Life Is No Matter
(Apollon Records)


Norway’s Apollon Records has several albums out by prog-rockers Professor Tiptop and you can count the 2017 CD release of Life Is No Matter as the best yet from this diverse band. Guitarist Sam Fossbakk rises to occasion, penning all the music with lyrics added by vocalist Svein Magnar Hansen. Assisted by the rhythm section of Stein Høgseth (bass) and Charles Wise (drums), Professor Tiptop has created a kind of new form of modern prog with Life Is No Matter. Some will cite Dark Side era Floyd and the sound of Alan Parsons Project and UK bands such as Camel, yet Life Is No Matter is modern prog-rock with a view towards the future and takes the whole genre well beyond the sound of the 1970s. The album was mastered by Frank Arkwright at Abbey Road studios in London so there’s another Floyd / Parsons connection for music fans to mull over. Speaking about the mixed messages on the album's title track, Sam explains, "It can mean two things… one, being that matter alone does not make life. Maybe life is a force outside matter. Think of it like the Hindus, that life is a nonmaterial reality, pure consciousness. And that there is a universal consciousness and we have the illusion of being a “self”, an ego, which needs matter and a body to live. Also our concept of matter is quite rude from a quantum perspective, as the deeper you get into the world of atoms the more bizarre “matter” and physics appear. The other perspective is that life is easy if you see that it is not you that keeps life going on a day-to-day basis, but that life itself lives through you." Sam Fossbakk has proven himself to be an eclectic advocate for the modern day prog-rock movement mixing instrumental tracks backed up by a mostly vocal pallet of all things progressive. Not only does Sam compose all the music on Life Is No Matter, but he also adds in a diverse range of musical sounds he coaxes from his wide range of electric and acoustic guitars and a range of synths and mellotrons. If there was ever a modern day band to carry the torch of progressive rock, it’s Professor Tiptop. / presents an interview with
Sam Fossbakk of Professor Tiptop

: Where are you from originally and where do you live now? Where have you lived or other favorite cities, countries and have you been to the US?

Sam Fossbakk: Originally I’m from Bergen, Norway where I live now. Actually close to the place I was born. When I grew up we moved a little around, I lived some childhood years in India. My favorite city, besides Bergen, is Canterbury in England. I’ve spent lots of summers there. I have never been to the US, just to Canada once.

mwe3: When did you start playing and recording as Professor Tiptop and how many albums have you made with the band? Does the band have a mode of operation or mission purpose? How would you compare the Professor Tiptop albums?

Sam Fossbakk: We started playing and recording as Professor TipTop in 2010. Until now we have done four albums. We don’t have a specific mission purpose, just a feel for what moods and sounds we like. The first Are You Empirical? was done in 2011. I think the purpose was to make something that could catch up with a 1970s prog / experimental feel. Most of the tracks, drums, bass, guitars and keys, except the vocals, were recorded straight on and live in my studio on vintage equipment. The final mix and vocals were done at Regnbyen studio by Inge Solsvik. We had a producer, a well-known Norwegian named Hans Petter Gundersen. It was a relaxed recording and lots of laughs. Gundersen also came up with the name for the group during a conversation about far out topics. The album have some good moments, we threw in songs I had lying around.

The next album Aoum had more variation between the songs. We explored different styles and sounds. On these two first albums the American saxophone player Jon Irabagon attended and gave a jazzy feel to some of the songs. It was recorded and mixed in Regnbyen Studio. The third Exobiology was a big step toward our identity sound wise. It’s a retro-futuristic project that makes good use of the EMS synth to give a science-fiction mood. Our last album Life Is No Matter is a further step on that path, with a focus on the melodic character of the songs.

mwe3: Who is in the Professor Tiptop band with you and what do they play and add to the sound? Tell us about your song writing with lead singer Svein Magnar Hansen. Does the music or lyrics come first and tell us about balancing vocal and instrumental tracks?

Sam Fossbakk: With me in the band apart from Svein on vocal, are Stein Høgseth on bass and Charles Wise on drums. The rhythm section is a big contributor to the outcome. They have a splendid feel for the mood and dynamics of the compositions. When it comes to song writing, I write the songs, usually a roughly demo is given to Svein, we discuss a topic or a feel for what the lyrics should be about and then Svein works out the lyrics.

mwe3: How did the production take place with Daniel Birkeland and how did you co-produce Life Is No Matter with him?

Sam Fossbakk: Daniel Birkeland, who runs Havnelageret Studio, is very dedicated sound-wise. He has an understanding and good taste for the aesthetics as well as the technical side of sound engineering. He is, like me, a connoisseur of vintage equipment. As an example, one of the vintage compressors we used was originally used for the public Polish Broadcasting Service, custom made, one or two of the kind. It was also his idea to use a Leslie 145 on some of the guitar tracks to give a dreamlike effect. We recorded the basic tracks at Havnelageret, Daniel made a rough stereo mix, I imported the stereo mix to my studio, laid down the synthesizers, mellotron and guitar solos. Daniel added my tracks and mixed it all together. Then the vocal tracks were done at Havnelageret Studio.

mwe3: What guitars did you play on the Life Is No Matter album and how do you balance your guitar parts with the keyboards you play too? Wow there must be a lot of overdubbing, yet your rhythm section carries the sounds quite well!

Sam Fossbakk: The guitars I used were a 1965 Stratocaster, a 1968 Stratocaster, Rickenbacker 12 string, model 620, Rickenbacker Rose Morris model with three pickups and a 1966 Telecaster. I also used Gibson acoustics. I try not to overdo things, if you give space there is room for overdubs. There were plenty overdubs, in the down mix Daniel has made a broad room where panning and depth has made place for everything. The rhythm section carries well because they play dynamic and inside the songs, the mix-down contributes equalization that keeps instruments apart.

mwe3: You have a nice mix of instrumentals and vocal tracks on Life Is No Matter. Do you have a fondness for both or are you trying more to create a surround sound experience that takes on all forms of prog? How does “Entrophy” create the intro mood? I heard of Entropy but not Entrophy.

Sam Fossbakk: I have a fondness for both. “Entrophy” is the balance between Entropy – the law of randomization and a possible negative outcome and Extropy – the law of steady incline at a reoccurring increment. It is the balance between light and dark of which we all reside.

mwe3: What does “Pieta Europa” signify? Is it a plea or social statement? What do you make of the refugee crises and how has it affected Norway?

Sam Fossbakk: I would say it is both a plea and a social statement. It has a little feeling of doomsday following up the intro track. The laws of thermodynamics in physics says that chaos/disorder increase entropy, everything in nature seeks a static balance. I think the same law goes for society. Empires, like the Roman or the Persian reached a peak, went into a chaotic period, then became something else. Maybe this is our time. The plea is to keep the human dignity. The refugee crisis affected Norway and politics became more polarized.

mwe3: “Friend Or Foe” has some nice Euro touches and that strong mellotron. What are some of the guitar effects that you use on that track? What does the track say to you?

Sam Fossbakk: The guitar effects are Tone Bender with germanium transistor, Colorsound overdrive, Fulltone Deja Vibe and Binson Echorec. The solo at the end is the Rose Morris Rickenbacker through a Marshall JMP 50 watt, the rest of the guitars are Fender Stratocasters/Gibson acoustic. The song has a touch of melancholy, but in a good way.

mwe3: “Lullaby For Grownups” has that very dramatic intro which comes back after a couple verses. How did you and Svein work on that song? Is it mythological?

Sam Fossbakk: The dramatic intro is to emphasize the topic. Rather than being about the mythological world, it says that we are mentally imprisoned in our myths. Non spiritual religious dogmas and inherited false beliefs make us unfree and fearful for life. It is in a way the nihilistic perspective of Nietzsche. But then again what to put in the vacant position?

mwe3: Is “Phoenix” about reincarnation or some futuristic scientific cloning abilities? Can you image modern medicine technology in 2117? The guitar solo is quite melodic. What does the song speak about futuristically? Do you remember the whole beam me up Scotty thing? That’s one hundred years away at least! (lol)

Sam Fossbakk: All in the band are readers, we talked about the book Homo Deus - A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari. He describes what the future will be: genetic engineering, enormous life spans, nanotechnology and so on. So yes, theoretically you can be your own clone. We also read an article about Boston Robotics that future soldiers and Police will be robots. It was this which inspired ‘Phoenix’. The mythic bird that rises up from its own ashes, can be a collective unconscious prediction. Who knows?

mwe3: Is “I’m A Dreamer Too” a tribute to John Lennon? Seems like Svein really covered the bases on the state of current events. Too bad we seem to be talking everywhere about terrorists and refugees. I don’t see an end to the madness anytime soon.

Sam Fossbakk: I agree… there seems to be no end to these dark times and in many ways and a fear for the future. But without being naive we can dream or hope for brighter times to come. One can’t be cynical or overly pessimistic. It’s mind over matter.

mwe3: Is “Morning Fog” a metaphor for the fog of life so to speak? It’s a great song with a driving melody and guitar sound. Is that tribute to Rick Wright synths sound on Dark Side?

Sam Fossbakk: Yes it is a metaphor for not seeing the possibilities in following your own thoughts and wanting to be free. The guitar sound is a Stratocaster through a Tone Bender and Binson Echorec, played through a 1960’s VOX AC 30. Yes it is a tribute to Pink Floyd, which we admire a lot. Rick Wright was a genius sound shaper.

mwe3: “Die Böse” is quite menacing sounding with the German lyrics. Is that a reference to Trump in the first chorus? I imagine like you say “rise and fall… time is moving”… Are you predicting even more evil?

Sam Fossbakk: Yes it’s about Donald in the first chorus. The mood is a little “worst case scenario”. Nations dissolve, civilization as we know it ends, a full tilt towards entropy…

mwe3: The title track “Life Is No Matter”. How did you decide on that title? No matter as in chemistry? Alien life forms? Future obsolescence? Where does technology end?

Sam Fossbakk: It can mean two things… one, being that matter alone does not make life. Maybe life is a force outside matter. Think of it like the Hindus, that life is a nonmaterial reality, pure consciousness. And that there is a universal consciousness and we have the illusion of being a “self”, an ego, which needs matter and a body to live. Also our concept of matter is quite rude from a quantum perspective, as the deeper you get into the world of atoms the more bizarre “matter” and physics appear. The other perspective is that life is easy if you see that it is not you that keeps life going on a day-to-day basis, but that life itself lives through you.

mwe3: I guess the internet will go down as our generation’s advancement of evolution of the 20th century. So where does Professor Tiptop go to from here? What are your plans in Norway and other countries in Europe? New shows, music writing, new recordings?

Sam Fossbakk: Yes the internet is the “zeitgeist” of our time. Next century could be the revolution of nanotechnology, some day teleportation will be the preferred traveling method. And you can order hamburgers that materialize through the PC screen. Professor Tip Top has new songs on the way and we plan to start new recordings in January. Our next concert is a prog-festival in December. We hope to get gigs in England, and to be on some of the European festivals next summer.


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