For those of you unfamiliar with the progressive music coming out of Scandinavia in the past few decades, I strongly advise you to repent, open your wallets and make some purchases very soon. After progressive music’s artistic nosedive in the 80’s, a decade with a few gems but generally slim pickings in the genre, bands from places like Sweden and Norway paved the way in the early-to-mid 90’s in a revival of the 70’s spirit. But these early groups, including greats like Änglagård, Anekdoten and White Willow, didn’t just copy the 70’s sound; they added their own creativity, launching the progressive genre into a new era and providing inspiration for more music to come. Why the history lesson? Because I was able to catch up with White Willow’s own Jacob Holm-Lupo, (sort of) fresh out of the studio and getting ready to present the band’s sixth album, Terminal Twilight, to the world on October 11 (the chosen people of Norway can get it on October 7). Without further ado… THE INTERVIEW:
– I know it’s only been a short time since its composition and recording, but how do you feel about the new record? Can you rank it against your previous albums?
I feel quite good about it, actually. The last album you make is always the one you feel best about, or course (otherwise you’d be in trouble…), but there are some things with “Terminal Twilight” that just feel sort of objectively better than stuff we’ve done before. It’s got an element of playfulness and adventurousness, and there’s a looseness and grace to the performances that I really dig. It’s hard to rate it against previous albums, because they’re all so different, but it has a unity of atmosphere that is maybe similar to “Storm Season”, and yet this is a stranger, more personal and intimate record than “Storm Season”.
– The production quality on Terminal Twilight is stellar. Did you guys try anything new in the studio this time around?
Well, this is the first album White Willow has made without a professional studio. The last album, “Signal to Noise”, was made with a super-producer and everything, so this time I wanted to go in the opposite direction. It’s mostly been recorded on my laptop with a few microphones, and Mattias’ drums are recorded on a couple of daisy-chained digital portastudios. There’s not much in the way of processing, and very little fancy equipment used, so you get a bit of a live feel, with a natural swing and also a lot of natural ambience around the instruments. It’s kind of funny that the cheapest, most primitive recording we’ve made is also in my opinion the coolest-sounding. A lesson to be learnt there…
– I noticed immediately that longtime vocalist Sylvia Erichsen is back after her hiatus from the band during Signal to Noise. What effect, if any, does her voice have in making the “White Willow” sound? What is it like having her back in rehearsals and in the studio?
I was very glad to have her back. She came into the band back in 1997-98, so to me she is an integral part of the band and the sound. When I write White Willow songs, I always write them with her voice in mind, so naturally it was great for me to get her to sing my stuff again. The thing is, when she sings it, it stops being my stuff, she turns it into something else, and I like that. I think she has also matured and grown as a singer since her last White Willow album.
– What was your primary songwriting influence, if any, for the new album? Had you been reading any good books or watching any films in the last year or two that might have contributed to Terminal Twilight’s sound or direction?
Ooh, probably tons, but I can’t remember now. Literature is always a big influence on me, probably as much as music. Authors like J.G. Ballard, Samuel Delaney, William Gibson and Philip K. Dick are always in the back of my head when I write. And this album has a lot of that twisted, dystopian imagery in it, so it is quite… literary, I guess. But there have also been some musical influences – I revisited some of my old prog loves, like mid-70s/late 70’s Genesis, Vangelis, some Italian prog, some Henry Cow, even. Yeah, memory lane, a little…
– I’ve liked flute in my music since the first time I heard Jethro Tull, but I didn’t really fall in love with it until I started getting into Scandinavian progressive music. What did you think of Ketil Vestrum Einarsen’s parts in the new album and how they fit into the composition?
Ketil’s flute is always essential in our music. He pretty much has free reins, recording all over the place, and then I cherry-pick his best parts. This time around he synced with the playful nature of some of the music, and did some pretty angular and weird stuff, but he also got back in the really lyrical mode that he was in on an album like “Sacrament”, so he does some amazingly beautiful solos here as well. I guess I’m biased, but I think Ketil is the best rock flautist around these days.
– How has new bassist Ellen Andrea Wang been fitting it with the band? Can you tell us about any strange quirks she has or any funny things she’s done/said since joining?
Ellen is really pleasant to work with. She picks stuff up super-quickly and always adds a little touch of her own. I don’t know about quirks, really. The thing I find interesting about Ellen is that she is a Christian – and White Willow is a pretty misotheistic band – but she seems OK with it. Apart from that it’s fun to work with someone who doesn’t really have prior experience with prog. She doesn’t know “the rules”, and that’s a very good thing. The rest of us, we know them too damn well!
– Mattias Olsson on drums! What’s it like composing, rehearsing and recording with the legend himself?
Heh! Mattias is one of a kind. He’s slightly demented, musically, and that’s exactly what White Willow needs. I tend to be quite formalistic and overly structured, and he brings some much-needed chaos with all his effect boxes and strange instruments. And as a drummer he is fantastic. I don’t know anyone who plays more appropriate drums to our music than he does. He has an instinctive understanding of the music that is invaluable. It’s very nice to have him back in the band!
– This one’s for me and Matt: Out of all Lars’ vintage keyboards used in the album, which is your favorite?
Oh, that’s almost impossible to answer – I love ’em all. But I guess on this album the instruments I feel we really couldn’t have done without were the ARP Pro-Soloist, for that tremolous, reedy lead sound, the Prophet, for the phat chords, and the Hammond, for putting a little rock into the mix. Also, the Chamberlin sounds wonderful on “Searise”.
– What food and drink did the band have the most while the album was being recorded? Which of the members eats the strangest foods?
Mattias likes bad Chinese food. It’s like a food fetish, I think. Lars likes sushi, which I don’t. Personally, I make the best music if I have a good supply of cupcakes, tea with honey, and plenty of beer. Beer was particularly important for “Searise”. As for Ketil, he exists on a different plane than us, the higher spheres of gastronomical gnosis. He can cook like the best of them!
– Which member is most likely to start up a heated political or philosophical debate during rehearsal or while hanging out?
Absolutely without a doubt Ketil. He is also the band member most likely to become prime minister of Norway one day.
– Who’s the funniest member of the group?
Equally without a doubt, Mattias. Ask him to demonstrate that much-loved Mellotron sound, the Shemale Choir.