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Johnar Håland (In Vain)

Interview with Johnar Håland from In Vain
by Dave "That Metal Guy" Campbell at 15 March 2018, 8:02 AM

Norway's Progressive Extreme Metal band IN VAIN recently released their fourth full-length album "Currents." Metal Temple Editor-In-Chief Dave "That Metal Guy Campbell" completed a review of the album and had this to say about it:

“Currents” is an affirmation of a band and album that does not live in the conventions of the musical norm, but rather burns deeply with a passion of a litany of emotions that is missing in much of the music you hear today. The veracity of their craft, combined with flawless musicianship, makes this an early contender for “Album of the Year.”

Following the review, Dave was able to talk with guitarist Johnar Håland about the band, the new album, some of the songs and themes, and life on the road.

Please allow me to give you a big welcome from Metal Temple! Can you take us back to the early years when the band formed…how did you all meet and how did the current line-up come together?

Thank you for your amazing review and thanks for doing this interview with us. In Vain started as a result of a school project back in 2003 when I was a student at a music school. In of the one classes everybody had to record a song in the school’s own recording studio. I thought it could be fun to try to record a metal song, and put together some riffs. Guitars, bass and programmed drums were taken care of by me, and my friend Andreas did vocals. The first track we recorded was ‘As I Wither’, and it actually ended up on our debut album The Latter Rain (2007). Since then we have released two EPs and three full length albums, and our fourth album Currents was released in January this year.

Your band formed in 2003. Can you tell us in what ways your sound has progressed over the years, and what you were aiming for when you entered the studio to record “Currents?”

I think we have always been very open-minded and progressive in our music. We have certainly added some elements along the way, but I believe we found our own sound quite early. Our songs have always been very diverse. One change is that there has been more Death and less Black on the two last albums. That might change in the future. Another change is that on the first albums all the songs were very long with up to 15-20 different riffs and sections. On the last two albums we decided to strip things down a little, and also write some shorter songs.

Let’s talk about the album. I found the album to be very diverse and extremely well written as a whole. “Standing on the Ground of Mammoths” was particularly monumental and a moving experience for me. What are some of your favorites on the album, and which ones are you looking forward to playing live?

Thank you. We have always focused on diversity and you will find quite big variations between various tracks on our albums. My favorites vary from time to time and I have specific parts in all songs that I really appreciate. Overall I would say the slow and mellow And Quiet Flows the Scheldt (from the special edition), Blood We Shed, Seekers of the Truth and As the Black Horde Storms. We have not decided on what songs to play live yet. We try to pick the ones we believe people would like to hear and songs that work well in a live setting.

One of the other things I loved about the album was how well balanced it was. How do you know when to crank up the aggression and when to dial it back and let the melody flow? I think that feature in particular is what makes the album so special.

Thanks. As a songwriter I have always been extremely focused on contrasts and variety, but still that all the various elements balanced naturally. I trust my gut feeling and try to let a song develop in a natural and interesting way. In addition, I try to avoid clichés and instead to surprise the listener. A easy example; if you have a really slow and heavy riff, it might not make sense to put another slow and heavy riff right after as you would make a much bigger contrast if you add a fast riff. Of course then the challenge is to make that transition work smoothly, if not everything turns into a circus.

Who writes the lyrics for the band and what kind of themes do you like to discuss in your songs?

So far I, Johnar, have written 90% of the lyrics. I am first and foremost a composer, but at the end of the day, lyrics are needed as well. So far, not many others have been willing to contribute a lot in that area. As with the music, our lyrics are very varied and deal with a lot of different topics, everything from philosophy, nature, personal experiences, views on where the world is headed, etc. We stay away from politics and direct religious topics, apart from that anything goes. For instance, on the special version of Currents there is a track called “And Quiet Flows the Scheldt”, which is about my time living in the Belgian city Antwerp and the river Scheldt which runs through it. Kind of like a parallel to the track “On the Banks of the Mississippi” from Mantra (2009).

When we talk about “Progressive” music, it means a lot of different things to different people? What does it mean to you and how are those elements reflected in the new album “Currents.”

To me progressive simply means to evolve, create something new (not talking about developing new genres necessarily..), to mix styles, migrate across various genres, etc. I believe that it is reflected in the music in the way we mix all these different styles. On our album you will find elements from many subgenres in metal, but also from other genres, however everything is combined in a seamless way.

Who were some of your musical influences? What inspires you when composing your music?

I am inspired by all kinds of music and I listen to everything from the softest music to the most extreme metal. In addition I get inspiration from life in general, travels, movies, nature, etc.

Are there plans for a tour anytime soon? If you could tour with any band, who would you love to your with?

Yes we will go on a small European tour as special guest with Orphaned Land from 24 Feb – 4 March. Subterranean Masquerade and Aevum will join as support. If we could tour with any band I guess we would choose one of the metal heavyweights such as Metallica, etc in order to play for as many people as possible.

Tell us what life is like on the road when you are touring. I think a lot of people assume that all bands tour in expensive buses and stay in lavish hotels, but I know that is not usually the case. Can you also share any fun, crazy, and/or scary stories from past tours?

Well, that is absolutely not true. It seems to me that people also believe bands make money on tours. Most bands lose money because it is very expensive to go on a tour. You need to rent a nightliner, etc. The life on tour is great, however it is not something I would want to do as a full-time job. The band and music is just a passion for me. Life on tour is great when you get along with the other bands and get a real community feeling, have parties on the bus, etc. It is obviously also great to meet fans, to see new cities, etc. I do not have any real scary stories, just more crazy stuff like an open shower cabinet being placed right next to the electricity generator backstage…

What keeps you motivated to keep going as a band? I know that most bands aren’t getting rich from making music.

Yeah there is no money in music anymore unfortunately. That is an issue, because it costs a lot of money to record music properly and to give it a proper promotion. People seem to forget that and I do not dare to think of the long-term consequences of this. These days people pay more money for a beer than for an entire album that has years of work behind it. It is simply unbelievable that music has become so cheap. Anyway, music is a passion for me and I enjoy composing. I often get the question “why don’t you tour more, release music more often, etc”. and the answer is that we cannot afford to do it. If the band was our full-time job we would obviously release albums more often.

I think a lot of fans like to get to know as much about their favorite band members as possible. Outside of music, what do you all do? Any fun or unique hobbies?

I work as a portfolio manager in a stock fund. Besides music my big passions are travelling and food/cooking. I also enjoy spending time in nature and I workout quite a lot.

What is the Metal scene like in Norway? Where do you see the future of Heavy Metal going?

The metal scene in Norway is as strong as ever in my opinion. There are tons of good bands across a variety of sub genres in metal. When it comes to the future I do not have any specific thoughts. I believe the scene is going to stay strong.

I feel many of my fellow Americans fall into the trap of only listening to American bands, yet there is no much incredible music coming from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. We tend to be very ethnocentric as a nation. In what ways do you think we can work to solve this, and get more exposure for other countries music?

I did not know about that. You think it is like that for metalheads as well? USA definitely got a lot of good Death Metal bands but I guess you miss out on some really good bands especially in Black Metal, if you do not look outside your own country.

What are your goals for the future of your band?

Continue to release great music, build the band’s name and have fun together. Obviously another goal would be to tour outside Europe one day.

Thank you again for this opportunity to talk with you. I have always said I when I retire I want to move to Norway…such a beautiful country! But, alas, I still have 15 years before that can happen. Cheers!

Thanks a lot for the interview and keep supporting bands and good music. Norway is indeed a nice country. Lots of space and great nature to enjoy. You are welcome here Dave!


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