Interview with vocalist and guitarist Jouni Valjakka
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: May 3, 2014
Whispered, a sensational new Finnish Metal act, seems to be hugely popular in the land of the rising sun. Combining Metal sub-genres and layering orchestration and traditional instruments in a unique way has done the trick for Japanese Metal audiences.
Whispered started out in 2001 as Zealot but changed their name in 2004. It took six years for these "Finnish samurais" to get their debut album, Thousand Swords, released but it was worth the wait. Thousand Swords received rave reviews from all over the world, though very few people heard it. Unfortunately, there was a multitude of releases that year and Whispered didn't get much promotion.
Four years passed and Whispered's follow-up album, Shogunate Macabre, really got the ball rolling. The band traveled to Japan to do a show at Loud & Metal Mania/Unit in Tokyo, on November 22 2013, with Finland's Battle Beast and Sweden's Smash Into Pieces. Since then, the spotlight on the band keeps getting brighter.
The Metal Crypt wanted to know more about these mysterious Finns and why on earth they find the history of the ancient samurais so interesting. Vocalist/guitarist Jouni Valjakka was kind enough to enlighten us...
Luxi: So, what's new in your world of "Samurai Metal"?
Jouni: We're currently edging our blades for gigs and preparing for the challenges to come. Whispered is ready to deliver fatal strikes around the world. I'm also already writing new songs for our next oriental hell-ride. This will be good.
Luxi: Your second album, Shogunate Macabre, was released just about a month ago, and even though it was on the small label Redhouse Finnish Music Publishing, it appears to be selling like the proverbial "hot cakes." Are you happy with the way things are going for Whispered at the moment?
Jouni: Yes, of course! We were actually really surprised by the sales and hopefully this will help us to get some nice shows this year. The music industry is struggling right now, which is especially true for marginal music, but we're working our asses off and we hope it'll pay off.
Luxi: Before we start talking about some of the band's current activities, let's take a look into the past, if you don't mind. Would you tell the readers of The Metal Crypt how Whispered got started? Did you have a clear vision in your mind how you wanted Whispered to look and sound?
Jouni: Well, Whispered started as a melodic Power/Metal band ages ago, and the whole concept was forged later on. As I've stated numerous times, I have always been a big nut for the Japanese culture and one day I tried some riffing with ethnic Japanese instruments and I was truly blown away. I'm also still surprised that there really aren't many other bands utilizing those instruments. Nevertheless, in my opinion, Whispered is still far from the "perfect combination" of melodic Death Metal and Japanese influences. We have lot to offer and I hope one day we'll get to chance to execute all we have in mind.
Luxi: Did you feel comfortable wrapping Whispered's image with the history of samurais? I mean, a group of young and hungry musicians from northern Europe singing about samurais and stuff may look like a weird combination, you know?
Jouni: That thought crossed my mind, yes, but just briefly. I really don't think that a band's roots/location should have anything to do with the music itself. Of course, on the surface, it would seem more authentic if the band was from the same area as they sing about but, in the end, I don't think it really matters. The modern people of Scandinavia have as little common with vikings as they do with samurai. To some, we might appear odd, but at least we're not some boring mediocre Folk Metal band.
Luxi: Whispered has been around for about 10 years and the band's debut album, Thousand Swords, saw the light of day in 2010. For some reason, the album, as good and ambitious as it was, never reached a big audience, at least not in Finland, as far as I know. Do you believe that lack of promotion was one of the reasons many people were totally unaware of the debut album?
Jouni: Yes, that might be one of the reasons. One could spend a lifetime thinking about why that album didn't stand out from the swarm of other Metal albums, but we'd rather focus on the future. Our first album did set some high expectations for our follow-up, so that's really a good thing. If people are waiting for something extremely good, it always gives you a kick in the butt to do extra work on the compositions. We think Shogunate Macabre has better songs than Thousand Swords, in general.
Luxi: Beside the excellent musicianship Whispered displayed on Thousand Swords, which I was personally amazed by, I have to say that the last song on that record, "Blade in the Snow," blew me away. The song itself lasts over 15 minutes, and it's like a movie soundtrack in a miniature. Obviously this song is something that you must be very proud of.
Jouni: "Blade in the Snow" was the most ambitious thing ever for most of the people who worked on it. Of course we're proud of it and it's a really a great song to play live. It's also a kind of "mashup" song from some very old compositions and some new. I'm pretty happy how it turned out.
Luxi: Let's move on to your latest album, Shogunate Macabre. First off, what was it like starting this album knowing deep inside that you did such splendid work on Thousand Swords? Obviously you set the bar pretty high.
Jouni: There was a lot of material I wrote during the recordings of Thousand Swords and I was really pleased that I could finally put those notes on the next album. The whole composition process for Shogunate Macabre took me longer that I'd care to admit and even in the studio some songs weren't as polished as they could have been. Nevertheless, we think the album turned out pretty well. This album was an extremely inspiring and spiritual journey for me, and I'm already taking steps for the next one.
Luxi: There's about 15 minutes less material on Shogunate Macabre when compared to your debut album. Did you want a shorter album this time or were you trying to get something out to the public quickly since it has been four years since Thousand Swords was released?
Jouni: It was done on purpose as we thought the album was nice and compact as a whole. There were some songs that could've been on Shogunate Macabre, but now I'm glad I get to make them even better for upcoming releases. One should never look at the years while making music. The songs have to be as good they can be.
Luxi: As was the case with Thousand Swords, Shogunate Macabre ends with the longest track on the album, "Upon My Honor." Is this the start of a tradition for Whispered, ending your albums with lengthy tracks?
Jouni: Yeah, that might grow in some kind of tradition. We'll see! I tend to write some pretty long tracks, from time to time, and I think "Blade in the Snow" and "Upon My Honor" provide good endings for the albums. I want the album to feel like a journey, and one epic final boss battle should do the trick.
Luxi: You shot a video for the song "Jikininki" in mid-2013 and, at this time, it has reached over 100,000 views, which is pretty crazy indeed. You must feel a lot of gratitude toward your fans, who fuel the Whispered machine with their tremendous support. What can you tell us about the making of that video, and do you have plans for another video?
Jouni: Yeah, that's awesome! Huge thanks to everyone who has watched it! The video was made with a very small budget by me and a few of my friends. In my free time (if I ever have any) I'm a freelance video director/producer and I was really excited to finally get to make a music video for Whispered. We have plans for another video which will hopefully be released this year. Check out valtikkafilms.com for some of my other projects.
Luxi: Some people have described Whispered as sounding like Ensiferum-goes-for-ninjas. I guess they are entitled to their opinions even if you don't agree with them...
Jouni: Yeah, I've heard that too, ha-ha!! Personally, I agree that we have some influences from Ensiferum, but calling us that shows a serious lack of hearing. It'd be extremely cool to tour with Ensiferum in the future. That'd be one hell of an east/west showdown!
Luxi: What kind of a task is it for you guys to get all these orchestrated parts, traditional Japanese instruments and your technically advanced Metal to melt into each other seamlessly?
Jouni: A huge task that can be a bitch, to be honest. The whole process has been like this; I write the parts for our instrument programmer/mastermind Perttu Vänskä and he hones them as fine as possible. We've actually started studying some serious instrument programming and, in the future, we'll be doing some/all of it ourselves. It's a very challenging and time-consuming process but the results are celestially rewarding. It's also a very handy advantage to have some programmed VST already in the demo recordings.
Luxi: What about putting all these elements together in a live situation, e.g. orchestrated parts, choirs and stuff? Have you faced many challenges pulling off the band's live shows?
Jouni: Well, of course, for live performances, you have to have properly mixed backing tracks of those instruments. Long interludes and such bring some challenges since the band isn't doing much during that time, but we will utilize native Japanese instruments played live later on. Mikko has actually built a pretty decent shamisen and that we will definitely use live and in the studio in the future.
Luxi: Talking about playing live, you have already done a good number of live shows and even played in Japan on November 22, 2013 when Whispered appeared at Loud & Metal Mania/Unit in Tokyo, with Finland's Battle Beast and Sweden's Smash Into Pieces. I'm guessing the response was unbelievable considering the concepts Whispered sings about...
Jouni: Yes the response was amazing! People there are really into our music. I admit we were a little worried about what kind of reception we would get in Japan, but the crowd was going totally insane the moment the lights hit our backdrop. That gig had the greatest audience in the short history of Whispered.
Luxi: What has been the best compliment you have gotten from a Japanese fan of the band?
Jouni: We've had quite a few compliments from Japan, but maybe the one fan praising our "authenticity" was the best. We still have long way to go with Japanese influences, but being recognized authentic with those elements, even at this stage, felt really good!
Luxi: As Whispered's whole image is so strongly connected to Japanese samurai history, I can only imagine how popular Whispered might become in that eastern part of the world. One doesn't have to be Nostradamus to predict Whispered will undoubtedly do a full Japanese tour at some point of your career, when everyone's schedules allow. Is there a plan for Whispered to crisscross Japan?
Jouni: We have some plans, but nothing is confirmed yet. We got some nice attention with our show in Japan, and we're currently negotiating release plans for Japan. If everything goes smoothly, I'm pretty sure we can schedule some gigs.
Luxi: What are Whispered's other touring plans at the moment? I noticed that you have a couple of gigs booked in Finland and another couple in Russia. Obviously, there will be even more gigs announced soon, but correct me if I am wrong...
Jouni: Unfortunately the Russian tour was cancelled due to the current situation there. Anyway, more gigs will be announced in the upcoming months. Keep checking whisperedband.com and our Facebook page!
Luxi: One more question and then we are done. What do you hope to achieve during 2014 with Whispered? Have you set any personal goals for where you would like to bring Whispered this year?
Jouni: This year we will try to book as many shows as possible and write new material for our next album. That's about it! We're also planning that next music video and we'll put up some contests and such in Facebook.
Luxi: I want to thank you for your time and for getting this interview done and wish you all the best with Whispered in the future. Let your samurai swords slash deep, sharp and victoriously. Any closing comments, perhaps?
Jouni: Thank you for a nice and long interview! Stay tuned for Whispered's updates and come mosh with us at our shows! Stay honored and stay strong!
|Other information about Whispered on this site|
|Review: Metsutan - Songs of the Void|
|Interview with guitarist and vocalist Jouni Valjakka on May 7, 2016 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
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