On their way to the first date of the tour with Paradise Lost and Samael, the Finns from Ghost Brigade just about escaped a snow storm, only to then experience an extended late summer in Central Europe. Their dark, melancholic music, however, would be a better fit for North European weather conditions but nevertheless, on this tour the guys from Jyväskylä easily convinced all skeptics to join their “spooky parade”. Before the band´s gig in Mannheim, STALKER met guitarist Wille Naukkarinen to talk with him about the tour, songwriting and ghosts.
Let´s start with some easy questions, you just came from Berlin, how was the gig yesterday?
It was excellent; I think the best one on this tour so far. I don´t know if it was sold out but it was close to sold out, so a lot of people and we sold a lot of merchandise. People liked it a lot and I have no complaints, everything went smoothly and the staff was nice at the venue and everything. A nice experience!
How did you get the slot then on this Paradise Lost tour?
I believe that the guitar player from Paradise Lost, he heard from us somewhere and apparently likes our band and then their manager contacted us and said that they want us to be a part of this tour. We could only do 15 shows because of work and family business. So, yeah, we took the opportunity to come and play 15 shows.
Before this tour you were already opening for Paradise Lost at Nosturi in Helsinki…
I guess the promoter in Helsinki, he knew that we would tour with Paradise Lost and then they came to Helsinki to play and he asked us to play, which is cool because we were meant to be playing in that club for maybe 3 or 4 times and every time something happened, the gig got canceled or something, so we finally could play there.
How´s life on tour then? Finns have this certain reputation…
Yeah, we drink but it´s not like…I wouldn´t call it a rock´n´roll life at all, actually. I mean, we drink a few beers after the show, maybe party once in a while, usually everyone´s just having a laptop backstage and we are just, you know, sign in to Facebook every 15 minutes. That´s the rock´n´roll life nowadays. So it hasn´t been that wild, we try to behave.
You will also play the Helldone festival at the end of the year together with HIM. How did this come about?
I have no idea, actually. That was also one of the things…we were asked to play there…so yeah of course. But as far as I know, I think, the guys from HIM, they pick out the bands who will play each year, I guess it´s their festival so they have to like the band. I don´t know, if they have heard us or…we just go there and play, hopefully someone will like it, I think that some will, I could definitely understand if, you know, someone who likes HIM, maybe they could find something that they like in our band as well, maybe, I don´t know but…I mean there´s a lot of kinda melancholic melodies in both bands, so hopefully it will work out.
But it´s a good opportunity for the band!
Yeah, for sure. Even though it´s in Helsinki, it´s mostly crowd from abroad, actually. We used to play in this other band, Sunride, years ago and we played this Helldone festival once before. We played there and the funny thing is that when you speak between the songs…we had to speak English because so many people from abroad were there. We were in our home country speaking English, it was a little bit ridiculous but…
When you play that kind of very dark music live, are you also concerned with setting the right mood meaning for example that the light show supports the music ?
Yeah, sometimes we have a light guy with us, we don´t have him now here with us but then if some house technician is doing the lights like yesterday, no it was the day before Berlin, the guy asked, if we have specific wishes as far as the lights go. I just told him that you know, go with the music. I mean the light guys they usually know if you play a certain kind of music they can go with the flow so to speak. Yeah, it works fine, so far. But I haven´t seen our band live so I don´t know how it is…
But you´re also playing outdoor festivals during daytime, do you think it affects the way your music is received when the sun is shining and everyone´s happy?
Yeah, this kind of music, it does affect, I don´t like playing, like, if the sun is shining because it kills something from the mood. So when we played at Summer Breeze or Hellfest and Tuska also, we played in a tent, so there´s a least some lighting there and the sun doesn´t shine inside it so much so I rather play those. We´re not the right band to play under the sun.
To change subject, how does the songwriting work?
Usually, I write the riffs, I also write, kinda the backbones of songs and then I record them also. Then we go to the rehearsal space and we just start playing them, ”ok, I have this and this kinda song”, then we play them over and over and over again until everyone feels happy about it, until they feel complete. When we are ready with the instrumental version, then our singer steps in and he writes all the vocal melodies but we usually, you know, throw ideas back and forth and if I have some idea concerning the vocals then I can speak about it and tell them, you know, “try it like this and try it like that” and they can tell the same back to me. That´s usually how it works. And then when we have the finished song, we give it to Aleksi, who´s the keyboard player, he´s not here with us tonight but…yeah, we give the songs to him and then he adds his stuff on top of it.
Do you actually have to be in a certain state of mind when you´re writing songs?
Yeah, I have to, I mean…I think that in a way it could be that if you´re a too happy person you couldn´t write this kind of music…if you want that it comes from the heart. I guess there is a specific state of mind but I don´t really know how to put it into words, it´s just that…I just know that when I play guitar, I know that when I come up with a guitar melody or a riff and I just know when it´s good enough and kinda deep enough to make it.
What do you feel when you perform the songs onstage?
Hmmm, interesting question [laughs]! I feel sweat… [thinks] some of the songs are…when you´re having a really, really good show and some of the moodier songs, I don´t know what happens but my whole body has sometimes goose bumps all over.
Even though you have played the songs so many times already, you still get those feelings?
Yeah, yeah cause it has been a specific moment when I have written that song, there´s some deeper meaning in the lyrics maybe or something and then, you know, you start thinking about that kind of stuff when you play and you´re like…and all of a sudden you have all those goose bumps, I don´t know how to put it into words really…but there´s something more to it than…compared to…as I told you we played in this rock band before that was just…you know, rock´n´roll is not so deep music, the lyrics weren´t anything personal, it´s basically entertaining but this is a whole other world because you´re kinda feeling the music as you play. It´s much more rewarding, I think [smiles]
You said that the band has many influences it draws from and everyone in the band has different tastes in music, is there one band that everyone likes?
Oh, there are a lot of bands that we all like, I would say from the electro side, there´s an artist called DJ Shadow and also another artist called UNKLE, and I think everyone in the band likes them. Then we have Hardcore bands such as Tragedy for example, and From Ashes Rise are important, from the metal scene, I think, hmmm, I wish I could say Metallica for this because I started to play guitar because of that band but I don´t think our bass player even likes Metallica to be honest but maybe bands like Entombed and At The Gates and all the Swedish 90s death metal bands and other death metal bands also. There´s so many like Bolt Thrower, I don´t know, too many almost…God is an Astronaut, that´s one of my favorite bands ever, must be and then, yeah, I think everyone in this band likes them as well. There´s many if you start digging…
Let´s not dig then ;). What would be one band that people would least expect you to be influenced by?
There´s a lot of pop stuff, do you know a band called The Cardigans? They are a huge influence on me, in my songwriting as well and you know, there´s a couple of songs that we have where I remember when I wrote these songs…not even maybe notes but just details of the songs, and they remind me of The Cardigans. I think that is one of the least expected, and also, you know, the electro bands, DJ Shadow and all those, they have an effect on the songwriting as such but it´s more like the mood that they create. And there´s actually a remix coming out from one of our songs from the new album done by a very cool guy from London, there you have something you couldn´t have expected [laughs]. So I hope it will come out soon, we sent them the tracks just before we left on tour so hopefully when we go back home, they have something to show us. Very interesting!
Let´s talk about your latest album “Isolation Songs” a little bit, I had the impression that it´s a bit more calm or even catchier than the previous album “Guided by Fire”…
This is also a funny question because half of the journalists, they say that it´s calmer and the other half said that it´s heavier. But my opinion is that it has both, it´s more dynamic, more than anything else, it´s not necessarily… I mean the calmer parts on this album are really calm and the moodier parts are more moody than on “Guided by Fire” and the heavier parts is the heaviest stuff we have ever done but maybe there is…a little bit more catchy than…the previous one. Haven´t really thought about it, maybe…
What have you done differently this time around?
When we did the first album, we did the mistake that I think a lot of bands do when they write the songs for the first album, I mean, we…to be honest, we wrote songs that were too difficult for us at the time, like two years ago. And I remember when we recorded, I mean, I´m still a little bit surprised that we were together after that, those recording sessions were pure hell, to be honest and I guess, you know, this time we simplified everything a little bit, put in more dynamics and concentrated more on something else than having songs that are too difficult to play. I mean, we learnt that challenging is not the same thing as too difficult so these new songs are challenging as well but at least we can play them [laughs]. We can play the old songs now, I mean after two years…we are better players now. Yeah, those are the main differences, I think. We´re just playing better songs, to be honest, better arrangements; I think the lyrics are far, far better than on the first one, I´m really proud of that, the sound is better. We worked with different people this time cause the engineer that we had on “Guided by Fire”, he quit engineering all together, he works for another company now, so we had to find this other guy and this guy is from the punk scene actually, he´s recorded a lot of punk stuff and hardcore stuff and he was just what we needed for this band. We didn´t want to do this record with some famous metal producer who would get us the same sound than everyone else has and so this guy…I mean, I couldn´t even think of anyone better from now on recording us.
What song captures the essence of Ghost Brigade best?
There isn´t such! When we had the album ready and our record label wanted us to put one song to MySpace as a kind of a teaser, we thought about it in the tour van for one day. There isn´t actually a song because you have to listen to it, to the whole thing, I think, cause there are so many different kind of songs and everything is just as important. So we refused to put any teasers online and then we made a suggestion that maybe we can put the whole album there because we think that people need to hear the whole thing and so we did. And we had shitloads of listeners on MySpace during those weeks that it was there, or was it one week there? So, yeah, you have to listen to the whole album to get the best picture.
With all this dark music in your life, what are you actually doing for fun?
I party [laughs] friends are fun, I go out with friends, I mean, music fills my life pretty much like 95%, I go to a lot of shows, gigs, music´s always somehow involved, basically just, I don´t know, bar life, gig life and friends. Friends are the most important thing.
When reading your band biography you notice a certain kind of “feeling of togetherness” cause it always says something like “WE are writing, WE are doing…” Is this part of the concept?
No, but of course when you play in a band, I mean, these guys have been friends, we have been friends forever, before this band as well. We have to write it like that, I don´t want to write, you know, write to our biography that Wille writes the riffs, I rather write that “WE make music” instead. We are a very DIY band, we write the biographies, we shoot the photographs, we do the cover art ourselves, the music, the website everything, t-shirts. I designed the t-shirts and I have drawn the cover for “Isolation Songs” because I´m a graphic designer and the other guitar player, he shot the photos which are in the booklet because he´s a photographer.
Despite being friends and doing everything together, do the band members have specific functions within the band, like you´re maybe the spokesperson…
Yeah, I´m the spokesperson, and the bass player is handling all the money stuff and the drummer, his duty is to book vans when we go on tour, he books the vans and then the drivers and so on. Yeah, we all have like little jobs, which is very, very cool actually that all five us, we share jobs because in the previous band I did most of the stuff myself. It just felt sometimes that I was keeping the band together and if I would leave then it would collapse, the whole thing but now everything is shared. Now, for example, Aleksi isn´t with us, playing keyboard, it doesn´t really matter because we can still do it, it doesn´t collapse.
What´s your ambition then with the band, how far do you want to take it?
We are already like way, way more far than we ever thought because we didn´t, honestly, even meant to release a record. We just formed a band, let´s do music that we couldn´t do in our rock bands, that we always wanted to do, meaning the moodier stuff and the heavier stuff. Then, you know, things just lead to another, old bands broke up or are having a break. We don´t have any five year plans but now that we are here we´re going to continue doing this and we´re going to take it as far as possible, we´re not going to stop now. It´s been quite something, you know, to notice that you started from zero and stuff is just happening to us all the time and then…now we´re doing a tour with Paradise Lost and then next summer we will play all those festivals, maybe do another tour but the band is as far as the financial things go, it´s a hobby for us and everyone´s having a day job. But this band´s a priority because we don´t have any other bands now.
Last question, do you believe in ghosts?
I do, actually, I do and the funny thing is that I don´t really believe in any religious or any of that stuff. I kind of feel like I shouldn´t then believe in ghosts either. I´m all about being a realist but I do, I do for some reason.
Have you seen one?
No, I haven´t but they really fascinate me, there´s some programmes on tv all the time, you know, about ghosts and hunting ghosts whatever, I just think it´s so interesting if they really exist, I don´t know, they fascinate me and I believe in them in a way.
Thank you for the interview!
Photos: Ghost Brigade