Interview with guitarists Anton Kabanen and Kasperi Heikkinen
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: March 4, 2018
Live pictures taken by Luxi Lahtinen
Thanks to Silke Yli-Sirniö of Tough Enough Promotion for setting up the interview
When songwriter and guitarist Anton Kabanen was fired from Battle Beast in February 2015, it was unexpected. Fans of Battle Beast knew Anton had always been the driving force behind the band. The band was enjoying a lot of success at the time so obviously the floor vanished under Mr. Kabanen's feet. Anton made a statement soon after stating he would return to the limelight sooner or later with a completely new band.
And he did. Beast in Black was born with five skilled and talented musicians who were determined to show what they were made of. Anton found Yannis Papadopoulos, the band's singer, on the internet by accident and he already knew the rest of the musicians that he wanted to hire. The band played its first gig at the end of 2015, supporting Nightwish in Finland. Things then started to snowball for Beast in Black. Anton put a bunch of songs together relatively quickly and after a short while, the band inked a worldwide deal with Nuclear Blast Records and went on tour with W.A.S.P. in Europe. Unfortunately, the tour ended for B.i.B. after only four shows.
The band's debut album Berserker, was released at the beginning of November 2017 and has been doing well so far (in Finland it climbed to #7 on the country's official album chart list a week of its release, quite an accomplishment for any new band that has just put out their debut album).
The Metal Crypt met up the band's guitarists, Anton and Kasperi in Helsinki just a few hours prior to the band's second headlining show at the sold-out venue Nosturi (a culture and music hall and a nightclub). Besides chatting about the making of Berserker, many other topics were covered as well including singer Yannis' wide vocal range, the symbolism of the band's debut album, touring plans, the making of a follow-up album and so on.
Luxi: Welcome to this chat, fellows, it's a pleasure to meet you. Yesterday you had a sold-out show in Jyväskylä, Finland and I heard tonight's show is completely sold-out here in Helsinki. Is this something you could get used to, playing sold-out shows everywhere in the world?
Anton: Now that's a good question. Hopefully we won't get used to this so much so that we lose the fire burning inside us to do this. It's kind of flattering that people are into our band so much.
Kasperi: To be honest there's nothing to brag about yet. These two shows are our first headlining shows and I am glad they both sold-out, of course. Let's just say this is definitely a good start for us.
Luxi: What kind of feelings did the gig that you played last night leave you with?
Anton: Very good I must say.
Kasperi: Indeed. I agree. People greeted us well and were really responsive. I have nothing to complain about and am hoping we'll experience something similar tonight. We truly had a blast yesterday.
THE TRUE BEAST IS BACK
Luxi: It's been a positive ride for you guys considering Beast in Black was formed just recently in 2015 and many cool things have already happened. Would you say some of your wildest dreams have come true in this short period of time?
Anton: Yes, you could say at least some of our wildest dreams have become reality. For example, closing a deal with Nuclear Blast Records was on the top of our wish list. Naturally getting such a good response to our first single and album feels absolutely overwhelming and heart-warming. This was something none of us honestly expected; not us, not our label or management. It all just happened and feels very good, of course! In addition to all that, our first two headlining gigs here in Finland are completely sold out. It all feels good and we know we are perhaps doing some things right. I cannot wait what for what lies ahead, like tours and festival appearances.
Even getting the support slot on the W.A.S.P. tour at the end of October last year was unique in some sense. It didn't last too long unfortunately, but I believe it still gave us some extra visibility as a band, which is always a positive thing.
Luxi: Yes, I read what happened on that tour. Well, I am sure you are sick and tired of explaining the whole episode so let's talk about Rhapsody's 20th-anniversary tour, which is supposed to be the band's farewell tour, I believe. How did you end up joining this tour?
Anton: If I remember correctly, our bassist Máté Molnár came up with the idea and suggested it to our management. Things just started developing from there and it was a no-brainer for us to jump on this tour with them.
Luxi: Basically, you checked with your management to see if this tour was something worth doing, both financially and otherwise?
Anton: Yes. You don't get offered opportunities like this too often so you don't hesitate too long. You look at it from every possible angle to see if it's worth doing or not. You never take anything for granted; you need to be alert and active all the time to get the right gig opportunities and just work hard. When the door is ajar, simply kick it wide open for yourself.
Luxi: Do you know the Rhapsody guys, or will they be new acquaintances when you join this tour?
Anton: For me they are a completely new group of guys to play with. I have seen a couple of Luca Turilli's guitar videos, but I guess that cannot be counted, can it, haha!
Kasperi: I have never met the guys of Rhapsody either, but I remember when I was younger I grabbed their first album some 20 years ago or so and it hit me pretty hard. Also, the band has changed quite a lot over the years, not to talk about the band's a pretty "colourful" history. Rhapsody, Luca Turilli's Rhapsody, Rhapsody of Fire... Well, you know what I mean.
Anton: Now they have this original Rhapsody reunion going on...
Kasperi: Yes, they do and as I understand, it's almost the entire original Rhapsody line-up.
Luxi: It's the band's reunion and farewell tour so to speak...
Kasperi: Well, there's been quite a few farewell tours over the past years, so let's see. Never say never... ;o)
ABOUT HAVING THE RIGHT ROCK ATTITUDE
Luxi: Atte Palokangas (Agonizer, Thunderstone etc.) in the newest member in your ranks. How did he end up joining the band?
Kasperi: We needed a drummer for the tour in October with W.A.S.P. and I believe we had 4 drummers to choose from.
Anton: Yes, we got four or five suggestions, well perhaps just four, from one of our friends and started asking who would be available. It was Atte who was the one to jump on this tour with us. We did those four W.A.S.P. shows with him and after those shows we did a "Beyond the Black" tour, containing nine shows altogether. Quite soon we also realized we had made the right choice and Atte was hired as the band's permanent drummer. He was a perfect replacement for Sami (Hänninen) who was a great drummer besides being a really nice guy. Sami had to step aside due to personal reasons, about which he made a long statement on our Facebook page.
I am happy that we chose Atte because he just feels like the right guy to play drums in the band. Our chemistries match well; his mentality is right, his playing skills are great and his passion to be a part of this band plus understanding our priorities all clicked perfectly. The thing is that you can never reach anything big unless everyone in a band is 100% committed. I can tell you right off the bat that every one of us wants this band to become a big thing someday, of course!
Kasperi: Indeed. Having the right motivation and enough "rock attitude" is what this band needs and I believe all of us has that. After the first rehearsals and gigs with Atte we were all convinced that we had found the right guy behind the drum kit. We didn't look further than that, we just moved on to ask him if he was interested in joining the band. Happily, he said, "why not?"
Luxi: And everything has worked out as smoothly as you hoped?
Kasperi: Yes. No complaints. He was a perfect choice for us.
Anton: He was such an excellent choice indeed. I just can't think of a better guy for the job.
Luxi: So you could say everyone is on the same page in the band?
Kasperi: Yes, absolutely! We are all working hard with the band, of course, but not so seriously so that it would feel like a routine for us.
ABOUT THE JAPANESE FANS, MANGA AND ANIME CULTURE
Luxi: I noticed what you have the Suomi Feast coming up in Japan at the end of May this year, playing three shows in three different cities along with such Finnish Metal names as Turisas, Mors Subita and so on. I understand Berserker has been doing pretty well in the land of the Rising Sun...
Anton: To be honest I really don't have much in the way of expectations regarding Japan, BUT in the very same breath I must admit it feels so great that we already have an opportunity to travel and play there. It's just incredible to think that it's been less than three months since our debut album came out and now we are getting prepared to play in such a distant country as Japan.
Kasperi: We already know that the Japanese Heavy Metal fans are quite different from the rest of the world; their mentality is actually much different from what we have here in Europe for example. They seem to be more fanatic and passionate about the stuff they dig and they really are quite different as far as this whole Heavy Metal culture is concerned.
I have been in Japan a few times and based on my experience with the fans over there, it has become one of my favorite countries over the years. I am very excited to play there again. Hopefully, we'll be received well in Japan as Beast in Black.
Anton: I forgot to mention that as many of our songs contain references to Japanese manga and anime culture, I am certain our Japanese fans pay close attention to those details. They always spot the tiny details in a song, especially when it's somehow related to their manga and anime culture. I remember when I was in Japan the first time with my ex-band, doing our very first gig there, after the show the fans came to us and gave us gifts that had some connection to some of our songs with this manga theme. It was such an overwhelming experience. In Europe, nothing like this has ever happened to me. Well, except one time, which happened in Vienna, Austria. However, Japanese fans truly seem to dig even deeper, finding all the specific details in the songs, which I respect.
Luxi: They do their homework better than, let's say, the European fans...
Kasperi: Take for example, guitar magazines published in Japan; they put a lot of effort in going into details, adding all kinds of specific diagrams and such things, into the content. It's unbelievable how detailed they can be, analyzing things like no one else in this world. I need to take my hat off for all their efforts to go so deep into specific details. It certainly takes a lot of time, passion, dedication and effort to be able to create something as detailed as they do over there. Amazing people.
Luxi: I couldn't help noticing that B.i.B. has been booked for many festivals this year and here in Finland you already have 11 or so festival gigs booked thus far. All this helps you gain more visibility and it's also a good promotion for the band. Do you feel like you might want to push the brake pedal so that the band doesn't get overbooked, making some of these festivals less fun to do?
Anton: No, not at all. Full steam ahead.
Kasperi: I strongly agree. Now it's time for us to show our faces in as many places as possible, and it's a great thing for us that this summer looks relatively busy for us. I would rather go onstage to play for our fans than do nothing.
Luxi: Do you feel like you have a suitable number of activities for this summer?
Anton: You could say that. Also, while we are concentrating on this summer's festival shows, we can also work with the songs for our follow-up album. In other words, we hardly have any free time during this summer. When we aren't playing, we will be working with the new stuff for the next album. In fact, we will start working with our new material during the Rhapsody tour. For me, doing gigs and being on tour and composing material for the band are not separate things. I feel like we should be able to work with our new stuff while being on tour.
YANNIS' VOICE IS A GIFT
Luxi: Many fans are admiring Yannis Papadopoulos' vocal range, saying that he's a true gift to your band. I suppose his wide range gives you a certain freedom to compose all kinds of material for him without worrying if he's able to sing it.
Anton: That's all true. On this debut of ours, we had quite a lot of material in which Yannis used quite high pitch vocals. We know what he's capable of doing but do not necessarily want him to sing 3-4 songs in a row with high-pitched screams as we don't really want to repeat the same formula over and over again. It's great that he's able to sing ballads with a lower tone in his voice and we are really lucky to have him in the band.
When we were recording our debut, I asked Yannis from time to time if he could reach a certain high note. It was actually very helpful and fruitful for both of us to get to know what he can do and what not because all this helped me to pay more attention to his whole vocal range. Now that I have become familiar with his vocal range, it's easier for me to compose songs for him. I have been talking with Yannis quite a lot actually about specific details regarding his vocal register because the more I become familiar with his voice, the easier it will be for me to produce his vocals on our follow-up album.
I know by now that he can basically do everything vocally what he wants to do but it's wise to do some research on which areas he feels comfortable with so he will sound natural and not forced. I want him to break out of his comfort zone from time to time because there should be this aggressive Rock 'n Roll and Heavy Metal vibe in our songs. If we don't get this aggressive element in his vocal delivery, we would probably end up sounding like some sort of Schlager-music group, haha!
Kasperi: Keeping in mind that vocals are just one instrument among other instruments. Of course, it helps that Yannis has such a wide vocal register, which provides a lot of freedom to compose stuff. I think people rarely actually think about what Anton just told you as a composer, whether he has composed the kind of a song that also fits Yannis' voice. Composers of music don't work that way in most of the cases, they just compose whatever they feel like composing, without thinking too much if their singers are able to pull it off or not.
ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE TO HAVE A CARING MANAGEMENT
Luxi: You are currently working with Till Dawn They Count, Ltd., the management company run by Ewo Pohjola and Toni Peiju who also take care of bands like Nightwish and Sonata Arctica. How did you end up working with them?
Anton: Actually, they started talking to us first, asking if we would be interested in working with them. In fact, I have known Ewo (Pohjola) quite some time so it was really easy to accept their offer, knowing the pro work they have done for their other bands.
Luxi: What about your deal with this old German gig booking agency Contra Promotion then that's been around since 1993 and sells about a half thousand gigs annually around Europe. Did you find them, or did your management have their fingers on this one, too?
Anton: Yes, they have done a lot for us to get us these gigs booked lately, setting up things with both Contra Promotion and Fullstream for us. That's the reason why having this management deal with Till Dawn They Count, Ltd. is so crucial, taking care of things we really wouldn't have any time for as a band, such as negotiating deals and stuff like that. I am so happy with how things are standing for us at the moment.
Kasperi: It's really important to us that we have a pro team working with us; the management, the gig agencies/promoters and so on. I mean, it really doesn't matter at the end of the day how good and skilled your band is or how good your music is unless you have the right people around you. The business side is as equally important as let's say, a band featuring a bunch of skilled and pro musicians. It's just a simple fact; if you don't have those professional people around you that make things happen, you don't go anywhere. That's just a cold fact.
Luxi: Yes, I hear you. Besides, in this day and age, only a few bands can achieve recognition in a long run if the business side isn't on solid ground. It's a tough business to get money in your pockets by record sales only. Bands also need to do profitable tours and have a proper merchandise available in order to survive, to say nothing of making their living out of all this. How are things looking from this angle for you guys at the moment?
Anton: I can only say it looks relatively promising for us these days, keeping in mind that we are a new band that has only recently put out their first album. I could hardly wish for a better situation. However, we are not going to rest on our laurels. We need to keep pushing forward, stay on our chosen musical path and perhaps even develop a little bit in our career. I hope our efforts will pay off so eventually we can do this for a living. I know it's gonna be tough and nothing can be taken for granted. Going on tour these days is not cheap but we are ready...
Luxi: True. When a hobby band turns into something a little more professional, you certainly aren't so willing to play for charity. Do you have any sales figures for Berserker worldwide?
Anton: Well, I do but I really don't like to talk about how many copies our debut album has sold if you don't mind. All I can say is that we are happy with how the album has been doing so far, considering it's been out just three months or so.
Kasperi: Berserker has been on Finland's official album chart for more than 10 weeks which should be some sort of indication about the sales. You could say it's not doing so bad. I have noticed over the years that many albums that end up on that list stay there like one or two weeks and then never climb back on it again. To be honest I have no idea how this list is compiled. Do they count hits from official streaming services? If they simply counted physical album sales that would be easier for all of us to understand I think.
ABOUT THE SYMBOLISM ON BERSERKER
Luxi: Alright. Some people have speculated on the symbolism that can be seen on the album cover of Berserker. A raging lion plus five skulls lying on the ground raises the question if there's some deeper meaning behind the artwork.
Anton: To be really honest with you this is something that should be asked of the artist himself, Roman "Romppu" Ismailov. He drew all those skulls and had no idea that perhaps some people might make some sort of connection to what happened between me and my ex-band.
Once the album cover was shown all over the place, comments started pouring in with people speculating about all those skulls. It was hilarious to read those comments because it was simply our cover artist's own train of thought. Anyways, it was a funny coincidence indeed, giving us a good laugh.
But yeah, it was completely his artistic vision to bring 5 skulls, a broken sword and stuff to the cover. When it comes to intentional, sort of "hidden" things there are actually a few images from Japanese manga and anime culture. There's a castle in the background, a flying Zodd the Immortal, a guy riding on the horse, two flying hawks and such things on the cover. They are all related to the Japanese manga and anime. But those skulls are nothing but Roman's own artistic vision and that's all.
It's funny how people find connections between certain things. For example, our song "Born Again" has nothing to do with Japanese manga. I have read some comments where some people claim that "hey, that MUST be taken from it. I am sure it's taken from this love story of persons X and Y...". I am like, "Ah, okay... I see".
"Born Again" is a more personal song lyric-wise so it has nothing with some manga love story. There's nothing wrong if people want to see different things in our songs. That's completely ok. People are allowed to think and see what they want. It's any art's main purpose to create different thoughts and views in people's minds. In my opinion, it's not an artist's or band's main purpose to create and deliver some certain, underlined exact inner thoughts or visions from their own world, to their responsive crowd. I mean, when an artist creates a song, or writes a book, or does a painting or whatever the purpose is to create different thoughts in its target audience so to speak. The point is that any art should make people think. Everyone is entitled to his/her own interpretations about things around you.
Luxi: Indeed. A while back you mentioned that you are currently working with some material for the band's follow-up album. Would you tell us a bit more about it?
Anton: At the moment, we are going through all this material that we have and deciding which songs we would like to use for our 2nd opus and yes, we do have some finished songs ready, excluding the lyrics. Lyric writing seems to be some sort of "necessary evil" that we'll normally take care of at the end of the songwriting process when everything else is finished. It's a long process and will surely take some time.
Kasperi: As Anton said, we have lots of material and going through it all will certainly take some time. What we are trying to do is find about 10 or so songs for the follow-up record. When that's done, then it's time to enter the studio again to record them. That's how it goes for us.
Luxi: Do you believe your musical style will basically stay the same; a strong 80s Heavy Metal vibe with a 90s Disco-twist?
Anton: I believe this new stuff will follow the same musical formula that we had on the debut. However, I am certain some songs will sound slightly different. I will pay more attention to the sound when we have reached the production stage and I try to learn from my past experiences what I might do differently mixing-wise. And as we crossed this topic already about Yannis' vocal register, I believe we will pay more attention to his whole vocal range for sure, definitely more than we did on our debut.
Also, as Kapa (aka Kasperi) mentioned, we count quality over quantity. The most important thing for us is that those 10 or so songs match well with each other. It should be an exciting album for everyone. If you have 10 equally killer and kickass songs but they all sound the same, the album won't be too good. It doesn't really matter if each would be an instant hit song if they are all taken from the same mould. There's no point in making 10 killer but similar-sounding songs for a record. The album would end up sounding repetitive, tedious and boring in my opinion.
Kasperi: I agree. They should be enough similar sounding but also different from each other. It should have a good flow going through the whole album.
THE FLAME OF INSPIRATION IS BURNING BRIGHT...
Luxi: Berserker was written entirely by Anton. Do you have any intention of sharing songwriting duties on this next album?
Anton: Bringing in ideas from the rest of our team is always welcome, of course! In the same breath, I must admit that this band has always been, more or less, a personal thing for me. I take the whole songwriting process very personally, but we are about to see how our new stuff changes over time when we start the actual recording process. Normally I write all the material, so we can have the whole package ready when we start recording.
When we have reached the production phase with this new album, that's when we may change or modify some parts. Even with the debut I remember we felt like some parts needed to be changed in some of the songs.
To me, it's important that if someone other than me wants to introduce a song, then it has to be a full song. I mean, it's the same with me; I always try to make a song fully ready before I introduce it to the band. I have a passion for movie soundtracks and one of my favorite writers of film scores is James Horner. He once said that Hollywood has different types characters and different ways to compose this type of stuff. James' own personal way was to compose these movie scores from start to finish, besides being the conductor. Danny Elfman had a lot of hype around him back in the day, but he had a very different way of composing music. Danny may play a theme song using just one instrument, like piano, and then his orchestrator does the work of filling it up with everything else. If a soundtrack record lasts 60 minutes, Danny's theme part of it fills up maybe 5-10 minutes while his orchestrator gets credit for the rest.
I wouldn't be able to work that way at all. I have such a huge burning flame and passion burning inside me that if I find, let' say, a killer melody line for a song, I always feel an urgent need to continue working with this melody to see how it develops from there. Many times, when I have song ideas coming through my head that are so clear to me, it's hard for me to stop there. I always tend to figure out how the drums should sound, how riffs or melodies should go and such things. After I have planned a song in my head, I give it some time and go back to it to see what I could add or change afterwards. That's how I usually work. I may return to the song over and over again, to make it as ready as possible before I introduce it to the rest of my bandmates so that I can hear their judgment.
In my opinion, it only makes sense to make a song as ready as possible within a short timetable. We simply don't have time as far as our follow-up album is concerned. We have a pretty tight schedule and I am sure we can get it done on time, but that also requires some pre-planning.
Luxi: Have you marked on your calendar when you might start recording this follow-up album?
Anton: Well, the album recordings will happen at my own studio, for the most part. We will be recording the album in parts through the year, after the Rhapsody tour, and in between the festival shows. It helps a lot for us to have my studio and not to have to think about when we should book a studio. Plus, it would be rather expensive to record the album at some other studio.
Luxi: What about using an outsider producer? Would that be out of the question?
Kasperi: If we even considered one, then this outsider would have to know right from the beginning our vision regarding the band. Changing things back and forth simply doesn't work for us, not in the slightest. How we would like to work with this next album after we have chosen the right tracks for it, is to record them all as efficiently as possible. We hate to get stuck in the situation when no one really knows where we should go. Like Anton already mentioned, it's vital for us to get the songs as ready as possible before entering the studio. Being efficient is the key word for us when studio time comes.
Luxi: We are talking about next year when people will get your follow-up album in their hands, right?
Anton: Yes. It's already certain that the release plan will happen next year, definitely not this year.
Luxi: I guess one of the worst things many new bands may do after a successful debut release is to wait for too long to get their next album out. I mean, if there's the hype going on, why wait 3-4 years? People may well completely forget you if there's too long of a gap between your debut and follow-up album...
Kasperi: Exactly. It's realistic to think that we can get this second album recorded this year and released sometime next year.
Luxi: And perhaps then it will be the optimal time for your first full headlining tour?
Anton: Yeah. That's what we are striving for anyway.
Kasperi: It's a good starting point for us that we have these two sold-out shows here in Finland, we just need to keep on pushing hard so we can achieve something worthwhile with this band. What's certain is we cannot rest on our laurels at this point. We are definitely ready to work hard for this band, no matter what.
Luxi: My wife told me that some people were willing to pay a pretty insane amount of money to get in to tonight's sold-out show at Nosturi, so there's good hype on your side at the moment...
Kasperi: To be honest, I didn't expect this show to be sold-out. I mean, the album was released just three months ago and as it's been out such a short time, I was thinking that this show would have sold something like 200-300 tickets. I would have been happy with that. For us, as a new band that has just released a debut album, it would have been a pretty good achievement to get even 200-300 tickets sold. It was a great feeling to hear that there were 500 sold tickets at first, then it crossed to 600 sold tickets and so forth. We were like, "Wow... Now, this is starting to be pretty overwhelming for us indeed!!"
Luxi: Okay, that was it so now you a free to go and do your soundcheck. Thanks for your time, guys!
Anton & Kasperi: Thanks for coming over to talk to us.
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