Antihero Magazine recently spoke with Norwegian guitarist and producer, Jacob Holm-Lupo, the main songwriter with White Willow, about the eclectic progressive/post-metal outfit’s upcoming seventh full-length, titled Future Hopes, which is due out on March 31, 2017 via Laser’s Edge.
Jacob Holm-Lupo: We’ve been around a long time, so I think we started probably around 93 or 94 – just a bunch of friends who were playing together in living rooms, really. And then we got signed by The Laser’s Edge which is a New Jersey-based label, and released our first album in 1995. It was the kind of record that we just thought we’d be handing out to family and friends but then suddenly we got invited to play in the United States and they sold pretty well. It took off from there. And since then it’s pretty much been lineup changes between every single album, so the only constant in the band has been me. And there’s always been a female singer, a few different ones, and the last few years we’ve had a sort of core round of singers and the drummer, and keyboard player, with a few different singers and stuff. So, that’s the history of the band, it just started locally in the suburbs around Oslo.
Scott Martin: But the sound has stayed the same.
Jacob Holm-Lupo: More or less – It started out being maybe a bit more folk-rock, and psychedelic rock, and then it became more and more progressive and sometimes a little bit heavier. And we did an album in 2004 that was almost like a hard rock album. So, it’s gotten a bit heavier, a bit more electronic, but it’s always been progressive and extended pieces like that. It’s a little bit different.
Scott Martin: How would you describe your music?
Jacob Holm-Lupo: That’s always hard. We’re all progressive rock fans, obviously, we’re influenced by the big seventies bands like Genesis and King Crimson and Yes and those things, but we also listen to a lot of new music, and we try to sort of put a fresh spin on the progressive rock thing. Not to do the sort of retro-rock thing, so much, but more to find a way forward. So, that’s basically what it is, we bring in a few elements of electronic, of indie, a little bit of metal sometimes, just to keep it fresh. So, I guess I would describe it as a sort of hybrid of progressive rock and modern rock.
Scott Martin: Can you tell me about the songwriting process?
Jacob Holm-Lupo: For this album, I’ve written all the songs except the cover and the last instrumental. And it usually starts with a core progression, and maybe an idea of what kind of textures should go into a song. For this record, I was very influenced by Vangelis, and the Blade Runner soundtrack, where he used a synthesizer called a Yamaha CS-80. I was using that a lot, writing the songs and getting inspired by the sounds and textures of that synth. So, a lot of the songs came out simply fiddling around with those sounds and seeing what came out. The lyrics tend to come second or third. First, I write the progressions, and then melodies, and then flesh it out with instrumentation and then at the end comes the vocal melodies and the lyrics.
Scott Martin: How old were you when you decided that you wanted to play guitar? And who influenced you to play guitar?
Jacob Holm-Lupo: Well, I was a little bit of a late-comer, I started playing guitar when I was seventeen. And I was just really into music. When I was twelve I got this tape of a Genesis album called Duke they released in 1980. Before then I hadn’t really been exposed to progressive rock at all, but it really blew my mind and I got really obsessed with music and listening to Genesis and King Crimson. In the end, I thought, okay well, I have to try and play it myself. And my first instinct was not so much playing an instrument as really writing songs though, so I approached things more from a song-writing perspective, figuring out chords and putting them together and just trying to make songs. That was really my way into it, and of course seventeen years old is a bit late to start but it worked out okay.
Scott Martin: With the current progressive bands that are out nowadays, which ones are your favorite?
Jacob Holm-Lupo: (laughs) Oh, that’s hard. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really listen that much to new progressive rock bands, there’s a lot of other new music that I like to listen to. I like the band Zombie, if you know them. Sort of synth and drums kind of concept. I like M83, I like a lot of metal. But not so much progressive rock. I try not to listen to too much new progressive rock because it’s a little bit too close to home, so.
Scott Martin: Where do you draw your musical influences from?
Jacob Holm-Lupo: Apart from music, which I already mentioned, I read a lot and a lot of the inspiration comes from books. I love science fiction, I read Philip K. Dick, and things like that. And a lot of that comes down to the music as well. There’s always a sort of, you know, contextual basis for the record and there’s often a science fiction influence to it, and on this album, there is as well. Really, it’s like I said, Blade Runner is always a huge influence for visuals and music. So, yeah, I picked up things here and there.
Scott Martin: Can you tell me a bit about your latest release, Future Hopes? Where was it recorded, who produced it and mixed it? What were some of the challenges you encountered during the recording process.
Jacob Holm-Lupo: (laughs) Well, it was recorded partly in … I have a small studio in my house, so a lot of it was recorded there, the guitars, and the vocals and the keyboards. Our drummer is actually Swedish and lives in Stockholm, so he has his own studio there, so he recorded the drums there. And then I stuck with my studio and I sort of combined and did a little bit of pre-production.
And then I took it over to a mixer called Christian Engfelt, who’s a very renowned mixer in Norway, he’s won a few local Grammys and things like that. We mixed it there, which was an interesting experience, because he’s never actually worked with progressive rock bands before, so this was a first for him. And I think for him the challenge was the number of tracks – because some of those songs have 150-160 tracks in them and the sort of extreme complexity of the mix process I think was a little bit daunting to him, but he did a really good job. So, I was happy. But he’d never seen anything like that. He was used to working with old, simpler layouts, you know.
And then of course there’s the challenge of the drummer living in Sweden, and things like that. So, there’s always logistical challenges involved in recording our albums. Everyone’s spread all over the place.
Scott Martin: Is the drummer the only one that isn’t from Norway?
Jacob Holm-Lupo: Yeah, at this point, it is. On the previous album, we also had a singer in England, actually. But on this album, yeah, Mattias [Olsson] was the only one who’s not living here, but. Yeah. It’s a weird thing because it’s not really a band as such, we haven’t played live in many years. It’s more of a studio project, and people will either do their things in their own studios or they come to my studio and record, and no one’s actually played the songs before they come here. So, it’s an interesting experience. It’s a bit of a learning tread, but everyone’s sort of used to the process now, so it works really well.
Scott Martin: What is the difference between a band and a project? Because you said this is more of a project than a band.
Jacob Holm-Lupo: Right. Well, it used to be a band, but it’s like a band to me is more like you have a fixed line-up, you meet two or three times a week to rehearse, you play concerts, then it’s a band. But at one point we decided not to do it like that anymore. And since then it’s been more of a project where I write the songs, I gather up the musicians I think would be appropriate for the material, and I record it. And nothing’s been recorded in advance. I hand out demos to different musicians and they learn the material and they come here to record it. I don’t know how to explain it any better, but it’s not a really fixed line up.
Scott Martin: So, for each album you’ve had pretty much a different line up of members, right? Is that the way you want it, to kind of freshen things up, or that’s just kind of how it happens?
Jacob Holm-Lupo: No, it’s really how I want it, because the experience that I had when we were a band and we were working together for many years with more or less the same people was that it gets stale, at least for me. I get a little bit impatient and I want to try new musicians and the material should really dictate who you choose as musicians. You know, a song might work well with this guy or this girl, and another song might work well with someone else, and I really wanted the freedom to be able to pick and choose. So, since then I’ve been doing that and for me that works really well.
Scott Martin: How is progressive music perceived in Norway? Considering when you hear about bands from Norway, you hear about black metal bands.
Jacob Holm-Lupo: It’s not really perceived at all, it’s a very, (laughs) it’s a very marginal genre and I think for the music press in Norway it’s not really something they tend to talk about or think about at all. But the interesting thing is that there is a scene here, but the scene really gets a lot more attention abroad than it does in Norway. There’s a few bands that tour constantly around Europe, that sell a lot of records, but that I think here, Norwegians have never heard of. So, it’s just a little bit strange there’s bands that people out there know about that Norwegians don’t know about. Which is a little bit what it was like in the beginning with black metal, as well. Norwegians weren’t really aware what was happening, but the abroad people were really excited about it. So, that’s just the way it is.
Scott Martin: And what are the plans for the remainder of 2017, after the album comes out?
Jacob Holm-Lupo: Well, since we really don’t play live, it’s really just following up on the album and making sure that it gets out there and that everyone knows about it. And then it’s always regrouping, writing new material. I also have another project called the Opium Cartel, so probably there’s going to be another album from that band before there’s a new White Willow album. And everyone has their different projects, so everyone’s really busy. We’ve been approached to play quite a few places and we’re considering it, but I don’t really know for sure. It’s the logistics of trying to get something on the road that are really quite intimidating, so we’ll see.
Scott Martin: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Jacob Holm-Lupo: Well, I’m going to give a shout out to the … we have a guest guitar player on the album, called Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen, and she’s amazing. She has her own feel, which is a sort of mixture of instrumental heavy rock and jazz. And I think maybe for your readers it would be interesting to check that out.