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Shifting Sands Band Interview

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Shifting Sands Band Interview
New album..........Shifting Sands
Shifting Sands Reviews
Polar Rock Festival
Geir Helge Fredheim - Vocals
Arnulf Øvre - Guitars
Karl Gudmund Birkely - Keyboards
Lars Rikard Kvaal - Bass Guitar
Rolf-Erik Nyland - Drums
Not any old backing vocalist....
My "Wee" brother
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Z WAS ROCKED !!!
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My Review Of Return To The Mirror
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Congratulations on a fantastic album!

Rolf -Thanks! I’m glad you like it. I think I do, too, but right now I’m a bit fed up, to be honest!

Arnulf - Thank you. I'm very satisfied with this record. I still listen to it myself from time to time, and enjoy it. That's pretty good when you think about the numerous listenings throughout production and mixing.

Karl - Thank you very much! I think it shows that we have grown and learned from the experience we got recording RTTM. I am very pleased with it.
 
How did you come up with the name Shifting Sands ?

Rolf - It happened in the studio, while waiting for some kind of process to finish. Your mind wanders as soon as you let go, ‘cause you’re concentrating so much during the sessions. While pondering the likenesses – common ground if you will – of our first and second album, I got to thinking about these reference points as landscape and landmarks. Symbolized by the unchanging band name, WinterStrain.
Navigating through the wilderness, guided by the mountains that are always in the same spot – and cliffs by the shore, if you’re in a boat. And then I started thinking about the desert and how the landscape may change completely after a sandstorm. Shifting Sands...
At that moment, it occurred to me that what we are doing is a bit like that. Everything changes, and some of your reference points are fata morganas. All in all, both life in general and WinterStrain’s journey has been like that. On the cover, WinterStrain is the reference point and Shifting Sands speaks of change.

15 years for the first album to be completed….3 years for the second !  You are finally getting the hang of making an album ! lol

Rolf - Well, it was a bit faster this time around, but I wonder if not a few of those 15 went into this one, too.

Return To The Mirror had songs that were quite old on it. What was the oldest song used for Shifting Sands ?

Rolf - That’s just the thing I was hinting at. We used some material this time, that was fifteen years old by the time Return... was released. But we refreshed the songs. Rewrote big or small parts of them.

Arnulf - Company was probably the oldest one. The chords to the verse, bridge and chorus have practically not changed at all since 1990. All the instrumental themes and solos have been written in 2005 I think. Rolf’s lyrics and melodies had to be rewritten around that time as well, since the old ones were lost.

Rolf - Yep. The subject matter changed completely in the process, too. In essence, it's a completely fresh lyric, with only the title surviving from the original.


You did quite a bit of upgrading for the studio before you started recording Shifting Sands !
 
Rolf - Yes. For the first album, there was no way I could afford to use acoustic drums. I had no drum set at the time, and I was just finished building the studio. Synth drums are cheap, and can be connected to your computer, which doesn’t have to be very powerful to deal with the midi notes.
Later, I came into a streak of luck, as I made the most incredible bargains on everything I needed. I got a proper acoustic set for an incredible price, and found the best cymbals and the best double pedal in the world, after a Scotsman’s haggling. Next, Geir-Helge hooked me up with a mixing desk, a full set of microphones, and stands. Then I needed a snake, so I could move the desk to the control room, so Alf could tweak the drum sound properly. You’ll love the sound of this, Steven: When I came to the store to pick up the heavily discounted piece, they couldn’t find it, and the only other snake they had was in a different league completely. But since it was the only one they had, and I had travelled far to get it, I got it for the price we’d agreed upon. It came down to something like an 85% discount!!!
Of course, the old computer, now four or five years old, couldn’t cope with having to record a whole bunch of audio tracks, and play back all existing tracks simultaneously. So, I had to build a new one. And now, no bargains were made. This was two years ago, and it still beats the shit out of everything that is advertised by the big chains. It can do only one thing, but it does it extremely well. We also have the best audio card in the world.
I know I’ve done some more stuff... I got new software, new monitors... another mixing desk for the rest of the instruments... and Geir-Helge bought a proper microphone for vocals, and donated to the studio.

You also have your own studio in the house Karl which means you don’t have to fly north to Rolf’s for recording sessions. What kind of set up do you have ? 

Karl - I have a PC which I use both for internet and as studio machine. I use Sonar 6 as software. I have an Echo Audiofire external soundcard. A Yamaha 12 channel mixer. I have no monitors but an AKG headset. On SS, I had a Korg Triton Extreme which I recorded most of the keys on. A few months ago I sold it and got the Korg M3. I used sounds from the M3 on the intro on Memory Beneath The Sea


You again have Tony Mills doing backing vocals. Will Tony always be used on WinterStrain albums ?

Rolf - Always is a big word. But I can’t see any reason why he shouldn’t. I feel he’s become a part of our sound. He’s a bloody genius in his trade, too. And we know each other well now. Barring a very odd or unfortunate development, I’d say he’s in forever.

Again the mix of your lead vocals and Tony Mills backing vocals works extremely well. You must be delighted that Tony has continued to work with WinterStrain ?

Geir Helge - Yes very glad to have him on board!

Rolf - With RttM, we had the album almost finished before we came to work with Tony. This time, we knew all along he'd be in, and we left the music open to his creative input. I think this had something to say for the way the backing vocals are more important this time.

Even with a great singer like Tony on board, you add some voices too, Rolf?
Rolf - Yes. Last time, it happened because we thought we'd do all the backing vocals ourselves, and because I have quite a different range than Geir-Helge. I added some falsettos and some very deep voices. On SS, surprisingly, I do a lot more. Some deep voices, some whispering, some backing lines in tenor and a bit of lead. Most of these lines emerged while writing the songs, and they worked so well along with Tony's harmony blocks and GH's lead vox that they stuck. Towards the end of Company, lines from all three of us interweave, and I think it's a great effect.


There is a bit of secrecy about how the album is being sold. Can you shed any light on the matter ?   

Rolf - Last time, the worst thing that could have happened to me, happened: I couldn’t get hold of my own album. We were supposed to get a box of cd’s as soon as it was pressed up, but Jonathan Stranger had the album weeks before I did. I got my first copy by way of buying it online, like any other fan.
This time, we are in control. We’ll be able to press up as many cd’s as we like, and we can sell them any way we like. Our label, WinterSongs, is here to stay, and it’ll make sure we can continue spending a lot of money on making the albums as good as possible.

What are your thoughts on the business, now you’re entering this side of it ?

Rolf - The way I see it, the middle men must go. If bands outside the Platinum Club are to sell 20% of what they used to, something has to give. People want music, and some people want to buy it. They want proper albums. The physical album. These people might be few, but they are important to us, and we are important to them. Neither they nor we truly need anyone else. The musician needs the listener and vice versa. Of course, there are other players who might be of help, but through the golden age of the music business, more and more roles were conjured up, for more and more people to make as much money as possible. Sad thing is that the fans paid a lot of money; the musicians got but a small fraction of it.
With the internet now in every home, it shouldn’t have to be this way anymore. Already, everybody who’s interested in music knows how to find exactly the music he or she prefers. Do a search for “prog melodic rock symphonic magnum rush marillion” or whatever, and see what comes up. Maybe “WinterStrain”... huh... *listens to samples or whole songs* Cool...Click and buy. It is only a question of time, and just about everybody will have grown into what is a bit new today. You can pay for music by PayPal, credit card, or have it appear on your phone bill. Several other solutions are under way.
We’re working on distribution for Shifting Sands, but I see that as something that will become more and more pointless in the future. If you have a webshop, you have world wide distribution. Period. But it might be wise to not assume every potential WinterStrain fan on earth is... there yet.

Are you excited by the prospect of selling your very own album instead of some record company ?

Arnulf - I’m very excited. It gives us more freedom and control, and might give us some money as well. But of course it calls for more work done by ourselves. So it’s a new and open road ahead.

Rolf - That's a very good way of putting it. I think of the process we are going into now with this album as a journey. We will explore new territories, and end up having a good map we can use for the third album.

Karl - Yes! Very excited. It feels good that we take care of things ourselves now. We know that things were not taken properly care of by that record company. Still, we made some impact with RTTM, so the hopes are high for Shifting Sands.

Lars - The thought is very tempting. It gives us more freedom and many possibilities. But it also means a lot more work in many aspects.

Geir Helge - Yes and no. Yes for the rights to own our own songs and getting their moneys worth. No, because of all the extra work we’ll have to put in to get them out to the listeners, festivals, magazines and shops.


What are your hopes for Shifting Sands taking into account you guys were happy with the first album just to get your name on the map.

Geir Helge - Well, we are pretty much in the learning process still and every step is new ground for us. Now maybe more than ever but if we succeed to get this album out to the consumer, they are in for a treat!

Rolf - I hope the fans we’ve already got like it.

Arnulf - Well, I hope that anyone who wants to hear our music, can get themselves a copy. Of course I hope for massive sales, but I have no real ideas of much we could or should sell. We have to sell a lot less than last time to get some money out of it anyway.

Lars - First of all I hope the ones who liked RTTM will be satisfied with SS, and that the ones who know the name WinterStrain will see that the snowball is rolling with more energy and strength, and hopefully they and new people who haven’t heard RTTM will pay attention to this one.

Karl - Better feedback both from fans and press, that’s what matters most. If someone writes about us, anything, then we have made an impact. I have not so big hopes of earning money on this hobby of ours. But if we do, and if it finances possible gigs and/or new equipment, then it would be great.

Rolf - I have repeatedly heard people claim that if the money went to the artist, they would pay for music. Let's see if this is an aspect that really carries any weight.

Was the album fairly easy for you to write or were there some songs you hoped to be on the album did not make it ?

Rolf - A bit of both. The writing has never been difficult. It all just comes, all by itself. It is a pleasure. However, the studio sessions aren’t always. One song got lost on the way, for instance.

Making the album takes considerable time. The studio is in your house, Rolf. Did this cause any kind of strain with your family? And I also believe you became a father for the second time before the album was complete!

Rolf - My son was born smack in the middle of the “Return to the mirror” sessions. “Shifting sands” was almost finished, ready for mixing, when my daughter was born! I think my wife is the most tolerant and patient person on earth. The biggest strain I’ve felt is the soul-wrenching that goes on all the time in the studio. It’s bloody hard, picking apart every little fragment of your songs like that. It’s not something I enjoy.

I understand you spent countless hours with the finished album going over every song with a fine eye and ear making sure every song was as clear as could possibly be  ?

Rolf - Yes, that is an important thing, because after recording a full album on more than forty tracks per song, there is a lot of buzz and click going on in the background. You need to look at what sounds you want and which sounds are noise. After the mixing is complete, I do another round through every track on every song, to listen for snap, crackle and pop in the soundclips. This process takes one or two days per song. And it’s bloody boring. But it needs to be done. The end product is better for it.

Who else was involved in the production of the album ?

Rolf - Arnulf has got a fine set of ears, and will pick up on everything I miss. Alf Vesterelv (the man famous for serving Tony Mills alcohol where ever he goes) is a genius, and a relative, and he helped me out with positioning the microphones on the drums and all the mixing desk twiddling that comes with it. Tommy Granli is clever as hell when it comes to various studio plugins and strange software. He helped us out with some problem tracks we had.

So you got the album mastered at Mad Hat studios again. Owned by Mark Stuart of Magnum fame. Although it was Sheena who mastered the album this time, I believe she was very surprised by the quality of your production !

Rolf - She was certainly happy about actually hearing all the instruments, something that apparently wasn’t as given as I thought it’d be. She said we’d done a brilliant job. I am blushing with pleasure. She knows, of course, that our equipment isn’t high end, and that none of us is called Mutt Lange.


Back to Shifting Sands now ! What are your favourite tracks on the album and why ?

Rolf - Gone, for being the best opening track I could have dreamed of. And Memory beneath the sea, for being just about the best thing I’ve ever written.

Arnulf - Most of the tracks really. But the ultimate favourite at the moment is In the arms of the night. Possibly because it’s the heaviest track on the record, and the one with the meanest guitar sound. We played it live 2 years ago at the Polar rock festival, and it really worked live. In its earlier form we played it live in 1991 as well, a live favourite already back then. Just to listen to the record I would say that Memory beneath the sea is my favourite . It just has this haunting, epic feel to it. Gone and Company are also among my faves.

Karl -  My favourites to listen to must be: Company, Confidence, In The Arms Of The Night, Gathering Day and Memory Beneath the sea. We have not played the songs a lot but we did play Inner Voice and In The Arms Of The Night and both were fun to play. Especially  In The Arms Of The Night . But I suspect that also Gone, Company, Gathering Day, and Memory Beneath The Sea will be fun to play live.


Lars - Gathering Day. It has a great progression, it's powerful and a great piece of music. Memory Beneath the Sea. For me, often most the lyrics come after the melody but on this one the lyric gives me flashbacks to some hard years of my life. It's a great song with a very strong lyric and I understand why Rolf considers it the best WinterStrain song so far. Gone and Inner Voice are also up there. The album opens and ends with very strong songs which for me is and have always been important.

Geir Helge - Every one of them has something special about them. Themes or parts that just get under your skin. I have some favourites……. but I’m not going to tell! 

A question for Geir Helge .I feel on Shifting Sands your voice has really matured. Like a good wine !!  Were you more at ease because you had already recorded Return To The Mirror and with Paganize The Evolution Hour.

Geir Helge - Well thank you ! The whole studio experience is for me a learning process. Every take I learn something new about my voice. My limits, my force and ability to blend in with the music. I reckon that until now I`ve used parts of my potential. This will grow with the experience. Being the live vocalist that I am, It`s in the connection with the audience the magic lies.


I hear you are about to start work on your very own studio in your house?
 
Geir Helge - Well this is a slow process. But I hope that most of the vocals for the next WS album and the coming Paganize album will be recorded there. It will give me the advantage of making the vocals on “good” days. And not stressed by low budgets and time.



Were any of the songs written about real life experiences ?

Rolf - There are three different categories, this time: Real life experiences, the real world, and fantasy/fiction. In general, lyrics come from strong moods or feelings, usually derived from a picture visual only to the mind's eye. It is impossible to avoid getting personal at times, but you don't have to have gone through the exact same experience to relate to the words.

Do you like to re-write some old songs knowing you can make them better or do you much prefer to work with some fresh ideas ?

Karl - When they turn out as Company and In The Arms Of The Night  it is fun. We had forgotten parts of both of these songs. But Arnulf the magician knew how to sew them together again. And the result I think is much stronger than the old songs on RTTM, which we kept like the originals. But new material will always be more interesting.

Arnulf - Both old and new ones have their charm. I believe the reason why we re-wrote some old ones, is that they had such good qualities that we didn’t want to lose. With Return to the mirror and Shifting sands we wanted to use some of the real old ones. We could’ve used all on RTTM, but we wanted to save some for Shifting sands as well, to even things out. From the look of it, there won’t be any real oldies on the third album.

Its another solid performance from yourself on bass guitar Lars. Company gathers strength the more I play it. You did an excellent job here and this is my favourite song for your bass playing. What is your favourite track to play on the album ?

Lars - Gathering Day followed by Inner Voice, Gone, Memory beneath the Sea and Negotiation

How difficult was it recording the bass for Shifting Sands considering you now live in Poland ?

Lars - Me and Emilia have been living in Norway for a year now.. But recording the bass tracks was a little stressful as they had to be finished within the end of January 2007, when I went to Poland. If I’m not wrong I think it took three weeks which is fast in the world of WinterStrain. Thinking back I wish I didn’t have the time pressure on my shoulders but we made it, so in the future, sometimes, a time schedule could be something for the whole band to work faster.


Arnulf, With Return To The Mirror and Shifting Sands, Karl and yourself rise to the challenge of solo’s on every song. Now I’m not saying it’s a competition between the two of you but does it help keep you guys on the ball by trying to better yourself on each solo knowing the other one will come up with something special.

Arnulf - The only song were I really thought about that aspect was on Company, where we have these duels going on. There it would be silly not to pay attention to what Karl was doing. For instance, his last solo in the middle is just crazy, really fast stuff. I sat in the studio, puzzled, and thought: How can I top that? I soon discovered that I couldn’t, so I started my last part with something slower and melodic instead , before building it up to a climax. Regarding the other songs, I focus on my themes and parts, and try to come up with some good melodies and add some craziness now and then. I know that Karl will create magic in his themes, so I don’t have to worry about that. It’s no competition at all, it’s about complementing each other.

Karl - I think Arnulf has outdone himself on this album. There are MANY “goosebumps” guitarsolos. It is not a competition. I think we both know how to make solos that fits into the “landscape” of the song. If it turned into a competition on who can play fastest for instance, it would sound horrible. A mix between fast and melodic is what makes the best solos. But, there are still an unnecessary overweight of guitarsolos! 

Inner voice is going to be used as an instrumental for a work video. The web site will be getting around 50,000 hits per month ! You will be hoping this will bring in new fans and also more album sales  !

Lars - 50,000 is a lot of people and sure some of them will like this kind of music and will check it out. It'll be very exciting indeed to see what will come out of it.

Karl - Thats a lot of hits and I am sure that a few will get struck by the music and maybe investigate further!

Geir Helge - Of course I do! 

Arnulf - It certainly can bring us new fans. The power of the internet can be immense if one ends  up in the right places. And this might be one of those.

You certainly like to write the odd epic ! Sail on Return To The Mirror and Memory Beneath The Sea on Shifting Sands. Whet exactly is Memory Beneath The Sea about ?

Rolf - It isn’t exactly about any one thing. But it’s a deeply tragic story, that haunts me even today. It is about choices you make to make things better, only to end up wondering if you made the biggest mistake of your life when you did what you did. It is about making a great sacrifice for an even greater good, then wondering if it was without meaning, and if the end result is pure loss. In many of these cases, you will never know.
The story in the lyric is about a people that left their island home, because it was about to sink. Picture a time when they would have no easy way of knowing whether their island truly sank, eventually. They had to adjust to what ever place they went ashore, and their whole culture was eventually wiped out. Looking at this, one person starts to wonder if they’ve won or lost their lives.
This was the picture I got into my head, and from which I wrote the lyrics and the melody. It is a fantasy tale, but the feelings are real and strong.


If I could just leave you guys for a minute I would love to bring in Stein Øvre, brother of guitarist Arnulf. Hi Stein.  What was your inspiration behind the design for the album cover ?

Stein - Rolf gave me the title a couple of years ago, so I had plenty of time
pondering on how to visualize it before I actually started working on
the cover. From early on the ideas dealt with metaphysics. The initial
idea was a concept of layer upon layer of different landscapes. I
pictured that you would see all layers on the front page, with one by
one layer taken away as you read through the booklet. Or the opposite.

After some time I found this idea too obvious, I wanted something that
didn't say "Shifting Sands" that explicit. The idea I ended up with
was to depict a face which holds several emotions at the same time.
What you first see as a complete picture changes and disintegrates
when you examine it closer. This was before I even had heard much of
the new music. After hearing it this just clicked, I saw that it could
reflect the wealth of emotions inherent in this album.

The main image was inspired by a mask described in Philip K. Dick's
book "A Scanner Darkly" (a movie adaptation using an innovative
animation technique was made a few years ago). It's a mask that
consists of constantly shifting facial features.

A great inspiration when it comes to how I decided to do this
technically is the English illustrator Jasper Goodall's
(http://www.jaspergoodall.com) work for the band Muse. And
subconsciously I think I've been quite inspired by the works of
Salvador Dali as well. In retrospect I can see hints of Dali shapes
and textures.

And I'm fond of details that add more to the original idea, that can
make even me find new concepts in the images after it's finished, like
when I'm examining it while doing something like this interview. But I
won't go into that here...

I believe you used many layers to come up with the design ? Also
putting the band members into some of the designs on the album cover !

Stein - Yeah, several bundles of layers indeed! To a large extent I've used
flat artwork which is filled with two dimensional objects. This adds a
certain collage like dimension that I like, not too polished. I tried
to find a way to integrate band photos into the design. I ended up
using some live photos I shot at a concert at Notodden a few years ago
(plus a couple from the Polar Rock concert). There's a good stage
lighting in the Notodden photos. This made it possible to use them as
if they are reflected onto an object (in this case some stone/drop
like shapes) or captured inside the object. On the front cover they
work more as reflections/colours in the object than regular photos.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your designs and what you do
for a living ?

Stein -  I work as a graphic designer at the Oslo office of the Scandinavian
agency Creuna. We are a full-service digital agency, which means that
we have a wide ranging expertise within communication for all digital
and printed medias. This is exciting, because we are in a position to
push the envelope on many occasions. We're not only giving our clients
the solutions they ask for, but come up with solutions they didn't
think of initially, both when it comes to how to communicate, in what
channels, and how it's done with the possibilities of new technology.
We mostly work with large companies, so to have this approach is
crucial when it comes to be able to good and inspiring work. My main
focus is on developing visual identities, but I do layout work and
some web as well.

My background is in the cultural sector. In the 90s/early 00s I did a
lot of record covers, magazines and books. I still do a few record
covers occasionally in my spare time - like this one! Lately I've also
started experimenting with motion graphics, and in a few months I hope
to both show some of this work as well as a more comprehensive and
updated portfolio of design work at my site steinovre.com. Right now
this old looking site is a split between my not very updated design
portfolio and my cd-r label neiffelink, which has a couple of releases
by Animus, Arnulf's solo project from some years back. In time I will
have to put the Neiffelink stuff somewhere else, but for now you can
listen to samples of Arnulf's tunes here:
http://www.steinovre.com/n_animus.html

I'm also making music, but it's sample based and more connected to my
design work in the way that I put together sounds in the same way that
I work with objects on layers in photoshop or illustrator... You could
have a listen if you like, but I have to warn you that this is far
from the instrumental excellence of WinterStrain...:-)
http://www.myspace.com/jerneiffel.html

Thanks Stein !

Now with most bands, after having released an album there comes the live dates, or gigs ! Do you have anything planned ?

Rolf – We are laying plans for what, where and how. I have nothing confirmed to share with you, but it's gonna be good...

Have you thought of nipping Tony Mills ear for a few live dates supporting TNT as they tour Norway ?
 
Rolf - I’ve talked to him, yes. Don’t know if there’ll come anything out of it, though. It must fit everybody’s schedule.


How long before you start work on Winterstrain album number 3 ?

Rolf - It’s already under way. We’ve put it on hold for a while, though. First, to get this one finished, then to have a bleeding break. But there are songs written already. I’m guessing four or five fairly well-shaped tracks.

Rolf, you always give Tony Clarkin a mention as an inspiration and in 2007 after many years as a fan, you finally got to see Magnum live for the first time. You must have felt like a kid in a candy store !
 
Rolf - It was unreal. Clarkin is the most important song writer on the planet, from my point of view. Chords, lyrics, melodies, production, guitar playing... he’s just so complete. This is the guy who wrote “The bringer”, “Staying alive”, “The spirit”, “Vicious companions”, “How far Jerusalem”, “Vigilante”, “Wild swan” AND “Stormy weather” AND a whole bunch of other songs... and none of them can be mistaken for any other. The lyrics for the “The eleventh hour” album alone should have secured him instant immortality.
Watching Magnum live was like nothing else. It was solid, wonderful... I don’t have sufficient words.

In 2006 you passed on a copy of Return To The Mirror and a personal letter to John Payne (who was touring with GPS at the time) .

Rolf - Well, the good dr. took it upon himself to bring John this album and this letter. I have, sadly, never met the guy in person. But that is something I mean to rectify. He’s another tremendously important and incredible musician and song writer. I’d love to see him live one day.


I saw GPS two days after the gig he received your cd and letter and spoke to him about it. He was delighted and said it was a very nice letter !
 
Rolf - Wow! Yeah, I guess he gets a few of those, but I just had to. He’s been in a most unthankful situation. I wanted to send a different message.

I think we better call a halt to the interview. But before we do is there anything you would like us to know that I have forgotten to ask  ?
 
Rolf - I could always tell you that all my dreams have come true. I am very content with everything. It’s a struggle at times, but mostly an inner one, because being an artist is being a bit weird. Neil Peart mentioned in his “A work in progress” video something about the hardest thing for the wife of a writer to learn: When he’s looking out the window, he’s working...

Well many thanks for your time and honesty. The best of success for Shifting Sands and good health to you all.
 
(all reply thanks)