|Pagan's Mind was founded in 2000 by a collection of musicians who'd had their fill of cover bands and wanted to start something fresh. Nine years later, Pagan's Mind heads up a new generation of power/progressive bands from Norway by building upon the country's legendary past: the lyrical grace of Conception, the progressive chops of Spiral Architect, and TNT's rocking 80s flair. The result is uniquely compelling, and has landed the band three progressively higher slots at the ProgPower USA festival in Georgia. After this year's appearance, they set off on their first US tour as support to Stratovarius, rocking Canadian and East Coast audiences like the headliners they will soon surely be. After their performance in Chicagoland, Maximum Metal caught up with guitarist Jorn Viggo Lofstad on the band's tour bus for an extended chat. Stian Kristofferson (drums), the puckish Ronny Tegner (keyboards), and Nils Rue (vocals) also pop in from time to time for a discussion ranging from the band's history, work to date, their iconic sources of inspiration, and the magic that takes place when Kiss meets Toto.|
MM: So, this is your third time in the US now?
Jorn Viggo Lofstad: Fourth. I've been here once with Jorn.
MM: Oh, that's right. And this is your first full tour—
Jorn Viggo Lofstad: This is the first full tour with Pagan's Mind.
MM: So how's it been so far?
|If you ask me what Pagan's Mind is all about I would say melodic metal with progressive elements...It was just something that happened when we started.|
Jorn: Overall, it's been beyond our expectations. Some of the places we have done are fantastic theaters and big places, like the Nokia Theater in New York. Some of the venues in Canada were wonderful, too. And a lot of people have showed up. I think, maybe, today was the smallest venue that we've had so far, but the people here today were fantastic. I'm very surprised to see that, in fact. Did you see the PA speakers today, and how many people were in front of them? What do they listen to? They are listening to our monitor sound. So, to give us that good of feedback without actually hearing any good mix is fantastic. There were different circumstances today, but the crowd was fantastic.
MM: There were indeed some strange circumstances for why the show ended up here [The Pyramid Club in Addison, IL]. It was originally at The Pearl Room in Mokena, which is kind of a southwest suburb of Chicago, but the venue actually ended up closing.
Jorn: Yeah, yeah, I heard that.
MM: So they had to scatter the shows throughout the area. I was a little skeptical when I walked in and saw the layout, but I know you guys have a pretty dedicated following here, so I wasn't too worried. I know you guys have played at ProgPower USA in Atlanta a couple times, and there's another festival called Chicago Powerfest that takes place here, and there's a lot of crossover with those people. So, a lot of fans that you may have made there are familiar with you guys here and really help build up that fanbase. With that ProgPower experience—I know you just played the most recent of the festivals earlier this month—how has that served as an ingress into the US?
Jorn: I think the ProgPower festival has done more for us than our label, if I can say that. We came to ProgPower the first time in 2003, and back then we were a pretty inexperienced live band, but people really gave us a warm welcome and wanted us to come back. It was a fantastic experience for us. I think that festival is pretty important for that, because there's something about bands in this genre. If you really like a progressive band, you spend a lot of time listening to it; it's a bit different from mainstream music that way. So, starting at ProgPower, I know that the US is probably the place where we sell the most—of course this is a big country—but the place where we sell the most records. And it's a shame that we haven't been able to tour here before now. We should have started after 'Celestial Entrance'. But the fact is that it's pretty expensive to do this. We have had a couple opportunities to go on headline tours here, but we said no and were advised by other people who said it's wise to go the first time with another band that's done this a couple of times. That way, you don't have to play for 50 people or 20 people, you know? So, when this opportunity with Stratovarius came up, we were very happy to finally get it. I guess the only bad thing is that we were supposed to do four weeks and we had to cancel half of that. I don't know what happened. What I've heard is that the American promoter squeezed out the Canadian band that was supposed to be with us and that was supposed to pay for half of this bus. For us, the decision was, "Ok, four weeks in a camping car..." Impossible. Or do half. So we did the half. Tomorrow is actually our last show and then we go home again. So, to your question, we are very thankful for the ProgPower festival that they have received us so well every time and wanted us to come back. This was the third time with Pagan's Mind, and the previous times were really good as well, and I think this year we gave our best performance there. In the past couple of years we have done a lot of live gigs, so even under conditions like this, today, we were able to do a good show.
MM: That was one the things that really struck me tonight, as well as the first time I saw you at ProgPower, two years ago. It was how you guys seem to have so much fun and vitality and energy on stage that is really communicated to your audience. No disrespect to Stratovarius, but I think there was a pretty significant of people who were here tonight for you guys at least as much as for Stratovarius.
Jorn: Yeah. I am very happy that you say that. (Laughter)
Jorn: A lot of places it's been like that. I think that Stratovarius is happy to have us on this tour. They are very aware that we bring a good amount of people into their shows—
Ronny Tegner: (Walking by and out of the bus) On top of that, we're just kids at heart!
MM: Hah. Fun to have around.
Jorn: Yeah, yeah. But, everything has been going very smoothly and fine with them. The reason that we are here with Stratovarius is their drummer, Jörg Michael, was the tour manager for two tours with Sonata Arctica, the Finnish band, which we did in Europe last year. And those were fantastic. So, he knew what we were all about and asked whether we wanted to come out and play. So everything has been going well and I'm very happy to see that we have people coming here to see us. Every show has been like that. People wearing Pagan's Mind t-shirts and such. I'm happy.
MM: Now, relating to something you mentioned about this genre...obviously you guys are a progressive band. But it seems like you're trying to push the boundaries of that a bit and move in some different directions. Nils has stated pretty clearly that you guys have pushed in something of a more commercial direction, and that with 'God's Equation' you're trying to break out of the purely progressive scene. So, is there a direction you have in mind that you'd like to go?
Jorn: If you ask me what Pagan's Mind is all about I would say melodic metal with progressive elements. For me, it's always been that way. We never sat down and said, 'Hey guys, let's make progressive music.' It's never been like that. It was just something that happened when we started. To me, 'God's Equation' is the best album. I like that the most. See, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Deep Purple, Dio, Black Sabbath—that's where I come from. The band is just a blend of people with different backgrounds. We have respect for each other, and everyone has input into the music, so it's not a one man show. It turns out to be a little part of everyone. If you asked me, 'God's Equation' is definitely the best album; if you asked Nils, he would say 'Celestial Entrance'. It's just a matter of taste. Both are good, but they are two different types. So, regarding a direction we're going, I don't know. We started to write the new songs now, and whatever we come up with, whatever is good, we'll do. If it's progressive stuff, we'll do it. If it's more straightforward stuff that's good, we'll do it. This time, actually, the straightforward stuff or melodic metal has been written first, but it's a little too much, so I'm sure we'll go into the thinking box for a while and come up with the other stuff that we'll need for this package. 'God's Equation' has one or two more commercial songs, but, then again, if you listen to the song 'God's Equation', it's very progressive; 'Atomic Firelight' is probably the heaviest song that we've ever done; if you listen to 'Alien Kamikaze', it's probably one of the most kick ass songs we've ever done. Maybe it's more commercial than the other ones. I have no idea. Some people say that 'Celestial Entrance' is the most commercial. I don't know. Some of the songs on 'God's Equation' are more straightforward, sing-along, but what's wrong with that? If it's good stuff, it's good stuff. If it's shit, it's shit. It doesn't matter. To me, music is music, and if it's good, it's good.
MM: I remember the first time I heard 'United Alliance', I was thinking, 'Man, this is almost bubble-gum, catchy-poppy stuff,' But the more I listened to it, the more it dug into my brain. Great track. And, 'Atomic Firelight', too, the first time I heard you guys play that was at ProgPower. When those drums start up with that almost blastbeat vibe, you can really hear the black metal influence that Stian has. The song's just massive.
Jorn: Yeah. 'Atomic Firelight' is definitely the heaviest song. The main riff has some kind of thrash or black metal, the verse is maybe a bit Pantera or something. I mean, the bridge is really poppy—(starts a cappella imitation) (Laughter)
Jorn: A really commercial anthem. You put it together and it works. Altogether, for me, 'God's Equation' is still the best album. The production as well. Put it on any stereo and it will sound like 'Boom,'—(makes explosive gesture with hands).
MM: Mm-hmm. I read a little bit about the production choices you made on this album. It seems to coincide a bit with your stylistic change. Listening to some of the earlier albums, especially 'Infinity Divine', it sounds very fluid and graceful. Not that that's gone, but that on recent albums you're digging more into chunky rhythms, a bit of drop-tuning, things like that. Do you have a concept of how these techniques fit into your sound, or a theory for how your progressive chuggy rhythms might best match with Nils' vocals or Ronny's keyboards?
Jorn: I think, just to say one thing, we are not tuning more down now that we were before. I mean, we play rock and roll in 440 tuning. Don't make a mistake about it: rock and roll sounds best in 440 tuning. Live also. Steinar has his six-string bass, so it's possible to do chords that are really low, and I have a de-tuner, so I can swap the E-string into D. But that I have always done...on 'Infinity Divine' and all the albums until now. So, the tuning has stayed the same. But I think the 'Infinity Divine' album is a bit different from the others, and the reason for that is that the album was 90% written before me, Ronny, and Steinar joined the band. It was Nils, Stian, and our late guitar player Thorstein. They had written those songs, gotten a record deal with that, and wanted to spice up the band a bit, so they asked us to join. And we had a really short time to record the album—we were in the band only one month before we started to record. So we made the best out of the material we had. That's why it sounds pretty different. A lot of the guitar riffs are made by Nils or Stian. From 'Infinity Divine' to 'Celestial Entrance' there was a massive change, and the reason for that is that the band started making music together, with me doing the guitar stuff and Ronny doing the keyboard stuff, and not being forced into doing material already made. So, I guess the first album that is really a Pagan's Mind album done by everyone would be 'Celestial Entrance'. Regarding Nils' vocal lines, I think what's interesting about him is that he just gets better and better and better. A lot of other singers in their late 30s get more tired, but he's just getting better. He hasn't done one bad gig on this tour; every time he delivers. But I think the difference now is that this time it's really important for us to have good melodies. It's not about the riff. To get Nils' vocals right is very important. Now that we have played together a lot of years, we know what works for him and how to write stuff for him. I think on 'God's Equation' the reason songs work better live than a lot of songs on the previous album is that they are more tailored for Nils. It's not (falsetto) 'high' singing all the time. You stay in the midrange most of the time and hit the high notes when you need to. It's important to do the stuff for the singer that is right for him. If you try to push all the time, then it doesn't sound good. So I guess we're better songwriters now than earlier. But, then again, maybe on 'Celestial Entrance' there's a feeling there that we don't have now, or whatever.
MM: Definitely something I noticed when watching you play was that the new material, which dominated the set, really seemed like it was written with live performance in mind. The energy and crowd interaction that you could get created a really good dynamic. Regarding Nils' vocals, I can see how it might take some time to get into the full swing of how he works, because he's an unconventional vocalist in that so many of his lines are through-composed. It's not like there's an A and then a B melody that he repeats. They're always changing as they go through the song. As a guitarist, as someone who would generally be delivering a lot of those melodies or riffs, do you two have to have some particular dynamic where you're not stepping on each other's toes?
Jorn: No. (pauses) Let me compare a bit, because I've worked a lot of years also with Jorn Lande, one of the best singers in the world. Melodies just run out of Jorn, and it's very easy to work with him. Nils is quite the opposite. He needs a bit of time and needs to think about stuff. But he's the best copycat ever. If you hear him sing the song from the album before we record and then hear him sing the songs after the album has been recorded, mixed, and all that, he sounds just like it. He's the perfect copycat, in a good way. He listens to something and then decodes it. But it's not like he just makes it that way, you know? It takes a lot of time to get that result. I, as a guitar player and songwriter, it's very important to me that Nils sings well. So, yeah, we work together and when he does his vocals, I'm usually there. And when we come up with a riff or anything, it's like, 'Ok, Nils, how does it feel to sing over this?' 'It's a bit too low,' or, 'It's a bit too high.' Ok, we'll change it, then, so it fits, and so we know that when we record, it's in a range that will work for him. That is how it's been, especially on the latest album.
MM: For all the talk of how there's a lot of focus on what will work for him, it's really been a pleasure to hear how you're able to come to the fore to express your musical voice. So, I'm just glad that there's that dynamic: it's not a vocal-dominated or guitar-dominated band, but that the two of you are complimentary. You've said that there isn't an explicit goal about, "We want to write this kind of music," but do you have an abstract objective? For example, "In this amount of time, we'd like to say we've been able to do this," or "We've achieved this kind of recognition," or, "We want to write this kind of album"?
Jorn: I don't know. With Pagan's Mind, there's no money in it.
Jorn: There really isn't. The joy we have is playing for people, and we're going to make good albums. If we were going to stop doing that and were going to just do things quickly for a specific purpose, then I think none of us would want to do it. We take pride in what we do and hopefully we're able to deliver good albums and songs every time. Now, it would usually be about time for a new album to be released, but the truth is that we have toured so much, played so much, that we have never really had proper time to sit down and start the recording process. And the recording process the last time for 'God's Equation' was pretty heavy, because we decided to do a lot of it ourselves. We recorded all the vocals ourselves, the keyboards ourselves, all the bass stuff ourselves. All we did was record guitars and drums at another studio, and that was just because I am involved when everything is being done, so I didn't have time to punch myself in for playing guitar. I needed someone else to do it. But it took a lot of time and when we were done it was like, "Fuck, we're not going to write anything for a year, easy." But now it's been two, almost, and we have started now. We have three or four songs, and I guess the main priority now, after coming home from this tour, will be writing new songs. Hopefully in six months we'll have the stuff that we need—hopefully—so the album will come. And when it does, it will be a good one. But how it's going to be—it's too soon. If you call me around New Years we'll have a vision about how it'll be. I guess 'God's Equation' was a bit modern in a way and I like that. I like the mix. The drums are acoustic, but still even more powerful. Triggers are more flat sounding, so these have more dynamics. And I guess the guitars are a bit different, because for all the other albums the guitar was the guitar I used tonight. I've had it since '95, I play it live because I'm comfortable playing that guitar. But the entire new album was recorded on a Les Paul, since in the studio, if something goes wrong you can do another take. (Gestures to Stian, who emerges from the back of the bus) And ask Stian—he was so happy when we drove home from the mixing. He was worried because I'd said, 'We have to go to Stefan Glaumann', and everyone was like, 'Yeah, he's good, but he's fucking expensive'—
Jorn: And then he heard the drum sound and he was like, 'Ah, fuck! This is awesome.' Earlier, when we were at Fredrik [Nordström]'s studio, Studio Fredman, when we mixed, we mainly didn't use the microphones and used the triggered stuff. It's easy to get a lot of power, but you lose some of the dynamics. And I think his drum playing comes much more forward with that acoustic sound. It's just a matter of working with the right people. Then again, when we mixed 'Celestial Entrance', we heard that...what's the name of that Dimmu Borgir album?
Stian Kristoffersen: Ahh.... 'Puritanical...'
MM: 'Misanthropia' something. One of those three word titles.
Stian Kristoffersen: Yeah, yeah.
Jorn: With that album, we were like, 'Who the fuck mixed this? We want to sound like this.' So we went to him and mixed two albums, and now.... He moved his studio to another place, and we heard some of the production and felt it was going downhill. He's a great guy. But, I think the two previous Dimmu Borgir albums have a better production than the latest. So we decided that we weren't going downhill; we're going to go the right way.
Stian: I was really afraid for the sound of the drums. I was saying, 'We have to use the triggers', but it ended up okay.
MM: So, you had to be persuaded to record acoustically?
Jorn: We always record that, but it was having not having the trigger as a backup, because that's what he's used to. When we started to mix the album in Toytown, I heard that the drum sound was awesome, but was afraid he wasn't going to be satisfied because he wasn't there for the two or three first days. And then we put it on the stereo in the car and it was like—(heaves sigh of relief). Really, really cool. I think it was a really necessary change. The reason we chose Stefan was Rammstein's 'Reise, Reise', We just heard that drum sound and were like, 'Shit, who did this?' When you choose to go and mix, it makes a big difference. Like, with Jorn, we always went to Tommy Hansen in Denmark. Tommy is very good at mixing live sounds, so he actually mixed the new Pagan's Mind DVD, which is coming out now. But, for our studio stuff he's not the right guy. We need something more rough, in a way, while he's maybe a little too Def Leppard or too hi-fi in his way of thinking. But he's still very good to go to. Black Sabbath would be really good there, actually, because he loves that—(imitates huge tom-tom hit and vibration) (Laughter)
Jorn: And that big snare drum hit. He has that sound. Have you heard Circus Maximus? Those guys are friends of ours. They mixed both their albums there and they sound awesome. But, trust me, when they decide to mix somewhere else you're going to see—(hand starts to plane upwards)—because when you play music like Circus Maximus or Pagan's Mind or Symphony X or whatever, you need a bit of a dry mix to get the details. You need someone who knows how to do that.
MM: Hmm. This is going back a way, but you said that the new album was recorded on a Les Paul. What did you do, then, for the soloing? You use the tremolo arm—
Jorn: No, no, I use the green one on the solos. I think I used the Les Paul for a couple of licks—maybe on 'Atomic Firelight'—some bluesy licks and stuff. But the main solos were done on the green guitar. That's the guitar I'm comfortable playing on. But all the rhythm guitars were done on the Les Paul.
MM: Alright. And I'll come back to gear later, as I have some questions about that.
MM: One thing that interested me, which could have been misrepresented in interviews I've read, was that when you guys started out, not all of you were really experienced in music theory and its technical applications. In the ensuing years, have you all come up to speed with that, or do you still write in an organic way that doesn't—?
Jorn: The latter—we write in an organic way. Ronny and Steinar both went to music school. Partly Stian, also; he knows some drum rudiments and stuff. But I cannot read a note, I cannot read—how do you call it—tablature. I don't know any of that stuff. When I went to child's school, when I was eight and nine, I played piano and flute. Then I could read notes, but I forgot it. Then, when I was fourteen, I heard the distorted guitar and said, 'Ok, that's cool, that's what I want to do.' Just listening to it and to albums so much taught me how to play. I think the best thing is to learn how to read music, but the best gift of all is be able to just feel it. When you get in a room and play with people, just listen and be a part of it. That's how I'm used to doing things, so I don't have to read what I play. It has to come from here (taps heart)¬. So, me and Nils—we don't have any background, except for starting to play in a progressive band. But, yes, Ronny and Steinar have. Ronny says to me, 'You know everything that I know. You just don't know what the name for it is.' So, if he plays some funny chords, I know the right notes. If I hear the chord, I say, 'Ok, I can play this, this, and this.' It comes naturally. But I don't know the names. Well, of course I know the Lydian, minor, major...I know the difference and can play that, but if you give me a piece of paper and said, 'Play this,' I'd be—shrugs and tosses up hands.
MM: (Laughs) And, yes, I hear the Lydian a lot. That's really interesting to hear, because, in listening to Pagan's Mind, there are distinct scales or chord shapes that I don't really hear going back to a lot of those early influences that you mention, like Sabbath or Dio.
Jorn: I should say one thing: I am a big fan of Toto, some of that fusion stuff, and grew up with some of their solo bands. Like—what's that band called—with Simon Phillips, they had the album 'Candyman'. Los Lobotomys, with Steve Lukather. That kind of music had a lot of the instrumental show-off things, and I would sit there learning all those songs. So I guess that was the background that made me fit into the Pagan's Mind progressive sound, because I had never played in a progressive band before starting in Pagan's Mind. I never listened to Dream Theater or those bands before Pagan's Mind. But, like I said, when Nils and Stian asked us to start, they didn't say that we were going to play progressive music. They said we were going to record the songs we had and begin to write new stuff. Things just came naturally. Ronny came up with some stuff and we played on that; Stian had some drum stuff that it would be cool to make some riffs for, so we played on that. I guess that's how it still is.
Stian: (From across the bus) I write all the songs. (Laughter)
Jorn: Yeah, yeah. That's how it is. I'm just talking bullshit. But, yes, we rehearse and we jam. That's the basic format.
MM: So, then, how did you guys all know each other? I know you're all from around the same town, but were you friends before?
Jorn: Stian and Thorstein and Nils, they played together for a few years. And Stian was actually coming from a different more progressive band called King's Quest. But then he joined Nils and the other guys playing more Kiss cover band stuff, and then they decided to start making metal. They had a band called Silverspoon and they had a CD that they sold, which wasn't released on the label, more like a CD-demo. That was the foundation of Pagan's Mind. At the time me, Ronny, and Steinar, had that Toto cover band, so together we had a fusion of those two bands. But at the same time also Stian played with Steinar in Trivial Act. Have you heard that band?
MM: Mmm, no.
Jorn: You should definitely check it out if you like this genre. They stopped years ago, but they have an album called 'Mindscape' which is really, really good.
MM: I'll look into it.
Jorn: Yeah, yeah, you should. Trivial Act. So, Steinar and Stian played in that band, and that's how me and Stian knew each other. Steinar was the first one to join, then we had some jam sessions, and I said, 'Ahh, I don't know,' because I didn't like all the songs. But I joined the band, and Ronny also came in. I think the reason everyone did it was not because of the songs that were written; it was more that it was a gathering of people who really could play. Looking forward, writing stuff together, that was going to be cool.
Stian: We also had a record deal...so maybe that was one of the reasons. 'Hey, we are signed. You wanna'—(gives sneaky grin and raises eyebrows) (Laughter)
MM: I never would have thought. Kiss plus Toto equals Pagan's Mind. I like that.
Stian: It melts together—Kiss and Toto was the glam and progressive, and I also like a lot of black metal, so it's a big melting pot of everything. Kiss, glam, Toto, progressive...
Jorn: Going back to our teenage years, actually, me and Nils have a lot in common, because Nils is a big fan of King Diamond and so am I. Also, I really liked Metallica since when I was 14. I listened to 'Kill 'Em All', and I remember 'Master of Puppets' when it was first released, thinking, 'Fuck, this is heavy. But is it cool? Yes, it's cool.' And listening to all that stuff, and starting to listen to Van Halen and Toto, something happened when I was 17 or 18. Then you start to grow up a bit and get interested in technical aspects of the music and stuff like that. So, I guess, all musicians develop their playing style that sticks with them from the ages of 16 to 22. I think most people don't develop too much more technique afterwards. You just learn how to play the things you know better. The drummer doesn't learn how to play fast or slow—he learns to play tight.
Stian: I was at the top when I was 12.
MM: Hah. And it's just been downhill ever since, or are you keeping up with it?
Stian: Almost. (Laughter)
Jorn: But he was badass when he was 15, 16. He really was. But he also developed a lot. Now he's a really tight and dependable drummer.
MM: So, then, just thinking about jamming and playing together, are there particular chords or licks or techniques that you continue to use, or that you feel are really a staple of the Pagan's Mind sound?
Jorn: I don't know. I'm sure there are. I guess it's just the way I play. All players will change a bit, as you listen to music on the radio, to whatever's in right now. I like a lot of stuff. I like Foo Fighters, for example. I think that's really cool. And a lot of that melodic rock stuff. At the same time, I like to play solos and...(imitates chunky riff with a harmonic at the end)
Jorn: I like to play that badass guitar stuff. I like all of that. And Ronny, he's a fantastic player who really comes up with...well, he's a bit lazy at times. (Points at recorder) He deserves that. But he's brilliant. He's a really good player and comes up with a lot of good stuff. He has a lot of fusion background. He loves Emerson, Yes, Camel, all those. He's really the craziest guy in the group, in many ways, but is really a brilliant player. When you hear the big, epic sound of Pagan's Mind, that's him. That is something that a lot of people think Pagan's Mind represents—that epic stuff. I do think that everyone is very important, though, and I don't think it would be easy to switch out any of us.