Behind-the-scences interview with Anton Kabanen from Beast in Black
Anton pops up out of thin air in the door to the venue’s office right behind me. He seems a not as relaxed as on our first meeting but then we meet on tour and not at home. And as the Beast in Black’s sensational kick off also bore a backdraft some tension is understandable. It is day number two of the tour. Anton suggests changing the location so we end up in a Moroccan bar next door. He takes a cappuccino while I go for a traditional Moroccan tea.
Speaking of touring and the festival gigs in the next summer, he says: “Yeah they [the headliner slots]are the best ones, we think so. I think so. But what I don’t like in the touring thing is the waiting.” – “Yeah”, I have heard this many times and it must be hell. “It’s always like ‘ahhhh’. You can’t really start doing something with full focus. We can’t, for example, disappear from the venue for two hours and then do what you wanna do. Especially not a band that is on this level still. So you have to be always alert because there might be something to do. Even now like earlier today, I discussed like, ‘I have done everything that needs to be done, can I go now and grab a bite?’ And even when I went there I get a phone call. And that’s what I mean. You cannot really totally relax. You have to wait. And you cannot even shift the focus on your own things. Buuuut, the most important thing is always the show. So the evening slots are, of course, the best ones in the festivals. “
So I wonder if there is a festival he is in particular looking forward for as Beast in Black will play quite numerous festivals in 2018. Anton replies a bit hesitating. “Well not really at the moment. I think they are like equally important, like gig-wise. Like success-wise the biggest ones are from the marketing perspective the more important ones. But you know a show is a show. The feeling on stage is – no matter what kind of festival it is it’s gonna be – the same. Same energy, same like devotion for the performance from the band.” Devotion – that’s what they delivered later on stage.
Marketing is the keyword. So I ask for the BERSERKER’s sales. But Anton would check the album sales only after a year, he says, so I ask for the merch sales on tour so far. “Yesterday was the first night of this tour and it was – once again – better than we expected.” – “Cool”, I say happily as the direct sales are so important for a band for so much more than only the money. It is the point to meet the audience, have feedback and intensify the relation with the audience. “It happened on all the foreign shows that we managed to play. And it got only better towards the fourth show that we played on the WASP tour. Let’s say that relatively the selling was the same yesterday what they were at the end of the WASP tour.” – “Wow. I mean smaller clubs and all.” – “Smaller clubs, less people and the prices were even lower like for the merch on this tour. Then we did the relative counting and it is like exactly the same like it was on the WASP tour.” – “Cool.” – “So it is like very good I think for us, like beyond what we expected. So we just hope we can keep the same level. Or just make it even better.”
Preparing my questions I had considered the whether or not of a keyboarder in the band a mostly music-related topic. But there are also time- and strongly budget-related dimensions as well. And as only few, even among the internationally successful bands are actually making their living from their music these concerns have a crucial importance.
“The point is that in this kind of music that we have – there is always layers and layers of different keyboards – … there is for example in some verse that might have four different keyboard things. And if you have a real gig keyboard player you have to decide when you’re making the backing tracks, ‘ok, which part of this will be muted, so he can play it live, which are the ones left for the backing tracks’. Because, with the keyboard player anyway, we would need the backing tracks. So we would have kind of to divide what is coming from the backing tracks and what not. And it’s unnecessary work, I think. Why bother and spent all these hours and have an additional member, additional costs for everything especially for a band that has to fly so often? There are already like two members from outside Finland which costs money every time for the flight tickets and everything, and less space on stage, more technical stuff that can go wrong, …” – “… and more equipment you have to carry …” – “More equipment for flight gigs because every time you take one more baggage this is also additional money. Like I told you, for a band on this level those things are important. Maybe not for a band that is on a higher level for whom like 10,000 Euros is nothing. But for us …” – “… it is quite a lot!” – “Yeah! All these small moneys count.”
Beast in Black had an amazing kick off with three really big shows way before releasing a single song, and found once the album was done a strong support in their label, management and booking agent enabling the band to tour immediately again when the first tour had crushed. The number of reviews of the album surprises even Anton in our conversation but reflects impact the album has. The BERSERKER is also nominated for the most important national award in Finland, Emma Gaala, this year. Who are those fans? And how do the tour crowds like their music?
“Did the audience change a lot? I would expect a different crowd here than on a show with WASP?” – “Yeah”, he says a bit hesitating. “Still, when we were there at the merch desk yesterday, people are still the same. Now we all eat the same bread, breath the same air and if you’re having to like something you’re reaction is pretty much the same. Like it doesn’t matter. Is it the WASP or is it the Beyond The Black audience if they like us as well the reaction is pretty much the same.”
“I would have expected more potential Beast in Black fans among the WASP than the BTB audience.” – “I mean a lot of people heard us for the very first time on the WASP tour and especially yesterday also.” He considers his wording for a moment. “Let’s say every gig is a battle won, well, when there are people coming excitedly to the merch desk.” – “Yeah”, I frown on the metaphor. “And that’s why we do this. We want to play to the people first that don’t know about us. That’s the point of this beginning of the band. We are a new band. It is normal that people haven’t heard about us, yet.” It is the tiny break between the last two words that tells a tale. “We are still on this level of establishing a place in this like music scene.”
The use of social media have a become a key feature in marketing for bands and I learn that Maté, the bass player, is heavily busy with running the band’s Facebook account, posting reviews etc. Anton confirms: “Like really a lot of stuff that you have to pay attention to nowadays in the social media.” – “It is”, I confirm. “But I don’t like that, you know this modern way. I am a very dinosaur.” I cannot help laughing. “I like old-school stuff more – in every perspective. Like the internet, it’s a great tool. But people misuse it to all kinds of nonsense.” I have to agree with this.
“You get anyway – to get back to my actual question – a lot of feedback on many ways. Are you happy about the perception of your music?” – “Yeah!” – “Is it understood the way you meant it? You must have had an idea?” He sighs thinking. “No, I know you had an idea. I mean, we spoke of it earlier.” – “I think that the most important thing is that those who listen to it – to me and to the band – the most important thing is that they like it. No matter if someone sees it as Power Metal, or someone sees it as Heavy Metal, or Disco Metal or whatever or Pop Metal or Schlager Metal or something.” Once more I can’t help laughing out loudly. Schlager Metal “Never heard that …” I admit still laughing. “Yeah, I’ve heard it!” Silence for some seconds. „But it doesn’t matter as long as it is good, because in the end it is about good music. That’s where I take my influences from, from good music. I don’t care about the genre. If it’s good music it stays in my mind and from subconscious always when you write music you always get these influences from your head: from subconscious to your music. And I don’t think, ‘now I am writing a song that is, you know, it’s gonna be this style for this kind of audience’, and what they are gonna think about it. But it’s like this, it doesn’t play a role. It’s just art is a matter of must – not can. It is something you have to do. It comes out. You have to do it.” In this very moment I could not appropriately reply. This idea was new to me. But the thought worked in my mind and I agree. Very much. Art will force it’s way out.
“How much does a song change from the idea of composing up to the arrangements and then later to demo and recording?” – “Actually not that much.” – “So you have – while composing – already a quite fix idea of how it’s gonna sound like?” – “Usually it’s pretty clear already in my mind before it’s finished.” – “So you have kind of an orchestra in your head that’s playing your songs?” – “Orchestra or band or keyboards or whatever sounds there are.” – “Like key features of the song?” – “Yeah, the key features of the song are there. And the arrangement of the song like usually in what order which part does appear and …” – “Cool.”
And the we take a dive into the creative mind itself: “I know you’re working hard and a lot. So I wonder, honestly, how many songs for the second album have you done already?” – “Well, that’s kind of an interesting question because I can never say the pure answer for this because for every album so far I have chosen songs from the past, and some of them are new. For example, GHOST IN THE RAIN”, I wrote it in 2009 or 2008. The ballad.” – I am surprised, “ok.” – “Yeah. So that’s a very old song, actually. But it had a different title. A little bit different lyrics as well, actually. It was more a part of a story for the beast character [Berserker manga]. There is a beast character behind. It was part of that. But now I have changed the lyrics and theme more closer to my own personal life. So it is not anymore about that fantasy story that it was, original topic in it. So that’s an old song. And when I wrote it many years back I didn’t know for what I am gonna write, you know for what album. And the same thing is gonna happen for the next Beast in Black album. There’s gonna be old songs. We’re already going through this process of selecting songs in the middle of that. But meanwhile when I go through the old material, you know it takes days to listen to these hundreds of ideas and songs that I have, meanwhile the more I listen to that stuff the more, I become inspired like the creative process inside me is stimulated and I wanna write new stuff. Because I get ideas from the old stuff that I wrote. Some of that stuff, I even forgot and than it kind of re-ignites and then I’m gonna have to write new song. And then I always feel always that the newest song is the best. I feel that way for a few days and after that ‘ähhh it’s not really the best. It’s a good one, but I cannot say it’s the best song.’ And that way the songs pile up and there’s dozens of new songs since the debut album of Beast in Black. And some of the songs that are gonna be on the next album, most likely are the ones which were dropped of from this debut album not because they’re worse but because there are reasons why. And usually there are emotional reasons. I cannot really be so clear about it but you can trust your instincts what song you’re gonna choose.” I utter agreement. “But also if you have that feeling after that you gonna check out, are there too many similar songs? If yes, then you gotta get rid of some of those.”
“So you have also some kind of story line between the songs? A bit slower stuff, a bit harder stuff, a bit of this and a bit of that.” – “ Yeah, but music-wise, we discussed and we wanted to keep it diverse, like versatile. So it’s not boring. It’s important in my opinion because the more we can create these different emotions the more, I think, the more interesting it is. You know like a movie. You’re gonna have a story line that is this, this and this and there is the climax. Just to keep it interesting.” Anton is deep in his thoughts and eager to share them and I can’t miss how important the teamwork within the band is to him.
“So that’s why the ballad is in the end?” – “Yeaah, it was decided kind of early. In my mind it was a good to end the album that way like END OF THE WORLD *boom* and then the ballad kind of fades out. Kind of melancholic way. Or something.” Like in a classical Greek drama.
“What’s the story behind song number 7 on the debut album. Sorry, I am lousy with names and I forgot the title. It’s bit outstanding and so very, very strong keyboards?” – “Oh you mean CRAZY, MAD INSANE?” – “Thank you, yes. Exactly this one.” – “A well that’s actually about my personal experiences and thoughts, what happened like with my previous band. That’s a direct, only song that is directly connected to that, to the past. “ Anton speaks very calm and considerate. I remember, he did alike when we met earlier this year. The more delicate content, the more careful he spoke. But something changed. He appears to me more focussed on the future.
“Is that why it is stylistically a bit outstanding?” – “The reason why music-wise why, I wanted to have this song is: with TOUCH IN THE NIGHT on UNHOLY SAVIOUR – that was the first time I thought ‘Hm, ok, let’s try it to have this kind of very Italo disco influenced song.’ Because I always loved that style, but didn’t try to include that kind of a song on a metal album before. And when I did it with Touch in the Night, lots of friends on the metal community were like ‘Are you serious?’ They hated it. But after some time it turned out to be a successful song. And people like it. It’s very successful lyric video there, which is the most successful lyric videos of my songs so far. So I thought ‘I did probably something right.’ So I thought ‘I will continue doing the same thing’ and include at least one of these synth pop, heavily influenced by synth pop that kind of song.”
“It might get you new fans from a totally different range of the spectrum.” – “Yeah. Actually I got a lot of feedback because of that song and in very many interviews, like in the most of interviews people mention that song separately. So it already causes some kind of reaction. And mostly positive. But 99 % of it have been like positive. So and the song was actually written, I think it was actually written during Unholy Saviour period, like the music.” – “Ok.” – “And the song title was CRAZY, MAD INSANE already then. And then I made the lyrics in … “ he hesitates his reply by a few seconds to make sure he mentions the correct year, “2016. Yeah, that’s when I wrote the lyrics. Finished like writing that verses. And anyway, like I mentioned earlier, if you like something, no matter what the genre is, like synth pop, Italo disco it’s there in my mind. And when I write metal it comes to this as well. I integrate those different kind of verses into metal.“
“It fits. I remember that you said you like – from time to time – writing pop songs or movie soundtracks.” – “Yeah.” – “And I think one can hear this in your music very well because in many of your songs there are non-metal elements. So to me it is very much you being represented in your music. Makes it a fitting, authentic concept.” – “It’s good to hear because some people don’t like it, purest metal heads. They don’t like it. Not always. Some of them like it very much.”
We’re getting into the discussion of what makes metal metal. So I need to think of a common opinion of this discussion: Progressive metal is often not considered to be metal at all. “… because it’s not hard enough, heavy enough or whatever. While to me this is too much thinking in boxes.” – “Yeah, I mean there are pretty aggressive things on the album if you start to analyse it. There is even growling which I didn’t think about maybe before we started to work on the debut album, before the set list is done. I didn’t think there is gonna be growl on the album. But it ended up have some in ZODD THE IMMORTAL. There is a part after the solos. So there is like the other end. There is very soft stuff, very poppy stuff and very aggressive stuff and everything in between.”
“Was it kind of your idea to show the band’s whole spectrum? I mean like introducing the range of options? I am somehow thinking of perhaps a TV series in which you would usually find the characters and setting introduced in the first season before on the second season the actual story is taking over the focus.” – “In a way, yes. I think there is a true thing in there as well. To be honest some of the ideas came only in the moment when I realized what Yannis is capable of doing. I knew that he could do growling as well but when he did that, you know female-ish interpretation of BLIND AND FROZEN’s verses that came to me only after I heard his cover of SAHARA of Nightwish, which he did. It’s on Youtube.” – “Yeah, I know”, I say admiring Yannis’ apparently endless vocal spectrum. “And before he released it on Youtube he sent me the mp3. So like ‘Check this out.’ I listen and I say: ‘Great song. But who is the featuring girl on your cover?’ He said: ‘Well, it’s not a girl. It’s me.’ And that gave me an idea. I started to think in which song could I use this kind of voice. And it ended up to be in BLIND AND FROZEN, GHOST IN THE RAIN, so little bit but still the right places were found this kind of interpretation which ended up in our favour because clearly many people were surprised by those things.”
“Yeah, massively and in the best way because someone being capable doing such extremes with his voice – never mind if it is a man or a woman – that’s really, really cool!” – “Yeah. Yannis is like a magician with vocal talent.“ – “Absolutely.” – “He can do virtually anything! He is a great talent, kind guy and very talented musician as well. He can play many instruments as well. It’s easy to communicate on the musical stuff with him because he understands the same language – the musical language at least. We say something like ‘hit that A flat there’ and we email each other what part of what song and what vocal or what syllable we’re talking about. It makes it faster.”
We were speaking of magic before – the helping wizards in the band’s background. As many of Anton’s songs deal with the Berserker manga a fantasy related odd question seems only appropriate. “Speaking of magic and fantasy perfect frame for my odd question. Are you familiar with Dorian Grey and his story?” He hesitates. “The man with the portrait that made him never grow old, and repair all his injuries and scars. It’s a 19th century novel, “the picture of Dorian Grey”.” – “Oh yeah, yeah. Now I remember. But I haven’t read it.” – “No need actually. Just imagine are him, you have this painting that enables you to live forever and all. What would you do? Go for it? Destroy the painting and end the spell? And if so when could you do it? Soon or after several life times – seeing how it drives you mad as all the others around you grow old and die?” – Anton sighs. “A hard question”, he admits then and I hear myself say smiling “I hope so because the last one was too easy for you.” (Ask a manga fan for the superhero he wants to be – no challenge at all …) He smiles. “I could …” I hear him saying hesitatingly, “maybe I regret my answer tomorrow.” Anton is laughing.
“So you are in to destroy the picture the moment you learn what it is doing?” Anton thinks it over again. And again. Time flies. The oriental music in the background and chattering in an Arabic language adds a scent of 1001 tales’ magic to the moment. Watching my interviewees face and the creative mind working in this perhaps minute he takes to think, is most interesting. The sorting out the tempting offer of Dorian Grey’s portrait paints a deeply confident smile on Anton’s face. I enjoy this moment just as much. “I have to refresh my thoughts. … So destroy that thing …” – “that keeps you alive forever, invulnerable” “Yeah. Yeah. … Immortality it’s very interesting topic, you know it’s also part of some songs.” His voice fades into thinking and gets stronger again with those thoughts. “Well, immortality would be very fascinating.” – “Yeah.” – “I’m sure. Let’s say, ok, I would choose to be immortal but I still believe there is an end to everything, even to immortality. So even the immortal one would have to perish at some point. Nothing lasts in the universe.”
“Very philosophical idea that there is an end to everything.” – “Maybe.” – “That there is nothing that has no end.” – “Yeah, even light comes to an end when it travels the universe. Everything comes to an end. Maybe when all the stars have like died in the universe. There is an end and all the light and energy disappears maybe then we also disappear somehow. I don’t know. Or is there just pure void and then there is you and nothing else.”
“I don’t know. Dorian Grey didn’t live that long.” – “Yeah. But I would choose immortality …” – “I think when the children of his friends had grown up he had become so insane that he was strong enough to destroy the picture and die as his time was over long before that. Thank you!” – “You’re welcome. Thanks for the questions”, Anton says laughing before he leaves back into the now and here of their show. Seeing him on stage later the considerate and matured personality reveals that the little boy is still there: loving nothing more in this world than to making on stage – with his friends.
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