Interview with guitarist Toni Tieaho and vocalist Marko Eskola
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: November 25, 2014
Crystalic, originally formed in 1998, was a technical Death Metal band from Finland that was strongly inspired by Chuck Schuldiner's work with Death. It is probably safe to say that, without Chuck's musical legacy, there probably would never have been a band like Crystalic.
The band recorded two very well received albums; Watch Us Deteriorate in 2007 and its follow-up opus, Persistence in 2010, before calling it quits a year later. At the beginning of 2011 Toni and keyboardist Felipe Munoz (ex-Avenie), who had previously played with Crystalic, formed a new, unnamed project. The new material sounded very close to Crystalic due to Toni's style of composing. During 2012 they completed their line-up and it was at this time they all thought the band was worth resurrecting. They tested the waters with a brand-new song, titled "Scion," in November 2012. A new saga had begun.
Crystalic have been working on material for their yet-untitled third album and things haven't been as easy as one might think. Guitarist Toni Tieaho and vocalist Marko Eskola were willing to give us an update on some of the band's recent comings and goings...
Luxi: Looking back in time there's this complicated phase of Crystalic's history when no one really knew if the band would ever be reactivated after ceasing to exist in 2011. You, the main composer and heart of Crystalic, went your separate way with ex-keyboardist Felipe Muñoz but the material that you came up with sounded comparable to Crystalic's stuff so you decided to resurrect the band. Is there anything else about those days that made Crystalic worth another try?
Toni: Yeah, It has been quite long and winding road with these things, after I decided to put Crystalic on ice in 2011. I felt I needed a break from all things related to music but after a while, my friend called and asked if I was interested in playing with his band. I said yes since Crystalic didn't exist and I felt the need to keep up my guitar playing. The music was quite different and little by little I started feeling like something was missing and I really missed composing my own songs. So while I was in that band I started to compose again and did around three songs but I didn't know what I should do with them. I talked with Felipe, who played synths with Crystalic at a few shows, and we decided to set up a project. The material started to sound very Crystalic-like and we were thinking maybe this could be a fresh Crystalic sound. We started searching for other band members and, over time, I left the other band to concentrate on the new Crystalic.
That's pretty much the story. We had really good vibe about doing music again as a complete band. However, it wasn't long before we were headed to line-up problems again.
Luxi: The current line-up of Crystalic has you and bassist Arto Tissari left over from the line-up that recorded the Persistence album. How did you find the other three guys to complete the new Crystalic line-up and what happened to the other ex-members when Crystalic was put on ice in 2011? Are they on ice for good?
Toni: True, but actually Arto left the band again just a little while ago. First, I searched for new members with Felipe. Janne and Marko had played with Felipe in a band called Avenie and we asked if they were interested in playing with us. After Felipe left the band, I found second guitarist (Ville Keinänen) for the line-up. I think all the ex-members have kept doing music with their other bands and I don't think they left for good or anything. I just wanted something new and fresh that, afterwards, turned to be a new Crystalic line-up. It was the right moment to move forward with Crystalic.
Luxi: What are some of the best assets of the new guns in the Crystalic line-up, in your opinion? Let's start this introduction with vocalist Marko Eskola and move from there on, shall we?
Toni: Marko definitely has big role in this line up. He has a really versatile vocal scale and it's hard to find a vocalist who can sing all that kind of stuff. His growl timing is unique in this kind of metal band. Janne gives us opportunities to make faster and more complex songs with his fast and progressive drumming skills. Ville is great guitarist and has a good sense of style to his playing. He also has a good eye for song compositions and gives good ideas how songs could move forward.
Luxi: In January 2013 Crystalic introduced a new song called "Scion," which was only available digitally. How pleased are you with that song and do you think it represents the musical direction that you are going in on your third record?
Toni: I'm still very pleased with that song and I think it still represents our musical direction quite well although the line-up has changed again. It's a bit strange how we manage to keep this sound in these chaotic situations where members leave from time to time. We work with our new songs all the time and keep our minds open for new visions and ideas. We think about every song individually and consider different options on how it can progress by dropping new elements and details into them when we practice. I think we have good composers and every one of us gives their best for each song. We'll have really interesting results for the third album.
Luxi: At the end of August 2014, you introduced another new song, carrying the title "Lila Ruined," which maintains the top-notch quality of Crystalic songs. What could you tell us about this song, its lyrics and how you built it up from just metal "bones"?
Toni: Before we went to the studio, "Lila Ruined" was our newest song and we got the feeling it was a bit different than the other songs. We didn't want to record a basic Crystalic song, by that I mean a mid-tempo track like you can hear on Watch Us Deteriorate. This song had good contrast between the heavy, fast and epic parts and it flowed naturally. Even so, two weeks before recording, we decided to change the chorus. I got the feeling that it needed more space for the vocals and all the guys approved of those changes and we managed to play and record that in the studio, ha ha!! I will let Marko tell more about his thoughtful and philosophical lyrics...
Marko: Lyrically, the "Lila Ruined" song continues an exploration of the same main theme as "Scion." At this point, I don't feel comfortable putting the main theme into words, as the process is alive and changing all the time. "Scion" was about a first grasp on the concept of infinity and finding your own questions. "Lila Ruined" is about the vulnerability of a spiritually lost individual and about the importance of holding on to your own questions. The song also lightly touches on the problems of pantheism but I'm sure I'll get into those later.
Luxi: Undoubtedly your main focus is to get enough songs composed and fully shaped up for Crystalic's third album before you start thinking of entering the studio at some point in 2014, or are we talking about 2015? I can imagine that you won't want to set a strict timetable for when it's time to enter the studio, as the songs will be ready when they are ready. I am sure you are hoping people will respect that.
Toni: You got that right. And it will be some time in 2015. We don't want to set any strict timetables because, as we know, anything can happen, like line-up changes and studio costs, etc. These things are never simple. Basically, we have almost all the material ready except lyrics and vocal arrangements. Marko is working on lyrics and vocals for each song, one at a time. Meanwhile, we are still composing new songs so we will have more options to choose from for the forthcoming album. I hope people will understand and respect this even though it's taking a hell of a lot of time.
Luxi: Do you feel any pressure with this forthcoming opus as to how people will take it? Has any not-so-positive, constructive criticism about Crystalic in the past taught you some things about how you see yourself as a songwriter? Can negative criticism work as a source of fuel and help you try to prove to the whole world that you have done things right?
Toni: Of course there's some pressure, but it is mainly about how long this will take before we get the album finished. I don't think so much about what other people think about the album, at least not at this point. It's not always easy to read negative feedback about music you're doing but you can't please everybody and each person has their own opinion about our music. What remains is that you need to do your own thing honestly and with your heart so you won't fool anyone, not even yourself. Negative criticism can truly work as a fuel for me; it encourages me more to reach my goals and inspires me to make more music.
Luxi: What kind of mindset works best for you whenever something urges you to grab your guitar and start composing new songs? Do you ever feel like you are too focused to see the forest for the trees when you get stuck on some microscopic details in a song?
Toni: Balanced and feeling good is the best state of mind in which to compose music and handle all the feelings I'm filtering through the guitar. I'm focused as a composer and I take lot of time to make sure a song is good enough or if I could do something differently or better. I also try to think of all the other elements of the song and if there is enough space for each one so I might drop something from my guitar tracks. Often I listen to the composition over and over again up to a point when I wake up and realize it's time to go outside and have a little walk in the woods or maybe it's time to go sleep. Sometimes I send the composition to the other guys to get their opinion, if I'm really stuck.
Luxi: What does democracy mean in terms of Crystalic? Do you see it as a problem if there's just one dictator in a band?
Toni: All the band members are equal and everyone's ideas will be heard and tried. We do the final song arrangements together as a band and decide which ideas work best. When it comes to composing, personally I think it's better that one guy does the song structure by himself first and after that the whole band can test out if everything is working. The other members are able to compose songs and give riff ideas as long as the result sounds pure Crystalic.
Luxi: Of course, it's important to get this new Crystalic album recorded at some point but how important will it be to have your songs rehearsed to that point that you just need to enter the studio and record them?
Toni: It's important that we be at the point that we are ready to go to the studio and record the album. Every song that we finish completely is a step closer to our goal and it's kind of a mental burden if we set time limits, but targets are good for motivating us and get things done.
Luxi: How many songs are you aiming to record for this new Crystalic album?
Toni: There will probably be around 9 or 10 songs on the full album.
Luxi: When you started Crystalic way back in 1998 it was obviously Chuck Schuldiner and Death that had a huge influence on your songwriting, something that can be heard on both Watch Us Deteriorate (released in 2007) and Persistence (released in 2010). How much would you say Death has inspired you over the years and even now for the songs on Crystalic's third opus? Do you think that, without Chuck's past work, there might have never been a band like Crystalic?
Toni: Yes indeed! Chuck and Death were huge influences and inspired me to establish Crystalic. To this day I haven't found better band or better songwriter than Chuck. I can say Chuck has inspired me the whole time I have composed music. His music is so unique and far from any trends, styles or rules. I think our new material has not as much Death influence. There are some nuances and guitar parts that are reminiscent of Death but I think our sound has progressed and become more epic. Using keyboards and clean vocals are just a couple of examples of that. Yes, without Chuck's work there was a chance that I wouldn't have founded Crystalic. Chuck's work has helped me keep doing this for so long time and not to give up.
Luxi: Has this "Chuck/Death syndrome" caused you any problems with people accusing you of taking a "shortcut" to get attention for your band by aping classic Death albums?
Toni: it hasn't caused me any problems. Some people have said we are a Death copy band but I know that's not true. And I have always been honest and acknowledged that there is Death influence in our music but we use it more as a flavor and a way to show respect for what Chuck has done for Metal scene. There is a strict line we do not cross so as not to disrespect Chuck's legacy. I'm proud to have a little Death influence in our music and we always will have it.
Luxi: Have you been talking among the band member about suitable candidates to produce the forthcoming Crystalic record?
Toni: We have talked about it and we are not sure yet where we are going to record the album. We have worked with Jussi Kulomaa (MSTR-Studio) on both our albums and both of the "single" songs. Jussi has done great job and he is also one of the guys who has made all the Crystalic releases possible, in many ways. We have also talked about recording just the drums in some studio and then the rest of the stuff by ourselves. We will see. It is a challenging situation in a way as we don't have a label currently so we need to finance it ourselves.
Luxi: Once you have a fistful of new Crystalic songs recorded is one of your goals to approach some record labels to see if there is interest in releasing this next opus? Is one of the options to release the album on your own?
Toni: Yes, we will approach labels and find out if a good one will be interested in releasing our third album. If we don't find an interesting one to release it, I think we'll do the same thing as we did with Persistence and release it ourselves. Even if the labels don't care the fans will get what they deserve.
Luxi: What will happen after that the new album is recorded? Do you see some intense gigging on the horizon to promote the album properly?
Toni: After we release the album I can see us playing several shows to promote it as much as possible. We would like to do that as professionally as possible but we need a booking agency to arrange good shows booking agencies want bands with labels. I hope we find a label and booking agency but if not, we'll try it do it ouselves.
Luxi: Have you set any other goals for this new version of Crystalic?
Toni: I haven't yet. We move step by step and set goals when we have reached existing ones.
Luxi: I can imagine that as motivated and hungry a musician as you undoubtedly are, Crystalic takes up a big part of your life. Do you find it disturbing how much time you have spent with your "baby" creating and composing in the name of Metal? On the other hand, when feeling creative and full of ideas, why not let the Metal flow...
Toni: Sometimes it feels frustrating if I start to think about these things too much and I even think "what is the point of doing this?" Being in the band is a team effort and sometimes I see members leaving because they expect everything to be done and ready for them. One of the problems nowadays is that some people just want to play in as many bands as possible so they can "move ahead" quickly as individuals. Nowadays, it's really rare that musicians are dedicated to one band and put 100% in to it. Ultimately, this is the thing I do and where I put my creativity and ideas so why not express it and record albums with the band. As long as I have energy the Metal will flow.
Luxi: I am sure Cyrstalic is aiming to be known for their own unique sound so how do you see the band separating from other Metal bands?
Toni: I think and hope that we sound a bit different. We have always kept our sound. Our strength is that we have a versatile sound with a good contrast between heavy and epic parts and we sound real. Maybe that's the thing we haven't changed so much although we have been in situations where a label has said that if we change this, they would sign us. We have kept our sound rather than change our style for the label. It's really sad that labels have the power to change a band's unique sound just to try to sell more records. It's not all bad to be independent and unsigned.
Luxi: Thank you for your time Toni and I wish you all the best with Crystalic. May your road be smooth and less bumpy. The closing words/commentary are yours...
Toni: Thank you! It was my pleasure and thank you for the interview. I really hope you, as well as us, don't have to wait much longer. We'll keep the Metal flowing and try our best! See ya everyone!
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