Af­ter Dan­ish prog­gers VOLA re­leased their cel­e­brated de­but record In­mazes in 2016, the task of fol­low­ing it up was al­ways go­ing to be tricky. Has Ap­plause Of A Dis­tant Crowd swat­ted away that sec­ond al­bum syn­drome? Prog finds out.

Prog - - Contents - Words: Chris Cope

The Dan­ish prog­gers are ready to lap up the ap­plause with al­bum num­ber two.

VOLA gui­tarist and vo­cal­ist As­ger My­gind misses some­thing. Right now it’s not the nos­tal­gic haze of child­hood, though, or a lost friend­ship. In­stead, he misses liv­ing a life where you don’t have so­cial me­dia cat­a­pult­ing no­ti­fi­ca­tions at you all day, and where there’s no sub­con­scious de­sire to check your mo­bile phone when you’ve got a few min­utes to spare.

“For me there’s a feel­ing of some­times just be­ing lost in so­cial me­dia and not be­ing able to find a way back to my own thought­ful­ness,” he says down the phone from a li­brary in Copen­hagen. “Some­times I miss the days where you can just sit on a chair and look out the win­dow and not have this urge to check my phone.

“Now we al­low our­selves to get in­ter­rupted all the time, be­cause we feel there is so much en­ter­tain­ment out there, and it’s re­ally hard not to in­dulge in all that. I have this fear that it might af­fect my cre­ativ­ity in the long run, if I lose this thought­ful­ness that you can get out­side of so­cial me­dia.”

Judg­ing by his band’s new al­bum Ap­plause Of A Dis­tant Crowd, My­gind has noth­ing to worry about. The Copen­hagen quar­tet’s record is a com­pelling, vi­va­cious and, yes, very creative and very thought­ful fol­low-up to their im­pres­sive 2016 de­but In­mazes, and it’s one that sees the prog­gers evolve their sound with ease.

The ti­tle of the al­bum – which was recorded in Copen­hagen in 2017, with much of the work done at My­gind’s home stu­dio – is a nod to so­cial me­dia and how many peo­ple try to present them­selves in a pos­i­tive light to ‘friends’ they may never see in real life, and it’s a theme through­out the record.

So­cial net­work­ing and its ap­par­ent neg­a­tive ef­fect on so­ci­ety has quickly be­come a hot topic, one that is be­com­ing very re­lat­able to bil­lions of screen junkies across the world.

‘Watch me now, I’m van­ish­ing in the light,’ My­gind’s voice swirls in the dreamy ti­tle track. ‘I’ve pho­tographed my lat­est meal, in black and white, I kept my faith in videos of cats in shoes.’

“It’s sort of the con­text that most of the songs are placed in,” My­gind says. “They are in­spired by ob­ser­va­tions about how our re­la­tion­ships have changed since so­cial me­dia be­came a big part of our ev­ery­day lives.

“There’s a feel­ing of some­times just be­ing lost in so­cial me­dia and not be­ing able to find a way back to my own thought­ful­ness.”

As­ger My­gind

“It’s a feel­ing of be­ing close on­line but be­ing dis­tant in the real world, if you can call any­thing the real world. It’s also about how you can reach peo­ple who are very far away. We can make mu­sic and get feed­back from a girl liv­ing in Brazil or South Africa, a con­nec­tion to a dis­tant crowd, and that im­age is a part of some of the lyrics.”

It’s ironic that the more pos­i­tive side of so­cial me­dia has no doubt played a part in get­ting VOLA get to where they are to­day: one of mod­ern prog’s most prodi­gious tal­ents.

The band – com­pleted by key­board player Martin Wer­ner, bas­sist Ni­co­lai Mo­gensen and drum­mer Adam Janzi – started their jour­ney back in 2006 when My­gind and some friends killed time by jam­ming out songs by their he­roes in his par­ents’ base­ment. Back then it was lu­mi­nar­ies such as Dream The­ater, Opeth and Por­cu­pine Tree that sparked VOLA’s imag­i­na­tion, al­though trip hop­pers Mas­sive At­tack also in­spired them.

Demos, EPs and some line-up changes fol­lowed be­fore In­mazes put the Danes truly on the prog map. Its cover, based on a draw­ing by artist An­ders Thrane, show­ing a man’s head dis­sected into black and white lines, was joined by a sound that was just as mem­o­rable, with the metal­lic at­tack of Meshug­gah mar­ried with the melodic majesty of Haken or Kar­nivool.

But this time around, things are a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. One of the lead sin­gles, Ghosts, shines a bright light on VOLA’s more gen­tle side, with a floaty key­board mo­tif al­lied with soar­ing vo­cals. It was largely well-re­ceived, but one wor­ried YouTube user wrote that it “feels too generic pop”, while a fan on Face­book lobbed over that dreaded hand grenade of cri­tique: they thought it sounded a lit­tle too “Cold­play”.

But VOLA don’t care. It’s part of the plan – a quest to rein­vig­o­rate their sound. Do­ing the same thing twice doesn’t fit into their way of think­ing.

“If we had made an In­mazes num­ber two, it would have been a com­pe­ti­tion be­tween those two al­bums. I think it would have failed be­cause for the style we used on In­mazes, I don’t think we could bet­ter it, re­ally,” My­gind re­flects.

“It was that style taken to 800 per cent. It felt nec­es­sary to do some­thing dif­fer­ent this time and I feel like we’re search­ing a bit more on this al­bum, to fig­ure out what makes sense for us.

“I think it’s more ex­per­i­men­ta­tion re­ally than In­mazes. That felt more like a com­fort zone, which I guess was a prod­uct of the EP that came be­fore that – Mon­sters – which went into this more djent-ish sound. Now we’re ex­per­i­ment­ing a bit more again on this al­bum. Maybe on the next al­bum we’ll be a bit more de­fined.

“You find a cer­tain sound and you write some songs around the sound, and then you get tired of be­ing there and you move to an­other place, and dur­ing that trip you al­ways make new mu­sic, right? I feel like this al­bum is that we’re at this place now, just try­ing to fig­ure out what we like do­ing the most at this point in time.”

While VOLA say In­mazes was in­spired by an­gu­lar over­lords Meshug­gah, Ap­plause Of A Dis­tant Crowd sees them re­vert back to older in­flu­ences like Por­cu­pine Tree and Ocean­size to mould some­thing more bal­anced while still keep­ing some of the djent-speck­led punches and groove.

“It felt more fun to go back to some of those bands,” My­gind says. “But I hadn’t ac­tu­ally been lis­ten­ing that much to mu­sic prior to this al­bum. I was lis­ten­ing more to pod­casts and watch­ing shows like Black Mir­ror.

I think that has maybe been a big­ger in­flu­ence than lis­ten­ing to mu­sic.”

While the spec­ta­cle of prog acts like Dream The­ater were part of My­gind’s up­bring­ing, don’t ex­pect the same level of mu­si­cal flour­ishes with VOLA. The nuts and bolts of song­writ­ing are key, al­though they do have their mo­ments. Alien Shiv­ers, for in­stance, launches with an ar­tillery fire of dis­torted riffs snaking around the gui­tar neck.

“I think we’ve writ­ten a good song if it also sounds good on an acous­tic gui­tar, stripped down,” My­gind says. “If that’s pos­si­ble, then we’ve suc­ceeded. I still en­joy those small tech­ni­cal de­tails, though. I think they add a layer to the lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, makes these small nu­ances un­fold when you lis­ten mul­ti­ple times, which I en­joy a lot as a lis­tener. And there also has to be a level of en­ter­tain­ment play­ing the songs – it has to be fun. I think hav­ing some tech­ni­cal­ity in there makes it more fun.”

“It’s tech­ni­cal with a pur­pose,” adds drum­mer Janzi, who lives in Swe­den and has to fly to Den­mark for his VOLA work. “As long as it gives some­thing to the song, then it’s just fun. A few songs re­quire some­thing more tech­ni­cal and oth­ers don’t. In the end, it’s about what the song needs.”

The smoother sound of Ap­plause

Of A Dis­tant Crowd may ap­peal more to rock fans than djent devo­tees, with My­gind cred­it­ing less gain on the gui­tars and a more nat­u­ral drum sound as two ways in which things may be more palat­able to the ev­ery­day lis­tener.

“I think many peo­ple will give it a chance and maybe will end up en­joy­ing it a lot, if they just al­low them­selves to dive into the al­bum,” he says. “I could see it open­ing some new doors for us.”

In­mazes had al­ready opened up huge doors for VOLA – the band toured with Kata­to­nia and played fes­ti­vals like Blood­stock and UK Tech-Fest – but with the new record in tow, it feels like the mod­ern-day prog­gers are on the cusp of some­thing big­ger and bet­ter.

“For us it’s just about mov­ing for­ward and do­ing it 100 per cent,” My­gind says. “I have no hes­i­ta­tions about where I want to bring this band. I want to go as far as we can, I want to make this my way of liv­ing and I want to write bet­ter songs than I do now.”

“It’s tech­ni­cal with a pur­pose. As long as it gives some­thing to the song, then it’s just fun.”

Adam Janzi

Im­ages: Si­mon Laessøe


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