Interview with Judas Avenger
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: February 23, 2018
Judas Avenger is a relatively new and promising Finnish Heavy Metal band that has a lot cooking in their kitchen. The band never stops amazing us musically, changing styles like a chameleon changing its colors constantly and without warning. Their second album, simply titled JA (we can guess what those letters stand for, right?) caught the interest of The Metal Crypt so we decided to find out more about the band's history and the fellows were more than eager to share their thoughts about the band, among other...
Luxi: First off, thanks for accepting my interview request. How's it freezing in Pori as I write this...?
Pekka: Honestly, I can't tell. Haha. We've been in Vaasa since February 2017. Judas Avenger was born in Pori though. In Finland it's always basically the same - bad weather everywhere you go!
Luxi: Judas Avenger was formed in 2015 so is a new force to be reckoned with in the Finnish Metal scene. What's the band's strategy to be different from other bands on our home turf? No need to write a novel though...
Pekka: Experience. Independence. High work ethic. We focus on the work and we don't expect someone else to do it for us. Every year has its own plan and we plan to stick to it. This is a long road and you need lots of patience to keep it together. There's no trick to it. Just work.
Luxi: In my eyes your band seems to be relatively active in terms of songwriting. Would you say you have many songwriters with many ideas, making it possible for you to come up with lots of new material?
Pekka: Yes. The door is open to everyone when it comes to composing together as a band, under certain rules, of course. We do have to be open-minded, especially when we talk about metal genres, which are more than 40 years old now. If the song's good, there's no limit to what we can do with it. The basic idea of this band is to be open to new and old ideas.
Luxi: Toni, how do you see your own role in the band? Do you see yourself as someone who inspires others in the band to get the best results?
Toni: In Judas Avenger I'm a lead guitar player and I play the majority of the solos. However, the guitars are based on tight teamwork with Janne. We both have the responsibility of rhythm playing and melodies. Some say it's a powerful duo. I also composed of a couple of the new songs on our upcoming album so I have my influence on the musical content. I believe that expressing your loyalty and diligence to the whole band and the music we play encourages and motivates the other musicians.
Luxi: Teemu, you are responsible for the skin banging. Do you try to challenge your fellow musicians with your songwriting ideas? I assume you are not the kind of a guy who simply follows what your fellow musicians tell you to do or am I mistaken?
Teemu: I always try to come up with something original and creative when it comes to drum patterns and rhythmic ideas, but I also try to figure out what the song needs. If the song sounds good with only a simple beat, then that is what I play. Sometimes the other guys have ideas for what should happen on the drums and it's not a problem for me to do what I´m told. If the idea is good, it doesn't matter where it comes from. But on the other hand, I don't keep it to myself if I think something could be done better.
ABOUT FINDING THE RIGHT FEEL
Luxi: Pekka, you are known as a guy who can perform little miracles by stretching your vocal capacity in many directions depending on the mood of a song. Are you always secure in your vocal talents that you can basically pull off anything, no matter how a song is structured?
Pekka: I like to think outside the box and yeah, of course, I'm an educated singer who has a degree as well. That still doesn't tell you anything, does it? Basically, I start to see different atmospheres in my head when I hear a song without a melody line and there's just the basic structure. I just start to do my own thing which is based upon different singing techniques.
The first step is always "the feel". If you don't have it, you are screwed, even if you sing correctly. You need to "feel" strong first, before you start to sing and then you need good lyrics, of course. That requires lots of thought at first and lots of singing muscles when you actually start to sing. This is the case in metal anyway. Everything in Metal is about attitude and energy and then comes everything else (lyrics, melody, power, variations etc.) Always. Heavy Metal is real (and very non-commercial) and as raw as music can get, so you have to be true to yourself to do it correctly!
Luxi: You have been involved with many other projects/bands besides Judas Avenger. Where does this band rate in terms of challenges? Does J.A. offer you a perfect platform to improvise and be really creative or is it just another opportunity to keep things exciting and interesting?
Pekka: I started this band in 2015 because I was fed up with everything that was going on back then with the previous band I was in. I needed to form my own band. I felt the time was right.
I wanted to start a band that really moves forward and at the same time will do its homework to grow stronger because the truth is that 99% of the small bands are lazy and slow as fuck! Sorry, but that's how it goes. It's REALLY hard to find dedicated people these days and I've learned that with this band too. I don't know a specific reason for that, but I sure have experienced it on many levels with some of my previous bands! So, that's why I started Judas Avenger and everyone who knows me, knows that I'm truly a hard-working man when it comes to music! I will give but I also want things in return. That's how it goes. The members of this band have to be true to themselves. This isn't a band for wankers. You do your work or you don't. It's simple as that. Dedication. The rules are the same for everyone and if you blow all the time, you will be kicked out. It's the same story in every other decent band out there - no pain, no gain! DO OR DIE!
Luxi: Do you see Rob Halford as a sort of a vocal tutor? I mean, at times you sound deceptively like Rob, especially those high notes...
Pekka: Rob Halford, Eric Adams, Bruce Dickinson, Graham Bonnet, Geoff Tate and Jon Oliva. The Metal Masters...
Actually, I was touring with Graham Bonnet last year when I was doing my part as a "hired gun" in a Finnish band called Wishing Well. We were opening for Graham's band and we shared the same hotels, etc. We played in Finland a couple of times (4 gigs) and then we toured in Sweden and in Norway (7 gigs all in all). It was fun all the way and Graham is truly a gentleman! Down to earth.
Wishing Well actually recorded one song with Graham and the song is called "Hippie Heart, Gypsy Soul" and you can find it on YouTube or Spotify. Go check it out! It's like going back to the early Michael Schenker-era! It rocks!
Luxi: The band's second album, simply titled JA, introduces a darker sound compared to your self-titled debut. Why did the band start to incorporate darker colors on this release?
Pekka: We wanted to experience the dark way of doing things and at the same time we wanted to let off some steam. It was all about hurting people.
I can't even listen the whole damn album from start to finish because it's just too painful. There's a true evil spirit inside that album. It is darkness in its meanest level you can get. I'm happy we can now move forward. Still, this record just needed to be done. That's about it. You love it, or you fear it.
MASTER OF ALL EVILNESS
Luxi: This release introduced two songs that were sung entirely in Finnish. What made you decide to experiment with your mother language? Were you afraid of switching from English to Finnish, not knowing how your fans would react?
Pekka: You mean the songs "Tuhoaja (part 1 & 2)"? We wanted to make a rude statement. The song is about the Finnish government and arrogant Finnish politics and deals with society's perverse fascination to self-destruct! They (and some of us!) want to destroy our nation and then they want to take credit and even brag about it! That's what modern civilization is built upon these days in Finland anyways. It's like some Orwellian nightmare we are living in at the moment! There's beauty in it too, at least in some sick levels. The rich vs. the poor. The law of the jungle. All hail America?
I have to give some credit to Juha Sipilä (the current Finnish Prime Minister – Luxi) for being very successful at destroying things here and there. He truly is the "Master of All Evil". A job well done. Hats off.
"Tuhoaja" is a song about corruption, slavery, destruction and death.
Luxi: You mentioned to me that the band is going to concentrate on making more melodic Metal for the next couple of years. Would you shed some light on these comments?
Pekka: Yep. I now sing in the style of Geoff Tate and Michael Kiske (fully clean, head-voice style) and therefore we have changed our style to a more sophisticated and more melodic style. The next two albums are planned to be more 80s power metal influenced, in the vein of old Queensrÿche and Yngwie Malmsteen. I believe this band has done pretty much about everything that it can do with it's rough expression (EP in 2015 and JA in 2017) so it's time to turn the page once again and do something new. Judas Avenger is not about one Heavy Metal style. It's about doing what we want. Then comes everything else. Always.
Luxi: Besides Judas Avenger you have also been involved with other bands like Ruins of Humanity and Slivers of Silence, among others. It's not unusual to play in many different bands nowadays, but can you can really be fully 100% committed to all of these bands that you are a member of? Are some "hobby bands", more or less if you know what I mean?
Stefan: For me it's always all about 100% commitment. You'll have to do the job to move forward. Judas Avenger is about doing things to their full potential. When I'm not working (day job) or doing bands, I just like to hang out with my lovely girlfriend or go ice fishing.
Luxi: How much faith do you have that Judas Avenger will become a band to be reckoned with in the worldwide Metal scene? You all know the potential in this band, don't you?
Teemu: I have a lot of faith in this. We have a great team. Although it's a new group, we work together extremely well. And of course, we have great songs and Janne and Toni are constantly coming up with new ones.
Janne: From the very first steps this band took in 2015, it has succeeded in "delivering the goods" as one might say. I have witnessed this personally when I've attended Avenger gigs in the front row banging my head. And now I'm in the band. I've known Pekka for more than a decade and I know that when he puts a band together, he means business. And I don't talk about money now. Haha...
I think there is a demand for bands like ours. We don't want to be a "blast from the past", no. But we all love old-school Heavy Metal and it shows. You can hear the influences in the earlier songs Pekka and Ville wrote. With this new line-up there's also going to be a touch of 80s Heavy Metal but at the same time still modern. And our new lead guitarist, Toni Ojanen is going to melt faces when he gets fired up. He's a technical beast!
In my opinion, many of the newer Metal bands disappear among the masses. And that's what we don't want to happen to us.
NEW, MORE MELODIC DIRECTION SHAPING UP
Luxi: What will be the band's next steps for 2018?
Janne: Well, we're going to do gigs, of course. Pekka has been booking us wherever possible and I've honestly lost track when and where all our gigs are taking place. A lot has been going on behind the scenes. Or I'm just getting old... Haha. But I'm really happy about it. It keeps the band on the move.
We also have plans to record a new album. I've been writing new material since February 2017 when Pekka contacted me and asked if I'd like to join Judas Avenger. But I'm not going to be wholly blamed for the new material because other band members write music, too. Pekka writes all the lyrics and all the melodies for the vocals, of course. The new material will be more melodic than before. The next album is going to be very different from the JA album which was pretty much Marco's (the band's producer and studio guitarist on the JA album) and Pekka's handwork.
But we're not going mainstream. No. Never.
Luxi: The Finnish Metal scene has become a big thing over the last 2 decades with many internationally successful acts, from Nightwish to C.o.B. to Wintersun. Why do you think things have gone this way? Do we have something special in our drinking water or is it all in our Slavic DNA that we have this inborn tendency to churn out heavy, often so melancholic Metal anthems for the masses? Or perhaps we should thank our mothers for breastfeeding us long enough? Eh, what do you think?
Teemu: I think the recipe for success is the delicate balance of the Finnish weather, inborn pessimism, bottled-up emotions and the incredible stubbornness that, in the hands of the right individuals, manifests in the form of music. And the need to be better than the Swedes, of course.
THE SURVIVAL GROUND PORI
Luxi: Do you see Pori and the surrounding areas where you live as a healthy breeding ground for quality Metal bands and do you find a unity or brotherhood among fellow metal heads?
Pekka: I am the only one (the founding member) left from the Pori-era (2015-2016), where all this Heavy Metal madness began with Judas Avenger! Haha!
Pori is a town which is slowly dying I'm afraid and it was a really close call that this band would have died in Pori too! It is very hard place to get along because the town itself is full of problems, to put it nicely, and there aren't many hungry metal musicians either, to be honest. There are still a few metal heads left to keep up the flame. The new members of OZ live in Pori, for example. I knew them all. Nice blokes. They have a good thing going now with Pekka Mark (the only founding member of OZ) and I wish them all the best.
So, anyway, Judas Avenger and I moved away from Pori because things didn't work out as planned and since when I moved away from there, everything (in general) has been going really, really well. I'm very grateful for the town of Vaasa and for this line-up for helping me keep it all together. The band is doing fine and it's growing once again. Fast...
Luxi: I only know that Rock Bar Monttu in Pori, Finland, is an active venue where Metal gigs are arranged. Are there some other venues in your town that are known for Metal gigs?
Pekka: I actually booked gigs (among many other things) in Rock Bar Monttu for a short while in 2016 when I was living there.
I'm afraid that the bar is slowly dying too because as you may have heard, people don't go the bars to see local bands anymore. There are just too many fucking posers out there! Haha! Seriously, the bands should go to see each other's shows and bond more together. That's how the scene was in the past, but as I said, I guess there are just too many posers and rubbish Metal acts everywhere. It is sad. Times do change. For smaller bars and smaller bands, it's a bummer but I'm not complaining because we're doing pretty well at the moment. I'm grateful, to be honest.
Luxi: Is getting gigs for Judas Avenger a lot of hard work of is it something you don't have to worry about too as you have a booking agency behind you?
Pekka: We do them wisely. It's not rocket science but you have to be very careful these days because times aren't like they used to be, at least not in Finland. A bad bar is always a bad bar and a bad gig is always a bad gig in a bad bar! So, what's the catch? We've taken part in festival competitions and we've done lots of other things like that. We've won a few times, so I guess we're on a roll?!? First Nummirock, now Kaaosfest; time will tell. Basic pub gigs are a thing that we don't want to do too often because we aren't playing "Sweet Home Alabama" to drunken rednecks... Haha! We are a fucking HEAVY METAL BAND and we play in music clubs, stages and festivals. Otherwise this kind of music won't work fully and that's the truth! There's nothing cocky about that.
Luxi: I guess that's it for now. I want to sincerely thank all of you for your time to make this interview happen and all the best with all the future endeavors with the band. The last comments are for you...
Pekka: Go to the gigs and support your local bands! Pay the ticket! Be open-minded and your life will be much richer! Live your life full and be strong! Heavy Metal!
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