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Ravenheart Music: Interviews

BATTLELORE INTERVIEW

Battlelore.jpg BATTLELORE hail from Finland, and unless you have been hiding under a stone for some while now, you should know who Battlelore is. This band has been around since 1999, and Ravenheart Music was given the opportunity to catch up with Maria from the band just recently. Indeed, it makes a change for us to talk to someone from a band that is well established on the scene, and could possibly tell us a thing or two about interview techniques :) Anyway lets learn about JR Tolkein, what the band do in their spare time, the Eurovision Song Contest and whether they are going to tour the UK or not. So without further ado, here goes!

Hi Maria.....for the benefit of those aforementioned people who may well have been tucked away in a cave or been living under a stone for the past few years, would you give us a general background with regards Battlelore, talk to us about past band members, and fill us in as to who is in the band now?
Hello and thanks for the interview! You know, asking a question like this
from a band that’s been around for more than ten years means an answer that won’t fit in your interview, hehehe! But here you go…

J. Vahvanen and M. Kokkola founded Battlelore in 1999. The first promo CD “Warrior’s Tale” was released that same year. “Warrior’s Tale” was praised and liked, but the band caught the attention of Napalm Records after the release of their second demo “Dark Fantasy” in 2000. “Dark Fantasy” also introduced the at the time new Battlelore members; Kaisa Jouhki as the new female vocalist, Henri Vahvanen as the drummer and Maria Honkanen as the keyboard player and flutist. At the request of the label, Battlelore recorded an untitled three-track promo CD and soon thereafter the deal was finalized.

In autumn 2001 Battlelore recorded their debut “…Where the Shadows Lie” at Music Bros Studios with producer Miitri Aaltonen. Shortly thereafter due to personal reasons, T. Havo left Battlelore. He was replaced by J. Rautio on lead guitar. The second album “Sword’s Song” was released in spring 2003 and took Battlelore to a totally new level in their music. “Sword’s Song” was also recorded at Music Bros Studios under the guidance of Miitri Aaltonen. The response was huge and thus, Battlelore did their first tour around Europe. This tour led to even more followers and a steady fan base.

Battlelore’s first DVD “The Journey” – featuring the energetic live show at
Tavastia club – saw the light of day in early 2004. In August 2004
Battlelore endured another line-up change. Patrik Mennander left the band to follow another career path, leaving his scepter and crown as Battlelore’s
vocalist behind. His last performance with Battlelore took place at the
spectacular headlining show at RingCon, the official Lord of the Rings
Festival in Bonn, Germany.

After the successful European tour with two session musicians (the
low-growling vocalist Tomi Mykkänen and raging bass player Timo Honkanen, who filled in for a temporarily absent Miika Kokkola), Battlelore began searching for Patrik’s replacement. Furthermore, Miika Kokkola announced that he too, for personal reasons, would be leaving the band. Luckily, Timo and Tomi’s showing on tour convinced Battlelore that they could not find better men for the job.

Battlelore’s third album “Third Age of the Sun” was recorded at Sound Suite Studios in spring 2005. With producer Terje Refsnes at the helm, Battlelore found a new sound for their journey through Middle-earth. The band decided to leave out all the overdone computer programming that would result in an inorganic sound. The fourth Battlelore album, “Evernight”, was recorded in the autumn of 2006 and released in the early 2007. Once again, Battlelore chose to work with Miitri Aaltonen at Music Bros Studios. The results can be heard in the even more bombastic, more epic and heavier soundscapes. Battlelore recorded their fifth album, “The Last Alliance”, at Sound Supreme Studios in Hämeenlinna, Finland in April-May of 2008. They chose to work with the ingenious producer Janne Saksa for the recordings and the legendary metal god Dan Swanö for the mixing and mastering of the album, which proved to be perfect choices. In 2010, after over 10 years of making music together, Battlelore concentrated on making new songs for the upcoming album, “Doombound”, released in January 2011. Besides a visit to Ibiza with Hard Rock Hell Road Trip, they decided to stay in Finland and make this the best album so far. Concentrating on the new songs and the new album proved to be great choices as in the studio, June-July 2010, the songs turned out to be more versatile and bombastic, more dynamic and epic, atmospheric, fun and serious, and free of old habits – and still they sounded like Battlelore. Sound Supreme Studios and producer Janne Saksa were the perfect pair for Battlelore to spread their wings and try different approaches to song writing, as Janne’s excellent ear and feel for details made Battlelore do their best and concentrate on all aspects of the songs. A talented young cellist, Markus Vuoristo, visited Battlelore in the studio and played the cello for two songs, thus giving the songs the perfect finishing touches and complementing all the other instruments and vocals. Dan Swanö, the legendary metal god, played a guitar solo on one of the songs and did the mixing for Battlelore again, and gave the songs and sounds the perfect final touch to make this the greatest album in Battlelore history. As the first and so far only concept album, telling the story of Tolkien’s tragic hero Túrin Turambar and his kin, this album takes Battlelore to a completely new level of song writing. The songs do not bow down to anyone – this is who we are and what you get. Included in “Doombound” limited edition digipack is “10 years of Battlelore” bonus DVD featuring two incredible live shows from Nosturi, Finland, tour videos from Europe and Finland, a huge photo gallery and all of Battlelore’s music videos. The DVD was made to all the fans and followers as a thank you for the support they have given the band during these years.

Battlelore now is:

Tomi Mykkänen – male vocals and growls
Kaisa Jouhki – female vocals
Jyri Vahvanen – guitars
Jussi Rautio – guitars
Maria Honkanen – keyboards, flute
Timo Honkanen – bass
Henri Vahvanen – drums

And for those unfamiliar with the band's music, can you describe the sound of Battlelore and how it has evolved over the years?
Well, it’s always quite hard to put your own music into genres, but I guess
saying we play atmospheric, epic, metal with influences from all over would do the trick. I kind of like the "fantasy metal“ term as it can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean, heheh! We started out quite straightforward, but over the years the pace has slowed down a bit, we think more carefully and compose with our hearts, trying to make the stories alive in music. Atmospheres have become more and more important, and with time, as our confidence and experience has grown, we’ve become more willing to try out new things. Sound wise on the newest album we’ve found a good balance – Janne Saksa, the producer has a really good ear for details and suggestions to sounds, and Dan Swanö, who has mixed and mastered the album (as well as The Last Alliance, the previous album), has done amazing job with finding the right kind of atmosphere for Battlelore. I think that we’ve been sticking with what we found on TLA; still the natural approach to sounds, no computer stuff. Orchestration-wise I’ve played a lot more flute on this album than on the previous ones to bring the sounds a more natural approach. We also had a cellist come to the studio and play for two songs, so that was a real dream come true – real instruments in the hands of the right people will do wonders!

It is well documented about the band's loyalty to the heritage of J. R. R. Tolkien. Can you tell us how all this come about?
Battlelore was created by Jyri Vahvanen, and his desire was to combine two of his favourite things – the amazing stories of J.R.R. Tolkien and metal music. There wouldn’t be Battlelore without either of those.

Regards 'Doombound' and I must say it is another good album to my ears, with perhaps more of a Black Metal feel to some of the tracks. Is this a deliberate ploy?
I don’t think it’s deliberate. Jyri, Timo and I have our musical roots in
Black Metal, so influences from that genre do come through our music sometimes. Battlelore has seven members who all listen to different kind of music and compose in their own way, bringing something of themselves in the mix, so we never really know what the end result of a song will be when the first notes are recorded.

And can you give us an insight into the title 'Doombound'?
The album Doombound is a concept album telling the story of J.R.R. Tolkien’s tragic hero Túrin Turambar and his kin. Thus, the word “Doombound” refers to Túrin, as due to a curse he is bound for doom. He leads a life filled with heroism, battles, victories, wrong choices, tragedy, and in the end he throws himself at his own sword. The story of Túrin has a lot of similarities with the story of Kullervo in the Finnish national epic, Kalevala, so it’s quite close to our hearts.

Live string arangements seem to be becoming more frequent on many rock/metalalbums I listen to at the moment. And a cello I believe is featured on 'Doombound'?
Well, our sound has been heading towards more realistic and organic sounds and instruments all along – it just suits our music and style the best. We had a few parts in our songs that were supposed to be played as orchestrations, but our producer Janne Saksa knew a very talented young cellist, Markus Vuoristo, who had been playing cello for some other bands as well, and Janne suggested we contact him and ask him to play for us as well. We were excited of course, as real instruments just bring so much life to songs, and Markus is a really gifted musician. The end result is wonderful – he really brings the right atmosphere on the songs!

It is also the band's one and only concept album, am I correct?
Yes, that’s right. Even though all our albums are based on the stories of
J.R.R. Tolkien, “Doombound” is the first album that concentrates on one tale only.

And where was the CD recorded and how was your experience in the studio?
“Doombound” was recorded at Sound Supreme Studios in Hämeenlinna, Finland, with producer Janne Saksa. We recorded “The Last Alliance” in the same studio, so we already knew what to expect. We have been really happy with working with Janne – he’s such an amazing person and has golden ears, he can spot two notes clash for a millisecond! It’s just a perfect match with us. This time around we focused on the details and atmospheres even more than before, as it is a concept album and all needs to fit in together. The mixing and mastering was done by Dan Swanö in Sweden, and he found again the perfect mix for our complex sound. We are very happy with the end result.

What has the media reaction been like so far to the record?
We’ve received really good feedback from the album, which was a bit unexpected in a way – we thought that as “Doombound” is more progressive and opens up quite slowly only with a few listens, people wouldn’t understand it this well. Most of the reviews have been good and the journalists have realized our goals in telling the story of Túrin with a whole album.

Do you have any favourite tracks firstly on the new record, and overall any fave tracks since Battlelore's very first release?
They all have their good parts… But I guess some of my favourites from the new album are Last of the Lords, Iron of Death and Bow and Helm. Since the very first release… That’s a hard one! They come in phases I think – some days I prefer one song, the next some other song. Right now my favourites would be from the first album, Swordmaster, the second album, Khazad-Dûm Pt.2, the third album, Gwaith-i-Mírdain, fourth album, We are the Legions and the fifth album, Awakening.

Having been with Napalm Records from the word go, one must assume the band is very happy with the Napalm stable? They to me seem a very strong label, that are also very supportive of the female fronted genre. As an outsider, I assume that to be the case?
We’ve been working with Napalm Records since the beginning, and our first contract included the first five albums. The newest album, “Doombound”, we made with a new contract with Napalm Records, so we’re definitely very happy with the label to sign another contract after 10 years! It’s been easy working with them and they have been reliable with anything they’ve promised. So no complaints here, hehe!

This question has been thrown at me by a member of the Ravenheart team..."do the band think the occasional growling/harsh male vocals put some people off the band's music?" Having said that, I myself am perfectly at ease with it, as I feel it suits the style of music perfectly.
Well, we have received all kinds of feedback, for example that we should
leave out male vocals altogether, and that we should leave out female vocals altogether, so I don’t know what to answer to your colleague, hehe! Our goal is to create music that tells the tales in music as well as in lyrics, and having both female and male vocalists makes it much easier to achieve. It gives us possibilities to create different kind of atmospheres, and I think it is quite an essential part of the band. We’ve never doubted whether we should have just one and not the other – this is who we are.

There are two girls in the band, yourself and Kaisa. A silly question perhaps, but do you ever have disagreements or fight, and how do you also get along with the guys in the band?
We all know each other from so many years ago and have been friends through all the years, so there have been all kinds of situations as well. Creative work and composing songs with seven different people can be a bit difficult at times, so of course we sometimes argue and have different opinions. I guess you could say that as we know each other so well, we can all express our opinions out loud and trust that even though we all don’t agree, the disagreements don’t ruin the friendship. It’s almost like family – no matter what people say or do, they’re family and in the end you just accept the people as they are. Having another girl in the band makes some things easier, but we don’t really see it that way. It’s been really easy to get along with guys – I’ve got two brothers and have always had more guys as friends than girls, so for me it’s quite natural. In the end I don’t think we really think of it like “guys and girls” – I’m just one of the “guys” in
a way, and so is Kaisa.

Finland sure does produce some good rock and metal music, leaving me pondering as to what you lot put in your water up there. The country has also seen rock sensations (?) Lordi representing them at the Eurovision Song Contest. On a lighter note, any chance of seeing Battlelore at Eurovision? :)
Hehehe, I guess we’d all need to be drugged or extremely drunk to feel at
all intrigued about going to Eurovision! It’s not our thing really, heheh.
But yeah, Finland has good music – I don’t know why, could be the long, dark winters, or the culture here – you can really let your feelings out in art
and music, otherwise people may seem a bit quiet about how they feel. That’s changed over the years though, so I guess more accurate might be the appreciation of arts, good music schools, enthusiastic music teachers and students, possibilities to have hobbies such as music… We’re in a good place.

Seriously, you have done quite a few gigs in your time. What is the most memorable gig Battlelore has played, and why is it so memorable?
There are soooo many great gigs and moments on stage! Every gig is special in its own way, so it’s a bit hard to compare them. I guess one of the most memorable gigs could be when we played in Wacken 2006 after midnight, the tent was full and the atmosphere was just amazing. I remember the wind blowing on stage and hearing the crowd singing the lyrics so hard that we heard them on stage… It was great. Feeling the connection between the band and the audience is one of the factors that makes gigs great, and this gig was one of the greatest ones that way.

Regards yourself personally, what do you do in your spare time when you are not making music?
We all have full time jobs besides Battlelore – I work at the airport as a
Customer Service Agent, doing the check-in and boarding, making announcements and taking care of our customers before and after their flights. Outside work I and Timo enjoy walking in the woods and fields with our dog, read books, watch movies, listen to music, hang out with friends and family… Lead a normal life.

I get amazed at what some band members/artists listen to when they relax, the music is often totally different to what they play on stage. I read a while back for example that Marilyn Manson listens to Journey albums on his tour bus. So can you tell me what type of music do you normally listen to when chilling out or relaxing?
I like so many different styles of music… For example death metal like Bolt
Thrower, Nile, Carcass, and then the amazing old school Edge of Sanity, At the Gates – then some other types of music like Sólstafir, Sigur Rós, Tenhi, Anathema… Some classical music (as my background with the flute is some black metal like Shining, Burzum, Hinsidig… Loads of different bands there and different kinds of music.

What are the band's plans for 2011 and is there any chance of seeing you in the UK?
We’ll be doing some festival gigs during the summer/autumn of 2011 at least. Nothing for the U.K. is confirmed yet but we would definitely love to come back there!

Many thanks Maria for the interview, and we here at Ravenheart wish you and the band every success with the release. Maybe we will be able to meet up soon. Thanks for the interview and all the best!
Dave Smith (Feb 28, 2011)