Heavy Metal Maniac, that’s what Marko Syrjala, bass player of Evil Drive calls himself. And considering the dedication it takes to run a metal band, make albums, play shows and achieve some success, the term maniac is merely more than one angle on many metal band stories. Perhaps being a maniac to some extended is needed to make it work, right?
Evil Drive are a Melo Death Metal band from the very south of Finland, which only recently signed with Reaper Entertainment. Viktoria Viren and her band mates, Ville Viren (gui), Juha-Pekka Pusa (gui), Marko Syrjala (bass), Juha Beck (dr), don’t give a shit, to speak openly, about stereotypes or the expectations from outside the band. They follow their intuition and experience and have gained remarkable success already. Their second album “Ragemaker” has been released only few months back. I met them after their show at the Dark River Festival in Kotka.
Dark River Festival – Coming Home!
The Dark River Festival is rather small and taking place on their doorstep. So what is it like to open their home festival? “It feels really great”, Viktoria says. “Coming home”, Ville replies. “Yes, just like that”, Viktoria continues, “because there is a lot of our friends and people which we know for so many years.” Marko explains: “Yes this festival has been running for more than ten years, but it’s the first time we ever played here!” I am surprised. “Actually we have been asked many times but have been busy”, he answers. “Same day, some other festivals, bigger festivals and then we were choosing of course the biggest ones”, Viktoria says and Marko goes on: “Last year at this time, we played in Tampere”, and in the same moment Viktoria, Marko and me say: “Saarihelvetti” and laugh. “Yeah, this is kind of home town gig”, Marko says, “not everybody is from here, but this is our mental home because our rehearsal place it’s only a few miles away.”
Sometimes playing at home can be a particular challenge. What’s it for them? “We see it in two different ways. Of course we have the greatest friends here. They’re supporting us. But the second best friends – nobody’s here!” Marko tells me with a smile. He continues that those would wait at home to let the gig pass and show up here only once they’re sure the gig was over. We’re all laughing at this kind of very special friends. “It’s kind of annoying because one month later you can ask them and they say ‘Ah, I was busy then.’” I heard other bands complaining on similar occurrences. “To be honest”, Marko says, “we’re playing here one or two shows a year and we see a lot more other people than our friends! But luckily we’re seeing more and more new people like today!” – “And it feels really great”, Viktoria repeats and Ville adds: “I was really surprised how many people there were! Because really, it is Friday, five o’clock.” They’re speaking excitedly all at the same time pointing out how happy they are that there was such an unexpected number of people in the audience for their show. Viktoria explains that the festival organizers had intended to pull more people here by giving Evil Drive the opening slot. I can hear from the tone of her voice that she wasn’t convinced this would work out. “It was really surprising”, she says. And Ville remembers that one or two years ago the first bands played for only very small audiences. A similar concept is used by other festivals as well and working out there just as good. Marko emphasizes the importance of people being around longer as the ticket sales make only a part of the festival budgets in the end. “It was so nice tonight seeing so many people in our t-shirt already”, Viktoria mentions. The merch sale – given it’s the band’s merch and not that of the label or any other party – is critical for bands nowadays.
Signing with Reaper Entertainment
Evil Drive have released their second album with the German label Reaper Entertainment. I am curious to learn why they ended up signing with them. Marko explains that they had an option for a new album with their former label but then it was only for one more album. They decided to check out whether or not they could achieve a better deal and they made it. Their contact at Reaper had been negotiating their first album already some years back. The new material was so convincing they got a three albums deal in the end. Marko points out that this one was following their development and when in the beginning he said they weren’t ready yet, but he signed them for their recent material.
Little later Marko mentions that they have many fans in Germany and even their contact at the Reaper Entertainment label informed them that their album was selling best in Germany. So we head on to their touring plans.
Touring Central Europe for Finnish bands is usually a big chance and in the same moment a challenge. At some point Marko points out that simply the need to cross the Baltic Sea already makes a difference. “But we would love to travel there and then we could play in all those countries”, he mentions. What kind of touring plans they have actually at the moment, I wonder. “We have a couple of offers all the time”, Markos explains and gets into the details which make it a tough choice as reasonable conditions are hard to achieve. They had offers from bands like UDO or Soulfly but rejected so far. “They would love to have us supporting them but then they ask for money!” And they ask for a lot: up to 2,000 Euros per show up-front (plus travel expenses, of course) when playing only a very short set at the doors-open slot. They might give it a try if they could tour with a band, such as Kreator, where they could hope for an audience of 2000 people per show. Still they are considering some offers just now and hope to be touring this autumn but can’t say anymore for now. For this summer they have several more festival shows to play and are quite happy as it is. “We are already booking for the next summer festivals. Because … our album it came out in … – was it April?” Marko asks and Viktoria replies: “In spring. It wasn’t a good time.” – “Yeah”, Marko illustrates the situation, “at this time all the festivals were already booked. So the festivals are booking now! So next year will be different.”
Independence is For The Big Bands
Speaking of the new contract I have a welcome bridge to ask for the role of independence. “Actually the people and bands that are talking of independence are bands who have already made it. They have the name and everybody knows you. I don’t know. ‘I wanna be independent.’ Fine! Anyone buys your albums anyways and if you are a new band it’s almost impossible because nobody can buy your albums anywhere. You are not visible anywhere. So I think it’s easier for the big bands to say ‘Yeah, we want to be independent. I am a metal God I wanna be independent. I don’t care …’ That’s easy for them to say”, Marko tells me excitedly. “Nowadays it is difficult”, Viktoria says, “there is so big competition. There is so many bands in Finland …” – “… and Germany”, Marko says half loud. “And lots of different bands”, Viktoria continues. “It’s as you say and it’s about two things: You know the right people and how you act on social media. That’s the key”, Marko sums it up. ”If you are not seen there nobody knows about you!”
Inside Evil Drive
The question of who is performing which job in the band comes naturally at this point. “I am running Instagram, Facebook, Twitter mostly. Also web space. I do my best.” It’s hell lot of work I know myself, but Marko says: “I have automated all those things. Once I update a thing it’s updated everywhere. One click instead of four.” Viktoria adds: “I am taking care of live stuff and something like that. Our music- Ville and me are creating new songs and …” For Marko, it is Viktoria’s responsiblity that there more good photos to sell on his side. “It’s mostly Ville. Mostly Ville. And Viktoria is coming up with the lyrics. At the end we usually do it together at the final stuff”, Marko describes.
I wonder in which stage of writing and arranging the songs are presented to the further band members. Ville comes with them once they are nearly finished. He and Viktoria do the creative part mostly. “Yeah, we’re working together all the time, this is like our child”, she admits then. Marko hurries to fill in “We have like different areas. They are taking care of most of that stuff. I am taking care of social stuff and things like that and business side as well. And JP, our second guitar player, he is in recording and technical stuff.” – “He is engineer!”, Viktoria explains while Marko finishes saying: “And the drummer, he plays drums.” We are all laughing. “Drummers are drummers”, Viktoria says laughing. “We’re here in the band having our own functions.” I point out how import I find it to share the complete workload and not place it all on one person in the band. Viktoria agrees with me, “It’s so impossible”, she comments thinking of bands with one person doing everything. We discuss how much it is even with shared responsibilities to run a band with shows and albums next to day jobs and family when the band can only work with full dedication. “Yes, it is”, Viktoria agrees while Marko reminds that every band shares the work a little different and the old fashioned way of one doing all could not work out. With a big smile he closes his statement: “And drummer plays drums!” We’re laughing again and I ask a bit jokingly: “Are you allowed to touch the drums?” They all laugh even louder and Marko replies “We’re not sure about that”, still laughing and with a blink.
Ok, this is the moment I have to take party for the drummers! There are drummers being very dedicated to a lot more tasks in a band than drumming up to being the mastermind or most active member in a band as well. But then – interviewing quite many drummers lately [for the series of drummer portraits soon to begin!] I got aware that drumming works more different than the other instruments and vocals, and even kind of has its own language so that only by this fact alone drummers easily slide into a slightly marginal position. Ok, enough here. Believe me, there is a hell lot more to learn of drummers and drumming! Thrilling stuff! But now back to Evil Drive, Marko, Viktoria and Ville!
Associations and Influences
Speaking of Evil Drive’s style: “But this is the point”, Viktoria says very passionately, “we don’t try to make any style. We don’t keep any style we don’t have. We just make a song that is coming from our heart.” – “It’s sometimes really confusing. I read some reviews from great magazines which is saying this the sound of Gothenburg, Göteburg sound! The Sweden sound. Äh?! We don’t listen to that stuff”, Marko tells me and Viktoria confirms: “We haven’t heard ever!” And Marko points out: “We invented the wheel, no?!” It reminds me to my first association with their music. It was a mix of Amorphis’ ‘Tales’ album meeting some Barren Earth elements I found in ‘Land of the Dead’. “Really?” Viktoria looks at me with a metaphorical question mark over her head. Marko takes the lead to dive a bit deeper into the background of their influences. “These bands, they are influenced by the 80s bands as we are. We listened the same basic stuff.” Ville and Viktoria mention Metallica and Iron Maiden, as Marko continues his explanation: “These bands are based on the same stuff as we are. We actually don’t listen that stuff. We skip them over”, and he adds frowning: “We use the original stuff!” While Viktoria and me laugh, Marko explains that these mechanisms work subconsciously and they are about the same age as musicians I mentioned, meaning being exposed to the same music in all their teenage times. I intend to go to my next question throwing another very important old band of the Finnish metal history in the pot: “So it all goes back to Stone?” – “Maybe”, Marko replies but says: “When I read about this Arch Enemy like … if you ask Michael Amott ‘What did you listen to when you were young?’ he says ‘Iron Maiden and Helloween!’” And here we are again! “But there is different tuning, guitar tuning”, Viktoria mentions and Marko agrees with that point naturally. We come to the point that everybody might focus on different elements from those influencing bands and come up with their own style but go back in the end to the same impact.
This raises the question why ‘Legends Never Die’ is completely in clean vocals. “We just wanted to make a ballad”, Viktoria says a bit lower than she spoke before. “Ville was created some great the riffs and …” before Viktoria can word her thoughts Marko supposes it was because Ville composed the song on an acoustic guitar. “And then if we put it heavier it wouldn’ t sound”, Viktoria explains, “we wasn’t sure.” – “No, we weren’t sure if we use it or not”, Marko says. “Of course, we can release it”, Ville emphasizes. Taking the song on the album was no easy choice. “This is like putting Legends Never Die on our album which is kind of a ballad among those really aggressive kind of songs”, Viktoria says. But they did for one reason:
“All the Best Riffs”
“There is not any standards to us. This is the point”, Viktoria says with quite some momentum. “This is what we would like to use.” She speaks a bit up but even with more momentum. “Lots of Melodic Death Metal bands they’re using some standards.” She illustrates her idea a bit before: “Here is nothing like that. We’re just using all the best things, all the best riffs.” – “Something different sounds good some other day”, Ville says. “Someday you listen Slayer and some other day you listen Scorpions.” – “And even today we had some slower songs on the set-list”, Marko adds to the topic. After describing the set-list he concludes: “I can see from the stage many people wouldn’t love the tough stuff. They open their eyes with something that is more peaceful. It’s about widening the audience as well.”
Speaking of legends and role models I wonder if they have their own legends and impact that has guided them all their way. Ville replies with a long but decisive “Well! That’s a big question.” He and Viktoria look at Marko frowning. “Well, it works for me. I am a freak. I have like 16,000 vinyls at my home. 20,000 CDs. I have been to over 150 KISS shows. I go and see KISS Caribbean every year. I am a freak”, he replies full of momentum pausing: “We have other guys in the band who haven’t bought a CD in years! So we have opposites.” – “I know my why you buy these CDs”, Ville explains. Viktoria and Marko laugh out loudly and Ville goes on: “Because he is the biggest fucking music collector. He has everything signed. Everything!!!” Viktoria repeats to confirm it. “I was visiting his home. Take out one LP and it is signed not matter what band.” Ville says that even if you might need to check a bit more careful in the end you would find the signature. Still laughing Marko explains: “This is sort of a hobby and it started when I was six years old! It’s still running”, he admits frowning and gets back to my actual question. “Yes, of course, we love music! But the funny thing in this band is we are listening really different stuff. Basic stuff, what Juha, the drummer, Ville and me are listening, we are listening to 80s stuff. Iron Maiden, early Metallica, Twisted Sisters, Mötley Crüe, KISS, Alice Cooper, and Slayer. All this stuff. And Viktoria, she is a bit younger and she is in Arch Enemy, At The Gates and that stuff.” -“But you know what she listens at home!”, Ville emphasizes. “Really peaceful Indian music!” Viktoria laughs and I wonder “Why not?” She explains: “That’s just for relaxation. That’s a different thing. It’s not about what I love!” – “But JP, the other guitar player, he adores the guitar heros. Yngwie, Timo Tolkki, that stuff.”- “And if you’re mixing this everything you become Evil Drive”, Viktoria pulls the strings together. “Yeah”, Marko utters and Viktoria ends excitedly, “this is such a great mix, you know!” We discuss that there is of course also an impact on Ville’s compositions from the Indian music he is exposed to. Ville provides some atmospherically background hums in his version of the Indian style as we speak. “Evil Drive is a combination of all kinds of styles”, Marko says.
Metal Maniacs from Birth to The Very End
There can only be one question to follow here. What is metal to them? Marko replies first with a joke and gets emotional then. “I think” and he pauses, “metal, it’s a word. But it’s something that’s in your heart.” – “This is what you like. This is what you wanna do”, Viktoria says in a very soft tone. “You know after being heavy metal maniac since I have been six years old, I am still here”, Marko adds with some warmth and confidence in his voice. “I don’t know if I did anything right. But I am still here. And I love what I am doing. And I am talking about the whole picture: going to concerts, buying albums, enjoying them, playing – all that stuff. So I would say it is about what you know and what you feel, what you love. And after all these years I think … maybe it’s a metal heart.” His voice has grown soft and melancholic. “And as we are close to the same age, we are still having these clothes on, we are still having these pretty long hair, ...” They’re laughing and Marko sums it up: “We are almost looking like we did when we were 15 years old. I don’t know if it’s good or bad but that’s it.” – “Right”, Ville says, “I think we look much better!” We’re laughing and with a glance and a blink to Viktoria I say, “Of course, especially the girls here!” – “Necessarily”, she confirms. “Yeah, yeah”, Marko says, still laughing, “it’s a way of life! Metal is a way of life I would say, how about you?” Viktoria agrees, of course. “It makes everything when I wake up in the morning, when I am going to my work to listen to a couple of great songs and getting great energy. When driving my car, I always put in my favourite CD and I never change it”, says Viktoria really excited. “I still love what I do”, says Ville and he tells me about one of his favourite summer activities: “I go and drive through Hamina, my city, where I live, and there is a big park and there are really many people on the street when I go there. With Metallica Creeping Dead on my car and open windows I drive there really slowly!” While we’re laughing out loudly he adds that everybody is looking at his car naturally. Marko tells me that the first thing in the morning he sees when he opens his eyes: “Gene Simmons”! Marko and Ville say at the very same moment. Viktoria is surprised: “No!?!” But it is true, of course. We are all laughing again. Marko mentions that Gene Simmons is 70 already so that they would still have a long time to remain what they love to be: metalheads by heart.
We go on swapping stories for some minutes and have quite a good time. Then Viktoria screams happily as I ask if I can have a photo with the three of them with HM Rock. It’s amazing to experience the adoration of the little comic character wherever I go with him. Metalheads are not ashamed admitting their little nerdy traits such as being fond of the most idyllic comic character, the Moomin or their child-like love to drive slowly with their favourite song playing from the car radio in summer. Perhaps that’s the greatest feature I found in the community: we’re all some sort of tall (not grownup!) children and proud of it.
All photos by Ms Cesar Little, Dark River Festival, 2018