ENTREVUE / INTERVIEW
With: JAN TORE MEGÅRD
ALBUM REVIEW HERE
Serge Marcoux - January 2022
Profilprog (PP): For starter, I really must congratulate you for your new records, « Visions ». It reaches deep in my feelings; I really like it a lot. In fact, I will extend these congratulations to « Remedies » who was among my favorites of 2017.
JAN TORE MEGÅRD (JTM): Thank you very much, Serge. That means a lot.
PP: In Québec, Norway as a formidable reputation for the importance of music, progressive or related, that it produces. There are three million less inhabitants than us and you have more than twice artists or bands associated somehow with the progressive movement. Is there some awareness at home of that music and the importance it may have abroad?
SOUP: I don’t really know. We never felt that we were a part of any movement or milieu in particular. We have loads of friends who are playing jazz, indie rock, retro/stoner rock and more progressive and heavy stuff, and perhaps we are in some way bridging the gaps between them?
PP: Are there music festivals, concert halls or commercial radio station helping the diffusion of the music? Is there such a thing as a progressive/alternative scene in Norway?
SOUP: We haven’t had much success in Norway, so our attention has always been focused outwards. We only just lately were lucky enough to get a feature in a show on Norwegian radio where they played one track in each weekly programme up till the release of Visions. But in Europe it seems to be a whole different story, with lots of enthusiasts who spread the gospel and work hard to promote us.
PP: Are you close to some of the bands or musicians related to progressive or post-rock music? Are you bothered being associated with music genres?
SOUP: Not really. I don’t think anyone of us are listening much to any progressive rock made after 1975, except for Rush, who still had a few great albums in them after ’75. I also feel that the post-rock movement has just died down, and there is hardly any air left in the balloon there, although there used to be a couple of good bands around. In Trondheim we have a legendary band called Motorpsycho, they have been endeavouring in prog rock the last 15 years, and all the while we love them and are heavily influenced by them. I think it’s safe to say it is their early to mid period of their 30-something year long career work that really made a difference for us, when they were just all over the place experimenting. I think our leanings are more towards psychedelic, kraut, alternative rock, and minimalist expressions.
PP: Does it bother you being associated with one or many music genres?
SOUP: We think of our influences as just a big cauldron of different stuff. And while there undoubtedly can be bits and pieces of early Genesis, King Crimson and the spacy-era Pink Floyd in it, there is just as much kraut rock, 80s pop, indie/alternative rock and psychedelic synthesizer music present in our output. I don’t think we would like very much to be labeled either this or that and feel that a scope like that is more limiting than rewarding. We have to admit that it has sometimes been very confusing for us being compared to these neo-prog bands. We don’t consider ourselves very technical, have no songs in weird time signatures and don’t dabble with hi-fi productions, wizardry, goblins, and intricate shredding manoeuvres and generally don’t like the sound of modern prog stuff, it’s just to clean and clinical for our taste. I think people are led to believe that just because we have used Lasse Hoile for artwork, we have something musical in common with all these neo-prog and prog metal bands who have also used him for artwork. Other than that, we can’t really notice anything that resembles each other.
PP: Let us go back a little if I may. Can you give the readers a little summary of Soup’s history? If I am correct, Soup started as a solo project?
SOUP: It started out in 2005 with Erlend going to school in the small town of Volda on the mid-western coast of Norway. He did the first album himself, cutting and pasting everything together. It eventually grew into a band consisting of Erlend’s childhood friends, but after doing the double album “Children of ELB” everyone left to pursue family and secure jobs. In came Ørjan and myself in 2009, and after trying out a few drummers we settled for Thomas Nyborg, who had played in my old post-rock band, Color Me Amazed. He was with us for a few years and played on “The Beauty of Our Youth” and our first tour of Europe and Asia. When Thomas decided to leave when we felt at the height of our abilities and had just won a huge talent award with a considerable money prize, we were back to the drawing board again. Espen Berge emerged as a knight in shining armour, being the perfect man for the job. A ferocious monster of a drummer — and the world’s sweetest guy, just as his predecessor. After some touring as a quartet and discovering the need for a fifth member, my little brother Øystein stepped out of the shadows filling some important holes on guitar, backing vocals and Mellotron. This felt like the band was more complete and able to pull off bigger compositions and more complex instrumentations and distributing the load more evenly between the band members.
PP: Now let us talk about that new record. Please tell about the making. Were you able to record it together or did you work exchanging files? A combination of both.
SOUP: We built a makeshift studio on a farm out on the Fosen peninsula, on the coast a few hours outside Trondheim and recorded the main framework of the album there. Lasse Hoile who did the artwork also came there and lived with us while we recorded. Lots of overdubs, keyboards, strings, and vocals were done in various studios in Trondheim later and the album was mixed by Erlend in his new studio.
PP: How the situation we all go through affected the realisation of the new album? Was the delay between the mastering and the release caused by it?
SOUP: The master was ready before the pandemic hit us, but we had not decided entirely on the packaging and were just about ready to go into production when the shit hit the fan. And while some of us were eager and shared info that the album was coming, it had not been cleared with the record companies who were facing an 8-month lead time from the pressing plant. We tried being out in good time, but when Adele decides to press one million copies of her new album, everyone else is pushed to the back of the line.
PP: Did it influence your inspiration somehow? For example, we heard of artists inspired and others that stopped creating. How did it affect you?
SOUP: If you are talking about the pandemic, I think it has affected every musician. But we have been working on our separate projects after we completed Visions. Some of us have been busy with having children and living domestic lives, education, renovating houses and of course some music has been made. The pandemic didn’t stop us, but it didn’t make it easier either.
PP: What can you tell us more about « Visions »?
SOUP: The album was recorded in bits and pieces. It is already quite a long time ago since we recorded the album. The lyrics and vocals were the last thing to come into the mix. Some backing vocals was recorded inside an old World War II bunker right next to the farm. The reverb was absolutely out of this world in there, and we also did some acoustic guitars and drums and slammed with a huge metal door in there as well. What I can say is that it was a very different way of recording than we have done before. We had a very relaxed and focused way of working while we were at the farm. We took turns cooking for everyone, and while some parts were recorded live, the others could easily go fishing or do something else while one had to noodle around with a guitar part or something like that. Business and pleasure. We spent a lot of time with the sound as well, often distorting stuff through old tube and tape gear. We wanted to distance ourselves from the polished sounds of high-end studio productions, which to us often sound very flat, lifeless, and cold. We wanted the album to stand out, and I think we achieved it in a very cool way. It doesn’t sound anything like your off-the-mill prog album.
PP: Since there are five titles, I think it would be a little different and nice to read what you have to say about each one of them if you please?
SOUP: I really think there isn’t any secret innuendo behind any of these titles, so it’s very hard to come up with a good answer. The lyrics are often personal reflections, and philosophies around various experiences past and present. I can’t go more in-depth than that. For example, I think “Crystalline” is a word that surfaced when pooling ideas for the album title. And it’s just a beautiful word.
PP: « Crystalline » gives me the occasion to ask you about the way you the band often produce crescendos in the music. On this one it goes so strong that the sound becomes harsh, abrasive even, while the listener goes up and up almost begging, if I may say, for the end to come to finally reach the “climax.” Are those crescendos wanted or they just come with the way you are writing?
SOUP: I would suppose they come naturally when it feels right. Not all songs have huge crescendos, and we have tried to be aware not to have the same structure on all songs. We can’t just start quietly and end up in a wall of fuzz and cymbals for every song, but many songs can feel like a journey or contains themes that need to be resolved and find an anchorage. We’ve always written the music before the lyrics, and often recorded all the music before the lyrics and vocals are ready, so everything is kind of directed as a silent movie before the words and themes are applied.
PP: Talking about writing, the songs or pieces of music have often a cinematographic quality to them. They bring you various places, diverse ways. When you write the music, do you let it take or lead you to those places or do you have a destination or a clear path in your head?
SOUP: I guess we just float downriver. It really depends. Some pieces derive from ideas Erlend has made at home, waking up in the middle of the night and getting a melody in his head, and some are results of jams and snippets from the other members. There is no exact science behind any of it.
PP: The aesthetic of the album is once again superb and important. It is also once again the work of the artist, Lasse Hoile. He worked with you for the last four studio albums, notably. Pease tell us about that relationship and what does it mean to you to work with him?
SOUP: Erlend and Lasse became acquainted via MySpace in 2005, and Lasse has made most covers for Soup since then. We’ve met him a few times when he has come to Trondheim, and also when we have played in his native country of Denmark. He is extremely talented at what he does, and he has made a few standouts album covers for us that we are really proud of. I’m sure that working with him has opened a few doors for us.
PP: The cover of « Visions » is different from the other ones, notably the precision and clarity of the images used, the crisp colors. Is it the result of discussions with Lasse or something else?
SOUP: Lasse works in his own mysterious ways. We never ask him for anything specific. This time he sent us hundreds of photos that he took when we recorded the album and he was living with us, and we had a vote over which photos we wanted to use, and Håvard Gjelseth put it all together.
PP: « Remedies » was a record of very few words if we think about the cover. This time you have an extensive list of proper thank you and an endorsement of political and eco-social causes. What motivated those changes this time and how strong are your feelings for those endorsement?
SOUP: We felt it was time to say thank you to everyone who has been involved in one way or another. I think it’s better to try and sum up everything once in a while and remember to say thank you to people who have made a change rather than waiting till we are old, weary, and forgetful. Our endorsements are a minimum of what we should expect from one another, and it feels good to say it out loud. It’s kind of like saying “don’t pollute” and “don’t burn down the fucking rain forest, we might need that.” Be good to each other and take care of the planet. Fix broken stuff instead of buying new stuff each time and take a look up and around once in a while. You probably have beautiful nature and great local produce right at your doorstep.
PP: Talking about words, I have read on the Internet about the album; Apotheosis or swan song, Soup will be releasing their final album as a band and on the cover of the album there is a question mark sentence, it’s been a fine ride. Does it mean a break for a while, a time for different projects or is it the final album?
SOUP: I can say as much as that we are focusing on other stuff for now. Who knows what happens in a while? We’re two years into this pandemic thing already, and it is safe to say that no one knows what tomorrow brings.
PP: Does it means that there are no short-term plans for the band? What about individual projects or participation to other bands or albums for the five of you?
SOUP: Erlend is busy with Giant Sky, Jan Tore and Øystein has been working with several bands on their own label, Wonderful & Strange Records, like The Sideways, The High-Water Marks, Fuckleberry Hinn and Kings of The Valley. Espen has a great band called Woodland, and Ørjan has been busy becoming a father and has just recently moved from Trondheim.
PP: Take care of you and I really hope that like Wobbler, Airbag, Oak or Bjørn Riis, we will be able to see you live in Canada. Or at least, to hear a wonderful new invitation to travel through your visions. The last words are for you.
SOUP: Thanks! Personally, I would love to visit Canada, and hope to do so one day.