Guitarist/bandleader Lars André Larsen – Angel Heart
Interviewed by: Anders Sandvall
Thanks to Michael H Andersen at Mighty Music for help for setting up the interview. Thanks to Mighty Music for the promo pictures of the band. Additional promo pictures from the bands homepage taken by: IP Maestro Photography
Here comes an interview with guitarist/bandleader Lars André Larsen from Norwegian melodic goth/hard rock act Angel Heart. The band have recently released their self-titled debut album. Since Larsen’s been in the business for quite some time now I had a lot of questions to ask him. The band recorded the album without back up from any label which makes the band a little different from the crowd. If you’re interested in a band that sounds the like of Within Temptation and Leaves Eyes then Angel Heart is the choice for you. Enjoy.
Hi and thanks for taking the time for this interview today. Are you ready to begin?
Yes, ready and willing!
Before we start off I have to say I really love the band’s new album, it’s awesome! For how long have you guys been working on material to ANGEL HEART?
– Thanks a lot, that is nice to hear! I started writing new music after leaving Highland Glory, in 2011. Most songs were written between 2011-2014.
Who in the band writes the material? Are all of the members part of the song writing process?
-It is me (Lars) who write the songs. But Morten arranges his own drums, and also helps me put different ideas and parts to a complete song. Trine makes her own vocal lines, she often comes up with great melodies I didn’t think of. The same goes for Øystein playing bass. Even if I have an idea for what the bass should be, a real bass player knows how it should be played. I was excited when I heard his playing. A guitarist playing bass, will never be a bassist. At least I will never be.
Did you use any older songs on the album or is every song written especially for the debut?
-I had one song written while playing in Highland Glory, “My Spirit Will Live On”. The rest was written especially for this album. A few musical ideas were also from that time.
Were there any songs that didn’t make it on to the final edition of the album?
-Yes, one song was recorded but not used. It will be re-recorded for our next album. Two more songs did not make it to the studio, we already had enough material. We may record these songs later.
What are the lyrics about?
-I did not write lyrics in Highland Glory. I had to learn how to write lyrics so I wrote about my own life and what surrounds me: love, passion, friendship, etc. For example, the song “She is Strong” is a tribute to my best friend who experienced trouble in her life, but she stays strong, makes the best of every situation and comes out stronger; a great inspiration for me. She just deserved to have a song written about her! The song “Rock Friends” is inspired by my long friendship with the guys and girl in our band. I love them!
The bio states that the band is inspired by ’80’s hard rock/heavy metal acts like Dio, Dokken, Queensryche and Judas Priest; is that correct? In what way are you inspired by those acts?
-That is absolutely correct! We belong in the ’80’s musical universe. So many great albums were released in that decade. But I also might listen to Abba, Robin Beck, Mike Oldfield etc., some classical music like Beethoven and Grieg. All this music is in the back of my head somewhere, and in my heart, so when I write music, subconsciously this comes to the surface. We like the music to have a classic rock feel, because that is simply the music we love.
Do you think fans of your old band Highland Glory are going to enjoy the music of Angel Heart?
-Yes, I think and hope so! In Highland Glory I wrote about 1/3 of the music. The new music has the same feel as the tunes I wrote then. We are not as metal as Highland Glory, but our music should still be heavy enough for metal-fans to like, and maybe “soft” enough for anyone else to like. We do not really think if we make a metal or rock song. A good melody, a feeling, a strong chorus and good riffs, that is what is important.
How would you like to describe what kind of music the band plays?
-I have often thought of that, and I am having trouble describing our own music. I cannot think of just one band we sound alike. I hope it is because we maybe have our own style. A longing feeling in the ballads, passion and power in the harder tunes. We do definitely have an ’80’s hard rock / metal feel in our music. The music we play and sing, is who we are.
The album contains 9 songs and clocks in around 50 minutes which is a lot of music, was it your intention to give the fans a lot of music for their money?
-It was not really. I never plan how long a song will be. If it feels natural with a 7-8 minutes long song, that is what it will be. Being an old fashioned rocker, I like an album to be at least 40 minutes long, which was the length of an average LP.
Have you recorded bonus tracks for the Asian market?
-No, not yet. But if it should become necessary, it will be no problem for us to do so. Of course, we would like to spread our music and make new fans.
What are the longest songs “Sailing Against the Wind” (7,40) and “My Spirit Will Live On” (7,23) about?
-“Sailing Against the Wind” is partly a fictional story, and partly my own experience in love and loss. Simply a love song, but I think you can hear and feel a lot of emotion in the song.
The lyrics for the song “My Spirit Will Live On”, came after a very good friend of mine chose to leave this life. It became a dark, evocative song. You cannot understand why people chose to do so, but I tried to imagine what goes on in ones mind when your world falls apart, and there is no solution to your problems. I made the music many years ago and sadly this is a song I thought my past friend would love. I was looking so forward to play it for him, but it was not meant to be.
How come you named the album after the band?
-Basically I prefer an album to have a title, and I like the title to be one of the songs on the same album. But we did not think any of the song titles were good as an album title. And if we did come up with an album title, I would make a song of it. So it is OK that our fist album is self-titled. And it is not that unusual, just think of Van Halen, Boston, Iron Maiden etc. The next album will be named.
There’s a guest appearance from Sareeta on violin on four tracks, which tracks are they? How come you wanted to feature her on the album, are you old friends?
-When I presented the song “I Don’t Need Love”, to our drummer Morten, he immediately said “This song need violin”. The melody invited a violin. Of course, it was a perfect match. But, having a great violinist available, we thought of other songs that could be spiced up with some beautiful violin. We ended up with violin also on “She Is Strong”, “Sailing Against the Wind”, “My Spirit Will Live On”. We did not know Sareeta, but we knew her work with Ram-Zet, Solefald, Borknagar, and a lot of other Norwegian bands. It was the owner and sound engineer in the studio, who suggested us to contact her. We were lucky she was available, and very happy with the result. She is among the most professional musicians I ever have been in studio with!
Who did the cover artwork to the album and are you happy with the outcome of it?’
-Well, that’s a story. I visited a friend of mine, he had a painting of a beautiful bird on the wall. I really loved that painting. It was his daughter, Vanessa Helen Jarl, who was the artist. We asked her we could use it for our album artwork. Luckily she said yes. Our photogragher, IP Maesstro, who also is a musician, made contact whit a cover artist he knew, Slobicus Doomicus. He made the booklet and our logo, mixed her painting with some sky and clouds in the background, and made the final cover artwork come alive. You can put a lot of your own views in that picture, love, hope, mystic etc. Just let your mind go. So yes, we are very happy with the outcome of it.
The bio says that fans of Within Temptation and Leaves Eyes will like your music, are they right about that?
-Well, if you mix those, you might get something that sound like us. The power from Leaves Eyes and the moods and majesty from Within Temptation, yes I buy that. We are also a female fronted band, but Trine has a powerful voice, she sings more like Robin Beck or Ann Wilson. Her biggest inspiration is Ronnie James Dio.
What do you think of being compared with those acts? Have you listened to those bands a lot?
-I am happy to be compared with them, they are well known, and very good musicians. I only have the first to 3 albums from Within Temptation, and they are really good. Great melodies, great choruses, and a mood and feel in the music I really like. I have not listened that much to Leaves Eyes, but from what I heard, I like the music and Liv Kristines’ voice (havent heard their new singer yet), but I must admit, I am not a huge fan of the growling parts of their music.
I also read that the music of Angel Heart is all about beautiful memories, catchy riffs, big choruses and the feeling of the cold north, what do you think of that description?
-That is a very beautiful way to describe our music, and it is what we try to create. If people really hear or feel, through our music, that we come from far north, that is just great! Still I can understand it, there might be a few folk-music inspired parts in some songs, and maybe some moods not other bands create.
Studio and production
The album was recorded at Toproom Studio; where is it located and how were the recording sessions? Did you record everything together in the studio or did each member come separate and add their parts?
-Toproom Studio is on the countryside, about one hour drive north of Oslo. It is a quiet place where I like to work. We recorded one instrument at a time. So it is not live in studio. Frist 3 days of drumming, then a few days guitar, etc.
How come you chose to produce the album and arrange it on your own without the help of a producer?
-We trusted ourselves to be capable of producing the album, but not without help from the owner and sound engineer of the studio, Børge Finstad. He is very experienced and understand what sound we want.
Who did the majority of the production work?
-The majority of the production is my work. Before going in studio, I had planned all choir arrangmets, all the polyphonic strings, guitars etc.
The owner of Toproom Studio Borge Finstad mixed the album, were any of the members part of that process?
-We know Børge well, he have mixed both Phoenix Rizing and Highland Glory albums, so we trusted him to do the mix mostly on his own. We just listened to the mix to approve his work, and come with requests for changes. Not many adjustments needed to be done afterwords.
Where did Sareeta record her part?
-Also in Toproom Studio. She was very well prepared and recorded all violin in just a few hours. She had sent us demos in advance of how she wanted to play violin on our songs. She arranged the violin parts herself, all we had to do was to enjoy her great work.
Is it correct that you recorded the album prior to you had a record deal?
-Yes. We were impatient to get started. Maybe risky, but we felt our songs and sound was good enough, so we were sure we would get a record deal eventually.
How long took it to record the album overall?
-Too long, I have to admit. We do not make our living from the music, so we have to use weekends and holidays, whenever we have the time. We are adults, and have day jobs and most band members have families. It also turned out that during the process, the first guitarist and bassist we had made agreement with, were too busy to do it. That delayed us a bit. I then decided to play all the guitars myself. Our bass player Øystein came in later, so bass guitar was actually the last instrument we recorded. We started recording in 2014 and finished recording in 2016, I guess during those two years, we did not spend more than 18-20 days in the studio.
Do you think the band is going to continue to produce their upcoming albums?
-It seems like we managed to do a decent production this time, so we will continue producing ourselves. Of course it would be nice to have input from others but that is a question of money. We feel confident that with help from a good sound engineer, we are able to make a good production.
When was the band founded and who is the founder? I understand the band’s history began back in 1997 under the name Phoenix Rizing?
-Yes. I f I remember right, 1997 was the year drummer Morten joined Phoenix Rizing. I think they were founded by Tom Roger Piippo, Yngve Olsen and Jack Roger Olsen mid 90’s They released their first album 1998. I joined Phoenix Rizing 2000, as a keyboardist, and contributed on the second album.
What kind of music did Phoenix Rizing play?
-Phoenix Rizing played pure power metal, the German way. They were known to be the first power metal band from Norway.
Phoenix Rizing later became Highland Glory?
-Yes, after some disagrements, four of us left Phoenix Rizing in 2001 and started Highland Glory with a new singer, Jan Thore Grefstad.
Where did the band name Highland Glory come from?
-Oh, we discussed that from East to West. Many bad names were in the air and suddenly Jan Thore said, it is too bad the name “Highlander” is used, that would be a good name. And I think it was Jack Roger who immediately suggested “Highland Glory”, From the song by Running Wild. Everyone in the band liked that name.
Singer Thore Grefstad recorded two albums with Highland Glory before he left the band, was his departure expected?
-Not really. He started singing in Saint Deamon while singing in Highland Glory. Maybe he found it difficult to combine those. Saint Deamon was located in Ørebro.
Is it correct that Highland Glory played power metal?
-In the beginning, yes, but it became more traditional heavy metal over the years, but still very melodic.
Trine Elise Johansen took over as the singer, what did fans think of you taking in a female vocalist?
-I guess it was a surprise for some, but she was welcomed by the fans. I was excited. I had wondered what it was like to write songs customized a female singer.
Did Highland Glory perform a lot live?
-Quite a lot, but most of Norway, and gigs in Sweden and Germany.
How established was Highland Glory in Norway?
-As a power/heavy metal band, we were quite established. In the land of black metal, not many new bands played melodic metal; that was appreciated and welcomed.
What did the rest of the members think when the three of you left the band?
-I guess it was expected. There were disagreements about how we should evolve. Still, it was sad to leave. Trine was the first to leave, I did not like that, and I did not want to start all over again with a new singer. So for me it was the right decision. And I know it also the right decision for Morten and Trine.
I became very creative after leaving Highland Glory, I wrote many new songs the first weeks, and I had tons of ideas for songs. That creativity has continued.
You dedicated 10 years to Highland Glory are you happy with what the band achieved during those years?
-Yes, happy. I think we made really good music. We played support gigs for both Fish and Kamelot. We also managed to play abroad. We are still proud of what we did in Highland Glory.
You, Johansen and Faerovig then formed Angel Heart, what was your intention with the band in the first place?
-I had no plan after leaving Highland Glory. I thought maybe I could write a solo album. But Trine wanted to sing my new songs. And also Morten loved my new music. So of course I dropped the solo album idea. It is much more fun being a unit.
Was it hard to find members for Angel Heart?
-Yes, definitely, and we have not succeeded yet. We first asked a bassist and guitarist we knew well, and they agreed to join us, but when it was time to go in studio, they did not have the time to follow us, they were too busy with their own band. I understand that. So I played all guitars myself. Our current bassist came in late in the recording process. I play the keyboards on the album. Afterwards we hired a keyboardist for live jobs and for future recordings but after a while he wanted to give his family all priority. We still have not found the right keyboardist for the band, so if a hard rocking keyboard player reads this and wants to play, call me! We also still need a second guitarist to be able to recreate the sound of the album live. We had some bad luck and delays all the way, but that will not stop us!
Do all of the members live in the same city in Norway or nearby each other?
-We all live within 70 kilometers from each other, north and south of Oslo.
Where does the name Angel Heart come from and who came up with the new band name?
-It was me and Morten who sat one evening and struggled to find a name. We talked about how other bands took their names from famous songs, like Sinner, Exiter, Firehouse, or Norwegian band Dream Police. Then I thought of the band Intrigue, from northern Norway, they have a song called “Angel Heart” (as does Bonnie Tyler). That title always sounded so nice to me. Both Morten and Trine loved it. We Googled for other bands with that name and did not find any, at least no active bands. We also feel the name reflects our music, and us who play it, we are nice, kind people, at least in our own opinion. We then secured the rights for the name.
Does the music of Angel Heart and Highland Glory sound a lot different from each other?
-Not a lot, but there are differences. Angel Heart is more hard rock than metal. That is because I have written the songs, and it is the kind of music I love most. We want to have an ’80’s touch to our songs.
Label and management
You’re signed to the Danish label Mighty Music, was it easy to land a deal?
-We contacted a few companies after having finished mixing the album. Some were interested,but Mighty Music gave us the best feedback, and we felt they would be right for us. We still feel that.
How did Mighty Music get its eyes on Angel Heart?
-We uploaded the songs on a password-protected internet site, and sent to them, with a few words describing who we are. They wrote back after a few days, and told us they really liked what they heard. After a few e-mails back and forth, we decided to cooperate.
Were there other labels that showed interest in the band besides MM?
-Yes a few, but they did not give us quite the same good feedback, or their time schedule did not match our expectations. So it was easy to go for Mighty Music.
For how many albums are you signed for at MM?
-No number of albums decided, but a time schedule. If things go well, we will for sure release more albums with Mighty Music.
Are you happy with the work MM have put into the band and the album so far?
-To metal-fans Mighty Music is well known, so we are very happy. Things have really started happening, and has accelerated, after we made the deal with Mighty Music. They also helped us find a good studio to do the master, which was Medley Studio in Copenhagen.
If you compare working with MM to other labels, what’s the biggest differences?
-I feel Mighty Music is taking us very seriously. I have more contact with them, than with other companies. We never released a single before, due to the album release, but with Mighty Music we did. It is easy to contact them whatever questions is on my mind. And they give us feedback and updates on the progress in promotion etc..
What are your thoughts on labels generally? What’s the biggest benefits to be signed to a label?
-These days, with streaming and bad CD-sales, it must be hard to run a label. The people doing it have to be idealistic and true enthusiasts. The benefits are undoubtedly the promotion we get, and the distribution. A lot of things that would have been much harder to do if we for example made our own label and released the album. To me, it is two different worlds to have a deal, and to not have a deal.
Are there any plans on releasing the album on vinyl?
-As an old school rocker I would have loved that! But again, we can not really afford it. Maybe in the future.
MM’s got a lot of acts on their roster, do you feel you’re been given high priority with ANGEL HEART?
-I really feel we are given the priority we deserve and need. As a new, unknown band, they seem to have spread the word, according the feedback we get.
Does the band currently work with any management or booking agencies?
-No, not at the moment, but we will look into that soon.
The band’s website is really nice, do you think it’s important to be featured on all the social forums of today?
-Thanks, we are happy you like it. Yes it is very important nowadays. Most communication with fans, seem to go through the internet. And it is quite easy to reach more people this way, at least there is a potential if we manage to use it well. We are still learning..
What’s the most common question you get from fans?
-Yes, and as no surprise, the most common question is “when will the album be released”.
Judging by the band’s Facebook the album has been ready for a long time is that correct?
– Six months ago we had to answer that we just didn’t know. After signing with Mighy Music, things have happened quite fast.
At the end of 2016 the video to “Run Away with Me” was released, tell us about the video shoot, how was it and where took it place?
-We felt we needed a video to promote ourselves, and also to get attention from record companies. We contacted a local company, Golden Touch Film. They made a story to match the lyrics. The part with actors I guess is filmed in Fredrikstad, south of Oslo. The part with the band is filmed in the woods a few hundred meters from my house. It is in a area people like to go for a walk, so a lot of people passed by, and they were surprised, they did not expect to find a band video shooting in the woods, during their afternoon walk.
The video’s got about 1,700 hits up to now, are you happy with that or do you want more people to see it?
-Of course we want more hits, but we are happy. I guess it is a good number considering our album is not yet released.
Run Away With Me (official video)
Any plans on shooting videos to any of the other songs?
-Yes, we have plans for one more video, we just have to figure out which song and when/where to shoot it.
On your website you’re searching for another guitarist, is it a session member you want or a solid guitarist?
-We want a solid member of the band. That gives us more predictability, but it is not a demand.
Would say that Angel Heart is a band or a project?
-I will say it started as a project and ended up being a band. As soon as we have the guitarist and keyboardist on board, we will be ready to hit the stages.
The album is coming out in May, are you looking forward to the release?
-Oh yes! It has been a few years since the last time. We think we have made a good album. For me it is also a personal achievement, having written all the songs by myself. But I could not have done it without Trine, Morten and Øystein. They make my musical ideas come alive!
Any plans on hosting a release party?
-Yes, but it will be a delayed release party. As soon as we are able to play live.
Once the album is out are you going out on tour, do single shows or do you have any festival shows booked for the summer?
-Not yet, I am sorry. It all depends on when our lineup is completed.
You have already begun writing material to the next album, can you reveal any inside info about it? Do you know when the band is heading into the studio again?
-We hope to have finished the next album within 1-2 years. This time also Trine has written beautiful lyrics to a song. We plan to have a guest appearance also this time.
What would you like to say to the ones that haven’t heard the music of Angel Heart before?
-If You like real music, melodic hard rock/metal from the heart, check us out. We write catchy music that will get you in a good mood! If you like the music with a touch of the ’80’s you will like Angel Heart.
Could you give them and the readers three reasons why they should buy the album ANGEL HEART?
1. This album takes you on a journey. We tell stories about life and death, love and hope. Anyone can relate to the lyrics.
2. The album sounds very good. A good production, powerful and catchy.
3. You will feel we play and sing from our hearts and with with passion. Goosebumps may appear!
Well that was all I had for this time, once again thank you for taking the time making the interview! I wish you and the band all the best in the future, do you have any words of wisdom to share with the readers and fans?
Thanks a lot. I need to thank Trine, Morten and Øystein. I would be nothing without them! May I steal Motörhead’s words of wisdom, “Born to lose, live to win”. I often think of that, and it gives me strength to carry on. Hard rock/metal fans, be proud! We have always been, and will always be an exclusive, noble group of strong, independent people.