Interview By Ville Krannila & Kimmo Tattari / December 2007
Finland’s premier stars of melodic metal have released their fourth album ”Ghost Reborn” and set to make more waves within the community. Steel Mill’s Kimmo and Ville visited the city of Salo, in the western part of Finland, and talked to bassist Mikko Tång and drummer Henri Suominen about the past, present and future of Twilight Guardians.
In our ears, the new album ”Ghost Reborn” sounded like a much more effective entity than your earlier albums. What do you think separates this record from your previous ones?
Well, probably there’s a bit more “hard rock” style involved this time around. The songs are a bit shorter, around 3 minutes or so, and we have used plenty of keyboards. The album before this one, “Sintrade” in many ways took the opposite approach – almost a prog metal feeling – so we wanted to try something different with “Ghost Reborn.” It’s just how the songs turned out.
It’s funny you mentioned the length of the songs, as we were talking about this on our way here. When the CD format took over, a lot of albums were filled to the max, instead of focusing on the quality of the songs, so having a shorter record with no fillers seems like a refreshing idea…
True, and we are hoping that after listening to the album for 40 minutes you want to give it another spin. It’s going back to the good old days of vinyl in some way.
As the album was quite short, was there anything left over from the recording sessions?
Not much. Some bits and pieces, maybe one complete track we rehearsed but never recorded. Nothing that was recorded was left off the album.
Except the usual Japanese bonus track?
Yes, the Japanese version had to have one bonus cut. The albums over there are so expensive with lyrics translated and everything that people simply won’t buy them unless there is something extra included. So we made a cover of Deep Purple’s “Black Night”. Vesa (Virtanen, vocalist) called us right before laying down the drum tracks: “Hey guys, rehearse `Black Night` we’re going to record it!” We’d done it before so it wasn’t too much of a task, we put all the right stuff on it, Hammond organs etc.
Actually, the whole album is influenced by the 1970s heavy rock era. Many have said the first song on the album reminds them of classic Deep Purple.
How about the other cover versions you have recorded in the past, for example Judas Priest’s “Rocka Rolla,” which isn’t the most obvious choice for a cover song?
The story behind the Rocka Rolla cover is that we were at a party somewhere – probably all intoxicated – and someone dug up a vinyl version of Rocka Rolla and put it on the turntable. The whole band was there, and as soon as we heard the song we all started smiling, knowing instantly that “we’re so going to cover this one”. And we did.
“Breaking the Law” is too obvious a choice, in a way, all bands have done that… we figured that an older and a bit more rare song would be more interesting.
Who’s burp it is one can hear in the middle of the song?
None of us! We picked it up from our older recording sessions and simply added it in.
Have you ever played Rocka Rolla live?
Yes we played it a few times when the album was released. It kind of got forgotten after that, but maybe we should give it a shot again. It’s a nice tune. We have played some other covers as well, such as Yngwie Malmsteen’s “Far Beyond The Sun,” which is a tough one to nail.
Was it hard to get a license to cover such a huge track as Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita?”
Well, unless you change the arrangement radically you can do it without permission. And we did it pretty faithfully, the same arrangement, melodies and everything. Just added some distortion, basically. The chords in it are relatively easy to adapt into a metal song. Many didn’t even know it wasn’t our own composition!
Anyway, it was never about “let’s do some classic dance song and get a radio hit”. It just made more sense to cover a pop song than simply copy some Helloween or Iron Maiden track, this way we thought it was much more interesting.
The record came out in January 2006,and later the song was picked up for Ice Hockey World Championship games. Through that it got a lot of radio play and became a hit during that spring and summer.
Do you play the song live?
Yes, we played it again just last week. And it is our best known song, although it does bug us in some way, because we do have our own tunes to offer as well.
After two albums mixed by Mikko Karmila at Finnvox studios, how was it to work with different production this time?
There is a difference obviously, Karmila being the no.1 heavy metal mixer in Finland at the moment. He has his own sound, and with this album we kind of wanted a more “lively” feeling. As the songs were more rock, we needed a more rougher mix, not as clean as before.
How much time did the recording process take?
Well, drums took four days at the Sonic studios. Then we moved to Turku and recorded the other instruments there. Maybe 21 working days. This was around July 2007, the recording probably took roughly two months, and mixing took a week and a half.
The name of the album “Ghost Reborn” – is there any significant meaning behind that one?
I don’t know for sure. I guess Jari (Pailamo, keyboards) and Vesa came up with it during our recording sessions, as we two were done with our parts pretty quickly, whereas those guys had more time to kill. It is probably about a musical rebirth.
Was the song writing process this time the same as before – Vesa and Calle (Gustafsson, guitarist) being the main song writers?
Officially Jari contributed to four tracks, and we jammed on all of them at the rehearsal flat. On the previous albums, some tracks brought in by Vesa were fully completed already as demos – he’d made them home with a computer. We’d listen to them and then lay the songs on tape. With “Ghost Reborn” all of us got to add bits and pieces and the tracks were created from that. The songs came faster that way. We didn’t have much ready last winter, so all material came together within a relatively short span of time in the spring. Plus as we finally knew we were going to do another album for Spinefarm, we knew the album had to come out before the end of 2007. So there was some scheduling involved as well. But, all in all, there wasn’t really any pressure, everything went pretty smoothly. We just did a video for the album too.
Oh, which song?
“The Game.” That one was actually the director’s choice. We made it on a week’s notice, and all of us filmed our parts separately against a green screen. They will edit some flames and other stuff into it later.
Keyboards seem to have a stronger role in this new album?
Yes, Jari is a very versatile and skillful player, so it was an easy decision to give him more space. Jari is also featured in the recent Guitar Heroes album along with the best Finnish metal players. He appears there on a couple of tracks.
You don’t have guitar, bass or drum solo spots in your shows yet?
Actually yes, we have had all of them at some point. Sometimes as a joke but they have their place.
The new album is now out here in Finland, how about rest of the world, Europe for example?
Well, it depends on the country, really. Someone informed us the album was to be released in Germany by the end of November. It’s then down to the distributors how they handle it. The previous two albums are available in Europe and Japan. Japan is probably our biggest country after Finland, but the sales aren’t that high. We hope to get more results with this new record and, through that, get a chance to play some shows abroad. However, even over there (in Japan) people don’t buy records in the same amounts as a few years ago. Downloading has had an effect, and then, of course, there are the pirate records that have a part in it as well. We saw “Wasteland” sold as a pirate copy in an eastern market square, and even our first album was found in a local record shop in St. Petersburg. They were really cheap-looking, but sometimes you cannot tell a real one from a fake – except from the missing bar code, of course.
We were talking about a tour abroad, it must be a difficult thing to organize without proper support? Do you still have to pay to get yourself onto a good package tour?
Yes that’s true. Support bands sometimes have to pay huge amounts of money for promoters and headliners. Otherwise you need to have really strong sales to back it up. But we are constantly contacting booking agents and so forth to make it happen. There have been plans with a couple of German festivals, but they have fallen through towards the end for one reason or the other. Mostly it’s a problem with the expenses like I said before. They do the math and if there’s no profit beneath the final line, then there’s basically nothing you can do. We are hopeful that a few management issues can be solved, and the new video gets some airplay, through that things could be improved on the touring front.
But Finnish gigs have already been lined up?
Yeah, the first show where we played the new material was just last week in Turku, next we are heading to a release party show here in Salo and so it begins. Five shows have been booked before the new year, but most of the gigs will probably take place after that.
How have the new songs fitted into the set?
Quite nicely, although there’s still some tweaking to do obviously. We have 4 or 5 new songs in the set at the moment. There’s no time for more than that, the whole set is about 8 songs. Those who were present last week seemed to like the new stuff.
Looking back, are there any shows from the past that have gone especially well or otherwise remained in your memories?
Well, the Russian concerts were certainly special. We were just about to record our first album during that summer and it was quite a wild trip…
Other than that we have had a couple of great shows in On The Rocks (Helsinki), we were there last spring and that was an excellent night. And then of course a few shows in the local Maxim have stood out.
Any exotic stories to tell from Russia?
We played there in a town of 50 000 people – a small town in their scale – roughly 100 kilometres from Moscow. One of the shows was set up at this big square, open area, and there were hundreds of people in the audience. Probably even more. The other gig was in more normal surroundings in a local culture house. But again, this was right after our self-financed demo and before recording our first album, so it was a hell of a long time ago!
We assume people were into your music though?
Oh yeah, they loved it. It didn’t matter what you played or if the audience were familiar with it. The power of vodka probably did the trick!
Your debut album “Tales Of The Brave” seems to be hard to find these days?
Yes, it was released through a German record company, and basically no one has it anymore. It is out of print. Some second hand shops might have it stored, but other than that it’s quite rare these days. There were a few hundred copies left when the company went down so we bought all of them back and put them on sale in the local shop. There might be some copies left down there.
And then there is our self-financed demo from 1998, “Land Of The Kings” which basically has some of the same songs as included on “Tales Of The Brave.”
There was a significantly long break between your debut and “Wasteland” – what happened during that time?
There were some record company changes. That was the biggest reason for the break.
You seem to have had a pretty stable line-up ever since the beginning, right?
Yes we have, from the start of our recording career, except for our keyboardist who got changed after recording the second album. We started the band around 1996-1997. There was a different bassist at first as well, played the first couple of gigs before Vesa joined the band first as a bassist. We started jamming and putting the band together, asked Calle to join on the guitar as we knew he was a great player and knew his way around classic German metal stuff. At that time we played a lot of covers by Rage, Helloween and Gamma Ray, and all of them were played totally wrong of course!
Vesa starting out on bass was news to us..
Yep, he switched to vocals after we noticed he was a hell of a lot better as a singer than bassist! And our vocalist at the time wasn’t really motivated, so the change came quite naturally. We have a really strong line-up at the moment, we all get along great, and if the band should end tomorrow we’d still remain friends so it’s more than just a job for us.
OK, since this is a Steel Mill interview, could you guys describe your personal relationship to Judas Priest?
Henri: I’ve been a big fan since childhood. Always when I got my weekly allowance I’d spend it on metal albums. I’ve got all the albums up to “Painkiller” on vinyl. Priest have definitely been one of my biggest inspirations. After Halford left the band I didn’t follow them so keenly, but I went to their shows when he returned again a couple of years ago.
Mikko: I don’t have many of their albums, actually, but I’ve always listened to them. Iron Maiden and Metallica were the two biggest bands for me when I was young, Priest came later. Back when I was a kid I sort of saw them as a band for older people. But when a friend of mine bought “Painkiller” and played it for me, that view got changed for sure! I’ve seen them a couple of times myself, once at the House Of Culture in Helsinki (2001 “Demolition” tour). Our guitar player is also a huge Priest fan by the way.
Did you play any other Priest tracks live during your early years?
I think we played “Breaking The Law” and “Night Crawler” – that’s about it.
Are there any other names you could mention or inspirations shared by the whole group?
Iron Maiden probably. Can’t think of anything else right away. Priest of course. And then older classic stuff, Deep Purple is a big influence and everyone in the band likes their albums. Also the classic Yngwie Malmsteen works for all of us.
A lot of times people put down classic power metal bands, how do you, as a band, deviate from those labels?
Well, our guitarist has always been a massive Yngwie-fan and you can hear that from our solos. But with Yngwie I feel it’s been more about the guitar and less about the songs, although he does have a few great albums such as “Eclipse.” We have taken the stand of having proper songs, with proper lyrics and melodies. And that works for us. Sometimes during the rehearsals we might stop and say:`Ok enough of that solo, the point’s been made!` The song is the main issue, and all the rest around it is just to add flavour, not the other way around.
Listen TG´s clip of “Rocka Rolla” from here. (mp3, 1,14Mb)