OPIUM CARTEL, THE Jessica Attene & Alberto Nucci

The Opium Cartel: behind this name, there is a sort of side project of White Willow, sharing with this band musicians such as Lars Fredrik Frĝislie (also Wobbler's keyboard player), the guitarist Jacob Holm-Lupo, and the recent acquisition Mattias Olsson (ex drummer of Änglagċrd). It's natural that since these premises this band captures the attention of our little Prog universe and it's natural as well that Arlequins would like to know a little more. We interviewed for you Jacob Holm-Lupo who will guide us to the discovery of this new musical adventure.

Would you like to give us an update about White Willow? We even heard some rumours of a disbanding of the group: what did it really happen?

I put the group on hold partly because I wanted to focus on The Opium Cartel for a while, and partly because that particular line-up had run its course. I needed to re-evaluate where White Willow would be going in the future. Now I am back to working on White Willow material. There will be a new album sometime next year, which will be a return to a more genuinely progressive format. The line-up will include myself, Lars Fredrik Frĝislie and Mattias Olsson, among others. But before all that, we will be releasing a vinyl reissue of "Ignis Fatuus", with a 13 minute bonus track :-)

Of late you stated that you are preparing new material with White Willow. Your sound changed from the dark, gothic and heavy "Storm Season" to the lighter and modern "Signal to Noise": would you explain this evolution? What must we expect from your next album?

I feel that with every White Willow album I want to explore a different aspect of the group's sound. With "Signal to Noise" I wanted to create an album that combined a lighter symphonic pop approach with some of the heavier elements from "Storm Season". I just like to mix it up, and WW's albums always reflect my different musical pre-occupations. With the next album, although it is a bit early to tell, I think there will be both a return to the more pastoral prog of "Ignis Fatuus" as well as heavier, almost fusion-y elements. We will see.

Let's talk about your new project: "The Opium Cartel". How did you get the inspiration for it and what kind of need pushed you to a sound more pop oriented?

I have always written pop music, and some of those songs have crept into WW - songs like "Paper Moon" or "Joyride". But I have for many years wanted to create a project where I wouldn't be held back by genre restrictions. As much as I love White Willow, it will always be a prog band, and there are certain things that just don't fit into that format. So with The Opium Cartel I wanted to explore some of the other music I love - folk-rock, indie-pop, electronica...

You have been always connected to Prog world and White Willow's first album is considered a point of reference by many bands. Have you ever wondered how people would have welcomed such an album, so different from your past experiences? Did fans and press react as you expected?

You mean The Opium Cartel? I was aware that people who mostly liked the prog elements of WW might not like The Opium Cartel. But on the other hand it was an album I made mostly for my own edification. As it turned out, I needn't have worried, since the reception has been overwhelmingly positive, and sales have far exceeded what we expected. But of course there are some who have expressed disappointment that it is not "prog" enough... but it was never meant to be prog.

Have you planned to play live the music of this new project?

No, it is purely a studio project, with musicians living in Norway, Sweden, UK and the US.

Do you think that this album will help to get you known outside the Prog circle?

I really don't care about that. If it does, it is a nice side-effect, but once I make an album I am done with it, I look to the next project. As long as someone buys it, I don't care who :-)

One thing that really impressed me is the contrast between the number of keyboards listed in the sleeve notes (the word "Mellotron" is mentioned 3 times) and the lightness and the softness of sounds, surely not keyboard-oriented. What was the role of Lars Fredrick Frĝislie in the making of the arrangements? Why did you decide to use with extreme thriftiness those instruments?

Well, actually if you listen closely there are keyboards all over the album - it is probably the most keyboard dominated album I have made. But they are mixed discreetly, as opposed to on a prog album. This was a conscious decision. But you'll find there are lots of keyboards bubbling away underneath. The arrangements are mostly mine, but of course Lars Fredrik had some input too.

Are you satisfied of the final result? Do you think that The Opium Cartel will have a second chapter?

I am satisfied. It was probably the most fun record I have ever made. My intention was for myself and everyone to have a nice, easygoing time in the studio, and we certainly did. So yes, there will be more The Opium Cartel. But first some White Willow.

What are you playing of late in your hi-fi?

Lately I haven't listened so much to music, no time. But if I do, these days, it is often jazzier stuff, like 70's Pat Metheny Group or Weather Report, or modern indie or pop like Fever Ray, Bat for Lashes or School of Seven Bells.

What will be, according to you, the next evolution of Progressive Rock? Do you think that this genre will be forever tied to the Seventies or there will be a new road, maybe with new contaminations?

I hope there will be some new road. New prog is pretty boring these days, I think. So I would love to hear some new sounds. Eventually contemporary music will start influencing prog, and vice versa, and then you'll get some interesting stuff, I think.

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