At Hellfest 2015 we met Sami Hinkka from Ensiferum for a nice chat in the press-area.
Sami Hinkka (ᵒ1978) is the bass player and clean/backing vocalist in Ensiferum. He joined the band in 2004 and also writes most of the lyrics, ever since ‘Victory Songs’, and we know why, because of his insightful answers throughout the interview, wow!
What effect do you think (metal-) music can have on adolescents?
Sami: A lot, when I was young and in school I made a presentation about Jimi Hendrix. And I remember him saying somewhere that a musician has a huge responsibility, because they have such a big effect on young kids. And I was maybe 15 or 16 and then I realized that’s actually true. The many bands that I listened to were kind music like Metallica and Iron Maiden, but also black metal was coming up at that time. On the other hand I realized it’s really important to teach kids how to think, not what to think.
And do you sometimes think about your own struggles from when you were young, when you play your music? Do you use it to cope with your own problems?
Sami: Yes of course, in a way, because I write most of the lyrics nowadays. Even though we have really strong heroic themes and some people call us Viking metal, but the lyrics for me at least on the last three albums are about real life, about something that happened to me or close to me. But like I said we have really strong heroic fantasy themes so it’s a really nice challenge to try and find the metaphors. You can just enjoy the [grunts] “yeah take a sword and killing of an enemy”, and drink a beer. But as a lyric-writer for me it’s important to have a deeper meaning.So, yes, and when I get on stage and scream the lyrics I want there to be emotions. And there are some pretty aggressive songs on this album and I really like it when I go on stage and actually shout them and feel the anger coming. And maybe someday the anger will be gone.
I saw about “One Man Army” [New CD, red.] that it’s about fighting but also like an inner fight.
Sami: Yes! Isn’t that where all the main struggles are? Because we can’t always choose what happens to us but we can always choose how we react. And that’s the biggest and toughest battlefield, between our ears.
I also saw in the lyrics that there are main themes like ‘going somewhere alone’, ‘riding alone’, and ‘finding an own path and somewhere to belong’. Is that something you can really relate to?
Sami: Yeah, I think that’s really humane. I think everybody has those thoughts in some parts of life. And it’s funny to read old lyrics now, because in a way they feel really juvenile but on the other hand there’s no right or wrong interpretation. One of the best moments I ever had as an artist was 2009 when we released our “From Afar”-album.
We did a tour and for some reason there was a girl inside the venue when we were doing our sound check. She was from Iran, and we were in Germany, she was studying there. I got off the stage and she was like “You’re telling the story of my people.” And she started quoting my lyrics and told how she felt about it, and she felt so related to it. And of course I could see the similarities, but she got so emotional about that and she didn’t even listen to metal music before! And it was so surreal I still get goose bumps even speaking about it.
And that was the point that I decided I will never explain my lyrics too much, because I want everybody to have that freedom, because there is no right or wrong. And that’s also why I never get angry at somebody for interpreting the lyrics.
I also write about the self-discovery and identity formation of young people and how they can use metal to do that, with for example; merchandise. Can you relate to that: using metal and the band to find your own identity?
Sami: Of course. We don’t wear cool shirts from ourselves. It’s always a statement. No matter what you say, if your t-shirt says “Fuck me, Jesus” it’s a statement that you want to tell other people. If you were the only person in the world; what would you wear then? So that’s understandable for young kids and if you just walk on a festival and say people wearing different shirts they probably want to tell something about themselves. So even though everybody wants to be so individual, on the other hand we’re pretty much the same. How many thousands of people are here?
We’re all special together!
Sami: Yes! But yes, I agree and it was only yesterday when I was checking out the shirts and one shirt I really liked to say was “in reason we trust”, so I’m going to order that one.
And next to the t-shirts there are also the thoughts about metal and the themes in the music. How adolescents can use that to find their own identity, to find what they’re searching for. Like in your lyrics: riding alone to your destination, where you belong. And I think people can find a place to belong at a festival.
Sami: Definitely. We’re among friends here. And that’s one of the beautiful things about a metal festival. I’ve got many friends who work in the security business, and metal festivals are the most easy-going. There are less fights, and people are totally drunk you know, someone might spill a drink on you but it’s always ok. It’s the same with bus drivers, they also say metal bands are the easiest ones. So even though metalheads might look scary – on the other hand nowadays in Finland for example metal is somewhat mainstream – but also around the world… we’re not burning churches or anything, we just have long hair, and a few tattoos and you know…
Actually last week a few miles from here a church burnt down, so I was like o my God this is actually Hellfest. [Laughter] But what I wanted to say was: it’s like feeling alone together, feeling special in your own way. Feeling like an outcast in society but together with all your friends and fellow metalheads. What do you think about that?
Sami: I think it’s really important. This is actually what the song ‘One Man Army’ is about. That everybody needs each other and their own herd. Nowadays we live in such big cities, and the community is not really there, because we don’t live in small towns where everybody knows each other. I think it’s really important for everyone to still be able to stand on their own feet.
What do you think about the fact that people can find comfort in your music? As a place to escape in the heroic adventures for example?
Sami: That was actually a word I had in my head: escape. I think it’s also that I need it. Even though I like the slayings and stuff, I think the escapism is really important, to get away from all this. And on the other hand you get an insight to real life if you try to forget everything for a second.
Yes I also thought about the fight to go on with all the lies in the world, and that people are afraid to see the truth. And metal tells the truth, it’s the courage to stand against the stream.
Sami: Yes, so kind of being a rebel. But in a good way. Sometimes in a bad way, you have to shake people. People are never on the same level, they can’t adapt to information, they cannot understand it yet. I guess that’s the reason why there can never be a harmony. Because human beings always are like that, life is a progress and some people reach the level of consciousness that they understand certain ways of behaving are really stupid. Just being a pain in the ass for other people.
And do you see a difference in the different countries you visit?
Sami: Not really. I guess people who come to our shows are really similar minded. Of course there are small differences, and some people are more open. But metalheads around the world, and especially people who come to folk metal shows, are really nice people. Very open and generally really happy at the shows. So it’s a pleasure to meet our fans. Even though there are really aggressive moshpits and people are shouting their asses off, still they’re helping each other in moshpits if someone falls down and they’re all having a good time. I’ve only seen no real fights but sort of pushing, and one of the funniest moments ever was in North America, many years ago, and two big bald guys were like “white power!” and we were like “really?!”. And one meter from there was a black guy shouting his lungs out on our music [laughing]. And it’s like dudes, come on, enjoy the show and have a good time! And our show is not the right place for that white power stuff.
We always have a good time! I also noticed in one more magic potion, that it’s the opposite of all the struggles but just partying and drinking, calm your mind and drift away from the pain. Do you like to party to calm your own mind?
Sami: Yeah, the song was written in 2007, and we used to party a lot more at that time… And you know… The Finnish tend to drown their sorrows in alcohol. That’s one way to do it.
Do you have time to party nowadays?
Sami: Yes we have time, but on the other hand, if you compare those times with now, we have much more responsibility to play a good show. Those days we played for 200 people, and don’t get me wrong, that was amazing, but people didn’t care if we were drunk or hung over on stage. And nowadays when we get on stage people pay to see a good show, and it’s not an option anymore. And it was around that time… we used to drink a lot! At one point I just realized; If I can’t get on stage sober and get kicks out of music and the interaction with the fans, I’m doing this for the wrong reasons. And I made the decision: I won’t get on stage wasted ever again. And that works for me.There’s a time and place for everything, like today I’m sure there’ll be a huge party because of the Metal Blade guys from the States, our record label. And Finntroll is here! And I haven’t seen the guys for a long time. We actually did a naked bunk attack; all semi-naked because the singer Mathias was sleeping in our backstage and we woke him up. Yeah ok… [laughter]. After the show I think there’s going to be a party. And there’s Faith No More tonight… tough choice. And we have to leave at midnight to play at Graspop, but we have our own bus so I guess the party goes on in the bus. But yeah there’s no rule like no drinking before the show to be professional, but for me it’s a personal thing. When I go on stage I drink nothing before, I have some drinks on stage but sometimes I can do a headlining show and just drink water. It’s not like I need it. I can have a few drinks before and that’s totally ok, it’s everybody’s personal thing.
Yes of course! So about Graspop, we are from Belgium! And we wanted to ask what you think about Belgium?
Sami: I like it a lot! And our tour manager is Belgian.
Ah! So do you like Belgian beer then?
Sami: Yeahyeahyeah! And so good waffles! I mean there like [groants]. Yeah I’ve got a lot of good memories in Belgium. Actually our tour manager lives pretty close to Graspop so it’ll be really nice to stay there for a few days. Summer in Finland is also really short so that’s cool.
We have a metal community too in Belgium, in Ghent. With some gigs and metalparties, a place for people to meet each other a few times per month. Do you have any tips?
Sami: That’s a really nice idea! When you’re from Finland you sometimes forget metal isn’t that mainstream. We have mainstream radio stations playing metal and then the specific rock and metal radio stations too. I think the best is to spread the good word and treat people well, but I’m sure you do because you’re nice people and I really love the idea. It’s really remarkable; I raise my hand for you guys.
Yeah it’s so awesome when someone tells you “thank you so much for doing this”. And there’s a lot of metalheads who don’t have metalfriends and we really like to talk to them and send them into the rest of our group, and it’s amazing when they thank us for making new friends. I really think that’s the greatest thing about doing that.
Sami: Yeah that’s… I’ve got goose bumps. It’s really rewarding to do something like that from pure heart, that’s really great from you guys. One thing: do a metal karaoke!!
Yeah we were already planning to do that!! And metal bowling! We try to find things next to the gigs that are also fun to do.
Sami: Yes and on gigs the music is so loud you don’t get to know people that much.
That’s right. Do you have a final message for the people in our community?
Sami: Always remember that everything changes and there’s only this moment. And if this moment feels like shit, always remember things and people change. And when you’re among good people, cherish it and remember to tell them you love them, or at least like them. And with friends and hobbies it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. Don’t stress about other people’s opinions too much, but respect them as a human being. Always remember that even though somebody might be an asshole, everybody in the end just wants to be happy.We only have this life and this moment, it’s not a rehearsal, it’s your life. Make the most out of it! And in the end: don’t take it too seriously.