N.B. This interview was written from memory and a few scribbled notes. Apologies to either if I misquote something they said.
I checked in with Ville and Mitja from Moonsorrow, who are in the midst of the Dead Tyrants Tour with Tyr and Crimfall, supporting the latest album release, Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa (review here). They took some time out before preparing for the gig (drinking tea and vodka, in good Finnish fashion) to answer some questions about the tour, the album and a few surprises along the way…
How is the tour going? Any surprises planned for tonight that you can reveal?
Ville: The tour’s great fun so far, very good times.
Mitja: It’s been different to the previous ones, we’re playing 30 shows and 5 of them are in previously unexplored and sometimes smaller venues.
Like this one!
Yeah. So the older tours were more ‘rock n’ roll’, this is more ‘punk rock’ in feel. You can’t hide behind each other on such a small stage.
V: As for surprises…well I won’t be stage-diving, that’s for sure. I hurt my legs doing that.
So no epic poses on the monitors then?
V: No, probably not this time! *laugh*
Given your songs are significantly longer than the average pop hit, do you find your setlists are very restricted when you tour as support or play festivals?
V: It’s challenging, I mean we’re playing a 75-minute set so we have to be careful what we play. It’s a bit frustrating but you learn to work with it.
M: That and we have a new album out, so we have to play a couple of songs from that as a requirement.
I heard you guys got to play a couple of dates out in China! What kind of experience did you guys have there?
V: It was incredible, like a dream come true for us. To be one of the first foreign metal bands to play there, everyone was really enthusiastic.
M: Yeah, it was a real honor for us, the fans were crazy.
Were there many ex-pats there, or mostly local Asian fans?
V: There were some people who’d come from other countries, but mostly Chinese there from what we could see. There was so much energy at these shows, which we fed off and delivered back.
M: And some of them were singing along. Fuck knows what they were singing, if they were the words or something else, but that was kind of cool. Similar things happened in South America, actually, with fans singing along.
If you could take one thing each with you from Finland for when you’re on tour, something you miss from home, what and why? A bottle of salmiakki, perhaps?
V: Dark bread definitely. I really don’t like the white bread you find in other countries.
M: And Finnish showers. When you’re on tour with 18 people, the last ones don’t tend to get much in the way of hot water. So I’d take a Finnish shower with me.
Now, coming to the album itself, what inspired the darker and doomier approach on VKKM? Was it an intended direction or just the way the songwriting came out?
V: We had a rough idea to start with, when we were writing, but it was a natural process.
M: In a lot of cases, the artist doesn’t write the music, but the music creates itself through the artist.
I had a read through the lyrics both in Finnish and in English. Where did the inspiration for the lyrics come from? Is it a story you created or an adaptation from a literary example?
V: I came up with the story myself, actually. I mean sure, I took some inspiration from different places and so on, but the main idea itself was mine.
The résumé of instruments used on VKKM is very impressive. How did it come about that most of you are multi-instrumentalists? Is it the nature of the music that requires it or is there another reason?
V: I’m not actually the guy to ask about this, I play bass but I wouldn’t say I’m a multi-instrumentalist. Henri is the one to ask, he can play anything.
M: The process itself is fairly simple, I mean you can figure most stringed instruments with a bit of practice. You know from you learnt already. If you want to play the bouzouki, you just need to know a bit about the mandolin, for example.
V: I can play guitar actually, and if you give me a bit of time the banjo. But yeah, Henri is the main guy for that.
The interludes between the tracks seem almost cinematic, maybe like Lord Of The Rings in a way. Was the intention to add a film score element to the concept album?
M: That was precisely the idea actually, to turn it into the soundtrack for a movie.
V: And the texts for the instrumental songs were pieces taken from this journal I imagined written by the narrator, who of course was Mitja, as he’s the last photo in the artwork. So the album’s about him really. *laughs*
Your previous albums seem to feature a more painting-based album cover, yet this time a photograph was used. Was there a reason behind the change in artwork?
V: We had this idea in mind of having a band picture as the album cover. Nobody really seemed to do that anymore, we hadn’t done it either. So we did the shot and it worked out really well in the end, very happy with the result.
Stretching back to 2008, where did the motivation for the Metallica cover of “For Whom The Bell Tolls” come from?
V: Oh, Henri did that years ago. The man had too much time on his hands, so he arranged a version of it, and played it for us. We really liked it so we recorded it for the EP.
A: And who sang the vocal section? Was it you?
V: No, he did.
M: He didn’t want to do it initially, but after we gave him a bottle of Captain Morgan’s (rum) he went in there and recorded them no problem. He even sounds like Captain Morgan! *laugh*
I’ve got a few more general questions to throw at you guys, just to prepare you. So this is a bit of a detour, going back a few years now, but do you have any more plans for another grindcore album? (for those not in the know, go here).
M: That was kind of a spontaneous first album. We had a lot of energy, and something to say. I think it’d be hard to recreate that atmosphere, really, to create something of a similar level. Maybe it’ll happen, maybe it won’t. Who knows?
Coming back to Moonsorrow, I’ve always admired you guys as one of the few major bands whose lyrics are your mother tongue. Do you think this has been a part of your success as well as your identity? And do you think the lyrics would work in English?
V: First question yes, second one no. Although it’s true that it’s easier for me to write lyrics in Finnish, that’s not the only reason. It also fits the music, I think, moreso than those who sing in English about these lyrical topics.
M: We’ve had fans tell us that they learnt Finnish because of us, they started because of the lyrics, and then just didn’t stop. Some of them ended up moving to Finland, and are fluent in the language. So that was kind of cool.
You’ve probably heard this question a lot, but do you think there is a “pagan metal” sound in your opinion? How would you define it if this is the case?
V: Yes and no to there being a pagan sound. I don’t know if there are particular things in the music, but most of the “real” pagan bands seem to have a similarity in atmosphere.
Like yourselves and Tyr for instance?
M: Exactly, yeah.
Do you have any dream collaborators with whom you’d love to work? Alive or dead, any genre.
V: Well…probably Quorthorn, because I’d be interested to see what would come out of it. Not something related to Bathory or to Moonsorrow, something independent. Would be really cool.
M: We never really thought of combining someone else with our sound, we don’t even use producers. Although recently we started using vocal producers.
V: Yeah, I was really happy with the work they did on my vocals for the last couple of albums.
What do you wish to have accomplished in the next 5 years?
M: I think…we’d like to be the first band to play on the moon. *laugh*
V: That’d be awesome, yeah…in terms of more realistic goals, we haven’t really started working on a new album. There’s been a DVD in the works, so it’d be nice to finish that some time, but aside from that no real plans.
I know this may be a tough question, but if you could name one album (or artist) that influenced you with your own sound, or your playing/singing style?
V: You’re right, that’s not easy…You may not necessarily hear this sound in our music, or in pagan metal in general but I think I’d select Amorphis’ “Tales From The Thousand Lakes”. That album had some strong influence on me, even if I can’t place it completely.
M: I reckon I’d choose Enslaved’s first album, “Vikingligr Veldi”. I was listening to a lot of black metal, but these guys were the first in the scene to kick off the tradition of singing stuff in your own language, even if they were singing in old Norwegian, which is closer to Icelandic.
Both very worthy albums!
So, any final parting words for the readers?
V: I never know what to say for this question…
M: Just that we hope to see you guys come to the shows if we’re in your area!
Well, thank you very much for the answers, they were very interesting to hear, and I wish you the best of luck with the tour and any future plans!