INSOMNIUM’S NIILO SEVÄNEN: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
I don’t think I’ll ever be upset if a band I love starts getting more popular. Finally, they’re getting some recognition, and all the people I usually bug about the music I like can get some peace from me. Of course, there is a certain amount of smugness to “being there first,” but what can you do? I try not to be too smarmy about it.
Insomnium is one such band. It’s no secret I enjoy my melodeath, but it seems so dismissive to label this band as such and leave it at that. I hesitate to describe their sound as anything but “haunting” — the word could not be more apt. Seamlessly combining melancholic harmonies with harder solos, their music is just dark enough to offset the bittersweet lightness that pops up at unexpected intervals. Their newest album, One For Sorrow, marks their fifth release, and vocalist, bassist, and co-founder Niilo Sevänen was happy to talk about why they sound so sad.
You have a new album out —
Yes! Of course.
One For Sorrow, and I think it might be my new favorite — I especially like “Regain the Fire.” Any song you’re quite partial to?
Well, thank you very much! I think the album is a really strong package, and I personally like all the songs a lot so it’s really hard to pick just one song. Maybe “Song of the Blackest Bird” and “Only One Who Waits”… those are some of my ultimate favorites at the moment. But I think they’re all very good.
Great, I agree! So, for people just getting into Insomnium, which record would you suggest people start off with?
Well, that’s a tough question, but maybe I would tell them to listen to the new album first. I think it might be the most diverse album; it has all kinds of stuff, different elements. I think with every album we’ve developed our sound and brought something new so I would pick the newest one but I also think the old albums are pretty good, so no problem starting with whichever you find first!
You’re about to go on tour in Europe, right?
How do you feel about that? Is touring something you’ve gotten used to by now or is it always an ordeal?
We’ve done quite a few tours already, so we know what to expect. But this is actually our first real headlining tour in Europe, so of course we are very excited. We can’t blame anyone else if no one shows up, it’ll be our fault! But I’m confident it will go well, and the hype around the new record is so good, so hopefully there will be a lot of people coming.
Any places in particular you like to go or are really looking forward to?
I like to travel and see new places, so it’s hard to pick one. But cities like London or Munich or Paris always have good audiences for us. It’s always good to go there because you know the show is going to be really good and they’re all very nice cities.
How about the States? Do you have plans to come over here any time soon? Have you toured in the States?
Actually we have, it was in 2007 with Katatonia and it was a really good tour, one of the best tours we’ve done. We certainly want to come back.
I hope you do.
We are, at the moment, working on it and trying to come there in the spring. So maybe in a couple of months!
Oh, good! I’ll keep an eye out. Now you come from a pretty melodic death-heavy place, and there are several bands that kind of have that definition too, like Amorphis. But, I don’t think Insomnium is as well known as most of them. Do you have any ideas why that might be?
I think the biggest reason is that we used to have a pretty small label, Candlelight Records, and our first four albums we did with them. Of course, I don’t want to speak badly of them, that’s not the point here. But they are a pretty small label, and had a limited capacity to promote us, and that was clearly one thing. Now we started working with Century Media, and things looks a bit different right away, so I think that plays a big part in it. The past 5-6 years we’ve been going forward and we’re confident this new album will push us to new heights.
Yeah, and I think most other bands within the genre also have kind of a niche. Like I mentioned Amorphis; their songs are more folk-oriented. Is there a certain way you would describe your music?
I think we can confidently say there is no other band that, at the moment, is making the same sort of music as Insomnium. It’s hard to put in words what is the theme. Our lyrics are different than what anyone else doing. We put a lot of effort in the lyrics, and there are many bands that don’t really care much about the lyrics [laughs], and maybe it’s something they’re not interested in or capable of writing well. So that’s one thing. This certain kind of melancholic, moody melodies that we do, the atmosphere in our music, in some ways you can call it unique. Of course, there are other bands out there that sound similar, but I think, as a whole, we’re kind of doing the music no one else is at the moment.
Now that you mention it… why do you always sound so sad!?
[laughs] Well… we like this kind of music!
No, no I figured as much! I’m not trying to say you’re horribly depressed!
We’re pretty normal and happy guys, so don’t worry. We’re not depressed or anything like that. We simply like this kind of music.
Did you grow up with metal? Were there any big influences for you or was it something you stumbled upon later on?
Well, I started listening to metal when I was 13.
Me too, actually I think I was 14. Was it Iron Maiden? It’s always Iron Maiden.
I think that’s the age most of us discover it! But actually it was Metallica. Then I started in my first band when I was 14, and then gradually found heavier and heavier stuff like death metal, black metal. When we founded Insomnium in 1997… I was, wait, let’s see [pauses, laughs]… 18! Yes, 18. I think back then the bands that most influenced us were those Scandinavian melodic death bands. So Amorphis and Sentenced and In Flames, Dark Tranquility, Opeth, At The Gates, Dissection, stuff like that.
I don’t know how current this information is, but I read that you’re currently in school? If that’s true, how do you balance that with being in the band?
Actually, yes, that’s old information.
Okay, I wasn’t too sure about that.
Yes, we’ve all graduated from university. I studied history, cultural history. Ville Friman [guitarist] is a biologist. Our other guitarist, Ville [Vänni], is a doctor, and our drummer, Marcus [Hirvonen] is an environmental engineer. So we all have our degrees and our steady day jobs at the moment. So we don’t need to make music as our living, which is of course, a great thing. We can do exactly the kind of music we want, because there’s not so much commercial pressure that we need to sell thousands and thousands of copies to pay our mortgages or rent. We have our day jobs and we have our band and it’s a very good arrangement at the moment. If we were in this for the money, we wouldn’t be playing death metal, we would be making some kind of pop music!
That would be… interesting! Back to the album then, can you tell me a bit about the whole process of recording and writing and what happens between each album?
We toured quite a lot [behind 2009’s Across the Dark], and then we got the new deal with Century Media, which was great, and gave us a lot of motivation, and we then toured with Dark Tranquillity in Europe. Then we had another long tour last autumn, five weeks, and then we took a break and just concentrated on new songs, and it took about half a year to compose new stuff. At the end of March, we went into the studio and we actually used three different studios. In Finland we used Phantom Studios, which we used a few times before, where the drums, bass, and the vocals were recorded. After that we went to Gothenburg, in Sweden, to record the guitars with Daniel Antonsson– he’s the bass player in Dark Tranquillity, and he has his own studio, and when we toured with them we got to know him and became good friends. He invited us to record at his place and it worked really well, we got the sound we wanted. And finally the keyboards were done in another studio in Finland where we know we can get the best possible sound. So that’s, in short, what happened.
Back to fun stuff! I mostly ask this to European bands because it’s a question I grew up with and I’m sure a lot of others did too… are there any football (soccer) teams you support?
Yes! AS Roma. I went to Italy once on a school trip in university and we went to a few games and I support them.
See, I knew it. I had to pick my team at four years old; Fenerbahçe. Most people assume metal and sports don’t go together, but there are a lot of us who disagree.
We have all sorts of activities besides music of course. I also like to play football myself.
Do you play hockey? I know it’s a popular sport there and I currently live with a hockey fan so I have to pay attention.
Yeah I also play hockey! I think our guitarist Ville played in school on like a junior team, so we have quite a sports background. Besides that I like to write. Like short stories and novels. I actually won some contests in Finland for short story writing, and I take that very seriously. It’s not something I can do a lot now with the band and touring and working, but someday maybe…