Interview Keijo Niinimaa (Rotten Sound)

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A couple of weeks ago I met up with one of my heroes in the grindcore scene. None other than Keijo Niinimaa, vocalist for Rotten Sound. These legends have been making music when I was still playing with Lego’s. Who am I kidding? Lego’s are still cool. Anyway, we had a fun chat for half an hour before their gig at Magasin 4, in Brussels (03-04-2019), Belgium. We laughed at some anecdotes, old news was confirmed, and new elements were brought to light.

So Keijo, it’s a real honor to meet you since I’m such a big fan of the band. Thank you for having me.

Of course.

How’s the tour been treating you so far?

It’s been a nice tour. Quite like we expected. No disasters, a lot of good people. No sold out shows yet. Very close though on a few occasions.

It’s now Wednesday. How do week shows fare against the weekends?

It’s been the same. We’ve been surprised. Like, yesterday’s show in Liège was a pretty good turn up. Monday in Colmar, France, was a bit more quiet, but even so there were maybe eighty people, which isn’t bad at all. And the room wasn’t too big. It often depends on the size of the venue. For example this place works because, even though the hall is fairly large, the sound board is close to the stage so that the audience is pressed against us. And I love it here. The people here have a good attitude.

Yes, you’ve played Magasin 4 before back in 2013

Right, with Martyrdöd and… Who else was it? Enabler!

I didn’t attend that show unfortunately, but I was there last year when you played Het Bos in Antwerp with Implore and Exhumed. I don’t know if you recall that one?

Yes, that was the last show of that tour.

Correct! That was actually the first time I saw you perform. Then I saw you again at Metaldays in Slovenia. Rotten Sound was one of the main reasons I went there.

Really? *laughs* Funny festival, that one. I was there for three days myself. I had a great time.

Now since this isn’t your first time touring with Implore, may I ask if you’ve noticed any evolution when it comes to that band, their music or the members themselves?

Well, I only got into them since the last tour. Because of that tour in fact. They’re kind of a young band so I haven’t known them for such a long time. The change from that tour to this one is not that big because they’ve only just recently started to write new material since their last album (‘Subjugate’, 2017). They still play approximately the same songs but in a different order. Maybe the change lies in their overall confidence? But they already had me convinced last time.

As opposed to them you’ve been around for quite some time, so you’ve most likely been an influence to them. Now does it go the other way around? Did you also draw some inspiration out of Implore’s talent as musicians?

I don’t really know. Our next album’s almost written, but maybe Mika or Sami have gotten something out of it. I must admit I haven’t listened to any demo’s of their last few songs yet – on which I still need to write some lyrics, by the way -, and I would have to get a hold of them to figure out if we’ve been influenced in some way.

We always pick up influences from bands we tour with. When you listen to the same music every day for two weeks, subconsciously you’re bound to end up writing music that is the product of that influence. It’s just inevitable.

We’re obviously not only influenced by the bands we meet on tour. There’s probably some Iron Maiden somewhere in there as well. *laughs*

Any similarities between your rise and evolution as a band and Implore’s?

I don’t believe in young or old bands. Music is universal, you know? All I can say is we have done so many albums and recordings and tried out so many different approaches over time, that we’re in totally different places. Implore are only rising stars about to release their third album, which is usually the defining one. In my experience at least. There are exceptions of course. Take Kvelertak, for instance. Their first album put them right at the top. It was released and in the span of one day everybody knew them.

No surprise there. I also love that album. They’ve changed vocalists recently, but I haven’t seen them with him yet.

Me neither. I didn’t even know they changed. It’s just a singer. *laughs*

Recognize any struggles Implore go through as rising stars?

I don’t think we struggled that much. Rotten Sound started off as more of a side project. All of us had our own bands – mine was Vomiturition – and we felt like we still had extra energy left, which we wanted to put somewhere. Then Mika had the idea of starting Rotten Sound. Because it was a side project we only played a few random shows during the nineties. We didn’t leave the country for more than once, when we played in Sweden. We just wanted to have some fun with grindcore, you know. Then we landed on Necropolis Records with ‘Still Psycho’, and we got to play festivals like Obscene Extreme. That’s around the time when we started to get tour offers. You start having band meetings and start planning more constructively around creating an album. The next five or six years we toured a lot more often, which further evolved into more complete European tours.

So Rotten Sound started off as a side project. Are any of those other projects still active?

Vomiturition isn’t around anymore. It used to be called Desecration, but there were five other bands with the same name so I went and picked up a dictionary and chose ‘Vomiturition’, which loosely means “the urge to vomit”. *laughs* We started off with a completely different line-up than when it ended. I was the only original member remaining. So when I moved to Tampere from Vaasa in ’97 nobody wanted to rehearse or do anything with the band anymore because it was pretty much something I was running. We had a lot of fun with it but, I mean, we started to suck really bad when we went into rock’n roll. The death metal part was much more enjoyable. It is still my favorite genre to listen to. You can hear it in all the bands I’m in. There’s death metal all over them.

You weren’t afraid that the fans would compare both bands because of that influence?

No, we were trying to keep both bands as separate as we could. For example, ‘Under Pressure’ is still very much a crust album. It wasn’t until ‘Still Psycho’ or ‘Murderworks’ that we started to include more death metal elements. I guess in the end Vomiturition became a part of Rotten Sound when we quit, and my connection with it broke off completely around ‘Murderworks’. We often talk about how we consider ‘that record to be Rotten Sound‘s first grindcore album, or maybe even its first album altogether. Looking back on it, it was then that we had found our sound.

You did change drummers at some point. Did this not influence the sound a little?

It did, quite a bit even. When Kristian came in, we got a lot more groovy. We included more slower parts into the songs, which gives it more of a sludgy edge.

Yes, that’s one of the elements that distinguishes you from so many other grindcore bands. You get into the groove at first, and when you least expect it the rest of the song just pummels its way into your eardrums. That violent contrast is one of the reasons I love your music so much.

Now, about your latest EP ‘Suffer to Abuse’. Is it a direct continuation of the last album ‘Abuse to Suffer’? I figure it might because of the word play alone.

The songs on the EP are the missing chapters of the previous album.. We had some discussion about the title, but I got my way in the end. The songs were all written at the same time as ‘Abuse to Suffer’, which is very noticeable, if you ask me. What’s more, the lyrical content is the same. They’re all short-stories about living creatures being exploited by someone or something else. We are all exploited in one way or another, whether we like it or not, or even though we try not to be.

We like this release structure a lot: album, EP, album, EP, … It just seems to work. It’s also less stressful. That way we don’t have to rethink our style every other year.

So we can probably expect a similar structure for the next album.

Yes, maybe. I think we have eighteen songs for the next album. Give or take a couple. One thing we did last time, which nobody in the band liked in retrospect, was that we recorded way more songs than we actually finished. So we ended up dumping stuff. This time we want to finish the songs before recording them, instead of recording some of what we have, and see if it works before giving the finishing touches. We want to put even more focus on recording a full album from scratch and not go through a process of elimination again.

Last time, everybody picked their favorites. We even gave each song scores. When songs had like ten votes, it would be taken into consideration, others we’d just toss aside completely. We want to avoid this for the next record.

But aren’t you scared you’ll lose some good material that way?

Exactly. That may have happened. Then again it always was a collective decision. But still we wanted to do the EP, because we had so many tracks. I believe we had thirty-five songs in total, sixteen of which made it on ‘Abuse to Suffer’, and seven on’ Suffer to Abuse’. Which means we still dropped quite a few tracks we didn’t feel like finishing anymore.

So you’re done with those. Maybe in five years you’ll do what Cattle Decapitation did and release a compilation album of previously unreleased material?

Maybe, maybe. I mean, we have the drum tracks, so who knows? We might end up composing the guitars again. You don’t even have to use the existing material. *laughs*

Right. Just slap something else on top.

What was the reception of the EP so far? You must have gotten some feedback.

It’s been really good. People say it’s a bit more diverse, which wasn’t calculated. It just happened to contain more varied and slower songs that weren’t included on the last album.

I do feel the song sequencing plays a huge part in the variation. It matters a lot. Correct sequencing will grant an album more substance, you know what I mean? For instance, our producer made us start with a slower one, which we thought was a good idea. Then I sequenced the rest of the EP, and put one of the heavier ones at the end: ‘Nutrition’, a track we recorded in a lower drop than we usually play in. It’s a song about a cow’s last day before the slaughter, told from the cow’s perspective.

Which reminds me we didn’t put any songs from the EP in our tour set list.*laughs*

A colleague of mine told me the Finns are very proud of the metal bands that hail from Finland. Did you notice any difference in the crowd’s reception back home as opposed to fans abroad?

I mean, Finland isn’t that into extreme music right now. Bands like Beast in Black are doing well, but that’s not very extreme. More like disco-metal. The extreme stuff is having a little break at the moment.
It might be good to know the sales numbers, but I haven’t really looked at them yet.

Any final statement? Any last message for the fans? “Come to shows”? “Buy the merch”?

Don’t buy the merch if you don’t need it. If you want something, and maybe feel like you need it, sure. We love being supported but, I mean, people should think more about what they consume. But yeah, definitely keep going to shows! Youtube videos are never the same. It’s relaxing after a hard day’s work, but live shows can also clear your mind.

I know what you mean. I myself am a twice-a-week kind of guy. Since I have quite a stressful job, I need to unwind.

Definitely. I still go to shows as well. Often alone, but I usually see friends on site. I like to make a few videos as well, just to remind myself of the bands. If I like it, I usually go live. I like going through my time line afterwards.

Well, Keijo, thanks again for having me. And I’ll see you out there.

You’re welcome. See you later!

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