Norwegian notorious progressive metal band Leprous strikes back with their new album, Malina (InsideOut Music, 2017). Rock Culture has had the chance to talk with Baard Kolstad, drummer of the band, about this new release, his career and his side projects.
In 2013, you started to work with Leprous and just one year later you officially joined in the band. During this four years, Leprous has released two studio albums and a live DVD. In this time, the band has done more than five tours over Europe, Asia and United States. In retrospect, what can you tell us about this years of intense and constant work with the band?
I think you already said the word: it’s a constant work. Leprous is a very hard working band. It’s kind of the most serious thing in the members life. So it has been very inspiring, but it has been hard worked and not so much paid back yet, if you understand what I mean. We still invest and we hope it can be something we can life for and life about. The toughest days in my life has been in the studio with Leprous. Two times. And that’s because I dedicate so much of myself when I go in the studio. For me, recording albums is the most important thing ever to do for a band. The album is what defines the band for what it is and what people are gonna listen to for so long time. We’re really excited to be the headliners of the upcoming tour. It’s kind of a statement for the band: “we are the best we’ve ever be”.
Returning to the present, Leprous released Malina a few days ago. The new album is more organic, open and alive than The Congregation or Coal. Not only in which refers to the songwriting, but also regarding the sound itself. What has this new sound direction allowed you to do in the writing and recording process?
First of all, I honestly think both Coal and The Congregation are pretty much organic compared to lot of other metal bands. But on this album we worked so much on the sounds while we recorded it because we didn’t want anything dramatically to happen in the mix. That’s very often in rock and metal bands: you record the instruments and we you send it to the mix, it turns out very different. This time we were so happy with all the sounds we put it before the mix that we told the mix engineer that we didn’t want excessive changes in the final product. The room we play the drums was a big one with that nice natural sound reverb. The guitar sound is less distorted. And also the synths are more like Hammond organs, Rhodes pianos… not so much like electronic synthesizers. That maybe made the mix more organic.
How has been the experience of working with David Castillo as producer?
Oh, very very good. We already worked with him for the first time during The Congregation. Then we recorded the drums. Everybody was so happy with him and the way he worked. I was so nervous before doing my first record with Leprous, but he put so much passion during the drums recording. So then we decided that in this album we will use David on everything: he did the vocals, he did all the guitars, all the basses, all the synths… He did everything. And we are very very happy with his services and the effort he put down for such a nice price.
Malina is your second studio release with Leprous and we can hear a clear difference between this new album and The Congregation, especially on the songwriting of the drums. Malina is full of memorable and relative “easy to remember” drums parts despite its huge complexity. How do rate this balance comparing Malina to The Congregation?
I’ve grown a lot last three years as a drummer, and also as a drummer for Leprous. One thing is to be a technical player and other thing is to do the songwriting for the drums in an album. On The Congregation, lots of the drums parts were, more or less, written by Einar. Not all drums parts, but lots of them. This time I wanted to not even listen to what he had been writing in a first place; just to open up my creativity as much as possible. The drums parts on the chorus of Captive and on the beginning of Coma, for instance, are still coming from Einar’s ideas. But, more or less, the rest is written by me. I tried to find parts that you can remember, that make sense for the song and put a signature or a character to the song. That’s what I aimed for.
Honestly, I think Malina is a very well-balanced album from which you can’t easily choose only one best song. Maybe If I had to I think would maybe pick Illuminate and Mirage. Which songs would you choose from Malina? What can you tell us about them?
First of all, thank you. Illuminate was the only song that I co-wrote. I wrote the main groove without even knowing about any melody or anything. And then Einar put on his magic on it. That’s the only song on the album that is based on a drum groove, so I’m really happy with that. And about my favourites songs…. I think From the Flame has definitively the best chorus or the strongest chorus, but I also like Bonneville. It depends of my mood, actually. I also like a lot The Weight of Disaster. It’s hard to choose, so let’s see what works best live.
This autumn Leprous will be touring all over Europe and will be playing here in Spain on 9th and 10th november. Are you going to adapt the old songs to this new album sound?
Yes and no. I think we still respect our earlier songs just as they are. If I put on The Price, from The Congregation, after relistening to Malina, I think it sounds really really cool, because it’s different, but I don’t want that. I can not change the drum kit during the set, but we will work nicely with our sound engineer to make each song gets the best sound possible.
Why did you choose Agent Fresco as your support band for the shows? We are big fans of this band and really appreciate a lot this choice.
Oh, nothing to thank. We love them as well. [Laughs] Me and Einar checked out their live show for the first time in october last year, and we were totally blown away. We already knew their music and they were on the same booking agency, so we said: “Hey, let’s make this happens”.
In addition to Leprous, you play drums on many different projects like Borknagar, ICS Vortex, Rendezvous Point and DJ&DRUMS. How do you manage this situation of being part of so many active and distinct bands?
Yesterday I recorded a music video for In Vain as well. And also, one week ago, I played a concert for Gaahls Wyrd. So you actually forgot to mention something. [Laughs] But, for instance, I haven’t done anything with ICS Vortex in the last two years. So it doesn’t take any time at all and I haven’t been playing on any albums. Borknagar have been pretty active this year but they don’t rehearse. It’s only some gigs here and there and I’m a full time musician, so it works really nice. My main projects now are Leprous, Rendezvous Point and DJ&DRUMS. That’s what I work with most of my time. I just recorded the drums for the new Rendezvous Point album, so I’m really excited to see how this will continue.
You have been doing a few shows in Norway with DJ&DRUMS this summer. We would like you to tell us about this unique and special project. How the public reacted so far to your live performances?
Most of the people are totally blown away when we do these shows, to be honest. Leprous, Rendezvous Point and that kind of music doesn’t appeal to the normal guy in the street. And that’s never the intention either, you know. But with DJ&DRUMS we can play not too commercial music and it’s appeals more to the normal dude in the street. They just stand at the show with their mouth open saying: “What the hell is going on?”. It’s so cool because the DJ plays analog, with vinyls and its scratches, and we can combine that old school DJ jamming with my background, which is prog, metal, rock… We make people dance and we make people just stand and feel the groove, but we also do that hard and metal or dubstep inspired stuff that’s it’s just heavy and varied. So it’s a very exciting project and I’m really glad that it looks like it’s kind of a exception in the prog and metal scene, because of course it’s something completely different, musically speaking.
This is a more personal question. In your Facebook profile we can see you name as an influence drummers like Gavin Harrison, Mike Portnoy and Thomas Lang. What role have had these musicians in your evolution as a drummer?
I think that I’ve got to update that list, actually. Thanks for remind me because that’s from, like, five years ago. But sure, Gavin Harrison is a very important inspiration. Now I’m 25 years old and when I was 18-19 I started to study him and his kind of revolutionary way of thinking groove and ghost notes to make things thigh. Mike Portnoy, of course, was a big big inspiration. And Thomas Lang, also. When I was 15 years old I got a Thomas Lang DVD from my sister and I started to study him. He also revolutionized my way of having creative control. But in the later days, there are lots of gospel drummers that really inspired me, like Chris Coleman or Chris Dave, which is not just a gospel drummer but neither a metal or prog drummer. Also Terry Bozzio and his work with Frank Zappa. He hits so hard, with so much passion… That’s how all metal drummers should play in my opinion. So… I really try get inspired everywhere.
One last brief question. Which current drummers or bands are your favourites or do you listen the most?
Mmm… I love Tomas Haake and Meshuggah, but I don’t listen to them a lot. Today I’ve listened to Anderson .Paak, that’s more hip hop or soul music. He’s a drummer and a singer, and he’s very interesting. Agent Fresco, of course, I listen to them a lot. Also the new Steven Wilson album. I think Craig Blundell [the drummer for new Steven Wilson album] does a great great job. He’s a personal friend of mine. And Gavin Harrison, of course. I’m a big fan of Porcupine Tree. So sad that they had to quit, but… That’s all, I think.