A conversation with Jorn Lande and Uli Kusch of MASTERPLAN

Hamburger dressing, sparrows, and sexual preferences – a conversation with Jorn Lande and Uli Kusch of MASTERPLAN
A conversation with Jorn Lande and Uli Kusch of MASTERPLAN

We’re seated in Oslo’s Elm Street, and Lande and Kusch have just ordered a burger each (with dressing on the side, as we’ll soon find out), and they are more than willing to speak about Masterplan’s latest effort, Aeronautics.

MER: At the time of the interview I had yet to hear the album. Therefore, the first question was what could listeners expect from the new album …

Jorn: You can expect a diverse album, with some progressive elements, more so than with the first album Masterplan which was more of a straight Power Metal effort. There are more dynamics; it doesn’t necessarily have to be heavy and guitar-based all the way through. The music can start calmer and then begin to build.

Uli: Also I think it’s more compact in a way in the way we wrote the songs.

Jorn: We wrote it together, and it’s far more of a band effort than with the debut. Last time a lot of the music was already written when the band got together, and we were more limited in our approach. This time we met together at a yacht club in Hanko, Norway, and were able to really relax. There was a lot of stress, both private and professional, and we actually managed to calm down and really decide what ideas were good and bad and what how we wanted to do things.

MER: Are there any songs that you think stand out?

Jorn: I like “Crimson Rider,” not necessarily because it’s better than the others, but I think it defines the Masterplan sound. One can hear that this is truly where it all came from, with both the Metal and the Progressive elements. Overall on the album, there are quite a few experimental elements present, and we try not to be afraid to break boundaries, and maybe move over to more Pop-like things, Progressive ideas, etc. We were inspired by bands like Queen and others, and try to incorporate such elements too.

MER: Like the theatrical aspects?
Jorn: Yeah. Those bands really tried to experiment, and we also try to take that approach. We’ll try to really make this blend in with our sound.

MER: Will we ever see you with no shirt and a Poirot-style moustache, like Freddy Mercury?

Jorn: Haha, we’re really not that extreme, and also we actually have some different preferences sexually, so probably not (big and raunchy laughter).

Uli: Yeah, but to go back to your question, I’d say that “Black in the Burn” is my favorite on the album. I think it’s almost like a summary of what we do, with both the debut and this album included in one track.

Jorn: I agree. It’s really not about thinking too much, we just take the passion and the drama that we love and try to make the best possible music out of it. This has nothing to do with making hit songs for the radio and suiting a specific market. Then again, this is of course one of the reasons we don’t sell that many records, haha.

MER: That’s how it’s supposed to be, right?

Jorn: Yeah. I think that’s how it is nowadays; everything is more diverse now. Like in industry – the companies make several different products each, and people also have several jobs, not just one for an entire lifetime like in earlier days. Also, musically, I think things have changed. Like in the 70s, for example, you had bands like Rainbow, Deep Purple, etc., which all had one specific sound they went for all the time, all the way it was the same chord schemes, same melody lines, only the length and the pace of the songs changed. We try to do something else with every song, and that’s different I think. Many bands had a very strict format for their songs; Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Motorhead are all examples. They are all classics, and all great, but on an album they usually just change the tempos and all the time stay within their specific format. There was some kind of political law that you had to find your identity and one certain form of expression, because then people would easily recognize you. You had to have a trademark because then people would remember you. I think that’s changing. Just look at myself – in the early 1990s we had the band Vagabond, if you remember, and there we tried to make this Progressive thing, and this was a whole new sound for us. This was getting mixed reactions, because the world was still in the 80s and people were not ready for us. Nowadays our diversity is more accepted.

At this point the boys receive their burgers. The burgers come with dressings and ketchup in a little basket. Jorn asks if yours truly can pass this basket, resulting in me experiencing the worst nightmare of every inexperienced interviewer as only a set of rather impressive reflexes hinders me from spilling dressing all over this very vocalist. After catching the basket, he displays a rather forced grin, and decides to proceed without further ado, displaying an impressive ability to speak clearly in a foreign language with his mouth full of empty calories.

Jorn: Though, if you hold on to a sound over some time and develop a truly unique style, you can become what they call an icon, like for example Motorhead has. Then I think it’s different with bands like Genesis or Queen, where all the albums are different and they thus manage to reach out to a broader and bigger audience and sell more records. And now we’re up for the big question; whether this is wrong or right. I don’t think there’s a recipe for what’s right or wrong, it depends on what you want to do. If you want to live on the road, you can do one thing, and if you want to have another life on top of this you have to choose differently and prioritize in another way. It just depends how you want to develop.

MER: The title of the album is AeronAUtics (wrong pronunciation, implied by capitalized letters).

Uli: It’s AeROnautics (corrected pronunciation, also indicated with capitalised letters)

MER: Ok. What does that title mean or reflect?

Uli: It begins with the intro sounds from the first song, which is the starting of the motor on an old-style German airplane, and this sort of sets the theme for the entire album. It was Jorn who came up with the flying theme when we were working in Hanko, and we’ve been inspired by the concept of flying all the way.

Jorn: Masterplan-e?

All: Haha

Jorn: And this has become the concept of the entire cover and album, and also lyrically that intro has inspired me. Just look at song titles like “Flying Sparrow,” which isn’t directly about the sparrow but rather it’s a metaphor for life and death; we’re all very fragile, like the sparrow hitting a window. You try to rise and then you fall. So it’s all a conceptual thing, starting off with the first song and returning with the ending track “Black in the Burn,” which has the lyrics “… When the news are heard/of the fallen bird/Sing his song so you will remember,” which pretty much sums it all up. So it’s almost like a concept while still having independent songs with independent themes.

Jorn is all the time fiddling around with the very stubborn top on a dressing bottle, and as his hands are getting greasy from the burger, this makes for a pretty funny sight.

MER: So is there any message or agenda behind this concept?

Jorn: I think it’s about man’s ambition and taking an overview over life, and this is how I see it and how I work with lyrics. I ask questions, maybe existential questions. I know some facts, which I base my dwellings upon, and then try to draw conclusions based on history and where we are today. I think it’s a good reflection of where we are today musically, and also of the world in general.

MER: In the jungle of albums released every week nowadays, what separated this one from the lot?

Jorn: It has a core, which comes from real human beings I guess he means to contrast with all the computerized pop and techno records, and it’s all very true and real and very well made.

Uli: Yeah, I think it’s a very well made record, with great song writing, great playing and great production.

Jorn: I agree, and in that sense it’s a high quality record.

Jorn has now given up on the dressing and declined all offers for help.

MER: Will there be a tour to promote the album?
Uli: It is a bit difficult to say at this point. There are some plans, but very little is booked right now. We will do some festivals, the Rock the Boat festival, the Rock Hard festival in Germany, and also some more. We have to see how the record is doing before we book more gigs.
Jorn: That’s basically what we do now; we wait and see how it’s received and how it’ll do. I think it’s not smart to book a tour regardless of the surroundings. If you wait, you may get to play better venues, get better fees, haha, and everything will be easier to plan. Therefore, I think it’s wise to wait and not go out there before people know the record.

MER: When you go onstage, what should people look for in a Masterplan show?

Uli: Well, when we’re onstage we’re pretty much focused on the task at hand, and as a drummer, I try to connect the entire band, and just give my best. I try not to be distracted by the surroundings and just focus on doing my best and delivering the songs in the best way possible. I try to feel the beat, feel the music, and then bring that feeling through the monitors and out to the crowd.

Jorn: I think it’s important to capture the feel of the songs, the feeling that made people buy the record in the first place. I try to channel the energy, the nerve and the heart; I’m not trying to copy the record note for note. People don’t buy the record because he (pointing at Uli) plays technical or because I sing high and low and whatever. That’s not the point, it’s the heart and soul of the music people want to experience.

MER: Speaking of focusing on the music onstage, what’s your view on the onstage slaughter of Dimebag Darrell?
Uli: Maybe the aggressiveness of the music can make people go that far. I mean it’s not the first musically related kill; people have died at festivals and wherever.

Jorn: Yeah, I may agree with you concerning the aggression, but I think it’s more to do about the fanatic worshipping of certain bands. He left Pantera and left the band in ruins, and maybe this was too much to handle for this one fanatic fan. It seems obvious that that’s why someone would kill him – he was the legendary guitarist and the backbone of Pantera, and then suddenly left the band, and this guy probably had some lunatic tendencies and was very aggressive, like Uli mentioned. This shows that the world today is dangerous. Of course one can take precautions with security guards and everything, but then again, what can you do. It’s terrible and shocking indeed. I think one should try to promote good values to the people through the people, and add an intellectual dimension to the music. Masterplan is not just about rebellion, like some other bands. Of course there are things I don’t like, like George Bush’ politics and others, but criticism and protest is not the basic premise of our music. I think bands like Pantera and also in Black Metal, for example, those tendencies are very strong. I mean, arrest me if I’m wrong, and I haven’t heard all the Black Metal out there, but how often does one find a message about something common, something you can touch, in those bands’ lyrics? There’s a lot of hate, and this is brought out to the kids who buy their music.

MER: Speaking of values, is there a religious aspect in Masterplan?
Jorn: Maybe. For example, on the song “Killing in Time” from the EP Back For My Life … the message is that if there’s a God he’s not the teacher or savior of this world, and this world is fucked. Though I like to believe that there’s some sort of energy in this world that helps us make our choices through life, extraterrestrial or not, I haven’t seen a God, and if there were a true savior nearby, he wouldn’t be the one ruling the world right now. Just look around and see. God for me isn’t necessarily God in the bible. Maybe Satan is God, who knows? Haha.
MER: What are your thoughts on the current Metal scene, and where do you think it’s heading?

Uli: The Metal scene of today is so diverse; I think it’s a very confused scene. There’s Black Metal, Death Metal, and “whatever” Metal all over the place. Heavy Metal started very plain and simple with the NWOBHM and so on, but nowadays things are very hard to get an overview on.

Jorn: I think there are some bands that draw the line very far. Some bands are so aggressive it’s almost hard to hear what’s going on, and compared to them we’re not aggressive or heavy at all. That’s why I used the word Progressive earlier on; we may be a combination of different things. Compared to the most extreme acts, we’re almost like a Pop band, and still people call it Power Metal or what not. I can listen to what was called Hard Rock in the 70s, and it’s almost like the Pop bands of today are the Hard Rock bands of the 70s. Bands like, for example, Reef who came out in the 90s, which is called Pop today, which are considerably heavier than lots of the old Hard Rock bands. Maybe they just don’t take that much acid anymore (burger-laden laughter) – maybe they drink cafe latte instead, hahaha.

MER: Moving over to something else, I have to ask you, Jorn, about the planned project with Russell Allen of Symphony X.

Jorn: Yeah, that’s just a project we did and we’re working on the vocals now. It has some classic elements, some elements from the British style of rock, and also some USA – AOR elements, and also some more technical and Progressive tendencies. The guitar player is Magnus Carlsson from Last Tribe, and he’s very technical and completely phenomenal. To sum it up, it’s like early Toto with some technical elements and more heavy guitars and two singers on top.

MER: And finally, where do you see Masterplan heading; why did you invent the band?

Uli: It basically keeps us going and brings out the best in us.

Jorn: It helps us get things out of our system. We’re not satisfied if our careers are not going anywhere, and we need that therapy to write music and go out and play it. It helps on the mental health end and it’s also like a wagon you can’t jump off of.

Author

  • Torgeir P. Krokfjord

    Torgeir was a reviewer here at Metal Express Radio. After hearing Malmsteen's "Vengeance" on a guitar mag CD at the age of 12 or 13, he began doing hopeless interpretations of Yngwie licks and it just took off from there. After shorter stints at other zines he was snatched to Metal Express Radio in 2003. Alongside Yngwie, Savatage, WASP, Symphony X, Blind Guardian, Emperor, Arch Enemy, In Flames, Opeth, Motörhead, Manowar, and Queensrÿche are a quick list of musical faves. Torgeir is also guitarist in the Heavy/Prog/Thrash outfit Sarpedon.

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