TURISAS – Mathias Nygård; Helsinki, 2011

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The red and black -painted faces of Turisas have been seen on numerous stages all around the world over the past few years. However, since the summer of 2009 the band had been working on their third studio album – a release highly anticipated by the fans as the previous one dates all the way back to 2007. It has now been announced that the work is finished. It won’t be long till you will be able to blast the new Turisas at top volume, while pretending that you are riding a horse faster than the wind through the vast picturesque valleys, sporting heavy armor and a shiny sword, all prepared for another battle… Either that, or you will simply enjoy the new material from the band that has undoubtedly enriched Finland’s metal roster.

We met with the frontman and mastermind behind Turisas, Mathias ‘Warlord’ Nygård, to find out more details about the upcoming release and the band’s future. Unexpectedly, this discussion went in an even more interesting direction!

According to the news I read a short while ago, you’ve finished working on the new album. So, how did the process go this time?
It was a long, long thing to do, because I tried writing music on tour and it didn’t really work out. We were touring so much in 2008 and 2009; there was really no time to write songs or anything. So we did our last tour in May 2009. Then we finished touring and I spent about a year on just song-writing until starting to record in March this year. We spent a lot of time in the studio and now we’re finally done. It’s been a long project, but it was worth it.

You have said that the new album is kind of a leap forward from the previous works. What makes it different from what you’ve done before?
There are so many bands that give out albums every year and they just sound the same. Even if you find a really cool band that’s really good on the first two albums or something, but then when they do the fifth album that sounds just the same as the first one, it gets really boring. So I think what we always tried to do is not to give in to this, keep feeding the market just to get visibility and releases and all that, but instead invest in taking time between albums. Now it’s going to be 3½ years since our last album; it’s a fairly long time, but I think it pays off in the way that it’s not gonna sound like what we’ve done in the past. It’s not gonna be like German techno or anything like that either [laughs]. The sound evolves and that’s what we want to do to move forward and do different things. And of course sometimes that means that someone who loved your first demo will not appreciate [the evolution] so much. But on the other hand it would be very boring for us to come up with a concept and then stick to it for 30 years. There are bands like AC/DC that shouldn’t do anything else; they’re good at what they do.

Have you achieved what you wanted with this album now that it’s complete?
The thing is, you lose your objectivity so fast. Even by the time we were mixing it, I didn’t want to say too much, because I have all the demos in my head and different references. It’s good to get in fresh ears to do the mixing and mastering. Jens Bogren mixed it in Sweden, so now it sounds great. But right now, when you’ve been listening to something for about 18 months, I don’t know anymore [laughs]. Maybe the songs are just total crap. And every time I listen to the album again, I just hear mistakes everywhere. I need to stop listening to it now and then go back in 6 months and then I can maybe enjoy it more on the level of normal people.

What has influenced you to write the material for the new album? What inspired you?
Well, our previous album was a pretty thought-through concept album, historically-based. For a long time the idea was that this story would continue over several albums. That was the starting point for the song-writing, but then at some point, you know, having a concept or a theme might be very inspirational, but sometimes it might also start to feel like you’re backing yourself into a corner. You have to fit everything you do in this thing. There was this point where I really had to make the call that I can’t follow this as strictly as maybe intended initially, like when working on the previous album, and loosen up on the concept a bit more. So it’s gonna be a bit more universal when it comes to contents and lyrics and that stuff. It’s not so strictly tied to “We are now writing songs about Vikings this year.” The loose framework is there, but the songs really are about the stuff that you could take to modern day life or whatever. So in many of the themes it’s like you can place them in history in several points, whether it’s like the fall of Constantinople or the fall of the Soviet Union.

Why do you produce all the albums yourself? Don’t you trust anyone else to do the job?
I’ve been open to the idea of working with an outside producer, but the problem is when the projects get so big and when we’ve been working on it for like 6 or 8 months in the studio, it’s not maybe the most basic heavy metal album production. And a lot of it is built up as we go forward. It would be very hard to take someone from the outside and then try to explain everything about this, so he can start working on things 8 months earlier still knowing what’s going to happen later on. To be honest, I think it’s more a recording engineer who has some ideas, how to do it, but it’s not like in the big world, where you have an outside producer who is only producing and then other people do other things. I think that if you know what you’re doing or have a good idea and vision of what you want to achieve, it’s just going to get difficult and more fights [will happen] and that kind of stuff, when you bring someone from the outside.

Do you think that taking such long breaks between the albums might affect your audience? That they won’t stick around for 3 years more waiting for the next Turisas album?
Yeah, I’m sure it does. As I said if we’ve been thinking about this from a business perspective only, the most clever thing to do would be to come out with a new album every 16 months or so, because that would keep you in the media all the time and they don’t get a chance to forget about you. And of course that’s the risk we bear, but on the other hand, it’s much more important that we do stuff we are pleased with ourselves rather than just think of it in the terms of marketing and business. I think that the people who really like it are probably bound to find us again if they forgot about us.

You have an upcoming North American tour with Cradle of Filth and Nachtmystium. Are you looking forward to it?
It’s gonna be cool. We toured with Cradle of Filth in Europe. That was the last tour we actually did before we started working on the album in 2009 and they were really cool guys. I mean, of course, musically they are quite distant from what we do, but it kind of worked. And right now, maybe also because of that thing you said that we spend so much time in between albums – people forget; we toured the States last time in 2008 and then we would’ve been probably quite able to go over and headline and do our own tour, but now it’s been 2 years in between. So it felt like a safer way to begin, to just jump on a package with other bands and start out like this and then headline later on.

They play quite different genres compared to you.
Yeah I know. But anyways, we are setting this, whatever, folk/Viking metal genre. I think every band of this genre is kind of spreading out a bit and taking its own way. Except maybe for Korpiklaani who sort of are the AC/DC of that style, which is good for them. Even though people would think that the perfect line-up would be us and maybe Finntroll or Ensiferum, but we are still quite different than they are today. I’m not saying that what we are doing now is gonna get closer to the black metal bands or whatever, bands like Cradle of Filth, quite the opposite to be honest.

What is your craziest tour memory?
Err… These questions are always hard, you should have like a list written down, when stuff happens, because when someone asks, it’s really hard to remember anything. We toured with DragonForce in 2008 in the States. On some drunken night we started to collect these traffic cones and bring them in the bus. And one night, I think it was in New York, we saw these huge cones, something like 2 meters, which were meant for some big highway road, so we thought it was a clever idea to bring them in the bus as well. The bus driver wasn’t really happy about it. Then they had some sort of election going on in Canada when we were over there, and we were collecting those posters of politicians and putting them in the bus. The bus driver was going totally insane when he found them and had to throw them away every morning. I don’t know, there is so much stuff that happens all the time that the abnormal becomes normal.

Do you still have any band-related dreams or goals that you would like to achieve?
Yeah, absolutely. Of course, it happens sometimes when you reach a certain peak point and that’s how far you can go. But when we started out, if we ever even dreamed of headlining anything or playing a show anywhere, it would be a local youth house or something like that. Getting a record deal was like the most distant dream you could imagine. And in between it would be pretty cool to make a demo cassette; the C-cassette thing was kind of a goal we had at some point. We never made it there, because by the time we were making a demo, the format changed. So we didn’t get a C-cassette demo, unfortunately. You have to look forward, but you also have to keep your feet on the ground. But the thing that keeps you going is aiming for something bigger. I don’t necessarily mean “bigger” in terms of bigger shows or bigger sales, but being able to do things that are interesting for us and new things. Like we had this Finnish jazz pianist coming over to do a few special shows and then he played grand piano on one of the tracks on the new album, so that was a nice collaboration of different worlds. It would be super cool to play big arenas, because then you can do a lot of crazy stuff. But it’s very dangerous to think that the only measure of how good your band is is how many MySpace friends you have, for example. It doesn’t work this way.

The Finnish metal scene is quite filled with trolls, Vikings, monsters, etc. Where do you think all this diversity comes from?
People always ask why there are so many successful metal bands coming from Finland. If we don’t consider the visual part for a moment, what all these bands have in common is that no one is directly copying what the other one is doing. In our little group of bands with Finntroll and Ensiferum… I think all these bands are still unique and have their own direction and style. There’s just a strong drive to be innovative and come up with new ideas and try to be unique. And that’s what makes things successful in the end, you know. No one is interested even if you’re in the best Mötley Crüe copy band in the world, because you are doing what has already been done. And when you take that over to the visuals, I guess it’s just sort of extra step to make it even more unique. Of course it can be very childish or goofy at times, but in the end, it’s not like other “normal” bands walk on stage in the same mood they would be at home with their kids. The same way we put on our makeup and costumes, they also perform, they think of what T-shirts they are going to wear when they go on stage and that kind of stuff, but it’s maybe not as obvious. It’s still the same thing on some level.

How important would you say the stage visuals are to your performance?
I think it would be very hard to go on stage and pull off the same show without the paint and costumes. Of course, we could play the songs and have the lights and all and play perfect music or probably better than with all the extra action going on, but it’s really not about that, it’s about the performance, in the end people come to see you perform and not just play as good as you can. So it’s an important part of that, absolutely. We always try to make the live event special somehow and feel the people who actually bothered to come down to see you, feel that they are watching something that doesn’t maybe happen every night. So there is a feeling of uniqueness and spontaneity as well. Of course, sometimes it means that it’s not as good or as structured as it could be, but sometimes there are some spontaneous ideas that make it feel special.

Is there a big difference between Mathias and Warlord?
[laughs] Yeah, I think so. I haven’t really wanted to push it all the way to become a sort of distant character. Of course I couldn’t sit in a tram and act the same way I do when I perform. I am probably pretty laid-back as a person, whereas on stage, you have to own it, it has to be your show.

How did you get that name?
I think it comes from the funny background of ours. When we were starting the band all of these second wave black metal bands were getting really big breaking out from the underground. In a funny way we felt ourselves coming from that, because that was what we were listening to a lot at that time; bands like Emperor, for example. Of course today we sound nothing like them, but we still took some elements from those bands. Like for instance, all the visual stuff was quite directly coming from those black metal bands who were still pretty strongly into corpse paint and spikes and so on. And we wanted to have the same, but it didn’t really fit us sound-wise and we wanted to have it more down-to-earth. We basically just took their visuals, but made it look our own by changing the black leather to brown, for instance. And I think that the name Warlord comes from that time when all the artists in the band never used their names.

What was it that brought you into metal in the first place?
I think it started out from these classic rock acts like Deep Purple and that kind of stuff. Then gradually I was finding different metal bands like Megadeth. I never got anything out of Metallica; still to this day I’ve never owned a single Metallica CD. I don’t know why. I haven’t been really interested in the band. There was a time when Sepultura was really good and then I found black metal and really extreme metal as well, but nowadays I don’t know how much I really bother to listen to metal. One thing about metal is that it’s a subculture against the stream and being unique and this kind of thing.

In the end, I think metal is actually very conservative as a group. Metalheads in general have a very strict dress code and what you can be and what you should not be and what kind of topics and aesthetics you like. So when it comes to music, it’s not very often that you find a metal band that can really blow your head off in the way that it’s something really new and cool. There’s so much of just repeating what’s been done for 20 years already, building from the same tradition all the time. So that’s why listening to metal is more like listening to the old bands, not to what’s going on right now. But maybe I’m just getting old as well and don’t pick up on Avenged Sevenfold and bands like these. I don’t really know what they are about, but maybe if I looked into it more, I could find some new progressive metal bands and ideas how it’s evolving. But I don’t know yet. That’s one thing that metalheads tend to think, that they are special and really do what they want, but in the end that’s just a big flock of very conservative aesthetics, very old ideas. When you jump over to something new, people become against it or don’t like it or say it’s not true anymore.

What makes the Vikings so fascinating that you more or less made it the theme of the band?
We haven’t directly made it the theme of the band. We made the last album with a theme of journeys to the East; the previous one wasn’t directly based on any Vikings or anything like this.

Yeah, but the image of the band and your stage performance is in this style still.
The “Viking” tag in the end is strongly kept by the media. In every photo shoot someone wants to do, they want you to hold a sword and that stuff, of course it becomes that then. We are going to do new photos now for the new album, so it going to be evolving again and try to maybe find new ways to make it visual and interesting, but not repeating the same. Or to not come off as having this Viking concept that we stick to all the time. I guess it’s more like a general interest in history that drives much of the song-writing and the tradition of some sort of epic story-telling which is quite effective and works well with the music we do.

Text: Tanja Caciur | Photos: Jana Blomqvist | Ed: Amy Wiseman

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