Leprous, prog metal revelation from Norway

Leprous are a new name on the progressive music scene. The 5 young guys come from Norway, maybe not the most usual place of origin for this kind of music. So far, they released 2 demos and one full length album, and they took their time to record the latter. And, in my personal opinion, they used that time wisely.

I had the honour of interviewing them in Oslo, Norway, a few hours before their performance with Ihsahn, at the Inferno festival, and it was the first time they’d play live songs from Ihsahn’s newest album, After. I enjoyed their company, the guys were in a good mood and I have no idea how the 90 minutes flew by.

May I have a short description of the band? Who are you, how did the band form, and how did it evolve between 2001 and 2010?

Leprous was founded in 2001, as a typical youth band. Einar, Tor Oddmund, and 3 other guys who are not part of the band any more. We played almost something like punk in the beginning. It was a punk band called something else, then we came up with the name Leprous, and then started to play a bit different and tried to define the music into something metal-ish.

Are the demos still available?

We have some copies, CDs, but not on the market.

What made you change that direction?

We were all inspired by metal. We are from Notodden and, of course, we were inspired by bands like Emperor, as all the metalheads from Notodden. We just developed. We haven't set a plan of what kind of music we were thinking of playing, we just came up with some songs. A few years later, the current bassist, Halvor, joined in, and he brought some new influences. He was listening to a lot of prog. And then, a couple of years later, Øystein joined.

We recorded our first demo in 2004. That demo was metal with too much stuff in it. We were not that good at arranging songs, we were just playing them. It was recorded with Ihsahn, and he was like a godfather for it. We used his studio, even if we didn't spend much time doing it. We got a lot of help from him, it would have sounded a lot worse otherwise. In 2006, we recorded a 2 tracks album demo, which was a very instrumental thing. Better than Silent Waters but still…

Music wise, it was kind of everything we could think of in one song, in every song. If we had one riff that was in the same key, we would be like “yea, this has to go in this song”, so we had a song with many, many themes. I think we are better at composing and arranging the music now.

2 years later, we recorded Tall Poppy Syndrome, Tobias has recently joined the band, and the band is finally working really good together.

How is it going with rehearsals? Are you all living in Notodden?

Nobody really lives in Notodden. 2 of us live in Oslo, Einar in England, Tor in Aker, and the bassist lives in Kristiansand. But we have a rehearsal room in Notodden and one in Oslo, at Tobias' school.

This implies some sacrifices when it comes to rehearsing, but actually I think we've been much more efficient in making songs now than before. Einar comes here every 3rd or 2nd weekend, and then we rehearse here, and we’re very much more efficient in making the songs than when we used to rehearse every day. This is a different way of working. You need to make good use of the time. It might be a good thing to have all the time in the world, but like this you are forced to be creative fast.

You also need to practice the songs you play with Ihsahn, and that’s not the easiest thing in the world. How do you manage that as well?

The first way around, we pretty much abandoned Leprous for, like, 6 months. We didn't play at all, we just wanted to grab the opportunity as fast as possible. We practised a lot.

After the first concert, in March, last year (2009), Leprous became a much better band. I think we learned a lot as a live band from playing with Ihsahn, because everything has to be much tighter. We learned to play a lot faster: we have songs that go in a slower tempo, but with Ihsahn the songs go like [automatic gun noise].

It was a good experience for us.

How would you describe your music? Where do influences come from? I read a description in a review characterizing you as the child of Opeth with a Norwegian mother.

image - see following caption
Leprous playing as backing band for Ihsahn, Norway, 2009
Photo: Bjørn Tore Moen

We've been compared to Opeth before, yea. But I don't believe we're a copy by any means. Opeth is way heavier and gloomier than Leprous. We're maybe a bit more melodic. We probably have an Opeth-ish production. It is typical when you have some growling and some clean vocals, people think “Oh, Opeth”. And, of course, everyone in the band has listened to some Opeth, so probably influences come from them.

Our music doesn't sound like Ihsahn, but, of course, we are being influenced by playing with him. We started using 8 strings now, because of the new stuff. That gave us a great opportunity to try something new.

Also, we can blame a lot of progressive bands like King Crimson, new stuff like Porcupine Tree (newer than King Crimson at least, as they are from 1989 or so). Mars Volta, Shining (the Norwegian one). And, especially, Tobias and the bassist are into jazz. Hence the jazz bits in our songs.

How does one come up with the name Leprous for the band?

It was completely random. We kinda had like a brain storm, and we were like 16 years old, and actually I think it was Einar who looked up in a dictionary and said “yes, this word”. We got so used to the name that we didn't want to change it. Even if it's a typical death metal name, rather than a prog name.

Is the current music the one you had in mind when you started the project?

No, we never imagined we'd get so serious. We've always been quite ambitious. Tor never considered it just a hobby, always thought it could be bigger. I think it's important to have a goal like that, or else you wouldn't succeed.

But I wouldn't have expected the music to develop the way it did when we started. When we make songs it's like everybody in the band contributes to how it ends up. We don't have a plan like “now we're supposed to make a song that sounds like this and then we make that”. We just come up with ideas and put them together. We try not to have too many rules when we put a song together, but we are better at saying, like, “we don't want to use special riffs any more”. Before, we always used almost everything made by any of us. Now we are more open, we at least wait to use it in another song, see if the songs sound better on the whole.

Yea, that makes your music not to sound very loaded with too much stuff

Exactly, I guess that's the way we are maturing. And, even though we have a lot of dynamics in our songs, with slow and hard parts combined, we can, like, hear what's not Leprous. Even though we're open to pretty much anything.

The lyrics on this album are rather depressive. Are they based on personal experience or do you pick something to match the music you write? And how does your music writing process usually go? Do you have lyrics ready and come up with a song for them or the other way around?

Tor: I think the lyrics come from my wish to criticize certain values I don't agree with. I just write the lyrics without thinking about music. When we've made the music then we try to make the text fit and we change this or that word to match the rhythm. The meaning of the lyrics is set by me, I can decide how it looks on the paper, but Einar may use it in another way. Maybe he uses different parts of the lyrics in different parts of the songs. But still, when we print the lyrics, it would look the way I meant it to be, so he just interprets the lyrics in his way.

I think it is funny to see how he interprets the lyrics that I made in one way, and then it sounds completely different. And then he asks “is it OK if I use this here”, and maybe for me it doesn't make sense, and we have to find a different way. On Tall Poppy Syndrome, the bassist Halvor wrote 50% of the lyrics, but now it's Tor Oddmund who mainly writes. It was going so slow with Halvor, that they told me “Tor Oddmund, make something”, somebody had to write something.

When it comes to everyone's musical personal taste, what would you mention?

Einar: Jazz, one of my favourite bands is Porcupine Tree, I love the way they combine progressive rock with pop and metal in a very clever way. They are a very good live band as well. I also love Shining, the Norwegian band, very innovative. Mars Volta, I love a lot of classical stuff, jazz like I said.

Tor: I'd probably say the bands that we said earlier that we were influenced by, a lot of the ones he just said. Shining, Porcupine Tree, Mars Volta, Opeth, Emperor…

Did you like Emperor before you started working with Ihsahn? Einar, you’re the one who worked with them, right?

Einar: I worked with them some years ago, but I loved them as a kid, and I got the offer to join them as a session musician, and it was quite big for me at the time.

Tor: I don't think I listened to them when we started playing, but I learned about them. You need to get used to that kind of music. It's not many people who love it the first time they hear it, especially when you are very young. Probably many people who don't listen to metal think that Emperor is something like Judas Priest, something you can't tell a difference form any other rock bands.

Back to musical preferences.

Øystein: I guess I go how everybody goes, with some phases that you listen to this or that. When I started listening to metal it was Iron Maiden, just Iron Maiden, 30 albums. I listen to a lot of jazz these days. I find a lot of metal to be boring and not too creative.

Tobias: I listen to a lot of Norwegian contemporary jazz.

How do you think the album was received? What kind of critique did you get for it?

90% really good. We got really good reviews after it was released and, maybe, just about 10% that would be below 8 out of 10.

What would be the song that you'd call as main song?

On MySpace I think we have Passing as the first song. That's the hit song. But, when we asked people, we heard them mention every song.

(I was whispering White to them). It’s so funny, because we were discussing before we were out playing the 3 concerts tour, and we decided not to play it, because nobody would be interested in it. Then, at every concert, when we told the crowd that we have one more song, everyone was screaming “White! White!”, so everybody wanted to hear that. But you'll hear it on our next shows. It's so long, and we have to cut two other songs to make room for it.

And which song do you like to play best live?

Tor: I think I like some of the new songs best. Like Dare you. It's fun to play. It sounds very hard, but it's not.

Einar: Live I like playing Dare you or Not even a name, since they are quite easy to headbang on. The things I play are not particularly advanced, and I'm not singing all the time, so I'm finally able to do it.

Tor: Another thing I like with Dare you is that you can bang to it, but it's not like 4/4, not a standard so you have to headbang in a different way that nobody can follow. And I like to be able to bang my head even though it's not natural.

You mentioned something about new songs. So is there a new album in the making?

We are nearly finished with all the songs, actually.

Do you plan to have it ready before the tour with Therion starts?

We are aiming for that, but I'm not sure if that's a realistic plan.

But will the crowd get to hear it?

Yea, they'd get a taste probably, but not as many as at the concert from Skuret, because then we just tried out several songs. Normally we don't play 4 new songs at a concert.

That's also another reason that might make us wait, because it's nice to play in front of an audience before you decide about the final form of recording a song. Maybe you want to change something.

For example, we've had the Tall Poppy songs for ages before we recorded them, and they went through many, many changes. Major changes. Passing went through 4 major changes that sounded completely different. It wasn't the same song. The chorus was like double speed or something.

White is actually our oldest song in the album. We made it right after Aeolia. That's why probably White is more like the older songs, it's more rock, more straight forward than the other stuff.

So, in the end, how long did you work on the album?

2 years. Because we recorded Aeolia. We could have been much faster, but our drummer quit, and Tobias replaced him, and we needed some time. And we didn't have anything to force us to record a new CD, or press us to make songs.

Now, we have to come up with new songs for the next release. Back then, we only made songs when we found it appropriate.

And now that you are leaving on tour and to festivals this summer, will you put the recording on hold?

No, not on hold, but we need to sort some things out before we enter the studio. We need to sort out the label situation.

Will you work with Ihsahn again?

We haven't talked about it. There's nothing officially decided.

About the coming tour…

I am quite excited to see how we're going to be received by Therion fans. It's at least thousand people per concert, so probably we can reach some of them, even if Therion is more in a Gothic like direction.

Recently, a metal Norwegian band, Keep of Kalessin, participated in the local Eurovision final. Would you do it if you had the chance?

I don't know if we'd fit in and if we'd be able to make a short enough song. One riff on the song. It's not that I have anything against it, I respect the work they do there, it's just not us and our target.

You have an American label. How come you ended up with a contract across the ocean instead of Europe?

We just sent the album after we recorded it. Sent it around, we got good response from some European ones, but we were not that satisfied. It took so long until they replied, and this other label replied very fast and showed their interest at once. We found out they could do their job, and went with them.

Any words for the fans who are going to see you live?

Come to our show (in Bucharest). We are going to play White. We promise.

We are looking forward to concerts where the crowd is not very spoiled with metal concerts, like the Norwegians are. For example, we are sorry to miss Therion's show in Lithuania, because they don't get so many chances for concerts, and the people show it differently at concerts.

Note for the Romanian fans: at the time of the interview, the concert in Romania hasn't been yet confirmed, but there are chances for a concert with Therion and Leprous this winter, and that shouldn't be missed.

For more about the band, check out their website at http://leprous.net/

By Andrea Chirulescu