Last Rites’ graybeards and greenhorns alike share an abiding love of the classic styles. Likewise, we appreciate and even revel in all that shiny new shit at the cutting edge. As such, we reject the notion that old ideas and new are somehow at odds. It’s a false dichotomy. Some of the best music ever is the product of both. In fact, we recognize that each only exists because of the other and believe that each, in the most important ways, makes the other stronger.
The love of timeless, finely crafted music is how Last Rites, a music blog sharply focused on The Heavy, came to discover and fall all the way over for Wobbler’s 2020 LP, Dwellers of the Deep.
Norway’s Wobbler began making symphonic progressive rock in 1999, reflecting contemporaries like Änglagård and Anekdoten as brightly as classic greats like Yes and Gentle Giant. Over the next two decades, the same lineup of five players would release five albums, the last two of which are bona fide modern prog classics. Wobbler has made themselves into one of the most important bands in progressive music.
Because Wobbler’s music has had such a profound impact on our writers, Last Rites reached out to the band with some of his trademark probing inquiries about music and art and life and turn-ons and put-offs. As wonderfully deep, complex, and sophisticated as Wobbler’s music is, nothing could have prepared us for their equally impressive depth of thought and philosophical musings. We certainly expected some interesting responses but they went far above and beyond, giving us a compelling glimpse into the creative minds behind the music. The only thing better would have been to share the room and a few pints of ale with them. Maybe next time. [LONE WATIE]
For reference, the members of Wobbler are
Andreas Wettergreen Strømman Prestmo / vocals, guitars
Marius Halleland / guitars, backing vocals
Lars Fredrik Frøislie / keyboards
Kristian Karl Hultgren / bass
Martin Nordrum Kneppen / drums
You guys get credited with capturing music from the “golden age” of music. But that’s kind of absurd because you’re making the music now, and it’s good now. So why isn’t music today considered “golden”? Does nostalgia play a role? What’s going right in music (and with art in general) today? How can art show us a light through the darkness of political unrest, global pandemics, and a society rapidly changing due to the astonishing pace of technological advancement?
Marius: I think nostalgia — or maybe how and where you look — plays a big part in what one considers “golden.” I think one tends to forget how much “crap” (sic) music there was and is at any given point in time. It’s not like, for example, the classic prog bands really haunted the charts that much, so it’s a vantage point thing, in my opinion. We’re very much inspired by the sonics and methods of what some call the “classic” era of popular music, but everything else with Wobbler is pretty much contemporary. At least, that’s how we see it.
I think “doing [it] right” must boil down to following what you want to do. Everything from any era has been revisited at some point and added to the “tool box.” It feels like we’re at a point where everything and anything goes, so I guess just being earnest with what one wants to create is the “right way” to go about things in any art form. What can be considered “mainstream” (and the success it often is to make a career within it) at any point will always fluctuate, and arguably, we’re close to a “post mainstream” art landscape, where everything is splintered into individual tastes and needs, and there is no main line to speak of, and thus everything goes.
Regarding art, I’m going to throw some ice on that, and I apologize if it rubs some folks the wrong way, but here’s my take: Art can’t change s***. Never has, and never will. It has provided soundtracks, mirrors, and of course, comfort, but I can’t for the life of me find any example of art truly and fundamentally changing anything or showing the way forward in any significant way. But on the other hand: It’s always there, reflecting and reacting to whatever is going on. And that is a good, good thing to have in our lives! But just to muse upon potential “unwelcome” technological advancements shaping society: I do sometimes fear that, in the future, most people will maybe not listen to artists and bands anymore, but rather have AI generate music then and there for them. Like, you drive your car (or it truly drives itself by then), and you just say, “Alexa, play me some upbeat music with a tropical flavour,” and the algorithms create something for that occasion. Heck, with the deep-fake technologies being pioneered these days, you could probably ask for Bing Crosby or some other long-gone artist on the vocals, as well. Fascinating, but also a bit sad.
Andreas: What may have started as tribal drumming and chanting to social or religious ceremonies has, through the millennia, turned into a many-headed beautiful aural beast which continues to roar into the abyss. I can’t really comprehend why people put us off as mere copycats of certain bands, or that we’re only re-creators of the golden age. I just don’t agree, and I think they are lazy and unknowledgeable listeners for saying so.
In my opinion, all mankind’s achievements are more or less based on former experiences and techniques, and the deconstruction and reconstruction of shared motifs and objectives is what we do and what we’ll be doing for a long time. The real achievement, as I see it, is to create something that transcends and bypasses the logical and analytical, with the tools at hand. To create something that touches us at the very core of who we are, with what we have and what we can come up with in the creative process.
That said, I do believe that music created today is indeed considered “golden,” as well. Even if someone thinks they are in a position to define things for the rest of us, there is no proof that they actually are right. It’s just their opinion, which they are entitled to have. What is truly golden is that new and aspiring artists keep popping up, like ‘shrooms in an autumnal field, regardless of the state of the world or what century it happens in. Almost like it’s a predestined feature of the evolvement of life itself. And that is a true beacon of light, in any age.
Kristian: Humans need to quantify things in time and space. And the most important time and space will always be “now.” I find that [fact] both highly comforting and sad at the same time. The latter because it reminds me of how ephemeral we are in this “now,” but at the same time, I realise that this feeling was equally valid 1500 years ago. On the other hand, the strange reality of it all is that every “now” also gives birth to a sense of a previous golden age, be it 40 or 1000 years ago. It may be a remnant of the religious idea that there was a beginning of time, when all was perfect and all beings lived in an ideal state of togetherness with a deity. I certainly feel that we make music [that is] very much “today,” but I guess it’s hard for some to take music for what it is without pinning it down to another time because we use the same instruments as in their “golden age.” Of course, the musical turn towards more synthesised sounds in music and the demise of the guitar and the analogue keyboard as the foremost instruments used in pop/rock almost certainly play a part as well. The future is guaranteed to be digital. After all, how will we ever manage to upload our consciousness to the great future Singularity if not?
Regarding art, it will always be in the eye of the beholder. In the post-modern existence, I think imagining art as a beacon of light for the many, soothing a troubled existence, is a futile endeavour, if it ever served as a rally point at all. Being a romantic realist, I guess my hope lies in that music as an art form can provide solace and growth for the individual when she is open to receive it; contemporary humans don’t listen to music only at selected times anymore. Music is available at all times, if we want, but [the ability] to let music in and cause lasting effect requires the human being as a receptacle to be in tune with what is truly conveyed. It’s just a fact that we can chose to ignore music even while listening. For music to become art, we need to accept it as a conduit to an inner self that’s able to grasp its own existence to a more or less full extent. I think art has become a wholly personal affair and thus unable to guide us collectively. Hopefully, it can still guide us individually; that may, in turn, provide us with some tools to achieve outward results. But what results, and to what end?
Martin: There’s a lot of fantastic music today, but I guess, since it’s so easy to get something out there these days, the average quality of what’s accessible could be lower than [it was] in the 70s. Back then, you got the record labels as gatekeepers. (Just a theory.) Guess we just fell in love with 70s progressive rock in our teens, partly to stand out from the crowd. It was great fun discovering gem after gem as the internet developed pre-2000. Music can be used as anthems to activism. I am sorry to say music never inspired me to get more proactive against climate change or the threat of artificial intelligence. Music inspired me to study medieval history, not change the future of mankind, unfortunately.
You guys have all around stunning visuals, from your videos to the album art (and including the source pieces is a nice touch). How do you translate that visual experience onto an album? Particularly with an eye towards a world in which people consume and stream their music on platforms that don’t provide any visual experience aside from a thumbnail of the cover art. What have we lost in that transition?
Marius: Thank you! Well, the “centrepiece” of the product (outside of the music, of course) is the vinyl format. Working with that chiefly in mind really stimulates the awareness / willingness to take the artwork more seriously, since the bigger format kind of forces one to try to come up with something nice that fits the music within. When it comes to videos and other visual works, we really have lots of ground to explore, and it is an exciting part of the whole thing.
Andreas: For me, the cover art or visuals are closely related to the essence of the material we’re working on at any given time. They are the optical manifestations of the sounds we’re dabbling with. Usually it takes some time for the essence of the music at hand to shine through, to know what we’re really dealing with. Then the overall theme or idea typically falls into place, and that’s when I often start to visualize. I’ve even started to paint scenes from songs I’m working on now, as Lars painted the cover to our second album “Afterglow.” I’m no Rembrandt, but I find it very useful to map out the terrain we’re in, so to speak. Sometimes I feel that we don’t make songs, we unfold them over time. And the same goes for the visuals. For me, it’s a kind of unboxing.
As for the particular part of the question, we don’t make music or visuals for streaming platforms. We make our art because we have to, we need to, and we want to. I trust that the people who are really interested, the ones we’re making this for, will dive into it and appreciate the details and the overall work put in, in due time. Speaking of time, I do also think that I speak for everyone in the band when saying that the real deal for us is to stand the test of time, not to explode in one brief, fleeting moment. Or in a series of brief and fleeting moments, for that matter. This fast-paced flashy, convenient, and dare I say, shallow “reality,” has some severe flaws, and these flaws are not easily compatible with the main challenges of becoming a resilient and “whole” human being at peace with itself. Life, or art, is no easy ride, but I think there are great rewards in just starting to digest the matter properly, even if it’s a hard chewed slice of fermented dried piglet’s ear. Open your senses for the seasoned taste and take in how seamless and intricate the fabric is woven.
Kristian: Our visuals and music go hand in hand in the best of times. But at the same time, they are separate expressions. We don’t start with the visuals and then try to create music that fits. I think our visuals are more closely linked to our lyrics than to the music itself. That said, the musical side of it is not “total music” in the sense of Schoenberg, so of course there is a link. But I think we’re cautious about not letting the visuals disclose all there is; that would be like making a concept album about, say “childhood,” and having a child on the cover. Or a “quest for a magical gem stolen by a dragon” with a cover depicting… a dragon stealing a gem. Not that we’ll ever make an album about serpentine thievery.
Regarding streaming platforms and the visuals, I totally agree with Andreas, we make visuals because we have to. Music is a non-physical expression that still requires framing, or at least, packaging. That is, if the listener appreciates her aural adventures to be framed. As to what we’ve lost, I think that we’ve lost the intimacy to what brings us delight, so to speak. Not just because of the diminution of the cover as an artistic expression, but information about the band as well. Even CD inlays can be an inspiration, or a source of discovery. Reading about the instruments used, looking at pictures of the musicians, reading the lyrics, etc. I guess CDs are still in the game, but I’m rather glad for the vinyl revitalisation. Vinyl records provide a more equal balance between the visuals and the music that, in the end, benefits the music even more.
Martin: Cover art is pop art and it’s cool. It’s accessible and can inspire you to check out an artist or a style of art. But can these visual arts get in the way of the soundscape and its interaction with your own imagination? Maybe the thumbnail is a blessing and one should take use of what lives within your own experiences to interpret the music?
The themes and concepts on the latest record seem very personal and emotionally charged. Can you tell us, if you’re comfortable sharing, where that comes from? Much like every generation before us, we are living in unprecedented times, and people truly are having daily struggles, perhaps even more than before. How did the making of Dwellers of the Deep help you guys explore your own emotional pain? How did it help you heal? What sorts of work are common for a few artists in Norway?
Marius: It’s just… You write what you know I guess, and as you play, you pour your emotions into it. The themes explored on the album are very much anchored in an individual’s personal drives and emotions, but they are also universal, as in they touch upon things we believe most people have a brush with during life. “Emotionally charged” is spot-on, but it has a duality in it, being personal and universal. I can only speak for myself, but there will always be a degree of emotional and / or existential pain in life, and goddamn, I feel lucky to have music as a sort of “soul-lotion.” Putting together music with good musical partners makes almost everything else seem pretty all right. Or at worst, bearable.
Not too sure what you meant with the last question there, but you’ll find all sorts of works coming from Norway. From the most “necro” and dark black metal hate-fest to pastel-coloured celebration-of-life party pop music, there’s something for all.
Andreas: This calls for a little history lesson:
Nine years ago, our album Rites at Dawn really initiated the whole process and drew the map that took us to where we are now. I had just joined Wobbler, and the guys had recorded an incredible instrumental album which they wanted me to sing on. What a ride — it was fantastic! I loved the process of trying to fit ideas and vocal melodies into these already mature and well-founded compositions. I think we crafted some true magic there. But the same year, my Mother died suddenly.
This taste of wormwood in the cup changed my life, and flavoured the well from which I’ve been drinking the last 10 years. As a result, half of me resided in fairyland, whilst the other half was King in the land of the grim realities. At least, this is how it felt, and it has been a key element conceptually since 2010.
Lyrically, Rites is a celebration and an acknowledgement of life and its principles, with emphasis on the positive. From Silence to Somewhere is all about regeneration and the will of life, balanced with necessity and decay. Our last effort, Dwellers of the Deep forces the protagonist to look into himself, to re-examine the fabric and scream into the unknown to find a way… and the Dwellers come from within, when called upon.
Kristian: Every album Wobbler makes is a personal affair for me. Themes and concepts aside, I think there will never be another band that I could feel so personal about as Wobbler. The lyrics side of it is one thing, but the other is the group effort; creating 45+ minutes of music together with people you both enjoy and are willing to fight is a cathartic experience. I see some bands post pictures drinking coffee and writing sheet music stating something akin to “nice day in the studio, worked on some riffs from XXX! Sounding very good!” Whilst we may also drink coffee and put notes to paper, the real magic happens when we’re not taking pictures but focusing deeply and listening to what the rest are playing. We laugh, we fight, and we most certainly disagree to such an extent that a musical passage may require a week or two to get accepted. But then, only when the antagonist gets a certain part of his particular will fused with the original idea. This way, of course, madness lies, and we beat that path every time we make an album. Back in the day, Lars threw sharp objects in such circumstances, but nowadays, he’s resorted to pent-up anger and potential farts to make his statements.
More to your specific question, I don’t think we make music to soothe people in need, nor do we mend our own emotional pain by making an album. I think all our music treats pain as something to go through, instead of mending by executing. The joy, fighting, etc. mentioned above is the real psychologist in the room. At least, that’s what the initial phase can be like. The next phase is mixing and sculpting the final product. But then the fighting starts all over again. It’s a never-ending cycle.
Summed up, healing happens when you realise that there’s really no end, just cycles of strife and joy.
Martin: I’m a drummer and I bash buckets. I feed on the energy within the lyrics, but words aren’t my art form. I’m the destroyer of skin!
Longer tracks are, quite inexplicably, alienating to many listeners. Yet Wobbler doesn’t seem shy about putting twenty-plus minute tracks on any of your albums. In the opinion of some people, those long tracks are even the most magical ones of the whole experience. What is your thinking behind extended tracks that can never get radio play and might not hold the attention of the modern day listener? How much compositional work goes into those tracks versus the shorter tracks? Is it that much more difficult to compose a twenty-minute track than it is a four-minute track? Are you perhaps intentionally attempting to limit your audience to a select group of intellectually superior humans and robots? Is this the beginning of a revolution?
Marius: As far as I know there was nothing in the band’s initial mission statement about catering to any commercial ambitions. The band was created as an outlet to play a kind of music that “nobody” (there’s always somebody) knew or liked in our area. So the early extended tracks grew by themselves as more stuff was added, and I guess it was also considered natural to do so when the whole thing was supposed to be built on classic symphonic prog. The long format is kind of part and parcel of the genre. I’m pretty sure it never crossed anyone’s mind that shorter songs would bring in more listeners, because Wobbler was started for the sake of its members, more than for potential scores of listeners. I remember it well when they started, all (or most) of them had other bands and projects that were much more “outward” oriented. They were kind of shocked that the demo they put out on forums and stuff actually got noticed and created a buzz within the prog world.
That being said, when I joined in 2014 and ever since, it has never been “Hey, let’s make a long ass song.” The ones that stretch out grow naturally up to a point, and the same kind of goes for the shorter ones. The only intentional thing is that we are fully aware of this being a genre and type of music for the specially interested, and we are thrilled whenever anyone gives us the time of their day to listen, be it experienced progsters or random listeners.
Andreas: Art resides. Our goal is to create something that sits firmly on its superior throne, and has to be reckoned with for ages. The short novella; the full novel; the long Homeric tale — they all complete histories / compositions from the same origin.
Different songs and moods just breed differently. Life, and the self, is an ongoing revolution, in my opinion.
Kristian: I would say that we definitely don’t make music for the intellectually superior human. I think we all, as humans, are intellectually superior. We’ve let ourselves believe that some are inferior, although we all share the same intellectual capacity. But there’s an element of nurturing the intellect or not. Music is a universal language accessible to all, some of us just enjoy it more than others and find the journey of a piece that lasts 20+ minutes worthwhile. But it’s an acquired taste, I think, especially in our day and age. The eye has triumphed the ear as our most trustworthy faculty and therefore won as provider of the most pleasurable results when fed.
It may sound a bit silly, but it’s really the song that determines the length of a composition. If some of us have an idea that can be incorporated into an already existing passage, we try it on and taste the flavour. If it’s good, we proceed. That said, as we’ve become aware of this, I think we have learned when not to exceed the limits set by our own scope, as well. A coming of age, maybe.
Martin: May I imply that the modern day listener might not listen to radio, but is rather a whore of streaming and podcasts? My take on length and complexity is that the fewer components, the harder it is to really make it work. For me, it’s almost impossible to play 4 on 4 perfectly. But if you can make your way around a couple odd time signature changes, it sounds more credible than the same quality in 4 on 4. I think this goes for the length of the songs, as well. It’s bloody hard making the perfect four-minute prog rock song. You have a little more slack in a 20-minute song. Everything doesn’t need to be perfect — a couple of mediocre minutes make the best part of the song stand out even more.
I want to close by asking you guys about universes. Is there a universe inside your heads when you compose for Wobbler? The consistency of artwork over your last two albums certainly suggests that there is some overall thematic consistency to the work. Is that true, or am I reading into it too much? If you guys do envision a universe while writing, playing, or listening, what is that universe like? What are some fantasy realms that you find solace in?
Marius: Ha-ha, cool question! Well, I don’t know what the others will say on this. I’m a “fan” of phenomenology, so I try to be cautious not to ruin anybody’s personal interpretation of the lyrics, melodies, moods, or visuals. I’d propose that there’s five worlds within Wobbler, and all five touch upon each other like in a Venn diagram. There’s common ground between all five, and I guess it’s there that you find the essence of what is the current Wobbler. But what that is exactly, that’s up to you (and to him, and to her, et cetera).
Andreas: Yes, more and more. For me, it started as a lucid daydream in the forest. Now we’re drifting on the river of life, connected to the Deep. Hopefully we will venture further, down into the core and further into the unknown. I don’t know what we’ll find there, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be food for thought.
I’ve always visualized a lot in my creative process, and with Wobbler’s vivid and multi-layered music, it’s impossible for me not to start imagining things, now even more so than before. For the new songs I’m working on now, I’ve sketched out some tableaus with acrylic paint that help me to navigate in the further creative process leading to finished songs.
The challenge with this visualization lies in avoiding the obvious clichés, but still making it relevant and corresponding with the conceptual ideas and the music. It takes a lot of time, processing, and hard work to arrive at a place where it all just feels like a perfect fit and that it couldn’t have been any different. I truly hope that our artwork resonates with our fans and enhances their experience with the music.
Kristian: There’s definitely a separate universe called Wobbler. Nonetheless, distinguishing what that world really encompasses can be an arduous task, even for an inhabitant. My musical contributions to Wobbler don’t always start out with Wobbler in mind; it can be a pleasing and adventurous melody, or just a rocking and brutal riff. An element of extreme satisfaction in the Wobbler universe is that both have their place. The Wobbler universe is light and darkness, feast and feud, silliness and sincerity. While I wouldn’t call it a fantasy realm, because that brings up notions of too many awful prog-metal bands with their accompanying cover art, there’s definitely an element of fantasy in our universe. In the sense of imagining, that is. Regardless of what people read into our lyrics, we’re not a band supplying descriptive lyrics catering for your dragon needs. I know Andreas sings about a “dragon” in “By the Banks” from Dwellers of the Deep, but that scaly creature is, and will always be, a metaphor.
In general, my solace rests in the fact that Wobbler is able to transform almost all our individual outputs into music that sounds “Wobblerian.” I might have a rather extensive bass line that probably wouldn’t have gone anywhere on its own, but then Lars adds a keyboard run, and Marius [plays] an underlaying chord in a different (or nearby) key. Suddenly, there’s a melodic and fundamental rooting to which Martin lays down a drum beat catering to both the bass time signature and the chord shift while Andreas ad libs lyrics on top. Such experiments are the most tell-tale signs of the Wobbler universe, I would say.
Finally: Where can we find solace in this crazy world? What activities might save us?
Marius: To revisit the first question, one can find solace in art that one finds appealing. Create one’s world within this world, commune with friends and family, try a new hobby and whatnot. These are particularly trying times for all of us, although some countries and places are way more affected than others. Stay safe and stay yourselves. Be kind, be true, be vigilant, be generous, be the kind of good in the world that you’d like to see more of!
Andreas: Art, excess, food, physical labour, sleep, dreams, and love. Solace can be found balancing the activities mentioned above, whilst learning to accept the rules of necessity that life follows. As for politics and the state of the present world, I won’t really go there unless we have two hours to spare around a campfire with some bottles of wine. So until then, we’ll just have to hang in there, indulge in the arts, dream big, and spend time with people who contribute to a richer life experience.
We’re all going to die sometime, but we’re not dead yet. So bring me the feast, despite the roars of the beast.
Kristian: In addition to the above, most certainly copulation. Copulation will definitely save us.