DATE OF INTERVIEW: 24th January 2020
METAL DISCOVERY: I found the album, overall, to have certain nostalgic flavours, like the feeling of a mid to late 90s atmospherically melancholic metal record, but also very relevant of the here and now, and timeless too. I put that down to the songcraft, and the storytelling qualities and emotions in the music. Do you think your music has timeless potential?
NIILE: I hope so.
(Niilo Sevänen on the two sides of Insomnium)
"...on the albums, we are really serious and melancholic, and we take it really seriously. But, when we play live, it’s a rock ’n’ roll show, and we want everybody to have a good time."
Niilo Sevänen in his dressing room at Rescue Rooms, Nottingham, 24th January 2020
Photograph copyright © 2020 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
Official Insomnium Facebook:
Thanks to Tristan Pratt for arranging the interview
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Review + photos of Insomnium @ the Rescue Rooms, Nottingham, 24th Jan 2020:
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MD: I think I wrote in my review that, in twenty years’ time, people will still be listening to this and loving it as much as they do now.
NIILE: I really hope that’s the case. That’s what we try to achieve with our music. The albums are crafted so you can find new elements; after you have listened to it plenty of times, you can still find some small details you didn’t notice before. And it just grows. If you just try to make instant hits, usually it’s very boring music and you forget about it very quickly. So I hope it’s timeless music and will really last. I’m sure there are a lot of 90s vibes there, because that’s when we grew up and started listening to heavy metal and formed Insomnium. The music that was made in the 90s will be in our hearts forever.
MD: You’ve evolved over the years to develop your own distinct sound, and it seems, with the new record, you’re still continuing to evolve. Is that a conscious effort to not repeat yourselves with each new album, to always try to keep it fresh, and explore different ways of expressing yourselves?
NIILE: Exactly. We don’t want to repeat ourselves, but it’s still important that we don’t lose the core and essence of Insomnium and why people like us in the first place. It’s a very difficult balance for bands who want to try something new but still they want to keep their own sound. Many bands fail, totally, when they try to find a new sound. I’m sure we’ll keep on doing Insomnium music, we don’t want to change dramatically, but, of course, we want to do better and better and do things we haven’t done before and bring new elements in. Of course, we have Jani Liimatainen in the band now, so there’s one more guy making music and bringing some new vibes.
MD: Would you say that’s widened your creativity as a band, having Jani permanently in the band now? Because he wrote ‘Mute is My Sorrow’, I gather…
NIILE: Yeah, it’s his song and he also did half of the stuff for ‘Twilight Trails’ and ‘Neverlast’. So he’s already been in three songs as composer. Already an important member of the band and he’s a great songwriter and a great musician.
MD: I think ‘Mute is My Sorrow’ is interesting because it fits in with the flow of the album but it does bring something a little bit different to the table, as well. You can hear it in the melodies, in particular. Like, listening to stuff he’s done with Anette Olzon in The Dark Element, he’s got a very distinct way of composing melodies.
NIILE: Yeah, all the composers have their own tricks when they write. But I think Jani has adapted to Insomnium really well. Like, some people were commenting on social media, “Oh, he will turn the band into Sonata Arctica”… no, no! He’s a really smart guy and he knows what he’s doing. He knows what kind of stuff fits with Insomnium.
MD: You co-produced with Teemu Aalto again, for the third album running, so what would you say makes this a winning team?
NIILE: Personally, I like to record my bass and vocals with him. He’s a great producer and has a lot of ideas in the studio. Especially with the vocals, we try out different things, where it’s still a creative process, not just running through the songs. We have fun and creative times in the studio.
MD: You recruited Jens Bogren for mixing and mastering duties, which I gather is the first time you’ve used him?
MD: So what did you see in his work you thought would be perfect for ‘Heart Like a Grave’? He seems to be the go-to guy for so many metal bands.
NIILE: He does very good sound. Also, Dan Swanö, he was the perfect choice for ‘Winter’s Gate’, which definitely had this 90s vibe, which Dan masters really well. We wanted a little bit of a different sound this time, and I think it worked really well. He has his own vision, clearly, he’s an artist, as well. But the end result is great and let’s see who we will work with next time.
MD: Depends on the material and who you think can best do it justice, I guess.
MD: I gather you play half a dozen new songs in your set at the moment, so is there a particular new track that’s going down better than others with audiences; perhaps one that’s surprised you by how well it’s been received?
NIILE: I think ‘Pale Morning Star’ works really well. It’s one of my favourite songs on the album. Also live, I like to play it; it has a great atmosphere. And finding the right spot in the set for ‘Neverlast’ was a task. We used to play it as the second song but I think it really didn’t work at that point. But, now we play it a little bit later and it works much better. Those are funny things… it’s hard to explain. At that point of the set, the crowd gets going in a different way and it works much better now. Those are funny things and you never know, before you play the songs live, how they actually work. We have some Finnish shows in February and we’re gonna change the set a bit, and bring in some tracks that we haven’t yet played live. Maybe ‘The Offering’ and ‘Twilight Trails’… or ‘Karelia’… some of those, because we feel that all the songs from the new album can be played live.
MD: And everyone always looks like they’re having a good time at one of your shows. Melancholic music, but there’s never a melancholic mood in a venue, I imagine.
NIILE: Yeah, on the albums, we are really serious and melancholic, and we take it really seriously. But, when we play live, it’s a rock ’n’ roll show, and we want everybody to have a good time. We’re having a good time on the stage…
MD: A celebration.
NIILE: It’s a celebration of the music and having fun together. So it’s very different - Insomnium live and Insomnium on an album.
MD: So, final question, then - you’re all obviously no strangers to the UK after many years of touring, so what are some of your favourite things about the UK? You can answer that as ridiculously or as sensibly as you like!
NIILE: [Laughs] The British culture is something that has been fascinating me ever since I was a kid. Watching these television series like ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and ‘Poirot’ and all this Agatha Christie stuff. Whatever the BBC put out, they also used to show it in Finland in the 80s, so we kind of grew up watching English and, of course, American movies as well. I think the British culture is, somehow, very close to us and Tolkien and ‘Harry Potter’ and that kind of magical old England, you can still find it somewhere. Like in Norwich, around the cathedral, they have this area with a lot of these old buildings. I really like these kind of buildings and atmosphere.
MD: And English humour?
NIILE: English humour, yes! I did my graduation work at university on ‘Blackadder’, so British humour is very dear to me.
MD: Marvellous! Well, thank you very much for your time.
NIILE: Thank you.