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 had the chance to talk to Tor for more than an hour. We covered such topics as the prog scene, electric cars, depression, anxiety and others. This is Leprous before the quarantine (part II). Read here part one.
Andrei Zbîrnea: I believe you’ve had at least ten gigs in Romania in the last couple of years, in places like București, Cluj, Sibiu, Râșnov and I’m sure that I’ve forgotten some places. What is your fondest memory from our country?
It’s kind of surreal to be sold out in Romania and in other countries
Tor Oddmund Suhrke: It’s funny that you’re mentioning Romania. I have a colleague from Romania. I work as a physiotherapist. And one of my colleagues is from Romania and I’m always mentioning to her that we’re going back to Romania. I’m visiting Romania more than she is, even if she has family here and everything. We work together in Oslo, she is a doctor. I really love Romania. I think I’ve been here more than ten times.
Every year we’re coming back to Romania and we participate either in a festival or we have a planned tour. I enjoy that we’re also expanding how many shows we are doing in Romania on each tour now. We’ve had at least two sold out shows in Romania.
We don’t sell that much in Norway necessarily. It’s kind of surreal to be sold out in Romania and in other countries and it’s really, really cool and it’s happening in a lot of places in the world now as well. The first time when we played in Bucharest, we were at a captive venue (an audience of 300-500) as a support band for Therion, in 2010.
AZ: How much do you feel like descendants of Ibsen and Grieg, and how much are you belonging to a European common family? How do you feel about the growing nationalism that our continent is facing?
TOS: Our history is a bit strange in the way that we have a very strong national connection, but without the creepy nationalism. On our national day, everyone is waving flags and celebrating a lot, but this is more like a day for children. The kids are eating ice cream and everyone is just happy. It’s not a military thing at all.
I don’t like those far-right politics. Sadly, the nationalist movements are getting such a stronghold in a lot of countries across Europe. I prefer the collaborations across borders, and also the green movements. If we’re going to save nature, we can’t really think about every country individually. I think everyone needs to collaborate a lot to achieve this goal.
I spend almost as much time outside of Norway as I do in Norway, so I reckon I’m an inhabitant of the world. It’s important that different cultures are being preserved, but I don’t think culture itself is something to preserve, because a lot of culture is crap as well. Just because something is traditional doesn’t mean it’s good per se. It could be horrible so you should stop doing it. Speaking of my country, I like to talk about nice things about Norway, but also about the bad things.
AZ: Prog Notes, our 100% progressive rock and metal online magazine, the only one in Romania, made a top for 2019. Pitfalls came in second, after Opeth, Devin Townsend was 3rd, Dream Theater 4th and Tool 5th. Fortunately, our community is quite small and we didn’t receive any complaints or hate/troll messages. Do you believe that ranks can help this industry? I mean someone can read the text and then discover a band such as Leprous or Dream Theater, afterwards he/she will go to see then performing live.
TOS: As a promotional tool, ranks and awards are good things. If 10,000 people read a thing, maybe 100 will come to the source, buying an album or going to a show. It also depends on the size of the audience. For instance, the Norwegian Grammy award consists of a few people deciding what their favorite albums were last year. If you’re lucky, you’ll be chosen, if not…
But it’s definitely not why I’m making music. I’m not necessarily into ranks and awards, but a popular vote could be a good instrument to reach a bigger audience.
When we started to be more professional as a band, Social Media was already there
AZ: How did social networks change the music industry in general and progressive rock in particular? Can you imagine a young Greg Lake talking to his fans on Twitter or YouTube as Devin Townsend does those days?
TOS: When we started to be more professional as a band, Social Media was already there, so we never experienced the old way of promoting our music. It’s a very nice thing that anyone can reach out to anyone nowadays. But it also means that it’s more difficult for people to get noticed, because there is too much information out there. Tht’s why some of them are acting in extreme ways.
When I grew up listening to bands, I could never imagine sending private messages to the people I idolised. Our band receives lots of messages, we try to respond to some of them, but at some point we cannot continue the conversation. And some of fans get annoyed easily because of that. And then they feel that you’re an asshole, because you’re not taking the time to just answer those questions. So that’s the downside of having this super accessible kind of thing (the social media era). But, on the other hand, I think it’s really cool you can have so much interaction with the people who like your music.
AZ: How are you facing the harsh economic realities of making music in 2020? What would you recommend to a band starting out today? Is paying the bills still possible or is that reserved for mainstream success?
TOS: My first advice would be: don’t quit your job right away. Next year, Leprous will celebrate 20 years as a band. And I’m still working as a physiotherapist. To be honest, now I mainly work because I like it. I work a couple days a week when I’m not touring. I feel it’s a healthy thing just to be at home and just have a normal life.
Growing a band organically is like building a company
You shouldn’t rely on having luck and having a song that suddenly makes you as famous as Justin Bieber. Think about Porcupine Tree – ten years to become famous as a band. Growing a band organically is like building a company. You have to realize that the first years are gonna be just about spending money on trying to reach a certain point. On the other hand, you have to act in a realistic manner. Don’t say: I wanna be a rockstar; it won’t help you.
AZ: And now let’s imagine something and for that, we need to go back in time. It’s 2001 again, y2k (the year 2000 problem, the computer stuff) sadly happened and you are about to start Leprous. What will you do different this time?
TOS: I talked about this topic a couple of times with Einar. We were both in Leprous in 2001. I was 15, Einar was 16, we were very young. We thought about that moment and how horrible it would be for us just to go back to that time, and realize we would have to do everything we’ve done until this point again. It’s a good thing that you’re not aware of the past things at the time when you’re doing it, because you would just over analyze everything.
AZ: Artificial Intelligence (AI), space exploration, cyber-… something, these seem to be the prevalent themes of modern music [within the progressive realm]. What’s your take on these, can you write an entire album about, say, AI or even more so, have AI part of the composition process, as an experiment?
TOS: To be honest, these were not our themes until now. We are focused rather on psychological issues. We talk more about these in our songs. But if we think about the present and not about some sci-fi robot universe, I’m super intrigued and I know a lot of other things about AI as well.
AZ: We are almost done, now our final question: Please name your favourite movie, TV series, album and book.
TOS: For the movie I would say Pulp Fiction. TV Series – the last big TV series that I’ve watched was Game of Thrones. I would also pick Carnivàle and Twin Peaks.
The album part is the hardest one. I’ll mention a concert, it’s not on my current personal chart, but it was so mind-blowing at that time. The Norwegian band Turbonegro (hard-rock, punk). Let’s pick some albums. From the good, old days: Porcupine Tree – Deadwing (2005), Opeth – Ghost Reveries (2005). These are the albums that defined me when I was in the process of becoming a guitarist. I will also mention Ihsahn, Emperor and Prometheus.
Book, also very difficult. The last book I’ve read & made a big impact on me was Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. This book really inspired me to run. I read a lot because I’m trying to learn languages. I’ve read Dan Brown’s Inferno in French (I understood like 60% of it). Now I’m reading some Sherlock Holmes in Spanish, I understand like 40%. My reading now is more based on trying to learn new languages.