Interview with vocalist Jarkko Koukonen
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: October 22, 2017
Bloodred Hourglass (or just B.R.H.G.) is a melodic Thrash/Death Metal band from Finland that has slowly been making a name for themselves since starting out back in 2005. The band's first two albums, Lifebound (2012) and Where the Oceans Burn (2015) were well received among metal fans around the world but now they are ready to sink bigger ships and enslave more people with their newest album, Heal (set to be released on October 20, 2017, on Ranka Kustannus).
The Metal Crypt contacted the band and vocalist Jarkko Koukonen took the opportunity to reveal more about their future plans to The Metal Crypt...
Luxi: First off, thanks for accepting my request to interview you...
Jarkko: Thanks to you! Judging by the number of questions, I'm happy to finally get a chance to dive deep into a proper interview!
Luxi: I am sure many aren't familiar with the history of Bloodred Hourglass so could you give us a short history lesson?
Jarkko: Well it all started as a "not that serious, having a good time with friends" type of action-filled thing back in 2005. It's been a few shitty demos and three albums since the start. It's only these last few years, since our last album Where the Oceans Burn, when things started going the way they should have since day one. Before this album, it was all about growing up musically, reaching the required skill level and finding our own sound.
Luxi: Mikkeli is a relatively small town and municipality in Finland, located in the province of Eastern Finland. Was it easy to find like-minded people to form Bloodred Hourglass when you started out back in 2005?
Jarkko: I've always wanted to tell the full story so now I just have to do it. It was some time in the 90s when my parents and our lead guitar player Antti's parents used to go boating to lake Saimaa. We were basically forced to go there too, being irritating youngsters you couldn't leave home alone in that age. I became really good friends with Antti during those childhood years but it all kind of faded when we grew up and stopped going there.
In junior high we were classmates and 1n the same band class with our drummer Jarkko and we both actually played drums a little at the time. I even had a few drum lessons when I was a kid. When the "grand final" of the course was closing in and we had to choose the instruments for the show before spring break, he got the drums. There was really nothing other than a triangle left to pick, besides a vocalist. The teacher asked me if I could sing so I tried. It was a song by Finnish band Apulanta called "Käännä Se Pois". The whole thing was a success, being something completely new in our school at the time, and we had to play it again and again in every single event after that one show. The next year we both attended the same band course again and after that I first started screaming on "One Step Closer" by Linkin Park. Rest in peace Chester and thanks for the inspiration.
There were mixed line-ups and bands going on through the following years with nothing really serious, but both of us, the two Jarkko's, stayed together in every one of them. Then I somehow met up with Antti again and he had become serious with the guitar. This guy mastered every single Children of Bodom song from rhythms to leads and solos without a single mistake. I was so blown away I immediately knew that we had to start something heavier together. Our now former guitarist Ilkka was on board and our bass player Jose was doing vocals and guitar in this Death/Black band full of weirdos I was scared of. When we first met I thought he was cool and would fit in. Now we had a bass player and the line-up was complete, full of good guys, full of my long-time and new friends. There were a few member changes on the guitar and we were even working as a four-piece act for a period of time after the first album. Then a guy we all knew, Lauri made this amateur mistake and moved to Mikkeli after a girl at the same time we needed a new guitarist. We asked and he handled the duties very well from the beginning. This is where we stand currently.
Luxi: B.R.H.G. started as a Thrash-orientated band with some Death Metal overtones here and there. This applies to your debut album Lifebound, which was released on Spinefarm Records in 2012. Since that album, the band started incorporating more melo-Death Metal elements. Why the change?
Jarkko: I can't really recall any specific event or factor that would have changed the sound but we had some conversations about making a darker and more melancholic album with the next one. "Of Regret, Fear & Forgiveness" was and still is my absolute favourite track from Lifebound and somehow I personally felt like I wanted to do more of that type of sound. We grew out of all the Hardcore stuff that we still had with us at this point and I feel this was a decision that made our band a lot more convincing, artistic and classy. Like it or not.
Luxi: Why were you dropped by Spinefarm Records after your debut album?
Jarkko: There was a lot going on at the label at the time. They had some major changes in their management and basically every single band that had not gone international at the time was cut off the roster. We had a single album deal with an option to do another one and they were thinking of what to do with us until the very last minute. Unfortunately, we had to go in the end. Our debut didn't sell like crazy but, on the other hand, it didn't fail either. It just wasn't enough at the time. We are still good friends with everyone at Spinefarm and there is absolutely no bad blood. It's business and I understand their decision.
Luxi: In the early days, you obviously had your own inspirations, idols and stuff that helped you cement the band's musical direction. How would you say you have refined B.R.H.G.'s sound over the years? Do you believe you can safely stick to the sound that you have now or do you want to keep a "wild card" in your pocket as far as the band's musical direction is concerned?
Jarkko: Well, in my case, it all started from Randy Blythe and Robb Flynn, two of the coolest dudes ever and I think they are definitely still there in the back of my vocal sound. Nowadays it's artists from Anaal Nathrakh via Ruelle to Jenni Vartiainen that I get the most inspiration for my vocal arrangements, so for me the variety of influences has grown tremendously. Anders from In Flames has been a vocalist I have always loved during all these years and I must say he is still a huge inspiration for me. All of us have roots in Metal but we also listen and get inspiration from many different genres. It's hard to see B.R.H.G. going into something very different from this style, I think we have found our signature sound and personally I would like to keep it pretty close to this. Of course you always want to develop it and bring new nuances but I'm pretty sure in general we will stay just as Metal as today.
Luxi: Have you heard any "ugly references" to Children of Bodom and people badmouthing B.R.H.G. as a C.o.B. clone?
Jarkko: I have never run into any really ugly references or comments about our band and I'm actually very surprised how nice and positive people have always been in their comments and feedback. When it comes to C.o.B., like I said before, it definitely has had a huge impact to B.R.H.G.'s sound but the way I see and hear it, there is so much more than that.
Luxi: Heal is the band's third album and even though I have only heard snippets here and there, it all sounds like your strongest album to date. Can you tell us about the songwriting process for Heal?
Jarkko: Antti is the main man behind our songs and his songwriting process is fairly simple; grab the guitar and see what comes out. He does a demo version of a song and we comment on whether or not we like it and if it will work with my vocal arrangement/production process. I don't think there was or ever has been any pressure or stress involved because we build our own timetable. We all know what we are capable of these days and we also had a massive amount of songs to select from for this new album.
Luxi: How did you end up on Ranka Kustannus and what are some of your expectations about working with the label?
Jarkko: We approached a few labels we thought could have something to give. Ranka Kustannus is a small label but it's run by Riku Pääkkönen, who was the founder of Spinefarm Records back in their "golden era" when people still used to buy records. You can basically blame this guy for taking names like Nightwish or Children of Bodom to world fame. Obviously, when this type of expertise answers our e-mail and says the band has potential, we are into it. All the small details fell into place during later discussions and the co-op has been going well so far, even though he is a really busy man at times.
Luxi: Did you have any other options as far as your hunt for labels was concerned?
Jarkko: We had a few options, yes, but it was pretty clear where we would be going.
Luxi: Do you think it is better to work with a smaller and more dedicated label than some major label that has hundreds of different bands and artists on the roster?
Jarkko: Well I think it's every band's dream to get signed by Nuclear Blast or some big label like that. Then again, you will have to fight for your spot against the biggest artists in the world and it's safe to assume that it's no bed of roses either.
Luxi: Have some of you gotten more involved with the songwriting or has it basically stayed the same since you started the band back in 2005?
Jarkko: It's still very much the same. Antti is the main composer and I mainly write the lyrics, though our drummer Jarkko has taken on a bigger role on Heal in the lyrics section.
Luxi: Obviously the chemistry in the band couldn't be any better as you have already recorded 3 albums with the same line-up and undoubtedly you have learned to understand and tolerate each other better as time has passed, correct?
Jarkko: Well it's definitely not always a bed of roses here, either, nor is it the carefree way it was at the early stages. I think this is the point where you want to see some results after all the effort and dedication. We all have sacrificed a lot and sometimes there might be a little frustration involved. There is still good chemistry so we do manage just fine altogether.
Luxi: What are each member's strongest individual assets as a part of this unit known as B.R.H.G.?
Antti - pure music production
Jarkko H - timetable management
Jose - merchandise management
Lauri - international connections
Me - visual aspects & keeping the shit together
Luxi: You shot a video for the song "Quiet Complaint" off this new record. What made you pick up this particular song for the video and can you tell us about the video itself?
Jarkko: It's the opening track of the album and it's simply the most obvious single track from the album. We didn't have an " only the band playing" video and it was time to have one with a quality production. There are some cool Stanley Kubrick custom-made lenses used in this one and I personally really like the outcome, I think it's stylish.
Luxi: Was making the "Quiet Complaint" video a no-brainer and did you want to get a video out to promote the album to the masses? Eye-catching and professionally shot videos are really a great tool for promoting your band, right?
Jarkko: I'm not sure how much everyone really gives a shit about videos these days but I personally do. I'm one of those guys who might watch a cool video a few times in a row only because of the eye candy. Take a song called "Gravity" by Architects, for example; it has a live-shot video with an awesome cinematography. It's another way you can express yourself and your artistic side outside of the music. I really enjoy everything that's visual and obviously enjoy these productions, too. It's still the biggest calling card for any band if you ask me.
Luxi: What are some of your personal expectations for Heal when it officially hits the stores and is available for metal heads on different audio platforms? I bet you have already managed to build up a pretty good fan base around the band since you entered the melo-Death Metal realm in your early days...
Jarkko: I hope it takes us to the next level and gains more exposure. It's always hard to say how good it really is and how the reaction will be but it's a great record and I can truly stand behind it. Where the Oceans Burn did a really good job building our fanbase and claimed a lot of new listeners and I feel it's hard to see anyone not liking Heal if they liked that album. Things are much the same, with fresh songs and just enough new twists to keep everyone interested.
Luxi: Are you aiming to get a club tour arranged for domestic venues after Heal is out? How about the summer festival season of 2018?
Jarkko: We will start in January and play four shows with Harakiri for the Sky and then continue on our own the following weekends. There will be some sort of European tour during the spring that is currently under construction and I'm really hopeful we will also have some festival shows in 2018.
Luxi: Lastly, is there anything else people should know about the band? If so, feel free to kill their curiosity because that was all from me. I want to sincerely thank you for your time to get this interview done Jarkko and may the power and the glory be with your band in the future as well.
Jarkko: The greatest of all curiosity lately has been, when and where you can pre-order the new Heal album and just as I write this I'm happy to finally receive an e-mail with a link to do that. Here you go: www.recordshopx.com/artist/bloodredðhourglass/heal
Many thanks, it was my pleasure. Also, thanks for reading everyone!
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