Interview with vocalist Lars F. Larsen, Manticora (August 3rd 2006)

“The Black Circus, Part 1 – Letters” is as the titles sort of gives away the first part of Manticora’s new double disc set – part two will be released early 2007. The concept story tells the story about a travelling circus in the 19th century New England.  

First off, your album is once more a concept album, this time divided into two parts. Yet another dark horror story, this time set in the 19th century New England - who came up with the concept, and could you tell us a bit about the story?
Lars - Mads (drums) popped the idea 2 months after we finished the recordings of the previous album. At that point, the storyline was very basic, but Mads had already written 6 set of lyrics, so he had really thought about it. Then we sat down and began developing the whole concept, and in that developing, Kristian (guitars) suddenly got the idea of writing all the lyrics as real letters. This of course put a lot of pressure on me as I am the one that has to get everything into place according to the music. Anyway, I have found it very amusing to have to write lyrics this new way and develop the style, so credit to Kristian for that one. The story takes place in 1896. Our main character has gotten himself a job as janitor in a travelling circus, owned by gypsies. It is the job of his life and we hear the story through letters that he is sending to a friend. It is very H.P. Lovecraft inspired but with our own Manticora twist to it. On this first album, we are more or less introducing the whole circus and the surroundings to the listener, and you’ll get the felling that something is definitely wrong around the circus site. On the 2nd part, all hell breaks lose.  

The settings for the story is somewhat special – is there a deeper reason behind?
Lars - We wanted it to be an old-times story, as it is pretty hard to make the whole story reliable with modern day technology and all the fast communication. We’d have to call the album “emails” instead of “Letters”. Also, it wouldn’t be in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft if it wasn’t in the period between 1890 and 1920.  

The album is nicely tied together with small interludes, does that appeal to the entire double album. Or is there a break between the 2 albums?
Lars - Well, the interludes are meant to put in some atmosphere for the listener to feel the violins and the scary feeling of it all. I hope we are succeeding in making some hairs rise on some arms. I definitely enjoy these small breaks in between the songs and we also use them to explain some parts of the album, where it was impossible to incorporate music into the lyrics. “Intuneric” is Romanian and means “Darkness” (yepp, we actually really did some research for this album – getting our hands on old Romanian folk music for the right tones to be present in the music). Part 2 will just take over where part 1 began, but with Letters and Intuneric’s twisted around….you’ll know when you get the next album (WITH lyrics).  

If you had to choose one song that represents “The Black Circus, Part 1 - Letters” the best, which one would you choose and why? Personally I would pick “Forever Carousel” - a song that really captures the essence of Manticora very well.
Lars - I’d probably pick “The Black Circus”, as it describes the circus and gets the first part of the story on the way. Musically, it is one of the most aggressive songs we have ever made and also one of the fastest, but is it very typical Manticora with a lot of breaks and show-off without overdoing it.  

Besides taking on the huge challenge of making 2 albums at once, where do you see the biggest difference between this project and your last album “8 Deadly Sins”?
Lars - Lyrically, it is a huge difference. As said, we had to write everything as Letters this time and you have no idea how extremely difficult it is to sing a real letter across a piece of music. I couldn’t just write real choruses, as you wouldn’t sit and write the same thing twice or three times in a letter….and we of course still need memorable refrains in the songs, so I had to make lyrics that were so close to each other as possible, but nevertheless different. Musically, Kristian was the main composer this time and Kasper (bass) also stepped in with a lot of ideas, where I didn’t really write much music this time, so for me, the concentration has been on the lyrics. The hardest part is that with 8DS we didn’t have anybody expecting anything from us, but with the success that we suddenly had with that album, we felt some kind of pressure of having to top our own best effort and that was a strange feeling.  

Did you record all of the songs in one go, or did you divide the recording into 2 parts as well?
Lars - We recorded the first album + drums, bass and vocals + choirs for the 2nd part and then we mixed part 1. Do during the fall, we’ll record all guitars and work on the keys for the 2nd part. Hopefully we can mix everything during January/February. We did it this way to keep as much of the feeling intact as possible, while we were in the studio anyway. If done over 2 recordings, it would be 2 different album. We need our fans to see it as one big album, when both parts are released.  

You have once more decided to work with Tommy Hansen in his Jailhouse Studio in Horsens, and the result is nothing less than amazing! I bet you are all very pleased? In retrospective is there anything you would have done differently?
Lars - I for my part am definitely pleased. I know that we don’t always agree 100% in the band about things, but it’s a democracy, when it comes to this, and so we might not all be 100% satisfied with the result we got, but there’s only one way to get on and that is to make your voice count even more on the next production. One thing I would have done differently though is to make an even better cross-fade between the Interludes and the real songs.  

The art work by Leo Hao is very striking – is the gypsy representing the main character in the story? And will the second part have a similar theme?
Lars - Leo Hao has done an amazing job. We gave him the story in rough words and that’s what he initially began working from. Then he came up with some sketches and we re-worked them a couple of times with him, getting in some of the elements that we definitely wanted in the picture. None of the gypsies are any of the main characters in the story, but if you read the lyrics for “Wisdom” when the real disc comes out, you might get an idea who the young girl could be. The cover for the 2nd part will be in the same style and will also be painted by Leo. It might be a bit darker, but we haven’t decided 100% yet about the picture.  

You are going on a short tour with Andromeda supporting you – what kinds of expectations do you have for the tour?
Lars - Well, it’s only in Denmark that Andromeda will be supporting us – the rest of the shows, they will be the headliner. I have an expectation that we will be able to rock some heads off down in Europe. I am absolutely aware that we won’t have as large crowds as we had on the Angra tour, but as the market is today and you have to do everything yourself, it’s pretty hard and VERY expensive to get out as support for the bigger names.  

Speaking of live – what kind of touring plans do you have for 2006, besides the short tour with Andromeda? Or do you wait until the second part is released to do a full-length tour to support the albums?
Lars - I do hope to be able to do something in the spring…maybe some shows in Scandinavia or so, but we will wait with the BIG tour until after the release of the 2nd part. I of course hope that finally some of the German festivals will want to book us for the summer next year. It is about fucking time they do so. We have (next summer) released 6 highly acclaimed albums in 11 years….hmmm. Well, you never know what the future brings.  

Do you have any plans for playing the entire “The Black Circus”, like Queensrÿche have done with “Operation: Mindcrime” at some stage in the future?
Lars - No! I don’t know if it will happen in the future, but the plans are not there now.  

So far you’ve avoided releasing any live albums – why or why not? Do you have any plans for that in the future?
Lars - We wanted to release a live DVD in May this year, but suddenly the company that was supposed to release it didn’t want to do so anyway, and the guy that was supposed to deliver the video recordings took 2000 years to get his shit together, so we have a whole show from Atlanta 2005 lying in the rehearsal room for nothing. It only cost us 10.000 to have it recorded…:-( It’s amazing how other people can ruin so much for you, by their lack of professionalism. I do seriously hope that we get to release some live stuff at some point. The money just aren’t there right now.  

I have been following you ever since the early days, and the double concept album comes as a natural progress for the band – but where do you see the band going after this?
Lars - The Fall Of Hyperion???? Hahahaha. Nah, I don’t really know what we’ll do. Maybe we’ll try if we can get back to the old days and work on a normal album for one times sake, but I really can’t tell. Maybe Mads is already cooking up another concept? I began working on a concept a couple of years ago, but it turned out that it couldn’t be used for an album, but could be used for a book or a movie instead.  

One thing I have always been wondering about is – how did you come up with the name Manticora? I know once you were named Manticore…
Lars - I was at the library and I was looking in this book with fable creatures, and suddenly Manticore pops up in my eyes. It was the perfect band name in my eyes, and after some voting in the rehearsal room between Morannon and Manticore, it turned out to be the later one. When another band of the same name claimed their rights to it, we simply chose to use an “a” instead of an “e”.  

What are the strengths of Manticora, and where can you improve? I must admit, that your vocals – Lars – at times bug me on the new album. Can’t put my finger on what exactly it is - sorry…
Lars - The strengths of Manticora are, was and always will be our ability to only use the music that we all agree upon is good enough to put on the album. On top of this, put the fact that we are so close in the band that we very often say exactly the same things at the same time. It’s a little scary sometimes. Improvements…? Hmm, it’s hard for me to be objective in that category coz I think we have done a perfect job on the new album, but maybe we ought to be more arrogant and unobtainable towards people. I think that because we are so available towards people always, we might be thought of as the friend next door and not the band that people really would like to die for. Maybe we should begin acting like rockstars, hahaha.  

Name an album, person or event that has had a huge influence on your life … and why?
Lars - Musically, I have to mention the first Wacken festival that we attended. I had never been to a metal festival before at that point (1998), and this was just so fucking huge for me that I thought: “I want to be the one on one of those stages at some point, and I don’t care what it takes”. It has determined me to fight no matter what and keep on running that head into the wall, even if it hurts a lot sometimes….and believe me, we have tipped a LOT of walls over….!

Non-musically, I have definitely begun thinking a lot after having met my wife (I got married in May this year) and I mean thinking, like in thinking inside of myself and pondering about life and all sorts of shit. We are visiting her parents every summer in the mountains of northern Italy , and you have a lot of time to think, when you are walking around 3000 meters above sea. She has calmed me down, and I am no longer the wild guy that gets annoyed at the smallest problem. These days, I take a step back and think things through before I react, and I have to give her the credit for that. You can see a couple of wedding pictures on our homepage,  

If you should list the five albums that influenced your musical career the most, which ones would those be and why?
Lars - Metallica “…And Justice For All” - simply the best metal album ever made. Symphony X “V” - Russell Allen has had a great impact on me with that one. Iron Maiden “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” - I used to be the lead singer in the Danish Iron Maiden jam, and Brucieboy is the singer that has influenced me the most. Slayer “Reign in Blood” - has made me want to create thrash riffs on my guitar…I still like Slayer but not as much as I used to. King Diamond “Them” - the most evil and intriguing concept album ever created, and The King is from Denmark…’nuff said.  

Which albums have put a big smile on you face and has made you bang your head in 2006?
Lars - Darkane “Layers Of Lies”. I actually don’t remember if this is 2006 or 2005, but it is still the best thrash album I have heard in a very long time. Also the new Desperadoz is pretty well done. How cool is it to write a concept over the life of Wyatt Earp, and then doing it in such a fashionable style. I also need to mention Loch Vostok “Destruction Time Again”. A genius album.  

That’ll be all for us this time around - thank you very much for participating in this interview and sharing this information and your thoughts with us - these last lines are entirely for you…
Lars - Thanks for the intie…I only have one other thing to add: Stop downloading…it’s killing music!

Interviewed by Kenn Jensen

Manticora - The Black Circus, Part 1 - Letters

Album available September 8th on Massacre Records.

Click on the album cover to see more info on Manticora.