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Viper Solfa - Interview

Interview with: Ronny Thorsen
Conducted and edited by: Ines, T.V.

I am quite certain the name Ronny Thorsen is a name, any Scandinavian gothic metal fan will and should instantly recognize. A founding member of Trail Of Tears, who were always pushing the boundaries and shined out by being anything but ordinary, when the beauty and the beast concept gained the popularity, may have gone through many wreckages over the past few years, but the passion for music is something Thorsen has held onto. Which is why - when the story of Trail Of Tears ended - he gathered a group of well-established and enthusiastic musicians, with whom he now runs a poison music act under the name Viper Solfa. Viper Solfa’s music surely is poisonous: it’s addictive, thought-provoking, gentle and aggressive at the same time and you can check that by yourself by giving their debut Carving An Icon (read review over HERE) a nice and thorough listen, if you haven’t already. Many parallels can be noted if we compare it to the sound of Trail Of Tears, but that really isn’t the point anymore, because Viper Solfa is a whole new chapter in Thorsen’s life. Ronny was very honest with us, besides giving us a profound insight of what Viper Solfa is about and what are its future plans, he also revealed his side of the Trail Of Tears story and gave us some personal thoughts.

Ines: First of all hello Ronny and thank you for doing this interview for our zine, it's an absolute pleasure! Let's start at the end shall we – with Viper Solfa. Your debut album came out earlier this year and received mainly positive reviews. How do you contemplate all the feedback from media and fans you received so far?
Ronny: Yeah, the reviews have been generally outstanding and to be honest I`m a bit surprised by that, I thought that since this is such a different album from what I - and the rest of the members - have done with other bands and projects, that the album would divide people more. I guess people recognise good quality regardless of genre, or perhaps people who didn`t like the album just decided to keep their mouth shut cause I haven`t seen much negativity at all to tell you the truth.
Ines: Can't help but being intrigued by your band name; what does it stand for and represent?
Ronny: Viper Solfa stands for poisonous music without boundaries. Solfa is an ancient singing technique or scale if you will and the viper represents the poisonous part. The viper symbolises something fast and deadly but also elegant, and the idea with the name is to make music that sounds at the same time deadly, fast and poisonous without the restraints of genres.
Ines: Another interesting thing is also how you decided to label your music: you call it poison music. I see a connection between "viper" and poison, but still, why call it poison?
Ronny: Again, we don`t want to put restrictions on our music, like death, black, extreme, doom, industrial metal and so on because we use elements from all those genres. The goal is to make all of these things flow together and work as one huge sound. Think of it as a boiling pot of poisonous witches` brew.
Ines: Viper Solfa was formed quite shortly after Trail Of Tears disbanded and you came to gather very well-known musicians from metal music for this band. Could you shortly present how the formation of the band took place?
Ronny: The idea of Viper Solfa was actually born while Trail Of Tears was still active; originally I wanted a side project where I could explore some darker stuff which after all is my roots and where I come from. Endre and Bjørn were asked first, because I knew I wanted them involved in this. They are great people and musicians. Of course after Trail Of Tears imploded, this thing evolved into something much more serious and Viper Solfa became my number one priority. Morfeus came into the picture shortly after and Sphinx was the final piece of the puzzle. Recently we have added a second guitarist to the band in the form of Jostein Thomassen who has previously played with Peccatum and Fracture.
Ines: You had a few shows already before the debut came out, so how would you say people responded to your music before it was even released and technically, they've heard it for the first time?
Ronny: Well, we didn`t really have that many shows before the release, but we did debut the band live at the Metal Female Voices Fest in Belgium before the album was released and that was a pretty good experience. We knew not to expect a very loud audience of course, since nobody knew the material, but it was a nice way to test the songs in a live situation and a lot of the people seemed to appreciate it as we sold a nice amount of shirts and had a lot of people coming to the meet and greet after the show.
Ines: Any live shows in the near future you can tell us about?
Ronny: We`re waiting for the right support tour at the moment, there are a couple of options in late fall and early next year. We are completely dependant on going out with a bigger band as we ourselves are a very new name with the debut album having been out only a couple of months. Things take time to settle in, but we are in this for the long run. In the meantime we are targeting festivals and have a few of those confirmed, among others Elements of Metal and Blastfest here in Norway, with more abroad to be made official as soon as they let us.
T.V.: If you were given countless of options to choose a bigger band to tour with Viper Solfa, what kind of selection would you make?
Ronny: Well, it would be tempting to just list a bunch of my favourite bands, but I have to be strategic and think business as well - as long as we are hypothetical, haha. Of course: the bigger the band, the bigger the chance for us to grow and win people over. At the same time, there should be something compatible there. We have proven to have a wide range of potential listeners, having been booked to festivals as diverse as MFVF and Blastfest, which are totally at the opposite ends of each other. I think a band like Slipknot would be a good tour for us, throw Behemoth and Moonspell in there and let us open the damn thing!
T.V.: I believe that you already played and visited most parts of the world, but is there still any place out there where you would like to perform live?
Ronny: Personally, I`m extremely bummed that we never managed to take Trail Of Tears to South America, we covered most of Europe, the US and Canada and we are probably the European metal band with most played cities in Mexico. Hell, we are even one of the few bands that did a real tour in China and not just the two biggest cities. So having in mind that Trail Of Tears always had a strong following in Latin America, ever since the first album, it absolutely blows that we never managed to get to countries like Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile and others.
Ines: Of course, I need to also ask, what are the future plans for Viper Solfa? Any new material being prepared for the successor of Carving An Icon?
Ronny: Absolutely! Writing for the follow-up has already started and where Morfeus was responsible for the main song-writing on the debut, we now have more band members involved for the next album. The plan is to enter the studio early 2016 and have the album out sometime during the spring.
Ines: I know this may be a delicate question, but when Trail Of Tears went down it was a bit harsh and rough, but you decided to share it all publicly, so there's no need to hide that. Now Endre Moe and Bjørn Dugstad Rønnow were also your bandmates in Trail Of Tears and they joined you in Viper Solfa. Do you still hold any resentment towards Cathrine Paulsen and Bjørn Erik Næss? Did you remain in any kind of contact after disbanding?
Ronny: Just to make absolutely clear, I myself never decided to put any of this public but when someone like those two you mentioned go behind your back, put a knife in it, twitche it and post something completely untrue, then I have to stand up for myself and defend myself against it. That is why I put out my contra statement. And I think I did a pretty effective job with tearing her statement apart, piece by piece. None of her statement made sense and anyone with their two eyes intact and a functioning brain could see that after reading what I had to say. Those two really deserve each other and I would be the happiest person alive if I never have to see or speak with them ever again.
Ines: I understand. And as I was “there” when all this happened, I noticed the fans took sides – which is of course natural – and so many supported you. Did you find that in any way important to you – that the fans of Trail Of Tears supported you and also showed interest in your further pursues, which then came to be Viper Solfa?
Ronny: Of course that was important. I told the truth so obviously you don`t want people to believe someone who is trying to destroy you but spreading lies. I think that goes for everyone.
Ines: Trail Of Tears were surely one of the most unique acts in the Scandinavian gothic metal scene; your sound was much more tough and extreme, than those of some other fairly well known acts. Do you ever wish things wouldn't go as they did and you could pursue with Trail Of Tears on, given the thought of you actually being the only constant member of it?
Ronny: Yes, very much so. I still felt that I had a lot left to do with Trail Of Tears but the line-up changes took their toll on me and in the end Trail Of Tears was a very negative environment to be in. The fact that it had to end like that is the biggest shame in the history of the band.
Ines: The sound of Trail Of Tears and Viper Solfa however can be compared; you're so smoothly shifting between melodic metal and extreme metal and it seems this is somehow a trademark sound for you. Where did the idea to balance those two opposing sides come from in the first place?
Ronny: Well, a fun fact here is that some of the material on Carving An Icon, quite a lot in fact, was originally written for the latest Mayhem album as Morfeus was still in that band when he started composing. After they parted ways, he took this material with him and we worked on it until it sounded like something completely different. The cool thing with this band is that we all come from very different musical backgrounds and since we don`t put limitations upon ourselves and allow everyone to contribute, well then it turns out the way that it does. I think we have all brought a piece of our musical pasts with us and combined all that into a brand new beast. We are a band for a wide range of people as long as they are open minded. Playing as diverse festivals as MFVF and Blastfest for example, proves this.

Ines: Another common thing is also your label – Massacre Records. You’ve released album with Trail Of Tears under Massacre Records and Viper Solfa is also signed to it. Can we assume your relationship with the label is based on good foundations and they give you full support?
Ronny: Massacre presented an offer at a very early stage and we were happy to accept it. For a brand new band without as much as a demo out to be picked up by an established label, is hard these days, so we are grateful for that. I guess they give us the support they are able to give us at this point, everyone knows that there is close to no money anymore for recording budgets, promotion or practically anything else. So we are absolutely dependant on finding additional funding in order to create the album that we want. We have an option for one more album with Massacre, but of course we are keeping our eyes and ears open.
Ines: Throughout your music career – besides being a vocalist – your main occupation, if we can call it that way, was also writing lyrics. What inspires you when you’re writing the lyrics? Any particular themes you like to emphasize throughout your lyrical work?
Ronny: It`s very difficult to talk about, because every album is different. I tend to let the songs dictate and lead the way. Inspiration can come from practically anywhere and everything, often it is just the atmosphere or nerve of the music itself that can trigger a feeling or a thought, or it creates an image in my head that leads to a topic. Also, things change as you grow older. I would be worried if I wrote the same way today as I did when I was 16 years old
Ines: Of course, being a vocalist and a frontman is something most of your fans know you by. How did you even decide to pursue as a harsh vocalist in the first place? And how do you take care of your voice to keep it in such good shape?
Ronny: David Vincent, Phil Anselmo and Max Cavalera are huge reasons why I ended up as a vocalist/frontman. All strong characters in their prime and all three had a big impact on me. Also Dan Swanø needs to be mentioned. It seemed to me at the time when I started that everyone picked up a guitar or a pair of sticks, so I wanted to do something different. And the local bands at the time were always in search of a vocalist while there were plenty of guitar players hehe…. So I started out in a Sepultura/Pantera cover band called…. (drumroll) ….Sepultera, before we formed Natt, which would eventually turn into Trail Of Tears. As for taking care of my voice, it`s pretty much common sense. Some regular vocal exercises, no heavy boozing and no screaming until 5AM while on tour, enough sleep and lots of water.   
Ines: Another notable thing I must point out when it comes to your singing is how well the dynamics between you and Miriam. Do you find it difficult to find that kind of balance or does it occur naturally when you sing?
Ronny: Thank you! Again, each song is different. Sometimes figuring out the different voices comes easily while other songs are trickier. For me, Miriam is awesome to work with. She always has great ideas, and she`s a total professional. We tend to have some alone time with the songs both of us, just listening separately first before we get together to exchange ideas. In a lot of the cases it turns out that we have had very similar ideas of what we want to do vocally while other songs require a bit more re-arranging and work.    
Ines: I guess many also remember you for stepping in front of the microphone for Tristania’s 2001 album World Of Glass as a vocalist when Veland departed the band. How that collaboration did even came to be?
Ronny: Well, that was a cool album to be part of and I think some of my best vocals ever can be found on that record. At the time, they had already found a replacement for Veland but I think they wanted to give him some more time to adapt seeing that he came from a different musical background. So they simply asked me. Trail Of Tears had toured earlier with Tristania and we had gotten to know each other quite well, I liked both the music and the guys so it was an easy thing to say yes to at the time.
Ines: Already taking a trip down the memory lane: you’ve been a part of the gothic metal scene for over 20 years now. If you look back the beginning and compare it to the scene of what and how it is now, what would you say has changed? Because it’s quite interesting how many people still feel very nostalgic about 90’s gothic metal.
Ronny: It`s one of those big questions that I always find impossible to answer. First of all, I never regarded myself to be part of any specific scene; I just always strived to make the best effort possible in what I did. I have never had a problem with being associated with the gothic metal scene; I just never felt the need to do that myself. I guess the main difference now compared to when we started out is the amount of bands. When Trail Of Tears first arrived, there were not many metal bands with female singers; we were one of the first to really incorporate female vocals. Today, those kind of bands are everywhere and it`s more difficult to find the ones that really stand out and offer something unique.
Ines: I agree on that 100%! Now, I’m not really sure if I will phrase this question right, but I’ll give it a go anyway: is it difficult to find the perfect balance between all those various styles you incorporate in your music? Because to me - when I approach an album which tends to mix various styles – it is very important to hear and feel somewhat of a fluid motion between them. And I found that in Carving An Icon and I always wonder: does it occur naturally because you all come from different musical backgrounds and the ideas just intertwine or do you really have to think it through how and when to place a certain element?
Ronny: I think the variation is the result of our different backgrounds and the fact that we bring in a little bit each from our pasts. I can only speak for myself here, but I believe the best music comes from the gut or the heart, rather than to sit and analyse something half to death. You have an initial idea and if something sounds good and still is linkable to that initial idea then you should go for it. I don`t like to over-think things and usually I have a good feeling early on if something will work or not.
T.V.: Who is Ronny in private life? What kind of things beside music intrigues you the most?
Ronny: I guess travelling and cooking would be my two biggest interests besides music. I`ve been fortunate to travel a lot through the music, but unfortunately most of the times you don`t get to see as much as you would like to, unless you are overly interested in airports and hotel rooms. So travelling is something I enjoy a lot. And that is very often linked to my other interest, namely food. I really love to experience new food and enjoy food trips to food destinations a lot!    
Ines:  Well thank you Ronny again for taking the time to talk to us and being so honest. It was a huge honour for me – speaking from the point of view I’ve basically been a fan of Trail Of Tears for 15 years and now that I found the same enthusiasm about Viper Solfa – and of course, I’m really looking forward to hear more from Viper Solfa! Anything in particular you’d like to say at the end for our readers and your fans?
Ronny: My pleasure! It’s definitely been a while since I did such a long interview ! Thanks for the support and the good words, everyone check out Viper Solfa and we will see you in a venue near you soon!

Viper Solfa links: Official website, Facebook
Ronny Thorsen links: Facebook