White Willow

Spirit Of 66 - Verviers, Belgium - 07 September 2002

Marthe Berger Walthinsen
Marthe Berger Walthinsen
Image © Mike Davies 2002

Sylvia Erichssen
Image © Stephen Lambe 2002

Concert Review and Artist Reflections

Review and Interview © Stephen Lambe 2002
Edited by and HTML © Russell W Elliot 2002
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Last updated: 09 November 2002

The Norwegian progsters White Willow are not a prolific band. After the success of their wonderful third album Sacrament (review) and a charming appearance at Nearfest 2001 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the band returned to their homeland to work on songs for a new album.

Various line-up changes ensued, and it wasn't until the summer of 2002 that they re-emerged and played a few concerts. The last one of these was in the small Belgium town of Verviers, at the Spirit of 66, and represented the only opportunity for a pair of Brits to see them for a while, so through the channel tunnel we went. This article includes a concert review and an interview with Jacob Holm-Lupo.

Concert Review

The Venue itself is excellent - small - perhaps holding 300 on a good day - but with a wonderful sound system and lighting rig that many much larger venues would covet. In Francis they have an owner with a genuine interest in the music he promotes, and he is no mean sound engineer as well. Furthermore, he seemed almost as pleased to welcome us as he did the band!

I had arranged to meet guitarist Jacob Holm Lupo and the rest of the band well in advance of the event, and they were delightful, despite the fatigue of a long drive from Norway. It was a pleasure to watch Francis expertly guiding the band through their soundcheck, and a few minutes before they went on stage I had an interesting chat with Jacob, which you can read below.

Sylvia Erichssen
Sylvia Erichssen
Image © Stephen Lambe 2002

Johannes Sæbøe
Image © Stephen Lambe 2002

So to the concert itself. The principal difference between this line-up and the "Sacrament" band, is the departure of virtuoso flautist Ketil Einarsen, and the switch of Johannes Sæbøe from bass to excellent second guitar, which has given the band a heavier, meatier sound. The excellent Aage Schou remains on drums, combining with new bassist, the elfin Marthe Berger Walthinsen, while new keyboardist Lars Fredrik Frøislie provides understated support to the guitars. Most important to the While Willow sound remains the melodic guitar of Jacob, combined with the beautiful live vocals of Sylvia Erichssen.

The band opens with "Dance of Shadows," a sinister piece of Gothic Prog from their second album Ex Tenebris, not an obvious choice of set opener with its complex, interweaving structure, but the appreciative Belgium audience gave it a good reception. In "Paper Moon," there was the first real evidence of the benefit of two guitars, with the song's bass riff now taking on extra power. The brooding "Endless Silence" followed, before a short acoustic set quietened things down. Two guitars and voice performed the Nick Drake song "Clothes of Sand," "Snowfall" (from their first album) and, with Jacob sitting it out due to a broken string, Johannes and Sylvia performed a wonderfully gentle version of Thin Lizzy's "The Boys are Back in Town."

Sylvia and Jacob
Image © Stephen Lambe 2002

Image © Stephen Lambe 2002

Two brand new songs followed, the first, "Night Side of Eden", being the most impressive, a lengthy slice of well-structured Prog Metal, before the band closed with two lengthy pieces from Sacrament. The dynamic "Anamnesis" with it's gentle opening and violent mid section, segued into up-tempo crowd pleaser "The Reach." After a gratifyingly enthusiastic response, the band encored with the quirky "Withering of the Boughs," with it's entertaining final jig, and, despite obvious fatigue, were forced back for a second, a reprise of "Paper Moon."

The complete set list: Dance of Shadows, Lord of Night, Paper Moon, Endless Silence, Clothes of Sand, Snowfall, The Boys are Back in Town, Night side of Eden, Sally Left, Anamnesis, The Reach. Encores: The Withering of the Boughs, Paper Moon (again).

Jacob Holm-Lupo
Jacob Holm-Lupo
Image © Stephen Lambe 2002

Johannes Sæbøe
Image © Mike Davies 2002

Despite their new found heaviness, the band retain a slightly intense charm, presented not without a sense of humour, as the choice of a Thin Lizzy song shows. The new arrangements have coped well with the lack of flute, though occasionally having two guitars feels a little luxurious, with Jacob, in particular, underused on some songs. A live album will follow soon, and if this wonderful performance is anything to go by, the next studio album will be well worth the wait.--Stephen Lambe


Musical Discoveries (Stephen Lambe): This is obviously as one off gig so what brings you here?

Jacob: We're not sure actually. Some sort of short circuit in our plans. We had another gig in Holland, which got cancelled, and we didn't have the heart to cancel this one as well. Also, it's really interesting to play in Belgium. We've never played here before.

How is the new album coming along? Have you started recording it yet?

No, we start it recording it in January.

So, how is it taking shape?

All the songs are written and rehearsed. The problem is mostly logistics, because we have been looking for a producer, and we have been negotiating with the record company to get enough money, and that is taking time.

You aren't exactly prolific.

It's the nature of our music that we can't make a living off it, so everyone has day jobs and some have families, so we do it between other stuff.

Though you've stopped being a journalist?

Actually I'm working freelance part time now.

You plan a live album from Nearfest 2001. Was that meant to be a stopgap between studio albums?

Yes, it's a little bit strange because it's not the best concert we've done, but it's the only one we have a 24-track recording of. Also, it's the last concert we did with that line-up, so it's sort of a memento of that era of the band, though it had some occasional disasters!

Will the CD be of the entire concert?

No, I think we'll pick out the best bits, and leave the rest to oblivion.

So, you have undergone more line-up changes. Why so many? Is it because you are a real ogre to work with?

(Laughing) No. The problem, and it's a good thing I think - is that White Willow seems to attract musicians that are on the edge of breaking through. So we've lost a lot of musicians to big jazz bands and rock bands that are more mainstream. For some reason they seem to come to White Willow first for a year or two, then they decide to become famous! It could also be that people get impatient.

One of the major changes is that you no longer have a flute player.

Yes. It won't sound so dramatic on the new record as the flute player--Ketil Vestrum Einarsen--will still be playing on it. But we have now lost him to a Jazz Rock band in Norway, and he is also in a band called Motorcycle. So money beckoned him.

How has that changed the sound live?

You'll find out! People say that it sounds heavier, probably because of the two guitars. We have tried it because I am also in a band that plays 70s heavy rock that has two guitarists, and I thought "This is interesting, let's try it in White Willow". Nothing more profound than that. Also, Johannes (Sæbøe) who plays bass on Sacrament does both things very well, and we thought it would be fun to play together.

Have the new members brought anything different to the band?

Well, Marthe Berger Walthinsen on bass has a more rock-based style. Johannes has that Rickenbacker sound, but she is a little more contemporary. She grooves really well, and she plays really well with our drummer--Aage Schou--Lars Fredrik Frøislie on Keyboards is really more into our type of music than our previous short lived member, who was more of a fusion player.

Do you feel pressurised into being the archetypal Progressive Rock band? I noted the guy on your website message board who was asking for more Mellotron and 20-minute songs.

As far as we are concerned nobody knows who we are, so when we put out the record we assume that nobody will know what the record is about anyway. So, no, we don't feel pressure. Apart from that one guy! But of course the people who know who we are will have certain expectations. People often ask us when they hear Mellotron on the record, was that a real one? Infact in the early days we had two Mellotrons which we used on stage, but our keyboard player was broke and sold them to a Japanese guy. Now we use samples!

What about the influences on the band? Sylvia [Erichsen, vocalist] loves Nick Drake, I know, and so do you. But what are the main influences that affect the band's sound?

I think that would be the music I listened to when I first started to play, because since I have diversified and I'll listen to pretty much anything. They were Joni Mitchell, King Crimson, Genesis - particularly that 12-string sound they had.

What about the lyrical content we are going to hear on the new record? Is there still the interest in religions?

No, I think there will be less of that. I think it will be a record that tell more stories about people.

Finally, so many Scandanavian groups including White Willow, seem have an air of melancholy about their music. Do you think this is true, and if so why?

I think that the reason is the long, dark winters. People are left sitting inside a lot, thinking too much. At least in Norway, people live far apart from each other, sometimes alone, and I think that just makes you really sad! I hear it in all kinds of Scandanavian music, even happy music like "the Cardigans" has an undertone of something there. "Aha" are a top 40 band, but they must be the most melancholic top 40 band there ever was.

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