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15th September 2007
MD: That was a crap question, so thank you for answering that!
MD: You’ve produced both albums, or you’ve had a hand in producing both of them - would you ever work with a producer external to the band if your label asked you to work with, say, Andy Sneap or Devin Townsend?
MD: So you want to preserve the vision you have for Turisas by taking control of the production and so forth?
MD: How is your relationship with Century Media - do you have free reign as a band to do what you want creatively or otherwise, or do they impose any rules on what you do?
MD: So it’s now more up to bands to perpetuate themselves independent of a label…
MD: At Bloodstock last year, I didn’t ever think in my lifetime I’d ever hear a folk metal version of Boney M’s ‘Rasputin’. How did that cover come about?
MN: [laughs]
MN: I don’t know, I think that the album, especially the latest album we did, was such a huge puzzle really, so if I needed to bring somebody else in to have an idea at the first weeks what we’re actually gonna do, it would have taken a lot of time for me to get somebody into the same level of thinking. If there had been that possibility then we’d just end up spending time with an expensive producer who’d just make decisions based on a gut feel, not knowing what the whole is meant to be like. I also like to have things open in the studio; I don’t like to do demos until this is final, and then we can just go in and record it, but there’s a lot of things in the open like how they form out in the studio and finding solutions there.
MN: Well obviously, to have several jobs - to be there; do the vocals which is pretty much a minor part in the whole thing; as the main composer; working with all the programming and keyboard stuff; and then producing everybody else’s performances was like doing many shifts and not much sleep in between.
MN: They don’t have anything to do with what kind of music we write, or how we write it, or how we do it in the sense of what we put on stage…it’s all come from us - there’s been no label input directing that in any way. Obviously, what we have to work with is the budgets we get from them, so a lot of choices we end up making based on money which is unfortunate, especially when you see from the label there’s, year by year, more reservations about putting out money. The whole music industry is being more and more uncertain in investing money for what they want for growing up an artist, and everything that went to making pop idol stuff which you can make money on next year and then it dies out, but you get your…whatever you invest, you get it back - certainly and as soon as possible - and building up long term careers is dying out, and that’s unfortunate for artists like ourselves.
MN: Yeah, and budgets aren’t the same from what they were maybe 10 years ago with bands, so it’s more a struggle to make your visions real in financial terms. Obviously that also has to do with attacking against downloading, although it’s not my main intention with the band, but I think the main negative point in illegal downloading is that it effects the label and budgets in that way. Not that we would ever get any money from record sales directly, that’s not what we do, but it effects what we can produce in the end because our budgets are going down. So that’s a problem to be able to produce what we’d like to do and how we’d like to do it gets harder and harder if budgets are dropping down all the time.
MN: Well, it was something that I already had…I usually have a lot of ideas and then some of them we make happen but the majority of them are just thrown out, or then put somewhere - well, this is a good idea, let’s get back to this at some point. It was probably around 2000 or 2001 I heard a cover band play the song on a ferry between Finland and Sweden - a kind of love boat, floating disco thing. On that trip, I heard a cover band playing this song and I thought to myself I could kind of picture it and hear it that this would work amazingly well in an updated version, but it wasn’t anything we wanted to rush or get into - that was not what we were doing at the time, but at some point it came like, well, we could add something to our live show and we’ve been thinking of this for some years, so we did it. That’s where it came from, and I think it’s the same way now that there’s a lot of ideas on things and some may happen in the future what I’ve been thinking about much earlier, but not to rush into every idea when you feel that it’s really not a possibility or the timing is not quite right..
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(Mathias Nygård on hanging out with members of Moonsorrow after Wacken Open Air)
"...we ended up 4 guys naked in the same tub drinking beer and Jägermeister...and there was a guy in a suit coming down to put more coins in the machine."
MD: And a couple of years on it’s a single! Is that a label thing, or did you want to release that as a single?
MN: We just wanted to avoid…to be honest, we just wanted to make sure we recorded it the same time as the rest of the album but, to me, I felt it personally important to release the album as the album before releasing any bonus, you know, so it doesn’t turn out to be well, we had this epic Viking adventure but actually what made the album so popular was this cover of a disco hit, and that would feel kind of weird so it was important to myself, at least, to have the album stand on its own and get whatever reviews and see what reactions it would get on that and not on covers.
MD: I guess no, but I doubt you’ve had any feedback from ex-members of Boney M about your cover at all?
MN: No!
MD: I’d love to hear Boney M reform and do a cover of ‘Battle Metal’!
MN: [laughs]
MD: Wasn’t Boney M a scam and their producer sung the male vocals?
MN: I have to admit, I’m not really familiar with the band, but I think it was a German producer or somebody who wrote most of the material, and then there was this band made up to perform it.
MD: Any other bizarre covers planned?
MN: I have a good cover, but one very unobvious too because I don’t want to cover ‘Paranoid’ as we talked earlier, it just wouldn’t make any sense - except on the accordion at full speed! [laughs] But yeah, there’s a few ideas, but obviously we’re not seeing ourselves as a cover band…but it’s something to spice up the live sets with, and also keep it interesting for ourselves to try out something new. It’s always a pleasure to take something what somebody else did and see what you can make of it instead of starting from scratch - it’s kind of a different thing from writing new material.
MD: It’s good to see that in your live show rather than, like you say, putting it as a bonus track on the album, even initially…just because it might sell a few more records.
MN: Yeah, and what we really wanted to do in the studio…it’s a studio recording, but we were careful because the song for us and for the fans was always the live song and we wanted also to retain as much of that in the studio version as well. When we only have one guitar player, we did it, kind of, double guitars under when he’s playing leads and stuff like that which you normally do in the studio - having guitars underneath, and guitar leads on top, and multiple tracks - but we did it with the elements with what we could actually do live.
MD: Every band seems to have had some sort of Spinal Tap moment during their career when touring or whatever. Do you have any disasters or funny stories from the road?
MN: There’s always something happening, like forgetting people at bus stations - that’s quite regular…
MD: What, band members?!
MN: Yeah! We’re going somewhere, and then realising, oh fuck, we’ve forgotten…The funniest and maybe not so funny ones…the least funny ones always somehow end up happening when drunk! This year, playing at Wacken Open Air, we ended up after the festival…we had a hotel really far from the festival site and we were there at 4/5 in the morning and got back to the hotel. I think most of our guys had already disappeared but I was with some guys from another Finnish band, Moonsorrow, and we ended up…there was a sauna department and we ended up being 4 guys naked in the same regular size small bath tub, drinking beer. It was a really nice department in the hotel with palm trees and shit like that, and they had these bath tubs where you could get tokens from the reception to pay and you would get bubble baths. So, what we did, we ended up 4 guys naked in the same tub drinking beer and Jägermeister, smoking inside, having poured a bottle of shampoo in the tub, and then using the bubbles - they were floating all over. And then, the best thing was calling the reception…like from the tub, there was a phone…calling the reception - we need more tokens, can you bring some - and there was a guy in a suit coming down to put more coins in the machine. He doesn’t say anything! There’s like 4 guys in the tub drinking and smoking in there filled with big foam from the shampoo and he just comes in and says hello and puts in the coins in his suit and goes away!
MD: What’s the weirdest thing a fan’s asked you to sign?
MN: We had another accordion player as well - he’s a bit crazy. He was at Bloodstock, but he’s not been with us on shows for a while. At Bloodstock, he signed somebody’s nut sack!
MD: I believe there should only ever be only 2 categories of music - either music you like, or music you don’t, but how would you loosely describe the music of Turisas?
MN: Mmmm…I think the word ‘epic’ goes well with it, but not…sometimes you get bands calling themselves epic and they just write overly long songs - you know, too repeated, and I think we as a band are epic in the music in itself. It’s kind of storytelling in itself; there’s a lot of…even if you don’t read the lyrics or even know the track titles, you can follow the musical drama in it. I’ve nothing against basic guitar riff bands, but that’s a different thing from writing music which carries a certain drama.
MD: You write a lot of the music - what’s your choice of instrument to write the music on?
MN: It depends. Sometimes it’s really set when starting out, like this is written for that, and sometimes it’s a melody or a secondary line under the melody which might be first thought of as being a string section and it ends up being something else like a woodwind section or something like that. Sometimes it’s really set and sometimes it’s something which there’s just a mood there and you might reach it with very different instruments. I don’t want to write music from the point of, well, I have a guitar player and a violin player and an accordion player in the band so I have to fill out what they’re doing now, or a drummer, so it’s more like…when this new album started recording, I had to say, well, I didn’t end up with a lot of folky violin stuff for you to play, but instead, put the distortion on and do some solos. And the same with the accordion. It’s more thinking of the whole rather than thinking of we have to keep this band member busy in the band. So far, luckily, we don’t have to fire anybody because, you know, we don’t need you anymore - fuck off…but still, I try to, at least at some level, keep free from thinking of writing for certain…but sometimes you obviously do have to think that way as well.
MD: With such a big fusion of styles in your music, are there any particular bands who’ve been a big influence in your song writing, metal or otherwise?
MN: I think there’s a lot of bands and there’s a lot of things which are even non-musical in a way. It might be everything from going to the Museum of Contemporary Art and seeing a good video installation with a good idea and going - wow, that’s cool, and you get that kind of wow feeling from things, and that’s something which drives me more rather than a band who’s just done good records.
MD: So you’re inspired by life’s experiences rather than just particular bands?
MN: Yeah. It might be…I finally managed…I wanted for so long to see Gogol Bordello live because on an album they are what they are, but I saw them live this summer and it was like - this is really cool. And it doesn’t have to be in the way that then I find something I get excited about and take what they did and try to re-do that in some way, but instead trying to find things what others might hopefully think like that about it.
MD: Do you regard Turisas as a progressive band - musically and/or performance-wise?
MN: Well I think on some levels, especially on the new album, there are some quirky things in there which are on the album knowingly doing things which you know that this is not maybe gonna please, at least on the first hearing, a lot of people. It would be kind of easy to write a full album of songs like ‘To Holmgard and Beyond’, but that would be just stupid. Sometimes, I wonder why people don’t see it that way - you know…if you hear the same thing over and over again for 50 minutes you get bored. You have to have contrasted things to make other things shine out even more, and that’s why certain things feel so great when they have some sort of contrast. If you have a really, really heavy band and they go 40 minutes for like…[mimics monotonous blast beats]…all the time, it loses the kind of energy of it and the impact. It’s only heavy when you have a counterpoint for it and, in that sense, I think the new album has a lot of elements which are not catchy on the first, you know, like a blow to your head. There are a lot of things like that too on the album, but there’s a lot of things which we knew that people might not really understand what it’s about on the first listen, and you might need to actually sit down with the album for a while to open up fully.
MD: It’s better to have an album that’s challenging on the first listen, and then it’s a grower. What do you think of terms devised by the metal press to describe your music such as ‘Viking metal’?
MN: I don’t really care! [laughs] Musically it’s not really anything we feel that tied to. I don’t think the kind of themes we write about make out this band…the image, and especially the press, when every magazine only really wants to have the photos of you with all the fur and paint, it kind of gets to a point where people start seeing our band as only that is everything the band is about, and that’s actually only the stage band.
MD: Which is a shame because it takes away from the music, and the music is obviously the most important…
MN: Yeah, it is, but I think live it’s really a part of the band…definitely, all the visuals as well, but we’re not going to go out to the press and say - hey, we are Vikings.
MD: How do you find the whole plastic weaponry thing with kids turning up with toy swords, axes, and plastic shields…is that just a UK thing?
MN: Oh, it happens everywhere. But I think there’s a lot of kids come to these shows who will dress up and do all the…
MD: There’s a crowd outside already. I think they might get their swords taken off them on the way in though as they’re quite tight on the security here! There might not be too many plastic swords in the air later!
MN: [laughs] On the other hand, it’s flattering to see that there’s someone who’s 14 coming in and painting their face like I do on stage. I wouldn’t go to see a show and do that myself but I’m not fourteen!
Mathias backstage at Nottingham Rock City, 15th September 2007
Photograph copyright © 2007 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
METAL DISCOVERY: Your lyrics seem to hint at some Pagan views, though I’ve read your beliefs are more secular and practical. Do you have any spiritual beliefs?
MD: How important are history and mythology to you in contemporary life?
MD: A completely random question - if you could be any figure from history, who would you be, why, and what would you do differently to change the world?
MD: There are a lot more clean vocals on the new album than ‘Battle Metal’ and they sound a lot more developed as well. Have you been working on improving your clean voice?
MATHIAS NYGÅRD: Yeah, I think they’re more…practical, as you said, but there’s a lot of…I think primary religions have…I think what’s fascinating is the non-polarity which is in all of the Jeudo-Christian world of good and evil, and being opposite poles. To have the world view has been more abstract in times before and now it seems to be very narrow that it’s either this or black or white and nothing in between, so I find myself much more comfortable in that sliding scale.
MN: I think quite important in the way that I read a lot of historical…a lot of things I do are somehow connected with that. A lot of my interests are connected with things connected with history and mythology so I think it plays a big role and especially when travelling, instead of going to the beach or going to a bar - not when on tour because this is different - but when on holiday, I’m the kind of person that has a schedule ready for the next day who gets up at 8 and starts going through everything.
MN: I don’t think I would be the one to judge how to change the world in a way, because if I said I would like to be Hitler and change everything he did, that might even mean that everything would be even more fucked up now, so we can’t really know how everything is tied together and how things effect each other. That would be quite dangerous - you know, changing around things in the past. But I don’t know…obviously related to the album as well, being for some years already, quite into history and stuff, so I think it would be really interesting to be able to see Constantinople in its high period of time, and maybe also from the empirical insider view.
MN: Yeah, but why it ended up being like that isn’t really tied to feeling improved on doing something that maybe wasn’t there on ‘Battle Metal’. Also, what people ask is are we trying to soften it down to reach out to more people, but I think how it ended up having so much more clean vocals than maybe some would’ve expected is more just to do with the concept, and the texts, and what they are about. If you do all that growling vocals versus the clean vocals and the choirs and everything, it’s just as much a choice of choosing the right instrument to suit the right atmosphere we want to have, so it’s kind of weird to say certain things shouting it out and vice versa. But yeah, I’ve been taking singing lessons and improved myself in all fields.