When I called this act a new Finnish super-group and expressed my appreciation in my review, I was certainly not alone with my opinion. Kuolemanlaakso have left quite an impression in the scene with their debut album “Uljas uusi maailma” (”Brave New World”). Founder and mastermind Markus Laakso (guitar & keyboards) tells us all about the band, the mystical quality of Finnish nature – and who´s the best cook in the line-up.
Although you all are quite well known, could you perhaps tell us the story how Kuolemanlaakso came into being? How did you meet each other and got the band together?
It´s a band of brothers, so to speak. I originally wanted Kuolemanlaakso to be just a one-man-project, but when Kouta (guitar) heard some of my demo songs “by accident” at a party at Studio Perkele, where I had recorded them, he immediately phoned me up, and insisted that I´d make it a full-time band. He obviously wanted to be in it, as he liked the stuff so much.
Kouta and I play in a cinematic extreme metal band Chaosweaver, and he is one of my closest friends, so I gave it a lot of thought. After a while I decided that fuck it, let´s give it a go. I had a few great guys in mind right from the start, and gladly they were all excited to join. There were two main qualifications: they´d have to be great musicians and – even more importantly – down-to-earth, mellow dudes. I hate hassles and unnecessary bullshit. Kuolemanlaakso is all about good times and depressive music with like-minded people. So far, so good.
I´ve known Usva (The Nibiriuan, ex-Elenium) and Tiera (Cult of Endtime, ex-Discard) for years, but knew Kotamäki (Swallow the Sun, Barren Earth) mostly by reputation before he joined the band. He was our number one choice for vocals, as he is the best, heh… Kouta asked him to join, as they knew each other from somewhere.
If the band was The Simpsons / Star Wars or Tolkien LOTR characters – who would be which character and why, what are the parallels between this fictional character and the real people?
Musically speaking Jabba the Hut: evil, ugly and super heavy.
As far as our personalities are concerned, Kouta reminds me of The Comic Book Guy of Simpsons, because he is sometimes overly critical (“Worst playing ever”, heh). There are certainly similarities with Homer too, as he loves food, beer, chilling and – well – Homer. Tiera is like Boba Fett, the quiet bountyhunter from Star Wars, who always delivers with style.
Usva is like Lisa Simpson, because he wants to heal the world and help out the next guy. He genuinely cares for others. A smart guy and a hippie spirit – kind of like a rastaman version of Legolas from LOTR. Kotamäki has some of Bart´s prankster qualities for sure, but at the same time he reminds me of the ranger version of Aragorn: a noble but ragged guy with great potential. There´s more to him than meets the eye. Sure he drinks like Barney Gumble and prospers under a hood like the Emperor, but underneath he´s a really warm character. And a great chef.
As for me, I don´t know. Han Solo is one of my favorite characters of all time. He´s such a streetwise survivor, and the master of sarcastic oneliners – but you´d have to ask someone else what I´m really like.
How would you describe your musical style, and how did this style develop? What are your musical roots and influences?
I was inspired by Triptykon´s Eparistera Daimones when I started writing songs for this album, but the outcome was ultimately very different, and underliningly Finnish. And I´m not just talking about the language, but also the melodies and the melancholy buried deep inside. I have a in-built tendency to make stuff catchy, even though I deliberately tried to go another direction. Well, can´t complain, because I´m really proud of the album.
I listen to a lot of different kinds of music from doom, death, black, traditional, heavy, symphonic extreme metal to psychedelic forest folk, hiphop, pop, rock, punk and soundtracks, and pretty much everything in between. I used to take piano and guitar lessons for a while as a kid, but concider myself as self-taught, because I´ve forgotten how to read notes, and I don´t know squat about theory. I´ve listened to metal since I was about six years old, so I guess my musical roots and influences still derive from my childhood.
What were the reactions to the CD so far? Are you satisfied, did the response meet your expectations?
The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. I didn´t expect such a high international praise and high sales numbers. So, yes, I am very satisfied with the response.
How were the first gigs – how was the Helsinki audience? I saw this Imperiumi.net article – so you always take yournalists out to food&sauna?? 😀
We treat people as they should be treated… Jaakko Silvast, the journalist, is a hellacool dude, so of course we took him to the sauna and Kotamäki cooked a wicked-ass meal for all of us.
It was weird to climb on stage for the first time ever at Henry´s Pub, Kuopio, because we didn´t know what to expect. Of course we knew that Deathchain and Sotajumala would atract a decent crowd, but when we walked on stage, the house was already packed, and people really seemed to enjoy our set. It was a great show.
In Helsinki we played with Shining (SWE), Ofermod (SWE) and The Crescent. People were obviously waiting for the much larger main act, so the audience was a bit more challenging. I heard that Ville Valo of HIM watched our whole set, so I guess we didn´t suck too bad, heh… Shining´s drummer Rainer Tuomikanto came to concratulate me after our set, and was really impressed with our material. The next day he wrote on Facebook that “Kuolemanlaakso: my new favourite band”. It was heart-warming as he is one of the best drummers around.
Why this name – what is the reason you chose “Death Valley”, any personal connection with it? Or is it just playing around with your name (Laakso = valley)?
I wanted to call the band Laakso, which is my last name as it was supposed to be my own project. I later found out that there is a Swedish pop group with the same name, and their lead singers name is Markus – same as mine -, so that went down the crapper.
I used to live in San Diego, California as a kid. The sweltering heat of Death Valley left a mark on me. The oppressiveness of it reflects our music. And as we were driving through the valley, my father accidentally drove over a large reddish serpent. The experience has stuck in my mind, and has a deeper symbolic meaning to me.
For people who do not speak Finnish – what are the lyrics about?
I have translated the lyrics into English, and they can be found in the booklet of the CD and LP. They deal with subjects such as loss, revenge, yearning and the mystique of the Finnish nature.
Why did you choose this poem/book, what is the fascination with Eino Leino? Is he so well known in Finland that every pupil has to read the works/learn them by heart (just like German / Austrian pupils get traumatized with Schiller & Goethe stuff)? Or who is he, what is the most popular&known of his works?
Yeah, Leino is one of those “mandatory school poets” – or at least he should be. He is very well known in Finland, but I think people mostly know him by name or reputation, and not his actual writings. In this case, I “chose” Helkavirsiä as inspiration for my lyrics. I adore Leino´s super gloomy style and the rhythm of his language. It is a great match with heavy and melacholic metal such as ours.
I´ve started writing lyrics for our second album already, and they aren´t as much inspired by Leino as on the first one. Well, that´s not the whole truth, as there are still stylistical similarities, but the subjects are a bit different. Leino´s poetry deals a lot with the Finnish nature – human and physical, as does mine.
Why did you choose to keep the Finnish language, although this might make a breakthrough in the rest of Europe more difficult?
I wanted to challenge myself. Finnish is so much harder to make sound good on top of music than English. It is a rougher language, and not as musical. I hadn´t written that much lyrics in Finnish before, and these were the main reasons for me for wanting to stick to Finnish. I also wanted to write about stuff that is connected to my own life somehow, and not just plain fiction as is pretty much the case in Chaosweaver.
To be honest, I didn´t give a fuck about breaking through anywhere, I just thought that these songs absolutely needed to be recited in Finnish. English would have been obviously an easier way to success, so to speak, but for example I think one of the main reasons Kotamäki wanted to join our band is the fact that he gets to do something he hasn´t done before. Same here. I have been amazed by the fact that the lyrics have not been an issue to the non-Finnish world at all. People seem to find it exotic.
It´s already mentioned in the band bio – but which other projects have you been before K., are you still in other bands?
Yeah, two. Chaosweaver´s second album “Enter the Realm of the Doppelgänger” was released in June via Napalm, and Kuolemanlaakso´s “Uljas uusi maailma” in November via Svart, so 2012 was a bit hectic for Kouta and I. Chaosweaver is actually the first band I´ve ever been a member of. I co-founded it in 2004.
The other one is an unnamed traditional doom metal band. We´ve got over an album´s worth of songs ready, but haven´t found the right singer yet.
I´ve also got a ton of other more or less official projects too, such as His Gray Eminence, which plays fast and evil black metalish stuff. I was planning to record the debut in March, but I can´t as I´m too busy with other stuff such as writing the second album of Kuolemanlaakso.
As all the other guys are in other bands, too, what is the most difficult aspect to coordinate – rehearsals or gigs?
We haven´t had to cancel any rehearsals or shows yet, so it hasn´t been a problem so far. Kotamäki is obviously the busiest guy as Swallow the Sun seems to be on an endless tour cycle, and Barren Earth plays around the globe too.
In that Imperiumi.net article is mentioned that you basically rehearsed shortly before the first gig – so does this usually happen?
To tell you the truth: we´ve rehearsed with Kotamäki only ONCE. Ever. Rehearsing is for amateurs – that´s why we, the other guys, spend quite a lot of time at our rehearsal place, heh…
As you all are a bit older now – did anything change during the years, I mean is the “big dream” you had when starting your musician career still the same, or what had changed?
I can´t speak for the other guys, but the only dream I truly had was getting a recording contract and releasing my own music. I never had big dreams about playing live on big stages or getting rich. Now that we´ve played a couple of shows with this outfit, I can´t wait to get on stage again. We have a lot of fun together.
If I were given the opportunity to be a full-time musician, I´d choose it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, in times like these, it is not financially possible. Still, I feel really blessed to have a chance to record music with people whom I admire, have our albums released internationally by great labels, and play in front of crowds, who have come to see us perform. I really can´t ask for more. It is not a matter of success, fame or fortune, it is a matter of one true calling, which I must answer to.
That band doesn´t exist that long, but you all have this long career – so is there a weird /absurd story you can tell us, e.g. mishaps at a gig/tour, something you thought “this cannot be real, I´m in a movie” or sth?
There have been a number of dream come true moments for this band already. I think the biggest one is recording the debut album with V. Santura of Triptykon at the same studio they made their monumental “Eparistera Daimones” in Germany. Another highlight is sharing the stage with top musicians, whom I admire both personally and professionally. Swallow the Sun is probably my favorite Finnish band. It´s pretty cool to have Kotamäki sing the songs I´ve written – and he really seems to enjoy doing it.
What are your plans in the (near) future? More gigs, a tour?
More shows, definitely. We´re playing at Lutakko, Jyväskylä, on January 25. After that we´ve got a few very exciting gigs coming up, but they have not been annouced publicly yet, so unfortunately I can´t go into further details on them yet.
We´re also writing stuff for our second album, which we are planning to record by the end of this year. We will most likely join our forces again with V. Santura of Triptykon and Dark Fortress, who recorded, mixed, mastered and co-produced the first one. So, things are looking bright!
Upcoming Live Show:
25.01.2013 Lutakko, Jyväskylä (support: Church of Void)