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Interviews Swallow the Sun

Interview with Juha Raivo (Guitars)

Interview conducted by Sargon the Terrible

Date online: November 21, 2009

After almost a decade and four albums, Finland's Swallow The Sun have become a real force to reckon with on the Doom landscape. After their breakthrough album Hope we had to wait for their new full-length work, New Moon, which is making waves through the metal underground. Longtime guitarist Juha Raivo was good enough to talk with me about the band.

Sargon: So I understand that Swallow the Sun originally came out of a band called Plutonium Orange, who are a more Stoner/Rock kind of outfit. What was the impetus to start writing more depressive music and eventually form Swallow The Sun?

Juha: I had my first doom band back in the early 90's and always loved the music of Candlemass, and later I fell in love with My Dying Bride's music. So, I have always had this darker writing and music style in me as well. In the year 2000 I had few more doomy songs that didn't fit the Plutonium Orange style, and I asked our drummer Pasi to try them out with me. My plan was to record those few songs with Pasi, just to get them out of my system. Well, those songs sounded so good that we started to look for more people to join and get a real band together to play and record the demo out of them. That demo we did got us signed right away and all the rest after that has been just plus with Swallow the Sun.

Sargon: What is the origin of the name of the band?

Juha: The meaning of the name comes from our long winter time here in Finland. When winter comes you hardly see the sun in months, so it really feels like something swallows the sun from the skies. I've been living even further up north as well when I was child and the sun doesn't come up at all during the deepest winter time. There are also lots of Nordic myths about creatures swallowing sun from the sky and it was usually a sign of the end of world.

Sargon: Do you have any regrets about the titling of the album? Since the movie New Moon is making such a big splash, that's got to be annoying.

Juha: No, actually when I heard about this movie coming up I had a huge laugh and then it was even more clear that we were going to keep this album name because we knew that it would piss some people off. In any case these kinds of teenage movies come and go fast, but albums are forever, so it doesn't bother me at all. It's only amusing to read when people actually think that we have named our album after the Twilight saga, haha, oh my!!

Sargon: You're about to hit the road in Europe with Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum, is this the biggest tour you have done as headliners? What are you looking forward to about it?

Juha: Yes, this is biggest headlining European tour we have done so far, and it will be a blast to do. This package of Finnish bands is a really good line-up and we are hoping that many people will come to see the gigs even though none of the bands are huge names yet. It's definitely great to be able to play a bit of a longer set than what we have been playing at festivals and when touring with bigger bands. We have such long songs that we usually have time to play 5-6 songs and now we finally can give a longer set to the fans around Europe.

Sargon: What are the bands that inspired you when you started Swallow The Sun, and what bands still inspire you? Are any of them still the same?

Juha: I have a few bands that have been the most influential to me since I started to make music. Rush, Marillion, Type O Negative, My Dying Bride, Candlemass and Iron Maiden have always been the most important bands to me, and it seems that I haven't found any new bands that have affected me quite as much. It would be great to find some really mind blowing bands these days, but maybe there are still some bands coming up that will affect me as much as these old ones have, that would be great!

Sargon: If you had to pick just one Doom album to take with you, which one would it be?

Juha: That's a hard one.. Well, it would have to be Nightfall from Candlemass. I think that Nightfall must be the most important doom album for me ever, and it was also one of the reasons I started doing this kind of music in the early 90's. Leif Edling is just a genius when it comes to riffs and atmosphere.Sargon: New Moon seems a bit darker than even Hope, which was already pretty fucking dark. Was there a conscious effort to make the album more menacing, or was it just progression?

Juha: Yes, New Moon became a really dark album, even though it includes some of the lightest moments from us too. I think that New Moon is such a depressing and dark album because it ends the trilogy of Hope. The Hope album was about clutching on to the last straw of hope and Plague of Butterflies was going into total isolation and loneliness from there. New Moon is the end of this saga, and ends the chapter of hope by abandoning it totally. So there's no light on this album, but the darkness goes so deep that it turns a new page into beauty already, that is what this band is all about.

Sargon: Do you ever find it personally depressing to play such bleak music, or is it more cathartic?

Juha: No, in fact, writing this kind of music makes me a much happier person. Music is a good way to get weight off your shoulders, and that is exactly what this band does for me. You really have to go deep into the dark when doing the music but when you come out from there its a really purifying feeling. Many people seem to find our music affecting them the same way and it's the best response we can get.

Sargon: I've had some Scandinavian bands tell me that the long winters help them write darker music, do you think that's true?

Juha: I have to say that it is true, even though its such a big cliché. But I really think that if I would be living in some warm country, surfing all the time and drinking shots at sunset, then I could not write this kind of music. Of course everyone can write sad music no matter where they live, but I'm sure that living here in this fucking cold and dark country brings a certain kind of gloom and doom to the music that you only get living here.

Sargon: How does a Swallow The Sun song come together? Tell us a little bit about your writing process.Juha: First I start to gather riffs and lyrics and ideas for new songs and usually I get the whole concept of the new album pretty quickly. The best way for me is to isolate myself totally from the outside world and just walk around the woods and write music and lyrics in my mind. After this I just start to make loads of songs and music and when I have enough material I go to our second guitarist's home studio and we finish the demos of the songs and give them to the rest of the boys. Usually we rehearse these new songs a couple of weeks and then go straight to the studio to keep them fresh. This way of working has been really good for us on the last few albums.

Sargon: Finally, tell us something about New Moon that no one has asked you but you wish they would.

Juha: Well, people seem to think we took the name from the Twilight movies, but the truth is even uglier because the name comes from an old Duran Duran song, hahaha!! I love Duran Duran!!

Juha Raivio / gtr / STS

Other information about Swallow the Sun on this site
Review: Hope
Review: New Moon
Review: New Moon
Review: Emerald Forest and the Blackbird
Review: Songs from the North I, II & III

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