Interview with vocalist/guitarist Pekka Kokko and guitarist Antti Kokko
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: September 7, 2021
Finland's own swamp lords Kalmah, formed from the ruins of Ancestor back in 1998, have been building a solid career over the last 23 years by touring the world and releasing eight studio albums thus far. They have become one of the most respected metal bands to come from the northern part of the country and it's easy to say they deserve that status.
The band has kept a low profile for a long time and undoubtedly the global pandemic is partly to blame because playing shows hasn't been easy since the virus outbreak began in 2020. Fortunately, most of us have found a way to survive and our beloved swamp lords in Kalmah are no exception.
What have they been up to since the band's eighth studio album, Palo, was released in April 2018? We here at The Metal Crypt decided to find out when yours truly invaded the beautiful and well-arranged Dark River Festival in Kotka, Finland, in August, with the intention of getting the guys around the same table to reveal some fresh news from the Kalmah camp.
Keep reading to find out if that crusade to the backstage area to interview the band was successful...
Let's start with a mandatory Corona-related question. What have you guys been doing since this annoying virus necessitated restrictions around the world, including gigging and so forth?
Pekka: Well, at least it allowed me to do some real work instead of pretending to be a rock star... ha ha!
Seriously, we have been working with new material for our next album and are hoping to get the songs finished by autumn so we can get that album out as soon as possible.
When it became clear in the first half of 2020 that you would not be able to play any gigs or plan any tours due to the restrictions, how easy was it for you to make new plans for the postponed or canceled gigs?
Pekka: It gave us a good opportunity to start writing new music earlier than we originally planned. I don't know if the Corona situation was a blessing or not for us but at least we managed to write lots of new stuff during this downtime.
NEW MATERIAL IN THE WORKS
What's the status of your new material? Do you have the songs almost finished for the next album or do they still need to be worked on a little bit?
Pekka: The groundwork for them is done, but there's still lots of work to be done.
Antti: We have about 10 songs that we need to rehearse together at some point. We also need to go through all the material to see if it still needs and changes. We will share this stuff digitally with each other, and everyone is, of course, allowed to suggest changes or improvements.
After each of us has checked and rehearsed this stuff, we'll gather together for a rehearsal session to make the final adjustments to the songs, then book the studio to record them.
What can the fans expect from this new material? Does it have the familiar Kalmah vibe that they have become familiar with over the years, or will there be some surprises?
Pekka: They can expect the same old shit that we have always done, ha ha! We have our own musical mold that does not need to be changed or improved much plus I guess we really do not need to reinvent the wheel, so to speak.
Antti: Of course, we always want to bring in something new and fresh for our new releases, but at the end of the day, we still maintain that familiar Kalmah sound with our new stuff, which is important for us too.
Have the songwriting responsibilities basically stayed the same since your previous output?
Pekka: We have always had this same authoritarian system in our band when it comes to the songwriting process.
One dictating and merciless captain leading the ship across the murkiest waters, eh?
Pekka: Ha ha, indeed, while the rest of the crew are just slaves who may have a word or two regarding our new stuff.
Antti: It even looks like our bassist may get some songwriting credit on this forthcoming Kalmah album, which is totally unprecedented for us.
Pekka: I guess the older we get, the more tolerant we are getting, ha ha!
Antti: I must confess that our bassist has come up with a really good track, actually...
Pekka: Yes, I agree. But we still have time to change it so drastically that he can forget any credits under his name [*lol*].
This is breaking news that your bassist could get some credit on a Kalmah album for the very first time!!
Pekka: Now we need to have a serious discussion about this...
OLD AND NEW LABEL
Are you still with Spinefarm Records? I tried to contact them for this interview without getting a response.
Antti: No, we are not with them any longer and haven't published any news yet regarding your inquiry. We are not allowed to mention our new label's name yet, but let me put it this way, we'll stick to one Finnish company.
We are determined to do at least one more album, but then we have to see how we'll continue from there because we are all aging.
Pekka: We also have to see what the response will be and whether the fans still want more from us...
Before the album's release date is set, obviously you will make a video or perhaps even two to promote it better, right?
Pekka: Yes, I guess that's the plan that we need to stick with just like we have done with our earlier albums.
Antti: We also have a couple of guys in the band who are pretty pro at taking videos, so who knows maybe we will consider doing a studio diary or a video blog or whatever that is called?!
Pekka: I don't know. I guess it has something to do with social media, apparently?
A couple of years ago you put out a video for the song "Take Me Away," which was directed by a guy named Kristian Juuso. Do you believe you might want to continue some sort of cooperation with him in the future as far as your next video is concerned?
Pekka: It's too early to say yet, we'll see.
How do you feel about the making of these promotional videos? Are they "necessary evils" or do you like making them? The promotional value of videos seems to be huge in the digital world nowadays as zillions of bands desperately try to keep their heads above the surface...
Antti: In my opinion it's important to keep making some noise about yourself, otherwise people forget you.
Then again, I think most of today's so-called metal music is crap, so when there's a new Kalmah video available, it will certainly stand out from the (shitty) masses for sure, ha ha! But seriously, it's important for us to get them done so that people can be aware of our existence.
How much thought have you given to the next studio environment where you might record your next album?
Antti: We have a pretty obvious answer to this; most likely we will go to Ahti Kortelainen's Tico Tico Studio to record at least the guitars and vocals. Of course, it's up to everyone else if they want to use some other studio instead, it's completely up to them.
ONE AND HALF YEARS AGO...
It's been 19 long months since you last played live at Vernissa, Vantaa, Finland, where you played a sort of best-of set and which was also a sold-out show. Do you have any intention to play a similar best-of set here at Dark River Festival, too?
Antti: Actually, all our songs belong to that "best-of" category... [*lol*]
Pekka: Not all, but almost most of them anyway [*lol*]
Antti: We were celebrating our 20th anniversary with the band, that's why we had chosen some of our favorite songs from this particular time period and concentrating on our older material mostly.
And was that gig at Vernissa the last one you played before this one here at Dark River, or did you have any gigs after the Vernissa show?
Antti: Nope, we did not. There's been quite a huge gap since we last played live.
Yes, it looks like it. Do you still remember what to do on stage?
Pekka: Hell no, but we'll go there without any pressure, no matter how stupid or clumsy we might look, ha ha!
Antti: We'll try to our usual shit; headbanging 'til our necks are sore or dislocated while trying to figure out how this or that song should actually be played...
Pekka: We are all aging and getting more physically lame, so it's getting tougher and tougher all the time. It's not that easy to go on stage anymore and try to headbang the shit out of yourself.
Did making live stream shows for your fans ever occur to you as so many other bands did during these restricted times?
Pekka: Nah, that wasn't something that we were keen on doing. The fans will have to be patient until we are allowed to conquer stages again.
I understand. But how have you tried to keep some hype around the band when you haven't been able to tour?
Antti: The short and honest answer is not in any way, I am afraid. Hell, we haven't even updated our official Facebook page for a while now, not that much anyway, that's for sure.
Then again, there's always been some sort of mysticism around this band, so in that sense we have still managed to keep some of it in this band if nothing else, which is pretty cool, I guess.
POSTPONED AND/OR CANCELED EVENTS
You were supposed to have this Heavy Metal Heart indoor festival coming up in Helsinki, Finland, last year which has now been postponed with the current date set for October 15-16, 2021. Will that happen with these new and harder Corona restrictions?
Antti: Well, that's hard to say. I mean, just like you mentioned, it may either be postponed again or canceled, it's hard to tell. Our manager may have more accurate info about this, though.
Also, there's supposed to be the Hellfire mini tour across Finland with you, Wolfheart, Rytmihäiriö, Brymir, etc. on the bill, but apparently that won't be happening. Do you have any updated information about it?
Antti: Unfortunately, no. We have not been informed about it whether this tour can be arranged at some point or not.
As the world has been turned upside down since 2020, making it extremely difficult for bands and artists to plan their future activities, how much have you dared to plan for next year?
Pekka: We have made some plans regarding 2022, but it's too early to say much more about them yet. We do have some festival slots in the works, but nothing has been confirmed yet.
Antti: Our booking agency is also expecting us to record our new album first so that it would be easier to get some gigs and to promote the album a little bit too.
To me it unfortunately looks like this annoying Corona won't disappear any time soon, though, so let's see then what shows we can get next year if anything at all.
Why release an album if you cannot get some gigs to promote it as well?
Pekka. Indeed. It's kind of a frustrating situation for everyone, I think.
Antti: It's way easier for our booking agency to get gigs for us if the album is out there so that organizers have something concrete to sell our shows to the fans, you know.
Do you have a plan B if it turns out that wider touring won't be possible in 2022? For example, making a documentary about the band's journey so far?
Antti: Unfortunately, we don't.
Pekka: As an idea, it sounds good, though. It could contain some of our older video footage from the very beginning of our career, but the thing is that we don't have that kind of older material available, not that I know of. Hence this documentary might turn out to be a little bit too short, I am afraid.
KALMAH BOOK AND/OR DOCUMENTARY - WHEN?
You can always put a "Wanted!" ad on social media asking for stuff like that because you never know what other people might have in their possession...
Pekka: Yeah, that's true.
Antti: At some point I was thinking it would be a cool idea to make such a documentary, which would tell a story about a Pudasjärvi-based heavy metal musician who's a hunter and lives in the woods and wants to see a big festival for the first time in his life. He would follow his plan, get to the festival and come back to his home very quickly, just to grab his shotgun to go out to the woods to hunt again. The experience would make him see this is what he's all about and wants to do for the rest of his life, instead of being some long-haired hippy listening to metal, ha ha!
Ha ha...! Now that would be a truly cool idea indeed!
Antti: But speaking more seriously again, it's true such a band documentary would be a nice thing to do as we have some memories to be told from this long road of ours. But at this point when the hunting season has already started, it means we'll be spending lots of time in the forest until the beginning of November this year for sure, so those kinds of plans need to be pushed back a bit further.
Pekka: Yes. That's pretty much a fact for two of us at least.
Many bands have put out books about their long careers. Has this crossed your mind? I believe there would be some good stories in this book about Kalmah...
Pekka: Nah, nothing exciting or interesting ever happens in our camp, so there's no need for a book about us.
Ha ha... I totally disagree.
Antti: Nobody has approached us to suggest a book about our band's history. Besides, as there have been so many band biographies that have already been published over these past years, we can wait a little bit longer until the biggest hype of releasing band books is over.
THE PAST SINS: ANCESTOR
Remembering the past, there used to be a band called Ancestor from 1991 to 1998 before changing the name to Kalmah. Have you ever thought of putting the band's five demos out in one package, either as CD or vinyl or even better, in both formats?
Antti: It would not be a bad idea. I mean, even better if someone would get them out as cassettes as that seems to be the thing for many collectors again. I don't think we have any original DAT tapes left for any of our old demos anymore, so we should try to find cassette tapes of those demos and give them a proper treatment in the studio. Putting them out in one single box would be cool.
Hey, I guess that was it, so thanks for your time and all the best for your gig this afternoon...
Pekka: Thank you.
Antti: We have even trained the songs a couple of times for this gig, but not as a full band, though. It must be about four years since we have had a full band rehearsal, I guess. But anyway, thanks for coming over.
|Other information about Kalmah on this site|
|Review: For the Revolution|
|Review: 12 Gauge|
|Review: 12 Gauge|
|Review: Seventh Swamphony|
|Interview with guitarist Antti Kokko on November 3, 2001 (Interviewed by Christian Renner)|
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