Amoral have just announced an extensive 10th anniversary Finnish tour, to be followed by shows all over Europe in the company of Dark Tranquillity. We caught up with Ben Varon at this summer’s Tuska Open Air to inquire about the upcoming shows, the latest album Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows, and a few other things…
Another Tuska gig for you – how does it feel to be back?
Always a pleasure, it really is. It’s my favorite festival, I’ve been coming here since 1999, I don’t think I’ve missed a single Tuska. It was just a small little festival way back then. Nightwish was playing, and nobody really knew them, it was fun. And it just keeps getting better and better. The sun is out, good bands playing, what’s to complain about?
Your recent gig at Nosturi was kind of a historical overview. What about today, will it be similar?
Actually yes, we decided to continue with that theme. Our debut album is ten years old this year, so we called [original vocalist] Niko again and asked if he wanted to do Tuska with us. He was like, “sure!” We’re gonna start tomorrow with a bunch of songs from the new album and then we’ll finish off with this medley of old stuff from the first one, and something else with Niko.
But Ari is not sick this time, I hope…?
I hope not, you never know with him! But no, he’s gonna be joining Niko for the last couple of songs.
Tell us a bit about the latest album and its concept…
Well, yeah, for the first time in this band’s history we decided to make a concept album. Which came kind of by accident at first. When writing the songs, we noticed that we were kind of messing around with certain themes, and certain melodies kept popping up, so we were like, wow, this ties the songs together in a cool way. Then I started looking through the lyrics, I’d been writing, slowly but surely writing down ideas, and I found that I could write a story there, not just individual songs. So it came very naturally. And then, when we figured out we had this concept album, I started working on it like you would work on a script for a film. I wrote down the ideas, the themes, the songs, working on a sequence, like how it would work out.And I wrote down what I would still need to work on if we were missing a scene, or a part of the story. It was something really cool, we’d never done that before.
Before, it was always just writing songs, and when you have twelve songs, you’d record an album. But now we knew that we would need a specific kind of song for track number seven, for example, which is a weird thing for us. I ordered – like you would go to Mc Donald’s and order! – I ordered from Masi, “could you write an instrumental song that would fit here? And I want it to resemble a storm, it needs to start like a big electrical storm, and then move on into this melodic kind of piece…” And he also enjoyed the challenge, so I gave him a shot, and he came back with this great idea, which then developed int what you hear on the album. It was really cool, I think we’ll try to do that again the next time. Something like that, working with specific guidelines. Because it was also liberating in a weird way, you don’t have to think like, oh, should we do this, should we do that, but have your mind set on doing one thing and doing it well.
So you’re working on a new album?
Yeah, already. It wasn’t even planned. We thought we’re gonna take a big break first, concentrate on playing shows and touring. But I think I have, like, sixty minutes of new music already, and most of it should work out for the next album. When you’re inspired, you just write it all down and record it before the dry spell hits you and nothing comes out.
How is the songwriting divided between you and Masi these days?
With this one, Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows, he helped a lot. He came up with a bunch of ideas and riffs, and some of it we actually wrote together. I don’t know what he’s been doing now, because I wrote all the new stuff for the next one by myself so far, and he’s like “I don’t know, I’m not feeling inspired” and this and that. But it’s okay, at least somebody is providing. But I’m sure, ‘cause that’s the thing with Masi, I can bring him a song, like a finished demo, but he will make it two times better. He’ll have the perfect idea for a counter melody, or “let’s try this chord in that riff” and it’s better now. That’s the cool thing with this band, Ari sings something and it’s much better than I could think of, or I bring Juffi something on the drums, and he takes that and makes it better. So it’s the sound of the band that makes the song twice better than it would be by just doing it myself.
Where did the story behind Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows come from?
Let’s see… it started before I had any concept or any grand vision for what I want. I was just noodling around, writing stuff every now and then, and I was about to turn thirty, so I noticed there was a lot of freaking out about that (laughs). Which a lot of people can relate to, I’m sure. For me, it’s really hard, and gladly I’m getting over it.
Wait until you turn forty!
Yeah, that’s a whole new album!
Isn’t Masi gonna turn forty in a couple of years?
Yeah, it was funny, because Masi said when he was going through my lyrics, “sounds familiar, only ten years later!” He has similar ideas. But aging was one big thing for me, and then with that comes the whole thirst for nostalgia, I think, you cling to things from your past like for your dear life. You know, it’s like a kid grabbing his teddy bear and not wanting to let go, it’s the same with people not wanting to let go of their youth and holding on to those things or memories of the past. And I kind of started thinking about that. I don’t have a problem with nostalgia, I enjoy it, but when it gets to be too much and holds you back from doing new things, if you only look to your past instead of forward, of course it’s turning into a negative force in your life. And so for the sake of the story I started thinking, what happens if you decide to leave your future, disregard the future, and just focus on the past, trying to relive the past, how it can really work against you – as it does at the end of the story. So there’s a lot of truth, or real-life feelings and events, in the story, but it is a fictional story. It sounds more dramatic than it is. I’m not that depressed about getting old! (laughs) And like I said, I’ve been getting over it. I think 31 is gonna be much easier than 30!
Since you’ve mentioned it, you have quite some age differences within the band – how does that affect the internal dynamics?
Is it that big? Pexi is the youngest, and he was born in ’87, I think. Then there is Ari, ’84, me and Juffi, ’85, and Masi, ’76… but we don’t notice it. We’re pretty much all the same kind of idiots. The older you get, the less it matters if you’re 40 and he’s 25. You don’t notice it, Masi’s not that much wiser than us, you can’t really tell by his age.
Why did Silver actually leave?
I think – I’m not sure, you need to ask him, ‘cause he was never really vocal about it. But he just wasn’t feeling the new thing we were starting to do. I think he wanted – at least then, because now he’s playing in Shear, which is melodic singing as well! – but then, I think, he wanted to stay with the death metal vocals.
So you’re planning to continue in the current direction?
I think so, yeah. I mean, every album has always felt natural for us, it’s never been forced. But this time around, I think it was a wise decision for me to try to focus on the strength of the band instead of just making the band play the kind of music I happened to write, or felt like. Because if I felt like playing Skid Row music, it doesn’t mean that that’s the music that best suits Ari’s vocals or Juffi’s drum playing. And when I start to think about the fast songs, like the first and last one on Show Your Colors, they were more progressive and melodic, and they fit our style much better. And especially with “Beneath”, I mean the title song, we all agreed that we enjoy this, we sound best doing this, let’s focus on this. That’s what we did. And I think at least for the next album it’s gonna be a very natural progression from Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows. It’s not gonna be a huge leap like Show your Colors was!
What do you listen to at home?
I really try to listen to all sorts of stuff. I like a lot of 1970s material these days. I’ve been collecting vinyl for a while, old Elton John, old Camel and other old prog, Free… I finally found Free and wondered, how come nobody has ever told me about this band? I mean, I knew “All Right Now”, but I never knew who had done it. This music breathes, the bass is loud, you can hear little mistakes – somehow I’m excited by this. I’m sure it’s a counter-reaction to how everything’s so honed to perfection in our time, and mastered to the max. There is too much information in the music, in a bad way. The music of the seventies is quite relaxing in comparison. And some old favorites enjoy heavy rotation on my turntable, from Michael Jackson to Gamma Ray. As for new ones, the new Mastodon is damn good again, perhaps one of their best so far.
How about your plans for the rest of the year, will there be more nostalgia shows?
The rest of the year’s gigs will be a bit different in Finland, where we can play for as long as we want, and in Europe, where the set length is restricted. In Finland we will play the new album from beginning to end, on all Finnish shows, followed by some older songs at the end, which will probably differ from one gig to the next. In Europe we’ll have 50 minutes, so there’s not enough time for the album. And anyway, bringing the piano and the acoustic guitars along would be a bit difficult. So it’ll be a stripped-down version of the album plus a few old songs. At least in Finland, we will try to remember the first album, I think it’s fun because it’s been ten years since it came out.
You’ve played in China a few times, what was that like?
That was really good. Especially the second time, last year. We played two big festivals there, and especially in Peking there were ten thousand people, the biggest audience we’ve ever had. It looked unbelievable, like, how can there be that many people?
Is there really a big metal scene, or were they just generally interested in seeing bands from abroad?
I don’t know. There were big crowds at the festivals, and we were among the last bands that played on the main stage. I’m sure the majority had no idea who we were, they just came to watch and wonder. But the atmosphere was great, there were definitely metalheads in the front rows. But I sure don’t cheat myself into thinking that we have ten thousand fans in Peking, most of them were just the regular festival audience. But a fun experience at any rate!
So which bands are you planning to see here at Tuska?
Whatever I have time for – the rest of the Bodom set, Carcass and Dimmu – I’ve never seen Carcass, so I want to see them, the new album is great! And especially seeing Emperor on Sunday is a must! Never seen them live either, and they meant a lot to Juffi and me when we were kids.
Thanks a lot – and hey, let’s go and check out Bodom!
Yeah, let’s go!
Tina Solda & Cynthia Theisinger,