Musical Discoveries: We'd love to know a bit more about your musical background, especially the items that relate to or perhaps led in some way your work with The Opium Cartel or White Willow.
My musical background is mostly pop. Light, easy pop. I've written and recorded three albums as an artist, and written and co-written many songs for others. But I don't think Jacob heard my voice before I did the song "Apple" with Container. He likes it a bit darker than my usual music. And I have to say, I do enjoy this darkness. I might just have to convert.
Could you tell us about how you and Jacob teamed up for Opium Cartel's album Ardor What did you think of the style of the music, especially in comparison to your earlier three albums?
If I remember it correctly, Jacob contacted me after hearing the song "Apple." He wrote me a message on Facebook or something, and I just happened to see it and answer it - three months later. I am pretty slow when it comes to social media. But I saw it, answered it and he responded right away. And before I knew it, I was in a studio making music with this longhaired, nice progrock guy. It was great!
At first we had to get to know each other music wise. We had never met, just spoke one the phone. Jacob let me try out a lot of different voices and sounds. After a while, we found the sound he was looking for, and we recorded all of Ardor in what I would like to call no time. Pretty sure Jacob doesn't share my view on that. We were a good team. I really like working with skilled people, and Jacob is most definitely one of those.
What were your contributions to the Opium Cartel project?
I have to say, Jacob had a lot of confidence in me, even without knowing me. He sent me lyrics and "ghost-melodies" for all his songs, and I got to choose which ones I would like to contribute in. When he first asked me, I thought this was a one-song-project. But during our first studio session, we started working on two or three.
As I got more comfortable with both him, the music, and the fact that all the lyrics were science fiction, I got to contribute with some vocal arrangements as well. I did all the background vocals in my own way, and he let me do all the aaaa's the oooo's and the eeee's I wanted. Again, we were a great team. It is a pleasure working with him and his team.
The song "When we Dream" was, as i recall, just meant for Alexander. But as Jacob and I went thru the songs, we tried out some sounds and background vocals on all of them. And when we got to this one, he really liked the sound our two voices together. So I got to finish it with them. Some lead and a lot of background vocals. I actually did my vocals first, and then Alexander did his on top of mine. He´s such a pro. Again, working with skilled people is the best.
We loved your vocals on "Animal Magnetism." What more can you tell us about how this song emerged and perhaps how this led to your involvement on the new White Willow album?
Jacob sent me the song "Animal Magnetism" with Scorpions and wondered if I would sing it for him. Well, I must admit I thought he was joking. But as I have come know, he doesn´t joke when it comes to music. I got in the tub with my headphones on and listened to the song over and over. After seven times, I wrote him back that I would do it. I am glad I did. What a song! What a band! I am honored to be a part.
Future Hopes builds White Willow's sound and drives the music forward. What can you tell us about it?
Working with Future Hopes and White Willow was a very good experience. I felt more comfortable in my part, so I could contribute more on this than on Ardor. And Jacob let me. Again, he has a lot of confidence in me. I hadn't listened that much to White Willow before we started, but I was soon to do so. And I am glad they kept the sound. It's soothing. I really like it.
For some of the songs, Jacob and I worked out some new melody lines together. And again, I was given a lot of freedom when we got to background vocals. I felt like I could really make the songs my own in a way.
Is a tour to promote the new album planned?
I would love to go on tour with this! I'm not sure the guys feel the same way, but I think we would deliver a hell of a show! But some things are meant to be undone. We'll see. But if they go on tour, I'm coming with them!
What should we expect to hear about you, The Opium Cartel and White Willow going forward?
You'll have to ask Jacob that. I am just a lucky participant.
How did you connect with Venke originally and how did the idea for her to contribute to this White Willow album emerge?
Well, as she said we originally connected digitally. I worked with a guy who had played a bit with her. But I was originally a fan of her songs that I heard on the radio.
Then one day, many years ago, I happened to see her perform live, and I was stunned by what a great performer she was. Up until that point I had assumed that a lot of what I heard in her songs was studio magic, as it often is with pop singers. But she was the real deal. Her voice was perfect, and she really projected very strongly. So I wrote her, but at the time she was busy raising little boys. A while later she got in touch, and the timing was perfect as I was working on the songs for Ardor. She loved the music, and the rest is history!
What can you say about the sound on this album?
The sound is probably leaning a bit more to the electronic side than previous albums. I really wanted there to be an overdose of glittering, shiny synths, a sort of sci-fi texture to the music, partly inspired by albums like the Yes' Drama and Saga's Silent Knight.
But of course the actual music is very different from those albums. There is something about those kinds of textures and sounds that are magical to me, so I wanted to recreate some of that.
I'll leave it to the listener to pick out favorite passages, but obviously there are some sections in the tune "A Scarred View" that are especially overflowing with cosmic synths.
What about the vocal arrangements?
With Venke's voice I don't really have to do anything. Her voice comes out already mixed and produced, practically. I was aware that her voice is very different from our previous singers, but that was exactly what I was after, a voice that was a little more laid back, with a sort of cool, airy presence that doesn't overpower but simply flows with the music.
Venke contributed lots when it came to working on vocal arrangements. A lot of the vocal harmonies are all her work and she also tweaked some of the melodies, to great effect. I think she really raised the bar in terms of attention to details in the vocals. As for the others they all contributed.
Tell us about the other artists' contributions.
Mattias always brings so much energy and a bit of wildness to the music, and Ellen is rock solid, keeping things together. Lars was responsible for tying the album more strongly to the prog idiom and sort of bridged the gap between my almost electronica leanings on this album and the more familiar White Willow sound. He also,i n my opinion, delivers one of the greatest synth solos of his career on "A Scarred View," and his solo piece "Damnation Valley" is beyond gorgeous. Ketil made the very brave decision to mostly forego the flute and focus on the EWI, Electronic Wind Controller, which was absolutely perfect for the sound of the album. His embellishments bring an organic feel to all the electronic washes.
What is it about the last two tracks that leads to them being called "bonus tracks"?
The only real reason they are called "bonus tracks" is because the LP format isn't long enough to contain them. The songs were all envisioned as part of the original album concept, so I don't really see them as bonus tracks myself. But I guess it's a selling point for those who buy the CD.
How did you and the other artists cope with the long delay between when the album was completed and its release? Have you had a time to work on some other recordings either on your own or together that may feed yet another album or an EP?
The wait was a bit frustrating, I'll admit that. But it was beyond our control, and seeing the great response we are getting now in this album, I'm thinking that maybe it was for the best, maybe the timing for this album is exactly right, right now. Meanwhile I've been working among other things on our flautist Ketil Einarsen's solo debut, Weserbergland, to be be released in May and which is absolutely amazing.
Thanks for the interview Venke and Jacob and best of luck with the new album!