Norwegian band Leprous is one the most innovative on the progressive metal scene and they went through a long journey from the early days, when they were Ihsahn’s instrumentalists. Their fifth album Malina pushes their development even further and might have shocked some long term fans, but eventually, its quality beats all doubts. With band’s guitarist Tor Oddmund Suhrke, we spoke not only about their latest album, but also about his creative input within lyrics, personal life, Aristides guitars and physical therapy.
Give us please an idea of the songwriting process on Malina and how would you compare this approach to previous albums?
The songwriting process of Malina was quite similar to the one we used on The Congregation. We started in right after New Year of 2016 and spent the next months creating 30 individual song sketches. Every band member is invited to contribute with ideas or complete sketches, but Einar is by far the main composer of the sketches this time around as well. We then chose half of the sketches to continue working on, which we then did the following months until we finished our US tour, and then went almost straight to the studio after getting back.
Where did you have the most creative input? Great job on background guitar moments, same as individual spaces.
Einar has been the main composer on Malina, but we collaborated in composing From the Flame, and I also wrote most of the lyrics. When it comes to interpreting Einar’s ideas from midi to what is actually possible to play on a guitar, that’s of course also a creative job, since I need to keep the main idea behind the composition while making it sound more like a guitar.
Do you prefer heavy riffs structure or building up atmospheres?
I think the most important thing is the atmosphere we’re building as a band, rather than having cool single riffs, but of course I also like to play those bad ass riffs every now and then as well! Einar is actually pretty good at composing cool guitar riffs as well, even though he doesn’t play guitar. The mix between his ideas, and how this gets “translated” to an actual guitar is often very interesting, because I don’t think many guitarists would think in the same way as he does, which leads to some pretty unique and original guitar riffs.
Give us please more detailed background of your input within lyrics.
On Malina, we haven’t decide on any overall lyrical theme, although some songs are kind of linked in some ways. I often get my inspirations to write lyrics either from current topics that I feel strongly about, or sometime a line or a word can pop into my head and after growing for a while an entire lyric idea can be formed out of it.
My skepticism to synthetic amplification has been erased
What music do you enjoy in your free time? I do feel it’s naturally progressive metal, but I guess it could be also post rock.
I like to keep an open mind, so I listen to all kinds of music, and I wouldn’t say I listen mostly to metal these days actually. I’m pretty bad at discovering music on my own, so I try to check out new releases that are being suggested to me by my band mates, and at home I listen a lot to whatever my wife put on, since she’s the best DJ of us, hehe. This leads to me listening to a lot of great music, but not necessarily knowing what I’ve listened to.
Please tell readers about your gear. Especially your preference for Aristides guitars…
Aristides Guitars is one of my favorite discoveries the last years, and I actually only use their guitars now, both 8-string (080s) and 6-string (020). The 080s is by far the best 8-string I’ve tried to this date, since it is super clear also in the lower frequencies and has amazing sustain. It’s also very meticulously built which is pretty obvious seeing how it persists the hard touring conditions I’m giving it. On my 020, I use the coil split a lot, which work especially well after the new direction we’ve made on Malina when it comes to the more organic and less distorted guitar sound. Discovering this opened up a completely new perspective for me when it comes to guitar sound. I’ve also just started to use a Kemper Profiler for live sound, and my previous skepticism to synthetic amplification has been erased. It’s quite interesting actually that now that I’m using a guitar with no wood, and a profiler amp, I don’t think my guitar has sounded more organic. In combination with the Kemper, I’m also using a tube amp on stage, and I was actually very interested in trying out the Blackstar Artisan 30 combo amp, but due to difficulties in acquiring this, I had to go for a Fender Twin Reverb instead, which of course also sounds great!
Any interesting comments about effects/strings/guitar pics? From what I understood from Baard, in our earlier interview, you guys prefer ear monitors from your countrymen Hantek Audio, is that right?
I’ve always used Ultimate Ears (UE 7) for my In–ear monitoring, and it has been working very well, and their customer service is great. I know some of the other guys have been using Hantek Audio, and they’re very satisfied with some aspects, but not that impressed with other issues, so I think I’ll continue using UE for now. Apart from that I’m still trying to find my optimal strings and picks, although I’m currently using Dunlop Jazz III picks and D’Addario strings, and they’re working pretty well for me. Oh, and I just bought a Strymon Big Sky reverb pedal for this tour, and it’s awesome!
Beauties of life
How do you judge this cover of From The Flame from In The Loop? If I remember, you were all shocked in the band, they managed to do it in less than 48 hours. 😉
That cover was SO impressive, and the fact that they made it in such a short time (wasn’t it 24 hours?), just made it so much more impressive. They’re obviously very talented, and it’s especially the amount of details they managed to pull out of the original and put into their own sound that amazed me!
How do you manage to combine private life and touring life? Does a big role play a support from your wife?
My wife is amazing, and a big support for me. Both of us miss each other (at least I hope) when I’m out on tour, but we both have fulfilling individual lives apart from what we share together, which is a good thing when we’re apart from time to time. Also, the fact that we’re finally able to make more of a living out of touring with Leprous it means we can be even more together when I’m at home which is also very nice. I think more couples could benefit from being a bit apart, because missing each other can be positive to a certain extent, and it just makes the time we’re together even better! <3
Please tell us something about your Physical therapy activities. Sounds as a great job for a touring musician to balance your schedule.
Yes, I’ve been working as a Physical Therapist for 8 years now, and it’s a very interesting occupation that includes meeting and helping a lot of different people. Also, knowing a lot about anatomy and how your body works, is very useful knowledge. I’m employed at a rehabilitation center, and it’s a place where people with orthopedic conditions come, either pre or post-surgery, and I’ve been very lucky with my employers, since they’re always very helpful and understanding when it comes to getting time off to go touring. On tour I always get to practice my occupation, since everyone has something that hurts somewhere on their body especially their lower backs, so I usually find myself having treated the asses of at least half of the tour party before the tour is over. 😉
We’re finally able to make more of a living out of touring with Leprous
Why did you chose to name your latest album “Malina”? I am half Czech, half Yugoslavian (there is a family mixture of Serbian, Croatian and Montenegrin) – in all it means raspberry.
The name “Malina” actually comes from the Slavic meaning of the word: raspberry. The lyrics to the title track are written by Einar, and is inspired by an old woman he saw when we visited Georgia. She was selling raspberries on the local market, and kept yelling “malina”, and the situation she appeared to be in is the back story of that song. You can also see her walking with her basket on the front cover of Malina. The unintended, though very pleasant, consequence of this album title is that wherever we go people are giving us raspberries, which is actually very nice, since I love them!
How do you personally judge more open sound of Leprous on this album. At first, I was little bit shocked, even though I was sort of expecting this direction. But more I listen to this album throughout the last weeks, I love it more and more. Same as the fans, from what I understood.
I like the new sound very much. We have been gradually moving in this direction for a while, and when we went into the studio this time we made a lot of choices that I think influenced the sound in a very positive way. Some things are the move towards using more organic instruments, like the cello and using real Hammond organ and Rhodes, and also recording more of everything live in the studio, but also the change from having a rather distorted guitar sound, and trying to perfect all of the recordings much as possible, to a more clean and pure sound. This also goes for the drums where we’ve used as much of the natural “room” as possible on the drum sound. I think many, like you, have reacted to this with a bit of skepticism to begin with, but when getting used to this, I think most people actually also prefers this direction a lot.
We’ll continue doing what we’ve always done, and try not to think too much about our limitations, but rather aim higher and higher every day
I spoke about this with Steven Wilson recently, same as Anathema many times: Are you satisfied with a reach of Leprous music? I believe your position is getting significantly better with every album. On the other hand, I fully understand Steven Wilson has reached certain peak and in his own classy way trying to reach new listeners. Anathema is the band I would recommend to anyone from my grandmother, neighbor or a colleague. Their music is simply beautiful, but they are sort carrying the weight from their doom metal early days and still have issues to play at pop rock festivals…
As you said, we see that we’re growing bigger and bigger for every release and every tour we’re doing, and I don’t feel we’ve peaked yet. Until that point, I think we’ll continue doing what we’ve always done, and try not to think too much about our limitations, but rather aim higher and higher every day. We’ve said for many years now that we don’t want to be limited to only being part of one specific genre, although I understand people’s desire to label bands that way, but we’ve always been a band that have been able to play festivals for both, prog, extreme metal, rock, and general music, and I think with Malina that to an even bigger extent we might be able to take a step into a more general music genre. It’s not that we don’t want to be affiliated with progressive metal, but we simply realize that with the music we’re trying to create, we’re also appealing to a lot of people that has no connection to that genre at all, and by declaring ourselves as being this kind of band or that kind of band, some potential fans might not be interested in checking us out, and we would like to welcome anyone that likes our music.
Please introduce us your support bands for upcoming European tour.
Agent Fresco is an amazing band from Iceland which consists of very talented and awesome guys, and it’s a delight to be on tour and sharing the tour bus with them!
Alithia is a bad ass band from Australia, and on this tour they’ve brought the great Marjana Semkina (of Iamthemorning). We’re going on an Australian tour with these guys early 2018, and can’t wait!
Astrosaur is an instrumental trio from our hometown of Oslo, and they’re incredibly talented and put on an awesome show every day. Their guitarist, Eirik, was actually our step in guitarist on the 7 week tour we did with Devin Townsend band earlier this year.
The current tour is our most successful so far, and we’re definitely looking positive on the future!
We’re also very much looking forward to returning to Prague in a weeks time!