A band who have always been willing to stretch their musical boundaries, while still cultivating a sound all of their own, Norwegian genre jumping, progressive, extreme, melodic metal outfit Leprous have with their new album Coal delivered a mature and thought provoking album of great skill and class. In the eyes of many critics and more importantly the band's fans, this album, the band's fourth, is the one that really should find Leprous stepping into the big time. Sea of Tranquility's Steven Reid talks to guitarist Řystein S. Landsverk to discover where Leprous mined the inspiration for Coal from...
Your excellent 2011 album 'Bilateral' was extremely well received. Did you feel a certain weight of expectation as you set about writing a follow up album to that release?
Not really, no. When we hit the rehearsal room to make new music, we leave previous work and expectations outside the door. They are nothing but shackles during a creative process and simply hinder you. You just have to go at it, and trust yourself. You haven't changed since the last time, so why wouldn't you be able to create good music again? It might be different than what you have done before, but there is no reason it shouldn't be as good. Actually, experience enables you to do greater things! Music is a very subjective experience, but we personally feel we've reached a new level while writing 'Coal' and I hope our fans will still enjoy it, even though it's a bit different.
'Coal' however takes the Leprous sound further, having a far reaching, yet extremely rounded outlook. You must be very satisfied with how the album has come together?
Thank you! We're definitely satisfied and we had a blast writing the material. It was a bit stressful because we had a much smaller time frame than before to do all of the writing and recording of the album. It made the whole process a bit different for us, but we're glad it still came out good and we hope people will like it.
I think that 'Coal' sounds like a very "honest" album, where the band really reveals a lot of their inner selves to the listeners. Do you think that's a fair assessment?
Yes, I do. As I mentioned, we made this album in such a short time. We spent a few months from start to finish, and there were a lot of other things we were doing too, like doing our first headliner tour through Europe. The other albums were made over maybe two years or so, and we were far from busy compared to these days! The small time frame really put pressure on us to perform, and to do it fast. We had to make quick decisions, and some stuff was just left to do as part of the studio process. I think some of that spontaneous creativity really shines through and is what makes it sound honest.
How easy or difficult is it to achieve that level of self revelation without losing sight of what makes interesting, satisfying music for your fans?
I have to be honest and say that our primary thought is not to please our fans. If the basis for your work is trying to satisfy people, you are destined to fail. Some people love 'Bilateral' and don't really like 'Coal', while others are the other way around. We make the best possible music we can, and as long as we don't change all of the band members, it will still sound like us. You have to trust your own musicianship, and your gut feeling. If we get goosebumps from something we wrote, we wouldn't really consider throwing it away because some people might reject it. We do of course have our fans in mind, but try to keep maximal artistic freedom and have fun while doing it!
I think that this album feels darker, and more introspective than 'Bilateral'. Was that the intention or simply just a natural occurrence as 'Coal' took shape?
I usually say that 'Bilateral' is like a teenager. It's a bit all over the place and can't sit still. Sometimes that can be cool, but it's also a bit unstable! (laughs!) 'Coal' is somewhat more mature and feels more 'settled' in my opinion. There's no rush to move on, and everything is more connected. We wanted that for this album. We wanted something which doesn't need 1000 ingredients to sound cool. On 'Bilateral' we threw all of our ideas together and made use of them all. On 'Coal' we're more restrictive, and instead try to make more music with fewer ingredients. That state of mind made the songs more characteristic and individual, you know? You can almost hear in which song a certain part belongs. That progression and songwriting approach was a conscious choice and a challenge to us as songwriters. The dark feeling wasn't something we specifically aimed for!
'Coal' is an intense listen and one that doesn't reveal itself immediately. How much of a challenge is it balancing the darker elements of the band's sound without veering off into full on "extreme" territory?
I think it's a subconscious process mostly. But after we had written many of the more quiet songs on 'Coal', we naturally started writing "Contaminate Me", to sort of "vent" all of that energy we had built up. That song is a bit of an outcast and is quite heavy! In my opinion we did kind of go extreme there, but it's still one of my favorites. The biggest challenge for a band like us, that wants to experiment a lot and try many different ideas, is to keep stuff coherent. We do want to go extreme sometimes, but it's hard to make it fit in nicely with the quieter and more mellow parts.
Musically the album is eclectic while focused, and far reaching while cohesive. Do you start each song with a plan of how it will fit in with the album's overall sound and vibe, or is it very much building the album through the songs you've written and working out how they fit together at that stage?
The songs were written individually. Our plan was not to make a concept album, so we just went for it and pieced them together afterwards. Since the album was written in a fairly short amount of time, the songs go nicely together anyway. We write the music and just go with the flow without thinking too much about what we're doing, and then afterwards, we record it fast and simple to get the listener's perspective. If it's not up to standards, unfixable and just way different from the other songs, we discard the whole thing. On 'Coal' I think we threw away three full songs, simply because they weren't good enough or had a very different feel. During the creative process we keep our intellect out of the way, but when we do quality control, it does have its place as well!
Each individual song can also have a huge amount of disparate ideas brought together into one track. How do you guys write and construct your songs. Is it a collaborative effort through jamming, or do the individual members bring crafted, nearly finished songs to the studio?
That varies a lot! We do all kinds of approaches. Sometimes, we might have one guitar riff or something, and see what we can do with it. We might base the song on that, or decide it's nice as just an intro. If that's the case, we try to come up with a suitable verse or something like that, and keep building the song. If it doesn't take us anywhere cool, we just discard it and try another idea we've got. Other times, one of us have enough material for a whole song along with ideas for what the other instruments can play as well. Sometimes the finished product ends up exactly like planned, or maybe it just inspires something else which ends up replacing it...
How much, if at all, do you rely on outside ideas, or producers to help finely tune the songs and sounds you have created?
A lot of that tuning happens in the studio. We never really used others to change the structure of our songs, but it can come in very handy to give your recordings that extra edge. Vegard Tveitan and Heidi Solberg Tveitan helped produce 'Coal' and they're very much about capturing those "moments". Throwing you out on the ice and pressing record. It can be a very liberating experience, and some of the coolest things come to life that way. It makes the performance very honest and true, and brings out that artist within. They also helped a lot with making everything sound good, like fine tuning a great guitar tone and so on. It's nice to have access to all that super cool studio gear you can't afford yourself! (laughs!)
The excellent artwork for 'Coal' is provided once again by Jeff Jordan, who also created the 'Bilateral' art. How does that relationship work? Do you give him strong ideas of what you'd like to see on the covers, do you let him decide the direction after hearing the music, or...?
We usually give him some basis he can use to work out of. On 'Coal', the concept of the cover was ours, but he realized the idea and made an awesome pencil draft in black and white. We loved the idea and he finished it. When he was working on the cover for 'Bilateral', I recall he sent an email saying he needed some more inspiration. Einar sent him a reply with a list of suggestions, but he instantly replied back and said the first one was all he needed... Bilateral! But he always gets to listen to the music as well.
Leprous have evolved quite considerably from album to album, how would you describe the musical journey you've taken from your debut effort 'Aeolia', through to 'Coal'?
It's been a long, hard journey, but we've always had fun along the way! 'Aeolia' was kind of like extreme sports, and we wanted to throw every idea possible into each and every song. Long and epic songs that had it all. Pretty much no idea was too extreme! We wanted to try everything we had in our minds and it was a lot of fun. If you listen to it, you'll understand quite fast we really had no restrictions whatsoever! 'Aeolia' was a necessary step and we've learned so much from doing that kind of thing, although we were young and inexperienced at the time. We needed to find our own sound, an expression. The next two albums had much of the same approach, but toned down and more directed towards writing good songs. Over the years we have kept that will to experiment, but limit ourselves even more and always have the mood and framework of the song in mind. Listening to 'Aeolia' and then 'Coal' is a very strange experience!
You've always been known as a busy live act. I take it you already have some plans to support 'Coal' with some live shows?
Oh yes! Check out our homepage (www.leprous.net) or Facebook to get a good look at our plans this year. Along with all the summer festivals we've done so far, we're going out on a huge headliner tour of Europe this fall, visiting Scandinavia, Russia, the Baltics and Western and Southern Europe. Hopefully we'll be coming to a city near you! We're going to the Underworld in London on November 9th. Hope to see as many of you there as humanly possible!!
(Click here to read our reviews of Coal)