“What you lose in control, you gain in that everyone can let their personalities and they way they play influence the way a song sounds. It will be a much richer song in the end.”
Simply saying EINAR STRAY is a large band from Norway is like saying Paris is a city in France: you get no sense of how special they are. EINAR STRAY released Chiaroscuro in 2011, and the For The Country EP in 2012. Currently working on their second album (slated for release in 2014) EINAR STRAY is best described as modern epic symphonic music, with a sound that combines classical elements (like strings and horns) with contemporary touches (like synths and samples). The band has clear rock and pop influences, but they bring a unique vibe: arrangements that can go from sweet to brooding, some songs are upbeat (Caressed), while others are more contemplative and bittersweet (Chiaroscuro).
EINAR STRAY consists of five musicians (although there were plenty of guests on the debut album), under the leadership of the philosophy student, Einar Stray. He plays piano and guitar, Hanna Vik Furuseth plays violin, Julie Ofelia Østrem Ossum plays cello, Simen Aasen plays bass, trumpet, pedal-steel, and percussion, and Lars Fremmerlid plays drums, percussion, and guitars. We sat down with Simen and Einar at this year’s SPOT Festival in Aarhus to talk about Vikings, being a dictator, and the painful nature of passion.
I looked up your name, Einar and it means “one warrior, one leader” and refers to the heroes of Valhalla.
ES: Really? It does?
And I want you to tell me how you will lead this band.
ES: It actually used to be a dictatorship. In the beginning it used to be a plain solo project, where I just brought different people in, and it was just chaos, really. But now … it’s a band, it’s a democracy.
They’ve overthrown the dictator?
ES: Yeah and I think that’s a great thing, because these are musicians I love working with.
What’s that like, having a bigger band? How do you guys write songs?
ES: Nowadays we write songs together, that’s a new thing for us. I write some ideas and then I get into the rehearsal room with these guys and they add their own colors, they add so many great ideas. It’s really tough in a way, because I’m used to being a dictator.
[To Simen] Is he a nice dictator?
SA: Yes of course but I guess, for him, there is some letting go from what a song should sound like in your head. What you lose in control, you gain in that everyone can let their personalities and they way they play influence the way a song sounds. It will be a much richer song in the end.
ES: It’s more exciting. I can come with really small ideas, not just totally arranged songs.
SA: Also, when you have musicians with you and when everyone enjoys each others styles and trusts each others opinions it’s easy to let go. It’s like “Oh these guys think it sounds really great, it must be for a reason.” So this evolution from dictatorship to democracy has been very natural in a way.
ES: I’m really excited about going into the studio to do the second album. I used to be, you know, “oh the scary second album,” but I really trust these guys. We have time to play.
EINAR STRAY: “Concerts are the best practice”
Speaking of time, what have been some key times for the band?
ES: I think last year we suddenly decided to do a lot of shows, just a tour a lot. We toured as much as we could almost, in 2012. That was really healthy, for the band and the songs. We had some songs we just rehearsed and then threw them out on stage and tried them out. The songs developed each night on stage. That was really cool. Concerts are the best practice.
ES: Because then you get the sense if it’s really working or not. It’s a constant communication with the audience. I think I can read the audience really well and you notice: if they like it or don’t like it.
SA: People are polite but you can always sense the vibe. So you keep the gold.
Want to expand on your inspiration for your lyrics? You have some intense themes on Chiaroscuro.
ES: On the first album, I felt like I had to say something important. Now that people are listening to me I feel we need to not just talk about, you know, my girlfriends. [both laugh] ALL of my girlfriends.
The many, many women.
SA: The special ones. [laughs]
I’ll just put “relationships.” So talking about other things, like what?
ES: On this next album, as a lyricist I would like to play around with being personal, mix up both sides. You know, the worldview and the personal view as well.
SA: Kind of turning the focus a bit inward instead of only outward.
ES: We like to say there’s always a contrast, there’s always going to be some ugliness in what we do.
SA: We always want to reflect reality and reality is not perfect.
ES: I think it’s important to tell people we have things to work on, as a human race. It’s hard to speak about those things so the best thing to do is to write pop songs about it.
What do hope and passion mean to you?
ES: When I looked for real band members, that was the first thing I looked for: passionate people dedicated to this. If you are not dedicated you are not going to make it. Hope, it’s kind of a cliché word, but we write quite dark and melancholic music, we talk a lot about how fucked up the world is, but it’s really important to have glimpses of hope. It’s hard to talk about because it sounds cliché but it’s a really important thing, the thing that drives us.
SA: Just a thousand things come to mind. I think that was a good answer. Hope and passion are kind of contradictory terms, in one way. Passion, for me, is a lot of pain and darkness, a lot of sacrifice. Related to our music, I very much agree with Einar, instead of making songs that say “Oh you we need hope, join hands for tomorrow” we say it in a different and new way. In a way, that speaks to people in a more subtle manner.