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4th December 2008
Formed back in 2000, Finnish melancholic death/doom metallers Swallow The Sun are still largely unknown in this country, although following a powerful performance at this year's Bloodstock Open Air Festival, they have started to make waves within the UK scene. Back over here for a string of dates as sole tour support for fellow Finns Apocalyptica at the tail-end of 2008, their music is set to be discovered by brand new audiences. Meeting up with their tour manager, Lee Heydon, backstage at Rock City, he informs me I will be interviewing founding member, and main song writer, Juha Raivio. However, with Juha nowhere to be found, keyboardist Aleksi Munter and drummer Pasi Pasanen step in to do the interview. Sitting in their dressing room, we chat about an array of subjects including the new EP; Finland's thriving metal scene; David Lynch; and pants of doom! I commence by asking about the current tour...
METAL DISCOVERY: How did you end up with the support slot on this Apocalyptica tour?
ALEKSI MUNTER: It was by our label. They have been trying to get us to play here for quite a while now, and they said think about this slot, and it was all good! [laughs]
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(Aleksi Munter on new Swallow the Sun release, 'Plague of Butterflies')
"...I think the story is really similar to everything we’ve done this far because...it’s about loss and, well, dead women!"
Pasi and Aleksi in their dressing room, backstage at Rock City, Nottingham, 4th December 2008
Photograph copyright © 2008 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
PASI PASANEN: It’s a great slot to get to play with them because we get to play in great venues and big audiences.
MD: So are you fans of Apocalyptica?
AM: I have listened to their albums. Not the cover ones because I didn’t like it…I don’t like Metallica…
MD: Metallica on cellos is probably a nightmare for you then!
AM: But I do like their other albums.
MD: Of course, yeah, bigger audiences than if you did your own shows here.
AM: And I don’t think we differ so much musically, even though they are quite a bit faster than us, but there’s similar things there.
MD: You’re a couple of dates into the tour now - how have you found UK audiences so far?
PP: Great, and we get to play to many new people who haven’t heard of us before, so…
AM: But that’s the thing, that most of the audiences haven’t heard of us…but they seem to like it, so it’s been good.
MD: Have you seen any Swallow The Sun t-shirts in the crowd?
PP: Not really.
AM: Not much! [laughs]
MD: One?!
PP: Maybe…well, after they have bought them! [laughs]
MD: Maybe they’re cold, so they put an extra t-shirt on! Out of interest, how do you view the UK metal scene as an outsider?
AM: We don’t know much of it. It seems, to me at least, that there’s not that much bands coming from England to Finland.
PP: I don’t know many British underground metal bands now, only the big ones.
MD: Exactly, yeah, they’re mainly the ones that get promoted outside of the UK. You played Bloodstock here in August, and that was your first time in the UK?
PP: Yeah.
MD: How was the festival for you, and did you receive any positive feedback from fans?
PP: The festival was great, absolutely, and the gig was great. I think the overall feedback was very positive.
AM: Yeah, and most of the concrete feedback…we had this signing session that we weren’t expecting anybody to show up [laughs]…we sat there for half an hour just writing all the stuff so that was positive feedback.
MD: Was that from fans or just random people wanting to get something signed?
AM: Many people just seemed to be fans or new found fans after the gig.
MD: That’s cool either way, I guess, that there was a queue to see you.
PP: Yeah, yeah.
MD: Did you find it ironic that the sun disappeared during your set and for the rest of the day considering your band name and it didn’t reappear for the rest of the day?!
AM: [laughs]
PP: [laughs] Well it’s happened before at the Provinssirock Festival in Finland! Right when we started it came pouring with rain and the skies went darker!
AM: We don’t have that much things going on, on the stage, but at least all those things are planned! [laughs]
MD: You think your band name might be a jinx on the weather?!
AM & PP: [laughs]
MD: You used ‘Falling’, the ‘Twin Peaks’ theme for your intro music at Bloodstock - is anyone in the band a fan of David Lynch or Angelo Badalamenti, or is that just a piece of music you like?
AM: No, it’s…Juha is a big fan…
PP: …and Mikko. They are fans.
AM: And Juha who writes most of our stuff wanted to do something related to ‘Twin Peaks’.
PP: I don’t think they really understand what they watch of Lynch, but they are fans still! [laughs] I can’t think of anyone who does!
MD: No, that’s fair enough! There’s a lot of obvious melancholic doom influences in your music - do you also derive inspiration for composing music from other genres too?
PP: Yeah, always.
AM: Yeah. I think Juha’s main influences are Rush and such - all the progressive bands.
MD: Pink Floyd?
AM: No, I don’t think so, but…[laughs]
PP: Marillion and Iron Maiden, of course.
AM: And all that combined to…well, obvious My Dying Bride influences, kind of forms our songs.
MD: I can hear a lot of Katatonia in there as well.
AM: Yeah.
MD: Do you find the doom aesthetic restrictive when…..do you actually compose any of the music?
AM: I have done two songs for er…
MD: Ah, this question might be relevant then! Do you find the doom aesthetic restrictive when composing music, and have you ever been tempted to write and record an album that’s radically different from your usual style, say like Opeth did with ‘Damnation’?
AM: No, I don’t think so. For example, for our newest album, ‘Plague of Butterflies’, I think there’s so much different sounds that we didn’t use before to have like a faster black metal influence…for example, a bit like Emperor if you ask me. And that’s something that we didn’t think we are restricted in any way or…and that’s just a thing that we wanted to add on our music.
MD: So you don’t feel you have to compose music to please established fans of the band and kind of, you know, keep doing the doom thing?
AM: We hope that fans are fans of ours because they like what we do, and that’s what we do.
MD: You signed to Spinefarm in…2006?
AM: Yeah.
MD: How does that compare to your first deal with Firebox?
PP: Way better, and our recording budget was bigger.
AM: Basically, in Finland, they have been doing the same kind of a job, but outside of Finland, er…Firebox is so limited. They don’t have the resources and Spinefarm does.
MD: I understand your new EP, ‘Plague of Butterflies’ as you mentioned, is a mini-concept piece?
AM: Yeah.
MD: It’s a half hour track split into three parts?
PP: Thirty five minutes.
MD: Thirty five minutes split into three sections, yeah. Can you explain a little bit about the concept behind the music?
PP: I must admit I haven’t even read the lyrics! [laughs] I’m the wrong person to answer that!
MD: Okay!
AM: Basically, it was composed for this ballet in New York, and it was meant as a soundtrack for their performance, and that’s why there’s three different parts and it follows basically the structure. And the story is…well, I think the story is really similar to everything we’ve done this far because first there’s a thing going on and it’s about loss and, well, dead women! [laughs] Like everything we’ve done before.
MD: So what kind of ballet is that - is that a metal ballet?
AM: Yep.
MD: Seriously?
AM: Yep.
MD: Have you been to see the ballet in America?
AM: No.
MD: Any plans to?
AM: We did meet them when we went to play the parts.
MD: How did you get involved in composing music for a ballet then?
AM: They asked us earlier that can they use our music, and then we said yeah, and then we get in touch with them.