Sea of Tranquility's Carl Sederholm recently had the opportunity to chat on the phone with Jarkko Aaltonen, the bass player from Korpiklaani. The band has a new album coming out this month [entitled Manala] and will also be embarking on a North American tour with Moonspell, Tyr, and Metsatoll. This tour is certainly one that fans won't want to miss! Thanks to Jarkko for taking the time to take part in this interview, and as you'll see below, he and Carl covered quite a range of interesting topics.
Sea of Tranquility: You're coming to North America next month. How long will you be here?
Jarkko: Quite close to a month. We start on [August] 25th and finish on [September] 25th so it is a month, but we start in Mexico City. The U. S. and Canadian Tour starts a couple days later.
SoT: Is this your second time touring this area or have you been here more often?
Jarkko: Fourth time. It is a pain in the ass to get the working permit so once you get one you have to tour a bit more once you get one. Well, it's not really a pain in the ass, it's just a bit of a chore.
SoT: What kinds of things can we expect from your show this time around?
Jarkko: I don't know that there will be any major differences other than what can be expected. Some rock and roll songs; not much more than that.
SoT: I notice that when listeners buy the new album, they can also get a bonus CD with the songs sung in English. Does performing in English change anything about the music at all for you?
Jarkko: Yeah, there's something lacking in the English version, to be honest. The songs were originally in Finnish and I sort of feel that the Finnish language speaks to the music a bit better. It's also easier for Jonne, the lead singer, to put more emotion or feel into the songs when he sings them in his native tongue and not in English. I can feel the words in English, but even though the only difference is in the vocals I still think the songs sound surprisingly different.
SoT: Will you be performing them in English or in Finnish on the North American tour?
Jarkko: In Finnish. The idea was to record the album in its original element, which was in Finnish. The idea was to provide a free bonus disc for the fans who want to hear it in English. If we had known how much work it took to do that we probably wouldn't have started to do it, but this is how it is done now.
SoT: I like listening to you guys in Finnish. I don't understand Finnish, but that's ok with me. Sometimes it's the feeling of the music more than anything else that matters.
Jarkko: The feeling is what comes through better in Finnish than in English. But some people may prefer the English version more.
SoT: I know that some of your music is based on the epic poem the Kalevala. Tell us about the mythology behind the album title Manala.
Jarkko: Kalevala is the national epic of Finland and it's a huge collection of old stories and poems. It explains how the universe was born and has everything in it. The original idea behind that album was that we were going to make a lyrical concept album about Kalevala, its poems and stories, but once we started to get the lyrics from our lyricist we realized that not all of the lyrics would be about Kalevala so we forgot that idea. At one point we had already published the idea that the album would be called Kunnia but then as we went through what we had we realized that what many of the songs were about Manala, the underworld, the world of the dead the Kalevala. We understood then that Kunnia was not a fitting title anymore and so we changed the album title to Manala. Now, after all, everybody seems to think we have created a concept album about Manala, but this all happened by accident; we never meant it to be a lyrical concept album about Manala and death. This is just how it happened. Not all the songs and lyrics are related to that concept, but many are, so it will feel like a concept album to some people.
SoT: I really love the album cover. Is the art referring back to anything in the epic poem or is it something the artist came up with on his own?
Jarkko: It is the artist's interpretation of the world of the dead in Finnish mythology. It has the swan, the river, and the main character of the epic and so it has the imagery that some people picture when they think about the mythological world of the dead. The cover is a bit hellish looking. In the Finnish mythology, there was no heaven or hell, just a place where the dead went regardless of what you did in your life. It was a set place for everybody.
SoT: I would like to read the Kalevala one day soon. I am interested in it after reading a little about it on the internet. It sounds like it has been an important part of your band's music over the years.
Jarkko: For about six albums now, we've had lyrics written in the same style in the same poetic meter that was originally done in the Kalevala. There was a time when we were even more deliberately involved in topics or stories drawn originally from it, but there were already other bands doing that and we didn't want to get associated with that so directly. A couple of albums ago, we finally decided that we have enough of a name on our own to do that. We started to use the Kalevala more often.
SoT: I wanted to ask you a little about your bass playing. I know you are a big fan of Motorhead and I really like your cover of "Iron Fist." Is Lemmy an influence on your playing?
Jarkko: Not that much. The band itself has been an influence to me. I used to be a huge Motorhead fan in the 80s and then every now and then I still realize that I'm still a huge fan--it doesn't go away. I like his bass playing, but I actually don't think of him as a bass player, he's written more rhythm guitar riffs that he plays with his bass guitar. More important for me in the early days, when I was starting to play was Steve Harris and Geezer Butler.
SoT: What is your role in the songwriting process for Korpiklanni?
Jarkko: The new album has two songs written by me ["Uni" and "Sumussa Hämärän Aamun"]. I have written a few songs in the past, not much, but I'm really a slow writer. Most of the music is written by Jonne and occasionally the others will, too. We don't actually write together. We write songs individually and send the demos to everybody else.
SoT: I really enjoyed the song "Husky Sledge." Is that a traditional melody?
Jarkko: It is actually. I just learned it myself not long ago. It is completely something that our violin player [Tuomas] really liked for the album. It was originally done with a different instrument and it is his arrangement for violin.
SoT: What do you think of labels like folk metal? I'm not sure if people describe you guys as folk metal or pagan metal, there are so many labels these days.
Jarkko: Pagan metal and also folk metal and many other genres and labels are not necessarily musical labels. They also include the lyrical themes. In folk metal, you are going to have lots of musically different bands, but they are all grouped together under the same name. This gets a little confusing. When I was growing up, you had heavy metal and hard rock and pop and you knew what everyone was doing. Then you had thrash metal and you knew what it was. But now you have all these labels that don't describe the music any more. It is a bit confusing but I understand also that people have this tendency, or an inner need, to label everything or to sort out their own environment. There are many folk metal bands in the scene that are trying to get rid of the labels. They don't want to be compared to, or put together with, the bands in the folk label scene. It's a waste of time to fight against it anyway.
SoT: Sometimes I think these labels are helpful for journalists mainly.
Jarkko: You mentioned Motorhead earlier. For thirty years, Lemmy has been trying to tell everybody that they are not a heavy metal band, but that they are a rock and roll band. Yet, they are always called heavy metal, so if Lemmy cannot change things, then who can?
SoT: Very true. I'm looking forward to seeing you guys. I'll be at the Salt Lake City show.
Jarkko: That's going to be interesting. We've never been there. We have shows in places that we've never been to on this tour.
SoT: The metal scene is growing very quickly here and then venue you'll be playing at [The Complex] is a nice place with a good sound. A lot of people usually show up for concerts there, so I'm hoping that it will be a good experience for you guys.
Jarkko: I'm sure it will be. Sometimes the venues in the USA are a bit subpar when compared to European venues, but we've always had good shows in America.
SoT: Is there anything you'd like me to include that I haven't asked you about?
Jarkko: Not really, but I'd like everybody thinking about whether to see us or not on the upcoming tour to seriously realize that the package that we are coming with--Tyr, Moonsorrow, Metsatoll--is a really good package. When it comes to the folk metal scene it doesn't get much better than that.
(Click here to read our review of Manala)