BARREN EARTH – Sami & Jón, Helsinki 2015

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If you want a collection of great bands without the cheese factor of a “supergroup,” Barren Earth might be a good place to start! This 8-year-old group have been popping up every now and then to perform the odd show or tour, and we managed to get a moment with them during the opening night of their Finnish tour with Turisas to chat about a little bit of everything!

This is the opening night of our tour with Turisas. Have you ever played any shows with them in the past?
Sami: No, we haven’t. Maybe the same festivals sometime, but we only did one US tour as Barren Earth, which was quite a while ago already. I think it was 2012 or 2011, I’m not sure. That was with Finntroll and Ensiferum.

The funny thing is, our keyboard player, Kasper, also plays in Turisas, so he has to play double duty tonight. I feel sorry for him already.

How did you end up opening for this tour?
Sami: How did it go? I think Mathias asked.

Jón: Yeah, I think Mathias likes the music and he approached us, just asked if we wanted to be on this tour.

Sami: It’s not even the first time. He approached us once before also, and then he stole our keyboard player. [laughter]

So this will be your first tour with these guys. Do you know them very well?
Sami: Well, obviously Kasper, because he plays in our band. I’ve met Mathias quite a few times and I know Jussi Wickström also through Ibanez guitars. Do you [Jón] know them from before?

Jón: Just Mathias.

Sami: I know Olli too. You know the scene here, it’s quite small. They used to be from Hämeenlinna but some of them are living in Helsinki. Everybody knows each other.

It’s a small world in the Finnish music business.
Sami: Absolutely! Even smaller in the Faroes! [laughter]

From what I’ve heard, you guys have toured overseas a fair bit, but not that much in Finland. Is that correct?
Sami: Yeah, when our debut album came out we were lucky enough to do a tour in the States but after that we’ve been doing carefully selected shows here and there. Festivals and stuff like that. A couple of times in Germany and Poland. Every now and then, here and there.

This is going to be a fairly extensive local tour for you guys then?
Sami: Well, there’s only so much you can play in Finland [laughs]. We’re doing every weekend until Christmas, so [Jón]’s flying back and forth from Copenhagen every week.

Is it pretty crazy, trying to get everyone together?
Sami: No, it’s pretty easy actually, when you do tours only on the weekend.

Jón: One hour flights are okay.

How’s the reception been to On Lonely Towers and the new vocals?
Sami: Excellent! Very, very good reviews. We haven’t played that many live shows, but brilliant reviews! It’s cool!

Mikko Kotamäki has a bit of a different vocal style. How did you end up going for the cleaner vocalist this time around?
Sami: Just by listening! [laughs] There were quite a few candidates but we were lucky enough that Jón offered his services.

Had you done an open audition or how did the selection process go after Mikko left?
Sami: Quite a lot of people did send us demos and there were a lot of interesting people from all over the place. The States, Germany… but Marko and Janne, our guitarist and drummer, they knew [Jón] from before and he did a demo of one of our songs that ended up on On Lonely Towers and we were just blown away, there was no question about it!

You of course all have your other bands, and you have priorities with them. Is there going to be another album in the future for you guys?

Jón: We’re already working on ideas. There’s a lot of writing activity in the band and we love working on new material, so who knows? Maybe sooner than later even.

Do you write fairly collectively when you’re doing new songs or does one person take the reins?
Sami: Fairly collectively. Maybe Olli-Pekka Laine, our bass player, is the most creative one, I would say, but everybody chips in.

Jón: It’s all up to the group’s consensus. We all pitch in with our ideas, but yeah, Olli takes care of a lot of it.

Do you guys have any big lyrical themes or messages that are really important on your albums? Big statements you want to make? What is your lyrical content like?
Jón: I think the material is all very introspective. It’s not so much like a statement per say. It’s maybe something more that people can relate to when they are in certain moods, but it’s not any societal thing. Not yet, at least? Well, there are some subliminal messages. I can’t speak for the earlier albums because I think there a guy called Jussi [K. Niemelä] who wrote lots of lyrics. An outside-of-the-band lyric writer.

Sami: Yes, a very famous atheist from Helsinki.

Jón: Yeah, so maybe that’s what the old lyrics are all about: atheism! But I wrote the lyrics for most of [On Lonely Towers] when I joined and that’s more legend-type things with some subtext of societal criticism.

A lot of bands have a lot of societal commentary in their music these days it seems

Jón: It all wraps in a nice story package.

From what I’ve heard, a lot of your album reviews refer to you guys as a “supergroup” and I had never thought of you guys as such. Do you think that’s an accurate description, when you take bands like The Local Band or Northern Kings into consideration?
Sami: Absolutely not. It was something that Peaceville, our first label that brought out our debut album… you know how hard it is always to get a new band noticed because there are so many bands that play… death metal, melodic, whatever you want to call it. I guess they thought it was the easiest way to draw some attention, was mentioning bands that our members have been in. We thought it was silly, but then again, understandable to at least attract some kind of attention to this whole thing. We didn’t want it, but they put a sticker on the CD. Actually, it went fine. It sold more than anybody expected. There’s nothing wrong with the technique, but we don’t think of ourselves as a “supergroup.” Come listen to our rehearsals and you wouldn’t think so. [laughter]

Do you think that, now that you’ve got three albums out, people are considering you less of a “supergroup” and more of a legitimate side-project from people with established careers?

Sami: I hope so! I would call this a band because we’ve done three albums and a tour.

Now Jón, you’re from the Faroe Islands, and Barren Earth was meant to play a gig in the Faroes some time ago. What’s it like playing a metal gig in the Faroes?
Jón: I have another band there and I’ve had lots of shows there. Having an entirely other band with foreign members playing there was interesting. We played at G Festival, which is the biggest alternative music festival in the Faroe Islands. I’ve played there like seven times with my own band, so it was all very familiar to me. Playing there with Barren Earth was entirely new and very exciting. I think the other guys probably a very different experience.

Sami: I had a great time! It was almost exotic for me! It is different, you wouldn’t believe it. It’s even more isolated than Iceland. [laughs] But it was beautiful landscape. I would go again!

Do you have any crazy stories from these shows you’ve done all over the place? Any proper Spinal Tap moments or anything like that?
Sami: Spinal Tap moments happen all the time. It’s only normal. Maybe the worst Spinal Tap things will happen tonight? Stick around and we will see!

Lastly, because you guys all have other bands, do you have a lot of trouble organizing recordings or tours or anything like that, because you’re all widespread and have other commitments?
Sami: A little bit, but in the end we’ve managed to already put out three albums, so it’s all doable.

Jón: The problem is mostly touring. It’s hard, but it’s doable.

That’s all of my questions! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us and have a great show tonight and tour to come!

2015.11 Sami & Jón - Barren Earth (2)

Text: Amy Wiseman | Photos: Eliza Rask

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