Many I'm sure will have heard by now the splendid new album from Norway's Trail of Tears, Existentia, an exciting release filled with elements of progressive metal, gothic rock, and bits of symphonic prog, death, and black metal. Featuring two male singers (one who sings in a melodic clean voice, the other in a myriad of growls) as well as female vocals, keyboards, ripping guitar work, and a frenetic rhythm section, the band has been on a real upswing the last few years. However, on the eve of the release of Existentia, all of the members of Trail of Tears packed up and left the band, save for singer Ronny Thorse, who has decided to keep the flames burning and put the band back together from scratch, not wanting to throw away years of hard work and the momentum that Free Fall Into Fear and Existentia has started. Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo caught up with Ronny recently to talk about the new album and where things stand in the world of Trail of Tears.
It's an interview you won't want to miss!
Sea of Tranquility: Existentia is a worthy successor to the excellent Free Fall Into Fear, with the latest perhaps being even more symphonic and progressive while still retaining that extreme and gothic edge. How was the writing transition from album to album? Obviously the band was really gelling at that point...
Ronny Thorse: Well, I guess the main difference this time is that the material is much more melodic and symphonic than the previous album. It is also a much more focused recording, seeing that we from the beginning of the process set out to create an album with a stronger feeling of identity. I am still satisfied with Free Fall into Fear but the recordings took an eternity to finish because of all the technical difficulties that we faced in the studio, there were a lot of forced breaks and we all clearly lost the focus to a certain extent. For Existentia everything ran smoothly, we went back to Soundsuite Studio in Marseille France to work with Terje Refsnes, and because of this we had the luxury of putting the rest of our lives on hold for six weeks and concentrate only on making the best album possible. What we have tried to do this time is to take the best elements from all our albums, add some new things and melt everything into a strong and natural sounding unit. The result is a good mix of old and new Trail of Tears to these ears.
SoT: Where did you find Emmanuelle Zoldan?
Ronny: We came in contact with Emmanuelle through our producer Terje Refsnes who had worked with her on some previous projects. She is a professional classical singer from Marseille and I invited her down to the studio to see what she could contribute to the songs. Originally we didn`t have any plans to include as much female vocals as we actually did but it became clear that she was exactly what the album needed, having in mind that the material took such a melodic turn it was simply necessary to include this element again in a bigger scale. It all went extremely smooth and fast and I am just in awe of both her voice and the way that she works. We tried a few different things before agreeing on the parts, I wrote the lyrics and she nailed everything in an afternoon.
SoT: Keyboards play a pretty prominent role on Existentia-does the band write their songs on keyboards or guitar primarily?
Ronny: There are no set rules, the songs are usually results of individual ideas recorded at home and worked upon collectively in the rehearsal room. Over the years we have been fortunate enough to obtain decent recording equipment which of course makes it easier to record ideas at home as they appear. How we usually work is that someone comes with enough ideas for a song already recorded and then we add/remove/change things collectively to further improve the result. This time we were fortunate enough to work with Bernt Moen who I regard to be one of the most impressive and diverse musicians in Norway and he did things on the keys and orchestral side of things that we quite frankly wouldn`t have the capacity to even think about. We also compose on keyboards but Bernt just took the whole thing to another level. Nevertheless, the music always comes first as I find it much easier to arrange vocal lines/melodies as well as writing lyrics when I have at least a finished song structure. It is just easier to get into the mood and atmosphere of the music when you have a basis to work with and of course it is important for me to improve the song with the vocal approaches and add something rather than to just fill a hole.
SoT: A lot has happened to Trail of Tears since the CD was recorded, including most of the band leaving. Can you go into detail on this?
Ronny: I would rather not! (laughs) No seriously, I understand that this is a relevant question but for me this is a chapter that I have put behind me a long time ago. I would much rather look forward and spend my time on positive energy than to continue wasting time with this most unfortunate event. But what basically happened was that we completed a hellish tour in Mexico where everything went wrong. The organizer failed in every aspect of living up to the agreed points and standards, lack of communication, lies, ignored and failed contractual points and the list goes on. This resulted in severe problems for the band, especially when it comes to the financial side. This is of course bound to overshadow the joy of being on stage every night and I guess you could say that the leaving members took a mental hit because of this and thus found out that enough was enough. I can`t blame them for that as the situation was completely unbelievable, but I had however hoped that they would act more professional and at least completed their future obligations and not take such a serious decision in a moment of complete frustration.
SoT: Where does this leave Trail of Tears going forward?
Ronny: For me it was an easy decision to continue and bring this band forward, this has been my life for 10 years and I just can`t sit back and piss away all these years of hard work and let other peoples lack of motivation dictate my own future. I have a burning passion for this and so much more to give and accomplish with this band. By leaving, the other guys took it for granted that the band was finished which was for me a very egocentric way to handle things. I fully respect their decision and hope that in time they will respect mine as well.
SoT: Any news on a new line-up ?
Ronny: The process is well underway and most positions have already been filled. As recently announced, Cathrine Paulsen is back in the band and this seems to have generated a lot of attention. On one hand we are working under a bit of a pressure having in mind that festivals and gigs are already booked from the summer on but on the other hand I want to make sure that this is something that will work out in the long run, I am not interested in turning this into a band full of session musicians, I want members who can and will commit themselves to this 100%. We hope to be able to present the full new line-up in the beginning of April, possibly earlier.
SoT: How about tour plans once things settle down?
Ronny: Of course, that is the main priority now and that is why I hope to finalize the new line-up as soon as possible, so that we can start promoting this album the way it should, and deserves, to be promoted, namely by playing live. We have several festivals booked in Europe for the summer, the first one being this year`s edition of the Sweden Rock Festival, Scandinavias biggest rock and metal festival. The others will be announced as soon as the festivals themselves let us. We will follow up with at least one European tour in the Fall and look at the offers we have from other continents also.
SoT: Does the band have any plans to make it to the US?
Ronny: Had you asked me this a year ago I would say not very likely but actually there is a tour in North America being planned at this moment and we are aiming for three weeks in September, covering the biggest cities both on the East and West Coast and a few dates in Canada. I really hope that this goes through as I think it is about time now after five albums. I am completely aware that the US is one hard market and we don`t expect miracles but it is clear that we have established a good fan-base over the years and the new album has also been getting more recognition and praise compared to earlier so I think it`s about time.
SoT: We look forward to it!
(Click here to read our review of Existentia)