With a little more than a month left until Finnish melodic death metal giants Insomnium release their highly anticipated, sixth full-length offering to the world, Sputnikmusic got an exclusive chance to peak behind the covers a bit, as Ville Friman, the band’s guitarist, sat down with me to discuss all things Insomnium. The following interview took place on March 19th and gives insight into the current state of the band, as well as what to expect from their upcoming album Shadows of the Dying Sun. Among other things, Mr. Friman also discussed the current state of the music industry, how nature affects him, and what he himself is excited to hear in 2014.
Good evening! How are you doing on this 19th of March?
I’m doing fine, it has been a busy day at work and I just came back home to do interviews, but it’s going well and it’s very nice to talk with you guys and see that you’re interested in our new album. So, I’m really good.
Has it been very hectic lately in the Insomnium camp? Have you guys been able to take a breather or two before your new stuff is released?
I thought that we would have a bit more spare time in our hands, but it has been quite hectic. When we got out of the studio, we started to mix the album right away, and after that we started with the (album) covers and all kinds of promotion. And last weekend we shot a new music video. It has been busy times, but it’s also been good times. I can’t really complain, it’s a good way to be busy I’d say. I think we’ve still been able to have time off (as well) and to concentrate on work and home life, and now we’re getting ready to rock and roll.
Your new album, Shadows of the Dying Sun, is soon upon us. What will it have in store for us? Will it be more like Since The Day It All Came Down (doomy melodeath), or more like One For Sorrow (up-tempo melodeath)? Or something totally new?
I think it will be a mix of all our albums in a way. There’s both something old and something new for sure. It will be a diverse album and I think we’ve gone a bit more extreme than we’ve gone before, but we’re also going to have our softer moments and our laid-back songs as well. I think it’s quite a diverse mix. We haven’t really held ourselves back, we haven’t been thinking about how we’ll sound or how we should sound. We’ve been just doing the music we’ve been loving to do and sticking with that, not feeling too constrained by ourselves or our musical style. We just try to sound good and play straight out of the heart.
You said that your new album is going to have bits that are more extreme than anything you’ve ever done before. What does that actually mean, since people have very different perceptions of what the term “extreme” means?
For me, we’re going to have some really different drumming styles and some blast beats and so on – something we haven’t done before too much. We’ve made different decisions in a way (this time around). Maybe, in a way, we have some extreme parts that are more defined from pure death metal, but I tell people not to worry too much. For me it might sound extreme compared to what we’ve done before, but to other people it might just sound like Insomnium – like stuff we’ve done before. It’s totally, safely Insomnium and what people have learned to know Insomnium for. But there are small twists and turns and something that makes it a bit different and interesting for us. We’ve been trying to also shed our skins in a way and to have a different perspective; to sound a bit different and evolve.
After One For Sorrow was released, did you already picture what kind of a direction you’d like to move in, or is that something you’ve been exploring during the last few years?
I think we didn’t have any plan as to which direction to go or what to do (next). We made One For Sorrow, then we toured quite extensively, and at some point it became evident that “okay, now we’ve done this and now we need to move on, let’s start thinking about a new album.” We didn’t have any big plans as to what we’re going to do or how we’re going to sound like. We just wanted to do good music and we started making songs that took shape as we were going along. With every album it has been kind of an adventure. We start writing songs, then we listen to them, and once you get one song down at least you’ll try something else. You try to avoid doing the same song two or three times in an album. You shape songs in a way, and then you start experiencing (them). With this album we first did some more experimental songs, and then we needed to hold back and think “ok, we probably need some traditional Insomnium songs on this album as well.” Album writing process – it’s like one song leads to another, and we don’t want to have an album that consists entirely of similar songs. We want to have diversity: we have longer songs and we have shorter songs, and we like to keep diversity – I think that’s one unique part of our sound, that we like to keep it interesting and diverse in a way.
One For Sorrow was the last record for Ville Vänni (guitars), who was one of the original members of the band. How has his departure affected Insomnium?
Of course it took a while (to get adjusted to it). He’s still a good friend of us and even though we don’t see that often, we have a strong bond, because we were touring a lot with him and he was in the band for a long time. There’s no animosity behind the departure and everybody is ok with what happened. With the new guy, Markus Vanhanen (guitars, also in Omnium Gatherum), its the first proper album for him. He joined us quite soon after we released One For Sorrow. He was actually involved with the touring of that album already. But this is his first real appearance in Insomnium ranks in the sense that he’s also writing songs now – he’s made a couple songs by himself on this album. He’s a very talented musician and he can twist his trademark sound into the Insomnium direction.
We also have some collaborations where many people write one song. There’s one song that Niilo (vocals, bass) and Markus have done together, and there’s one where I’ve used Markus’s chorus and melody and turned it into an Insomnium song. So there’s definitely this kind of interaction going on as well. In a way, it was a hard process to lose one member, but then we’ve been using the time on the road and the time spent on making this album to get a new member in. I think it’s great to be in the position where we now have a new, fully recruited member on board who’s taking part of the songwriting and all the aspects of the band, so it’s great. It was a tough road, but now we’re ok again and everything’s cool.
How did Markus fit into the Insomnium formula from a songwriting perspective? Is his songwriting style similar to yours, or does it offer a fresh perspective on things?
I think he offers a fresh perspective in a way. He does his things his own way, but I think he’s such a talented musician that he’s able to make Insomnium sounding songs or adapt to the approach we’ve had (through the years). Of course, it’s not only about writing (individual) songs, as we also kind of connected on doing arrangements: I’m influencing his songs, in a way, making corrections to vocal lines etc., and he has been bringing in some guitar solos and guitar arrangements to my songs. We’re really sharing the musical vision and influencing eachother’s. It’s working pretty well all the time. I think our style hasn’t changed that much. He’s definitely bringing in some of his own influences, different influences, but he actually understands what Insomnium is all about and what our sound is all about. He’s able to mimic that kind of impression, so to speak.
All Insomnium albums have been different in a way. What was your mindset when writing Shadows of the Dying Sun? Is there a kind of a statement that you’d like to put out with it?
I think there’s no bigger statement behind the album. We just followed our hearts; we wanted to do some things differently, and try to evolve as a band and as musicians. I think there’s no bigger statement behind the album. In a way it is a collection of songs, but everything ties under the title Shadows of the Dying Sun, which is a metaphor for peoples’ lives and destinies. Basically, everything on earth gets the energy – and the life is actually originating – from the sun and the energy of the sun. And we’re basically shadows of the dying sun. The sun is dying, it won’t be there, up in the sky, forever. It’s a star that will actually die. The album is a metaphor for that – what is ephemeral. Everything that borns or is built will die and it’s (the album) a comment on the natural way of life.
How much of a guide as to what we can expect from the new album is your 2013 EP Ephemeral? I know its title track will be featured on the new album, but how great of a representative of the upcoming album’s style is it?
You know it’s hard for yourself to step outside of the whole thing and think about how this (one) is different from the other songs, but I think we have unique sounds with all the songs we have on the album. “Ephemeral” is one song, but I don’t think we have a really similar song on the album. We have a couple of longer songs, songs with different structures, and even a song that sounds a bit like black metal – we have some black metal influences in some songs. It is (the album) quite a varied packet of songs. It’s hard to pick only one song that could be a complete representative of everything we have there. I think you need to experience it as an album, as a whole.
That’s good to know! I personally love exploring records, I don’t actually even want to know what they will sound like beforehand, and I like to be positively surprised by twists and turns that go different places.
Great to hear that! We love that as well and that’s what we want to do.
Regarding the longer songs, “In The Groves of Death”, for example, might be one of my personal favorite Insomnium songs. Will there be another epic, maybe over 10-minute song like that on the new album where you really push your songwriting?
We have a couple of longer songs, yes. I think some of our songs are probably longer if you look at the length of them – they might not feel that long all the time. There’s more of these longer songs on this album for sure. And like “In The Groves of Death”, that’s kind of one of our trademarks – we always have had these longer songs and that’s something that we will always have. It’s kind of funny, we’re big fans of the Swedish band Edge of Sanity, who in the nineties released this one really long song (album) called Crimson, that’s like 45 minutes. And we were just drinking and rehearsing last December and were kind of joking about making this one, huge song someday, to try to really go mad and explore our capability of building up this big, epic, long song. Maybe push ourselves a bit further and see how far we could go. That would be something interesting to do in the future.
It would! I’m really hoping that you go forward with the idea some time in the future, because Crimson is definitely one of the most interesting metal records ever made, I think, with its one song aspect and the twists and turns it goes through. I think if there is a modern band who could pull it off quite well in the same melodic death metal-ish character, it would probably be you guys.
Yeah, we’re keeping that idea alive, so let’s see if we ever make reality out of that. It would be interesting.
We all know that inside the metal community, melodic death metal as a genre has received its fair share of flack in recent years, as stagnation and overbearing familiarity seem to have set in. Insomnium has always defied that though, and has always released quality records that have gained rave reviews and fan praise. How do you do it, how do you keep yourself ahead of the pack?
We don’t think about it as a competition or how to take us apart from other competing bands. We just concentrate on doing what we do and what we feel is right. We try to be honest with our music. We are really big critics of ourselves with everything we do, so we really want to do something that is very artistic and ambitious in an artistic way. We want our songs to be good and we want to make good albums. It’s a big reward for us to be able to get good reviews and we’re not thinking about mass appeal or that we need to make an album to tour and play shows. I think that we’re working with some time limits now, we’re working while listening to what the record label wants to do as well regarding touring and so on, but we still want to be that young band who likes rehearsing and gets kinks out of new songs and making them. Music is still an adventure for us. You just want to experience it and have fun with it.
It’s great to hear that you’re still having fun with it, seeing as how you’ve been on the scene for a good 13-14 years now. Often times, it’s these intermediary places where bands seem to stagnate and run out of ideas and directions to explore.
I can really understand that. It’s really hard, almost impossible to make a living with the music by just playing live and making albums. It is a tough road and it takes a lot out of you. You need to make a lot of sacrifices in your personal life and so on. But I guess we have been lucky since we have been able to have a normal life besides the band. We’re working in our normal, daily lives, and some of us have a family and so on. We don’t have that much stress in making music, in that sense – we don’t have to succeed commercially with music. We are doing it for artistic reasons and we want to be successful for artistic reasons, which probably takes a certain amount of stress out of the whole thing. We can concentrate on doing our jobs and getting living out of that, and then we can concentrate on making music and just enjoy and love that.
Would you say that music is also a kind of a stress reliever for you guys, that kind of helps cope with problems that you otherwise might have in everyday lives?
It’s definitely an emotional outlet. It is stress-relieving in the sense that you can escape your everyday problems and do something (else). To me music is creating something from nothing. It’s basically just notes; but it is also giving your emotion a form that can be conveyed to other people with music, with sound, and that’s pretty amazing. It (music) gives off a lot. It is a stress reliever, but it’s also a way for us to experience emotions and feel ourselves as emotional human beings, to bring out this emotional part of us. For me, making music is really essential for mental health. I’m just hoping that I can offer that to other people and that other people could grasp that, at least partly, while listening to the (Insomnium) music. That’s always a great reward.
Continuing from that point, your songs all deal with negative emotions such as feelings of loss, despair, confusion, melancholy etc. Where do you derive the inspiration for your lyrics and why do you like writing about these subjects?
A lot of times feelings are revolving around these topics. You just want to have a good time and enjoy life, but you see that everything is not perfect in this world; there’s a lot of problems. Sometimes you have personal problems and whatever. I guess one thing is to put something personal to the lyrics, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be personal. It’s more about realizing aspects of life and realizing that (some) people really struggle in their lives. For example, to get something to eat. All of this is so different, depending where you come from or where you live in. Putting down these strong emotions, you can feel that, you feel the pain in this world. But then (again) your life is good, you’re born in a good place, good country, and you’ve been able to succeed, and it’s easier to push that (the negative side) back. It is really hard to find a solution how to make the wrong things in this world right. I guess you could go into politics or do something else, but as artists we’re not really directing people to do anything – we just want to make people see and realize these things through the music. That’s one thing we want to do (with our lyrics). When you’re happy, you don’t have this urge to convey your feelings, or maybe with your smiling you’re doing it already, but when you have these more dark and sombre feelings, those things aren’t so easy to talk about or share with people, so music is also an outlet for that – for speaking about these bad feelings and your bad emotions.
So would you say that the melancholic part of Insomnium is something that you discover again and again when writing Insomnium records, that it’s not something that you carry with yourselves in everyday lives?
It’s something you carry within you at all times, but something that you bring up more prominently through your music. You can get in touch with that part of yourself when making the music. It is – the music that we’re playing – something that comes straight out of our hearts. The feelings and our music are for real. That’s how we want to appear to people, and we want people to listen. It has to be honest, it has to be real, the music, to be art. That’s what we want to do: we want to have honest music that actually touches people and comes straight from our hearts. If it sells, it sells, it if doesn’t, it doesn’t. For me, the most important thing is to be happy that you’re making music that matters to you, and hopefully to other people as well.
It’s great to hear that you’re being true to yourselves as both people and artists, but how would you comment on the modern state of the whole business side of music? How much pressure from labels and representatives and everyone else is there to the bands?
It’s like, you need to play along. There isn’t bands without the music industry, but on the other hand, the bands make the music industry. It’s a both-way road. I think it is probably going to move towards bands making their own decision more, and I think labels are also getting this. We’re really, really honored to work with Century Media, which is a really great label and has great people to work with. They can understand this perspective that you need to believe in the bands and believe in what they’re doing, and also trust them. If you don’t get top results from releasing one album (under Century Media), it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re out of the business and you get fired, like some labels in this industry work. I think you need to build up things, and people are doing that by themselves (as well), releasing albums by themselves, paying themselves and so on. I think that it’s a problem that we have so many bands coming out, and everybody wants to do this thing. There’s a lot of creativity and really great musicians out there all the time, but then at the same time I think there is a really big urge to just get your name out, get to the stage, to say that I play in a band and that I’m involved in music, which leads to lesser content in regard to music as an art. Some people just seem to be making music because you have to have music in order to play in a band. But of course there’s more and more guys who haven’t been in the music scene for years (yet), but are really great musicians at the same time, so the whole thing is a mixed package in a way.
Talking about Century Media, One For Sorrow was your first album for them. Now with a second one on the way, how different has your time been with Century Media compared to your time with Candlelight Records, under whom you released your first four albums?
I think Century Media have been more involved with band activities, they’re more involved in person, we meet with them all the time and talk with them. We also work through our management a lot more now compared to our Candlelight years. I would say that things generally work better with Century Media – communication and everything. I mean no offense to Candlelight, they did a really great job with us as well, but maybe the communication wasn’t the best all the time. I think it’s really good – to know the Century Media people more and to get together more.
Each Insomnium release is chock-filled with a ton of great melodies. How hard is it to write the perfect melody? Is it something that comes naturally to you, or do you need to re-write and tinker a lot?
It is something that comes kind of naturally, but of course you’re working with the melodies a lot. You might be playing something and then you might be happy with it for a while, but then you might (go and) tweak something as well. It is something that is constantly evolving as well, but it’s certainly something that comes naturally. It’s hard to explain how it comes out (laughs).
I know that many Finnish bands cite the nature of Finland as one of their influences. Does the same apply to you and if so, in what way does nature influence your sound or your ideas?
I think nature has an effect for sure, but I think it’s more like it sets you in the right mood, so that you’re more in touch with yourself, with your inner self. For me, I don’t need to be in nature to write a good song, I just need to reach within me and get into this certain state of mind to write music. It can be influential (the nature), but for me it’s more about just writing music while playing guitar, and getting this emotional side of me up front, and then just writing music in that state of mind. It’s a natural process for me.
For the last question, which albums from 2014 are you personally either looking forward to or have already enjoyed a lot?
I really like the new Alcest album that came out. I didn’t really like the video song (“Opale”) first, but in the end it is a really great album with really good songs. As for what albums to expect, I’m really expecting the new Ghost Brigade album. Wille Naukkarinen, who is the guitar player in the band, he also did the covers for Shadows of the Dying Sun, and he’s a good friend of ours. I know for a fact that they’re now in the studio recording a new album. Hopefully it comes out this year, and I’m definitely waiting for that.
Thanks a lot for the interview, it’s been great talking to you! Do you have any parting words you’d like to share?
My pleasure! We’re getting a new video out. We shot a music video last weekend, so you will be hearing new Insomnium stuff pretty soon. After that we’ll do a couple of shows in Europe + festival shows, and do headline touring in Europe in the fall. I would just suggest you to check our band and our stuff, and come see us on our shows some day!