Since the release of their debut album, Infinity Divine, in 2000, Pagan’s Mind has achieved more popularity with every new record, culminating in this year’s Heavenly Ecstasy (SPV/Steamhammer) which was received with critical acclaim. Flirting with different styles, Pagan’s Mind is known as a band that is not afraid to experiment, using elements from Progressive Metal, Power Metal, Heavy Metal and, quite frankly, everything that can be used to make a good song.
Metal Blast sat down with Jørn Viggo Lofstad (guitar) and Steinar Krokmo (bass) of Pagan’s Mind right before their concert at the Melkweg (Amsterdam).
MB: Thank you so much for doing the interview. I know that you have to get ready soon, so let’s get right down to it!
Heavenly Ecstasy, released in May of this year, is by far your most successful record. Why do you think this is?
Jørn: In every album we’ve done, with the exception of Infinity Divine, we’ve done the best we could to try to make it as good as possible. In the case of Heavenly Ecstasy, it’s maybe that there are less progressive elements than before. We were known as a progressive band, but now it’s maybe more heavy metal with some progressive elements.
Earlier in our career we used to jam a lot and come up with a lot of parts for a song and then putting them together. Now we focus more on the singing and try to make Niels sound as good as possible.
I guess that because most people like good melodies and good songs, our album was successful.
Steinar: I think it also had to do with signing with SPV, our new label, since it helped with the publicity and getting the word out there about the album. The PR has been much bigger and better this time. I think that the interviews that we’ve done for this release are about the same as the ones we did for all our previous releases combined.
J: Of course, it’s not just that we changed the progressive approach. We’re always trying to make good music. Celestial Entrance, although it’s very progressive it was also commercial, with some good melodies; Enigmatic Calling, perhaps our heaviest album, with lots of keyboards layers and a rather majestic sound; with God’s Equation we wanted to do something a bit different, with more modern and industrial elements and a dryer production. And now we’re going back to where we were with Celestian Entrance, just not that progressive.
It’s a journey, we don’t sit down and say that we’re going to do this or that. We always write the best music that we can, and don’t release an album until we have a material that we’re happy with and that we know will be received well.
S: We never start out with a date or a schedule with a deadline. We have the master tape ready when it’s ready. As simples as that.
MB: Do you think that a band that is “too progressive” has a harder time achieving popularity?
S: It’s not interesting for people!
J: Although it’s cool to have elements of things. For instance, if you listen to Toto, a pop band that is very commercial, they still do a lot of interesting stuff with their instruments, but their groove and beat is still the kind of thing that you can simply sit down and enjoy. It’s not full of changes that make you pay attention the whole time. Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, for instance, have an easy-going pattern.
S: A primal beat.
J: The most important thing, whether you play a little or a lot, is the quality of the expression you’re making. Personally, I’m not a fan of Yngwie Malmsteen, but he had some hits back in the day, so there’s a market for everything, there are always exceptions.
MB: Since you mention Yngwie… what guitar/bass players did you look up to when you started?
S: Bass players… Chris Squire (Yes), who expanded my universe, Geddy Lee (Rush). Rudy Sarzo (Quit Riot, Ozzy Osbourne)…
J: I think that music is instinct, so you can get inspiration simply listening to a good singer and the way he makes good melodies. But when it comes to guitar players… Eddie Van Halen and David Gilmore are the two that meant the most to me, but then again there were also a lot of rhythm guitar players that I admire, like James Hetfield, Vivian Campbell and Richie Blackmore.
I never played any progressive music until I started with Pagan’s Mind, so I pretty much grew up with Deep Purple, Toto and Van Halen.
MB: The single for “Walk Away in Silence” was released in September, months after the release of the Album, back in May. Why?
J: The thing is that when you release an album in May you only have one month in which people will pay attention to it, and then everyone goes on holiday. That’s why there are no releases in July, since everybody is on holidays, going to festivals, etc.
In the case of this single, it was something that the label wanted to do, since they didn’t want the album go out of the spotlight and make sure there was still some attention given to it.
S: It also fit well with our tour, so it was sort of the natural moment to release it.
J: Although a lot of songs could have been used for the single, we chose that one because it had the most hits on Youtube!
MB: Speaking of Youtube, and considering that this single was released digitally, how do you feel about the sharing of MP3 files?
J: Right now we’re selling 15,000 or 20,000 albums. Of course, we’re very happy and proud to do that, but at the same time it costs a lot of money to make a good album, good mixes, etc. For bands that are not that big it’s important that people buy their product so that they can continue. But then again, a lot of people show up at gigs after they saw a song on Youtube or whatever, and simply because a friend recommended it. So it can go both ways. It can be good or bad.
S: I’d like to add that, especially for bands like us, this doesn’t hurt us to much, because our fans very dedicated, so they’ll buy all the versions of our albums. They use the MP3 for curiosity or as they wait for the CD, and then they’ll ditch them, because anybody on their right mind wouldn’t rely on MP3s, because they sound like shit!
J: Says that hi-fi freak! I think some people would disagree.
S: Yeah well, they have to learn to listen. You get the real deal buying the CD, you get the proper quality and you support the band.
Still, it doesn’t really hurt us. It probably hurts Rihanna more than it hurts as.
J: There’s no use in discussing it anyway, because there’s nothing you can do about it.
MB: You’ve been touring a lot since the release of the album. What are your plans for 2012?
J: We already started having sessions to write new material, although we’re not 100% focused on that. In general, we haven’t played a lot in Scandinavia, and I think that we’ll do some more gigs in Norway, Sweden and maybe Finland. Maybe, if we have the possibility, we’d like to play a bit more in Germany.
S: Our focus is on putting out our new record as soon as things are ready.
J: I think that after New Year we’ll have a plan as to what we’ll do. We’ll meet up every 3rd or 4th week, work during the weekends, etc.
MB: What’s the songwriting process for Pagan’s Mind?
J: When we started, from 2000 until 2007, we all lived in the same city, we had a rehearsal room, so we were jamming and creating everything together, in a big melting pot, so that’s how we were making all the music. Afterwards, I moved pretty far away, so we changed the routine, so instead of having 2 hours Tuesdays and Thursdays, we’d meet every 3rd or 4th week, working during the whole weekend. Before we didn’t record the music ourselves, but now everyone has their own equipments; so, for instance, Steinar comes saying “I have this chords, let’s try it out”, and we start working from that, or things like that.
MB: With a name like Pagan’s Mind, and being from Norway (famous for its Black Metal acts) how often do people think that you’re a Black or Pagan metal band?
S: Actually, this only comes up abroad when we’re being interviewed by foreigners! I can see why though.
We simply thought the name was cool. The bassist of Niels’ previous band came up with it and we ended up using it. People who believe that we’re black metal are going to be disappointed. I believe we’re much more “white metal”.
MB: Today you’re playing with Floor Jansen, from ReVamp and After Forever. How did you end up working with her?
J: First, I have some bad news, since she’s not coming today. She had a major burnout and has hardly been on stage since March. I think she was starting to feel better when she got the offer from us, and she really wanted to do this, but sadly she cancelled yesterday, since she’s not feeling well and needs more time to get back where she wants to be.
We got to know her at the ProgPower Festival in 2007. The headliner on Saturday was an all-star jam, with Pagan’s Mind being the house band, so members of other bands joined us for a few songs, and Floor Jansen sang two songs with us. We kept in touch after this. Also, she and I started a project writing rock songs, which was supposed to be released about 2 years ago. That was put on hold; we had written an entire album, the drums are recorded and everything… it’s some pretty cool stuff, but it was put on hold for other reasons, so maybe it will be released later.
It was through all these things that she became a very good friend of the band.
MB: Are there any plans of working with her in the next Pagan’s Mind release?
J: No, not with Pagan’s Mind.
S: There are no plans for that yet but, who knows? Anything can happen!
MB: Earlier this year, when you played in Dokk’em, Niels had just broken his hip, and although he was doing fine on stage, he was walking on crutches afterwards. How is he doing now?
J: He’s much better now.
S: Yeah, as long as he doesn’t get near any magnets.
J: Yeah! They put a piece of metal there. It’s like when an old lady falls down and breaks her hip. Now we just call him the cracker!
MB: What’s in store for the band now?
J: Gigs and writing. Although not everything is set, we want to play more and to start writing. We will meet up every 3rd or 4th week, no matter what, and start writing, and do the gigs that we need to do.
MB: Any final words for your fans?
J: We really appreciate your support. Although we’re not the biggest band, we have very dedicated fans, people that come see us over and over, buying our album, etc. It’s what makes us go on. We’re very thankful and we hope that we’ll continue bringing the music that you like.
S: And especially here in Holland, because this is like our second home. It’s always good to be back here. Very nice people, easy-going, we have a big fanbase… we just enjoy being here.