Just a few weeks ago the latest releases of Erik Norlander and Lana Lane hit the stores. Both albums are cover albums and as they are partners in crime for years in music and life I jotted down my questions for the couple and I'm glad they found time to answer them.
Why did you decided to do a cover album(s)? And how did you choose the songs?
Erik: It has been a tradition since 1998 for us to record a kind of Lana Lane 'specialty album' every two years for the holiday season in Japan. After Lana's big breakthrough Garden Of The Moon album in 1998, our Japanese label suggested that we record an album for the fans for Christmas. Not a 'Christmas album', but rather an 'album for Christmas'. So we recorded the first Ballad Collection and released it in November of 1998. It went over extremely well, and we carried on in 2000 with Ballad Collection II, then in 2002 with the Covers Collection, and again in 2004 with Winter Sessions. In 2006, it was time again for another of these specialty albums. Lana and I talked about doing another album of covers, but we wanted it to be something a bit more special and not simply a 'Covers Collection II'. We came up with the idea of Gemini, the astrological sign for twins, and we took this theme throughout the album. Since this was technically our second album of all covers, we started with that concept of two. You'll even see the subtle graphic of 'CC II' in the cover art of Gemini indicating that this album is indeed, Covers Collection II, albeit with a little higher concept. So we started by choosing two songs from each original artist we covered, and then we took the two concept to a real extreme by recording a whole second album of covers! Lana's Gemini album contains covers of classic rock songs, and my Hommage Symphonique album contains covers of famous progressive rock songs. These were all songs that Lana and I loved as individuals, and they were songs that we felt we could bring some interesting interpretations to rather than just simply 'copying' the songs.
It seems that you chose music which influenced you early on. Can it be said that these are your main influences?
Erik: Yes, that is definitely true. For the songs on Hommage Symphonique, I have listened to all of these since I was a kid. These songs really inspired to me the musician I am today. When I had the chance to record this album, I jumped at it. I had wanted to make this kind of album for a long time. It was really, really fun to do, and it was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. Sure, the songs are very complex, but I was so familiar with each one, they were easy to record for me.
Erik, I think I read somewhere that the first ELP album inspired you most. So why did you chose a song off that one? Why Pirates which is of Works Vo. 1?
Erik: The first ELP album was certainly one of the first albums I heard that inspired me to be a keyboardist, and especially a progressive rock keyboardist like Keith Emerson. So that first ELP album is definitely an important one. But it's not necessarily my favorite ELP album when I look now at their whole catalog. I probably still would choose Pictures At An Exhibition just because of the great live energy and Keith's amazing use of live modular Moog synthesizer and Hammond organ. Plus the brilliant artistry of Lake and Palmer, too. Works Vol. 1 is an interesting album. In many ways, I think it was the beginning of the end of ELP. The three musicians each had their own side of vinyl, and then they came together for Side 4, the band side. And there's only two songs on that side! The first is Fanfare For The Common Man, a brilliant cover of the American composer Aaron Copland's piece. And the second is Pirates. To me, Pirates is the ultimate ELP track, because it combines so many of their signature elements: everything from bombastic brass clusters to odd time figures to shakedown boogie woogie rock 'n' roll. There's a classic element very much in the vein of Aaron Copland, Ennio Morricone a bit of George Gershwin to my ear. Then there's a jazz element in the soloing, and there's even an electronic element in the synthesizer introduction. That introduction was the hardest part for me because it's such a signature synthesizer sound. I figured if I could get that intro right, then I could easily get the next 15 minutes!
Most tunes on Hommage Symphonique are from so-called prog rock bands and so the Chuck Mangione songs stands out. What hooked you up with Mangione? And why did you choose a track from the soundtrack of the same titled Hall Bartlett movie? (Actually one of my favs on the album...)
Erik: Thank you, Claudia -- it's one of my favorites on the album as well! You're right that this is not really progressive or symphonic rock. It's more like 'symphonic jazz'. If you put the original Chuck Mangione version of Children Of Sanchez next to the original King Crimson version of Starless, it would be hard to imagine how they would fit together on an album. But I heard the jazz and symphonic elements in both of those original songs, and when I arranged them for my band, I think they ended up fitting very well together on Hommage Symphonique. Children Of Sanchez has that very stirring cadence and fanfare, and that's something that influenced my earlier work in pieces like Sunset Prelude (Into The Sunset album), Metamorphosis (Music Machine album), Astrology Prelude (Secrets Of Astrology album) and Garden Of The Moon (Garden Of The Moon album). In addition to that great cadence and fanfare, you have this very emotional, passionate vocal melody that is also played by the flugelhorn and Hammond organ. It has a very Latin feel, and I love that element. I have introduced that into some of my own music, for example, the bridge of Neurosaur (Threshold album) and some of the themes on Rome Is Burning (Into The Sunset album).
Lana, you already did Cover Collections, why another cover album?
Lana: I really enjoy recording cover songs. I almost always try to include one on my albums. I think it's a great way to keep classic songs alive, and it's creatively challenging to try and make them your own.
And what's the difference for you between the both?
Lana: The songs on my first Covers album were chosen by fans, business associates and friends. Of course Erik and I had input as well. The songs on Gemini are strictly songs that I Erik and I chose, and we also started with the 'two' concept that runs through the whole album. There are also no metal songs on Gemini, but there some on the first Covers Collection. So there's definitely a contrast between the two albums.
In comparison to Erik's album you took songs from different genres, so to speak... Why?
Lana: The music of Lana Lane is a combination of my love of Classic Rock and Erik's love of Progressive Rock. It's only natural that the songs I would choose for my CD would come from my roots and inspiration. So when you listen to Gemini and Hommage Symphonique, you really hear the distinct influences of me and Erik as individuals.
You have some Pink Floyd songs on your CD which some say is even more challenging for the listener then the originals. What do you think about this?
Lana: I think covering Pink Floyd is very challenging, and at first I thought it was quite daunting. But after I heard Erik's arrangements of the songs, I realized how great they were going to be. It was great to sing these fantastic songs.
You both worked with a lot of different musicians through the years - as you have appeared on more then 30 albums.. How much did the work with 'guest' musicians influence you?
Erik: Each musician is at their best when they bring their own style and personality to a project. I have learned so much about music and about the individual instruments from these musicians. For example, Tony Franklin really showed me what it means to be a rock bass player. Don Schiff taught me a lot about the jazz world and the idea of extended harmony. And Don's experimentation with exotic instruments has been extremely educational and inspiring to me. Vinny Appice taught me about the idea of a slow, heavy groove, and Virgil Donati showed me some incredible double bass drum techniques. Greg Ellis opened my mind to the idea of using world percussion in my own music. Gregg Bissonette is an amazing example of versatility where he can play burning heavy metal in one moment and then soft atmospheric jazz only a few bars later. Sometimes my crazy arrangements call for that! Peer Verschuren showed me that you can play extremely fast and still be melodic and emotional. And Mark McCrite showed me how just a few notes, the right notes in the right place, can be fantastically moving. And the same with Mark's compositional skill in writing chord progressions. Then Kelly Keeling and Lana Lane showed me just how the right singer can elevate a song to a whole new level. I could go on and on!
What was the most memorable experience while working with all these people?
Erik: I think that Lana's 10th Anniversary Concert in Japan was perhaps the most memorable. It was really a summation of our music experiences and achievements. There we were, 10.000 km from home, playing with two guys from Holland, one guy from Sweden and one guy from Georgia (opposite side of the USA from California), all for a house full of really loyal fans in Tokyo, Japan! If one had told me when I was a kid that I would have played that concert, I would not have believed it! That was really a magic concert. The last concert in St. Petersburg was also like that.
Erik, you covered a Tull song and your family roots are Swedish... Do you know Kaipa? And if so, have you ever thought about covering them? Or another cooperation?
Erik: Yes, my family's roots are Swedish, and I have even owned two Volvos in the past. ;-) I have been a fan of Jethro Tull for as long as I can remember. I particularly love the Thick As A Brick album. I don't know the band Kaipa, although I have seen the name. Maybe this is something I should check out?
I heard that you both had a great time in St. Petersburg / Russia. There are many talented musicians - and many studied music like you did, Erik - can we expect some collaboration with Russian musicians in future?
Erik: Our visit to St. Petersburg was really spectacular. We made so many friends, and the concert that we filmed for the Live in St. Petersburg DVD was an experience that I will always remember. We are going back in a few months, and I'm really looking forward to it. The people of St. Petersburg are so rich in culture, and they are open to influences from the outside, from Europe and from the USA. After our last concert there, a prominent Russian journalist said to me that my music really suited the architecture of the city. That was quite a compliment! As for working with Russian musicians, I would love that. I am sure I would learn a lot.
It seems that many influences on your music are coming from European bands. How much did traveling Europe and meeting different people / cultures effect you?
Erik: Our travels and collaborations have affected me a lot. But I think that European culture has influenced me all the way back to my school days. The United States is a relatively young country, so if I as an American want to go back much more than 200 years, I have to study Europe and its history. And I did a lot of that. I love studying history even today. And in recent history, of course the progressive rock movement began in Europe. So I have been more a fan of European music, I think, that American music. But there is great American music, too, of course.
Erik, you studied English literature. How important are books for you these days?
Erik: I have a really huge library of books, probably about 80% of it in boxes at this time, and I hope to one day have a bit more time to read more. Lately I have read a little, but not nearly as much as I would like due to my recording and touring projects. I do get a bit of chance to read when I am on a long flight or train ride. So I look forward to that time.
Which are you favorite writers?
Erik: I have to start with William Shakespeare. Is there any other writer who has influenced the world more? Following Shakespeare, I really enjoy the writings of the English romantic writers, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, John Keats, Robert Browning, and then on to William Wordsworth, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Moving forward in time, I really like F. Scott Fitzgerald and some of William Faulkner's novels. Then begins the science fiction writers! I would certainly start with Alfred Bester and his landmark novel, The Demolished Man. Then there's Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Frank Herbert. Michael Moorcock and Robert Heinlein. Harlan Ellison, of course. In the more recent years, I think the novelists William Gibson and Neal Stephenson have launched another wave of great sci fi literature.
What are you reading right now?
Erik: Unfortunately right now the only thing I am reading is the instruction manual to my new recording software! But I do have a stack of books queued up for the near future!
Some of the music you picked up for covering is creating soundscapes... Some could be taken off a soundtrack... Are you into movies? What kind you enjoy?
Erik: I enjoy really atmospheric movies. My two absolute favorites are Terry Gilliam's Brazil and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. Those are classics that should be held up on the same level with Casablanca and Citizen Kane, in my view. I love the big blockbuster movies like the Star Wars and Star Trek films and also the James Bond series, but I also really enjoy independent films like Magnolia, Henry V and Donnie Darko, to name three very different but equally great movies. And I absolutely love ANYTHING by John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, the Coen brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson.
What else do you enjoy beside music?
Erik: We talked about film and literature already. I really love to travel, and my particular job as a musician really has a great fringe benefit in that regard. I love a great bottle of red wine or a fine Whiskey -- American Bourbon or Scotch Whiskey -- along with a nice cigar. I don't smoke cigarettes or even marijuana, but I do enjoy a nice cigar every now and then. I used to ski quite a lot when I was younger, and recently I've picked that up again. I went skiing with my father, brother and sister over Christmas, and it was a lot of fun. At 39 years old, I was happen to learn that my knees do still work!
Lans: I love to cook and to keep a clean house. I am also a TV junkie!
You recorded Lady MacBeth in Holland. Lana, you speak Dutch, how come? What is your connection to the Netherlands?
Lana: I am half Dutch (my mother is Dutch). My parents taught me how to speak Dutch from the moment I learned to talk, so Holland feels like a second home to me. Over the years we have made many friends there, and of course my regular touring musicians Peer Verschuren (guitar) and Ernst Van Ee (drums) are both Dutch.
Dutch Alpha Centauri festival 2004... Tell us about!
Erik: I have played this festival twice, and it has been a great experience both times. The festival organizers are fabulous people, and they really love what they do. I played the festival in 2001, and I played my set just before Rick Wakeman. In fact, that's where I met him for the first time which was a real honor for me. He told me that he had some of my albums, and that of course left me speechless. In 2004, I headlined the festival and also introduced by Seas Of Orion album which was commissioned by the festival. What is great about these electronic music festivals is that the audience is so interested in synthesizer music ... and real intelligent synthesizer music -- not just repetitive dance or disco music. It was a bit of a challenge for me to assemble a set of all electronic music and play without a band, but I loved doing it. I have done a few similar gigs in the US following my first Dutch Alfa Centauri appearance. It's a whole way of thinking, but that's good exercise for the old brain!
Btw, Alpha Centauri is beside being a star system also an album of Tangerine Dream... What do you think about TD? And any chance you will revive some of their stuff in your way?
Erik: Yes, of course on both counts! My father used to be an astronomy lecturer at an observatory in California, so I have attended plenty of astronomy presentations! Tangerine Dream is an incredible group. They along with Klaus Schulze are surely the fathers of electronic music and of course the creators of the 'Berlin School' of electronic composition. It's music that is spacious, atmospheric and unhurried. You can let patterns, timbres and even melodies evolve slowly over a really long time. It's almost the antithesis of pop music. I have so many Tangerine Dream albums in my collection, I can't even count them all without going into the room looking at each one. They have been a source of great inspiration to me.
Out of the progressive rock developed the heavier version - Prog Metal. What do you think about todays prog metal scene? And which bands impressed you most?
Erik: I think that perhaps Rush was the first prog metal band. I really love their albums. For more recent bands, I think Symphony X is fantastic and also the bands of Vitalij Kuprij like Artension and Ring of Fire. And of course I must mention Yngwie Malmsteen. But the leader in the modern prog metal movement must be Dream Theater. I think in many ways Dream Theater saved progressive rock. They certainly brought a metal sound to prog, but they also introduced prog music to a whole new generation, I think THROUGH the metal influence. So they deserve a lot of praise and thanks for that.
It seems that there aren't many female singers in this genre. Even if more women are fronting bands nowadays. What do you think is the reason for this? And will it only be a matter of time til it changes?
Erik: Well, the music business is a harsh world, and you have to develop a really thick skin to continue in it for too long. I think a lot of women may be too sensitive for it. Okay, and a lot of men, too! It should not be that way, but unfortunately it is.
Lana, what are the best female vocalists in your opinion?
Lana: Ann Wilson, Shirley Bassey and Ella Fitzgerald, to name a few.
In Belgium there is an annual festival called Metals Female Voices Festival. There are mainly metal bands playing, but what do you think about this concept? Would you like to take part?
Lana: I think it's a great concept. The music business is still a 'man's world', so we should showcase as many female musicians as we can. I would like to take part in a festival like that some time.
As you are traveling a lot you might have a different perspective on things then your fellow countrymen. Lana, somewhere you said that you aren't a political person, but commented that you aren't a fan of Bush Jr. - so to speak... But I would like to ask you both something which is in the news these days... And something in general.
Hot topic now are the presidential candidates... Do you think that the USA is ready for an Afro-American president? Or for the first female president? Does Giuliani's action after the 9-11 attacks get him on the way to the White House?
Lana: We need someone who is intelligent and honest. Whether that person is black or female should not matter. I hope it won't. But you should talk to Erik about the political stuff!
Erik: I have a lot of respect for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and I think they would both be great presidents. Rudy Giuliani has shown that he can endure a terrible crisis with integrity and fortitude, so that is impressive, too. Although I think we have had enough Republicans in office for a while!
It seems that slowly America develops a green mind. Why people don't get the message earlier?
Erik: As I tell so many of my friends in Europe, the USA is a really big place, and we have a lot of people living here. There are millions of Americans who have always had great concern for the environment, but I think in the 70's through the 90's the voices of big business and corporate greed drowned out the voices of the environmentally conscious. Perhaps Al Gore was the biggest voice to start a recent change on a national level. I don't think Mr. Gore has all of the answers, but he certainly has some of them!
You live in California. What do you think about Schwarzenegger changing his mind on pollution control? Renewable energies, etc.? That he turned 'green'?
Erik: Arnold has always been a very 'liberal' Republican. He is much more liberal than our President Bush. I don't like the way Arnold came to the governor's office initially, through that very suspicious 'recall election'. But he was re-elected last year, and he has been working for California. He may not be my first choice for our governor, but I am willing to give him a chance.
Schwarzenegger used his celebrity status to become governor. But compared to celebrities like Paris Hilton or Anna Nicole Smith he had a real career. Isn't it unfair that musicians, athletes, etc. who really have a talent don't get so much attention? It seems that the Iraq war and the presidential candidates and the election at the moment have to give space to the A.N. Smith drama...'
Erik: There are artists, and then there are pop stars. Those two are almost mutually exclusive. Okay, there a FEW pop stars who have some real talent. But if you want to hear the best musicians, you don't go to the arenas or stadiums. You go to the little clubs. That's where the real talent is playing. I think that being a pop star requires a ruthlessness and a focus on fame and stardom that must preclude too much artistry or creative integrity. As for the way the media covers artists vs. pop stars ... they have a job to do and advertising to sell. If you asked the president of Coca Cola whether he would rather advertise during a show about Anna Nicole Smith or a show about Erik Norlander, of course he would choose the former (that is, after he said "Who is Erik Norlander?" ;-) It's the whole phenomenon of reaching the lowest common denominator. And mass media of course wants to appeal to the masses.
Is today's society too unconcerned?
Erik: I don't know if we are too unconcerned, but surely we are over stimulated with advertising, marketing and commercialism. I'm not saying that we should all be monks or even socialists, but there is a point when we should recognize our humanity and take better care of our fellow man and our planet rather than trying to drive the biggest car or buy the cheapest soda at a megastore.
Lana, in some interview you said that children are or hope.... And they are our future, I might add. Would you agree that education is the key to change for the better?
Lana: Yes, I definitely agree with that. Education is essential for any kind of bright future. We should build more schools and less prisons!
Back to music for a final question... Both of you are influenced... inspired by musicians. Who you would wish to work with on day?
Erik: I would love to work with anyone from Yes, Rush or Pink Floyd. Probably I can list 1.000 other artists as well, but okay, that's a good start.
Last, but not least.... Anything you want to tell us? Famous last words?
Erik: I think I have writer's cramp from answering all of your excellent questions! So vielen Dank und beste Grüße!
Lana: Thank you, Claudia -- see you soon in Germany, I hope!
I have to thank them both for doing the interview together - and to answer so frankly all my questions. I hope that I can see them live soon and that this showed you a different side of them.