Interview by Jason Guest
Hi. Thanks for taking time out for this interview. Congratulations on Ænigma, a very impressive album (Ed: Jason’s review is here). What was it that you wanted to achieve with the album?
Johnar: Thanks a lot. We did not want to change anything, but rather continue to operate in the same musical landscape and to further fine-tune our sound. In my opinion, In Vain has developed a unique sound, so we did not have to “find ourselves” in that sense. However, we had an ambition of having some shorter and more catchy songs this time around, and not an entire album packed with songs that last 8 minutes and more. Hence, some of the shorter tracks like ‘Image of Time’ and ‘Hymne til Havet’. I think it is a good balance between long and short tracks on Ænigma.
How have In Vain progressed since Mantra?
Andreas: The biggest difference with Ænigma contrary to our previous albums is perhaps what Johnar mentions in the previous question. There is a better mix of short and long songs. I also think we have managed to make the songs more effective and concise, cutting any unnecessary riffs and parts. With this album it was the first time we did a pre-production, so that was very productive and helpful.
Musically speaking, Ænigma has a lot going on across the album. How do you work to balance the obvious skill level of you all as musicians with your creativity and song-writing?
Johnar: When I write the music, I do not limit the song’s potential with respect to what capabilities that is within the band. E.g. if I feel a song really needs horns, we will use guest musicians, and when playing live have the horns on playback. One other example is that some songs might have several vocalists, because the various parts need different voices. That is not an ideal situation when it comes to performing the song live, but again; we always prioritize to make a best possible recorded version of the song, instead of worrying about how to play it live. When it comes to the members in the band we have several skilled musicians. But there is no room for show-off in In Vain.
With six members in the band, how do In Vain work together to create songs? Is it a collaborative effort or do you write individually? Do you discuss ideas about what you want to achieve with each track or is it an evolutionary process?
Johnar: I write all the songs by myself. When I compose I compose a song from A-Z, meaning that I present a song with drums, guitars, bass, vocal ideas, etc. I always have strong opinions about what each member should do. Hence, I give guidelines, but each member is still free to add their personal touch to the music.
When did you start work on the album? And how long have you spent on the album?
Johnar: We started with the pre-production during the summer of 2012. The recording was from September to November I guess, and Jens Bogren mixed the album in December. The song-writing for this album has been on and off, but most was written during early 2012. One exception is the track ‘To the Core’ was actually recorded for the Mantra album, back in 2008. That song never made it to the Mantra album, because I did not get the right stomach-feeling while listening to it. While writing for Ænigma I decided to pull it out of the drawer and to re-arrange it.
Are there any tracks on the album that stand out for you? Are there any that you think mark a significant development for the band or indicate where you see the band heading in future?
Johnar: I really like ‘Image of Time’, because it is a bit non-typical In Vain song. It is short and quite easy-listening, so sort different compared to our other tunes. I’ll definitely try to make more songs like that in the future. When it comes to the direction on our next album, that is impossible to say for now. I think our music already has grasped a broad musical landscape, so we have plenty of space to operate in. In Vain will continue in the same style and to play metal. However, we might add some new elements. E.g. we have never tried female vocals. Perhaps we will try on one song?
Can you tell us about the title? How does it relate to the music?
Andreas: Ænigma is the latin spelling of enigma and the title just kind of popped up as we were working with the artwork, which is kind of an enigma itself. There’s also the song called ‘Culmination of The Enigma’, track no. 5 on the album. The title sort of reflects the musical and lyrical landscape of In Vain. Both landscapes can leave the listeners in wonder. On one hand, our music can be diverse and hard to digest, whilst our lyrics often have a philosophical origin.
Johnar: Coming up with the album title is the hardest part of releasing an album title in my opinion. I do not have a hard time coming up with song titles, but the album title is always difficult. However, in the end we decided to go with Ænigma, which I think fits the album perfectly.
Can you tell us about the lyrics? Who writes them and where does inspiration come from? Is there a theme or a concept that links them all?
Andreas: It is Johnar and I who write all the lyrics. They range from personal experiences, philosophy, nature, historical events and everything between heaven and earth basically. The only rule is that we stay clear of any direct religious or political message. In Vain is about having fun and making the music we enjoy. In Vain is not here to bring forth any message. On the other hand, we put a lot of work in our lyrics and we want them all to carry a special meaning. Nothing is worse than to ruin a great song with shitty lyrics…
About the artwork, who is the artist? And how much direction did you give them in its creation?
Johnar: We were very prominent in our directions to the designer that we did not want a typical photo-shopped metal cover. We wanted something new and fresh, more creative and abstract. The designer suggested that we he would draw the cover. We thought that was a good idea and gave him keywords for what kind of emotions we would like him to portray. And while on topic, we think Robert Høyem did an excellent job with the cover!
Boundaries between music genres are perpetually becoming blurred and being challenged. Do you think that has music reached an evolutionary step in that exploration and integration of sounds and genres that once appeared to be disparate is a necessity, that musicians have little choice but to explore other genres if they want to progress?
Johnar: I think it is a constant evolution, however I think the old genres will remain. There will always be people who prefer it old school and less progressive. It is important that you have bands with different approaches to music. If everyone was doing the same it would be boring; but on the other hand, if everybody was playing weird mixes of all kinds of genres you would want to hear some straight rock’n’roll like ACDC.
Despite the argument that the internet and piracy is having a negative impact on the music business, creatively speaking, music – at least in the underground – is thriving as a host of new bands are emerging and pushing further music into new sonic territories. What’s your opinion of the internet and its impact on music? Do you think that because of the ease of making music available, the internet has affected the quality of music?
Johnar: It has both good and bad sides. The most obvious is that you can spread your music very easily. E.g. the other day we got a message from someone in Syria telling us they love our latest album. That’s great, and I have no problem with them downloading our CD, as our music is not available in their country anyway. Our music would probably not have reached so far without the Internet. So that is the good side of it. However, I do not agree with certain people who think a CD should be as cheap as a few beers. There is a lot of blood, sweat and hard work behind an album, and in my opinion you should honour musicians work and support them if you like their music. Some also seem to believe that it does not matter if you download or not, because it is only hurting the label. That is not correct. For a band like In Vain, the amount of records is the key factor when the label decides whether they want to release a new album with us or not. It is also the key point when they decide on our album budget and so forth.
With illegal file-sharing threatening the music industry, do you think it’s become more of a challenge for band’s to survive?
Johnar: Trying to make a living as a band is not possible anymore and when it comes to In Vain we have never made a single dime from music. By that I mean that members never have been paid. All the money we make is invested in the band. Music is our passion, but we have normal jobs that provide personal income. Consequently, we are not dependent on earning money with In Vain. My only concern is that our label doesn’t earn enough and that we would be cut from the label. At the end of the day, a label is a business that needs to make money and if nobody buys albums, the smaller bands are the first to go. I also touched upon some of the other negative consequences from downloading in the previous question.
Which do you prefer, CD, vinyl, or MP3? And why?
Johnar: I prefer streaming because I mostly listen to music while I am walking to work, working out, etc. I plan to buy a record player for vinyl though.
What does the future hold for In Vain? Is there more music in the pipeline?
Johnar: I always have plenty of ideas lying around and hope to start writing new music in the autumn. While we are promoting the new CD I don’t have any energy or time to write new music. Soon summer is coming, and that is not a good time to write anyway.
Will In Vain be touring in support of the album? If so, will we be seeing you in the UK?
Johnar: We recently played in London, the first show of our European Tour with Vreid and Solefald which we are currently doing now. Hopefully we can do another tour in the autumn, and I definitely hope that UK will be a part of that tour.
Thanks again for taking time out for this interview. Do you have any closing words for our readers?
Johnar: Thanks a lot for taking the time to do this interview! I encourage all readers to check out our new album Ænigma. Take care!