PoM: This is only the second day of Paganfest, right?
PoM: How’s has it started so far?
Mathias: Well, we’ve only done one show. It’s great to be back in the States. It’s been a year since we last played here but we were also playing very short sets. So now this is the first time we’re actually headlining and it’s really good, you know, to get out there and play your full set instead of 30 minutes.
PoM: How many times have you been to the US?
Mathias: I think this is our 4th time but it’s been spread over quite a few years so I guess we should be coming here a bit more actively than once a year. Fourth time in this venue also, so…
PoM: How do you feel that you’re headlining the tour in support of your third full-length album?
Mathias: Well, we’ve been around for a long time so we don’t feel super weird about it. We’ve played many of headline tours in Europe and so on. It’s just in the States, it’s sort of a new market for us. We haven’t been headlining until now but of course it’s cool, it’s still a package. There are a lot of bands on stage every night and I think the strength is still more in the package than in only one band, so we don’t want to take all the credit for the shows. But yeah, it feels good, we’ve played so many tours here with only 30-minute sets and that only gives you a scratch of what the band is about and now we get to go on stage with a full set.
PoM: What are some of your expectations on this tour and your plans afterwards?
Mathias: We go back home… We don’t have any tours set up for the rest of the year. We’ve been going for it since last January in 2011, when we first started in Mexico and North America with a tour. And then we went to Europe and toured there, the summer festivals, then it was fall, and then we did two European tours. This year we’ve only been to Australia and now doing this. The rest of the year it’s going to be a bit quiet for us since we’ve been going on tour and we’ll have a chance to actually start writing some new songs and work on a new album. So that’s pretty much the plan. I’m sure we’ll probably have a show or a few shows if something comes up and we might be looking into it, but the basic idea is to lay low for a while and put together a new album.
PoM: Where else would you wish to tour?
Mathias: South America has been something we’ve tried to work out for a long time and we still haven’t been there.
PoM: Have you been to Japan?
Mathias: Yeah we’ve been to Japan. Twice or three times, I think.
PoM: It’s a thing with Finnish bands isn’t it? Where they say if you’ve been to Japan, you've pretty much made it…
Mathias: (Laughs) Yeah. We played LOUD PARK Festival in Japan which is a really big arena show with… I think Motorhead was playing… big bands. We did that in 2010. We were actually supposed to go back last year but they had the tsunami and things got a bit strange there because of course, the focus wasn’t in putting up shows, y’know? So that kind of falter a bit but hopefully we’ll be getting ourselves over to Asia as well. There’s been a lot of interest in China, all the time, but of course it doesn’t make sense for a band like us to just go to China. You sort of have to… (pauses)
PoM: …build your way into it?
Mathias: In a way, yeah.
PoM (2): What about South East Asia?
Mathias: Like India?
PoM (2): Yeah around there. There’s a big market there…
Mathias: Definitely, all of those. Of course as a band it’d be great to go everywhere. We love to see new places and play to different kind of crowds. It always comes down to so many things like logistics, time tables and things. And also connections. It’d be much easier probably if we didn’t book our own shows and have someone who works like a booking agent. If you don’t have the connections to someone in… let’s say the Philippines - it might be a bit hard to put on a show if you’re not Lady Gaga or something.
PoM: What would you say is the secret to your success? Do you think the props and silly costumes have anything to do with it?
Mathias: Of course there’s no putting down the fact that, of course it has helped us with having a very strong visual image. But it’s sort of one piece of the puzzle and for us, it’s also an important piece of the package in a way that it’s what we do on stage. I don’t see it as a bad thing, it’s just how we run things and it doesn’t decrease the value of anything else in any way.
To us, it’s been more about finding development and artistic creativity in what we do. It’s great to have success, but we don’t exist to please the masters. Of course we appreciate all the fans and everything, but you have to do it for yourself and just be grateful if someone else enjoys it as well. As soon as you start writing or thinking of how to do things based on what people would expect you to do, you kind of fall into that trap of becoming a piece of the market, you know? You’re just feeding the market in a way, instead of being creative on your own.
PoM: What do you get asked most about this album? I was on vacation last year and I’d mistakenly transferred only two albums on my iPod. One of them is Stand Up and Fight and an album from a band called, Carach Angren. So I pretty much listened to Stand Up and Fight plenty of times as those were the only albums I could listen to at the time. I think I’m too familiar with it now - in terms of sound and even lyrically. I just don’t want to ask the same questions again, basically.
Mathias: The most about Stand Up and Fight… hm… I don’t actually know.
PoM: I’ve listened to it many times... for me, it’s nothing new anymore.
Mathias: Yep, right. That’s what you sort of appreciate, someone who’ve actually, A: listened to the album, maybe and hopefully more than once.
PoM: One too many...
Mathias: (laughs) The question you kind of end up getting most of, in which you wouldn’t want to get is like, “Oh, so you have a new album. Tell me something about.”
PoM: One of the songs on there, Take the Day!, my first impression was that it was sort of like an 80's power rock-esque thing in there... What did you have in mind when you created that?
Mathias: Yeah, I don’t know where that influence snuck in there. Although some of the other songs on the other albums, there is this hint of that sort of stadium or drive to it. We’re not really big fans of Def Leppard or Bon Jovi or anything (laughs) so I don’t know really were that is coming from.
PoM: That’s what it sounded like to me. (laugh)
Mathias: It’s kind of cool to pick in stuff like that but not directly. Something old becomes something new - in a different environment. I don’t know. It wasn’t really planned. How that really happened, I don’t know. But the song in general… (pauses) I guess the mood and volume of the song is kind of the waiting period before doing something. As in this example, like going into battle or whatever. So it’s that period of time, the nervousness before things starts happening and with this album dealing with…
The historical connections are bits that, you have these groups of mercenaries who enroll in the Varagian guard for duty. This album tells the story in bits. Like pieces here and there about their time in the service. Because of this, I read up on all sorts of stuff but I also like modern day mercenary diaries – that kind of thing. With this, it is kind of a strange world where you go and you fight. For instance, there’s this one book by a Finnish guy who was young in his 20’s and left in the mid 90’s. They were fighting at Balkan at the cost of going in there and fighting a war just for the money. And you just stand aside. You’re not really involved in a war because of your own nation. This kind of moral dilemma kind of interests me. This song perhaps has the most of that very personal meaning, about the waiting and getting ready to do you your job - to fight.
PoM: This album is bit different compared to your previous albums and as I’ve said in my review, it overwhelms one’s ideal scale of folk metal- as there are many things in it. Especially the orchestrations, it’s more extensive and there’s sort of a Rhapsody choir in there, too. What was your goal in making it? Was there a certain sound you wanted or…
Mathias: It was kind of wanting to push the limits a bit further and go all in and see how big you can make it. Not necessarily the Hollywood, Nightwish kind of way, but Broadway western production (laughs) or what do you call this... (pauses) musical production, instead of a Hollywood production. Of course musical – just the name itself, it gets to a lot of people and metalheads; they kind of go, “ewww” (laughs).
I think it’s also fun to do that, which can be ridiculous at times and you realize when you really push it. “Okay, all the harps come in...” and you push the choir and everything. Of course it’s going over the top, but every good story is over the top, I think. No one wants to hear your day when you went to work and nothing happened. There’s a lot of these things. There are parts in the songs where it grows really big and it gets to that point of ridiculousness. It’s nice when you can balance around that part, it’s kind of cool.
PoM: Do you play the guitar first, play the keyboard or do you come up with the lyrics first? How do you compose?
Mathias: I think the first thing for me is important - to have an idea of what the song is going to be about, to have a theme. I don’t write lyrics first but I have a strong idea of what the song is about, what it will tell. And you can in a way start sound tracking that. I know a lot of great rock songs have been written the way where, the bass player came up with a riff, the singer wrote some lyrics and someone else, and they just threw it all together and it became a great song. But for me, my approach is… I want to have the plan first, that this song is going to be about this - then you can work your way from there. And I think that kind of makes the music where, even if you dropped out the lyrics, the music can still carry the story. Like in The Varangian Way, we have song called The Dnieper Rapids.
PoM: The tunes, you want the tunes to tell the story…
Mathias: Yes. I think it doesn’t matter. If you hear the song, there’s a lot of that vibe. The power of the waterfalls, the danger - everything in there, already in the composition. Lyrics come last in the way that there’s a rhythm already built and set up for them. You just have to write it, sit on it. It can be sometimes difficult because you have this idea of what it is about. You have a certain rhythmic pattern which is pretty much set and you have to fit it in there and make it work with the music together. I mostly compose on keyboards, I don’t really play the guitar. I kind of know, but I’m not very good.
PoM: …everyone seems to be playing and shredding on the guitar in Finland.
Mathias: (laughs) I haven’t really…
PoM: Were you initially a vocalist or did you play an instrument?
Mathias: My identity has never been a vocalist in that way or an instrumentalist, really. It’s been more about, “yeah I write these songs, I come up with concepts…” I kind of lead the band do that kind of stuff, and being a vocalist is last of those, y’know? I produce, I wrote all those things and then being vocalist… It’s kind of sad as well because sometimes it’d be great just to focus on singing and that’d be my main thing. Luckily, during the time of doing it for such a long time, we’ve also been… (laughs) able to develop a bit from the very low starting point to where we are today. But I’ve studied so many different instruments and have good overall understanding. You can’t really write for an instrument if you don’t know it. You don’t need to be a great guitar player to be able to write for guitar or understand how it works and what’s doable and what’s not - just the essentials of an instrument. When you break it down to orchestrations, you have to understand how trombones and violins work together but you don’t need to know how to play everything.
Mathias: Usually, a lot of it is in my head because there’s really no way for you to demo everything that’s going to go in there anyway.
PoM: How do you know how it will sound?
Mathias: It’s kind of exciting like when we worked on the previous album. We recorded for 8 months in 5 or 6 different studios and after those 8 months, we started mixing. That was actually the first time we could start hearing all the different elements that were recorded in different places at the same time. So, you don’t even know. You just have to have a plan, an idea and keep your fingers crossed (laughs) and hope that it comes out as something like what you’ve planned.
PoM: I’ve done an online interview with you a while ago and it was only a short one. Maybe 5 questions. They were meant to be like joke questions we dubbed “Inquisition” on our website. Your reply to one of the questions was along the lines of, “We should be getting on our tour and not wasting time on wankers like you.”
Mathias: (laughs) I can’t remember the interview. But usually if you ask silly questions, you get silly answers.
Mathias: (laughs) I’m usually… what do you call…
PoM: In a good mood?
Mathias: Yeah, I’m usually in a really good mood. (laughs)
PoM: Ah okay… I’ve asked what you were listening to then but what are you listening to nowadays?
Mathis: It varies so much. I’ve been listening a lot to a band called Pepe Deluxé from Finland - which is kind of weird. I don’t even know how to describe it. They made esoteric pop opera based on some sci-fi books from nineteenth century and it’s… (laughs) strange. It’s basically pop based written, like there’s a lot of stuff going on there. There are a lot of talented musicians involved and it got me really excited. And Leonard Cohen came out with a new album with this year.
PoM (2): Yeah, it’s great.
PoM: Who, I’m sorry?
PoM (2): Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah?
PoM: Oh, I have no idea.
Mathias: Well, what else… Last year I had to do this, "End of The Year / Best of The Year" charts for magazines and I realized that I don’t even have 5 favorite albums because I didn’t even find tunes that I liked last year. This year, there is plenty of interesting stuff coming out.
PoM: Wintersun is coming out this year.
Mathias: Yeah, they’re releasing something…
PoM: That’s what they say anyway. (laughs)
Mathias: I guess they’re kind of on their final stretch with that.
PoM: …and it’s not even the whole thing. Apparently they’ll split it. Four songs...? And the rest will come later.
Mathias: Yeah, that’s what I was told as well.
Mathias: Hm… What have I been listening to? I don’t know. The other day I just put on the radio because I couldn’t choose what to listen to. Sometimes it’s just nice to do that. Most of the time I just don’t find myself listening to the new album of a metal band because unfortunately, metal sometimes thinks of itself that it’s being very unique and against all the fashion, which, it kind of is – but it also makes it strongly conservative in a way that it is not being very open to change or in doing things differently. That makes it boring a lot of the time. You hear the same thing over and over so many times. It happens so rarely that you find a metal band which presents you with something cool - something that you will like.
PoM: Movies, then... that has influenced you.
Mathias: To me, it’s very project based. So for the last album, there was a pool of influences. Of course something comes just by picking it up from your environment but you can get the idea of something and you can look into that field more and more. The previous album had a lot of 50’s, 60’s-epic-movie sort of things like Ben-Hur and Sparatacus - the world of first color epic movies.
PoM: Like Lawrence of Arabia…
Mathias: Mhm, exactly. Those were distant influences but still, for some of the things on the last album. I guess the song on the new album called, Venetoi! - Prasinoi!, the idea was very strongly developed on Ben-Hur’s famous chariot race scene - which kind of goes on forever and ever. So there was a lot of that feel in my head when writing that music even if it’s based in a different time and place.
Mathias: Yeah I don’t really follow (them). I know that there are all these HBO series or everything from Lost, and things, and everyone’s reigning about it like, “they’re so great” and y’know – whatever. (laughs) I know that I would get really excited about a lot of them but I sort of stay away from things I know I’d get too caught up with. I would have to follow and sit through all 6 seasons of Lost.
PoM: Spartacus only has 2 seasons…
Mathias: I’m just saving my own time. (laughs)
PoM: Other than Tuska... if I decide to go to Finland this year, what's a must do, what is fun over there?
Mathias: Helsinki is always fun. That’s probably where everyone goes when they go there. But I think it’s also worthwhile going out of Helsinki as well because Helsinki is the only city in Finland. Everything else is basically… small country-side (laughs) so Helsinki kind of gives the wrong impression of the whole country as a whole.
PoM: Helsinki is the only one like that?
Mathias: Well, it’s the only kind of property. Most of the country is made up of very small… 50,000 people cities and Helsinki being the capital, is only half a million. So it’s very small compared to any other capital but still, very busy.
PoM (2): I have one friend who visited Finland for 2 months and he got the impression that Finnish people are very polite but closed off, hard to know, and becoming their friend takes a very long time… would you say that it is true?
Mathias: I think it’s a cultural difference that you come over here and everyone’s, “Hey, how are you doing, how was your day?” Like people I don’t know are talking to me. If you do that in Finland, people will look at you and just walk away. (laughs)
PoM (2): So how do you make friends?
Mathias: It’s just different. It is also sort of respect towards others like when you sit on the bus and you don’t know anyone so no one talks to you for a while. You just sit on your own and in your own world. (laughs) It can be a bit depressing at times but also… We were just talking about it because we just arrived here the day before yesterday. We went and had breakfast somewhere and you get these sort of chit-chats happening all the time and it feels really fun because you don’t get that at home. But then at the same time, when the 3 or 4 weeks are done - you’re going to be so happy going back to Finland because no one is going to speak to you. (laughs)
PoM: Do you think with social networking the world as a whole is getting out of that “introvert” phase or image?
Mathias: It’s very hard to speak for a full population of people and people in every country. (laughs)
PoM: True. So if everything were to fall into chaos - and Vikings, Ninjas and Pirates were to fight each other, who do you think would be the victor?
PoM: Vikings? Ninjas…
Mathias: Well, I can’t really say anything else as I’m expected to answer it like that. (laughs)
PoM: Words to your fans and the readers of PowerOfMetal.dk?
Mathias: In Denmark and beyond: Go and buy our album, go to our Facebook page and like us.
Interviewed by Haydee G.