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Bjorn Riis

Bjorn Riis is de geniale snarenplukker van het Noorse Airbag, de Europese vaandeldragers van het (prog) genre. Tussen alle drukke bedrijven door vond Riis de tijd om een tweede solo album op te nemen. ‘Forever Comes To An End’ kwam vorige maand uit en blijkt een geweldig, divers album te zijn. We laten Bjorn even zelf aan het woord om een en ander toe te lichten en om wat meer over hem te weten te komen.

Door: Wim S. | Archiveer onder prog / sympho metal

Hello there Bjorn! How are you? Where are you right now and what are you doing?
Hi! After a long and cold winter we’re finally having some sun and warm weather. It’s some hectic weeks before the release of the new album but everything looks good!

People in the prog/symfo scene of course know you Bjorn, but for those who don’t: tell us a bit more about Bjorn Riis, from your musical background to your gear and everything in between?!
Well, I’m from Oslo, Norway. I’m happily married and I have a beautiful five year old daughter. I’ve been playing guitar since my early teens and I guess most people know me as the guitarist and main songwriter in Airbag. We released our fourth album, ‘Disconnected’, last year and it’s been very well received.

I grew up listening to the classic bands like Sabbath, Purple, Whitesnake and Pink Floyd. I was five years old when I first heard Kiss and they’ve been with me ever since. People always go “what???” when I say that but from the first time I heard ‘Kiss Alive!’ I knew I wanted to play guitar and be in a band! I’m also a huge admirer of Steven Wilson and the stuff he’s done. Not only as a musician and with his projects but for the genre as well. I’m inspired by lots of things but good music is good music regardless of the genre. I’ve always been into movie scores and composers like John Barry, Henry Mancini, Thomas Newman and I listen to a lot of old 60s soul from Stax and those kinds of things.

You have just released your second solo album, ‘Forever Comes To An And’. Are you completely satisfied with the result? What is the main difference between this album and your first solo album ‘Lullabies In A Car Crash’?
I’m proud and very excited about the album. I always try to make things better and I definitely think I managed to do something special this time. It’s always nice to hear that people like what you do and find some meaning in your music but what it all comes down to is whether or not I like it myself. I would never release anything that I don’t think is the best I can do at that point. ‘Lullabies’ was something I wanted to do because I had so much stuff lying around. It was bits and pieces that I wanted to finish and stuff that we hadn’t recorded with Airbag. I’m very proud of that album and I learned a lot in the process. ‘Forever’ is all new songs written for the album. It was a fairly easy album to make because I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do and with the experience of having done ‘Lullabies’, I always knew that I could pull it off and challenge myself to do new things. It’s probably more me as well, meaning that there is more of my influences in the music and musical styles that I like.

Personally I think this album is even better than your first release. It is because of the variation in music. I think you have added song material that is different from the first release and even more different from your compositions for Airbag. I hear minimal music/ ambient for instance. Songs that bring a lot of atmosphere. Something you recognize?
Well, yeah and I think that a lot of people thought that ‘Lullabies’ could have been an Airbag album. Again, some of the songs on that album was written for Airbag but at the same time, it was never my goal to go out and do something completely different. I don’t think I’ve done that this time either but I’ve tried to explore different ideas and dig deeper into parts of my musical background that perhaps hasn’t been that evident on previous albums.

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You also sound different as a singer. Different as in ‘better’. You have grown as a singer, with more confidence. Something you worked at or did it just happen?
Thanks! I think confidence is the right way to put it. I’ve always done the vocals on the Airbag demos since I write the lyrics but ‘Lullabies’ was really the first time that I had to go all the way. I think it worked out fine but you can hear that I’m not used to it. This time I had a better understanding of my limits and strengths as a singer and I wrote the songs for me and not for Airbag, which obviously has a different vocalist. I think it all comes down to confidence and trying to do what feels natural rather than to force something.

I really like the contributions by Simen; his piano really adds a lot to your music. It is modest but at the same time very strong (‘Absence’ and ‘Calm’). Did you enjoy working with him in the studio and did he also write pieces of music for the album?
Actually, it’s me playing on those two songs… although I think Simen did a tiny bit on ‘Absence’. Anyway, I’ve always been into using piano and we’ve done that a lot with Airbag too. I know enough to write demos and record bits and pieces but I wanted the piano to have a more leading role this time and Simen, who’s playing keys and singing in Oak, did some really beautiful stuff on this album. He’s got a real sense melody and knowing what to play when. We didn’t really compose anything together for the album but I definitely see us working together in the future as well.

Are there any plans for going to play live shows? And if so, are people like Simen and Sichelle going to join you on stage?!
We will be doing a handful of exclusive shows in Europe and both Henrik Fossum (Airbag), who plays drums on the album, and Simen Valldal Johannessen will be a part of my live band. I also have Ole Michael Bjordal on rhythm guitar and Kristian Hultgren from Wobbler on bass.

Of course your main job (still) is Airbag. Is there any news about the band? Working on a new album? Other solo projects maybe?
We haven’t really started working on the next Airbag album yet. I’ve been busy with my solo album and we’ve done other things but we’ll probably start writing this fall and hopefully, we’ll start recording sometime early next year. I hope to do more solo stuff in the future but no plans at the moment.

So to wrap it up: You are now interviewed by a metal e-zine. Don’t worry: we have a broad musical scope. Do you personally like metal music/ heavy music or do never listen to heavy music at all?
Sure! Actually, I’ve always been more into rock and metal than prog, funnily enough. I’m still listening to the bands that I grew up with - Black Sabbath, Kiss, Whitesnake, Purple, Humble Pie and Zeppelin. In fact, I’ll be seeing Kiss here in Oslo tomorrow! I’m a huge fan of Toni Iommi, Zakk Wylde, and Leslie West. I’m not that much into the newer metal scene.

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