Chapters of the interview:
There are good and not so good and actually senseless slots to meet a band for an interview. And perhaps only few hours after their after show party, bleary and perhaps hangovered might easily end in a one way road or chaos. But meeting Kaunis Kuolematon turned out to be just amazing. They granted deep insights into their dynamics and their relationship to their music and lyrics and the crucial role the Finnish language has. The whole band – Olli Suvanto, Mikko Heikkilä, Ville Mussalo, Jarno Uski, Miika Hostikka – wanted to take part in the interview. And although some remained mostly silent it shows how important it is to do things together, be part of the whole.
After some difficulties I met Mikko at the main gate of the Nummirock festival area. He welcomed me in most friendly and appreciating manner. Not only due to the gusty wind and chilly temperatures this dear hug was most welcomed.
He showed me to ‘their’ back stage. Here, we better forget all the glorious ideas of how we imagined it to be in the backstage area of the most traditional festival, and what would be thought appropriate for the opening gig of just this festival. The reality was far from glorious: As a consequence of the persistent humidity the grounds were muddy, some litter was scattered around (perhaps some kind of party left overs) and between the tent housing the Origin Stage and the fence encircling the venue there was a small bus and a dirty container full of empty tins, but short in furniture. In front of the container door stood some simple chairs and a bunch of slightly hangovered party people wandered searching either for coffee, water or beer. On the front seats of their bus some kind of ‘sleeping back caterpillar’ turned actually out to be Olli, the singer, still deeply asleep. I had not dared to disturb. But Mikko said, he insisted on joining us for the interview. And he asked if was ok if the whole band joint the interview. Why would I go for any less if I could have the whole band around I thought. A couple of minutes later, we all sat on those chairs roughly pulled together. Honestly none of us looked more than half awake.
I started: „Thank you for meeting me this early – especially after the show yesterday. I suppose, you are not from the early-bird shift, are you? You are actually guys who would like to sleep a little longer after a party.“ The band replies in laughter and Olli adds: „So to speak, yeah.“
Me: „Your first album received really, really impressive reviews while the second was reviewed really good but not as enthusiastic as the first.” Someone opens a beer tin. “Were these high-ranking reviews putting kind of pressure on you?“
Mikko replies: „I don’t know. – No! But think that I have a different view.“ He is a very considerately speaking person fully conscious of what he wants to express. His band and his music do matter a lot, and so he takes all the time it takes to think my questions through before replying to them. „Yeah, good. Tell me that, please!“ I encourage him.
Mikko: „But I’ve seen only good reviews of the new album.“ And Miika adds: „Better than the first one!“ Me: „Ok, perhaps it is because I can only read those in English and German.” Someone suggests half loud from the back to use the Google translator. But we will speak of that later. “So maybe I could not get the spirit of the Finnish reviews?“
Mikko: „In Finland it was like in Imperiumi.net – you know that?“ – „Of course.“
Mikko: „And Inferno?“ – „Of course.“
Mikko: „There was a really great …“ and Ville fills the gap: „review …“ then Mikko goes on: „yeah” to Jarno without looking at him, “you know and they gave the maximum points for the second album!“
„Oh that’s really good.“ I reply happily.
Mikko explains: „The first one was like: ‚They are trying to be something.’ ‘They are trying to do something but it has not arrived there.‘ But after the second one it was kind of like at Imperiumi.net. There was a review that said, we got that point that we tried to meet.“
Me:“ So you did feel some kind of development from the first to the second album?“
Jarno: „Yes, sure.“ Me: „There were things you would like to change on the second album and has it worked out changing them?“ Jarno: „It depends on the time. And that you develop by yourself.“ „Oh indeed, yes“, I confirm. Olli: „I don’t know how to say it better.“
Mikko: „Their point was maybe that we were searching what we can make. And how we can make it. But in the second one it was much more clearly for us what we do than in the first.“
Relieved from death. Death. Death.
„Like achieving an aim?“
Mikko: „Yeah because the first one was, we didn’t expect anything and it was like: ‚Maybe this works? Maybe not.‘ We didn’t know that.“ But „It felt good“, Ville adds.
So Mikko continues: „Yes, it felt good. But in this second album it was that it felt right here [pointing to his guts and heart] that we made the right decisions. And I don’t know but for me it is much more deeper, the second one than the first one.“ He remembers: „Like Jarno said that when he read the lyrics of the first album, it was really … You know, there was only death. Death. Death! It was only that. But now there is this freedom. Everything that you can feel and that you can also relieve yourself.“
„Of course I cannot read the lyrics because my Finnish is really poor.“ And neither do my readers mostly I think. Mikko repeats the earlier suggestion: „But you have Google translator.“ The band is laughing; me too: „It’s not working. It’s really not working.“ – „It’s not?“ Mikko wonders while some other mumble “it’s right.” “Yeah, It’s right.”
There is too much lost in the translator but how to explain that. „I do understand enough Finnish to know it’s not working at all.“ Olli is laughing even more. So I go on: „It’s really not working“, still laughing. Olli says: „It’s only that little.“ I frown. „It’s not the level. And it might get you an idea of what a single word means“, I try to put my miserable experience concerning the sufficiency in words.
Mikko: „Yeah and the meaning of the words.“ But apparently I miss the point and it is hard to explain. But one point is: all idiomatic information is lost. How would you understand lyrics without?
Mikko: „That’s the main point why we are writing lyrics in Finnish. Because we can get much more closer into the songs.“ And Ville points out: „But I think the people can hear it! From the lyrics and that is …“ I think I catch his idea: „Yeah, definitely.“ So pointing to his heart he says: „… from here.“ – „Do you mean in Finnish or in English?“ Mikko asks in return. „In Finnish, but out of the country. Of course.“ Mikko: „I’ve been thinking about …“ – Ville points out: „It’s more honest.“ I agree and he adds: „It’s more in the soul.“ – „So it’s part of you, part of your being?“ Ville: „Yeah!“ – „Of course. Plus Finnish is a language that sounds really good if it is sung.“ Mikko agrees. I continue: „There is a melody in the language. While German, for example, sounds very hard.“ Mikko’s response: „It doesn’t sound like what we are trying to sing.“
Then I would like to know: „Do you feel limited to the Finnish market using the Finnish language or will you try to expand? I mean there are a lot of bands using Finnish lyrics but have made it to be successful beyond Finland.“ It is Olli who replies quite immediately: „Personally I believe that we don’t have that kind of agenda. Which are the right reasons.“
I change the subject: „So what keeps you driving then, in the music?“ Again it is Olli: „I think we’re just trying to filling the whole in the soul with music. Something like that.“
Me: „Is it more important to present the music to the audience or is it more important to be together and do the music together and for yourselves? Do the music!“ The members have differing opinions: „I think that’s the both“, says Mikko, while Ville explains his view: „Maybe the second first – at least I think so. It might be subjective.“ The gig the night before might have changed Mikko’s view a bit: „… because yesterday in the crowd there were a lot of people that were singing every song along that we played.“ – „Wow“, I say deeply impressed! „That’s really good, indeed!“ And quietly Mikko goes on: „And I was like thinking: ‚What if I do the mistakes?’ Because I saw, and I really looked at the people, they knew everything“, he is still impressed „…that we sang!“ Olli hides being touched by laughing. „They know too much …“
„They didn’t know the lyrics better than you did!“ I address Mikko who is laughing now, too: „That’s the main point.“ Still laughing he tries again. „That’s the main point … I think in our band, when we write the lyrics in Finnish. You can see it through the audience. It’s going much more deeper than … I’m thinking”, he hesitates, “I’m not sure should I say this. But the second band that was here, they were singing in English. In general, that sounds so similar – so many bands these days sound so similar. So there isn’t anything that would go under your skin.“
We’re not done with the crucial language topic, yet: „So it was no option to you – despite other bands do so – to have your lyrics translated into English by someone hired or a friend being proficient in English? As then it was the translation of somebody else and not your words anymore?“
„I have been thinking about that but … “ Mikko says. I add: „I mean, other bands do so.“ Immediately the others give a clear vote: „No!“ And Olli explains: „No. We would do it ourselves if we wanted to.“
Once more Mikko points out: „I don’t want to translate that.“ While Olli means: „I got to say that I would like to do a song in English. It was cool.“ Mikko: „Yeah, you have said this many times.“ Olli: „Lets try that, I think.“ Mikko: „I don’t know. But the language is … The language is the one big thing in this. And so I don’t know. Maybe something. Maybe?“
More than just a metal band
I am trying to find a new approach: „How is the balance between the lyrics and the instrumentals? What is more supporting the other?“
Mikko: „Similar. Similar. Because if you feel that you hear the melodies and Ville is doing some demos. And hei, I hear the melodies, so the lyrics, they’re just coming out. I don’t have to think about that.“ And Ville sums up: „Good combination!“ Mikko comments a bit more: „Yeah because if you feel then you don’t have to try to do something, you just keep the flow.“
„That’s really good, indeed.” I say changing the subject: “I noticed you recorded ‚Vapaus‘ at Soundspiral as many bands are doing at the moment. What were the pros for this studio?“
Mikko: „You said Soundspiral? Well, we have recorded the album in Deep Noise.“ But Jarno adds: „It was mastered at Soundspiral.“ – „Oh sorry. My mistake“, I excuse and Mikko replies: “That’s ok“, while were all laughing. Mikko gets to the point: „I have known Saku, the recorder, from the past bands. And I think that was the main reason why we chose him.“
I aim to get a bit deeper: „So he is a person who knew your music“, and Mikko confirms: „Yeah.“ – „And he would understand your music“, I wonder. „Yeah”, Mikko starts, “well I think, on a third album there would be some changes. Maybe. I think. Because it’s nice for the band. It’s much more, I don’t know how to say that [in English] but, when you have more like years that’s not around you, you hear the music in a different way. So I think the third one might be elsewhere. Different choice.“
“Do you have an idea already, where to go to? It seems to me there is more on that“, I dig but Mikko hesitates: „Ah … yeah, but I don’t know. Should I talk about that? But … no!“ – „Ok“, thinking that’s it. But then Mikko reveals: „There is one release coming. But we are going to release only one song which is very different. We otherwise do albums. But this fits good in the atmosphere and …“ – „We keep our scale wide“ Ville fills in. Obviously very important to all, Olli starts: „It’s another … music. But …“ lacking words bearing his idea, Mikko fills in: „And maybe that’s the way that we can show that we are much more than only a metal band. Only a metal band“, he repeats to point out the opposite.
This gets me to two different thoughts I have: „I am not fond of genres and thinking in boxes. Because to me usually a single song might fit a genre but rarely all the songs of a band. It actually limits a band like it was limiting a personality. So I can comprehend you don’t want to be limited but doing more than only one genre or so. Anyway. It seems to have become some kind of fashion that bands release only single songs instead of a whole album.“
„Even metal bands?“ Mikko asks surprised. I have to confirm: „Yeah, some do. I think I’ve come across two who have done so. So yours is a project yet not an option to go for longer? You might release this single song but then return to releasing albums?“ A general „Yeah“ points out the band’s concent in this question. Mikko highlights the unique situation of the coming release: „Because, this is like we said it is like one release. It’s gonna be just … because it feels good to us.“
I draw the bottom line: „So it is a stand-alone thing? Standing for itself?“ which gets confirmed: „Yeah.“ And Mikko continues: „But we’re not changing our main style in any direction. And we are not getting any different directions. We just want to be known that Kaunis Kuolematon is much more than a metal band.“ Finally they have pushed me into asking: „Can you put this ‚much more‘ into words?“ The band laughs mostly shaking the heads. How could I ask such complicated stuff at all and then even after a party lasting until only four hours before we met? Yet Mikko accepts the challenge once more: „I don’t know, for me because this isn’t just only a band. Not only a band. Like, you might see in the festivals in every corner that ‚We wanna make a band’ and ‘We wanna play’ …. bla bla bla. But I’ve never seen that in a band I play. I do the part, the music and the lyrics. I don’t wanna be in a band who just tries to be a band.“ His intonation asks for a: „But …?“ And then he gets to the core of it: „We are much more than a band because in this second album I realized myself that you can express yourself through the music. If you want.“
What follows is one of these moments that feel as if speaking to one person with several voices but only one set of experience and conclusions drawn from them.
Mikko: „Not just … only for the songs but also for the heart. And from the heart. That’s what I’m meaning.“ Olli: „I think …“ and Mikko continues: „… that we’re more than just a band.“ Olli: „I think that this is so important in music.“
Naked on stage
„How does it feel to reveal something that is coming from somewhere so deep inside you to the public …?“, I would like to know.
Olli says: „Very hard.“ And Mikko refines: „Naked. Really naked“, while others hide in laughter.
So I dig deeper: „Is that a good feeling?“ And they speak as one: „Yeah …“ leaving it to Mikko to explain it: „In one interview they were asking that how you feel when you sing Finnish and everyone understands you truly? It’s like you’re naked on the stage.“ I hear the others say: „It’s dangerous. A kind of, you know.“ – „But in a good way.“
Mikko: „When I wrote the lyrics for the second album, I said to Ville and Olli: ‚Can we really release these kind of lyrics?’ Because I was some kind of harassing. I was maybe a little bit ashamed of what I wrote. So but when we did that, I thought that there are no one else’s opinions that maybe I would think about. If someone was thinking that it’s a shame or something, so …“ He has come to a sensitive point because Ville soothes: „Now you’re hard.“ The whole band shields him by laughing. He adds: „Yeah, I think so.“
„That is his problem! Not mine!“ explains Mikko considering the thoughts of others. I ask Mikko „Is it some kind of relieve then?“ He agrees: „Yeah.“ And then towards all: „Feeling you’re set free by feeling naked?“
Mikko: „Yeah, yeah.“ I nod and say: „Ok.“ Then Olli comments: „Some kind of psychological experiment, getting yourself out of where you used to be, I believe.“ I wonder: „To explore something new?“ Olli confirms: „Exactly“, and Mikko once more fills in the details: „And of course it feels scary when you do something new, something new for you. What you haven’t done before.” And once more we return to the language discussion: “And when we were talking about the Finnish language so you know that everyone in the audience – they understand just what you’re singing. And I think that we’re going that much deeper than you can maybe … I don’t know.“ He says something in Finnish … „even that the tough guy can be that ….“ As Mikko is still searching for the words fitting his idea, I try to help: „Soft? Warm?“ Mikko: „Yeah! But …“ and then someone adds: „Deeper…“
Mikko: „Maybe not everyone shows that they feel this way, too and are getting so close into lyrics. But they might think: ‚They [the band] are just like my own life.‘ But the tough guy maybe won’t show it.“ The atmosphere has grown calm and warm and has a good deal of intimacy.
It feels even hard to go on: „Did you get any feedback from the fans yesterday?“ Smiling happily Olli replies: „Yeah!“ I can hear the feedback must have been good. Mikko: „Yes!“ There is pride in his voice. Olli says: „After show, yes.“ Mikko quotes some fans: „‚Fucking great show.‘ ‚I’ve been here three weeks only waiting for you.'“ „Only positive feedback”, Olli highlights. „Wow, ooooohhh“, clapping my hands: „Great!“
Olli: „One guy actually told me that our songs sound very similar to each other. He would want more kind of … Jazz, Country and stuff.“ The band laughs amused, apparently this particular fan spoke only with Olli who missed to forward the compliment so far. Ville points out: „I don’t know, it’s our style.“ But Olli has more to forward from that fan: „And he said that we are doom.“ Jarno: „What?“ So Olli explains: „Yeah! Not doomed. But doom.“
This gets the whole band into laughter and chatting at the same time. Slightly irritated Mikko exclaims: „I have to say that I don’t understand the comparison that we are like Swallow the Sun. I don’t see anything …“ Olli fills in: „… similar …“ and Mikko continues: „Similar. But many have said that.“ I agree: „I could not agree with the comparison. Because what I know sounds different.“ Olli is laughing amused. But thinking of it later, I see a point. It might be the atmosphere, at least to me.
I return to the impact of feedback: „If there is some more complex feedback such as the one you just told me about, is this inspiring for the new album, for the composition and lyrics writing process?“ While Olli is still a bit euphorically: „Sure thing! Of course“, Mikko remains a bit skeptical: „Not any deeper. Not that deep.“ The question results in a Finnish discussion on the topic. So I can hardly hear, what Olli is telling me: „Feedback is good. But it hasn’t actually the influence or would make any difference.“ I dig a little deeper: „So it is important to you to stay true to yourself? And not to go with the mass. Or what the crowd wants?“ He agrees: „Yeah. If we would …“ The chatter fades out „we would create probably something different.“ Suddenly there is total silence for a few seconds.
Ville breaks the spell: „Yes, it’s a very beautiful morning at Nummirock!“ Everybody laughs amused. „I like the sun“, Jarno says and I agree with him: „I’m in. And I want it warm again.“ The laughter continues. Someone describes the unique scenery of our meeting: Someone’s sleeping over there, the ground is just a little muddy and only few traces of thrash and waste are lying around. … After this kind of poetic break I’d like to speak of the artwork. „The covers. I really love them. But it seems like it has a deeper meaning to you guys, too. Will you reveal some of this?“
Mikko, thinking … considering and then: „Will you write these ‚öhhh?‘ as well?“ Everybody starts laughing out loudly again. Frowning I reply: „Öh, no!“
Mikko: – back to the topic – „I don’t know. I’m just writing about what I feel. …“ Olli comments the breaks: „We have no logical thinking, we just go with the flow.“ And once more we are all laughing.
Mikko remains focused: „When we were making the first album, I was searching for artwork from the net, something that inspires me. And you know, like in the music, it is in all arts, it can be so different. And there I found this Slobicus Doomicus from Serbia. And I asked him would, if he would like to do the cover for our band? And I just sent some words and lines so that just he gathered something around the words and lines. And for the second one, I sent him a picture. There were hands that free a bird. It was a postcard in Helsinki. I took the picture and when we made the demos and when I started to write the lyrics the ‚Vapaus‘ was the main word. And I sent him that and said: ‚If you can do something about freedom, and looking like these hands and the bird that flies. You can make what ever you want.“ – „Mental freedom!“ Ville points out.
Mikko: „And thinking about whole package that we have: Finnish lyrics, Finnish music and the cover art and all the art for the band it’s coming from the outside.“
„Isn’t that a risk?“ I wonder. Mikko seems surprised by my question: „No.“ I think I did not make my point clear enough and explain more: „To transfer your ideas?“ Mikko: „For me that makes the picture only larger.“ Olli: „And we can get back to the …“ (lyrics, yes we are).
Mikko: „And now we are heading to the same point, that we were at the beginning. That we can make it that much more bigger, that’s not only in Finnish, Finnish, Finnish … and ….?“
I think I need to clarify: „No, my point was a bit a different one. It was that neither of you is an English native. So you translate from Finnish to English to Serbian and so might loose ideas or meanings. You have like two languages to bridge and still keep the message. That might be tricky and the risk, I meant.“
But Mikko is very convinced of the process and the result: „And then the language is not the problem. And that’s not the main thing. If we tell him what we want, he can make it how he sees these things. And I think that’s really what gives so much to me and the band if there are some parts are from somewhere else. In that way we can also get the deeper meaning for the whole package, I think.“
Silence falls for a moment. I feel we’re all still too tired for such discussions. And yet we all want to go on. „Is there any religious motif in your songs? Sometimes the vocals remind me to a church choir“, I ask. „In our songs?“ Mikko asks in return very surprised. I confirm nodding. Mikko: „No. I don’t think so. I’ve never thought of it.“
Olli: „Personally, I don’t think that religion and music can be combined together. If you want to manipulate than it would be …. you could have a point in creating music with some religious stuff.“
Ville: „I’m not sure if I understood that question right but I think religion and music is not …?“ he hesitates, so I refine: „I meant more if there is a relation to any kind of religion at all?“ So Ville states:“ I think that making music is kind of a religion.“ He has a point in this. I get a little into details, so for example that the topic of death is often considered from a religious perspective or covered with religious symbols.
Mikko: „I don’t know. We‘ re talking about the sorrow and the life and everything. But what’s near the biggest thing we will have to face. Maybe that comes in that way.“
Just to be sure: „But it is not meant to be religious?“ Mikko: „No. No. No. I’ve never thought about it.“ Each time he mentions that he had not thought this way, he seems to give into his thoughts to follow this idea the very moment at least for some seconds. The replies to this question apparently are a difficult thing to put into words.
Ville: „I don’t know it’s just subjective. But I feel like I am… I don’t know. There is something but not the cross … I don’t know it’s just … the making music for … I don’t know …“ Mikko: “ For the God of Kotka?“ Ville: „I don’t know but nature is a more beautiful picture. You know, everything. I enjoy the life you know!“ Mikko: „But I think we we are going to close for the you know this whole package about the lyrics and good sound and everything. We are something really close …“
Superheroes and antiheroes
We have been sitting and discussing quite some time together. And my questions have been asked, save for the one last question, the superhero question. For a couple of seconds there is silence, then broken by a short „Batman“, uttered by Jarno. We’re all laughing once more.
„Deadpool“, Olli says which leads to silence again. And „Why Deadpool?” – „Just because he is a kind of an antihero?“ he says not totally sure of the term. But, „indeed he is a classical antihero.“ Yet not everybody seems familiar with the character: „What? Deathpool?“
The others repeat: „Deadpool!“ But „What is that?“ Olli explains a bit more: „I was raised with comic books and stuff like that and Deadpool is some kind of … actually Lobo. You know Lobo?“ Once more my interviewees are better educated in the topic than I am: „I don’t think so.“ So Olli returns to his first suggestion: „Deadpool could be just great because he is against everything that a superhero would be. It’s just the opposite.“
Mikko starts laughing: „Sorry … that wasn’t for you!“ He notices my expression which is more tired and asking than doubting. But he wants to make sure: „That wasn’t for you! I was just thinking about myself and my own.“ I frown and reply: „Ok. And that is?“ With a superior smile Mikko says: „Jarno is next!“ So we’re all laughing yet again.
Olli invites me to have a coffee and gets us a freshly boiled coffee! Meanwhile Miika presents his idea: „Maybe, I think, the Punisher!“ Taken by surprise: „Ok the Punisher. Well. Why?“ Miika: „I don’t know!“
Mikko: „Does it have to be an existing one?“ – „No, whatever comes to your mind.“ – „That doesn’t have to face my truly me?“ he asks. – „It can …“ I say. Then he reveals: “If I can be whoever I want that would be He-Man!“ We all start laughing yet another time. He explains: „Because I have a blonde hair. No. That was the main character in my childhood. I have this figure of him and Skeletor and maybe if we’re talking about something of big interest.“
„So that is something you feel close to as it relates to your childhood?“ I ask and he explains: „Yeah, niin, because on a good side, not on the bad like Skeletor. You had a Skeletor“, he says as if revealing a scandal looking to Miika with a good deal of irony in his voice.
„Ok, that is: one left.“ I ask, looking to Ville who asks: „What exactly again was the question?“ I repeat it still leaving him uncomfy: „A very hard one, yeah. I think, I would be me. Just me.“
Frowning I commend: „Now that is a great final statement for an interview. So thank you all very much.“
Band: „Thank you!“ I thought this was the moment I could enjoy my coffee and do some small talk with the guys. But just as I try to get there: „You were really amazing!“, Olli comes up with: „I have one question for you.“ Mikko smiles and asks: „Her superhero?“
What is music?
The band wants me to repeat the question as well as my reply here and I gladly do!
Olli asks: „What is music?“ I admit that this question was not an easy one to reply to. And after I made the band cross several bridges of more philosophic and metaphoric questions and dug deep in their motivations, I should repay in an equally chosen reply. So I buy a moment of time: „Music?“ Olli seems to enjoy my situation with a good deal of humor in his voice: „Yeah.“
I’m no fond of physical explanations and even less of theoretical ones. So I consider, what music means to me and what it causes in the best of cases: „Something that touches me very deep inside if it is good and moves me and never lets me go. Otherwise it’s something I listen to but I don’t feel it. Like most of the stuff on the radio. So music is in my heart.“ Jarno comments: „Music, yeah, very big thing!“
I spend some more time with them sipping my coffee and we go on talking. I feel welcome in their group and that all the more as I get a warm farewell hug as I leave them somewhat later.
I am all the more sorry after the interview, their kindness and openness that I missed their gig. I should have liked to see the audience sing along their lyrics and I am quite sure Mikko’s reaction as he stated here, was to be read in his face.
I will remember this interview as a very authentic which I hope to have shown here. I did enjoy all the interaction giving a plain proof of their band dynamics and open as well as unique interaction. They do share a lot in their music and even more of what their music means to them, what they want to be seen reflected in their music. There were many statements they gave I kept thinking about again and again during my next interviews. In some particular moments they seemed to be one grown, living organism but still allowing differing opinions. Perhaps that is what makes them more than just a (metal) band: these closely related ways of thinking and feeling.