Interview with vocalist Jarkko Koukonen and drummer Jarkko Hyvönen
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: August 17, 2019
Finnish melodic Death Metallers Bloodred Hourglass are flying high at the moment. They just released their fourth studio album, Godsend, on June 28th and it has kept the fire burning in their bellies.
The band played recently at one of Finland's best organized and most scenic festivals, John Smith Festival on Saturday, July 20th, where The Metal Crypt had the opportunity to sit down with the band's vocalist Jarkko Koukonen and drummer Jarkko Hyvönen, to talk about the new album, playing live, their future plans and some deeper subjects as well...
NEW ALBUM: GODSEND
Luxi: Let's get straight to the point and talk about your newest album, Godsend. My first question is, did your previous album, Heal, being such a strong and well-liked album, put extra pressure on you this time?
Jarkko K: Well, not for me personally. I didn't feel any extra pressure when we started writing new material.
Jarkko H: I share the same thoughts. It's tough for us to judge how strong the material is we are making. Ultimately, it's the fans that let us know whether we have succeeded at composing strong material or not. As strong as Heal was content-wise, I would say that our second album, Where the Oceans Burn, was kind of a watershed album for us regarding our musical development. We never tend to think if we have beaten our previous album on all possible levels or not.
Our goal has always been to make good songs and we didn't feel any pressure from anything we had done before when we were working with the Godsend album. We simply tried to remember that we have kept our songwriting bar high every time and we didn't want to go under that bar for this new album. It is as simple as that for us. We are really pleased with the songs that we wrote for this new album. It's a strong album on all accounts, in my opinion.
Luxi: Did you feel when you started the songwriting process for this new album you had some killer material cooking once again?
Jarkko K: After our previous two albums, Where the Oceans Burn and Heal, we were very confident this new material wouldn't suck either. I mean, it was easy to start the writing process for the record knowing in our minds that we would not run into serious trouble creatively when giving birth to the new songs for Godsend. We knew this album's material would be equally as strong as the songs on our two previous albums, so that in itself made us feel very confident about this new material.
I think that, as a band, we know what we are capable of and that gives us a certain peacefulness within the band. It also gives us the strength and confidence to believe in ourselves and so with Godsend we knew it was going to be a strong album.
Jarkko H: I would like to borrow our guitarist and songwriter Antti's (Nenonen) words, "I just grab my guitar and see what I can come up with...".
Jarkko K: We didn't pre-plan or talk about the direction these new songs should take or anything like that. They just came out the way they did.
We have one song on this new album that came together pretty quickly, actually. It's a song called "The Unfinished Story". Antti was demoing some stuff for some other song when I decided to stop by. He introduced one of his riffs, looking for my opinion about it and if I had some ideas to flesh it out. We proceed from there and after two hours or so, we had "The Unfinished Story" fully ready and it eventually became our single and video as well. I guess when we get the right vibe and flow, things just happen for us. We don't have to sit down together and start a discussion, which is the direction we want to develop our music towards. Instead of that, everything seems to happen for us very naturally.
Luxi: Was there any change within the band regarding songwriting duties since Heal?
Jarkko H: I think the songwriting process was very much the same as it has been before with our previous releases. I'd like to add to what Jarkko K just mentioned.
Antti Nenonen, who's our lead guitarist, is mostly responsible for the song material for the band, BUT on this new album we have one song that has been entirely written by our bassist, Jose (Moilanen). Otherwise, there have not been any changes when it comes to our songwriting process compared to our previous albums.
Jarkko K: He and I are still responsible for the lyrics about fifty/fifty. On Godsend, my role is a bit bigger this time as my creative juices in the lyric department seemed to flow a tad better than the last time, I guess. But all in all, nothing has changed in our songwriting process on this album.
What worked to our advantage when we were making this new album is we didn't have a strict timetable. We tried to make the album as quickly as we possibly could though because we had a good and creative songwriting flow going on and we didn't want to wait too long as our previous album, Heal, was popular with the audiences. We had demoed a lot of new stuff, so why not use the momentum and record this new album as soon as possible.
Jarkko H: All in all, we had around twenty new songs, either completely finished or half-ready, and we picked twelve them that we wanted to record and ten that were meant for the Godsend album.
Luxi: Do you have plans to use the extra material for future release(s)?
Jarkko H: Haha, you just read between the lines. Unfortunately, we cannot reveal much about our plans for this stuff yet. Sorry, bro.
HEADACHES AND DEMOCRACY
Luxi: I understand. Let's talk about the song order on Godsend. Did you know which song would be the album's opener and which would fit as the last song on the record, and so on?
Jarkko K: Well, honestly that's the thing that has always caused the biggest headaches for the band so far, figuring out the optimal order of the songs on our albums.
We are always kind of battling each other with our metaphorical swords when we go into the studio with a bunch of songs in our pockets and start deciding which ones should be recorded and first and foremost, in which order they should be on the album. This is undoubtedly the thing that has always caused the biggest head scratching in our band because each of us has a strong viewpoint about these processes. This part has never been easy for us, I must admit.
Jarkko H: Indeed. There's always been five individual and different viewpoints in this process.
Jarkko K: Each person in the band is very opinionated and has strong views about our music, which naturally makes things a bit more complicated when it comes to picking the right songs and song order for our releases. Happily, we are a democratic unit, so there are no unnecessary fist fights within the band.
Luxi: I am glad to hear democracy reigns within the band. As for the album's title, Godsend, what is the story behind it? Sounds kind of biblical...
Jarkko K: Should we tell our most boring version here, haha!!
Jarkko H: In all honesty, there's nothing religious behind the album title. On the other hand, there may be something in the title that leaves room for people to think about certain things around us in this universe. We all have some higher things in our lives that we may believe in. For us, Godsend, represents sort of a scientific approach to seeing things. It seems like everyone in today's world is waiting for things to happen, and like I already mentioned, it can be anything for an individual. It can be a number of things because we are all different. For example, we have a couple of songs on this new record that are about suicides and are lyrically related to when people are waiting for something to happen, but when nothing happens, they decide to go down this desperate path instead.
Jarkko K: That's a good summary. I feel like there's not an extraordinary story behind the title. It came along at a very early phase and it was welcomed by everyone in the band. If I remember correctly, we were flying from the Greenfield Festival (in Switzerland) to some other place when this name was suggested, and everyone gave their careful nods to this possible name of our forthcoming album. We didn't have any other alternatives for the album's title, and the funny thing is that we actually started building up the songs after that, based on this title.
Luxi: In my opinion, Godsend is a very pompous name and it can be connected to many things...
Jarkko K: Yes, it is. I don't know if we had some subconscious self-confidence at that moment, but most likely we were thinking something like this album would be our own "godsend" so to speak, haha!
Luxi: Do you have any personal favorite songs off this new album?
Jarkko K: For me personally, "The Unfinished Story" is such a track as it was the first time for me to be able to have influence on the pre-production process as far as the song's instrumental sections are concerned. It was Antti's and my shared creation that we put together at our rehearsal place. That's why that particular song feels close to me personally, as I had a huge impact when it was created from its scratch.
I consider "My Route" as sort of a dark horse on the album. This song wasn't supposed to be a part of the album at all, but we still decided to record it. We thought it would fit a Japanese version of the album as a bonus track, but it ended up as part of the main content of Godsend. It was the last song that I finished my vocal parts and lyrics for. At first, the song didn't feel right for the album for some reason or other, but then when I got my vocals done, it reached completely new heights for me personally and felt very special for me right after I heard my vocal parts in it.
Even after the first mixings, I was flagging the song to be a part of the album's basic content, no matter what. I was happy that all other member eventually agreed with me about its importance to the album.
Jarkko H: For me personally, songs such as "August", "Alysia" and "Waves of Black" speak to me the strongest. From the lyrical point of view where both he and I kind of separate from each other, he talks in interviews that his own breeding ground for getting inspired by something for lyrics comes from his own life experiences mostly. I see his views and understand that it's a good way to reflect on all those experiences that happen in your life through your own lyrics. For me, it's more like a storyteller's role in my lyrical approach. I write stories that I tell via lyrics and they aren't necessarily connected to my own life experiences.
For example, on this new album we have a song called "White Feather", which is the closing track. The lyrics are pretty straightforward about suicide but written from my own perspective and the way I see how this type of person goes through suicide in her/his mind before ending his/her life that radical way.
GERMAN LABEL ENTERS IN
Luxi: Okay, let's move on to lighter topics, at least for a little while. What's the story behind this German label Out of Line Music that put out Godsend for the European markets?
Jarkko K: Our previous album, Heal, was released on Ranka Kustannus in 2017, which is owned by Riku Pääkkönen. Out of Line Music came in to the picture because the label manager André (Kobliha) had spotted one of our songs, "Six Feet Savior", on one of Spotify's weekly favorites list or something. He really liked the song and became curious about Bloodred Hourglass, where we came from and so on.
He found out that we already had a deal with Riku's Ranka Kustannus but he contacted Riku and asked if he could license the album for the central European markets. That is how we got signed to this German label, which felt great for us, of course!
It was very nice that Riku Pääkkönen made it possible to open the door for Out of Line Music to work with us and we also wanted to keep Riku's label as one of our business partners regarding our new album, Godsend. Now we have a combo of two very experienced business partners behind us, so we cannot really complain.
Luxi: I remember that your previous album, Heal, was released in Japan on Ward Records. Are there plans to push your new album to the Asian markets as well?
Jarkko K: That's the reason we decided to record two extra tracks, even if we unfortunately don't have concrete plans to release Godsend in the Asian markets any time soon. On the other hand, let's still keep in mind that the release of our previous album, Heal, didn't happen right away in Japan but took so time to get it out there as well.
FEAST WITH SUOMI BEASTS
Luxi: You flew to Tokyo, Japan, at the end of May. What kind of experience was it for you to visit Japan?
Jarkko H: There was this Suomi Feast event there, arranged for a bunch of Finnish metal bands only. Beast in Black played there, Swallow the Sun played there, Brymir etc. played there, so we were in very good company. Of course, playing in Japan for the first time felt really special for us. None of us had ever played or been to Japan before, so that made it even more special. It was a really cool experience. The gig and fan culture over there are very different compared to other countries around the world. While we were playing a song, the crowd was cheering us constantly but after we had finished the song, total silence descended amongst the crowd. We were like, "what on earth is going on here?". It was weird, I must say.
Also, right after the gig we had this Meet & Greet session and the fans gave all kinds of gifts to us. As a shy and not so social Finn, I must say it felt pretty strange, haha! We aren't used to that kind of attention from our fans here in Finland, that's for sure. The fan culture is very different there; how the fans really adore their bands over there and are very friendly and all that stuff. We here in Europe might have a thing or two to learn from their friendly and polite culture.
But all in all, our trip to Japan was a big success.
BLOODSTOCK AND BLOODY TALES
Luxi: I couldn't help noticing that you will also play at Bloodstock Open Air in England, on August 11th this year. In fact, your slot will be on a stage called Sophie Lancaster stage, which got its name from a rude story. Is this story familiar to you?
Jarkko H: No, not at all.
Luxi: There were two Gothic-looking teenagers who were attacked by a number of teenage boys while walking through Stubbylee Park in Bacup, Rossendale, Lancashire, on 11 August 2007. As a result of severe head injuries, one girl named Sophie Lancaster, went into a coma from which she never regained consciousness and died of her injuries thirteen days later. The police said they may have been attacked because they looked so different from so-called "normal people".
Jarkko H: This is the kind of thing I hate most in this world. I don't get it when people cannot tolerate when other people look different. Who has the right to say I am better than you because you look so different from me. That does not make you a better person if you cannot tolerate people based on how different they may look in your eyes.
Luxi: Let's lighten our discussion a little bit. How did you get this slot at Bloodstock this year anyway? Did Aino (Järventaus) from Raven Management have his fingers in this booking?
Jarkko H: No. In fact, one of our guitarist, Lauri Silvonen, who has been in the UK quite a few times before, emailed one of his contacts and asked if we could have a chance to play there this year. They said, "Yes, sure—welcome...", so that was easy for us to get that slot at the festival.
One funny thing was that they originally promised us a shorter and not-so-optimal slot in the playing order. Oddly, however, they sent us a new schedule this week, giving us a longer set plus an even better evening slot. We believe that they figured out that our band might have some demand from the crowd, and perhaps even finding out that we have just released our new album that's been well received around the world—who knows?
Luxi: You played at Rockhard Open Air Festival in Germany on July 4, 2019, which is a relatively big festival here in Europe nowadays. Despite your early slot there, you seemed to have a good crowd when you played at Dark Stage...
Jarkko K: That festival was a very positive surprise for us all in all. I personally really liked this festival because they had two identical big stages side by side. It warms my heart that the organizers were smart enough to give every band an equal position; there were no so-called "second stages" whatsoever, but every band, big or small, got a chance to play equally big stages. It was a very well-organized festival, arranged in a nice location. We really enjoyed playing there for the first time.
GIGGING PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
Luxi: How does your gig calendar look for the rest of the year?
Jarkko H: Well, we cannot reveal too much yet, but the thing is our latest album was released just a few weeks ago, and we were, of course, too late for the festival train as far as this year is concerned. That means we didn't have a chance to make any sort of an album release tour for Godsend. I can say it'll be coming, probably sometime in this autumn plus, we have some plans to play outside of Finland this year as well.
Luxi: Obviously playing gigs around is very important...
Jarkko K: Yes, it has a big role in our activities with this band. I have always felt that we have improved quite a lot in the live area as a band. It's actually been one of our strongest assets to perform live for people, in my opinion.
Jarkko H: Let's say that we don't have to be ashamed when playing live.
Jarkko K: We are always trying to give 100% from the stage, no matter if we are playing for a smaller or bigger crowd. It's all or nothing.
Jarkko H: Playing gigs as much as possible is one of our main goals, especially if we want to grow our fan base. It's hard to do that if you release music but never go out to play any gigs. That's not how it works. It needs a certain amount of motivation and drive to commit to and believe in what you are doing. It all comes from hard work; there's no shortcut to success. We have been doing this since 2005 and have noticed nothing comes easy. If you put in the work and believe in it, it may pay off eventually.
Our band is in a good phase now, but as we have said in some of our previous interviews that even though we have existed quite a while already, it's only been the last two years when things have really started happening. We have our window of opportunity now, so we also really need to make best out of it and keep on working hard for this band.
Luxi: Alright, my time is up, but I have one quick question for you. How about 2020? What kind of things have you already planned for the next year? Perhaps there's enough space on this famous festival train for you guys?
Jarkko H: We may not put out a new album next year, but we do have some slots at some festivals in Europe and we are currently discussing with some festivals here in Finland, too. Also, as we got a taste of playing in Europe this year, I think it's safe to say at this point that we'll hopefully be playing in Europe again at the beginning of 2020 if everything goes as planned.
Luxi: My time is up, so thank you for this pleasant interview guys and I want to wish you all the best for your upcoming shows in the future and lots of success that may come your way.
Jarkko H: Thank you for having us.
Jarkko K: Thank you.
|Other information about Bloodred Hourglass on this site|
|Interview with vocalist Jarkko Koukonen on October 22, 2017 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
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