"Whenever we’re releasing a new album it’s a step up from our previous albums"
Leprous continue to amaze with each new record they make and their fifth full length album “Malina” is no exception. We had the chance to talk with the band’s guitarist Tor Oddmund Shurke about it, but also about how the band progresses from album to album and always tries to step up their game and move forward.
Hi Tor, how are things going?
Everything is good. There’s a lot of things to do… as always (laughs); but I guess that’s a good sign. Especially, when you’re releasing an album there’s a lot of things happening in different aspects of a band’s life. I think that’s only a good thing.
Just before we get to the new album, I wanted to ask you about these strange times that we live in rock music, with Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington and their tragic endings… How do you feel about it?
Well, that’s a difficult thing to answer. Of course, it’s really sad to hear about those situations. I don’t think it’s something that is necessarily about musicians, just being humans. I think it shows that no matter how successful you are and talented and everything, many people have a lot on their minds and there’s a darker side to it. It’s very sad and I’m not really sure what more to say. I’m just sad to see all these things happening…
The reason I asked this is because it seems that writing emotional and dark music and lyrics and channeling your feelings through it is sometimes more than meets the eye. And you write both emotional and dark music and lyrics. What do you think about it?
Yeah, I can totally understand what you’re saying. Even though people can often seem very happy and cheerful on the outside, you can’t really know what’s going on inside of them.
I know that through the years we had a lot of songs that are about pretty dark and depressive things and of course some of it can be related to maybe something that you’ve experienced, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be translated literally to what you’re going through at that time.
Some of our music is about feelings that you imagine having and other times it can be something you’re feeling and you channel it in some kind of way. When you’re an artist and you’re creating something, you have the ability to not necessarily tell the story of your life.
Of course, everyone goes through some hard times at some points, no matter how you show it. And sometimes you are able to channel that into something you can put words into and sometimes you write things that you’ve experienced.
"Whenever we’re releasing a new album it’s a step up from our previous albums"
Let’s talk about more positive things, like your new album coming out. Plain and simple it’s a contestant for the best album of your career so far and among the best albums of 2017. How do you feel about it?
First of all, thank you very much for proclaiming it as the contestant of being the album of the year!
Whenever we’re releasing a new album, we’re all agreeing that this is like a step up from our previous albums. You have to remember that whenever you make an album it reflects on which stage you are at the moment. Of course, with music it’s a bit theoretical if this is better than that, because it’s up to the people listening to it to determine which feelings they get from it.
Now, I don’t think we would have recorded an album that we felt ourselves was a step down. So, it’s really joyful to see that so many people agree with us that this is another progression in our career. I really have high hopes and feelings about this album, definitely!
When people ask me if it’s a continuation of the two previous albums, my answer is “yes and no”, which is the biggest achievement in my opinion…
"We’re taking a step away from trying to get everything sound perfect, but rather try to make things feel alive in a way"
I think you continue to build on the personality you’ve established, but at the same time you present new elements and new musical landscapes. Would you agree?
I would definitely agree and actually that’s what we’re trying to do! We always want to progress into something new and in many ways it just come natural I guess. Because, whenever we start to make a new album we cannot start with any specific direction before we write the music, it’s just the music that we’re making at that point.
The last years we’ve been releasing an album every second year and ever since we’ve been recording and then we’ve been rehearsing a lot and then we’ve been playing these songs so many times and by doing that I think it’s kind of natural that you can evolve as a musician. It’s just a natural thing that the music we make at a later point in time will be somewhat different.
I was about to say that we are the same people, but over the years we had some lineup changes. I guess some of the elements of our music have been colored by the change of the musicians playing the songs.
But, also, this time around we’ve been looking how to make the album be a bit more organic and how to make all the songs a bit more like they seem to be played live. We recorded a lot more live in the studio and you see more organic instruments instead of only synthetic keyboards. We’ve been using hammond organs and we’ve using Rhodes and also reamping the keyboards and also we had strings live in the studio. We’re taking a step away from trying to get everything sound perfect, but rather try to make things feel alive in a way. At least, I think we’re a step closer to achieving that goal with this album.
"I really like the sound of the word "Malina" and it’s really interesting that it’s not either from English or Norwegian"
Now, I wanted to mention something funny. “Malina” in Greek means “woolen” and usually woolen clothes. Especially, thinking of woolen clothing in August when the album comes out, it’s even more strange, haha… So, what does “Malina” stand for?
Is it wool, like fabric you get from sheep?
That’s interesting. I actually didn’t know that… (laughs). Well, actually the world “malina” is from the Slavic language. A lot of different countries have their base in the Slavic language culture. It means “raspberry”.
The reason for the title was that the song called “Malina” is written about this old woman that I and Einar met while we were on vacations in Georgia. We were actually there together and he saw this old woman that kind of gave him some thoughts about something that he felt he could write something about.
When we sat down and we were deciding what kind of titles we would have for the different songs, some of the songs were obvious what the title would be, while other songs were kind of difficult and it was one of them. Then he remembered that old woman that he had seen. She had been walking around selling raspberries at this market. So, she had been walking around shouting “malina, malina”.
Even though it’s doesn’t really explain itself when you listen to it – I mean, just read the lyrics – I think it was a really cool idea to have it. Also, I really like the sound of the word. It’s really interesting that it’s not either from English or Norwegian or anything we actually know ourselves. I really like that title.
How did Oystein’s departure affect you and what does Robin bring to the table for Leprous? I happen to know him from his band Aspera and he’s a great player. Would you consider taking advantage of his shredding skills in the future?
We are really open to using every aspect of what we are able to do, of course. He’s not only good at solos and shredding, but he’s also a very versatile guitarist and he has a very nice, a very cool touch to his guitar playing. I would say Oystein was also really good at guitar solos and things like that, but they’re different in their sound, which I think you can hear when you listen to “Malina”.
To answer about Oystein’s departure it was not something that we wanted or he wanted, but we just found out that his priorities didn’t really work well. I mean, they didn’t really work together with what it takes to be a full time member of Leprous. He wasn’t really interesting in being a part time member either, which he has been for the last few years. So, it was a really sad decision to make, but in the end we agreed that this was the best thing.
We had used Robin as a step in guitarist for Oystein, on our North American tour last year, in 2016. So, we knew he was a really good player and we knew he went really good along with the band, both musically and socially. So, he was kind of the obvious choice if he wanted to pick up where Oystein left off.
Oystein was a member of the band right up until we were planning to record the guitars of the album. Robin was thrown into it on kind of a short notice. He didn’t have much time to prepare, but I still think he managed to do a very good job. And I think you can hear the very nice and awesome touch he has. He brought a lot to the overall sound of the guitars.
Also, Baard’s playing is shining more and more and becoming kind of trademark in your music. His performance is jaw dropping both on stage and now in the studio. How much energy does this kid have and how do you manage to tame him?
Well, that’s something we’re wondering about as well! I have no idea where he gets this energy from… (laughs). He has like two modes. Either he’s all over the place all the time or he has no energy at all. Not very often the latter…
He’s got so much energy and he’s such a talented drummer. He’s amazing. He’s part of the entire making of this album from the beginning and I think he had a lot more confidence in being a member of the creative process in the band. He actually began touring with us after we recorded “Coal”, so this is his second album as our drummer. Being more secure in the band and finding his place, just having the confidence to just lower the shoulders and do what he had to do best, that was the best thing for him. I think it shines through that he has more confidence in the band now. I’m looking forward to see how it’s developing further.
Now we’re starting to rehearse all the songs of the album – at least some of them for now – and it’s looking really nice when you hear how it sounds live as well. It’s really exciting right now…
"There were so many places that we could add some strings and we were actually planning to see if we could hire an orchestra"
Then, it’s the string arrangements that totally blew me away. They’re placed perfectly in the songs and give a whole new dimension to your music. How did they fit in the making of the album? How did you decide to have them?
At some point in the song writing process, we just did the same that we did “The Congregation”, which is that we made a lot of sketches. We had like thirty song ideas and then we narrowed it down to half, so we had like fifteen sketches. And when we had those fifteen sketches we could hear that some of these (that we had chosen as the best fifteen) were based on the string arrangements. Like, for example, “The Last Milestone”. Also, the ending of “Stuck” and lots of the others as well…
We were kind of just realizing that there were so many places that we could add some strings and to begin with we were actually planning to see if we could hire an orchestra or something. We really didn’t know, cause we never had dealt with something like this before.
We had some violin on “Coal” and some trumpet on one of our previous songs, but this time we actually ended up deciding on who to go for with the strings while we were on our North American tour. Because, when we were playing at Ottawa, in Canada, in October 2016, one of the support bands there was this solo performance by this cellist they called Rahael [editor: Weinroth-Browne] and he blew us away. He had such an amazing energy and attitude and it sounded so big, even though it was just him playing his cello. You could really see that he was so talented in both his improvisation skills and his technical abilities, but also his creativity. So, we just asked him right away - after he had finished his set and before we were playing - if he wanted to take part in our next recording.
So, we flew him over in the studio and he did all the strings actually. Of course, Einar is the main composer of this album and he had made all the string arrangements, but he had sent them over to him, so he could rehearse and make them his own so as to give his own touch to it. I think it ended up sounding really-really good and he adds something to the organic sound that I mentioned earlier we were trying to achieve in this album.
When you have a track like “The Last Milestone” it seems to me that you have to know a thing or two about classical music or maybe about writing movie scores. Did you need any external help for the arrangements of this album?
Actually, for “The Last Milestone” I totally agree with you for the reference to classical music and the way you use it in movies to set the mood, for the musical landscape you try to make. This was a song completely made by Einar. He told me that it was after seeing a movie with a really great soundtrack that he was inspired to make something not to resemble that specific soundtrack, but something to be used in the same way, to make these musical landscapes and set the mood.
This song has a really sad theme to it and you can really feel it. He’s got such a nerve in his vocals as well and he wrote the lyrics to that song. It’s a really meaningful song. You can hear it in the way he sings it. I think it’s one of the most emotional songs we’ve made – I mean that he has made - ever. It’s a really good composition and it’s more like a classical composition actually. And I was really surprised when I heard the way he made the vocal arrangements on it as well, cause when I first heard the composition itself, just the music, I was really fascinated by it, but I couldn’t imagine how it would sound like with lyrics and vocal lines.
To answer your question, that was something that he made on his own and he didn’t have any help, for what I know. But, of course, he’s also listening a lot to classical music, so he’s got a good ear for that kind of music as well.
"Some of our listeners find it very important to have the classical prog metal elements, like have a lot of strange time signatures"
Which track would you point out as the most representative of the sound of “Malina”? I think I’d choose “Stuck”, cause it showcases both sides of your trademark approach and also the new arrangements.
I think it’s really difficult, because it’s really a varied album, as we always kind of had. But, of course, “Stuck” I can see that has got this really catchy feel to it and a really good hook line on the chorus. It has a varied ways of playing guitars and also the fact that it ends with this epic and big string thing kind of merges the songs that don’t have strings with the others that have lots of strings.
I can get it, although I’m expecting that to be one of the songs that people will have varied opinions about. Because, some of our listeners find it very important to have the classical prog metal elements, like have a lot of strange time signatures etc, but then again it’s got some of the other classical prog elements, like for example it’s a longer composition. If you listen to a lot of the 70s prog rock, it’s got more of the merge between rock music and classical music, which is also the feel that “Stuck” has.
We’re just around the corner to release our second music video and single from this album and this will be “Stuck”, but in a radio edit, which means we’re gonna release it without the ending. I’m pretty sure a lot of our followers will kind of react to the fact that this is another rather sort song, not that metal sounding. But, a lot of them after listening to the whole song on the album, first of all they will understand why we would make this radio edit to be the single and then they will be positively surprised when they hear the ending. Because, I actually think that’s the best part of the song…
Even the artwork has a different approach than the previous ones. I know that artwork is always connected to the overall concept you have in mind when you make an album, so please let me know more about it and how it’s connected to the music.
I think this is one of my favorite artworks. As you’ve said, we’ve had pretty different kind of artworks over the years. I also love the artwork that is like hand drawn and painted by Jeff Jordan that we had on “Bilateral” and “Coal”, but also the more photographic kind of cover we had on “The Congregation”.
This time around we went for a completely new artist, Corey Meyers, who also did a lot of the artwork for Between The Buried And Me. It was actually through them, when we toured with them earlier this year that we got a contact with him. He sent over his first thoughts after listening to the album and we really loved what he was trying to do. Then we did some alterations to make it be a bit more in synch with the theme of the album.
If you look you can see this old woman with her basket walking towards this kind of cave, as you see in the distance. That’s the woman that was shouting “malina” that I mentioned earlier…
Not that they are happy or something like that, but lyrics seem to be a bit lighter in comparison to your previous albums. Am I right? Is it a reflection of the state you’re as a band and individually? Is there an overall concept that connects them somehow?
“The Congregation” has more of an overall theme that was about depressive things of the society as it is today. That, of course, colored a lot of the general feeling you had on that album. I think some of the songs on “Malina” have an even sadder feel to it. But, then again, some of the songs aren’t that sad. You can say that “Malina” isn’t necessarily as much a concept like “The Congregation” is. We’ve never really made a very obvious concept album, but this is even less of a concept album than “The Congregation”.
Whenever I write lyrics, I write about whatever comes to mind and it reflects the state I’m in. I also don’t think this is a cheerful or happy album either… (laughs).
Ok Tor, thanks for you time and I really hope you will become frequent visitors to our country to play live here…
We will come back to Greece. I know we have a really big fanbase there and it’s always been a pleasure playing there. We will most definitely come back, even though it’s not been announced for the tour yet. We’re looking forward to come back at some point.