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By: Tristan Lathey
Finnish folk metal band Finntroll played the Dome in Tufnell Park, London on 4 October 2014; as part of their European tour to celebrate 10 years since the release of their classic album NATTFÖDD. I was invited down before the show to meet frontman Mathias “Vreth” Lillmåns and guitarist Mikael “Routa” Karlbom to find out more about the tour and the life of these mysterious trolls.
(((o))): How is the tour going?
Routa: It’s going alright, it’s one of the best tours people wise. The crowds have been great, but technically things have been breaking down. We had to change bus in Romania and drive 16 hours through Eastern Europe in a small tourist bus with 20 people and all the backline and gear and everything in it. So there was no room, we were just sitting.
Vreth: Yeah we did 16 hours, I slept maybe 2 1/2 hour on the floor in the aisle…
Routa: I did not…
(((o))): Do you enjoy touring? Do you find it hard work?
Routa: It’s kind of a doubled edged blade
Vreth: Yeah days like this it’s totally fine to be on tour, this is when everything works, everything is ok, then it’s the best thing ever.
Routa: Sometimes there is just too much time before the shows, obviously we are here to play the shows, but sometime you find yourself in some industrial area in the middle of nowhere with absolutely nothing to do.
(((o))): Do you enjoy playing in London? Do you get a good crowd?
Vreth: Yeah yeah, you know back in the days, it was a little bit not that good, because it seemed people didn’t get the whole point.
Routa: But then the last time in underworld and the time before, the crowd went off and it was like ‘oh fuck!’. It was great.
Vreth: I think it was like 2009/2010 when people started to get us in the UK. Since then it’s been awesome every time.
Routa: Before that it was like “Oh no we are playing in London, is anyone going to show up!”, but since 2009 it’s been perfect.
(((o))): So, is it true that British food is the worst food while on tour?
Vreth: Sorry to say yes! But actually we got excellent kebabs from around the corner. Isn’t that what you guys eat? Kebabs and curries as your national food Britain?
(((o))): Yeah at least we have Turkish food.
(((o))): So, I see you guys play a lot in Germany, do you guys have the best crowd there?
Routa: Not really actually, Germany used to be really good for us and it still is good. But for example France is way better even venue wise.
Vreth: We’ve played some really nice places in the past few days.
Routa: In 2007 when we toured it was like “Oh shit it’s going to be in France, it’s going to be horrible, nothing will be working, there won’t be any power”. And nowadays all the venues are super good, except for the day after tomorrow when we are in Paris. This is the exception.
Vreth: I don’t know why we have so many shows in Germany. People just like metal over there and they have a lot of big cities.
Routa: They have a lot of clubs and promoters, that actually book bands, I’m not complaining, it’s nice to play in Germany!
(((o))): What’s your favourite thing about playing live?
Vreth: Well, to see when people like what you have done. When you have poured your heart and soul, sweat and blood into it all.
Routa: I think yesterday was the best example of why we do this, because everyone was just like screaming and hands up and actually enjoying the music, and not just standing there.
(((o))): So, where did you play yesterday?
Vreth: In Northern France a place called Caen, it was really awesome, the best crowd on the tour.
Routa: The best thing about playing live is the crowd’s response. If there is no interaction with the crowd, it’s like you are just standing there.
(((o))): Ok so if you were to describe your music to someone who has never heard it before, how would you describe it?
Vreth: Well, we’ve been talking that people who always want to put us in the folk metal genre, but as I’ve said hundreds of time, we are more a metal band with folk influences. The folk metal, it’s not the main thing. You have all these black metal, death metal, pop influences everything you know and like classical influences, soundtracks. We’re like a very influence led band you know.
Routa: It’s so difficult to describe our music because every album is different.
(((o))): I was going say about the folk element, is that something you were bought up on as kids, like is it traditional Finnish stuff?
Routa: You know we use these instruments that are used in folk music but melodies aren’t actually anyway traditional.
Vreth: It’s more like modern Finnish folk, like melodies from the Finnish country scene, we play with traditional instruments but it’s not like we are playing 1000 year old style of flute, no, we might have the flute but we will be playing metal melodies.
(((o))): Your guitarist (Skrymer) does all the artwork for the albums. Is this something important to you to have creative control?
Routa: We’ve always been a really hands on band.
Vreth: We don’t want any outside pushers; we want total artistic freedom all the time. We like to be in control.
Routa: Skrymer does all the artwork for the albums, I do all the music videos.
Vreth: I’m doing the interviews, I’m also involved in the lyric process, we have three people involved when it comes to the lyrics. I’m the one who records lots for the albums, like Blodsvept at least 60% of the album is recorded by me.
Routa: It’s a lot easier because we know what we want and we are lucky, because have a record label that actually trusts us. For example we had one music video, which was made by outsiders…
Vreth: And it’s just fucking horrible, everybody in the band was like “this is not Finntroll, this is not us”.
(((o))): Because you know what you are doing.
Routa: Exactly we lost control once and it backfired.
Vreth: Everything is done by the band, we have a company run by our keyboard player, he’s doing all the economics of the band and everything. So we have everything at our fingertips.
(((o))): You are a very creative band with lots of ideas and stories, at the moment expressed through music. Do you ever plan to do a storybook, comics, things like this?
Vreth: Yeah we’ve always talked about this, like we should do a storybook or something like this. Our first singer in the band , Katla who is still writing lyrics, I talk with him about what we are going to do with the new album, write about the theme and what sort of story we want to tell. He a really good writer, he a folklorist himself and an historian and has many idea. So it would be so cool if we could something like a Finntroll book. Then Skrymer could do illustration for it. We have talked so many times about this – I hope it’s going to happen!
(((o))): As you sing in Swedish, do you think it has an effect on the non-swedish speaking fans. Is there something we’re missing not being able to understand the lyrics? Has it got a different vibe?
Vreth: Not really, only in Finland it does!
Routa: Yeah might effect in Finland.
Vreth: But, it think outside it doesn’t affect anything; I actually think it’s a bonus sometimes because it adds a more mysterious element to it. You know, so many folk metal bands sing in English just so the fans can sing along.
Routa: But our fans actually sing along to a lot of the songs. Sometime it’s like “What the fuck!” You’re in Brazil and people are singing along in Swedish. It’s like “I didn’t even know the lyrics”…
Vreth: I think it add a little bit of exoticness to the band. For example you go to Mexico to play and people are like “Whose this weird folk metal from Finland that sing in Swedish?”
(((o))): You were saying maybe not so in Finland?
Vreth: Yeah in Finland, it’s been for so long, because Swedish is an official language and we are 300,000 left in the whole country that speaks Swedish and still all the Fins and all the people have to learn Swedish also. There was resentment there. It’s not serious now though, but when I was a kid it was really terrible. I could get my arse kicked in the street for speaking Swedish. But nowadays it’s more like “those fucking Swedes!”
(((o))): Who has influenced you as a band?
Routa: Ah no, it’s one of those questions you know. Everyone in the band has different tastes in music. Influence can come from anywhere, like watching Shakira on TV and some percussion is amazing.
Vreth: Like walking through a shopping mall and you hear an old rock song.
Routa: We’ve never been a band that wants to sounds like another band, so you know.
Vreth: It’s not like we really want to be the next Slayer. We are sponges, we take in everything. It doesn’t matter where it comes from. For example we did three covers a couple of years ago and we just wanted to do a Pet Shop Boys cover. We were at Trollhorn’s [keyboard player] place having a sauna party. We were in the sauna listening to 80s and 90s classics and that song came on.
(((o))): Sorry which song was it?
Vreth: ‘Can You Forgive Her?’ You have to listen to it. We were like “Oh my god, this would sound so good as a metal song”.
Routa: And so it does!
(((o))): Are there any new bands that we should listen out for?
Routa: Actually a band I’ve been listen to lots and lots is a Norwegian band called Wardruna.
Vreth: I watched a series, Vikings, it’s a history channel series, and I just fell in love with the music. It’s really simple.
Routa: It’s kind of like atmospheric music; there is no obvious melody to hear.
Vreth: That’s a folk band. It doesn’t have anything to do with metal accept they are metal guys playing. They are called Wardruna.
Routa: And of course there is Virus.
Vreth: Virus are always a classic.
Routa: Especially the album Oblivion Clock.
(((o))): You guys have been playing years now. How has the scene changed from since you started?
Routa: Hangovers last longer!
Vreth: I’m not really the one to talk about that scene, because I was in the black metal scene when I was younger. My scene just changed like a switch. I was used to hanging around with people in corpse paint and suddenly they all have drinking horns. Like overnight!
(((o))): You guys have just released a live album. Night of the Living Finntroll, which was recorded a few years ago, why did you wait so long for the release?
Routa: Because we had nothing to do with it!
Vreth: I can’t even remember when it was recorded.
Routa: 2008 or something, we wanted to do a Finntroll DVD but it was just fucking horrible, all the video material and everything. It was like no fucking way we will release this. The interiors everything, it was so fucking bad. So of course the material was kept with our record label office.
Vreth: Not the pictures.
Routa: Just the audio tracks, so I guess last year, they were like “we have to get paid for it. We’ll have to release it now”. So, Vreth can talk about the name of the album…
Vreth: No I just get pissed off about it! They didn’t even call me up because no one at the record label speaks Swedish and they made up the name themselves and its wrong! It has a really bad grammatical error in it; that I don’t like. It sounds like a kid in high school learning his first Swedish sentence. Yeah I’ve been really angry about this. Really pissed off!
(((o))): Oh wow, okay, so what are you plans for the future?
Vreth: We’re going to get drunk and get tattoos! No, we’re going to finish the tour and then we have a festival in Norway. Then maybe some shows in South America. Then hopefully I won’t see you guys for two months [looks at Routa].
Routa: Our bass player has been starting to write new songs already. He has two new foetuses of new songs.
Vreth: Then next year we will start on the new album. Probably around this time next year we will enter the studio. Hopefully, I’ll need to knock on everything now! [Vreth taps on as much wood as is close]
(((o))): I’ve actually got a gift for you guys. I’m a ceramicist and I’ve made this for you. [I give them a ceramic troll like mask]
Vreth: What is this?! This is weird?!
Routa: It can be our God!
Vreth: Oh yes, we need a bus God! What shall we call it?
Routa: I think this is Emperor Ozook! It is Ozook our Emperor!