Interview mit Asger Mygind von Vola

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In the past we have often reported about the Danish prog band VOLA, as they belong to the more interesting newcomers of the genre. They have already toured as support for Haken, Monuments or Dream Theater, but have now climbed up to Headliner-Olymp after two albums. At the tourstop in Munich we talked to singer Asger Mygind.

This is your first headliner tour? How does the upgrade feel?
It feels very rewarding, I would say. To see people showing up every night is such a great feeling. This package of bands is attracting a crowd. I couldn’t really know what to expect, but I’ve been very happy about the attendants. And, of course there’s now more responsibility when being the headliner. We have to end the night and we like to do it with a bang. We’re playing a longer set and we have a dedicated backdrop with the artwork of the album just to make it more special. It has been a lot of work, but it’s nice to be here and just to see how the tour flows.

But you also sell the merchandize yourseld and Nicolai [Nicolai Mogensen/ bass player in Vola] works as the tour manager at the same time. So, it seems stressful.
There is definitely less time off than what we were used to. So, it’s about using time before we are loading gear in to take a walk for example, and to get out of the tour bubble. Because once we’re in, it’s pretty hard work until the show is over.

Did you have time to watch your support bands? How did you like them?
I’ve been watching parts of their set every night. I think they bring a nice diversity to the trail, like Arch Echo more to the technical side of prog, and Rendezvous Point is more epic in a sense. And I guess we are something third, so it’s a nice spectrum of sounds.

This year you have played the „Heart Sound“ festival who help in the fight against leukemia by creating awareness and collecting money for affected families (facebook.com/pg/HeartSoundAsso). You played there not-for-profit, like all other bands. How important was it for you to support this noteworthy event?
That was really nice to be a part of, also because it featured other bands that we like, like Leprous and Humanity’s Last Breath. So, it felt like a great package. To be able to support that course while at the same time playing for an enthusiastic crowd and being with our friends, that was just very special. Therefore, it was nice to be a part of.

Would you support another such an event, if it were offered to you?
Yes. I’m quite sure we will.

You’ve recently said in an interview that you are currently working on a new record, and it might be heavier than your latest release, Applause Of A Distant Crowd. What are you already allowed to tell us about the new record?
Well, we’ve been writing for some months. And at this point it does sound heavier than Applause Of A Distant Crowd. I think it’s most interesting to do something else than what you’ve just done, to move into new territory. That just feels most attractive. So far that has been moving into more heavy territory. It has been quite different until now, because Adam [Adam Janzi/ drummer in Vola] has sent us some grooves that he’s been working on. They have been the foundation for some ideas. We haven’t tried working in that way before, so that’s been interesting. Maybe there is one idea that’s pretty much done, but it’s maybe just half songs and different riffs. But the coming months will be about putting it all together and create full songs and to find out what the lyrics are going to be about. I don’t know by now.

What inspired you to the heavier direction? Just a current mood?
I think it has a lot to do with Applause Of A Distant Crowd being more rock-ish, so it felt it was time for something heavy. And I was interested in using more power chords on the guitar instead of just single strings. I’m a big fan of Deftones for instance, and Korn. They have low chords. Maybe that has sneaked in also.

So, the new album will contain metal?
Yeah, it will have more of a metal sound.

What do you think how your fans will react to that?
When I’m listening to music, I’m mostly interested in how good the song writing is, not so much if it’s rock or metal. I want a very groovy riff or a very catchy chorus or a very moody beautiful ambience part. And I think these qualities can exist no matter how the package is done. If it’s very metal sounding or very rock sounding, that’s not so important for me, it’s more about the quality of the music. I hope the fans will follow along and have a similar attitude towards what we do.

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Is it possible that you slightly changed the set list a little bit from gig to gig?
Yes, we changed it a little bit for the shorter shows we have done. But it’s nice to keep it stable because it’s good to learn how the flow is between the songs, and the more accustomed you get to the flow, the less thought you have to put into it on stage that you can use to just performing. So, we like keeping it pretty stable.

How was the final decision made which songs to put into the set list? I saw that you asked your fans on social media which songs they want to hear….
It’s interesting to see what people really enjoy the most and what they imagine as a great live song. For us it was important to have a lot of songs from the new album, as this is the headline of the “Applause Of A Distant Crowd tour”. It’s our latest release, so it felt natural to play a lot from that album. But it also felt important to have something a bit older, so we have a song from our second EP „Monsters“ that we’re playing, just to get that nice wide spectrum. It should be different than a support show.

In „A Stare Without Eyes“ there is this one line: „There’s still an honesty in knowing when to lie“. What does it mean?
That line deals with being honest to yourself in terms of what makes you feel the best. So, if lying to yourself is what makes you feel the most comfortable, then there is still an honesty in doing it – at least that’s what the main character of the song thinks.

What are the lyrics to „Green Screen Mother“ about?
It’s about talking to the internet, in a way. So, the internet is this mother figure. It’s about feeling lost in this new online reality, where we are communicating and building relationships. So it’s basically like a cry for help in terms of making it work and finding those relationships that are valuable and strong instead of feeling like everything is just distant and impersonal and momentarily. It’s about feeling lonely on the bottom.

You guys have degrees in music and have been musically educated your whole lives. In your opinion, how important is actual musical school and getting a degree in music in the development of a musician?
It’s interesting. I think it was on-the-one-hand very nice to attend the school because it just gave me a lot of freedom to create music. It allowed me to spend time on it that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It provided good teachers and good rehearsal spaces. And also it made me more confident as a singer, because suddenly I was studying vocals, as for example I started singing more to my family for example. It gave me confidence to do that. But it would be interesting to see where VOLA would be without it. Maybe we would be close to the same place, I don’t know. Even if some of our music might sound technical, it’s not something that we think about a lot really. The technical aspect is not something that I had been diving into a lot on the conservatory. I don’t think it had a lot of influence on that really. So, it was more about giving space and having teachers that could give feedback on the material. That has been the most important thing.

Which are your favorite parts of being on the road, seeing all these places and playing for so many people, but also which are the parts you enjoy less?
My favorite part is playing on stage. Other than that, there’s definitely a camaraderie in the bus. It’s nice to see the same people every day, it’s like a work place that you become a part of for a month. It’s nice to have great colleagues in a work place. And I also really enjoy taking walks in the cities and get out of this bubble. It can be a bubble sometimes, wherein everything is, the gig and the music, so it’s nice to get away from that, maybe listen to a podcast instead of music and just walk around and explore. I really enjoy trying to do that at every place, if there is time.

And the negative side?
It can be hard to do other things like to work on music, for example, on the computer. It’s hard to find a private space to sort of have an office. But yeah, I mostly just enjoy it. But for those on tour who have families at home, there’s definitely an element of missing them. That can be tough.

What about the fan side? Do you notice fans who attend many gigs?
Yes. I love talking with fans after the shows. It’s such a relaxing moment in a way because we’ve just done the gig. So, it’s like after you have exercised you can become very calm. So that takes towards speaking to people that are very thankful about being there, that’s really cool. Someone attending at many shows is just heartwarming. I’m just grateful that people enjoy our music so much that they want to hear it repeatably.

Do you know those fans by name?
Yes, I do. So, there’s definitely a relationship that’s being established between us and some of the fans.

What are the top three items to bring on tour (outside of equipment and such things like shower gel of course)?
The phone, not necessarily for phoning, but for listening to podcasts and get into a completely other space than the touring space. I’m happy that I brought my I-pad, too, because I watch a lot of online series and movies in the bunk. And the third thing is a good warm jacket.

What about a book?
I think podcasts have the same effect when you’re hearing words being spoken to you. And when you’re reading you’re also hearing words, just in your head. But I just enjoy walking around so much, listening to podcasts. Reading a book is more stationary. But I read sometimes, definitely. On a vacation I would do it, probably.

Is there any book you can recommend to your fans?
Yes, „Oracle Night“ by Paul Auster.

When did you start singing? And what were your biggest influences?
I think I started singing when I was around 8 years old, with a toy keyboard with built-in drum machine. I would start the drum machine and sing along with the guitar. I think the first song I knew was „Mr. Tambourine Man“. But I used to try out a lot of Bob Dylan, when I was younger. I actually played drums for many years in a band context, before I decided to play more guitar and be more of a front man. I think James Hetfield was a big influence in terms of making that move. I still love his stage presence. I thought he was so cool. I think he was the most important influence in terms of becoming a vocalist and guitar player.

Could you tell us a bit about your vocal training these days? And how do you keep your voice in shape?
I drink some tea before every show. And then I do some vocal warm ups. Afterwards I do some push-ups to release endorphins in the brain. And then I take a small distilled called vocal zone that just does something great to the vocals. It’s like a small licorice with some ingredients in it that smoothens the vocal chords. I’ve been doing that before every gig. Then I just relax while setting up the gear. This way I should be ready when it’s time to play.

Do you sometimes still take any lessons to learn new techniques or something like this?
No, I don’t. I had those in the conservatory. And now, if I have problems with reaching a note, I pretty much know how to get there. Maybe at some point I’ll get some more lessons. But it’s not something that I thought about at this moment.

Do you give lessons to others? During the tour for instance?
Yes. I have done some guitar teachings in Copenhagen. But it’s something I rarely do. In terms of none-VOLA-related, I enjoy more for example music for television and mixing music.

In „Smartfriend“ you sing „This is what you made of me, a big mistake, this is what you gave to me, another traitor, a failed creator“. What is it about?
It’s an image of modern society, how it pushes us to for example always upgrading our phones. You have to be updated constantly, otherwise you’ll feel like you’re left behind in a way. So, the song is about a person that starts incorporating all this technology to his body and sort of becomes a cyborg that turns out as hostile and self-destructing. The person singing is regretting having taken that step, because now it might be the end of him, killing him. I guess the objects that’s being sung to is the tech companies and the commercials that are pushing us towards this idea of always buying new stuff all the time. I don’t think specifically of any companies, it’s more like a dystrophy future scenario where it could be that we are more and more altering our bodies instead of having just things in our hands. We might put things in our bodies instead. And in that sense it is sort of a failed plan, because it is destroying us.
I’ve been very fascinated by the „Black Mirror“ series. It has these different episodes that are very dystrophian about our future, and how we use technology. Maybe the song „Smartfriend“ is like my take on a „Black Mirror“ episode.

Which of your songs is the most challenging to perform on stage?
I think „Ruby Pool“ is quite difficult, because the vocal melody and the verse really have to be on point, or else it will sound very off, also because Nicolay and me are singing in unison. And we have to be very locked in, or else it will just sound bad, I think. The soundscape is not that crowded, so the vocals are very audible. I remember spending a lot of time on the verse melody when recording it. It was written on a keyboard, so translating that to a voice was quite difficult. Therefore, I think it’s the most difficult song.

Is it true that you don’t have any album version with lyrics in the booklet? Why don’t you reveal the lyrics?
There might be lyrics in the vinyl version, I’m not sure though. I think the label might have thought that people might look them up online instead. This is their take on the packages. I used to read the lyrics when I listened to CDs, but that’s been so many years, so it’s not something I miss myself. But I would decide that if it’s something that the fans miss, maybe we should make a new version with the lyrics in it, or with the new record.

What are the lyrics to „Feed The Creatures“ about?
It deals a lot with being trapped in thought patterns and having these thought patterns having sort of forced you how to move around in the world. The more power you give to these thoughts that control your behaviour, the more powerful they get, and the more real they get. So, the song is about not giving your negative thoughts too much power before they start to control how you move around.

Have you found a cure?
Definitely. That album is partly also biographical, you could say. But I’m definitely in a much happier and healthier place now than I was then, which fortunately gave me the space to write about something completely different, which I really enjoyed on „Applause Of A Distant Crowd“. But for the album „Inmazes“ I don’t feel like I really had a choice. The lyrics had to be about this topic.

To close this interview, let me ask you this:
If you could freely choose a band to tour with (that you haven’t toured with yet), which band would you pick?
I think Metallica is no. 1, just because I have listened to them for so many years and they were a big influence in getting me started as a musician. And it are huge crowds you can play for, so it’s a great way to get your music out there. Furthermore, I’d like to play with Deftones, because I really like how they mix rock music and metal. They exist in this border area between these two. I think it would go well with our music, it would be a good match.
Steven Wilson would be awesome, too. I’ve listened to Porcupine Tree since 2004 and then I also followed his solo career. He’s a big inspiration. Porcupine Tree were very inspiring in terms of writing melancholic music and to have these dynamics within songs and in between songs in an album. And Opeth. Maybe these four are my top 4.

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