Interview with Mitja Harvilahti, Marko Tarvonen and Henri Sorvali
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: October 24, 2015
Finnish Pagan Metallers Moonsorrow earned a reputation as a cornerstone of the Folk/Viking/Heathen/you-name-it genre in recent years. Every album that they have put out has been an event. The band's latest work, Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa, a concept album about life on earth after a nuclear war was released on Spinefarm Records at the end February 2011 and marked the end of an era for Moonsorrow. They have been composing material for their forthcoming as-yet-untitled seventh studio album ever since and it has been a painful process for the band due to a number of different reasons.
The Metal Crypt had the privilege to be one of the first media publications to get an advance taste of what is to come from the Moonsorrow camp. Because the album is still far from finished only snippets were heard at Sonic Pump Studios in Helsinki, Finland, but it's safe to expect no less than a mind-blowing and epic journey from these Finnish Pagan Metallers. The album features five songs with one around seven minutes in length and the remaining four each surpassing the 10-minute mark. As usual, magnificently catchy, made-for-humming choruses and melody lines and clever compositions that ooze both testosterone-filled power and beauty, are present on this forthcoming opus. Frankly, it doesn't sound like it could get more epic and adventurous than this! In a nutshell, another earth-shattering masterpiece is on its way, believe me.
Let's have Mitja, Marko and Henri share their thoughts and feelings about their latest creation. Horns and swords up - and read on...
Luxi: Let's get straight to the main course. Can you tell us something about this new album, how this new material sounds to your ears and how it differs from everything you've done in the past?
Mitja: For starters, I guess it should be mentioned this album has been two long years in the works. At some point during the songwriting process we basically threw most of our old ideas out of the window and started with a clean slate because we weren't satisfied with the stuff that we had come up with. After that, when we knew the direction we wanted to take Moonsorrow in it took some time to find the right balance with the new stuff and how we wanted this new album to sound. With this record, the composing process wasn't finished until the final chalk line but we are very satisfied with what we have done.
Marko: The very last song that we finished for this record was completed just two days before we started recording drums. I didn't have as much time to rehearse the song as I originally hoped for. Most of the songs took final shape during the last week before we entered the studio and started the recording process.
Luxi: When you were composing songs for this forthcoming album did you feel that you needed to shed your skin and not repeat any of your other albums?
Marko: Yes, in fact it's always been that way for us when we start working with a new Moonsorrow album. There's no sense in repeating any of our old stuff really and it's important to progress and find new ways to express yourself musically, you know. I mean, it would be very easy to make a near copy of your most successful albums - like making Kivenkantaja II – because that way you would surely keep your fans satisfied and your record label would undoubtedly like it as well. But it neither serves anyone nor feels right because the bottom line is you always want to challenge yourself as a musician and come up with something different every time. There's no point in repeating your past stuff over and over again. Then again, there's always something that you could have done better on earlier releases but that's part of the musical evolution as you become a better player and musician. You start finding new ways to avoid the "mistakes" that you made on past releases.
Anyway, people should keep in mind that Moonsorrow isn't the same band that it was let's say 10 years ago other than we still have the same guys in the line-up. The stuff we did 10 years ago is radically different compared to the stuff we do these days, I would say.
Luxi: That's all true, yes. Then again, if you change too radically, as some bands have done over the years, die-hard fans may raise their middle finger and eventually stop listening to your stuff, if you know what I am trying to say here...
Marko: Yeah. The basic elements of the "Moonsorrow sound", in which epic melodies meet aggressiveness, have always been there on each album and they won't go anywhere, that's for certain. With this forthcoming album, I believe the main emphasis is more on those aggressive elements. In the very same breath I must also add that this new album will probably contain some the most folk-orientated elements that we have ever done for a Moonsorrow release, though they won't dominate the songs. Our new album is arguably a Metal album and not a Folk album, that's for certain. In my opinion we have also reached out to the extreme end on this new Moonsorrow album.
Mitja: I have to agree. Both sides are well represented on this new Moonsorrow record, both the folk side as well as the more extreme side. I think this album will have more Folk-orientated stuff than any of our previous albums. Perhaps our third album, Kivenkantaja, comes closest to this new album in terms of folk-orientated parts are concerned. I think finding the right musical balance on this record was really hard because some of us wanted to incorporate more extreme Black Metal elements into the songs but our new songs aren't extreme Black Metal in the true sense, you know. We struggled to get this album to sound like us which we eventually did, in my opinion. For example, just two days before we were supposed to enter the studio and start recording, Henri (Sorvali) wanted to turn a recently finished song totally upside down and basically strip all the folk influences down. We had a huge argument about this inside the band, I can tell you. The rest of us were totally against modifying the song because all of us felt like it's just perfect with some truly excellent elements in it. In fact, I believe it will become the most meaningful number off this new record for our fans. This particular song wasn't so Black Metal orientated in the first place so there's no point to make it sound like that although this burning argument took place in our camp because of the musical direction. This has been one of the reasons the making of this new album has taken such a long time. Sometimes it's easier to accept the fact that a song tends to take a certain format and everyone should be happy with it and not try to fix something that isn't broken, you know. However, I am confident enough to say that we have managed to pull together a very satisfying album once again.
Marko: Yeah, I agree but after many not-so-beautiful twists and turns I would add.
Luxi: Do you think that this new album is the most diverse album compared to your previous works where you have gone from one extreme to another?
Mitja: Hmm, in my opinion we still had the biggest musical contrast on our Verisäkeet album, but this new album comes pretty close to it when it comes to musical diversity. This forthcoming album will have a lot of blast-beat stuff, sheer rawness and such but we have a good dose of symphonic elements too, so the album will be a very diverse, which is a great thing.
Luxi: How did you share the work load with this album? Who did what and how much?
Marko. Henri is the primary motor when is comes to songwriting for Moonsorrow. It's always been that way and will always will be. Everyone in the band is of course allowed to contribute to the songwriting process with either musical or lyrical ideas but Henri is still the main filter that either approves or rejects stuff. He has the final word about everything when talking about Moonsorrow's songs. However, this does not mean that he is king of the hill with all the power over our stuff. Each of us is able to discuss our own ideas on a constructive level even if sometimes we cannot completely avoid twisting some arms. Little arguments between the band members are constructive to the songwriting process because they have a tendency to open our eyes as to where we are with our material and whether the musical direction is right and so forth. The thing for us has been that sometimes we have been totally lost with our direction and when we have tried to force ourselves back into a certain mold it has never sounded good. Eventually this has put our backs against the wall and at times has deepened our fights inside the band regarding what we should do and what we shouldn't. Sometimes if you are not getting anywhere with your stuff it is easier to call it a day and start all over the next. If you desperately try to get things done you may lose your musical vision and the result ends up sounding like crap. Plus, arguing with everyone in the band does not help that situation. Eventually you may start arguing about things that are not even related to making music. This holds some water when it comes to the writing process for this new Moonsorrow opus. In all honesty this new Moonsorrow album hasn't been an easy project for us. It's absolutely been our toughest and sweatiest album to make. Of course we are happy about the fact that when we entered the studio to record this opus we had all the material ready so the recording process itself has been quite smooth.
Mitja: Yeah. Actually a big difference between the making of our previous album, Varjoina... and this one is that Henri was able to compose the songs for that previous record at his old workplace. He did almost the whole album from start to finish alone. For the rest of us it was tough to get there and give our input. With this new album it's been totally different as all of us have had a chance to arrange the songs at our own home studios. We have made quite a few visits to his home during the past few months and it's been good because Henri has been craving input from the rest of us. This album definitely feels more like a collective work than Varjoina...
Marko: Exactly, or our V: Hävitetty album, which was far from a whole band effort, I think.
Luxi: Will this new album be a concept album, at least partly, in which the songs have something in common to each other lyrically?
Marko: No, it's not the kind of a concept album people think of although there's a faint connection between the songs lyrically which you may want to discuss with Ville (Sorvali). But in the sense of a concept album, where each song tells a story from one to another, it is not that. I prefer saying that each song has a story of its own.
Mitja: In fact, this was also one of the most challenging issues for us, when we decided not to put out a concept album this time around. We really didn't want to write songs the same way as we used to. Adding bits and pieces into a bigger whole that way prevented us from seeing the forest for the trees, if I can put it that way. We wanted to clarify our song structures on this new album because adding more and more parts into one song does not make much sense at all. We put more emphasis on the song arrangements so that the songs would stand out better than ever before. To be honest we haven't worked that way in 10 years or so. Finding the kind of right mode was also quite a challenge for the band.
Marko: It was very refreshing for us to work that way, which was totally different from how we used to work. Even though it's been a tough journey to get all of these songs put together for this album it's been somewhat easy for us to work in the studio environment with this material because we already knew how the album was going sound, which put us in high spirits. Getting to the recording stage has felt very good for the whole band, I think. I remember thinking two months back that this project was doomed. We were stuck in a miserable hole with no way out. Then a miracle happened within the last month or so and before we were about to enter the studio things started really flowing for us regarding our visions about the material (the starts in the night sky were in a favorable position for us, bla-bla-blaah, haha!!). It's really hard to put a finger on it and say what actually happened but things really started locking into place. Something definitely magical happened because all of a sudden things got drastically easier for us with regard to this new material.
Mitja: I have to agree. Somehow we found this nice flow and balance for our new stuff. Each of us was very secure about getting the right vibe and needed nuances incorporated into this record. I have a good example. Yesterday Jonne Järvelä (vocalist of Korpiklaani) visited the studio and did his special Shaman-type of vocals for one of our songs. He nailed it perfectly because when Henri heard what he did he was truly touched. We all agree that Jonne was the right man to sing this part. None of us would have sung that particular part as perfectly as Jonne did so we were really fortunate to have him sing it.
Luxi: Moonsorrow really isn't the kind of band that releases a new album every year. I was wondering if while in the middle of the songwriting process one or more of you have started flagging heavily for the kind of either musical, lyrical or conceptual ideas that would cause there to be a gap of 3-4 years (or more) between albums?
Marko: I would not say that has ever happened to us. It's basically been about personal matters as to why fans cannot get a new album from us every year. Plus, people should keep in mind that we don't make our living from this and we personally don't feel the need to keep Moonsorrow in that type of a strict release routine.
Mitja: That would be almost impossible for us...
Marko: Yeah, exactly. Why should we release a new album every second year or so? I just cannot see any point in it. We would rather take our time and work carefully and determinedly with it until we are 200% satisfied. Like with this album, we had almost an album's worth of material done but we weren't quite satisfied with it so we decided to clean our table and start all over again for better results.
Henri: I also have to admit working with the material for this new opus hasn't really offered any sweet honey. As Marko said, we did have a whole bunch of material composed for this record but eventually decided to throw it in the trash can. This has been a really difficult process for me to get the songs done for this album due to a couple of different reasons. To begin with, as Mitja and/or Marko has told you already, I used to compose stuff for Moonsorrow at my old workplace. I simply haven't had much time for anything due to long days at my current job plus my family has eaten up a good share out of my spare time as well. Also, my band mates have been coming and going to my place actively during the entire songwriting process so nothing has been easy for us with this album. Hopefully the fans can appreciate our efforts with this record when they get a chance to hear it eventually because I am truly happy with everything that we squeezed into the songs on this album. I have to say I am extra-happy with the last song that we finished for this album.
Mitja: Me too. It's going to be the most significant track on this forthcoming Moonsorrow opus.
Marko: It's going to be a true cornerstone of Folk Metal, haha!!
Luxi: When you signed a deal with Century Media Records this year, and congratulations for that by the way, how much pressure did they put on you regarding the promotion (interviews, playing gigs around, etc.) they expect you to do? Do they understand that you all have day jobs, families and stuff so promotion may be limited especially when it comes to doing longer tours?
Marko: Of course we want to play around as much as possible within some perhaps limited resources but we will definitely play as many shows as we just can. We understand that labels want to keep their bands on the road as much as possible from an album sales perspective. If you don't go out and play it's hard to get any recognition, that's for sure. Playing gigs is probably the best way to get your band promoted and that's something we are aiming to do when the new album is out.
Luxi: As this new album will be released in early spring 2016 will some summer Metal festival slots be your main target?
Marko: Our gigs are getting booked for the next year already. Some festivals have already been booked. I believe by the end of this year we will make more announcements. Germany, Holland, etc. - and Finland, hopefully – will most probably get their share of Moonsorrow, but we'll see. Tuska festival wanted us to play this year but we had to turn down their offer because we wanted to get the new album done and out first.
Mitja: When the new album has hit the stores everywhere we will want to tour in Europe plus a bunch of gigs are planned for Finland as well. We have a tour coming up in China which we will do before this album comes out. It was booked a long time ago. We are also hoping to tour in the States during the fall of 2016 but all this will depend on our other schedules in life. Normally, in the past anyway, whenever we have toured Europe we have also toured the States. Touring is always nice and cool and I have to say that I personally look forward to getting back on the road again.
Marko: I want to point out that changing from Spinefarm Records to Century Media Records hasn't changed a thing as far as our touring plans are concerned. When we were on Spinefarm they didn't pressure us to tour and it will be the same thing be with our new label. I don't believe they will push because they should already know that Moonsorrow isn't the kind of a band that puts the food on our tables. We all have our jobs outside of Moonsorrow.
Luxi: Surviving in the music business is a tough game. Money is tight and the markets have changed drastically due to the digital revolution with illegal downloads being a big part of the picture. In that sense I can understand why labels are under so much pressure nowadays as they are constantly striving to survive and to keep their boats afloat.
Marko: Yeah, like you said, they are all under a lot of pressure. The whole music industry has changed so much over the past few years. The album sales have gone down a lot and to survive you have to sell something else besides music like band merchandise in its many forms.
Mitja: It's going to be interesting to see how well this new album will sell as the times have changed within just the last five years. What is a positive signal though that people, especially those with more metallic tastes, are still buying music in a physical format. Even vinyl has made a comeback, which is nice of course.
Marko: I also find it great that people who have been there for us since the very beginning are still there and supporting our band which we are grateful for. Many of them are older than us and this older generation of Moonsorrow fans seems to have some money to spend because they all have jobs so they are still buying the physical formats, which is cool.
Mitja: They seem to understand that if they buy a physical release it supports bands releasing new stuff. They would rather pay for a physical copy than listen to Spotify accompanied by an annoying amount of commercials.
It's going to be five years since our previous album came out so I am more than ready to put some effort into promoting this forthcoming opus; as much as possible, definitely! It's about time to get something out for our fans. They deserve this album for sure.
Luxi: As many of us already know, the creative process can be a real pain-in-the-arse if you don't want to repeat the same concept over and over. It naturally takes a lot of time, patience and nerve to give birth to a new album so can we assume and/or predict that the next album after this one won't come until 2018 or 2019, perhaps?
Mitja: That's really hard to tell of course but you never know. It depends on so many things and it isn't necessarily that hard to get back into the songwriting mood again if a great idea for a concept album occurs all of a sudden. Sometimes it helps if you have a concept or idea for your forthcoming stuff. It makes it easier and faster to compose and come up with the kind of stuff that fits the concept, you know. For example, when we had the idea ready for the previous album, Varjoina..., we knew right from the start how we wanted it to sound. It helped a lot to have the concept in our minds and build the songs around it. We all had an "advance script" about Varjoina... going through our minds which helped us finish the songs pretty fast. If we know in advance what a Moonsorrow album should be all about musically, visually and thematically it helps us reach goals more efficiently. With this forthcoming album we didn't want a concept album and that's one of the main reasons it has taken so long to get it finished.
Marko: And while we are at it, talking about album concepts and/or themes, we don't know for certain where we are at with this band as far as our musical ideas in the future are concerned. We might well record an album that is not a Metal record, who knows. It could be a 100 percent folk album with no Metal elements to it at all. As a single idea it would be worth trying out. It's not something that we would completely rule out, not at the idea level. It would be interesting to see how the response for that kind of an album would be.
Luxi: Finntroll did a fully acoustic/experimental EP (Visom om Slutet, in 2003) some years ago...
Marko: Well, I would not be so much into doing an acoustic album with Moonsorrow but perhaps something along the lines of Opeth's Damnation album with all these Metal elements being stripped out of it, you know. I think they also wanted to dig up some elements from their past releases but leave out the striking Metal elements. It turned out to be a very successful attempt from them in terms of releasing a genius progressive Rock album. We in Moonsorrow could pick up all of the folk parts we think we are pretty good at and progress from there to see what we could do without any Metal elements. That might be interesting in my opinion. But IF we ever did something like that, it would fulfill some of our personal ambitious, I guess. It would all be done with good taste without getting into an embarrassing Spinal Tap situation. I would be ready and open-minded enough to try out more experimental things under the Moonsorrow moniker. It would not be any problem for me personally. It could even be a synth/ambient/soundtrack type of thing that might work under the Moonsorrow's name with big choirs and stuff.
Mitja: Yes, actually I have been thinking the same thing for some time now.
Marko: In a way it's good to keep your mind open to new ideas. We may never carry out these plans any further than the idea level, but never say never. It would be easier to list the type of stuff you'll never hear done under the Moonsorrow moniker; Industrial music and shit like that.
Luxi: Or maybe some "famous" Finnish Rap artist would make a guest appearance on a Moonsorrow album, haha!!
Mitja: Mysterious are our ways... haha!!
Marko: We already did a project combining Kalevala with Rap music but it won't be released under Moonsorrow's name.
Mitja: We are planning to let people hear it at the Eurovision Song Contest one of these days. The line-up for this project features some known names but it will remain completely secret until 2050, haha!!
Marko: When Europe is ready for it (*laughs*).
Luxi: What could you tell us about the Moonsorrow documentary that is currently in the works? It's going to be put together by a couple of true Moonsorrow fans from Spain, if I am not mistaken...
Marko: Yes, that's in the works indeed and I believe the fellows that are putting it together will be travelling to Finland in November to do some interviews.
Mitja: One of these guys has taken the time to put together basically everything about us with little details taken from old interviews we have done over the years. I believe this documentary will be based on interviews about us so we also want to make sure that the band members put some serious thought into it because obviously the fans of Moonsorrow want it to be as in-depth and informative as possible.
Marko: Also, this forthcoming document is supposed to feature material from behind the scenes; people who have been involved with this band in the background for many years and so on.
Luxi: Do they have a deadline as to when they are trying to get this documentary out?
Marko: Nope. They are using a crowdfunding campaign to get it financed and released as far as I know.
Mitja: The most important thing is that they get the kind of a documentary out that everyone involved will be 100 percent happy with. There's still a lot of work to be done before it's finished. It comes out when it comes out. We will find out soon, I suppose.
Marko: The guys want to see some of those studios where we have recorded our albums when they come to Finland and have some promotional pics taken of us and so forth. Plus, they want to see where each of us live, etc. so they will also get a peek into our private lives.
Luxi: Ideally it would be great timing if the Moonsorrow documentary was released in March 2016 when your new album comes out but I guess that's impossible considering timetables and stuff...
Marko: Ideally it would be a good promotion for this new album, that's for sure, but it won't happen. I believe it will take a while before it's ready for the pressing plant.
Luxi: Where are you going with the album cover artwork at the moment and who's going to be responsible for that?
Marko: An artist named Tuomas Tahvanainen from Nucleart Design is working on it as we speak. He's a guy we have worked with before for some t-shirts. He has done many band logos, album covers, etc. for bands like Impaled Nazarene, Ensiferum, Barren Earth and Deathchain just to name a few. He has mostly done work for Black and Death Metal bands.
Mitja: Tuomas has been around for a long time and is well known for his work because he has been there since the beginning and is a friend of many bands. He has known both of the Sorvali brothers since their teenager days, especially Ville.
Marko: Yes, in that sense he's quite familiar with Moonsorrow because both Henri and Ville know him so well.
Luxi: Did you give him some sort of a sketch for how you want the cover art to look or the album title so that you'd get what you want?
Marko: Well, we told him what style we are looking for plus we sent him the lyrics of our new songs to help him to achieve the result we want for the album cover. We have liked his past works a lot and that's the reason we chose him.
Mitja: We have always had a different artist for each Moonsorrow album and we wanted to continue this tradition for this new Moonsorrow album. We have also used different photographers on each Moonsorrow album because we wanted a different approach as far as photos, graphics, etc. are concerned. It's been refreshing for us to work that way and avoids routine. We always get something new incorporated into this band.
Marko: All this has worked just fine for us, changing the people that have worked with us in the past because each of our albums has been quite different from the others. In a way, the album cover for this new album should reflect the era we are at with Moonsorrow today.
Mitja: Now this reminds me and I cannot recall if we have even talked about this in interviews before but there's a somewhat funny episode related to the Kivenkantaja album which I would like to share with you. We wanted to order a real runestone from some Finnish craftsman just for the album cover. Eventually it was delivered to us in Helsinki by van and our plan was to get some promotional shots of the band taken at the same time. We wanted to find a nice spot for the runestone, a scene with some forest in the background and stuff, and when the time came to lift that runestone out of the van we faced a major dilemma. It was as heavy as hell and even with six people trying to move that mountain-heavy runestone away from the van this whole scene started looking like some hilarious Spinal Tap moment. Just try imagining six not-so-bodybuilder-looking musicians swearing, sweating and looking like dorks, desperately trying to get this stone moved out of the van with eventually ending in disaster, sort of. It was funny when we finally got that piece of rock moved out of the van and placed it on the wheelbarrow we brought. First, it made the tire burst and then the whole wheelbarrow started getting crushed into one miserable chunk of metal by the weight of the stone. I bet Henri's poor mom must have been happy as he borrowed it from her. Anyway, the story goes on and we finally, somehow, got that huge piece of rock placed on the ground in a way it looked alright. We filmed it using a high resolution picture format which we were somewhat happy with. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the work that Spinefarm's ex-graphic artist in those days did with the pictures. He simply photoshopped the cover in a way that it looked like was made with some cheap computer program which wasn't what we were originally looking for. He pretty much ruined it for us.
The stone was left where we originally dropped it, at least for a little while because Spinefarm Records, who had paid for it, raised quite an argument with us as we didn't give a shit about returning to the Spinefarm office. We did not. Eventually some of the guys from their staff came and picked it up and took it back to their office building.
Marko: They left it in their backyard and after a while the stone was full of cracks because some construction workers weren't too careful with the stone. There's was some facade renovation going on at that time near by the Spinefarm Records headquarters. The stone was truly in bad shape and bits and pieces were missing. Some of those pieces ended up going to a bunch of Moonsorrow fans, at least that's what I heard.
Also, we didn't have enough guts to return the crushed wheelbarrow to Henri's mom but dumped it in a landfill instead, haha!!
Luxi: Spinal Tap moments, I see...
Mitja: All of those tiny, embarrassing moments that can happen to a band in the Spinal Tap movie, I have experienced myself in the past 10 years or so while touring with Moonsorrow. We have even had a Stonehenge-type of thing onstage, not with midgets but some of the guys from Swallow the Sun instead, covered by some folio-made outfits and shit. It was hilarious as hell during the gig. This happened in Leipzig, Germany, in 2007. This can be found on the DVD that came along with the Moonsorrow vinyl box set (titled Heritage: 1995-2008 - The Collected Works, released by Blood Music in September 2014).
Marko: Swalow the Sun thought it was such a great idea that they decided to do the same thing to all other bands they have toured with on the very last gig of every tour. They are such nice fellows indeed, haha!!
Luxi: That was the perfect ending for this conversation, so thanks to both of your for your time. All the best finalizing the recordings for the new Moonsorrow album.
Mitja & Marko: Thanks to you, too.
|Other information about Moonsorrow on this site|
|Review: V: Havitetty|
|Review: Voimasta Ja Kunniasta|
|Review: Jumalten aika|
|Video: Aurinko ja Kuu (Fan Video)|
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