"Our Feedback And The Many Reviews On The Material Was So Great That It Inspired Us To Make More Music With A Similar Focus!"
(April 2010. Text Henri Strik, edited by Robert James Pashman. Pictures supplied by the band)
One of the best releases of 2010 so far for me without any doubt is the debut album from Aspera from Norway. Their album Ripples (see review) contains the best prog metal music available and made me curious what kind of band they are. So an interview with their members was the only way to find out more about them.† A nice chat with their lead singer Atle Petterson, bassist Rein T. Blomquist, drummer Joachim Strom Ekelund, guitarist Robin Ognedal and keyboard player Nickolas Main Hendriksen was enough to find out how it all came together.
First let me tell you that I am very much impressed by your debut album. I was blown away right from the start. But I guess you have heard that before. Did you expect that it would get so much good response by the press?
Atle: We are very satisfied with the album and had great belief in it when we released it, but the feedback truly has been overwhelming! Itís better than we ever dared to imagine! We haven't had one bad review yet, so that's pretty good for five young guys from Skien, donít you think?
Yes thatís true. Pretty amazing. How did the outside world react? The people in the street?
Atle: Not only the media reacted positive, but we received a lot of good feedback on our MySpace and Facebook pages. So it looks like the people in the street really enjoy the album and the best part is, that not only metal / prog fans like it, but it seems to appeal to a much wider audience, and thatís just fantastic! Itís kind of cool when we started to get fan mail from people all over the world saying that they love our album! That's an awesome feeling for a musician to get this immediate and direct response. Makes us very proud, too!
Yes itís always nice to see that it was all worth the effort all the way.† Before we go deeper into the story behind Ripples, can you tell us a bit more about the history of the band for everybody who does not know the band at all? I know you come from Skien in Norway and that you started as Illusion.
Atle: Yes - and that is pretty much it. Joachim and Robin decided to start their own band Ė being influenced by a Paganís Mind gig Ė in 2005. Later came Nickolas, then Rein and-last but not least-me, who joined in and Illusion was born. We did more than 40 live shows in Norway and recorded 3 EPs, so we were always eager and working hard. But to grow internationally, we decided to get a more interesting name that reflects our music better.
Can you also introduce all the band members?
Atle: Sure, here we go:
Robin Ognedal, guitars
influences: John Petrucci, JÝrn Viggo Lofstad, Marco Sfogli, Mats Haugen, Nuno Bettencourt, Mattias "IA" Eklundh, Leiv Inge Kvilhaug, Kim Stenberg.
Nickolas Main Henriksen, keys
influences: Jordan Rudess, Alex Argento , Chopin, Glenn Henriksen, Freddy Kempf, Johan Blohm. Musicians and artists I played with.†
Joachim StrÝm Ekelund, drums
influences: Gavin Harrison, Thomas Lejon, John Macaluso and Truls Haugen.
Rein T. Blomquist, bass
influences: Jaco Pastorius, Greg Lake, Frank Zappa, Tony Levin, Jon Rormark, Victor Wooten, Martin Mendez, Erlend Caspersen, Steve Harris, John Myung
Atle Pettersen, Vocals
influences: Richie Samborra, JÝrn Lande, Russel Allen, Per Anstein Solberg, Jon Bon Jovi, Daniel GildenlŲw, Tom S. Eklund, Roy Khan
Why did you name the album Ripples and has the album a certain theme?
Rein: I would say the album has an ongoing theme throughout, indeed, without being a concept album. The lyrics mainly, but not exclusively, are about every action having a consequence, which leads to another action, and so on. This matter is taken care of on both a global, and on a personal level. The album title reflects this theme.
Are all tracks on the album new compositions or did you also use some things from the Illusion demo CDís or songs from those days?
Rein: All the tracks on Ripples are new compositions in the fact that they never have been recorded before, except one. The song named Catatonic Coma was released on our previous EP named Square Edged Circle under the band name Illusion, but we re-arranged it quite heavily before the recording of Ripples. This being said, we started writing the material for Ripples quite soon after we finished S.E.C.
You did record and finance the album yourself. How much did it affect your personal life, family and friends?
Rein: I think it affected all of us slightly differently. Some of us were able to use savings; some had a reasonable income and could cover these expenses without too much of an impact on their personal economy, while others had to seek the support from their family. It was definitely a heavy expense to cover at the time, but we were all sure it would be worth it Ė and now in hindsight: It totally was worth it!!
How difficult was it to record the album at the Aspera Living Room Studio and how long did it take to get it finished?
Joachim: Well, a lot of things actually went wrong during the recording, and we had to repeat the guitars and the bass several times. We had to split recording up, as a lot was going on at the time, being finished with school, moving in all together into a house at Skien-that was some experience I can tell-and so on. So the drums were recorded in February 2008, the keyboards during Christmas holiday the same year, and the rest was then recorded in between, and after. But we had some dead periods, due to technical problems with computers etc.; so I'd say we used about two months all together.
You did ask Jens Bogren to do the mastering and mixing. Was he introduced by your record label or was it an idea of the band?
Joachim: Oh that was all our idea, as we were not signed when we started mixing. Initially we wanted to have Tommy Hansen (Jailhouse Studios, Denmark), as he did plenty of great progressive / power metal productions. But at some point, Robin found a CD of Soilwork's Stabbing the Drama? He really admired the sound of, not just the music but the whole production. So he figured out who was responsible for that, we researched a few other productions and agreed that they all sounded so damn great! No question, Jens was slightly more expensive, but we all agreed we would rather just ďput all inĒ and have a kickass production on our debut album. And we certainly succeeded on that one. Jens did an immaculate job!
Without any doubt, he did lift the music to an even higher level. Are you satisfied with the final result of Ripples after it was released or did you want to change some things in the end?
Joachim: There are always some minor things that could have been changed, but I can't really point the finger to what exactly. There is a point, where you just have to let go, or the album would never become finished Ė or take 10 years to release Ė weíve seen that happen (laughs).
No, really, we are very, very pleased with the result! The only thing I would have changed was the recording process, so it wouldnít have taken so long. But weíve learned a lot from it, and the overall experience was valuable and I guess we're all really looking forward to start with the recording of the next album.
the jewel case of the CD, they put a sticker which tells us that the music on
it is for fans of bands such as Symphony X, Paganís Mind or Dream Theater-all
bands that probably influenced you. Were you afraid that you could not sell
enough CDís without this sticker?
Yeah, you are right. People have to read some names to see in what kind of direction the music moves. In some reviews I did read that you used too many clichťs in the lyrics. Do you agree and how do you get your inspirations to write about certain subjects?
Robin: Actually no - I donít agree! I cannot see the point in trying to write about something new all the time. There is a reason why some subjects are covered more in song lyrics than others. I think the topics ASPERA is writing about are important and meaningful, and it doesnít really matter if people have written songs about those subjects before us. Those are subjects mattering to us, regardless of their originality.
You donít have to agree and I think you are right! How did you come up with such a great cover for Ripples?
Robin: Well, all the credit should go to the designer Gustavo Sazes. We gave him a vague idea and a briefing about the lyrics Ė so he had a lot of artistic freedom to work with. And once we saw the final draft, we immediately loved it!
How did you get in contact with InsideOut and were other labels interested to sign the band?
Robin: That is thanks to our wonderful manager Manuela Froehlich! She believed in us from the first second and was very persistent contacting a whole bunch of labels. Actually at first we got turned down by InsideOut and only got a few offers from smaller labels. Which was OK, but we really wanted to wait for the perfect partner. So one day, Manuela got a call from InsideOut, and they told us that an opportunity had opened up and they really wanted ASPERA for it. That was a dream come true Ė as InsideOut is perfect for our music and so well-known! And for us they turned out to be a perfect partner and very good to work with. We havenít regretted it one single second (smiles).
Yes you are very lucky to have somebody like Manuela who helps the band 100%.† I did read that you will release three more albums for InsideOut and that your next album will be even better.† Are you not afraid that you used your best material for your debut album like most bands do and will have problems writing songs for the second CD?
Nickolas: No, I donít think so. It had the opposite effect. Our feedback and reviews on the material was so great that it really inspired us to make more music with a similar focus. It really boosted our creativity and personally I think that the new material sounds even better!† We sure are looking forward to releasing more albums with InsideOut!
I believe you are ready to conquer the rest of the world, but how does your own country react to the success of Aspera? Is there enough room to perform or any airplay on the radio or TV stations in Norway?
Nickolas: Oh, thanks for your kind words-thatís flattering! Our own country is not exactly supportive in highlighting any bands or artists, if you donít have a big name and play REALLY straight forward indie/pop music. There is actually plenty of room to perform airplay, BUT the genre really stops it. Bands like Paganís Mind and Circus Maximus werenít even mentioned in the newspapers, TV or given any airtime on radio. For that respect we are a bit luckier, as we have strong local support in our hometown. So we get mentioned in the local papers and they even did a feature when we all moved into the house. Now, with 3 members living in Oslo, we have the chance to get more heard and our release show in Oslo was packed. But to general break through in Norway, it might be tricky. But we are working on it anyway!
Finally, what are your plans for the future? Live shows abroad? New CD or DVD?
Nickolas: We certainly have big plans! With all the positive response, we got our first festivals confirmed and will play ProgPower Europe on 3rd October. Additionally we have been confirmed as special guest for Jon Oliva Pain in Germany on 1st October and might get a second gig with them, too.
With both, a local and an international booking agent by our side, we have good chances and try every possibility to get out on the road in Europe and even in the US. We are planning to have a video release very soon Ė so watch out for that one! And then of course we are constantly creating and writing new material for the follow up CD. So, big plans and big hopes!
Thanks for answering my questions and good luck in the future with the band!!!
Thank you very much Henri for a pleasant interview, we had fun answering it. And good luck to you, too! Check our website (www.asperaofficial.com), Myspace (www.myspace.com/asperaofficial) and Facebook to keep up-to-date about shows and stuff.
HAVE A ROCKING DAY!
Atle, Rein, Robin, Joachim and Nickolas
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