Turisas

author AP date 03/04/08

\"Turisas is playing in Copenagen?\" were my eager first thoughts after hearing of the band\'s upcoming gig in The Rock. And having been blown away by the band\'s recent show in Southampton, I couldn\'t resist the opportunity to exchange a few words with Turisas in connection with their show here. Six armor- and fur-clad men and women, an electric violin with distortion, an accordion and the term battle metal? This would be a strange interview. Outside The Rock I exchange a few words with the band\'s violinist, Olli Vänskä, before sitting down in the venue, waiting for Mathias to return from his roaming in Copenhagen. When he does, his voice is strained from a cold and is hesitant about giving interviews, preferring Olli to do so instead. But as minutes pass with no sign of the violinist, Mathias decides to make an exception and discuss the phenomenon that is Turisas with us. Enjoy!

RF.net: Hi and thanks for doing the interview with us on such a short notice. To kick things off, why don\'t you introduce yourself and the band to those of our readers who might not be familiar with Turisas?
Mathias: I\'m Mathias Nygård and I sing in a band called Turisas. We\'re from Finland and the band has been around since 1997. We\'re signed to Century Media and have done two albums with them; the latest one came out last year.

RF.net: You\'ve recently wrapped up a UK tour and are about to finish the mainland dates as well. Has this tour met your expectations?
Mathias: Yeah, definitely. It\'s probably been even better than what we dared to expect, because I mean the UK fan base is quite solid but we were touring quite remote places there, places that bands maybe normally don\'t, and all those venues were more or less packed. And the same thing in mainland Europe: they were really, really good shows. For Scandinavia we knew to expect that the turn-out was maybe not that good, but I mean you have to start somewhere, so I\'m happy to be playing shows in Scandinavia even if we are playing to a hundred or two hundred people a night.

RF.net: Why do you reckon you get a better turn-out in countries that are further away?

Mathias: I don\'t know. I guess it would be more or less the same in Finland. Maybe this style of music that we do isn\'t so appealing to people in Scandinavia.

RF.net: I noticed that this was in fact your second UK tour in less than a year, so evidently there\'s something to come back for over there. Why do you think Turisas is so popular in the UK?
Mathias: Well, I think it\'s luck in the way of having the right package – being in the right place at the right time. When we started doing stuff in the UK, we were really interesting for the mainstream media even. Magazines like Rock Sound and Kerrang started writing about us. In the UK we’re not known as much as a metal band as for instance in Germany, where the crowds go to metal shows otherwise, too. In the UK it\'s maybe a younger audience and I think we were quite a different band than anything going on at that moment and managed to secure ourselves quite a good position in the UK.

RF.net: Now, let\'s talk about the past a little. Could you outline some of the band\'s history, where it started and how it all came to be?
Mathias: Well, when we started out… You know, this has been the first and only band for pretty much everyone in the band. It was kind of different, rather than me going and starting a band now – it would be completely different than this. We were more or less in high school and rehearsing in the breaks between lessons so the ambitions were not that high. We were bored one summer and the guitarist Jussi and I decided to start doing some music together, and then the band came together. It took us quite some time to actually work to a level where we got signed by Century Media in 2003, and since then, as I said, we\'ve given out two full-length albums. We\'ve toured somewhat and now this spring we\'re touring more than ever. We\'ve already done over thirty shows on this tour, and then we’re going to Russia and then we\'re going to the States to do another four-week tour before even the summer kicks in.

RF.net: And you have a lot of festivals planned in the summer…

Mathias: Yeah, I mean, this summer it\'s going to be a bit different because we\'re going to be doing quite a lot of festivals in our home country, Finland, which until now hasn\'t been very interested in us at all. In the last year we managed to break the ice in our home country as well, which is always nice – you don\'t have to go to Germany for every show you do. So it’s going to be nice and convenient to be able to just take a van and do a show and get home by the night.

RF.net: Your stage attire is unusual to say the least, so I\'m curious as to at what point you decided, \"we\'re going to wear this stuff\"?
Mathias: It\'s nothing that the band was built around. Everything starts from the music and that was something that more or less happened or kind of evolved over time. Now it sounds funny, but at the time we started there were a lot of second wave melodic black metal bands around, the whole corpse paint and spikes thing, and at that time we maybe saw ourselves coming from that direction. Nowadays, of course, we\'re quite far from anything like that. But at that time it was more like we wanted to step out of all that vampire and corpse paint stuff and do the same thing but in a different way. To us, the kind of fur and more down to earth toning in the stage clothes felt more suitable for the band.

RF.net: Who designs these costumes?

Mathias: Well, up till now, everybody had to work it out themselves. It\'s a lot of extra headache and stress to take care of that. But now we\'ve managed to get a theatre costume designer who\'s helping us out. So when we get back from this tour we\'re going to have a lot of broken stuff that we\'ll just push over to her and have it fixed by the next week when we go to Russia.

RF.net: I also noticed that there\'s been quite a lot of turmoil in your line up in the past few years. Can you expand a bit on that?
Mathias: The bass player has been the same since the first record more or less. Jussi played bass on the first album because we fired our bass player at that time in the studio because he really didn\'t manage to play what he was supposed to. But since then we\'ve had the same bass player. Then our guitarist in 2005 had quite a bad accident. He was in a car accident that ended in him losing his other leg and being more or less paralyzed from the chest down, so his guitar-playing career ended there in a tragic way. But we never were a band of a lot of guitar riffs and double guitar stuff, so we never felt the urge to replace him or to get in a second guitar player. Since then we\'ve just pulled it through with one guitar, which actually works really well for us.

RF.net: When your debut album, \"Battle Metal\", was released in 2004, it more or less coined a new genre faithful to the album title and established Turisas as a genre of one. Was this the intention?
Mathias: No. Some amounts of it were kind of tongue-in-cheek and it started out from a joke that we were calling ourselves battle metal, and then it happened that it felt like really suitable name for the debut album. But I think who actually pushed it to some sort of genre definition if there is one was probably the UK media who picked up on that term and started putting out compilations under that title.

RF.net: How does writing a concept album like \"The Varangian Way\" differ from writing an album like \"Battle Metal\", which doesn\'t follow a continuous story?
Mathias: It\'s a really different approach. With the new album, the whole story came first and then there was a lot of work on the whole concept and building a perception of what event on that storyline you want to write a song about and how these songs are connected to each other or not. So after working on a conceptual idea for well over a year, it was kind of like sitting down and writing a soundtrack to something that doesn\'t exist. \"The Varangian Way\" is in many ways the soundtrack to this story, which is the only form it\'s been published in. Whereas \"Battle Metal\", more because of being a debut album, was a collection of songs we\'d written until that point, as debut albums tend to be. So it was really different. We had cleared the table after our debut album and had a kind of fresh start, and the whole album is written in more or less one session and one unity.

RF.net: Can you elaborate a bit on the story of \"The Varangian Way\" for our less historically consumed readers?

Mathias: It\'s a story of the Eastern trade route from Scandinavia down the Eastern European and modern day Russian river routes down to big cities of the time, firstly Kiev and finally ending in Constantinople (Istanbul today). And I just felt that the more I started reading up on it the more everything fell into place. There were a lot of interesting turning points and interesting things to write or paint musically. The story is the journey from the North to the South and ending in Constantinople, and that gave a lot to the album. It gave the album an angle when writing the material, that all the songs are more or less located in a geographical way on a map, so the songs actually have a place in modern day times. It\'s not just floating historical – it has a relation to the people of this world. The places might feel a bit remote, but still, they are there, and there\'s more of a connection to them. I didn\'t want to make it too obvious, so the songs on the album are like exerts from this journey, but they are not necessarily tied in a way that where one ends the other one begins. It\'s more loose.

RF.net: Bands that play a similar kind of metal often write songs about dragons and fantastical themes, but it seems like you have a genuine interest in history and mythology?
Mathias: Dragons? Scandinavian sagas and poetry have an essential ruling in those stories and you can kind of approach those themes in different ways. You can approach them in the way that a thousand years ago dragons and mythical had an importance and you can\'t just jump over them. But bands today write about unicorns and dragons, and whatever, the album comes with a map of a fantasyland or something. To me it\'s just a bit off, even if in many ways we\'re doing the same thing. As I said, there\'s so much more connection when even fictive stories are in many ways connected to the world we live in today, maybe geographically or by historical characters.

RF.net: Besides the unusual attire, you also feature an extraordinary ensemble of instruments. What do you feel is the benefit of having a violinist and an accordion player?
Mathias: On the new album we didn\'t use them that much. On \"Battle Metal\", writing the songs, I felt like \"you know, this could work well with accordion or violin.\" And when that album was finished, we realized that there’s so much on the album that if we\'d go live and put it on keyboards, it wouldn\'t really carry across the way we want to do things. So we took them as permanent members in the touring line-up. On the new album again, we didn\'t utilize them that much, but on the other hand we don\'t have a keyboard in the band right now, so playing live the accordion and violin get a bigger role than on the disc because we have to fill in things and compromise and arrange a lot of stuff. And of course the benefit is that it looks kind of cool and so we stick out. But it’s also that the selection of instruments that we have builds up the sound and makes it a good package. It\'s a very good sound.

RF.net: Olli has been known to advocate the demise of the guitar solo. Could you elaborate on that a little?
Mathias: That was some sort of… It all kind of came down to our former guitarist\'s accident because we had to find ways to work around the fact that we only had one guitar player. We started using the violin at times in more unconventional ways, which lead to that he\'s got distortion on violin. And then we realized that you could actually play cool solos and do all that guitar hero stuff on the violin as well. Then on some festivals he did the \"fuck the guitar solo\" thing.

RF.net: It was Download, I think…

Mathias: Download, yeah, but I think it was even a year before at Bloodstock festival in the UK. And it kind of just took off from there. Now it\'s maybe too expected, so sometimes we do it, sometimes we don\'t.

RF.net: And last year you released a single with a cover of Boney M\'s \"Rasputin\". What lead a metal band to cover a 70\'s disco hit?
Mathias: I took the ferry from Finland to Sweden – I don\'t know if you\'ve been on it but it\'s got kind of a kitsch nightclub environment. The whole concept is funny in itself. I was sitting in one of these discos and there was this cover band playing anything from Bee Gees to Abba and Boney M. They just played the track and I thought to myself, \"this would actually work really well as a song of our own\". It took quite a few years because I put it aside and it wasn\'t until 2005/2006 that we started playing it live. It became a hit in a live sense, so when recording this new album we recorded that track on the side and then gave it out. Obviously I didn\'t want it on the album as a bonus track or something because it would be quite off from the conceptual idea of the album, so we released it as a single.

RF.net: As I understand it, some weeks ago your accordion player \"Lisko\" just flat out disappeared. What\'s the story here?
Mathias: We played in Holland and then went to Amsterdam because the flight was leaving the day after. We had a few hours off there, so we decided we\'d meet at the airport and fly back home. He never showed up and he just sent an sms saying \"I have some other stuff to do now, but I\'ll come back to Finland so we\'ll talk about it later.\" We were like \"he can pay for his own flight whenever he likes.\" But then we got to Finland and time went by and we heard nothing from him, couldn\'t really get in touch. So then we just had to make a decision to put him aside and get Netta in, who was also doing the tour with Iced Earth last year. It was kind of an easy way to work it out. He kind of fucked us up, but the line-up right now is working really well and Netta is going to do the tour in the States as well. So after that, having like seventy or eighty shows in six months with one line-up, we don\'t see any point in changing the line-up.

RF.net: So she\'ll become a permanent member?

Mathias: Yeah.

RF.net: You still haven\'t heard from him?

Mathias: Well, I mean, after we got her to fill in, nobody\'s really been trying to find him. We got some text messages but I don\'t know if he was in Finland at the time or somewhere else. But he was like… if it was somebody else it\'d be a bit more weird, but he was a strange character to work with otherwise as well, so we sort of expected that something like that would happen.

RF.net: I want to talk a little bit about the Finnish underground music scene. In fact, it seems as though it\'s not underground at all in Finland and that rock is the new pop. Why do you think the Finnish youth is so consumed by rock and metal?
Mathias: Many people try to explain it by this Finnish melancholy; that metal works just as well as tango. In the last few years it\'s probably because a lot of rock and metal bands have been the most successful musical exports from Finland. It\'s not like in Sweden or somewhere where you have huge pop bands for twenty years. I think there\'s a certain pride with these bands and that has showed people who work in cultural things that it\'s a serious music business, that it\'s a serious export and not just longhaired metal heads. It\'s more serious than that, and I think that has gained the style a lot of respect. It\'s quite easy to work as a metal band in Finland because it\'s still considered to be just as important a musical style as any other.

RF.net: From what I understand, in this scene everybody knows each other. What are the benefits of having such a tightly knit community?
Mathias: It\'s easier to find a friend to get drunk with at festivals in Germany. There\'s a lot of bands who rotate people, but that of course also creates problems. Norther, who were supporting this tour didn\'t finish this tour. They did the last show in Gothenburg yesterday because Petri also sings in Ensiferum who started Pagan Festival in Europe now, and then we\'ll go to the States and tour with them again. So sometimes it creates these kinds of problems as well. We\'re not that involved in any scene, but obviously we know the people. So the main benefit is actually always having a friend to get drunk with at festivals.

RF.net: Are there any up and coming Finnish bands you\'d like to recommend to our readers?
Mathias: I don\'t know. I\'m not following this sort of scene or even metal that much. I\'m not the kind of person who likes to dig out a lot of underground metal bands.

RF.net: Well, that\'s it from us. Do you have any famous last words or shout outs to fans?
Mathias: I think the show we played last year in Copenhagen was definitely the best of the Scandinavian run on that tour, so we\'re definitely looking forward to tonight and see how it goes.

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