Ghost Brigade: “I don’t know. Maybe.”

Ghost Brigade’d rather let the music do the talking, just like Veli-Matti Suihkonen, the band’s quite nice drummer, who confesses, embarrassed, not feeling too comfortable when interviewed. No hidden message behind Ghost Brigade’s musical sadness: “it’s very difficult to write happy riffs that sound good! [laughs] I don’t know how to do that.” So when Veli-Matti tells us how natural the band’s writing process is, we totally believe him. He’s also a very humble character, confessing his weaknesses all along the interview, particularly regarding the technical level needed to play in a metal band.

On paper, there isn’t that much pure informations in this interview, and yet it teaches a lot about these musicians’ state of mind, notably in all these innocent “I don’t know” and “maybe” that involuntarily but salutarily taunt us, fans and journalists, who keep on interpreting too much – or deconstructing cheeseburgers, like Devin Townsend’d put it.

« (laughs) I don’t know if it’s that sad. Maybe it sounds sad… The melodies are like “melancholic”, maybe sad sounding… […] But it’s very hard to make some happy sounding riffs that sounds good. (laughs) I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know where it comes from, if it’s in our blood or in our drinking water. »

Radio Metal: Until Fear No Longer Defines Us sounds like a complete continuity to Isolation Songs. Was it important for the band to settle its identity and not drift away from what you had accomplished with your first two albums?

Veli-Matti Suihkonen (drums): Yeah sure, I mean, it’s a little bit different from our two previous albums. It’s maybe not so metallic, it’s more like “rock oriented”. But you know there still are the same heavy elements and melodies. It’s different but it’s not different (laughs). It is another approach to do our music, but the basic elements are still there!

You just said that the last album was a little bit more “rock oriented”. Would you like to go a little further in this direction in the future?

For this record it was like this but I really can’t say about the future, where we are going. We’ll just have to wait and see. It’s like a big sandbox where we can play with our music. So it’s hard to say about directions at this point. That’s the beauty of the thing because you can go in so many directions and you can play a lot with this.

What have you learned from the experiences of your two previous albums? What kind of impact did these experiences have on your new album?

What we learned was maybe not to make too hard songs for ourselves to play (laughs). Songs on the latest album were more like straight forward. Of course we had a nice experience from touring, what we have done, we are more like a tighter unit when we play. It’s like a natural progress for this band.

You just said that one thing that you learned is to not make songs too hard to play. Does this mean that there are songs on the two previous albums that are difficult to play for you?

Yeah, on stage… There are a couple of songs on the two previous albums that we have maybe never played on stage because it was so difficult to do, to adapt them to a live format. We can play those but it doesn’t maybe sound so tight. But we haven’t played these songs for a while so I can’t really say how they’d sound today if we played them.

Which are these songs?

Concealed Revulsions is one of them. We actually played it once on our last tour but then our mixing guy told us that we’d better take it back to the rehearsal place, so it wasn’t that good (laughs). That’s a very difficult song, at least for us to play, so we haven’t played it that much.

Ghost Brigade is one of those rare bands who have a strong musical identity, but aren’t you afraid to rest yourself on this asset and fall into a kind of musical routine, by applying this formula you have created and, in the end, limit the creative process?

I think we have a strong identity but it has come from playing years together. We have known ourselves for a very long time, we have been friends for a long time and we have the same kind of roots, of history and from that… I don’t know what to say. We all like heavy music, but also very different kinds of music and our influences come from very different genres. I don’t know where we are going with this! We just focus on making great songs, strong songs, that’s our main goal. We don’t think too much about other issues.

Until Fear No Longer Defines Us is a title that speaks for itself. Do you think that fear is the main characteristic of the human being, to the point of defining him?

Sure, we’re all afraid of something. The main idea of this title is like: “get rid of those fears and work on them. Get on with your life and do what you want to do. Think about your life, how do you see it, and what do you want to do with it”. It’s the main topic there. Everybody should ask themselves about this. It’s your life, you have to try to be happy and work for your dreams and happiness.

So how do you get rid of your fears?

That’s a very good question! Everybody has its own personal fears and I think that to acknowledge them is a good starting point. It’s like a negative kind of feeling and you try to get past it. You know, try to be a better human.

What do you fear the most in life?

Nowadays I don’t actually think about fear that much. Maybe it’s just a concern. The most important thing in life is health. Health issues. Your loved ones, if something happens to them…. But myself… I’m not so afraid of myself (laughs), I’m afraid of spiders! That’s my fear. Maybe I have to work on that (laughs).

« It was a little bit tricky to change style from stoner rock to this metal kind of stuff, where you have to play very precisely. […] We are more like rock and roll stuff musicians maybe (laughs). »

The cover art is beautiful, with more shades of light than the two previous albums on which the black was predominant. Do we have to see a symbolic behind that?

I think it’s quite like how our music sounds. If you look at the picture, it’s very atmospheric, dark and gloomy but there’s also light, elements of hope in there. So it’s not all about the negative, the bad stuff that happens in your life… There’s always hope. I think light represents that.

One of the characteristics of your music is its sadness. Where does it come from?

(laughs) I don’t know if it’s that sad. Maybe it sounds sad… The melodies are like “melancholic”, maybe sad sounding… I don’t know, I think we just like sad melodies. And we think that sad melodies are those sounding the best. We’re not so much about “happy, happy” kind of pop melodies! Well, if it’s done well… But it’s very hard to make some happy sounding riffs that sounds good. (laughs) I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know where it comes from, if it’s in our blood or in our drinking water. It’s just the way it is, I don’t know.

Sadness and melancholy are actually characteristics that we hear in many Finnish bands. But this comes in contrast with a sense of humor we often witness with finnish people. How can you explain that?

Yeah… I don’t know. Maybe it comes from some slavic melancholic roots that we have. I don’t know if melancholy and sadness are our thing … I’m not sure if it fits actually. We are not so sad people! I think maybe that this kind of sound and melodies is in our musical roots. Then, as a people, I don’t know… At least this band … we are not here to wallow in sadness or anything like that.

I understood that all the band members have diverse tastes in music. How did you end up converging on this very particular style you play in Ghost Brigade .

We have like a main songwriter, Wille, who does most of the job. He writes most of the riffs, then we just take the music to our rehearsal place and start to arrange it together, as a band. Whatever feels appropriate to our music. We’re taking influences from here, from there… Just trying to find what sounds cool. That’s about it really, I can’t really explain… When we have a song of course sometimes we have to work it lots, sometimes it comes sort of naturally! We try to incorporate our own musical ideas as much as possible to the music, so that it becomes interesting.

Until Fear No Longer Defines Us is your third album in only four years, which is a lot by today’s standards. Are you a band that needs a sustained working rhythm?

We have been releasing our albums in two years cycles and that’s usually the time it takes to write an album, rehearse it and record it. That’s like our rhythm of making albums. It has always been like that.

This is also the third to be released through Season Of Mist. This label has a strong reputation for its very good choices of band signatures. But as a band are you plenty satisfied with your collaboration with Season Of Mist?

Yeah sure! They have done their job very well. There’s been press and visibility for this band, we had nice shows in France, at the Hellfest. We’re happy with Season Of Mist, I think I have nothing bad to say about them.

So you are going to continue with them in the future?

Well we have to see, our contract with Season Of Mist is over now. And we have to take a look on our next moves, on what we’re going to do. We don’t know yet. We are looking at every option and then we will decide what would the best for us.

So what are you looking for in a label?

I don’t know. Maybe it would be better to put it out by ourselves. I don’t know what is going to happen. We will check out every option and we’ll decide.

Would you put it out by yourself? There are many bands doing that now.

Yeah. And that’s very good if you have the resources to do it. I think that’s the ideal situation for a band if it’s big enough and able to make those moves. It’s like having all the control in the bands’ hands, so I think that’s very good. But you know there is also always a need for labels. I don’t think they will fade away.

Do you think you are out of control of the band today?

No, of course we are in control! Maybe it’s more like a money issue. We have our artistic control, we do our music when we are able to, when we can and when we want to do it, so there’s nothing negative about that.

But you think the label is taking too much money, right?

Is it not the case, most of the time!? (laughs) You know it’s their job and nothing is free, so I understand that too.

« I’m sorry, did I answer to any of your questions? (Laughs) »

You say that nothing is free but you know that many music fans want the music for free now.

Yeah… I saw the story about Century Media getting their bands out of Spotify. I think this situation isn’t so black and white. I can understand Century Media’s point of view but I think Spotify is good and for smaller bands it’s very good for promotion. With this band, we’re not really doing this for the money so it doesn’t bother us if our songs are on Spotify, on the contrary, it’s better. For us at least, and I think for many bands as well.

But recording an album costs a lot of money. You have to get paid at least to get back the money you’ve invested into the making of the album I guess.

Yeah, sure. We get royalties you know. It’s usually the label that pays for the studio costs at first and then they subtract them from our royalties. Usually there’s very little of money that we can get from selling records. Most of it comes from the tours and the merchandising stuff.

Guided By Fire was impressively mature for a first album. How did you achieve so soon such professional as well as personal musical result?

Did you say professional? (Laughs). I don’t know! We have our own history. We were in a stoner band called Sunride, our guitarist, our bass player and me, during ten years. So we had like a history in making and playing music. We did several tours, in central Europe… And the other guys used to also have their own bands. So, we have played music for a long time. I have to admit that it was a little bit tricky to change style from stoner rock to this metal kind of stuff, where you have to play very precisely. You know how metal music is (laughs). It was a little bit difficult but we got our demo done – I think we didn’t have any rehearsal before recording, so we just went to the studio and recorded. Then we got the deal from Season Of Mist. But it really had been like a long journey to get to this point, where we are now, because it’s a very hard form of music to play. We are more like rock and roll stuff musicians maybe (laughs). But, we tried to do our “homework”, we worked on it hard and here we are!

This first album had more aggressiveness than its successors, does it mean that you have less anger today? That you control better your anger?

Maybe you can say that. There’s anger and lots of different moods anyway in our music. Maybe that one sounds angrier. The feeling we had with this record, maybe was a little more “mellow”. Even if we have acoustic songs, there are still the same elements on this new record. Even if it’s acoustic, it feels like a heavy kind of song. There’s some heaviness in the song, although it’s acoustic. It’s a different form. Maybe there are not so much aggressive feelings anymore.

Ghost Brigade will tour in September in Finland before going on the road in other European countries for your very first headlining tour. Do you feel like a small apprehension for what we can consider your first true meeting with your fans?

It’s always exciting. We don’t think about success that much. We just try to do good songs and then we go to the shows. For sure it’s very exciting to have our first headlining tour, with our support bands which are Intronaut and A Storm of Light from the States. It’s going to be exciting but I’m not so concerned or afraid of it. It’s strange, there’s been a lot of hassle with this new album. We try to keep our feet on the ground and focus on the things that are the most important, which is music, doing good shows, meeting new people, fans, just having good time. That’s basically it.

Your shows have already earned a very good reputation by visually transcribing the feeling of your music. Is this something you have specifically worked on or does it come naturally for the band?

We took step after step and here we are! We’re trying not to think too much about anything else than music, that is the most important thing to us. I’m sorry, did I answer to any of your questions? (Laughs)

Yeah, don’t worry, it’s ok ! (Laughs) You’re playing no less than nine shows in Finland. It sounds like you already have a strong fame in your own country… How strong is your popularity and how did you achieve it in such a short time?

I’m not sure if our previous bands have something to do with it… Or you know, familiar guys, from old bands. There also have been some press and interviews for the band at the time. It might be actually that… usually bands become famous in Finland after they have been to foreign countries. After that, the finnish press and people notice you better and then they start making press about you. It usually goes that way.

Interview conducted in august, 2011 by phone.
Introduction by Metal’O Phil

Transcription: Lucas
Ghost Brigade’s Website: www.ghostbrigade.net

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