Many will remember guitarist Kaj Gornitzka as one of the original members of the acclaimed technical progressive metal giant Spiral Architect, who left the band after the recording of their debut CD A Sceptics Universe. Well, Kaj has been busy since then, as he put together the powerhouse act Twisted Into Form with Extol drummer David Husvik, bassist Erik Aadland, and original Spiral Architect session vocalist Leif K. Knashaug. It took a few years to create, but the band's debut album Then Comes Affliction To Awaken the Dreamer, released in late 2006 on the Sensory label, was a winner for fans who still crave technical metal, and who are growing restless for Gornitzka's former band to come up with a new release. Sea of Tranquility Staff Writer Murat Batmaz had a rather long and intense email conversation with Kaj recently, who gave plenty of info on the formation of Twisted Into Form, his history with Spiral Architect, and the future of this great new band.
Read on for the full interview!
Sea of Tranquility: You released your long-awaited debut last year. Are you satisfied with the press and fan reactions?
Kaj Gornitzka: Absolutely, we have been more or less blown away by all the positive feedback we've received, both in the press and from people in general. The reviews are with maybe two or three exceptions stellar, and we are still receiving an even flow of e-mails and messages from individuals everywhere, letting us know how much they enjoy the album. The latter is in fact the most rewarding part of it all, and I'm really pleased to see that our music hits home even outside of the normal tech and prog metal scene; we have been welcomed with open arms by the progressive rock fans, and it seems we're even accepted among some of the more jazz-oriented music lovers. All in all, we're pretty ecstatic!
SoT: Could you please talk about how you put the band together?
Kaj: We actually started out as a bit of a coincidence, by which I mean that if the timing hadn't been right, it probably wouldn't have happened at all. I have known Erik (Aadland) since the mid-eighties, when we were both playing in local Oslo based bands, and one day (in fact, it was at a concert, and ironically enough I'm pretty sure it was Spiral Architect playing on stage that evening...) we started talking about ideas we had lying around and that it might be interesting just getting together to play around with those ideas a bit. This was in 2000 and Erik had recently left Lunaris, where he had been playing for a while, and I had not played at all (well, almost anyway) for a very long time after leaving Spiral in 1998 I was, as I said, really fed up with the whole music thing and let the guitar lie for a long, long time but by this time I was beginning to miss it again. For a long time it was mostly a social thing; we'd get together, grab a bite to eat, talk about music, and then maybe play for a while, but since we worked well together and actually managed to write some music that we ourselves found interesting, we slowly decided to see if it would work in a proper band environment.
Interestingly, we got in touch with David (Husvik) through Asgeir Mickelson (Spiral Architect drummer and owner of MultiMono Studio, where we recorded most of the album). Of course we already knew about Extol and David, but it was Asgeir's suggestion that led us to contact him, and it turned out that David was very interested in giving it a shot he loves a challenge, and I think he really wanted to try something a little bit different from what he had been doing in Extol.
We still didn't think in terms of a normal band, though; we had no plans to record anything, the music was purely for our own pleasure, and we only got together about once a week, at most. I guess the turning point came when I decided I was going to move to Portugal in 2004, which left us with two alternatives: Either saying "thanks, it was fun while it lasted" and moving on or making an extra effort to record what we had written so far. Not much of a surprise now, I guess, but since we were all pretty happy with the material, we opted for the second alternative. This would have been late 2003, I think, which didn't give us a lot of time to finish writing, so we really had to start pushing ourselves a lot. Also, we had been strictly instrumental up till this point, but had already decided that we wanted vocals, so I did what I always do: I called Leif. I wasn't sure if he would be interested at all, but luckily he said yes! And that was about it we wrote like mad, booked the studio for the drums and gave it our best shot.
SoT: How did Leif Knashaug come into the picture? He was also the session vocalist of Spiral Architect. Why didn't he do the album with them?
Kaj: As I kind of hinted to above, I have a somewhat long history with Leif, going all the way back to a recording I did with a band called Anesthesia, which was the predecessor to Spiral Architect. This was in 1988, and we had been chosen to participate on an LP (wow, imagine that!), which was to become a compilation of Norwegian metal bands. (Coincidentally, this was the first time we discovered Ψyvind's vocal talents; his band Manitou was also picked out for this compilation. Small world, indeed.) I had been handling the vocals on our demo, but we wanted someone who could actually sing, and Leif was introduced to us through a friend. He was at that point in a band called Neon Night, and they had released an album in the vein of Ozzy from the Randy Rhoads period. As always, he did a great job with our stuff as well, and when the same situation presented itself some years later, this time with Spiral, I placed a desperate call to Leif asking if he would help us out once more. We had been auditioning a whole bunch of vocalists, not finding anyone who was really up to the task, and since I was the one writing the vocal lines at that time, we already knew that it would suit Leifs voice. Our voices operate in more or less the same register, so I know he will be able to sing whatever I come up with only much, much better... This is also the reason I asked him to join us for Twisted into Form, but this time we weren't looking for anyone else at all; Leif was the only one we wanted, so you can imagine the relief when he said he'd do it!
For me there is one more thing that's important when it comes to Leif and his voice: He doesn't sound like any other prog/tech metal singer that I know of. Leif comes from a rock/hard rock background and is not very familiar with the more technical stuff that the rest of us listen to, which I think has been a very good thing for us he has a completely different emotion in his voice than what you generally find within our style of music, and I think it suits us perfectly.
As for why Leif didn't stay on as a permanent member of Spiral Architect, well, first of all that was never really the plan; we asked him for help while we were still on the look-out for a permanent vocalist, and at that time I don't think Leif would have been interested in a full-time commitment anyway. And it also has to do with what I just mentioned; since Leif comes from a different musical background... or, rather, the background is actually pretty much the same we all grew up listening to the same classical metal bands, you know, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Accept, Kiss, Iron Maiden, Ozzy, all of those but while Leif has kept more to the straighter rock, the rest of us got more and more into the progressive and technical side of the metal scene, and this kind of music just isn't in his blood in the same way it is in ours. For Spiral, we wanted a vocalist who was familiar with this really intricate music, someone who could contribute by writing his own vocal lines and would understand all the crazy rhythms and strange melodies we were striving to achieve in those days. That's the main reason why we didn't consider Leif for the permanent position as vocalist in Spiral Architect even though I still love what he did on those two songs on the demo.
If you're wondering what has changed between then and now, in connection with Twisted into Form, I'd have to say that nothing much has changed only the fact that since I'm the one writing all the vocal melodies for Twisted anyway, it is no longer a problem that Leif doesn't.
SoT: Is Knashaug involved in other projects?
Kaj: Yes, he has one other band that was put on ice for a long time, but I think they recently started playing together again. It's called Sims yep, like the game, don't ask me why and it's a pretty straightforward rock band. A modern rock band, that is, with some parts of the music being programmed and the rest being pure melodic rock. He also has an interesting tradition, by the way: Once a year, in the summer, he gets together with a bunch of old friends back home and they play one concert, which is a three-four hour marathon of every possible metal and hard rock classic you can think of! All the bands I mentioned above are in there, of course, and so is a bunch of other bands like them, and I think this extreme vocal workout comes pretty close to killing him every time. Leif doesn't really practise much, if at all, and going on stage doing the voices of Udo, Ozzy, Dio and Ian Gillan for that long is definitely not what the doctor ordered... But I think he truly enjoys it which is all that really matters, isn't it?
SoT: You and Erik Aadland wrote all of the songs on the CD. Did you write all songs together or are there also some pieces written entirely on your own?
Kaj: I guess that depends a little on how you define the writing of a song... As a general rule we tend to work out most songs together, and although we will both sometimes write parts of the other's licks or riffs or melodies Erik writing things for the guitar and me making stuff for him and the bass the one who presents the original idea also has the main responsibility for seeing it through to the end. At the same time we lean heavily on each other for feedback and inspiration, and whenever one of us is stuck somewhere, input from the other is extremely important. We test everything on each other, and since our styles are relatively different, the mixture is generally better than if we were to write whole pieces on our own.
Still, there are a couple of songs on the album that we each did mostly separately; "Tear", the short instrumental piece, is all Erik's work, as are all the basic structures of "Instinct Solitaire", and for different reasons I wrote "The Flutter Kings" by myself, and also "Manumit", of which I had written quite a bit even before we started playing together as Twisted into Form.
Then again, none of it is the result of a single person since what is then added by the others during the recording period completely changes the feeling of whatever idea was there in the first place. Even if David is not mentioned as a songwriter on the album, except for on "Erased", he is a very good one, and he has contributed a lot to the arrangements of all of the songs. In fact, Twisted into Form is a pretty good example of the totality being a lot bigger than the individual parts that make up the whole.
SoT: Though it may be a question you get asked many a time, could you please talk a bit about why you left Spiral Architect?
Kaj: Sure, no problem. (And actually no, oddly enough I haven't been asked about this all that much...) Well, there were lots of things happening during the recording of "A Sceptic's Universe" that I didn't agree with, and I had been somewhat frustrated for a long time leading up to the studio session. Time was definitely a factor; I am, quite unlike both Lars and Steinar, not all that fond of practising, and I have a number of interests outside the realm of music, but when you are rehearsing for hours and hours four times a week, there is not much time left to pursue other fields, including a social life. Besides, Spiral Architect was a band that existed almost solely in a windowless basement for years and years, with almost no "breaks" from this routine, and I was getting very tired of it all. The recording of the album was supposed to be that break for me, at least but with all the problems we ran into in the studio, technical as well as personal stuff, I just couldn't deal with it anymore. Also, we were running on overtime and I had an appointment in Norway that I could not miss (I was buying an apartment and had to return), but I still extended my stay till the very last moment, spending money I didn't really have and ended up not playing another note anyway. All this just accumulated, I suppose, and I was pretty upset when I finally got on the plane. That was in fact my last day in Spiral Architect, even if it wasn't official for another couple of months or so. (Of course, the crowning moment was arriving back home after more than 24 hours of travel, only to turn on the TV and seeing the building in which I was buying said apartment on the news on fire... Not my best day, I tell you.)
It took me awhile to process all this, and for a long time I was rather angry about the way things had turned out, but just for the record: They are still very good friends of mine.
SoT: You didn't stay long after the album was recorded. Did you get to play any gigs with them at all?
Kaj: Yes, I did a few concerts with Spiral Architect, but that was of course before the album was recorded, and all of which were in Norway. Since we spent most of our time in a basement writing, we were never a very active band when it came to gigs, which, as I mentioned, was part of my leaving the band in the end, but in a way this made the concerts that much more exciting when they finally happened. Also, there is a problem with playing that kind of music live: If people aren't there specifically to see you, it can be a bit of an overkill for most of the audience (especially when the band hasn't released anything and nobody actually knows any of the songs), so my best concert memory with Spiral is definitely when we played the John Dee stage in Oslo, because it was just us and one other band; we were both part of the progressive scene and whoever was present that day came because they were curious to see us not because they just happened to be there. That was pretty cool.
Come to think of it, Spiral Architect still haven't played that many concerts I guess I was there for a good portion of the total after all...
SoT: Have they heard Then Comes Affliction to Awaken the Dreamer? How was their reaction?
Kaj: Yes, they have all heard the album, and as far as I know, they like it. Asgeir knows the music very well, of course he did after all co-produce the whole thing, and I know he enjoyed the experience as much as we did. When I played some raw mixes for Ψyvind, which was before the album was released, he said something like "Finally some good, new music!", so I'm pretty sure he likes our album quite a bit. As for Lars and Steinar I'm not really sure, but I think they were positively surprised as well. Also, it will be interesting to see what their next album will bring (and for anyone who doesn't believe it: yes, there will be a second album from the guys in Spiral Architect...), because I think they will sound really different this time, one of the reasons for that being that they will probably want to widen the expressional gap between us as much as possible.
SoT: Have you started writing songs for a sophomore release yet?
Kaj: Very slowly we are getting back to writing now; we've spent a lot of time following up on all the things that came with the release doing a lot of interviews, making and maintaining our website and the MySpace page and so forth so personally I haven't had a lot of time to focus on the music lately. Also, after spending the better part of two years either in the studio or preparing for the studio, I needed a little break from it all; it may seem a bit strange, but as I was saying earlier I'm not a big fan of practising a lot, and whenever I've been through an extended period of intense playing, I just shut down for a while, not feeling like picking up the guitar at all. But the urge always returns, of course, and I'm getting there again now.
SoT: What direction will you go next?
Kaj: It's too early to say, really; we have a couple of new ideas that I'm pretty excited about, but it's not enough to extract a general direction yet. If I were to guess, though, I would think we might become slightly heavier. Hopefully we'll be able to develop whatever we did right on "Then comes Affliction to Awaken the Dreamer", and for me the only goal is diversity and being happy with whatever comes out of our efforts.
SoT: Twisted Into Form hasn't played any live shows, right? Is that because of you being in Portugal and the rest of the guys in Norway?
Kaj: Yes, that is definitely the main reason for us not doing any live shows at all. With this kind of music you need a lot of preparation to be able to perform well, and it requires intense rehearsals. Since this is not an option these days, we decided against playing live, at least for now. We have received invitations from a few festivals and I for one would have loved to present our music live, but it would have to be done well, otherwise there's just no point in doing it. There are other factors making it difficult as well, like David's extensive touring and recording schedule with Extol, and the fact that Erik just became a father for the first time, but these are all minor problems that could be worked out if the first was no longer a factor. For now we will concentrate on writing more music, then I suppose we'll just have to see what happens further down the road.
(Click here to read our reviews of Then Comes Affliction to Awaken the Dreamer)