I am not much into Black Metal, I admit. But I am quite aware of the musical biography of Pasi “Ruoja” Koskinen (Ajattara). So when I saw the opportunity to meet Pasi I went for. He spoke of a friend, Demonos Sova, and an interview they had done together. But who is Demonos Sova, the head of Barathrum really, I wondered? I longed to find out and a friend made contact.
The man I meet on a Sunday noon in a bar is friendly, talkative and interested on a broad spectrum of things. As many of our generation, he is in some way focused on some sort of “Old School” way of doing things, such as repairing or re- and upcycling instead of buying new stuff or material. He studied micro mechanics, repaired all kinds of stuff and nowadays, makes jewellery from metals he recycled out of computer boards, or re-uses parts in a new context such as camera lenses for a medallion containing three tiny bear’s teeth. He shows me some rings he made and engraved. They speak of very skilful hands and routine in crafts. And his next step will be to learn processing glass.
We sit with coffee and friends and address quite a many topics such as the metal history in Finland or the sake and misuse of technology in music. I have always addressed him as Janne but time and again I sense Demonos in smile, in devious laughter or a thought he utters.
If you are in Black Metal you will know that he, Janne or Demonos Sova, is one of the foundations of Finnish Black Metal. But then, what is the personality behind this name, well hidden underneath thick layers of blood and colour on stage.
If there is a song in my life that is really important to me it is usually related to some massive experience, I explain and Janne asks “Like close-to-death experience?” – “Yeah”, I reply. I tell a little more of events and incidents that have made particular songs massively important to me and that I heard about a near-death experience he had. I would like to know how this reflects into his music. “Actually it starts from, like I said, close-to-dead experience. I have made my music always from the point of view of losing something.” Janne speaks quietly and considerate up to here. But then, “Like Life!” he utters in a sharp tone and louder pointing out its vital importance. After several seconds of break he continues in a quiet and subjective voice: “That’s were I started. When I was a little boy, I started to make music with the flute. But my own music. And it all starts from the feeling that you have met Mr Dead.”— “Is it like fear? Or …” – “It’s not fear. It’s more like I made an honour to death.”
As I mention that I met a friend of his, Pasi Ruoja Koskinen from Ajattara, Janne frowns and repeats the name gladly, “Pasi.” We speak of Ajattara’s show on Nummirock last summer: “I was there, too. It was amazing”, Janne says and I agree. It was impressive!
Janne thinks a moment to begin a new sentence but stops to start over yet again: “Like you said with “Pasi. We are so similar together with Pasi. Actually he lived in my flat for months last summer before he got his new flat because he moved from Spain to Finland.” I confirmed I heard he returned from Spain and Janne adds: “He was like my house-friend”, laughing out loudly. It is hard to say what his laughing is about or perhaps it is that there are numerous emotions in his laughing that mix up to a sort of dry and even slightly dirty or evil laughing.
I mention the actually very surprising turn this interview took. “It is always very cool to have someone who is really close to you”, I say. And Janne replies: “You know Pasi, he has – that’s the interesting thing – he has so many personalities. And even if you look, his outlook: I have seen him with the dreadlocks, with the bold head, long hair. You really don’t know what your’re dealing with Pasi. …” “But that’s the most interesting part. We are multidimensional personalities. We are not only a sheet of paper or flat like a carpet.” – “Empty canvas”, Janne suggests. “Yeah, and life puts the colour of experiences on our canvas. And that’s the point of my interviews. The personality. Too see and show more than on a photo.” – “Yeah, yeah, exactly”, Janne agrees excitedly. “You have a load of photos. It’s a visual thing. Necessary. Or not so necessary.” – “It is to me like an eye catcher. A first impression that might get you interested in a person if there is a detail that inspires, makes me think or wonder, something that speaks for the life of a person. Then again during one interview I cannot know a person in detail.”- “Well, when you have a good discussion than you know much more than from a photograph.”
“And that is what happened with Pasi. I did not expect to go any deeper than speaking perhaps on the lyrics or the album in general. But he decided to go way deeper. Still this is only one little piece of his personality. It is like a slice of cake has been taken out of the cake and now you have some kind of window into the interior of it. But it will reveal, naturally, only what is around this spot. You never know what to find in an another corner of the cake.” – “Yeah, yeah, you know something”, Janne agrees, “tiny, hint of what he is like. I mean it works for everyone.” – “Absolutely. And I love these windows, making me curious …” –
“Like picking inside”, Janne continues my thought and we both laugh. “Like we had this interview with Pasi last year in Inferno. It is like a major music magazine in Finland. And we did the photo session. He was wearing like … I don’t know. He looked like a fucking hipster, a hip hopper. And I just took my clothes off.” We laugh both again. “And he did the same”, I say – “And I ordered him to take his clothes off because I did not want to be on the cover of a magazine with that Pasi looking like some sort of homeless person.” Janne is laughing out loudly telling the story, and I remember how Pasi told me about the situation from his perspective and I say laughing: “Well, he put it very politely and said it was your idea.” – “Yes!” Janne says with a smile so wide we cannot but laugh again. “It was my idea”. “Oh, it was a great idea!” – “I agree. I agree. It was”, Janne says still joyfully. “The result is aesthetically beautiful and it is that kind of photo that pulls attention and announces that there is something behind it yet not what it is.” Janne calms and becomes serious abruptly. There is a kind of tension, however, the character of the situation remains still relaxed. “Yeah and the interview was like in-depth with both of us. But we were together in that interview. And we were talking like – I don’t know if I went in for or Pasi went in for – it was perhaps too in-depth”, Janne explains. “Ok.” – “Because we both shared secrets that we have ourselves.” – “Those that should not be published, of course?” I asked. He explains carefully, “after the interview, we made with Pasi that decision ‘Let’s keep something occult and secret and not talk too much of our personal lives.’ I mean like in-depth like that what you wouldn’t say to your parents or your children.” – “Of course.”
The importance comes from the life I live
Never voyeurism has been my intension but the background of Janne’s music, so I try to highlight the connection: “How have those events reflected into your music? Have they changed your attitude towards your music or has doing music become even more important as a result?”
Janne takes a moment to think and consider, a longer moment than in other passages of our conversation. “I would say the importance of the music comes, in my opinion, from the live that I live. On the other side I would like to have my personal life but I am giving it all to you by my songs! Like with the lyrics-wise speaking. I mean, it’s complicated. I try to secure my personal life. But at the same time I try to put it to you.”
There it is again. One of these questions that gets me incredibly curious. I am not a real introvert. And I am fine with wearing my heart on my sleeve as an English proverb says. But so many musicians I have met are real introverts. Often they don’t speak much in general. And then they can hardly speak of themselves even less while you look into their eyes.” – “Yes!” Janne says immediately. “But if you see them on stage, perhaps only minutes later, they give everything. You can hear in their vocals and tunes what they feel. You can read it in their faces easily. And every move even of the fingertips gives away what’s going on inside.” – “Yeah, exactly.” – “How do you cope with this?” – “It is difficult. It is complicated. When you go to stage people come to see your show. It’s all about us! It’s 100 % Barathrum, like me and these fellows!” He looks to Matias, the bassist and continues: “and nothing else. But understand I am … No. It’s far away from reality because you cannot get into my head exactly – unless you take some drugs or mushrooms.” We laugh.
And then I wonder about the reflective moment after show. You come back from stage and consciousness catches up with the situation. You just gave away everything! Janne describes it as a near sexual experience. “It’s 15 minutes of complete ‘fuck, go away with us’. Only band and perhaps discussing with the band. But no outsiders. They have been really disappointed about the band coming into backstage right after gig. Because it’s easily like – I use this bloody hammer”, he says laughing loudly and proudly. I hint on the reflective moment. “Hei, this moment when you go to backstage and you think your show is over when they are screaming back for more, you are like on the climax”, he pauses for a few seconds, “in your mind. And you hear that you did it well. Because they are screaming for more … for encore. Encore!” He is laughing revealing that the after-show high seems to pay for giving away the insides to the crowd. “I am not that good in French. But it is like time for ejaculation, for to go back and play more one or two hits. Hits”, Janne repeats in a questioning voice as if he was wondering, what are hits anyway?
We have sat together and talked for more than one hour already. Time to drift back into weekend mode I decide. But I have this one last question which will be my odd question. “Do you believe in God”, Janne suggests. “No”, I say. “I am Antichrist because my father was Satan”, begins his story. “He tried to kill our family. And we went to the neighbour house. And our neighbour said: ‘Your father is not a human being. He is Satan!’ I was like a little boy and ‘Does that mean that I am Antichrist?’” As Janne laughs and he spoke the voices of the neighbour and him being a child in a rather cynical way, I laugh as well. But other stories I heard from the still very tough side of living in the North flicker through my mind. Janne was born in the south east of Lapland and grew up on a reindeer farm slightly south. “If there was no electricity I would survive”, he said earlier to me. Life in the lonely North has followed a set of own rules some of which we can hardly associate with the 21st century. But if the next spot providing medical care, shops or support from the police or administration is several hours away from your home issues have to be dealt differently with than in Prague or London city.
“But then my question is a totally different one. Do you know the story of Dorian Grey?” – “Yes.” – “Would you go for immortality or would you destroy the picture?” – He speaks slowly and with determination: “I hate immortality.” – “So you destroy it immediately?” – “I love death. I think we are like leaves in a tree.” He pauses, and it is absolutely silent. Even the background music pauses accidentally. “They are just picking up the sunlight to give it to the trunk. Go away”, he says with some disgust in his voice. “Die!” – “For the sake of the bigger tree?!” – “Yeah, but the tree stays alive” – “It does.” – “Leaves die.” Some psychedelic keyboard music begins. “Death is certain. Life is not! … it can come like lightning from the clear sky.” – “I do know!” – “Hei, you know, enjoy your life now!” – “I do!” – “Not later!” – “That’s why I am here”, I comment and thank both for the most interesting conversation and meeting me.
We have had a very relaxed atmosphere during our conversation and covered a lot more than I can tell here. But as Barathrum will hit the stage of Nummirock on midsummer this year there will be time and a fitting moment to speak of the band in particular and some interesting stuff of the metal history in general in the beginning of the outdoor festival season.
Stay tuned …
Photos kindly provided by Marco Manzi. Thank you, Marco!
More of Marco’s photos from Barathrum’s Tuska 2017 show: https://marcomanzi.kuvat.fi/kuvat/2017/June/Tuska+Open+Air+2017/Friday/Barathrum/