Progressive metal bands are not so common in Norway, and that alone singles Pagan’s Mind out of German, Italian and American crowds, where the difference between one band and another is so small that only die-hard fans can sense it. The guys from Scandinavia make an impression of a fresh gust of wind on the overcrowded scene, and with the release of their third album “Enigmatic: Calling”, we decided it was high time to get acquainted more closely with drummer Stian Kristoffersen. And since Stian is a very demanded musician on the European metal scene, we couldn’t but also discuss his other commitments, such as Firewind and Jorn Lande’s solo band.
Last weekend you played at the Sweden Rock festival. Can you tell me a few words about it? How did it go for Pagan’s Mind?
It was very good, we played for a crowd of almost 10,000 people. But we only played for 40 minutes, so we had time to perform only six songs. (laughs) The weather was nice, and everything went really OK.
As far as I know, your latest album “Enigmatic: Calling” reached number 15 in the Norwegian charts. Did that change your life in any way?
No, it didn’t. But the television and radio stations in Norway have become more interested in us. To reach such a position in charts in Norway when you play progressive metal is very good. We’re almost next to Jennifer Lopez and stuff like that which hits the charts.
Your previous album “Celestial Entrance” (2002) was partly a concept album inspired by some of the theories by Erich von Daeniken. Is it also the case with “Enigmatic: Calling”?
Yeah. Actually it’s our singer Nils K. Rue that makes all the lyrics in Pagan’s Mind. Lyrically “Enigmatic: Calling” is also a concept album, there is a single story in all our three albums, and “Enigmatic: Calling” is actually the first one in the trilogy. But if you want to know very much about the lyrics, you should talk to Nils. (laughs) All the lyrics in Pagan’s Mind deal with unanswered questions about life, universe and stuff like that.
But can you explain the meaning of the album title?
We have a track called “Enigmatic Mission” and another one called “Celestial Calling”, and the album title is a combination of these two. But it’s hard for me to talk about lyrics in Pagan’s Mind, I’m not so much into it.
“Celestial Entrance” was produced by a very famous man called Fredrik Nordstrom, but now Fredrik only did the mix, and your guitarist Jorn Viggo Lofstad is the producer. Why did you decide to limit Fredrik’s involvement so much?
I gotta say that Fredrik’s role in “Celestial Entrance” was only to mix the album as well, but the label decided to list him as the producer. Actually Jorn Viggo was the producer of “Celestial Entrance”. But Fredrik is a very nice guy, he’s fooling all the time, and we had so much fun together. He hates keyboards! (laughs) But he’s a very professional in what he’s doing, and we would love to come back to Fredrik and mix our fourth album as well.
All of your albums follow one tradition in artwork: there is always a circle on the cover, and the cover is always blue. What is the reason behind choosing this particular type of artwork for your albums?
That’s a good question. (laughs) It’s something that Nils decided to do. The first album (“Infinity Divine”, 2000) was blue, and he was thinking that maybe all our albums should be blue. We always have a circle of some kind on the cover – on “Celestial Entrance” we had the stargate, and on the new one we have a circle with symbols. It’s only a way to mark the connection between the albums. And I can tell you that the fourth album will be blue again and have a circle on the cover. (laughs)
What is the current situation with your former second guitarist Thorstein Aaby? How is his health at the moment? Is there a chance that he will return to the band?
No, he will never come back. He got sick, they thought it was cancer in his brain, but it was actually his twin brother that had been there since his birth. Thorstein had to go through several operations, and he still has epileptic bouts and stuff like that, so he cannot be on the stage, and maybe never will, because of all this lightning and strobe lights. But we’re still good friends with him, and at the release party of “Enigmatic: Calling”, he joined the band for two songs. The crowd went crazy, but he will never come back to the band. And I don’t think we will ever replace him either.
Now let’s speak about the recent re-release of your debut album “Infinity Divine”. I haven’t heard the original, but the re-release sounds very good. What did you do to the recordings to improve their quality?
When we first recorded “Infinity Divine”, we were not satisfied with the mix, and if you had heard the original release, you’d have said it’s really fucked up. I don’t think it’s a good album. So when Limb Music wanted to re-release that album, we said, “OK, you can do it, but we want to mix it again.” And Nils also recorded all the vocal lines anew for this re-release. I don’t like that album actually. (laughs) I think “Enigmatic: Calling” is a good album, and “Celestial Entrance” is very good, too. “Enigmatic: Calling” has a bit rougher guitar sound, and maybe the whole mix is a little bit better.
Yeah, I’ve noticed that on the new album the guitar sounds heavier…
Jorn Viggo wasn’t satisfied with the guitar sound on “Celestial Entrance”, and he was trying to get a little rougher sound on the next album. I think that turned out very well. He’s not using boxes or distortion things or stuff like that, he just uses the tubes in the amps, the organic sound.
The re-release also has the song “At The Graves” by King Diamond as a bonus track. Why did you choose this particular track? I mean, it’s not every day that bands cover 10-minute tracks by other artists…
That’s true. When Limb (Schnoor, owner of Limb Music - ed.) wanted to re-release “Infinity Divine”, he wanted to put something special on it. He was telling us, “Can you record some cover songs?” We had played some cover songs by Dream Theater, but we wanted to do something different. Our singer Nils is an old King Diamond fan, sometimes when we rehearse we are playing some crazy stuff, and Nils is doing King Diamond songs very good. So we decided, “Why don’t we record “At The Graves”, a 10-minute song from the “Conspiracy” album?” I think Nils did a great job on that song.
I was really surprised that he can sing this way. I didn’t expect it from him…
(laughs) You know, Nils is also in a cover band, an Ozzy Osbourne cover band here in Norway, and King Diamond’s voice is very similar to Ozzy Osbourne. When King Diamond sings low (imitates King’s trademark low singing), it sounds a lot like Ozzy Osbourne.
The press release for this album says that King Diamond’s manager Ole Bang heard your version and liked it a lot. But what about King himself? Do you know his opinion about this track?
No, I haven’t heard anything about that. Ole Bang did tell us that he really liked the version, but maybe it was too similar to the original. (laughs) But I haven’t heard King Diamond’s opinion about it.
You are a Norwegian band, and there are not many progressive metal bands from Norway around. Is this fact an advantage or a disadvantage for Pagan’s Mind?
It hasn’t been very good for us, because in Norway there is a lot of black metal bands like Dimmu Borgir, Emperor and Mayhem, and it has been very hard for us to build the band up. Nowadays we are liked a lot in Norway, including by black metal people. Have you heard about the band Conception? We are the guys who are taking over from Conception. (laughs) People have been telling us that it’s so great to have a cool progressive metal band from Norway again, especially for Norwegian people, because they miss Conception a lot.
Apart from Pagan’s Mind, are there any new progressive metal bands coming out of Norway?
There’s not so many of them. I can recall just one - Circus Maximus, they release their first album this week. It’s fantastic, I love these guys, you gotta check them out. But I cannot come up with any other names right now, there are not many progressive metal bands in Norway.
As far as I understand, at the moment nearly every member of Pagan’s Mind is involved in other projects. Is Pagan’s Mind still a priority for each of you, or are other projects equally important?
No, no, Pagan’s Mind is the top priority for all of us. That’s the main thing, that’s our baby. Nils has also become a member of Eidolon, he’s gonna do the vocals on the next Eidolon album. Me and Jorn Viggo are also playing with Jorn Lande, the singer of Masterplan and Ark, and right now we are in the studio recording a new Jorn album. I’m also playing in Firewind, they are from Greece, and Steinar (Krokmo, bass) is also doing some other stuff. But these are just projects for us, Pagan’s Mind is the top priority for all of us.
I’ve checked the members section on Pagan’s Mind official website and found a lot of interesting information. For instance, you say that you can play every instrument that a rock band needs – guitar, bass, drums and some keys, and you can also sing. What was your first instrument?
I learned to play the drums first, but I also started early with the guitar. I’m not a guitar player like Jorn, I can only play guitar a little and bass a little. I also had piano lessons when I was growing up, I was doing that for three or four years. All of the members in Pagan’s Mind can play all instruments, though not as good as our main instruments, that’s for sure. (laughs) But sometimes when we’re fooling around in the rehearsal place, we play each other’s instruments and perform Pagan’s Mind songs. (cracks) I play guitar, Jorn Viggo plays drums, Steinar is singing, and Nils is playing keyboards, and stuff like that.
As long as you can play all these instruments, have you ever considered recording a solo album entirely by yourself?
(laughs) I have actually thought about it, but that will maybe happen some years from now. I have lots of stuff in my head. That’s a good idea actually! (laughs) I haven’t given it so much thought, but you have made me consider it. Maybe I shall do it – record a solo album, playing all the instruments, and sing on it. Snowy Shaw, the drummer of a Swedish band called Dream Evil and an old drummer of King Diamond, is also a multi-talented musician. I have heard that he recorded some songs and he plays all the instruments and sings. And he’s very good!
Apart from Pagan’s Mind, you have played in a huge number of other bands. For instance, what kind of music did you play in a band with such a title as Fuck The World?
Oh, yeah! That was many years ago. (laughs) All the other guys in that band were from a motorcycle club, and it was just a cover band that played in a lot of motorcycle clubs and stuff like that. We played such songs as “Born To Be Wild”, all the classic biker songs. It was nothing serious, it was just a party band.
Were you also a member of that motorcycle club? Do you ride a bike?
Yeah, I had one Harley in my life, though I don’t have it right now. But I was not a member of that club.
You played in a black metal band called Dimension F3H, but apart from Dimmu Borgir and The Kovenant, there are not many black metal bands on the list of your favorites. So how did you end up playing black metal?
I just met those guys from a band called Limbonic Art at a festival in Norway, they heard me play with Pagan’s Mind, they thought I was very fast on the bass drums and very fast with my hands. The guitar player from Limbonic Art asked me if I could record an album for them, and I just did it. I also played about 10 shows with them, but I’m not in that band anymore.
On the list of your musical influences I found such a band as Pink Cream 69. How did they influence you? I love this band, but honestly I cannot hear any influences from Pink Cream 69 in your drumming or in the music of Pagan’s Mind…
(laughs) That’s true! It’s just one of my old favorite bands. I really like the first and the second Pink Cream 69 albums, and I was really influenced by these guys when I was 10 or 11 years old. But that’s true, you cannot hear these influences in Pagan’s Mind.
What are your memories about playing in Silverspoon, the band that existed before Pagan’s Mind?
I have good memories actually. That was the band run by me, Nils, and our previous guitar player Thorstein, and we played a lot of Kiss songs. Silverspoon was more of an AOR or glam rock band. Actually the “Infinity Divine” album mostly consisted of leftovers from Silverspoon.
But why did this band fail to become popular?
I don’t know. We didn’t have any good people around us, we didn’t have a management, a promoter or anything. We did put an album out, but it was not released by any label.
How did you get involved in Firewind?
When we were mixing “Celestial Entrance” in Gothenburg, Sweden, I met Gus G., the guitar player, because he was playing in Dream Evil at that time. He was hanging around in Studio Fredman almost every day, and he just liked my drumming for Pagan’s Mind. A few weeks after we returned home to Norway after mixing “Celestial Entrance”, he sent me an e-mail and asked me, “Would you join my band? I have a band called Firewind.” I said, “OK, send me the first album “Between Heaven And Hell”. I listened to it and I enjoyed it. I really like the old 1980s metal like Yngwie Malmsteen. So I told Gus, “I can record the drums on your next album.” And here I am, I have already done two albums with Firewind, we did a Japanese tour last year, and we also played some major festivals.
How is it like working with people from so many different countries and cultures? Gus, bass player Petros Christo and keyboardist Bob Katsonis are from Greece, and the singer, Chity Somapala, is from Germany…
Chity is actually from Sri Lanka, but he has been living in Germany for about 17 years. Yeah, it’s maniacal to be involved in that band, but I love all the guys, and we have great fun together. Everything is so cool in Firewind.
Let’s now go back to Pagan’s Mind – I’ve heard that the release party for “Enigmatic: Calling” was filmed by a professional video team…
Yeah, we had a major film crew from one of Norway’s biggest television channels to tape the whole thing. They came with six or seven cameras and were taping all of our performance. I haven’t seen it yet, but I have seen some clips of it, and it looks very good.
What are you going to do with these recordings? Do you have any plans for a DVD?
Yeah, our plan is to release a DVD. Maybe not the whole concert, but five or six songs from that release party. From now on we will also tape a lot of other shows. We don’t know when the DVD will be released, but I hope that in the near future. (laughs) It will contain a lot of songs from different concerts.
Firewind are signed to Century Media, Jorn’s solo band to AFM, and having seen the work of these big labels, can you say that you are satisfied with the work of Limb Music? Do they give you enough support for a serious breakthrough?
No, they don’t. (laughs) I think Century Media are doing a great job for Firewind right now, it’s our first album for them, and it’s maybe it’s a bit early to say that, but they give us tour support, and help us do shows and everything. Limb never gives us tour support, we have to do everything by ourselves, and that’s very hard. As to AFM, Masterplan is the major priority for that label, but Jorn’s solo project is not. They put so much energy into Masterplan, and with his solo project, they don’t do anything.
You said that you are already recording the next album with Jorn. How much will it be different from the previous one, “Out To Every Nation” (2004)? And when can we expect its release?
I know that the release will happen in November. We will mix it in Jailhouse Studio in Denmark in July. The difference between this album and the previous album is that the new one will be more rock’n’roll, like the old classic Black Sabbath albums with Dio. There’s almost no keyboards or stuff like that. We have also recorded some cover songs, like Rainbow’s “Kill The King”, some Whitesnake songs and two Ark songs. A total of 16 songs are recorded, but I don’t think all the 16 songs will be on the album. I don’t know which songs will be left out, maybe there will only be two or three covers on the CD. It will be a classic heavy rock album in the vein of “Holy Diver”, “The Last In Line” or something like that.
I’m looking forward to hearing it! The way you describe it sounds very promising…
I’m not sure how it will come out myself. I haven’t heard it yet, I only recorded the drums with click and some working guitars, so I’m pretty curious myself. (laughs)
Over the years you have been involved in a great number of bands. What do you consider your highest musical achievement so far?
That was Trivial Act, it was the band I learned the most from. Have you heard Trivial Act’s “Mindscape” album? You can compare it with old Dream Theater stuff, only more technical, there were so many things happening in the music, I had to count all the times. I played in that band for almost four years together with our bass player Steinar, and we learned so much from it. I think I became a much better drummer after playing with such great musicians. Unfortunately the band split up, and I almost never talk to them at all. Some day I would like to come back and record another Trivial Act album, because we have about 15 songs we never recorded.
What do you do apart from music? Do you have any other jobs or hobbies?
Yeah, I am an electrician. (laughs) I like football and stuff like that. I also have two kids, and they take much of my time.
So you are a pretty busy person!
Yeah, very busy, I always have enough to do in my life.
Special thanks to Maxim Bylkin (Soyuz Music) for arranging this interview.
June 14, 2005
1 èþë 2005
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