Trail Of Tears, Amsterdam - 22/01/2006

On January 22, 2006, we find ourselves in the Melkweg in Amsterdam to attend the Music Against Cancer festival. A musical benefit put together by Eric Gijsen-Muziekprodukties in order to raise funds for the Dutch Cancer Foundation (KWF). All the bands on the bill are donating a show today, the Norwegian band Trail Of Tears will headline the festival. Tonight will be the final show of a four-day tour of the Netherlands. Prior to the show we are given the opportunity to interview the obviously fatigued singer Ronny Thorsen.

I am not very familiar with your previous albums, could you start by giving us a brief history of the band?
We got the band together in the early nineties, well, 1996 or 1997 actually. Back then we sounded even more different than we did a couple of years ago. In fact, there is quite a resemblance between what we did back then and what weíre doing now, although our sound has really evolved. In the beginning we did more straightforward stuff. The keyboards and female vocals were added in a later stadium. Up till now we have produced four albums, the last of which (ĎFree Fall into Fearí) was released February 2005. the first two albums were released via the Dutch label DSFA Records, we had signed a two-album deal with them in 1998. ĎDisclosure in Redí was released in 1998 and was followed by ĎProfoundemoniumí in 2000. We then signed with Napalm Records for three records so we will release at least one more with Napalm

Your latest album ĎFree Fall into Fearí was released almost a year ago but Iíd still like to ask you a couple of questions about this album.
Sure, go ahead.

On your latest album we find youíve made a major change in your musical direction. The Gothic-like metal has made place for a more Deathmetal-orientated sound. Why did you make this change?
At first we did not intend to leave out the female vocals completely. But the last few years there had been an explosion in this genre. Female-fronted bands were popping up everywhere, especially in the Netherlands. So to keep the music interesting for ourselves we had to make some changes to our sound. And then there was also the fact that our last female vocalist Cathrine Paulsen wanted to take a whole different musical path. So it was no longer possible for us to work with her. We still wanted to use female vocals on our albums, we just wanted them to be less prominent. When Cathrine left the band most of the songs for the new album had already been written and at first we considered looking for a new female vocalist but we soon realised that the songs sounded fine without a female voice.

So when your female vocalist left you actually made a conscious decision to change your musical direction?
Thatís right. Like I said earlier, we had to approach the song writing process completely differently because thereís a large number of female-fronted bands out there right now. Donít get me wrong I love these bands but it seems like nowadays the record labels will sign any band that has a female singer. In my opinion there are only a few of these bands out there that are offering something new. Many things have been done for years, just not on the same level. So it was very important for us to come up with something different. Looking back now I must admit that some changes might have happened too fast but you canít ignore the fact that weíve had the same line-up for eight years now, apart from the singers. Over these years we produced four albums and although the latest album sounds quite different we are still the same musicians. And our sound is still recognisable, I guess we still sound like Trail Of Tears, but with a different sound if you know what I mean. The songs are more to the point now, they donít have a hundred layers of keyboards anymore. We kind of undressed the structures of the songs.

How did your fans and the press respond to the changes?
With the fans itís like a fifty-fifty thing. Half of them love it and the other half would prefer it if we stuck to our old sound. We also saw this happen in the past when we released the previous albums, sometimes you lose fans but you can gain new fans, too. The reviews from the press on the other hand are good. The interesting thing is that we are now getting good reviews from various magazine from different countries that used to give us bad reviews or none at all.

You have two singers now. How do you write songs and lyrics, is it a joint thing?
Besides myself Kjetil Nordhus has now joined the band fulltime as a singer. He also plays in Green Carnation, but he is not new to our band. Heís worked with us for years now, heís sung on our other albums and heís also been on different tours with us. The most part of the songs is written by our bass-player and guitarist. Over the years we have collected some good recording equipment at home. This way we can all record our ideas and then play them for the others when we come together to practice. We donít write the melodies and lyrics until the music has been completely written. Kjetil writes about twenty percent of the lyrics and I take care of the rest. When I want to start song writing I try to leave town and go to a quiet place in the heart of the woods. I lock myself up there for a week and get the lyrics done. I know Kjetil does the same thing.

Did you have a larger budget for the last album and, if so, did this influence the recording process?
We recorded the album in Norway although we initially wanted to record it in France like we did the previous album. The French studio was fully booked so we decided to record in our home town. Green Carnation had recorded their last two albums in this studio. I wasnít very happy about recording there at first. Right at the beginning we had some technical problems like a computer crash and the producer was very hard to work with. We planned to record the album in six weeks but it took us nine months in the end. The main reason for this was faulty studio equipment and incapabilities of the producer.

Did this influence the album in any way?
Yes, we expressed a lot of anger in this album. I felt I could do two things, either ventilate my aggression via my lyrics or kick the producerís ass. We had almost the same budget for this album as we did for the previous one (ĎA New Dimension of Mightí). We were able to manage easily money wise because we were staying in our home town. We could go home at night and didnít have to buy expensive plane tickets. Being close to your home and family is definitely an advantage of recording in your home town. On the other hand itís also good to go far away from home and leave it all behind when youíre recording. It works better this way for me. If you can just go home every time things are not going the way you want, it will take an eternity to finish a record. You need to have some pressure. 

Were the songs completely written when you went into the studio?
Most of them were, yes. We did change some stuff of course. We added some things and left some things out. Most of the songs have turned out different than we had planned, though. Itís not a bad thing, it just had to do with the production and the studio.

In retrospective, are you content with the final product or are there maybe some things that you would liked to have changed?
Actually I always want to change things afterwards, but it has to be that way. The day you make a perfect album is the day you quit because you can never top that. I am of course very content with the album, but itís not the album I would make at this moment in time.

On your website it says that you have already written some songs for your next album. Enlighten us?
Yep, we have seven or eight songs practically finished. But we havenít chosen a studio yet and we donít know when we will be recording the album. Hopefully this will be half May or in June and then we could release the album in September or October. It all depends on money, if the budget is sufficient then this will be the plan. I canít tell you much about the songs yet, we have the structures for seven or eight songs, not the whole songs. The songs will definitely be more orchestral. We are even considering using more string instruments, which makes things more complicated because it means we have to find the right musicians close to the studio. Like I said, we still need to decide on all this.

Speaking of budget, what are your sentiments about all the illegal downloading of music?What can I say, on the one hand itís a good thing. If you like a band but have no money you can still listen to their music this way. At least a band can gain fans this way. Of course downloading has quite an impact on bands our size. I really donít care if people download music from Metallica. Theyíre going to sell five million albums anyway. The problem in our genre is that for us the downloading thing does make a difference, if the bands that have almost made it would sell a few more albums, then they could live off it.

I think thatís a reason why concert tickets have become so expensive!
It is. The bands need to get paid more to cover their expenses that way.

How did you get into the metal scene?
Oh, thatís real long ago. I started listening to metal at a young age and I had a cool cousin who gave me different things to listen to. I was about eight or nine I think. And when I was ten my dad took me to an Iron Maiden concert. I grew up with the rest of the band in a small place in the south of Norway. Everyone knew each other. A couple of guys that are also in Trail Of Tears now had a cover band back then. They played Sepultura and Pantera and occasionally some Death metal songs. Their singer was twelve years old then and he wasnít a very convincing grunter. I liked the extreme vocal so I gave it a try. I was sixteen then.

Which bands do you listen to?
I listen to everything from Dark Throne to David Bowie. Iím a great fan of heavy, dark singers like in Arcturus and Samael; dark, atmospheric vocalists. If I had to name an absolute favourite it would be A-HA, a Norwegian popband. And also Emperor. Thereís quite a contrast there but my philosophy is that you need to give every style in music a chance. It sucks that so many people just listen to one type of music and assume that everything else is crap.

When youíre listening to music, do you pay extra attention to the vocals?
Of course you listen to whatís your own speciality, but itís all about the composition as a whole so I try to enjoy music in its totality.

How are you going to get round the fact that you donít have a female vocalist for your shows?
Some songs we simply wonít play anymore, especially the stuff from the first album is hard to do. But we will always try to play songs off all the albums. Kjetil will also take on part of these vocals. On the album before the last there are hardly any female vocals so thatís easier to play live.

How do you feel about playing the benefit concert today?
Itís a real good thing, I wish they would do this kind of thing more in Norway. We feel honoured to play here today. Itís heart-warming to see how many bands and other people came to show their support today. I feel itís important for bands to do this kind of thing. Almost everyone knows someone that has cancer or knew someone that died of it. This is our way of giving support, you donít have to be a doctor or scientist to do that.

Weíre almost done, one final question: How do you see the future of the band?
We hope to finish the next album soon, but this depends largely on the budget. Then we can make plans for the rest of the year. When the album is released we want to promote it as much as possible. We just want to get out there and play! If we get the chance we will also make up for the Mexican tour which was cancelled last fall, and then we want to visit South America, weíve never played there before.

Is there anything youíd still like to say to the readers and fans?
I would like to thank everyone for coming to our shows the past days, there was a lot more people there than on our last tour in October, thanks!!

Thank you for your time, we hope to speak to you in the future.
No problem, see you next time.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Natascha and Ivo and of course Eric who is responsible for this great initiative! (Martina Schouten / Eugene Straver)