For Obscuro cz. wrote Katja Gessner
The Finnish melo death masters of Omnium Gatherum toured just recently supporting Swedish veterans of Amon Amarth and Dark Tranquillity on their joint tour all over Europe.
They had agreed on an on-tour interview very quickly which took me a bit by surprise, actually. The more I was curious to learn about their recent tour experience and even more how that particular Omnium Gatherum spirit had evolved over roughly twenty years of band history – as described eloquently on their homepage.
Fixing the details still was rather reduced to the very basic information. Short sentences. No extra words. No signatures. Nothing decorative. Whom was I to meet?
I was invited to the tour bus. But I knew the venue and was very sure there was no space for a tour bus anywhere near. So I took a little more time before hand and checked out the traditional spot to park a bus. But this was empty. No bus. No Northern metal heads to see. Lucky me, I had a walk in the sunshine despite the heavy snow and rain showers forecasted! After sorting out some technical issues (no wifi access for some time, a road construction site in front of the venue, etc.) I found the bands in the venue. Although a bit late Markus welcomed me smiling with the words: “I need to find our singer.” Only then I read that Omnium Gatherum had suggested postponing the interview for two hours. That seemed not to be so important as rather soon I found myself sitting with Jukka in the back-stage area. Meaning: a dim, small, rather long room without windows, furnished with a long and narrow table, some chairs and a couch inhabited by some most decent, bearded company. The table resembled very much that of a shared student apartment (including a pile of used dishes, laundry hanging on the neighbouring chairs), while the bearded conglomerate on the couch behind my chair provided the appropriate metal flair. Cosy!
“Thank you very much for meeting me” I started.
“Thank you”, Jukka replied.
Honestly: “Absolute pleasure to meet you. This is your final tour gig tonight …”
“Do you have a some kind of preliminary résumé of the tour already?”
“Well, it’s been great! You know we’ve been on a shared tour with Amon Amarth and Dark Tranquillity – now also with Nailed to Obscurity who joined the group a couple days ago, and Amon Amarth stopped their tour a couple of days ago. And it’s been absolutely amazing and the venues been great, the crowds been great, over all the whole atmosphere, and everything has worked as planned. So there are no complaints.” He hesitates a second: “Although we had to change the bus, but you know. We changed to a better one so I’m not complaining about that, either.”
“Oh, a better one? More luxury? A bigger one?” I wondered.
“Yeah, a bigger one, and maybe more luxurious, even. I don’t usually care about that but if one wants to see it like that, yes, more modern bus than the last one”, he pointed out.
But I intended to dig a little deeper, hoped for some hard facts. “So you’re happy with the figures in terms of audience numbers and merch sales are quite ok for the band?”
“Yes. Yes. It’s been really good. Especially with the people. There’ve been a lot of people, and I think we’ve sold a lot of music to new fans.”
“Oh, that’s great.”
He confirmed: “So, there is nothing to complain about. It’s been a really good tour for us.”
“Which is a really good reason for a great party tonight after show?”
“Hm” he takes a sip of his coffee from a paper cup “I think so, yeah.“
“Go forward for it.”
“Is there any show you liked in particular little more than the others? Because of a favourite venue or …?” I ask.
“It’s really hard to choose like one specific, or even two specific show places because all have been really good. But if I gotta say” he sighs and thinks a second “Le Bikini in France was really good. And Bologna was really good in Italy which was a little bit a surprise for me. Barcelona was really good. And let me see and find some dates”, he flips his passes hanging from his jeans: “Here, yeah,” he reads out, “Ravensburg was really good.”
I am surprised, as I had never heard band mentioning the place along Lake Constance before: “Oh?”
“Yeah! But I think, they have all been good. These are maybe just like the top ones, for my opinion.”
“Yeah. I asked your opinion”, I assure him.
“Absolutely great.” Still surprised I go on, “what makes a gig for you as a singer a really good one?”
“If I have good monitors!” he says determined. “So I can hear myself because I don’t use any in-ears.”
Surprised once more: “Ok. Why?”
He takes a moment: “No specific reason. For some reason or the other, we just haven’t got them. We’ve been talking about with this guy.” He points to the bearded company, but as they sit behind me I don’t recognise who is replying with a laughing. “… about it for a couple of years. But let’s see, maybe on the next tour.
And of course, the scenery and the reaction and the counter reaction between the crowd and the band is always really important to me. And if my voice is all right which has been really good on this tour now. Yesterday’s gig my vocal grows a bit tired because it is the 27th show without day offs.”
Impressed: “Wow. Ok. That’s quite a lot.”
“So … so, it begins to feel here” points at both sides a long his throat, “a bit here … a bit ….” searching for the vocabulary I ask
“Sore. Yeah. A bit. But if those things work I don’t care if there is like 50 people or 50.000 people it’s always – we deliver the same amount of energy to a show. So if the conditions are right then I’m happy.”
“And if you are on the other side, if you are among the audience, what makes it a good gig for you?”
“If they play my favourite songs” he exclaims laughing, adding quickly: “No. No. No, for real. If I can see that the band is enjoying themselves on the stage because I know what it is like. And I know what it is like if all works or does not work. You can really see it. Especially I can see it. I can see the little things and I can see if there’s something wrong. You know?”
“Yeah, of course.” That’s pretty much, what I like, too, I think but he adds:
“So that is … that is because I’m always concerned about my colleagues.”
“So you prefer the smaller venues as well where you can have like eye contact and see all the details?”
“Because if you’re somewhere far in the back you will need goggles.”
“Yeah, exactly.” We agree on that, apparently.
More and more often I hear bands complaining on the ocean of displays in front of the stage. So I would like to know: “What is it like if you are on stage and you see all the fans only through the display of their phones?”
He laughs but gets more serious quickly. “That’s a modern problem. I haven’t thought about it much. But sometimes it can be annoying”, he confirms. “Because I think they’re missing something. Because they’re focussing on a second-hand thing instead of the show! They’re seeing the show through a lens and they’re focussing on specific things and just not may be getting the whole experience. Because they’re, you know like, take a picture of that, make a video out of that, bla bla bla. And just like engaging themselves not to the experience but just like capturing the experience and then you’re basically doing something else then enjoying the show.
Of course, there are always people making videos.” He considers his words “But a couple of times I said like ‘take your phones away for a while’ and just like ‘enjoy the show’ and ‘do some head banging’ and stuff like that. But I don’t blame them” he emphasizes, “because people want to have like a ‘real’ memories like besides what they get in here”, he points to eyes and ears. “I can understand it but” as music is more than a video can capture: “but for some people in my opinion it seems to be more important than the experience itself. And that is kind of sad, because they’re really missing something, then!” he exclaims.
And despite as a photographer myself always being tempted to take yet another photo, I fully agree with him: “Absolutely agreed.” Indeed.
“As the tour is nearly done I was thinking lately – when I was sitting on a train back home after a final gig of another band, actually: how do you make it back into your home after being on tour for such a long time? I mean your home life is most likely very much different from tour life.”
He nods and sighs comprehendingly.
“So is there some kind of strategy or particular kind of habit you go through to make it back into that?” I ask.
“No. I just relax. I have no habits in that. But, you know, enough sleep, just to unwind, just not to do anything special, just not like to have plans immediately after the tour. So just like for a couple of days, maybe three to five days, maybe up to a week … or something and then it’s back to normal”, he explains quietly. Then he adds a new perspective: “Ok, it’s a bit different when you’re coming from the east or the west, coming from Japan or China or something.”
“With the jetlag?”
“Yeah, and if you’re coming from America, it always a different thing. It takes a bit more time to get the things rolling at home.” He sums um: “But still it’s easier than one could imagine – for me at least. I don’t feel like depressed or anything or bla bla bla. I’ve heard stories of some of my colleagues complaining that they’re so depressed after a tour, like they cannot do anything for like weeks. Or maybe they’ve been drinking too much on the tour, and than they can’t stop drinking at home. For me it’s like, you know – actually this was the first time on the history of me touring that I didn’t drink anything at all on the whole tour!”
“Ok?! Wow.” I am surprised, most positively.
“Yeah” he confirms not lacking a bit of pride.
“Isn’t that hard to actually the only one not drinking at all? Like you’re the only one?”
“Yeah sometimes”, he admits. “But you get used to it. And our bass player hasn’t been drinking in couple of years. And I kind of like made the same kind of attitude for this particular tour. I’m not planing to stop drinking. But it was a nice, new experience. So it was cool. But as I was saying for some people it’s maybe harder to break the habits of tour life.”
“Yes, of course.” Just when I thought to come up with the next question, he adds:
“Like when they come home they continue drinking and bla bla bla, and I can understand that that could be really stressful – for the family dynamics and and stuff like that if they have family.”
“Of course”, I say and go on: “Speaking of Japan, I noticed that you guys explicitly like touring in Japan. What’s different to touring in Europe?”
He takes a second: “Well it’s a different culture, of course. Like in general. But I think like the metal communities are really similar around the world. There’s always really good atmosphere with the people who listen to this kind of music. So it’s not so different as one would think. There are, of course, sometimes some cultural classes. They cannot be avoided. But still I think it’s surprisingly similar to Europe when on stage. When on stage, they talk like more in Europe than in Japan. Or especially in Japan they’re more polite in a way” he imitates the bowing gesture. “This bowing all the time and stuff like that. But bigger issues – it’s not I think it’s kind of like ah really similar.”
“Is the size of the venues similar to those you go to in Europe?
“Yeah. It’s like from 300 to 800.”
“The clubs, just like usually.”
“So you have a direct feedback from the fans?”
“Yeah. Yeah. Which is good.”
“I think so. As a fan, of course, I enjoy that a lot more than the big venues.”
He nods humming.
“As I mentioned before I’d like to go a bit into the history of the band.“
“And I’d like to have a bit of a comparison of the early days or in your case you joined the band roughly at the middle of the band history (so far)”
“So do you have an idea, what it was like in the very, very early days? Like hearing from stories from the others? Is there anything that made you curious on the band to join them?”
“Well… hm … actually I wasn’t”, he points out. “They called me!” He smiles satisfied.
Laughing, I confirm: “Great. Even better then for you.” He starts laughing, too:
“So you know I had another band back in the days. And we did some gigs together. And I saw that the guys were really nice, and Markus featured in a couple of our songs. And also did I on their first album. I was in two songs, like doing some featuring vocals, here and there. But I’ve always liked their way of working and their attitude towards working. It was a bit different in my former band. So that was one of the things that made me like get interested. And when they asked me it came out of like nowhere because I was … ” he pauses, “we had just released the second album of my former band, then.” … He thinks again for a moment. “And Markus just called me one day and asked: ‘Would you be interested?’ And I said like ‘Yah, yah. I would be interested, but let’s see what happens. So send me some rough demos of the new songs. Like I could do some lyrics there. And we just could like go through at rehearsal place, and play. Let’s see what happens.’ – It worked out really well.”
“So for you it comes natural if you come into a band as a vocalist you’d do the lyrics as well?”
“Yeah. Yah.” He nods confirming.
“Yeah, it is. Because I was always like a writing soul. A natural thing to do and I don’t suppose any of the other guys is. Because their former singer also did all the lyrics. And for me it has always been natural to write the lyrics and make the arrangements for the lyrical content of the songs. Of course, I am open to ideas. But I haven’t been so much offered for a special lyrical content from them. So I am kind of on my own there. But I like it that way! There is nothing wrong with that”, he said determined. “But when it comes to arranging the stuff within one particular song, then it’s, I do like maybe 80/85 % of that stuff, and then we do it with our guitarists Markus and Joonas. We go through the songs and we gotta like – they do different contrasuggestions like I do with the melodies and stuff. ‘It would be better if it goes like this’, one says. This is cooperation because it’s always easier to have like more ears, more opinions.”
“So you have some kind of basic idea for all?” I’d want to know.
“Yes!” he confirms.
“You have a structure and then the ‘final fine-tuning’, let’s say, it’s done altogether?”
“Yeah. Yeah! Usually. For some songs it won’t be necessary. Well on others it is”, he explains. “Maybe I’m stuck at some point. And I can’t come up with a good arrangement for this and this. And than Joonas says like: ‘why don’t you do it like this …?’ And I say ‘Ok, great.’ Because there is no reason of hanging on to your own opinion like too tight. Like I was gonna do it that way or not that way. – I think that’s stupid.”
“Of course.” I wonder, if, “that’s the family-like spirit you mentioned on the homepage you kept within the band? So in this cooperation you find this spirit?”
“Yeah. Absolutely! Because you know we’re really close to each other in a way that you know the fun out of the game hasn’t gone out.”
“That’s important”, I agree.
Even more he emphasizes: “The most, most important thing because when it starts to fade out and die out then you really have to consider your possibilities. And maybe this is the end of the road at least for me. If I can’t find anything positive besides getting good crowds, or getting money or something like that, then I think it’s kind of stuck. You get like jammed in a place where you don’t really wanna be.”
“So how do you make sure? I mean there have been quite many changes in the line up over the years. How do you the perfect person for the vacant position?”
He states well considered: “It’s always a game of chance. Because you really can’t tell, before one gets into the group and what’s gonna happen, no matter how good of a guy or a girl one is. There is no possibility to tell that before some time has passed. So it is an on-going process all the time, because we get to know each other a better and better when the years progress.”
“You have to pick in the beginning and then see how it goes? Is it more if the person fits into the band or if the music the person brings with, the musical experience the person brings with fits?”
Still thinking he says: “Uhm … it’s both! It’s of course both. Because with this kind of like straight-forward, still technical, a bit progressive melodic death metal one has to be able to play what is his instruments to be able to carry on with the songs. So it’s also that, but we would sense that if the guy is an total asshole you know. It didn’t matter if he was the best player in the world you know. We would say, you know: ‘the door’s there, you know. I’m sorry. You can try your luck somewhere else. Bla bla bla.’ – Because that kind of thing that goes for someone’s personality, it really shows … you can really see it.” After a second he continues:
“But as I said before, its still, a guy can be like really on just like upper level, can be really joyous. And then we go on a tour together. And that’s always the first of the tests, when we go tour together. It’s: How ones psychic can handle the whole, like the bus, like you know with people of three and half weeks in a confined space, not having so much time for yourself. And to be able to deliver every night, maybe not having (like on this tour) days off at all. How they handle their liquor. How much they drink? Or not drink? Or what are the hang-overs like? What is the situation at home like? Bla bla bla. All those things. You can really start to see if a person can handle it or not. So if those things go well and the atmosphere keeps being good, than we can be pretty sure that he is in the right place.”
I’m reminded to a statement on the homepage when Tuomo was presented as permanent member: “So this is possibly the reason for having some kind of prospect time before making sure that someone fits into the band and then being a permanent member?”
“Yeah, of course. Yeah. You have to do it. Because otherwise it’ll be waiting for you around the corner: the problems.”
“Yeah of course”, I agree and follow the idea a little further: “So than it is all the harder, I think, to find someone to stand in for a tour because that’s someone new from outside? As you have to do now as Joonas is not here with Tomi. How do you find someone who fits for such a short but very intense and intimate moment?”
“Well that’s like even more like a game of chance. You can’t know it. You just have to take a risk. Nothing more to say about it.“
“Do you hope if it someone who has been known to one or two band members for a long time it will work out better?”
“The ideal situation, yeah. As for instance, with Tomi. We knew him Hateform, and he’s been playing in not as a member but as a session member also in Mors Principium Est now. And then we knew he is a good guitarist and a good guy. And he can also do backing vocals. So this was what we needed for three weeks.”
“That’s a long checklist, you have.”
“Yeah. Yeah.” He nodds.
“A very long and tough checklist”, I add smiling.
Laughing he agrees: “Yeah. Yeah. So we were kind of fortunate to have this good guy.” Still smiling he explains: “Because you really can’t be sure. But we were pretty sure about Tomi. And Tomi has delivered 100 % on this tour. So he even hurt his leg and we went to the hospital.”
“But we didn’t have to cancel anything”, he points out.
“Ok, so he can still play tonight?” I ask.
“Of course!” His tone includes: ‘How could I doubt?’
“Wonderful.” I say, changing to another subject: “Over the long time there have been many changes in the business. I mean ten years ago you went into a record shop, and you got plenty of records you could buy from the old days, from many bands. Now there is hardly a record shop left! And that’s actually only kind of a symptom of what’s going on in the music business.”
“Yeah.” He agrees humming.
“How do you deal with these changes? “ I ask curiously.
“Hmmm” but he’s still considering. So I take a chance to add:
“I have the idea that it has become even harder for the bands than it has before?”
“Uhm … yeah, like promotionally, it’s become better because you can promote your music more effectively than you could like ten years ago. You can do a lot more effectively!” he points out.
“But a record buys”, he takes a break to word his meaning. More serious he continues: “well it is what it is basically, you know. We cannot stop the change. So we have to adapt to the thing. Of course we’re continuing to sell records because in the metal community it’s one of the rare communities that still like to buy CDs and LPs and stuff like that. They want to have it in the cupboard and stuff like that. You know in nowadays at least in Finland some popular artists don’t release albums anymore. They just release songs – which for my opinion just totally sucks”, he states with neutral expression and intonation. “Because you hear one song, two songs, ok. That’s two songs. But what about the whole? The whole thing? What the whole music is about, you cannot judge the artist or, at least for my opinion, you shouldn’t judge the artist for two songs. And then, there is no variety. And that’s kind of stupid. And that … of course the records are not selling so good. But still they’re selling enough in metal community! And of course you can get also margin from digital releases.”
“But I got it right, you have to do more or less the marketing all on your own?”
“Hmmmm”, his considering give me a moment to add:
“Or is the support by the label still on a level that is ok for the band?”
“We just like to do a lot of promoting ourselves. Now it’s really hard to say because we’re changing labels for the next albums. So we’ll see what kind of back-up we’re gonna get. It’s a bigger label so let’s hope there is bigger support behind us for that kind of promotional thing. But ah still it’s ahm it’s one of the things that really belongs to this business, alright. And the best promoting you can is live shows. That’s what we do a lot. We do maybe 100 gigs a year.”
“I wonder like if you change the label if you depend with your opinion on which label to go for all on yourself or if you can rely on other bands’ experiences? I mean you know all the other bands – at least in Finland and the neighbouring countries – and they all have their experience? Are you asking others for their experience?”
“That always the thing like with a new member. You can never know. Because labels are also a kind of a new member, but like a silent partner in a way, in the whole community. So you really can’t say what’s gonna happen. There have been situations when we really have been fucked up with that kind of empty or false promises and stuff like that. There’s always the chance for that, you have to say. Because, still and despite of the fact that the promotion channels today are really, really good, I think that this kind of thing to work – in a specific professional level – needs a record label, which is not like maybe one doing from someone’s garage to deal with the good contacts. Because good contacts, the managing thing, and the selling of gigs- it always helps if you have a record label, especially a good one behind you. It helps like to get good spots in festivals or stuff like that, of course.” Changing to the other perspective:
“Because they are thinking businesswise. And I am thinking about the promotion and they are partly also living in the past in that way that the record labels think that they are the only ones that can do the promotion.” Then he sums up:
“But because, as you have said, we are in a transition phase at the moment for this kind of things.” And after a second he resumes: “Yeah, but I think it IS still important.”
“Ok” I confirm. “As the business is tough I thought there are two points you’ve might have come to during the career. Maybe there was a moment at which you thought we could really put our day jobs aside and stay with the music only and make our livings from it.”
He considers humming.
“And maybe there were also moments at which you wanted to quit with music at all. Could you give an example of one of them?”
“Yee-ah.” Putting his words: “It’s a kind of merry-go-round-thing. Because you know despite the fact that things are going better and better for this band, there are also like in every occupation, every job there is, there are basically moments you say, you’re so tired of this. You know the tours are always the same. You know it’s like Groundhog Day. You know the movie?” I nod. “And it’s like Groundhog Day. The days are all the same. You go to a different city but the venues are all alike, then you do the sound check, then you eat, then you wait, then you do the show … you hang out with the people who come and see the show and bla bla bla, and sometimes it’s really super-boring. But you know there is coming so much with the music that gives to everyone, especially to ourselves, which really sustains the enthusiasm.” Searching for words he pauses. “And how do you say it in English? It really keeps it going. It can make it so worth it” a shine flickers through his otherwise mostly neutral expression, “despite the personal down parts.”
“So can you describe what’s driving you to go when you have these down points? Is it like waiting for a moment?”
His reply is surprisingly reasonable when I had expected a more emotional point: “It is realisation that like in everything else they just happen, you know. We’re not like robots. Steady go like this. It’s not an inspiration like anything for me. It’s just like the realisation that it was bound to happen at sometime. And that I will have the upper parts again. And it has always been like that. So that is the thing that helps me to understand it. Otherwise I would quit.”
Still wondering, if he could be any near such a point now, I reply :”Oh please, not!”
His face brightens and as if he waited for me to say so, he answers smilingly: ”Yeah”.
But: “I have a final question that might be a bit different. Could you think of any super hero you would like to be and why would you identify yourself with that one?”
“Hell no!” he exclaims laughing loudly.
“Hell no?”, I wonder, “Why?”
Still laughing, he points out: “Oh No. We are no superheroes. Because I think they belong to a phantasy world.” Although his voice lowers a bit again, he’s still amused. “Ok, I understand the question exactly what you mean about? Like the features they have. The qualities they have and stuff like that. You really can be superhero on stage without all the amazing features and powers and stuff like that.” What a final statement, I think, preparing for goodbyes:
“Cool. Thank you very much for the interview.”
On my way out, his words echo in my mind. Speaking of superheroes and the world of phantasy, I do not exactly agree with Mr Pelkonen and then I do. Do superheroes belong only into a world of phantasy? Or is it more that the world of phantasy (being nothing else but the world of our imagination) is the place at which creativity is born?! Undoubtedly, the realm of creativity is the home of the music we love. That makes our favourite musicians no less than superheroes on stage. Thank you, Jukka for this inspiring conversation!*
Omnium Gatherum delivered a most energetic show, very much worth being the tour’s finale. As the next part of them touring Europe has been announced already, I am looking forward to see more of the emotional journey through their powerful and passionate program. Opening with the Pit and Skyline, they set the crowd on fire not to let them rest before the last note was played. The set list comprised of a good deal of Omnium Gatherum’s old days’ glory as much of the more progressive later works from Beyond and, of course, the Grey Heavens. The show, that needs to be added, was far from being grey or dull but captivating and gripping. Little more than twenty years of band history might have grown a grey hair or two but surely not limited their power on stage! See you soon, again!
* If you wish to continue discussing the realms to reality and phantasy with the “role-play veteran” feel invited to join me at the bonfire. Milk and cookies are on me.
Images: ©Katja Gessner