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Interviews   

Turisas: Olli, Def Leppard, goldfish and The Space Byzantinian Varangians


Some days you just know from the very first words expressed with the artist that the interview is going to be interesting. This is when it is compelling from the very beginning. Bumblefoot (Guns N’Roses) told us about his dream, David Coverdale (Whitesnake) talked about his ejaculatory fantasies, Turisas violinist Oli Vänskä taught us his techniques for picking up French girls. To be honest, I am pretty sure that with a little coyness and an awkward approach providing sweetness, the cat is in the bag.

Their latest album, Stand Up And Fight, is a quality blockbuster. It’s awesome in every way: Orchestra, chorus etc, however, despite the packaging the inspiration is still there. The album is cinematic, filled with influences and preciously arranged. It was worth the wait and worth pushing the release date back a few times. In fact, we admire the way the band were able to put the situation into perspective. Olli claims that after months of hard work, it is fair to say « ok we’ve done for like 5 months already so let’s just get it over with » for the good of our mental and physical health or be a perfectionist until the end risking a nervous breakdown and saying « because you have spent so much time on it already, you want to finish it well whether it takes a few months more or whatever, it doesn’t really matter anymore ». We discussed these long days and sleepless nights working on the album with him. The hard work paid off and notably even good Hollywood soundtrack fans can appreciate it.

Besides from this, all that the band have to say about the importance of extra-musical visuals, history as a cycle or even the expression of life through all types of art is well-grounded.

This album and the interview will prove when needed that Turisas is successful on every point (musically and extra-musically) in the Folk/Viking scene which Ollie described as « flooded and repetitive ».

« It sounds a bit cheesy to do you know those very classy collaborations which use a symphony orchestra and big choir. Sometimes it seems as though it’s just a show element. […] Maybe someday when we are old and super famous or something like that. That’s the only thing we can offer the audience. (laughs) »

Radio Metal : How’s it going?

Olli Vänskä (violin) : I’m alright, I was working on my French!

Ah, what can you say?

“Bonjour” (Hello), “comment ça va?” (How Are You ?) and “j’ai un poisson rouge” (I’ve got a goldfish).

Why would you say that?

Why not?

(laughs) So you don’t know any pick-up lines for girls in French!

Because you don’t think that the goldfish thing will work?

(laughs) Apparently this new album took a long time to be written and recorded. It is a very rich and well-arranged album. Was it the arrangement work and music coating that took so long?

Well yeah. Mainly for the orchestrations that require arrangements. They took a lot of time. We wanted to put in a lot of time and effort on those. We wanted it to sound really good and we used some of Finland’s top classical music scene musicians for that. The orchestrations and arrangements themselves took a long time, but I think that we did a good job with those as well. We didn’t want to rush. You can always just put something together in a month or so and of course we could have done this it wouldn’t sound the same. It’s a question of quality and how much time and effort you want to spend on it.

Have you considered going on stage with the same orchestral equipment you used for the album?

(laughs) Well I don’t know. It sounds a bit cheesy to do you know those very classy collaborations which use a symphony orchestra and big choir. Sometimes it seems as though it’s just a show element. Actually we have used some classical musicians, like last October when we did three concerts in Finland. There we had three strings: three violins, a trombone and a trumpet. That was a bit of a special event, but I’m not sure if we would do it with a big orchestra. Maybe someday when we are old and super famous or something like that. That’s the only thing we can offer the audience. (laughs) No we want to keep it very metal and a punchy, very energetic show. We are known or being energetic.

In the statement which announced that the album was finally done, we could feel some kind of tiredness. Did you grow tired of working on this album?

(big laugh) It was definitely a long process and it took more time than we have originally planned. We had to postpone the release a few times. But it was only because we hadn’t finalised it in time and we weren’t happy with it before that. We were tired of it but in a positive way, you know, like when you run a marathon or something. When you have done 35 kilometres or something and you just want to fall over and die or something like that. Then you do the extra 7 or 10 kilometres and you cross the finish line and you make it to the end. It was a bit like that; a long marathon. Maybe a double marathon (laughs). Maybe 4 kilometres (laughs).

In 16 months, the risk is to lose hindsight you have on tracks or even to not stand the tracks anymore! Did you feel anything like that?

I still don’t hate it. I think that it’s a very good album. In fact, in the summer I was listening to the rough mixes a lot. The actually recording started in March 2010 and we did the last recording in September, which means that it took about 6 months. We started writing the music the summer before that but last year also did some Japanese dates and China, Australia etc. We did manage to ventilate this time as well. But of course, you are right in saying that it is a long time. Maybe sometimes it would be better to say “let’s just finish it!”, but Mathias is a perfectionist, so he doesn’t want to rush things you know.

« It’s kind of as though there are two sides to it. You might think ‘ok we’ve done for like 5 months already so let’s just get it over with’ or it takes you 5 months and because you have spent so much time on it already, you want to finish it well whether it takes a few months more or whatever, it doesn’t really matter anymore. »

Did you that you might never come to the end?

The end? (laughs)Perhaps not for me personally because luckily I had no production responsibilities, but then yeah there were times when I was going through my calendar and thinking “oh fuck! It’s taking so long”, but you know, some things you just have to do. It’s kind of as though there are two sides to it. You might think “ok we’ve done for like 5 months already so let’s just get it over with” or it takes you 5 months and because you have spent so much time on it already, you want to finish it well whether it takes a few months more or whatever, it doesn’t really matter anymore. You see what I mean?

This album contains some hard rock influences. More specifically, I’m talking about about the riff in « The Great Escape », the tapping at the beginning of « Stand Up And Fight » or the bass and the guitar groove on the « Fear The Fear » intro. What’s your connection with this style of music?

Well I don’t have any particular genre that I would only listen to so I enjoy a variety of bands. Whenever there is a good beat and you have to have a lot of variety in the album as well. I think that we managed that very well. It’s not like a fucking “tutti-fruity” fruit salad or something like that which came out before anybody. It has a lot of moods, influences and feelings in it so I think that’s good. As for the hard rock itself, who wouldn’t want a bit of Def Leppard every now and then you know? And I’m like “yeah yeah yeah!” (laughs). Of course with solos, I played with my electric violin so there’s a lot of tooth licking solos and very sweet tones you know. For example, at the end of “Take the day!”. It’s a very kind of steady rock thing like dun-dada-dun-dada-dun-dada-dun.

In fact, the chorus is also very good on that song.

The chorus? Yeah I think so too. I think that if I had to choose one song then it would probably be that one.

« Who wouldn’t want a bit of Def Leppard every now and then « 

Some of the orchestrations remind us of Hollywood original sound tracks such as those written by Hans Zimmer which bands like Rhapsody or Nightwish have draws their inspiration from. Does this music also influence you?

Well maybe partly. There are some very good soundtrack composers and some that are not that good. For example, John Williams has done a lot of scoring for films but I have a lot of respect for him. When you are writing for a score or a film you have to be able to make cinematic music, something that creates images. I think that our album is a bit like that as well. I would think that you can see the story with your own eyes or at least I hope so. It features characters and everything. But then I don’t like Hans Zimmer so much although there are a lot of good ones out there. Hans Zimmer’s music is perhaps a little bit too easy.

It’s always the same thing with Hans Zimmer.

Yeah. Baba-bump-baba-bump-baba-bump-bump… (one key higher) baba-bump-baba-bump-baba-bump-bump… (Note : He sings the Crimson Tide soundtrack melody) Exactly. But of course he has also done some very memorable stuff like for the movie Inception. I liked the movie very much and I have listened to the soundtrack which is scored by Hans Zimmer quite a few times. He has used so interesting solutions there, for example he uses an Edith Piaf track or he slows down the music like aaaawwwrrrrr. It’s about 10 percent of the original speed so it sounds really weird but it’s really cool sounding.

And what do you think of Ennio Morricone for example?

Oh! I think that he is one of the classic ones, definitely. I don’t know his work as extensively but he also did some music for Italian TV for a detective series and one day I went through that and found some really interesting stuff. Of course you also have some of his Italo-Western stuff. Also, if you listen to the opening track “March of the Varangian Guard”, we had an Ennio Morricone moment with a trumpet playing. We found this is the studio and thought that it was a good reference.

Actually, a lot of metal fans are also fans of Ennio Morricone. I mean Metallica opened all of their shows with a song from Ennio Morricone. Why do you think this it?

“Ecstasy of Gold”, yeah? Well it’s very powerful music and I hope that we share some of the qualities in his music, like the ability to create pictures for the viewers mind. I think that he doesn’t just write songs, they are very atmospheric and they build a kind of sonic world that feels just right. Of course, no composer can do this all of the time, but I think that he has done some very good films. When you listen to his music or some of these Italo-Western films like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, you feel like you are in that world. It’s very powerful and very inspiring. That’s why others bands have used it.

But why do you think that metal fans are so in love with his music?

I don’t maybe. It’s very powerful and exciting music and those are just legendary themes when you think about it, like “Ecstasy of Gold”. I think that it’s very good to borrow influences from a whole different world. If you are a death metal and you only take influences from death metal music or something like that then in the end it probably won’t be very interesting. But if you take influences from film music or Ennio Morricone maybe your music will have a more original mixture.

Couldn’t we just say that all metalheads are just cowboys?

(big laugh) Yeah maybe the cowboy thing! Maybe they share the same feeling of I don’t know… being alone. Or maybe that’s more for the emo stuff (laughs). Alone in a prairie…

Do you like big Hollywood movie productions?

Yeah. I try to go to the movies to see the big films. It just feels so much better than some people who watch them on TV or others who illegally download them. I really like the atmosphere. I like reading a good book and I like watching a good movie. I don’t like bad movies. If there is nothing in there that has never been said before then I don’t know if I would even bother. If there are good actors and interesting directing, then yes, I like it. Do you mean something like Transformers or Transformers 2 or do you mean like action movies? Or actually I really like Indiana Jones and others like that. That whole world is very enjoyable and well done.

« Well I think that a lot of folk metal bands repeat themselves, in fact too many of them. I don’t want to insult anybody but there are a lot of bands that keep repeating themselves and feeding the market you know. It’s kind of like ‘ok well last time people liked this so let’s make 10 more oompa songs and then go on tour again'[…] We like to have a good time and we like to party of course. […] We love to drink beer etc, but there has to be more in life than just that (laughs). »

On the whole, this album is much less kitsch and happy than what we are used to hearing in folk metal. How do you see the folk scene?

Well it’s difficult to say. I mean how do you see it in France? Is it big there?

French metal fans really like folk metal.

(very surprised) Oh ok. Well I think that a lot of folk metal bands repeat themselves, in fact too many of them. I don’t want to insult anybody but there are a lot of bands that keep repeating themselves and feeding the market you know. It’s kind of like “ok well last time people liked this so let’s make 10 more oompa songs and then go on tour again”. Our approach has been to do something different and interesting. I’m not saying that either of those options are better or worse but I think that the fold metal scene is very repetitive because they keep doing the same thing all of the time. And I mean, we like to have a good time and we like to party of course. We have songs that really get the crowd going and we love to drink beer etc, but there has to be more in life than just that (laughs). We like to other different kinds of moods. Somebody might like it and somebody might not, it’s always everybody for their own, but we like to take people on for a good party and then do something more exciting or big or operatic or something very aggressive. I think that our strong point is our variety.

Well when you asked me whether there were a lot of folk metal fans in France, I thought that you were preparing your answer, so that if I said that there were then you would have to say that folk metal is great… (laughs)

No, I didn’t mean if there are folk metal French bands, I just didn’t know.

I was just joking (laughs).

Yeah yeah. In Central Europe it is a big thing but I wasn’t sure about France. But yeah of course we love French folk metal bands they are number one!….. (big laugh)

« There is a large amount of things that keep repeating themselves . So you can tell a story about the fall of the Soviet Union whilst keeping it within the Byzantine contest. […] The message is there, whether the setting is in Viking times or modern times. »

Well played(laughs)! About the new album you said that « the songs are much more universal and deal with topics that can be placed just as tightly into the modern world as in the 11th century Byzantine Empire. ». Did you want to distance yourself from the traditional folk metal scene where they only write lyrics and stories that take place during the Middle Ages?

Yeah well it’s like the fact that most of the lyrics on this album belong to that same picture of the Byzantine Empire story that we tell. There is so much repetition in history that you can see a movement, like in politics, which comes and goes. In one part of history there are big empires and then they fall and then new ones are built. For example, the Byzantine Empire was huge until it gradually lost its power. You can link this to the Soviet Union which dominated the world political scene with the US through the majority of the 20th century. There is a large amount of things that keep repeating themselves . So you can tell a story about the fall of the Soviet Union whilst keeping it within the Byzantine contest, you know what I mean? I mean definitely. Mathias writes the majority of the lyrics so you would have to ask him but I get the feeling that he wanted to lyrics to mean more than just stories about swords and guys with helmets etc, you know. It’s the same as in a movie. The message is there, whether the setting is in Viking times or modern times. The message has to be there. Then there can be a really stupid movie which might contain Vikings or whatever but they don’t say anything about them, they are just waving their swords. But I still think that it’s a nice context which can be enjoyed and it doesn’t have to feel like a history lesson or something like that.

Do you think that history is cyclical?

In parts yes. Many things and phenomena are cyclical in history. You can see it by looking at which geographical organisms, countries or unions are the most powerful. There was Rome and before that it was more in the East with the Persians. Then there was a lot of the US and Soviet Russian thing and of course (…22.00) there was big political movements in the 20th century with the Second World War and everything, so definitely. There is always a country that wants to be bigger or more powerful than the others. We can learn a lot about history that way. If you know your history then you can know yourself better.

You know what’s funny? Since Radio Metal is a radio station, right now there is a Turisas song being broadcasted on air! It was completely unintentional!

Oh really? What song is it?

It’s a song from the new record.

Oh! That’s cool. Thank you very much.

Well we didn’t do it on purpose…

Yeah right! Well played! (big laughs)

No really I promise you, it wasn’t done on purpose (laughs). Is it possible that you will one day write a concept album which takes place in the present day? Or even a futuristic concept album? This has never been done before in folk…

Yeah well… A concept album is something that is very difficult to play right. Personally, I don’t like it when you only take one thing, like if you only take one things from a person’s life or something; I find it really cheesy. You could say that anything is possible for us and we are not limiting ourselves. Would it really be that interesting to do something on modern day life? I don’t know. It could be.

Not necessarily a concept album, but maybe just some futuristic lyrics.

Well who knows? Space Vikings, I don’t know… Space Byzantine Varagians, I don’t know (laughs). Maybe someday. After you’ve reached it all you can do whatever you want.

You stated that you wanted to constantly reinvent yourself and to always evolve. The lyrics on this album are meant to be much more modern. Would it be possible to develop your sound even more by using some more modern sounds for the next album?

Yeah well it’s possible. It’s too early to say anything about the direction of the new album, but it would be boring if from now on it was always the same band, same choir and that is Turisas. We play electric violins and electric harmonicas and accordions, so we are definitely not limiting ourselves. I don’t know. Sometimes, many of the bands that I really like have gone into too much of a wrong direction so they lost their sound, and you have to be really careful of that. I think that bands should be more experimental and willing to push themselves further. Some bands just keep repeating themselves. They always produce 10 new songs and bam it’s a new album. Then there is no progress in their instrumentation or anything like that. I think that you should always push yourself definitely. Who knows what will happens in the future? We have done some electronic beat things, just a few small intros because I don’t want to push it too much in that direction.

Folk metal is a very particular genre; it’s not easy making it evolve or mixing it with other styles. Mixes of rock and rap or metal and electronic music exist, but with Folk it’s hard to imagine this style of music getting mixed with other musical genre like rap or industrial music. What do you think about this? Do you think it’s something impossible?

Actually there is a really well-known hip hop and folk influenced group in Finland. I would actually say that they are really good (Note : We could’nt find the band he’s talking about). It’s a Finnish band so it’s in Finnish

Folk hip hop?

Yeah they use a lot of Baltic influences and instrumentation. So it is possible. I think that if you think that it’s impossible then you probably can’t do it, but if you want to experiment then there might be some hope (laugh). I don’t know. You could use it in very interesting ways I guess. Of course in Sweden there was a band that played in the Eurovision Song Contest in the nineties. They use a lot of folk stuff. So I would say that yeah it is possible definitely.

The album cover is surprising: it’s very classical and it’s even slightly like a caricature especially when we compare it with the album’s music. Where does this gap come from?

The cover has the same feeling as the classic movies that we talked about, it takes a lot of influence from the 50s movies, a bit like the classic action movies. We wanted to do it that way so that it would share more of the cinematic thing. I think that it was really well done. It shares a lot with propaganda posters. It has similar values, in the same way as a 50s movie poster. We didn’t really have to have a Viking on the cover but it just kind of suited it. Sorry if you don’t like it! (laughs)

The visual aspect has always been very important for Turisas. Do you think that nowadays bands tend to leave this aspect aside settle with the music only?

I think that we have seen enough of bands who perform in just jeans and t-shirts. I mean there is a lot of this just due to the trendy clothes and then there are a few tattoos and that’s it. I think that there is room for exciting bands that have their own style. Overall, there is definitely room for more influence.

In opposition, Kiss have always kept their visual appearance, their world and their characters on the same level of importance as their music. What is your connection with this band? Are they an inspiration for you or at least a reference in the way of creation an extra musical universe?

Maybe partly, but it has never been a personal thing for me. Of course that they are in the same box as we are, but I don’t know because we don’t want to be too tied up with the costumes. That’s the way we are on stage but we want to reserve the right to be off stage and dressed normally. I think that more bands should have a strong image and a universe of their own. This is our aim. Music has to be like a kind of musical and visual journey I think.

Then, Gene Simmons said that Lady Gaga, for her relation to performances and bombastic shows, was the best thing that happened to music since KISS. Do you agree with him?

(laughs) Let’s say that musically, I don’t always like Lady Gaga that much but I think that she is a very interesting phenomenon. The way that the whole thing is set up is very well crafted. I wouldn’t say that it’s the best thing, but she is huge at the moment and in Finland also. Who knows? Maybe after five albums or five years she will be there will Madonna. Things come and go very fast in music. I don’t know who will remember her in five years. I hope that she does well.

Interview conducted by phone in january, 2011.

Transcription : Izzy & Saff’

TURISAS Website : http://turisas.com/



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