Turisas

author NB date 17/04/11

On the night of the feast of Saint Patrick, 2011 AD, the Vikings returned to Britain and they brought with them a great treasure: their new album entitled "Stand Up and Fight". I headed past the usual mob of red and black faced warriors gathered outside the Islington Academy, and into the depths of the invaders' stronghold, to discuss Turisas' latest outing with Warlord and vocalist, Mathias Nygård.

RF.net: Your new album was released last month and it's quite a departure from the previous album, as the previous album was from the first. Can you tell us about where you wanted to take the sound?
Mathias: Well, we really didn't have any guidelines that we needed to break from this thing we were doing and do something else, but it's always been part of the band to try not to just repeat - and do better - what we've done in the past, but to kind of move on and explore new ideas which feel exciting to ourselves. Of course, also, taking the time in between releases, because there's so many bands which just push out a new record every year just to be in the headlines and get attention. Unfortunately, a lot of these bands just end up putting out five records in five years that all sound the same so it gets a bit boring sooner or later. So, I think for us it's always been kind of important to evolve and come up with something new. Of course there's always the risk that someone loved your first demo better than this, but still, if you just start playing everything safe all the time, that gets boring artistically.

RF.net: So you're not worried about alienating the fanbase? Do you think that happened much in the transition between the first two albums?

Mathias: Nah. Of course there are people who liked the first record better than "The Varangian Way", and there's surely people who like what we've done in the past than what we are doing now, but, at the same time, there are going to be other people who appreciate other things in the band. I think the core of the fans will still appreciate the fact that we do what we please, and not do music just to feed a market or please someone else: a record label or a PR person or something. Because, that would be the safe bet do do: just do the same songs over and over again, a bit differently but it would have zero artistic challenge or feel to it. I don't think you easily get the idea that: "oh, they've gone totally weird now". We're not talking about huge changes - the basic aesthetic of things is the same - it's just finding new angles to express it I guess.

RF.net: What was behind this eighties arena-rock sound which you have talked about in previous interviews?
Mathias: It wasn't really anything planned, it was just something that happened. Everything happened quite naturally. Funnily enough, it's not like anyone in the band is a huge fan of that particular sound or style or bands like that, so it's kind of a mystery to ourselves how it snuck in. It seemed to work well with some of the songs to build up the large sound through those forms, rather than what we've done in the past.

RF.net: So, you recorded in the same studio in Hämeenlinna again, was the recording process much the same? You have real horns and strings on this record, did that change things a lot - particularly the writing process, given that these instruments are quite prevalent in some of the songs?
Mathias: Yeah, the writing has always been for whatever is going to be used in the end. It's not like we wrote songs for a metal band first and then just tried to layer it on top. So that was there in the writing process, I was aware that we were going to use strings and horns in those sections, so it's music written for all these pieces; it's not just the icing on a rock band.

I don't know if it really changed anything. Of course, it brings in factors such as needing to have a copyist and people who work with different areas of things, but in many ways it was so much easier to work with real people rather than programming everything because it's so much work to achieve, or even attempt to achieve, something similar to what comes out naturally when you have good musicians.

RF.net: And who did you have doing choral vocals - especially on the last track there's a male choir?

Mathias: On the last track it's basically the band and some friends of ours. We kind of always built up our choirs in the way that there's a "Turisas choir", which is the thing we do on stage, the band and friends of ours who can sing... somewhat. So it kind of ends up being this football chanting crowd, rather than anything very sophisticated. Then we have a different choir set up that we used in some other tracks, which has a more classical operatic sound, and obviously there's no one from the band in that!

RF.net: Do you have any plans to bring the live horns and things into the live show?

Mathias: Well we tried that out actually last autumn in Finland for some of the older songs and of course it was cool, but, unfortunately, we are not in the situation where we can all of a sudden double our touring personnel, or triple it, so that's just us having to be realistic really. I think for some special shows we will experiment with that in the future as well. In many ways it felt that what we did in Finland was a big deal for us, like "wow, we have all these real horns and strings on stage and it sounds amazing", and then reading the press afterwards it was kind of surprising to see that no one really cared about it or noticed it that much at all. They were just hyped about the show and the vibe and the energy and everything so I don't really know how much it means to the crowd. Things that mean a lot to yourself on stage might often be different from how the crowd sees or feels it. It's the same thing as when, many times, you have a shit show on stage and the crowd loves it, or the other way around. So it's very hard to tell sometimes.

RF.net: Can you briefly outline the concept of the album? It's not a story in quite the same way as the previous album, why did you choose to move away from the purely historical narrative of the previous album into something with more metaphorical themes.
Mathias: It's still a storyline, and it carries over, but I think what was opened up a bit was that it doesn't need to be so structured, "this happened, then this", it's more like flashes from here and there in a storyline. So there's a lot of blanks to fill out if you want to make it coherent as a story. I think there was more emphasis on trying to find different levels into the lyrics as well. So, yeah, it might be about this eleventh century Byzantine mercenary troop doing whatever, but it also refers to a lot of similar moments in time and place, whether it's European history or even what you see on TV if you put on CNN today.

RF.net: So you still aren't tempted to write lyrics about high fantasy like a lot of bands in the genre do?

Mathias: Yeah, I think if you write about trolls and dragons, and there's some substance to it, that's fine. But, unfortunately, with many of the bands, it ends up being seriously about trolls and dragons, or whatever, and that's it. And that kind of leaves you a bit empty. If you look at any kind of art, when you have art that has double meanings, or that you can look at in different ways, it's always more interesting than something that's just sort of there. You see it especially when you have art which is done under censorship, like in China or wherever, where you can't go out and say things straight as they are, that kind of creates pretty interesting things because you have to express yourself using other methods than going straight to the point. I guess it's a bit the same, because we have this structure of singing about historical things and having this framework, but it doesn't mean that we can't actually speak about very modern things or things outside that world, it's just a framework for it.

RF.net: I think the album cover art is particularly interesting this time. Can you tell us something about that?
Mathias: I have a big liking of this kind of graphical... poster style thing...

RF.net: Something like a movie poster...

Mathias: Yeah, it's kind of a blend... the idea is that it's a balance. This old Eastern Bloc propaganda thing has been quite overused in popular culture lately [points to the design on his t-shirt] but it's still very effective. Then on the other hand, one visual style, and also sound-wise on the album, one big influence was these sixties epic movies, or maybe this kind of men's magazine pulp-fiction world: the kind of weird, twisted thing where everything is very melodramatic, and it's that kind of artwork. It's kind of a blend of those two: the Eastern Bloc propaganda poster art, very graphical style, and then these sixties epic movies or pulp novels.

RF.net: I also wanted to ask this: on the first album you had some Finnish songs and on the last album you had the song, "Cursed Be Iron", which is about the Kalevala, are you ever tempted to go back to your native language in your lyrics?
Mathias: I think it's always been something that we can use as a flavour in there, but the main language of the band has always been English, basically because we don't do that much in Finland and tour all over so it makes more sense if people can understand what we are going on about. Not that there would be anything wrong with it. There's a lot of bands that do stuff in their native language and are still successful. It's something that just started out that way and we never questioned it afterwards; you just do things in a certain way. But yeah, using Finnish or Swedish, or whatever other languages, can be fun. When you choirs and stuff like that in Finnish, and most of the people can't understand what you are singing, the listener has to just listen to the tone of the voice and try to find the feel and vibe of it all without hearing the text at all. So it can be an effective way of doing things, but I think it's still more of a bit of spice to use here and there rather than to do an album like that.

RF.net: For your live show, you've changed your costumes. I've only just seen them hanging out in the corridor, what are you going for there?
Mathias: It's sort of taking the same kind of aesthetic groundwork that we always had and just developing it in a different way that what we've done before. And you have to remember that the band, as what we do and want to do, is sometimes different from how all the magazines want to depict us because everyone wants a photo with a sword and a screaming guy. It gets a bit boring after a while, and it's not necessarily always what the band was after, it might also just be how people want to portray you. So, this time around we took the same set of ideas but brought in a lot of new elements: kind of blurred out the time. It's not like we've ever done costumes that are supposed to be even close to being historical or in a particular time, it's always been quite off-the-wall fantasy, it's just visual and strong, but it has flavours of a time or place. We just wanted to blur out the time and place a bit: not being furry Vikings all the time, you know, at least in press quotes and all. We kept that but brought in zips and leather jackets and that kind of blend, maybe even post apocalyptic things: where you're in the future but also the past.

RF.net: I remember on your DVD you talked about the effort you go through in getting ready to go on stage and the time it takes to get it all assembled. Have you made it any easier on yourselves?

Mathias: Well, it is faster and it is easier and maybe it even feels a bit more comfortable on stage, but it's not really changed much: we still have all the paint and that stuff. It's also kind of a ritual, so, it would be very strange to just end the interview and walk on stage; that wouldn't really work out. So, even if we could do it faster, we would start to take the same time that we did in the past. It still takes about 45 minutes to an hour to have everyone set for the show. You then start to focus on the show when you get prepared and then, by the time you hit the stage, you've had that time and space to focus.

RF.net: Have you changed any other things about your live show? Are there any bands you'd like to emulate or take influence from with respect to stage performances?
Mathias: Well of course it would be great to be able to. You go and see a band like Kiss or Muse or U2 or whatever and look at that and you're like "woah", everything is so planned and there's so many elements to it, and it's very different going on a club stage. So of course it would be cool to have all of that production and everything. We just came from the States, where we were touring with Cradle of Filth, so you don't even get your own show, you just make do with what you are given. You just go up and play basically, and in the states that means that sometimes there's like two lights or whatever, so it might be very poor. I think that develops the band. Every once in a while you might have all these fancy trumpet players or light shows or whatever you want to do, but it still needs to be the band that has the energy and performs well, and if you can pull it off on a small stage with those two lights, then you're pretty sure to be able to get it working with bigger surroundings and with more back-up. It's very healthy once in a while to leave all that fuss of special effects and pyrotechnics behind and just go on stage and play and interact with the crowd. And that's pretty much what we are doing right now so, by the time we get to the festivals, we'll see if we want to do something more special, but now it's about the band playing the songs and that's that.

RF.net: How has the tour been going so far?
Mathias: It's been good. It's going to be very interesting to go on stage today because we are headlining after six or seven weeks of playing 30 minute sets. So that alone is going to be much heavier tonight than five songs. Also there's the crowds you play to. Of course there are people that know you, but, a big majority of the crowd have never heard of you and that's the challenge as well: to win people over and get these people coming up to you after the show saying that they'd never heard of you but that they thought the show was really kick-ass. It's going to be very different now to go on stage and play to your own crowd who know your songs, and also know when you make a mistake! So it adds a bit of pressure, but the crowd is much easier to work.

RF.net: And you were actually, originally, very popular in the UK, at least that's how it seemed to me. Now you've done a lot more touring elsewhere, where do you think you are getting the best response these days?
Mathias: I don't know, we've always had a very enthusiastic fanbase in the UK. Playing festivals like Bloodstock a couple of years back, you could see the turnout of people with painted faces and all that regalia was just mind bowing really. So that's always been very, very strong here. Now we've taken a long break doing the new record, so it's been a while since we toured in the UK, but what we did back in 2008, we would do two weeks in the UK and go to Cornwall and Wales and all these more odd places where a lot of international bands would never care to go - they'd just do London and Manchester and piss off. So this time we basically just filled up a gap between an American and a central European tour by just doing a few select dates in the UK, and we'll definitely be back for a more structured tour later in the year.

RF.net: Speaking of festivals, what are your plans for this summer?
Mathias: We're doing Download this summer. That's probably going to be the only UK festival because there's not that many of them and you can either do one or the other. It doesn't make a lot of sense to try and do all of them, or the promoters wouldn't really appreciate it! So we're doing Download and a number of festivals in central Europe and Spain.

RF.net: Any Scandinavian ones?

Mathias: There's a few in Finland; there's Tuska festival in Helsinki, there's Sauna Open Air.

RF.net: As this is a Danish publication, what about Roskilde Festival or something else in Denmark?

Mathias: That would be really cool to do. It's been a long time since we played Denmark. We were just having a meeting with our management stressing that we really want to do Scandinavia as well because that kind of often gets forgotten amongst America, UK, Germany, Switzerland, Austria. That's like the main core and you forget the others. We've actually had really good shows in Denmark and in Sweden and Norway as well. Sometimes bands get scared of downsizing when you get used to something and all of a sudden you have to play a smaller club and it feels like shit, but, for me, it's cool to go and to play to a smaller crowd but to play all over.

RF.net: You have a song on your new album called "Hunting Pirates"; do you have any strong views on music piracy?
Mathias: Well, to be honest, the way we are set on our record deal is that we would never see a penny of a record sale anyway, so, in that direct way, we don't care if someone buys it or not. Then again, it has a huge effect on how much money someone is willing to invest in producing something, and that's, to me, the downside of it. It's not that we would be losing earnings, because we don't really have anything from sales anyway, so we don't really care. It's more about the fact that all the time it gets more and more do-it-yourself, pinching pennies here and there, and the budget for producing records goes down, whereas you would be expected to go up album after album and do something fancier and bigger and bolder and cooler. That's where the struggle really comes.

You see that no one is willing to invest a lot of money producing an album, not to mention music videos or anything like this. That's the sad side of it. I guess for a long time there has been a bubble in the music industry, a lot of money to spend on music videos and people went crazy and did wild stuff in the eighties and nineties when they still could. Now, all of a sudden, that bubble has burst and the money isn't there and it's just trying to survive. I'm pretty sure that the whole music industry will change in the direction that music will eventually become free, because you can't really hold it down either. The revenue has to be collected elsewhere or built up in a different way. That probably means that record labels will fade out sooner or later because it will be more about the publishing and the marketing rather than the physical product anyway. So the whole idea of trying to fight a war just based on peoples' morals... you can't really compete with it anyway.

So, how many people buy our record is directly related to how much support we get from the label for touring or whatever, and that's kind of dying out all the time. It's a vicious circle in that way, as everything will become crappier and crappier eventually when there is no money to really produce anything, unless someone comes up with an amazing system to finance it. I don't know, maybe you'll have bands playing like Formula 1 drivers and having all these Marlboro logos all over them, because if you want to have bands that are professional... I mean, everyone does it for the love of music, but, we are on the road from this January to summer next year, back-to-back. You do it for the love of the music, but you can't go on like that forever. If you have to go "yeah, sorry guys, there's no money to get a shower room" or something: that's just stupid.

I'm sure that something like Spotify will somehow take over. I've been giving it a lot of thought. Right now, in essence, it's the broadband companies who are actually taking all the money out of it, because they're the ones doing the business basically. People want to download more and more and more content and the ones who are actually selling their products more and more is the ISPs, and they're not gonna stand up and say "here, this money goes to the music industry" or "to the artists". We'll see, I mean it's just a matter of a few years and it will probably all be very different again: interesting times.

RF.net: What are you listening to at the moment? I hear you don't listen to all that much metal?
Mathias: It's not like we avoid it, but it's not like we sit on the bus and listen to Slayer all the time either. It's all sorts. We always had this thing where we go and buy some local music. So, when we were in America, we were shooting a lot of firearms on our off day, as you do: AK-47s and shotguns and M-16s and everything, and Olli went and bought this country CD, with John Denver or whoever, and we were listening to that on repeat, driving in the American countryside and shooting guns and that kind of thing: really redneck! The tour with Cradle of Filth had a US band called Nachtmystium on it, a black metal band based in Chicago. And apparently those guys play in a lot of different bands and they kept bringing us different projects and CDs and all that, so a lot of the time we were listening to their projects which were on the more extreme metal side. So it includes everything from country to black metal.

RF.net: Are there any lesser known or new bands that our readers should check out?

Mathias: I have to admit that I am really so bad at following and catching up because... I don't have an iPod; I never really got into the idea of filling all my empty time with listening to music. So, I don't really have a playlist in that way. I moved into my new flat in Helsinki about two years ago; all my CDs are still in boxes, pretty much everything else as well, because I don't spend much time there.

RF.net: Do you have any plans for the immediate future?
Mathias: Well right now it's obviously a lot of touring. Well, I guess what we'll try to do is see if we can shave off some time between the albums, because it was quite a long time to take one-and-a-half years off to write and then record an album. In that time a lot of things changed and we had to kind of start over again, so we'll see if we can do that. I'm super bad at writing music on tour so that doesn't really happen for us, so we have to try to come up with a rhythm of touring a lot but still having time to focus on being creative. So I guess a new album eventually, but it's still so far ahead that we haven't really given it any serious thought.

As I said the idea of hitting Scandinavia eventually is definitely there, and Denmark. But I think European touring for us this year is going to be kind of scattered out. Now we're doing a handful of UK dates, then a lot of central European dates, then in May we're going to do Spain and Portugal and throw in a few weekend dates in Finland. In the same way, it's not like we are going to do ten weeks of touring Europe. It's going to be five days of something, and then something else, and so on. So hopefully there will be one week of Scandinavia.

RF.net: We look forward to it. Thanks for doing the interview!

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