After a long travel through not too nice weather, I managed to get to Biebob on time to have a conversation with the musical brain behind the Finnish band Wolfheart: Tuomas Saukkonen. We met up in front of the venue and decided to go have a seat in the tour bus that was parked in front. Having warned Tuomas there might be possible troubles with my public transport since they predicted very bad winter weather in Belgium, in our short conversation before the start of the interview he wondered about us seeing the present weather conditions as winter weather. When I confirmed, he responded with a laughing “Well that’s cute!”. With that we embarked on an interesting talk about Wolfheart‘s music, his upcoming album “Tyhjyys” and touring.
So, everything ok?
Yes, I’m fine. I’m breathing and alive, so I am fine.
Well, the tour only just started, so I’m guessing you’re not overly tired yet?
Actually usually with me it goes the other way around, always the beginning of the tour is more tiresome. Because, I don’t know why, everytime I go on tour there’s a huge amount of work that I need to be able to finish before I start to tour. So I was again working 270 hours in December… I still have my working shoes on… I came directly from the working site to the airport, so the first days I always try to get back to real rhythm like sleeping and stuff like that. And since I don’t drink at all, I’ve been straight-edge since 1980, so to me the tour doesn’t get tiring, it doesn’t wear me out at all.
You’ve had only 2 shows now, this is the third. How has it been for now?
Really good! Usually the first gigs are more or less a bit of a hassle: new songs in the setlist, the schedules in the first venues always go a bit wrong,… like we did soundcheck after the doors were open… but I was prepared, wasn’t even surprised at all. In general it went a lot better than I even thought, really good audience. I’m not trying to say I was surprised we played well, but since we don’t really get to rehearse much… one of the guys is living in Oulu, 600 km from us… In the past 3 years we’ve had only 3 rehearsals together in total. We know how to play the songs but you don’t have the same kind of routine playing together that easily. But the first gig was really really tight and pretty cool.
That’s great! So about your new album “Tyhjyys”: I was really excited to see that there was a new one coming from you. How has the response been on the first single “Boneyard” uptill now?
The fans has been reacting really positive about it! It’s a really heavy song on our scale, really fast, really heavy… it’s like the extreme side of our music. So we weren’t sure if everybody was going to be excited about the song. The second single (The Flood, FYI) is going to be the other end of the scale, almost the complete opposite of the first one. When you have a really diverse album, it’s really hard to pick out one song or even two songs that describe the whole album… That works with AC/DC (laughs) The second single is actually my more favorite song of the album. Though it would’ve been bad as a first single, because we wanted to have a “live song” with the pyros and Summerbreeze,… cause I love Summerbreeze. And it’s kind of building up to be a tradition to make a video there. Cause we did the same with the previous album (Aeons of Cold, FYI) so we needed a really powerful “energy” song, so that dictated to go for Boneyard.
Boneyard is indeed a very heavy and sort of brutal song. Though on the other hand I heard the comment that despite it being harsh the music is still sort of beautiful in a way.
Yeah, I wasn’t aiming to do this brutal song just to be brutal. What I really like to do when I write music is to build the contrast. You can have really heavy riffs and brutal stuff, whatever orchestration on top of that, growlings,… and then you put acoustic guitars. The contrast is what I really like in music. So the more heavy you go, the better you can underline the melodies.
Looking at the underlining melodies, I always sort of found a vibe of black metal to the sort of melodic death metal that Wolfheart plays. Is that on purpose or is it the sort of Finnish cold that creeps into it?
Ei (no in Finnish, FYI)… I do like the melodic side of black metal really much, like older Dissection and old-school Swedish stuff like Dawn and bands like that that don’t exist even anymore. I really like that style of music. I wouldn’t say it’s the Finnish coldness, it’s just because I do like those kind of scales and harmonies in music… And I don’t really appreciate the term “melodic death metal”… eventhough I know the rules of labeling music. But that is the reason why I came up with this “winter metal”. I’m trying to push that term to every place ’cause it gives me so much more freedom. Winter metal doesn’t exist, it’s a season, not a music style. With that it’s easier to put doomy or post-rock elements or black metal or death metal or whatever and it fits there. But when you have melodic death metal it’s so stereotypical and I wouldn’t see us as that straightforward melodic death metal. Because with intention I put the other influences there… and I wouldn’t want to have the word black metal connected either. Which is funny, cause melodic black metal and melodic death metal are completely different styles of music, not just the meaning, but the music itself. But since we don’t have any religious point of views in the music I don’t want to use black metal eventhough it would fit so. That’s what I really hate, you know, the whole labeling thing… so I have a mission to make the “Winter metal” our official music style.
So, besides the really harsh song and the song on the other spectrum on the album, are there any surprises still? What can we expect?
Not really surprises musically, I’d say. We are still in the same music style and everything. Though there’s one brand new element that can be heard in all of the songs: I didn’t want to do the keyboards myself. Cause I’m a guitar player who likes to play drums. And everything else just follows and I don’t have that much time to really get into it. It’s easy to play piano… you have the white thingies and the black thingies and you push them in different order and you get some sound. But getting into that orchestration would require time that I didn’t really have. So we had the keyboard player of the Finnish band Shade Empire (Olli Savolainen, FYI) to do the orchestration and he did an amazingly great job. Because I wanted a sort of movie style mood for the songs instead of this you know this really plastic sound, kind of cheap effects on the keyboards,… That can already be heard on the Boneyard single, but the second single is actually a good example of it, how he builds up with the flutes and piano, my acoustic guitars… And since I have my own way of composing, I don’t think I’ll every get to escape certain things I wanna do… I don’t mean to… I just like to make music I like, I don’t think too much about it. But it’s also really cool the hear someone else’s handwork, how it actually changes the mood that I had on my guitars and then what he builds up from there. So there’s not really a surprise, but really nice new elements.
That’s really interesting to know. The new album is called “Tyhjyys”. From my wife I got to know that it sort of means “Emptiness”. What’s the story behind it or theme/feeling?
In a way it means “emptiness”, yeah. Tyhjyys is a tricky word. A lot of Finnish words don’t really translate… You can get to almost the similar meaning, but some Finnish words carry a certain emotional load that you can’t just translate. And Tyhjyys means to me in this concept means kind of a combination of “desolation, complete void and emptiness”. But “emptiness” would be a way too bleak and simple word. So I couldn’t really find any English words to properly represent it. And as a Finnish person when I had that in my mind that it had to represent that word, so I was checking the English dictionary like… “I can’t use any of these words, it would be completely wrong!” So why not using the Finnish words. And there’s the Finnish song, the last song on the album also, the title track. I like writing Finnish lyrics… sometimes… I wouldn’t want to do completely Finnish. But if I have really a certain thing to say, it’s really more easy to do it in Finnish for me. What is really tricky when you have “Winter metal” and in English language there’s one word for winter, one word for snow, one word for ice… That’s also a reason to use Finnish. Like on the other albums there was a Finnish song to every time, cause then I have a little bit more room to work with what I want to say. And like the Eskimos have like 50 words to describe snow and ice and English is just…
Yeah! So besides this tour now, do you have any other plans besides the album release in March?
There’ll be a third music video and single still, of which we have the shootings right when we’re back. We’re now more focusing with this concept of “mini tours”. We got the idea from Shining, the Swedish band. Our label artist relations guy actually plays guitar in Shining and we talked about it with him. Cause it makes so much more sense to play these “a little bit less than a week” tours. You get to play only the good days: you start on Wednesday and end on Sunday. All the guys also have jobs and families or whatever, so it’s much easier like that compared to 4 weeks of touring when you’re not a full-time musician. So we’re going to have one Spain/Portugal, one Scandinavian, one only in Finland… like one for every month. And then the Summer… we’re going to do festivals. And then hopefully we have another tour to Europe… a European tour at least and hopefully also in the States, which is a tricky thing cause it isn’t the easiest continent… But we’ll see… at least there has to be a second a little bit bigger European tour coming.
Yeah, I noticed that there are quite some a bit smaller or genre-specific bands are just popping up in a certain region for a few days and then some time later somewhere else. Which is kind of an interesting development to see.
Yeah, if you’re a smaller or still growing band, you’re less “tied” to a bigger band. Like, we were offered our headline tour already for last Winter on which we said “no” right away. Cause we would have been playing to maybe 50 people per evening… you need to build up your fan base before you… “You need to learn to walk before you run” But this is a really good way: you’re not connected to the schedules or to the financial big agencies or bigger bands. You can those smaller things on your own, it doesn’t cost you anything, you can actually make some money if you plan it well. And if you do the promo work well in that region before the tour, during the tour and after, you can grow in that area and make a bigger one the next time!
Indeed! Like I most of the time do, I’ll give you the last word towards our readers…
I really hate those “last words”… I don’t wanna say that I have nothing to say, but I rather let the music talk… So if you could put a video link or something just at the end of the interview, that would be the best final words I could give (laughs)
After ending the interview, we actually ended up having a small conversation still about how much he likes the venue (Biebob in Vosselaar, FYI) because of the little things they think of like cereals at breakfast. Though he’s not a big fan of the backstage area, which is basically a hallway where you get stuck staring at a wall if you’re not gone quick enough before the next band starts. Eventhough the talk was really nice and we probably could’ve talked for awhile still, he went to look for his next interviewer. But not before posing for a picture with me and me wishing him a great show. Check out Wolfheart‘s music and their new album on March 3rd, to be released through Spinefarm Records!