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Album Review: TBA

Monday, March 17, 2008

Interview: Turisas

Finnish Viking metal, folk rock, battle metal or just plain comedy romping? Labeling a band like Turisas is hard-going. Their influences are wide-ranging and seem to come from many different art forms. They utilise clever orchestration, multiple instrument parts and inject pomp and vigour into everything they do. Yet they don furs and leather, smear their bodies with red and black paint each time they take the stage, and inspire their audience to carry fearsome weapons to shows. They sing songs of historical events, personal crises and then switch to drinking songs and dancing. I boarded the Turisas tour-bus to find out more and discovered the lead singer, Warlord AKA Mathias Nygård, almost unrecognisable sans war-paint and battle armour, alone and sitting comfortably in front of his laptop.

We’re here a few hours before you take the stage. How are you feeling?

I’m feeling alright. The days are just disappearing. There’s a lot of stuff to do. It’s waking up, trying to get stuff sorted and then going on stage. Everything’s been good so far except the constant compromise factor. It’s always a bit of a compromise.

Have you ever played Norwich before?

No. I’ve heard the pre-sales were pretty good.

There are guys out front in furs with swords already.

Yeah. It’s really proving to be a good choice to tour the UK more extensively than most bands do.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

Actually, no. I remember discussing it with Iced Earth when we were on tour with them last Autumn and they all kind of get everybody together and scream at each other. But at the end of the day, when you’re in a hurry and you lose your lucky underwear, or something, you can fuck up the show because of the placebo effect, so we kind of, by intention avoid doing all that.

Do you all drink before the show or do you prefer to perform with a clear head?

There are bands who can do five weeks of being completely wasted all the time but for us we are here to play the shows in the end, not to party, so it’s the priority. We can’t afford to come all the way to Norwich and cancel or do a shit show because somebody’s wasted so we’re kind of dedicated in that sense.

Tell us about John Coulthard’s awesome cover artwork for ‘The Varangian Way’ album. How did that all come about?

We were kinda balling around with some ideas and I didn’t want what you’d expect, the nice painted image of warriors or skulls. It could have been full of clichés and conservative but we wanted something more graphical. So our A&R at Century Media put out a few links and stuff. The funny thing was we were sitting in the studio already thinking of about how we wanted the cover. We wanted something that included the journey and that, and the first draft sketches we did ourselves were of a ship coming out of the picture towards you and John Coulthard did his first sketches completely independently and came up with the same thing. When he sent them to us it was, like, yeah, this is probably gonna work.

How did you come to do a cover of Boney M’s ‘Rasputin’?

(Laughs) There’s this strange ferry that runs between Finland and Sweden or Finland and Estonia. It’s not that popular anymore and before the EU and the strong taxation stuff it was used to be that booze was actually cheaper when it was in open water, no man’s land, and people used to go there to buy cheap alcohol and get wasted. It was kind of like a floating discotheque, basically. I was in the bar on my way to Sweden back in 2000 or 2001 listening to this 70’s cover band playing Bee Gees and Abba and then they blasted Boney M’s Rasputin and it just struck me that this would work really well in a different format. But it still took a few years before we started playing it live and then it was such a success that we decided to record it.

Do you have any plans to cover any other songs?

Well, yes, there is some. But then we don’t want to end up being a covers jukebox band. We haven’t had time to fiddle around as we’ve had to concentrate on the priority stuff but when we find time to do something there are some ideas there.

Turisas, the Finnish god of war. Are you actually violent people at heart?

No, we are Princes! (Laughs all round) People expect you to be two metres tall and somehow the expectation from the stage appearance is so different that people don’t recognise us.

Actually, we watched some of you guys just go outside in front of the fans for a cigarette and we were like “nobody knows it’s them!”

In that way it’s not intentional, we don’t dress up to hide ourselves, but it is relaxing that we can go and, maybe, see the band playing their set before us or have a cigarette outside and take it easy. That’s quite cool.

How did you get the nickname, Warlord?

It’s probably something to do with me being in charge of most things with the band. Up until recently I’ve been doing everything from song-writing to management - I’m kind of, like, the mum of the band. I like to keep myself busy.

Your music is such an interesting mixture of genres. Where does it come from?

That’s hard to say. As a kid, I liked, Manowar, but we’re not, like, the updated version of that. I guess, heavy metal in general has a lot of these same elements as pompous classical music or music from, what I guess you’d call, the romantic period.

Do you listen then to a lot of classical music?

I listen to all sorts of music. I’m not a big metal-head at all. I’ll listen to metal but I also listen to pop. Everybody in the band has a broad taste in music and everybody has a slightly different musical background. Olli, of course, comes from a classically-trained and, then, jazz background - others from more of a heavy metal background.

Considering the drama you inject into your music are you really a thespian at heart?

I wouldn’t say I’m a really good actor or anything but I really appreciate all sorts of stage art, be it musicals or theatre. I used the perfect word for this recently. The word is ‘holistic’. I’m not sure if it translates directly into English, but it’s the belief that the particles that form something together are bigger than the value of the parts by themselves. It’s like combining the sound with visuals and everything coming together. I can get really bitchy when it’s not right because it has to fit with the concept behind the song. I’m really impressed when I go to see, say, opera or ballet or something, when all the stage settings can move in seconds. That’s really cool.

Have you ever thought of doing a film score or music for theatre?

That would be really cool. I’m somewhat bad, though, at working on demand. I usually get too personal with things and the perfectionism turns on and that can be a bad thing when you need to be productive. I don’t think I’d be able to keep up with things being just alright. I’d never be able to finish anything.

Any other influences?

There’s a lot of bullshit in heavy metal. I usually get ideas from something different. When you get the ‘wow’ moment it can be from anything. It might be a band or a book or something else that really impresses you. I’ve always had a hard time understanding when a band, especially jazz bands actually, records an album and somebody just puts their photograph on the cover. They don’t care about the cover it’s all about the music. To me when I go to a store and buy a the album it’s all about the moment when you take out the CD, flip through the booklet a bit, and all those visuals and music come together to form the full picture. I don’t even want to go into music videos! (Laughs) It might be distracting if something doesn’t fit which is why you have to work with graphic artists or something. I had really long discussions with John Coulthard about each song on the album so that when you hear the song and the image together it all fits. So instead of him just painting Viking ships, or whatever, he had to be really deeply involved and know what each song is about down beneath. Then he can paint a picture that can support that and so the final product is just the tip of the iceberg of the work that’s gone into it.

How was Hard Rock Hell in November?

It was fun. With all the full carpets and everything it reminded me a bit of the floating discotheque ferries I talked about. There was something really kitschy about the whole thing. People kept asking in interviews about what we thought of Minehead and Butlins and “isn’t it a bit weird?” but I think everyone who went secretly enjoyed the odd setting with the ‘Bob The Builder’ train-tracks and the miniature golf, the bowling and slot machines. So the show was really cool and the setting was really different from other festivals.

How has the tour been so far?

I’ve been told I have to cut down on all the blabbering I do on stage. I don’t think we’ve kept a gig curfew yet. When you actually hear the people outside, dressing up, chanting the name of the bands outside the doors, you know it’s going to be good and so far every show’s been a killer.

You included a karaoke version of ‘To Holmgard and Beyond’ on the recent extended version of the new album. You’re not afraid of going that extra step?

We could perform the same songs in many different ways. We could turn the lights on and sit on bar chairs and play the songs or we could dress up. I mean, they have face paint and spikes in the black metal scene but they always have to keep to their image whereas we can go on stage and have a real laugh about ourselves. It makes a real difference. We don’t want to be a comedy band or novelty act. In the studio we’re serious but on stage everybody’s there to have a good night out. Some of them won’t care about the historical concept or the images matching the music, they’re just want to have a few beers and have a good time. Nowadays, the record labels need you have to release these bonus tracks. The eight tracks on the album took us six months! It’s not like I’m going to write six more bonus tracks, we’re not able to do that, so we have to come up with different kind of material to do that bonus stuff. It’s too much work for just one of our tracks. It’s all the way or nothing with our music.

Your current takes you right around Europe. Where are you best received other than at home?

Probably, in the UK. It’s kind of different in Finland. A year ago nobody cared about us as metal is mainstream. When the album was released it was in the Top 40 album charts nine weeks in a row. The Finnish people take a lot of notice of what happens in the UK and when we got big here they got a bit jealous, I guess, and in the last year or so it’s really picked up back home too. Benelux is quite big as well. Germany is huge but you get smaller crowds so you can’t compare with the success we’ve had in the UK.

What music are you currently playing on the tour bus?

Shit! I think it was Abba last night which is not shit but there are not that many metal tracks. It’s been 80’s stuff on the playlist recently with the Norther guys taking care of the DJ-ing. They have that extra one and a half hours to get drunk so they are already having there party when we turn up. And we’re like “Where’s the beer?” That’s the negative side of headlining.

Can you direct me to the best shop for animal furs and Viking weapons so I can come better equipped for the next show?

For animal furs you will end up spending a lot of money and Viking swords you won’t get in, so I’d advise you to do as many of the kids seem to be doing and bring plastic axes and swords, use mummy’s make-up set and any fake fur you can find here and there.

Thanks very much, Mathias. Have a good show!

Thank you. Cheers.

Thanks to Sarah @ Century Media for helping set up the interview.

Also online @ Subba-Cultcha =
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