I like meeting people who have a story to tell. And I met a man full of stories being a bit unexpected to happen in our so quickly evolving world. It all has a tiny little bit, please, really only a tiny little bit of Snow White’s fairy tale – save perhaps the fact that old school Death Metal is hardly associated with Snow White’s fairy tale at all. Perhaps neither Svart records, nor Jukka Kolehmainen see themselves as Prince Charming kissing the resting beauty awake. And even more perhaps Abhorrence never wanted to be Snow White. But there is a parallel fitting the image: Both rested for an incredibly long time and then they came back to live. And so the story goes:
Back in the very late 1980s a band named Abhorrence was formed in the far North of Europe, the later capital of metal music: Helsinki. A bunch of teenagers established a band not caring much for traditional styles but the pure and raw sound of Death Metal coming directly from their heart and soul.
Jukka Kolehmainen (vocals), Tomi Koivusaari (guitar), Kalle Mattsson (guitar), Kimmo Heikkinen/Mikael Arnkil (drums) and Jussi Ahlroth (bass) had roughly one year, their band’s active period – not too much time to make it to a legend. But then again, somehow they did. Because if not how can you explain the band has never stopped been asked to return to stage, year by year. And several times, year by year. Roughly twenty years later they reappeared back on stage.
I was excited when I noticed that Abhorrence were added to the Nummirock line up for this summer. There aren’t many chances to see them live. And then Jukka replied on my interview request very quickly and even offered to meet me before the festival. So we met in a downtown office in Helsinki on a sunny day in May.
A friendly smiling man dressed in a somewhat 70s style showed me into the office. We sat on grey, cosy armchairs and even before starting the interview, we found ourselves engaged in a vivid conversation on music and media work. Indeed, making your hobby to your job can ruin it, we agreed before finally starting the interview.
The teenager friends back on stage together
“Thank you for meeting me and that even so short notice.” He offers me a drink, which I accept but choose to take later.
“I dug a bit into history and I found that you’ve done in the last three/four years some festival gigs, maybe some other, too, with Abhorrence.”
“What was it like to be back on stage with the old, mostly teenager friends?”
“Well”, he cuffs, “as far as outside the band, we see each other now and again, I mean. Me and Tomi, we celebrated our birthday the same day.”
“You’re still doing this?” I wonder.
“Yes, whenever he is in Finland, cause nowadays he is always on tour. But, I don’t know, we’ve been doing this for something of thirty years. So it is really easy although some of the guys haven’t seen in like five years or something. And then, when we get together it is after ten minutes like, there is no time between seeing each other. So we get along really well. And it actually feels like I’m not 45”, he says starting to laugh, “You know what I mean?”
I can’t help laughing myself. ‘Oh yes, I know’, I think but he continues: “It feels more like you know being twenty-ish something and you know, like when we’re together?”
Laughing I agree: “I’m your age, so I really know what you mean.”
“Yahhh, well, from personal relationshipswise it’s really easy. But when you’re like to getting the band together there is always … You know were five people. Every one has a career; two guys are playing in several bands that tour. So the calendars are insane!” he says raising his voice to highlight the difficulty. “Like getting the time to train, practise, I mean, that’s the thing. Being together is easy. Everything just rolls off. I mean, like the new drummer, Waltteri (Väyrynen), he fits right in. Never mind, that he is like he could be anyone of our son. Agewise. It’s good, I mean. It’s really easy.”
“So it’s really like being like there was no break at all?”
“Yeah. It’s like seeing your friends after they had been … compare it with when we were kids: After the summer vacation, you get to see your friends again. That’s the feeling you get. Accept, there’s quite a lot more years.”
“Because back in the days, we would have to carry our own gear on stage and set it up and there was no sound guy.”
“There have been many changes in the time being. I mean more than just growing a bit ‘wisdom’ between otherwise darker hair. So what’s different? If you are on stage, look at the audience, maybe the technique on stage? What is it that hits you first? What do you keep in mind of these changes?”
“Oh … well the biggest change is possibly the stage size. Seriously. Because back in ‘89 and ‘90 we played only on youth centres or maybe the local school’s gym. And most of us were under age. We didn’t play a lot of bar shows. There weren’t a lot of bars taking metal bands, let alone Death Metal bands. So the biggest change is the stage size. Seriously, I mean like, when we went to play Tuska, we used like on third of the stage and didn’t know what to do with the rest.” he emphasizes by gesturing the tiny space they used compared to size of the space on offer.
“But if you forget that, I think it is the professionalism that hits first. ‘Cause there’re a lot of stage ants and people doing the work. Because back in the days, we would have to carry our own gear on stage and set it up and there was no sound guy. We just would crank our things up and see if it is ok? Hm. I guess, the workmanship, professionalism, I guess that’s the biggest change. I mean come on, we used to get drunk before the gig back in the days. Everybody was drunk. Like the guys working the stage, they were drunk. The people …”
“The audience was drunk!”
“Oh yeah! And the people selling the tickets were drunk, and it was yeah it was pretty ridiculous, but I guess that’s the biggest change. We get to the place where we wanna play and are going to play – things are set up as far as they can be. We just sort of tell the personnel what we want and they make it happen. That’s the biggest change.”
“Good service, then” I dig a little deeper.
“Yeah, I guess – outside looking in musicians are always complaining about locations and the personnel and so forth. But this was the first tour, I have ever been as a musician. We only had four gigs, but all of the places were, I don’t know, pro. Really pro. I don’t know. If you were missing something it would get sorted out. And, yeah. Pro!“, he concludes laughing. “That’s a big change!”
“It sounds, as if everything has got a bit more serious. Or is it still the passion-driven thing it was?”
“Ahm, I think it’s both. Because, right, at the bars and clubs they have the normal crew. So whatever comes in a place they have the crew to put everything together so the artist can perform.” He takes a moment to change the focus: “So, yeah. I guess that’s the main issue. These are commercial places! And back in the days we played in youth centres and they don’t have paid staff who do sound. The sound guy was always someone’s friend. And the friend had learned to use the board like last week. Or the night before. Something like that. That’s a main difference.”
Perhaps professionalism isn’t always better, I think: “But maybe the sound guy from among your friends of youth time was the one catching the spirit of what you wanted to transfer a little better than a pro?”
“Could be!” he agrees passionately. “I mean … spaces that are not made for music can be very forgiving. But then again, a good sound guy can make every space sound good. But I’ll have an opposite example from the past. Like in 1990 we played in Lepakko, which is all dismantled now. It was a sort of hang-out place for Helsinki’s punks and metal scene. Most gigs were there. We played there only once, no … “ he breaks and corrects “maybe twice, actually. I’m not sure. Anyway, when we played, there was this sound guy who was so pissed off. You could read it from his face that he was pissed off. He was here for the money, and he hated the guys on the stage because none of them knew music. He was a pro and he was being, you know …” searching for a term, he lifts his nose looking down disgusted just like that sound guy had.
“Nosy? Superior?” I suggest.
“Yeah, sort of you’re beneath me. So, I didn’t know the lingo. So I said, ‘Can I have some, you know, echo to my vocals?’ So instead of making it … like what’d you call, ah large space reversible or something like that. I forgot. He put me on actual echo. So all the way through the gig, I sounded like wooo woo wo wo” his voice fading and with a caricaturing expression in his face.
I have to laugh.
“Yeah”, he says smiling cynically, “he knew, what he was doing. And he did on purpose. So he was so total a pro! So that’s, I remember, was annoying. Playing with the pros because they were assholes. And nowadays, they are the guys who also have bands, similar bands. Like I think some of the places, we played this year the sound guys were sort of voluntary staff. Like ‘I want to do this’. He has done work there and informed the owner I wanna do this for less money. Whatever …felt like that anyway. They were people who knew our staff and sort, they knew what to do – without me or anyone of having to tell them. Maybe semi pro, maybe that’s the sweet’s bud.”
“And we needed a good reason to sort of put it together again.”
“I read that there was a kind of meeting of your initiative with one from Svart to release the compilation? What was that the initiative spark to wake Abhorrence to live gigs from its Sleeping Beauty’s rest? Was it hard to get the others back into it?”
“Yes and no.”
“Was it your idea?”
“Sort of. It was something that we had talked with individual members of the band now and then. But we always came up with the same kind of question: Why? There’s no reason. And we needed a good reason to sort of put it together again. Because we knew, we had to put some serious time into it. Like the second guitarist, Kalle, I think, he sold his guitars. So he hadn’t played guitars like in 15 years. Well, hadn’t practised playing. He was playing now and then somewhere. He used to be the best – technically – guy. So he picked up a guitar, when we started talking of this. He bought a new guitar and started practising, and he ended up liking it actually so much, he got pretty good at it again pretty soon. So the major issue was we needed reason to get together and play.
I had been shopping around about releasing the compilation for ten years. Well, I had some interesting discussions with few smaller labels, but I guess I didn’t feel connected to the labels. They were sort of just some guy. And when Svart records, which was a label I already liked, because they put out so many really, really high-quality vinyl pressings. I am a huge fan of Referend Bizarre, the Finnish Doom Metal band. When they did the – I don’t know if it was re-issue – the double albums on vinyl, they were such a high quality!” He voices rises remarkably in joy: “I thought: ‘This is how it is supposed to be done.’ And then later those same guys asked us, if we’d like to put out the same stuff. And I was like cheering myself. ‘Wow! This is exactly what I thought would be cool.’ And so we started to put that together. I sort of had some – what’d you call it – prework done for the release, but nothing concrete. And when they came along, it was sort of they would call or email me and say ‘Now we need to do this and can you help us?’ They sort of put me in gear.” Jukka is in a mode of comfortably telling the story he loves: “And when I got excited, I sort of started talking to the guys, and when we had a release date or well sort of release year, we started talking about gigs. And the label agreed, ‘Yes, you should do it. It would be good for the sales of the album and people still wanna see you.’ The funny thing is, the second guitar, Kalle, he didn’t really follow any of our band’s forums or homepages, Facebook and nothing like that. So he had no idea people still talked about that (Abhorrence). He felt that the band we had in the 90s died in the 90s.” Jukka’s voice reveals his old friend’s mistaken assumption already. “And he was sort of almost scared at the beginning like ‘Why are we doing this? There’s nobody coming to the gigs!’ And then, we did the sort of secret gig before the festival gigs. We actually unadvertised the gig as ‘Bob Horrence’. You know secret gig…” He looks at me up with his forehead lowered, blinking and smiling “You know, secret gig.” I laugh nodding. “Quite a lot of people saw through that.” He continues a bit proudly even: “The bar we played in was almost full. And that’s the first time he sort of realized: ‘Oh hell! People actually know our band.’ That’s when he got something, and saw that there were people there. ‘Oh wow!’“
“Must have been overwhelming for him”, I conclude.
“Yeah, yeah. He was! He couldn’t believe it. Before he couldn’t believe it, you know, as he hadn’t seen it. But when he saw it, he couldn’t believe it still, like ‘Are these people for real?’ I think he said at one point, ‘It feels like this is joke. At one point people will start laughing. What are you guys doing?’ But yeah, it was a lot easier for me, because I had a really basic homepage for the band. I sort of had a Myspace thing and Facebook page, so I sort of knew there was interest. I mean through the years, we had like five requests to do gigs annually.”
“Wow. Ok.” I nod impressed.
“And that’s quite a lot for a band that’s been dead ten years.”
“It is”, I agree before he continues: “And they asked what it would take. And I said: ‘There’s nothing you can do. I’m sorry. Its not about money.’ There has to be passion. And there’s the point at least once a year especially after 2000 we were asked ‘Can I release the demo, the vinyl and the EP again or maybe both of them as an CD?’ So I started looking into it. Well, the rest is history. But yeah … I forgot the question!” he says smiling in a deeply happy way.
I smile back “It has been answered.” “Yeah?” he asks back laughing. And I have to laugh too, “definitely”, I reassure.
Jussi and Tomi back on stage together in 2010
Aiming at another initiative-inspiring incident, I go on: “I watched some Youtube vids on this 2010-tour of Amorphis”
“… in which Jussi participated.”
“And it felt a bit like a spark”
“… initiating things? Like the fun of being together on stage again. Did it play a role in getting Abhorrence on stage again?”
“Yah … maybe to Jussi and Tomi. I’m not sure if Kalle was there.”
“I found no vid with him. But ….” I explain.
“He wasn’t on stage, but he might have been back stage. I think that was in Oulu or somewhere up north. And I think it might have been a sort of a kick-off thing for those two, Jussi and Tomi. And I was sort of hyped, too, to see the old band members playing that song. And I think there was talk of me going on stage and singing that version.” he thinks a moment …
“That would have been interesting.”
Jukka’s features brighten: “Yeah, but I think it was one of those bar talks. ‘Would you like … ‘ and sort of this.”
Immediately, I imagine the old friends sitting in a dim bar with a beer chatting passionately and smile on this image in my head. “But I don’t know, was it New Year’s Eve? Something? It might have been New Year’s gig. I think there was some reason, I could not be there. But I forgot. Yeah, that would have been interesting. Because I actually performed with Amorphis at least twice.”
I wasn’t aware of this “Oh, really. Cool.”
“But that was in ‘92 like just after the first album. Remember the first 7-inch? They put out a 7-inch which had “Vulgar Necrolatry”. And my vocals are on that. I was guest vocalist for the first EP. I guess Tomi wasn’t really comfortable with his vocals.”
I can’t help the words jumping out of my mouth: “It seems, he never is.”
Jukka agrees laughingly “Yeah, he never was actually, that’s true.”
“Like a year ago I spoke with him on this, and still then he wasn’t comfy with it. Although a couple of days later – because Tomi Joutsen became a little ill – he did some more vocals than actually planned. And he did great again!”
Now it’s Jukka laughing knowingly. “Yeah, I guess one of the reasons is that the vocalist is always the centre point …” thinking for the best wording … I suggest: “of attention?”
“Yeah!” he agrees emphasizing his words. “I guess that might have a reason. And I mean you know playing guitar and singing – you have to focus on both … But yeah, he never liked his own vocals.”
The interview continued, quite long actually. But that is a story to be told on another day. Jukka revealed his must-sees of the Nummirock line-up and how Waltteri made his way into the band.
In the past years, I have learned a hell lot of the uncountable paths of interconnection among Finnish bands, making the scene to a network as hard to fully perceive as the neuronal networks of our brains. I learned about some more of these paths today and more importantly that they seem to work beyond time. More to that in part 2 – to be launched soon!
Stay tuned! Stay curious! And listen to metal!
To be continued!