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13/01/2007 – Interview with TRAIL OF TEARS

Since the start in 1994 as NATT and later in 1997 as TRAIL OF TEARS (official website), the Norwegian Gothic Metallers have released four albums so far, with "Free Fall Into Fear" (2005) as their last one. I bought this one last weekend. While this last one and 2002's "A New Dimension Of Might" were very good and very heavy albums, the band chose to opt for a more melodic/symphonic approach for the successor and thus fifth studio album and called it "Existentia". This new release will be available on the 29th of January, again via Napalm Records. I was pretty convinced of the material, although I like the previous two albums more. You can read my findings on "Existentia" at this location.

Since most of the band members quit in the last months of 2006, vocalist and founding member Ronny Thorsen was in serious need of new musicians. Naturally I had to ask what caused the sudden departure of the other members, Ronny's opinion on the new album, on being in a Metal band and how he feels about 2006 and his expectations for this year.

Trail Of Tears logo

Hi Ronny, how's it going? I must say that "Existentia" is quite a good album, perhaps less 'brutal' than "A New Dimension Of Might", which is the only TOT album I've heard so far. For example, the drums sound a bit more muffled and it's like there's a kind of muffled blanket over the sound, so to speak. What's your view on it? Did you sort of take a different approach?

First of all thanks, I'm glad you like it! It may well be less brutal than "A New Dimension Of Might" though that was not the most important thing for us when writing the album. What was first and foremost important was to create an album with a bigger identity compared to the previous album "Free Fall Into Fear", that album had some good songs but lacked unity to a certain extent so it was important for us this time to create a more whole album if you know what I mean.

What exactly are the songs about? Is there a central theme or concept that is treated or do the songs stand on themselves?

Most of the lyrics are linked to the title and deal with different aspects of ones existence, the contrasts you encounter in your everyday life, the ups and downs and how everything you run into has an effect on your continued existence, good or bad. It is not a concept album, the songs are individual but you will find several songs which deal with the same things, however with a different angle to each of them.

Existentia coverThe cover art also helps in creating a mystical atmosphere. Jan Yrlund seems to be the master at work. How did you get in touch with him? Or have you known him for many years?

Yeah I think the cover captures the general atmosphere in a good way, we got in contact with Jan through Napalm Records, he had done some work for other bands on the same label so we gave him some ideas and he came up with a lot of drafts before we decided to go for this one. It is quite simplistic but nevertheless effective. The main symbol represents a tear with obvious links to the band name and the colours are meant to symbolise the passion and drama which is incorporated in the songs.

How would you compare "Existentia" to the previous albums, 1) musically and 2) sales-wise, how well do you think it will do? I know it's guess work, especially in the age of downloading. How important is the new record for the survival of the band?

Musically it is definitely more melodic and symphonic, I think we have managed to create a good mix of old and new TRAIL OF TEARS, melting together elements from our entire career in a natural sounding way. Having in mind that the album isn't even released yet it is mere speculations of how it will do sales-wise, it depends on a lot of things, promotional, availability and so on but at least things are looking good so far, the reviews are great and there is a lot of interest towards the band compared to earlier so we will do whatever we can and hopefully in some months we can give a positive conclusion. Sales are not the most important thing when it comes to the survival, if we made music to get rich then we would not have made this kind of music in the first place.

How do songs get born in TRAIL OF TEARS? Does everyone come together, exchange ideas and see what fits, do some jamming to try things out or does/did it start with a couple of members, after which the others can add their parts?

The songs are mostly results of individual ideas recorded at home and worked upon with the whole band, everyone contributes, some more than others of course but at least when it comes to the arrangements and finished result, everyone has added their touches to the end result.

TRAIL OF TEARS is signed to Napalm Records, which also houses DRACONIAN, LEAVES' EYES, KAMPFAR, TYR, and many others. What do you think of the other bands on the roster and how's the collaboration with Napalm going so far? Did they have an influence on the songs or do they give you total freedom?

To be honest, I don't have the strongest knowledge to the other bands on the label, but at least there is a wide spectre of styles on the label, so the diversity is well intact. It would be absolutely out of the question for us to sign with a label that didn't give us 100% artistic freedom, if we can't make the music we want ourselves then the whole point is gone and I could just as well get a job at a factory where I have to answer to someone else.

Trail Of Tears - RonnyWere there songs left out, not being good enough for "Existentia", but maybe for a future album?

We had two additional songs when going into the studio that didn't turn out satisfactory so we decided to scrap those completely, it was an easy decision really, we could have chosen to include them as bonus tracks or whatever but 10 songs and 45 minutes is a suitable dose for this kind of music I think. I would rather that people wish one more song after listening to the album than that they think there are two songs too much.

Speaking of the follow-up, even though the new album isn't out yet, do you already have ideas or sketches ready?

Well, there is music written but no songs yet. We write more or less all the time but there is no rush in arranging things at this point. Like you say, the album isn't even out yet so the main focus now is of course "Existentia".

For "Existentia" you went to the Soundsuite Studio in Marseille, France with producer Terje Refsnes and asked French female singer Emmanuelle Zoldan and Norwegian keyboard master Bernt Moen for some additional input. Some questions: 1) What's so special about this studio and the producer? 2) Did Terje give advice on the songs, where to add more melody, where more grunts, etc...? 3) Who is Emmanuelle Zoldan and why did you appeal to her? 4) Same questions for Bernt Moen. ;-)

We decided to use Soundsuite Studio again for several reasons. First of all we had been working with Terje earlier, on the "A New Dimension..." album in 2002 and I had also worked with him the year before when I did the vocals for TRISTANIA's "World of Glass". We had gotten a good result there in the past and seeing that the material took a more melodic turn as well as a more symphonic one, we wanted to use a producer who could fully exploit the potential of the songs.

It is also much more satisfying and creative to travel to another place for the recording rather than to do it here, that way everything becomes much more focused, you can put the rest of your life on hold and only concentrate on the album. The structure of the songs were more or less finished when we entered the studio so Terje didn't have so much input on that. He has a very good ear though and is great when it comes to suggesting different effects and alternative sounds plus he has a unique way of pushing the best out of everyone.

He was also the one who put us in contact with Emmanuelle when we told him that we needed a female singer for some of the songs. We wanted a female singer who wasn't the typical soprano that everyone uses and she really added something special to the songs. Our keyboard player Frank was unable to particiapate in the recordings so we got Bernt to do those parts, he is a multi-instrumental genius and a friend from our home town so we couldn't have gotten a better man for the job!

Some weeks ago Jonathan Perez (drums), Kjell Hagen (bass), Runar Hansen (guitar) and Kjetil Nordhus (vocals) left, but not in good conditions apparently. You soon countered by stating TRAIL OF TEARS is still alive and will continue with new people. The conditions in which you discovered about the parting were also not positive: the Mexican tour was in large parts ridden with organisational problems and resulted in a severe financial loss for everyone involved. What exactly went wrong there?

What went wrong was just like you said and what I also made clear in my statement, namely that the tour was ridden with huge amounts of problems.

The organisor completely failed in every aspect of arranging a tour, riders were neglected, contractual points were ignored, promotional things were not up to the agreed standards and everything culminated in a financial loss for everyone involved and when you are met with a complete lack of understanding when it comes to the most elementary things that is of course bound to overshadow the joy of being on stage every night.

The guys made a very serious decision in a moment of frustration and even though I understand that you take a mental hit after such a disastrous tour I am very disappointed with how they chose to handle the situation, trying to break up a band without everybody's approval and ignoring obligations towards tour organisors here in Europe who had nothing to do with what happened in Mexico, as well as contractual obligations towards a label who have spent huge amounts of time and money in the up-coming album. They wanted to end 10 years of hard work with a five sentence statement without the necessary approval and that is not a worthy way to end such a career.

Since you're in need of musicians, do you already know who will join the new line-up or do you have certain persons in mind that 'could' join? Or will you hold auditions?

The new line-up is almost complete and will for sure include some surprises! There will be a couple of familiar faces there and we will of course make everything official as soon as all the pieces are in place. There is no real rush, we will take our time to find the right people to complete the line-up but if not before, then the band will be ready in time before the summer as we have already booked several festivals this summer. These will also be made official as soon as the festivals give us the green light.

In Metal line-up changes are a common event and sometimes the parting member(s) start a new band or join one, playing the same kind of music as before while the reason for leaving the first band is the classical "musical differences". Has it become harder to dedicate yourself to the music, to the band? If you look at 'oldies' like IRON MAIDEN, JUDAS PRIEST, MOTÖRHEAD, THE SCORPIONS, SAXON, and many more: they still are together. Bands of today, or of the more recent times, seem to have problems in keeping the group together. What's your opinion on this matter? Are people less dedicated? Or is music more important to you, no matter who plays it? ;-)

I think first and foremost that the music business and the scene as a whole is very different and much more difficult today than when the bands you mention started out. The times have changed drastically and it is very difficult for bands today to survive. There are a lot of aspects involved, bands sell less albums than before which means that in order to generate income you have to tour a lot and for some bands that is sometimes hard, you have to sacrifice more these days I think.

The old bands who are still around have such a strong name and reputation, I could be wrong but I think it is easier for them to survive in today's business because they have the experience needed. It is hard to make a living from music today, most bands need to have regular jobs on the side and that again presents a problem when it comes to touring, you need to tour a lot in order to grow and then you need time off from your work which can present problems. So a lot of bands have to make a decision, quit their jobs to go on tour and risk everything or accept that you won't grow because of less touring and keep your job.

What do you think about Limited Editions? How important are bonustracks? Is an album nowadays less attractive in normal format?

I think this is very individual. On one hand it is important to offer a good package to the fans having in mind all the downloads and so forth, if you have something extra to offer it could be more attractive but of course the musical content have to be good enough. There are way too many bands that uses 'super deluxe editions' whatever versions only to camouflage a poor musical content and then it all turns into a lie.

Grunting has more effect on the vocal chords than clean singing, but how do you maintain your voice to keep it 'brutal' enough for the years, albums and tours to come? Any special techniques or precautions?

Extreme vocal approaches do not cause more damage than others if you do it right. A good extreme metal vocalist sings from the stomach and merely uses the throat to distort the voice. I am no vocal coach but there are different breathing techniques that I use to avoid damage, analyze the vocal lines, the sentences in order to put the right push for the right words. A lot of people just take a deep breath and start screaming without thinking to balance your lung capacity for the entire part which ends up with exhaustion and weaker vocals at the end of each part. You also need to practise a lot, if you go for a longer period without singing it gets rusty and you have to start from scratch again.

How well does it pay to be in TRAIL OF TEARS? Can you survive on this money or do you also depend on a daytime job?

At the moment TRAIL OF TEARS is my job but it is a very unpredictable thing, the income can change drastically from each months so whenever people ask me if I can live off the music then I normally reply like you put it, that no, I can't live off it but I can survive on it. The plan now with the new line-up is to turn TRAIL OF TEARS into a more touring band, it is very frustrating to get all these offers when people for whatever reason can't do it. That way the situation and what happened can actually turn out to carry something good too. I want this band to tour massively and with the new line-up we will be able to do that. It is quite sad when people would rather sell shoes than to go on tour when in fact that is what they have been working to accomplish through all these years.

What inspires you to write lyrics? Do you get most inspiration from books or TV or perhaps everyday life?

I would say everyday life, everything that I encounter. Everything that happens forces a reaction, a feeling or something in each and every person and I try to put these events and feelings into a certain perspective and add meaning to them. My lyrics can often appear dark but if you read between the lines you will always find traces of hope and optimism as well. For this album I have spent a lot of time in my small weekend cabin in the Norwegian woods/countryside just completely quiet with pen and paper. Whenever I'm there it feels as if I'm alone in the world and it is the best way to get in contact with my own mind.

Speaking of books, which are your favourite authors and books/genres?

I'm not a big reader to be honest, whether it's lack of time or just my restlessness I don't know but I wish that I could find more time to read. When it comes to fiction I think Brett Easton Ellis is brilliant, especially "American Psycho", but I also enjoy reading about ancient civilizations and cultures, different mythologies and so on.

How do you look back at 2006, musically, personally, ....? Which moments stood out? Which are your favourite CDs of 2006? Which moments left a bad mark?

In general 2006 has been a good year with the obvious exception that should not be necessary to mention. We have written and recorded what I consider our best album to date, we have done great shows regardless of the circumstances, we have played festivals and personally I have met a lot of great people from all over the world and made several new friends. I'm healthy and have a great family and lots of friends who support me. When it comes to musical highlights I have to mention SLAYER, MOONSPELL, RAMMSTEIN, SEIGMEN, SCAR SYMMETRY and CELTIC FROST among many others.

What are your wishes and desires for 2007?

The most important thing now is to complete the new line-up which we will have ready very soon and then hit the road to support the new album by doing as much touring as possible. Eventually there will be time to make a new album but as for now it is promotion, rehearsals and touring that are the main priorities.

And with this I end the interview. ;-) Many thanks for taking the time. Good luck with "Existentia", the new tourdates that will probably need to be rebooked, the new line-up and whatever more. May 2007 be an inspirational and successful year. Anything you'd like to add? Don't let me stop you. :-)

Thanks and all the best to you as well! We will see you all soon, "Existentia" 29th January!

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