PAGAN’S MIND – Expanding Musical Horizons
Progressive metal as a genre can be one of the most debated and studied throughout its history – especially by ardent followers. Some enjoy acts who continually shift their style from recording to recording – while others merely expect a facsimile of a group’s pinnacle achievement.
For Norway’s Pagan’s Mind – they moved from the latter version of the above statement with their previous album "God’s Equation", and as a fan of the band from their conventional Dream Theater inspired roots I couldn’t be happier. They truly have blossomed into a professional group ready to take the world by storm with their sound, their vision, their instrumental abilities and siphoning these elements into retainable songs.
Vocalist Nils K. Rue got a chance to explain the title of the new album, as well as the music and lyrics on "Heavenly Ecstasy", when Eternal Terror’s Matt Coe & Roy Kristensen walked hand in hand to find out what’s going on in Heaven…, or was it Hell…?
“Heavenly Ecstasy” appears to be a logical continuation from “God’s Equation”. How does Nils view the similarities and differences between the two albums?
We kind of took a new direction on “God’s Equation”, trying out new and different stuff for the band. Some of our fans didn’t like it while others raved about it. Also, after that album we were very much drained from creative energy and four years had to pass until we were able to put out something we could stand for. People have been talking about the Dream Theater reference for many years now but I think the thing is that DT was just inspired by the same bands as we were – and early in our career when we wanted to show off our playing abilities, we could sound somewhat similar. On “Heavenly Ecstasy”, I personally think we have “grown up” musically and have found our own sound though our sound has had a strong trademark since the beginning. I am very confident in the melody focused songwriting we do on this album.
Eternal Terror gave the new album a well deserved 5.5 / 6 – http://www.eternal-terror.com/reviews/index.php?id=1848, so we stand firm behind Nils’ words. As he said, it took them a few years to get the right energy back. How long of a process does it take Pagan’s Mind to generate ideas and then flesh them out into the final versions we hear for the albums?
Well, it took us four years this time but that was as aforementioned because of a slightly drained creative bunch of guys, and after "God’s…" we toured a lot, which takes up a lot of energy. We have always thought quality over quantity and would never put out anything we could not stand for 100%. We always record pre-production demos and that gives us the opportunity to go through the songs over and over again and be totally satisfied with the compositions before we decide to record them “for real”. Of course, a lot happens when we record them for the second time also, and we may alter a lot then as well.
There seem to be aspects of the new album where you weave in slight off tempo rhythms without sacrificing the sense of melodic arrangement cohesion – especially in songs like “Into The Aftermath” and “The Master’s Voice”. How do Pagan’s Mind maintain a balance between showcasing progressive talent and keeping everything song oriented?
Well, that’s what you call musician craftsmanship – to be able to add odd rhythms and intricate musical colors and still stay focused on the melody. It’s very easy to make a song sound “good” just using whatever the “book” says, but we have always found joy in combining the intricate with the catchy, and still make it sound pretty radio friendly. It’s the “secret” bands like for instance Rush managed to control.
What would you say at this point the local Norwegian support for progressive metal / progressive rock in general is like? Do you believe you’ve revived the movement in your country – and spurred a new interest with acts like Circus Maximus, Above Symmetry (formerly known as Aspera) and Divided Multitude all making their mark with international record deals?
I think we sort of started a new melodic metal movement in Norway with good examples from the bands you mentioned. It’s too bad that all those good musicians out there should be forced to sound like angry goats just because it sells. That’s really as worthless as going to pop music. So we were really happy about the fact that more bands from Norway are able to get deals abroad because of this movement, and proud to be part of it. People should get the chance to go places if they have something good to show…
Pagan’s Mind unleashed the "Live Equation" DVD (three different versions) in 2009. For Pagan’s Mind, a band that seems to set out for perfection – how much time did you spend in total on making the DVD, and what were the struggles you had to face during the process?
I think we used about half a year to make the DVD (not including the recordings). Most of the time was used to edit, clip and put the whole thing together. This was a new experience for us, so we had to for instance to teach ourselves computer programs we never had worked with before in order to make it happen. Of course, we also got some professional help, but the major work was done by ourselves.
You voice is very significant, as well as Jørn Viggo Lofstad’s special playing style. And Pagan’s Mind’s music is defined as progressive metal. What is the hardest aspect of playing the band’s rather intricate songs live on stage?
As aforementioned, we did some pretty progressive songs in the past – and still add progressive elements, but we don’t consider ourselves a full blown prog metal band anymore. Of course, a lot of our old songs are played live. But through 10 years of playing pretty intricate music, I guess it’s all in the blood for us. It’s like, when I first teach myself a song, I can do it in my sleep on a bicycle. It just flows of itself, so to speak.
For a fan, it’s always interesting to see set lists. Are there any songs that you always have to play during your concerts?
“Through Osiris’ Eyes” is a song we never ditch from our set list because that’s a song people always want to hear in our live set. It’s kind of our number one hit through all these years. We tend to put up a set list that has a natural balance and that represent the highlights from our career, and of course we also have to play songs from our latest album in order to promote that. Agreeing on set lists is something we use a lot of time and energy on before a gig, unfortunately – haha.
Pagan’s Mind had the good fortune to maintain a stable lineup for over a decade at this point in the band’s career. What are the challenges involved with keeping personal interests in mind as well as advancing the interests of the band?
Everyone in the band has had side projects in order to fulfill musical desires sort of. Having said that, none of us has that now because I really think everyone came to the conclusion that the symbiosis of the five of us together is something really, really special which we haven’t found in any other band. Also, this is a pretty democratic band and everyone can speak up for themselves and all opinions will be heard and considered. I think that fact balances us all and keeps us going together still.
If you had the chance to place in a time capsule one Pagan’s Mind riff, one Pagan’s Mind song, and one Pagan’s Mind album, which would you chose for future generations to cherish and please explain why you’ve made these choices?
Would be the riff and song “Through Osiris’Eyes” from “Celestial Entrance”. The song is brilliant from A-Z and it contains and represents everything the band is, sounds, and stands for. The whole concept, really.
Do you see major differences in the level of support and commitment to the Pagan’s Mind cause with your festival appearances and touring opportunities both across mainland Europe and within North America?
Festival appearances are always good promotion and make a lot of people experience the band in its right environment – on a big, big stage that reflects the epic sound. Really, I don’t think this band fits small stages at all. The music is big and though I love the guys, I prefer playing with them on a stage where there is 15 meters in between us;-) Seriously, we have always felt the big effect of playing festivals.
Where do you set your sights with Pagan’s Mind over the next 3 to 5 years? Could you envision building the popularity of the band up to headlining small theaters across the globe – or even larger?
We are already headlining small theaters at this point and are moving upwards. We have worked hard for this band for a decade and will not stop to work making it bigger. We are in a better position now than ever before, with a strong record company and rising interest in the world for the band, all over. We still hope and dream for that big breakthrough, but still we have managed to build up a solid fan base and a respected name through hard work.
If I could be in charge of the world, my major area that I would work on for the betterment of humanity would be…?
Don’t kill other people because of your religious beliefs. It would make the world a safer and better place if people started to believe in respect, love and themselves instead of an entity they actually never met or saw.
Which brings us over to lyrics. So, why should the listener also play close attention to Pagan’s Mind’s set of lyrics? What’s in it for us?
I am always happy when people read and (try to ) understand my lyrics. They are a big and significant part of our whole concept. Though the biggest words have been toned down a bit on our latest release, there is stuff that can blow your mind and really make you start thinking in the lyrics. They are often philosophical, metaphorical. Never telling people to do this or believe that, they just are there to make you think. I have had e-mails from people stating that the message in our music and the lyrics has given them strength in life, and has made them stand strong in a difficult time in their lives, and so they have thanked me for that extra power. That’s when I think: “I did something right”.
How do you work with the lyrics in combination with the music? You know, what comes first? I know some bands make music and then base their lyrics on that, others come up with the concepts on beforehand…
Melody always comes first. We write the music, and along we decide – vaguely – the song’s melody lines. When I am confident in a melody line, I let it sink into my body and mind for a while, give it some days of thinking just tasting the music, and usually then the ideas for the lyrics comes naturally. It’s like after a while I can hear what that song and melody are about or should tell, and then I craft the words to make it fit the melody and lyrical concept.
"Power Of Mindscape" is one track that, to me, deals with humanity and how we look upon our relationship to gods. But as it says "The truth is in yourself". But doesn’t it make some sort of sense that people actually want something else to be believing in, in order to give their lives some meaning?
As I said earlier, our lyrics are never telling anyone to believe this or that. The song just encourages you to believe in yourself and your inner strength, and that could be combined both with an atheistic or religious view on life. Human beings should never be grey jelly blobs without any meaning of their own, in any society or with any point of view. Everyone needs strength in life, and if you have it yourself, you can radiate it positively onto other people, and make the world a better place to live;-)
Is the album title perhaps somewhat ironic this time? I see that the title is mentioned two times in just one of the lyrics, so how did you come up with the title "Heavenly Ecstasy"?
The title is two words that ended up in one of the lyrics and I think it was magical poetry to those words. Heavenly is something graceful and divine (divine is a word we may have used too much in the past, hehe) whilst ecstasy is the description on something nirvana-like, a euphoric crazed state of mind. The title reflects something spiritual while it still can describe what people can experience in real life. An exploding, unreal feeling of something positive, maybe beyond this world. Of course it has a sexy touch to it, but the idea behind it is that people can interpret it in which direction they want. I guess a “heavenly ecstasy” is what we always search for in life, through hard work, success. We really want to reach the top in our lives, the heavenly ecstasy.
To our foreign readers, how is it to be Norwegian and be in the band Pagan’s Mind?
Well, Norway is considered the best country to live in according to research. It may be, if you look away from the cold and brutal, and looong winter. It is a beautiful country with a solid and safe system. You don’t get into any trouble if you don’t want it here. So I guess we have nothing to complain about, though I would like a shorter winter, haha. Being in my own band, which I personally started, is something that I am proud of and very very happy to be part of.