Interview with Lief Sorbye of Tempest

I spoke with Lief Sorbye, the frontman for Tempest, a celtic folk-progressive rock band about their 10th Anniversary compilation and future plans. The highlights are included here.

You definitely stand out among all the other bands on Magna Carta...

It's largely because Tempest is the kind of a band that doesn't fit in anywhere. We don't fit into the folk music label and we don't fit into the progressive label either. It's progressive folk rock. This is our third release with Magna Carta and the relationship is working quite well.

Why a 10th anniversary compilation at this point?

The idea came about as a token to our fans. Keeping a rock and roll band together for 10 years is an accomplishment. We have had many miles on the road, and this our 7th release. We have a loyal fan base and our first four releases are hard to get hold of. A lot of favourites exist from the first few years of the band's existence and since people couldn't find the records we figured this was a way to give back something to the fans.

How would you describe your music style?

Progressive folk rock. We take traditional celtic European and folk music and put it in a rock and roll perspective. We write it with the basic style of traditional music and we play it the way they'd have played it 200 years ago if they had electric guitar.

How would you describe your songwriting/recording process?

We play the stuff live first. We go the other way around compared to other bands. We write arranged songs and let it develop in front of an audience and then we record it. That way, a song, by the time it is recorded, has been road tested, and has had a chance to develop on stage, which makes the recording process painless. We manage to capture the live feel on the studio recording. Since we're primarily a live band, that works for us.

We all tend to have an involvement in the writing process. I'm the founder of the band and we've had lineup changes and I've written the greater portion of the material but everyone has a hand in it, and everyone has a hand in the arrangement. We take a traditional song that I find somewhere and we write new music/lyrics to it. So the arranging process is as important as writing the song. That's what takes the most time for us.

Are there any plans for a tour of the U.S.?

We're starting now. Our spring tour will take us across the U.S. in April.

Can you tell me a bit about the song Montara Bay

I wrote the song in Egypt in Alexandria. There was a bay right in front of the hotel called Mondara and I was there with my fiancee. When we got married near half-moon bay in California, I changed it Montara bay.

Given your unique sound, what is your view on progressive music?

I don't think of progressive music as mega-rock, like it used to be during the 70s. I like stuff like Emerson Lake & Palmer, Genesis, and Yes, but I think that music to me is kind of 70s. That music was the beginning of progressive music: the bands took elements from classic symphonic music and fused it with rock 'n' roll. We take elements from traditional folk music and fused it with rock 'n' roll. It's the same thing except classical music was played for the upper class and folk rock was played for the lower class. Progressive rock isn't necessarily Emerson Lake & Palmer, Genesis, and Yes; it's music that's progressing, like newer King Crimson.

Why do you think it's difficult for progressive rock to become popular in the mainstream?

The music takes a little more, expects more, from the listener. You have to get a little more involved in it. It doesn't make for good background music. It's more sophisticated; there's lots going on, weird time signatures, etc.

The music is too specialised and too much of an acquired taste and it'll never acquire mainstream popularity. Lots of progressive players play for themselves but not for their audience but that's not right. Unless the music keeps developing, it's going to stay an acquired taste.

It also has to do with the music industry is working. Celtic rock could be as big as Country and Western.

Some would say that by caring about an audience so much you compromise your artistic integrity; what's your view on this?

When you're up on a stage you have a certain responsibility level to reach out to the audience, but what's right for me isn't right for any other guy. My personal feeling is that when I'm on the stage I have to reach out to the audience. The communication between the artist and the audience is what I'm after. That's where the magic happens.

What do you think of the current music scene?

I sort of have an ambivalent relationship to it. There are some good things, like the growing awareness of various ethnic musics because of thelevel of communication with the Internet and everything else. There is big exchange where people learn about and steal from other cultures, like African, Indian, or Celtic music. My view is that music is the communication that starts where language stops. Through music you can gain a new understanding and I think understanding leads to peace. The current music scene is very exciting becaus it brings people together.

On the other hand, the industry is run by a handful of corporations. They don't do a good job. What they want are one-hit wonders that are easy to consume for the masses.

Being a predominantly live band, what is your view on bootlegs?

There's nothing we can really do about that. My view is that on one hand it's kind of flattering, and on the other hand, it hurts the artist. I think the good way to do it is the way a lot of peopple have done it: you release your own bootlegs. I think any touring artist should release a live bootleg every year; that would kill the bootleg industry. Every record company should allow their artist to release a bootleg; people are bootlegging your music there's a reason why and it's a good way to spread your music.

What's your favourite music? Who would you cite as influences?

My three most influential bands of all time that I still listen to the are the people I grew up with: Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and a band called The Incredible String Band. They were my biggest influences gorwing up. In the 70s I was really into jazz and progressive rock and world music. I listen to all kinds of music, a lot of celtic and scandinavian music, and folk rock and jazz of various kinds.

What are your future plans and where do you see yourself in the year 2000?

We want to keep doing what we're doing each. We take one step on the ladder each time and our main thing is to get our music to as many people as we can. I'm into it for the journey. As long as I can do what I love to do what I do for a living I just want to keep doing it.

Music ram-blings || Ram Samudrala || || February 15, 1999