Making music isn’t always a glamorous process, especially considering that it is extremely difficult to make a lucrative living or even keep your head above water all things considered. Despite that obviously grim financial reality, there are people that bravely trudge on regardless because the burning passion to make music is inextinguishable. You could say that it’s a strange coincidence that these artists alone are the ones that make music that’s actually worth listening to. Speaking of artists worthy of your time, this brings us to MEER, our Weekly Featured Artist!
The fact that MEER is out of Norway is a straight guarantee that their musical craft is one that is of the utmost supreme quality; must be something in the water up there if I had to guess. Self-described as ‘progressive orchestral pop’, this eight-piece refuses to adopt a single style but rather one that is constantly evolving in a way that only they alone can replicate. While ‘progressive orchestral pop’ is accurate having heard their music, their sound encompasses so much more, ranging from prog rock/metal, indie/chamber folk, and art rock/pop just to be brief. Much like the movie, their music is everything, everywhere all at once.
At the end of the day, their songs are sonically dense but masterfully packaged in such a way that you don’t even realize how much is going on; that is a testament to their ability as songwriters. As a band with eight members, this is especially impressive how fluid their chemistry is, as if these eight were destined to make music together after all. As for how this group of eight individuals came together as a band, Eivind Strømstad (guitars) gives a little insight on how MEER came to be and how they make it work as well as it obviously does for them:
‘Everyone knew each other, at least to some extent, before we started working together in MEER. It wasn’t like we set out to start a band and needed this instrument and that instrument and picked people based on that need. We’ve been going steady with the same line-up since 2012 and I think our more-than-professional relationships are part of the reason for that. While some of us naturally do more of the heavy lifting on organizing and managing the band, we try to keep the creative side as open and democratic as possible. I think it’s key that everyone in the band has creative ownership of the music. If it was to become just another job, a horribly paid one at that, for us I think it would fall apart rather quickly. I think it also keeps things fresh that we work a lot together on other things as well. We’re all from a small place, so we tend to bump into each other in all kinds of different projects, like playing at wedding receptions, theatre, musicals, choir concerts, and so on. With regards to how this affects daily life, I guess the level of cooperation required and experienced in MEER tends to seep into everything we do and as a result, we’re becoming excellent team players in every way.’
From Eivind’s response, you can glean the fact that MEER as a whole is very musically invested outside of what they do in MEER. Eivind continues to elaborate on their musical backgrounds and what other bands/projects the members have been and are currently a part of:
‘We have something like 50 years of combined music education between all of us, so we’re very much a formally trained bunch. Åsa, Ingvild and Ole are all classically trained and started out at a very young age; Ole was one of those wonderchildren with perfect pitch. Johanne and Knut come from a theater family where the use of the voice has always been a focus point. They also grew up in the forest where they used to sing loudly to keep the moose away while walking to the school bus in the pitch-black winter. Morten and Mats have jazz backgrounds (though Mats played in a metal band called Prisoners of Valhalla in middle-school. I’m sure he’d be really happy that I mentioned that). As to other bands, Johanne has her pop band, Paper Crown (which will release their second album next month), Ole plays in a jazz band called Low Fly Quintet, Morten is in a singer/songwriter/prog-ish band called GLO, and both Åsa and Knut are working on solo stuff. Åsa also does a lot of session work, so her name shows up all over the Norwegian prog scene.’
Circling back to MEER’s music, they’ve released two full lengths thus far and are currently working on their third.
‘We’ve already posted about it in our social media that we’re working on a new album, so that’s no secret. I can even go one further and reveal that we’ve booked the studio in May, so yeah, it’s happening. We can’t rush this and since we all have other jobs, it’s not always easy to put aside enough time to work on it. I think the new songs undeniably will sound like MEER, though the album as a whole will be a bit more lighthearted with more up tempo songs. We do think of this new album as a counterpart to Playing House, so there will be some callbacks and maybe even some pseudo-sequels on the new one. We’re really excited to show everyone what we’re working on and will probably debut some new songs live soon-ish.’
Their latest LP, Playing House, was my introduction to the band and one of my favorite records in 2021 now looking in hindsight. While the honeymoon effect wore off on many other records I initially enjoyed from that year, MEER’s only aged like a fine wine. This record is made up of eleven absolutely infectious tracks that showcase so much variety and stellar musicianship. Ultimately, MEER’s compositional capabilities ends up striking a perfect balance between vibrantly complex, nuanced instrumentation and easily digestible song structures that make for some wicked earworms.
As you listen through this record, you’ll find that MEER shifts back and forth between lead vocalists across songs, further contributing to the musical diversity. While a given vocalist may be at the melodic helm on a particular track, the other vocalist will settle back and provide some gorgeous harmonies that only helps makes these vocal lines that much more impactful and memorable as they sing together. Couple that with the fact that MEER frequently makes subtle yet powerful adjustments to final choruses and we’re in for a grand time. The last few minutes to “Picking Up the Pieces” is a prime example (in an album chock-full of prime examples), with the back and forth between vocalists that isn’t heard earlier in the track, leading to this juicy, proggy outro that provides endless satisfaction.
‘Our writing process varies a lot from song to song. It can be that one of us arrives at rehearsal with a pretty much finished song structure, but in other cases everything is being made collectively. Like if someone is noodling on their instrument in a break and someone says, ‘what’s that?’ and twenty minutes later, we have a song. Our writing is very dense though, so all songs go through a strenuous process of MEERification afterwards, where everything is deconstructed and tons of little twists and details are then added. As to who sings on a given song, it tends to come very naturally. I don’t think we’ve ever had an argument over who should sing what song. Johanne and Knut come up with most of their own lines, so in general they just sing the stuff that they make. We do make a conscious effort to split the music as evenly as possible between the two though. You know how siblings can be if something is deemed ‘unfair’.’
Instrumentally, there are so many special moments snuck into the music that’ll appeal to all the prog fans out there. The outro to “Picking Up the Pieces” and “Lay It Down” are two such moments with the latter inducing all forms of the stankface. Art pop and stankfaces aren’t two things that you ever find together and MEER makes it happen and actually sound well. The harmonized vocals are further supported with the generous incorporation of the violin and viola, in addition to the bouncy, twinkling piano. There are just so many musical textures that vary from song to song, yet it feels so uniform and synchronous with the overall sound of the band.
Everyone listens to (or makes) music for different reasons and sometimes these can differ quite a bit. When it comes to making music, these reasons can vastly affect the end result. When it comes to what is special about music as a whole for MEER, Eivind shares some final thoughts below:
‘I don’t know if it would be considered selfish or not, but we tend to just try to write music that we want to listen to, which honestly can be quite difficult since we all have such different musical preferences. When it comes to underlying appreciation for music in general, for the academics among us it can sometimes be difficult, but maybe even more important to sometimes turn off the analytical brain and just experience the music for what it is without thinking to much why a particular interval was used here or there. There’s also something incredibly earnest in seeing people perform music together on stage that they themselves have written.’
With that being said, MEER’s music sits in that perfect spot in which you can get hugely different experiences and appreciation for the music depending on if you listen with an ‘analytical’ mindset, teasing apart all the tiny nuances and embellishments, or if you just sit back and enjoy the music for what it is. While either mindset affects your listening experience during, the end outcome is ultimately the same as you’ll be blown away of what this eight-piece can accomplish and how they do it. It truly is music that everyone can enjoy.
Johanne Kippersund – Vocals
Knut Kippersund – Vocals
Eivind Strømstad – Guitar
Åsa Ree – Violin
Ingvild Nordstoga Eide – Viola
Ole Gjøstøl – Piano
Morten Strypet – Bass
Mats Lillehaug – Drums
The music that MEER effortlessly crafts is sure to appeal to all the music nerds and casual listeners out there alike. Boasting quite a large amount of stylistic influences neatly wrapped in a such tight package, there really is a whole lot to love on Playing House and even on their self-titled debut record. You heard it here, MEER are hitting the studio in May to record their follow up to Playing House. Give those embedded tracks a listen and you’ll come to discover that this is a band worth following. Swing by their Facebook, Instagram, and Bandcamp pages to stay locked in on any news once we get closer to the release of new material.