For my money, you can't get a better songwriter than Stein Roger Sordal. This Norway native is always honing his craft, dividing his time between prog-metal giants Green Carnation and his own solo material with the band Sordal. Every record he does is a step above the previous one. In fact, his last record, The Centre of the Storm, is one of my favorite all-time releases. For his new record Juno & Jupiter, however, he shook things up and did a sideways step, embracing a 1980's flavor that runs through the whole project, giving it a real fun vibe and retaining the high level of songwriting he's known for. I spoke with Stein recently to find all about his new direction.
antiMusic: You've said that the last record's lyrical matter was informed by a family medical situation. The music on the new record is definitely ripped right out of the '80s playbook. What spoke to you about this music period that you wanted to craft things in that direction?
Stein: Yes, I definitely went down memory lane with this one. I always planned to do a record sounding like this, but the timing was not there really. I have a lot of stash from the '80's and I have been collecting old synths and drum-machines and such, but I never found peace to do it. Covid came and I was pretty much alone in the studio for a year. I figured, why not now (hehe)?
I was born in '75, so much of my childhood is music out of these synths. I guess that is why I have the passion for that sound. I realize that the sound is pretty hip today, but that was not a trigger for me. All the stash used on the album is authentic stuff from '78 to '85. Tom Scholz (founder, songwriter and guitarist in the band Boston) created some guitar units in the early '80's called Rockman. They are heavily used on my album.
antiMusic: The sound of your music has gotten increasingly radio-friendly, shall we say, since In Fort Knox with a Penny. Is this by design or just a natural evolution?
Stein: Yes, a natural evolution. When I sit down and write music, I don't have any thoughts on who I write the music to. Thousands of songwriters and producers do that and that is why most of the hits today sound the same. The recipe is four chords, a catchy topline, 10 songwriters and a pretty face. I have the chords and sometimes a topline. I lack the rest (hehe).
antiMusic: How much has Norway been shut down over the last two years from COVID and how did this affect the creation of this record?
Stein: Most of 2020 was down and I used the lockdown to write Juno & Jupiter and a lot of new stuff for Green Carnation. Luckily, I was in a very creative place when Covid came in March 2020, and it did last for most of the year. The writing that is. I wrote bunch of stuff. I had a little break in the start of 2021, but the vibe came back and I have been writing since. So many of our shows were cancelled, so I just kept pushing on.
antiMusic: You're known as an extremely creative dude, wearing a lot of different hats as songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist and performer. How much of the record is left to the other members of the band, meaning are the songs a collaborative affair at all or do you just call the other guys in when you're ready to record?
Stein: Usually, I send the guys a demo of a song I have been working on. The demo usually contains a full production, meaning drums, bass, guitars, keys, etc.., but that doesn't mean the song is carved in stone. I add these things when I record demos because I have an idea about everything, and it feels wrong to just boil it down to chords and lyrics. When I say drums and guitars and such, I mean very simple stuff, just to get the feel. I know what the boys can do, so it always just a guideline.
Apart from the "J&J" album, we always sit down together with the demos and work out the pieces together. Everything from tempos, keys, arrangements to instrumentations. As the guys do their stuff better than me, it's always a turn for the better. On the "J&J" album, I did most of the stuff myself. My guitar player, Michael Aadal, did some great parts and my sax player, Ole Jorgen Bardal, did wonderful stuff. You could say my passion for the 80's came in handy when I did the drum programming (hehe).
antiMusic: What's the meaning behind the title Juno & Jupiter?
Stein: The Roland corporation came out with a monster of a synth in 1981 called Roland Jupiter 8. In 1982 they made a more affordable synth called Juno 6. The Juno and the Jupiter synths are, to me, the very definition of the 80's sound. Still used today. Massive sounds in these babies. Jupiter is also known as Zeus in Greek mythology. The God of thunder. Juno was his wife and a powerful Goddess.
antiMusic: "Moral Police" is an interesting song with a great hook. What can you tell us about this song?
Stein: Actually, the lyrics came about when a famous (at least here in Norway) cross country skier was arrested for some speed driving and some cocaine issues. Now, people are very quick to judge and also some people are happy for other people's downfalls. This was a guy who has been in the public eye for so many years. He retired and became a "normal" guy and had to deal with that.
It's pretty common to explore when one is out of the light. We all make mistakes, but it's a greater fall if you are famous. I wouldn't know, but one can read all about it. The music is actually inspired by the beautiful mountains of Norway where they sometimes have these ultra-long cross country ski competitions. Nature at its best!
antiMusic: "Should I Cry" really draws you in and a great sax solo too. What is this song about?
Stein: Yes, my man OJ (Ole Jorgen) is a great player. A jazz man originally, but he also had to walk down memory-lane and find his inner '80's tone (hehe). I think he had Clarence Clemons from the E Street band in mind here. The song is partly self-experienced. When I was 7-8, I went to Sunday-school a few times, because I sent a lot of weekends at my grandparent's place in Setesdalen (mid/South) Norway and every Sunday there was this woman talking to us youngsters there about Satan. Satan this, Satan that.
"You'll burn in hell if you don't pray to God every day", she said. She used to walk around with this stick, pointing at us as if it was a rifle (hehe). If you were quiet and behaved, you got a gold star sticker in your Sunday school book. Man, she was scary. The clean sound on the electric guitar is a very good example of what the Rockman guitar units sound like.
antiMusic: "Ashes Bound" has got such a great melody line, both verse and chorus. Did the music come first on this one?
Stein: I had some of the music recorded on this one. Actually, the verse is from The Center of the Storm period. I wanted this song to sound...hmm...fresh if that makes sense. A very hi-end sort of production. Tightness in drums and bass. Bass meaning the old Yamaha DX7. The bass sound of the '80's. Drums are mostly Sequential Circuits drum tracks. I find the song pretty exciting sound wise. Lush and tight. Hi and low. Michael did a great solo part and I really think it has a strong chorus. Lyrically about feeling that you're the thorn in a relationship.
antiMusic: You can't get any more '80s on the record than "Transarctic Lover" --- great synth line in there. Tell us how this one came about.
Stein: I wrote "Transarctic Lover" with another melody. A friend of mine called Alex Olsson and the lead singer, Alexandra Rotan, from the band Keiino, did the vocals and I think she came up with the melody with another friend, Tom Hugo Hermansen from the same band. We had a writing session together and wrote a few Keiino songs together and at the end of the session we had some wine. I played them the demo for the song, and they liked it. They released their own version of the song months before I did. Great version, I think. I really went all in '80's in this one yes.
antiMusic: Holy Miami Vice, Batman! If one listens to "Granite", you can picture Don Johnson in a pastel suit roaring across the water in a huge boat. Very cool vibe. How did this song come to be?
Stein: (Hehe) Thank you, kind Sir! Yes, this is Miami, flamingos and fast boats. And tits. The guitar vs sax vibe is something I remembered David Stewart did on the song "Lily was here" from the late '80's. I wanted the song to be dark and a bit moody. The very first Sordal instrumental, I believe. The intro is spoken by the great actor Ernst-Hugo Jaregaard, taken from the Danish series called "Riget".
The bassline was originally on-beat, but producer Endre Kirkesola wanted it to be in-between the bass drum and that was a very tasteful touch. He just moved the bassline a bit (hehe). Much of the synths on this song is the old Oberheim Matrix 6. I bought it in 1993. Still amongst my favorites. Great job again by saxman OJ.
antiMusic: "Nothing Up My Sleeve" and "Mother Receive, Mother Return" are great songs but also sound like they could have fit onto your last record. How do they fit into the scheme for this record?
Stein: Yes, you are absolutely right. Those songs are more in the "known" Sordal category. I wanted "J&J" to be an album without acoustic guitars, but I had to come to some terms with myself (hehe). The song always comes first. I tried without acoustic guitars, but it did not sound right. Both songs have "grown" on me. Meaning it took some time to get to know them. Once I got to know them, they came about as good behaving children too (hehe).
I had early A-ha (Norwegian band) in mind for the instrumentation and vibe for "Nothing Up My Sleeve" and for "Mother Receive" I had Tears For Fears in mind. Don't quite know why. Lyrically "Mother Receive" is about give and take. In the lockdown, I remember sitting on my porch thinking this is Mother Nature saying, "F*ck you if you think you can treat me like this and get away with it easily". Wine sometimes does that to me (hehe).
antiMusic: Besides this new Sordal record, you've also been busy with Green Carnation, contributing heavily to your most recent record, Leaves of Yesteryear and readying the re-release of The Acoustic Verses. The Green Carnation material (excluding The Acoustic Verses) is day and night different from your solo records. Are you a Gemini-type person with both sides of your musical leanings competing with each other to come out?
Stein: Well, I believe one triggers the other. My Sordal songs get better working with GC music and vise versa. The reason is because I try multiple variations on everything I work with to get the best result I can get. Sordal and GC are miles apart musically yes, but a lot of that has to do with the sound. Heavy use of distorted guitars and such. I also find it great that the bands sound so different, cause then I can work with the other if one of the stalls a bit. I never saw the point of having two bands sounding the same. Or even in the same style. Anyway, point is that I believe both bastards, Sordal and GC, are good for one another in terms of song writing.
antiMusic: Most people outside of Norway know you from your work with Green Carnation. What is your musical background and how did you come to join up with Tchort and company?
Stein: When Tchort had written the demo for Light of Day, Day of Darkness back in the day (2000 maybe?) he called me and asked if I could record the bass for the song in the studio. I remember I had some rehearsals with Tchort and drummer Anders Kobro. I did the track and a few weeks later he asked me if I would consider joining the band for some live shows. I'm happy I said yes to that. GC has taken me around the world and we have the greatest fans around. Super thankful for that. The rest is history as they say.
antiMusic: So now we've had Stein ver: '80s. Any other areas you would like to explore in the future (...like maybe a hard rock record with stuff like "Purple Door, Pitch Black" and "The Quiet Offspring"? Just saying =)
Stein: What I do know is that I don't know anything when it comes to me and planning directions for the next project (hehe). I'm like a hitchhiker on that endless highway. Either I am tossed off at the nearest country and western bar or I am waking up in the middle of a field on a metal festival. Music is great as long as it's good (hehe).
antiMusic: With COVID putting the bite on touring for now, what are your plans for 2022?
Stein: I figured the best thing to do is not to put your hopes up. I will write, write, write! That I can do. Money is tight when I don't get to play gigs, so the pen is a good companion now and a cheap one. I know that the team around GC is working with it, but this closing down again and again is just depressing. When this sh*t is over there will be quite a few new songs to play for us. That I really look forward to. See you around folks!
Morley and antiMusic thank Stein for taking the time to do this interview.
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