The Norwegian prog rock scene is filled to the brim with hugely talented and captivating bands with one of the most outstanding ones undoubtedly being the prog rock veterans Magic Pie. These talented guys have been around for roughly twenty years now and have gradually grown into one of the more respected and musically rewarding groups to come out of Norway. Their dynamic mixture of eclectic 70s-inspired prog (think Emerson, Lake & Palmer) and classic heavy rock (ala Deep Purple and Uriah Heep) as well as prog bands with a slightly more modern sheen to them such as Spock’s Beards and to a lesser extent Dream Theater is utterly compelling. The latest offering from 2019, Fragments of the 5th Element, is without question the most accomplished and potent record of theirs to date, so naturally, RAMzine had to have a chat with guitarist Kim Stenberg and vocalist Eirikur Hauksson about all things Magic Pie.
Greetings, and thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to RAMzine. For those out there who may not be familiar with Magic Pie and your band biography, could you provide us with a short overview and guide us through the story of the outfit up until the present day? When and where was the band conceived and who is the current line-up comprised of?
Kim: It started with me wanting to break out of the pub/cover band scene here in Moss, Norway, which is a little town about 45 minutes from Oslo. I got tired of playing covers and wanted to find a new outlet for my own creativity. After discovering prog rock in 2001 (after hearing Space Revolver by The Flower Kings), my mind lit up, and the no-boundaries mentality regarding this kind of music really spoke to me. We released Motions of Desire in 2005, which started out just as a demo. This explains the rather questionable sound quality; the whole recording thing was all new to me back then. We couldn’t believe the feedback we got, so times were exciting in the Magic Pie camp. When we did the follow up titled Circus of Life, we used Gilbert’s (our keyboard player at the time) newly build studio but having no budget we still did the mixing ourselves. When recording our 3rd album, The Suffering Joy, our entire studio burned down to the ground, which explains the rather lengthy time period between our second and third release. The Suffering Joy was released in 2011. Gilbert Marshall never really recovered from losing his pride and joy (i.e. the studio) so he left the band after the release of the aforementioned record. To be fair, he was pretty absent during the recording of the album, so there was a lot of pressure on me around this time. After this we found a killer keyboard player and a good friend in Erling Henanger. This really lifted the spirit in the band and the recording for King for a Day was maybe our most inspired album to date – at least with respect to the writing and recording process. And finally getting Rich Mouser to mix the album was a big deal for me personally; being a huuuge Neal Morse fan. But the fun didn’t last as my daughter suffered a massive brain stroke (cerebral hemorrhage) in late 2015 (she is fine today). This delayed, once again, the next album Fragments of the 5th Element finally got released in 2019. But then life happened, and Eirik and JT left the band, thereby making room for a fantastic new drummer in the young powerhouse that is Martin Utby. We can’t wait to get to play with him live! The current line-up is Eirikur Hauksson (vocals), Erling Henanger (keyboards), Lars Petter Holstad (bass), Martin Utby (drums) and me, handling all the guitars.
How have people responded to your latest album entitled Fragments of the 5th Element? I am thinking of both the fans and critics out here.
Eirikur: The response has been overwhelming all around. The only “negative” comment I have heard came over the phone when a friend said, “I just wish it had the length of a double”. We decided early on that this would be an LP-length album, just like in the good old days. What will be the case as for our sixth record, no one knows? Well, maybe a double.
Kim: The feedback, to my surprise, has been fantastic. I definitely think shorter albums is the way to go. Easier on the wallet to mix and record, and it makes you a little more selective regarding what material to use.
As much as I cherish your previous records, I think that Fragments of the 5th Element is your most musically rewarding offering so far. The album is rich in atmosphere and there are so many wicked nuances and details present in the music that it defies description. The harmonies are out of this world too and I love the way in which things move and slide together so seamlessly even though there are huge contrasts in play throughout the compositions. The epic ‘The Hedonist’, which is one of the finest compositions that yours truly has ever come across, is the perfect example of dynamics and variety. When you guys started putting the album together and turning all the different pieces into a larger whole, did you have a clear idea of what you wanted the final product to sound like? Or was there a lot of trial-and-error in the initial stages?
Eirikur: Magic words, thanks a lot. In my opinion, Fragments is actually our “wildest” approach so far. We sort of just went for it and hardly looked back. Still, we have remained true to our sound and variety.
Kim: I usually have a pretty clear picture of the entire album, even before it’s recorded. But the one big change this time around was the time limit – for the actual album length and the time set for recording it. I wanted it to be a single album (vinyl length – around 45 minutes in total), which makes sense in today’s market with people’s limited attention span. A shorter album means we can release albums more often to stay a little more relevant, and it’s cheaper to mix and much faster to actually record. We had a time limit for about two months to record the album, and we did it in seven weeks. I wanted a rougher, less overdubbed, less polished approach in order to make it contrast a little with today’s overproduced market. I think it has a “lively” vibe and is far from perfect in terms of performance, but I like that. The biggest challenge was to choose the songs for the shorter format – there is a lot of unused music that I couldn’t use because of the time restraints of a LP, so we used the five most diverse songs that I had, that worked together and would fit on a single vinyl. All the tracks are very different, but they’re unmistakably Magic Pie. Five very different tracks based on the inspiration from a lot of different music.
Fragments of the 5th Element also comes across as a slightly more playful and organic affair compared to your earlier efforts, almost as if putting it together and arranging the songs was more of a band-effort in a sense, but is there any truth to that and how did you go about composing and crafting the song material? Did you all contribute to the songwriting? Or perhaps you all had a hand in arranging everything when jamming together in rehearsals? By the way, how often do you guys meet up to rehearse?
Eirikur: The working process has been the same on the three albums I have been involved in. Kim does the groundwork alone, sends his demoes to me and I make melodies and lyrics. I also like to work alone. For The Suffering Joy Kim had some melodies fully composed in his head and even some lyrics as well. He had some must-be ideas on King as well, but on Fragments he just handed things over. One might get the feeling that he’s beginning to trust me?
Kim: The writing part was pretty much business as usual; I wrote all the music and did all the arrangements etc., and Eirikur wrote the lyrics – the same way we did the two previous albums. I usually do pretty complete demoes and hand it over to the other guys. No jamming or working together. They just learn the parts and put their own spin on it but stays true to the original demo. As to the vocals, I usually have some of the melodies or lines ready. For this album I did the melodies on ‘P&C’, ‘Table for Two’ and the main parts of ‘The Hedonist’ such as the chorus, the acoustic part in the middle and so on. I think we work together really well, and my melodies usually work quite well with Eirikur’s slightly different approach to things. This might be what makes it (imo) a little unique. Some of the tracks are built around a very specific melody (like ‘P&C’ and the chorus in ‘Table For Two’). On songs like these we usually keep my initial idea for the vocals.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the title of the opus made me think of the semi-classic sci-fi flick titled The 5th Element starring Bruce Willis the very first I came across it and that always brings a smile to my face when I listen to the disc. Are you a fan of that movie and/or did it serve as a source of inspiration somehow?
Eirikur: The early plan was to make more songs than usual and even to leave out the traditional “epic”. It didn’t take long though until Kim called me and said, “I just can’t stop writing on this particular song – it’s becoming a monster”. So, ‘The Hedonist’ had found his place and never stepped aside again. That was when I got the idea for a title: album number five, with five songs on it. Well, of course, that film title popped into my head. I had seen the movie way back then, but I never watched it again, so there is no background research here. I simply added the word “fragments”. Much cooler than Songs from the 5th Album, right?
The somewhat abstract cover art looks amazing too and it complements the music perfectly, I think. Is there a deeper meaning to it or perhaps some subtle references to something specific? Any clues? Either way, it looks marvelous!
Kim: Thanks! The artwork is from an original painting by my mother (Eva Stenberg) called Veien Videre, which translates to The Road Ahead. I’m not a big fan of the “typical” prog covers, so I always try to do something a little different. Having an artist/painter in the family makes it easy to make something totally unique. My mother is a great artist and there is always so much hidden in her paintings. The entire booklet is made up of various pieces from different paintings, all fitting to each song. The front cover suits the more vintage mindset we had when writing the album, and I think it makes it a little different in the sense that it makes it stand out among the myriad of generic prog rock album covers out there.
Musically speaking, what bands and artists inspire you to write and compose tunes for Magic Pie – both collective influences as in bands that all of you dig as well as you as an individual? One of the things that I love about Magic Pie is that it sounds as if there are an awful lot of influences and sources of inspiration in play. Some parts bring to mind Camel and Yes whereas others recall Deep Purple and The Flower Kings. Come to think of it, some of the harder and more edgy riffs actually remind me of early Rainbow, which is brilliant!
Eirikur: My only influence is Kim Stenberg. I am and always will be a metalhead. I think this musical difference between the two of us is the key to our success as writing partners. Okay, I’ll admit, it’s not only metal that fires me up. I am also a huge Beatles and Bowie fan, so there you have it.
Kim: I love a good melody and having grown up in the 80’s, I’m very much into “generic” harmonies and catchy hooks. But being a guitarist, I also like really complex fusion, prog metal, film scores, instrumental guitar music, etc. Mix that with my favorite daytime background music, like Edith Piaf, mellow jazz, 40’s & 50’s pop, classical music, and nature/meditation sounds, and you’ll get a pretty varied source of inspiration. Some of my favorite bands/artists of all time include Neal Morse, Kiss, Dream Theater, Beatles, ACT, The Flower Kings, Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic and City Boy to name a few. I’m actually not a super big prog fan, but I like the mindset of the “no boundaries” mentality that goes with it.
As to the lyrics, I am pretty damn fond of those! There is irony, sarcasm, melancholy, introspection, love, loss, nostalgia, and even a hint of nihilism on display in that department. Could you elaborate a bit on the words to the songs and what they mean to you on a personal level? What are they meant to connote from your perspective? Are they veiled references to real-life encounters and experiences?
Eirikur: All your conclusions are right on target. I am not a poet, I am a storyteller, and all my short stories have references to my own life and to me as a person. On stage I am invincible, a king of the world. Off stage in my everyday life, I can doubt myself endlessly and evaluate my life into eternity. If I just once could get a listener into that frame of mind, I’d die a happy man. John Lennon is my big storyteller hero and I think he once said, “Don’t ask me what I mean with my lyrics, give me your interpretation of them”.
How did the collaboration with the ever-awesome Karisma Records come about? Did they reach out to you or was it the other way around?
Kim: Actually, I don’t remember, but having outgrown Progress Records we needed a change. We had contact with several labels, but Karisma (being from Norway) made the most sense. Erling Midstue, our good friend and manager, also had a big part in all of this. He really is the 6th Pie.
In terms of gigs and live performances, are you planning on touring more often in the future? Anything on the horizon for us to look forward to?
Kim: We actually had a lot planned and stuff in the works but then the whole world went belly-up due to the corona virus, so what will happen this year is impossible to predict at the moment. It doesn’t look good I must say. We have postponed all rehearsals and the whole world is in a standstill, but we are very much looking forward to up our gigging game and do a lot more playing than we have done in previous years. The band sounds better than ever and we can’t wait to show you Magic Pie MKII. In the meantime, I’m currently writing for the next album.
What are your thoughts on the current state of Norwegian prog rock? Personally, I think this particular scene is incredibly exciting and that there are some splendid bands out there right now… and quite diverse ones too!
Kim: I must admit that I’m terrible at checking out new music – like really bad! Between writing music, playing the guitar and family life there really is no time. I really should make an effort to keep me a little more up to date on the Norwegian prog scene. And new music in general…
Just out of curiosity, what are you listening to at home nowadays?
Eirikur: Our new demos are being scrutinised, of course, but when I just wanna chill out I find some power metal from the 70’s and 80’s. I never grew up, really.
Kim: I usually just listen to podcasts about guitar gear, local radio, or classical music during the day. I also have some 40/50’s radio channels within reach on my living room stereo. More for room ambience than actual listening. I don’t remember the last album I listened to, but it probably was something from Neal Morse. Having a disabled daughter and listening to Daddy Finger, Dora or Paw Patrol all day makes me appreciate the silence when I’m not working on some new music.
Do you remember how, where, and when you first stumbled on progressive rock and more importantly, when you became addicted to it and decided to dabble in said genre yourself? Are there one or more specific albums out there relating to the aforementioned genre that changed your perception of music, perhaps even some that you consider life-changing?
Kim: After hearing Space Revolver by The Flower Kings, I knew what kind of music I wanted to play. This was really my first encounter with progressive rock, and it opened up a whole new world of music. Before this I was a huge Dream Theater fan, but this quickly made me discover Neal Morse, Transatlantic and Spock’s Beard, so you might say it was life-changing as this is still my main source of inspiration.
Thanks once again for taking the time to answer these questions of mine – much appreciated. Any final words or comments to our awesome readers out there?
Kim: Thanks for the interest and the kind words about our music! Hopefully, the world will recover soon so that we can continue to do what we love the most – play concerts. Stay safe and washy washy!