Festivalphoto journalist Ant May spoke to Dragonland and Amaranthe guitarist, Olof Morck at the Borderline in London shortly before Amaranthe played their first UK headline show on December 12th. The date was extra special for Olof as it was his birthday.
Festivalphoto: The new Dragonland album, "Under the grey banner" has just been released, can you tell us a bit about the album?
Olof: Its the first Dragonland album in five years and it's the result of a very ambitious project that we started seriously back in late 2008, but we were playing around with some concepts before that, and it basically looks back to the first two albums we made which were more in the fantasy vein. So it's good to be back in those old shoes but doing it completely different and trying a very fresh approach, so yeah it's basically a lovechild as a result of many years hard work and it's nice to finally see it out.
Festivalphoto: It's five years since your previous album - why such a long gap?
Olof: We started to work on music pretty much straight away after Astronomy which was released in 2006, and we found that the songs that the songs that were coming out at that time were really really good and we were very happy with them but it was definitely in the vein of Astronomy and for my taste it was a little bit too much in the same vein. There would probably have been a lot of fans who liked that as well but for us after so many years together we felt that we needed to continue to develop, because Dragonland has always been a bit different for each album. We also did other things as well, like Amaranthe which I'm playing with tonight here in London, and Elias my co-composer was working on video games and stuff, so it's a little slow, but we have been working a lot on this album, it's not only just because we were focussing on different things.
Festivalphoto: To tie in with the album, your website www.thegreybanner.com has been made with an interactive map of the locations mentioned in the album and art and videos. Where did the idea come from to do this - its a great tie in to the album?
Olof: I think that the concept gradually developed as we worked on it, but right from the get go I knew I wanted to have something more deep than the last site because part of the fantasy story experience was in the lyrics and sometimes it can be a bit hard to pick up. It's also something we subconciously did in the music - it's supposed to be easier to follow what's going on in the music, and as soon as we got the illustrations for the CD we realised that we could use these illustrations for different things. One of the ideas that came up when I was talking to a friend of mine back in the US who's doing a lot of animation, was to do these video features, and the idea of the web page developed from there.
Festivalphoto: You've got several guests involved in the project including Fred Johansen and the three singers from Amaranthe. Are these guests on the album or are they only involved in the website multimedia elements?
Olof: The Fred Johansen character, he's a musical actor, he's playing the character of the main antagonist in the story, Jonas the vocalist of Dragonland and I have been fans of his for such a long time so it was amazing to have him on board. The guys from Amaranthe are all making cameo roles. For example, Andy is on the last track, "Under the grey banner" and he's portraying a big evil orc. Elize is an Elven princess in the lands of Val'Inthor, so they have small cameo roles basically.
Festivalphoto: Was it strange working with half of Amaranthe on a Dragonland project?
Olof: The funny thing is you could actually turn that question around, because the first context that I worked with them in was actually Dragonland, on the Astronomy CD, because both Jake and Elize but not Andy, Jake and Elize are both part of that album and Jake was actualyl helping me on some songs writing some vocal lines, we were just playing around with stuff. Jake is sinnging on the title track and Elize is singing some duets with Jonas on several songs on that album.
Festivalphoto: Are there any plans for any Dragonland live dates, perhaps a tour?
Olof: Sure, nothing is set in stone yet, we have some different options but nothing is set in stone. We have some things coming up that are almost finalised, so we're going to play some live shows for sure and I think a lot of the stuff can work really well from the new album, there's some really killer tracks that I would just love to perform live.
Festivalphoto: Looking at the Dragonland lineup, its unusual to see two members (vocals and guitar) who have switched from Drums - Jonas Heidgert & Jesse Lindskog.
Olof: Yeah you're right. I was thinking what you meant with Jonas, but yes he played drums before he moved to vocals, and Jesse was playing drums and moved to guitar. To be honest Morten is one of the best drummers I know, and I was talking to Jesse and he really wanted to play guitar, and in all honesty and I've told Jesse this, he's a better guitar player than he is a drummer. He's a fantastic drummer as well as an amazing guitar player, and Morten really wanted to try it as well, so it's worked out really well for everyone.
Festivalphoto: It must be quite handy if Morten gets injured as you have two other guys who can take over to help out.
Olof: I think that, hang on let me think..... yeah I'm the only person in Dragonland who can't play the drums, and I will tell you a small secret that I think nobody knows. Just for laughs, when we were recording "Beethoven's nightmare", a song from Astronomy, we were actually changing drummers back and forth so everyone except me are playing drums on it.
Festivalphoto: It's good that you can have fun while recording.
Olof: Yeah and if you can do it without affecting things adversely then why not? People were getting a kick out of it, we got some laughs from it.
Festivalphoto: Moving on to Amaranthe, you're about to play your first UK headline date - any nerves?
Olof: Not really, but excited, its going to be fantastic and not only is it the first headline show in the UK for Amaranthe, it's also the last show on our current tour, so tomorrow we'll haead back home after almost 8 weeks on the road. It's also my 30th birthday so there's many reasons to celebrate tonight but most importantly I'm excited to meet the UK fans again, it's going to be awesome.
Festivalphoto: What are your plans for after the tour ends?
Olof: Sleep for three weeks. No, seriously the second I'm coming back home I'm going to pass out for a day, but I know myself, I'm going to be very bored after one or two days, and we don't have any shows for almost one month during the Christmas break, so that means I'm going to start work with a lot of new music. We're going to start to write the new Amaranthe album, and I can tell you that we're going to continue the concept of "Under the grey banner" with the next Dragonland album, and it's not going to be another five years, it's going to be way way way less than that because we know exactly where we want to go with the story and conceptsand everything so we're going to do a bit of that as well.
Festivalphoto: Thanks very much for your time, I'll let you get yourself ready for the show.