Interview with vocalist and guitarist Timo Solonen
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: February 7, 2020
Infirmum is the melodic Doom/Death Metal brainchild of Finland's Timo Solonen, who's about to release his band's first 10-track album, Walls of Sorrow, via the Finnish label Inverse Records, on February 28th.
Timo has a relatively long history in the Metal scene and he has always been keen on creating his own music. Due to his national duty in the Finnish army, which Timo and other comrades endured back in the day, all of their attempts to get rolling sadly failed. Sometimes things may not go the way they were planned. As things did not happen in the '90s, he decided to get rid of his bass and guitar, thinking that was it for him. Happily, he was proven wrong.
In 2018, after seeing some Doom Metal legends performing at a festival in Finland, Timo's hunger for starting his own project and/or band became stronger and Infirmum was born.
The Metal Crypt took the opportunity to ask Timo a few questions about his long-lost love for making extreme music and the things that restored his faith.
WELCOME TO THE TORTURE CHAMBER
Luxi: Welcome to the torture chamber of The Metal Crypt, Timo! Eh, still feeling good and all that jazz?
Timo: Thanks for having me. Yes, things are pretty good at the moment. Just waiting for the next single's release date. It is quite hard for me to keep waiting :)
Luxi: As you have told me, you were pretty active in the Metal scene back in the nineties, even trying to be a musician yourself. Can you share some background information about those times and what killed your attempts to get going, band-wise?
Timo: My first band played Hardcore and I played bass and shouted. It was fun for three young kids who were still at school. After that, I joined another band to sing and play bass. We rehearsed a lot.
We made three demos in two years and I sent one of them to Finland's Soundi magazine. The demo was "better than most". I mostly composed the songs and the other guitarist wrote lyrics and we all did the song arrangements together. We did not do a single gig. That was one of the things that broke the band. There was always someone in the band who was in the army and we just couldn't find the time to go to gigs. Everyone went in the army at different times, so a few years just vanished. We recorded demos to just keep the band alive.
Luxi: Did you feel that you were in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Timo: I really can't say if the timing was wrong, but I do believe without the army commitments, things most certainly could have been very different for us.
Luxi: Which albums, events or other things related to the Metal scene were the ones that made you choose the path of all things extreme, metallic, melancholic, etc.?
Timo: "Children of the Grave" by Black Sabbath. Those drums at the beginning of the song. It was so heavy when I heard for the first time. I have always been more of a Black Sabbath-type person than Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple. My aunt copied Black Sabbath albums and other heavy music onto cassettes and sent them to me from Sweden. She was the only one who listened to those kinds of songs. So I guess I have to thank my aunt Tuula for showing me the way :)
Then I believe it was "For Whom the Bell Tolls" which really had a big impact on me. It was something new, raw and powerful. Oh yes, I almost forgot, Zero Nine and "Never Stop Running". I loved that song when I saw it the first time on Levyraati (Record Panel in English. It was a popular Finnish television show which ran from 1961 to 1992 – Luxi). :)
I still listen to old and new Black Sabbath albums from time to time when I feel I want to go back to the roots.
Luxi: The Finnish Death Metal scene was really strong and competitive at the beginning of the '90s, with many promising forces holding the flag high, so to speak. Were you happy for your comrades' worldwide success or did you envy their popularity amongst the Metal community worldwide?
Timo: I was happy and really enjoyed Tales from the Thousand Lakes by Amorphis, Amok by Sentenced and One World Without the End by A.R.G. It was great to see bands get attention and the chance to tour abroad. But at the same time I was quite confident that our songs were also good enough to start touring. In fact, I still believe some of them are pretty good. So it was quite hard for me to see all our work come to nothing.
So it wasn't envy, rather it was being disappointed with what happened to our band.
OF INSPIRATIONS AND INFLUENCES
Luxi: Were there some truly exciting and influential bands out there during the '90s that you admit looking up to a little bit, at least on some level of admiration?
Timo: Well, Sepultura, Pantera, Carcass, Kreator, Death, The Big 4, Paradise Lost just to name a few. Maybe Amorphis and Sentenced were the only Finnish bands that I could say I admired. Black Sabbath were, and still are, a huge band for me. I would say Black Sabbath and Metallica were the reasons I bought my first guitar.
Luxi: How important were Finnish (proto-) Funeral Doom Metal acts in the first half of the '90s, i.e., Thergothon, Skepticism, Unholy, and such for you when you first heard them?
Timo: You know, I really didn't listen to Doom Metal very much in the '90s. Thrash and Death Metal and Grindcore were more my thing. One reason for that was our band played more Thrash Metal and I was probably the only one more into Death Metal where the others liked more traditional Thrash Metal. Step by step, I went towards more extreme Metal until the band broke up. After that I was so tired of playing that I sold my bass and my guitar.
I guess Doom Metal was in my mind slowly growing and some events between 2017 and 2018 woke it.
Luxi: Alright, fast forward to 2020. You started your new band Infirmum to continue your Doom/Death Metal crusade where you left off back in the '90s. Did you feel like you had some "unfinished business" and that's why starting Infirmum felt right?
Timo: I saw Paradise Lost at the John Smith Festival in Finland in 2018 and it was something special for me that made me to realize music is something I still love.
Unfinished business, absolutely. I knew I had to try again because composing is something I really love. I had a feeling that I can still tell stories and if I am lucky, my songs will mean something to someone. It also helped me to get through some bad times. At the end of 2018, I released my first EP. Kuolonkoura was the name of this project. I composed music for the first time since the beginning of the 2000s and realized I can still do it. The songs were really raw and the drums were programmed by me and a friend of mine and I played all instruments. Luckily, Samu Oittinen at Fantom Studios had time to mix and master it. I felt that if I didn't try again I would later regret it.
Samu and a friend of mine (S. Kokko) encouraged me to record a proper EP or full album.
Luxi: While listening to your music, it's obvious that you adore the unholy marriage between extreme, melancholic and sorrowful stuff which may reflect something about your own psyche. Also, being a Finn can be a blessing and a curse, especially when it comes down to emotional and catchy extreme Metal music. Now it's your turn roll the dice, sir...
Timo: Like you said it is both a curse and a blessing. I kept it hidden for decades and I now believe that was a mistake. It just comes naturally and I don't have to force it at all. If I don't get it out it will eat me alive, trust me. I often get really tired after I compose the bones to a new song. It draws every drop of energy. Lyrically, I am just a newbie. Before this new journey I wrote the lyrics for three songs, if I can remember correctly.
Luxi: Making music alone, creating everything from scratch and playing all the instruments yourself isn't anything new but it's still a tricky and complicated thing in what it demands from one person. How have you been dealing with this process?
Timo: Sometimes it is easy and sometimes it isn't. Samu Oittinen helped me a lot when I sent him my first demos. I guess there were 15 songs in total. I hated and loved each song at the same time. It was hard to see the big picture sometimes and then I tried to step back and take a break. I have a habit of composing two or three songs at the same time. All songs should be a bit different so if I can't find a good riff for one style, there is chance I will find good one for a different style of a song. I noticed it helped me a lot in finishing the songs.
One thing is for sure, I don't want to make another album by myself. It takes a lot of time and energy. But we'll see what happens in the future.
TOWARDS THE WALLS OF SORROW
Luxi: The band's debut album, Walls of Sorrow, will see the fall of the last sunbeams on the 28th of February 2020, Finland's Inverse Records being responsible for putting out the physical format. How did your cooperation start with Inverse, and what kind of expectations do you have for the label?
Timo: Last summer I sent some emails to Inverse and shared some early demo songs with them. They got interested and understood the idea of the album.
After a time, we talked again and I decided to release the album globally in both digital and physical formats via Inverse here in Finland. At the same time, they are doing international promotion for this release along with Moshpit Promotions, who are also doing international promotion for the album.
Jaakko at Inverse Records has helped me a lot and shared his opinions when I asked. It is important to have someone who knows how the market works these days. I am also very satisfied with the Finnish promotion, which Mega Kuusinen handles for me.
Luxi: Was there a lot of sweat, blood, and tears involved in the songwriting process of Walls of Sorrow?
Timo: Yes, there were ups and downs. For example, I had to take a break from playing guitar in the summer of 2019. I noticed I couldn't play as well as I used to. For some reason, my left hand felt clumsy and quite weak and slow. I am right-handed and it pissed me off because it was sometimes quite painful, too.
I went to the doctor and we decided to do an MRI to see if something was wrong with my neck. The diagnosis was cervical spinal stenosis. At that point I wasn't sure if I would be able to complete this album.
It took some time to learn to live with it but now I know what not to do, so I can still play.
I had never really written lyrics before I started to compose songs. I usually take my guitar and just play something and if something comes out that is good. I take my phone or tablet and record it. I still do that, so there is enough material for the next album already. ;)
Then I go through those files when I want to compose something. Usually one riff out of 20 is good enough and I start to play with that riff to see if I want to add anything. Sometimes I have an idea for the rhythm or melody and then I start to build something around it. After the song is almost demo ready, I try to figure out how to sing and if necessary, make some changes to the song.
Of course, money is always a problem, or more precisely, lack of it. I used all my savings, sold my computers, beamer, borrowed money and pushed my credit cards to the limit. Every penny that I could. But I think it is better do it as well as possible or not to do it at all.
Luxi: Has all the positive feedback been feeding your ever-burning creativity, keeping you constantly inspired and in a favorable songwriting mode?
Timo: I have to say I'm quite cautious about what people say. Most people have liked my songs and it feels good, of course. But if, for example, 19 out of 20 people liked the songs, it doesn't automatically mean 1900 out of 2000 people will like them. It could be 500 out of 2000 and so on. But yeah, so far so good. :)
The creativity flame is still burning and I am lucky enough because my guitar still wants to tell stories. One thing is for sure, if my album does not sell at all, I will be disappointed. The songs are quite good (IMHO) but it is possible people will not find the band.
Luxi: Would you say Infirmum's songs reflect your own thoughts and visions about the world that surrounds us nowadays?
Timo: There are some songs about the world. I don't want to explain the topics of the songs too much because then I would take that away from a listener. One important part of listening to the songs is to create your own visions and pictures about what is happening. But yes, there are songs about the world today we live in, the past times and the future. Or is there after all...? ;) There are also songs about different things in life.
STAGES ARE CALLING OUR NAMES
Luxi: Do you want to see Infirmum grow into a full band that might allow you to share songwriting responsibilities? People say sharing is caring... ;o)
Timo: I am not a dictator (I hope) so if someone has a good idea or a great riff that is suitable for Infirmum, of course, we would use it. It is quite a heavy burden to do everything, both financially and mentally.
Luxi: Is playing live something that you have been dreaming of and are you considering doing some gigs someday?
Timo: Yes, absolutely. Infirmum should be able to play live. I hope I can find great bandmates in the spring and we can find a place to rehearse.
Luxi: What other personal expectations do you have of Infirmum?
Timo: I want to see Infirmum grow into a fully operating beast, make more albums and spread the word of the beauty of the dark melancholic Doom Death Metal.
Luxi: I would like to thank you, Timo, for your time with this conversation and wish you all the best with your forthcoming endeavors with this fine band. And the last commentary is left for you, so just be my guest, sir...
Timo: Thank you, it was a pleasure. :)
Now everyone, taste the band and listen to what Infirmum can offer to you. There is chance you may like what you hear. As I say in my own language in Finnish, "ei se ole ihan paskaa...". ;)
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