I spoke to Manticora’s energetic front man Lars Larsen about two weeks ago, on August 13. Our long, winding, and hilarious conversation covered topics ranging from his new foray into fatherhood to favorite books to the upcoming U.S. tours with Gamma Ray and Helloween, then with Jon Oliva’s Pain and Circle II Circle.
What follows is one of the most comprehensive interviews with Lars available anywhere. If you want to know what makes Lars Larsen tick, what drives him to succeed, read on.
For the uninitiated, Manticora was formed in Hvidovre, Denmark, in 1996. The power-metal band has released six albums to date.
NOTE: All band and personal photos illustrating this interview are courtesy of Lars who spent a week or so searching for them and then, kindly, allowing them to be seen by everyone. Many thanks, Lars! I owe you one. (Or several.) Special thanks to my wife, Elisabeth, for transcribing this one so quickly. I owe you my heart and soul.
LL: Hello, Bill.
BM: Hey, Lars. How are you?
LL: I’m pretty good, man. Pretty good. I am tired, I must admit, but that’s ok. [laughs]
BM: Would you like to do it a different night?
LL: No, no, it’s cool. I just became a father a week ago, so the child is not sleeping very well at night. [laughs] Keeping me awake all the time.
BM: Really? That’s great news. The birth part. Not the keeping you awake part. Congratulations!
BM: What’s your baby’s name?
LL: Her name is Sara Larosa Larsen. The mom is Italian and I’m Danish, so we had to find a name that would be compatible in both languages. Sara it was.
BM: How’s your wife doing?
LL: Federica’s doing really fine. She’s, of course, tired. But I guess all women are when having all their fat on the body sucked out through their breasts 10 times per day [laughs]. The kid was born through C-section, so the scar has to heal and all that, before my wife can begin training again. Anyway, I think she doesn’t care that much about herself — it’s all about the baby now.
BM: How do you think your life will change because of this? What will you do — or not do — differently?
LL: To be honest, I just don’t know. We’ll embark on USA tour and I’ll be away for 3 weeks when the baby is no more than 2 months. But it’s all part of who I am, you know with Manticora and touring. Things like that. I cannot change my entire being just because of a child, and frankly I think my wife would kill me if I did. She is incredibly supportive, and almost anything I do, she is backing up 100%. But let’s say that I might stay home 1 or 2 Saturdays from drinking with the guys, as I of course need to spend some quality time with Federica and Sara.
BM: Yeah. I can understand that.
LL: Yeah…it’s a matter of getting older and trying to accept it…priorities, you know.
BM: Oh yeah. [laughs] Well, it’s great to talk to you, I appreciate your time.
LL: Yeah, no problem, man. I’m the one thanking you.
BM: You’ve got a couple of tours coming up. Your first stop is with Helloween and Gamma Ray in Atlanta [on the opening night of ProgPower USA IX].
BM: How did you get hooked up with that tour? And what’s it going to be like to be back in Atlanta again on the ProgPower stage? [Manticora appeared at ProgPower USA VI]
LL: First of all, I will answer the last part of your question first. We cannot wait to get on that stage again. It was a totally crazy experience the first time we played there, you know.
LL: After I walked down from the stage, thanked all the people and all that, walked down the halls below the audience, I felt like the king of the world. I felt like, “Ok, all my dreams have come true now, we don’t need anymore for me to be satisfied with my career.”
LL: So to come back and experience that again is going to be so fucking great. To answer the first part of the question, the Jon Oliva’s Pain tour was made a reality through the fact that we also toured with them in the spring. And Intromental Management thought about keeping it consistent, you know, having Manticora on the festival, having Circle II Circle and Jon Oliva’s Pain on the festival, what would be more natural than having the bands tour together, since we also supported Jon Oliva on the European tour. So I think everybody’s happy with this combination, and I think we’re going to have a pretty successful tour.
BM: Oh yeah. It looks like you guys play almost a month, from late September through mid October. Is that the longest time you’ve been in the States?
LL: Yeah, we have actually never toured the States before, so it’s going to be the first time for us, which is pretty exciting because the territory we’re venturing into now, it might be 500 per night, it might be 50 people per night, I have no idea. I have no clue what’s going to happen. So for us, it’s all, it’s just exciting. Totally exciting.
BM: What are you looking forward to most when you get over here? Is there anything you want to see here in the States, is there anything you want to do in the States?
LL: Besides go to Hooters? [laughs]
BM: [laughs] Well, that’s a given.
LL: Nah, I really just love to have a successful tour, you know, to meet as many people as possible out there, and have some great shows where the fans embrace our music and we can embrace our fans. Because we know we don’t sell shitloads of CDs in the US. Hopefully we will after the tour, because we’re going to give 120% every night. We’re used to doing that, but for me, it’s just about the interaction with the fans. I want to make them headbang, and to make them headbang, I have to give 120% myself.
BM: Oh yeah.
LL: So the fans are going to get everything from us, and we expect everything back from the fans. If that happens, I am totally satisfied with the tour. And of course, it’s going to be great to see all the cities, Detroit, Chicago, all these big cities. I’ve just been to New York myself in May, too, I was the best man at Claus’ wedding, you know, Claus from Intromental?
BM: Oh Claus, oh yeah.
LL: So that was a great experience. But we went to New York first, me and the wife, so before that I have been to Atlanta and to Los Angeles, so I kind of know how it works in the United States. Also went to Washington in May. So I know the drill over there, roads, and cities and highways. But of course it’s great to come and see some of the other big cites as well.
BM: I remember when you guys were originally going to tour the U.S. with Circus Maximus earlier this year. That tour fell apart when Circus decided to tour Europe instead. A lot of disappointed fans on the ProgPower Forum tried to get you over here themselves, kind of pool their money and bring you over. Did that make you feel good that you had that many gung-ho fans here in the States?
LL: You know, I really love those people. It’s….it feels special. It makes you feel special actually, to have people wanting to get you over so much. It’s just, to have you over and play for them. They could just sit down and say, “Ok, we don’t give a shit. Manticora will come over another time. They’re going to play here.” But they actually tried to find a solution for us, and being fans, who even would have to pay the ticket to come see our show, and I mean, it’s really heartwarming. Unfortunately, it was simply not possible to do, because it would have been too many expenses, and it was not logistically possible to do.
LL: So I hope we won’t disappoint at least those fans when we come over there in September/October.
BM: Oh yeah. Well, you had mentioned earlier about how you give 120% on stage. And I’ve seen some Manticora clips on YouTube. You look like you’re giving at least 120%. [laughs]
BM: How do you keep yourself fit for a tour? You have a powerful voice and you run all over the stage. You must be exhausted. What do you do to prepare for that?
LL: I run. [laughs]
BM: Do you really?
LL: Yeah, you know, I go to a fitness center, and for nine months now I also have been working out as a spinning instructor, you know, those classes inside when you’re sitting there with 20 people spinning on bicycles. And I try to run as much as possible, and try to beat my own times constantly. Because I know when I have to sing on stage, and I need a lot of air, because I’m moving a lot, then I need to be in extremely good shape. So it doesn’t, it simply doesn’t compute if you say, “Well, I’m lazy. I’m just going to drink my red wine and eat my fat stuff and don’t do anything at all.”
LL: So I stay focused. When I’m standing on the treadmill or running outside with my watch on, I always try to beat my own time. And whenever it feels like, “I’m going to die, I’m going to die.” I just think about, “I need to perform. I need to be there on stage and be able to sing.” So if I don’t keep on going for at least five minutes more, even if my lungs and my legs are burning, then I’m not going to be able to sing those high notes. People are going to be dissatisfied, and they’re not going to buy my album.
BM: Well, that’s—
LL: It makes sense.
BM: Oh yeah. That’s a lot of dedication. I mean, it sounds like you really are appreciative of your fans.
BM: Yeah, that’s great.
LL: I mean, we wouldn’t be here if people didn’t buy our albums. Maybe we’d keep on working anyway because we’ve talked about this a couple times, with failed albums and stuff like that, the record labels were complaining all the time, we said, “Well, our sales are falling as well, but should we stop, or should we go on?” And everybody in the band was like, “No, no fucking way. We’re going to go on, because we’re not here to make millions, we’re just here to make music. And if people buy it, then it’s just a bonus and it’s cool.”
BM: That’s great, “We’re not here to make millions. We’re here to make music.” [laughs] That’s great.
LL: Yeah. [laughs] You can use that as the main line. [laughs]
BM: I might have to do that. [laughs] That’s great.
LL: It is.
BM: You’ve got five albums out now.
BM: Six, that’s right. Six full-length albums. How big will your set be? How many minutes do you think it will be on the JOP, Circle II Circle tour?
LL: On the tour it’s going to be 40 minutes, and on the Atlanta, at ProgPower it’s going to be 40 minutes as well. That’s pretty good.
BM: Yes. But here’s the question. Six albums, the last two of which are major concept albums, how are you going to pick songs for a 40-minute set?
LL: Yeah, I know. It’s really, it’s really, really hard for us, because there are so many songs we want to bring on the tour. But we have done it this way, we have picked songs that will fit with the Hellish Rock tour perfectly, which mean some of the harder stuff we have done. That’s really a lot of songs with the double bass drums and all that.
LL: And for the Jon Oliva’s Pain tour, we have taken some of the extremely fast songs out, and put in some more melodic stuff, because on the European tour we did in April and May, it seemed like people weren’t really embracing Manticora, probably at the first two or three shows. It seemed like the fans who came to see Jon Oliva’s Pain wanted to see some more melodic and slow stuff. So we changed the set list during the tour, actually, and suddenly it looked like people were embracing us a lot more. So that’s how we’re going to do it in the United States, which means that we can actually put songs into the Hellish tour and also into the real tour. But it’s hard. It’s like one song from each album. [laughs]
BM: [laughs] Yeah, that’s about it, yeah.
LL: Except we are not going to play a song from the first album.
BM: Oh really? No songs from the first one?
BM: I did a lot of research on you, read some interviews, looked all over the Internet. I found a phrase that was repeated a lot, and it’s this: “Manticora is criminally underrated as a band.” Would you agree with that statement?
LL: Oh, well of course. [laughs]
LL: I mean, I think anybody in a band would say yes to that if it was a statement about his own band. But I do believe we are underrated. It is said a lot. But a lot of bands go out there and they get the success that I feel would be appropriate for Manticora. But again, I can’t do anything about it unless we prove ourselves through sales. And through selling t-shirts at tours, through getting the shows. But there are so much politics in the record business, so much nepotism in the record business, and I don’t even want to get into that discussion, because it’s just going to make me angry. [laughs]
LL: Not angry enough not to use it myself, you know.
LL: Since I work for Intromental Management, I use nepotism myself. I have tours where I actually have some of the final say in getting the bands on, and I of course use my contacts to get the Intromental bands on these tours, which is my kind of nepotism. So I’m not even better than anybody in the record business. But I can always, from the point of view of being in Manticora, I can complain about the nepotism being there.
BM: [laughs] Nepotism. Yeah. Here’s another comment I read a lot in reviews…and I don’t, well I’ll just ask the question. I don’t mean to upset you with this. But some of the comments say, “Great music, but sometimes Lars’ voice bugs me.”
BM: You guys even have one of those reviews on the Manticora website. It says something like, “A problem is, Lars isn’t a very good singer.” What do you think about that? Does that really bug the hell out of you, or do you just say, “To hell with those people”?
LL: It definitely doesn’t bug me anymore. It used to, you know. In the beginning it was all about trying to create something that sounded like power metal, and then suddenly you’re like, “Oh, what are the critics going to say?” When we’re doing some live shows in Copenhagen here, being a pretty small band and whatever. And then we got the record deal, and “Oh, what are the critics going to say about the album? And what are they going to say about my singing style?” And for the first album, I was smashed totally [laughs] by all the critics.
LL: I mean, it was like one out of 20 would say “Lars is a good singer.” And 19 would say, “Lars is the most horrible singer we have listened to for the last five years.”
LL: [laughs] “A Hansi Kürsch wannabe without Hansi Kürsch.” And at some point, I thought, “Well, Lars, don’t let it get to you. Just continue on, develop it.” Listen how a guy like Kai Hansen sounded in the beginning of Helloween. And how he sounded on Land of the Free with Gamma Ray. It’s a world of difference. So we made the second album, and the critics said some things that were a little bit better, but still not good enough. And when we released the Hyperion album, the third one, 17 people caught on and said, “Well, Lars’ voices might not be the best in the world, but he has personality, and there’s something in it that just suits the music. Manticora wouldn’t be the same without him.” And I turned around and said, “You know, I don’t actually give a shit. It’s better than telling me you’re a good singer or you’re a bad singer, whatever it is. I sing the way I do. It’s a matter of me being here still 10 years after we released our first album. And we will continue to release CDs, and we have our fans. Some critics might not agree with me staying with the band as the lead singer, but they’re not going to get me away from the band.
BM: [laughs] Yeah. Well, that’s good to know, you’re committed to that.
BM: One of the things I like to ask musicians about is each one of their albums. For example, when I mention the album name, tell me what you remember most about that period of time. Either recording the album, personally, or in the studio, which was the easiest song, which was the hardest song? For example, if I say Roots of Eternity , what do you remember most about it?
LL: That it was the most horrible recordings we’ve ever had. [laughs]
BM: Oh really? [laughs]
LL: It was really horrible. We had a budget of 14 days in the studio, and previously we had only spent weekends in the studio, so for us, it was like 14 days, yeah, that’s cool. But then again, we had to record 10 or 11 songs, you know, bonus tracks and all that. And everything went smooth, and we rented this little house, through our lead guitarist Flemming [Schultz], who knew somebody who had a father who had a house in whatever town it is. It was a horrible house, with no electricity in the bathroom.
LL: But we had a good time, because everything was new and cool to us. But the recordings went well for the first eight days, and then we had to mix it, we used the old big tapes that they used to record on in the old days.
BM: Yeah, yeah.
LL: This was before computers. And then we had this 24-channel digital thing that was not computers, but a kind of high-eight tapes or something like that. And of course, it broke down right in the middle of the mixing.
BM: Oh no. [laughs]
LL: Which made that, I went down our keyboarder that used to live very close to the studio we used, and I met the other guys, and I said, “Guys, everything broke down. Shit, we have to go home, we have to delay the album.” So we had to delay the album for a couple of weeks, and we came down again to the studio to fix everything. But at this point, we found out coming to the house that there was no key in this house. And all our stuff was inside, our sleeping bags and things like that. And suddenly we found out that the guitarist’s friend hadn’t cleared it with his dad that we could use this house.
LL: So suddenly we have an old guy standing there saying, “No, you can’t use my house, it’s my house. What are you doing here, you Copenhagen guys?” And we’re like, “What the fuck is going on?” [laughs] Everything went wrong with that album.
LL: So for us it felt like a miracle when it came out.
BM: So that’s one you don’t even want to think about anymore, huh?
LL: Not the recordings, anyway. The only cool thing about those recordings were actually the producer, Jacob Hanson, who’s also producing Mercenery, stuff like that. He is the most funny guy in the world. He’s really a good guy.
BM: Well, your next one, a couple years later, 2001, Darkness with Tales to Tell. What do you remember about that time?
LL: Actually, it was kind of chaos at that time, because we had the lead guitarist, Flemming, who wasn’t that involved in the band anymore. He came up with bad excuses, staying away from the rehearsal room, and everything was a mess. The keyboard player, Jeppe [Eg Jensen], was pulling in one direction, Mads [Volf, drummer] was pulling another one, I was pulling a third direction, so the album became too diverse. There is no thread through the album where you can see this is Manticora. There are some songs that just stinks of Manticora, reeks of Manticora.
LL: [laughs] But there are also songs that are totally out of place. Songs like “Dragon’s Mist,” even if it is a cool song, we have this Bach piece put into it, it’s just unlike Manticora. So for me, it was just like a chaotic album that wasn’t the best album we released. But, I have to say, it has one of the best live songs of us, of all. It’s just a classic, “Shadows With Tales To Tell.” It’s really a great live track to do.
BM: That’s great. The next album, then, really broke you guys, didn’t it? I mean, put you on the map, with your Hyperion  stuff.
BM: I mean, that’s a heck of an album, for a third album. Tell me about that period of time. How did you get really excited about that series of books, and how did you—and by the way, I read the liner notes where it said you guys couldn’t get the rights to actually say the actual names of the people and places in the book and all that. What can you tell me about that time?
LL: Well, actually just by you mentioning these books [The Hyperion Cantos form a tetralogy of science fiction novels by Dan Simmons] and all that, I actually, I’m standing here with goosebumps on my arms, because, I’m not lying. I really, really – not shitting you – have goosebumps on my arms. These four books that are Hyperion and the other four books in the series, are simply the best piece of novels or a novel, it is actually one big novel, I have ever read, in my opinion. My brother threw the book at me and said, “Whoa, read this.” He’s got a lot of fantasy fiction in his apartment and a lot of other stuff, and I was like, “Oh, I don’t have anything to read.” And he was like, “Read this.” So I read the book, and my jaw just fell to my stomach. It was just like, “What? What?” And I read the other four books. So I threw the books at Mads and Kristian [Larsen, guitarist], because we three guys are the ones writing the lyrics to the albums. So the other guys read it, and they felt just like me, like, “What the fuck just went on? This is simply amazing.” And so I began writing a lot of lyrics to this. And somewhere along the way, Mads and Kristian called and said, “We want to write about this as well.” So we divided the tales between us, and we wrote some tales each, and suddenly we found ourselves doing a concept album. I mean, we had done two proper albums, and suddenly we’re doing a concept album, and we didn’t know what to do, because suddenly you have to create music around these lyrics, and before we just created the lyrics in the end for the music. So we’re like, “Ok, I have a bridge here that we need to create, because I have some more lyrics.” So we started creating all this. At the same time, Rene [Nielsen], our bass player on the first two albums, jumped out of the band. And at the same time, a couple of months before we went into the studio, we had to fire Flemming, our lead guitarist at that point, because it was simply becoming too lame, hearing his excuses. It was like, “Oh, I fell asleep on the couch at my mom’s place, and forgot to come out to rehearse. Oh, my car broke down, and I went out to look what was wrong, but I left the car keys sitting in the car.” “Fuck off, Flemming.” [laughs]
LL: So we had to kick him [out of the band]. And then we called Martin [Arendal], who is the lead guitarist now and asked him, “Martin, you have exactly 14 days to come up with solos, leads, and everything, melodic pieces and all that, for this album that consists of 13 songs, or something like that. Can you do it?” And he was like, “Yeah, yeah. No problem at all.” We had been playing with him at the Iron Maiden jam in Copenhagen, so he was like, “No problem.” So we went in the studio without performing as a group. So with that in mind, Hyperion, for me, stands as the album where everything turned from chaos to actually being my favorite album of our career.
BM: Hyperion’s your favorite album?
LL: Absolutely. No question about it. I wrote approximately 50% of the music for that album, actually. Normally, I don’t contribute that much to the music, but due to the fact that Flemming jumped out of the band, I just had to grab a guitar and play along with the rehearsal room. And I just got so much inspiration out of these books, so this is the album where I have contributed the most to my part, of the three albums.
BM: Was it upsetting to you when the author and his agent wouldn’t let you use the names and places?
LL: Not really. I definitely understand Dan Simmons, and the agent, Richard Curtis, because the fact is that Dan Simmons has written this amazing book, and some Hollywood studio has obtained the rights or the, I don’t know what it’s called, pre-rights, to do the movie.
BM: Oh yeah.
LL: Which would be like a thing with Martin Scorcese’s direction and Leonardo DiCaprio playing the lead role.
BM: Oh wow.
LL: So this is suddenly pretty fucking big. Meaning that he can’t of course, just give the rights away to make music for this book without getting some kind of compensation, and we’re talking big compensation.
LL: Because you know, later on, when the movie comes out, and people are like, “So where is the soundtrack?” “Well, Manticora has already made music for this, blah, blah, blah.” It’s going to be a complication. So he actually had to turn us down and say, “Guys, you can’t use original names and whatnot from the book.” So, that gave me some extra work, because I suddenly had to rewrite all the lyrics. This was a month and a half or two months before going into the studio. And I had all the lyrics written down. So I had to rewrite all the lyrics during the next two months, and it was fucking horrible, you know, you have to, I had all the lines done and all that, melodic wise, so I had to finds words with, what do you call it, syllables, the right amount of syllables and all that, that would fit inside, and would mean the same thing and would be grammatically correct, and blah, blah, blah. It was horrible, but it was cool. [laughs]
BM: Well, you know, it’s amazing then, through all of that hard work, and the band member leaving, the author turning you down for that, this is still your favorite album. You must be just absolutely, totally passionate about that series of books.
LL: I am, you know…I’ve been reading them six times. My wife here, who is standing here brushing her teeth [laughs] has been reading them, she got them in Italian, she is from Italy. Everybody else I know, I have been able to tell, “Ok, read these books.” And they have read them, and they come back to me and said, “Lars, this is the best I’ve read in my life.” Almost all of them. It’s really amazing. So if it was up to me, we would write Dan Simmons an email telling him, “Now, we’re going to do the follow up, The Fall Of Hyperion.” But I also know we will get in trouble for that. [laughs]
BM: [laughs] Well, do you identify with one of those pilgrims, one of the seven pilgrims [the priest, the soldier, the poet, the scholar, the starship captain, the detective, the consul]? Do you kind of see yourself in the book at all? Are you one of those characters in your own mind?
LL: Actually, I think maybe I would be a mixture of them all, because there’s this guy trying to be funny all the time, but being a complete bastard and all that. And I have that in me.
LL: I’m very, very self-indulgent. People always tell me that I am self-indulgent…at least I know. [laughs]
LL: And I’m not afraid to admit it, and to deal with it myself. There’s also the fighting warrior, you know, the guy growing up on Mars, a Palestinian guy growing up on Mars, having to be a fighter all his life. And I have that fighter spirit in me as well. I have the—have you read the books?
BM: No. But I, actually, because of your album, and because I read how passionate you are, I just started the first one the other day. Yeah.
LL: Oh, you’re in for a ride. I guarantee it.
BM: I know, that’s what I’m hoping for. [laughs]
LL: So when you get into, have you read into the priest’s tale, the first tale right now?
BM: Nope, I’m only a few pages into the first one. But I’m familiar with all the characters.
BM: You’re a little bit of all those characters, is what you’re saying.
LL: I think so, not the specifics, not the detective, not the priest. But yeah, I think I got a little bit. And I think it goes for all people, actually. That’s what’s so beautiful about Dan Simmons. Whenever you sit down and contemplate about the book afterwards, after the books in general, he’s got everything inside. He’s got all kinds of religion inside. He’s got all kinds of philosophy inside. He’s got history, and he’s got you contemplating about how much shit he actually puts into his books. It’s really amazing. And I don’t think the book actually makes one bit of sense until you read it the second time. Sorry. [laughs]
BM: Well, I’d better get reading then. I’ve got my work cut out for me with them. [laughs] So you’re saying that series of books is better than Lord of the Rings? Better than Harry Potter? Better than all those classics of sci-fi and fantasy?
LL: I haven’t read Harry Potter. I refuse to read it. [laughs]
LL: For me it sounds like some childish crap. You know, I might be surprised. But I’ve seen the movies, because sometimes my wife wants to see something sometime when we’re visiting her family in Italy, and sometimes we’re watching a movie, and sometimes it’s Harry Potter. I hate it.
LL: The Lord of the Rings, I really love it. But it just doesn’t compare to Dan Simmons, at all. Lord of the Rings is total fantasy, you go through all these feelings, and what an amazing author he was. Great, great, great, great. But he just does not…he’s not anywhere near the master, and the master is Dan Simmons.
BM: Wow. See, I’m pretty excited about it. I can’t wait to get further in.
LL: Just wait until you get halfway into the priest’s tale. You will be amazed.
BM: [laughs] I’ll send you an email or something, let you know what I think. [laughs]
LL: Please do. [laughs] I’m very excited to hear what people think about it.
BM: Cool. Two years after Hyperion, then, you hook up with Mattias Noren for the cover art, you put out an album, 8 Deadly Sins , that a lot of fans, like on the Manticora website, voted their second favorite Manticora album. What do you remember about recording that one?
LL: First of all, we changed record labels, so going from an Italian record label to Massacre in Germany was like, “Whoa, now we’re really onto something.” But we changed record labels after we recorded the album, because we went away from Scarlet having no record deal, and we just thought about, “Ok, do we really want to spend like 10,000 euros on going into the studio, recording an album, and just hoping ourselves to make music that is so good a record label’s going to find us?” And we just looked at each other and said, “Yeah, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.” So we borrowed 10,000 euros, which is like $15,000, and we changed producers from Jacob to Tommy Hansen, who also did Helloween and Pretty Maids, and stuff like that. And it was the first time that we stayed just beside the studio, because we had a house just beside the studio. And just to have to go out every morning, walk 50 meters, and then you would be exactly at the studio. We had a big house for ourselves, with a lot of sleeping places, a kitchen and all that. We would make proper food and everything just felt like a, what do you call it, school camp, camp or whatever it is?
BM: Yeah, yeah.
LL: You know what I mean. For us, staying over there for like three and a half weeks, probably, it was like, “Oh, this is luxury. We have bought ourselves a lot of time.” [laughs] And Tommy just captured what we wanted to put down on tracks, immediately. I mean, he knew exactly what we wanted. It didn’t hurt that he has golden records and platinum records hanging from Helloween in his studio.
LL: We could look around and say, “Ok, Tommy, that’s what we want to be. We want to sound like that, ok?”
BM: Yeah. [laughs]
LL: [laughs] He’s like, “Yeah, yeah, of course guys. Just get in and perform.” [laughs]
LL: What I remember most is actually my own vocal performance, because normally I would have been going in as the last guy, you know, pressure in the end, “Lars, you really need to sing five songs per day.” And do all that shit. And I would go in, sing all the songs that I was supposed to do, and come out, correct all the things that I don’t think I do well, and go in and do it again. And do the same with the second voices, choir voices and all that. Suddenly I’m facing a producer that stops me after one song, sorry, after one line. Like, “Lars, do that again.” I’m like, “But Tommy, I need to sing the whole verse.” He’s like, “No, no, no, that’s not the way we work here. You sing one line and I correct you if I think something’s wrong. Because we might as well start at the beginning.” “Well, ok.” Suddenly I found myself recording one or two songs per day, and this guy is kicking my ass severely.
LL: He’s dragging every last drop of blood out of me every day. He’s doing it this way that Mads might be recording drums four hours, and then we are having lunch, and then we have four hours, and Mads is tired of beating drums. He’s like, “Lars, now it’s your turn. Go in and take the mic. We might as well use the time, properly instead of having a tired Mads on the drums or having you being tired from eight-hour shifts in the end.” So we were mixing things, and it made so much more sense to me. It created an album that was, sound-wise, and what do you call it, effort-wise, 200% better than anything we ever did before.
BM: Oh yeah.
LL: Which also meant that Glenn [Harveston, organizer] booked us for ProgPower USA, we suddenly went out with Angra in Europe, we had record deals with Massacre Records and better deals in Japan and all that shit. So a lot of things happened with this album.
BM: Well, what is your favorite track off Hyperion, the album? What is your favorite track off that? What do you look at and think, “Man, that’s the best song on the album”?
LL: On the Hyperion album? Or the 8 Deadly Sins album?
BM: Both of them. I was going to ask you about that, I guess since we’re talking about 8 Deadly Sins, what is your favorite track off that one?
LL: The 8 Deadly Sins is, hmm, that’s a hard one to answer. I think I might have to go with “Playing God” or yeah, actually yeah. I think it’s going to be “Playing God.”
BM: “Playing God” yeah.
LL: Maybe “King of the Absurd” is a close second.
BM: Great, great songs.
LL: Absolutely. But “King of the Absurd” is the favorite because of the lyrics. I wrote the lyrics mostly for this song and they pretty much are about myself. [laughs]
BM: [laughs] “King of the Absurd”? Yeah?
LL: And you know, I also did most of the “Creator Of Failure” and that’s also about myself. [laughs] Nobody knows that. They think it’s a concept album about this old guy, but the things I wrote are about myself.
BM: So it’s almost autobiographical for you? You’re drawing on some of your own feelings and experiences and thoughts?
LL: I’m actually bleeding out my own life on my album.
LL: [laughs] That sounds sooo poetic.
BM: Yeah, it does, doesn’t it? [laughs] I gotta write that down too.
BM: See, that’s what I like to hear, that kind of stuff. Now when I listen to that album, I’ll know it’s a very personal album for you.
LL: Exactly. You definitely need to do that. It’s the same with Kristian who wrote most of “Fall From Grace.” You know, if you sit down and listen to the lyrics or read the lyrics, and you think, “Kristian is what this is about. It’s not about this old guy.” Of course, that’s our cover story [laughs] or whatever you want to call it, because we have written the story line for this, but we are spilling out our own hearts on the album. So if people think about that, they’re going to see some very troubled young men. [laughs]
BM: [laughs] Well, let me jump back just a second to the Hyperion album. What is your favorite track off that one?
BM: Oh yeah, yeah. Why is that?
LL: No doubt about it. First of all, because I think I wrote like 80% of the music for that song. So there’s so much of me inside. And I wrote like 95% of the lyrics. So it’s so much me. It’s exactly what I want Manticora to sound like all the time. Luckily, I have the other guys to pull me away from just beating the bass drums all the time and creating thrash power metal, or else Manticora would sound like that all the time, if I was to decide. But it has the most me inside it, and it is a great, great live track.
BM: It is. And do you mean what you say in these liner notes to the album, “You will never remove that song from your setlist”?
BM: Good. [laughs]
LL: So you’re going to see it on both the ProgPower show and on the tour.
BM: Perfect. That sounds great.
BM: Then, what was it like working with Mattias Noren? How involved were you with the cover art for that?
LL: Not very much, actually. It was more Claus than us wanting something from him. We had created some images of an old man sitting down in pain, and we just wanted that with a totally black cover, and this guy in black and white, and Manticora across the front cover. Little bit like you see on the Sanctuary cover.
LL: The black and white stuff with the old man. This was a little bit inspired by that. But it was my uncle who was totally white-haired, or grey-haired, or I don’t know what you call it in English. [NOTE: Some of the photos Lars provided (above) include pictures of his white-haired uncle.]
LL: I think you’d call it grey-haired in Danish. We took some pictures of him, I think it looked cool. It was something special. But Claus was like, “Guys, this is just not good enough.” And we’re like, “Oh, shut up, Manager, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
LL: And he told us, “Guys, I’m going to find something special for you, ok?” So he had talked to Mattias Noren, who had this picture that was actually created for Kamelot. So you know that now.
BM: Yeah. [laughs]
LL: If you look at the front cover, there’s a Manticora M above his head, like a plate or something.
LL: That was actually the Kamelot logo being there.
LL: But they didn’t want to use it. So Claus said, “This just kicks whatever you guys want.” “Ok, what’s he going to charge for it?” And we found a good price, and then we thought, “Well, maybe Claus is right. Let’s listen to the manager once in a while.” [laughs] I mean, that’s what we hired him to do, to give us good advice. So that’s how we got that picture.
BM: Well, the next couple albums were originally going to be released as one double album. But they ended up being two. First of all, let’s talk about the artwork, which is absolutely stunning. I mean, it’s amazing artwork.
BM: You’re working with [artist] Leo Hao.
BM: How did you connect with this guy? And what was the inspiration? How involved were you coming up with the art for this one?
LL: First off, we had this idea that we don’t want to work with the same artwork guy twice [Note: And they haven’t. Each album is designed by a different artist]. Of course we have done it with Leo Hao because it’s parts one and two, but nonetheless, we wanted something new, and we said to Claus, “So, what can you propose?” And he proposed a lot of different things. And I think it was Kasper [Gram], the bass player, who saw Nocturnal Rites [New World Messiah, 2004] or something like that and said, “Well, that’s a cool thing, and that’s that Russian guy.” And I think that was among the ones that Claus had proposed. So we just thought, “Well, if he can do something very, very cool like that, or like the live thing that Blind Guardian actually did [Imaginations Through the Looking Glass, 2004], which Hao painted as well. If he can do something very, very cool for us with this story, because it’s a fascinating story, it’s a horror story, he must be able to create a very, very cool thing.” And Claus contacted him and said, “So, what do you charge for this and can you do something very special for the band, because they really want a cool cover.” And he’s like, “Yeah, of course. You’re going to pay me X amount of money.” And he gave us two drawings. And we wanted a big, big, big tent in the center, you know, filling up the whole picture, but at the same time, we wanted depth in the picture, like having the background and the trees in the fields. So he was like, “I cannot do it all, you know? [laughs] You cannot have both A and B, so you have to choose.”
BM: [laughs] Yeah.
LL: So he created something in the beginning with a guy, the pictures I sent you the other day [NOTE: See artwork above, which Lars says has never been seen before], with the guy being in front and the other stuff in the background to create the depth in the image. And we thought, “Well, it’s cool, but it’s not exactly like we want it. And we don’t want some guy on the picture.” [laughs] So we wrote him and said, “Can you please incorporate a gypsy woman standing there like welcoming the guys?” I think that was Kristian’s idea. “Welcoming the audience and then having the tent in the background. And we really need some landscape. And we really need one of those carts that they use as transport, like in the old days.” Is it called that?
BM: Yeah, uh huh.
LL: Uh yeah, ok. And it took two days. I mean, it took two days, and he came up with this. So that’s what he did for us.
LL: Ok, we are happy to pay him the money. So we recorded both [Black Circus] albums at the same time, except for the solos and keyboards for the second album - we did that afterwards. And while we were mixing the second album, we also had the artwork for the second album done. And we came up with a lot of ideas, like we wanted it to be inside the tent, like watching the show go on inside the tent, because most of the second album is about that, being inside the tent. But we also realized to create an atmosphere where you have a grandiose, a really big tent, and having to paint it inside, it would be totally impossible, to give the feeling of all the evil inside and all the things going on on stage. And I got an idea of like, why don’t we take it as the continuation of what you see on number one, and take the booklet, fold it out, and the right side would be there, so it would be a double-sided picture compared to the one we actually had. And here comes all the evil stuff.
LL: And the guys were like, “Yeah, that’s a good idea. But how is he going to do that? I mean, he can’t just paint on with the picture, because the picture is done. It’s finished.” I wrote him, and I guarantee you, five days later, the second album cover was there. And he just created it. I was like, “How the fuck did you do that?”
LL: And the picture’s actually very, very big. It’s not a small picture. He’s painted it with an airbrush or whatever it’s called.
LL: So he has painted the different parts, like the guy standing with the knife, the gypsy woman, they’re painted by themselves and put into the picture afterwards. So it’s really, really amazing. I love this. And we have posters created, that have the whole picture, actually, both number one and number two put together.
BM: Well, it’s stunning.
LL: If you want one, I will send you one.
BM: I would absolutely, of course. Yeah. That’s just absolutely one of my favorite album covers of all time. It just really touches me. It’s amazing.
LL: That’s fucking cool, man. Just tell me your address, I will send you one poster. [NOTE: He did, signed by the members of Manticora. It’s spectacular.]
BM: Oh man, thank you very much.
LL: No problem at all.
BM: This concept, this whole Black Circus thing is supposedly sort of inspired by [American horror author H.P.] Lovecraft [1890-1937]?
BM: How did you discover Lovecraft? And did this hit you in the same kind of way that Hyperion did, where you said, “Man, this is just kicking my ass. I gotta make something out of this”?
LL: Well, we’ve been pretty much inspired by H.P. Lovecraft since the beginning of getting together in Manticora.
LL: Yeah, we have several songs on both the first and second album dealing with Lovecraft actually.
BM: Oh yeah, yeah.
LL: Originally, I think it was Mads, who introduced the rest of us to this. We had known the name, H.P. Lovecraft, but didn’t really get into it. And Mads was just like, “Well, read some of his novels, they’re very, very cool.” We did. And then we did some role-playing games as well, where Mads was the dungeon master, but just in the realm of H.P. Lovecraft. Kind of to get into the mood of writing lyrics for some of the songs.
LL: And it was kind of us wanting to get back to, not to the roots, but back to where it all started, lyrical-wise, for us. When Mads proposed this, “The Black Circus” thing, it was like, “Yeah, the wolves coming in, and they’re eating people, and blood and gore all the time, and I’ve written five songs, you know, the lyrics for it”. And I’m looking at this, like, “Ok, blood is everywhere, blah, blah, blah, gore, and somebody’s arm is ripped off, and somebody’s hair is ripped off, and yes, we can use this. But let’s try and develop it, ok?”
BM: [laughs] Yeah.
LL: [laughs] We began to develop it into a story, and suddenly Kristian and I had an idea, why don’t we put a Lovecraft inspiration to it, so you suddenly have something evil coming from outside. You don’t know what it is, but it’s fucking evil. And you have the gypsies, they’re working together with this evil entity being there, sucking the minds out of these people, and suddenly we have the story. It became H.P. Lovecraft inspired, but definitely our own songs and our own lyrics all the way through.
BM: Well, it looks like, and when I read all your lyrics and look at your albums from start to finish, that you draw a lot of inspiration from books, from literature. Where do you find the time to do all this reading? You have a pretty busy schedule, how are you reading all these books? [laughs]
LL: You know what, this is going to be a very, very personal answer. I spend a lot of time on the dump. [laughs]
BM: Jeez, I guess so, because Hyperion’s a lot of books. [laughs]
LL: Well, you know, have you seen the movie Lethal Weapon Part II with Mel Gibson, and what’s his name, the black guy?
BM: Danny Glover? Yeah. Danny Glover.
LL: Danny Glover.
BM: Yeah, yeah.
LL: Yeah, you know the scene where he’s sitting on the toilet like, “For 25 years, my wife and my daughters and my sons have been there all the time, and I have to get out in the morning and fight for the toilet.” And suddenly he’s retired and sitting on his toilet and for the first time in his life, he’s relaxing. Sitting there, reading his fishing magazine, whatever it is.
LL: Taking a relaxing time for himself. I feel the same way. Going to the dump, I want to spend my time, get some reading done and all that.
LL: And, of course, I’m exaggerating here, but I also try to spend as much time as possible on my holidays reading. Relaxing so much, so I get a lot of reading done at that point.
BM: What else inspires you? Where do you get your ideas from besides literature?
LL: From life itself, actually. You know, I am an atheist. I am very, very anti-religious. I don’t get this thing with people wanting to, what do you call it, I can’t find the word. Maybe it’s called indulge into religion.
BM: Yeah, sure.
LL: And having to have something bigger than themselves creating their lives, and having to bow down to something that must be there, because why are we here? I just don’t get it. But I’m writing a lot of lyrics about that. It doesn’t show that much in Manticora. I don’t feel bad about other people wanting to believe in that kind of god or whatever it is, it’s their personal matter. Just don’t push it down on my head [laughs] because I don’t want any of it. But I’m writing a lot of lyrics about why and how and all that. You know, all the questions, how can you put your hands into this. And at the same time, I’m watching wars go on around the world a lot of shit like that, and life in general. How we’re being assholes to each other, some people who don’t have anything actually being the good guys toward each other. A lot of things like that. Feelings. And I’m writing a lot of stuff about my own mental state. I’m not crazy or anything, which is what the crazy guys used to say. [laughs]
BM: [laughs] Yeah, sure you’re not.
LL: [laughs] Exactly. Denial’s the first phase.
BM: Yeah. [laughs]
LL: I’m not crazy! [laughs] I’m not a drunkard!
LL: But I’m also very aware of the fact that I have a bit of lunacy inside my head. Which I think all artistic people have. That’s my theory. To have this crazy thing, it’s like a pushing force, all the time, knowing there’s something there that shouldn’t be there. I don’t know how to explain it.
LL: Trust me, I’m not crazy. And I have to get into the United States to perform, so if they ask me in the customs, I’m going to say, “No, I’m perfectly sane. I’m totally sane.” [laughs]
LL: Nah, but you now, it’s life. Life inspires me to write.
BM: In your liner notes, you mentioned this earlier, you talked about yourself and your indulgence. In your liner notes to Black Circus, you actually thank yourself, “And to myself, for keeping up with my own self-indulgence.”
BM: What is your self-indulgence? How does that manifest itself? What does it look like?
LL: Well, it looks like me. [laughs]
LL: It’s like, I’m extremely pushy towards people. If I have decided something in my mind, I will do anything I can do to make it reality, even if I have to step on other people sometimes. And that’s where I am actually self-aware of my indulgence, because I try not to step on other people’s toes, and I try to say, “Lars, for Christ’s sake, calm down, ok? Just let the other guys have some space and whatever it is.” But I find myself time and again, pushing people. Pushing people to get into the line of thought that I have. I’ll try to find an example somewhere. Here’s an example. When we had done the first part of the Black Circus, we had a meeting at my parents’ where all the band was invited, and we ate and had a good time. We try to do that with the parents and the band, we eat at their places so our parents know what their sons are walking around doing with the other guys. It’s very, very cozy, and good times. And we’re discussing the sound (of The Black Circus, Pt. 1). Some of the guys in the band thought, “Well, maybe the sound is a little bit too, what do you call it, not enough bass, it sounds a little bit too crisp.” And I’m like, “Whoa, guys, we need to do the same thing on the second one as well, because we simply just cannot go out and change the producer in the middle of a concept album.” They’re like, “But maybe, Lars. Maybe we need to do it.” And I was like, “No. No Way. We cannot do that.” And at some point I was becoming just like a child, you know.
LL: Trying to tell them, “If you do that, I’m just going to leave the band. I’m just going to do this and do this, and you can fuck off, and you can.” And the other guys have told me that, “Lars, that’s not ok. That’s not ok to behave like that.” And I’m like, “No, I know.” [laughs]
LL: But this is just the way I am. And I think they have begun to live with it, they just say, “Well, that’s Lars.” That’s the way I am.
BM: Well, yeah, I can understand that. You sound a little bit like the guy from Mustache, Ralf Gyllanhammer.
BM: He said those kinds of things to me as well. He’s got that kind of driven personality.
LL: Yeah. But I think it has to do with the fact that I have been the one that the media and some of the fans and all that have been bashing from the beginning.
LL: Because I don’t have a talent for singing, I have admitted that in numerous interviews. I have been fighting for it since the beginning. I have been trying to fight to become a singer. Where give Kasper a bass in his hands, and he’s like [makes bass noise]. Just amazing. We call him “The German Thunder Fingers,” because that’s what he does. Give Mads a drum kit, and he bangs those bass drums like 210 beats per minute. And that’s what he does. I have to fight for every inch I take with my singing. And I have to push in the other ways, you know, push in the studio things, I have to push in the promotion of the band and all that. And I think it’s reflecting me at some point in this.
BM: Well, boy, there’s a lot of things I could ask. But I’ll ask you just two things more. Road stories. When you guys are out on tour, who’s the prankster in the band?
LL: Kasper is the energy bomb.
BM: Is he really? [laughs]
LL: He is totally a bomb of energy all the time. If you’re feeling down, turn over to him, and you just talk to him, and five minutes later you feel good, because he’s like, “Hey!” Totally. He’s the youngest guy in the band, and he’s just amazing to have on tour. Mads is actually the funny guy. I know it sounds crazy, the drummers are always the cranky guys, not being able to do anything else but the drums. But Mads is just a funny guy. Whenever we have something funny going on, people say, “I have a story, blah, blah, blah.” And the next guy is, “Well, my story’s better. Listen to this.” And we go on, and put each other up into the 10,000 feet in the air, and suddenly Mads just slams down everything with a single comment, and everybody is screaming with laughter, and you know, crying!! with laughter sometimes.
LL: He is really amazing, that guy. It’s the most stupid things, but it makes the rest of us guys just stop saying anything because we know we cannot beat what he just said.
LL: So yeah, but he’s the prank.
BM: Well tell me, this is the last question, you guys just put out two of the finest albums that I have in my collection. Really, really phenomenal.
LL: Thank you.
BM: By the way, I’ve always enjoyed your voice. It is a unique voice, but I don’t see anything wrong with it. I think it’s powerful, you hit some great notes, and yeah, I think it’s a really good voice.
LL: Thank you for that.
BM: I wouldn’t worry about the critics. [laughs] The last question is this: where do you go from here? Two of the coolest album covers, two of the coolest concept albums, does your amp go to 11? I mean, how are you going to top this?
LL: [laughs] That’s a good one. [laughs] I guess we gotta build some amp that goes to 12 or something like that.
LL: [laughs] I actually don’t know how to beat this. Are you going to be reviewing the next album? I need to ask you that.
BM: Yeah. You got another one coming out?
LL: No, no. But just I know from your side it’s going to be a very, very bad review. We’re not going to top the Black Circus things. I have to prepare for that. [laughs]
LL: Nah, we have four or five half-finished songs right now.
LL: Yeah, but it’s, we’ve kind of taken a break from music writing, because in the past we have felt like, “Ok, it’s been one year since this recent album, we need to write a new one and get it out immediately.” You know, have a consistent release schedule of every second year. But now we’re like, “Hmm, we released an album in 2006 and 2007, we don’t have to release something in 2008. We don’t actually have to release something in 2009. We can wait until 2010 if we want to.” So we have taken a break. We went over to this summer house, the six guys, and did a working weekend where we just created riffs, just wanted to see what it amounted to. We did two songs at that point. But right now, it’s all about touring, touring, touring, getting shows, because we realize that the record sales are falling. We realize that if we just put another album out in 2009, it’s going to be another album selling nothing more than the previous album, because we have not toured enough and gained enough new fans. So we’re going to tour and tour and tour and tour. And then we’re going to record the new album whenever we feel like it’s going to be ready. But I think there’s going to be some change, actually, in the style. It’s still going to be Manitcora, but I think it’ll be even more diverse than we have tried previously.
BM: Wow. Can’t wait. I’m looking forward to it.
LL: Me too.
BM: Well, Lars, I appreciate your time tonight so much. I know you were tired to begin with, and I kept you on the phone for an hour, so I’m really grateful. How about this: I’ll buy you a beer. You know, when I see you at one of these gigs, I’ll buy you a round. How’s that?
LL: Well, if you buy the first one, I’ll buy the next three.
LL: How about that? [laughs]
BM: That’s way too generous, man. [laughs]
LL: You know that Manticora is known for drinking shitloads of beer at one time.
LL: On the Angra European tour, the tour manager complained about us having extra beers all the time. “What do you Danish people do besides drinking beer?” “Nothing.”
BM: I was going to say, every picture you sent to me was you guys drinking beer. [laughs]
LL: Yep. [laughs] It’s all the time. I mean, and on tour, it’s even worse. Of course, I try to lay a little bit low, because of my voice and all that, I have to keep it at a certain level. But some of the other guys, they are stoned dead drunk some of the nights. I can’t believe they can get up and play the next day, but that’s what they do.
LL: By the way, talking about pictures, do you need more pictures, you know, normal picures? Personal pictures?
BM: Well, whatever you have. This will be a long interview to transcribe. It’s going to end up being probably like, oh, an hour interview comes out to about 35-40 pages transcribed. So any pictures you have would be useful. I’m going to use all of your album covers. Plus, I’ll use all the pictures you sent.
LL: Ok. I’ll send a shitload.
BM: That’d be great. Send a shitload. [laughs] Alright.
LL: I have like 2000 pictures of Manicora.
BM: [laughs] Well, I really appreciate it, Lars. I can’t wait to see you guys. My wife and I are just big fans. The last two albums just kicked our ass. We just can’t wait.
LL: I’m looking forward to see you guys as well. So whenever we get to ProgPower, you are coming to Atlanta, ProgPower?
BM: Yeah, we’ve got tickets to the first night of ProgPower, we’ve also got tickets to when you guys play in our hometown, so we’ll be seeing you at least once, probably twice. [NOTE: The gig originally scheduled for The Intersection on October 2 in Grand Rapids has been canceled. As of this publication, Hoyt from Intromental is scrambling to reschedule in Grand Rapids.]
LL: Just grab me and say, “Hey, I’m Bill.” And we’ll grab a beer together, ok?
BM: Sounds great, Lars. I appreciate it. Have a good evening tonight. Get some rest.
LL: Ok man, you too. And thanks for the interview.
BM: Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you. Bye bye.
LL: Alright, bye bye.