Interview with vocalist/guitarist Miikka Merikallio and bassist Anton
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: August 8, 2014
In old school Death Metal we trust...and that's what Finland's Nerlich have been doing since 2003.
Nerlich was one of the first bands to sign with Antioch, California's Old School Metal Records, and they started recording their debut album, Defabricated Process, at Cursed Studio in Hyvinkää, Finland at the end of 2005. It was released in 2007 and, despite receiving some rave reviews, it didn't sell a shit, the reasons for which are unclear.
In 2008 Nerlich released a 4-track EP, Innards, before calling it quits for three years. The band reformed, though only Miikka Merikallio remained from the lineup that recorded Defabricated Process and Innards.
With a renewed lineup, Nerlich started work on their next 4-track EP, Eternity's Gate, to be released on soon-to-be-announced label later in 2014. The Metal Crypt decided to find out more about Nerlich's new incarnation from both vocalist/guitarist Miikka and bassist Anton and about their plans for world domination...
Luxi: What's new in the world of Nerlich, aside from the new EP, Eternity's Gate?
Anton: At the moment, we're focusing on getting the new material released in a proper way; finding a label and so on. We're also writing new songs, but the main thing, at the moment, is to get this new EP released. The next step is to start playing gigs and getting regular band things going on more actively.
Luxi: Nerlich split up in 2008 but, after enough water had flowed under the bridge, you decided to resurrect the band. Did you feel like Nerlich just wasn't done and was worth another shot?
Miikka: Yeah, it felt like there was some unfinished business. We didn't manage to play that many gigs although we really wanted to play as many as possible. It was mainly due to constant line-up problems that we were not able to play live that much. Also, I felt that I didn't really manage to do what I wanted, musically, with Nerlich, I tried my best and got close, though. This new EP is much closer to what I wanted to do with the band in the early days, and also for the first time I'm really happy with something we recorded.
Luxi: Was resurrecting Nerlich any easier than you thought because you have a better vision and understanding of how you want new stuff to sound? It sounds like Nerlich's last EP, Innards, didn't make you as proud as it could have.
Miikka: Time has definitely helped to refine and shape the vision of what we want to do with Nerlich. There has been time to reflect back on the early material and get ideas of how make to it better and what should be done differently. Also, time has brought more experience and knowledge as to how we can realize this vision and make the kind of music we want to.
However, writing and recording new music wasn't that easy. We had really high standards for ourselves and that made the writing process quite slow but, in the end, it was worth it. The songs turned out really strong. Same goes with studio sessions; we spent much more time in the studio than in the early days, just to make sure we got it right this time. We did a couple of long days/nights, where we just stayed in the studio and continued recording vocals or guitars after the engineer had gone home.
Innards got mixed reactions and I understand why. It has its flaws but, honestly, I kind of like it.
Luxi: Did you have some basic rules or principles when you were composing the songs for the Innards EP that resulted in it not turning out the way you originally hoped?
Miikka: I guess it was more bout the band falling apart, which made it a bit difficult to record. The situation wasn't that good, so the studio session was a bit rushed and that can be heard in the drumming, for example. We got a new drummer just weeks before we went into the studio. Musically, we tried to make the songs a bit simpler. I felt that Defabricated was a bit too technical and didn't have enough slow parts to make it more balanced, so we tried to do it a bit differently. One thing we kind of did against the rules was that we didn't write any lyrics for it. I knew what I was going to sing (growl) and there were existing vocal patterns, but no lyrics. Well, there were a couple of lines here and there but, for most part, I didn't feel like writing any lyrics.
Luxi: Once you put an end to Nerlich, in 2008, did you want to start with a clean slate and do something totally different?
Miikka: That's kind of what happened. Things didn't really work out with Nerlich, with all the line-up problems and other issues, so I just lost interest. I started a new band that was completely different from Nerlich, though it didn't work out either. I had also some other projects, all kinds of stuff, then I moved to Vaasa and was inactive for a couple of years. I didn't do much band stuff there, mainly because didn't find any interesting bands/projects. Now, I have been living in Helsinki again for the past couple of years and, beside Nerlich, I have had lots of different bands and projects ranging from classic Rock to Reggae and beyond, ha ha!! I just enjoy playing guitar and playing in bands a lot. That's what I like to do. Mostly I listen to rock and metal, but I enjoy other music, too, and like to play a lot of different styles. I'm sure that the experience coming from playing other styles of music also helps Nerlich, in one way or another.
Luxi: Your new EP, Eternity's Gate, is said to be the most focused Nerlich release thus far, with more of an old school vibe than ever before. What can you tell us more about these new songs?
Miikka: The new EP includes four songs. There are three brand new Nerlich songs and one cover song from and old Finnish Death Metal band from Vaasa called Cartilage.
While composing the songs we tried to make them a bit different from each other, so that all of the songs would have their own identity and that there would be good amount of variation on the record. Compared to the old songs, the songs are better structured and balanced. There are more slow parts and some dark melodies, maybe a bit in the vein of the old Finnish Death Metal scene. But it's hard to explain music, it's better to listen and make up your own mind.
The lyrics have kind of an ongoing theme; stories about different mental problems that people might be facing. They're not true stories, but something that could be real.
Anton: Yep, originally it was planned as concept EP, but I guess it is not a whole story and not in chronological order. What was really surprising was how the cover song really fit in and I guess it is good that it didn't become too arty-crafty.
Luxi: Did you have and other Nerlich songs ready besides the ones you recorded for the Eternity's Gate and do they maintain the same old school Death Metal vibe as the songs on the EP?
Miikka: There were lots of ideas left over from the EP, but no full songs. Some of these ideas will appear on future releases, they just didn't fit into these songs, or the in the mood of the EP in general. You shouldn't force it when it comes to songwriting. The songs should flow naturally, so some riffs were just left out to be used later...
Some of the ideas are a bit different, but still not that far from the stuff we have done in the past. The different ideas will just make the music more interesting. Our goal is to make every song different from one another, so every song has its own recognizable identity. Not that many bands seem to pay attention to this and it sounds like they're playing the same song over and over again. Anyway, don't worry; it will be old school death metal in the future. That's what we like to play!
Luxi: What are Nerlich's plans for this new EP? I assume you want to catch the interest from some labels, correct?
Anton: We have been sending out some promos and we're going to send more. We just hope to get the EP released in different formats and maybe a deal for a future album. But yes, you are right and it's pretty obvious. We were thinking about what would be the best thing for a band reuniting to do and I guess doesn't make sense to start with live shows, because we are not Morbid Angel, Suffocation, Atheist or a band of that caliber. One option would have been to make an album, but that's a big and important step to start from. Plus, as you noticed, our music has changed, and we wanted to try out those new elements and give them more time to develop before doing a full-length. So starting with an EP is kind of more relaxed way to do things.
Luxi: When the next Nerlich full-length studio album is set to come out, how important will it be to have it out on several different formats, knowing that there are always people out there who want to have it on CD or vinyl or cassette or just as a digital download? What about having it out only on cassette and vinyl, the old school way? ;)
Anton: Well, having only a digital download is definitely not an option for us. If it depends on me, I would say that vinyl is "must". I started collecting music on CDs and dubbed tapes but, at some point, I started to get bored with CDs. Around this time I moved to Finland and pretty soon bought a record player, and my hunger for collecting music grew again. But, in the end, the most important thing is the music itself, even if it is nicer to have it on your favorite format. I must admit I never liked tapes so much but, at the same time, I guess it is kind of nice that someone keeps doing them these days, because making tapes costs more than CDs and it is obviously real dedication and real old school. It might surprise younger Metal fans, but there are enough older guys who like CDs more than LPs, so why to make them suffer? I cannot comment much on digital downloads, but at least people listen to them in the car, so why not?
Luxi: I would like to return to your Defabricated Process album for a couple of questions, if you don't mind. The owner of Old School Metal Records told me that, when it was released in 2007, it was a huge flop/letdown and didn't sell for shit, if I can use these harsh words. Do you believe it didn't sell due to lack of promotion from the label because nobody in the States knew who Nerlich was and what they were doing? Defabricated Process blew away many well-known Death Metal releases back then so no one can really blame the lack of success on Nerlich. What are your thoughts about this?
Anton: We have talked about this with Miikka several times. It's not simple enough to make definite conclusions, but we have some guesses/ideas. As a person who didn't play on the album, I can probably be honest when I speak about it and I definitely would agree with you that it was far from weak and there were plenty of much weaker releases, even though Defabricated Process had some minor flaws with mixing.
I don't think it was completely the label's fault, in any case. There was some promotion for this album, though more would have been better, but small underground labels have smaller, limited budgets and some releases still fail even with really decent promotion, so there are always risks. What is even stranger is, if you search the internet, it seems like a lot of people who discovered this release years after its initial release have been giving it pretty positive reviews. To be honest, right now we don't have a clue how many copies label was able to move and what was going on during those years.
If you ask me, the main issue was the label itself or, more to the point, the label model. If I'm not mistaken, OSM started with re-releases of some already quite well known bands and doing wholesale with them instead of making trades. This is definitely a more professional and easier way to run a label, but it doesn't work for the debut album of an underground Death Metal band, because no one likes to buy 5-10 CDs of new, unknown bands for real money, because of the risk of having them for years is pretty high.
Luxi: After the release of Defabricated Process and then the low sales, did Patrick (Ramseier, the owner of Old School Metal Records) tell you that he didn't believe in Nerlich and end the cooperation with you?
Miikka: He didn't say that. But he told us about the poor sales and that he didn't believe that the Innards EP would sell, so we started searching other labels to release it. Eventually, Gabriel, from Nihilistic Holocaust, told us he wanted to release it on tape, which we thought was a good idea. He had released our second demo, Insane Creations - Inorganic Echoes, on a 3-way split. The split was spread around the world really well, something like 3000 copies. He did a really good job with it! A lot of people seemed to really like our songs on that release, so it's kind of strange that not that many got the full length album.
Luxi: Have you ever regretted signing with OSM Records?
Miikka: Not really, I mean shit happens. You never know what's going to happen. Obviously, it wasn't a good match for either of us. It's true that, with some other label, the situation might have been much different...
Luxi: What did you learn from your OSM Records experience?
Anton: I think it's really a matter how the label distributes the releases, what kind of roster it has and if there are people really following the label. Of course, everyone mentions promotion, but that is obvious.
Luxi: Naturally, the future is still unknown but have you tried to figure out when it would be the optimal time for Nerlich to enter the studio to record an album?
Miikka: We have some ideas for new songs, but they still need a lot of work. We will take our time to make the material as strong as possible, so it might take some time. It's too early to say when, but we will do another full-length album, for sure. I liked working with Santeri Salmi and Drop Hammer Studios on the EP, so we might work with him in the future. But we'll do the song writing first and then see what happens...
Musically, we're going to continue where we left with the new EP, just taking it one step further. Stagnation and doing the same thing all over again isn't for us. For me, development is important. When it comes to song writing we're focusing on making each song memorable and killer from the beginning to the end. No filler or anything like that, just great memorable riffs, good arrangements and songs that work well as a whole. Well, anyway, we're doing our best and hopefully it's enough ;)
Luxi: For the next Nerlich album you're expecting no less than a total touchdown, right? ;)
Miikka: Ha-ha... that's exactly what we're planning to do! There's no point in doing something average, we want it to be killer. However, this means it might take some time to get the next full-length album done, but it will be worth the wait, for sure. ;)
Luxi: Do you have a list of producers that you would like have work on the next album or does it not really matter as long as that person understands what Nerlich's music is all about?
Miikka: I don't really have any favorite producers. It's more important that we get someone to do the recording and mixing who understands what we want and can also help us getting that sound. Following a producer's vision about the sound and what we should do in the studio would be difficult since we have our own vision and want to do it our way. Santeri did really good job with the recording and mixing of the new EP. It worked out really well after he got it and understood what we wanted. And the end result is great, it sounds just like it should...
Anton: Well, I guess I might have some favorite producers, but it is always same thing; as soon as someone does something outstanding or successful, bands start to run to him. The guy becomes very busy and many of those bands have the same "wants" and or even don't know what they exactly, so producers burn out and don't put much effort in anymore. Besides, as Miikka said, we had our own vision and found the perfect guy who was able to understand us (and I guess it must be a hard task, trying to understand how a band wants to sound). He did a really good job and he had some experience, but since it is not his main job, he does projects that he likes, and doesn't have to do same thing over and over again just because it is his job!
Luxi: Is Nerlich aiming to play live some day or would you rather see Nerlich as a studio band only? It's tough work to make your living playing in a Metal band these days, and it gets even harder, year after year...
Miikka: We want to do both, play gigs and record new music, though when it comes to playing gigs, we're more interested in doing gigs abroad than in Finland. We'd like to travel and make new music, so these are naturally our main goals. Anyway, the idea is to play a few selected gigs when we get interesting offers, and it doesn't matter that much which country is it, so we would do gigs in Finland, too. However, this is not going to be a full time hard working and touring band, we're going to take it easy and be around for a long time. In the early days we were kind of in a hurry, which was one reason why it also ended so early. We're not planning to make our living with this. Making a living with music is hard, especially with death metal, and it would be quite a long and hard road. I have also several other bands and projects that take some of my time...
Anton: Well, I can only agree with Miikka and add a bit. Today, we can do what we want, whether or not people like it. If you are professional band you must care if people like it what you are doing. So, in our case, we can have our creative freedom! I guess most of the big names cannot say the same.
Luxi: Now that Nerlich is back, what else do you hope to achieve?
Miikka: We have two goals in mind; we'd like to travel and play some gigs abroad, and then just to record new music that would please our own personal music tastes...
Anton: Yep, the goal is to make some good songs, record them and play gigs and maybe, in the best-case scenario, get our covered expenses in doing these things.
Luxi: How do you view the current Finnish Death Metal scene, which seems to be flourishing again after a couple of quiet decades? Do you still find the Finnish Death Metal scene as fascinating and rewarding as, let's say, back in early 90's when the first major wave kicked off with bands like Abhorrence (i.e. Amorphis), Funebre, Mordicus, Demigod, Sentenced, Demilich and so on?
Anton: Well, there is obviously a Death Metal revival going on in Finland as well as a "Finnish Death Metal" revival, so it would be pointless to deny that there was some positive changes during last few years. Obviously, there are some good and some bad bands, but it was always this way, even "back in the day."
We live in Finland so obviously we check out the newer bands. I must admit that I am impressed with how much praise some pretty weak releases are getting. But if there are more bands and more interest in the genre then you have more chances to discover something really good. On other hand, even years ago, when no one cared that much about Death Metal, there still was Slugathor and Torture Killer, who were representing Finnish Death Metal really well.
Of course, I can say that 20 years ago it was better, but that's natural, and you can say the same about Death or Black Metal, in general. Young people just wanted to create dark music and had no examples or limits and that was it. But you cannot have same state of mind and lifestyle as those teenagers had in the early 90's. Even the current reunions cannot recreate it again.
Luxi: Do you still find listening to Death Metal as entertaining as it was years ago and do the influences of other Death Metal releases fuel your own creativity?
Miikka: Yeah absolutely, though I don't listen to Death Metal as much as when I was younger. I listen to a lot of different kinds of music and there are times when I don't listen to Death Metal, or Metal in general, for days, but I always get back to it. However, I'm more picky about what I listen to these days. But there are a lot of good bands and some of those have definitely inspired me to write some Nerlich songs. I would rather use the word inspire than influence, since that's more like what's happening. I just get excited when I hear something cool then I pick up my guitar and start playing something that's completely different. Lately, I have been listening to Obliteration, Repugnant, Mordicus, Mortem and the new Autopsy album, which is great. Also, some rock stuff like Led Zeppelin, Kingston Wall and the new albums by Rival Sons and Michael Monroe, those are great too.
Luxi: When Nerlich is no more, which hopefully won't happen any time soon, what will there be written on the band's tombstone?
Anton: Hmmm...maybe "Nerlich Death Metal."
Miikka: This one is hard, maybe "we're dead and you're next" or "our music will haunt you forever."
Luxi: That's it for now. I want to thank you both for doing this interview for The Metal Crypt, and wish you all the best with Nerlich in the future. If you want to throw out some closing comments to conclude this interview properly, feel free to do so... ;)
Miikka: Thanks a lot for the interview Luxi! And thanks to all people who have supported us through the years. You can listen to a new Nerlich song using the link below; it's the first track from the new EP: soundcloud.com/nerlich/projections-unmastered
If you like it spread the word, thanks. ;)
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