Leprous Frontman Einar Solberg: ‘A Big Part Of The Prog Scene Is Very Slow These Days’
The Norwegian rock/metal band return to India this week to headline Livewire at IIT Bombay’s annual cultural festival Mood Indigo
Even in his first interview with Rolling Stone India, Norwegian metal band Leprous’ vocalist and keyboardist Einar Solberg was not afraid to say he’s “quite tired of black metal” and this time around, not much in music is spared either.
Solberg, over the phone from Oslo, says he turned on the progressive metal selection on streaming app Spotify one time and couldn’t tell one song apart from another. “People are following the same template everywhere,” he says. Solberg wishes metal in general wasn’t so “filled up to the max” and left spaces and worked with elements of silence. He adds, “I feel the prog and metal world has more to learn from alternative rock world or maybe jazz. To not play can be very powerful as well, because when you do play, it makes a bigger impact. I feel a lot of metal becomes flat and predictable eventually. Only a few bands manage to touch me now, like it used to be.”
Even while speaking about his upbringing on hip-hop and rap through his early teens, Solberg says “a lot of it is crap now.” For a band like Leprous who have been pushing themselves out of the heavy space into technically-impressive but operatic sort of rock and metal – especially on their 2017 album Malina – their roots are still celebrated by fans. The unsparing, visceral energy on albums such as Coal (2013) and Tall Poppy Syndrome (2009) even saw them as the backing band for black metal veteran Ihsahn. It brought Leprous to Bangalore Open Air in 2013, marking their India debut.
Five years on, the band returns to headline IIT Bombay’s annual cultural festival Mood Indigo’s Livewire on December 28th. They’re no longer Ihsahn’s backing band and have in fact gained massive acclaim around the globe for their boundary-pushing sound, which can be tender and pulverizing all in the span of a few minutes. In an interview with Rolling Stone India, Solberg talks about returning to India, his hip-hop roots and more. Excerpts:
What was your last time in India like with Ihsahn and Bangalore Open Air?
That was really great. It’s been a long time since then and so much has happened. I remember it was a great experience we had in India, the crowd was awesome. I loved Indian food because it’s my favorite food (laughs).
So much has changed since the last time you’ve visited India, right? Leprous has really come into its own.
Yeah, very much so. Now people don’t see us as Ihsahn’s backing band any more. Actually a big part of our crowd doesn’t even know who Ihsahn is (laughs). Clearly we’ve got more from the prog side of the crowd. He has that too, but he comes from the black metal background. Even though we love that connection with him, it’s nice to know that we’re our own band. Most places that are common to tour – like U.S. and Europe, Australia and Japan – we’re doing Latin America now, that’s awesome – it’s all doing well. We can finally live from doing this.
A lot of people surprisingly didn’t know you had performed in India before, really says something about music consumption, doesn’t it?
Yeah. Definitely. It happens to us all the time. Even on this tour in U.S. that we did just now, there’d be people going, ‘Oh damn it, you didn’t come to New York City.’ Man, we just played there! And then it goes, ‘Oh that was further up New York.’ No, we played New York City, a few weeks ago (laughs). People don’t have that same attention span, you need to really… of course you have the hardcore fans and they will notice whatever move you make with the band, so you don’t have worry about them. They’re not the ones filling up the venues, you know? It’s super important to be very active on social media and constantly reminding people.
Touring is such a big part of bands and the economy these days and there are so many bands touring at the same time. Even in the same city, you’re very likely to clash with several other bands on the same night. It happens to us every single tour! There’ll be Opeth, Devin Townsend and Ghost and Behemoth. You’re bound to do that when you tour in the fall or spring.
How do you feel about playing shows close to Christmas time which is usually the time everyone spends with family?
For some people, it’s like that. It’s not necessarily due to Christmas, but due to some personal reasons we’ll have a step-in bass player in India. It was pretty short notice when we got the offer so Simen (Børven, bassist) couldn’t do the show, in the midst of relentless touring, so I think he just had other plans. The fans shouldn’t worry, we have an amazing replacement.
I like spending time with my family at Christmas, but probably only on Christmas eve and then I can knock off and do something else. As most active musicians who live out of making their own music, it’s very common to have the band as a super high priority. I have never turned down an offer based on holidays, at least. I would never do that.
I was reading an interview where you mentioned you were growing up on a lot of hip-hop and rap as a teenager – what kind of imprint did it leave on you when you began writing music?
Anything with lots of testosterone when I was a teenager was like, ‘Yeah! This is good.’ (laughs) I would definitely think it left an imprint on me for sure. Some things you just listen to as a kid and then it passes, but I was very passionately into rap and hip-hop. That was my thing. It wasn’t something I randomly listened to, it was something I was very actively listening to and super interested in.
A lot of it is crap now, I think, but some of it I still really enjoy. It has an attitude that’s unique for me. I’m still very into Cypress Hill and Tupac Shakur. I listen to that quite a lot, actually. For me, that kind of genre thing… when I was in my late teens and I’d started listening to extreme metal, I identified very much with genres. In a way that went, ‘Okay, now I listen to this because that’s what extreme and heavy enough.’ Of course, it was only bullshit I told myself, but that’s youth. They identify as something very often.
But I feel like a lot of people stay like that. That identity thing is more important than the actual music. That has never been my case. As a grown up, now I think a big part of the progressive scene is very slow these days. There’s not much new going on.
Something like prog metal or metal in general… it’s so filled up, to the max constantly. There is no laying off, not playing for a while. Everyone has to play all the time, which leaves very little. I feel the prog and metal world has more to learn from alternative rock world or maybe jazz. To not play can be very powerful as well, because when you do play, it makes a bigger impact. I feel a lot of metal becomes flat and predictable eventually. Only a few bands manage to touch me now, like it used to be.
Watch Leprous perform “Contaminate Me” live with Ihsahn.
You mentioned in another interview that vocals are usually the last thing added in a song, usually something you figure out when you’re listening to the files in your car. That sounds kind of dangerous.
(laughs) I’m not good at multi-tasking, except with music and singing. I can do that and still pay attention to what I’m doing outside. At the moment, I don’t have a car because I don’t need it where I live in Oslo. It’s way easier with public transportation. Whenever I need a car, I just rent it, it’s way cheaper.
So at the moment I don’t drive that much, but some of the songs we’re working on now, I did the vocal lines way earlier. Some of the songs are more or less built around it. There is always something new going on, luckily. Once you find your method, it’s about finding a new one (laughs). I’ve always been very aware of not falling into routines.
What’s coming up through 2019?
It’s probably not very surprising, but we’re in writing mode now and we’ve come quite far with it already. We’re probably going to start recording sometime quite soon and we have a Latin America tour and we’re playing The Congregation in its entirety at a festival in Netherlands and we’re doing Malta. Didn’t know that anyone played there (laughs).
The new album is going to be the main thing and we’ll probably talk more about that another time, but for now it seems to take a pretty controversial direction at least (laughs).
Leprous and Aswekeepsearching perform at IIT Bombay Mood Indigo’s Livewire nite on December 28th. Entry: Rs 499. Buy tickets here.