June 19, 2013
July 6, 2005
By Ciaran Meeks
Anyone not living under a rock within the international Metal 'scene' is doubtless well aware that Folk Metal has really come of age in the last few years. No longer is it a rarity or a novelty to hear violins, fiddles, and other traditional instruments bashing it out alongside the usual recipe of guitars, bass, and drums we've all come to expect from our Metal diet. Quite the contrary. With bands such as FINNTROLL, MOONSORROW, ENSIFERUM, and TURISAS leading the way, Metal has it seems, finally found its "traditional" voice, bridging the gap between the past and the present with stirring and emotive results. A relative newcomer to this ever-growing and expanding subgenre of Heaviness is Finland's KORPIKLAANI (meaning 'The Forest Clan') whose latest slab of Folk-fuelled mayhem, "Voice Of Wilderness" (out on Napalm Records), has been receiving well-deserved rave reviews the world over.
Singer/guitarist Jonne Jarvela was recently kind enough to share a moment out of his day to tell us a bit more about the woodland enigma that is KORPIKLAANI.
Hello Jonne! How are you? Thank you very much for taking the time to share a few words with METALEATER!
Hello, I'm fine. Thank you for asking!
First things first. "Voice Of Wilderness" marks KORPIKLAANI's second international release. Personally I think it's a fantastic record - definitely one of the better Folk Metal releases available. Care to comment on how you and the band are feeling at its reception so far?
We think that we succeeded in the studio pretty well. The new album is not faultless but the feeling throughout the album is overall pretty good. We left some lines which weren't so perfect musically because those lines were perfect to create a good mood and atmosphere. Many of today's albums and bands sound so clean and perfect that they lose something real from the recording as a result. We needed to sound as real and pure as possible. That's why there are only real instruments, with real men behind them. No synthetizers or keyboards at all. We like the "Voice Of wilderness" a lot so the pressure to top it on the next album is very high.
It seems like the last few years have been extremely good ones for the Folk Metal genre. In particular, bands from Finland (i.e. FINNTROLL, TURISAS, ENSIFERUM, MOONSORROW) are really making a name for themselves abroad with their various interpretations of the traditional Finnish musical base. It's almost as though more and more people in your country are "discovering" their musical heritage and consciously breathing new life into older traditions by reinventing and revitalizing the form. What are your thoughts on this?
I have been very happy about the rise of folk metal to 'popularity'. I've been playing this kind of music for so many years that it's really a pleasure to see that people have the balls and the brains to try something new and listen to this kind of music. Folk music with all of its instruments like violins, accordions and flutes was once kind of a "swear word" a while ago, but thanks to many new folk metal bands, it is not like that anymore.
In comparison to the other acts I mentioned, KORPIKLAANI are arguably the 'purest' act in terms of preserving the more genuinely 'Folky' elements of the music. You make use of traditional 'humppa' melodies to a great degree as well as the Saami 'yoik' singing. Most North Americans and probably even a great many Europeans are unfamiliar with these musical traditions. Can you explain a little bit about them?
I lived with the Saami people in Lapland for a little more than five years. They are the aboriginal peoples of Finland, Norway and Sweden. I learned a lot about their way of life, the way they thinik, and of course their way of making music. It is because of this influence that the music has always remained such a strong part of my life. My 'yoiking' might be most familiar to the people who have heard the title track on FINNTROLL's "Jaktens Tid". That was me performing on that track. I was with FINNTROLL as a guest musician for two years.
Just as an interesting sidenote, I can't help but notice when I hear it just how similiar the 'yoik' singing is to Native Amerindian traditional song and chant. Any thoughts on what possible cultural links there might be between the Finnish Saami and the Natives of North America?
Yes, yoik singing is very closely related to the American natives' traditional singing style. It is a funny thing that that singing style is not the only connection with the cultures. Shamanism is also a big part of both cultures. I have a friend named Nagoetj, who is Wabanaki Indian but lives here in Finland. He has family here now and he is a musician and singer too. We have spoken a lot about these connections and things. It is very interesting that nobody ever has to 'force' or carry on this shamanistic singing style like many other religions do. It simply perseveres regardless. It is just the same today as ever. It is as it has always been on every side of the planet - unchanged from the begining of time without the help of any preachers or churches. No one has to preach about something that just exists naturally in people's hearts and minds.
Finland is actually a very unique country within Scandinavia and Europe as a whole, is it not? From what I understand, culturally and historically it was never truly part of the 'Viking Age' - although obviously the Finns do celebrate a degree of Norse heritage - in the same sense that Norway, or Sweden, or Denmark were. In fact, it was and is rather in possession of a culture and heritage that is truly, uniquely its own. What can you tell us about your homeland in this sense?
We Finns are an old hunting folk who drink a lot of booze. Not so many things have changed through the years (laughs).
Getting back to the music, what can you tell us about the various traditional Finnish instruments used on both "Spirit Of The Forest" and "Voice Of Wildernes"? I mean, what - for example - is a 'jouhikko' or a 'torupill'? Did the band learn to play these and other instruments by themselves or are any of you in any way formally schooled/trained?
It is our violinist Hittavainen who plays all of these folk instruments besides the accordion. He practices all the time with some new weird instrument or another. The Torupill is a little bit like a bagpipe, but from Estonia. Estonia is our little neighbour country to the south. The Jouhikko is an old Finnish instrument. It's hard to explain...a piece of wood with a few strings. You should check the pictures of through Google. These folk instruments play a very, very big role in KORPIKLAANI. I don't want to write any guitar solos or things like that. I want these traditional instruments to take care of the lines which are normally filled by guitar or synth solos. It not easy for me because I'm the guitarist and I make the songs as well. Anyway, I'm a big fan of all these folk instruments and would never, never replace those with some poor synthesiser.
Let's backtrack for a moment. Prior to forming KORPIKLAANI you were one of the creative forces behind SHAMAANI DUO which later evolved into SHAMAN. Can you please tell us a bit about what that project was all about and how it evolved into KORPIKLAANI?
SHAMAANI DUO was our way to make music when I lived in Lapland. It was a full acoustic thing and we made one single in 1995 and the album "Hunka Lunka" in 1996. I continued as SHAMAN when I moved back to southern Finland. I took some Metal musicians into the band and it started to sound like folk metal. We made two albums - "Idja" in 1999 and "Shamániac" in 2001. We had to change our name from SHAMAN to KORPIKLAANI when we were making the album "Spirit Of The Forest". That album was almost recorded when we changed the band's name because Andre Matos from ANGRA likewise founded the Prog band SHAMAN at that time. Even though they were just starting it was a big project and many people associated them with that name so we decided to change our name instead. Here we are again with a second album, "Voice of wilderness", under the flag of KORPIKLAANI. KORPIKLAANI is the thing that I'm going to make until I'm in my grave.
When "Spirit Of The Forest" was first released back in 2003, it was a fairly unique record. Obviously bands like FINNTROLL and MOONSORROW had already gained a certain notoriety and had 'opened the doors' so to speak - at least within Metal circles - for audiences to accept a 'Folkier' and more traditionally-based sound. Nevertheless though, KORPIKLAANI - if anything - leaned more towards the Folk elements which are still very strong on "Voice Of Wilderness". I can't help but think that much of your material is geared towards the audiences of say, HEDNINGARNA, GARMARNA, VARTTINA, or even WIMME - 'True' Modern Folk Rock acts - than to what one would normally consider a 'Metal audience', at least on the face of it. Has it been a challenge reaching the typical 'Metal crowds' who are generally used to the paint-by-numbers guitar/drums/bass/guy screaming routine as opposed to something as original and hard to pigeonhole as KORPIKLAANI?
Conversely, how are you received by the 'traditional' or 'purist' Folk audiences? Have they been at all accepting of your unique take on traditional music, or do they just write you off because the guitars are 'too loud'?
There are always people, I believe, who are not at our gigs because of those loud guitars. I mean, there are people who definitely like more traditional folk music and bands like HEDNINGARNA, VARTTINA or even WIMME. Anyway this is not the music for a purist Folk audience anyway, but by the same token, this is not the music for a purist metal audience either. This is music for people who can be open-minded enough to take it as it is - like a whole new music style in and of itself. I'm glad that there are those open minded people in front of us at the gigs. We really love and respect those bravehearts. They are a big part of the 'Clan'.
What are some of your influences in terms of musical inspiration?
It must be a little bit of everything that I hear. I never copy any other band, but I can get some good moods from some music that I hear. It makes me want to pick up the guitar, and if I'm lucky, I can make a new song while in that mood. It is funny but I listen to folk music less now after our own music went as folkish as it is now. Currently I have some kind of thrash metal boom going on in my head - TESTAMENT, KREATOR and bands like that. Music that I listen to won't affect the music that I write that much. So don't worry, the next KORPIKLAANI album won't be some kind of thrash metal album!
I don't know if you would agree, but I hear a lot of 'Irish' in many Finnish traditional melodies. Both cultural traditions seem to have an inherent sense of 'beautiful melancholy' and 'lively aggression' for lack of any better terms! What are your thoughts on that?
Folk music has its own similarities on every side of this ball. I think our wild style of violin playing might be what makes you hear the 'Irish' in our music, but either way, you are definitely not the only one who thinks that our music has a lot of 'Irish' in it. Maybe it is because of too many beers in Molly Malone's bar. You never know.
Getting back to your latest release, "Voice Of Wilderness", what are your feelings on the record now that it has been released and you've had a chance to listen to it as a whole, as others will listen to it? Personally I feel that the spirit of the debut has been preserved, although with perhaps a better sense of forus. In other words, the songwriting just seems tighter. The result is an album where the songs work well together, not just on an individual basis. Are you happy with what the band has accomplished?
I noticed the difference between the albums right after we listened to the mixed version of the new album in the studio. I realized that now this is it - what I had been looking for for so long. It was just an accident that our latest album "Voice Of Wilderness" succeeded so well. Everything went so smoothly and fine in the studio and we just got the right songs together on it. It was fun to make the album and I'm sure everyone can hear that feeling when listening to it.
What was the recording process like? How long and/or involved is the studio process for a band like KORPIKLAANI?
The recordings took something like four weeks, but our working days were pretty free and easy. Samu Oittine, who was the producer and recording engineer on the album, did just fantastic work with us. It is not easy work to get all of those acoustic instruments out so well against a metal guitar wall. Also Samu is the man who can make a good atmosphere within the studio. He can be strict, but he can also catch the feeling when you are playing or singing. If the take was perfect musically, but cold in an emotional way, we deleted it. Feeling was the main thing through the recordings. We are going to the same studio with the same man next time also.
Are you the principal songwriter, or does the rest of the band have an active role in writing lyrics/music? How much of the process is a group effort prior to recording?
I make most of the songs. Hittavainen gave only one song to the "Wilderness" album. I have written all of the lyrics so far. Now that we have a permanent accordion player (Juho Kusti) who writes songs as well, we have the possibility of getting some new, fresh lyrical meat to the songwriting on our next album. He already has three songs ready for it, so my dictatorship days are gone now, which is actually a good thing. I've always tried to push other members to bring any new lyrical ideas they might have to the rehearsals, but haven't gotten much so far. Everyone does, however, take part in the arrangements on almost every song. Normally it goes like this: I have home demo recordings of the new songs and the other members laugh at my shit demos, and when they are back on their feet, we try to play and work it out!
What is your lyrical inspiration? Obviously there is a strong current of love and appreciation for both your country and its history, as well as its natural environment. What moves you when you are writing material for an album?
Only beer moves up to the head when I'm writing the lyrics. We have a pretty limited theme in our lyrics and I want to keep it that way. I try to create a 'world' of KORPIKLAANI which will be same album after album. There will always be the old man with the drum who knows everything. This man is kind of a spirit of us - of who we are. You know the symbol on our album covers? This is the same man who wanders through the lyrics of both albums. Other themes are forest, nature generally, and of course beer and women.
What are some of the highlights for you from the album? I think I mentioned in my review that "Pine Woods" really stands out for me as a memorable and enjoyable piece. A great drinking tune! Very lively with a beautiful flute melody. "Journey Man" and "Hunting Song" are great too as well as - speaking of drinking songs - "Beer Beer". What are your favourites?
I have two kind of favourites. Different favourites to play on the stage and different favourites when listening to the album. We all like to play most of these fast songs like "Journey Man", "Cottages & Saunas" and songs like that, but mostly I like "Fields In Flames" when speaking of simple album listening. "Pine woods" and "Hunting Song" are also favourites as well.
Has the band toured much? What have your experiences been like on the road and onstage? You have such a 'big' sound I imagine it must be a challenge to properly reproduce it in the live setting.
We haven't toured much yet, but of course we have many gigs behind us - mostly here in Finland and neighbouring countries. It is nice to go out now on our first european tour this Autumn and it would be more than great to get our asses overseas near you too. Someday we will come, that's for sure, because we won't give up. KORPIKLAANI's output on the stage is very energetic and active. We really have fun with the audience and we don't want to raise ourselves to some other level from our audience. The audience is the most important part of the show. What the hell would do there anyways without them!? That's why I don't give a shit about any rock 'n roll star types who think that they are somehow better or higher than their audience. We just want to be in the same 'Clan' with the people who like our music and party alongside them. It is easy to move everything we have on the album to the stages now because we have an accordion player.
Hittavainen plays violins, flutes, jouhikko and other instruments so he is pretty busy on the stage. Sometimes he is a little bit lazy and plays some flute or other instrument lines by violin, but who cares. Same shit, different package. It's not hard to reproduce all of this in the live setting and I think it is just fun to play it out with some differences.
So far, the band have done a great job of keeping the core sound of KORPIKLAANI both consistent, yet at the same time, fresh and engaging. How do you see the band's sound evolving over time? Do you think it will be a challenge to avoid repeating yourselves? Are there any ideas in particular that you are interested in exploring on the next release?
It will be a big challence to avoid repeating ourselves and I know we will do it someday. I don't care about it as long as the songs are good. If not, we must take a few years vacation from the album recordings. Now we don't have to think about that because we have so many good songs for the next album. By the way, we are already booked the studio time. It will start in December of this year, so you have a new KORPIKLAANI album in your hands again in Spring 2006.
On both albums you write in both English and Finnish. On "Voice Of Wilderness", "Ryyppäjäiset" and "Kädet Siipinä" are obviously written in your native tongue. How different do you find the two languages in terms of being able to express yourself?
To me, it is hard to make the texts in Finnish. Somehow, I'm far more critical in my Finnish lyrics. I make a lot of texts in Finnish, but I delete 90% of them because it is so hard to get those lines to sound good and smooth. Finnish is a pretty harsh language - a lot of consonants. Now we have actually few Finnish songs coming to the next album. I had a little help with the lyrics from Finnish folk artist Virva Holtiton.
Both albums make use of the same symbol on the covers, as you said - the 'old man' of KORPIKLAANI. It's very reminiscent of what Inuit in Canada call an 'Inukshuk' - a sort of landmarker for arctic travelers to follow.
As I said before, it is simply the man with the shaman drum. It is an old symbol of a shaman. Such symbols turn up from many places as old rock painings around Finland and the rest of Scandinavia.
What are you currently listening to from other artists that has had an impact upon you?
Besides my thrash metal boom, I have been listening to several albums by a Finnish band called VIIKATE. You should check out this band. They are one of the most underrated bands in the world. Very Finnish.
I will. Do you have any other artistic endeavours either within or outside of the music industry you would like to pursue?
Actually I am writing music for a new tv series and also for a documentary of one of Finland's ice hockey teams. These are the first attempts for me at this kind of work so it is pretty exciting.
Any thoughts on the current health of the Metal or 'Heavy Music' scene(s) right now? I know it's kind of a trite question, but it's always interesting to hear from artists themselves what their opinions are on the matter.
Everything is fine with the Finnish metal scene right now. The doors are finally open to the world of Finnish metal, so it is of course more than nice. I'm proud of every Finnish band that's touring around the world.
Where do you see KORPIKLAANI going from here? Do you have any definite goals or future plans for the band or is it simply a matter of taking things one day at a time and seeing which way the wind blows?
Honestly, it would be nice if we could all make a living at this because it is very hard to try and keep a day job and be in the band 100%. It is actually impossible. My biggest goal as a band leader is to try and keep the band together and alive. Sometimes it feels that it is easier said than done. We need and want to write and record songs and albums, and play gigs. So these three things are goals for all of us.
What final words would you like to leave for fans of KORPIKLAANI?
Hopefully we'll see you all soon at the gigs - and remember...buy me a beer when we meet. I like it! See you then!
Jonne, thanks very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to us here at METALEATER.
Thank you, Ciaran! [FIN]
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