Re­leas­ing 10 al­bums in 15 years is no mean feat, but when that canon in­cludes schol­arly con­cept records about the uni­verse, con­scious­ness and just about ev­ery­thing else, ex­tra plau­dits are in or­der. Gaz­pa­cho’s lat­est ef­fort Soyuz ad­dresses the idea of be

Prog - - Contents - Words: Chris Cope Images: Justin Lam­bert

It’s all about freez­ing mo­ments in time for the thought­ful Nor­we­gians on Soyuz.

Prog is de­lighted to re­port that the uni­verse was not de­stroyed by Gaz­pa­cho’s last al­bum, Molok. At least, not yet. In case you missed the en­gross­ing record back in 2015, it ended with a noise that would gen­er­ate a ran­dom number when used in a CD player, and if that number cor­re­lated to the po­si­tion of all elec­trons in the uni­verse, it could ul­ti­mately wipe out the world.

The Oslo sex­tet aren’t quite so reck­less on their fol­low-up al­bum Soyuz, thank­fully. In­stead of glee­fully toy­ing with the ex­is­tence of mankind, they’re con­cen­trat­ing on the con­cept of be­ing frozen in time.

It’s another heady, cere­bral ef­fort from the deep-think­ing Nor­we­gians, with their unique brew of art rock as al­ways pro­vid­ing a lush foun­da­tion un­der­neath all the meta­physics.

“I was think­ing the other day, when my daugh­ter was a two-year-old girl, they’re great fun to be around and they’re very cute and you can carry them around and they’ll do what you say,” says af­fa­ble key­boardist Thomas An­der­son through Skype from his home stu­dio in Oslo.

“And now that she’s 10, I re­alise that two-year-old is dead. I’ve got a 10-year-old in place of the two-year-old, but the twoyear-old her­self is gone. Even atoms that made up that two-year-old, I think, are ba­si­cally gone. So in the con­stant changes we’re shed­ding skin all the time, and you can never hang on to any­thing. Even your body, the body you’re in­hab­it­ing now, is not the same body that was born those years ago. So I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if you could pause the world?’”

One of the main mo­tifs of the record is the ill-fated flight of Rus­sian spacecraft Soyuz 1 back in 1967. Cos­mo­naut Colonel Vladimir Ko­marov, who was the only person on the mis­sion, died af­ter the de­scent mod­ule crashed back into Earth af­ter a para­chute fail­ure.

But the his­tory books say the mis­sion was doomed from the get-go, with Ko­marov know­ing he was un­likely to make it back alive.

“This was back in the Cold War, and the lead­ers in the Krem­lin wanted to get into space quickly because the Amer­i­cans were do­ing very well,” An­der­son says. “But the en­gi­neers had a list of 200 prob­lems with the spacecraft, and they said, ‘We have to re­solve all of these 200 prob­lems or this thing can’t fly,’ and the leadership says, ‘Well, we’re send­ing it up any­way to­mor­row.’

“But he went any­way, know­ing full well that this was not go­ing to end well, no matter what. And he be­came frozen in time, as sort of an iconic cos­mo­naut vic­tim of this crazy space race. But at the same time, it’s al­most like Schrödinger’s cat. When he was in his lit­tle cap­sule, he was sort of 50 per cent alive and 50 per cent dead al­ready. There was no chance it was go­ing to work.

“So it be­came a great im­age for the idea of be­ing out of time, because the guy was alone in the lit­tle cap­sule, much like you are in your skull – you’re alone in a cap­sule too and you’re or­bit­ing the Earth in that cap­sule, and you’re wait­ing for this in­evitable fiery crash.

“We’re al­ways striv­ing towards mak­ing the per­fect al­bum, and un­til we do, we’re not go­ing to give up.”

Thomas An­der­son

“So this is sort of linked to this whole loose con­cept of be­ing frozen in time, which the al­bum is about. It makes me think a hell of a lot more than many of our other al­bums, and it’s dif­fi­cult to grasp, but at the same time, it makes per­fect sense to me.”

“Time is ex­tremely fas­ci­nat­ing if you try to be philo­soph­i­cal about it,” singer Jan Hen­rik Ohme adds. “We’ve had all the good times – peo­ple talk­ing about the good times of, ‘Ah, re­mem­ber when…’ You can’t freeze it. You can be in a po­si­tion or a situation where you think, ‘I just want to stay here for­ever,’ but you can’t. It’s ab­so­lutely mer­ci­less. It just goes on, and boof, it’s gone.”

The al­bum was recorded in Oslo and Fredrik­stad, a city closer to the Swedish bor­der, with for­mer mem­ber Robert Jo­hansen back be­hind the drum kit fol­low­ing the de­par­ture of Lars Erik Asp last year. It was mixed by John Rausch, who has pop VIPs Tay­lor Swift and P!nk in his cred­its, which helped to bring a crisp aura to its sound.

Ohme says Soyuz was recorded the “mod­ern way – when you can, where you can”.

“We’re all in full-time jobs,” he adds, nod­ding to the time con­straints of jug­gling em­ploy­ment with life as a mu­si­cian. “I man­age a de­part­ment at Sony Mu­sic. Thomas has his own stu­dio and has tonnes of com­mer­cials to do. Michael [Krømer, vi­o­lin] is a com­puter en­gi­neer – his com­pany in­vents new com­puter chips, they’re a huge com­pany. Kris­tian [Torp, bass] is work­ing at a venue in Fredrik­stad, do­ing ev­ery­thing from be­ing the sound en­gi­neer to do­ing back­line tech.”

The sound of Soyuz is yet another pro­gres­sion in the band’s weighty, pro­lific back cat­a­logue, which spans an im­pres­sive 10 al­bums in just 15 years.

“Molok was qui­eter, it was more in­tro­spec­tive. This is a more out­go­ing al­bum. It’s nois­ier, it’s got lots more mu­si­cal ideas crammed into it, it has a greater sense of space and it has a big­ger sense of ex­cite­ment,” says An­der­son.

“This one is mixed in be­tween the fu­ture, past and present and it’s a more cur­rent al­bum. And by that I don’t in any way mean po­lit­i­cal or cur­rent af­fairs, which doesn’t in­ter­est me, but it’s an al­bum that sort of jumps out of the speak­ers at you more than Molok did, and it’s a con­tin­u­a­tion of the Gaz­pa­cho sound. It sounds more mod­ern, as it has more elec­tronic beats and sounds.”

Take the lead track Soyuz One, for in­stance, which throbs with man-made thumps, while Exit Suite en­joys vi­o­lin-led sound­scapes grounded by punc­tu­ated clock ticks. The or­ches­tral Sky Burial oc­ca­sion­ally chan­nels the melodies of Scott Walker, while the creepy Hy­po­ma­nia dips into Muse-es­que grandeur.

In typ­i­cal Gaz­pa­cho style, though, the eight tracks man­age to jug­gle gloomy melan­choly with up­lift­ing melody. It can be un­nerv­ing at times, yet wholly em­bold­en­ing too.

“We don’t rely on Gaz­pa­cho to feed us, we don’t need money in the band,” An­der­son says. “We sort of de­cided that as long as we’re in­ter­ested, then prob­a­bly other peo­ple will be in­ter­ested too. And at the same time, mu­sic has be­come cheap. By that, I mean if you go to Spo­tify now, you can lis­ten to any­thing you like, and there’s 1,000 new al­bums com­ing out ev­ery day by dif­fer­ent bands.

“So I think if we’re go­ing to be re­leas­ing al­bums, we need to make an al­bum that could only have been made by us. So it’s unique in the sense that ev­ery time we make an al­bum it could only be Gaz­pa­cho that made it, and as long as those cri­te­ria ap­ply, then none of the al­bums will top any of the other ones – they’re all dif­fer­ent as­pects of the same thing.”

It’s fair to say the Nor­we­gians – whose line-up is com­pleted by gui­tarist Jon-Arne Vilbo – have done a grand job of main­tain­ing their own unique sound. The group was formed by An­der­son, Ohme and Vilbo back in 1996, the band name snatched from a screen­saver that fea­tured the Marillion song ti­tle, rather than the cold soup. But it wasn’t un­til 2003 that their first full-length al­bum

Bravo was re­leased.

The flood­gates opened af­ter that, and by 2010 they had al­ready un­leashed six records, in­clud­ing the crit­i­cally ac­claimed

Night and Tick Tock, both of which helped to crys­tallise the art­ful, classy Gaz­pa­cho sound we’re fa­mil­iar with.

“When we started out, we hadn’t found Gaz­pa­cho yet,” Ohme says. “The first al­bum was us get­ting to know each other and what we could and could not do. We don’t have a Wake­man, or the long, fast, tech­ni­cal so­los, or the ‘look at me’ mu­si­cians. We’re more a col­lec­tive that wants to get the best out of all of the mem­bers.

“We’d search for a sound, and it took us un­til 2007 to find it, I think. We first found it on the al­bums Night and Tick Tock, and af­ter do­ing two of those con­cept al­bums with many long songs, we kind of went back to, ‘Right, if we try to make our sound now what Gaz­pa­cho sounds like, but make shorter songs again,’ and we made Missa Atro­pos and March Of Ghosts. We kind of dab­bled go­ing back to play­ing with shorter songs, and then we went back to the longer con­cept al­bums.

“We don’t have a Wake­man, or the long, fast, tech­ni­cal so­los, or the ‘look at me’ mu­si­cians. We’re more a col­lec­tive that wants to get the best out of all of the mem­bers.”

Jan Hen­rik Ohme

“We’re try­ing to move within what we can do, so that we don’t keep mak­ing the same al­bum ev­ery time.”

Mean­while, as Prog chats to An­der­son through the mar­vels of video tech­nol­ogy, the mu­si­cian shows off his sur­round­ings, in­clud­ing a view out­side the door of his stu­dio. It’s been snow­ing heav­ily, and it paints a pic­turesque im­age of life in Nor­way.

For a na­tion with a population of just over five mil­lion, the Scan­di­na­vian coun­try has been punch­ing above its weight in the prog scene for years. From Le­prous, Ih­sahn and Jaga Jazz­ist to Ma­jor Parkin­son, Wob­bler and En­slaved, there’s a hell of a lot go­ing on in the Nordic coun­try at all ends of the ex­per­i­men­tal spec­trum.

“The cli­mate and the light will im­pact you,” Ohme says, re­flect­ing on liv­ing at 59 de­grees north. “I’m a dif­fer­ent person now from when the snow is gone and the sun is out. Now it’s pitch black when I leave the of­fice and it’s pitch black when I go to the of­fice. Of course that im­pacts you and your state of mind. You can lis­ten to a Nor­we­gian artist, even pop artists now, and lis­ten and hear inspiration or call it the sound of Nor­way.

“If you lis­ten to some of our mu­sic, it’s funny, because we of­ten have Ara­bic scales in some of our songs, and more Rus­sian scales as well, if there’s such a thing. We use some of the same scales that some of the Rus­sian com­posers are fa­mous for. The rea­son for that is that both Thomas and I love clas­si­cal Rus­sian com­posers.

“We try to pull in forms of old mu­sic into our songs one way or another. Michael on the vi­o­lin is great at what he does – we’ve in­cor­po­rated some an­cient Nor­we­gian folk tunes and melodies that we haven’t writ­ten, but it’s like trad Nor­we­gian from the 1500s, 1600s, 1700s, and put them in the mu­sic.”

An­der­son, how­ever, isn’t quite so sure about how much of Nor­way seeps into Gaz­pa­cho’s song­writ­ing. “I don’t feel that it in­flu­ences us in any way other than we have ac­cess to my sum­mer house, and that we can go to cab­ins in the moun­tains and write stuff. It gives us ac­cess to shit­loads of nice scenery and pri­vacy, because a lot of these cab­ins in the moun­tains can be so re­mote that you can make as much noise as you pos­si­bly want.”

So where are Gaz­pa­cho at in 2018? They’re per­form­ing per­haps their length­i­est shows yet around Europe this sum­mer, in­clud­ing a stop-off at the Be Prog! My Friend fes­ti­val in Barcelona and a gig in Lon­don in May, with the set due to span their back cat­a­logue.

And you wouldn’t bet against the Nor­we­gians con­tin­u­ing their pro­lific run of form with more new ma­te­rial in the near fu­ture. Their quest for mu­si­cal per­fec­tion, it seems, con­tin­ues in earnest.

“We’re al­ways striv­ing towards mak­ing the per­fect al­bum, and un­til we do, we’re not go­ing to give up,” An­der­son says.

“I think the clos­est to a per­fect al­bum in the world is Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love,” he adds. “If we ever top that one, then I’ll let you know and I’ll be say­ing, ‘That’s it for me, thank you very much.’”






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