Interview with guitarist Anton Kabanen and bassist Eero Sipilä
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: July 18, 2014
Live pictures and top picture of Anton and Eero taken by Luxi Lahtinen.
Thanks to Terhi Lahtinen (my precious wife) for transcription and translation.
Thanks to Heta Hyttinen for setting up this interview.
Finland's sensationally popular metallers Battle Beast have achieved quite a lot in the band's relatively short six years of existence. Battle Beast's debut album, Steel, released in 2012, received some amazing reviews from all over the world, and their career has been skyrocketing ever since, thanks also to touring and overall working their asses off in the band.
In September 2012, some dark clouds started gathering; the band's luminous vocalist Nitte Valo, who was an integral part of Battle Beast's sound, decided to leave on short notice. The timing could not have been much worse as Battle Beast was enjoying the limelight. Thanks to the Internet, new vocalist Noora Luohimo was found to fill in Nitte's boots and was soon tested on a tour with Sonata Arctica that covering 22 shows in 11 countries across the Europe, Noora passed her trial by fire with the highest grades possible.
Battle Beast's self-titled follow-up album was released in May 2013, continuing the band's victory march and gaining even more success. On June 7th 2014, Battle Beast stopped at South Park festival in Tampere, Finland. South Park is a new festival on the map of Finnish summer Metal music festivals, concentrating on booking Hark Rock and Heavy Metal bands (like W.A.S.P., Skid Row, Europe, H.E.A.T., to name a few) and replaces the famous Sauna Open Air Festival that went bankrupt in 2012.
The Metal Crypt caught up with Battle Beast guitarist Anton Kabanen and bassist Eero Sipilä. after their well-played show, and inquired as to what's happening in the Battle Beast camp, about some of their favorite 80s Metal albums, future plans and many other things as well.
Luxi: So, how was your show here at South Park festival today?
Anton: Good. The atmosphere here was good.
Eero: Indeed. Last time we played here the name of the event was Sauna Open Air and we were on a smaller stage. Back then we looked toward the big stage and now that we got to play on the main stage, it does not feel bad at all.
Anton: Yes, I have to agree.
Luxi: The crowd gave you great support, despite the bad weather. It started to rain right in the middle of your show...
Anton: It is a traditional festival summer in Finland. It measures the dedication level off the audience.
Luxi: Battle Beast is playing at several festivals this year, including Metalfest in Denmark, SkullFest in Belgium and Tuska in Helsinki, Finland. What are your expectations for these upcoming festivals?
Eero: We haven't played any foreign festivals in a couple of years, at least not in the summer. All these festivals in Central Europe will be quite new experiences for us. We are looking forward to them; it is always fun to play everywhere.
Luxi: Battle Beast's career has been relatively short up until now but you've achieved a hell of a lot already. You have two albums out and you have played a lot of gigs. Do you consider yourselves lucky in light of all your achievements?
Anton: Yes, sometimes I look back and think about it. A few years back we dreamt of being where we are now, but the journey continues. We don't want to settle for anything, a band must have that hunger for more. We want to put more flesh on the bones and move on. I still remember the contrast very well.
Eero: In 2010 or 2011, at best, we had zero people at our shows. We have taken steps forward and Battle Beast has become more well known.
Luxi: Nitte quitting the band in 2012 must have been quite a surprise, but you found Noora very quickly and, on very short notice, you went on tour with Sonata Arctica in Europe. Did you have any doubts because of having a new vocalist not much time before such a big tour?
Eero: I was in a state of mind that I thought it is really a kamikaze operation. The whole autumn was quite a hassle because of Nitte leaving unexpectedly. The Sonata tour was actually booked before we even had a new singer. The booking agency took quite a risk and we didn't dare tell the record company that our singer quit because we were afraid that they would kick us out. I did not think anything at all; I just thought "let's go there."
Anton: In my case, passion took over from common sense completely. Giving in never entered my mind. I was quite fucked up, I must admit. But, the next day, I started looking for a new singer. I searched day and night for a new singer from all over the word via the Internet. The band is my lifestyle; it is not a hobby or a job for me. I do not separate it from the rest of my life. This is my life and I do not have any alternatives.
Luxi: How did the fans react when Nitte quit the band? Did they give you any feedback? The first album was damn good and then the band goes and changes their vocalist. Did you worry how the fans would accept the change?
Eero: Well, no, if a singer leaves it is a big thing for any band. For example, if Blackie Lawless left W.A.S.P. I would most likely think, before I had even heard the new singer, that someone very shitty would replace him. It is difficult to change when you get used to a certain voice. I get it. At first, it was being said that the band was gone but those comments stopped very quickly when Noora started to sing.
Luxi: The next question is for Anton. I learned that you found Noora from YouTube. Could you tell us more about it?
Anton: That's right. A friend of ours sent some YouTube links of potential singers to me and I checked them out. I did not find Noora in any of those links but when I randomly checked some other YouTube quick links I found Noora singing a Janis Joplin cover. I checked it out only because Janis Joplin was mentioned. She was a damn good singer so I thought that if this blond chick can do a convincing cover, she must be good. I listened to her singing and she impressed me so I decided to ask her to join the band. Quite a coincidence, I would say.
Luxi: Your new vocalist was found pretty quickly indeed...
Anton: Yes, surprisingly quick. Some bands look for a singer for years. We started looking for our first singer when the backbone of this band, i.e. the founding members Pyry, Juuso and I, were still schoolmates. It took a year before we found Nitte. We were lucky that after Nitte left, Noora was found within a couple of months, actually in a month.
Luxi: Did Noora convince you right away during her audition?
Anton: Well, we actually had the Sonata tour booked before we even had a singer. When I was asked if we were committed I answered "dammit, yes!" and was just thinking I WILL find a vocalist!
Luxi: That's risky business!
Anton: Like said, just moving on, things will get sorted out in a way or another.
Luxi: Maybe one of your most memorable experiences was in Japan, when you played at Loud & Metal Attack festival in 2013. What kind of experience was it for you to get to play there?
Eero: At least in my opinion, Japan is maybe the nicest country I've ever been to. The crowd was really fantastic, everybody was sober and there was an excellent atmosphere. When we played our first song and I had a two-note break in playing, I heard people already singing along. I would have never have guessed they would even know our songs in Japan. We gig all over in Finland but then, in the Land of the Rising Sun, we have 1000 Japanese fans digging us.
Luxi: Had your second album been released in Japan when you played that festival?
Eero: No clue. No clue at all. I think yes.
Anton: I think it was. It was maybe Columbia Records or someone that deals with the releases in Japan.
Eero: Yeah we have a separate licensing company, as far as I understand.
Luxi: In October of this year (2014 – ed.) there is an even bigger festival in Japan, Loudpark, where Battle Beast will play alongside Dream Theater, Arch Enemy, Manowar, Kreator and all kinds of bands. What expectations do you have for this festival?
Anton: I am personally looking forward to playing the new songs from our upcoming new album; it will be the biggest thing, for me at least. And having the chance to go to Japan again as I really liked the country very much and I am very happy about that. Very rarely do I have any expectations for a show itself; a show is a show and we like all of them equally. I usually wonder about other things like what the country or the venue can offer apart from the gig. A gig is usually done on a routine basis although we give always our all.
Luxi: Did the fans surprise you last year during your first time in Japan? I have heard that Japanese fans often show up at the airport to welcome their idols and they give all kinds of souvenirs, toys or Japanese sweets. If a band takes time to talk to the fans that can potentially draw a big crowd who all want autographs etc. Did you experience anything like this?
Anton: There was no big fan attack. The venue got empty very quickly after the show. I got a T-shirt from one of the fans, and during the interview with Young Guitar magazine they gave me two toy figures. The toy figures are from the anime series called Berserk. We have songs based on it, so someone obviously found out and decided to give this kind of a souvenir. It was cool.
Luxi: Let's talk about the visual side of the band. Usually promotion involves making a video. Last year you did a video for the song "Black Ninja" with Tuukka Temonen. What kind of a process was it was to make the video with him, as he is quite well known for making videos?
Anton: I only remember that it was quite short notice and we found out only a couple of weeks in advance that we would be making a video. We exchanged a few emails with Temonen, that was it. Then we went to a hall to shoot the parts with the band and after that some ninja fencing parts. It was done in one day.
Luxi: Did you have anything specific you wanted for the video and were you able to give your input when the script was being worked on?
Anton: It did not turn out exactly the way I had in mind. Actually, it was very different, but there is no reason to dwell on it afterward. The video is out there and it has over a million views. In my opinion, the most important thing is that people have seen it and that is good for the band.
Luxi: A video uploaded to YouTube must be very important, right?
Eero: Yeah, it is necessary nowadays as nobody buys albums anymore. YouTube is about to be the king. When you have an official video and it has already a million or so views, even more people will click on the link and see the video, and it may well be the time seeing or hearing the band for quite a lot of people.
Luxi: The career of Battle Beast will hopefully continue for many years to come. Have you thought about working with Temonen again?
Anton: We are open to it, why not? When the time comes, then we will think about it more. Usually, when making an album and, for example, album artwork is being worked on, then we fully focus on that and only later we will think about videos. Everything is possible.
Luxi: Let's discuss your second album a bit more. Did you have a clear vision of what kind of album you wanted?
Anton: MIDIs already sound roughly the same as on the album. Usually the songs are already done at home before we get to the studio.
Eero: That's true. The songs were written over quite a long time frame. We played "Black Ninja" before we had any albums out. Some songs, like "Over the Top" "Kingdom," are older.
Anton: "Fight, Kill, Die" is also actually quite old. I wrote it around in 2009.
Luxi: You have a "Do It Yourself"-style in the studio and you did everything from beginning to end, except mastering, which was apparently done by Mika Jussila at the Finnvox Studios. Why do you choose to do everything and not just be the musicians?
Anton: I am guilty as charged. Frankly said, the reason is this way allows us to work in peace and spend longer on the details. We will not end up with crap as a result. If we did it at an outside studio with another producer and if we spent as much time as we did for the second album, we would simply not have enough money. In addition, the production and mixing is interesting. Our keyboard player Janne and I are interested in it and we both have our own studios so it is effortless somehow. We are also looking to the future and we want to get to the point where, when recording an album, we can just go to the studio, push the record button and have a guitar sound ready, so that we won't need to spend time with technical and physical things like carrying our equipment, testing the mike, etc. We work all the time so that in the future it will be easier for us to make an album and we won't be lost. The product we deliver will improve year after year as we gain know-how.
Luxi: Are you skeptical about producers and finding the one who can produce your kind of music and get the sound you want or do you prefer to be in charge and not worry about someone who doesn't necessarily understand what kind you want?
Eero: What I remember about the first record is that Nino Laurenne produced it and I think he had a vision of a more retro sound and that's why it sounds more like old school Metal. The second record is more polished, the synths are more on the upfront and there is no hint of retro, in my opinion. Although the songs are traditional, the sound is very modern.
Luxi: Battle Beast's career has been very hectic and fast moving and you have a bunch of fans. Do you have an idea of where the majority of your fans come from, thinking of interview requests and gig offers?
Eero: We have been touring Central Europe, for the most part, so maybe there we have the most support. Interview requests have come from Brazil and places that I've hardly ever heard of. People in Eastern Europe have reached out to us, although there is no Metal scene there, as far as I know. It is very difficult to say.
Luxi: We can hear the influences of 80's powerful, heavy music, like Accept, Judas Priest, and even Manowar, in the sound of Battle Beast. What are your top three favorites from the 80s?
Anton: It varies with my mood, but very close to my heart is Defenders of the Faith from Judas Priest as well as Painkiller. Unholy Terror from W.A.S.P. is good; it was maybe the first W.A.S.P. album I bought so I have an emotional bond with it. But, well, I am not able to categorize which ones are the best and which ones less good.
Luxi: What makes the 80's Heavy music second to none...
Anton: Nothing at all. I don't care about different genres. Music is music; I don't give a shit about anything else. I listen to music with my ears. Heavy music from the 80's happens to have the nuances and harmonies and vocal styles that I like. But sometimes I hear, say techno or rap, and even if I don't like the rap vocals there might be a good flow of chords. Music is so limitless, we shouldn't listen to only one genre; it has the same elements everywhere, wall-to-wall.
Luxi: .What about you, Eero, do you have three favorite Metal albums of all time?
Eero: Oh damn, I'd also say Painkiller. I also must pick one of the Maiden albums, maybe Piece of Mind. Oh damn, this is such a difficult question! But I will come up with something so that I don't make myself look like a complete dork. Oh gosh, OK, I say Black in Black from AC/DC.
Luxi: If we move on and look toward the future, where are you with Battle Beast's new album?
Anton: The lead vocal parts for the next Battle Beast album are about ready.
Luxi: What kind of material can we expect on your next opus?
Anton: Let's say the second album is like – I should not say this – but it is like a cheap copy of the upcoming new album. The second album sounds more restrained compared with what is coming. I hope I am not hyping too much...
Eero: It comes with the territory. In my opinion, our new stuff is maybe a bit more orchestrated and even a bit faster, compared to our previous album.
Anton: Yes, definitely faster songs, indeed.
Luxi: Reviews for both Battle Beast albums have been very good overall and the albums are very popular among your fans. Do you feel the need to raise the bar even higher and make the new album better than the previous one?
Anton: Yes. In my opinion, the feeling comes naturally when your hunger keeps growing. When making an album, you challenge yourself. My nature tells me to do things better and better and then I just do it without thinking about how hard it is or if something better will come out. In my opinion, and the band's, the upcoming album is stronger.
Eero: It is the same feeling I get when I look at our shows from years back and I wonder what the hell I'm doing there and why we look so awful. Hopefully next year, when I look at the video of this gig here this year, I will think its crap and I suck. We must move on and we can't stay in our old footprints forever. We either go up or come down but there is no static state for us.
Luxi: How critical are you about what Battle Beast releases? Do you filter your material and how democratic are the decisions about which songs to record within the band?
Anton: I'm the main songwriter – so far I've written all songs – but I do filter my stuff, too. I have some ideas for synth/pop-orientated stuff that I don't want to squeeze in here. Battle Beast has synth material but I will have to save much of that stuff for a side project or something.
Luxi: Do you accept ideas from anyone else in the band?
Anton: Sure. For example, when recording vocal parts, if Noora is testing a line that I have written and if it does not work the way I had thought, we will try other ideas. Noora has suggested ideas that I had not thought of, like whispering a line which might make it sound very cool when listening with a headset. Ideas for details are shared. Collective songwriting has not bloomed; we haven't tried to write songs together yet.
Luxi: So Anton, basically you write all of Battle Beast's songs and, if we are a bit harsh here, the others do not have much influence on them except, perhaps, some small nuances here and there that you may or may not approve...
Eero: The songs are ready and polished with all the details already. They are not based on jamming; they are already fully arranged, so it is not necessary to change anything. I think the rest of us contribute more when we want to add something to our shows or anything outside the songs in general. But to change the songs just for the sake of changing doesn't make any sense.
Anton: They do give me feedback on the lyrics, for example, when they wonder what the hell has come out of my mind, what kind of fucking shit is this. But sometimes things just get done because they need to be done, and afterwards I think "well, now I don't have to do that again, I have to move on." It's good when they suggest I approach things in a way I have not tried out yet. For example, on the two first albums, we tried to come up with some fictional characters or stories but on our third album the lyrics are more personal, genuine stuff, 100% from my own life. No more shitty lyrics. Well, some people might still call them crap but I think they are more touching and maybe will touch others because they are honest and genuine. Later, when I look back on them maybe I will laugh at the lyrics but, then again, that will mean I have moved on. If you can't laugh at what you were yesterday, you won't move on.
Luxi: Battle Beast has a record contract with Nuclear Blast, the world's biggest Heavy Metal label. Do they tie your hands or give you any deadlines for releasing new albums?
Eero: No, they are in Germany. They send some emails but fortunately our manager takes care of those. Nuclear is a good home and they don't have calculators in their hands all the time. They understand that bands are bands and not products. They let you be and let you do your thing. I can't come up with anything negative to say.
Anton: Yes, a laid-back atmosphere. Sometimes there are deadlines but that comes with the territory.
Luxi: It is quite common for record labels to push bands to release records every other year or so, which prevents the bands from being forgotten. There are so many bands out there.
Eero: It is extremely important for us, too. I find playing songs from our second album quite boring already. I look forward to autumn when we will have some new songs in our set.
Luxi: How satisfied are you with how Nuclear Blast has taken care of promoting the band, arranged interviews, etc.?
Eero: In my opinion, promotion is not magic for Nuclear Blast. They check how the second album sold and, based on that, this and this much (money) can be given for the next one. We can also influence what we get to do ourselves. We used to have a very enthusiastic promoter who arranged interviews with magazines and net blogs, basically everywhere possible, and it was really a lot of grassroots action and we didn't overlook any media. We want to get our name visible everywhere and we will do what it takes and give as many interviews as we can.
Luxi: It didn't hurt your visibility when our neighbors Sabaton did a cover version of the Battle Beast song "Out of Control".
Eero: It is a very good song!!
Luxi: Did it surprise you that someone did a Battle Beast cover? Usually bands cover something completely different from their own genre or some very old songs...
Eero: I appreciate very much that they decided to make this cover of "Out of Control." It is an unselfish act by Sabaton; they have a bigger audience and they can influence more people than us. I think it all started when we were playing on the Sabaton cruise last November and, apparently, they were digging us. We met Pär from Sabaton later in February when we were visiting Sweden. We went for beers and discussed Sabaton's new album and Pär told me that there was going to be a Battle Beast cover. I thought he was just pulling my leg! A couple of weeks ago I heard Sabaton's "Out of Control" on YouTube, so he was not kidding! It was hard to believe.
Luxi: You did give your permission for them to make a cover of "Out of Control," right?
Anton: It was a complete surprise for me! I must have been the last one who found out because I was not having beers with the guys that day. When I heard the song I was like "goddammit!" I had a big grin on my face and thought "dammit, it is better than the original."
Eero: I appreciate Sabaton doing it. We apparently have a similar audience but it all has to be mobilized so that our videos won't end up only on German TV. Sabaton have covered other bands, too, like Powerwolf from Germany, who we once opened for. They can also thank Sabaton for some of their success. I have a lot of admiration for Sabaton.
Luxi: In the name of true Finnish-Swedish cooperation, when will Battle Beast be covering a Sabaton song, maybe for a Japanese release? Has this idea ever crossed your mind?
Eero: We have to seek revenge in one way or another. We could do a country version of "Primo Victoria" or something like that. It would be more our style, I guess.
Luxi: You have still a lot to achieve and the sky is the limit. What kind of dreams do you have for the band?
Eero: What Anton just said. Actually, I don't remember what he said, but I've always had dreams to get where we are today and everywhere, for example Tuska festival. But when I do this music all the time I forget achievements, what we are and what we do. We just live this life every day. This is my life and our lives. It cannot be measured with milestones. The only thing that comes to mind is that it would be awesome to have our own headline-tour; we could do this music without any compromises. I can't think of anything else.
Anton: I feel the same way. If we could make our living by doing this and have our own headline-tour around the world, that would be it.
Luxi: It requires hard work, touring and 100% dedication to Battle Beast and, who knows, perhaps you can achieve it all someday.
Anton: Yes indeed...
Luxi: That is it, so thanks a lot for your time, guys, and all the best to you in the future!
Eero: Thank you.
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