Interview with guitarist Antti Kokko
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: April 9, 2023
Kalmah, the murky yet hilarious (live-wise, to say the least) swamp lords from Oulo in the northern part of Finland, have come a long way since they formed back in 1998. The band's previous album, Palo, was released on Spinefarm Records in 2018 and since then the fans have anxiously been waiting for some news about the next Kalmah release. Their prayers have been answered as the band's ninth studio album is scheduled to be released on Ranka Kustannus on May 23, 2023. Expect nothing more than a glorious dose of angst-filled and dark swamp-lordian metal with a flair of the northern breeze and the scent of rotten soils from this self-titled affair.
The Metal Crypt managed to catch up with guitarist Antti Kokko in Helsinki, Finland, on March 30th, when the band had started their short tour of Finland together with Suotana and Mors Subita and we chatted briefly about the new album, touring matters, and a couple of other things as well...
Nice to meet you again, Antti! Are your bellies full now?
Antti: Good to see you, too. Sorry for being late for this planned interview; our schedules went pretty much downhill tonight. Yes, we found a nice restaurant here in Helsinki to get our bellies filled, so everything's good now.
As we only have a short time to get through this conversation, let's get straight to the point, OK? It's been five years since your previous album, Palo, came out. Can you tell me why it took so long to get your new album finished, which is scheduled to come out on May 23, 2023?
Antti: Well, five years is the "new normal" for us it seems. Of course, we have our regular jobs and stuff, so doing music for Kalmah isn't as much our main priority anymore. I mean, should we get a new album out every second year and then tour for it? No, we are too old for that. We wanted to make this new album without rushing or pressure and I think we delivered pretty well, in my opinion.
Did you have any moments in those five years when you thought about not playing metal anymore and it'd be better to throw your instruments in a corner to gather dust?
Antti: Yes, honestly that thought has indeed crossed our minds quite a few times. For example, I have had my (dark) periods when I haven't even touched my guitars for many months as I haven't really felt motivated or inspired enough. There have also been other more meaningful things going on in my personal life.
KALMAH'S SWANSONG OF AN ALBUM?
OK, I hear you. As this album is titled simply Kalmah, I was wondering if there is a strong statement behind the title that could reflect something that you have been pondering as far as the band's future is concerned. Is there more than meets the eye on the album cover, perhaps reflecting something about the band's future? Is this perhaps a swansong album from Kalmah?
Antti: Well, you have a pair of perceptive eyes I see. At this point, this might well be our last album, the swansong, yes, but who really knows for sure if there will be new music coming from us in the future or not. It's easy to say, but only time will tell, I guess.
Your previous album, Palo, was released by Spinefarm Records in 2018, but you are no longer signed to them. Your new label is Ranka Kustannus here in Finland and, surprise! surprise!, it's a new label that Riku Pääkkönen, the ex-head honcho of Spinefarm Records put together in 2013. How did you end up signing a deal with them?
Antti: After our deal with Spinefarm Records came to an end, we wanted to look around a little bit to see if there was some other Finnish label that would be interested in working with Kalmah. I thought why not drop an email to Riku, explaining that we are searching for a new label. So, I wrote to him, explaining Kalmah was without a deal, and he replied back to me relatively quickly, saying he was definitely interested. Things progressed and eventually we signed the contract and that's it basically.
Was one of the criteria that your new label be a Finnish record company because communication is easier with a domestic label than, let's say, a deal Singaporean label, for example?
Antti: Yes, that's the whole point. We really wanted to find a domestic label due to this significant reason. As I mentioned, working with a label that's as close to us as possible makes things much easier for us, so Ranka Kustannus was a pretty optimal choice for us at the end of the day.
Did you also make it clear to Riku that Kalmah is not the kind of band that puts out a new album every second or third year, or in your case, five or more years?
Antti: Yes, I think Riku is well aware of that, so we are on the same page regarding this aspect, definitely. Again, the older we get, the lazier we become, ha-ha!
As we mentioned the possibility of this album being the band's swansong, my guess is you have a 1 + 1 album option with Ranka Kustannus, right?
Antti: Yes, that's true. We will see later if there will be a need for that +1 option. The future is unpredictable, you know.
You have already published a couple of songs off this new album. "Haunted by Guilt" is a very Kalmah-ish type of aggressive and heavy song while "Drifting in a Dream" is a bit of a different animal, more mid-tempo and moodier but still with that trademark Kalmah sound. What kind of puzzle was it to get the songs put in the optimal order for this record?
Antti: This didn't cause many gray hairs for us as it's usually me who has the final say about sequencing. But nope, the right order for the songs came together pretty easily. All you need to know is which song starts the album and which song ends it. For us, the first couple of songs need to have that familiar and recognizable Kalmah vibe to them, then everything else starts clicking after that.
I was browsing through the song titles on this new album and one sort of caught my eye, "Serve the Untrue." What is this song about?
Antti: I did read the lyrics, but right now I cannot remember what this song is about. My brother, Pekka, would be the right person to answer your question as he writes all the lyrics for the band.
OK. I suppose besides the 10 songs that you wrote for this ninth studio album, you also wrote one or two bonus songs for the Japanese market, correct?
Antti: Yes, indeed. We wrote one bonus song for the Japanese version, but don't have other details available at the moment as to when our new album will be released in Japan.
Then, to promote the album, apparently you have some plans to shoot at least one or two promotional videos, correct?
Antti: That's also true and in fact, we are just going through some negotiations with a Finnish video director who's pretty well known for his work with some other bands and lives in Oulu, Finland.
That guy must be Vesa Ranta (The Abbey, ex-Sentenced, etc.)
Antti: Yes, he's the one. We haven't secured the deal with him yet, so fingers crossed he will start working with us for at least one video.
TOURING – PRESENT AND FUTURE?
As for touring, you have a Finnish tour going on right now with Suotana and Mors Subita, and this gig here at On the Rocks, Helsinki, is the first gig. According to ticket sales data, it seems that sales are going really well. The first two first shows seem to be reaching sold-out status, so Kalmah is not completely forgotten... ;o)
Antti: Yes, that feels really good. It's a great thing that we can still get people to come to our shows, so what more could we ask for really? Hopefully, all the other dates on this tour will gather some decent audiences, too.
There's sort of a pack of northern metal greatness on this tour. Both Mors Subita and Kalmah come from Oulu, and Suotana comes from the capital of Lapland, Rovaniemi. Was it pre-planned for there to be three bands from the northern part of Finland bringing us spoiled southern metal crowds some of that northern metal magic that many bands lack nowadays, namely that feeling of frozen fields, the thickness of northern darkness, and all that jazz, eh?
Antti: This is something that you should ask our gig booking agency (Nem Agency that is) because I have no idea. Sorry.
Where can people find you playing live this year, in terms of festivals?
Antti: Well, we have Nummirock confirmed so far and are currently negotiating with one other festival as we speak. Unfortunately, I cannot reveal any details yet because I am not allowed to say a word until everything's official, you know.
No worries, understood, of course. As you said in the beginning, all of us are getting older and sometimes we have to make some radical choices in our lives concerning our main priorities, what really matters to us and stuff. I assume Kalmah has chosen to not tour outside of Finland for two or more weeks as you have your private lives with regular jobs, etc., so long tours may not be on Kalmah's list as those main priorities any longer...
Antti: I guess you are right about that. Let's face the cold facts, we are not getting younger, are we? But yeah, at this point of our career in Kalmah it's hard to make bigger plans for the future, touring-wise at least. We'll do what we can and what we want, but any extensive touring isn't our main priority nowadays.
You did the 70000 Tons of Metal cruise both in 2017 and 2019, which is a pretty big thing, in which 60 bands play for three days and 3000 metal fans from many nations gather together for one big party. How do you enjoy those cruises?
Antti: Yes, those are nice events to do, definitely something special for everyone involved and surely something that stays in your memory for a very long time.
Then again, if you want to be alone and avoid fans coming to talk to you and taking photos with them constantly, then your cabin is the only place to be, unless the rarely used swimming-with-the-sharks tactic is a part of your toolbox, so to speak...
Antti: Ha-ha... when the pressure becomes way too intense, there are no guarantees about what one desperate soul may do in your well-described situation.
Hey I think that was it on my part. Thanks for this quick chat with me and wishing you all the best for the ongoing tour here in Finland...
Antti: Thanks to you, too.
|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)|
|Interview with vocalist/guitarist Pekka Kokko and guitarist Antti Kokko on September 7, 2021 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
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