DATE OF INTERVIEW:
7th April 2011
Purveyors and masters of epic sounding music, Finnish band Ensiferum, alongside fellow countrymen Korpiklaani and Finntroll, have paved the way in the twenty first century for a post-Skyclad generation of folk metal acts. And the Finns' blend of folk/death elements, combined with a grandiose sense of melody, has carved a niche for themselves within said subgenre where many imitators have failed to attain their levels of success and popularity. Ensiferum are, irrefutably, a unique metal entity. Main support act on Children of Bodom's mammoth 2011 European tour, the UK leg sees Ensiferum relegated to second support slot with Amon Amarth's presence at the seven British dates. And it was at the band's stop-off in Nottingham for a show at the famed Rock City venue that Metal Discovery met up with Sami Hinkka a short while before they were due to hit the stage at the rather early hour of 6:15pm. Having eaten a late breakfast a few minutes previously, Sami is in good spirits as he chats away buoyantly with a beaming grin...
METAL DISCOVERY: So how’s life been on the tour bus for this run of dates? Are you sharing a tour bus?
SAMI HINKKA: Yeah, we’re sharing with the Machinae Supremacy guys. I think it’s the first time we’ve really done a support tour in Europe so it’s…[laughs]…it’s almost like a vacation! There’s no sound-check and the only thing we have to take care of is to play the gig. Okay, so we have twenty three hours per day to kill! Anyway, those Swedes are such nice guys. I was kind of scared when I heard from Spinefarm that they’ve never toured. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we party also but if you’re on your first tour you might party a bit more. But those guys are so relaxed and we get along so well.
(Sami Hinkka on the layers of instrumentation in Ensiferum's music)
"We put way too much stuff on albums, really. We kind of get carried away…So I think the next album we’ll be much wiser, especially mixing-wise."
Sami Hinkka backstage at Rock City, Nottingham, UK, 7th April 2011
Photograph copyright © 2011 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: As good as you could’ve hoped for…
SH: Yeah, it’s very good, and it’s great that our crew knows Bodom’s crew. We’ve toured with Amon Amarth in North America…
MD: So it’s like one big family then.
MD: So how have you been going down with Bodom’s audiences? Have you had any feedback from people afterwards, maybe who haven’t heard of Ensiferum before but they’ve got into you?
SH: Yeah, that was the main reason why we did this. The original plan was to go into the studio in spring, then we got this offer to do a support tour in Europe, and that’s something that we’ve been talking about, that we really need to do something like that. We really like doing headline tours because you have all the time you need, all the space you need…
MD: …and sound-checks!
SH: …sound-checks…and you can really do a proper show. The thing is that, even though we sell out venues in Europe, still we want to check if there’s the possibility to expose our music for a wider audience and how the feedback would be. So this is a very good opportunity for us. Every day, there’s people coming up…because after the show we take a shower and then go to the merch desk because there’s nothing else to do. People come there and every night someone says, “I’ve never heard of your band but I like you very much and want to buy a CD”.
MD: Cool. It’s a very short set you’re doing at these UK shows; you’ve got thirty five minutes?
SH: Yeah, in the UK.
MD: Yeah, because Amon Amarth have joined these dates. Were you like, “damn them!”
MD: So was it hard deciding what songs to cut from your set?
SH: Yeah. Even though we’re playing forty five minutes for the other part of the tour, outside the UK, even that was too short. We usually have big problems even doing festival sets, like one hour and we’re…“ahhh, what are we gonna play?” Usually we look at what songs we’ve played in cities near where the festivals are and think, okay, what songs did we play there? Let’s change it a little bit so if there’s a lot of the same people, we’ve got to keep it interesting for fans. But it’s very difficult, and especially on a support tour, because most of the people are not here to check us out.
MD: Because there are three such strong, established bands on this bill, is there an air of competitiveness at all, or a feeling that you really have to up your performance at these UK shows?
SH: Yes, definitely, because we have such big audiences and the feedback has been very good. We’ve been talking about doing a proper UK tour for a long time with Spinefarm UK as we really have to put more effort into the UK because we have a very good fan-base over here, and we want to make it bigger. So the UK part of the tour is one of the main reasons we did this, to find new people.
MD: Definitely, yeah. I’ve just seen a guy dressed in chainmail in the queue outside actually so I presume he’s here to see you and not dressed up for Bodom.
SH: Yes, yes!
MD: You must have very dedicated fans to dress in chainmail on such a hot day!
SH: Yeah. Every day there’s people with war paint and stuff on. It feels really good.
MD: You toured the States and Canada with Finntroll in February this year, then a couple of weeks off, then straight into this Bodom tour. Do you always find it easy to slip in and out of the touring mentality, and do you find it easy to physically adjust to life on the road?
SH: Nowadays, yeah. Nowadays, I have no problem with that but the first tours we did, especially for me, because we were all in day jobs so we did all the tours on vacation…that was horrible! [laughs] It took two weeks to get into the normal rhythm…“what am I doing here?! Why is my bed moving?!” But nowadays, especially on the North American tour, I try and turn my rhythm already there on the first day as much as possible so when I get back home I wouldn’t have so bad jetlag. Obviously, your body needs to adjust. But it’s also because we’re older and wiser nowadays, and have more responsibility…obviously, people pay to see your shows. It’s so different now from five or six years ago. We enjoy touring and especially playing live. That’s the greatest thing we can do.
MD: Yeah, getting the immediate reaction from the audience for your music.
SH: Yes. So I never want to spoil that moment every evening…I don’t want to spoil that with hangovers. Personally, I don’t drink before a gig.
MD: You nearly had a nasty accident recently when your tour bus in Austen, in the States, skidded on an icy bridge and hit the side...
SH: Yeah, it was a good reminder that we’re not immortal! It was crazy because we had to cancel two shows. There was snow in Texas and places where they hadn’t had snow for many years. They had no chance to deal with that so the police closed the road and we couldn’t get to the show. It was so irritating, especially in the beginning of the tour when you really want to make things roll, and not have any day off, at least for me.
MD: You did a great show at Bloodstock last year over here, the second time you’ve played there because you played Bloodstock in 2006 as well didn’t you, the second open air one when it was still quite small.
MD: I remember thinking it was quite a windy day to be wearing kilts! I was standing in the photopit thinking, those kilts are blowing around a bit so I’d better be careful where I point my camera!
SH: My kilt is real heavy, actually, so no worries there! You wouldn’t see anything that you shouldn’t see!
MD: It’s been over a year and a half now since ‘From Afar’ came out, and I gather you have three or four songs ready and a whole load of ideas for the next album?
SH: Yeah, actually we have…it’s kind of an interesting situation…when we write albums, especially nowadays, we evolve as a band and as composers, so we don’t want to just write songs and that’s it; we want an album to be a complete package, you know, there’s a certain drama in the whole album. I think we have all the ideas for the next album and are gonna hit the studio, hopefully, at the end of this year and, at the latest, the beginning of next year so it will be out, hopefully, in spring 2012. We’ll try to work as fast as possible but, on the other hand, we don’t want to hit the studio before everything is ready.
MD: So you never develop ideas in the studio; everything’s properly sorted out before?
MD: Studio time costs a lot of money, I guess, so you need to be prepared in that way.
SH: Yeah, it’s very expensive.
MD: And how do you anticipate the new material sounding? Are you going to layer more orchestrations like the last album?
SH: Well, when we composed ‘From Afar’, we knew those songs were very massive and need something more than just basic keyboards. With the new songs, I think there’s going to be orchestrations but not so much. It’s going to be more metal, you know, in a way…
MD: …so guitars more prominent in the mix and…
SH: Yeah, yeah. But there are gonna be parts where we give more room, on the other hand, to orchestrations or the folk instruments. That’s kind of a small problem we used to…I say “used to have” but I don’t mean it’s now in the past. We put way too much stuff on albums, really. We kind of get carried away…you know…“I’ll add this folk instrument” and, “ohhh, this sounds so good with guitar also” and there’s like ten harmonies going on. In the end it’s like, “I can’t really hear any of these!” So I think the next album we’ll be much wiser, especially mixing-wise.
MD: So have you actually got studio time booked?
SH: Not yet but after this tour, I don’t think we’re gonna have any day off. We’ll go home, wash laundry, and go to the rehearsal room, and we’re gonna jam as much as possible over the summer. I think it’s in June or July that we have to book the studio.
MD: So once you have the studio booked, that’s your deadline and everything has to be ready by then.
SH: Yeah, deadlines are also very good!
MD: Yeah, it makes you get out of bed and into the rehearsal room!
SH: A good example is Jari from Wintersun…if you don’t know their life…I really hope he finishes that album! I remember when Kai, the drummer of Wintersun, he was our drum tech and he already had some raw mixes for stuff, and I was like, “I don’t wanna hear them; I want to hear the whole album”. He was like, “okay, but I want to play them to you”. I was very tempted because the few people who have heard them say it’s going to be a very good album. Come on Jari, step on it!