Interview with vocalist Janitor Muurinen and guitarist Olli Nurminen
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: July 23, 2023
Live pictures by Luxi Lahtinen
Thanks to Minetti Ristikari from Fullsteam Agency Oy for setting up the interview.
Finland's Xysma, who started their musical adventure in 1988 under the name Repulse and playing pure goregrind, soon changed their name to Xysma and continued their musical mass destruction with their cult 18-track demo, Swarming of the Maggots, in 1989. The band gained a lot of status in the underground as one of Finland's finest purveyors of goregrind back in the day and soon, a small independent label, ComeBack Records, snapped the band up and released 1990's Above the Mind of Morbidity mini-LP and their debut album, which carried the name Yeah. 1988-91 could be considered the band's wildest years as true flagbearers of grinding death metal and saw them play with Dismember, Disharmonic Orchestra, Grave, Abhoth, Tiamat, Therion and the like, plus, of course, a lot of gigs around Finland with many of their country mates from Funebre to Disgrace to Sceptical Schizo and so on.
On the band's second full-length studio album, First & Magical, released in 1993, the band had already started to venture towards new musical territories, and was the start of a new era for the Xysma camp, leaving most of their grindcore/death metal roots behind. They stretched their wings in a direction many people called death 'n' roll, with a strong, rocking '70s grooviness to the sound. On the next two albums, Deluxe (1994) and Lotto (1996), Xysma found a bigger label, Spinefarm Records, to release their music and still continue on their chosen path, refining their craft without bowing to any outside pressure.
The band's fifth studio album, Girl on the Beach, released in 1998, seemed to divide Xysma fans over the band's "right to rock," so to speak. Many felt they had become a different band as they sounded too poppy, and certainly not the same band that created First & Magical or Deluxe. The Xysma camp was at a crossroad where they really didn't know which one to follow, so they decided to call it quits in 1998. The band reunited for one gig in September 2006, after Thee Stranius' sudden and untimely death that year.
In 2011, Xysma activated for some live gigs and have been playing a few here and there when a good opportunity occurs. It took a quarter of a century for these highly appreciated, now "a bit older" chaps to get their sixth studio album recorded and released, carrying the title No Place Like Alone. The Metal Crypt met vocalist Janitor and guitarist Olli at Rockfest in Hyvinkää, Finland before the band's showtime, and we had a quick talk about the band's comeback, new album, gigs in general and so on. Read on...!
NEW XYSMA OPUS: NO PLACE LIKE ALONE
First off, my sincere congrats on the release of your comeback record, No Place Like Alone!
Janitor: Thank you!
Olli: Thank you...
A quarter century is a friggin' long time, which is the time since your previous album, Girl on the Beach, which was released in 1998. Was it your intention to wipe the slate clean so to speak and not think of your past output when you started composing songs for this comeback record?
Olii: Yes, you could say that. To be completely honest, we had some raw material ready that was composed 10+ years ago, so in that sense we didn't start from scratch. We have been jamming together occasionally, just for fun, not really thinking, "Hey, let's make a new Xysma album...".
When we started jamming more seriously, we tried to figure out if these new songs would be worth releasing at some point. We have such a long history together that we pretty much knew what kind of sound we were striving for and what we didn't want to do music-wise. We wanted to go back to a riff-orientated sound, which feels most homey to us.
Janitor: Yes, that's true. We did have a bunch of raw material available that we didn't finish completely, and I don't actually know why we never finished these songs in the first place. Perhaps they didn't fit the overall concept on this new Xysma album, it's hard to say. We didn't want to think too much if our new songs would have fit the sounds of either the Deluxe or Lotto albums. We simply gave ourselves the space and freedom to do what felt right to us and our sound, so that was the starting point for this record.
The songs for this record came together pretty smoothly, I think. At first, Olli was sending raw files to me via WhatsApp, with programmed drums. Then I added some of my vocal parts and we basically proceeded from there. In these modern days, it was kind of WhatsApp rehearsal for us. Also, Olli and our drummer Teppo had played live together in different band lineups about five years ago, so they had some experience playing with each other. Olli had said in interviews that when he played in other bands after Xysma, some of his riffs we too heavy to be used in these groups. So now with Xysma, he had a chance to use some of these riffs, which is great! For example, the last song on the new album, "Encounter at Dawn," has a riff at the end that's from the sessions of our second album, First & Magical, released in 1993.
Olli: Yeah, that riff is originally from 1992 I believe.
Janitor: It was meant for a song titled "Cold," but we never finish that song, so that particular riff in question can now be found in the ending part of "Encounter..."
BACK TO THE LOTTO TIMES... SORT OF
Alright then, did you think beforehand that it would be better to get some of that old Xysma vibe back, like the First & Magical or Deluxe albums, incorporated into the new stuff on your comeback album so you didn't slip too far away from what Xysma is all about musically?
Janitor: Nope, we didn't have to overthink this matter much at all because the Xysma sound is so strongly in our DNA. I think the sound on No Place... is pretty close to our Lotto album, perhaps with a hint of the Girl on the Beach album but not in the way we made those records. We could have drawn a line for ourselves, "Hey, let's make a full-on grindgore/death metal album and put some crossover spices into it...", but at the end of the day it wouldn't have felt natural for us to make such an album. We simply did the kind of album that felt good for each of us, which is also about some sort of crossover thing in one way or the other.
Honestly, I feel like this new album is a natural and clear continuation from Lotto. I mean, after the release of Lotto, we ventured into a weird and obscure musical area where we really didn't know how we wanted to present the band to our fans. They were relatively strange times for us. All in all, making this new Xysma album felt very natural; to make it sound like it would have been a sequel to Lotto, without THINKING of making it sound like such.
IT ONLY TOOK 25 YEARS...
Why did it take a quarter of a century to get a new album out, keeping in mind the Xysma fans have been demanding it for many years?
Janitor: I think Olli has answered this question quite a few times in other interviews and one of the simple reasons is kids. There's been the family life for some of us, which has naturally "delayed" our comeback. I, for one, have anxiously been waiting for the right moment for all these years for when the band's comeback would gain some momentum. We did play seven gigs in 2013. After that, we had some rehearsal sessions and felt like it was the right moment to proceed and get some new stuff demoed. But every time, something has held us back. In all honesty, since Olli joined the band at the very beginning, he sort of became the main driver for Xysma and because he's been occupied with his life for all these years, the band was waiting for the right moment when Olli would tell us it's about time to get new songs recorded for the fans. You can continue the story, Olli...
Olli: Yes, I also think it has a lot to do with family for some of us. Now, my kids have grown into teenagers, and this fact gives more leisure time for parents and that's one of the main reasons for making some new Xysma stuff again.
I also left another band, which meant I had more time on my hands to put my focus on something new. I felt too much time has passed and it was time to start working on new riffs and stuff for Xysma's comeback. When you get the right flow going, it's easier and more relaxed to work on new material. I think when I got started, I was riding a good wave and got lots of cool stuff composed relatively painlessly.
Compared to previous albums, we got a good pile of material done during our songwriting sessions for this new album, way more than we did during the songwriting sessions of any of our past releases. If some song didn't feel good enough or we got stuck with it, we just started working on a new one. It was as simple as that. I felt like we had a very good flow through the entire session.
Janitor: As for my vocal parts, I believe I recorded about 75%-80% at home, and it was a good thing because I had my own space and peace to work on them whenever I wanted to. Sometimes I backed myself into a corner and wasn't sure what kind of vocal style this or that song needed to make it sound right. I wasn't too keen on trying to growl my guts out this time because it didn't feel right. Besides, to be honest with you I have never had that low of a voice, in fact, my vocal register has become higher the older I've become. Most vocalists' registers go down when aging, but mine is going higher for some strange reason, ha ha!
But yeah, I did struggle with some of my vocal parts but nothing major. With some little nuances here and there, I tried to get them to be the best I could. I am truly happy with what I accomplished with my vocal parts on the record.
Making a record should mostly be a full band effort. How was it with Xysma's this time around?
Olli: Well, I think so. Also, with our keyboard player Janne Lastumäki in the lineup, things are a bit different because we have never had a permanent keyboardist in Xysma, so that alone makes a difference as far as our sound is concerned. He brought a whole new level of musicianship and sound into our band, even when we were working on raw material. Before him, we might have added some keyboard parts into nearly finalized stuff in the studio, kind of glued them on top of the songs just to give something extra to them. This was a clear difference this time around, letting him to be present at the early stages of the songwriting process. His keyboard parts were a very natural yet organic part of the whole process, making it easier for everyone to figure out what a song needed and what would happen if we did this part this or that way. He's been a great asset to the Xysma lineup.
It sounds like the whole band was truly on fire with material for this new Xysma opus, and my wild guess is that you composed a bunch of stuff for this record, so much that you had to throw a lot of it aside for the time being, leaving some to wait for better times?
Olli: Yes, indeed. We had quite a lot of stuff that we were working for this album, and not everything was used, so there's always a slim chance that some of that stuff may end up being on the next Xysma release, who knows?
In this album's case, I would say we left off the kind of stuff that we didn't feel was quite there yet but waiting to get treated the way all of us would eventually be 100% satisfied with. When a song didn't sound right to us, we didn't get stuck with it but moved on to compose the next song. I am sure some of the stuff, being riffs, keyboard melodies, or whatever, may well find its way into some songs on the next Xysma release. We'll see.
Janitor: I also must mention that Olli brought some influences from our teenage years to this record, like some Maiden-ish guitar melodies and such, which I find a very cool thing.
NOT REPEATING THE PAST
I guess you didn't want to give much thought to all that you have accomplished in the past when you started giving a birth to the songs on No Place..., right?
Olli: Nope, not at all. We were thinking that what feels good, let's go for it and follow our instincts if I can put it this way.
Now the album is out and some very flattering reviews have been published on the Internet, has any of that surprised you?
Janitor: I kind of feared a little bit, being the cynical pessimist that I have always been by nature that if people hadn't liked it, how would I have reacted to their views and opinions? Would we have just ignored them all, saying, "F**k their opinions! We couldn't care any less..." but fortunately, people have proved me wrong by commenting with such positive words, which has surprised to a certain extent. Of course, some negative criticism has also been there, which is less surprising. Every coin has two sides, you know.
Would you say those negative comments have come from Xysma diehards for whom the Swarming... demo era up to your debut album Yeah, the grindcore/death metal period of the band, still mean the world to them?
Janitor: Apparently quite a bit, but I would say even during that period we were quite open-minded regarding our stuff, especially when we recorded our 1991 debut album, Yeah.
Honestly, I have never understood these strange opinions of the naysayers, or whatever diehards they are called. We played full-on grindgore for about one and a half years before moving to more death metal orientated shit on our debut album Yeah. I don't get it if some of these diehards think we should still play our earliest type of shit, even in this day and age. Don't they know the slightest about our history, duh! What's their logic that we would play raw grindcore in 2023, 30+ years since we were still knee-deep into that shit?
Olli: If they don't like our new album, they can always go back and pick up our old shit for their listening pleasure. That's always an option for them.
But a bit more seriously, fortunately, most people have really been digging our new album, which makes us grin. I think our fans have sort of "grown" along with the band over the decades and really understood what we have been and are about. Of course, there have always been some naysayers along the way, but we are used to them. They don't break down our world of Xysma anymore, that's for sure.
Janitor: All the respect to these Xysma purists, though. It's, of course, great if they like our past grindcore/death metal era because I have news for them; I do too because those days are a part of our history.
LIVE CONQUESTS – PAST AND PRESENT
Indeed, what's the point of repeating your past?
Janitor: Yes, you nailed it. There's no point repeating what you have done before. I think Xysma is still a very relevant band, respecting all that we did in the past, but we are not a grindcore/death metal band anymore, just doing what feels right to us. It's as simple as that.
Your nearly sold-out gig at the famous Tavastia Club in Helsinki (Finland) last October signaled it that it's good to have Xysma back, right?
Janitor: We played at the same venue in 2013 prior to this gig in October 2022, and playing there was great even back then. I was a bit nervous, but it went well for us, I think.
I also can recall when we played at Tavastia Club at some point in the nineties, when we were playing some of the last songs off our set, I noticed onstage that some people were already leaving for their busses and trains even we still had some songs to be performed for them. That doesn't always feel good, not back then anyway.
To talk about your forthcoming live activities, this year you've also got a small number of festival slots to be played. Is the main purpose for accepting these festival slots because when there are big crowds, there may be new fans who are hearing Xysma for the first time who will get excited and start buying your albums and other merchandise?
Olli: That would be an ideal situation for us, to find new fans when playing at festivals because since we regrouped again, there's a whole new generation of people out there who may have never heard of us.
Janitor: Our sincere thanks to Fullsteam Agency for booking us for some of these festival appearances this year. It feels truly great to play at festivals, which is something that cannot be taken for granted. It would feel much worse if we only played at some small, drunkard-swarmed local clubs only – all the respect to them also, however.
The Rockfest arranged here in Hyvinkää with bands like Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, Pantera, etc., is your biggest festival this year, correct?
Janitor: Yes, that's true. We have Tuska Festival on July 2nd, which is also a big festival for us. We have a couple of smaller festivals coming up where we'll play this year as well.
Have you ever given any thought to doing a special set with songs from the grindcore/death metal era all the way up to the Yeah album, and the later era after that?
Janitor: No, we haven't thought of that. It's been a tough nut for us to crack wondering if we should touch on the songs on Yeah anymore. I think the best answer to this could be provided by one guy sitting backstage at the moment, I guess. But if you ask me, I don't think we'll ever do such a thing live, combining the grindcore/death metal era with the stuff we made after that.
Olli: I agree with Janitor. It would be too much to tackle for us. Even if this thought might have crossed some of our minds, we really haven't discussed it.
Janitor: What I remember before COVID-19 hit all of us with its full force, was talking about including one of our old songs called "Foetal Mush" (off the 1990 Above the Mind of Morbidity EP) to our set list, which we also rehearsed at least once together as far as I can recall.
Olli: We'll probably never include it in our set list, but never say never. Anything can happen if we get excited about something, so let's see...
OK, I have one last question and then you are free to go do your soundcheck. Could you predict what will happen in the Xysma camp in 2024?
Olli: Well, according to what we have done this year, probably we'll have as many as three rehearsal sessions where we are all together, ha ha! We don't rehearse as much as we should.
Janitor: I bet we might be composing some new Xysma tunes, probably play a few well-selected shows here and there, but as I am a total pessimist, I don't believe those gigs will be festival slots. Not any festivals the size as Rockfest, though.
Olli: I am pretty sure we will get back in the songwriting mood again as we have some leftover material from the last songwriting sessions laying around in our computers' files.
Thanks guys for this chat. Wishing you a nice gig this evening!
Janitor: Thanks for having us!
Olli: Thank you.
|Other information about Xysma on this site|
|Review: Swarming of the Maggots|
|Review: Above the Mind of Morbidity|
|Review: First & Magical|
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