With a naughty band title, and an even naughtier album covers, Norwegian group Arabs In Aspic deliver a deliciously indulgent yet light-hearted music which is sure to win over the hearts of prog fans everywhere. The band has been active over 15 years, changing its name from Arabs to Aspic to Arabs to Aspic II and again to Arabs in Aspic. These Arabs from Norway open our newest Progstravaganza compilation and it was a right moment to talk with the Northerners about their music.
How did the story with forming Arabs in Aspic go?
ARABS IN ASPIC II emerged in 1997 from Norway led by guitarist and vocalist Jostein Smeby and rythm guitarist & Theremin player, Tommy Ingebrigtsen. Since they met through their common love for 1970s heavy rock music, especially Black Sabbath, they’ve been playing together with different personnel, each playing different kinds of heavy music until ARABS IN ASPIC surged.
They said goodbye to playing covers and the band was ready with Hammond organ player Magnar Krutvik, drummer Eskil Nyhus and his brother, bass player Terje Nyhus. The quartet was later joined by Stig Arve Jorgenson on backing vocals and Hammond organ, as Magnar changed to playing acoustic guitar and synth. After a few years and two releases (Progeria, EP and Far Out in Aradabia, CD) the band was put on hold due to various reasons.
In 2006 Jostein, Eskil and Stig hooked up with bass player Erik Paulsen and formed what was briefly known as Arabs in Aspic II. The new spirit and musicianship led to some serious song writing, and numerous demos were recorded during the following years.
I have to say that the whole thing about the name of the band is a bit confusing for me. You have your latest album on iTunes listed under the name Arabs in Aspic. So, what’s the deal with the name?
When Arabs in Aspic resurrected after a few years on ice, the lineup changed and we called ourselves Arabs in Aspic 2, since this was the second lineup. However, when we decided to change it back to just Arabs in Aspic, our facebook page had too many likes and we weren’t allowed to change the name of our page. It’s as simple as that
One of the first impressions I got when I listened 2010’s „Strange Frame of Mind“ was if Black Sabbath would go prog, they would sound like you do. Could you tell us something more about your influences?
For Jostein, Sabbath has been the main inspiration to study music. His vinyl collection contains mostly music made between 1969-1973, that probably colors our music. He’s listened to a lot of classic heavy as you might hear, but also a lot of Krautrock. Jostein’s living room is filled with strange music… However, we all get inspiration from all kinds of music, artwork, facts or even news. Stig and Erik have a more “technical” prog backround with Genesis, King Crimson, Zappa, Yes, PFM, Weather Report, DT and more, which blends very well with the more heavy style of Jostein and Eskil.
You have three full-length albums released so far and one EP released in 2003. When you look now on your opus would you dare to say you made a drastic change in your sound (in terms of music, not production) since your first offering „Far Out in Aradabia“ (2004)?
Without a doubt. We sound different, cause we are a different band. Our current lineup has only two original members left, me and the drummer Eskil. We also have 3 singers instead of one, and much more keys by Stig of course.
Your latest release is this year’s „Pictures in a Dream“ and though you maintained to keep the heaviness in your music, the album sounds a lot proggier than previous albums. Do you agree? Is that a natural progress or you decided to force that prog side during the recording process?
That depends on your definition of prog. In some reviews of “Pictures in a Dream”, we don’t play prog at all. Some call it classic heavy or classic hard rock. I agree with you and with the opposite opinion actually. I think the album has a lot of classic heavy, but it also contains all sorts of music and temper-/tempo changes. I call that prog. We don’t care to much what we put together as long as we like it. For the reviewers who only listen to Neo Prog, Arabs in Aspic isn’t progressive rock. People can call it what they want. Our opinion is that there are only two kinds of music, good and bad music We like to define ourselves as Heavy prog. It’s a natural process that we get proggier, since our newer members Erik and Stig are prognerds, but we actually tried to prog this album down a bit, and focus more on classic elements and vocal harmonies. On our next album you will need a calculator to get it
„Pictures in a Dream“ is personally one of my favorite albums released in 2013 and I am interested to hear what albums did you guys listen to during the recording process of the album? How much what you listen while writing music influences the final product, in your opinion?
Jostein: Oh, thanx! That’s nice to hear:) When I get in the process of recording an album, I don’t listen to similar music at all. I feel sorry for my friends who come and visit in this process. I play only raw tapes of Arabs in Aspic:) The writing process is something that happens all the time. We have enough music almost ready for two or three more albums, but when it comes to recording, we have to puzzle our pieces right to get an album, not just a bunch of music or a bunch of songs. Our coverart designer is also important in this process. I often re-write all the lyrics after the recordings are done, to make it fit the temper of the music, and the artwork. My vinyl collection is in my backbone, so I guess that colours our music. But as I said earlier, I can get inspiration to write music about anything. A punchline in a movie, a picture or a painting can give me enough to come up with a riff or a melody line. I record every idea at once. If I don’t have a guitar I sing it.
How much were you active in playing live in the past? What’s the response of audience on your music?
Then years ago we played a lot, but only in Norway. We did about 30 gigs a year. We had a faithful audience, who appreciated a wall of sound. People buy improbable amounts of beer when we play:) I don’t know if that is cause they are happy or if it’s to kill the pain
We haven’t been too active with the new line up yet, but we will. Last summer we had a gig in Quebec and a couple in Norway, and we have been asked to play some places in Europe. Our adience seems to get in a good mood and like our energy. We have gotten great feedback from all kinds of people from 12-70 years, male and female. Jostein’s wife, Helena, will participate in the Winter Olympics this winter, so that is our main priority now. But after that, there will be lots of live music…
Your song „You Are Blind“ opens our latest Progstravaganza compilation. What can you say about the song in particular?
This is the heaviest part of our new album. It’s made to hear in context with the previous and the next song. The previous song is a real heavy piece of music, but this one starts even heavier, on the last beat of the previous song. The next one is a instrumental floater, to tighten up our sholders “You are blind” is a tribute to Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Beatles if you listen close. And that is not a secret. It’s composed this way to make you smile if you hear the codes. The lyrics are a settlement with system vs individuals. The strange mid part is a funny story. Only Jostein knew what it would contain when we recorded it. He asked Eskil to keep the beat on his signal. Afterwards, Erik got one attempt to do a far out bass solo. The space echo guitar is also done in only one take, but reversed and fucked up with fx. This part is most likely inspired by the time Jostein studied modern classic music, with composers like Edgar Varese, Arne Nordheim and Igor Stravinskij. Most likely, many of his compositions are inspired by this era.
What would be your choice to share a stage with, if you had that chance to pick a band?
That would be bands that are in some way related to our music. This would give the audience a good evening. And if the audience have a great time, I’m sure we will enjoy it also. It’s no primary goal for us to support a famous band, playing on a large stadium. When we do gigs we hope that the audience is there to check out our music. None of us like the thought of an audience just waiting for us to be finished. But we must admit, that if Tony Iommi had asked us to do a support job, we would have said yes:)
What comes next for Arabs in Aspic?
Holy Moses, we have plans! This August we will do 3 gigs in France. Later this year we will do at least 2 gigs in Norway and maybe 2 gigs in Stockholm. But priority number one is more recordings. We have started a pre production of what is ment to be a triple vinyl, with the working title; Heavy Progressive Rock. This is planned to be a heavy record, a very progressive record, and a record in between, the way we do things now. Most of the music is written already, so stay tuned for more madness from Norway!
And don’t forget to find us on http://www.facebook.com/arabsinaspic, Spotify, iTunes and your random record store.
Arabs in Aspic is:
Jostein Smeby – guitars + vocals
Stig Jørgensen – organs + vocals
Erik Paulsen – bass + vocals
Eskil Nyhus – drums + cymbals