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White Willow

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Conor Fynes View Drop Down
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    Posted: September 07 2011 at 19:51
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White Willow is an interesting Norwegian symphonic prog group, whose latest album 'Terminal Twilight' will be released later this year. Jacob from the band was kind enough to catch up with us and fill us in on everything.

Which roles did you play in the schoolplays in the primary school?

I can't really remember any role except maybe as an angel in a Christmas play once... Acting was never my thing.

When did you first get started with music? 

Quite late. I started playing guitar when I was 16-17. I had wanted to for a long time - ever since I discovered Genesis at the age of 12. But it took me a while to get around to deciding on an instrument. Once I started playing guitar I also started writing songs immediately, so I think I knew how to write songs almost before I could play the guitar properly.

You were the only prog gigs promoter in the Oslo area for a while. Are you still involved in gigs promotion and are you still open for offers from bands wanting to play in Oslo?

I was a little bit involved in prog and metal gigs in the 90s, but when White Willow released the first album I didn't really have time to deal with the gig part anymore. But there were other people, like Fruitcake's Pål Søvik and Panzerpappa's Trond Gjellum, who kept booking bands and arranging festivals, and Norway's prog scene owes a lot to them. If someone wants to play in Norway I will be happy to put them in touch with the right people, but be warned: Even though a lot of prog bands come out of Scandinavia, the live scene for prog bands is non-existent here. It's easier for Scandinavian prog bands to get gigs on the Continent than at home.

After some albums on other labels, you set up Termo Records. Why, when and how is it to run this label from Norway?

Myself and Lars Fredrik Frøislie (White Willow, Wobbler) set up Termo Records in 2007, partly to have total artistic control over our music, and partly because we were tired of giving our money away to labels. Running a label is very, very hard work, but also intensely rewarding. We've been lucky enough to release quite a few albums that have sold well and have been received well, and that gives us a lot of motivation to keep going. We sort of have what we call "the Termo family", a bunch of musicians who play on each others records and help each other out. We like keeping it small and cozy!

Over to a project which is sadly ignored: The Opium Cartel. Why did you start up this project, please tell us more about the album Night Blooms, is there any plans to do these songs live and is the project a one off or will it continue? 

I started on "Night Blooms" after the previous White Willow album, "Signal to Noise". White Willow had been the main focus of my life for many, many years and we had been playing a lot of prog festivals and such, and I think I was beginning to experience "prog burnout" - I was tired of the whole thing and needed to do something else. The Opium Cartel was a project I had planned in my head for many years, but after "Signal to Noise" I decided to make an actual album. It was all done very simply, with a laptop and with musical friends from all over the world helping me out. It's the nicest recording experience I have ever had, very relaxed and without any pressure. I wanted to explore all the music that I loved but that there wasn't really room for in White Willow - indie-pop, folk-rock, post-rock, electronica, things like that. It has many similarities to White Willow of course, but the songs are shorter and structurally simpler. I think it worked out quite well. It did much better than I had hoped, too, so I was happy. I'm actually beginning work on a second Opium Cartel album now. But I don't think there will ever be any gigs. The musicians are spread out too far.

White Willow is one of the few symphonic prog rock acts I have heard in a while that manages to get a distinctly modern sound to them. What are your views on prog rock that looks to the past for guidance?

Ah, the eternal question! It's very hard to answer that. White Willow sort of looks both ways. We use "retro" instruments like the mellotron and analogue synths, and we are of course influenced by the progressive rock giants that inspired us to start White Willow: PFM, Genesis, King Crimson, Univers Zero... But at the same time I haven't really listened actively to prog for at least a decade, except for a few perennial favorites. Insted I listen to anything new that I find interesting, be it extreme metal, indie-rock, post-rock or modern jazz. So a lot of what I listen to shapes White Willow's music and helps give us what is maybe a more "contemporary" sound than some other prog bands. But I don't think one way is wrong and the other is right. Whether you choose to delve into the past or look forward is a matter of personal preference.

What inspires you to create music? What is the songwriting process like for White Willow?

A lot of different things can inspire me. A walk by the seaside, a quality of light on a rainy day, a book I read, a movie I see, a story someone tells me. Anything that really moves me, turns into a song sooner or later. When I sit down to write, it's usually a result of inspiration - I rarely sit down to write just for the sake of writing. Maybe a melody popped into my head, or maybe a chord sequence. So I sit down and explore the idea. Quite often it starts with a chord progression, and then I'll experiment with melodies over that until it feels right, and maybe flesh out the arrangement a little bit. The lyrics can either come at the very beginning, if part of the inspiration was something like a story, or it comes late in the process, when I see where the song is headed. These days I usually write my songs on the piano or on an acoustic guitar. I record a demo in my home studio and take it from there.

What advice would you give to young musicians and bands in prog rock who are trying to make it in the scene?

My main advice, which I think is good advice, is to be yourself and dare to be different. No-one ever got anywhere in music by sounding like someone else. Even though being unique can be harder, and maybe it takes longer for recognition to reach you, it is worth it in the end. I get a little depressed when I see all these young bands who are obviously modelling themselves on Porcupine Tree or The Flower Kings or whatever, and even their labels try to sell them as "soundalikes". The thing is: Porcupine Tree didn't become successful by trying to be someone else - people love Porcupine Tree because they are something special, something different. That's what it's all about.

As a veteran in the scene as both a fanzine editor, gigs promoter, label owner and artist; how do you see the future of the music business?

I am very optimistic. The prog scene has grown immensely since I started out. It used to be totally underground, with a handful of vendors, two, three good labels and some xeroxed fanzines. Now it's an industry, and there is even some mainstream acceptance of the genre. A magazine like Classic Rock presents Prog could never have existed a few years back, but now they are doing really well. And there is a lot of new bands out there. A lot of them don't really excite me that much, but some do and have a lot of talent. And the entire music industry is in a state of change and turmoil, which I personally find quite exciting. No-one knows what the future will be like for labels and bands, but I am sure the future of music will be good! They told us that it was a terrible time to start a label when we started Termo Records, that it's impossible to sell albums. But we are doing very well, and selling more and more albums. So the death of the music industry is a bit of a myth.

Any bands in particular you have been listening to?

In terms of prog bands I have a lot of love for Sweden's Gösta Berlings Saga, a great band. I like the French bands Nil and Thork, the Italian group Areknames, the Finnish retro band Orne... so I guess I still listen to some prog. As for the rest of the music world I have been a fan of M83 since they started and they keep getting better. I like Destroyer, Chrome Hoof, RJD2, Norway's Susanne Sundfør... lots of different stuff really.

Final words or anything you would like to add?

Just thanks for an interesting interview! :-)

White Willow Terminal Twilight album cover

And a warm thanks to Jacob Holm-Lupo for this interview!

The band's PA profile may be found here.


Edited by Conor Fynes - September 07 2011 at 19:55
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Jake Kobrin View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Jake Kobrin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 08 2011 at 12:13
No questions about mellotrons?!?
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Todd Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 08 2011 at 12:49
Thanks for the interview, Jacob and Conor!  Very interesting.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote sleeper Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 09 2011 at 09:17
Excellent interview Conor for one of my favorite bands.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Man With Hat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 13 2011 at 23:36
Cool read. Thumbs Up
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Post Options Post Options   Quote memowakeman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: September 15 2011 at 15:30
Excellent!

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