VICINITY – Another Recurrence
Progressive metal may have originally developed from North American and UK lands, but in today’s scene – Scandinavia seems to be a hotbed for the forward thinking, musically exciting genre. Norwegian act Vicinity aim to add their take through their discography, of which "Recurrence" is their latest effort. Gaining the attention of Mighty Music, the quintet seem unafraid to broaden horizons through a mixture of shorter and epic compositions, packed with intricate interplay, time signature/riff changes, plus dynamic melodies and hooks.
After reviewing their second album, I felt the need to reach out to the band through this interview. Four of the five members would tackle these questions – here is a key to be able to know who answers what:
K = Kim-Marius H. Olsen (guitar)
A = Alexander K. Lykke (vocals)
F = Frode Lillevold (drums)
P = Pierre-Nicolai H. Schmidt-Melbye (bass)
What can you tell me about your musical development as a child? What are some of your earliest memories, and how did you make the progression from being a fan to picking up an instrument and wanting to perform in bands?
K: I come from a partly musical family, where my mother played the organ, and my uncles and grandfather played the accordion, so the music was always there, but it was when I attended junior high school that I first discovered the Norwegian pop band a-ha, that I started developing a keen interest in music. That would soon start to include bands like Arena, Depeche Mode, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, and a few years later I discovered "Images & Words" by Dream Theater, and that’s where I discovered that there indeed existed a genre that included the melodic elements that I loved and combined them with prog and heavy guitars.
A defining moment for me as an aspiring musician also started with a-ha, when I got a hold of a live tape of them playing in South America. They had quite a rocked up sound there, and the guitars were so raw and melodic at the same time, I knew after having watched that tape that I had to get an electric guitar. Fun fact; it would turn out to be much easier for me to start learning Black Sabbath songs than a-ha songs, as the latter had so many odd chords and voicings that were hard for a starting guitarist to play. I played in a covers band during my early years as a student before I found Frode and Alex (and Kristian Nergård, our former bass player) when I moved to Trondheim, and I have never looked back since.
A: I too can trace my musical interest to a musical family. My dad and his three brothers all play musical instruments to some degree, and when we have family get-togethers we usually start playing music, jamming really, together. It’s very fun, and it’s what inspired me to start playing the guitar, which led me on to doing a lot gigs as a pub singer, when I was a student. Even though a lot of the musical stuff comes from my dad’s side, he’s even a professional musician, my mom is very musical and has a pretty singing voice; a story goes then when I was a little kid I asked my dad to shut up when they sang me lullabies together, because I thought my mom’s voice was prettier. It’s my mom who has taught me to love rock ‘n roll, and also she who encouraged me to start singing in a quite professional choir (the Nidaros Cathedral Boys’ Choir) when I was a kid; that’s where I learned what I know about singing, such as it is. So, it’s not without reason I’ve thanked both my parents in the booklet of our new record.
Since my dad is a professional musician, he has always encouraged me to try and perform myself. Because of that, I don’t really know when I transitioned from a fan to an aspiring performer. When it comes to rock and metal, I think it started happening in my teens, when I started to play with bands. Incidentally, Vicinity was my second band, and first serious one, and that seems to have worked out quite well, since I’m still there, ten years later!
Vicinity started in 2006 – what can you tell us about the early years of the band, did you know straight away where you wanted to go in terms of your progressive metal style, or was it more of a feeling out process through rehearsals and getting to know one another?
K: When we started the band we all had a common love of progressive music, and we did play some covers of bands like Arena and Dream Theater, but it did take some time to reach a level where we could comfortably write our own music in a more progressive style, so it developed from metal with prog elements into prog with metal elements as we started fusing as a band, and got to know each other’s strengths. We didn’t want to sound a specific way, but we knew what we liked, and it was a matter of finding out how to translate that into music we could call our own. We also have some quite diverse influences in the band, that draws us as individuals into different musical landscapes, and I think that serves the music, since we have to make coherent music that we enjoy playing.
A: Yeah, Kim sums it up right. I don’t have a lot to add.
According to Metal-Archives, you recorded a three-song demo in prior to your first EP in 2011, "Diffusion of Innovation". Is this true, and if so what can you tell us about that demo- was it strictly used for promotional purpose, thus why it’s unreleased? Also- where did you see the advancement from that demo to the EP either in terms of songwriting, production, or performances?
K: That’s right, we did record a demo, and our first and only EP (thus far) was actually recorded the year after (2008). I don’t think we really had a set goal for the demo. One of the songs was released on a
"Norwegian Music to China"-compilation, otherwise, we just used it to get a couple of gigs. Those first songs were more us trying out the studio experience, and most likely only one of the songs sound similar to the sound that we’re known for today. The recordings and mix doesn’t sound too great either, since it was a one weekend-recording session. But that last song we recorded on the demo ("Judgement Day") did serve as a stepping stone for the sound, and writing style that was to become the EP, since we felt that we finally started to find out what Vicinity was, musically speaking.
A: If I remember correctly, that "Norwegian Music to China"-thing was arranged, or somehow affiliated with, the music festival "Norwegian Wood". I also seem to remember having sort of a naïve belief at the time, that recording some cool songs and publishing them on the internet could somehow lead to being "discovered", by "the business", and onwards to record deals and such. If there ever was a chance of being "discovered" for bands in Norway, that time is definitely gone. Now you have to do all the leg work yourself, for a long time before you get anywhere. And don’t blame me for being naïve: I was eighteen when we recorded that demo.
And, yeah, I guess that even a year later, after having recorded "Diffusion of Innovation" we felt that we had progressed so much in terms of our sound and composition, that we didn’t push the demo that much after that. But, personally, I think it might have been fun to revisit some of that material, and "re-Vicinitize" it. I don’t know if everyone agrees with me, though. It’s not something we have discussed seriously.
Next you recorded your debut full-length "Awakening" which would be released in 2013. How do you feel about this record, and why did you choose to spread out the short songs against the epic tracks in a back and forth sequence? Are you conscious of dynamics and song order, especially in your particular genre?
F: Overall I would say we are quite pleased with our debut album, it contains songs with both quite strong melodies, as well as more technical and heavy parts – which is the combination and diversity we try to aim for. The recording process was not the best experience we’ve had, as we, in hindsight, hadn’t really planned it well enough. But despite that, the end result ended up being miles better than what we feared during the process of creating the album. Regarding the order of the songs, it was definitely a conscious decision to avoid having the longest songs in direct succession. Primarily in order to make it easier to digest for the listener – so yes, dynamics of the whole album is an important aspect that we always consider, and is probably more important in our genre than regular pop/rock-albums with most/all songs being 3-4 minutes long. Obviously though, we couldn’t take too much consideration regarding this on "Recurrence", since fitting the order of the songs into the idea of the concept album was the main priority.
A: After a process as long and complex as recording an album, there’s always regrets and things you’re dissatisfied with. I personally love all the songs on that album. When we started recording the song "Awakening" was by far my favourite, but now I’m maybe more inclined towards "Opportunities Lost" and also "Across the River", which is maybe the closest Vicinity has come to a real ballad. But as I said, I really like all the songs, so it’s perhaps not meaningful to pick favourites.
P: These two guys sums it all up quite nicely, but I’d like to add that the dynamic of the band had also changed radically from the DoI days – Alex moving to another city and I as the new bass-player (and a newbie to the genre). This made the writing process quite demanding, fun as hell though, but sometimes I think we just were a bit "fed up" while recording (as well as stressed out due to other circumstances like available recording time), and that tends to rub off a bit on our feelings of the process. But the outcome and finished product is something I really am very proud of and still enjoy listening to very much.
How did Mighty Music come into the picture for this latest album "Recurrence"? And what circumstances took place behind the scenes for there to be a four-year gap between albums – is it more a case of finding the time and funding while maintaining careers to pay the bills, given the changes in the music industry today?
K: We had already completed "Recurrence" when Mighty Music came into the picture. We sent the album out to several labels, and we had a few who were interested, but Mighty Music seemed the most keen, and had the best overall offer, so we just went with it. Michael and the team at the label have been a joy to work with, and have done great work for us thus far. The four-year gap could have been a three-year gap, since the album was done last September actually, but Mighty Music had to fit it into their release schedule, so we had to sit on the fence for a bit. Still, two of the band members also had newborn children during the writing and recording phase, and that does put the brakes on a bit, but as things settle, things tend to speed up again. And of course, there are very few people who can make a living out of playing music today, and even fewer can make a living out of prog, so the bills have to be paid, so we all have to have day jobs.
Why do you think your music lends itself well lyrically to the development of a concept record? What are you hoping to get across with the themes this time around – and is it a challenge to decide where the lyrics/melodies will go at times considering the advanced musicianship, or are you conscious of balancing that out with proper sections for hooks and smoother riffing?
A: Well, one thing with playing prog, is that we take it as a license to do whatever we want. In that way, it lends itself well to writing a concept album. Also, we believe we have an impression that we have a public that appreciates intellectual thought, and therefore we can permit ourselves to explore themes that are a bit more complex than "sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. That too fits well with writing a concept album.
What we’re trying to get across, are some thoughts about life and the very existence itself, that we have made over the course of our lives. These are big themes, and what one might hope to achieve by writing about such things, is perhaps making an attentive listener stop and just think about what stuff means. What does it mean to live? What does it mean to be a human being? What is the reason for existing at all? What does human society and culture aspire to be? None of these questions have easy or self-evident answers, and you might get as many answers as there are human beings.
The lyrics themselves could not exist without the music, and the music definitely shapes the way I feel the lyrics convey meaning. The music, on the other hand, could definitely exist without the lyrics. Being very preoccupied with lyrics, I personally believe that the lyrics definitely add another level of meaning to the composition, it gives the music sort of an "ideological purpose", if that’s not too pompous. The music is the main part of the dish, but the lyrics are the spice that pushes it to be interpreted in a certain way. This is perhaps most easily visible in that the lyrics are what determine the titles of the songs, the title of the album, and in the case of this album, the lyrics have closely inspired the cover art (shout out to LindenArtwork for the fantastic work!).
P: On a bit more humorous tone, we also love putting in little details for the listener to discover, themes and movements in one instrument mirroring something another did in another song and such. This is something that may enhance the experience for the listener, and adds to the layers of the concept album.
Vocalist Alex Lykke has a great texture to his voice – giving off more of a classic rock and AOR feel that reminds me at times of Ted Leonard from Enchant and Steve Walsh from Kansas. Tell us more about using his talents in specific ways, as his work in "The Unwritten Manifest" as well as the epic "The Long Goodbye" is mesmerizing…
K: I’m a big fan of Alex’ voice, and I have a fairly good idea of his vocal range as well, so when I have vocal ideas I tend to write them with his voice in mind. I also have his range mapped out on a keyboard, and can therefore predict where his sweet spots are as well, so we try to find ways to make him shine when we compose, in regards to what keys certain parts are in. But Alex always can, and should, rewrite the ideas that myself and Pierre come up with, to make it fit even better. He also composes a huge chunk of the vocal lines and harmonies and backing vocals himself as well. We’ve kind of developed a writing style where we feed off each other’s ideas and are very open for new versions and ideas based on the initial ideas. But mostly the final word lies with him, both in regards to the lyrics and the final melodies.
A: It’s a bit weird to talk about myself, I just want to say thanks for the great compliments. Also, I love vocal harmonies and overdubs. Maybe it’s a relic of my years as a choir singer. I’m very happy Vicinity loves melody so much, because that has produced some great melodies I’m happy I have gotten to sing! That being said, the genre is very demanding for a vocalist too, not just the instrumentalists. I’ve been singing all my life, everything from folk, singer-songwriter stuff, to classical music, via plain old rock ‘n roll to prog metal. Vicinity’s music is by far the most challenging.
What are the biggest challenges that face Vicinity as a band? Do you believe it’s harder to establish yourselves in a social media, fast-paced technology driven scene where music is coming at consumers so often on a week to week basis in comparison to the more physically driven marketplace of say the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s?
K: Well things are both easier and harder than it used to be. Since social media and the Internet as a distribution and promotion channel is available to everyone, but that is also the problem, since there are so many bands competing for attention. Economically we have to finance everything ourselves, and hope that some of what we invest will come back to us so we can afford playing some gigs and record the next album, but we’ve kind of made our peace with the fact that we, as a band in a niche genre, will probably never earn money from our music, but we aim to make more and more of our investment back.
P: Being fans of listening to as well as writing music in and for the traditional album format isn’t exactly compatible with the current development, but we believe there’s still a market for the album format amongst prog fans around the world. But with the ongoing (limited) revival of vinyl, who knows what’s next?
How do you feel about the progressive metal scene in Norway? Do you have great relationships with acts like Pagan’s Mind, Circus Maximus, and Leprous who are making strong inroads internationally? Who are some of the other bands that we need to be paying attention to from your scene?
K: We have actually met, and talked to members of both Pagan’s Mind and Circus Maximus, though briefly, but have not yet had the pleasure of sharing the stage with them. We’ve played with newer bands like Withem, Tritonus and Mindtech, who are all starting to make a name for themselves. Divided Multitude, Nergard and Tellus Requiem are from the same region of Norway as us, and are also worthy mentions.
The progressive metal scene is quite strong I would say, but it’s been a bit quiet since Circus Maximus and Withem released their albums last year, but those things always fluctuate.
A: We should perhaps mention that the man behind Nergard is the younger brother of our first bassist, and found member of the band, Kristian Nergård? I’ve actually done some vocal work for Andreas, on an early project of his. I actually sort of know a founding member of Leprous, but that is a coincidence; we lived at the same student’s home in our early twenties. He quit the band, though, before anything could come of that relationship. He’s a great guy, though. He plays with an up-and-coming band KitFai now.
How would you describe Vicinity when it comes to your live performance? What would you consider some of your best shows to date, and what made them so special/ memorable?
K: To me the most memorable shows were the split gig we did with Withem and Tritonus in Oslo a couple of years ago, since we were playing in the capital, the night after Dream Theater played a show, and the turnout was above all expectations. I’m never really too pleased with my own performance, too high standards I guess, but it was fun to come on stage, and there were so many faces I had never seen before that obviously knew the music, and were enjoying themselves.
Our live show is mostly focused on the music, there are a lot of time and meter changes as well as quite complex parts on our instruments, so we’ve left the responsibility of being the entertainer to Alexander, our vocalist, as he does have some off time during several of the songs.
A: Ah, yes, the lot of the prog vocalist: What to do with all the spare time? Sometimes I get to work on remembering that some challenging part is always coming up, so I don’t get into any straining idiocy on stage which leaves me out of breath and unfocused!
P: The gig we did in Trondheim at Rockheim, was also great. It was the first time we played the songs from "Awakening" and my first proper gig with the band as well as Ivars introduction. Musically, I’m not sure we did our best, but all the other factors, the crowd, venue and everything was something special…
Where would you like to see Vicinity develop over the next 12 to 18 months? Have you established a series of goals or bucket list items that you would like to achieve?
K: We have to work hard on our preparations for some live shows, so we’ve nailed down a set list that we’re constantly rehearsing, while also writing new material, so in a way it is business as usual.
A: Yeah, actually, Vicinity is a bit weird in that for having high aspirations, we don’t have very high aspirations. Confused? Well, what I mean is that we want to perform at a professional level, anything else wouldn’t be worth the time and the work, but still this is not backed up by an ambition to tour the world. While it would obviously be fun to go on tour, we feel that, at least in a niche genre, it’s quite a way up to being able to do a cool tour that would be enjoyable for us. But, who knows, something interesting might happen after the release of "Recurrence" and the concerts we’re gonna play in its wake, so maybe an opportunity will present itself? Who knows? Still, I don’t think Vicinity will be playing Wembley, at least not before 2020! 😉
If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have five albums to live with for the rest of your life, what efforts would you take and why?
K: I would bring "Images & Words" by Dream Theater, "Scoundrel Days" by a-ha (or preferably my own mixtape based upon their first four albums), "Enigmatic Calling" by Pagan’s Mind, "Black Celebration" by Depeche Mode and "The Visitor" by Arena. Those are from at the top of my head just now, and most likely to change on a weekly basis, but at least I’d be rather happy with those. I would bring those albums because I always keep coming back to them, and each of them hold a special place in shaping me as a musical listener and as a musician.
A: Yeah, this question is problematic for me. I love too much different music to be able to limit myself to to just five albums. I think "Burn" by Deep Purple would figure high on the list. Maybe some album by Symphony X (Russell Allen is perhaps my favourite active metal vocalist!) and/or Dream Theater (but I don’t want to disclose which!). Oh, and perhaps Van Halen’s debut album, "Van Halen", or another of their early albums. There’s just too much to choose from, and now I’ve just mentioned the tip of the ice berg of what’s relevant for Vicinity. I like a lot of other music too, classical choral work and electronica, to hint at some of it…
What concerns you the most about the world that we live in today? If you had the power to change anything at your disposal, what would you like people to consider or work upon?
K: I’m always worried about the disrespect for knowledge and science, and too ethnocentric thinking, as that might lead to actions that can offer quick rewards, but in the long run might turn out to be really dangerous for future generations and wildlife. I think stricter legislation might be the only way to go forwards, as most people, myself included, might not be able to do enough if it is not forced upon us. It’s human nature to guard our benefits. Arnold Schwarzenegger said it very well; (paraphrasing) It doesn’t matter if you do or do not believe in issues like climate change, but think of it this way; it has no big consequences or costs for the world if you take precautions. The alternative, or lack of action, can lead to either something terrible, or nothing might happen at all. Since we don’t really know, I’d rather be on the safe side.
A: Kim sums up a lot about what I’m thinking too. Combine that stuff with an increasing lack of privacy, the table is stacked for some nasty, Orwell-style, totalitarian regimes. That scares me the most. Oh, and human beings not realizing we need to cut down on the emission of greenhouse gases before it’s too late. If we do not watch these things, they may have seriously scary effects. These are actually themes we touch upon in the lyrics of "Recurrence", especially "Extinction", "Immaterial Failure" and "The Long Goodbye". And, in the end, the philosopher in me asks: "If everything should go to hell, what does that really entail? What would it really matter?" I’m not saying nothing matters, but I’m really wanting to ask: what does the end of the world as we know it really mean?
P: Hear, hear…
What’s in store for the immediate future of Vicinity? Any plans for another video? Touring? Or are you already hard at work on the next album?
K: Apart from our continuous writing of new material we are mostly working on promoting "Recurrence" and preparing for a few gigs for the upcoming autumn.
P: Keeping the door open for opportunities though!!