Interview with vocalist and keyboardist Pekka Montin
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: March 14, 2020
Finnish Viking Metal stalwarts Ensiferum have been working on their eighth studio album under strict radio silence and with good reason. The band has been looking for a permanent keyboard player after Emmi Silvennoinen (2009-2016) and Netta Skog (2016-2017) departed and the remaining members wanted to take their time finding a replacement who could also handle clean vocals.
After trying out a good number of candidates, the band found what they were searching for; not a new lady but a true gentleman named Pekka Montin, current and former member of such acts as Judas Avenger, Amoth, Evil-Lÿn, etc. Besides being a truly professional musician, he also is a full-blooded fan of heavier music with an amazing vocal range. Pekka took part in the recording process on the upcoming as-yet-untitled Ensiferum album. On February 27, 2020, the band made the official accouchement about his recruitment via Facebook.
The Metal Crypt contacted Pekka to ask for his feelings and thoughts right after the official announcement was made, also inquiring what it was like to be a part of the recording process of the band's newest album and how the audition process went.
Ladies and gentlemen, let's welcome Mr. Pekka Montin...
Luxi: How's it going, Pekka? Are you feeling excited, confident and maybe a bit nervous now the big announcement has been made on Ensiferum's official channels about you being the chosen one to take the roles of clean vocals and keyboards?
Pekka: Hey Luxi! The biggest excitement happened last year when I found out I was selected for the vocalist's job in November 2018.
Now that the new record has been completed, the stress level has dropped significantly. The newest album will probably be the best the band has ever done and it's great to be a big part of it.
Regarding our upcoming gigs, the set lists are still open, but I believe this part will be cleared up soon. I believe that a lot of new and old songs will be brought along.
Luxi: What was the process for becoming the newest member of Ensiferum like?
Pekka: It was early June 2018 and once again I had to bury one of my Judas Avenger lineups due to lack of member resources. I wondered for a moment if I was going to put a new lineup together or do a JA studio project and focus on other things in life and music in general. I chose the latter option because I was already quite frustrated working with music at that stage.
The day after this realization, I saw an announcement on Facebook where Ensiferum was looking for a pure singer and keyboard player. I hadn't heard the band's music before, but I have a lot of friends who really like their music. I went to YouTube and was surprised by how multilayered their songs were.
After that, I wrote 2-3 lines (about 40-60 letters) in a short email and added some videos of me singing. In my email, I told them I can—practically speaking—sing whatever they want me to sing within Heavy Metal. Also, I told them that my keyboard skills were limited.
It took two weeks, but they contacted me. They said they were convinced of what I was able to offer.
Luxi: What thoughts were running through your head when you first met the guys? Were you nervous or did things click effortlessly from the beginning?
Pekka: I first met them at the end of July 2018 when I auditioned. It was a hot summer day and at that time I thought to myself, "What on earth have I entangled myself in? Wasn't I supposed to stop this craziness and focus more on daily work and all that jazz? What am I even doing here?"
It all happened very quickly for me, but fate and karma had already decided how things would go.
When I went to their rehearsal place, I noticed right away that they were all such easy-going guys and so the communication between us was natural. At that point, I stopped thinking about situations and their possible consequences. That day, I focused more on being in the moment and enjoying this special experience.
Luxi: When you were auditioning, was there a particular song that impressed the guys in terms of your vocal/keyboard performances?
Pekka: The songs I practiced the first time were "Lai Lai Hei" and "Wanderer". The second time they were "Deathbringer from the Sky" and "Guardians of Fate".
As far as I understood, they were convinced of my singing skills and that was the thing they most wanted from a new member. This suited me well because I don't even consider myself a real keyboard player. It's the instrument that seems to follow me along every time I start a new job in the music industry. Strange but true.
Luxi: Do you know if there were other candidates competing with you for the position?
Pekka: I heard there were a lot of applicants, especially some who were really professional and skilled (read: better than me) who were auditioning for this job. However, in Ensiferum, it is not about shredding or virtuoso playing in the Dream Theater style, so there was simply no need for these applicants.
I never asked who I was competing with because I personally hate competition in music. There are so many negative things about that topic like jealousy, blackmailing, etc. Things I hate above everything else.
I decided at that time that I would do my best and not kiss anyone's ass. This decision has given me a good and healthy sense of self and the ability to handle things as they appear, whether it was a loss or a victory in life.
I do not consider myself to be better than others and in this case, the person best suited for the job was chosen, that is, the one who has the most to give to this band. If it had been a different band, the situation could have been completely different.
Luxi: When they made their decision that you would be their guy, it was kept quiet. The band was focusing on their eighth studio album so keeping down the noise about new members helped avoid distractions. Did you see this situation the same way when becoming their newest member?
Pekka: The silence lasted for a long time, and sometimes I wonder when things get really cool here. Admittedly, I was in no hurry because I was studying for a security degree in Vaasa at the same time. I lived day by day and focused on other things in my life.
Things started to materialize in the spring of 2019 as we began demoing the songs for the new album.
When we were in the studios, we agreed that I would not be attached to the photos or any updates on the site as my announcement had not yet been made official. I was never bothered by this because I have very mixed feelings about publicity.
Luxi: You already mentioned that the band recorded this forthcoming album using two different studios. How intense were the sessions and which instruments were done at which studio?
Pekka: We recorded the new record in two different studios.
At Petrax studio we spent four days recording all the drums. At that studio we also recorded a bit of grand piano playing, which is a big part of the final track. We stayed at the Petrax studio at that time and were really nourished there, too!
After that, the band moved to Sonic Pump Studios for a month to record the rest of the album. Part of the band (including myself) stayed in Kallio, Helsinki, where the record company had rented us apartments.
Both studios are at the top in our country.
The band was always followed by the producer Janne Joutsenniemi (Stone, Sub Urban Tribe, etc.), whose work was crucial to the success of this album.
Luxi: Which was the more time-consuming and/or trickier thing for you personally; your clean vocal parts or the keyboards? And could you tell me why?
Pekka: The answer is easy; the vocal parts.
Producer Joutsenniemi was extremely precise and demanding, especially in terms of vocals. He did not let me off easy, but I knew I would pull my vocal parts off even to his demanding levels. The end result was very good, but it did not happen without pain, which should be the case. You always have to suffer for a good outcome and you also have to learn to enjoy that feeling.
Luxi: You said you have this gut feeling the next Ensiferum album might be their best yet. On what grounds do you base that? The excitement coming from the fans of the band is about to go straight through the roof now... ;o)
Pekka: Yes. I think the new album is the band's best so far. There is tremendous emotion on the record and this time also really striking songs! I am very proud that I have such a large role on this masterpiece. This is hard to make any better, I assure you.
Luxi: You have a lot of experience singing in many different bands, with different musical styles. As you are known as the guy who has an incredible vocal range, did you also feel that you were able to use your whole vocal range on these new Ensiferum songs or did you have to hold back a little bit?
Pekka: I could sing quite a lot of high notes on the record because the songs were written that way. On this album, however, I sing mostly in a clean style because Petri Lindroos takes care of all the rough parts. The band's bassist, Sami Hinkka, also sings one whole song on the album. All in all, the album has two solo tracks for me and then I sing a lot of other clean parts on other tracks. I am very grateful for this.
Luxi: I would like to know how it was to work with your new bandmates. Did they all encourage you to be who are and give you a certain freedom to do different things within the new songs and not put much of limitation on your creativity?
Pekka: The other members of the band have encouraged me to be myself. I think this comes through pretty well on the new album.
Luxi: As Ensiferum is a worldwide known and very popular household name these days, tours around the world and has massive armies of fans everywhere on the globe, do you feel any pressure about how the fans will welcome you? It's no secret that some of them openly miss Emmi (Silvennoinen), the previous keyboard player whose role you took in the band...
Pekka: After Emmi came Netta and she stayed in the band for only a short time. Emmi was a big part of the band, as was Meiju, who also stayed in the band for a long time.
Unfortunately, changes happen in many bands over time and it's something that can't be avoided.
However, I am sure when the fans get to hear the new album most of them are going to be convinced by what they will hear.
Luxi: Last but not least, what kind of hopes and expectations do you have regarding this ongoing year and the long-term plans of the band?
Pekka: I believe that I have reached the minimum goal, that is, to do the band's best album to date with them. Everything that happens after the release of the upcoming album is just a plus for me. I am living through this band now, year after year, and I try to enjoy my time and do my best to keep all the parties and fans happy.
Luxi: I want to sincerely thank you, Pekka, for taking some time with this interview and I wish you my all best for the future endeavors and victories with the band. If you have any closing words to sum up this interview, be my guest...
Pekka: Thank you, Luxi, for all the help you have given me over these past two years. I give it a lot of value.
Long Live The Metal Crypt!
|Other information about Ensiferum on this site|
|Review: Victory Songs|
|Review: From Afar|
|Review: From Afar|
|Review: Unsung Heroes|
|Review: Unsung Heroes|
|Review: Two Paths|
|Interview with guitarist and vocalist Markus Toivonen and keyboardist and vocalist Pekka Montin on September 18, 2020 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
|Video: In My Sword I Trust|
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