Ensiferum are in town and are more then ready to take a layer of skin off the near sold out Voodoo Lounge on Dublin’s North Quays. Overdrive‘s Shaun Martin ventured down early to catch up with bassist Sami Hinka to talk about all things Ensiferum. Get all the details on the bands label switch, album artwork and current tour news below!
OD – You’re almost at the halfway point of your ‘Burden of the Fallen’ tour, and that is tomorrow in Belfast ( Feb 21st ). How has the tour been so far?
SAMI – So far so good! For a couple of days we did 5 acoustic shows in Finland, and those a really cosy, like sitting down and playing some mellow songs, because we don’t really play mellow tunes. So, we’re really excited – like “back to the office” kind of way you know? Get back to headbanging, full energy, and all of that. It feels really good to get it out of the system finally. We’ve been missing it.
OD -You had a pretty big tour in the US last year after the release of ‘One Man Army’. Can you tell us about some of the places you played and some of the highlights from it? Does anything in particular stand out?
SAMI – Oh.. er… that was a good tour with Korpliklaani. Highlights – shit that’s really difficult! Every show was good on that tour. There were NO bad shows – I really can’t express it any better. There were no real peaks, because every night was great, so it’s hard to say what were the highlights because the whole tour was a highlight. Korpliklaani are old friends of ours and are professional guys. Everything worked really well. The same with Metsatöll as well. I really like them live.
OD – You tour fairly consistently, so I’m wondering what effect that has on the writing process; do you write mainly on the road or do you take breaks between tours and write a load of stuff on your downtime?
SAMI – Writing on tour has only ever worked once for us. It was 2008 and it was with Amon Amarth in the States. We were composing stuff from the “From Afar” album. After that it was really difficult. Nowadays we just compose as a band. Back in 2008 me and Markus had just acoustic guitars and sitting in the back lounge of the bus recording stuff and going through some ideas. But nowadays, we compose so much together with the whole band, it would feel pretty weird to do it with just the two of us. It would be cool to run through some ideas, but the main work is done through the rehearsal room. That’s how we work today, and nowadays it works perfectly well for us.
OD – Can you talk about the writing process that went into ‘One Man Army’ and how it differed from ‘Unsung Heroes’? I only ask because there is a song on ‘One Man Army’ (‘2 of Spades’) that has a nod to Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”!
SAMI – Ah yes there might be some kind of tribute going on there haha! I love Pink Floyd – I grew up with Pink Floyd. ‘The Wall’ is a really important album. It still is. We were just talking about this last night – what were the songs that everyone started playing to. When I was 11 I got my first bass and my other big brother was an incredible guitar player back then. He was playing Yngwie Malmsteen and stuff like that. I was like “Wow! I could ever do that! Maybe I’ll play bass, so I’ll get to jam with him.” But the first 2 songs I ever learned how to play were Black Sabbath “Iron Man”, and “Comfortably Numb”.
OD – Are you heading back into the studio soon for another record? Have you any demos ready or singles coming out soon?
SAMI – This tour is quite short – like you said we’re already halfway. Then we’re gonna do one show in Sweden next month, and in April we’re gonna do a European tour with Fleshgod Apocalypse.
OD – “OH NICE!!!”
SAMI – Yep – it’s gonna be a killer tour. I really love the fact that you have different kinds of bands on the bill. Even though Metsatöll are kind of the same genre music-wise, they are totally different than us. But Fleshgod Apocalypse will draw a totally different audience than we do. I remember going to shows when I was younger and when you go to a show, you find a new band, and you go “shit – I never heard these guys before! They’re excellent!” So if you’re doing tours with bands from your own genre, everybody knows. Of course you come to the show and its cool but everybody knows all the songs from all the bands. But on the other hand, I think it’s really nice to give them possibilities to find new bands, and also draw a new kind of audience and have a… kind of (makes crossing motions with his hands)..
OD – : Crossover?
SAMI – THANK YOU!! Crossover – yes! That’s the word I was looking for! So at the summer festival we’re gonna do something special, I can’t tell you yet because there are politics involved. But the plan is to hit the studio early next year. We’ve been working on new songs ever since ‘One Man Army’ was out. We always have only raw ideas; that we can’t finish the album, you know?
We don’t go and look for old notes from when we were 15 but we always have ideas that we feel “OK – this song is not ready yet.” Like on the ‘Unsung Heroes’ album, there was a song called ‘Pohjola’, and the first really raw demos of that song were recorded like 7 years before the album was released. It was always missing something – some little twist. Every now and then, we’d go back to it and go “OK anybody have any ideas? Any progress?” So, we’d go through the album and see that the song is not ready yet. “OK so it will wait until the next album!” that’s how we compose – really slowly but we want to be proud of every note; that we have twisted and turned all of the possibilities. It’s slow, but that’s how we compose.
We have a policy that there is full democracy in the band. Even though Markus is the founder and main composer of the band, we would like to give him some kind of veto option but nah – he don’t want it. We go with full democracy in all the ideas, no matter how crazy; they have to be tried at least once. And I can see that over the 10 or 11 years that I’ve been in the band, we kind of trust each others insights more, because personally, well I’m a bass player, I’ve never been a guitar player. I can play guitar but I’ve always been a bass player. So if I have an idea in my head, I can kinda hear it, but I have to make a raw demo of it to lay for the guys, so there is like, chords and melodies, maybe even a vocal melody or something. If I have just a guitar and try to explain it, it won’t work. But nowadays, if I have an idea in my head, I just play it for the guys. They understand it much better. Like, we were in rehearsal a few weeks ago, and I had 2 song ideas in my head and I just explained them really fast and raw and they’re like “yeah yeah yeah!! Great song, great melody!” We trust each other more. Maybe it’s also that we understand each other a lot more, and we have seen where the raw idea can go to, so that it can be a good song.
OD – Your last gig on Irish soil was in 2012 in the Button Factory. How do you feel the band has changed in the last 4 years, or is it more of an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” thing?
SAMI – Wow…. 2012 seems like so far away. Uh – I dunno – we got older. Our keyboard player is home, she couldn’t be here on this tour but we have lovely Netta Skog to help us again. (pictured to the right)
OD – Let’s talk about the cover art for ‘OMA’ – was it a band decision to use an image like that or was it an outside influence? I personally have a big thing for Norse mythology and Viking folklore, so I wondered if it was in the same vein as previous records like ‘From Afar’, or something like that.
SAMI – We never had so much influence on the album cover as what we had this time. We had also where all the previous album covers were painted by Kristian Wahlin, an incredible artist. Those previous album covers, they are real paintings, huge paintings. So we just sent over some raw ideas “we have this in mind, this and this colour, with the Ensiferum “dude” doing this” etc. etc. A few months later he comes up with a picture. But now with ‘One Man Army’, it’s so nice to work with Gyula (Havancsák ) – we exchanged emails almost daily, he was really open, because I had a really clear vision in my head, that the album title ‘One Man Army’, it was obvious that was the title but the Ensiferum “dude” – we couldn’t see him as an aggressive person killing people, because he’s always been more divine or godlike.
OD – Does he have a name? Like, Iron Maiden has Eddie The Head, Megadeth has Vic Rattlehead..
Well we’re huge Iron Maiden fans! The Ensiferum “dude”, the one in the sky, we have no name for him – he’s just “Ensiferum Dude”. It would be cool to give him a real name but it might be kinda cheesy at this point.
OD – When Netta (Skog) was covering for Emmi, there much of an adjustment period for her after coming from Turisas? Her vocals are amazing on ‘Cry of the Earth Bounds’ (which is my preferred track on ‘OMA’).
SAMI -Well she wasn’t in Turisas when she joined us but it was really easy. All four metal bands, well – Finland is quite small, like, not so many people, and the metal scene is not that big in a way, so we all know each other, we had already toured with Turisas when Netta was there in 2008. I remember when she was just a young girl, and we knew each other very well and she played accordion and sang on ‘One Man Army’. I couldn’t be there when they recorded vocals for ‘Cry For The Earth Bounds’ and I wrote the song, so it was really important for me. I talked with Netta a lot about it. She was kind of insecure about what I wanted. It was kind of pain, stripped apart, when she sings. I just wanted to have as much emotion as possible.
OD – Did you write the lyrics for that part or did she?
SAMI – Yes – I wrote the whole song, pretty much. Well – we arranged it together. I had pretty much all the ideas. That again, was a good example. I just had like, just a really raw idea of the song and I went to the guys one day and they trusted my insight and it turned out to be a cool song. She’s just an incredible professional on her instrument. You know she has done solo gigs? I love when she gets on stage – she just shines. That’s also what I said in 2008. Some were worried because she’s smiling a lot. That’s her personality. She said “Turisas guys said I shouldn’t smile so much.” I’m like “NOOO! That’s YOU!”
OD – You worked with Hiilli Hiillesmaa for your previous 2 records before ‘One Man Army’, then you changed to Ansi Kippo. What were the influences that shaped that decision? Was it just a matter of direction change?
SAMI – It was really, really nice to work with Hiilli. He actually mixed ‘From Afar’. He didn’t record it but he mixed it. Then we got to know him, and went “Oh shit! It would be nice to do an album with this guy”. And I can’t exactly remember WHEN – I think maybe he had some schedule problems. He was definitely one of the options. ‘One Man Army’ was, dare I say, a new beginning for the band in a way, because after changing label and changing the album cover painter, in a way we wanted to something different of course sound-wise. Pete (Petri Lindroos) had worked with Kippo in Norther, and had recorded some albums with Ansi Kippo, and he told us that Ansi is a really strict guy, and that is what we want in a recorder/producer guy – that he is strict. We want our asses to be kicked a lot. I never played bass for 3 days before and tis time I did. My fastest recording for an album was 3 hours. I think it was the “Rapture” album. When you know all the songs, you can just go there and play. With Kippo, on ‘One Man Army’, we wanted to sound as tight as possible, but on the other hand, not like a live album, like the band all playing together.
OD – After being with Spinefarm Records for so long, what influenced your jump to Metal Blade? Thirteen years is a long time to be with a label and then change.
SAMI – Just to make it clear, there’s no bad blood between us and Spinefarm. I sent an email to them just this week actually. In a way, it felt that it was time to move on. Of course there had been a lot of changes because Spinefarm are now part of Universal and we have really good management, and they had good experiences from Metal Blade Records and they also have good connections to other labels, and since our deal with Spinefarm ended, it was only natural to ask other labels are they interested and what kind of deal could they offer. We’re not Metallica!
When you go to a label, the way I see it, I’d rather go to a smaller label where you are an important band in a way, and not just one of 500 bands: where they have 50 bands and somebody actually cares. And that is what is so cool about Metal Blade since the first meetings and we signed the deal, we started getting emails from this-and-this person saying “Hi we’re from Metal Blade Records, we have this-and-this idea. Do you have any ideas?” We started feeling passion also from the people we work with and it feels really good. As a musician, you spend every waking hour thinking about the new album, and sitting in rehearsal through countless hours composing stuff. If you feel like your label is treating your album just like another album like, “oh we’re gonna release a hundred more this year, so it’s just 1 album”. You have to have the feeling that they actually care about it. It feels really good.
OD – Over all of the tours that you have been on since you joined the band, are there any standout nights that really make you remember good or bad things that happened? What’s the one greatest memory you have?
SAMI – Aw that is so fucking impossible to say! (buries his head in his hands) There are so many great memories. I’ve always just enjoyed playing music with good people. I remember when I was just a teenager, there were no bass players in the town where I’m from – everyone wanted to be a guitar player of course! Where we had a band competition in a youth club, there would be 7 bands and I’d be playing in 5 of them, because there’s no bass players! So I never had, and this will sound stupid, an ambition to become a professional musician. I never saw music that way. It was important to go to the rehearsal room, every Saturday, or fuck – every evening after school, with friends to make good songs, have fun, and play some cover songs. And I remember talking with friends what would be a dream come true, and I always said “someday if I could record a real album, and play a real festival show”. That’s like, my dream come true.
So to answer your question it would be maybe 2008 at Wacken Open Air. That was one of the most incredible moments of my life. It was pouring rain, really hard before our show and I think we were the first band on the main stage. It was raining so hard and we’re backstage saying “OK nobody’s gonna come so we’ll have a sound check onstage for one hour. Let’s have some fun”. So we’re onstage, behind the curtain, doing our thing, ready to go, and the curtain lifts up and you can’t see the end of people…. Fifty or sixty thousand. We’re like “OK – let’s play!” You missed a heartbeat. It was an incredible moment for me.
‘One Man Army’ is out now! Order your copy on this link!
Ensiferum are currently on tour across the UK. Find out more about the tour on this link.
Words / Interview: Shaun Martin
© OVERDRIVE 2016