You’re quarantined with the last artist/band you saw in concert. I picked Tor Oddmund Suhrke from Leprous. Prog Notes went to see Leprous on 17th of February @Quantic Club in Bucharest We’ve had the chance to talk to Tor for more than an hour. We’ve covered such topics as the prog scene, electric cars, depression, anxiety and others. This is Leprous before the quarantine (part I).
Andrei Zbîrnea (ProgNotes): I saw you at least four times in Romania, but the best gig was without a doubt the 3AM show from Rockstadt, Râșnov in 2017. How did it happen? I heard lots of versions of the story and also how did you feel the audience after more than 12 hours of live bands? Do you have any other past similar experience beside the one in Râșnov?
Tor Oddmund Suhrke (Leprous): I remember very well. We were supposed to play before the headliner. Baard overslept, so he missed his flight, which is not a very surprising thing. That’s why he had to book another flight, which arrived in a completely different place, from where he was picked up and driven to Râșnov. So, we understood that we don’t have any chance to play at that time, so we had to switch places with another band.
But the audience was really, really good. I think it was the first time ever when we played Stuck. It was the summer before we released Malina (2017). At that time we didn’t know the song that well. But it was fun, and the entire show was really cool as well.
We’ve had this kind of similar experience once before, playing super late. I remember this prog festival in Israel, the first time we played there. And there were some delays with the first band that played. Everything just got postponed and nothing was switched around and, in the end, we had to say we have to play now, because our sound guy and lighting guy, they’re leaving… If we would not have finished our set in two hours, they would have to leave.
The thing is that the venue didn’t have a curfew, so it was like four in the morning or something – super late – when we started to play. But still, there were people hanging around. So it’s happened to us before. I would say, I prefer it not happening, but it was okay. We’re usually like: we’re cool with that, let’s try figuring something out.
„We explore whatever comes natural to us”
AZ: The last decade was awesome for the prog-rock and metal scene. How would you describe the evolution of progressive music in the last ten years? How did you evolve as a group and as a band in terms of sound, lyrics, and (why not) the human point of view?
TOS: I remember we’ve been talking about this ever since we started playing, in 2009, when we released the first album. Someone asked us this question about progressive music and I always saw some differences.We can see a misconception here, prog music being a very specific kind of music or it’s supposed to sound like something very specific.
I feel there’s a difference between calling something prog rock for instance and progressive rock or metal. Because it’s the prog thing that’s supposed to sound like a movement in the 70’s. I think it should be about having something new and interesting and that’s kind of what I’ve been talking about ever since we’ve started to get this question ten years ago.
And I definitely feel like some bands are comfortable in staying in the kind of routine they have, and I respect that. But we as a band in Leprous, we always want to explore whatever comes natural to us. For us, it’s always been like we’ve released an album every second year since 2009. And then, every two years, we’ve developed as musicians and people.
We listen to so much other kind of music than this kind of genre we’re playing ourselves. We think that just naturally influences us into doing slightly different stuff every time we release something new. I feel a lot of other bands do that too. I think the progressive scene is becoming more of a sub-genre within the progressive music scene as well.
I haven’t really thought about the Norwegian wave. But we feel a connection with Agent Fresco and 22. The three bands fit so well together in kind of a strange way. I don’t really feel we’re like traditional prog. We just fit well together. I’m not saying we have now developed some new genre of our own.
Because progressive music isn’t necessarily progressive metal or progressive rock or trip-hop. It could be so many different things, but with progressive elements. So, I think it’s such a wide area. There are so many possibilities for progressive music. All gathered around under the progressive umbrella, even though it could have a basis in completely other kinds of genres, but still meet in the progressive area, or at least meet the audience that is into progressive music.
„We kept the nerve that makes us Leprous”
AZ: So, how did you evolve as a group in terms of songs and lyrics? Don’t forget also the human point of view.
TOS: I think our music has developed in the same way that we’ve developed as people and musicians. Also, the fact that we’ve actually changed a lot of band members since then. From the beginning, there’s only me and Einar. We are the original members and I still feel like we’ve kind of kept the nerve that makes us Leprous.
Einar has definitely been the main composer of the band on the last albums. On the first albums, we were a bit more equal to him, but he is definitely taking a bigger part of the compositions, also because he’s been better at it on the last albums.
I guess it’s something that is kind of holding us together. I think the fact that we’re changing (not that we’re doing it deliberately), but the fact that we have been changing our lineup also affects a bit the sound that we have. I would say the biggest difference in our sound, or one of the big differences, consists also of the elements we use and the way we record.
On Malina, we started being a bit less metal, with less gain on the guitars, less growling vocals or no growling vocals. I wouldn’t say deliberately. We sound more like a rock band rather than a metal band, even though we still have some metal elements.
On Pitfalls, we also wanted a sound as organic as possible – organic instruments like the cello and also recording most of the instruments live instead of tracking at home and editing a lot. On the last two albums and especially on Pitfalls, I think I recorded all the guitars in the studio, live in the studio and these were really nice waves for me to do it slightly different.
It also opened a lot of possibilities, like experimenting with effects on the guitars while playing, instead of just recording, then adding the sound. We were also collaborating on those points when we were together in the studio. We had many more days in the studio as well. It was expensive and exhausting, but it turned into a very good product. I’m very happy with it and I’m very happy that we invested that much time and effort in doing that way.
„We definitely went on a different path after The Congregation, into a more organic sound”
AZ: You are now on tour with Chris Edrich as FOH engineer, with whom we had a captivating interview last year. How much does the FOH engineer bring to the table in creating your unmatched live sound, and is there something that you can single out as Chris’ contribution to making your sound even more special, based on your experience touring together?
TOS: Well, first of all, I would definitely say that he feels like an extra band member. Chris is super nice, an awesome dude and he is a super good sound technician. I’m very happy with the fact that he’s all those things and I still like that he does such a good job. That is definitely something we want to keep, the collaboration with him. I think he feels the same way we do.
I mean, we have a very mutual understanding of the cooperation, we appreciate each other very well and he is definitely doing a lot with our sound live and he knows all our songs so well. He is very adaptable as well. He started to work with us before we released Malina and then kind of adapted to the new direction.
Then, when we released Pitfalls, he kind of adapted to that as well. So he works a lot both in preparations and during a tour. Our relationship with him feels like something that benefits us as a band in a very big way.
AZ: I consider The Congregation, Malina and Pitfalls to be linked together, forming a trilogy in terms of sound, ideas and musical coherence. Is it the end of an era for you now, or do you have something more to add to this chapter?
TOS: To be completely honest, I haven’t seen it a lot like that. I kind of see the evolution for us. When we started to plan the next album, we have used the songs we’ve played from the previous album and then started to plan ahead. Of course we pick something along with us from the previous album, but then we take it into another direction.
So I can completely understand how, maybe unconsciously for us, it has happened, that we’ve done something that links them together. We definitely went on a different path after The Congregation, into a more organic sound. The Congregation has a bit more of the metal kind of sound.
You can see our path from going from one place to another. So, in that way, I can kind of get what you’re saying. I can definitely see the road we went from The Congregation to Pitfalls. It’s not that we found now how we want to be and we will be like this forever. We learned a lot from doing the Pitfalls recording and definitely we will bring a lot of the experiences we made from that along on the next albums as well.
„In Norway, the government supports the niche artists as well”
AZ: For me, Leprous is like the electric vehicle of the progressive rock scene. I know that Norway is the top country regarding early adoption of cars like Tesla or Renault Zoe. What I’m trying to say is that you have the power to include only the essentials in your form of art, but on the other hand you don’t forget about the emotion (in my analogy the emotions from Leprous songs are linked with the great design of Tesla). So my question is how do you write the albums? What inspires you and what doesn’t?
TOS: That’s actually a funny comparison and I’m also thinking if I’m having my car, I would probably also go with an electric car. A funny thing with this question is what are the reasons why people in Norway buy electric cars. It’s because the government really wants them to. We have super high taxes on cars in general but, on electric cars, they’ve removed the taxes. It’s such a good purchase to buy an electric car and you don’t pay tolls. There are so many positive things about having an electric car. So that makes people want to buy the electric cars.
And another funny thing. In Norway, the government supports artists as well. And, I’ve never really thought about this. They especially support a narrow genre, that takes a lot of effort to play. More like experimental things, the kind you might have a hard time making a living out of. A way for them to have cultural variety and also to export Norwegian culture outside Norway.
We could rehearse for free, with really good equipment and that’s kind of a reason why we started as a band. As an experimental artist, you don’t add the VAT into your income, in the same way as the government encourages you to buy electric cars. Maybe there’s something in the Norwegian way of encouraging this kind of behaviour that is just appealing, and that’s why a lot of people do it.
There’s not so many people living in Norway, but I think a big percentage of Norwegian inhabitants live their dream and try to follow it. And if you fail, you’re not screwed, we are here to help you. You have a safety net. Many people fail, but another important part is to make a living out of it. There are two good things in Norway: having an electric car and being a musician.
When we play in Oslo, we have a decent crowd. Well, I mean we sold out our last show in Oslo. There are more people coming here today (Quantic, Bucharest, 17th of February) then the last time we were in Oslo. The funny thing is that in 2018 we played more than a hundred shows and only two of them were in Norway. Being from Norway, playing this kind of music is not a very big thing in Norway.
Someone from our government (from a specialised agency) told us that we were the rock band in Norway that played most shows abroad in 2018 and 2019. So, we don’t play that much in Norway, but we have our scene outside of Norway. It’s not like the scene in Norway is this huge thing, where everyone is just tracing each other. Many people have no idea who we are. It’s a lot bigger outside Norway, to be honest, and also it’s a very personal creation and lots of people resonate with it.
„It’s just more common to talk about depression nowadays”
AZ: Pitfalls is a very personal and cathartic creation and a lot of people resonate with the struggle and resolve it depicts. Apart from the personal aspect of it, what echoes from people, finding a mirror in it and help for overcoming their own obstacles, have you learned about? Did people reach out to you about this?
TOS: It was important for us to think about depression and anxiety. It’s not necessarily a thing that you’re diagnosed with it, even though everyone can have periods in their life where they are struggling with elements of this sort. And it’s not a negative thing. I feel like everyone at some level has these issues from time to time and, of course, if it’s overwhelming and is affecting your life in a big way, then at some point it borders over to where it’s a kind of diagnosis.
And you should get treated. But everyone can conceive having times in their life where they’re struggling with depression. Pitfalls is a very personal album for Einar, as you already know.
A lot of people said that they can relate to Pitfalls. It’s helping them, in the way of just being open about depression and anxiety. What we’re underlining with this album is the importance of talking about depression and anxiety. It’s a very rewarding thing, as an artist, to hear that people are being helped by the album you made. It’s definitely something that is nice to hear.
I think so many things are the same now as they were 30 or 40 years ago. It’s just more common to talk about depression nowadays. So, people might think that it’s a more common thing now, but people are more open about it as well, and I think that’s a good thing.
Photo Credits: Corina Grasu
To BE CONTINUED
The second part, here