DATE OF INTERVIEW:
15th September 2007
MATHIAS 'WARLORD' NYGÅRD
Formed in the late nineties, Finnish folk metallers Turisas released their debut album, 'Battle Metal', in 2004, and have since experienced a rapidly growing fan base in the UK. A memorable and festival-stealing appearance at Bloodstock Open Air in 2006 saw their popularity elevated further still, and with the release of their critically acclaimed sophomore album 'The Varangian Way' earlier this year, and an opening slot on a lengthy European tour with Iced Earth and Annihilator during October/early-November, the band look set to become a dominant force in the contemporary metal scene. Folk metal is perhaps an erroneous term to use in describing Turisas' music as it doesn't encapsulate the diversity in their songwriting which borrows from various metal subgenres - death; black; traditional; progressive; folk, and beyond that, elements of pop, classical and film-scores, but, overall, is uniquely, and instantly recognisable as, Turisas.
Commencing their first UK headlining tour in Nottingham, I had the opportunity to interview Turisas' charismatic frontman, Mathias 'Warlord' Nygård. Meeting up backstage late afternoon with Janne 'Lisko' Mäkinen, the band's accordion player, we wander into Rock City's main hall and he introduces me to Mathias who is on the stage setting up gear with his bandmates and roadies. After a couple of minutes, the Turisas frontman leads me down some stairs into the band's dressing room. Thoughtful, philosophical, and intelligent, Mathias talks at length, with perfect English, on a plethora of topics, and what follows is a full transcript of the 1 hour interview...
METAL DISCOVERY: Did you have a good journey over to the UK? I know this is the first date on your tour.
MD: Out of interest, do you pay your own expenses, or do Century Media chip in and pay your flights and…
MD: Your popularity in the UK seems to have grown massively in the last year or so. I was gonna ask why do you think that is, but obviously Bloodstock was a big part of that?
MD: What other countries have been good for you apart from the UK? Obviously you’re quite big here now, but how do you fare in like Germany or the States?
MD: And where will you be on the bill for that tour?
MD: Would you say this is your biggest market here, ‘cause you seem to go down a storm here wherever you play?
MD: So the press back home were like - our band is doing well abroad, let’s pay some attention now sort of thing…
MD: Definitely, particularly in the genre of metal!
MD: Do you always tour with your own sound engineer because it must be hard to mix so many diverse instruments into a good coherent live sound? You must need someone who’s familiar with your music to be able to be on the desk every night.
MD: Completely random question - do you dress yourselves and put all your own war paint on, or do you do each other’s?!
MD: The last big tour you did over here was with Lordi - how was that tour?
MD: Did their costumes get a bit smelly after a while out of pure interest?
MATHIAS NYGÅRD: Yeah, the journey was alright. Routine-ish…so nothing spectacular on that one.
MN: Well, we do our own production so Century Media isn’t really connected to that. If it’s a support tour, like for any band, we have to do it with label support; tour support money, but this is our own shows and the idea is to be self-sufficient…to get enough income to at least cover the expenses - an ideal position to be in!
MN: I don’t know if the Bloodstock show as such was a show that made it happen or anything like that, but it was definitely a turning point. Up to then, we’d only played a couple of small shows at the Underworld in London but which also got more attention to the band then like you would expect. Yeah, but after Bloodstock things kind of changed and also changed in a way of the label noticing, the UK side of Century Media noticing - hey, what is this band we have. So after then, everything has taken a step up.
MN: Well, it’s been actually quite quiet in Germany. Obviously we’ve played summer festivals every year and…but we haven’t done a proper European tour since 2005, early 2005, and so it’s definitely time for that now. Actually, it’s not been announced, but it probably will be announced in a day or two that we’ll be joining Iced Earth and Annihilator for their European tour. We’ll be jumping on that one later in the year to play Germany and a lot of other European…pretty much stretching all over Europe.
MN: We’ll be the first opening band. But it’s definitely time…we’ve been coming back to the UK quite frequently in the last couple of years!
MN: Well, it all feels good, but we obviously have to take it to other territories as well, and it’s been really nice to notice in our home country Finland we didn’t have pretty much any name up ‘til the release of this album, and it kind of went the way that when we got recognised abroad, not before then, and now getting out a new album, and having got recognition in the UK, that kind of helped the Finnish market as well.
MN: Yeah, yeah. It kind of feels a bit weird but, on the other hand, that’s how it works in the world, so…
MN: Yeah, definitely, we have a very good crew. It’s been changing a bit, but there’s always a couple of people who…somebody of them is always with us at shows. Like on this tour we have a front of house engineer; we have a separate tour manager who we’ve worked with for years; and also a stage technician with us, so to kind of keep it all together. It’s also because of all the dressing up circus going on…so we just need to know we have people so we can walk on stage and give it the best show, come off, and the rest will just happen.
MN: We are pretty self-sufficient…but there’s always some straps behind my back, or something like that, that someone needs to take care of!
MN: It was very good. I mean, that obviously helped us also get…kind of reach out to a much broader audience than ever before and for us, for any band for that matter, to tour with the Eurovision Song Contest winner is not actually what many metal bands, or bands at all, can say they’ve done, so that’s cool in that way. And there was everything from small kids to really old people who had nothing to do with metal or heavy music in general; they were just there to see the show.
(Mathias Nygård on Turisas opting not to play their version of the Eurovision Song Contest theme during their set supporting Lordi)
"...when getting on the Lordi tour, we were like, well, we have to at least drop this part out of the set because that would have been too weird to play!"
MD: Lordi, yeah. I think I read a couple of years ago they wear the same costumes…maybe now they’ve got more money they have …they can change them a bit, but…
MN: Well I think they still put themselves through a lot of, er…
MN: …pain with wearing the same things so it probably gets to the point of where you …in a way, it’s part of the show, the whole thing - if it would be fresh and new every night, it wouldn’t be the same.
MD: I think there were some pictures published in the Finnish press of the vocalist without his mask on, and there was uproar in Finland about it just after the Eurovision?
MN: Yeah, there was. They said something like they didn’t want the press to release any photos from their personal lives - they wanted the band to be just a cartoonish band with what it is on stage. And then obviously that made a lot of interest of who are the people behind the masks. Somebody published it and then…yeah, it went quite big. All of a sudden, there was so much people who were really upset about the press…
MD: A very sort of defensive attitude towards the band - like how dare you publish…
MN: Yeah, because everyone in Finland, whether you like them or not, felt really proud of winning the Eurovision Song Contest because being on zero points for 40 years, and every now and then making it to the actual final contest, not dropping out beforehand, and finally someone goes there and wins. So it was kind of a national thing.
MD: I believe there were some official stamps released in Finland for Lordi, with Lordi’s faces on them?
MN: I don’t know, there’s probably everything. You can get a credit card with Lordi’s picture!
MD: Oh my god...
MN: And now they’re coupled up with the Kiss manager, so I guess it will be going even further .
MD: I think in the British press they published a picture of Alexi from Children of Bodom and said this is the man behind the mask. There was a picture of Alexi from when he was 17 or something! Did you vote for them in the Eurovision Song Contest? Did you watch it?
MN: I think I was somewhere working or doing something that night because I didn’t follow the contest. I can’t remember what I was doing. I remember that I got phonecalls updating me. Enough of Lordi maybe…
MD: Would you ever do the Eurovision?
MD: Have you ever been asked?
MN: No, no. I would look at it if somebody would…I wouldn’t say a straight no because of some kind of credibility issue or whatever - I don’t see that as…we know what we are doing and if people find it uncredible or credible or not, it’s not something what we think about a lot. I wouldn’t want to go to the Eurovision Song Contest to do anything else than what we do because then it’s a bit shit to be like that.
MD: Would you see it as a bad point in your career. Do you think your fans would see it as a bad thing?
MN: Yeah, I mean it’s strange but on the other hand, there’s a lot people who…we are just releasing, at the end of this tour, the single ‘Rasputin’, and we just did a video which is quite a bit of tongue in cheek, and because it’s always been a cover song we’ve played in shows, and a step aside from our own material. And we didn’t want to make…well, how could you make an epic Viking video or whatever for a song like that, so we played around with it quite a bit, and already there are some people who are like well that’s sell out and shit to do.
MD: This is my last Eurovision Song Contest question, I promise! When you played at Bloodstock, I’m sure I heard…you did a medley of various pieces of music - I’m sure the Eurovision Song Contest theme was part of that?
MN: Yeah it was. That was actually something that we did before Lordi won. I remember we did that for a time back, but we hadn’t done it for a year or two. When was Bloodstock…2006?
MD: Last year, yeah.
MN: So for a year. But yeah, it was actually when getting on the Lordi tour, we were like, well, we have to at least drop this part out of the set because that would have been too weird to play! But I think when it was put together, the idea of it all was before Lordi winning or didn’t have anything to do with the Eurovision - we just took tunes that were well known.
MD: The Dallas theme tune was in there as well?
MD: How did you decide on those bits of music - they seem completely random!
MN: We wanted themes that are really well known, so everybody knows them, like Dallas and Eurovision, and what else?…I can’t remember…we actually had the Lambada if you remember that?
MD: Yeah, absolutely brilliant!
MN: So it had to be small pieces that everybody knows, but not doing like Paranoid and trash like that.
MD: Absolutely brilliant new album. Absolutely brilliant. I understand it’s based around the story of both a physical and metaphorical journey made by the Varangians. Can you explain a bit more about that concept and who the Varangians were?
MN: Yeah, the whole concept is something I worked quite a lot on before actually even getting into writing any music for the album. So it went from the point of building up the whole plot, and kind of synopsis for the story itself and knowing that this is a theme we’ll write a song about, and this is one theme and so on. I don’t actually know where it came from, but it’s a story kicking out in a place somewhere North and travelling down all the way to Constantinople, which was like a major capital of the time. I think what was so fascinating about it was a journey concept through the album which is chronological gives a lot of opportunities to also musically express that. It just felt that the more you read up on it and kind of found every piece started falling into place in a way that there was a lot of different elements to make it varied enough as an album and use a lot of elements…interesting ones.
MD: You say chronological - over what period of time is the journey?
MN: It’s the 11th century - first half. A lot of it is tied to real…it’s like an historical novel really because a lot of it is…it’s made in a way that obviously the main story and the people in it are more or less fictional, but there’s a lot of connections to real history books in a way that it might have happened, so I was really careful with not bending too many facts in that sense as well. And I think what makes it interesting - it works as such, but it doesn’t end there in a way that if you read up on the subject, you get a broader picture of it all and the places or names or whatever mentioned. You can read on on those in…
MD: Yeah, to find out more about the concepts in the lyrics?
MD: But I guess history only exists in fiction now, because history is only written about, and is obviously only people’s interpretations of that, and not necessarily based in fact I guess…
MN: Yeah, that’s true. I mean, nobody should go to Wikipedia and think they are somehow getting the objective truth of things they’re reading there. I tried to read up…there was a lot of clashes in time when I was reading a lot of studies on the subject which were done in the late 19th/early 20th century where there was a lot of Western and Eastern scholars fighting over facts together and trying to reach their own needs. Especially dealing with the birth of the Russian State forming which go down to the naturalistic ideal of things like this. So I tried to read up a lot of different material…primary source books which are written by somebody in time - obviously a lot of them have been altered by time - and also read saga material and read modern day historical researches on the subject who are referring to a lot of that other material. But on the other hand, I also read fiction based in that time which is much easier in the sense that it lets the imagination flow easier than reading and reading.
MD: I guess fiction of the time is still part of the history of that era so it’s as relevant as someone writing about it now, if not more so.
MN: Yeah. I tried to form as good a picture of the whole as possible.
MD: Is the music written independently of the lyrics or do you try to reflect lyrical ideas through the music?
MN: Yeah, they’re definitely written together…I mean lyrics on this album were actually like the text itself written down probably just in a few weeks almost when much of the material was already being recorded in the studio, but obviously it started out from the concept and the ideas and what it would be about and there was…the whole plot was more or less made clear in my head and then composing the music to that in a way of making a soundtrack to this story, and the lyrics themselves as the text were something which I kind of knew what they would be about, but just having a few lines to write down, a lot of information and ideas is always like a huge compromise and kind of a really hard task to do and so the lyrics were written on finished music because I like to work from the way of having the idea there but then work on lyrics to fit the music in the way of the rhythms and tonality comes first - the melodies come first and the rhythm for the vocals comes first, and then you have to combine the story you have in your head, what you want to say, and the rhythm in the music, you have to compromise the story to fit the rhythm. So it’s kind of a hard project, but I think it worked out quite good.
MD: Definitely, definitely. A fantastic album. I understand all the guitar solos on the new album were actually played on the electric violin?
MN: Yeah, well, as such they’re not guitar solos!
MD: I think it says on the cover notes that all guitar solos are played on electric violin.
MN: I think it says so.
MD: Has that fooled anybody? Has anybody said - wow, I can’t believe that’s a violin?
MN: I don’t think anybody’s really got that attached to it, or really hooked on the subject! But I think a lot of people listening to it think it is a guitar at first, but then when you know it’s a violin you can kind of hear it - things what you couldn’t do with a guitar, because there’s no frets on the violin and it gives you different opportunities.
MD: Seeing your show at Bloodstock last year, Olli had his “fuck the guitar solo routine”. Do you still incorporate that into your set?
MN: Yeah, we kind of play around with it in different ways depending on the set…some things kind of get stuck, and on the other hand we want to develop the show and not make it so people feel that, well I saw this already, but then there’s a lot of people who come there and…the thing they heard about, or they saw before and they want to see that again. In a way it becomes also something people are there to see and we don’t want to kind of just ruin all that.
Mathias backstage at Nottingham Rock City, 15th September 2007
Photograph copyright © 2007 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
MD: You don’t want to disappoint people expecting to see certain things...