LEPROUS Singer EINAR SOLBERG Talks Creative Process Behind “Aphelion” Album: “For Us It’s Not About Trying to Please The Old-School Fans, We Want to Make The Music That We Feel We Should”

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If the light at the end of the tunnel could be converted into sound, you can bet it would sound exactly like Leprous. Over the last two decades, the Norwegian mavericks have produced some of the deepest and most rewarding music imaginable, steadily evolving from their beginnings as exuberant prog metal explorers, to their current status as one of the most unique and fascinating bands in modern heavy music.

Opening their creative account with kaleidoscopic debut “Tall Poppy Syndrome” in 2009, Leprous have always exhibited a profound desire to make music that sounds like nothing else on Earth. Maturing via the critically acclaimed likes of “The Congregation” (2015) and “Malina” (2017), front-man Einar Solberg’s extraordinary songwriting talents have taken his band to new heights with each successive release. Similarly revered as a jaw-dropping and heart-stopping live band, Leprous have been enthusiastically embraced by a wide variety of music lovers, from diehard metalheads to old school prog fans and, in truth, anyone that demands a little bit more passion, power and elegance from their music

“Aphelion” Album Artwork

Although unmistakably the work of the same band that made “Pitfalls”, their seventh album “Aphelion” immediately stands out as a radical statement by this endlessly inventive band. Veering from some of the heaviest and most intense material of their career to some of the most delicate and heart-breaking music in the Leprous canon, it is an album of beautifully crafted and meticulously arranged mini-masterworks, offering a wide range of material which should please much off their fanbase, combining lush strings with hard-hitting staccato section and concise yet accessible songwriting.

In this half-hour interview with lead singer and songwriter Einar Solberg, Sonic Perspectives’ progressive rock resident contributor Scott Medina explores the inspirations for the songs, the recording process and even some of Solberg’s techniques to keep his voice in shape during a tour. You can listen to the streaming audio, download as a podcast, or read the transcription below. Remember that for more interviews and other daily content, make sure to follow Sonic Perspectives on Facebook, Flipboard and Twitter and  subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified about new content we publish on a daily basis.

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT:

Welcome everybody. This is Scott Medina with Sonic Perspectives. We are really excited for a new album coming out from Leprous and to have Einar on the phone here with us. Great to be able to talk with you, Einar. How are you today?

Yeah, likewise. Good to talk to you too. I’m doing very well. Just came from quite a long mountain hike today. So I’ve been out in nature today, so

Nice. You have beautiful surroundings there, huh?

Yeah, definitely. Where I live now, I moved out from Oslo, like a while back. So now I live much closer to all of it. I mean, there is nature in Oslo too, but not that many mountains.

Right. I live in Boulder, Colorado, and we’re just surrounded by beauty here.

Yeah. Colorado is definitely the place for hikes as well!

I’m glad you’re getting inspired in that way. Wonderful. Yeah. So let let’s, uh, let’s dip in for first of all, “Aphelion” is quite the album title. It really carries a mysterious and enigmatic sense to it.

In the beginning we wanted the album to be called “Adapt”, because that’s the kind of the meaning we went for, but, uh, it doesn’t really sound very interesting! So, we just went for something more interesting-sounding and took the meaning behind it [laughs]. The meaning is like when basically the sun is furthest away from you, so whenever the light is furthest away, there are still things you can do. And that’s where the word Adapt comes into play. So you adapt, instead of thinking that you wished that you were much closer to the light and that everything was much easier. You just adapt and you do whatever you can with what you have.

Sounds really fitting for the past year that we’ve all been through.

Exactly, exactly. That’s where it came from.

It sounds like the album itself was recorded sporadically in different studios over the past year.

Yeah, exactly. In the beginning we didn’t really plan to make an album out of this. We had a couple of songs that we were planning to build an EP around. We started composing some more and fixing some old songs that needed fixing before we could present them. And then COVID happened. So suddenly we had no touring coming up, no nothing. So we suddenly had a lot of time on our hands for composing and for doing music in a different way than performing live. So at some point during this last summer, we decided to make a proper album out of this, and so we did the album kind of day by day and built it that way. The reason why we did different studios is that the studio where we’ve recorded our last album is in Stockholm and we were not allowed to go there anymore because of the pandemic. So we just had to check out some places here in Norway, and we’ve heard a lot of about Ocean Sound studios, for example. So we went there to do one song first, “Castaway Angels”. And we fell in love with that studio, did some more songs there. Then we wanted to try out another studio we heard really positive things about, so we went and recorded a song there and some drums for a couple of other songs. So it was just like kind of a relatively relaxed process compared to before, because it was just like, Yeah, let’s just build this album gradually. Instead of doing everything in one process, we have like 10 smaller separate processes.

What inspired you to give us the song “Castaway Angels” over half a year ago as a kind of like standalone song?

At that point we had decided that it would be an album, but we didn’t decide that when we decided to release it as a single. “Castaway Angels” was kind of the decisive song for that. By then it was starting to look like something that could develop potentially into an album. So we decided to release it as kind of a Corona-era treat, to give people something new to listen to during that time. I believe that time last year was a really tough time for many people, It was before the vaccine started working. At least here in Norway, it was one of the worst periods, even though the pandemic never hit Norway as hard as it did many other more populated places but still it a difficult times. When we released “Castaway Angels”, there were still several songs for the album that wasn’t finished yet. Then some songs hadn’t even been written at that point, you know? It’s a relatively warm song to have in cold months!

So it sounds overall like the impact of COVID actually helped your recording process because you had a more , relaxed, spacious time. You didn’t have to worry about touring or things like that.

Yeah, and it was good to try one album like that. Basically where you just do things in different ways where you just don’t have any pressure on you whatsoever. You just go and have fun in this studio and whatever happens happens. We did a lot of stuff together in the studio that we’ve never done before. It’s always been like, Okay, now it’s drums, and then it’s usually just me and Baard there, for example. And then it’s bass. And then it’s guitars, like everything layered one thing after another. But here it was just like each song was built in a completely different way. Like some songs were recorded more or less live together in the studio. Other songs were recorded in three different studios. I would say COVID had, in a way, a positive impact on our creativity because you had more time on your hands and, and suddenly you were forced out of your regular routine. And I think that routines are never that great for creativity! I believe we will see a lot of albums coming out in the time to come from bands.

So “Aphelion” and “Pitfalls” both transmit a very personal accounts of your struggle with anxiety and depression. How is that journey reflected differently in these two different albums?

So where “Pitfalls” is in the more early stages of discovering that you’re struggling with it, and kind of panicking a bit and not in acceptance of the situation whatsoever, “Aphelion” is in a much later stage when you’ve gotten to work a lot with it and gotten further and gotten to accept the fact that it’s something that you probably have to live with during your life, but that it is something that gradually fades more and more in the background. But of course in some of the songs I’m singing about some setbacks that you have when you thought that everything was going so well now that it almost seems like a distant memory that you felt that bad, and then suddenly you take some wrong turns and then you find yourself back there again. So there are some setbacks, but at the same time, it’s a much later stage in dealing with these problems. So I would say that “Aphelion” definitely has more light in it.

A song like “On Hold” really goes into almost a diary-like account of your experience.

Yeah. Yeah. And that’s quite interesting because that’s something I actually wrote during the Pitfalls period. But it fit perfectly together with the songs. Because that’s one thing, people often have this Disney-like version of how anxiety or depression works, that it’s just like, Okay, he battled it and then he got out of it and then everything was good and he lived happily ever after, you know. It doesn’t work like that. It’s a gradual process. And sometimes you will fail and go back into the same patterns. But you still slowly but steadily get better if you make the right choices, basically. So, definitely “On Hold” is very fitting for the COVID times. I think many people felt they were on hold this year.

There’s also so much musical diversity here, even sometimes within the same song themselves. Like “All the Moments” starts off with this almost classic rock vibe with a slide guitar, and then there’s this hypnotic verse and then you go into the chorus, but then it suddenly takes a drastically different direction with this extended middle section of balladry there.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s a very interesting song because when we built a skeleton for that song, we had no plans on writing or recording a song. We just had one and a half day extra in the studio after “Castaway Angels.” So we said, Okay, let’s just see what we can come up with and we’ll just record something. Something that just needs to be a skeleton and it can just be in different sequences and we don’t need to record it as a whole thing. And so we just recorded some sequences. Then I started getting some plan in my head of where to take this, I wanted the first verse to be kind of grungy, flowing with the vocal lines in a major scale. And then I wanted the second verse to be a completely improvised melancholic piano where the only similarity with the previous verse is that the vocal lines are pretty much the same, except that I seen them in minor scales. So that was kind of an idea that I had in my head. And then I came back a couple of weeks later to kind of sew everything together and put it together as a song. That’s how that song was built. So it kind of started out with more or less been improvised, and then you kind of just make the structures later, basically. It was the first time I’ve kind of had an idea in my head like that. And the only place that the idea existed was just in my head basically. So it was a very interesting to work like that.

Thanks, that’s fascinating. The song “Nighttime Disguise” is such an intense way to close the album and even sees you descending into growl vocals at the end again.

Yeah. [laughs]That was the song that we wrote together with our fans. We had this project in the studio where we invited the fans and they kind of bought tickets to partake in almost a one week long live stream of us composing and recording a completely new song. Through a poll that we sent to them in advance, they gave us the parameters for like the time signature, the vocal style, the dynamics, the key, the tempo and all the instrumentation. And then we had to work with these parameters that they gave us and try to make a song out of it…while everybody was watching us in real time while we did it! So it was actually a 24/7 stream going for six days, of course we were not active in all 24 hours obviously, but the cameras were still on in the recording room and the control room. So it was a super interesting experience. So you kind of have to take all these parameters that you get when so many different people are voting, it becomes quite random. And then you try to make something out of it with that many restrictions, basically. So it had on there that I had to use all of my vocal styles, including screaming. So I said, Okay, I guess I have to then [laughs], so we found a place that we actually really liked to have those vocals. So, it was to find that sweet spot where we followed whatever parameters they set for us, but we actually really liked it ourselves, too. So we had to find that sweet spot somewhere. I think we got it, yeah.

That’s such an amazing project. I absolutely love it. How many fans did you have on that?

I think there were a few hundred people participating on that project. It was of course a project for the more really hardcore core fans as it’s a very time consuming thing for someone to follow in the middle of a work week! And for the VIPs there, we had this 24/7 Zoom session going too, so they were talking quite a lot with us directly asking us questions here and there. So it was a really different type of project.

Well, it certainly paid off. I think that’s one of the highlights on the album, it’s just an incredible piece. So well done, under pressure!

[laughing]Haha, well I wouldn’t say they helped us…they just made everything much more difficult! But in that way, you become really concentrated on making something cool. And the most hard part of it was to write in three different keys in one song that have nothing to do with each other! Because people voted for three different keys, I think it was B minor, E flat minor, and F sharp minor. So those don’t fit together whatsoever! So I remember I spent so much time trying to modulate from one to another, and then I came to an Aha, that the only way to glue this together, to make it into a proper song is to only modulate to the chorus and then modulate back again to the original key on the verse again, and then to modulate AGAIN to a new key on the second chorus. So that’s kind of what we did. So I spent quite a lot of time to try to make it sounding effortless.

Yeah, it does, you’d have no idea. That’s incredible.

Uh, thanks!

I saw you said that you felt the first single “Running Low” could easily unite your old and new fan base. Could you talk a little bit about how you see those two different groups of fans?

Yeah. Of course there are a lot of in-between fans, too and there are a lot of old fans who love our new stuff as well. And also some new fans who love our old stuff. So it’s kind of a bit simplified of course, to say that we have the new fans and the old fans, and they are having very different preferences because it doesn’t necessarily work like that. But we do have a fan base who really want Leprous to be a prog metal band. I have to be honest and say that none of us from Leprous listen that much to prog metal. We started out as a prog metal band and I still like to be in that genre because it feels quite free in what we can do and everything. But for us it’s never been a thing to try to please the old school fans and try to be whatever someone wants us to be. So we always just wanted to make the music that we want to make. But I think that due to the nature of how this album was written, it’s so free and loose that I think there’s definitely something for every type of Leprous fan in there. Even though maybe some people will never come to that point where they will admit that, because it’s not old enough [laughs], and for some people it’s more about it being old than it being good, you know? The reason why I think it can be a unifying album is because it has a lot of versatility. It covers a lot of the ground and showcases in a quite good way what Leprous is about, what we do as a band. And “Running Low” has some of that darkness that Leprous used to have before, but at the same time it’s accessible enough to work for the people who don’t like our most proggy type of music. But then again, I also feel there is a misconception about prog because people often think that prog is when you make the most obvious changes in your music, like very sudden and very extreme changes. Whereas I feel there is some more art in making the changes in the music more subtle so that it takes more time for the listener to actually know it. So that they eventually say, Aha – this is what’s going on here…I didn’t notice that right away. All the details are more subtle. It’s not so flashy.

The strings carry such an important role throughout this album, especially with Rafael on the cello and then you also have Chris on the violin. How much do you account for the string section in your head while you are songwriting?

Most of the stuff on “Aphelion” – except “Have You Ever?” it was Simon who did the string arrangement – but on the other songs, I already had everything more or less planned out and I sent them the sheets so they could record it more or less as I had it composed and arranged. Except for the Running Low solo where Rafael got to completely make his own solo and do his own thing. So that’s how I went about it. It’s become more and more natural for me to just always include strings. Sometimes I replace the keyboards with strings, for example, because I always really loved string sections. It has a very emotional strength to it.

Will Rafael be coming back out on the road with you?

Yeah, definitely. Whenever we will be touring, I’m sure that he will. He mainly joins us on tours and on albums because we live on different continents, so it’s a bit difficult to do one-off shows to fly over all the way to Norway or somewhere else in Europe, just for a one-off show. But all the tourists we’ve done since 2017, he has been a part of.

And speaking of touring, considering your vocal range and how much you push it, how do you take care of your voice when you’re out on the road?

What I realized – and this only works, of course, if you don’t get sick, if you get sick, then it’s a different story – but if you manage to not get sick (which doesn’t happen very often!) what I normally do is that I take at least three weeks before a tour to get my voice properly in shape. And then it’s no technique or anything, I just gradually get my voice used to doing a full Leprous show. I sing a full Leprous show every second day, for example, for three weeks. Then when I go on tour, my voice already has the stamina that I need to go ahead and do all these shows in a row. Then I should be fine if I also do the warmup exercises before the show, which can be like a minimum of 15 minutes and a maximum of 45, depending a bit on how my voice works. And then I do a gradual warmup where I gradually increase the intensity.

Well, I hope you don’t get sick too often… That must be a real struggle.

Yeah, it’s a struggle, but it’s a struggle that I’m very used to, and I have some techniques in how to still being able to go through with the show. There’s always a way to make the show go on.

Since you’re the primary one playing keyboards or bringing in a lot of the string ideas, I think a lot of people have the idea that a lot of the newer material is really focused on you. And I’m curious how much the other band members relate to the arrangements. You know, you’ve got two guitars, a bassist and a drummer in the band, so how do they relate to the more the keyboard textures coming in and the strings and the arrangements and all of that?

I’ve been the main composer of Leprous for quite a long time and I would say that if you compare the new album to an album like “The Congregation”, for example, I had a much more dominant role on “The Congregation” than what I have right now. Of course I have the dominant role now as well, because I’m the main songwriter, but back then, I kind of wrote more or less all the guitar parts exactly finished how I wanted to have them. And even quite many of the drum parts, quite many of the bass parts, exactly how I wanted it to be. But now there is a much bigger freedom for the members to do their thing. I play with people who are super experienced and the common thing for very experienced people is usually they don’t have this super big need to always show what they can do at every single section, you know? So they tend to make choices that are to serve the song and not to serve their own ego. So it’s always about the song and if there is any need for a guitar section or a guitar riff, someone will do a guitar. If there is no need for, we’ll not do it just for the sake of it, just because it’s boring to not play basically. So everything needs to be there to serve the song.

I see right before the album comes out, you announced that you’re actually doing a live stream, a live performance of the album. Is that right?

Yeah, that will be quite interesting! We started rehearsing and we have still quite a lot more rehearsing to do before we can go on that stage and do it. It will be a thing we’ve never done before to live stream an album before it’s even out. It’s a bit scary for us, but hopefully we’ll pull through and make it happen.

Yeah. That really innovative. Is there any live audience there or is it all a studio experience?

Yeah, there will be some live audience there. I don’t know how many, but I guess at least like a hundred, hundred and 50, maybe even 200, depending a bit on the situation at that point.

Well, Einar thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. It’s a fascinating process you guys are in, and it’s an incredible album that you’ve come out with.

That’s awesome. Thank you so much, man. I really appreciate the interview and have a nice day in Colorado.

Thanks. We’ll close by playing “The Silent Revelation” in full, is there anything you want to set up to talk about that piece?

Yeah, “The Silent Revelation” is quite interesting because it was made out of leftover parts from Pitfalls. So we wrote a song that was also called “The Silent Revelation” for “Pitfalls,” but we were not happy with it. We were just happy with a few sections. So we threw away a big, big part of the song. We kept the verses and we kept the drums and then we built everything else from scratch again and ended up being really happy. We’ve never done anything like that before. So that was very exciting. It was one of those times when you cook a leftover dinner and it ends up tasting really good! You know, when you just mix the leftovers you have.

Yeah, brilliant. Thanks,, we’ll cue that up for everyone to listen to and hope to catch you out on tour later at the end of the year.

Awesome. Cheers.

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