A few hours before their show in Hamburg (we reported), we could confront Wolfheart mastermind Tuomas Saukkonen with our questions – and thanks to our “good cop, bad cop” strategy we even managed to extract highly classified information … Thus you better skip the section marked SPOILER ALERT including the original-audio clip of this part of the interview, otherwise you might spend some time on listening to the entire Saukkonen back catalogue (which is actually not such a bad thing) … Still, you better don’t blame us for “potential side effects”, we gave you a fair warning!
First, how was the tour so far?
It has been going really well, it has been a really good package for us, and considering the album that is coming out in 6 or 7 weeks, so for us it is an ideal timing to tour and promote the album, before it comes out. (”Tyhjyys” will be out March 3rd, the ed.)
What was the most difficult thing so far, besides schedules?
Nothing too difficult actually, there’s regular stuff which occurs always while touring which isn’t even worth to be mentioned, there’ve been no complications so far. All the bands knew each other, the crew is Finnish, the tour manager is Finnish, so it would take quite a lot to have an actual problem. So it has been a really, really, REALLY easy travel party!
So what would it take to have a real problem?
I wouldn’t even know now (laughter). There had to be quite a big conflict between a few people to have a effect on the mood in general, but as we have known each other for some time, how would that happen. Technical problems don’t count, because when you have 17 gigs, there have to be venues with technical problems anyway, that’s how it goes.
What can people expect from the new album?
It’s going to be quite varied, especially when compared to the debut album (”Winterborn”, the ed.). On ”Shadow World” (their 2nd album, the ed.) there were already much faster songs, because Joonas (Kauppinen) was doing the drums, and he’s become a lot faster since then, and this can be heard on the album. The combination is wider – so far the first single Boneyard was the fastest song on the album, and the second single The Flood (see video at the end of the text, the ed.) is almost the slowest on the album.
Was it more a cooperation with the band members this time?
No, not really. I was aiming for that, but Mika (Lammassaari, lead git; the ed.) had a son and was quite busy with his work, so we did one song together with Mika and Lauri (Silvonen, bass; the ed.), and also Joonas was super-busy with his work, so the rest I did myself, pretty much the whole pre-production and arrangements and let the guys learn their parts. So it was actually less than with Shadow World. But everybody played their own parts in studio – I did all the rhythm guitars this time, Mika played all the solos – but it was all demanded by their personal schedules.
I’ve noticed that live on stage there’s somebody else – again – doing most of the speaking, why that, did it happen naturally?
I think that was in the beginning of Wolfheart already. I wasn’t much into it, like EVER (laughter) – I did it when I had to, but then when Lauri replaced Esa (Uusimaa) three years ago, it was completely OK for him, so I was fine.
But he didn’t exactly volunteer …?
He actually enjoys doing it, he is doing that in his other bands (e.g. Bloodred Hourglass, the ed.), and he has played quite a lot in cover bands, so he does not mind at all. And at the same time I don’t mind at all not to do it – I have no interest at all.
Yeah – I know … On this upcoming album you’ll also have this ”warrior choir”, how did you get this idea having your family singing for a track?
I’ve been thinking about this for a few albums already, and it’s like a shouting choir, not actual singing, so it does not require any musical skills. My father has been really into all the band stuff since the very beginning, he has come to see the gigs, and he is really close with his brothers. And I do have a lot of songs – not so much with Before The Dawn, but with Black Sun Aeon and Wolfheart – that remind me of my home village, the nature, places when I was a child – so that fits quite well.
As you mentioned nature – what is it about winter that fascinates you so much that you dedicate so many songs or album themes to it?
There are actually two reasons, one is that during the summers I am too busy. I don’t have any possibiliy to focus on music. Except for the gigs that have been booked, or the studio that has been booked, I cannot put any focus on anything. Like last summer my average hours were 270 per month, worst was 380, my record for last summer, that was my June. So you don’t focus on new music at all, you don’t create any new – just do the job that you have and try to sleep, if you can. So in the winter time I do have time, when the ground is frozen, I don’t have anything to do. Job-wise. (In case you wonder which kind of job – HERE – the ed.)
And winter is a more fascinating season than summer. I like that everything is kind of dead, but it’s not – and especially when you go up to the north, Norway or Lapland, it is quite beautiful – not like the winter in Helsinki. It sucks, really badly (laughter) – but when you go North, it looks really cool. It is a beautiful season, and for me, when winter comes, my life calms down. I am completely by myself.
But still, you did some gardening recently, even though it’s winter – so I was wondering, what on earth were you doing?
I changed the job in the beginning of the summer, and they hired me to fix all their fucked-up working sites. And that was one of the reasons why I had so many working hours, it’s a quite big company that was quite badly fucked-up in that kind of work area. And we did work as long as we could, because there is quite a lot of money involved in such working sites, and if you don’t get it ready before January, it will be like April or May when you get to continue, which means investment stuck there for half a year – which is going to be a problem for any kind of company. They paid me well to do it, but when it is -20 Celsius, that is not so much fun. (And the award for the biggest understatement of the year goes to … the ed.)
But you know, there’s me, just using a bigger machine and digging deeper (laughter) – and it’s also much more expensive to do it, and somehow it does not make sense, but if someone pays me, no problem.
So what is the gardening project you’re most proud of, and what did you do there?
One of it is not even gardening any more, more like landscaping. It was the biggest landscaping work site of 2014/2015. We did 70.000 plants and we needed to replace 9000 m3 of soil for the plants and I was the work site manager, and we got it ready right on time, and there were no complaints, which is quite rare on that scale. That is not gardening any more, that’s much more industrial stuff. I’ve been doing quite a lot of those cabin yards, for the really rich people – cannot mention names or locations – but those are really cool to make. With some clients I had open tab, they just told me “do what you want and it does not matter how much it costs”.
There are some TV shows, where they do ”mökki-remontti” – renovation of Finnish cabins and cabin yards …
We did a lot of cooler things. The thing is, when someone is really wealthy, they don’t want anybody to know, that’s the point of having a cabin, they want privacy.
Did you also get some really weird requests what to do for those rich people?
No, that’s quite a safe line of job. It doesn’t really include anything that’s weird… People are sometimes weird. That comes when you have a lot of money. And the attitude is weird, not the requests. They don’t really care if it’s complicated or borderline impossible – they don’t care. They have the money, so “make it happen.”
Back to this TV show thing – if you had the option to create a TV show, what would it be about, gardening, music, cooking …
It would not be – I’d prefer not to …
… weightlifting, fitness?
Especially not that – I really hate that it has become so trendy. Not that it is a problem that it’s popular, but when it is too trendy… and then I really hate this whole personal trainer thing, where do you need that? Where is your backbone when you need someone to… you pay 200 Euros a months for him or her standing next to you ”come on, you can do it, come on” …
And that’s still cheap, just 200 …
Yeah, and at the same time, most of the personal trainers I have seen are really crappy. Because you can get this diploma to be a personal trainer just with an e-mail course or something. You don’t really need to be a professional a physio-therapist to go to school or something – you just do some course, pay a shitload of money, and then you are a personal trainer. You don’t actually need to know anything.
Well, I can tell you that I’d need someone next to me in a gym, to kick my ass, I’m far too lazy… so how do you keep in shape on tour?
I don’t. It would be way too difficult anyway. Because eating and sleeping are difficult to begin with, and trying to find a gym, and a proper schedule to go to a gym would also be like a huge hazzle.
So you don’t have anything like dumbells with you…
No nothing like that. Either train properly or do not train at all. The middle way does not do anything.
What is your biggest achievement in weightlifting so far?
Compared to actual weightlifters…?
Well, yeah, umm, no idea what’s the correct term … (seems it’s BENCH PRESSING, the no-sports-whatsoever-ed.)
Well I had this schedule made, I just ended my maximum strength program 2 days before the tour, that’s why it is actually good for my body now not to train, for the joints especially. I managed to get 410 pounds in bench press, which is like 185 kilos.
(a moment of total silence – speechless reporters)
I was aiming for a bit higher, but I was sleeping maybe 2h a night, working 14h a day and always when training for strength you need to be on plus calories. You need to be a bit heavier every week, otherwise it does not work. And I was doing it backwards, I was losing 1kg every week, because it was impossible to eat more than I was actually burning. Just standing outside for 8 hours like in -15 Celsius, your body burns so many calories so that you need to eat every 3 hours, so…
You are the only person I know who is happy to gain weight (laughs).
No, actually I am more happy to start a diet now after the tour, and I’ll be 15 kg lighter. In summer I can – well, you can imagine, only because you wanna achieve a small thing it’s not that the universe stops expanding because I got my bench press done. Because I am completely natural, I don’t do any drugs, I’m not getting any younger, so … and the more weights you are lifting, the slower it gets. So my last record was 180, now I got 5 kg more. I’ve been training for a year. Of course on and off, like most of the summer I did not do anything because of the work, but still, it is 5 kg for this year…
Doesn’t sound like you’re satisfied.
No, that’s how it goes, with the age and the training as natural weightlifter – I don’t even know if it would be possible to get to 200 kg on bench. It is more in the DNA. I know people who have broken their joints with less weight. A good friend of mine who used to compete in bench press tried 205 kg and his whole back muscle tore off from the shoulder … (both reporters make cringe noises) … so it might be even impossible to get to 10 kg. But imagine, now I am carrying this extra 15 kg barbell with me constantly just because of that training. So it is part of the training, but I am happier when it is gone.
You make it sound so easy to get rid of it …
For you it is! (laughter)
It is! Same rules apply to everybody. For all sizes. I think eating is more difficult than not eating. Because when I need to take in 6000 calories every day, then I need to follow the eating plan. It does not matter if I am hungry or not. ”It is 2 o’clock, now I need to eat 1000 calories”.
That sounds horrible, sorry.
I do like to eat, it is not that horrible – but you need the discipline also there – if you skip the meals, you’re gonna be in trouble with the training.
You’re sort-of known as the perfectionist…
(slightly desperate) Aaaahhh…
… when from your point of view have you achieved the state of perfection?
That’s the funny thing I have been asked quite many times. I don’t reckognize myself like that at all. AT ALL. I don’t know when it became an issue… Maybe… I was quite demanding with Before The Dawn, there was a reason for that, as there were some problems… and I simply needed to have some more discipline from the guys at that time. There were two drummers who had to be kicked out from studio because they could not play the songs well enough. It was not about they could not play perfectly, they could not play the songs. If you are 3 days in the studio and the sound engineer says ”I cannot even edit, there’s nothing I can fix with the computer, do you have any other solution?” – that is a different thing. But the small amount of time I have for actually rehearsing with each instrument – I have no way… If I was a perfectionist, I would not do any albums.
If I was a perfectionist, I would not do any albums.
Basically I don’t have any time to rehearse playing itself. I do have time to make music, and I usually rehearse in the studio. Luckily I am a really quick learner when it comes to technical stuff, but I’m really really far from being a perfectionist. At least when it comes to my own playing. I know my faults, I could pinpoint so many fuckups on every albums hidden there (giggling in the background) – for example, if there was no sound engineer, there would be so many mistakes; he has so sharp ears, I would let so many things pass by and he’s ”fuuuck”… I aim to do good, of course. Perfection is not in the playing, it is created in the mood, the atmosphere and the structure of the song, the arrangements between the different instruments. That can be perfection, but that can only be heard as a certain mood or vibe in the music. So you can’t really … it’s an interpretation, not a fact.
For some other people, that might mean like the atmosphere would be better, or different, but when it comes to playing, it is always like picking or stick technique where you can say ”that’s perfect”. Or ”that’s not perfect”. And I am not on the perfect side.
Usually, when I’m painting or drawing (here an example, the ed.), I swear, 5min after I’m done, I’m like “ok good – but I can do better”. Has it ever happened to you that you wrote a song, recorded it, even put it on the album, and then 5min afterwards you think, ”dammit, I could have done it better”?
Of course. If I’d want something like that. But now that we started rehearsing the Deadlight album for the Before The Dawn show (a special reunion show to celebrate the Deadlight album’s 10 year anniversary, the ed.), one of those where we had to kick the drummer out of the studio, I had 2 hours to rehearse, to prepare and to record the whole album again – about half of the time, because we had already spent 3 days in studio. 2 days to play the whole album, without rehearsing – and there is some really funny stuff. Because I didn’t have any time to think about the arrangements, the drum patterns sometimes don’t fit the song at all, I didn’t listen to the guitar, because I didn’t have the time, I just listened to a metronome to get that part done in order to continue, so that we would have time to finish the song – so there is really weird stuff going on with the drums.
I would not do it again. It was just how it was done at that time. I really rarely do songs again. Only if there is a real fuck up in the song. To me it’s like – it should be as it was done at that time.
So there’s no song you would erase, or dump…
I am not saying that all songs are good. (laughter) But they were written at that time, and at that time I thought they should be on the album, so why should I now think differently. It was done for a reason, maybe the reason was not that good at that time – you don’t always make the best decisions, there’s some really funny stuff in the past. That I can smile about, and I don’t regret them. I don’t. If somebody asked me to play some songs of my albums, there are some songs I would not play (laughter).
Which ones?? (laughter)
Nah – I don’t tell (laughter)
Now, come on…. (laughter)
It’s not that they are bad songs in average for the listeners, people still like it but I have my issues, but I don’t regret this. We tried real stupid stuff, made almost disastrous mistakes in the past, which can be heard if you know what to listen for. But if you don’t know… where to find them on the album, it’s maybe not possible to hear them. Me and a few sound engineers, we know the stuff, on the albums, that should not be there, or should not be done that way…
OK, hey, I don’t force you to say anything more… if you don’t want to tell…
I don’t want to spoil a song! If I tell – that has happened… it is not a good thing to tell, so if people don’t realize, don’t know that it is in the song, so you don’t hear it. But when I pinpoint, ”listen to that part, and the guitar and the drums, and there is a mistake”, and then you find out…
Tuomas’ spoilers as audio clip:
…and then you just grin and you’ll still like the song! Problem solved! (laughter)
Yeah. Like our drummer Joonas. I can pinpoint one. There is The Hunt, the first single, and first Wolfheart video, the last drum fill before the chorus, is not completely fucked up, but I remember the situation in the studio. I was really tired, that was the last take we were recording, I just wanted to get it out of my hands, and when I play drums in the studio, I improvise some of the fills I am playing. So in each take there is something different, and at that time I did not have many ideas in my head, I just wanted to have the song done. And when I started the fill I was already like ”this is not gonna go well” … (laughter) I had this idea of doing this and this, and I started with the wrong hand – O-OH. So how to continue from there? And each hit was like underlining the problem, it’s like the worst drum fill in the world, and it does not go like a drum fill should go, and you can hear it if you catch it there.
Ummm… maybe … not … ???
But when our drummer was trying to rehearse it, he was calling me ”Tuomas, what is happening in there?” (laughter) ”Seriously – I don’t really know – just there’s lots of hits in different places, on the drums, it is sort of messy, I don’t understand” (giggling in the background). He actually learned it hit by hit, and when he plays it, it feels like the whole song gets fucked up. But it’s well hidden, that solo thing that we stretched a little bit on top of the fill, so it cannot be heard that easily, but it’s fucked up. It’s really bad drum fill, and it’s a little bit fucked up. And it’s there.
I have to listen to it again.
(sounding desperate) And it is one of our most popular videos also … (giggling in the background)
And nobody noticed really…
No, because there is a guitar solo on top of the fill, there is a reason… why there is stuff on top of the drum fill … (sounding desperate again) We were considering a lot of different options – wolf howling would have been too …
… would have been too obvious (laughter)
… too obvious, church bells (outburst of laughter) don’t fit our music – OK – let’s put a guitar solo… OKAY …. (giggling in the background) And also on every album. That’s why it’s so funny people are telling me that I am a perfectionist. (laughs) You should be in the studio… (laughter)
There is one thing also – for Before The Dawn and Black Sun Aeon we did much more with acoustic guitars, and I have this chronic thing with my nose, quite often it is a little bit plugged, and when I play acoustic guitar I usually breathe through my nose, and it can be heard, in most of the acoustic parts, on all of my albums. (demonstrates breathing noises)
We…. HAVE to listen to it again…
… with headphones… I did that for one person already, and she was like ”Fuck – now I can hear it all the time there” (laughter). Because it is there all the time, when you have 2 mikes and they are basically recording everything in the room, and the only sound is coming from the guitar, and my nose. So it is impossible – when you put the compression on the guitar, you make basically every noise louder at the same time, so… and I don’t care, to me it is a funny thing.
And it is stuff people just don’t look out for when they are listening to music.
They don’t look out for – but when you say it…
But if you know, then you just search for it …
…yeah… the breathing sounds on the acoustic guitar – ”why did you do that, why did you spoil all the songs with acoustic guitar” – but yeah, that’s my way of being a perfectionist. I know the ways we could even erase the nose – there are ways …but I don’t care THAT much, it’s a funny thing to me …
… especially how you put it sounds really funny – cut nose off, problem solved! (laughter)
END OF SPOILERS
Being on tour and really busy, is there one thing every day you really take time for?
There’s always a similar routine every day – load in, load out, soundcheck and since we are playing as the first band, there is not much time between the sound check and the show, so we start to get ready for the show pretty much right after the sound check. You don’t really have privacy on a tour, so it is easier not to have too much of personal routines when you have 18 guys on a bus. You can always go and try to see the town, if you have the energy. Usually the venues are not this close to the center, so it is not that easy to get to see places, and it is not that easy to sleep that well when the bus is moving – so you rather sleep, I think this is what you wanna take care of the most – just time to sleep. Because you play a lot of gigs in a row and you don’t sleep, you gonna be in a bad shape. At least my voice is gonna be in a bad shape.
You mentioned that going out and seeing the city is problematic, but after being around at so many places, are you actually still keen on seeing something new?
Not really – because the most important thing is of course the gig, then you do the interviews, and with the early show time there’s a few hours only, and you would be way too busy, you’d have 15 min to see something. So you rather go to the city if you need something from a music store or something like that. So nobody really has time, unless you are right in the center. But we will have those mini tours in the future, which will be easier for the guys because of family, holidays, jobs etc. Or if we have a festival, we can always fly one day earlier, so we have one full night of sleep, or we fly one day afterwards back. So we have one full day off, to see the places. With this tour we had one day earlier, in Düsseldorf, to see around, not something constantly scheduled. Usually we don’t have the energy to see the places, we just go to restaurants – really good ones, because we don’t see each other, we don’t rehearse together at all. So it is only when we have shows that we also have time to spend together – so now it is a tradition for us to pick a good restaurant from the city and then we have a festival show the second day.
Apropos festival – his special Before The Dawn anniversary show you mentioned, was it your idea or the idea of the organizer?
It was the festival – he is a huge fan, he booked us for a few club shows back in the days, and he has been asking for a few summers now. Three summers ago when he was planning the festival, he didn’t even have the festival yet and was asking about it, then again last summer when he did the festival – ”could we do it now? – No, no way” And this was the first time I actually talked with the other guys ”OK what do you think, it is now 10 years since the Deadlight album”, and I thought some guys would say no, but everybody was like ”yeah yeah that’s a good idea, let’s do it” – and I was like ”okay…” (laughter) I was not prepared for that but said ”OK” – and so we are having the show. I think it’s going to be really cool!
Final question: Internet lore has it that a Norwegian teen managed to scare off a pack of wolves with a Megadeth song he played on his cell phone. So – what would be a Wolfheart song that might work as ”wolf-repellent”?
When hen the situation comes, I hope any song (laughter) – in case my cell phone would do this trick. It’s actually quite surprising that this actually happened, they might be scared of the cell phone for maybe 30 seconds, but …
Well, internet lore…
… and it’s a pack of predators, so… and if there is only one guy making this kind of noise, I think they manage to deal with that noise quite fast… but if that would be the case, I hope any of our songs.
And hope those wolves are not really hungry…
I don’t think they gonna come out of the woods just to say ”hi” (laughter). When you encounter wolves, that’s gonna be some sort of a problem. (Again, the award for the understatement of the year goes to… the ed.)
Start photo: Band, photos, artwork: K. Weber