Interview with vocalist and bassist Niilo Sevänen
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: August 7, 2021
Special thanks to the entire Metallivuori organization for a well-organized and nice festival (hope to see you all next year too!)
Finland's true masters of melancholy and sorrow, Insomnium, hardly need an introduction. The band has been going since 1997 with a bunch of quality albums and many successful tours to their credit, which have made them one of the most well known and respected Finnish bands the world over. They have evolved from one album to the next, shaping their own distinctive and powerful sound over the years while keeping their core intact from day one. That special sound is impossible to duplicate, unless there's thick and melancholy-ridden Finnish blood running in your veins. It's the sound of Insomnium that has made them one of the most popular metal bands today.
Since Covid-19 hit, it has meant tough times for many artists and bands who weren't able to tour. The Insomnium camp had to postpone their planned tours, which did allow them extra time to do new music and some live streams as well as other projects while waiting for the right opportunity to play live in front of real crowds again.
That opportunity finally came in the form of a new, cozy festival called Metallivuori that booked Insomnium as the headlining act of the second day of the festival on July 17, 2021, sharing the main stage with acts such as Omnium Gatherum, Bloodred Hourglass, etc.
The Metal Crypt invaded the backstage area to meet one of the band's founder members, bassist and vocalist Niilo Sevänen, who was kind enough to share some updates regarding Insomnium's doings during these weird times... Read on!
Nice to meet you, Niilo, once again. It's been a while since we last talked. How are things in the Insomnium camp these days?
Niilo: Thanks for having me. Things in our camp are fine really despite this prevailing virus situation, which has created lots of trouble in peoples' lives. We have been trying to be as active as possible in many ways. We have been doing some live streams, perhaps four all in all, which we tried to figure out different settings for each to keep them interesting.
We have also been making new music since Covid-19 started to restrict our lives, canceling our tours and such things. We decided to record a new EP this time with the idea of releasing each song one by one over the course of this year so we can keep the fans interested and letting them know we are still here.
In fact, we just published the official news about the EP (titled Arcane Moon) on our Facebook page yesterday. The EP will be released this September and I have very good gut feelings about the material on it. It's a bit different musically, a more ballad-esque effort from us this time, I would say.
What makes this EP a bit more special is that you've made videos for each song, the first three being out already. I assume the last song will get the same treatment?
Niilo: Yes, you are right. The chosen location for the video shoot for this fourth song happened in Suomenlinna, Finland (Suomenlinna is an inhabited sea fortress built on eight islands about 4 km southeast of the city center of Helsinki – Luxi).
Besides this EP, you have also been working on material for your next album, correct?
Niilo: Yes, of course! We recorded the EP at the end of last year and after those recording sessions were over, we have been writing new stuff for our next album. So far, I am very pleased with this new stuff, much of which is ready. At this point I cannot tell when we might enter the studio to record the songs, but I am confident we will get our next album released sometime next year.
If we go back to the spring of 2020 when this whole pandemic thing hit hard all over the world, ruining plans for bands and artists, do you remember how you took in the whole situation, for instance, not knowing how long it would last? How did you cope with this "new world order" of lockdowns, travel restrictions, etc.?
Niilo: That's a tough question. I guess I should have been writing my thoughts in a diary when this pandemic kept on going, postponing our tours and other plans pretty drastically indeed. I honestly was confused about the whole situation at first, but after a while when it became more and more evident that we wouldn't be doing any touring for a while, the only option for us was to start writing new music. That was the thing that we were able to do despite this ongoing virus situation. So, we decided to concentrate on writing new music because there was no chance to hit the road.
Also, I started to write a novel because this pandemic left me some extra time for doing other things in my life. I wanted to keep myself active and have something to do to keep me mentally sane on some level, so to speak. The situation was what it was and staring out of window wondering when it would end was pointless. But yeah, I have been very active in many ways and working hard on different things.
OF PLAN B
Nice. Did you hold emergency meetings with the band when it became a reality that playing gigs wouldn't be an option for a while and to put plan B in action until things stabilized?
Niilo: Nope, even though we were naturally discussing within the band what we should do next after all the tours were either postponed or canceled. Fortunately, most of us in the band have other projects besides Insomnium, so we were also able to focus on them during these weird times. Ville (Friman) and Markus (Hirvonen) both have their daily jobs, so they have kept relatively busy.
We have been doing ok, both mentally and financially. Creating music is always a helpful tool to keep you mentally sane, and when we did those live streams, they helped us a little bit on the financial side of things. At this point, we haven't been worrying too much if all of us should look for real jobs instead of keeping busy with this band. If this Corona thing goes on and on and on endlessly, then we will need to figure out how to support ourselves financially. You cannot live life this way forever if this virus situation won't allow us to tour and do what we would normally do to support ourselves financially. However, I am trying to keep my mind positive by thinking we'll be able to support ourselves by making music with the band in the future because this situation cannot last forever, that's for sure.
Indeed, I strongly agree with your thoughts, bro. For many bands, it's a fact that the main income comes from touring, from all the merchandise being sold on tours, etc., so when you don't have that, there should always be a plan B, or even a plan C...
Niilo: Haha! Yes, that's so true. Nowadays record sales are not what they used to be in this digital age and if you cannot tour and sell your merchandise when touring, that's a big part of your income missing from your pockets. I mean, music platforms like Spotify don't fill your wallet, so it's kind of tough financially to not be able to tours.
Fortunately, like I mentioned before, the live streams brought us at least a fair amount of money, plus our record sales haven't completely died either, so at least we have some kind of steady flow of royalties from our record company so that we don't have to consider selling our properties, cars, houses, etc., thinking like the apocalypse is here so to speak, hehe!
WHAT NEXT INSOMNIUM ALBUM IS GOING TO BE LIKE...
Can I be shamelessly curious and ask about your plans regarding your next album? Have you planned to invite other musicians to do guest vocals, solos, or whatever or can you reveal how this new stuff compares to your previous albums?
Niilo: At this point I cannot reveal much about this new album that we have in the works simply because we haven't reached the point yet when all the songs would be ready. But I can tell you that we are always trying to find some new angles for our new material so that things will be interesting for everyone as there's no point in repeating your past works over and over again. It would be boring. I have an idea of making it a concept album, in which each song would be somehow connected to the main storyline, kind of a similar approach that we had on Winter's Gate, but this time we won't do just one song but a bunch of separate songs.
That's the plan right now, but there's really not much else I can reveal about it at this time. Musically, it's always been the same for us that we try to keep things as fresh as possible for ourselves, trying to figure out what works for us and what does not while still having a fresh approach.
REMEMBERING WHERE YOU COME FROM
I am sure it helps you to keep things fresh if you have the determination and willingness to challenge yourself as a musician. That isn't always the case with every band and musician, some of whom prefer taking a safer road in order to please their fans by sticking to one established musical formula...
Niilo: Yes, that's very true. It's important to maintain your own sound, however, and that's a real challenge for many bands. If you try to be too innovative and lose the familiar core of your sound, that's when things may get sidetracked a bit, I think.
We have no plans to start changing our sound too radically. With each of our releases, we always want to ask ourselves if there is something we could do another way this time around. We just want to keep our core sound recognizable with all the deep melancholy and whatnot strongly present.
How much has been discussing about the recording studio for your next album, who might produce it, etc.?
Niilo: We have been discussing this quite a bit already, but this also the kind of "secret" information that I cannot talk about in public yet. Besides, there's always a chance we may change our plans at the very last minute.
You are here at the Metallivuori Festival, performing perhaps your first live show for many months or have you already played in front of a real crowd during this Covid time?
Niilo: No, this is our first show in front of people in 11 long months. It's going to be interesting to see how it will go as we have kind of lost our routines as far as playing live is concerned, like what we should take on the stage, what clothes should we wear and so on, haha! The first half of our gig may even be "new and strange" to us until we feel at home again and that this is what we have been doing for years. It will be all about getting used to playing in front of a crowd again, I guess. It will be exciting to see how it will go after this long break.
This is the very first time this kind of event has been arranged here in Sieravuori, Eura, with a maximum capacity of 1500 attendees (due to Corona restrictions). I was here yesterday and can say there are more people here at the festival today than yesterday. What are your expectations about this event?
Niilo: I feel very good about the festival to be honest with you. There are quite a lot of people here at the moment and I am hoping to get at least some of them to see us when it's our turn to climb on the stage closer to midnight.
As a venue, this place looks great, and I really like the setting and how they have placed the stages on this long hillside which allows people to see gigs even from the back area of the venue where the smaller stage is located. It's nice to be here at the Metallivuori Festival playing live after such a long time.
You have a small tour schedule for here in Finland coming in September with Finntroll, if there are no new restrictions regarding the virus situation. What do you expect from that forthcoming tour?
Niilo: At the moment, I am only hoping we can make it happen. On paper, the venues where we are supposed to perform live look really good and of course, Finntroll looks like a perfect touring bunch for us to do those gigs with. I am going to cross my fingers that we will be able to do that tour as it's been a while since we have made a proper tour.
Have you toured with them before?
Niilo: No, we haven't toured with them before. We have been at the same festivals and seen and talked to the guys backstage, though.
You will also be doing a European tour in November-December this year with Omnium Gatherum, and this tour carries the name "Finnish Double Trouble". I guess the same thoughts also apply, fingers crossed and all that jazz...?
Niilo: Indeed. There's not much else we can do but hope things will go as we have planned. Time will tell.
On the other hand, if you are too skeptical about touring due to Covid-19, it might be too late to jump on that moving train, so to speak.
Nillo: Yes, that's right. It's always wiser to try and book them than to just keep on waiting 'til the world's situation stabilizes to the same state as before this Corona outbreak happened. We have already postponed our tours quite a few times due to the virus situation, so let's see what will happen with these two tours. I hope we will finally be able to tour after a long break.
Let's hope you get them done as planned. But if that won't be possible, do you have a plan B for those time periods?
Niilo: No, we don't, but of course, in that kind of situation we should seriously consider doing more live streams if that's the only option left for playing live. Naturally, it's not the same thing to do live streams as playing in front of the real crowd, but let's just wait and see what will happen.
A while ago you cooperated with Takalo & Tompuri Brewery who put out a special beer carrying Insomnium's name. How did this cooperation with them get started?
Niilo: Well, the owner of the brewery in question is a mutual friend of ours. We visited his brewery a while back and discussed this type of cooperation with him and that's how it got started. It was as simple as that.
Do you have any further plans with the same brewery, expanding the band's liquid merchandise with a couple of new products maybe?
Niilo: Why not? Everything's possible in the future, depending on how both parties involved feel about doing further cooperation. We'll keep the doors open for sure.
25TH ANNIVERSARY IS SOON
Next year will be a special year for Insomnium, namely it will mark the band's 25th anniversary. I have to ask if you planned something special for your fans regarding the band's quarter-century B-day? Being around and making music for 25 years is quite a milestone...
Niilo: Well, in fact, we have been discussing this a little bit. It would be nice to do a documentary about our journey so far. A book would be a nice idea too, but I must say these are only some of the ideas we have been thinking about. It's too early to say yet what special things we may do as everything's is early in the planning phases. I am not even sure if it'll be a wise idea to underline how old we exactly are, haha!
In my opinion, Sotajumala (R.I.P.) did a pretty nice farewell documentary (titled Syntynyt Lievestuoreella, Kuollut Jyväskylässä – Luxi) about their career, which was a pretty cool all in all; very interesting and entertaining to watch indeed, full of funny stories and it can be found on YouTube too.
Also, Dark Tranquillity made a nice documentary (titled Out of Nothing), which was published, I guess, more than 10 years ago if my memory serves me. It had some really old video footage from their early career, which was cool. I am not sure whether we could find some of that old video stuff from our very early days. We surely have lots of old band photos from those very early days, but it might be even a little bit more challenging to find old video footage from those old days of our career.
One way to find that type of old video stuff is to put an ad on the band's official Facebook page asking fans if they have any audiovisual gems in their collections...
Niilo: Yeah, that's a great idea. It's possible it might bring something cool and usable into the daylight, you never know.
ADVICE FOR YOUNGER GENERATIONS FROM A WISE MAN
Alright, I have one last question for you and then I let you go to prepare for tonight's show: As you can be considered a relatively experienced musician who has seen the world and experienced a musician's life, do you have a "survival kit" of comforting advice, words or anything to give to younger musicians and upcoming bands who are struggling in the maelstrom of negativity because of this ongoing virus situation?
Niilo: Oh my gosh. It's tough to give advice to them because people cope with this thing in so many different ways. We in Insomnium are in a better and more fortunate position because of this long road that we have already gone down for three decades, reaching a certain level of success before Covid-19 hit us full force.
For younger musicians who have the burning ambition to create music on their own or in their own bands, I can only say do not give up or let your dreams go. That said, it does not hurt to be realistic when you think if it is realistic to make your living out of playing music. I can only say by experience that it will take a lot of sweat, blood and guts to get to the point when you are able to make a steady income playing music for a living. It's no easy road by any means. Sometimes things may happen surprisingly quick if you are lucky enough, but I can assure you a lot of hard, patient and humble work is required over the long run if you want determinedly enough to make your living by creating music.
Also, it's wise to have some sort of plan B if your music career doesn't take off the way you hoped. Educate yourself for some sort of civil profession, which you might like doing almost as much as playing music. It certainly doesn't hurt you, that's for sure. It's a fact most musicians have some sort of education besides being in a band. It's really tough to try to make your living by playing in a band no matter how much you love to play music 24/7. For many musicians it's a harsh reality to support your living with a real job. Being a musician and getting some extra money by playing music is a nice extra, of course. That's what it is for many musicians nowadays.
This is a perfect way to end this chat as those were words of wisdom for all musicians out there, so thank you, Niilo, for talking to me and all the best for tonight's show as well.
Niilo: Thanks to you, too.
|Other information about Insomnium on this site|
|Review: Across the Dark|
|Review: One for Sorrow|
|Interview with bassist and vocalist Niilo Sevänen on August 10, 2018 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
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