Artists | Issues | CD Reviews | Interviews | Concert Reviews | DVD/Video Reviews | Book Reviews | Who We Are | Staff | Home


Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Lief Sorbye of Tempest from 1998
MSJ: Tempest has a very unique sound. How would you describe it?
It`s Celtic rock or progressive Celtic rock. Basically, we`re a rock band that plays folk music. So, we`re an electric traditional band. Our viewpoint on traditional folk music is that of a progressive viewpoint. In other words, we`re updating traditional music styles, making it accessible to the next century. We write new material in the style of old traditional stuff and we arrange traditional music forms with sort of a modern progressive tint. We`re not a progressive band in the terms of `70`s progressive rock styles, but I think what we do to folk music is very much in a progressive avenue.
MSJ: In a way, you guys have a lot in common with Jethro Tull.
To a certain extent, yeah. I just played with Tull`s original bass player this last weekend in LA. We`ve had a connection with Tull over the years. A lot of people compare us to Tull, though it`s whatever works. I think in many ways that the influence that might be there is not as strong if you have more background in traditional music, but I can see people comparing the two bands. Definitely that influence is a big part of Ian Anderson`s writing. He was influenced a bit by Robert Burns (who is the national Scottish poet). Then again, they had the classical, jazz and blues influences as well. Tempest has rock and roll and Celtic combined without so much of the other influences. So, it`s a little bit more streamlined in that sense.
MSJ: What would you consider to be your major influences?
There`s as many influences as there are band members, so I can only talk for myself. Obviously my main influence has been growing up with traditional music. I grew up in Norway, so I was influenced by traditional Scandinavian and Celtic stuff. The folk music is definitely my biggest influence. As far as the people that I listened to growing up, in this order:The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Incredible String Band. The Incredible String Band was a psychedelic world music folk band that came out of the sixties…a Scottish band. That opened up my ears to exotic instruments. They were, to me, the first world music band. They were basically sort of part of the flower power thing, you know, but they played everything from Indian sitars to mandolins and whistles. They experimented with ethnic instruments to get different sound colors and stuff. It was the band that got me inspired to pick up banjos and mandolins and penny whistles and whatever. Of course, Bob Dylan was a big influence as far as song writing and stuff. The Beatles was the big thing when I was a kid, but those three acts I still go back and listen to after all these years. Having said that, during the `70`s I was really into jazz and fusion. I was into Genesis, Selling England by The Pound era, Close to the Edge Yes and ELP. Years later when Keith Emerson played on Tempest`s Turn of the Wheel album, which was the first one we did for Magna Carta back in `96, it was kinda cool because his keyboards really worked in our sound. So, there`s another connection with that progressive thing. I listen to anything that I consider good music. To me the difference between good and bad music only the fact that good music is music that`s played with a passion, and bad music is music that`s not played with a passion. In many ways, music is a form of communication, and whatever style it is is not a barrier to me. It`s not like I listen to one style of music. I listen to as much different music as I can. I always listen to a lot of traditional music because that`s the source material for what we`re doing, but as far as listening to music for leisure, anything that moves me. It can be a lot of different stuff.
MSJ: The concept of the new album is intriguing. It is a compilation album, but rather than using the old recordings, you redid all of the songs. Where did that idea come from?
There was a demand for it, because our earlier recordings are so obscure. The Tenth Anniversary Compilation is our 7th official album to be released, but the first four albums were on different independent labels, and they`re so hard to find these days, but some of the songs were always requested live. There was a handful of songs that people wanted to buy on record that they couldn`t find, and when we came around to it, we decided, why don`t we make this our tenth anniversary gift to the fans, and record these songs again with the new lineup, instead of lifting it from old masters. Why don`t we put some life into the old arrangements, record it again and have this compilation that people would really enjoy, because these are songs that people are demanding years after we recorded them. So, we knew that they were favorites. It was part of celebrating our tenth anniversary.
MSJ: What can you tell me about the Caliban project?
Tempest, when everything is said and done, is a rock and roll band. It`s a touring band. So, we don`t play locally in Northern California all the time. Our touring season typically starts getting busy in April and goes through October. The rest of the year, we`re a little bit more scarce and we tend to work on new material etc. Caliban is also a way for me personally to keep an active performance schedule of about 15 to 20 dates a month. I`m a working musician. Locally, when Tempest is not touring, it gives me personally, and also the fiddle player Michael (who`s in Tempest) a chance to play more intimate venues and stay busy while the other band members have other musical projects, etc. That`s one part of it. Another part of it is, it gives me a chance to play acoustic, and play more straight traditional stuff in smaller venues that Tempest wouldn`t be able to play in and more in a sit-down listening environment. I`m a folk musician first. I always keep one foot in the rock and roll end of the business and one foot in the folk end of the business. Caliban is a vehicle to satisfy that need in me. Then, it`s a supply and demand thing. People will call up, and they will ask for Tempest to do a gig that we can`t do, because they can`t meet our requirements, because we`re a bigger band. I say, "I can`t give you Tempest, but I`ll give you the next best thing", and I`ll get Caliban to do the gig. When we do folk festivals, I can give people a two for one deal. Hey you get Tempest on main stage Saturday night, but Sunday afternoon you can have Caliban play the acoustic stage. So, it`s a business thing as well. There`s a lot of good reason for it. Throughout the ten years that I`ve had Tempest, I`ve always had an acoustic side project that I`m doing. It keeps me busy, and it keeps me musically happy. Another great thing is we get chance to try out some new material before we arrange it with the band. So, it makes a lot of sense. We recorded that CD that we did for Magna Carta just because the fans wanted a Caliban album. We went in and did it in three days. We`re a working band, no sweat. That`s actually the way Tempest works most of the time, too. A lot of bands these days are a studio band first and a touring band second. Tempest is the other way around. We always take the material on the road first, and let it develop before we record it. Our recordings are a lot more true to form that way. It`s not like we arrange stuff in the studio with a producer then scratch our heads trying to figure out how the hell we can play this stuff live. We arrange the stuff and take it on the road and let it develop as far as arrangements. Then we go into the studio, and we`re tight. We can get some of that sparkle on tape. We`ve done the other way around. Turn of the Wheel was more of a studio effort.
MSJ: What`s been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Our biggest Spinal Tap moment was when we had a Stonehenge coming down on us in the early `90`s. That was when Spinal Tap had their reunion, and one of the promoters from the UK decided to play a prank on the band. He had a miniature Stonehenge coming down on the stage without the band knowing. For a while, we used the quote that we were the Spinal Tap of Celtic Rock, because live we do a lot of mock rock poses, and we just go crazy on stage, and we have fun with the whole idea. We don`t take ourselves seriously at all onstage. We take our music seriously, but we have fun with what we`re doing, and we don`t mind making fun of ourselves. That`s part of the appeal of the band. We`ve had many, many Spinal Tap moments, actually. One of them, it was our first appearance at the Philadelphia Folk Festival back in `95. We were sandwiched between Arlo Guthrie and Michelle Shocked on Friday night. Those are popular acts, but a lot more sedate than Tempest. When we came on, it was like we lit a fire under 20,000 people in the audience. It was a big show, and a very heavy-duty response. When I was waving goodbye to the audience, I held my pick between thumb and my finger, so the finger that stuck up was the wrong one. They had big huge screens on each side of the stage. So you could see me flipping off the audience as I left the stage. It was captured on video. So, that was another Spinal Tap moment, cause I certainly didn`t mean to.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought?
A Scottish band called The Iron Horse. That was last weekend. It`s a Celtic band, it`s certainly obscure in the US, it has no distribution, but I was doing a festival in LA this weekend. It`s called The Iron Horse, it`s a Celtic band from Scotland.
MSJ: What was the last concert you attended?
The last concert I went to was Tricky. It`s a trip hop artist from the UK. It`s fairly obscure. He`s famous for beating up journalists from Melody Maker and New Musical Express. He`s sort of a trans hip hop goth thing. I took my daughter out for that. Maybe the last thing we saw, we went to the Warfield and saw a bill with Sugar Ray, The Cardigans and a lot of other bands. So, I`ve been going out with my daughter, so I`ve been seeing a lot of what is hip with teenagers.  

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 5 at
You'll find concert pics of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
Return to the
Tempest Artist Page
Artists Directory

   Creative Commons License
   This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

    © 2024 Music Street Journal                                                                           Site design and programming by Studio Fyra, Inc./