Metal Life Exclusive Interview With INSOMNIUM
“Is it alright if we do the interview while I am here at the pub?” As if Insomnium’s guitarist Markus Vanhala even needed to ask! If anything, I wish I could have been there drinking a beer with him in that short time between Christmas and New Year’s when everyone just needs a break from the hectic nature of the holiday season. Though we indulged in some off-record conversation about dreary Finnish weather being the perfect time to chill at a pub, I have for you metal fans a transcribed discussion of why Top 10 nominations don’t matter, what was the most unusual gifts the band has received, and how we managed to compare Insomnium to Batman.
Hey Metal Lifers! Today I am on the phone with Marcus Vanhala from Insomnium, how are you hanging out there in the cold Finland weather?
It’s going well here. It’s a Friday night in Finland, and because of the time difference you are just starting your day. But here I am at the bar drinking beer. Just sitting here in the darkness and in the coldness [laughs]. All you people think it’s nice here in Finland, but Finnish winter sucks. You know, a stereotypical question I get asked a lot is, “Are you growing inspiration from long Finnish winters?” And I always answer, “NO!” But because of long Finnish winters, it is really easy to be inside and then it’s easy to write songs, play lots of music, and have band rehearsals because there’s not much else to do this time of the year.
Well let’s put a ray of sunshine into your dreary weather! I have been seeing your latest album Shadows of a Dying Sun has been making many Top 10/20 Lists for 2014, not only from friends on social media but from Metal Hammer, Loudwire, and Sound Magazine over there in Finland! That’s gotta be some nice news when you hear about it, right?
Yeah, [the album’s reception] is going really well. To be honest, I’m too old to be really happy about these kinds of nominations. When I was like 20 years old, I was always happy about it. Like if something good happens to your band, or you get a good review, it’s really saying something [positive] about your band. But now it’s just all about the music and being [able to work] with good band members and playing gigs all the time. I will say that with the release of this album, we have had the most successful European tour ever. It was a headlining tour, and we had a bunch of sold out shows and a really great audience. That’s what really matters to me, that’s where I get my kicks, by playing a great live show.
You guys are gonna kick off the new year with us in the United States, and you can look forward to at least some states having nicer weather! But more importantly, this tour takes you and Dark Tranquility to America, which has been really exciting anticipation for us! How about for you?
It’s going to be good, because we have already started the touring cycle, so it’s really easy to continue even with the gap of the Christmas holidays which gives us just the right amount of time to relax. It’s going to be cool, we are really looking forward to it. We recently had a really good tour in the U.S., the tour was with Epica two years ago. And now being with Dark Tranquility, I think this is the perfect match because we both have the same kind of fanbase.
Absolutely! I’m just relieved you have been able to make your way here so soon, and hopefully we will never have to endure another painful five years or more gap in between Insomnium gigs!
Well after this Dark Tranquility tour, we don’t even have a one year gap. I’m pretty sure we will be coming back to the U.S. very soon after. That won’t happen again, trust us.
So then given your incredibly swift tour circulation for 2015, does this mean you all are writing new songs on the road since you aren’t going to be giving yourselves the time to write in the studio?
We aren’t exactly writing on the road a lot. I guess we are a little bit. But usually we need privacy. Every one of us [in the band] needs to be alone when we are writing to be as creative as possible. I don’t know if that is a Finnish thing but, that’s how we did all our past album’s lyrics. Then when [each of us] have songs already done, we all get together.
Yeah, that’s a very unique idea of songwriting, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of bands traditionally doing that. Sometime song are written in group discussion, sometimes alone, but it’s interesting that Insomnium has made a routine out of that.
Yeah, and it’s not about necessarily wanting to be alone but it’s just how we work. Of course, when you do work alone you have more time to think about and produce your own ideas clearly. After you have something good on your hands, you feel good showing it to the band. And that’s how the Insomnium cookie crumbles. Plus everybody in the band is fully busy at the moment in many fields of life and with other bands they are [involved with] as well.
Speaking of other bands, I know you’re going to be pulling a double shift on your tour with Ensiferum because you will be playing in Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum. How are you feeling about this gig in the spring/summer of 2015?
Well, we will see. I have never done a tour with both bands before, and [this one] is going to be four weeks long, so I am a little scared. But last summer, we did three festivals in Europe and I did have to do both bands in the same day, it got easier after a while. It’s always a lot of fun because all of my brothers are in both bands, so I’m surrounded by a lot of good people in the same place. But this European tour is still going to be pretty hard for me.
Yeah playing consecutive sets on consecutive days, that seems like quite the task.
Of course, and double the booze, double the hangovers, double everything!
[laughs] That’s awesome, double or nothing! As long as we are talking about doubling booze, I noticed a picture on Insomnium’s Facebook page of a very delicious-looking bottle of red wine that was given to you as a gift in a recent gig in Vienna, Austria. Can you recall for me any unusual or memorable gifts you have received from fans?
Usually it’s the Japanese fans who are the craziest passionate fans, and they give you lots of gifts, especially homemade. They like to give us paintings and drawings of us, like in that anime style they like. They are crazy dedicated and hospitable, they are just so different but in a great way.
One last question for you as we prepare to say goodbye and I go let you finish your beer. As much as I don’t like to beat a dead horse, we all know the Finnish scene is reputable for its melancholy nature. But there were many songs in Shadows that I thought were much more lively, upbeat, and edgy (for lack of a better term) than songs on other recent Finnish releases like Swallow the Sun’s Emerald Forest and the Blackbird. Was the decision to make these slightly upbeat songs an attempt to deviate from that melancholy scene, or was it all purely natural incident?
To be honest, we are really not that melancholy [in general]. What I would say is that this album has glimpses of hope…that’s something clearly written in most of our material. If you read our lyrics, they are mostly about hope; we like sending positive messages on our new work. On the melodic sides, there’s not only darkness and evil, there’s a lot of subtlety and ambiguity in between the lines. We are pretty happy people, but the music also isn’t always happy. We like the two together. I like to compare [our work] with the latest Batman movies. I know it sounds silly, but like in the last Batman movie…the evil Bane says things like “There is no true despair without hope.” And that’s kind of what we envisioned our last album as.
I always love when bands can compare their missions to Batman movies, and you did a fine job of that, Markus! Thank you again for talking to us here on Metal Life, we will see you on the road shortly!