VOLA‘s sophomore album, Applause for a Distant Crowd, was released on the tail end of 2018, and is causing quite a stir in the prog metal community. With a different approach to the debut album Inmazes, this release shows a newer side of the band’s sound, such as electronic sounds and loops. Combining the heaviness of Tool and also some melancholic moments which are common to Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd, the album is a very diverse collection of tracks. The decision to explore themes such as terrorism, isolation, machines replacing humanity and relationships through the internet further enhances the perception that the time of this band is now.
Fresh out of a few dates with Dream Theater in June, VOLA is about to embark on their first ever headlining tour in Europe, with support from Arch Echo and Rendezvous Point. This tour will keep them busy until October, and then they plan to reconvene shortly afterwards to work on their third album. Singer Asger Mygind took some time to talk to our collaborator Rodrigo Altaf, and they discussed some of the themes addressed in the new album, their creative process, touring plans and many other issues. Read their chat below!
Asger, it’s great to have you here with us today, and let me just say right off the bat that I’m a big fan of your work. Applause for a Distant Crowd was an album that had a deep impact on me last year!
That’s great to hear!
You just played two shows that gave the band a lot of attention – two dates opening for Dream Theater in Dresden and Berlin! How did those shows go?
It was amazing, and a great thing to be part of. Dresden was an outdoor show, and Berlin was a place called Tempodrom. It was definitely a bigger crowd than we had before, our biggest shows so far. It was amazing to stand in front of all these people and to share the stage with Dream Theater, a band that I’ve listened to a lot and which of course had an impact on me as a musician. So that was spectacular for us, really.
You also have a few shows opening for Anathema in July and a run of headline shows coming up in September – 20 shows approximately. I’d say you’re gathering a lot of momentum this year, would you agree?
Yeah, I’m very happy we’re getting all this attention. We just want to get our music out there to as many people as possible, so it’s nice to see that we’re gathering momentum, as you say.
Let’s take a step back if we can, and talk about the genesis of the band. Can you tell me how the band was put together – in 2006, I believe?
It began as a jam thing, with me playing with some friends from school. We only did cover songs, and tried to play things like Porcupine Tree, Opeth and bands in that style, that space between metal and rock. We enjoyed bands that embraced a wider sound. Eventually we started writing our own music and had a lineup that became solid. From that point we released an EP in 2008 called Homesick Machinery and another one in 2011 called Monsters. Then our debut Inmazes came out in 2015, which was later re-released via Mascot Records. The lineup has changed a bit in the beginning, but it’s been stable since 2017 when Adam, our drummer, joined the band. Our second album came out last year, called Applause of a Distant Crowd.
When it comes to you in particular, what are your main influences as a singer and as a guitar player?
I think as a singer I’m very influenced by Bjorn from Soilwork, for example. I really like how he creates these big choruses, and I love the larger than life sounds they create, and his voice is a big part of that. And of course Mikael Åkerfeldt from Opeth and Steven Wilson. I like how they experiment with the lo-fi sound on the vocals, which I guess it’s something they took from king Crimson and the Beatles, also two bands I like. Guitar wise, definitely the Meshuggah guys. After hearing the “Nothing” album in 2004, I looked at guitarists in a different way – the way they approach rhythms and down tune, which is something that has been very inspiring. Also, again Mikael Åkerfeldt and David Gilmour.
I’m also curious about the band name – what exactly does it mean?
It means “fly” in Italian. It’s a name that we were very fond of when it came up because it’s very simple and it doesn’t sound like any particular musical genre. I like when the listener can start a listening experience not having any preconceived thoughts about how it sounds before engaging in it. The name is also kind of interesting because it gives you a feeling of elevating from the floor, which is something we try to do in our choruses, so it takes on a different meaning in that aspect as well.
I was quite confused actually when I was doing my research for the interview, because VOLA is also the name of a company that supplies bathroom appliances in Denmark – I’m sure you know that. That intrigued me a lot!
Yeah, we know about them, and it’s a little bit annoying [laughs]. If you search for Vola on Instagram for example, one out of a hundred pictures is from thee band, and all other ones are from bathrooms! [laughs].
I made a point of interviewing someone from VOLA, because I love Applause of a Distant Crowd and I do think you guys have a lot of potential. Is there a plan to branch out and tour in North America any time soon?
We would love to come to North America. We can see on Spotify for example that we have a lot of listeners where you are, for example. I think it’s a matter of getting the right bill, so we’re waiting for the right opportunity.
One thing that really caught my attention on Applause of a distant Crowd is how you explore the different sides of the band – the poppier side, the electronic elements and sometimes heavy riffs, but one constant on all songs is that all of them have VERY melodic vocal lines. What comes first when you’re writing the songs, the vocals, lyrics, the riffs…and who brings what?
We do write together, but there are no rules in terms of what it should be. I can write almost a full song and present it to the guys and that’s ok – that happens sometimes, but we try to meet up maybe once or twice a week when we’re in the writing process. I’d say it’s mostly the riff that comes first. For example, if we have an intro riff, that ight have a rhythm we can use in the verse as well, and then it can grow into the chorus. We try to stick to very few rhythmic ideas and try to extend them as much as possible. Then the melody comes, and sometimes we write them on a keyboard and try out different notes while the chorus is playing in the background, and then the vocal lines. The lyrics are the last thing to be finished, sometimes even five minutes before we start recording [laughs]. For us lyrics can be very difficult, and when I write something that pleases us it makes me very proud, because I think it’s difficult to write good ones.
You mentioned in previous interviews that the lyrics on Applause for a Distant Crowd come from your observation of how our relationships have changed with the internet. Other themes I could get were break ups, terrorism and isolation. Can you expand on that a little bit?
Yeah, I thought it was nice to have a kind of unifying theme on the album. It’s not like there’s a narrative going through the songs, but they all deal with this new reality of being connected through the internet and how that affects our relationships and cause anxiety and restlessness and confusion about what a happy life is.
Can we explore the lyrical content of a few songs? Take the title track for example, that goes “I photographed my latest meal in black and white/ I kept my faith in videos of cats in shoes / And spent a day on episodes on plastic use” – to me that paints a picture of a VERY sad existence!
I tried to paint a picture of how you can get stuck in the stream of entertainment that’s present online, how one video takes you to the next one, and if you don’t make a very active choice of putting away your phone or shutting down your computer, you can get stuck with watching content that doesn’t really provide you with any happiness in the end. That song is a picture of a person who was left by his/her partner and is trying to find solace in the internet – the entertainment you can find there, the people you can interact with online. So it’s about finding comfort in the screen to push away the grief.
One song I didn’t quite catch the meaning of is Whaler, probably my favorite one on the second album. What is that one about?
That one is about a person who is afraid that he will be forgotten when he’s gone, so he’s preparing to make some kind of statement that will keep him alive forever, because he will get picked by the media and the internet never forgets. So it’s about this anxiety of not making a difference in the world and be forgotten, so he’s preparing to kill to be remembered.
You also address the fear of death on Ghosts, terrorism on Alien Shivers, and even technology on the labor force on Smartfriend. Where do you get the inspiration for these themes?
The terrorism theme came to me by witnessing the several attacks we have seen in the last five to ten years. It seems to have invaded people’s safe zones so to speak. It made me anxious to imagine that it could happen in my city, which is Copenhagen. That song is about the anxiety that comes out of that. Smartfriend is created on the basis of this notion that we might have to incorporate technology into our bodies. At some point it won’t be enough to just have the latest IPhone, you will have to have a computer attached to your body. So this song is about a person that takes that step and it turns out that this technology has evil intentions, and he’s not able to control it as he thought he would. The song Ruby Pool is about a longing for something more than looking at a screen. Especially for young people these days it’s normal to socialize online a lot. I tried to paint this picture of young people having a longing for a different type of contact, more physical maybe, and interacting more with nature. That was my frame of mind when I wrote it, but it’s not just applicable for young people. Most people that work on a computer have this regret of not putting the screen away and looking out into the world because there’s something out there they might have missed.
I think the video you made for Ruby Pool gets that point across quite well, with someone looking at the screen of a cell phone while these amazing landscapes are passing by. You also did a very cool animation on Alien Shivers and a full band video on Ghosts – it seems you also took a diverse approach to the visual aspect of the band, right?
Yeah, the animation was done by our bass player Nicolai Mogensen and his girlfriend and they also did two videos for songs from our first album. This was something we agreed on in the beginning of making music videos – that the two of them should definitely do more videos for us – and I’m really happy about how it turned out.
On Applause there’s a different approach that your first album, Inmaze, where you kinda of looked at your feelings from the inside, and also sonically it had a completely different direction! What drove that change in the lyrics and such a dramatic musical shift?
I think for us, what we will create next will always be a reaction to what we have just done. I had the feeling when we were about to start writing Applause of being tired of djent basically. I thought we had taken that sound to where we were able to take it. If we had created a similar album, it just wouldn’t sound fresh and would kind of compete with Inmazes. So we decided to create something very different. As I told earlier, I’m a big fan of Porcupine Tree, and I love how they had this big spectrum on the same album – there’s the heavy side, the ambient, mellow and softer side as well, and everything still managed to sound cohesive as an album. I sort of got back to that songwriting perspective and became fascinated with creating an album that way. When we started writing and had that point of view, it flowed smoothly, and even though it’s so different, it sounded natural for us.
Applause is still VERY recent – it came out in October last year. But do you have anything written for a possible third album?
We have some ideas that we’re working on, five or six different songs already. And the plan is to record our third album next year.
Oh, cool! Would you say you’re continuing with this more melodic direction next album?
It’s difficult to say, but where we are right now it sounds heavier than Applause. I think it’s once again a reaction to our latest effort, and it’s the fact that we know we can go down the heavy route if we want to. We tried to do that now and it feels quite cool to explore that again.
Changing the subject a little bit, you now have your own beer, entitled Alien Shivers – how did that come about?
There was a guy called Rossi who wrote us on Facebook and said he was a big fan of the band and would like to collaborate with us by producing a beer with our brand. That was pretty exciting for us, and we very quickly accepted. Eventually we met when we were on tour in October last year, we tasted some beers and discussed what kind of flavor our beer we’d make. I never saw that coming, but I’m proud to be a part of that project [laughs].
The band is busy touring in September. What’s the plan after that?
After the tour we’ll finish the songs we’re working on, and we’re actually already writing now during summer. We’ll go into the studio early next year.
Like I said to you on Facebook, I reached out because I think this band deserves to be big, and I want to help promote it. I hope this interview opens the eyes and ears of promoters for your band, and hope to see you here in Toronto soon!
It would be nice to talk to you in person Rodrigo, and thank you so much for helping to promote our work!
Photographs by Paradise Through A Lens