Steinar: Hi and thanks for having me! It really pleases me to know that you are enjoying our new album, as many others are too. The CD has been doing tremendously well since the release a couple of weeks ago, entering charts, receiving great reviews from almost everyone in not only the metal press but also the more mainstream magazines and major newspapers. We are thrilled about this, for sure.
SoT: One of the things I read about the album that I found interesting was that the band said that signing with the SPV label actually created the "spark" that allowed you to come up with the most cohesive Pagan's Mind album yet. Was it a case of feeling that you had to kind of "step up" with this album?
Steinar: Well, not really. I believe it was the next natural step for us, and we always set out to sound the best we can whether we are in the studio, rehearsal room or on stage. Most of the new stuff has been conceived through the last three years or so, both on and off touring. We bring a laptop and sound card with us on tour to be able to put down ideas for preproduction, such as a part here and a part there, maybe just a riff or a chorus or melody line or ideas that we need to explore further. Even though a lot of the material for the new album has been written over the last couple of years, we also go back to previous ideas that maybe did not work out in the song they were initially intended for, and believe me when I say that we have tons and tons of ideas recorded to keep us busy for many years coming! All in all we started working intensely with the new album in the fall of 2009, doing studio sessions and jam sessions. After all playing music is what gives us our kicks!
SoT: I think that the album title Heavenly Ecstasy is a really good fit for the music on the album, where did the inspiration for that title come from?
Steinar: The title is a part of the lyrics of the song "Into The Aftermath". "Ecstasy" is described as an experience of euphoria, a mind-blowing apocalypse, "the highest you can reach", and that is the meaning of the use of the word in our context. When combined with the word "Heavenly", which kind of describes a lot of our "flying high" lyrical content, I think it portrays an extreme, spiritual, out-of-this-world experience. When you reach "Heavenly Ecstasy", you reach Nirvana, Heaven and everything extremely delightful at the same time. I think the wording is strong, catchy, poetic, sexy and thought provoking at the same time, and it worked out the way we wanted them to.
SoT: There's a really strong mix of styles on the album. Big brash guitars, swathes of keyboards, progressive touches, however there is a more overtly melodic side shown this time. Has creating this blend been a conscious decision from the band?
Steinar: I believe this is just the natural evolution of the band always exploring and searching for the most optimal and personally satisfying solution while supporting the lyrics, and at the same time sounding the best we possibly can. Getting a kick out of the music that you are playing - thatīs what it's all about. Excitement deluxe! We are getting older and more experienced in every way but I believe we still retain the virility and playfulness of horny teens! What it all comes down to is that we are all just big kids at heart!
Regarding our goals for this album, we had no agenda apart from sounding the best we possibly can at all times and continuing to evolve as musicians and human beings - after all we love playing and performing. If we get a bigger fan base nothing would please us more obviously, but I think this album is more accessible for the general public as well, but as I mentioned earlier this is just a natural next step and evolution for the band. We never set out and say "This song is going to be this long or contain this and that element". Whatever fits the mood and works in the context and sounds good is what will do it for us and make us content and proud. I hope we still satisfy our old fans, since we sound like Pagan's Mind no matter what. I believe people out there also feel and hear it too, with a stronger than ever focus on melodies and smooth transitions between different parts of the music.
SoT: I think that on this album you have also brought a slightly more accessible or even commercial sound, rather than the progressive side of your music - although that is still very much in evidence. I think that this makes the Pagan's Mind sound even more unique, was this something you thought about while writing the album?
Steinar: Well it all starts out with the reason for playing music in the first place. We all love playing together and exploring new musical boundaries, jamming, trying out new ideas, whether they be riffs or melody lines or chord progressions. We also still enjoy musically reading each other, hanging out together, being good friends and touring where we meet new and old fans all around the world and ultimately pulling in the same directions together with our listeners. The way this album was conceived is really the same process as always, we do what we feel like doing and we try out different parts and new riffs all the time. We always record new ideas instantly with whatever we have handy, a cell phone, minidisc player or whatever's within reach. Throughout the years we have recorded many hours of parts here and there, little riffs, bits of choruses or melody lines and patterns, and when Jorn Viggo [Lofstad guitarist] brings in a new riff we often go back to previously recorded ideas, often ten years old, to see if they can enhance the music in any way, if it sounds right why not? Itīs like looting your own backyard. At the same time Nils [K. Rue vocalist] works out the concept for each song lyrically and we all come up with input for the melody line.
SoT: I was really struck by just how melodic and catchy the choruses to some of the songs on Heavenly Ecstasy are, with "Eyes On Fire" and "Into The Aftermath" being the best examples with both songs being instantly accessible, but the real trick is that the effect doesn't wear off with repeated listens. I think that this is something that your genre of music has been missing in the past. Do you think this is something that makes the band's music stand out?
Steinar: Definitely! A lot of music in the power-prog genre is music for musicians and music nerds only. I still consider us a heavy metal band. We never start out by saying that we want to sound like this or that, but everything comes naturally, and in our ears, if it sounds good and works the way we want, why not? I hope that we will be an ever evolving band exploring new terrain all the time, with our base in heavy metal. We are getting older and more experienced, but not lazier. We colour the music in a more mature way as to previously where everything was more reliant on energy and hard hitting music, now we are able to tone down some stuff and make the power be in the arrangements or simple melody lines. Basically we are getting more and more comfortable with ourselves as we get older.
SoT: Do you think that the slight change in sound might help broaden the band's fan base and is there possibly a danger that some of your longer term fans might not want to make the musical change with the band?
Steinar: Iīm sure it will, as it persists to be more accessible for the general public and more radio friendly. That way it will also reach out to a Helluva lot more people this time around, but I really hope and believe that our older fans will still stick with us. I find that the CD contains all the old elements of our sound but all the musical solutions this time are so much smoother and, in my opinion, catchier.
SoT: I know that Pagan's Mind have always tried not to be pigeon-holed into one musical style or genre, how frustrating is it when you come up against musical labels that might actually put off potential fans from listening to your music?
Steinar: I really believe that this has been the case many times in the past, where people presume we play black metal as we come from Norway, or labelling us as whatever grand words they might come up with. That is why I simply call it Heavy Metal!
SoT: Heavenly Ecstasy appears to have a very positive message behind its lyrics, where do the band find inspiration from for the lyrics and song messages?
Steinar: This comes back to what I was saying about our musical solutions being smoother, as the lyrics still deal with sort of the same stuff as we always have written about, but we have simplified it a bit to make it more understandable, and we have also tried to write in a more personal, human related kind of view. Our goal is always to make the listener able to make up their own personal story of a lyric. In that way I believe lyrics can build up a person's self esteem and "will" to carry on. Yes, I must also admit that this time around the lyrics have been coloured a bit by our personal experiences, but that means that they come even more straight from the heart, which I believe makes their expression stronger, because we really mean the stuff weīre singing about.
SoT: John Viggo Lofstad has done an excellent job producing the album. In these days where technology plays a bigger and bigger part in making albums, the mixing of the music seems to get more and more important. How much influence on the finished sound did Stefan Glaumann who mixed the album have?
Steinar: Stefan is a master working with the mix and we have uttermost confidence in him. Whenever he wants to try something out we listen, but for the most part he sets up the general mix without producing, but rather takes orders from all of us, and it is more a question of levels at any given time. However he knows for sure what he is doing and I find that he has an excellent sound on everything he has engineered.
SoT: It's been around the four year mark since the last Pagan's Mind studio album God's Equation. What have the band been up to during this time and why so long between albums?
Steinar: There has been a lot happening the last four years. We have been doing five tours since the release of God's Equation, which were all well received by the public in general and opened a few new doors for us. We supported Stratovarius in the U.S. and Canada and Fates Warning, Sonata Arctica and Brainstorm in Europe plus playing several festivals and doing quite a few gigs here in Norway as well. Apart from that we obviously have been busy getting the new material together and jamming together in order to try out new bits and pieces, and of course the recording process and everything that goes along with it. All in all itīs been a few really hectic years for us due to the fact that we all also still more or less stick to our day-jobs. Who knows whatīs ahead...
SoT: You were mentioning that the band usually come up with a huge amount of ideas before working out which songs will make the album. Does that mean that you actually record a whole lot of songs that don't get used for each album?
Steinar: Well we normally record just bits and pieces, and parts that could work together, but not that often an entire song, but we always have some leftovers to use as bonus tracks, like for the Japanese release, as they always demand bonus tracks. This has been the case with all of our releases, but as I mentioned before we have many hours of ideas recorded that might show up somewhere in the future.
SoT: So I take it then that you all write together as a band, but I was wondering with the slight change of direction with this album, have you changed the approach of how you came up with the songs for this album, or is it still very much a group process with Pagan's Mind?
S: We are like the five musketeers and everyone is involved in every step of the writing process in order to get the best out of every single person. I really do believe the fact that over the years we have approached one another more and more musically speaking. So yes, in other words, itīs still totally a group effort.
SoT: Does each of the members of the band bring different influences to the Pagan's Mind sound?
Steinar: Hell yes! We all come from different backgrounds ranging from black metal to jazz but at the same time we have a common platform which is heavy rock, and that is where we meet up. I do also feel that we are quite affected by each otherīs different tastes in music as well.
SoT: As you've touched on earlier, Pagan's Mind have evolved quite a lot from the band's beginnings, how would you describe the Pagan's Mind musical journey through your career?
Steinar: The first album Infinity Divine was sort of a heavy power metal album, while Celestial Entrance was more about exploring all boundaries really. Enigmatic: Calling was more dark and heavy followed by God's Equation which was more straight to the point in every way. And now Heavenly Ecstasy, which I find is the next natural step for us musically and which also sums up all the previous releases in a respectable manner. This album is just a natural evolution of the band becoming older and knowing each other like an old couple that have been functioning together for most of their lives - and thatīs what I feel we do! Itīs like you donīt have to argue everything to death but instead just set out to do it, and it comes naturally to you. Earlier we were more diverse musically and philosophically, and the albums sounded that way too, incorporating everything we could into the songs. Now we just do what comes naturally. More straight to the point without losing the musicianship and playfulness, I hope.
SoT: There are four different formats of the album being released, with a standard and limited version of the CD, as well as a coloured vinyl edition and the now standard digital version. In the current musical climate is it important to give the fans the option of something a little extra for their money to try and encourage them to invest in the music?
Steinar: Of course! But let me say that the fans of hard rock and metal are very dedicated fans and will often buy both the limited CDīs and LP if they find it. They are very loyal to the bands they like and want to support them anyway they can, and I believe that this genre of music is more exempt from downloading than other musical genres. Also the Steamhammer/SPV is a label that knows what theyīre doing and how to sell music.
SoT: You recently broadcast a "live stream" of a gig you played in England, how did that go and did you change your approach for that gig?
Steinar: It was quite alright due to the fact that the club only fitted around 150 people, although we all enjoy performing music whether the crowd is tiny or huge. We always do what we do on stage, so the set played that night was not modified compared to the rest of the shows played. Although once in a blue moon we change a couple of songs in the set order to make sure we are optimizing it.
SoT: I know that you have just completed a tour of the UK and a few shows in The Netherlands and Belgium. Do you have any other shows lined up?
S:We are playing the main stage at the Graspop Festival in Belgium in a couple of weeks, then Norway rock festival and Swarte Cross festival in Holland, plus quite a few shows here at home in Norway during the summer. At the same time we are working on a full European tour as well as a US tour.
SoT: Well thanks for answering all the questions Steinar, is there anything else you'd like to add?
Steinar: Just to say that we really enjoy hanging out with people and have a good time, and we meet a lot of wonderful human beings travelling around the world - it makes me happy when people are friendly and really get what youīre about. Remember to always treat each other nice, and eat cheese - my favourite, apart from beer!
(Click here to read our reviews of Heavenly Ecstasy)