Helena Haaparanta: „If you have the skill, USE IT, and don´t let the guys just crush you!“

When we happened to run into the singer of Crimfall and VALO (and ex-Tacere) at this year´s Myötätuuli Rockfestival, shortly before her guest appearance on stage with Fear of Domination, we just could not resist to take this chance for a chat. Find out how she fell for Metal, her definition „customer service“, what makes her sad and when her „feminist cockscomb“ comes out…

First question concerns your main band Crimfall – so what is coming up with them?
Well we are preparing out third album, we haven´t figured out a name for it yet, but Jakke has already a couple of songs finished, and the new material which I heard a couple of times, it´s simply mind-blowing. I think the second album „The Writ of Sword“ was like a bigger and vaster version of the first one „As the Path Unfolds“ and the third one is going to be even bigger. I´m just laughing at myself, what will come next after that, how big can it get (laughter) and there are some ethnic influences from the East in this one Demo song which is ready, and we are looking for people to work with putting the stuff together, Jakke is composing and Mikko is writing the lyrics. We don´t have a release date yet, but I bet it will be out in 2013, hopefully (laughs).

Are you also involved in the songwriting process, or writing the lyrics?
Mikko Häkkinen – the other singer or better growler – does all the lyrics, except for the first album where i wrote one song, Aubade, but otherwise Mikko does all the lyrics. And Jaakke composes everything, then the arrangements are made together, but Jakke Viitala has always the last word. Like, our drummer puts his stuff last into it and if Jakke says „JAY!“ it´s good, and if it´s bad Jakke will say „let´s try something different“ in a very friendly way. I am not sure what we are going to do with this album, but on the last one I composed almost all of the singing melodies, Jakke had finished some of the chorus melodies in his head, so I just molded them, fitting them for my mouth, but otherwise I compose all the singing melodies that I do, plus some of the choir parts and the harmonies – the „Harmony Sisters“, the 12 Helenas „back there“ (laughs). It depends, I´m not sure which kind of choir we´re going to use on this album, on the first album we did the choirs only with some dudes, and all the female vocals there were mine, so I was multiplied, and on the second album we had 12 people helping us – my friends, good singers – and we had like real choir sound on top of that. This time we hope to find maybe a real choir, so we would not have to train them or something. But yeah, Jakke does the main thing, he is our main composer, definitely.

How did you end up doing Metal music, how did you start with it?
We have to go a long way back. I have always enjoyed Pop music, and when I was about 14 or 15, I borrowed some interesting albums from our library (in Finland you can get CDs, notes, DVDs, comic books and even tools or skis from local libraries, the ed.), I think it was “Metalli-Liitto 2” – the “Metal Union” – a collection of mainly Black Metal, and I was like “WOW!” I had always enjoyed Hardrock and stuff like that, but also musicals, Pop, 60s and 70s Popmusic from the US and stuff like that, but I started to listen to Metal from that point, and I started to gather information “what is this thing called Metal?” (laughs) Yes, I was young and enthusiastic, and since then I have wanted to sing in a Metal band. When I was 17 the opportunity came – my first band Dewian were introduced to me by a common friend. I went there and sang something for them and they were like “wow cool – welcome to the band”. Our first rehearsal was on the day when the World Trade Center Towers were hit – so it´s easy to remember when my career started (laughter).

Dewian never released any albums, we made a couple of demos, and I was not the first female singer in Dewian, there was another girl before me who didn´t have the time for the band or something. After that came Tacere, where I was involved for 4 or 5 years, and it was a very good time, a time of musical growth. Karri Knuuttila, the main composer of Tacere, was – and still is – hell of a composer, he is so talented and he already was when he was very young. I got so much influence out of his music, and even though the chemistry wasn´t very good in the end, the music was the thing that held me to this band. And after that it was natural to come to Crimfall, since Jakke has heard me singing in Tacere.

What kind of voice training did you have, you also play keyboard – do you also play another instrument?
Mainly piano – that was my first instrument for which I started taking lessons when I was 6 or 7 years old. I´ve trained classical piano for 10 years with several different teachers, and when I turned 16 I changed my main subject, from classical piano to classical singing. When I went to Sibelius High School, I got the chance for singing lessons, and I totally fell in love with the concept of classical singing. I had very good teachers there, and even during High School I found this very nice teacher Pirkko Törnqvist-Paakkanen and took several years of classical singing lessons. Then I went for 1 year – not sure if 2005 or 2006 – to study at Joensuu Conservatory for classical singing, but then it was too difficult to travel to Helsinki for 6 hours to gigs or rehearsals on every weekend – no way, so I moved back to Helsinki and continued my lessons with my private teacher.

Then something happened – I never was a strictly classical singer, during my years of studying I was singing other stuff too, Rock, Metal, and doing things in bands – but around 2006 I saw this awesome Finnish band “FE80´s”, a coverband, who had this awesome female singer and they played in Helsinki in a small place called Hevimesta. There I heard for the first time how a woman uses growls and a rasp voice – good stuff. I had never listened to Doro or any female singer who uses growls or rasp that much. And when I heard and saw from a 2 meter distance, that a girl my age can do that, I immediately thought “Yes I´m gonna do that”. And how to use rasp I have taught myself.
And about a year ago, last spring, I finished my school, the Pop and Jazz Conservatory Helsinki, where I had this amazing Jazz teacher Sanne Orasmaa. She taught me some technical stuff, but mainly how to sing to people, how to rub the song in their faces (laughs) – how to choose songs that I love and that I can perform as MY OWN. So this was what I´ve been learning for the last 4 years. But yeah, that´s my music education history (laughs)

Now more specific Women In Rock topics – have you ever encountered the situation you felt that it was so much more difficult to get accepted as a front woman in a Metal band?
Hmm… when Dewian started in 2002, there were many bands with strong female vocals out already, Nightwish, Within Temptation – a big favorite of mine. I think Evanescence came a bit later, but there were also The Gathering with Anneke – this band and Within Temptation were very inspirational for me and it felt very natural. Dewian´s music was very poetic, there were Black Metal elements – we were very young and not that skilled (laughs), but we made the music with love, it was very poetic and the female vocals went very well with the material, so there was never a question about that, that I should be a guy.

However, what I felt during my entire career – it might be also because of my nature: I tend to isolate myself quite easily, although I am a very social person, I get along with everyone, I love everyone (laughs). I am very approachable and social, I fit in with the guys very well. Still, sometimes I feel like an outsider, and I have felt it ever since the first band I have been in, in different groups, also in Pop Jazz Conservatory with our workshop bands, doing 50s Rock, Finnish Oldies Goldies, Jazz, Latin, everything. But in every group I have always this little feeling that I am an outsider. Yet I´m not sure if this has anything to do with being a woman, it might just be me (laughter).

Being from further South, I have always had the impression that in Scandinavian countries it´s much easier for women to get respected, in pretty much anything. I´m not sure if this is just the difference between the cultures or if it´s really true – so what´s your opinion about it?
I´m not sure – I was working as an Au Pair during High School, for 4 months in Southern Spain, and I actually never noticed that, but that might be the thrill because I was a foreigner, so I was already interesting – but in Finland there is … I don´t want to say “strong Feminist movement” or something… Well, to me Feminism is going towards equality of the sexes, and there are some problems here also, but respect, that´s a hard word. I don´t think it has anything to do with genders in Finland, people have to earn their respect. But I was warned when we went on our European tour that in Italy, Spain and Southern countries I really need to show them my place and DEMAND things, maybe even do a little diva-thing so I won´t be pushed around. But I never felt anything like that, everybody was so cool to me on this tour anyway (laughs)

There´s another thing females in a band might encounter – being confused with a girlfriend or groupie, not been identified as somebody actually working in the band – did that ever happen to you?
Actually (laughs) only once on our 5-week tour, a crew member at the venue was like “oh, you´re SINGING in the band” … (laughter) and I was “yes, hey, I´m Helena Haaparanta” – and then he got very quiet. Well, I try to avoid this just-hanging-around altogether, for example I´m carrying the stuff with the guys, everything I can do. Well, I am a bit weaker than maybe Jaakke or Mikko, or Janne (Jukarainen) and Miska (Sipiläinen) – but I mean, I do whatever I can to fit in and to be one of the guys. It all comes naturally, and I have to thank my mother about it, I have always been taught that when I see work to be done, I have to do it. I´m not such a workoholic as she is, but if I see something to be carried, I just grab it and carry it, and if I can help somebody in any way someone that needs to be helped, I go and do it. And I think that has helped that people really see me as part of the crew, part of the band.

Do you get a different response from female fans and male fans, do male fans rather focus on the looks?
Hmm… female fans and male fans, they all dig my voice. That´s the common thing. And my figure isn´t quite one of a Barbie doll, and I am actually quite surprised that I have gotten so little criticism about my weight… yeah, the guys like the boobs! (roaring laughter) And some of the girls as well. But, yeah, the girls usually open up a bit more, I remember this one girl from Italy. She came to me after the gig, she brought her mother, and she was crying, so happy to meet me, and she told me a lot about her and her Metal lifestyle. I was just like “WOW”: She said she was honoured to meet me, and I felt this was not happening. Not one guy has ever approached me that humble, like “please shake the hand of my mother” or anything like that (laughter) They usually come to pat me on my shoulder, like “Awesome voice!”

So the guys rather treat you like “the buddy” …
I think, yes, at least after they had a short conversation with me, because I don´t act at all like a diva – in my opinion of course (laughter). I mean, I truly appreciate the fans, they are all fucking human beings, who all gathered there, spent money and bought the ticket for the gig, came to listen to our stuff, it´s amazing. I really see myself and all the musicians on the same level as the fans – maybe even lower, because we are serving THEM, we are giving them something they can enjoy. So it´s a customer service occupation in some way (LAUGHTER) – an artistic one…

Cool definition (laughter) – you mentioned Rock´n´Roll lifestyle already – there´s this theory that it´s much more rebellious for girls to take on this Rock/Metal lifestyle – what do you think about that?
Hmmm… well… rebellious, I don´t know. It is known, for example, that I DRINK A LOT (laughter), and I have this little reputation… I think the only thing the Moonsorrow guys knew about me before we met on tour was that I was quite a drinker (laughter). And I did drink almost each and every one of them under the table at some point, and almost every night I was “the last one standing” at the party… (laughter)
Well, I think the problem is – for example, if a guy is a R´n´R player, drinks heavily and meets many girls and groupies on tour, it´s only cool, it´s like “wow, you go dude”. Yet if a woman, if a girl did the same thing – everybody is already watching my drinking with I got handled, by the way, I´m not an alcoholic, I just party really hard when I party… I was told before the tour “do not sleep around” – like that, not ordered but heavily suggested; I would lose my reputation, and I stuck to that, I kept my vow… But the thing is, if a woman acted like some people I have seen acting on a tour, they would immediately get a whorish reputation. That is a MAJOR problem – WHY is it different for girls and guys? I´m not very hungry for the R´n´R lifestyle or for what the guys do on a tour, so it´s not a problem for me – but on PRINCIPLE.

Yeah, that´s still the same thing in general – if a woman just does what the guys do, demands what they receive – it´s this equality thing…
YEAH, there´s my little feminist „cockscomb that comes out from my forehead“ (Finnish proberb, „bristle with rage“, the ed.) sometimes when I meet attitudes like this, but yeah, what can I do, I can fight passive-aggressively, I´m not a very good speaker, I´m not into convincing people otherwise, I´m more like conversing quietly and make people see the things the way I see them, and maybe even change their opinions. I´m not there in the front row, shouting for women´s rights, it´s not my thing, but I appreciate the job that some are doing, because we do need them also (laughs).

Well, slight change of topic – as Metal is so mainstream in Finland nowadays, what would be the “rebellion” thing to do, in your opinion?
(laughs) I have noticed Punk elements popping out in some people´s music, for example the band I performed with at MTR on Saturday, Fear of Domination – although the music doesn´t take so much of Punk, but their style and the “no-cares” attitude… of course they appreciate people to come to their shows, it was fun to watch. Just before them played the very old (sorry guys!) and very awesome band Pelle Miljoona – which I totally love – and it was fun to notice some similarities between the guys in their 20s doing their stuff with such passion, and the performance of those – ELDERLY chaps (laughter) – no, “young at heart” (laughter) Well, they have done it for 30-40 years or so. I think Punk will be the thing Metal will draw from. And talking about music industry, the money isn´t there, for several reasons, we all know why, nobody has come up with a profound solution to it, so the fact is: for example making an album as vast as Crimfall, we need a LOT of money, we need much more than for example a 3-headed Punkrock band making their album would need. That´s also a practical reason why I think the Garage sound will come like a tornado and will take hold.

Well, should we go back to the feminism topic – sometimes I wonder if it´s still relevant to talk about it, or is it a bit ridiculous, as it´s established already?
OF COURSE it´s not ridiculous, of course it´s still important, because when you can pick 5, how many of your bands – if you are not a particular fan of female fronted Metal – have a female singer? Maybe, MAYBE one … so it´s still quite rare. I was doing this Heavy Metal musical „Infernal“ last year in Turku, when it was the culture capital of Europe , the writer of the musical Mike Pohjola said that Heavy Metal is a very masculine thing. In some way he is right, and it is a bit twisted, I have been pondering myself that I get very easily to the point that I am one of the guys and that I show my so-called balls to the audience and do the manly stuff.

But why should I do that, why shouldn´t I be able just being my own feminine self and sing pretty stuff … I´m glad I get to do that also, because Jakke composes those very soave soft and nice passages – but, yeah, it´s a complex thing. And yeah, talking about it is – I´m not calling it a fight, I´m calling it “strong resistance to bad attitudes”. It´s not like we´re attacking anything, we are just holding our ground, and that is majorly important, to me and to every woman. I have seen very disturbing YouTube videos about women who claim to be chauvinists, anti-feminists – it doesn´t even make me angry, it makes me sad. For example, one woman who said that women should be in the kitchen, „between the fist and the stove“ (Finnish proverb, „total obedience“, the ed.) that she will vote in the next election for a certain conservative who thinks like that… The funny thing is, she would not even have the possibility to vote, unless someone had stood their ground before! It´s for all of us, we should all be some more aware about this. It´s not like something that is alert in the Metal scene or anywhere, it´s not that the red-light alarm is going off, but if we don´t do anything, if we just surrender female art – and it is a fact that females are the more easily submissive sex – if we don´t keep it up, then it won´t stay like this, it will go worse, even in the Metal scene.

Yes, rights are easily given up, taken away, but it´s so much harder to get them back …
Yeah, that´s right, and the professional pride I have seen when I was studying at Pop and Jazz Conservatory, what I saw in many female singers there, who did other kind of stuff, that is something I am hoping to see also with the females in Metal industry, that the female singer should not just be standing on the side of some stage, singing a couple of parts in two or three songs and then just look pretty, but if she can sing, she can totally own the stage, she can go forth and demand to sing a solo song. If you have the skill, USE IT, and don´t let the guys just crush you! (laughter)

Good statement – but maybe another final question: do you have any weird, absurd tour or concert story for us?
Weird tour or concert story? Oh gosh… (thinking for some time) I should have had time to think about it, there are SO MANY… I`m definitely thinking about the last tour… it´s all not R´n´R, it´s maybe the most non-traditional thing to say about touring: My so-called tour survival idol Heri (Jornsen), the lead singer of Tyr who we were touring with – he had his gymnastic mat with him and every single day of the tour, for 5 weeks, he did first at least half an hour run and then gymnastics, push-ups, everything, every single day. On the days I didn´t have too much hangovers I did a lot of Joga, but not as near as enthusiastic as Heri did. So that was what amazed me, and that was the most absurd thing I ever encountered on tour, that somebody actually takes care of oneself and enjoys life not only by the booze and groupies – that is amazing. Because of the temptation, there is a party every single night, and in such surroundings somebody can take care of one´s body and mind, I think this is something to respect.

Thank you for the interview!
Kiitos, kiitos (laughter)

Klaudia Weber

reckless and merciless dictator, so KNEEL! In other words, editor-in-chief, translator, website and ad admin, "Jane of all trades" - - - addicted to books (everything between Lord Of The Rings & quantum physics) and music, mainly Metal made in Finland. Furthermore, there's painting, drawing, movies, theater... so you can expect some variety on this website too. MA Master of Arts, English and American studies & Media communication = completed two full studies parallel within 5 years; very proud of my achievement - a bit later in life thanks to a scholarship - as a working class girl in a highlyconservative-romancatholic nation...