The Jam Session in the Head – Meeting Jarkko Lunnas, Damnation Plan

 

“Rise of the Messenger”
“Reality Illusion”
“Darker World”
“Don’t Talk to Strangers”
  During this summer I have met numerous, very impressive musicians. Each of them is impressive in his own fashion. And there is no way to tell one more or less impressive as their achievements are hardly to be compared. Each of these musicians is very passionately in what he is doing. But perhaps none is as devoted to do literally everything as Jarkko is. This is not meant to talk small the contribution of the other band members in particular or any other musician in general. It is their, Damnation Plan’s, way of doing things just as other bands follow their own approaches. None are better or worse, but simply different.

Damnation Plan was founded in 2004. Their current album, “Reality Illusion” was released only in spring this year. The current line-up comprises the vocalists Tommy Touvinen and Asim Searah, the guitarists Antti Lauri and Kalle Niininen, the bassist Jukka Vehkamaa and Jarkko Lunnas, drummer, composer, lyricist, manager, producer, graphic designer – or simply master mind. I asked Jarkko to meet me as I got curious as I noticed that he, the drummer is the mastermind of the band, something I had never met before.Friday very early afternoon of the Tuska weekend, I met Jarkko in a rather British styled bar in Sörnäinen, meaning only a few hundred meters away from the venue. The bar was quite crowded considering the time of the day. And then again, looking at the dominating metal outfits of chiefly male fans gathering here to take a beer before making the ‘long’ way to the first bar on the venue it did not seem too crowded.

We got a beer and found a table surrounded by a group of cosy armchairs in a corner that was not too loud. After exchanging some ideas, which band to see and which might be not so interesting; I finally started with my questions.

“Rise of the Messenger”

“As I noticed you are not only the drummer but also the mastermind of Damnation Plan” – “If you want to look at it like that“, he replies. “I think Damnation Plan is the first band of that I know the drummer is the mastermind. Usually, if there is one person in such a position, it is one of the guitarists or perhaps the singer.” – “Yeah, that is the most common. Oh, we do it our way. So I guess a little bit an unorthodox approach, I think. But there are some others like that as well. But ok, let me think…well, maybe not to this extent that they are always doing most of the things. But for sure there are some drummers who have been writing songs and so forth.”

“Composing yes, but you did the lyrics as well?” – “Ya, ya.”

“You did the arrangements?!” – “Well, what comes to coming up with the songs and the structures it’s basically me, especially on this latest album. But everyone participates through their own instrument affecting and adding to the end result.”

“And all this for the last, soon fifteen year? I guess you started back in what was it 2003/2004?” – “We started in 2004. Well, basically started building the band and I think the first demo then came in 2007”, he sighs considering the details and time of the course of events. “And then there was a little break and then we a had switch, the first vocalist left and we started preparing the first album.”

I had read about all the changes and time it had taken to come this far. So I wonder “How on earth do you keep your optimism to keep the band running and always go on despite whatever obstacle and you doing everything? Is this the way you wanted it to be or has it in a way developed into this?“ – “Well it is the way it is, basically. It has naturally become so somehow that I am directing things, coming up with song ideas and so forth… Basically I have my phone with me, always. And whenever I have ideas I use it to record them. So they are there in the storage. And once there are enough ideas, we’re starting to make some demos with basically one of the guitarists. This time it was Antti who I started going them through and demoing the ideas. On the first album, we did it with Kalle. I start stacking up this big idea library and then I start matching the ideas together and building them from there. Eventually then what I do is, I figure out certain identities for the songs. And then we start demoing the initial vocal ideas with the vocalists, and we keep on refining them. Eventually when have refined them enough, we have the final stuff. Basically that’s been the song writing approach.” Jarkko appears relaxed, and patiently explains his process of song creation.

“So the lyrics come in the end or are they in your library as well?”— “Ya, hm, not really. Sure, there might be some. But not really. First there is a vocal idea, still with like with ‘mumbo jumbo’ words that don’t make any sense. But the vocal idea is there”, Jarkko explains the becoming of the lyric tunes. “And then based on those vocal ideas, I come up with the lyrics so it matches and works with the tunes, but so that they have a deep meaning.”

“So you come up with the song lines as well?” – “Yah.” – “Together with the vocalists?”— “Yah, yah. Of course, in the end! But basically, we have the vocal ideas demoed and then I know how rhythm-wise and sound-wise the words would fit and then I come up with the lyrics. It’s kind of a much more time-consuming way from the lyric creation approach than how certain other artists might do theirs. But we’ve done it this way.”

“But this sounds like a growing thing, a natural process although perhaps not perfectly structured and well-thought-through, but somehow organic, like something you feel and then it needs to come out and is put into a song!” – “You mean the lyrics?” – “No all the songs and how you get the individual parts together.” – “Yah, well there are those ideas which I think that are cool. And once we have enough of them I see which are cool enough to make it to the final cut and then out of those are basically formed the identities for the songs.”

Which kind of other instruments do you play – beside the drums?” – “I don’t play any other instruments.”

“Reality Illusion”

“So you do all the compositions with the drums?” Although he had just explained I did not see how it could work. So Jarkko explains in more detail. “No. If I have vocal ideas or guitar ideas, I sing basically those ideas, and then the guys repeat them with their instruments or with vocals, which we record then as demos.” – “Cool”, slips my mouth half-loud. “Once we have them recorded I put them all together with the computer and add the drums – with electric drums for example for this album.” Some passes our table greeting Jarkko. He greets back only to excuse for the interruption. Before I can say “you’re welcome”, he goes on in his illustration of the work process. “So then the ideas are there in recorded form and I add the drums, make whichever arrangements and fit them together, adjust them. And then once something is in a more structured form, I pass them for example to Kalle, who will fill certain blanks, like often the chorus backgrounds for the guitars. I am not so good in coming up with those. So he basically does the chorus backgrounds where the guitar is and then based on those I come up with initial vocal ideas, which we then start working on with the vocalists.

I don’t know, I guess it’s kind of a modern way – it’s not really like that we are jamming our songs together. It’s kind of like recording them to the computer, fixing and putting them into their place. And doing whatever is needed to adjust them.”

“It seems like a more recent way of jamming. Because in a way you do some kind of jamming only you do not sit together. To me, jamming is like putting together ideas and filling what leaves another one open.” But Jarkko’s perspective is different he reveals with a smile: “I guess, I basically do the jamming in my head. Normally in tradition-wise jamming everyone sits in one room together. And you just see what happens.” His smile fades as he is back on the plain facts. “But it evolves into something. So I guess mostly the so-called jamming in song creation way is actually done in my head.” But the idea of the jam session in his head makes him smile again. “So eventually there is a project.” – “Sounds like a cool headline”, I comment smiling myself having a funny imagination of the ‘little band’ jamming in Jarkko’s head while in the same moment I feel respect for the immense creativity and ability to imagine sounds for this way of composing. Or jamming. The idea of the headline breaks the ice finally, and we both laugh out loudly.

A new question. I tell Jarkko about another musician who had lately told me that there are so many bands sounding so similar. I explain that preparing our interview I was for roughly 20 seconds thinking that this other musician might have a point until I notice this one feature I relate closely with Damnation Plan. They are not afraid to show emotions, to show their soft side in their music. Then I would like to know other unique or particular features of Damnation Plan’s music in Jarkko’s perspective. He sighs. “Another? In addition to that?” he asks to make sure he gets my point. “What is the unique momentum to you?” – “To me? It is basically what you hear in the end.” He is getting more into detail then: “We are kind of a pretty diverse band as you also said. There are so many different sides. We have these really fast and aggressive songs, then there are this these really big and heavy songs, and then we might have some power ballads. So it is a really wide spectrum of styles mashed up into our music. Of course, we have these harsh and the clean vocals as well. So mixing those is the kind of combination, which makes us. A wide, wide spectrum of emotions and styles.”

“Darker World”

“I was wondering about the name of the band”, I ask then. “I read that the name Damnation Plan was a result from you being a bit frustrated on what’s going on in our world. What is it that you find most annoying right now or have found most irritating in the perhaps last year?”

“About what’s happening in the world? Most annoying?” He takes a moment to make up his mind what to reply, thinking half loud if he should ping for certain things at all? “For example topics like how the refugee situation is handled, and all the terrorism and racism, or how these things are talked and discussed about.” – “Which goes back to emotions and … “ I lose myself in thoughts not fully thought out. Thoughts, trying to explain the fears that create these aggressions and latent violence. I try to put the growing egoism into words but fail. All I can say is, that I have the impression that the ability to see the bigger picture is lost. Jarkko agrees, “Yeah, the bigger picture and the long-term effects. Decisions are made really short-sighted, emotionally based. And then, what are the long-term consequences?” Jarkko would like to add another aspect but cannot find the sufficient wording in English. He goes on then, “One thing that pisses me off is that certain people have a certain opinion and they say that certain things should be done, but they are not willing to sacrifice anything themselves for it. They say, for example, there should be funds to do certain things but then they are not willing, for example, to …” – “invest on these funds?” I ask. “Yeah, invest on them themselves. Are you willing yourself to skip your sunny holidays or holiday trips for next two or three years? For these people it’s always kind of easy to be a good person by saying the obviously good things. But if you have an opinion, are you then ready to basically adjust your life, such as give yourself all the money needed to achieve certain things?“ I add that I have often met people complaining about something but who will not act although this was not even a question of money only a bit of time. A thoughtful perhaps disillusioned silence falls as not sure if Jarkko heard me clear this time.

Anyway it is the perfect moment to ask for the lyrics. “Is there some kind of Damnation Plan attitude reflected in the lyrics? I mean, all those issues we just spoke of, how important is it to you to make them a part of the music?” – „Yes definitely it’s important and the lyrics reflect and come from the topics you feel worthy and important enough to be interpreted through the kind of music we do” his voices rises a bit. “I don’t see a point in writing the lyrics or anything unless it’s meaningful and important enough.” I nod. “Overall the new album deals with a variety of topics, such as things from regressive religious tendencies to naive illusions of the bubbles of our stable western societies ” he says with some momentum. “… which then effect many of our decisions. Who controls the information, who gets to decide for the masses what is true and what is not. There’s a song about overcoming a depression.” He takes moment and continues “… a song dealing about the rise of the artificial intelligence arms race … which also is about a man’s never-ending strive to become ultimately a superior being.” I am not really sure but I might have seen his forehead wrinkling in well, but not perfectly hidden anger. “In one song we’re already leaving this planet since it’s become inhabitable. And so forth …” – “Yeah, I agree, we’re damn close to that”, spoken only low, more thinking. So no one notices. Never mind. “Overall, as was written in the previous album ‘The Wakening’’s title track ‚it’s all written in the sky’… for most stuff we already have all the information needed to make a needed change. Still we believe, we can wait forever to the point it’s already past our control. And that is the most frustrating part often.” He sips from his glass and I find it hard to change towards another topic as I feel we might continue on this for much longer.

So I take a break, too, before I come up with the next question asking for the line-up changes. “The line up has changed nearly completely since the beginning, if I remember correctly?” “Yeah, though for these two albums we had basically the same line-up” Jarkko points out. “Ok, on the first album we had a different keyboard player. But that was the only line-up difference between these two albums.” My impression is that it often takes quite some time before a band will have settled in a way of finding the working line-up and develops working schemes and processes. So I wonder if “Damnation Plan has come to the point at which it is working really good?” “Well, I think so. Everybody knows everybody’s strengths and weaknesses. We know how we are able to do things. In that sense, I think we are in good terms and fit…”— “…fit to come up with more?” “Yeah! But sure, from the first demo line-up there is only left me and Kalle. And we also had this longer break of almost five years after which then came the first album.”

“But still you seem to be very dedicated to your band?” – “Well, yeah, we need to do basically our best – with our resources and possibilities that we have. But for sure, we would like to do more gigs. Basically, we had now only these couple album-release gigs whereas we would have liked to, for example, to play some festivals in the summer and some more gigs in the spring. But that did not happen how we would have obviously preferred.”

“Don’t Talk to Strangers”

Knowing that there were good reviews for the second album I ask for the feedback including that from fans after those shows, of course and on social media. “Yah, well we’ve had good feedback from the fans and we’ve had good reviews on the album. The feedback is good. But we do need to get more exposure for the band.”

“You mentioned that one reason for you to go to Tuska was to take some networking opportunities.” – “Well sure, but it’s not basically a reason for me to go to Tuska. But of course, wherever you are, networking is important, having contacts. Without them it is really difficult to do anything, even to get a job without networking. That’s of course the same also in music. Definitely.” I agree.

„I heard a very funny story, someone told me concerning the feedback he got from his last gig.” I tell him a story I heard only a few days before. It was a more or less death metal band who was told by a fan after show that their music was really cool but actually somehow all songs also seemed to be too similar. So this fan suggested adding some Jazz or Country. Jarkko amused asks for more details. But after several interviews in a short time I am not sure about the details and try to avoid mixing them up. But of course, I’d like to know how he would react in such a situation. Jarkko is laughing, “Oh, I don’t know. If that’s what he’d expect … well”, he is still laughing and apparently quite happy not to be facing such a fan. “Well, it’s really hard to change style the of your band based on that input.” He is interrupting again and again, in a mix of laughing and sighing. “If the people have different expectations from what they want to hear… what can you do? … But nice feedback.“

I come up with the next question, remarking that the last was the first of a set of more odd questions. I hear a sigh as I ask if there “is a colour that resembles Damnation Plan.” I leave Jarkko a couple of seconds to think. ”Colour?” – “Yes.” And just before he replies, I add that “black, grey and white are intensities of light and thereby strictly spoken no colours.” – “Damn!” he says immediately and adds, “that’s a tough one!” laughing at the same time. He sighs. “Hm, what is the most diverse colour? Hm. Purple!?” He seems not fully happy with the colour but does not reply any more.

And as if this question was not tough enough I come up with an even harder one: “What was the most exciting adventure you shared with your invisible friend as a child?” – “As a child?” Silence. “Invisible friend?” Silence. “I didn’t have those?”, he says laughing again but keeps thinking. “Can’t remember any. … That’s tough”, he says laughing again. I am not sure, but I might have heard a ”fuck” or two in this situation slipping his mouth. He changes his strategy: “You have lots of experience in this. So how did you come up with these questions?” Laughing I explain that I have been a fantasy role play gaming enthusiast for more than 20 years and that for such folks those freaky questions are easy to come up with. “So I have a whole bunch of invisible friends, namely all the characters I have played.” – “Ok.” He thinks again. “With my invisible friend?” he asks again. “I surely didn’t have an invisible friend?”, Jarkko once more explains laughingly. “At least I can’t remember!” – “That’s absolutely fine, as well, of course”, I say.

I wonder, may I ask another? He has seemed eager to reply, I think and hope he will like this last one: “Imagine there is a penguin wearing an impressively huge sombrero coming along here just now. What does is say and what does it want here at all?” A penguin huh? Well, I would definitely salute him with a big smile … open my arms towards him” doing just this, he say ”and say ‘… so you have finally arrived!’“ I imagine him hugging the little penguin when he himself is really tall!

Laughing I explain that I find odd questions a far more interesting end for an interview than just end out of thin air after one question plainly saying “thank you bla bla bla. Of course, I am very grateful we met! And it was very interesting interview. Thank you very much.” – “Thanks a lot”, he says a little quiet again, almost as if the question was still keeping his thoughts busy. He thanks again and some minutes later, we depart for the Tuska festival. The venue is only a couple of minutes walk away and the route is crowded with people walking towards the venue, too.

I know I have challenged Jarkko with some of my questions and all the more I am grateful he still replied. I admire Jarkko’s great passion and boundless enthusiasm for his band and his music. I am quite certain that I have not this persistence. He has ever been pushing the band forward, taken care of whatever needed to be done – musically, concerning the marketing and keep the spirit alive despite all obstacles. Amazing!

I have often thought about his way of composing and I have often thought of his struggle with my question for an invisible friend. Perhaps it is his invisible friend that sings all the tunes in his head?

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The Jam Session in the Head – Meeting Jarkko Lunnas, Damnation Plan

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