INTERVIEW: Tor Oddmund Suhrke – Leprous

LEPROUS have never been a band to rest on their accomplishments and since the release of The Congregation in 2015 they have continued to constantly prove why they are one of the biggest driving forces in the progressive movement. Releasing their performance at the Rockefeller Music Hall on DVD last year only reinforced that statement further with their meticulously efficient live show which very few bands can match. With new album Malina on the horizon we caught up with guitarist and founding member Tor to get some insight on the new album and what the future holds for the Norwegian powerhouse.

How do you feel you have progressed as a band since the release of The Congregation?

Tor: Since its release we have toured quite a lot and it has been good to see the reactions from the crowd. We have played a lot of the material from The Congregation live now so we are looking to push ourselves and constantly improve on our writing. Einar, our frontman is responsible for most of the arranging of the songs, he is the main engine when it comes to writing music but everyone has something to say and it’s kind of like a democracy anyway. If someone has something to contribute we will all get together and talk about it and during the recording process everyone colours the songs in their own way.

LEPROUS have a new album due for release, are there any particular concepts you wanted to get across?

Tor: The album as a whole isn’t necessarily one entire concept but several different concepts when it comes to the lyrics and the themes. During the last few albums we haven’t been known for making very happy music [laughs]. There are some quite melancholic vibes on this album as well but what makes this album sound a lot more comprehensive is the dynamics and has a more collective sound, it’s a bit more organic than a lot of our previous albums. Most of the songs are recorded live and we used a lot more organic instruments for example instead of using a synthesizer we used a Hammond Organ. We recorded a lot more of the guitars live too. We have toned down the amount of distortion we used.

Yeah, that was one aspect that was particularly noticeable on first inspection, the instruments all seem very clear and edgier which definitely aids your style of playing.

Tor: Yeah! It feels a lot more open and less compressed, the way the drums are mixed it gives everything a lot more room without losing any energy. I think it’s got a very interesting sound

One aspect that made me fall in love with your music is that it feels very personable and full of emotion, has this always been your aim or is this just a natural product of your writing?

Tor: Particularly the last couple of albums the themes and lyrics are definitely a lot more personal, a lot of the lyrics wrote by Einar on this album have got a lot of personal meaning to him. You can hear the nerve in his voice when he is singing, it kind of gives you an extra vibe to the whole listening experience.

LEPROUS have just recently released From The Flame how do you feel this has been received so far?

Tor: I think it’s been received quite as I expected, by that I mean some of our existing fans are wondering why it has less of the typical progressive elements and is a bit more catchy. It’s quite funny as some are saying it’s more ‘poppy’ and less progressive but the verse is written in a 13/8 time signature which is not exactly a popular choice! It’s not always about being difficult or being difficult to listen to. We have always tried to focus on the mood when we compose songs. A lot of people are reacting in a positive way which is what we had hoped for so all in all I think it’s been a very well received single and it’s not necessarily a representative of the entire album just one part of it.

One of my initial questions before hearing the album was I was quite intrigued upon hearing the album took about four times as long to record the new album but after hearing the final track The Last Milestone it became quickly evident! It has all the qualities of a high budget film score!

Tor: Yeah! It’s funny you should say that as Einar made that arrangement and he got inspired to make that song after watching a movie! [laughs]. The point of movie music is kind of like a soundtrack, its supposed to give you a certain mood to accompany the movie and that’s kind of the same thing we are trying to do too, to make you feel something when you are listening to the music. That track definitely took a lot of time to create in the studio and I think it came out sounding really really good!

My girlfriend overheard when I was listening to it and was like ‘Wow, what’s this? That sounds awesome!’ She had no idea whether it was a film soundtrack or a band!

Tor: [laughs] That’s really cool! Even though we are kind of from the progressive scene and the metal scene its not been very important for us to belong to any specific genre. I understand it’s easy for several reasons for people to categorise us in that kind of ball park. When one song is taken out of its regular place and shown to someone who maybe doesn’t listen to either prog or metal at all then it’s been my impression from all of our previous albums that we have had some songs which could have been liked by many different people but because we are categorised as such some people maybe have not dug into our music to see if there is anything they like.

What keeps you inspired and motivated to continue to write music?

Tor: The nice thing about music is the general circle of making music, recording, touring and playing music then wanting to continue and you soon realise to do that you need to keep writing as you can’t play the same songs forever! When you have played the same thing over and over you kind of get…tired of it [laughs]. To be able to continue doing this you need to keep things interesting for people, there is so much music coming out these days it is easy to be forgotten if you are not continuously coming up with new material and being visible. I love every aspect of the process, I don’t think I could just write music or only tour and to have the dynamics of our album cycles and not be on the road all the time gives us the opportunity to be at home with our families and be a regular person which I really appreciate as well.

Oh definitely, you need to have the right balance of your personal life as well as your musical career.

Tor: Yeah definitely. I don’t feel the need to separate them both too much but I don’t think I would have enjoyed spending most of my life on the road. I like being at home and being a normal person in Norway. When you’re on tour you get everything handed to you. We’re pretty hard working people so we like to have things to do and not doing the same thing all the time.

When you’re writing a record do you collectively get together and start forming material or is it more of a developing process where you write material over time, on the road etc?

Tor: On the last two albums we have had the same kind of approach to writing the songs. Our thoughts have been to gather about 30 sketches of songs and meet up together to discuss them. We used to go to the rehearsal room and if anyone has any ideas we will throw them back and forth and maybe end up with something but that way wasn’t very efficient. If you had an idea you would most probably end up using it as you had spent so much time trying to develop it and it would become harder and harder to just throw it away [laughs]. Even if it didn’t really have that much potential. Just before the start of the year we decided every week we would have two new sketches and giving us this amount of time would pretty much ensure you would have enough sketches that would be good enough to develop further. So after 15 weeks we had 30 sketches and we listened to them together to see if we could develop them further. We kind of voted on them to see which half of them we would continue working on and which half we would set aside. Einar did a lot of the arranging of the songs and at this point in time we had so many other projects going on like touring in Australia, Japan, Europe and then we had the live recording for our DVD in Oslo. We also had a North American tour in the fall so we kind of had to juggle everything.

..So you basically haven’t stopped! [laughs]

Tor: [laughs] Yeah! During the writing we parted ways with our guitarist who had been with us for over 10 years just before we were about to record the album. We got our new guitarist Robin and he had a very nice contribution to the album, he didn’t contribute to the actual writing of the album but he had a big contribution to the recording process. In the studio you get recordings down and then you show it to each other and they may be like ‘hey, maybe try this instead?’ so a lot of decisions are made in the studio.

So when you had amassed the 30 sketches did you find you were mostly in agreement or did it spark a debate on what was to progress to the album?

Tor: Some of them everyone agreed and others.. We arranged them into our top, middle and bottom ten and kind of allocated it a points system to determine which would progress. Most of them were collectively agreed on but some of our top tens were in the others bottom tens! We had to have a bit of discussion but there weren’t very big discussions to be honest. There were a couple we were undecided on as a group but we ended up choosing both of them and a few we weren’t in complete agreement on made it to the album. The 15 other sketches we had remaining we probably could have made something out of those as well! It’s nice to be able to choose and have some spare songs that you can maybe use at a later point.

LEPROUS have got extensive touring planned for the remainder of 2017 are there any places you are particularly loving forward to playing?

Tor: In general I really enjoy touring in Europe. We have got to that point now where we can play the bigger venues and have bigger crowds. We have already seen that our pre-sales are doing very well and better than ever before and we may be looking at some sold out shows which looks promising. We have been many times to the places we are touring but that’s not a bad thing by any means. We just know have a better idea of what to expect now. We are always looking forward to touring but one of the places we are really exciting about is Dublin as we have only played Ireland once. It’s not really on the way to anywhere so it’s not generally on the plans for tours but its nice to be able to go back there.

I’m sure your Irish fans will be very happy to hear that. I saw you guys supporting DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT and TESSERACT in Glasgow on your last tour and it was nice to see a lot of people show up early to see you and get such a good reaction.

Tor: Ah cool! I remember I wasn’t feeling very well that day!

…well it didn’t show!

Tor: I had had the flu for a couple of weeks but I remember we had a really good time. We got some scotch whiskey from some people which helped! [laughs].

It was quite funny as I travelled to see GOJIRA the following night in Newcastle and saw you guys hanging out by the sound desk!

Tor: Oh yeah! That’s right! We had a day off and our sound guy is really good friends with the sound guy from GOJIRA so he got us access. I really like GOJIRA so it was good to see them and hang out.

Are there any plans to debut the new material on the upcoming tours?

Tor: Yeah definitely, our initial plan is to play all of it at some point. We have a lot of songs that we want to play and of course songs that the fans want to hear. We will have some songs in our sets that we will always play but we are thinking of having some variations from day to day both for our sake so we don’t get too comfortable or into any kind of routine when it comes to play but also for the audience as it makes it a bit more special for them! Even though you may have seen setlists from previous shows it makes things a bit more exciting. It would be a good chance for us to play some rare songs or lesser played songs.

Are there any particular songs you are looking forward to playing live?

Tor: We have just finished a music video for our second release from the Malina album which is called Stuck so that is the song I have in my mind right now as we have been rehearsing it a lot together recently. We have played From The Flame live a couple of times already so I’m looking forward to playing Stuck when we get the chance, obviously after it has been released. It’s a really cool song!

Definitely, I have listened to the album a few times now and I think every time I have listened to it my favourite song has changed.

Tor: Ah yeah, me too! I think its very difficult to pick one song in particular. They give you a lot of different thoughts and feelings and I think it very much depends on what mood you are in at the time.

So how do you keep yourselves occupied during your downtime on the road?

Tor: I always think I have way more time than I actually have! It’s really difficult to have time to do anything as you are always with people so sometimes I do like time to be on my own and read a book or keep up with my accounting.

All the exciting stuff! [laughs]

Tor: [laughs] Oh yeah, also I love to check out the cities we are in, we have been to a lot of the places we are coming to on the upcoming tours but I am hoping to explore more. Touring doesn’t feel that much of a new experience any more as we know what to expect. We don’t have that many off days so we won’t have much time to waste!

When you first formed LEPROUS over 15 years ago did you ever experience to grow in popularity as much as you have?

Tor: We have never really had any limits to where we see ourselves, I have now played in LEPROUS for over half my life because we started when I was 15. We started playing and we just never really stopped! It’s been going slowly and steadily in the right direction and hopefully it won’t stop any time soon. We have always been very motivated to make things happen but you never know! It’s a good thing to have an open mind and be prepared for anything. I’m very happy to see how far we have come and that we have been able to make a living from it.

Thank you so much for your time Tor, just one final question. Do you have anything you would like to say to the readers of Distorted Sound?

Tor: Well I maybe should say sorry for turning down my distortion on my guitar! [laughs]. I really hope you check out Malina and even though you have heard it may not be as ‘metal’ it’s still got that LEPROUS sound and I’m interested to see how people feel about the new material and if they can see past the labelling of the genre and see the music for what it is! I also hope to see some people at our UK dates in the fall.

Excellent, thanks again. Take care!

Tor: Thank you, take care.

Malina is due for release on August 25th via InsideOut Music.

Like LEPROUS on Facebook.