About Me

Interview with VOLA

VOLA are one of the most important bands of the new generation of European Prog. The Danish quartet - which has been increasingly consolidating its name since (in 2016 they were one of the supporting bands of the European tour of Katatonia) is preparing to release its third album “Witness”. We talked with the vocalist, guitarist and co-founder of the band, Asger Mygind, to find out more about VOLA's journey, and what is behind this “Witness”.

M.I. - How have you gone through these strangest times that we're living?

Well, I would say we were pretty fortunate in Vola, because we were going to record an album anyway during the last year, so when everything shut down we were just by the computer working. So, we weren't that dependent on society working normally, so now that we're done with the album and want to tour with it, that becomes a problem for us. But other than that, you can see the timing for us with the pandemic wasn't that bad but I feel really bad for all the people that has been heavily affected by it. We were definitely lucky that it hasn't affected us much.

M.I. – How does your creative process work? Do you create everything by the computer?

Yeah, we don't actually have a rehearsal space in the band so we sort of divided between each one of us working at home by our computers and programming drums, or in Adam's case, he records drum pads for the demos. But we all compose at home and then we put up our ideas on a band server we have and listen to the ideas and then sometimes we meet up and work on all these ideas together. So, it's divided between individual work and then working the full band around the computer.

M.I. – So do you rehearse before recording, or only for tours?

Only before tours actually. Because, yeah, obviously yeah Adam will rehearse the drum parts before going into the studio and I will also rehearse the guitars and train the vocals before I record them, but we don't get into a room together unless we have some live shows to play.

M.I. - What is your musical background? Did you have other bands or music lessons…?

I started out attending a music school in my hometown when I was… I don't know how old I was, maybe seven or something. I attended some classes where you sort of rotate on all instruments and I found out that I liked the drums the most, so I actually started out playing a lot of drums. But at some point, I realized that I also wanted to sing and it just felt more to play like an instrument that you can play chords on while singing. So, it felt more natural to be a guitar player and a vocalist instead of a drummer and vocalist. So, I started to play a lot of guitar, first by myself and then eventually in Vola as the band emerged but yeah, I've spent many hours playing, trying to play ‘Master of Puppets’, the tap book all the way through and Dream Theater, which was often too difficult (laughter). And yeah, I got some idols like James Hetfield for example, who was also a big inspiration in terms of being like a front man in a band instead of being behind the drums. So, it started out with the drums and then guitars, and I sometimes play the drums also now but it's mostly just for fun at parties and stuff.

M.I. – Sometimes you have some interesting and Prog rhythms. Do you create that?

Yes, if I'm working on a demo I will often program an idea for the drums also. I would say I'm very inspired by Meshuggah for example, their way of composing rhythms so that will very often be like the default way of putting a riff together, just to have that four/four going in the drums and then an odd time signature going in the guitars and bass.

M.I. – Yeah, I can feel that with some of your songs, for example in ‘24 Light-Years’ where everything is perfectly four/four and clear, but the drums are kind of messing up and making it more interesting.

Yeah that was a beat that Adam came up with and the song sort of evolved around that beat. But yeah, we would like to attempt those kinds of things where you feel the pulse but there's something more going on that might interest the ear. 

M.I. – In the first works, the two EPs, Vola seemed to be kind of a djent band, with a more aggressive and present guitar sound, keyboards were also less present than they became later. What made you change over time? Was it conscious?

I remember before we wrote the songs for “Monsters” EP, I got my first seven string guitar and I really wanted to experiment with tuning down and exploring that Meshuggah approach that I talked about earlier with the rhythms. And that was very fun to do for that EP and also for “Inmazes”, but after that it felt fresher to do something different instead of relying heavily on that djent sound. So that's why “Applause [Of a Distant Crowd]” became something quite different, or the songs were a little more towards just rock music and some would say progressive rock maybe. And it was also a bit more mellow because “Inmazes” was very ‘in your face’ but after we had done that it felt a bit fresh again to create something heavier and more aggressive sounding, and that became this new album so…

M.I. - It's kind of an evolution.

Yeah and whatever we do in the current moment will often be a reaction to what we've done earlier, so it always feels fresh and exciting. So, yeah, doing two albums in a row that sound similar is not something that we're that excited about, then it should be sort of part one and two of a concept or something 

M.I. - The identity present in this last two albums is similar but you can find some differences in the production, and you probably can tell me more about that, because “Witness” comparing with the previous one seems to have a more worked and detailed sound. 

Yeah, the guy who mixed this album was a big part of getting that sound - Jacob Hansen - because he's very good at making it sound so that you can hear everything that's going on. It's very “in your face”. And, actually, his sound was something that we imagined almost from the start of writing the songs, like imagining how it would sound in the end. And, yeah, that was a conscious choice because “Applause…” was much more… it was a bit like more raw and lively sounding, less processed, so it felt interesting to do something that was more contemporary sounding. I'm very inspired by some albums that came out in the early 2000s like some Opeth albums and Porcupine Tree and I really like that sound from that era, but I also think it's exciting when you make albums that sound a lot like the moment they're made in and that's what we tried with this one.

M.I. - Well despite the clear identification with prog there is an evident presence of pop elements, both vocal melodies, synthesizer arrangements… So what artists inspire you directly or indirectly? You’ve talked about Opeth, Porcupine Tree… 

Yeah, Porcupine Tree was a big band for me like when I established a music taste and I think one of the things I really like about them is how they try to make everything catchy sounding. I think there's always a very often melody from the verse that you can remember and the choruses are very catchy as well, and I think that's just something that is very valuable to explore. Because I think sometimes when you listen to music the verse might be a bit boring and you sit there and wait for the chorus to happen, and when I hear that I always think it's a shame that the songwriter didn't think of the verse also as a hook. So, I really like when both the verse and the chorus are hooks, that's also something that I think the Beatles were very good at. Sometimes the verses in their songs are catchier than the choruses. Just like being constantly aware throughout the songwriting that everything is catchy, that's our goal at least. I don't know if we manage to do it but it's a constant goal (laughter). 

M.I. - Your lyrics usually reflect on the human being: it can be on the internal, mental conflicts; or external problems between people. What approach do you have to the lyrics? Do you think the music should serve the lyrics and the message, or are they just reflections that you add to your musical creations?

It's often not very conscious what the songs will be about. I think there's very often like one sentence maybe in the demo process that will carry some kind of meaning or some kind of mood and that will be the place from which the rest of the lyrics are born. So, there will be this one line that leads to all the rest and what that line will be I never really know it's just it's whatever the like the song inspires.

M.I. – Do you write the lyrics in the end?

Yeah, I write some nonsense lyrics for the demos, where there’s a lot of repetition, so it's like writing one verse maybe and then copying that into the second verse just so that you can hear how the whole song will sound in the end. And then when it comes time to record the real track it's about going back to those lyrics and then reworking them, but there will always be at least one line that survives and that has something special in it. But I think I intuitively write from characters’ points of view, I think that's most interesting to me and, again, Porcupine Tree is a big influence here and also Steven Wilson's solo work. Like how he develops characters and writes from their perspective in the songs, instead of it always being “I”. “I experienced this”, “I feel this”, “I see this”. From Steven Wilson's own point of view, it's whatever he imagines a character doing. And I think it just gives a big amount of freedom because that character that you invent can be anything in the world and can feel anything and experience anything so there are much wider possibilities than when just compared to writing from your own point of view. So, unless you're like a character in Game of Thrones or something and have experienced crazy stuff your whole life, it's much more appealing to create those characters yourself.

M.I. - I would like you to talk about the artwork of your records. I'm particularly interested in the cover of “Applause of a Distant Crowd” because the relation with the title and the theme of the album is not evident and I think that that's kind of usual in your records. 

Our approach until now has been to find an image that we really like and then use that as the cover artwork. So, we haven't yet had anything made specifically for the album, we've only found stuff and I think that gives the opportunity to discover something that you feel that have a connection to the music you have created and that has been the case with all the cover artworks. For “Applause…” I think I sort of view this girl swimming as a person who is distant herself from - maybe there are people above water on a beach or maybe she's in a stadium swimming or something - so there might be people around her but right in this moment she is below water and just in her own world. So, it's that experience of sort of both having people close to you but at the same time being distant. I also think, with that album being a bit more mellow, there is of course also sadness on the album but some of it is also a bit more… like with a positive vibe maybe. So, all the colors also fit very well, maybe not positive but sort of upbeat so, yeah, we will look for a connection in the images.

M.I – “Witness”, as “Applause of a Distant Crowd”, has the perfect balance between the calm, slow songs and the heavier ones. Do you think about the albums as a whole or it's just a consequence of your natural process?

We think of them as a whole in terms of what we like them to be. Like a specific curve of intensity going through the album, so if there has been a certain amount of high intensity music it's nice to relax the ear a bit to get something else. But in terms of the lyrics, there's no connection on this album. It's just a collection of songs with sort of an overall theme but there's not a story going from song to song. But, yeah, the dynamics between the songs are very important I think, and again that's something I think that Opeth is very good at doing, Porcupine tree and Steven Wilson… Just having those pretty crazy dynamics sometimes (laughter), yeah, that's just very inspiring to listen to. The way you can be tossed around as a listener.

M.I. - How did you get to collaborate with the rapper Shahmen? I guess it's the biggest surprise of the whole album.

Yeah, yeah, I imagine that (laughter). I'm curious to see what people will think. Well, we had this hip-hop beat in the song and we thought it would be interesting to explore that 100 percent by having a rapper on it. And we thought it would be nice with someone that has a low-pitched voice to make it a bit demonic in the sound. And I'm not that much into the hip-hop genre so I don't know that many rappers who could do that, but I stumbled upon the name Shahmen on a comment on YouTube and the video was about rappers with low pitched vocals. And I think someone was suggesting this artist Shahmen and I listened to it on Spotify and that was exactly what the song was looking for, we thought. So eventually we contacted the rapper, his name is Bless, it's a duo, a producer and a rapper. So, we contacted him and he was up for doing it, so we sent him the demo and he wrote his own lyrics and he sent some takes of the verse that he's revving and yeah. So yeah, it feels exciting to do it, definitely.

M.I. - Can we expect to see that live or probably not?

Well, we're talking about that now, it will be difficult to get him with us so we're discussing how it could be done, but let's see what will happen.

M.I. - How did you get the opportunity to support Katatonia on the tour right after your first album? Do you think it was the turning point for your career?

Yeah, it definitely meant a lot. I think our manager discovered that Katatonia was looking for a support band for their tour and we said to them that we were available and they… I guess they liked our music so they brought us on that tour with Agent Fresco as well. So yeah, that was huge, it's a band I've also listened to a lot, and I remember seeing their show on the first date of the tour and I couldn't believe that it was really happening. One of my favorite bands is standing onstage and I just supported them, so that was surreal. And then also driving around in a bus with them for a month, being able to ask annoying fanboy questions to them. (laughter)

M.I. - What are your short or long-term goals? Do you think a lot about what you want for the band or just let it happen…?

I think we want to continue making albums and just continue to push those so that hopefully more and more people will discover it and we want to get out there and play for as many people as possible. So yeah, we haven't been in the United States yet for example so that would be very interesting. And also Asia so… yes also South America of course, anywhere that wants us would be nice to go and just present what we do. There’re no limits to what we want to do, so it's just about creating as many opportunities for ourselves as possible. And I continue to make music while being curious about it and always wanting to do something fresh. Hopefully the crowds will get bigger and bigger and people will connect with what we do. So, it's been a dream for me since I was a teenager to make a living as a musician so I'll continue to pursue it and hope it doesn't fail so much.

M.I. - What advice would you give to the bands that are starting now?

I think spending a lot of time on songwriting can be very valuable and, just as a band, try to find your sound. Try to listen to the bands you really like and see what makes this great and what can you take from this and try to make your own with it. Without stealing of course, but just gather as many inspirations as you can and spend a lot of time writing songs and maybe hold back a little before making an album. For example, I think it was good for us that we made some EPs first, just so we sort of tuned in to what our sound was. So yeah look deep into the songwriting and be patient about it.

M.I. - Thank you very much for your time. Please leave a final message to the readers of Metal Imperium in Portugal.

We're looking forward to play in Portugal again. We're really hungry to get out there and play and I hope that people are safe in these crazy times and that they will be ready for a live show when the time comes.

For Portuguese version, click here

Questions by Francisco Gomes