Prognan - Interview


The film industry as a world of popular mainstream media is filled with many excellent and talented composers, who not only created great soundtracks, but also managed to tell the story and convey the immense emotion of a scene throughout their music. There are many great examples we can look up to, such as John Williams, Harry Gregson Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Hans Zimmer, Vangelis, John Carpenter, Howard Shore and many others, but rarely do you ever think about such brilliant minds of cinematic songwriting in the world of metal music. That's not to say that there aren't any, it's just that they rarely get brought up in a discussion and it feels as if they don't even exist. However, there is indeed one extraordinary gentleman who managed to climb the stairs towards the mainstream and still conquer the hearts of metal fans. The person I am referring to is the Croatian musician and composer Goran Dragaš, who was worked on trailer music for big blockbusters such as Logan, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Jurassic World, Doctor Strange, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and many others, but in the world of metal music, he is known as Kob, vocalist, guitarist and bassist of the Croatian black metal band Prognan. Prognan has been active since 2008, but after the release of their second EP "Jama" in 2012, the band just disappeared and there was no word from them until 11 years later in 2023, when the band returned with their debut full-length album "Naši Životi Više Ne Postoje", which was a huge success and brought the band back on their feet. With the release of their debut album, their cult status was widespread, earning a big number of fans, as well as overwhelming praise from fans and critics. Prognan is very unique because they combine the elements of soundtrack music with black metal, incorporating instruments such as violins, cello and others, giving them a very cinematic style. Only a couple of months after, the band released a compilation album "Sve Je Tiho Na Istočnom Frontu", which contains some unused and unreleased songs from the album, as well as re-recordings of their previous songs from the EP "Jama". The band also recently announced that their new album titled "Sjene Nad Balkanom" will be released in January 2024, and there are already high expectations from their fans. For this occasion, I've decided to speak with Kob about Prognan's return, his musical career and the band's future.

Vladimir

Greetings Kob! First of all, I'd like to wish you a warm welcome on behalf of the MetalBite crew!

Hello, Vladimir and the MetalBite crew! Thanks for having me, the pleasure is all mine!

2023 has been a really busy year for Prognan, marking the band's comeback after more than 10 years with the release of their full-length debut album "Naši Životi Više Ne Postoje". Along the way you also released a compilation album "Sve Je Tiho Na Istočnom Frontu" and you even announced recently that a new album "Sjene Nad Balkanom" will be released in January 2024. I would like to know what encouraged Prognan to suddenly return after a decade of absence? Did you set the goal for yourselves to conquer these next two years with new materials?

Yeah, we've been working like crazy. I guess 10 years of not playing can do that to a person, you suddenly have tons of material you wish to release in a short amount of time haha. Jokes aside, the honest truth - at least from my side – is that Prognan was finished and a thing of the past. I didn't have any desire to do a comeback, the years passed - decade is not a small number. It was never about the listeners, but after 10 years – are we still relevant? You know, they were all these questions, we were getting a bit older and somehow it didn't make sense to release an album after so many years.

My drummer kept "pushing" me every year or so to create an album, just one album so we can have at least that (since we've never released a full length). There was always an idea of a story-line for it; about a soldier going through hell of the first World War. It was there almost since 2012, but I always kept saying NO. I've had other business that required my attention and it was almost impossible for me to do it since the time was really a luxury I didn't have. On the other hand, I haven't really listened to metal music in such a long time and I haven't even touched guitar for 7 or 8 years. He at least played drums; I didn't practice for years. Then one day that virus hit, we met at his place, he said again "Let's do an album!" to which I've said… Yeah, let's do an album! He was in shock, I was in shock, but somehow it felt right.Almost immediately, that same day, I went out and bought some rather expensive guitar I could only dream of when we started out. I opened the door of my studio and just started creating riffs, learning to play guitar again and it was so much fun. Man, I can't even explain how fun it was. This was, after so many years, the first thing related to music that I did and it didn't have deadlines nor money involved as an end goal. I've practiced like crazy and realized my riffs are now sounding different, I could play a lot faster, my composing background kind of influenced me a lot and when the first few tracks were laid out and recorded, I knew we were onto something amazing there.

I would like to know a bit more about your working process on "Naši životi Više Ne Postoje". Tell us a bit about what inspired your songwriting as well as the album's concept story. Also, are you a big history fan and if so, at what age did you become so fascinated with history?

In high school I barely passed history haha. It's actually kind of weird that stuff we have had for free in the past, we end up paying for them now because today we want to know everything about that topic. The story-line was always there. Soldier, going through the hell of World War I, it will sound fresh and amazing and it will blow people's minds… in 2012 when that idea was created. Now, when I've looked and researched in 2022, there were a lot of bands singing about World War I. But there were not a lot of conceptual albums about World War I. And by conceptual I mean, we didn't want it to be just ‘this battle and then he survives and goes to that battle, he saves a bunch of people so he can go to that battle'. Nah, screw that. I wanted something that would be emotionally charging and draining. Something that you'll have to listen to from start to finish. In this day and age, when they keep saying that our attention span is 7 or 8 seconds, I wanted something that will take an hour of your time; to read the lyrics, read the story and be totally invested in it. It will need your collaboration, your total attention. When you listen to it from the first song until the last, if you don't feel that lump in your throat after it ends, I've failed with composing music.

So there was A LOT of research into it. What battle, when was it, how do we connect him with that historical event? How do we make it so it goes "naturally" from this battle to that place and it doesn't feel forced? What would be the emotional thing that will need the payoff at the end? And then it hit me. Family. That's the thing worth fighting and dying for. As soon as I found a place where I could separate him from his family, then I knew I could make the story-line for this album.

When the recording started, we wanted to use just guitars, bass, drums and vocals. But that couldn't capture the importance, the sadness, the epicness, the total nonsense of war. Then we added a solo violin, which led to cello. But then we needed more cellos than one… well, now that we have that, why wouldn't we go for the small string section… and that leads to a small brass section. The good thing is, through years of working in the music industry, I have got to know a lot of people that were masters of their instruments so they could record that stuff for me.But this became such a draining experience for me, I've become obsessed with it. I couldn't do anything except that, I couldn't sleep right because I was thinking about the story and production side of it. Now I know why that happened – it's because I knew it would be important to people and I didn't want to screw it up. I don't want to sound like an egoist, but I was pretty sure about my composing side of the album, what I wasn't sure about is will the ethno musical parts of the album work, will the blend of cinematic riffs with cinematic orchestra work well? So, I'm really glad that album got received so well because a lot, and I mean A LOT, of work went into it.

So far, how do you see the status of Prognan after the release of your first full-length album, along with the compilation album that came out after? Did both releases serve their purpose and how did their overall impact make you feel on a personal level?

Both of them got accepted incredibly well. Especially Naši Životi Više Ne Postoje. It was such a satisfying feeling when we saw the feedback for it; tons of messages, pictures and even stories from fans. Six months of work well spent. But the good thing was that we didn't do it because of status. Like I've said above – we didn't even know if people remembered us after so many years. We've just released that first album on YouTube without even thinking about selling it. We've only opened Bandcamp because fans wanted to pay for the album, which we didn't even think it would happen. This is all new to me so I'm always glad to read about the band, always glad when we receive messages about the album and what it means to the listeners. It's just the best feeling in the world.

Beside the fact that these releases managed to bring a new horde of Prognan fans together, have they also managed to get some attention from labels as well? Were you given any offers for physical releases or contracts?

From the beginning I knew we wouldn't release it for any label. The thing is, I have also been a label owner for many years (not metal music, but it's the same rules basically) and, even though our label has always tried to be fair and square, I know how labels take advantage of musicians. What I didn't know is how much advantage they take over metal bands. For example, most of the bands will sign for a label and the label will send them 20-30-50 CD's. That's the only payment they'll ever get. Wait a minute. What about the percentage of albums sold? What about streaming percentage? What about mechanical royalties in general? What about the author's writer's share? What about sync licenses? Most of the underground labels don't even know about that and the other ones that do, they just give you a contract: Sign this, thank you very much, you sign it and you give them publishing rights and the rights to your master (or even writer's share) in perpetuity. So we didn't want to release it for any label. We are now in talks with some of them regarding new and upcoming albums, but we are in no hurry. We can always release it independently, like the first one.

It's not so common these days to have a band like yourself release a full-length album as your comeback and then quickly release a compilation album which consists of re-recordings of your old songs, as well as some unused songs from "Naši Životi Više Ne Postoje". Is there any specific reason why you chose to do this?

The thing about compilation albums is that I really wasn't satisfied with the recordings we did in the past. Especially EP Jama which had all those weird spikes and volume changes… It makes me shiver now when I think about it. So I always wanted to re-record it and re-record some other songs that were part of Prognan's history so that's what I did. We have had some material that didn't end on Naši Životi Više Ne Postoje so that could be released on this one, we've also re-recorded past songs and the ones that never saw the light of the day decade ago and that's how Sve Je Tiho Na Istočnom Frontu came to be. I recorded even more stuff for that compilation, but it was already around an hour in length so we had to cut them out for some future releases, maybe as bonus tracks. The reason why it came out so fast after the first one was because this was the only time it could be released.

In the middle of working on a first full length, the idea popped in my head that, if this album was to be received well, we will do three more (not counting the Sve Je Tiho Na Istočnom Frontu compilation) that will follow the complete history of Balkan from 1914. until 1945. The storyline and most of the music is already written for all of those. As much as I like creating it, I hate producing, recording, mixing and mastering it. It just takes insane amounts of time that I could spend creating more songs. Literally, I have an entire wall in my studio and a panel on it with the story of the 4 albums and how everything is interconnected with each one.

Despite the band's absence, were you able to follow up on the local metal scene in Croatia, as well as other neighboring countries? Did any new bands attract your attention?

Not really, I have to say that. I wasn't into metal music that much. Even when I listened to it, it was all the bands I listened to ten years ago. But, since I've started doing this again, there were few bands I've noticed that really caught me. All of these bands released their songs and albums years ago, but since I wasn't into metal that much, this was all new to me.

I have to write about Gavranovi, their lyrics and music are amazing, especially incorporating gusle into it. It is authentic and that's something I respect so much. That's one of the things I aim with Prognan's albums – to be authentic and not make them sound like copying someone else. We are from Balkan, we have our music and let the world hear it when we incorporate it with metal. Croatian band Sikasa, god damn – what an album. I listened to it again a few days ago and I simply can't believe this was made in Croatia! All My Sins is also a band that released their album in 2018 or 2019 I think, but I've heard it in 2022 so it sounded new to me. Awesome incorporation of chants and "Balkan riffs." There's also Šakal from Serbia whom I talk with almost every week or so. Amazing people, an amazing band, also has that Slavic feel to it. I think their next album will completely destroy the scene of how good it will sound. There were others as well, but these are the ones that really caught me off guard.

Not everyone is familiar with this fact, but you are also a composer who worked on big Hollywood projects and trailers such as Logan, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Jurassic World, Doctor Strange, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and many others, and you even own a professional publishing agency (label) for trailer music. I would like to know more about your background as a composer. How did you get involved with such a big and serious industry to work on trailer music for these blockbuster movies? Is any of these projects your personal favorite and do you have some interesting stories to share about with them?

It was in the right place at the right time combined with insane amounts of work, many sleepless nights and a tad bit of luck mixed in the same pot haha. It is a long story that's really hard to summarize in a few sentences and it's something that not a lot of people do, especially from this part of the world, but I've been blessed to call this my business and to be able to combine my passion and love for music into a career. It just started like any other kid that had dreams about someday working on something they are really passionate about. For me that was music from movies - soundtracks. I was always amazed how a composer can make me feel sad, happy, scared, moved and emotionally destroyed with music that doesn't have any words. It was unbelievable to me. Since I was from Croatia, I knew there was no chance I could ever create something like that (people kept telling me I need to go to school for this) or to make this my career, but there was always that WHAT IF, that goddamn what if that somehow always manages to change the course of history, that freedoms were fought over, that people bled and died for and that made me do this. It is not that I wanted a career out of it when I started out. I didn't even know there was such a thing called trailer music, I thought that was the music from the movie (which is a general misconception to this day).

When I sat down and did (or rather tried to do – very badly) cinematic music at that time, it was like I had found a piece of heaven within my soul. It was that profound moment of complete and honest truth where you know that this is something you want to do and despite what anyone says to you, you know that you will do this even if you don't get paid one cent – because this is what you have searched for up until that point. It became like a drug to me. I was spending 10-12 hours a day creating music and I was frustrated at myself because my backs hurt and I couldn't do it anymore. I was going to bed hoping I would fall asleep fast so I can wake up and do more of this.  I was like a junkie that needed his fix and my fix was this. When you spend that much time doing something, when the opportunity arrives (and it will arrive, trust me), you will take it and just fly with it.

That's what happened to me. I've signed with some smaller publishers that did trailer music which led me to the biggest publishers in that genre. Which led me to doing insane amounts of movie and game trailers. I am a firm believer in hard work. If you work hard, I don't know when and I don't know how, but the opportunity will arrive. It always does, maybe not the way you wanted it to or maybe you didn't see it at that moment, but it does arrive. In the end, you could spend 30 years working on a job you hate and you feel miserable each day going to it and get fired in the end… so why not try to do something you actually like even if you fail? That job is still there waiting for you, but you could be destined for so much more than that and you don't even know it. And I've seen that happen oh so many times. One of my go to composers now that I have a company is over 50 years old, started doing this when he turned 50. He couldn't believe he could do it now at "such an old age", but when he tried it – he never turned back. Now he is signed for every major publishing business out there.

Like I've said, you never know.

Are there any personal favorite film composers that influenced your work? Also, do you wish to collaborate with any of these composers in the future?

Of course, a lot of them. Straight from the top of my head, one and only – John Williams. Bombastic space opera themes, motifs and amazing orchestration… and then that sad, the saddest violin my ears ever heard in "Schindlers List" theme. Hans Zimmer, greatest living innovator of composing music for movies. For example, every war movie since ages ago had that solo trumpet violin playing in the background. That was the instrument to go to. Then "Dunkirk" came in and he used synths and Shepard tones (good thing to investigate if you want to create never ending tension in metal music) and it worked marvelously. Alexandre Desplat. Extremely proficient. Amazing work ethic. Insanely awesome melodies. And of course, the legend Bernard Herrmann. Do I need to say anything other than his work with Alfred Hitchcock. That shower scene in "Psycho". I am also following a lot of that Icelandic scene, like unfortunately departed Jóhann Jóhannsson. His work in "Arrival" was amazing. As well as Hildur Guðnadóttir. Everyone will say about her work on the "Joker" movie – which was absolutely stunning – but I simply adore what she created sonically for HBO's "The Chernobyl". There are many really that influence me, but these will always be among the dearest to me.

Since we are already on the subject regarding your work with big Hollywood projects, I would like to know how this affects your work with Prognan. Has your experience on these projects in any way helped Prognan's material and did it give you a strong push to work more ambitiously on your music than before?

Of course it did. I have been working on that big cinematic music for a decade now, of course it influenced working with a band and in no small way. It was a good thing we have decided to create these albums today. There's no way I would have been able to create them 10 years ago. I didn't have the expertise nor the knowledge I needed to be able to do them. I'd still do them, of course, but they would be far less inferior than now.

I like that one reviewer called the band cinematic metal, I think that fits correctly.  I don't want to do symphonic metal stuff, where the orchestra ends up leading the music. I want my metal to still be metal, but to have that extra spice when needed in terms of orchestral parts. Ideally, it would be amazing if I manage to make you close your eyes and you can see the pictures in your head, like a movie. Yeah, like a metal soundtrack to some kind of epic blockbuster haha

Since we have a new Prognan album on the horizon, I think it's bold to assume that there are high expectations from fans who are looking forward to its release. What can we expect from this new album? Will it continue the path which you successfully crafted with "Naši Životi Više Ne Postoje"?

I hope so. I can see by the comments people are waiting for this one. Which scares me a little bit haha. But I was never known to back down for a fight so I think the next ones will be even better than the previous ones. I know they will. Regarding the new album Sjene Nad Balkanom, I think a lot of people want it to be a continuation to the first one, which it is, but musically we have changed it a bit. Story takes us to the 1930's and I have tried to capture that feeling of those times in riffs and music in general. So you will hear a lot of contemporary music and music from that time, as well as voice acting – since now we have more people involved in the story. Since I'm also doing production side of things (mix and mastering), I have been busting my head for months – the recording of the album started in February of this year – on actually trying to mix this album in a way like you are watching a movie with Dolby Atmos sound, without using the Dolby Atmos. It was a pain in the ass to achieve it and to get the same results with using headphones that just have left and right speaker in it, but I think I've managed to achieve it. I call it 3D sound. So when you listen to an album, you will hear the sound has width, height and sense of depth. It is hard to explain, but you'll be able to hear it when you first listen to it on headphones.

It's a much bigger production than the first one, but I'll leave it at that. I'll just say that next three albums, including Sjene Nad Balkanom, will all follow the story of a soldier we met in Naši Životi Više Ne Postoje and I really do feel that we will create something with those albums that all of the people from Balkan can say that they are proud of. That's at least the main goal for it.

Thank you so much for doing this interview, Kob! I look forward to a bright future for Prognan and your career as a whole. Are there any final words you'd like to leave to your fans?

Thank you very much for inviting me and for having the patience to listen to my rumbling haha.

Entered: 7/22/2023 7:07:49 AM

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