Interview with Moonsorrow' Ville Sorvali by Etiam

(banter about interview techniques, using handheld recorders)

Maximum Metal: I did not know that you were into journalism. Actually...I knew that someone in the band worked for Inferno Magazine...was that you?

Ville Sorvali: Yeah, that was me.

Maximum Metal: Ok. Then, as a fellow journalist, I'm kind of interested—what is the experience like for you to be both a performing musician and a journalist? Did that change your perspective on the bands or the writing of the music?

VS: I was always interested in seeing the music business from all sides. I'm also working as a stage hand with the local crew back in Finland for big bands. I just like to see all sides, and not only the playing. Working with that local crew, for example, has really raised my awareness of what's happening beyond our responsibilities when we are playing and has made me respect those guys in a totally different manner. They are really doing the work needed for the show to happen.

MM: Certainly. Do you have a favorite side? My guess is that you would like playing your own music, but is there some other side as well that's provided an unexpected pleasure?

VS: Yeah, sometimes this local crew stuff is very pleasing. Some of the days are total crap if the crew is, like, full of assholes. Then it's no fun to work. But sometimes it is really fun. There are some crews of big bands who we actually go the bar and hang out with. It's cool.

MM: I can imagine. As for this tour, you are about halfway through so far, right?

VS: Yeah. It's been really fun. A lot of good shows, and we have a really good touring company—both the band and crew. Everyone's been getting along exceptionally well. I've never had a tour that was so much fun, actually, before this. All the tours have been fun, but this is like...somehow perfect.

MM: Really. Out of every tour you've ever done?

VS: Yeah. It's working really well.

MM: I suppose one of these would inform the other, but is that success more of a 'Finland Over America' kind of deal, or are the bands' styles just well-suited to one another? Sometimes there's a band on a bill that doesn't really work with the others, you know. Or is it all of those things?

VS: All of those things, yeah. I think the main selling point, of course, is that's it's the Finnish Metal Tour. Finnish bands touring the area draw a lot of interest from people. But it's good for us as well, because we are all friends with these bands. We've known each other for years and years, and it's really been a great opportunity to tour together in the States.

MM: To that point about Finnish metal, Moonsorrow has obviously been around for quite some time. There was that big upswing in everyone hearing about Finnish metal in the early 2000s or so, but you guys had been a band before that. Maybe not with the exact lineup you have today, but your name was established. Do you feel like you have a lot invested in that "Finnish Metal" identity? How do you connect to that scene?

VS: Well, our style is definitely Finnish. All of these bands are Finnish; you can tell it somehow. I don't know how, but you can tell that all these bands are Finnish. When it comes to us and Finntroll, we were there in the late 90s actually shaping the sound of what was to become so-called 'folk metal'. We didn't know it back then, actually. Now that we have both moved into completely different directions with our music.

MM: (laughs)

VS: We have actually disappointed a lot of fans, because they still want to hear the early albums. We do not want to make them again, because an album is a picture of its time.... I don't know if I answered your question—I got a bit astray, here.


MM: No, I love tangents. If I can present a question that leads off onto something else, that's great. I read so many interviews that are just Point A, Point B, Point A...so as must tangenting as you like is fine. But, anyway, I would agree. Folk metal, pagan metal, Viking metal—all those permutations each have had their central characters that helped push them forward. So when you look at the state of metal today that Moonsorrow really had a strong hand in influencing, what do you like about it? What do you not like about it? How do you think it's grown since the early days?

VS: Finnish metal is immensely more popular than it was back in the 90s when no one knew about it. And there are a lot of contributing factors towards this. Many bands have had a lot more influence than us, of course. But if we're talking about the folk metal thing, I think it got out of hand some years ago. Dozens of dozens of followers, and most of them don't have any point in their music but to mimic us or Finntroll. I don't think it should be like that. I am happy if I manage to, with my own influence, encourage someone to play music. But I would like them to take it further so that they would actually write their own music, if you know what I mean.

MM: I do. To bring this style that you're playing to the States...is that a really different experience for you guys? Playing in an environment like Chicago, for instance, which has this massive urban sprawl and does not have a lot in common with the natural identity that Moonsorrow is about. What is it like to play to these audiences and to be in this environment? Is that strange at all for you?

VS: No. But it is different than in Europe, for example. Mostly because we are not as well known here as in Europe. But the settings don't really matter, because there are similarly thinking people everywhere, and I think that a lot of these people who come to see the shows share a similar mindset with us. When it comes to the differences between Chicago and somewhere in Finland, I would say that in Helsinki we would also deserve the nickname the "Windy City". I noticed it today, like, 'Oh, this is like home!'


VS: Windy all the fucking time.

MM: Yes, it is. I've also heard Helsinki called [by Tony Kakko] Hell-sinki, but from what it looks like on the outside it seems like a nice place.

VS: It is. It is a really nice place. I have developed a very strong love-hate relationship with Helsinki. Most of the year the climate is crap and the people are unfriendly, but at the same time I just feel that it is my home. And it is also just big enough and small enough. It's a pocket-sized metropolis without the real problems of a big city.

MM: You've developed, obviously, but the songs are still in Finnish, the songs are still massively epic in length. You've kept a pretty strong core identity. As a fan of your music, I'm glad that you're maintaining that instead of, seeing the success of other bands, trying to follow along with their lead.

VS: Yeah, we're a very stubborn band. We only do what we like, and we never took any orders from anyone. The record label hasn't even wanted to interfere. They trust what we are doing. We always have had the idea that we're doing this because we love doing it—and we will see how far it gets us. But we wont' do anything outside of the music to get us farther.

MM: One thing I'm not really familiar with is how you guys work creatively together. I've read a little bit about lyric writing and how these long songs just sort of 'come into being', but as far as how you assign clean vocals or harsh vocals to a part, or who gets the big epic theme, whether it's keyboards or guitar...That kind of process. Are there guidelines that you use, typically, for that kind of structuring? How does that work?

VS: Hmm. At the end of the day, it all comes down to one man. And that is Henri, who is my cousin, and who is not touring with us. He's actually writing the new album.

MM: Well, then I can better forgive his absence. (laughs)

VS: Yeah. He writes most of the stuff, and if somebody else writes something it still goes through him. He arranges everything. It's not like he is a dictator; he always asks our opinion of whether we like the material, and, if not, what should be changed. But he's still responsible for shaping the piece. And it's a good arrangement because he's a real talent. We trust 100% in what he's doing. He has the sound of Moonsorrow in his fingertips. Just like with Finntroll—it's the same setting.

MM: But he's done a good job of keeping them in separate channels.

VS: Yeah.

MM: I've always thought of Moonsorrow as the more melancholic older brother to Finntroll, which is the kid that just wants to have fun. Moonsorrow sits in the corner, brooding, and thinking about things.

VS: (laughs)

MM: So, even though he is the central figure in the writing process, it seems that you all share the same, albeit varied, sources of inspiration. Classic rock, the old metal, and beyond—you guys have this diverse palate that comes together in a very distinctive whole.

VS: Yeah.

MM: How was that to develop? Was there a particular point where you felt like you'd really found your voice as a band?

VS: Ah...I think we had it from the beginning, somehow. All the changes that we have gone through have been in everyone's mind, as if we shared a common mind in that sense. Between 'Kivenkantaja' and 'Verisäkeet', I think it was Henri who came to our rehearsal room—like, a year before the recording—and said, 'I think this might sound kind of weird, but I have this idea that Moonsorrow should be going in this direction.' And everyone was like, 'Yeah, I was thinking the same.'


VS: So, we don't have any arguments about that. We really work together very well.

MM: I hope that continues. It seems like the song lengths—I hate to talk about song lengths, because it seems like everyone does—but they were getting longer and longer, and now I've read that you're thinking about cutting back a bit for the next album.

VS: Yeah. I have no idea exactly what's coming, but we all agree that we should have some shorter songs. We already have gone all the way with those thirty-minute epics. We made three of them, so we don't have to do any more. We could do anything. We could remake the first album if we wanted to. It all comes down to what we want to do, and this time we want to do it differently.

MM: Do you find it difficult to write shorter songs now? Or have you gotten into the mode of a particular approach? Your arrangements are pretty organic, so it's not as though you have a rigid format that you just copy for a longer song. But once you've gotten into that mode of writing longer songs, do you find it hard to be concise?

VS: Personally I consider it to be a relief. But, I don't know, it is harder to write shorter songs. Like, short if we're talking about five minute songs. I don't think we could even do that anymore.


MM: Was this decision influenced at all by the increased amount of touring that you've done? I know that you guys still wrote longer songs once you started going on tour more often, but it's relatively recently that you've gotten on the road a lot. So, did that change your perspective?

VS: Kind of, yeah. It's not that we would be making compromises, but it is true that we want to make some songs that we can play live. If you're touring in support of the new album, you should be able to play some songs from it.

MM: (Laughs) That's fair enough. Now, going back to your last LP—I've always referred to it as 'V' because I have the hardest time wrapping my brain around Finnish. Swedish makes some kind of sense, but Finnish is a totally different and bizarre concept.

VS: Yeah, it is one of the most fucked-up languages in the world.

MM: But it sounds good when you're singing, I think. So, I'm hoping I'm pronouncing it right...

(We exchange the pronunciation of 'Hävitetty' a few times.)

VS: You can say 'Heavy Teddy' and it's pretty close.


MM: I'll remember that. Anyway, it seems like an unusual album for the band in a few respects. Would you say that's a fair statement?

VS: Yeah. No one expected we would make that sort of an album. We didn't. It just happened. (chuckles)

MM: I'm thinking in terms of length, but also in terms of the style. It's different—denser and darker.

VS: Yeah, it's really dark. Actually, that particular album reflects a lot of personal issues for both the songwriter and me as the lyrics writer. It wasn't the happiest moment in our lives, and probably can be heard on the album.

MM: But it then it seems that you guys turned a corner yet again in 'Tulimyrsky', which was not necessarily happy sounding, but certainly had more of those big, sweeping themes that carry the song towards a grand conclusion.

VS: Yeah.

MM: And that was a fairly quick turnaround, all things considered.

VS: Well, the lyrics and the whole concept of the song—it is pure fantasy. And we hadn't done that since 'Kivenkantaja'. It was an intentional decision because we wanted to make a sequel to the second album. I don't know who came up with that idea, but we decided it would be cool to have an ending to the story started in the second album. The music is completely different, of course, but then again it should be. How many years have passed since then? Nine?

"Paganism is universal. It doesn't matter which country you were born in, because in the end...it's about a respect for nature. That is what paganism essentially is—a religion based on nature."
MM: Yeah, that certainly makes sense. And, just as a side note, I thought the artwork from 'Tulimyrsky' was awesome. It represented a lot of what the band is about. Not just in that there are guys in long ships with swords, carrying on and such. But that atmosphere that it captures—the quality of the colors, the shading, et cetera. Do you think you'll be working with Kris in the future?

VS: Ahh, probably not. He made really good work, yes. But for some reason we have this tradition that we actually discovered over the past few albums: we use a different artist for every one. Just like Morbid Angel realized after 'Covenant' that their albums were going in alphabetical order; so they decided to continue. I also think we're going to continue on this path, to make them all stand out.

MM: And I suppose it makes sense, because we've just talked about how the music has grown, so the covers should change to reflect that.

VS: Yeah.

MM: When you were writing 'Tulimyrsky'....Well....when was the last EP that you guys had done before that?

VS: We actually didn't do any.

MM: Hah, well, that's why I couldn't remember it.

VS: We did a remake of the last demo, back in 2001. That could be considered as a mini-album or whatever. It's not a full-length album or part of our catalogue in that sense.

MM: So, what brought you to the decision to try an EP?

VS: Because we had this one song in our minds, and we always want to make albums that are conceptual in some way, where the songs fit together. We realized that 'Tulimyrsky' was going to be a little album in itself. We were not going to be able to pair it with any other songs. So we decided to make an EP with some completely unrelated stuff on there also.


MM: I remember being a little alarmed when I heard that you were putting out an EP, thinking, 'Oh, come one, they could write one song and it would be an EP.' Which you pretty much did. But then I really got into the other material as well, and there's some exceptional stuff on there, particularly the two songs that you re-recorded.

VS: Yeah.

MM: Those took some great ideas from the originals, obviously gave them a different production, but also a more mature touch that made them almost like completely different songs to me. How do you feel about that product?

VS: I like it. I'm very proud of it, and I'm glad we had the chance to do it. We had these thoughts in our minds throughout the years that we wanted to remake some demo songs. And we wanted to release that Metallica cover that was even ready in 2005. It was a relief to be able to make that. Now it's done and we can start making these super-happy albums again (laughs).

MM: So that's the direction you might be going in?

VS: I don't know what's going to happen, but the albums we're going to do in the future will still be albums in the sense of the word 'Album', like what it used to mean back in the 70s. We always liked music that way. If you listen to an album, all the songs must go together.

MM: I absolutely agree, and that really suits the atmosphere that you achieve. Does this mean, then, that you will probably not do more re-recordings of old material?

VS: Ah... (pondering) Who knows, exactly. We're only taking one day at a time.

MM: Well, I certainly would like to hear that, because those really surprised me in a good way. Turning back a bit to 'Hävitetty'—it expresses some sentiments through the lyrics that I've read you keep in general: how modern society is progressing, how people interact with the environment and with each other. It embodied...would you call that the pagan mindset?

VS: Yes, the pagan mindset.

MM: When was it that you really started feeling a connection to that ideology? How did that process, personally for you, come about?

VS: Well, I don't know, I was probably in my teens when I found out that I am actually pagan. Before that I didn't have an identity. But, I realized it because I love nature, I respect old traditions more than new ones, and I'm interested in the traditions of my people. It happened gradually and has only been growing. (pauses) In general, I am very unhappy about the state of the world, and I had the chance to let everything out in that one song, the second one on 'Hävitetty'. It's not a political song. It has its political undertones, but I am not saying it. I leave it up to the interpretation of the listener. But if you find something political, you are not entirely mistaken. And it doesn't take sides; it only describes how unhappy I am with all the warring going on between whatever sides.

MM: Are there other things that you do outside of releasing this music that contributes to those causes that you believe in? How do you go about pursuing that ideology in your own life outside of Moonsorrow?

VS: Mostly how I look upon life. It means everything and nothing. I couldn't live my life any other way. Of course, I live in the city and have to adapt to the rules of that urban society, but as little as I can. I don't own a car, I try to consume little and recycle everything. Little things.

MM: It's good to hear you describe the pagan mindset in these terms, because I think a lot of people—particularly after listening to pagan or folk metal—get the idea that pagans must necessarily wear crazy outfits and run about worshipping elves in the forest, you know?

VS: Yeah, that's so far out. For example, the Finnish paganism was the religion of our forefathers long, long ago, when they didn't know about anything. The gods were symbols for the phenomena of nature. Since then, we have developed science and basically know everything. Where is the thunder coming from? It's not the thunder god riding along, throwing down lightning bolts. It is a phenomenon of nature: the clouds gather electricity and it bursts downwards. So we don't have to have those gods anymore.

MM: But the concepts that drive that lifestyle—that's what paganism means to you?

VS: Yes.

MM: Do you think that people from other cultures can connect to a pagan lifestyle or Moonsorrow's ideology in the same way that you guys can? Or is that a particularly Scandinavian thing?

VS: Yeah, of course they can. As I see it, paganism is universal. It doesn't matter which country you were born in, because in the end (for me, and how it should be for anyone on the planet) it's about a respect for nature. That is what paganism essentially is—a religion based on nature. Now we don't have the religion part any more because we don't have to have it. But we still have to have the same respect, because nature is what provides us with everything. We are only guests of nature.

MM: That's a good way to put it, and I think that's what Moonsorrow does a great job of embodying—that sense of natural magnitude and reverence. I guess that's enough heavy philosophizing, so.... I'm kind of a gear-head, so I wanted to talk a little bit about how you produce your albums, because the depth to them is huge. You'll have harsh vocals, choral clean vocals, distorted electrics, keyboards, acoustic, drums, bass, all squished together--And it seems like you struck a pretty good balance early on. I don't listen to the old albums and think too much, 'Oh, I wish this were louder,' or, 'This should be softer.' So, when you do your production, do you get different people to do most of the production for you? Or is it mostly what you do on your own? I know there's one studio that you've worked with quite a bit.

VS: Yeah, Tico Tico studios. We are not recording there anymore because everyone's a conformist and it's too far away and everything—So we're going to record in our home town and then go there to mix the album, to respect traditions. And the production process, it mainly comes down to the same man who writes the music. He's the producer of all our albums. We don't take that much outsider advice. The recording engineer is entitled to have his opinions, and we are glad to listen to them. We still don't change the way we are doing things, but sometimes we'll adjust if the engineers have a good point. Mainly it's just this one stubborn band doing their own thing.

MM: I think that could be the headline for this article.


MM: And mostly when I see pictures from you playing, you're using a 5-string Warwick. Is that what you're still using?

VS: Yep.

MM: Tell me about playing Warwick. What is your experience with them?

VS: I'm very happy with them, actually. Of course, saying this in public, I should get a better deal with them than what I have now.


VS: I have a deal, but it's a half-endorsement. But, yeah, they're very good basses. I like their sound, their feel. I bought my first Warwick in 2002 or -3, and just kind of fell in love with it. Obviously I didn't have a deal back then, but I figured if I'm using the same instrument from year to year, I contacted them about it.

MM: But do you see yourself more as a vocalist or a bassist?

VS: Mmm, it depends on the day.

MM: (Laughs) Whether you've 'got it' either playing bass or doing vocals, or what you prefer to be doing?

VS: What I prefer. Some days I feel like a bass player, other days I feel like a vocalist. On a few occasions I feel like both (chuckles).

MM: Hopefully that corresponds to when you're playing live.

VS: Yeah, of course. But I really like playing the bass. I always liked doing the vocals as well. I like to try to develop my scope of...

MM: Abilities? Repertoire?

VS: Abilities, yeah, but...expression. I'm trying to go more towards vocal acting than just doing the vocals. That's what interests me. I'm not interested in just screeching mindlessly. It doesn't give anything to me. When I'm doing my interpretation of the lyrics in a vocal manner, that's what interests me. The bass playing, well...I don't know. I just like the bass. I've always liked it the most of all the instruments. I used to be a drummer before as well, but that was pushed aside when I started playing bass.

MM: Well, I'd say you've done a great job of being that representative voice. Yeah, there are any number of guys who can get up there and shriek their guts out, but it's emotional depth that makes it significant. The last thing that I had to talk about... I heard that you guys couldn't play some shows last year, because of a surgery...

VS: Yeah. Well, only one show, actually.

MM: Ah, just the one. Are you back to full fighting strength, then?

VS: Yes, I am. And I feel very fortunate about it, thanks to Finnish health care that, for once, worked for real.

MM: (Laughs) Usually not quite that up to par?

VS: Usually there's a lot of waiting and waiting and waiting. But since I was an emergency case.... The doctors said I was one week from paralyzed. That's why I got jumped to the head of the line.

MM: That must have been a shocking experience. Did you think about what life could have been like?

VS: Yeah. I was lying there on the hospital bed and thinking, 'Is my career over?' The recovery was very painful on a mental level. It's not only the playing, but also the work I do outside of the band. It's physical work. So, if things had turned out differently, I would have had to change, like, 80% of my whole life. So I'm glad it happened this way (Laughs).

MM: We're glad to have you back. And I think that covers just about everything I have. Thanks so much for your time. It's been very insightful and a lot of fun for me. I've been listening to Moonsorrow for...a long time. I remember when I first bought 'Kivenkantaja' and my mind was just sort of exploding inside my skull every time I'd listen to the next song. So, this should be a really good show—I'm looking forward to it.

VS: Yeah, me, too.

MM: I know interviewers often have all their questions without giving the interviewee much time to talk. Was there anything that you wanted to present to those who might be reading or to your fans?

VS: Well, that's always the hard question. I can never imagine a question that I would want to answer right now. It's probably because my mind is usually blank.


VS: So, yeah. It was nice to do one of the interviews that I actually feel like doing. Most of them are not really interesting—just the same questions.

MM: That can get really frustrating, yeah. When I was researching for this, I could sense that sometimes you guys would get frustrated with the questions: 'Why do you write long songs?' 'Why do you write songs in Finnish?' Those same things over and over.

VS: Yeah. It's of course the things that people want to know about, but for that purpose there are already, like, 300 interviews. And the biography.

MM: (Laughs) Right, exactly. Well, I know you guys came and did some shows last year. Do you think you'll be coming back sometime soon?

VS: I hope. We're going to release the album next year, I think...it could be March. We haven't decided yet. We have a meeting with the record label when we get back. When it gets released I think we have to do Europe first, because we have been away for two years from most of the European states, except for some festivals.

MM: Well, I know we're all looking forward to it. And take your time. I think most of your fans understand that you have quite a process that you go through, and we certainly appreciate the final project.

VS: Yeah. And we want to come back.

MM: Good, I'm glad we've been at least decent hosts.

VS: It's been such a fun ride—why not?

Ville SorvaliEtiam5/28/2010


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