Pagans Mind - 2003 Interview with Nils K Rue

luigiluigi NZ
edited January 9 in Interviews all

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Interview with: Nils K Rue, of Pagans Mind
Written By: Luigi Cisaria
Date: Feb 2003

INTRODUCTION

At the end of 2002 I visited the Limb Music label website, home of melodic prog metallers Pagans Mind. I'd never heard of them and had a listen to the soundbyte on offer for a track off their new album. The track 'Aegean Shores' had me praying at the altar of Pagans Mind within minutes.

'Celestial Entrance', the band's second album but first for German label Limb Music, was released in November 2002 and probably pissed off a good many people in the process. Why? Because it forced us to revisit our 'best of the year' list and to make sure we included these guys. It went to the top of my list, towering above everything else, in what had been a good year for melodic prog/power metal up to that point.

In the few months since its release, 'Celestial Entrance' has captured the imagination of many. Nils K Rue, vocalist extraordinaire for Pagans Mind, is a little humbled by the huge response.

'I don't really know what to say, the reviews and feedback so far have been so tremendous - I'm really flattered, and all I can say is that I'm grateful for all the praise we have received from the press and the fans, grateful for the gift of being able to create and play music but also I'm really happy that all the hard work we've put into our music has finally paid off. Grateful too of course to my fellow musicians for helping to create our music.'

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FEEDBACK SO FAR

We too are grateful for the gift that Pagans Mind have given us with 'Celestial Entrance'. And the media are now seriously recognising the quality of this band, with reviews flooding in daily. It's keeping Nils very busy, but he seems to be enjoying every moment of it, and who wouldn't?

'Yeah, it is really starting to 'roll in serious numbers' says Nils. 'I read new reviews everyday and much of my spare time goes to things like what I'm doing right now - doing interviews and promotional work. To be honest I really love doing it. It was things like this I dreamt of doing a couple of years ago, so I'm really having a great time.'

'The hype going around the band right now throughout the metal community (and elsewhere also it seems) is really big and most reviews we receive are extremely good. We have been voted 'best album of the year' in several zines and magazines and it seems that we have earned a big reputation in just the past half-year.'

'We get lots of fan-mail everyday, it's great to feel that we can give something to people all over the world. That's an enormous reward and better than all the money in the world - at least I think so at this point.' he jokes.

THE SILVERSPOON YEARS

Pagans Mind actually started out as the hard rock band Silverspoon. No, I hadn't heard of them either, but you can hear a few of their songs over at mp3.com. They released an album 'Sink Or Swim', but unfortunately the album sank without trace (no pun intended). Nils gives us a quick run-down on the Silverspoon days.

'Silverspoon was the band that Stian, Thorstein and myself played in before we started up Pagans Mind' he says. 'We actually played in that band for almost 7 years together - never being especially professional about it before the 'Sink Or Swim' release, we did gigs now and then, had a KISS cover band doing KISS songs with the same members from time to time, did some jobs here in Norway without great success. The music style was inspired by 80's L.A rock and metal. Some thought it sounded like a crossover between Dokken and Lillian Axe.'

For those that are interested, the album is still available according to Nils. 'There is as we speak, no distribution whatsoever on 'Sink Or Swim'. There are samples from the album out on MP3.com (mp3.com/silverspoon), so people may go there and listen - and I think I have about 400 copies at home from the original 1000 copies that we made. Not the big sales as you might understand but it's possible to purchase a copy directly from me though.'

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The difference between the Silverspoon material and Pagans Mind is like day and night. Silverspoon in the late 80's/90's world of hard rock, while Pagans Mind are distinctly progressive metal. I inquired if the change of name signified the change in their musical style.

'Absolutely.' agrees Nils. 'The names have their different identities reflecting the mood and spirit in two rather different concepts. The name 'Silverspoon' means in English terms 'some lucky guy born into richdom' or something. It was directly influenced by the happy and sleazy L.A rock thing, inspired by the typical terms and lyrics used in that kind of music. That name did not suit the concept nor the ideas of Pagans Mind as a band, whether in music, concept or lyrics.'

'Silverspoon was kind of sleazy party music with some progressive undertones though. The dream of creating a sophisticated framework around a band, be it concept, music and lyrics - had to have a name that suited it all.'

'The term 'Pagans Mind' is an ancient Egyptian way of philosophy, of which many books have been written about the topic. It suited the new concept in all ways. So it was in no way coincidental. Silverspoon - cool name for band that did 'metal rock n roll', Pagans Mind on the other hand, a suitable name for a thinking mans metal band.'

FOR THE 'THINKING MAN

'Thinking Mans Metal Band' is putting it mildly. There are so many facets to Pgans Mind. The music, the theme of the lyrics, For someone looking in from the outside and taking in the final result, I considered the complexities of bringing it all together and shuddered at the thought. Not so for Nils, who takes it all in his stride.

'I don't feel that the process was that difficult actually. This band is at times a mix of very different personalities, all with the gift of creative overkill. To be honest, we ditched about 80% of the riffs and ideas before shaping and building the song structures on 'Celestial Entrance'.'

'There are powers within the band like Ronny for instance, who are educated professionally in music, and that helps out a lot. I don't think there are a lot of bands using a blackboard in the rehearsal studio.' says Nils with a grin.

It sounds more like the brainstorming meeting for a marketing campaign, but Nils points out that creating great progressive metal isn't as easy as throwing together a few odd tempo riffs. 'We build the song structures up piece by piece and very little is coincidental. That really is the only way to make this kind of music work properly and sound good at the same time.'

'I don't fear that at all because everybody has such good ideas, and with the high standards we set, I think we will be able to ditch and sort out the worst 'used before' riffs and ideas for the next time. Having said that, I have worked hard with the vocal lines and lyrics too. We're an ambitious bunch of guys, and no one is of the opinion that things ever come for free. Hard work and aiming for the right goals. 'Thinking like a winner' makes this band inspiring and fun to be part of' he says.

Six members equate to six distinct personalities within the Pagans Mind camp, the sound incorporating their influences including moments of black metal and melodic rock. Despite that, one band comes to mind often while listening to 'Celestial Entrance' - Dream Theater. Nils puts that down to Pagans Mind being influenced by the same bands as Dream Theater, rather than by Dream Theater itself.

'The Dream Theater resemblance has been mentioned - that's true, though it really was not intended. We are all big fans of theirs, and of course they have inspired us. Nevertheless, I don't think we sound what they sound like today. We are a lot more aggressive in our expansion and I think we are nearer to their early style if there is gonna be a comparison.'

Nils continues. 'Having said that, Dream Theater is greatly inspired by old prog dinosaurs like Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd, and I think our inspiration comes directly from those same sources too. Our band came together as a bunch of guys who are really into different tastes. As for myself, I'm more into the power metal thing, King Diamond and the old classic heroes like Maiden and Queensryche.'

'While on the other hand, Ronny and Steinar are into jazz and fusion as well as prog metal. Stian listens to a lot of Black Metal, Jorn Viggo is the #1 Van Halen fan and Thorstein has always been a fan of bands like Kiss and Motley Crue as well as Van Halen.'

Nils feels that the combination of these diverse influences has enabled Pagans Mind to create their own distinct and exciting sound. 'I think the symbiosis between the very different tastes within the band makes the music more diverse and exciting. The songwriting process is strictly democratic, and then I think we take what's best in all of the different styles and make a big melting pot out of it.'

'We create a crossover between many different styles though many would describe it as power or progressive metal. I think we have created a sound of our own despite what critics say about our leaning towards Dream Theater - although in a way, that is a compliment.'

BLACK IN THE MOOD

Though the Black Metal influences come through on the odd occasion, for someone like myself who's definitely not a fan of that musical style it took a little getting used to. I was interested to hear Nils' thoughts on this and how it added to the album.

'I'm into the idea of contrasts in music' says Nils, 'and therefore we have experimented with this on the album. I have always been excited about early Mercyful Fate and King Diamond material, and King's really good at expressing different moods in his music.'

'It's also about trying to create a theatrical mood and impression, and when the lyrics contain dialogue between different persons/individuals the use of different expressions in the vocals for instance, strengthens that impression. I don't know if this will be a trend in our music, but till now we have received a lot of credit just because of that.'

'So no, I don't think it hinders the overall flow of the album although I can understand if people react negatively about it. Remember, the attempt is to illustrate dialogues between 'good and evil', and personally I think it adds something to the music. In addition, metal genres can too easily get locked into their own defined frameset, and I think with being experimental on that front it has made us more popular and interesting.'

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WHEN ONLY THE 'BEST' WILL DO

Nils assessment that bands can be placed into particular metal genres is one I agree with. Sticking to that style and perhaps afraid to experiment a little. It was Pagans Mind's varied musical tastes that led them to seek out metal's top producer, Fredrik Nordstrom. It was extremely important for them to have the best production available and Nordstrom was the natural choice after they had listened to many of the albums he'd produced. Nils explains.

'When we recorded 'Celestial Entrance' we decided that we'd go for no less than really top-class production, partly because the previous album 'Infinity Divine' wasn't that good production wise and we were willing to pay to achieve the sound we wanted. Having heard the production on the latest Dimmu Borgir CD, which we thought sounded awesome, we tried to listen to more releases produced by Fredrik and see if they were as good as that one.'

'At the time, we'd only just heard of the guy, but the first impression was that his work sounded way better than several over-hyped European producers with big names and a big reputation. We discovered that all the CD's we heard that were produced by him sounded way better than everything else, and agreed that this was the man to create and justify the sound of Pagans Mind in the right manner. We wanted a crystal clear, a brutal and defined sound where you could easily hear the different details in the music and still not sound too polished.'

FREDRIK THE GREAT!

Just because you want to work with someone does not necessarily mean the other person wants to work with you. Thanks to his production prowess Nordstrom is in hot demand, and he's not easy to please. For Pagans Mind to get his attention is a tribute to the material on 'Celestial Entrance', as Nils readily concedes.

'We contacted Nordstrom, and he replied that he could produce the album, which we were very happy about. Thing is, he's very picky on who he decides to produce, and like he said, he gets requests from bands all over the world wanting him to produce their stuff, but he ditches a great deal of them, as he says - he requires quality bands to achieve a quality sound.'

Bringing onboard Nordstrom proved fruitful from the first moments of the band working with him, and thankfully it was also a pleasant experience. 'Well, working with Fredrik was incredibly fun, and while we learned and picked up a lot from him, we felt more and more every day that this guy really had it. He's a true natural talent, and it's such a calming thing just to let someone like him produce something you worked on for months.'

'Already the first day he had done a mix of one song that sounded so great we just kept on smiling for the rest of the time we were there. We definitely have found THE producer, and the next time we'll head for Gothenburg again! Not only does he put pride and professionalism into his work, he's worth every penny as well' says a more-than-happy Nils.

Fredrik Nordstrom may have made the band sound amazing sonically, but you need to have talent in the first place. Nils, while being an adept lyricist and songwriter, is to these ears, the best vocalist to be heard since Geoff Tate was in his prime. Nils is very modest about such comparisons.

'Though I've heard names like those guys being mentioned when talking of my vocal work, and since Geoff Tate is one of my favourite singers of all time, that's a big compliment. I am of course glad, and flattered. I'm inspired with the range, attitude and spirit of Geoff Tate, and maybe I've at some point started to sound like the guy.'

'Having said that, there is a long way up to his class and I do think maybe I've drifted away from him stylewise if you compare it to things I've done earlier. Maybe building my own defined sound?'

SINGING THE PRAISES

A lot of metal vocalists are inspired by the same five or six big vocal heroes, and many try to sound just like them. The result is often one can sound like a mix of them all. When you do the classical clean-high pitched vocal thing and try to aim at one special goal/achievement, you easily end up sounding like someone you've heard before, because your heroes did the same thing when they built up their voices.

Nils says that he is inspired by a lot of different vocalists, but all of them are of the type we've just talked about, with 'clean' vocals. You probably wouldn't realise it, but for a talented vocalist singing to such a high standard takes a lot of work. Nils explains why.

'Vocals is a different instrument and needs more care than any other instrument and therefore I always have had a greater respect for the vocalists with a high, clean range as I believe you can always sing with a raspy voice, having a cold, being sick or having a hangover - that you can always do. It won't affect your sound and expression that much, the clean vocals are so much harder to maintain.'

'We definitely have found THE producer.'
Nils K Rue - talking about Fredrik Nordstrom

When Nils lists his favourite vocalists, it's a whos-who of hard rock/metal. 'If I should mention vocalists, I'm inspired directly by, it would have to be Geoff Tate (of course:), Michael Kiske, Crimson Glory's 'Midnight', who has great expression, and Glenn Hughes. I have to mention that I admire Lost Horizon's Daniel Heiman because of his vocals range and expression. He;s the best 'new' guy I've heard for years, he's totally kickin' it.' says Nils.

STANDING AT THE CELESTIAL ENTRANCE

We touch on the 'Celestial Entrance' theme for a moment, as some of the guys at our website are intrigued by the concept of the Stargate, and much of the terminology used throughout the album. Nils takes great delight in explaining his position.

'I'm really glad to hear you have discovered and do appreciate the concept! Some reporters are just interested in the music, I love the fact that all the work behind building the concept is drawing attention!'

'The use of terminology is very important to me, because that creates the poetic touch to it which in turn, adds the right 'sophisticated' feel to it. English is a language with so many words to describe one single thing, and I prefer using a term with class to it rather than the 'simple' ones.'

Nils continues. 'The concepts are based on mysticism, etherical questions in space and time, alternative ways of philosophy around questions about life. In general, we try to add a sophisticated 'overlooking' way of expressing the concept and lyrics, never 'telling anyone', it's up to everyone to figure it out for themselves what the lyrics may contain and if it means something to them. 'Celestial Entrance' is partly a concept-album inspired by questions around extra-terrestrial life, parallel dimensions and the fact that human beings have been seeing strange objects in the sky for thousands of years, and still ignoring them.'

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MYSTICISM, THE STARS, AND, IRAQ

Well yes, it seems we've been ignoring things for eons. What about the remainder of the band?

'I have to speak for myself when it comes to a personal interest in these topics' says Nils, 'everybody in the band has different opinions on this and that, but since I write lyrics and concepts, you will notice some of my own personal beliefs and ideas. I have been interested in different aspects of mysticism since I was a little boy, and think I always will be.'

'I have experienced several strange episodes during my life, and some of these inspire me when I write lyrics. I am personally convinced that we can't see everything around us. We can't see electricity, but it exists. We can't see radio waves either, but they also exist. Either way, I think these topics are a very exciting 'deep-well' of inspiration. Note that I personally prefer the 'positive powers', though I can write and sing/express all aspects of them.'

Some of the aspects have a coincidental bearing with all that's going on in Iraq for instance, the 'Celestial Entrance' theme just seemed so topical! 'Well, the situation in Iraq right now is not unique when you look to history in general' says Nils. 'It's really about critical situations in the world and religion and how it affects everything, and this is mentioned in the lyrics. I tend to write more than I really need because I'm so interested in these matters.'

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WHAT'S IN THE WATER UP THERE?

In recent times, Scandinavia has emerged as the powerhouse for melodic prog/power metal. Bands such as Nightwish, Sinergy, Sonata Arctica, and now Pagans Mind are examples of the talent that seems to be oozing from the Fjords up there in Northern Europe. So what does Nils attribute the success to?

'I don't really know what has made the level so high in the Scandinavian metal scene. It could be the competitive spirit of course. Maybe the neighbourly aspect does it. When one band makes a good album, the neighbour wants to make a better one, and so on. Perhaps the environment, nature and cultural heritage has a great impact on the spirit and expression of the music being created up here. It's all about art really, and if you look to much of the Scandinavian art they all have a similar feel to it.'

'It's easy to think 'well, since it's so cold the only thing you could do is sit inside playing your guitar and make music', and that's partly true, but I think it's the nature, artistic environment and climate that automatically triggers the right nerves and spirit when creating metal music, which often is soaring, deep and philosophically oriented. It's really a mirror of what life is like in the colder parts of the world and maybe that is what ads the quality to it.'

Being a melodic metal himself, is Nils enjoying what he's hearing from the Scandi melodic metal bands? 'To be honest, I'm a bigger fan of the Scandinavian metal scene these days than the German style. Bands like Dream Evil, Lost Horizon, Insania, Sinergy and of course Nightwish are maybe not that innovative but they deliver in a very professional way. I like the attitude as well, light-hearted and not too proud. I'm talking about guys that can take a joke and have a good time without trying to solve all the world's problems.'

SRF, AND IN CLOSING..

With all the attention focused on Pagans Mind, it comes as no surprise to hear that they've been added to the bill at Sweden Rock Festival in June 2003, along with big names such as Queensryche, Whitesnake, Kamelot and Blind Guardian. Though the set list is yet to be confirmed, Nils outlines what fans may hear at the event.

'We all look forward to playing the Sweden Rock Festival very much. It's really a bit too early to say what kind of songs we will do there, but I believe maybe one or two songs from 'Infinity Divine', five or six from 'Celestial Entrance' and if we've managed to write something new by then, maybe we'll try it out there, just for the hell of it!'

'We've done the same thing before 'Celestial Entrance' was released, and although people don't know the song i think they appreciate the thought of getting an impression of what may appear on our next album. The last of couple of gigs we've done a cover version of 'Under A Glass Moon' by Dream Theater, so it's possible we'll do that one there as well, as it has been a great success doing it so far.'

'We're not really into doing cover songs at all, but this song is an exception and it's both fun and difficult doing it - just to keep the level up 'n' running.'

It is quite a mouth watering prospect, having the old master in Geoff Tate and the apprentice in Nils K Rue singing at the same festival. Hopefully there will be time for the two to meet up, and for Geoff to hear how someone he influenced has developed into one of the finest singers to grace the metal scene for years, fronting the most exciting prog metal band around. Just remember Nils, respect your elders. But that doesn't mean you can't blow him off the stage.

Not only has listening to 'Celestial Entrance' been an absolute pleasure, but so has dealing with Nils. At present, he's extremely busy doing plenty of interviews and preparing for Sweden Rock. We sincerely appreciate the time and effort he's put in to taking us through the 'Celestial Entrance' and into the world of Pagans Mind.

Again congratulations on a fantastic achievement Nils, and best wishes with the album promotion and the Sweden Rock gig coming up soon! 'Thanks a lot Luigi, we're deeply grateful for your support.'


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