Interview by Carina Lawrence / Dark Art Conspiracy
NORTHWARD, is the hard rock project from well-renowned musicians Floor Jansen (Nightwish) and Jorn Viggo Lofstad (Pagan’s Mind), who will be releasing their debut self-titled album on October 19th, 2018 through Nuclear Blast.
The project sees a step away from both musicians normal style and approach and is a very diverse album. It was during the ‘All Star Jam’ at Progpower USA Festival in 2007, when current Nightwish singer Floor Jansen and Pagan’s Mind guitarist Jorn Viggo Lofstad first performed together on stage for some cover songs. Their mutual love for hard rock bought them together and they composed an album quickly after in 2008 but due to their other music commitments that album was put on hold until now, with the release being ten year’s later after it was first made. Floor seized the opportunity to get the project back on track in 2017 when Nightwish took a break and luckily it was time, so 2018 will finally see the release of their anticipated musical side project Northward.
We talked to vocalist, Floor Jansen and about the project, how it came to be, what to expect from the upcoming album and more…
Firstly, can you tell us about the formation of Northward?
It’s really easy because it’s just two people but I met Jørn Viggo with whom I wrote this album with back in 2007, we were both playing with our bands at the time, I had After Forever back then and he had Pagan’s Mind which he still plays in, which is not rock…we both played at this festival, we also joined forces on this all-star jam that happened after, as like a last act of the festival and we played all kinds of different music together, so it was already then a bit out of the box style wise and I could hear his amazing guitar playing and thought “hmm”, I had in my head that I would like to use the year off that I was going to have in 2008 to write a rock album, to step away from metal for a bit and do something else, then when I heard his playing I sort of thought maybe I could be the right person to start with and when I talked with him he got enthusiastic about the thought and of course playing music together and writing something else, we first needed to figure out if that was going to work so we planned a first song-writing meet and when that worked we made a careful planning and started writing.
How did you find time outside of your other bands to compose the material and although you were not in Nightwish at the time of composing, how supportive has the band been with you releasing it now?
2007 I was not in Nightwish or in 2008 so everything was already written before that, it was only that I couldn’t release it at the time as I had After Forever and the band stopped right when this project was supposed to finalised so we wrote the album and started recording the drums, had a record deal almost signed, it was all in the last phases of that when After Forever stopped and so did then the deal with the record label so we couldn’t continue and I did not want my next career move to be side project rock so I put it away and had to put it away for a little while, little did I know that it would actually become that long but yeah I did join Nightwish in 2012 and before that I had started my band ReVamp and there simply was never time, so when I talked with Nightwish we decided we were going to have 2017 off, I realised that would be a perfect moment so in 2016 I contacted Jørn Viggo again like “Hey, guess what I’m going to have a year off again from my band, I will have a child but I would love to also do something musically and finish this project, what do you say?” and that’s what we did.
It must be strange after creating it the album so long ago only to release now?
Well yeah, it is strange but it was exciting to see if it was still up to date, quality wise and does it feel good and how about the lyrics, are they weird now or not. It was really surprising to feel that it wasn’t and that the majority of what we wrote back then as we have it on the album as it is today, there are small adjustments here and there, one lyric in a song got a new chorus, vocally melody wise and only the last song on the album, number 11 became the song ‘Northward’ and that lyric changed that I rewrote entirely but the rest is just good enough, it felt good.
What are the main influences for you, musically and creatively for Northward?
We actually listened to a lot of different kinds of rock back then, of course, I have forgotten all the details because it has been ten years but there were a couple of bands that I really liked and thought that would be really cool. Viggo came in with different bands but for me it was Alter Bridge, Skunk Anansie but already that was quite a mix but Foo Fighters, for example, were super cool and Viggo came in with a lot more peculiar rock bands that I completely forget the name of but were really inspiring at the time and a lot of more classic rock that I was relatively unfamiliar with so basically everything we listened to consciously or sub-consciously became an inspiration and landed in its way on the album. I guess that’s why the album became so diverse, you can’t really say it’s this or that style within the genre.
You have just released your second single, ‘Get What You Give’, which is brilliant by the way! What made you decide on that for the next single and what is the song about?
It has a very nice energy and flow with a catchy chorus, the melody is a bit melancholic…you need to present your album and your music through just a few songs which is always very difficult especially when it’s diverse, so the first choice is actually the hardest with ‘Why Love Died’ but this song combined with the other song felt like a proper introduction to the album and was also a favourite of both Jørn Viggo and I so that also helped. Lyrically, it’s quite literally you get what you give, if you do something bad you will get it back and if you do something good you will get it back to, so yeah in chorus “suddenly you slipped away” is sort of a metaphor for a person who has done wrong and gets the wrong back in his or her’s own life and that the grip that this person might have on you is also simply slipping, so it’s a bit about control, where someone is controlling in the wrong way and giving the wrong energy and once that’s gone everything starts to slip away from that person and you will get what you gave in the end.
How excited are you for the release of the debut on October 19th and what can fans expect?
Well to be honest this year has been so crazy with the world tour of Nightwish and I just moved, I have a young child, the side project really is what it is, a side project and so everything was just doing it and finishing something that we already had, it felt really good all the way through but now that things are actually ready and reactions are coming in, I’m starting to really realise that I’m super excited for it, it’s not just something that I really wanted to do and that I am proud of but now it’s getting out of my little bubble and our little bubble and our computers where it has been sitting for ten years, now it’s getting into the world and reactions are coming back and with every reaction that I see and now we have a video and released a trailer where we talk and then this new lyric video, the excitement is building up because you can see it. Online I have been talking now with you and a lot of journalists the last week and super nice reactions…I can tell after a couple of years of experience whether or not things are very genuine or not but the genuine reactions positive wise is just overwhelming so that altogether is making my excitement bigger too because I was already happy and proud but now I can share this and I’m getting more comfortable in my stubbornness to say “yeah I’m a singer of a symphonic metal band but I’m going to release a rock album”, it could have gone a lot of different ways so I’m very excited and we have some cool other promotional material coming up, I think by the time the album comes we have built up the tension…I just hope that we can keep it and that the excitement and positive reactions will last when the whole album comes out.
Can you tell us a bit about the recording and writing process for the debut album?
Well that is a bit weird because ten years in between that, back then the thing that came up the most was acoustic guitar Jørn Viggo jamming on that and me singing and as soon as an idea formed we just used a voice recorder on a phone and then I realised he had and still has tonnes of small little ideas recorded on there, so if we had enough small little ideas a song would start to take shape and then we would sit behind the computer and start working things out by putting in drums and program. For me, I never worked with any computer programs yet that could record music as it was like ten years ago, so I did a small course and learned a bit, I got advice from Joost van den Broek from who was the keyboard player in and co-writer in After Forever who knows a lot about this stuff so he helped me to get a basic set up so I could record and do well with it, cause of course, I was in the Netherlands and Jørn Viggo in Norway, so I used to usually go to Norway to works on songs and we would also work both in our own country and send each other ideas back and forth so that is a bit how the writing came to be. If we weren’t writing, we were listening to music, it was all very enjoyable and easy going but still especially for me, singing wise I didn’t really do much rock yet, ten years ago, so everything felt a bit new and I got inspired by all these singers that I was listening to and I was trying it out and it sounded okay but it didn’t really sound like it was me yet, so I’m very grateful to have had this time in-between to kind of grow into that, to make it my own, now that I’m singing these songs, it sounds exactly like me, with the rock touch yes but it’s not like me covering Skunk Anansie, it’s me and back then it felt so much newer, so yeah we had all the material, we recorded the drums and found those good enough to keep really groovy sounds that were perfect, we didn’t need to do that again so we could use that to start recording a guitar and bass, so Jørn Viggo did that at home while I was still having my first month with my daughter and when all that was recorded I could record and my first idea was to do that at home as well and just record whenever I had a moment but when you have a child who is just a few months old, you’re not really going to do that. I thought that it was possible but what did I know. I realised it would be much smarter for me to plan one or two weeks in the studio and go there so that’s what I did here in Sweden with super cool guy I never met before, so it was exciting, new studio, new person…getting your focus from full-time motherhood to music again was one of the bigger challenges for me for recording, so it was really cool to notice that as soon as the music came it just went, my body said “this is how you do it, stop over thinking it and just do it” and I was done much faster than I thought I would be so that is a good sign in my case, just go and great vibe. After that, we kind of sat together for the last fine tuning and did some stuff together before Jørn Viggo went to Denmark to do the mix and master with Jacob Hansen. I was not there as I didn’t that that process needed more captains on the ship.
Vocally and mentally, how did you approach songs and the writing process?
In an essence not actually any different because it is the music that does the talking for me really. Every song demands its own energy and input…of course, I have had some time to think about these songs so especially from the moment in my life when it came to go into the studio and leave my daughter behind for the first time and focus on something and not be home…I already did some shows however but going into the studio is still something really different and I’m usually way more prepared, I felt pretty unprepared, which I wasn’t as soon as I opened my mouth, I knew what I was doing so in that sense it’s very good feeling. For all the songs I knew exactly what I wanted to do and if I didn’t it was the music guiding me so that’s a bit how it felt.
How happy were you with the response to the debut single ‘While Love Died’ and can you tell us about the song?
Well to choose the song, if you make a diverse album it’s tricky and if you are both known for completely different kinds of music its exciting, I have been saying to everybody in every interview and pushing it on my social media, it’s a rock project, it’s not going to sound like anything from me but nevertheless for a lot of people it was a complete surprise that it was a rock song, so it was really cool to see that surprise was only welcome and people were like ‘how cool, we have never really heard her sing like that’ and ‘wow, what a fantastic guitar player’ Jørn Viggo is for the ones that didn’t know him yet, so the reactions were 95% just really good. The song itself was quite inspired by Foo Fighters, very up tempo song, high energy, the lyrics are quite personal, it’s about the break in my love life of that time and the change in how you see each other sometimes after that so that was one of the songs I wasn’t sure if it was still accurate, if it was still up to date and in that sense it isn’t but it happened anyway and the lyrics good and it relates to anyone who has gone through a break so in that sense I’m sure more people can identify themselves in it which is always for me the most important aspect of the lyric. We choose it as the first track of the album as well because it’s a proper introduction and a complete smack in the face, here it is song to this project so it felt like a good choice.
What was it like to have your sister Irene feature on ‘Drifting Islands’ and to duet with her?
Really cool, I mean we did live stuff together since 2003, where we joined on stage with Star One and this Ayreon stuff, I sang on that album and they were going to do it live and they wanted all these harmonies so they needed a second female singer and I’m like I don’t want to stand next to this tiny little girl, that was the first thing that came to my mind, I don’t want that, plus I wanted somebody whose voice I know matches mine. My sister was completely inexperienced and not trained at all like myself but I was like if there is anybody who can do it, it’s her, and it would like cool and sound cool and she just nailed it, it was such a cool thing to do. So ever since people have been asking when are you going to do a song together and she joined us live on stage with After Forever, then, of course, we had Ayreon show last year on DVD which is out but that’s still live and still not a song of us, my song or our song. This felt like the right moment and funnily that whole setup and learning how to record stuff became handy because I recorded her back in the Netherlands, that was really special too, also because we both had children the same age so it kind of had to be like, when the babies are in bed the rock mommies can go ahead.
What are the main themes on the debut album, if any?
Actually no, there isn’t a regular line running through it, every lyric is a story of its own. Some songs, like ‘Big Boy’ are flirtatious almost with a theme even though with the whole hashtag MeToo thing it became way more actual than it is because it’s a way of saying ‘Goddammit, it is annoying to be a woman in a man’s world’. I don’t have anything to add to hashtag MeToo, fortunately, no real bad experience, it’s just like sometimes ‘could you please look at me as a colleague and not a woman…that would be great’, so that’s what the song is about while the song ‘I Need’ is straight to the point and is not very personal but it just really felt good to the energy for the song, it’s funny to something a bit like that on an album like this, you don’t want to keep it serious all the time and should be taken with a pinch of salt and then right after there is the song ‘Northward’ where it is really personal and more intimate, it’s completely different song that goes different directions. It is an album but it is also really different songs and you can take one song and listen to it without having the feeling you missed out like a Nightwish album is a real album, you really want to or should be listening to the whole thing from the front to the back. I would say in this case it’s a little bit less necessary.
Have you got any plans to tour with Northward? And what does the future look like for the project?
No, but yes. Yes and no…no, because it is just us, so if we want to tour we need a band and a backline and a tour manager and a tour, not to mention all the rest. Just setting it up for one show is a lot of work, super cool work but time demanding and time I don’t have at the moment, so in that sense no but everybody has been asking for it, so maybe yes one day…first it was really no, but it doesn’t have to be next year or the year after, we will take it as it comes and the same goes for a sequel in that sense. Nightwish is going to make an album next year, we are going to tour again in 2020, so my coming years are full, plus having my daughter, she’s young only once, I want to be there for that but then there is time after.
Me and Jørn Viggo have been thinking about it ourselves like do we want to go live and of course the direct label asked that as one of the first questions and also about a sequel but it’s a bit like what I said about the anticipation towards the album, I do get more excited just by talking about it and hearing other people’s reactions and reading it and seeing what’s happening online, you know fans of Nightwish or fans of me are just so happy with it. I could have hoped for it but I didn’t expect it, not like this but that moment fades of to of course.
It’s too early for that and it’s not an absolute yes or no journey yet, I’m just super happy with what there is right now and excited to see what’s happening with it and we will take it from there.
Check out the new and latest single from the upcoming debut album ‘Get What You Give’:
The album is now available for pre-order via this link: http://nblast.de/NWNorthward