Pagan’s Mind : a new start for a new heaven

That’s when Pagan’s Mind came to Lyon while touring in Europe with Symphony X that we had the opportunity to meet the guitar player of the Norwegian band, Jørn Viggo Lofstad.

Their journey in Europe coming to an end, he told us about the band’s plans for the future. But what our man evoques the most is the present and Heavenly Excstasy, the band’s latest album that was out in May, their first on the SPV/Steamhammer label. That gave us the opportunity to learn more about how this record came to life, and about this label change after ten years spent in the same one. “A new start” that allows them to set their sights higher and to express themselves fully, without ending up being just a product filling record racks.

Out of Pagan’s Mind, Jørn Viggo Lofstad also has his own experiences, so we took the opportunity to ask him about his past in Jorn, singer Jørn Lande’s band. A time he records proudly, talking about the deep respect he has for the leader of this band and about his hope to make some more music with him sometime.

« If there’s one thing that we’re gonna have, it’s release quality products, so we don’t wanna give up on that. Limb [Music] kinda made that hard for us. They didn’t wanna pay us any advance for the record, we had nothing to produce the albums anymore, that’s why we had to leave and find a new partner which wanted to help us do what we want. »

Radio Metal : A few months ago, you signed with SPV/Steamhammer. How can you describe your collaboration with them so far?

Jørn Viggo Lofstad (guitars) : I’d say that it’s night and day compared to what we were used to before. We ‘ve been working with Limb Music since 2002 until earlier this year, and of course SPV is a much bigger label and they have a much bigger network, so starting to cooperate with them has been a very good thing for us. It really gave us a new start.

You had a bunch of possibilities, so why did you choose them?

Well, like you say we had a lot of offers from different labels. One of the reasons we picked SPV is that we had Olly Hahn as our A&R here. He’s very experienced, he’s also a big fan of music and he understands the business very well. That’s good to have someone that understands our aesthetics, where we wanna go with our music, and how we see ourselves and who helps us with it. I’d say that it’s SPV’s reputation and Olly Hahn as the A&R that kind of distinguished SPV from the others. You know, they believed in the band.

Do you think that it’s rare today to find people in labels that are really passioned about music and not just businessmen?

Yeah, I think so. First, they don’t wanna give you any money to make a good product. They’re satisfied to get a shitty demo because they’ll sell it anyway… Everyone knows that in this business, there isn’t a lot of money, so the songwriting, the finished product, the quality of it all is very important to us. If there’s one thing that we’re gonna have, it’s release quality products, so we don’t wanna give up on that. Limb [Music] kinda made that hard for us. They didn’t wanna pay us any advance for the record, we had nothing to produce the albums anymore, that’s why we had to leave and find a new partner which wanted to help us do what we want.

He few days ago Nils [K. Rue] had to sit out for 3 shows… What happened?

It’s not more complicated than that: his girlfriend was at home, she’s pregnant – he’s becoming a father for the first time now soon – and she wasn’t feeling so well. She had no one there, so he just had to go home and take care of her for a few days. Of course we understood that. A lot of things were more important than playing music for him at that moment, so we had our good friends from Circus Maximus sing for us. Most of the people who know Pagan’s Mind know Circus Maximus, so for them seeing Michael [Eriksen] would be a cool thing anyway, plus it was just for three gigs so… But Nils is okay, people don’t have to speculate about his living or anything, he just needed a couple of days off, that’s it.

How went those three shows with Michael Eriksen from Circus Maximus?

Oh, it was fantastic. Michael and Truls [Haugen] shared the vocals and I think they did an awesome job. They nailed it. There’re good friends so we just had a party, we had a very good time. Go on YouTube and you’ll find a lot of clips of these gigs. You’ll see they did a very good job.

« When you sit down for a period and try to write songs, you need to be honest and bring out what you wanna play and what inspires you. […] We play the music that we want to play and we hope that others’ll like it. It’s definitely not a PR trick or something like that. »

Apparently the recording of your previous album God’s Equation was very demanding. That’s the reason why you waited a few years before starting to record a new album. How was this album so different of the others?

I don’t know. I think most of our albums had been quite demanding. What was different after God’s Equation is that we toured a lot. After Celestial Entrance and Enigmatic: Calling we toured a little bit but only a few shows and some festivals here and there. After God’s Equation we did 80/90 gigs. That’s a big difference, and during all this touring we didn’t wanted to start any heavy writing. So we hadn’t start working on a new album until the summer 2009 and it took us about one year to write it. The album was done in October one year ago, but we didn’t start to search for a new label until it was done. We didn’t wanted to get interfered with this at the same time. As we were doing our music, we wanted to focus on our music, not on what a label would say, so we finished the album, then went around like “this is our new album, who wants it?”.

So will you tour less now?

No no, of course not! We spent ten days this spring touring in England, Belgium, and Holland. We had some festivals this summer, then some gigs in Norway. Now we’ve been on the road for three weeks touring with Symphony X. Then we will go home, have a few gigs in Norway, and come back to Belgium and Holland in December. Next year we’ll do a US tour and maybe some more shows in Europe as well, so of course we’re gonna tour and play. It’s just that we did 4 support tours after God’s Equation, and that’s not gonna happen again. We’re gonna play, and we also started to write new material. We have a goal really: it’s having a new album out in January 2013. That’s what the label want, so we’ll try to make that happen.

Your new album is entitled Heavenly Ecstasy. That’s quite a paradox, because when we think of heaven, we always have this quiet and peaceful image, and at the opposite, Hell is always seen as a more festive environnement, with drugs etc. What’s the meaning behind this title?

It’s definitely not drug related, absolutely not. To get the exact answer, I would say ask Nils because he came up with the title. But you know, if you see the titles of our albums like Infinity Divine, Celestial Entrance, everytime it’s linked to godly questions… It’s kind of a thread that we follow, you know, the epic, big, Stargate, sci-fi kind of thing. Then I guess Nils came up with Heavenly Excstasy because he thought it was suitable for the music. It has absolutely nothing to do with drugs or anything like that.

Your video clip of the song Intermission shows the band playing live, recording the album and touring. Why, at this point of your career, did you decide to realise such an intimate video?

I don’t know… We needed to make a video pretty fast and we had a lot of cool footages from tours and stuff, so we were like “why not just put these together?” Then we just tried to put together something that we would enjoy, hoping others would enjoy it as well. We didn’t have a million dollars budget to make a Steven Spielberg-like video, so we had to use what we had: a lot of cool footage. Plus you know, to me, Intermission is a rock’n’roll song, so it works well with the live setting, I think.

You asked your fans on the Pagan’s Mind’s official facebook page what would be their ideal setlist. Do you think you’ll use the results to change your setlist?

I saw that, and of course that’s definitely something to look into, but actually when I was looking at it I’ve seen that the songs the came up most of the time are songs we already have on our setlist when we play 1 hour and 40 minutes-long shows. In this situation, we change the setlist almost everynight. On this tour we only have 45 minutes. Of course it matters to us what the fans want. We try to please everyone.

You are a very communicative band on Facebook. Does that intense communication have an impact on your record sales or on gig sales?

Yeah, I think so. Facebook is the most important way to reach out to people these days. You have to be careful not doing it to much I guess… We have a friend in Holland who took over and helped us with the page. We went from 2000 to 12000 fans in like 7, 8 months and it’s still growing and growing. It’s a very good thing. If they want, people can follow us and see what we are doing.

Nowadays, Prog Metal bands tend to write more catchy and less complex songs. Do you think that they try to adapt to the fact that what we call the Ipod generation only listens to singles?

I have to let other bands speak for themselves, but I can say with the hand on my heart that we write the music that we want to write and that we like. We’re very proud of this new album. I never saw Pagan’s Mind as a number one progressive band. We made progressive albums, but right now we are more like a metal band with some progressive elements in it. We don’t wanna get boring. Maybe the next album is gonna be very progressive, who knows, but the thing is, when you sit down for a period and try to write songs, you need to be honest and bring out what you wanna play and what inspires you. If we were trying to make the same album over and over again like “we have to do this and this and this”, then our music would be shit. We play the music that we want to play and we hope that others’ll like it. It’s definitely not a PR trick or something like that.

About Jørn Lande : « Working wise, we clicked very well and if I hadn’t had to make the choice I made, I could have stick with his own band. […] I think that I will cooperate with Jørn again in the future. I’m sure about that..« 

You also played with Beautiful Sin and Jorn. Can you update us on your activites as a guitarist outside Pagan’s Mind?

Right now, not so much is happening outside of Pagan’s Mind. Beautiful Sin was a project of our friend Uli Kusch from Masterplan, Helloween etc. He asked me and Steinar [Krokmo] if we wanted to help out and we accepted. That was a cool project, too bad it hasn’t gone out live, but who knows, maybe we’ll make a new album. We talked about it. It’s cool stuff but I guess the stuff with Jørn was much more serious for me. I mean, I worked with Jørn for six years and a half. It was me and him as a partnership, writing all the music, producing everything, mixing together and doing everything together, so… Having to make the decision to leave that band in 2008 was not easy for me because I put my heart and soul into it. But the fact is that I can’t be in two places at the same time. It’s just as simple as that. I love the Jorn band, I love the guys and I miss them very much, but you know, you can’t do everything, so… But at least they go on and 80% of their set-list is still songs I wrote with Jørn so at least it’s something.

Somehting you’re proud of.

Yeah, absolutely.

By the way, Jørn Lande left a lot of bands he sang with. It looks like he has a really precise idea of what he wants. You know him better than everyone I guess, so what can you tell us about his personality?

To be honest, I think that if Jørn would be able to chose, he wouldn’t do all these projects. You have to remember that sometimes, you have to make a living: he needs bread on the table everyday so… I know that at heart, what he likes the most is classic heavy metal. If he could choose, he’d have love to make enough money to feed all the guys that play in the band and himself just touring with Jorn, but sadly it’s not enough. So he has to do other projects, and take other offers. That’s understandable. He’s a professional musician and he does what it takes. I think that’s the main reason why you have all these different things. I think he was very serious with Masterplan at that time though, maybe it developped in a way he didn’t liked. With Ark, he was also really doing his best, making one of his best albums with this band… But I think that since 2004/2005, the most of his energy went into building up the Jorn band, and now, it starts to become much bigger than what it was. As a person, I think he’s a very good hearted man. Everytime he sits down, he wanna make the best song. He’s a fantastic songwriter. It’s been a privilege for me to work with him. We made a very good team, I really miss that, but he talks a lot [he laughs]. Everyone who has talked to him knows that he talks a lot. But he’s a good guy, and his heart is in the music. I have nothing but good things to say about him.

Since you played with him for so long and you didn’t split with him like most of the musician he’s been with, do you think that you’re able to understand him more than the other musicians he played with do?

Me and Jørn were not only musicians that played together, but very good friends as well. Even though I don’t talk with him that much anymore, I know that he has a lot of respect for me and I have a lot of respect for him. That’s what this is about. Maybe in other bands you have bigger personnalities working together… I don’t know. Working wise, we clicked very well and if I hadn’t had to make the choice I made, I could have stick with his own band. But at the time I chose Pagan’s Mind and then I followed that. Jørn just said “you need to understand that I need a guitar player that can be there when we do the gigs”, and of course I understand that. I had to make a choice. If it hadn’t been for that, I would still be playing with him. I don’t know. There’re a lot of different reasons. With Masterplan, he didn’t write that much of the music, and maybe power metal is not really his thing. Playing [he sings] with the double bass and stuff isn’t his thing. He likes classic hard rock. You know, last year he played with Heaven & Hell, and I really hoped he’d become part of that band. He deserves it. In my opinion, he’s the best singer that has been since 2000 until now. He’d deserve to make a really good classic heavy rock album with someone of that calibre.

Did you regret the decision to leave Jorn and just play with Pagan’s Mind?

Sure, but you can’t have everything. That’s the way it is. Also, I thought it would be easier to replace me in Jorn because we were two guitar player and Tor, the other one is still there. It was me and Jørn writing everything but we shared all the stuff, solos, etc. It was maybe easier to find someone to take my place in Jorn than in Pagan’s Mind. Pagan’s Mind is a band of friends coming from the same city, that do the things differently than Jorn… Like I said it wasn’t easy to leave Jorn but that’s just the way it got. It is what it is.

Today would you make the same choice?

Yeah, I don’t know… Yes, no I can’t regret. I don’t think I would do anything else. But then again I think that I will cooperate with Jørn again in the future. I’m sure about that.

Interview conducted on october 19th, 2011 face to face in Lyon
Transcription par Chloé

Pagan’s Mind’s Website : www.pagansmind.com

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